Let’s not kid ourselves, it’s popularity, not excellence

We wanted to give a local business a boost, so we went online to cast a vote in “Seacoast’s Best” polling. You’ve no doubt seen other places touting some similar honor.

We very quickly realized that for many of the designations, we had little or no awareness of most of the nominees. Like we knew the six women running for the region’s Best Nurse? Or we’d eaten at all six parlors in line for the Best Pizza? No, a vote went to the one you might already know, if you didn’t skip over it altogether.

Such results are bound to be quite different from those based on a few knowledgeable critics who evaluate on quality criteria and point us in unexpected directions.

Now that’s a Best I’d respect.

Just what more can go wrong in 2020?

Here we are a full six months into the year, and the surge of record-breaking goes unabated.

Racist police brutality is unmasked nationwide, along with the violent suppression of peaceful protests and free speech.

Russian bounties on American soldiers goes unchallenged in the White House.

Wall Street is living in a disconnect with the economy in general while new Covid-19 cases and deaths soar to their highest levels yet – and promise to rocket quickly.

The widespread resistance to public health measures, and then their lifting, threatens to turns the economic hit of the earlier self-quarantining into a wasted expense. Now brace for the truly hard impact when we see what a full outbreak adds up to in costs, including lifetime chronic health problems for many survivors.

And we thought toilet paper and chicken or pork shortages were big?

Already, a wave of evictions is hitting renters who suffered from the mandatory unemployment in April and May. Where can they go? Looks like a lot of vacancies for landlords, too, not that they get any sympathy.

Here where I live, state government revenue is down 20 percent. The next budget round will be a bloodbath.

Who knows what’s going to happen to the crucial election season. National conventions? Door-to-door campaigning? Rallies?

Gee, remember the Senate’s so-called trial of Trump on impeachment charges back in February?

Oh, yes, drought or near-drought in June.

Curing my lifetime of writing headlines, I often felt I’d already seen everything. Nothing could brace me for this.

And now there’s an outbreak of rabbit Ebola, fatal in 80 percent of the cases. Yes, that’s what they’re calling it. Seriously. Wild or domestic, they’re doomed. Bunnies!

Forget the MAGA hats, it’s time for the sackcloth and ashes, friends. We need to repent and be saved. How about some true leadership, based on hard facts and courage?

Happy Independence Day, everyone.

Upper Square in perspective

Upper Square makes for some delightful shopping. The horse trough in the median is a nod to the past.

 

Central Avenue, while walking from the river toward Upper Square.

 

A glimpse at Fourth Street, one-block long, illustrates the challenge in creating an inviting neighborhood. At the moment, there’s nothing to entice passers-by to turn down the street. The old county courthouse is vacant, and former storefronts are used for storage. At best, it’s a shortcut to the parking lot at the Amtrak station.

 

In contrast, as Fifth Street demonstrates, side streets can add much to a downtown’s usefulness and appeal.

And then there are Cassia’s two older brothers

In the early versions of my novel What’s Left, her brothers stayed off in the background. But Gyatso and Billy moved far forward in the eighth and ninth revisions, especially when I discovered they didn’t require a lot of narrative development to be present. Sometimes a single short detail now pops their activity into fullness.

One thing about Cassia’s extended close-knit family is that her cousins are practically her siblings, too. Cassia’s cousin Sandra, for instance, could well be her sister, and both Gyatso and Billy line up well with some of their boy cousins.

It’s a fine line to walk, keeping the story moving without bogging down in too much detail, but it’s a rich matrix all the same.

~*~

I once had a coworker who grew up in a family where the way they showed affection for one another was by exchanging truly negative words and phrases. As far as I could tell, physical harm wasn’t part of it. Even so, maybe they understood what it meant and felt affirmed and included, but when he did the same thing with those of us in the office, many of my colleagues felt deeply insulted, even wounded. Maybe you know of writers capable of re-creating the domestic scene, but I’m not one of them. I’m still largely baffled.

The dynamics of siblings can make for endless intrigue. I’d love to know more — much more — of how they work in our lives.

Are you from a large family? Do you have brothers or sisters? Do you ever “borrow” their clothes? (Or anything else?) Does your household make you different from your friends or classmates? How would you describe your siblings — and your feelings for them — in a few words? Go ahead, vent, if you must.

~*~

In my novel, the family restaurant could have been like this. Cornelius Pass Roadhouse, Hillsboro, Oregon, by M.O. Stevens via Wikimedia Commons.

~*~

 

At Fort William and Mary

The small New Castle lighthouse is one of two along the Piscataqua River as it links Portsmouth Harbor to the Atlantic.

This fortification guarding the mouth of the Piscataqua River in New Castle, New Hampshire, has a unique place in American history. It was raided twice by Patriots in 1774, and the gunpowder and cannons captured from the British were later deployed at the Battle of Bunker Hill in Boston. Its small lighthouse is one of two along Portsmouth Harbor.

The panorama view shows the lighthouse in context with fortifications originally built before 1632 and renamed Fort William and Mary around 1692.

Yes, it’s small potatoes in the big scheme of things, but I’m still fascinated

One wing of the new Orpheum overlooks the library, city hall, and St. Thomas Episcopal on Locust Street.

I appreciate your patience as I examine the transformation taking place in my small city. I know this construction and planning would go unnoticed in big metropolises, although these moves could play pivotal roles in anchoring vital neighborhoods and their identities within them.

Actually, that was something I watched happen in Baltimore under Mayor William Donald Schaeffer in the early ’80s, and the results I saw were exciting, especially where I lived in Bolton Hill.

What’s really at stake is quality of life. Pleasing visual variety can be part of that, but healthy urban life and community are a mix of much more, and that’s what I see happening in Dover. The fact I don’t have to get in a car for many things is a delight, though I do drive more than I’d like, mostly for time factors.

In its smaller scale, Dover is a kind of laboratory, one enhanced by a savvy economic development director and city manager. What’s happening now – and about to happen on a site on the other side of the river – is the result of many touches earlier, including the construction of a central parking garage to eliminate some of the lots around downtown. As these seas of parked cars become actual walkways with stores  and services leading to more options, the retail center becomes ever more integrated into its surrounding residential neighborhoods.

Here’s how downtown looks coming up Locust Street from the south. The Greek Orthodox church is tucked in on the left. The new parking garage is straight ahead.
And you turn around and look up at this, the Captain Moses Paul House.

 

You don’t always have to eat those apples

In my novel Nearly Canaan, Joshua and Jaya find themselves surrounded by orchards. They quickly appreciate apples as much more than an orb to eat daily.

Here are ten unexpected uses.

~*~

  1. Headache relief. Cut a green apple open and start sniffing. It’s supposed to work faster than some pain pills.
  2. Christmas decorations. Slice an apple, then carve out the core. The rounds can be hung individually or as a garland on the tree or window. They’re fragrant, too, as they dry.
  3. Shrucken heads for Halloween. Bake them on low for three hours or so, then carve out a mouth and nose, maybe the eyes too. Add buttons or other small objects for the eyeballs. Quite spooky and yet funny.
  4. Kiddie craft stamper. Cut one open, then carve out a design for imprinting with ink on paper or fabric.
  5. Candleholder. Carve the core from an apple, then insert a votive or tea candle. It makes for a romantic glow.
  6. Hair rinse. Dilute cider in water, then rinse after shampoo and conditioner rounds. Removes excess oil.
  7. Salt reduction. Ever put too much salt in something you’re cooking? A few wedges of apple or potato added to the pot can turn the trick. Remove them after ten minutes. Don’t see this helping on the table, though. Any suggestions there?
  8. Green tomato ripener. Place an already ripe apple in a paper bag for a couple of days. We’ll have to remember this in the fall, when we harvest everything we can before the first big frost.
  9. Potpourri. Stud an apple with cloves stems and let it dry in a clothes drawer. I remember that from childhood.
  10. As a bow-and-arrow target. Especially if you’re William Tell.

~*~

Gee, aren’t we feeling like Martha Do-it!

What else do you suggest?