"I found reading in college. In high school, I was a jock and transitioned into a learned person, at least what I consider a learned person, and I developed some new hobbies."
"What do you like to read?"
"I'm really into rediscovering Sherlock Holmes. I like to read classical literature to seem well-read and have more interesting conversations."
"I spent a winter in Bar Harbor, Maine, at a place called College of the Atlantic. I really loved all the people and what I was studying at the time, but it was freezing cold. The first night I was up there it was minus 30 degrees. After that winter, I thought, 'I'm never going that far north again.' But as a result, I went to a much more traditional college and ended up a lawyer. So I went from the idea of maybe being a free-lance photojournalist to ending up being a lawyer."
"Do you like what you do?"
"I do. For me the best part is the feeling every day that I'm going to go in and help people."
Kari Kirchgessner, co-owner of Sweet Girlz Bakery on North Third Street, explains how the shop was born:
"We started in 2011 as a result of a layoff of my previous position and it just started as a way to get back on my feet and not have to go back to school and get more in debt. I was making cake pops at home, and jam, and decided to take that commercially and see if it could work and if we could make money with it and it just kind of all happened."
"What did it feel like after the layoff and as you were opening up the bakery?"
"Excitement, nervousness, stress…"
"Why should people come to Sweet Girlz and not a supermarket bakery?"
"Because we're fresh, from scratch, and everything is baked on the premises. From *complete* scratch: no box mixes, no box icings and whatever is made here is made to order, except what's in the case on a daily basis. You're supporting local, you're supporting local families, you're supporting local business owners, and we all work together."
Words are not adequate to explain the enticing aroma of pastries, cakes and cookies. Go in and inhale for yourself, and then buy something. Visit their page at https://www.facebook.com/SweetGirlzBakeryPa.
Fourth-grader Sienna Walenciak is coordinating a book drive for Easton's Cops 'n' Kids Reading Room. Their mission is "to connect kids and community through literacy," and if you've never seen a police officer reading to a child, it's a beautiful sight. I asked Sienna why it's so important for boys and girls to have books:
"Because I think everyone should be able to read like I can because it's just fun. I like reading, and I hope everyone else will, too."
"So what's on your reading list?"
"I like the book 'The Candymakers' by Wendy Mass."
If you'd like to donate new or gently used books, the drive is this Saturday, November 29th and Sunday, November 30th from noon to 4:00 at the Forks Community Center, 500 Zucksville Rd., Easton. For more information, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Paul Strikwerda, one of the voices of the Easton Farmers' Market, tells of the path that his life has followed, from Europe to the USA:
"I came to the United States at the end of 1999 to start over."
"What were you starting over from?"
"I was in radio in the Netherlands. I worked for an international radio station doing news and current affairs. The way the worlds is, 'news and current affairs' usually means disaster and tragedy, and after having done 25 years of disaster and human tragedy, I was really fed up with it. I found someone special in the United States, and decided to pack up all my bags, leave my friends. leave my family, and came to the United States literally with two suitcases. And a voice. (Laughs) Because i'd been in radio and I love to talk, and even get paid for it, I went to a casting agency in Philadelphia that casts all the movies for M. Night Shayamalan, and they liked my accent and they hired me on the spot. That's how I started doing voiceovers. Now I have a studio in the basement where I work for clients on all continents. I do videos; I do audio books; I do e-learning: anything that needs a disembodied voice with a funny European accent. The Farmers' Market is like having a block party in your own town every week, and what I love about it is that it brings the community together, you know? Really, the whole farm-to-table thing, the sustainable agriculture, and the friendships that you make. The vendors become your friends. The patrons become your friends. That small town feeling I had from growing up in a very small country that I really missed, coming to a big country like the United States, I found it back, and it's right here."
"I once made a decision to take a job that was definitely outside of my comfort zone. Pushed the envelope for me. It was a sales position, and I was a very reserved, shy kind of person. It was a commission job, so if I wanted to eat, I had to sell stuff."
"What's your comfort zone?"
"I've tend to be quiet, more of an observer, but I've always pushed myself to grow."
Her name is Petula, and, yes, I did see her Downtown. For those of you under thirty, well, Google "Petula."
Patti Price, aka "The Info Tent Girl," updates us on the Farmers' Market and when it will be opening indoors:
"Today is the last day of the outdoor Market. We're moving indoors to our space in what used to be the Weller Health Center just halfway up the 300 block of Northampton Street, on the north side of the street on Saturday, December 6th, so two weeks from today. We'll have most of our Saturday vendors, some of our summertime Wednesday venders and some people who just show up to join us in the winter months. Our hours are 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM, so don't show up at 9:00 or you'll be freezing for an hour."
"How was this year for the market?"
"Oh, it was a superb year. All our festivals were bigger and better than ever before and our regular Saturday attendance was--we enjoyed a lot of first timers this year who kept coming back, so the market has grown tremendously."
Him: "I left because it was time to get away, but Easton kept calling me back. This town just seems to have a hold on me. We're talking about relocating, about moving to Upstate New York, but I haven't found whatever this Easton energy is anywhere else."
"I'm actually going to the Shanthi Project fundraiser which teaches yoga in the Boys' Club in the Juvenile Justice Center facilities for troubled, at-risk youth to help bring them in some mindfulness and some attention and some activities to do."
"What have you noticed that it does for them?"
"It makes them more aware of their surroundings and more aware of the positives in life and what they can do."
For more information, go to their page at https://www.facebook.com/ShanthiProject.
Him: "We actually met at Sogo, right over there (points)."
Her: "I was supposed to be meeting a friend for sushi and he was meeting her for coffee and she double-booked herself, and it was like, 'How about we all go get sushi?'"
"Easton's a very happening place. I've lived here my entire life and I've seen it in its old glory days when it was a great commercial hub, and then it declined. Now it's come back remarkably. There's a lot of energy here, a lot of vitality. The people of Easton are committed to its renaissance and it shows. We have a great revival in terms of restaurants, the downtown scene, the Farmers' Market. A lot of people are living downtown because it has a great vibe. It's only going to get better and better as the years go on."
"Where are we now versus ten years ago?"
"There's a greater investment in the city. A lot more activity to provide more apartments downtown; there's a real demand for that. I think one of the great things about downtown Easton is it's a very organic revival. You know, there's some really good things happening in places like Allentown and Bethlehem, too, but in Easton there seems to be a sort of natural revival that's occurring as a result of the great architecture, the people who are committed and live here, and just the right mix of ingredients to make it a very special place."
Artist Joey Gourniak and one of his designs, his tableau the body of a Lexus, at the Seeing Red fundraiser for the Easton Ambassadors:
"My inspiration generally comes from life. My subject matter changes every day. My paintings change from painting to painting, even. I paint in my studios here in Easton behind River Grille and I regularly do chalk art gigs at places like Pearly Baker's and Black and Blue."
If you're in downtown Easton, you see them every day in their red shirts. They're helping to keep the city clean, giving us directions, and making sure we're safe. They're the Easton Ambassadors, and they are in financial trouble. Last Saturday night, the fashion show fundraiser "Seeing Red" at the Lexus dealership in Centre Square helped out the program, trying to ensure that it does not disappear. Diane Haviland, President of Friends of Easton, PA (FEPA) picks up the story:
"We're a not-for-profit organization of mostly local people; we're everything from business owners to entrepreneurs. But one thing we have in common is that we are *so* passionate about this city. We love what's going on, and we came together because we are all concerned that the funding for the Ambassadors was going away. Their coverage had been cut; their hours had been cut. They keep this city safe, clean, and walkable. They are the reason why people really want to come here. It isn't just the restaurants, it's the fact that they are so hospitable. This is one of may fundraisers that we'll be doing and this is our first kick-off event. We're learning, but I can tell you something: it is a group of unbelievably passionate people. We're multigenerational and they sucked me and my husband into their cause. What I realize, because I'm a resident of Downtown, is that this city has got more thirty-somethings than any other city in the Lehigh Valley. As my husband and I have walked the city and walked the community and gotten involved, they've sort of adopted us, and all of a sudden it's all about making Easton better. In the future, we will want to do things to progress this city into a whole different level. We want to think of things like valet parking, uber cars, wifi. I mean, we're trying to think of so many things, but right now there's a sense of urgency for the Ambassadors and that's why we're here tonight."
Me: "When did you realize that life is too short?"
Her: "In my early thirties."
Me:" What happened?"
Her: "I got tired of paying bills, working hard, dealing with the grind, and not really doing too much for myself."
Me: "So what did you do to change things up?"
Her: "Started traveling the world. I love London. I feel like I've always been there."
Jennifer Stocker is the Director of the Easton Area Public Library:
"The biggest challenge in running the library is making sure we have enough financial stability to meet the needs of our community."
"What are you proudest of in your tenure as Director?"
"That we are a community place and that we support the community and that we are loved by our community."
"I'm a business owner in this area. I live in the Poconos. I want people to be open minded. We have a lot of us coming from the inner cities and some of us bring our cultures to this area. Let's grow this community and get it a lot larger."
"Has society grown more accepting or less accepting of different cultures in recent times?"
"Oh, absolutely, we're getting more accepting. America has grown a lot and demographically we have changed. And Pennsylvania, we're so close to New York, so close to the tri-state area, we're starting to get some of that feedback out here. I am Haitian; I guess you'd call it Francophone--I speak French--and I love it up here."
A gifted poet who happens to be autistic, Matthew Goldsmith is a senior in high school. I recently spoke with him and his mom, Leslie, (appropriately at BaconFest) about his self published book Dreams of Bacon, which was five years in the making:
Leslie: "He started writing when he was thirteen and actually my husband thought he had plagiarized the poems because they were that good. I had to show him the notebook of handwritten poems to show that he actually wrote them! He's on the (autism) spectrum; we've known since he was two. We were able to compile 95 poems, and he's still writing poetry, actually. He's been in newspaper articles; Autism Speaks wants to put some of his poems on their website. Barnes and Noble is looking at trying to get them going. We just sent out college applications and he wants to go to school for zoology."
Me: "So what started you writing poetry?"
Matthew: "I don't really remember. We did it in English class in seventh grade, and I figured, like, 'Oh, I did pretty well, so I'm going to keep on doing this."
Me: "How do you get into the zone to write a poem?"
Matthew: "Usually I'm doing something, I'm walking somewhere, doing some everyday kind of thing and then I think of something--an idea pops into my head--and I'm just like, 'Oh, that's kinda neat,' and I start writing it and it just goes on from there. Most of the poems don't take longer than a day."
"What's a defining moment that led you to where you are now?"
"Well, having my children, you know, my two little ones. I'm able to be home with them and raise them."
"What did you do in your previous life?"
"I was an office manager?"
"Which do you like better?"
"They're both pretty much on the same scale, but I do like being a mom."
"Wait a minute--being a mom and being an office manager are on the same scale?"
"Well, you have to wipe butts, you have to get everything ready, you have to make sure you're on a schedule… (Laughs) Same type of organization!"
Matt Carroll, a World War II American re-enactor talks about why Bugs Bunny is crushing the Nazis on his jacket:
"Captain Ned Hayes, a veteran who I visit on the weekends, he's at the Masonic Hall and I bring him donuts and stuff, he has a cutout of this jacket over his bed. He flew over 50 missions, all over Italy, all over Germany and I did it as an honor to him. He's about 95 years old."
Ricardo Figueroa, who works for E.P.S. Financial, is a recent Easton transplant:
"I moved to Pennsylvania recently. I closed my business in New York and my sister was in Macungie, and I was just going back and forth and I bumped into someone I knew and they were like, 'Oh, there's a new starter business in Easton,' and they introduced me and I just took the job, and it's been a big change in my life."
"What's the difference between having a business in New York and in Easton?"
"Well, I don't own the business, but I work for the starter company which is really successful. It's a little more low-key; you have more time to do things. The space: it's competitive because we're a nationwide company, but you just have more time. It's more easygoing here. I like it."
These are the stories of the people of Easton, PA