Trouble with a Capital T: North Country Hard-Boiled Fiction on the Fly

Last week, the New York Times City Room blog announced a writing contest open to the public. The challenge? Come up with an original  150-word introduction to a pulp fiction novel based solely on the cover below.  Here’s the link to the announcement.

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By the time the deadline had come and gone, over a thousand  people  responded, with some pretty damn good writing in evidence.  Among the submissions was one by Gretchen Mahnkopf, a woman from Rosendale, New York.   One thing Gretchen and I have in common is that back in the day, we both attended a  hipster alternative school in the Adirondacks. Neither of us remember meeting each other there, although we must have, because it was a little school in the boondocks.   But we’ve since connected–yes, through facebook–and I’ve come to admire her wit, her politics, and her artistic talent, because she’s a great painter and writer.   Click here to visit Gretchen’s blog.

And here’s the entry she submitted to the Times’ contest, just before midnight on Friday, November 21, 2014, which for me, only confirmed her writing skills.  (And I’m a big fan of short, short fiction.)

“Trouble with a capital T. That was Trixie. She had the big guns. She had the ammo, too. And if none of that worked, she also had a pink 38 special tucked into her garter belt. “Give me a whiskey and some fire,” she said, putting a cigarette between two scarlet lips. She knew how to bring on the heat, alright. “For the gentleman?”, I asked nodding toward the goon she had brought as muscle. “Some raw meat if you have it.”  She slipped off her jacket revealing a tiny yellow halter top, too tiny for its heavy burden. Yeah, that dame knew how to bring it on. So did I . She wasn’t the only one in the joint packing heat. You wouldn’t know it to look at me but I had a garter myself. And right then, it was chafing the Hell out of me.”

Go, Gretchen!

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Our New Sign!

morrissette 2Our new firm, Morrissette, Young & Wilson, PC went “live” and official on January 1, 2014.  But of course, there are hundreds of little details to smooth out when setting up a new professional corporation.  Here’s one of them, finalized, and a great symbol of our presence in the community–right in the heart of downtown Lyndonville, with a satellite office in Essex County, Vermont!

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Maple Festival and Maple Sugaring, Essex County, Vermont

The late Herman Vennheim, sugaring in Lunenburg.

The late Herman Vennheim, sugaring in Lunenburg.

This weekend, my friend and neighbor Susan McVetty and I headed over to the Maple Festival in nearby Lunenburg, Vermont.  We each had a homemade pie in hand, baked that morning to enter into the maple pie contest, just one of the many events and exhibits in play.

The Festival was held at and around the Lunenburg Primary School and included detailed exhibits on the history of maple sugaring in Essex County–with vintage photographs of sugar houses and family sugar teams at work, displays of antique sugaring equipment, and a plethora of information about the local maple sugar industry.

Antique maple sugar forms.

Antique maple sugar forms.

In the cafeteria, there was a delicious-smelling pancake and egg breakfast served by town and school officials and students.

IMG_2747After dropping off our pies (mine was actually a tart!), we  walked out to the Lunenburg town common, which is still covered in over a foot of snow.  There, local forester Mac Dowling (pictured here) gave a brief presentation and demo on maple trees and how they are tapped.

The pies and tarts in competition

The pies and tarts in competition

Back at the school, the judges tasted and looked at all the pies.

There were three categories in competition:  maple cream/custard, maple nut, and maple with fruit of some kind.  In the end, the top overall vote-getter was a very appealing looking sweet potato-pecan maple pie.  (I will have to try this!)  And then Susan won in the maple cream category for her Black Pepper Maple Cream Pie.    I had made a Maple Nut Tart, which did not place–but I still love entering pie contests, even when I don’t win.

LaBounty's Sugar Shack, on Pond Hill Rd.

LaBounty’s Sugar Shack, on Pond Hill Rd.

We then set out to one of the local Sugar Houses, LaBounty’s, on Pond Hill Rd.  As part of the Maple Festival, approximately 10 local maple producers had agreed in theory to hold open house, but as it happened, only 3 were actually open.  In fact, it hasn’t been the greatest year for maple sugaring in these parts, primarily because of our subzero temperatures extending into March.

It’s a struggle for agricultural producers to make it in this part of Vermont, where the market is not as robust as other regions.  In part, that’s why the USDA has recently specifically targeted local maple producers and given some substantial grants as part of the new Northeast Kingdom REAP (Rural Energy for America Program).  Learn more about these fantastic grants here!

Finally, here is an excellent video from PBS about French-Canadian maple syrup producers, called “From Tree to Pie:”

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Pony Express Snowshoe Event, Guildhall, Vermont

1891213_733633173336767_1671625269_nAs some of my readers will recall, I’ve posted here previously about a fabulous new non-profit business here in Guildhall, known as Stable Connections.  Founded, owned and managed by Karen Guile, Stable Connections is an equine therapy facility devoted to meeting the needs of developmentally disabled and otherwise at-risk youth and adults. For more detailed information about Stable Connections, see my past blog post on the facility, here.

Today’s event involved a snowshoe race for kids on groomed trails along the Connecticut River, tours of the stables, prizes, crafts, and refreshments.  By the time I got there, the race had already occurred.  Kids and adults were milling about amicably, cavorting, talking to the horses, making bracelets and drinking hot cocoa or eating steaming hot bowls of chili.

1948257_734184349948316_403970739_nIn the winter, it’s fairly rare in these parts to have any kind of social or group events, so it was pleasant to mingle and catch up with some neighbors.  And standing around the Stables, there was even a spirited and interesting discussion about the new Common Core curriculum in our local schools–with several parents, a School Board member, our local elementary school principal, and the assistant principal from the Whitefield, NH elementary school chiming in. I love it when substantive conversations like this occur in unlikely places!

Karen Guile, announcing prizes to snowshoe kids.

Karen Guile, announcing prizes to snowshoe kids.

Most important, I’m grateful when people like Karen Guile and small business in general give back and contribute to the community, by, for example, organizing events like this.  Stable Connections sits on a parcel of land originally owned by Peaslee’s Vermont Potatoes.  Karen is also the chief financial officer and manager of Peaslee’s.  It’s gratifying to note that over the past two years, under new management, the Farm has made a concerted effort to reach out to the community, from donating to the local food pantry, to programs for at-risk youth (at the Farm and at Stable Connections), and today’s community-spirited event.

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We Are All From Ireland: St Patrick’s Weekend, from Essex County, Vermont. Part I

16EGANSUB-master495I begin this post of things Irish with this image and a link to a remarkable Op Ed piece from this morning’s  New York Times entitled “Paul Ryan’s Irish Amnesia,” written by Timothy Egan.

Read this important and timely article here, which explores the hypocrisy of Paul Ryan in connection with his ancestral links to the brutal poverty of the Irish famine. During the potato famine of the 19th century, British lawmakers and policy makers characterized the suffering Irish as undeserving and unworthy of assistance. Today, in a United States increasingly marked by low wage work, lack of health insurance, and outright debilitating poverty, Paul Ryan takes a similar position toward less fortunate than himself.  (I consider Paul Ryan and his ilk to be a shame and blight on their party).

(The hypocritical demonization of the poor is all over–we see it in Paul Ryan, and we see it in the alarming statistics which show that Tea Partiers tend to rely to a greater extent than others on government entitlement programs.  But this hypocrisy rears its head in more local, unexpected ways, too.   Essex County, Vermont, where I live, is the poorest county in Vermont.  It has the highest rate of people on some form of welfare or government program than any Vermont county.  Yet it’s also where people mostly vote Republican, and a district where people have sent Republicans–mostly opposed to all forms of welfare–to represent them in the Vermont legislature, year after year and decade after decade.   And sadly, where it is all too common to hear some people rail against their neighbors for “getting hand-outs” while the same person is perfectly willing to accept federal commodity subsidies for their dairy farms, or tax breaks for their farmland, or various other forms of state assistance.    It can be disheartening.  But maybe–just maybe–the likes of Paul Ryan, and the memory of the Irish suffering, can change this and we can start to take care of one another, rather than be divided.)

Here is the cover to the book cited repeatedly in this important article, “The Great Hunger,” by Cecil Woodham-Smith. We own this book and I have read it many times. I consider it required reading for anyone seeking to understand the political economy of Ireland in the 19th century. IMG_20140316_111355_403

But of course, we know that the Irish were far from just victims. Through the course of Ireland’s occupation by the British, the Irish have persistently fought back, paying with their lives for the goal of national sovereignty. In 1916, a small group of relatively unknown (and unpopular) patriots proclaimed Ireland to be a free republic. (Click on the image below–Poblacht Na H Eirann– to enlarge.  It’s worth reading the text, which is downright inspiring.)

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From The National Library of Ireland’s current exhibit on the Easter Uprising:

“On Easter Monday, 24 April 1916, at a time when Ireland was an integral part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, seven Irishmaen proclaimed the establishment of the Irish Republic, nominating themselves as its provisional government.  Together with 1,600 poorly armed followers, they occupied a number of prominent buildings near the centre of Dublin, the General Post Office in Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street) being designated as headquarters.  The government of Great Britain and Ireland regarded the insurrection as treason, all the more so as it came in a critical phase of the war then being waged with Germany and her allies.

The response was immediate and decisive, the outcome being a foregone conclusion: by the following Sunday close to 2,000 people–mostly civilians–had been killed or injured, the General Post Office and various other buildings were in ruins, and the insurgents had surrendered.  The seven signatories of the Proclamation and eight others were tried by courts-martial and executed by firing squad.  A sixteenth man, Roger Casement, was tried in open court in London and hanged in Pentonville Prison.

The insurgents had no electoral mandate.  The insurrection was viewed by many as foolhardy in the extreme and downright criminal.  Nevertheless, within two years opinion had shifted dramatically: a substantial sector of the nationalist electorate now pledged allegiance to the Irish Republic and honoured the Proclamation as virtually constituting the national constitution.”

Read more about the history of the Easter Uprising at the National Library of Ireland’s website.

And here is the quintessential Irish rebel tune, one that never fails to give me the shivers. By the Wolfe Tones.

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An Hour at Green Mountain Books.

The Storefront of Green Mountain Books, Lyndonville, VT.

The Storefront of Green Mountain Books, Lyndonville, VT.

Green Mountain Books, Lyndonville. It’s one of my favorite local spots and upon consideration, I believe it might be among the two best used book stores in all of Vermont. (The other is Country Bookshop, in Plainfield.)

Ralph Secord, original owner and proprietor of Green Mtn Books.

Ralph Secord, original owner and proprietor of Green Mtn Books.

Green Mountain Books has been in business for a whopping 38 years. It was originally opened on a part-time, summer basis by the legendary Ralph Secord, a librarian and literary aficionado from Hartford, Vermont. Ownership and management then passed to his daughter Ellen Secord-Doyle. And finally, Ms. Doyle sold the store to its current owner, Kim Crady-Smith. You can read more about the bookstore’s history, here.

On a slushy gray day earlier this week, I stopped in to the store to take a break from some thorny legal dilemma or another, and was, as usual, cheered by the store’s atmosphere. I spent about an hour exploring fascinating nooks and crannies, identifying little treasures here and there. Here’s a little annotated photo essay of some things I found.

IMG_20140311_121231_959Upon entering, I encountered a display prepared in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, a table of Irish books–poetry, mythology, fiction, photography. (This was dear to my heart, because at our house, we have a special bookshelf devoted entirely to Irish-theme books.)

IMG_20140311_121319_377Here is the cozy reading chair by the window. It’s near the section on homesteading.

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The store also has a little music section tucked into one corner, where one finds old vinyl albums and some obscure and fascinating sheet music.

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I’ve always loved the fact that the “religion” section is located in a closet with the door closed. It’s accessible (all you have to do is open the door to get in), and you can even see the books through the glass, but it’s sort of private and segregated from the rest of the books. That’s how I think religion should be (if you’re so inclined): not imposed on anyone, a place you must choose to go, privately.

IMG_20140311_121438_372Here’s the display of ceramic Christmas decorations.

IMG_20140311_123158_334I love the artwork and literary posters gracing the walls.

Here are some samples of the little gems I found throughout….

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IMG_20140311_121257_742The cookbook and baking section.

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A New Partnership: Morrissette, Young & Wilson, PC.

Tiffany Young, Laura Wilson, and Peter Morrissette

Tiffany Young, Laura Wilson, and Peter Morrissette

As many of you know, as of January 1, 2014, I have joined forces with Morrissette & Young, of Lyndonville, a firm with a long and distinguished history of practicing law throughout the Northeast Kingdom. We are all three partners now, and the new firm is called Morrissette, Young & Wilson, PC.

The new firm has three lawyers and two offices, located in Lyndonville, and in Guildhall, Essex County. Check out the firm’s new website, here!

We offer a broad range of legal services, including real estate transactions, family law, criminal defense, municipal law, estate planning, business formation, general civil litigation, and landlord-tenant law (among others!)    I’m excited about this new endeavor!

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