5-Day Black & White Photo Challenge, Day 5

I would be remiss in listing local “must sees” if I did not mention one of my favorite places on the PLANET: Oglebay Park on the outskirts of Wheeling, West Virginia. The park began with a moneyed family’s summer home (now on the National Historic Register) and has become a premier park system, unique in the United States. Its 1600+ acres sprawl across hills and valleys, ponds and a lake.  

Everyone and anyone can find something to do at Oglebay. There are three golf courses (a Par 3, a nine-hole and a championship 18-hole;) the Mansion Museum; a pool; tennis courts; Schrader Environmental Education Center; Good Zoo; a planetarium; a ski slope; Schenk Lake with paddle boats and fishing; picnic areas; an amphitheater; and miles of trails around the lake and all over the hills.

Wilson Lodge Resort & Conference Center has more than 270 rooms, a spa, conference center and two restaurants. There are also various sized cottages for rent.  

Special seasonal events include a huge Festival of Lights driving tour Nov to Jan; Fort Henry Days in Sept; OglebayFest in Oct (arts and crafts;) a Maple Syrup Festival in March.

When I was in college at nearby West Liberty, friends and I spent many a day picnicking and skiing and just hanging out in the sun at Oglebay. I love walking the trails around the lake, and it’s rare when I don’t see various kinds of wildlife: deer grazing, turtles sunning, Canadian geese paddling around a pond; ducks in the lake; dragonflies; cranes.

Regarding the next challenge nominee, one is not able to do it, and I should hear from another any time now.  Thanks so much for allowing me to participate—it was FUN!

Happy trails and safe travels…

5-Day Black & White Photo Challenge, Day 4 (already!)

These are Concord grapes grown at Georgetown Vineyards in Cambridge, Ohio—about 30 miles west of Barkcamp. Concord is a native grape that produces jelly and wine. Most of the time Concord wine is fairly sweet, though I’ve had some less sweet that is very good.  

Believe it or not, Ohio was the leading wine producer in America’s first 50 years. Land along the Ohio River east of Cincinnati was the prime spot. Blight destroyed most of the crop in the late 1850s, however, and the Civil War took the workforce. The industry didn’t “take root” again until the mid to late 20th century. Nearly all of today’s 110+ wineries are smaller and family-run, but Ohio ranks 10th in US wine production. Wineries and vineyards are located throughout the state from the Lake Erie shore to the banks of the Ohio River.

In Belmont County, Vino di Piccin is owned by six siblings who grew up with a wine-making father from Italy. They use his recipes and order grapes from Ohio and California to make some really nice Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as blends and whites.

Black Sheep Vineyards is on the border of Belmont and Jefferson Counties in Adena, Ohio. John and Becky Black bought an old sheep farm and planted several types of grapes. The tasting room is in the big, old barn, and the wine is made downstairs. They set high standards for their wines, and it’s quite good. They have music and dinner events regularly.

Georgetown Vineyards grows some estate grapes and orders grapes, juice and fruit from various sources to create some nice wines. Their Cranberry and Rhubarb wines are kind of fun. The site is beautiful—on top of a hill overlooking the town of Cambridge.

Beyond Cambridge, west on I-70 lies Terra Cotta Vineyards near New Concord. Their wines are hand-crafted, also, and they have a nice port called Hummingbird. North of Cambridge on I-77, you’ll find Ravens Glenn Winery in Newcomerstown just a few miles west of the freeway. This is a very popular tasting room with a restaurant, a large selection of wines to try and a sizeable gift shop. It sits right on the banks of the Tuscarawas River, and they host a lot of weddings and special dinners.  

5-Day Black & White Photo Challenge, Day 3

Some people may recognize this Candlewick from Imperial Glass. These are pieces from my mother’s collection—it was her wedding china pattern. Aside from steel mills and coal mines, this area was known for its quality glass like Imperial, Fostoria and Fenton, and there were many artisans crafting hand-blown and hand-painted pieces. Two of my grandfathers worked for Imperial, but the factory is gone now. However, the Imperial Glass Museum is located in Bellaire, Ohio, along the Ohio River. Zanesville Pottery and Roseville Pottery were located about 60 miles west.

In fact, Belmont County has been historically significant since before the Revolutionary War when it was considered the wilderness, a sort of no-man’s-land. Many of the settlers were soldiers and their families who received plots of land in exchange for their service. In Morristown (near Barkcamp) several soldiers’ remains rest in Pioneer Cemetery.  

Before, during and after the Civil War Belmont County was a gateway to points north for the Underground Railroad. A few miles from Morristown, in Flushing, Dr. John Mattox hosts visitors at the Underground Railroad Museum Foundation. The thousands of artifacts he has collected are fascinating, and he is a great storyteller.

In Barnesville, the Victorian Mansion Museum is the preserved and restored residence of one of the town’s prominent families. Beautiful  hand-crafted woodwork, furniture, period collections and special displays are well worth a look.

The county seat, St. Clairsville, has a new museum next to the County Courthouse. It’s a converted Sheriff’s Residence (and jail) with information on many of the local museums I’ve mentioned and on upcoming events.       

5-Day Black & White Photo Challenge, Day 2

Since I don’t have current camping photos, I thought I would share some of the local attractions that may be of interest to RVers in the event that you decide to visit this part of the Ohio Valley. I stopped at Barkcamp State Park yesterday, (a few miles north of my house) where my brother and sister-in-law set up their giant travel trailer when they bring it down from Michigan.

Barkcamp is a local favorite for hikers, fisherman, and hunters. It has horse trails and equestrian camping areas, an archery range and miniature golf, playgrounds, a stony beach, picnic areas throughout, and, I believe, family movies are shown during the summer in one area. This is the “quintessential Barkcamp photo” of the lake that everyone would recognize. One of the boat launches and a dock are just out of the photo, to the left.

Sites seem to go quickly since it’s a state park. I do know that locals camp here because I’ve walked there as training for a 5k (a combination of hills and flat roads with limited traffic) and chatted with people from nearby towns. There is also a popular and difficult trail run every fall called--wait for it--the Barkcamp Race founded by a friend of mine. Sometimes I take a chair and book and my pup Zsa Zsa on summer Sunday afternoons and sit in a quiet picnic area under the trees. I’ve been here in all four seasons, and it’s always beautiful.   

5-Day Black & White Photo Challenge, Day 1

Thank you, Chris Hughes of CUontheRoad.net for naming me in this challenge and for your kind words. I’ve really enjoyed your black & whites this week, and I always like reading posts from the RV Happiness community.

As Chris noted, I’m not currently an "RVer,” but my family began camping in a 17’ Scotty (?) when I was around 10 years old and moved to larger campers from there. We stayed mostly in Ohio and Pennsylvania but did travel up through New England to Maine one summer. In my teens, my parents decided to lease a “permanent” space in PA’s Allegheny National Forest/Kinzua area, and they kept that location until after they retired.

I was thinking about Chris’s challenge standing at my kitchen window this morning getting breakfast when I had a flashback of my camping mornings. I would be the first up (of my parents and brother) so I could get ready and dressed and out of the way. I would make a cup of tea and sit outside in the quiet, cool, fresh morning air. In the high forest it was often a bit misty, but that burned off by mid-morning. I always enjoyed the sounds of birds singing, the breath of a breeze rustling tree leaves and other campers stirring. So I'll start at the beginning with this first photo of my morning coffee on the deck. It takes me back to those days and has me considering the possibility of experiencing those simple pleasures again. 

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Cutting Class for a Cure--Barnesville Middle School Benefit

(This feature article appeared in the Times Leader on Saturday, May 9.)

BARNESVILLE—“We want to help kids and families with what we’ve been through. We want to give back,” says Alayna Willis, eighth grade.  She is one of many students whose life has been affected by cancer, and she and her friends are volunteering time and energy to make Barnesville’s annual “Cutting Class for a Cure” another successful event.  This year Friday, May 15 is the big day.

For seven years Barnesville Middle School has held a spring fundraiser with all proceeds donated to the local 3 Cs Cancer Support Group. In 2009 teachers Lori Witchey and Bev McConnell organized “Coins for a Cure” a fund drive that passed coffee cans around classrooms and netted $489.34.

In 2012 Witchey, a cancer survivor who also lost her father to the disease, and McConnell, who lost her husband and a brother to cancer, stepped it up with the first “Cutting Class for a Cure” cancer walk. Their stories provided a connection with students dealing with cancer in their own families and a shared interest in helping local support groups. Students purchased passes to get out of class and spend the periods walking laps in the gymnasium. That year the school raised over $4,000, and each year the “Cutting Class” event has grown.  

“It’s always an amazing day,” says Denise Adkins-Leach, Barnesville Middle School language arts teacher. “The whole building is into it.” 

Adkins-Leach has taken on the project this year after Witchey’s and McConnell’s retirements. She explains that small events and fundraisers earlier in the year provide seed money for the “Cutting Class” day. For instance, a “Kiss Cancer Goodbye” campaign sold packages of Hershey Kisses for 50 cents to help purchase materials for other “Cutting Class” fundraisers, as did a “March Madness” basketball tournament that raised $400 toward the cause.

Fifth grade math students held a Math-a-Thon to help out. Seventh and eighth graders have been making signs to post throughout the community and in the school. Students have provided feedback and input on ideas for fundraising, activities and designs for signs and t-shirts, according to Adkins-Leach. She commended their hard work and efforts during study halls and learning lab times even around the testing schedule.

“The kids are learning to give back to the community,” Adkins-Leach explains. “That is something that we try to instill in them.” 

Students like Willis, Casey Betts and Alle Sinisgalli are gathering family members and other donors to participate in “Cutting Class” and will be helping out during the activities.

“My brother Grayson has been an inspiration,” Willis notes. Grayson, 19, battled cancer most of his life, but is now clear. “He pushes me to do what we can.” 

Sinisgalli, also in eighth grade, has been busy making support ribbons, and her group plans to have 1,000 ready to sell. Her mother had cancer when she was pregnant, and her aunt is a cancer patient now.

“I know it was hard for my mother,” she says. “I want to help people going through the same things.”

The cause is important to eighth grader Betts, too. Cancer took both of her grandmothers.

“I’m going to be bringing family members and raise money to help,” Betts adds. “And give people hope.”

 Volunteers from 3 Cs Cancer Support Group will also be on hand again this year. Proceeds from this event provide assistance to patients and families not covered by health insurance. This often includes, but is not limited to, wigs for chemotherapy patients, gasoline cards, grocery gift cards, meals and hotel stays during treatments.  So far BMS has donated a total of $25,153.10 to the organization from their yearly “Cure” events.  

Adkins-Leach says this year’s special guests will include State Senator Lou Gentile, who has visited past “Cutting Class” events, and Stephanie Dodd from the Ohio State Board of Education.

Students and other participants can expect a full day of activities on May 15, beginning at 8 a.m. at Barnesville Middle School, 970 Shamrock Dr. The walk will take place in the gymnasium, as always. This year, in addition, staff and volunteers will be running a corn hole competition, Ultimate Frisbee, a photo booth and a volleyball tournament. Adkins-Leach also notes that some teachers have agreed to be targets in a “pie in the face” event.

There will be a memory and honor wall again, and two t-shirt styles are available for orders now and the day of the event. One is a solid kiwi green for $10 and the other is a tie-dyed Kelly green shirt for $15. Sponsor Ramcat Alley Sportswear in Bellaire has been a big help, according to Adkins-Leach.

Barnesville Middle School student volunteers, from left, Alle Sinisgalli, Casey Betts and Alayna Willis, accept two bicycles donated by Jeremy Detling, third from left, on behalf of Williams Field Services Group and their community support program. The bikes will be raffled as part of BMS’s annual “Cutting Class for a Cure” event to raise money for 3Cs Cancer Support Group. 

Barnesville Middle School student volunteers, from left, Alle Sinisgalli, Casey Betts and Alayna Willis, accept two bicycles donated by Jeremy Detling, third from left, on behalf of Williams Field Services Group and their community support program. The bikes will be raffled as part of BMS’s annual “Cutting Class for a Cure” event to raise money for 3Cs Cancer Support Group. 

 She points out that many individuals, agencies and businesses have contributed to this event and cause. Some of these include sponsors Barnesville Education Association; Barnesville Athletic Association; the math, language arts, music and social studies departments at BMS; Dairy Queen; Triple B Trucking; Bennoc, Inc.;  Allison Starr and Mandi Moore of Premier Jewelry; China One; VFW Post 168; Ohio Hills Health Services; Belmont Savings Bank; Martha Campbell; Eva Lynn; JoAnn Murphy; Dave Barker; Cline Road Custom Cakes; The Styling House; W.J. Plumly Trucking.

South Central Power and Convenient Food Mart are donating some bottled water, hot dogs and buns. Miller’s Bakery and My Pizza Place are donating food for event workers. Adkins-Leach says that food sponsor opportunities are available for Life Water or Gatorade and for sponsorships toward food and beverages for walk participants.

Merchandise and gift cards or gift certificates have been donated by the following contributors, among others, for door prizes and raffle prizes: Cincinnati Bengals; Cincinnati Reds; Washington Wildthings; Wheeling Nailers; Pennsylvania Rebellion; Undo’s; West Texas Roadhouse; Chel’s; J-Mo Meats; WesBanco; Belmont Carson Petroleum; Wendy’s; Reisbeck’s; McDonald’s; Avenues of Barnesville; Barnesville Football Parents; Barnesville Vision Consultants; Save-a-Lot; Braido Memorials; Bill Hunkler Insurance; District Superintendent Randy Lucas; Barnesville Library; Domino’s Pizza.  A complete list of donors and sponsors can be seen at the event’s Facebook page, “Barnesville Middle School Cutting Class for a Cure.”   

Students will be able to purchase all-day wristbands for $10 to get out of classes for the whole day’s activities. The fee also includes 12 tickets for prize drawings. They also have the option of purchasing tickets for individual class periods and drawings, says Adkins-Leach.  Prizes include signed sports memorabilia from the Cincinnati Bengals and The Ohio State University Buckeyes as well as jewelry and an iPod with an iTunes gift card. Contact Adkins-Leach through the school at (740)425-3116 or via the Facebook page regarding prize donations or sponsorships. Cash donations for the 3Cs will be accepted throughout the day of the event.  Last year the day’s activities brought in $13,076.36, and Adkins-Leach hopes to reach $14,000 this year.

“Everybody pitches in for this event,” she says. “Everything raised stays local. People give generously because they know where the money is going.”

The students are hoping for a big day this year, too, in support of cancer patients and their families and friends.

 “We want to show people that they don’t have to go through this alone,” Sinisgalli adds. “People can be here for them.” 

InstaMeet in Wheeling

Sunday, March 22, I had the opportunity to participate in an InstaMeet in Wheeling. Photographers/Instagrammers from the region gathered at Wheeling's Heritage Park on the riverfront, picked up the list of subjects, and took off throughout downtown with phones and cameras. Subjects included Rust, Stranger, Doorway, Alley, Faded Building Advertisement, Window and Church, and a couple of others. 

If you'd like to see what everyone posted, go to Instagram and search #wwim11_WheelingWV. There are a few from yours truly there with other shooters' takes on the town. If you'd like to see my other Instagram work, check out my IG account, @g.valenti.photo. 


Saturday Photo Opp

I have a new lens for my camera and am still learning how to use it. I think it will be fun, though—a Holga—with its retro, gritty, grainy look. Working on my new websites has taken its toll this week. I needed to step away from the computer and get out of the house into the sunshine before the weather turns again tonight. So I drove to Bellaire.

I definitely need to keep practicing with the lens, but this was the first outing. If you are exploring the web, check out my new site www.ArtSoulWine.com (and its Facebook page.) I'm busy updating and upgrading my photography website, too, still at www.GlynisArt.com


Passing (through) Some Time

Last week I had to shoot photos of vintage items for a news article. I went to the Barnesville Antique Mall, and it was pretty cool. My head was spinning after perusing three floors crammed with all kinds of items, big and small, Depression glass, pottery, lots of jewelry, handbags, knick knacks, kitchen items—you get the idea. The people were very nice and had set up a display for me to photograph. I purchased a pair of earrings, restraining myself with all of my willpower against buying a large armoire (that I don’t need, and, truthfully, couldn’t get into the house if by chance I could find a way to get it home.)

Tucked away among the bowls, plaques, baubles and linens, there were a couple of odd items. I posted the “duck o’lantern (?!?)” on my Instagram account. And, truly, I'm glad I was a good little girl because I can't imagine how I would have turned out if Santa Claus had brought me a baby doll like the one forever-screaming, pictured below. I had the strangest thoughts about how the other two dolls have just tuned that one out; they’ve become jaded, numb and stare blankly into their own worlds, day in, day out. Which led me to think about how we, witnessing or experiencing similar constant noise (violence, crying children, barking dogs, maltreatment of animals or humans, etc.) eventually tune it out or adopt it as part of the daily landscape.

But I was on sensory-overload at that point, had totally missed lunch and hadn’t even finished my morning coffee.

I think I’ll be going back, though. I just got a Holga lens, and this might be a good test location.

A Valentine for Zsa Zsa

The following column about my pup Zsa Zsa was published in today's Times Leader. People have asked me how she is doing, and the answer is well. She's very funny, and I have to be vigilant and consistent, but she is a good little dog. Though the word "Amish" didn't appear in the newspaper, make no mistake that they are top offenders in the puppy mill problem. When I took ZZ to the vet's for the first time, she knew immediately from where the pup came just from the physical traits and subsequent health issues mill dogs exhibit.  We're trying to remedy the mess these people made of this innocent animal's life. Here are a few more Zsa Zsa notes:

  • Nicknames: ZZ, Zsah, and Lil' Z (gansta) 
  • She loves to be in the sun and will follow patches of it on the floor around the house   
  • She also likes toys and bones and isn't shy about taking what she can from her cousins or buddy Toby, though she isn't aggressive or threatening. It's hysterical to see her charge into a pile of toys and drag out the biggest bone (Samoyed size) without being intimidated at all. Think ant and rubber tree plant.
  • She is still trying to figure out cats (who isn't?) but, again, isn't threatening--simply curious, much to the object-cat's chagrin
  • In spite of the long days spent on the front seat of a U-Haul in November, she loves to ride in the car and now pokes her head out of the pet carrier to view the world outside the window. Previously, she has curled up and slept.      

 

COLUMN 25

At the end of 2013 I adopted a three-year old (estimated) ball of fur with one dark eye and one blue that weighed six pounds soaking wet.  I wasn’t sure I wanted the responsibility and expense of a pet.  My parents died the month before. I had no idea where my life was going.   

It began when I called Vicki Groves of My Young and Old Fur Babies Rescue to donate some blankets, and she said, “You’ll never believe what I got this week.”  She told me about her visit to a Holmes County veterinarian’s and stopping the vet tech as he lifted this pup, with tail wagging, out of the cage to euthanize her--just another breeder in an puppy mill that out-lived her usefulness. The vet thought she was a grey and black Shih Tzu, but after Vicki bathed her four times at the clinic to get the filth and smell from her coat, it turned out the pup was apricot and white.  She didn’t bark and seemed very sweet.

“She would be a great dog for you,” Vicki concluded. “She needs a quieter home; she could lie on your lap while you write.

When I dropped off the blankets, this little bundle fell asleep on my arm. Soon after, I, with the encouragement of most of my Facebook friends, made arrangements to adopt her. I’d picked out a Chinese name that meant “little joy:” Xiao Xiao. Right away it was apparent that she was more of a “little diva,” so her name became similar sounding Zsa Zsa instead.

I won’t lie. This co-habitation has been an adjustment for both of us. Her breed is notoriously stubborn, but she obeys eventually and looks to me for direction, acknowledgement and food. Zsa Zsa also has health issues due to irresponsible breeding practices. She’s allergic to almost everything, literally, so I cook vegetables, fruits, whole grains and fish for both of us.  I also have to make logistical schedule adjustments to come home every few hours to let the pooch out of her crate.

As she’s been acclimating to a world beyond a wire cage, I’ve observed a few lessons from her. Maybe she was sent to remind me of these as I reassess my own life.

First, Zsa Zsa goes with the flow. She’s fine hanging out with her toys and blankets at home, but is always up for adventure whether going to see her “cousins”--my cousins’ Samoyeds and kitty-- or traveling across the US in a U-Haul.  She greets everyone and is curious about everything new, a little cautiously sometimes, but always giving whatever it is the benefit of the doubt. If it has popcorn, all the better.

Vicki thought the mill may have severed Zsa Zsa’s vocal chords (not unusual) because she didn’t bark while at the rescue. Thankfully she wasn’t put through that horror. Turns out, lesson two, Zsa Zsa only barks when she thinks it’s necessary. She watches, evaluating what’s happening instead of throwing herself into it with mouth running.

Third, Zsa Zsa doesn’t let her past determine her future. I can only imagine her previous miserable life, and if it had turned out that she was snappish with people or fearful of other dogs, who could blame her?  Instead, she wakes every morning facing fresh, new days, more good now than bad. She is afraid of the dark, though, so we sleep with a nightlight (and I with a mask over my eyes) to reassure Zsa Zsa and to keep me from waking to an ungodly screeching howl at 2 a.m.  But her uninhibited joy as she scampers and struts is contagious.

Fourth, Zsa Zsa tries. Even if she’s unsure or afraid, she gathers up some moxie and gives it a go. She wants to contribute to “the pack,” and I want her to have some confidence, so when she succeeds at a challenge, it’s “good girl,” “yay,” and lots of pats on the head.

Now the not-so-good news. Zsa Zsa would have died without anyone knowing of this harmless, sweet and spunky little creature of God. There were already garbage bags on the vet clinic floor containing dogs not fortunate enough to catch Vicki’s eye, and this goes on every day. Holmes County and Lancaster, Pennsylvania are known as the “puppy mill capitals of the world.”

Virtually all puppies in pet stores—around 500,000 annually--come from mills, as do puppies at flea markets. A mill owner rakes in upwards of $300,000 per year at the expense of confined, malnourished and even injured dogs that keep the puppies coming. While puppies are sent away from the mill, the mothers—like Zsa Zsa—merely exist in wire cages breeding twice a year until they can’t produce, then are euthanized by a vet or killed on the farm. Googling “puppy mill statistics” will yield links to USDA and Humane Society reports and the ABC News story on Amish puppy mills. The only way to stop the cruelty is to stop buying these puppies and putting your money in the pockets of the monsters. Instead, support the rescues that save these dogs.

Lucky us, Zsa Zsa and me, when Fate smiled.  Another year of exploring ahead, and, as Vicki predicted, Zsa Zsa is snoring on the couch beside me. Valenti can be reached at gvalenti@timesleaderonline.com.

 

                                                                                                           

Snow Day

I’m not a fan of winter, at least the cold, snowy kind of winter.  I have always sort of hibernated during January. It’s such a dark month, the one glimmer of hope being that the daylight grows steadily longer.

Last January was brutal with below-zero temps and lots of snow blowing around. I have to say we’ve been lucky this year, and the snow has been minimal with short cold snaps. In Rochester I would listen in the middle of the night for the snow plow, and I find myself waking here, too, to the scraping as it comes up the hill. When it comes. This is not the city. When I don’t hear traffic going by in the early morning I know the road is covered.

But Winter found us at last, and we’ve had about six or so inches over the last three days. This is okay. While I can’t embrace the weather, I am resigned to accept it as it is. And I even made time to shoot a few photos on my way to the office today because, without the wind, the snow has settled on the trees, and it’s very pretty.  

I’m still working on my new websites, and, with any luck will have one up and running in the next two weeks.  It’s exciting to be working on a couple of new art projects, too, and preparing a new photo class. Off and running for 2015.


A Christmas Card for You

It is Christmas, and, since this is an unusual Christmas for me, I’ve been thinking about tradition, specifically about cards. I sent photo cards out again this year, and I think most have arrived safe and sound. But I’m sharing with you another card tradition that has always meant much to me.   

When I was going through my storage unit last month, I packed a sealed box marked “Christmas” and “Glass” in one of the moving boxes, wrapping it in a blanket and placing pillows and skeins of yarn all around. Upon opening it last week, I was delighted. It was my framed Christmas cards, garland, a couple of odd-lot ornaments and some favorite holiday videos. But, ah, the cards.

The majority of the 21 cards were given to me by my ex-husband, Rich, during our 10 years together, and, with the exception of a couple of painful post-divorce years, these cards have always made me smile. They are beautiful—so beautiful that I decided to frame them, and they became part of my Christmas décor. Eventually they decked my mantle in Rochester and my bookshelves in Oregon, which became my Christmas trees of sorts—displaying ornaments, garlands, lights, the cards, memories.

I love looking at them, small works of art. All have a touch of nostalgia and a touch of magic. I think that is what Christmas was--or is--to Rich and to many of us. It, far more than other holidays, is about wishes and goodwill. A benevolent, jolly spirit sweeping through a starry night distributing gifts throughout the world is nothing less than magic. We want to believe; we want to believe in good.

I hope you enjoy these as much as I do. Happy Christmas.

One more mile

Once again my column in Sunday's Times Leader garnered some comments, so I've decided to reprint it here. For the record, I'm still deciding where to go or whether to go at all. Not sure what I'll be doing, either, because there are so many possibilities. My hope is that at some point the Universe will part the clouds and shine a big sun ray on a map or a house or a plane ticket. Or the winning lottery ticket, so I can do everything and go everywhere. 

COLUMN 24

According to the American Moving and Storage Association (AMSA,) each year an average of nearly 36 million people move their households. I know two of those people this year: my friend Dottie and myself. 

A few years ago Dottie came back to the Ohio Valley from her home in California to take care of a couple of elderly relatives. Sound familiar? She and I are part of the 15 percent of Americans who move for “family-related” reasons. She cultivated a life here but missed her daughters and grandchildren on the west coast, and they missed her. This year Dottie decided to pull up stakes and build on her daughter’s property. She asked me if I would drive the U-Haul truck cross-country for her, adding that I could head up to Oregon and clear out my storage unit holding my own furniture, books, camera equipment, etc. for over four years. I agreed that this was a good idea, and I needed a change of scenery after the last year.  

A Facebook friend recently drove to San Diego posting awesome photos all along the way, noting that to see the “real” America, you have to get off of the Interstate. I totally agree having driven I-80 through 1,400 miles of corn from Nebraska to Ohio, but Dottie and I were interstate-bound, too, with deadlines to meet and long days of driving. My Instagram and Facebook posts could only chronicle some bits and pieces of sights seen from I-40, leaving “The World’s Largest Wind Chime” for future travels.

Most of it proceeded without incident, but between Oklahoma City and Albuquerque an approaching weather system created 40 m.p.h. winds. It was a 550 mile drive anyway, but the wind, the hills and a loaded-down 17-foot U-Haul turned it into a 12-hour day. Finally in the hotel parking lot, aching, tired and after Google maps sent me circling in the opposite direction of the hotel, I locked my keys and my pup Zsa Zsa in the truck.

As I had a meltdown and Dottie called AAA three times, a man stepped over from the counter and said, “I hear what’s happening, and I can’t make any promises, but I’ll take a look at the truck for you.” He was an angel and removed the keys through the window while Zsa Zsa slept on the seat. I gave him a restaurant card to use for lunch with his kids.

Dottie and I did take some time to visit Sedona, Arizona and taste wine in Paso Robles, California. We unloaded the truck and returned it in Amador County, then headed up to Oregon.

Before leaving Ohio I discovered that it was less expensive—not to mention time consuming—to fly back to Ohio and hire movers to ship the contents of my storage space instead of renting another U-Haul. Many people commented on my last column about downsizing and clearing out. Well, those comments echoed in my ears as the purge continued.

I cautiously raised the door of the storage unit and waited for something to tumble out. All was safe and sound, and, thankfully, mostly in boxes and bins. I began transferring items to a “giveaway” pile and a “garbage” pile, steadily working my way through, oh, one-third of the unit. Hmmm. My goal was to reduce the amount of all the stuff by half, and the movers were going to pick everything up in two days. I stepped up the “get rid of” action, loaded up my rental car with items for Goodwill and made some more progress.  

By the end of the first day I’d come to three realizations. First, I had had a LIFE in Oregon. Here was my artwork and inventory; here were the items filling my cupboards and drawers; here were my files of photo negatives and client projects; here were my lesson plans, materials and tools for the classes I taught; here were my shop fixtures. It was all coming back to me.

The second realization was that I was living proof that one person CAN have too many books—and it pains me to say that. Boxes and crates of art books, cookbooks, magazines and the old mysteries that I’d collected seemed to get in the way of everything else I was trying to sort. I did give many books to Goodwill and magazines to recycling, but only glanced at the coffee table books that I used during my photo classes.

Third, I realized I could keep my storage unit for now. Once I gave myself permission to keep the space, I felt more relaxed and focused about sorting and packing. While my stuff should be in Ohio by the time this column is in print, I’ve left the possibility of returning to Oregon, even part-time, open. I packaged up the things that were pertinent to life here—sweaters, wine and much of my artwork--and left behind those belongings more suited to the beach.

It’s scary to not have a concrete plan, but right now I need to take one step at a time even if the steps go in different directions. Maybe if I continue removing the clutter, ever paring down, at some point it will clear the path.

 

A Change of Scenery

Well, here I am. I thought that my trip to California and Oregon might make things a little clearer as far as next steps, but it didn’t. I did make some excellent wine contacts in CA to try to get something going here, but found myself feeling exhilarated by the Oregon beach air and seeing friends and familiar places again.  This was unexpected.

I was overwhelmed by Sedona. I’ve not experienced mountains like those or the type of energy at the Chapel of the Holy Cross. It was serene and yet vibrant (almost tangible) at the same time. I don’t recall ever feeling anything like it. I had to go outside because of the power.

The Oregon coast is always amazing. There is so much natural beauty. It’s breathtaking. And even as sheets of rain were whipping off of the ocean on Friday as I was out and about, I felt comforted by it, especially when I stopped to say hello to Bob and Lenore at EVOO and Suzanne and Jim at Icefire Gallery and it was all cozy-warm inside. As I drove back to Nadine and Van’s (where I was staying,) I thought, “This is winter on the coast. Wind, water and warm.”

I cringed at the memory of last year’s stretch of below zero temps in Ohio (and New York and the whole Great Lakes region.) Blech. But here in Ohio opportunities are beginning to crop up, and I just need to focus and push myself ahead with some of the possibilities. I’m unpacking the boxes and furniture that I had shipped here from my storage unit. The first thing I noticed was that the contents smell like the coast—fresh and evergreen-y. I almost want to seal up the boxes to keep that wonderful scent close by. And so it goes.

If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you’ll have seen a few shots from the road, but these are some additional. My newspaper column on Sunday also talked a bit about the trip, so I’ll post that here, too.  For now, sit back and enjoy the ride.


La Salute

Sometimes I lead a charmed life. I asked friend Diane Conroy about an upcoming Sons of Italy event, their annual wine dinner. She was on the committee and invited me to the tasting to choose the wines!

The dinner is this Saturday, Dec. 6. Of course the food is authentic, and the wines are Italian.

The line-up looks like Niro Montepulciano with antipasto and bruschetta; Riondo Rosso with roasted pork shoulder and pepperoni lasagna roll-ups; Planeta Segreta and Straccali Pinot Grigio with the seafood dishes; Bartenura Moscato with dessert; a delicioso PISA Liqueur as a finish.

Thank you to the Sons of Italy for the warm welcome. I’m looking forward to the dinner!

(I was in California and Oregon during November. Posts regarding the trip coming soon, and I’ll get back on track.)  

American (Pizza) Pie

(A little feature from today's Times Leader in honor of National Pizza Month. Thank you to Dominic DeFelice and DeFelice Brothers Pizza for their input and allowing me to take some photos at their Wheeling/Bethlehem store. Buon appetito!)

It’s that time of year when, after a long day and a dash through the neighborhood on a dark night, families gather in the kitchen to divvy up the goods. Yes, it’s National Pizza Month, and opening that box on the table has become part of the American way of life.

                So much so in fact, according to National Restaurant Association statistics, Americans consume pizza at the rate of 350 slices per second, or 46 slices per year for every man, woman and child. For a family of four, that’s 23 eight-slice pizzas per year. In the US, 93 percent of the population eats pizza at least once a month. Pizza is the “go to” food for family parties, especially for families with children under the age of 18. A Gallup poll notes that pizza is the top choice for lunches and dinners with the age 3 to 11 crowd.

                America’s favorite topping is pepperoni, which is on more than 36 percent of all orders and totals 252 million pounds consumed per year, but no one knows exactly where this trend began. It did gain popularity sometime between 1930 and 1950. Regardless of which kind, 62 percent of pizza orders include some sort of meat. And with pizza becoming a diet staple, each American also eats around 11 pounds of mozzarella cheese annually. Among toppings, anchovies are the least favorite in the United States.

                There are as many topping preferences as cultures throughout the world. The Japanese like pizza topped with eel and squid; Russians like a fish mixture of mackerel, salmon, tuna and sardines with onions. Curry is popular in Pakistan, tofu in India, coconut in Costa Rica, hard-boiled eggs in Brazil and shrimp with pineapple in Australia. 

              Most people think that pizza originated in Italy, Naples to be exact. However, research shows that people were baking bread 7,000 years ago in the Neolithic age. A little later, Ancient Greeks put herbs, garlic and onions on flatbread, and after that various cultures in the Mediterranean, Middle East and Asia developed their own types of flavored flatbreads.

                Naples, as it happens, was a Greek settlement established around 600 BC. The seaport city grew and thrived with explorations and developing trade routes through the centuries, fostering an increasing population of working poor, or lazzaroni. Since many had no kitchens, street vendors and bakeries began selling inexpensive flatbreads with toppings, coined “pizza” (believed to originate from the Latin pista of pinsere, to pound or beat) around the 16th century. Many of the early pizzas were also sweet, and the more savory versions familiar today developed later. Tomatoes found their way onto pizza after European explorers brought them back from trips to the Americas. While wealthy Neapolitans dined on rich foods and wines, the poor “mangia”’d their way into history.

                Port’Alba, the first official pizzeria opened in Naples in 1830 and featured an oven that used lava from nearby volcano Mt. Vesuvius. On a tour through Italy with King Umberto I in 1889, Queen Margherita Teresa Giovanni asked to try pizza when they arrived in Naples. Don Raffaele Esposito, owner of long-established pizzeria Pietro il Pizzaiolo, obliged with a special pie topped with tomatoes, basil and, for the first time, mozzarella cheese—honoring the colors of the Italian flag—and he named it for the queen.

                The first “official” American pizzeria was Lombardi’s Pizzeria Napoletana on Spring St. in New York City. Gennaro Lombardi opened it in 1905. As Italians immigrated to the US, they also opened restaurants and pizza parlors, introducing their cuisine to a growing American middle class. Soldiers returning from World War II tours in Italy helped spread the word about pizza and boosted its popularity as a tasty, wholesome meal.  

 

               Today the $30 billion a year pizza industry serves up the second most popular restaurant menu item, the first being burgers. For consumers over age 50, pizza is second to chicken when it comes to take-out food. Chances are, there is a pizza restaurant nearby because they hold a 20 percent market share of the number of restaurants.

                Based on per capita counts, the National Restaurant Association reports that New Hampshire rates the highest with 3.87 stores per 10,000 people. West Virginia ranks fifth in this count with 3.40 stores per 10,000 people, followed by Pennsylvania at 3.26 stores. Ohio ranks eighth with 3.18 stores per 10,000 people. New York, home of the first pizzeria, comes in 15th with 2.63 stores per 10,000, and Hawaii is last on the list with only 1.21 stores per 10,000 people.

                Of the chain pizza restaurants, Pizza Hut is the largest in the world. According to Technomic, a restaurant industry consulting firm, Pizza Hut restaurants and delivery/take-out units total 6,120 in the United States alone (an average of more than 120 stores per state and over 8.5 percent of the pizza real estate, but they also have outlets in 90 other countries. Rounding out the top five chains, largest first, are Domino’s, Little Ceasars, Papa John’s and Papa Murphy’s. In total, chains have 47 percent of the total 71,387 US pizzerias.

                The other 53 percent are independently owned, Connecticut having the highest percentage of independents versus chains at 87 percent. New York is second with 83 percent independent. Pennsylvania is eighth (76 percent,) Ohio is 13th (55 percent,) and West Virginia is 26th (45 percent independents.)

 

               Locally, regional family-owned DeFelice Brothers Pizza has been serving their brand based on family recipes since 1982. President Dominic DeFelice says that they’ve been able to maintain the integrity of the original pizzas even through their growth to nine stores.

                “Our dough is made fresh several times a day. We chop our fresh vegetables in every store. We use 100 percent real dairy cheese,” DeFelice explains. “We used to make our own sausage, but found someone to make it to our specifications when we couldn’t keep up with demand.”

                He adds that they used to use fresh tomatoes, but, because of the company’s growth, sought out a producer in the United States who is able to pick and can (fresh pack) tomatoes within a six hour time span, giving DeFelice a consistent product that is as fresh as possible. He believes the fresh products and flavors played a part in the “DeFelice Bros. Special” pizza winning a competition in Italy.  

                In all, DeFelice Bros. offers more than 20 toppings on the menu, but, true to form, pepperoni is still the top seller, and anchovies sell the least. The above-mentioned “Special” (with pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, green peppers and onions) and monthly promotion pizzas (in October, it’s taco pizza) are popular, also.

                DeFelice and district manager Geno Traficante think people like pizza because “it covers the four food groups:” dairy, meat, grains and vegetables.

                “It’s portable and fun,” adds Traficante. “It’s also social and communal. People buy it for parties, to have with friends and family.”

                “The key is the fresh ingredients, tomatoes, basil,” notes DeFelice. “We try to keep it simple.”

               And with the trend toward healthier, simpler eating, a “better pizza” movement has arisen. Technomic research and surveys indicate that 41 percent of American pizza diners want fresh, local and/or organic ingredients for their pies. Thirty-four percent of pizza consumers said they would pay more for gourmet ingredients, for instance free-range chicken, goat cheese, tapenades, house-made mozzarella and smoked ricotta.

                Pizza purists have also united and formed the “Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana,” the True Neapolitan Pizza Association. Members have set the parameters for creating an authentic Neapolitan pizza. The dough must be hand-kneaded and rolled without using any instruments like a rolling pin. It must be within certain size guidelines, use ingredients of particular quality and origin and be baked in a wood-fired, domed oven. The association evaluates and designates pizzerias outside of Naples to carry on their historic traditions.     

 

                Finally, since pizza has become a huge part of American culture, here are the facts on the world’s largest pizza. The World Record Academy says the largest baked pizza was created in December 2012 in Italy by five Italian chefs raising awareness about celiac disease. Measuring 131 feet in diameter (covering one-third of an acre,) the gluten-free pizza weighed 51,257 pounds and took 48 hours to bake in 5,000 batches. The ingredients included 19,800 pounds of flour, 10,000 pounds of tomato sauce, 551 pounds of salt, 8,800 pounds of mozzarella cheese and 275 pounds of parmesan cheese.  

                Valenti can be reached at gvalenti@timesleaderonline.com.

 

Crush on Vino di Piccin

Last week I was invited to see and photograph the crush at a small local winery, a venture run by six hard-working siblings based on their father's homemade wine. Vino di Piccin in Lansing has a beautiful wine bar and some pretty darn good wines (i.e. Angelo's Reserve and Luigi's Zin.)

Saturday was all about the California Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes they secured from an Ohio distributor. Crates of Geneva, Ohio Concord grapes sat waiting for their turn in the crusher, too.

Thank you to the Piccin family for allowing me to hang out and take some photos, for the tastes, and for being such gracious hosts to everyone who walks through the door. The glass of wine in the final photo is what Saturday's grapes will aspire to be: Luigi's Zin.

 

Perusing Pumpkin Patches

(This feature appeared in today's Times Leader.)

By GLYNIS VALENTI Times Leader Staff Writer

Pumpkin season arrived right around the time of the fall equinox, just as the leaves began to turn colors other than green. Or it arrived September 1, the day McDonald’s released its Pumpkin Spice Latte drink (Starbucks released theirs on September 2.) Either way pumpkins mean fall, and fall means pumpkins—and lots of them.

                According to information from Iowa State University, pumpkin sales in the United States rose 16 percent from 2011 to 2012, meaning growers sold 1,388,800,000 pounds worth of pumpkin in 2012, a total value of nearly $149 million. Ohio is number three in pumpkin production behind California and top producer Illinois. In fact, 90 percent of America’s crop grows within 90 miles of Peoria, close to the Libby’s pumpkin processing plant. More than 85 percent of the world’s canned pumpkin comes from this plant.

                In October pumpkins are all around in a wide range of shapes and sizes. While all varieties are packed with nutritional benefits, some pumpkins are grown and suited for different uses. Pumpkin is a vegetable, a member of the Cucurbitaceae family of vine plants like squash, cucumbers and cantaloupes. The most familiar varieties have orange or yellow skins, but they can be white, brown, red, grey or green.

                The smallest pumpkins weigh only a few ounces and are used for decoration. The largest, or “giant,” varieties are grown mainly for competitions like the King Pumpkin contest at the Barnesville Pumpkin Festival. Many weigh several hundred pounds, but this year’s 1,514 pound winner was a festival record-breaker. The other hundreds of varieties of cooking, processing and carving pumpkins are in the middle of these extremes, and there are some particulars about choosing them.

                All pumpkins are squash, the word “squash” coming from an Algonquin word, “askutasquash,” meaning “eaten green or unripe.” The earliest pumpkin eaters did harvest them early and prepare them like zucchini and other squashes.

                One of the oldest known pumpkins is the cushaw, Cucurbitaceae argyrosperma, which originated in Mexico and was used 7,000 years ago. The cushaw’s elongated shape and crooked neck set it apart from the pumpkin pack, as does its light to whitish green color with mottled green stripes. Also called the green-striped cushaw and Hopi cushaw, it’s a heat-hardy, pest-resistant plant grown in desert areas of America’s southwest and can be stored up to four months. Early growers not only ate the plant for sustenance, but used it medicinally to treat burns and skin conditions like eczema, as well as to rid the body of intestinal worms and parasites. Outside of the southwest, southern and Appalachian cuisine make the most use of the moist, fibrous yellow flesh today for pies, pastries and Tennessee cushaw butter, but its availability is limited in other areas.  

                Out perusing pumpkins? There are two heirloom varieties that aficionados may enjoy hunting down. The first is the cheese pumpkin, C. moschata, a large, tan squash named for its shape’s likeness to a cheese wheel. Of West Indian origin, it was known to be in Europe during the 1500s and was cultivated on American soil before the American Revolution. It appeared in an 1815 seed catalog here and was also known as the Landreth Cheese and Mammoth Cheese pumpkins. Today’s Buff Pie pumpkin is believed to be the same variety.

                The second, the Quaker Pie pumpkin, is rare but still around. A New York seed catalog advertised this white-skinned, white-flesh globe, which averages about 8 inches in diameter, but weighs around 10 pounds. The vines grow to 15 feet long and have very large flowers. In cooking, this variety has a coconut flavor.

                Pumpkin—real pumpkin, not the canned pie mix—is a rich source of the antioxidant beta-carotene. One cup of cooked, drained flesh is only 49 calories and yields 2 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber and 12 grams of carbohydrates. It contains a wealth of minerals: calcium, magnesium, potassium and zinc. But the beta-carotene converts to Vitamin A which is vital for skin, mucous membranes and eye health and fights age-related macular disease. Studies are indicating that Vitamin A also helps the body resist lung and oral cavity cancers. Pumpkin seeds, too, are a heart-healthy snack providing dietary fiber and mono-unsaturated fatty acids, protein, iron, niacin, selenium, zinc and the amino acid tryptophan.

                Finding cooking pumpkins is easy this time of year. Here are a few pointers for finding the tastiest. Cooking pumpkins are smaller, between 4 and 8 pounds. The flesh is dense, sweet and smooth. Look for names like “Sugar Baby,” “Baby Pam,” “New England Pie,” and “Autumn Gold.” Ripe pumpkins make a hollow sound when tapped. Avoid those that are cut or bruised because of the risk of bacteria getting inside. They can be stored for several weeks at room temperature in a cool, well-ventilated area.

                When cutting, remove the stem end first. Cut the pumpkin in half lengthwise and remove the webbing and seeds. Slice the halves, and cut the flesh into cubes. Not just for pie, pumpkin is used in stews, cookies, pancakes, breads, casseroles, sauces, ice cream, cheesecake, ravioli filling and on its own as a side dish. It is often used interchangeably with winter squash, especially butternut.

 

              Carving, or field, pumpkins are usually larger and grow in various shapes. It helps to have a carving design in mind before shopping. Elongated varieties lend themselves to faces or window designs. Plumper shapes are suited to the traditional “jack o’ lantern” face. Oddly shaped pumpkins may provide opportunities for creating funny or scary faces. Again, a hollow sound when tapped means a ripe pumpkin, but the skin should be firm, not soft or bruised. It should sit solid and level.

                Assemble cutting and carving tools such as knives, saws, an ice cream scoop and dry erase markers or T-pins to draw or transfer the design. Professional pumpkin artists use a variety of power tools during the carving process. One suggests a drywall saw for the initial cuts, a jigsaw for smaller cuts, a rotary tool for the skin and an angle grinder for cleaning large areas.   

                Decide where the opening will be. If it’s the top, cut into the pumpkin on an angle to make a cone.  Openings can also be cut into the back or the bottom, but make sure the pumpkin will sit safely. Remove the seeds and netting with an ice cream scoop, beginning at the top of the hole and progressively moving down through the pumpkin. Scrape the inside clean with the scoop or scraper tool, and try to scrape the flesh down on the inside to less than one inch in the design area to make carving easier.

                To transfer a pattern, secure or draw the image on the prepared area. Follow the lines of the design with a sharp, pointed object such as a T-pin, nail or metal skewer, then dust the lines with baking soda or cornstarch. Mark the areas to be cut with a marker or crayon while peeling the pattern away. Start with the small sections to be removed. Gently follow the dots with a saw blade or small knife. Keep the design in mind while carving—whatever is lit in the design is what needs to be carved out. The professionals urge care and patience here not only for safety, but to not damage intricate areas in the design. Don’t slice or rush, removing the sections carefully by hand. Make sure the back area is scraped clean and flat so as not to create shadows when lit.

                Pros suggest a light spritz of bathroom cleaner with bleach or soaking it overnight in a tub of water with a little bleach. The bleach will keep pests away, and the water will keep the pumpkin firm. A thin layer of petroleum jelly on the exposed edges will help retain the moisture and prolong the pumpkin’s life. Light it up with blinker or flicker bulbs, black light or a noise sensor that turns it on when someone walks by.

                Back to the Pumpkin Spice Latte, or PSL, Starbucks has sold more than 200 million over its 10 years on the menu. A medium has 510 calories, 20 grams of fat and 62 grams of sugar. McDonald’s PSL has fewer calories at 440, but the same fat and sugar content. The non-fat versions still contain the sugar (as much an average candy bar) but fewer calories and far less fat.

                 The real kicker? There is no “pumpkin” in it. According to the Starbucks website, the PSL is an “espresso beverage that features freshly steamed milk, rich and creamy pumpkin-flavored sauce and warm seasonal spices such as cinnamon, ginger nutmeg and clove.” But America’s love of pumpkin shows no signs of slowing down, and in 2013 spent $308 million on various pumpkin-flavored products. What would the Great Pumpkin think about that?