Friday, December 31, 2010

So long 2010, Hello 2011!

Well, here we are again, breathing down the neck of a shiny new year.

In merely hours, we'll be toasting out 2010 and ringing in 2011. Every year goes by fast, but this one seemed to go particularly so. I suppose that's a good sign, since we all know time flies when you're having fun. It's been a terrific year for Mt. Tom's, despite the continuing to sputter economy. Mother nature gave us a year full of just about the best weather any ice cream purveyor could ask for. Mild, dry spring. Hot, dry summer. Mild, dry fall. Just about snow-free early winter. Ice cream weather perfection. After a truly miserable 2009 weather-wise, with cold, cloudy, and rainy being the weather order of the day until somewhere around mid-August, 2010 was well-deserved payback. Kudos once again to those ECA BearFest bears for saving 2009 from that cold, dark summer. Here's hoping a new sloth of bears returns in 2012 as rumored.

Thanks Mom Nature. Feel free to repeat the star treatment throughout the new year.

Weather aside, 2010 wasn't perfect, and if you're still looking for a job, you may not have many good things at all to say about it. If that's the lifeboat you're in, I wish you better success in 2011.

I will remember 2010 as the year we all got into each other's business. Sure, the internet and email and blogs have been around for years, but it just feels different now. Facebook certainly has played a big role. Along with smart phones, texting, Ipads, Skype, and Twitter. Before 2010, if I wanted to know what my friend Judy had for dinner last night, I'd have to actually call her or bump into her in the supermarket. Now, not only can I know if the asparagus was a little mushy, I can probably see a picture of it, courtesy of her digital constant companions - Iphone and Facebook.

I'm still on the fence as to whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.

Will this whole social networking thing flame out in 2011? Is it too late to turn back? Can I still return my I-phone?

But then, how would I update my Netflix queue with the movie I just thought of or set my DirectTV DVR to record tonight's episode of 'How I met your mother' while I'm buying bananas in Big E's supermarket?

Or share with my 1514 fans, my latest ice cream flavor masterpiece?

Time, and it seems technology, wait for no one. You can either jump on the bus or continue to shuffle along the dusty shoulder while your friends (and competitors) wave to you in their rear view mirror.

But not before they invite you to the party you will miss because you don't check your Facebook wall every three minutes.

Living quietly in the woods with a few books, logs for the fire, and fixings for dinner, and without being interrupted by a news update of a deadly plane crash in Mongolia sounds kindof nice, but it's just not the world you and I live in. I say that with confidence because just your reading these words means you're 'connected'. We're connected. Leave a comment and you're connected to all the other Ice Cream Diaries readers who had a few minutes during their day to wander over. It's just that simple here in the now of the waning hours of 2010.

If you've held an Iphone or an Ipad in your hand or swung a Wii bat or gotten your directions from a voice hanging from your dash, I think you'll have a hard time arguing that although we're not yet driving in hovercrafts, the futuristic cartoon world of the Jetson's is upon us.

And I wait with anxious anticipation to see where 2011 takes us.

Which of course is all the more reason to appreciate the little things in life.

A great night's sleep.

A cool pink sunset.

The enthusiasm of children during the holidays.

A walk on the Manhan rail trail.

A hand-scooped ice cream cone.

Thank god it all comes back to ice cream.

Here's wishing you and yours a very Happy New Year. May 2011 be filled with all that you hope for and a little bit more.

Starting at 6 pm today (New Years Eve), we'll be resting and recharging until Friday, February 4th at noon. Thanks for helping make 2010 our best year yet!

Happy New Year!


Friday, December 17, 2010

NANOWriting Challenge: A Follow-up.

If you're a regular Ice Cream Diaries reader, you may remember me talking about a little writing project I completed this time last year. If not, here it is. It's affectionately called 'Novel in a Month' and is part of National Novel Writing Month, upon which November has been so dubbed. The website describes it best:

National Novel Writing Month
is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing on November 1. The goal is to write a 50,000 word, (approximately 175 page) novel by 11:59:59, November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It's all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Thanks to recruiting efforts by a couple of regular customers, Kat and her mom Noreen, who themselves had already signed up to write their own first novels in a month, I threw my hat, er pen, into the ring. Starting on November 1 of 2009, I started to write. And write. And write. I wrote in the back of the shop whenever I had someone scooping out front. Instead of sharing my morning coffee with email and Facebook, I wrote. I learned to write dialog. I even took a writing retreat to a friend's condo on the coast in Old Orchard Beach, Maine.

I lived the life of a starving writer for a month. It was (using the first word that pops into my head), awesome.

I followed the website's instructions to the letter. I wrote as fast as I could, not even stopping to reread the paragraph I'd just finished. A little over a week into it, I was nearly halfway to 50,000 words. I was on fire. When I started, I had a rough idea of a storyline, but I had no clue what and who would show up between word one and 'the end'. I've often likened it to reading a book, but instead of turning the page to see what happens next, I let my fingers type it onto my computer screen. I wouldn't go so far as to say I was channeling my novel, but I often got that feeling. A writer's high like none I'd ever experienced.

And since competition is often needed to play at one's best, my co-conspirators and I pushed each other along. The NanoWriting website people sent inspiring emails. We uploaded our word counts daily and savored each little milestone along our way to 50K. It was challenging, exhausting at times, and hugely satisfying when we each got to the finish line of our own word marathons. The three of us celebrated over a great IPA and beef tips at the Apollo Grill.

The next day I sent my really, really rough manuscript to Paradise Copies for its first printing. All 63,214 words of it. Holding those 185 pages in my hands when I picked it up was another writing high, again awesome.

Having immersed myself in my tangled story of love, intrigue, and life lessons for the better part of thirty days, I quickly put the one inch stack of words down and didn't go near them for nearly a month. When I finally did give it a first read, although there were flashes of brilliance, or at least ok-ness, it really was pretty crappy.

Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that's a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.

But just like the amateur marathon runner whose only accolade for finishing is personal satisfaction, I had now written a novel, and no one could ever take that away from me.

So in February of this year, I started what turned out to be the much more difficult part of the process - rewriting. My friend Kat and I quickly set up another challenge. We were to exchange rough drafts at the end of April. I did my best to attack this phase with the same diligence and discipline as last November, but it didn't take long to realize I really did write a lot of crap. Character names changed and interchanged throughout. I overused words. Tenses flipped from present to past at the drop of an open quote. Instead of writing at 3000 words a day, it was tough to get through a few pages, even with the caffeine inspiration of my morning cup of Indigo Roasters.

Around mid-April, I finally finished the first rough pass, printed it, and swapped it with Kat. She returned that copy a few weeks later, and although I know she's an art teacher by profession, I learned she's pretty good with a red pen too. Despite all the corrective encouragement, it took me a few more months to muster the motivation to take another whack at a rewrite. This whack coming not without another competitive challenge from my friends. We had decided to claim this November as our own 'rewrite in a month' (or so) project.

Again, rewriting is brutal business. It's one thing to rewrite a 1500 word blog essay, but working through 65,000 words is a much bigger fish to fry. But we each stayed the course. And now here I sit, version 2.0 on my screen, just about to hit the send button on the email its attached to, bound for Paradise Copies. As I tell this tale, I savor a fresh wave of satisfaction for sticking with it through another tough write-around.

So what happens next? Good question. Is it a marketable manuscript? Probably not. At least not in its current form. Too personal. An intriguing storyline I believe, but the main characters bear just a little too much of a resemblance to their creator and his circle.

Could it be marketable?


The confident optimist in me says perhaps.

You're likely thinking, wow, that's a lot of time and effort spent on something that ends up on a shelf for no one to read but its author, perhaps from his rocking chair many years from now. Might one consider my novel a failure? A waste of hundreds of hours of time?

I don't see it that way...

I got a taste, albeit just an appetizer, of the life of a writer. To reiterate - awesome.

I got to exorcise a few demons with the assistance of a handful of characters, some plot, and lots of dialog. Who would have thought writing could be so cathartic.

I'm certain the practice (and critique from friends) has made me a better writer.

I put my mind to something difficult and saw it through.

And I now have a 55,204 word description of 'My Greatest Life Lesson'.

True to many of life's endeavors, its purpose was not be revealed until I was fully immersed. The joy really is in the journey.

Thanks for listening.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Introducing White Square Fine Books & Art.

Did you know that Easthampton and Cottage Street have a new bookstore?

It's called White Square Fine Books & Art, and it's exactly what you'd picture a small town bookstore to be. Classy. An eclectic mix of fiction, non-fiction, used and new, with a number of first editions and signed copies scattered throughout the fine wood shelves. Art books and other art collectables. And more.

From their website:

Great books in a cozy shop on an eclectic street in an amazing town!

We offer a broad range of material, including mysteries, non-fiction, and books for children and young adults. We specialize in literary first editions, fine press books, books on books, and book-related art, with a particular interest in signed and inscribed books and "association" copies.

The proud owners are Eileen and Randy Corbeil. Nice people, and they seem genuinely excited to have a bookstore to call their own.

For months, the windows were covered with plastic, and although there were rumors the space was to become a bookstore, it wasn't completely clear until last month when we saw Randy sprucing up the facade. From the minute you step through the door, you can just tell they wanted to do it right. And they did.

They even have a faux fireplace.

And chairs to pull up and peruse a potential purchase.

White Square Books is open Thursday thru Sunday from 10 - 6 pm. I hope you can check it out next time you're cruising through Cottage Street.

Even better, they're having a launch party tomorrow night (Saturday, December 11th) during the Easthampton ArtWalk 5 - 8 pm.

Stop in and say hello to Eileen and Randy. And feel free to buy a book.

And to our new neighbors, welcome to Cottage Street!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Lights on the Zip Line

I went kayaking this past weekend.

I agree, that's kindof a crazy idea for late November around here. And I'm certain I wouldn't have even considered the possibility had I not been recruited earlier in the week. My friend Patrick Brough got this crazy idea to string holiday lights across the Nashawannuck Pond, on the wire that holds the American flag all summer long. Turning this 'idea' into reality would require a fair amount of creativity, finances, and friends with water craft.

After assessing the power situation, despite the proximity to the wire's proprietor,Whitely Electric, solar powered lights would be the only practical solution. Perhaps power might be an option another year, but for the first try, solar powered icicle lights offered the only non-cost-prohibitive solution. After an on-line search and visits to all the local spots (Manchester, Aubuchon, etc.), solar icicle lights were found and purchased at Target. Pat took the lights home, rolled them out, and attached them to long thin strips of wood that would attach to the wire.

After getting permission from Mayor Mike to use the now flag-less wire, PBTV Pat made a few calls and emails to friends with rowboats and kayaks. Paul Novak, of the pond dredging, fish rescuing fame, was first to be recruited, since he has a motorized rowboat, much more stable for standing in while floating on very cold water ponds. Next, a few of his kayak-owning buddies would get the call. After seeing a number of my kayak-based photos of Mt. Tom and the pond, he knew I fell into that category. One more friend, Buddy Lapointe, on the shore, working the cable, and the solar icicle team was complete.

So this past Saturday morning we all gathered under the wire over the pond to turn Pat's dream into reality. Turned out, the wire didn't need to be lowered as much as Pat thought, so he really didn't need Derek Allard, Jeff, and me, his kayak spotters.

We were only needed for moral support, but that was ok. The sun shone brightly, and I was dressed for winter skiing conditions, so it was actually invigorating to be out on the pond on this late November day.

With Paul's help in the boat, Pat attached all the lights, turned the solar panels to the sun, and with a yell to Buddy on the shore, the wire was raised back to its tightrope walk position.

I'm guessing it was a long day for Pat as he waited for the sun to go down and the lights to come on. If you drove down Williston Ave around four that night, I'm sure you would have seen him, camera at the ready, fidgeting like a kid on Christmas Eve.

Well, as things turned out, the lights aren't as bright as he'd imagined and hoped. A strand or two are already acting up. But it was a noble idea, and I applaud Patrick's determination to see his idea through to its conclusion.

What makes this a story worth telling?

I guess I just wanted to tip my hat to everyone's friend Pat for the effort, time, and expense. It was a small selfless gesture, and like his good news page on Facebook, motivated by a simple desire to help make Easthampton an even better place to live. Just think, if we all made one tiny little effort, like Paul Novak's nighttime (once during a blizzard I'm told) anonymous hikes to the top of Mt. Tom to replace the bulbs on the star, what a town, and a world, we would have.

On that note, I would be remiss to not mention the gang at the Brass Cat, who too were out on the cold pond this past weekend, positioning the Christmas tree. Thanks to Michael and his band for bringing the tree back to the pond this year! It will be officially lit during the Holiday Stroll this coming Friday, December 3rd starting at 7 p.m. at Maple School.

(images by Patrick Brough.)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

An Ode to Raking.

What did I do with my day off this week? Power washed the green off the shady side of my house, made lunch, then mowed and raked my lawn.

Pretty exciting, eh?

Sounds like a Facebook status update.

Call me crazy, but I actually enjoyed it. There's something about facing something that needs fixing, cleaning, or straightening, investing some physical effort, and when it's all done, having something to show for it. For me, it was a shiny white back side of my house and a clean yard.

If you're a homeowner, I wouldn't be at all surprised if you too spent a chunk of this past weekend raking leaves into piles and wheel-barreling them to the woods or the compost pile. Hopefully, when you were done, you took a few minutes to jump in the biggest pile.

There are many ways to purge your yard of leaves. Of course, the classic is with a good old-fashioned rake and a fistful of leaf bags from the local hardware store. Another fine approach is with your lawn mower and its handy bag attachment. A third method is with the relatively new contraption called a leaf blower, noisy sister to the jet ski. The leaf blower never seemed quite accurate enough for my leaf-gathering efforts. Looks to me like you're just herding leaves into a general area of your yard, where I would imagine you ultimately still have to reach for the trusty rake and bag the leaves anyway.

I suppose I should include another option - hiring someone to do the job for you, thereby delegating the decision of which method to use. For the time-crunched, probably not a bad option, although I have a feeling that cold one afterward just isn't quite as satisfying. And of course, that's going to cost you a few dollars, the same ones might better spent on a sundae at your favorite scoop shop or flowers for the little lady.

So, I'd venture a theory that, in most cases, it's the good, old-fashioned rake and a couple hours in the crisp Autumn air. I'm sure most people would rather prefer to catch an afternoon nap in the backyard hammock or watch a football game than rake leaves, and I certainly had more than a few thoughts of other things I could be doing when I was out there, but I'd still argue it's not the worst chore in the homeowner's handbook. It's not that strenuous. You're outside in the fresh air. There's little thinking involved, so your mind is free to wander where it chooses. The constant shooshing sound of the rake against the leaves and the ground lulling you into a calm delta state, not unlike the sound of crashing waves or rain against the roof.

Ok, so maybe this doesn't happen to everyone, but for me it was a nice change from the constant grind of eight freezer compressors in the shop.

If it's a big yard with lots of trees, raking it can seem daunting. Like your driveway after an all-night nor'easter. But I'd argue those are the yards/driveways that are the greatest source of home care satisfaction. Just think, you probably pay a monthly fee to a place with 'fitness' in the name just to burn same amount of calories. You should be grateful for such prolific trees and the widest driveway on your street.

Perhaps grateful isn't a word that's come to mind the morning after a big snowstorm.

You probably think I'm nuts for admitting I enjoy raking, and we can certainly still be friends if you don't share my enthusiasm for yard work. Maybe I just had a little too much free thinking time while I raked, or that I just yearned to do something beside make ice cream, I'm not sure. But as I sat in my little plastic deck chair, celebratory beverage in hand, as I admired my newly groomed yard, I felt pretty satisfied. Good old-fashioned hard work, an afternoon outside, some quality thinking time, and a couple chores off my to-do list. Not too bad.

Life really is simple. We just choose to make it complicated.

Thanks for listening.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Engineering as cool as ice cream!

This according to a story I just came across from the Salt Lake Tribune.

More than 500 students at Salt Lake City’s Bryant Middle School learned Monday that chemistry can be both delicious and fun. Aided by a team of engineers, the middle schoolers mixed up their own batches of vanilla ice cream and Silly Putty.

“I never knew you had to use so many ingredients to make ice cream,” said 12-year-old Alexis Mahana. “Being an engineer looks hard but it sounds cool.”

Nearly 20 chemical engineers from New York to Puerto Rico visited Bryant on Monday as part of the annual convention of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), which is in Salt Lake City this week. They hope to inspire the next generation of engineers.

“In our lifetime, the issues of renewable energy, clean water and clean air [will require] new and novel solutions,” said Rodney Dotson, a professor at City College of New York and chairman of AIChe’s minority affairs committee. “That is what the world will look to [new engineers] to do.”

Engineers, he said, help to solve a variety of human problems and their innovations spur economic growth.

Inspiring the next generation of engineering by teaching them how to make ice cream. For a guy who left a career in engineering to make ice cream, I can't help but find this story ironic. Very cool, but ironic.

At Bryant, seventh-grader Lauren Watkins could not decide which part of making ice cream was the “funnest.” She and a partner placed milk, sugar and vanilla inside a small, sealed plastic bag and then placed that bag inside a larger one with ice and rock salt. She loved shaking the bag to remove the heat from the milk and cause it to freeze. It also was exciting when the bag exploded. But perhaps the best part, she said, was eating the end product.

“I learned about the chemical reaction between ice and salt,” she said. “It was really fun.”

I'm not sure how many chemical engineers get to eat their end product, so that may not be the 'funnest' part for them, but I admire their creativity in finding ways to engage kids in the scientific process. The article doesn't talk much about making Silly Putty, which I'm sure was 'really fun' (wicked fun to you and me) too, but it just didn't stand a chance against the highly favored ice cream.

Well, maybe if they'd had an old Sunday comic section lying around..

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Sharpening the Saw, er Scoop. Part I

Just returned from my annual working getaway to this year's New England Ice Cream Retailer's Association (NEICRA) ice cream conference. One nice feature of the conference is it's in a different new England venue every year. This year it was Meredith, New Hampshire, a quaint little town on the banks of the lake of Winnipesaukee.

The conference is three days, but all the good stuff is during the middle day. So as usual I took the opportunity to use that first day as a little R&R time for myself. Since I wasn't quite ready to mix and mingle with the ice cream folks, I booked a room at the Lazy E Motor Inn in tacky, but in a good way, Weirs Beach. Like any conscientious blogger, I'd include a link to their website, because it was quite an interesting spot, full of character (although I happened to be the only character that night), but most times I've clicked over there, it's instantaneously blown up my browser. So instead, let me give you a taste here...

Not quite as posh as the site of the conference, but it's hard to complain about drinking your morning coffee lakeside as you watch the fog lift to expose the still firey colors of the New England's finest Fall foliage...

Not bad for 62 bucks a night, including tax...

Of course, I've never been one to pass up the artsy shot...

And you may have to 'click to enlarge' to see which spot is actually the moon in the refection here...

Now for the real charm of the Lazy E...

There seems to be a fine line between charm and tackiness.

And functionality.

There was actually a big screen TV in there. Now you know what to do with that old boat in your backyard...

No pig roast today, darn. Good to know they had the hardware to get that done though..

Speaking of your sweet outdoor bar made out of old boat parts!..

And not to leave out the kiddos on their boat reuse initiatives...

And when all the partyin's done, how about a relaxing Adirondack chair and a cozy fire...

Are you still looking for the boat in that last picture? It's gotta be in there somewhere.

I think this might explain the party readiness of this quaint little (motor) inn..

In case you've been looking for 'the place' to stay during Laconia bike week next summer, you can call off the search.

Well, I was going to write about my ice cream conference experience this year, but it seems I got a little carried away with the place I stayed the night before. Guess I'll just have to save that for next time. The photos aren't nearly as interesting anyway...

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

No Politics Here.

How about a little virtual Fall stroll through Easthampton. Since a picture is worth a whole bunch of words, I'll just leave you to the images (click to enlarge)...

Enjoy your day. Feeling like Fall now, but then again, it is November after all..

See you soon.