A swarm of teenagers, a hive of activity!

         300 teenagers came to Lockport over the weekend, but it wasn’t for the big Lou Gramm concert. These young men and women are part of Reach Workcamps and have come to our area to work during their summer vacations. They’ll be rebuilding and fixing homes in Eastern Niagara County. If you read today’s paper, you’ll know that they sleep on air mattresses on classroom floors in Lockport High School… kind of like a slumber party away from home, right? They work each day from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and have time for socializing, prayer and activities. Reach is new to Lockport, after having worked in Niagara Falls last year. The young people come from six states and several church denominations, some as young as seventh graders. Sound like a big party to you?

            Reach is similar to the Group Workcamps who have been in our area before. A few summers ago, groups of volunteers from Kentucky put a roof on a house next door t me and did work on another nearby. Those teens worked every single minute, in a spirit of camaraderie that was amazing. Except for a brief break to eat a bagged lunch, they were cheerfully busy and productive all day. The weather was sweltering one day, and drizzling the next, but they had a job to do in a limited time, so there were no time-outs. Not only do these young people not get paid, they have to raise money to pay for their expenses to come here! They come because they want to help, to serve and to be a part of something good. I can assure you they are a shining example of what is good and decent in America’s youth. I was heartened and humbled by their desire to really make a difference in the world.

            If you see these young men and women at work, stop and say “Thanks” for caring about our community, our world. Yes, they are here to party; they’re here to be part of the joyful celebration of giving to others. They’ll be working hard and gaining valuable work experience, but the greatest reward is one only the selfless receive, the satisfaction of knowing the best give to give is the gift of “you” in service to others. At the end, they’ll have a reason to be proud, for they will have touched many lives and hearts with their compassion and spirit. We can all be proud of them for their mission.

            Welcome to Eastern Niagara! We hope you’ll feel right at home.

Berries and cherries and fruit, oh my!

            This year’s crop of local strawberries has been amazing and there are still plenty of them around to pick or buy in quarts. They’re sure to be on the menu at this week’s barbecues and parties. Coming right on their heels are local sweet cherries! There’s something about eating a sun-warmed cherry straight from the tree that evokes the care-free days of summers gone by. I remember going to pick cherries at a local farm many years ago, where you could just “eat” your way through if you preferred it. They weighed you when you went in, and weighed you when you went out, and charged you for what you packed in. We always chose to pick a lasting supply to take home to the city, but it was impossible not to taste a cherry or three while in the orchards! My absolute favorite cherries are the big, dark ox heart variety, quickly reduced to a pile of pits and stems when they appear.

            We are so fortunate in this country to have regular shipments of food from all over the world in our markets, but far more fortunate to be living in the midst of farm country. Today, more than ever, it’s important to support our local farmers. They are truly on the endangered species list!

            Yes, sweet cherries of all varieties are ripe for the picking over the next month and sour cherries will be here soon. Picking them yourself is easier these days with dwarf trees (no ladders) and it’s one of the most fun things you can do with your kids or grandkids. Don’t know where to take the out-of-town company? Drive those city slickers to any one of the local u-pick farms and they’ll love it!

            Can luscious raspberries be far behind in the fruit parade? Mid-July sounds about right for them. We always watch for the purple blueberry tent at the blueberry farm on Lake Road to go up for the season; it’s a rite of summer. Make the most of the frits of summer; they’re so fleeting. The art of canning and preserving is not as common  these days but with some zip-loc bags you can fill your freezer with summer’s bounty to get you through the winter. Toss out those frozen pizzas and bagels and make room for the good stuff!! And while you’re picking or buying…thank a farmer for keeping his faith in the land and bringing us such a bounty!

To Market, To Market, to buy some fresh scapes…

The Barker Farmer’s Market continues to be a be a great place to meet up with your neighbors and enjoy a gentle summer evening. I got a lesson in “garlic scapes” from my friend Don Pyskaty, the Polish Prince of Garlic. It turns out that the curly, green, chive-looking things he had for sale are Garlic scapes (also known as garlic tops, garlic shoots, green garlic, spring baby garlic, garlic spears, early garlic greens, or garlic “flowers”). There are lots of recipes for the tender, flavorful shoots which are only available for a short window of time. Oline I found that  “Taste-wise, garlic scapes are to garlic heads what scallions are to onions. They are garlicky but with a fresh “green” taste. They can be used in any dish where one usually uses garlic but wants a brighter, more complex garlic flavor with less bite than one would get from standard garlic cloves. Garlic scapes work well in soups, salads, stews, salsas, dips, guacamole, omelettes, frittatas, souffles, marinades, pesto, salad dressings, and stir-fry. They can also be pickled and added to homemade flavored vinegars. Scapes are also delightful when cooked into sauces.”

When you stop by the Barker Market next Thursday (every Thursday from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.) you can pick up some printed recipes to go with those scapes! From pesto to roasted scapes, you’ll find some new delights for your summer table, but hurry!

The fresh asparagus and strawberries  were joined this week by early cherries!! Yum.

More on my raccoon

Well, sealing off the kitty door effectively stopped the midnight raids on edibles in my house, but the resident cat is none too happy about being restricted from her own nighttime wanderings. If my poacher was, indeed, the friendly raccoon that visits next door, I hope it finds a natural food source and stays out of trouble. I realize that some creatures are a nuisance but I always feel a bit guilty about the whole “mankind encroaching on wildlife habitats” thing. I mean, these critters have hunger and a survival instinct and were made to forage for themselves. It’s not like they can pop down to the K&K for potato chips!

I also realize that rabies is a big threat and we must exercise caution when animals are behaving strangely but…I read the Mailbag letter from a man of the cloth who saw a raccoon looking disoriented on a busy highway, so he used the only weapon at hand and beat the critter to death. God save us from confused critters! I mean no disrespect, but if I was about a foot long and had wandered onto a highway with monster machines whizzing by in every direction, I would be terrified and disoriented as well.

For me, it goes back to the killing thing…my inability to inflict pain or death on living things. Perhaps a less descriptive letter citing the danger of rabies might not have made me as ill as the details of the raccoon’s demise. I know the man was trying very hard to alert others to danger (although no agencies cared to examine the remains for signs of rabies and it’s now buried) but I still carry the guilt thing about displacing God’s creatures. If only the letter writer had not sounded so triumphant at having dispatched the critter by beating it to death.

If humans were to be dispatched for “acting strangely” maybe our species would be next on the endangered list. *sigh*

A midnight masked bandit in Barker!

     By the time I adopted my brown tiger cat, she had spent a couple of years on the mean streets before being rescued by Sav-A-Pet. At her foster home she was an indoor cat, but when you have 14 roommates and food and shelter, you just go with the flow, I guess. I had every intention of keeping her indoors, but once Sneakie Pie gained enough confidence to sprint for the great outdoors, it was all over. With the help of a swinging kitty door, she could enjoy being queen of the manor but prowl the grass when she got the urge.

            My niece has a young cat and lives close enough that Smokey hangs out here a lot, but our cats refuse to be friends. They still make throaty noises and hisses, but that’s it. At some point some time ago, I realized that my cat’s wet and dry food bowls were licked clean and I began to suspect that Smokey found her way through the door when I was away. I was right. It only happens occasionally, so I ignore it. At least I did.

            Coming home wet and tired at 12:30 a.m. Sunday from the Relay, I just undressed and went to bed. In the morning, I noticed the cat food had been inhaled again but wait, why are there cans on the floor next to my food shelf? And why, pray tell, is there a bag of cake mix with a hole torn out of the middle??? Hmmmmmm.

            On Monday I mentioned the episode to Smokey’s mom and she said “Are you sure it’s not the raccoon?”

“Um…what raccoon?”

“Every night when I’m sitting on the porch, this raccoon comes up on the porch real friendly like, wanting me to pet him.”

“Gulp.”

            Now, this kitty door is not on ground level. My cat has to climb atop a stand on the enclosed porch to the waist high door that leads to another stand in the living room. Surely a raccoon could not figure out the route. Could it?

            This morning’s foray into the kitchen yielded a bread bag now emptied of the last three slices of bread, a gnawed pack of ice cream cone cups and licked-clean cat food dishes. Huh?!?!?  A gift basket of Tim Horton’s coffee packs, boxes of tea and a can of cappuccino was upended, but apparently the critter is staying off caffeine. It did, however, get a box of ant traps off the bottom shelf, opened the box and pulled out the traps and left them for better pickings. No cat is guilty of this midnight marauding, that’s for sure! It must be the little masked bandit who visits across the way. For now, the window is shut on the kitty door, barring access (with great disapproval from the resident feline). Now if I find any more nighttime noshing going on, it must mean my Sneakie Pie is losing her grip in her old age or (horrors) the little masked bandit is now trapped IN here! But what to do?

            Yes, I know I can get a humane trap. Yes, I know they can carry rabies, etc. My friends at the coffee counter today assured me that the raccoons don’t “hang out” when summer is here; they just forage and take it back to their nest, or den, or wherever. Were they just trying to reassure me?  I don’t feel reassured! I’m perfectly okay with letting it be in the outdoors (I’ve already expressed my anti-kill or hurt phobias in an earlier blog) but this house has only room for one four-legged forager and that’s my teenage cat. Let’s hope the busy bandit isn’t out in the backland telling his buddies about the neat new all-night diner he found! I have a feeling that there are some sleepless nights ahead for me!

            Anybody in blog land have experience with indoor-dining critters? Want to adopt one if I can catch it??/ J

Relay memories on my mind…

What were the memorable scenes from Relay for Life 2008?

 

**The sight of balloons winging skyward in volleys of rainbow colors, released by those who battle cancer.

** Exhausted committee members seeing the fruits of their labors in full bloom, often through tears of joy.

**Knee-high kids paying rapt attention to the Gravity Pirate jugglers who were showing them how to do it.

**Little kids hopping on colorful blow-up unicorns they won in the kid’s game tent; hair flopping in the sunshine.

** Aimee Haws displaying tremendous courage as she walked the track with a button and framed photo of son Alex, gone from earth after losing his battle with cancer but always in our hearts.

**While one young boy was proudly displaying the four live goldfish he won, his Mom looked none too thrilled at the prospect of adopting them! As a matter of fact, she did suggest a fish fry….just kidding, of course. I remember that carefree young man when he had just gone through years of chemotherapy and walked in our Barker Relay, with a Survivor shirt down to his knees.

**Friends from the Breast Cancer Canal Walk back again to join us. When we first started our Relay, they called to welcome us to publicize at their event- a rare partnership and the beginning of beautiful friendships!

**Gracie, the chocolate Lab therapy dog who loves to play soccer, defending a goal in the end zone. I wonder how many kids got a goal past the friendly pooch goalie!

**The Gieco Gecko who walked around in the giant suit all day deserves a medal! I was hot enough in pink hair!

**Seeing the strength in the faces of the survivors who walked the track to applause and cheers is always touching. No matter how they have been ravaged by cancer and the drugs that fight it…no matter if they’ve lost hair, lost weight or lost everything they tried to eat in the last week. At Relay they are refreshed and they are all BEAUTIFUL!

**Young children selling tickets, homemade brownies and anything else they could to raise money to help other kids.

** The waves of snow cones, cotton candy, and fried dough making the rounds made it seem just like a county fair!

** There is one very proud music teacher in heaven! The young chorus from DeWitt Clinton sang in memory of their teacher and their beautiful, clear voices were surly heard  up in the clouds!

** Wet, wind-whipped relayers in the semi-dark of the school cafeteria to carry on with a candle-lighting ceremony. While the skies wreaked havoc around us, the choir sang, the candles were lit and many prayers were sent to those gone and those who fight.

** The beautiful mini-gardens in front of the survivor tent lent an air of pageantry to the ceremony. Thanks to Stedman’s Nursery for all the work.

**The familiar faces in the Quality/Hartland Bible Church tent who have been cooking hot dogs and strawberry shortcakes for us for years!

** Ridgewood Bible Church, which takes photos of all the teams, made a huge painted scene of Relay with faces cut out so walkers could stick their own faces in for pictures. What fun!

**A grandfather and grandson sharing the time-honored tradition of clowning to spread joy to young and old alike!

**On the “smile and hug” meter of life, Saturday’s Relay was waaaayyy over the top!!

**A top hat, tutus, a caged tiger and the zany, wonderful humor that is the Barker Soda Jerks! They’re unique and inspire fun all around them!

**A lot of people were wearing lap tracker necklaces to keep track of trips around the oval and they were certainly racking up beads until the rain came. Great way to exercise and be healthy!!

** Making music! From the Hearty Lockport Community Band to the CRS Band, Red House Guitar Kids, youth and adult choirs and the memorable Mimes, it was an impressive array of people volunteering to share their talents to help the cause. Sharing personal gifts is what life is all about!

** And the list goes on……….

Thank You All For Relaying With Us!

The Relay For Life made the front page to share news of the stunning event…at least before the freaky lightning storm that tore at tents and saturated the field. The Relay had to end abruptly, but not before everyone was sheltered in the school cafeteria by the committee. While rain deluged and lightning flashed, we still held a Luminaria ceremony inside. I think it’s ironic that after an amazingly beautiful and fun-filled day at Relay, it all changed so quickly….isn’t that how it is for those whose normal happy-go-lucky days are suddenly changed by cancer? No one ever knows when the cancer storm will strike, and all we can do is offer shelter, solidarity and hope.

It’s impossible to tell in a short article how terrific our day was! t

The rainbow-hued balloon release was amazing. Our own Dar Lutz was left sobbing with joy after honoring the survivors in the opening lap. Those shared hugs and tears cut through the utter exhaustion and make everything worth it. To have young children come up to sing, to read poems, to bring smiles to those who battle cancer, is just too precious for words.

Food! Oh, my gosh, did we have food! There was enough food, drinks and treats to feed us all there for a week! A lot of people will be lightening up today after the feasting of yesterday. Is it true that calories don’t count when it’s for charity?? 🙂 Bless all of you who cooked, baked and kept us full!

Games! Dawn Ryan and her crew did a most AMAZING job of putting up a tent full of games, surprises and prizes for the youngsters. Many proudly carried plastic bags filled with water and a tiny goldfish won at Fish Pong. It was like an entire carnival under one tent. Great job!

Clowns! My sincere and heartfelt thanks go out to Roger Ragan (a.k.a) Cleo, his grandson Freedom, Pauline Leacock (a.k.a. Opti) and Kandi Kiss. They are REAL clowns from Niagara Clown Alley and/or the Exchange Club Circus ( as opposed to the zany folks who were just “clowning around”). They graciously volunteered after an SOS from Pockets, and kept the youngsters enchanted with their tricks and balloons! It was wonderful to have cleo and Freedom join our Survivor Kids in the opening lap!

Jugglers! It started with trackside juggling demos by The Gravity Pirates at 5 p.m., but the Pirates set up base in the middle of the field to play with participants and amaze the crowd with their dexterity. The guys even juggled their way around the quarter mile track diring the team parade! The Pirates returned to Lockport after a really exciting performance during three shows at the Exchange Club Circus in February. Pirates Jeff Pollock, Greg Pollock, Tim Lovering and Kyle Fultz absolutely wowed the infield crowd just after dark, with audacious juggling of flaming torches!! Yep, they were playing with fire on the infield and there were cameras and cell phones snapping pictures in the night! These guys are as talented as they are nice, and came all the way from North Tonawanda to volunteer. Here’s hoping we see a lot more of them! Come to think of it…….it was a glorious, sunny day until they started doing the fire stuff. They finished and packed up their gear and left. Shortly after, the skies lit up with lightning! Hey fellas, you might want to consider a side career as rain dancers! Just kidding! When we were sequestered in the cafteria, I heard some people talking about the “awesome” fire juggling display and how you were so kind to let the young kids use your juggling equipment and helping to teach them to juggle. What memories you made for those kids!

Teamwork! I was so proud of the teams! We had a lot of new teams, with people coming from Orchard Park and North Tonawanda to join our Relay, as well as senior members of an altar rosary group! Then there were our loyal, steadfast teams who keep getting stronger every year!! We love them all! It takes a lot to organize people, arrange fundraising events and get them all under a tent on Relay Day. I salute the Captains who pulled it all together and paraded proudly around the track!

Costumes! In the early days of the Barker Relay, everyone dressed up in costumes to reflect the theme and it’s pretty much fallen by the wayside…except for Thee Barker Store’s Soda Jerks. They have wowed us over the years with walking retro cars in front of a Drive-in movie screen of the 50’s, ladies and pickle wenches from the rennaissance, dancing top hats and a fortune teller from Mardi Gras, and more! This year they had a white tiger in a cage, a liontamer in top hat, two tight-rope walkers with tutus and umbrellas, a balloon-wrapped rider on a giant purple tricycle and bubble-blowing clowns! The Gravity Pirates jumped right in with their traveling road show to juggle around the track. That was Eeyore pulling the decorated mini-buckboard with a bubble-blowing Optimist clown. Three cheers and more for always being the center of fun!! Carol & crew go all out!

What a committee! I can’t say enough about the driving force behind Relay, but I do want to say that the teamwork was awesome. It’s still not over for many. Early this morning I was talking to Dar Lutz, who was sifting through soggy, flattened luminaria bags, trying to retrieve precious family photos attached to them. There is teardown, cleanup, and 111 auction prizes to get to their winners (they were locked in the Field House before the storm). This after precious few hours of sleep the last three days! Dar and Marianne Currie-Hall spent the night there for two nights, in a tiny little camper, to watch over the tents. After the clean-up comes tabulations and reports and all the business part. Fundraising continues until August 1, so after all this weekend’s proceeds are tallied we won’t have a final count until all worplace matching dollars and fundraising money are in. You can still help; your donations are greatly appreciated! 

Being at Relay For Life is an amazing experience. Being stuck in a wheechair on a lumpy, bumpy grass field is not so much fun. Bless all the “angels” who kept offering assistance and just checking in to see if I needed anything! My very special thanks to Bob Austin and Rick Dent for taking care of so well through the busy event. After our cafeteria stint ended, Cathy Puff and Bob Noriega braved to rain to retrieve my purse from the middle of the fifty yard line so they could get to my car and drive it right to the door! My darlin’ friend Dar looks after me ALL the time!

Well, my borrowed gazebo and soggy contents have now been retrieved and I’m back in Barker taking it easy after 16 hours in a clown wig and makeup yesterday! A few dedicated members and leaders of our committee and Relay are still up at the Emmet Belknap Field cleaning up and calling prize winners! I wish all of them a little R&R before they’re back at their daily grinds on Monday!

Check back later tonight for some “memorable moments” of Relay!

Julie