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A Project Chenango Redux: Chenango’s Drug Problem and more

A picture perfect summer day in Chenango County.

A picture perfect summer day in Chenango County.

In August, when I pitched the Project Chenango series to The Evening Sun’s publisher Dick Snyder, I was more than a little nervous. I remember sitting home, waiting for his final decision with no small amount of trepidation. I wasn’t so much nervous that he’d turn down my proposal, but rather if I could deliver the series as promised.

Endeavoring to tackle a community’s biggest issues and challenges in 10 installments is no small task. Nor is doing so in a way that is at once raw and honest, as well as compassionate. Add in a couple of thousand miles (and an ocean) between you and your source material and…well, you get the picture.

So, yes. When I got the green light, a small frisson of fear ran through me. But that was nothing compared to the exhilaration. I love a good challenge. And here was a way to give back to the community I loved. Because for all its grit, I felt it had the potential to be a catalyst for positive change.

What I didn’t anticipate was how it would change me, and my perspective.

Throughout the course of the series – which grew from the 10 installments I initially proposed to 14 in-depth pieces thanks to The Evening Sun’s Managing Editor Ashley Babbitt – my eyes were truly opened once more to our community’s many challenges. Here I was seeking out first hand accounts of the substance abuse issues, the poverty, the economic issues, the housing crisis, the aging infrastructure and more. It was heavy stuff. But at every turn, I was also reminded of the strength and resiliency of the people who call Chenango home.

Feedback started pouring in before the ink had even dried on the first installment. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t do my needy little ego good to hear that people were happy to see my byline again, even on a temporary basis. But it was so much more than that. I was excited by how eager people were to learn more about the realities our county and its residents face. And I was deeply touched by their compassion, particularly following the second installment.

Even though the working mother of three whose story I shared in Chenango’s Working Poor wasn’t identified by her real name, I was still nervous that she’d be criticized or abused. Particularly in The Evening Sun’s online 30 Seconds forum. But I needn’t have worried. Her story was met with compassion and support on all fronts. I didn’t see one negative comment.

And what’s more, word trickled back to me some weeks later that the piece had prompted new dialog about the topic of the working poor. That was welcome news, since that same week I also learned that “Diane” had lost her food stamps because her most recent raise put her around $20 over the threshold. It wasn’t lost on me that, while the state deemed it enough to disqualify her from the benefit program, it wasn’t nearly enough to buy groceries for her family.

I feel so privileged that “Diane” trusted me with her story, as did so many others during the course of the series – people who both live Chenango’s challenges every day, and those who are dedicated to doing something about those issues. I hope those stories helped open the eyes – and hearts – of readers as much as they did mine.

Going into the series, I felt I had a good handle on Chenango’s challenges. But it didn’t take me long to realize that much had changed since I last covered a beat for Chenango’s hometown daily. It took me about 5 minutes into my first phone interview, in fact.

The voice on the other end of the phone was District Attorney Joseph McBride. A knot built in the pit of my stomach as we discussed Chenango’s Drug Problem. It was a knot that got bigger as I spoke in turn to Norwich Police Investigator Mike Purdy, Jim Everard of Chenango’s Drug Treatment Court, and finally to Donna Wood-Craig, who has made it a personal mission to bring the drug problem to light in the community.

Heroin had just begun to rear its ugly head in Norwich during my days as a staff writer. I remember the first overdose, and how it snapped us all to attention. Now, less than five years later, it has become an all-pervasive issue across Chenango, and much of the Northeast. I’ve lost count of how many overdoses I’ve heard of over the last few months alone.

One of the things that sticks in my mind the most was a conversation I had with Chenango’s Public Health Director Marcas Flindt the morning the piece came out. We had been unable to connect prior to my deadline, so I wasn’t able to include the shocking statistics he shared with me about the sharp increase in new Hepatitis C cases in our county. Historically, Chenango recorded less than 10 new cases of Hepatitis C in a given year, he told me. Now, that number has skyrocketed to the triple digits.

A week later, an acquaintance ranted on social media about how drug users can get fresh needles at a pharmacy without showing ID, while she had to show hers to buy a decongestant. How quickly we have forgotten another epidemic spread by dirty needles.

The public health crisis posed by heroin use is only aspect of this issue. There are many more – from the nature of addiction itself, to the heroin epidemic’s roots in the pharmaceutical industry and the way in which opiate painkillers were overprescribed and the wave of Suboxone abuse that is following in its wake. There are lives, families and, little by little, entire communities being destroyed.

But all is not lost. Not yet, anyway. Because there are people who care; people who are working to affect positive change. And as I mentioned earlier, Donna Wood-Craig is one of them.

When I spoke with her in August, Donna mentioned a project she was working on with a young woman who is a recovering addict. Their goal, she told me then, was to help open the eyes of the community to the extent of the drug problem in Chenango County.

The result of their efforts is a Community Forum to take place from 6:30 to 8:30 tomorrow night (Tuesday, December 1, 2015) at Guernsey Library in Norwich.

The event, sponsored by Opportunities for Chenango, will feature a panel of experts to include recovering addicts, family members, addiction & rehab specialists and members of law enforcement.

If you want to learn more about this problem with poses such a threat to our community, if you want to be part of the positive change needed to turn the situation around…GO.

Because if there’s one thing I learned from researching and writing the Project Chenango series, it’s that Chenango may have more than its fair of problems…But it’s still HOME.

The Project Chenango Series

Introduction: What Does the Future Hold for Chenango County?

Chenango’s Drug Problem

Chenango’s Working Poor

Developing Chenango’s Workforce

Creating and Keeping Chenango’s Jobs

Chenango’s Small Businesses

Chenango’s Health Care Crisis

Chenango’s Housing Market

Agriculture in Chenango

Tourism in Chenango

Chenango’s Aging Infrastructure

Educating Chenango

Leading Chenango

Chenango’s Future

 

Throwback Thursday: Fear Factor

TBTI decided to get into the Throw Back Thursday action this week, after a chance conversation revealed I am NOT the only person on the planet with a (completely rational!) fear of ladybugs. Please forgive me for the seasonally-inappropriate Christmas theme.

This piece was originally published as A Ladybug Christmas on The Evening Sun website, evesun.com.

Enjoy!

My coworkers and I trundled into work this morning, bleary eyed from all that Christmas cheer. After deadline we spent some time swapping tales of our all-to-brief holiday.

Theirs were spent either hopping from one house to another, or hosting a slew of friends and family for the Yuletide festivities. Though less hectic, mine was no less enjoyable.

With my siblings spread out across the East Coast (in New Hampshire, Tennessee and the Florida Keys), it was just me and my parents this year. It was the first one I’ve spent at home in entirely too long.

We opened presents in the morning, a process that was interrupted repeatedly by phone calls from other loved ones wishing us a merry holiday.

I love to watch people open gifts I’ve picked out for them. For me, finding that perfect gift is the best part of Christmas. Don’t get me wrong, I like getting presents, too. And I think Santa was pretty good to me this year.

At least I thought so until I a gift my mother described as “the funny one.”

She told me this as I was fishing a non-descript white box out of a festive bag piled high with red and green tissue paper. Hmmm… Funny, I thought, what could she mean by that. My confusion grew when I opened the box to find what appeared to be a clear, hand-blown glass ornament. It was only after I turned the globe in my hand that I saw what my mother thought was so amusing.

The glass ball had one adornment: A crimson glass ladybug perched on verdant green leaf.

My mother thought this was hysterical, and was practically rolling on the floor. Me? Not so much. You see, I don’t like lady bugs. In fact, I’ll go one step further and say I’m scared to death of them.

Most people are afraid of things like spiders or snakes, flying maybe, or the color chartreuse. But not me. I can take all of those nasties in stride. But put a tiny little bug most people think of as cute in front of me and I start quaking in my boots.

My phobia dates back about ten years. I was living in Arlington, VA at the time, and had traveled up to visit my parents one weekend. I was exhausted when I arrived, and ended up falling asleep when I brought my bags upstairs. I woke a couple of hours later with a tickle in my ear. A tickle which turned into a buzzing.

When the incessant noise stopped for a moment, my wits returned. And I was able to connect the beastie driving me to the brink of insanity with the number of ladybugs I could now clearly see all over the window sill and bedside lamp.

Then it started buzzing again and all I could think about was the fact that I was at least 20 minutes away from medical attention and that I was going to lose my mind if I had to wait that long to get it out.

Luckily, my mother came to my rescue. Apparently, Stagnaro kids have a long history of getting things stuck in our ears. In the upper recesses of our king-sized medicine cabinet, she located the ear syringe she’d used to extricate a bean from my bother Ken’s aural cavity 20 or 30 years before. With it, she was able to drive the infernal lady bug from my ear and restore my sanity.

The experience basically scarred me forever. But, as evidenced by the ornament, the rest of my family finds it quite humorous.

The rest of the day passed pleasantly enough. We listened to some Christmas music, did some snowmobiling, and yes, finally watched A Christmas Story. (I did enjoy it, but I’m not sure I would classify it as life-changing, not in relation to my ladybug experience anyway.)

Because it was just the three of us, we decided to forgo our usual roast turkey and I roasted a loin of pork instead. It was a delicious ending to the day.

When I went to bed a little earlier than usual, my parents didn’t seem to notice. They thought I was worn out from the snowmobiling, but really I just wanted for a bit of peace and quiet. It may be a full year until Christmas comes around again, but I’ll need every bit of it to properly plot my ladybug revenge.

Like my holiday leftovers, it will be a dish better served cold.

Originally published on December 26, 2008 on evesun.com.

America’s Health Care Crisis: A Project Chenango redux

Rebecca Sands Bliss won her insurance battle for the right to receive potentially life-saving cancer treatment at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Her story was what inspired me to pen the Project Chenango installment on Health Care.

Rebecca Sands Bliss won her insurance battle for the right to receive potentially life-saving cancer treatment at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Her story was what inspired me to pen the Project Chenango installment on Health Care.

For the last six weeks I’ve been exploring some of the biggest issues Chenango County. In doing so, my eyes have been opened – both to the extent of these challenges in my hometown and to how universal these issues truly are. Now I realize I could easily be writing about almost any community, in New York or elsewhere in the U.S.

The Evening Sun, the publication with which I’ve been collaborating on the 12-part Project Chenango series, has graciously decided to make these articles free to all readers. They, too, believe these pieces are relevant to a broader audience beyond their traditional readership.

I encourage you to read them if you haven’t already. And if one resonates with you, please share it to help broaden awareness of some of these important topics.

Over the next few weeks, I will be revisiting each of the articles in the series here on my personal blog. Doing so will give me a chance to share some of my personal thoughts on these topics, as well as additional information that either didn’t make it in to the original series, or that has come to my attention since it was published.

These Project Chenango Redux pieces will be in no particular order. But for this first piece, I’m going to revisit the most recent installment of the series.

So, without further ado, let’s talk a little bit about…Health Care.

(As always, opinions expressed here in this forum are my own. I welcome your thoughts and constructive feedback on these topics as well.)

Last night, I received a message via Facebook from Rebecca Sands Bliss, who allowed me to tell her compelling story in last week’s article.

Rebecca, for those of you who haven’t already read that piece, recently won a major battle with her insurance companies. Her reward? Receiving the potentially life-saving treatment she needs to beat the rare cancer she was diagnosed with earlier this year.

Her message last night, though, stopped me in my tracks. She’d met another person battling cancer whose treatment had also been delayed by her insurance, she told me via Facebook messenger. Only this person wasn’t as lucky as Rebecca. Because during the two months this woman was forced to wait, her cancer spread. It’s now terminal.

I was both outraged and heartbroken when I heard this. Honestly, I didn’t want or need further proof of how tragically flawed our healthcare system is.

There are brilliant scientists, doctors, nurses and other professionals all working to advance medical science – who have passion and drive to treat the whole person not just the disease. And then we have the other side of the equation: those who treat patients like a number, or a policy – not a person trying to get or stay well.

Health care reform is a difficult topic to discuss. Nothing raises the political hackles like this does, especially since you can’t talk about it without mentioning the Affordable Care Act.

I refuse to call it Obamacare because, quite honestly, I don’t want to see if your political aura tends toward red or blue. This is something we REALLY need to talk about and once it all goes bi-partisan, it’s too easy to miss the big picture.

This is more than a political football we’re talking about here, my friends. It’s peoples’ lives.

Rebecca’s story may seem like a one-off, an extreme case. But here we have another woman’s story that confirms it’s more than an aberration. How many other of those more than 500,000 new cancer cases a year experience something like this?

(More than HALF A MILLION PEOPLE diagnosed with cancer EACH YEAR. If that statistic doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will.)

And that’s only the tip of the iceberg when we’re talking about the number people who are not being served well by changes made as a result of this mammoth piece of legislation. I mean, do you know anyone who has found affordable care as a result of the changes, or has easier access to care because of it? Perhaps they are out there. I’m not saying they aren’t. But this is what I’m hearing about:

Individuals and families who are drowning under ever-increasing premiums. Businesses making tough decisions about staffing as a result of their additional burden. People going without insurance because they can’t afford it. Yes, it’s a calculated risk, but they are banking on the fact that their out-of-pocket expenses plus whatever fine they may have to pay to the government will still be cheaper than the cheapest premiums they can find.

And let’s face it – those high-deductible health care plans? Useless if you can’t pay the deductible. (And see what they’re doing to small hospitals.)

The biggest myth of all is Medicare. Let me tell you, when I hear about seniors who need a part-time job after they retire just to cover their health care costs… Isn’t that a red flag? My mother pays close to $300 a month for her SUPPLEMENTAL insurance. She didn’t anticipate that expense when she and my dad saved for their retirement.

I’m not going to lie – one of my considerations when I decided to spend time in the Dominican Republic was the fact that I couldn’t do what I wanted to do – focus on my writing – and continue to pay my COBRA. It went up to over $500 roughly a month after I accepted my severance package. Here I have pretty decent coverage for around $35 a month. Yes, I had to pay cash for the surgery I had this year, but it was still a fraction of what I would have paid in the US, between premiums, co-pays and out-of-pocket expenses. (And, yes, I received excellent care.)

It’s not the hospitals and providers that are to blame for all of this. They are victims of the debacle of a health care system just like the rest of us. You see a giant number on the bill sent to your insurance company or to Medicare, because they’re only getting reimbursed ‘pennies on the dollar.’ A direct quote from a hospital administrator in my article.

So who IS it benefiting? I’ll let you fill in that blank.

I’ll give you a hint, though: New York’s second largest industry may have something to do with it.

Now, if only we could stop shouting across the aisle long enough to do something about it.

Happy Birthday, Mumsy!

Mumsy and I in the Walled Garden at Powerscourt Estate, Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow, Ireland. July 2014

Mumsy and I in the Walled Garden at Powerscourt Estate, Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow, Ireland. July 2014

“If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” – Sir Isaac Newton

I am a lucky, lucky girl. I know I say that all the time, but it’s true. I am blessed in so many ways. Especially when it comes to the people in my life. Friends, family, former colleagues – they have all made my life richer and more beautiful just by being there. Offering a kind word, lending an ear, giving a helping hand, being there when it mattered most.

They are my “giants”, as Isaac Newton would have called them. And all I have seen, done and accomplished in my life, is as a direct result of standing on their shoulders.

There is one giant, though, who has shaped my life more than any other. By standing on her shoulders, I have seen furthest of all. Which is really saying something since, according to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicle, she stands at (a very respectable!) five feet and one-half inch.

Her presence, though, is much taller. In fact, some people have mistaken her for 5’6”. And she doesn’t wear heels.

I am speaking, of course, of my mother. Eileen Bridget Farrell Stagnaro. A.K.A.

Eileen, Ei, Farrell, Aunt Eileen, Grandma Eileen, Gram, Mrs. Stagnaro, Mrs. S, Mom Stags, Weenie Peppers…and the list goes on.

But to me she is Mumsy.

It all started one bleak morning in the Evening Sun newsroom. Our early morning deadline was looming and my editor, Jeff Genung, was no doubt breathing down my neck for my column. I intended to type ‘my mom’, but in my haste my cold, tired fingers tapped out ‘Mumsy’ instead.

And just like that, a legend was born.

At first, my mother rolled her eyes when I used her new moniker in print. But it caught on quickly. The next thing I knew, other people were calling her Mumsy, as well. At some point in the last six years or so, she stopped fighting it. And it was a true moment of triumph for me when I noticed she was signing her emails ‘Mumsy.’

I’m glad she’s embraced it. Because it really is perfect. There are millions of moms out there, but only one Mumsy.

I am who I am because of her. And I’m not talking about my very existence on this planet, which of course she had a lot to do with. Nor am I talking about my love of old musicals, addiction to romance novels or my ability to make a mean apple pie. All of which can definitely be laid at her doorstep, along with a thousand of my best (and worst!) traits.

Mumsy with her first great-grandchild, Harper Lee Franklin.

Mumsy with her first great-grandchild, Harper Lee Franklin.

No single person, other than perhaps my father, has had such a hand in shaping me as a person. And she did it by example. Because there are few people out there who are as kind, compassionate and giving as my mother. She is also the strongest person I know. Not to mention fierce in the best possible ways.

It is from her that I get my sense of adventure, my grit, my compassion, my desire to heal every wound (well, the emotional ones anyway. I don’t do well with actual wounds), as well as the aforementioned ability to bake pies. She’s also the reason I sob at sad movies, but I won’t hold that against her.

Through her actions, she has always given me something to live up to. Because I hope that some day I have half her strength, poise and purpose.

People often tell me that I look like my dad, but it is when people tell me I look like my mom that I am most touched. (And once they’ve said it, they’re automatically added to my most favorite people list. I’m looking at you, Diane Troxell and Mary Ann DeMellier!)

Like any mother and daughter, we’ve had our share of strife over the years. But there is no woman I love and respect as much as my mom. We have weathered a lot of storms together, and there is no one I’d rather have at my side in moments of challenge or triumph.

She is my biggest fan. My staunchest supporter. My protector. My rock. My ally. My moral compass. The voice in my head that spurs me on in my moments of doubt. My best friend. She is all of those things and so much more. She has taught me so much, but perhaps most importantly how to love – and be loved -unconditionally. I am and always will be proud and truly grateful that she is my mother.

I am truly blessed to be her daughter.

I love you, Mumsy. Happy Birthday.

Happy Birthday, Mumsy! (A toast from our trip to the Dominican Republic in January 2014.)

Happy Birthday, Mumsy! (A toast from our (first) trip to the Dominican Republic in January 2014.)

Throwback Thursday: Blogdate 3.27.09

This is what people THINK I'm doing in the Dominican Republic, but really I'm writing. I swear!

This is what people THINK I’m doing in the Dominican Republic, but really I’m writing. I swear!

I’ve been doing a lot of writing, not but not much of it for public consumption. To keep my ardent fans happy, I’ve decided to get into this Throwback Thursday action. But instead of old photos, I’ll treat you to a blast from my past.

I was reminded of this piece yesterday, when a friend was telling me how her friends in the Dominican Republic are always surprised by her ability to take care of her regular car maintenance all by herself. The fact that I originally posted it 5 years ago today (yikes!) made it the obvious choice for this, my first Throwback Thursday.

It was originally published on my blog at www.evesun.com on Friday, March 27, 2009.

Now, without further ado, here’s…

How not to change a headlight

(Originally published March 27, 2014 at www.evesun.com)

This was apparently the week for “p’diddles,” as we called them when we were kids. In the last five days, my co-worker Jessica and I have both had headlights out.

Thankfully, I noticed mine before leaving the driveway. Jessica, on the other hand, had it pointed out by a helpful State Trooper.

Our approach to rectifying the situation also differed. Jessica, in my opinion, took the easy way out. She had her light fixed by a licensed professional. I chose the cheaper and infinitely more entertaining way, and asked my father to do it for me. In retrospect, this may not have been the wisest of decisions.

I would gladly choose a bookstore over an auto parts store any day. It must be all that latent testosterone in the air because, like hardware stores, they typically give me hives.

Since I don’t know the difference between, well, anything they stock, I always end up feeling like a brainless twit. Monday afternoon, when I walked into Advanced Auto Parts, was no exception. I went in fully prepared to feel like an idiot.

To my surprise and relief, the process of getting a replacement bulb for my headlight was, in fact, entirely painless. Thanks to the assistance from a knowledgeable staff member, I had my bulb and was on my way within minutes. (And my wallet was only $10 lighter to boot!)

It went down hill from there.

I should explain that when I was growing up, my father was always the guy who read every manual and every bit of instructions before starting a project. But as he’s gotten older, he’s changed. He now disdains such things as being only for mere mortals. Which is why I was the one holding my car’s owner manual pointing frantically at the tiny diagram as my father wreaked havoc under the hood of my ancient Explorer.

Oh, sure. It sounded simple. Remove the old bulb; install the new one. But is it ever really that easy? Maybe it would be if the space you had to work in was designed for adult-sized hands rather than those of a three year-old considered small for their age. Or if the bulb had ever been previously changed. (To my knowledge, this hadn’t happened in the life of the car, which rolled off the assembly line the same year I graduated college.)

But it wasn’t, and it hadn’t. Add the fact that my father considered himself above such things as reading the directions, and it’s a recipe for disaster.

I won’t go into the gory details. Not only would it bore you to tears, but my therapist has advised me against it. Suffice it to say, it had all the ingredients of a bad cable miniseries. There was bad language, ranting, pleading, tears, a scuffle, too much drama and was dragged out entirely too long.

In the end, my father was cranky and I was frazzled, but my headlight was, indeed, functioning once more.

Now I just have to pray the other bulb has plenty of useful life left, because I don’t think I could face a repeat performance any time soon.

 

Six Winter Driving Tips (courtesy of the Chenango Traffic Safety Board)

One of my involvements is with the Chenango County Traffic Safety Board. The following article appeared in  the February 6, 2014 issue of The Evening Sun. It is the first in a series of articles we’ll be submitting in our efforts to promote traffic safety here in Chenango County and beyond.

So here we are, in the midst of one of the worst winters in recent years. And Punxsutawney Phil just saw his shadow.  Of course, any Central New Yorker worth their salt knows we’ll be lucky to have only six more weeks of winter. But with one major storm after another hitting our area, it seems like the perfect time for a few reminders about how to handle those snow-covered roads.

Tip #1: Clean off your car

Sounds like a no brainer, right? Except how many times do you see people driving with their windshield only partially cleared, and piles of snow on the roof. The fact of the matter is, it’s not just your visibility that’s at stake – although, that’s pretty important.

“They just don’t think of how much it’s a hazard to other people,” explained New York State Police Sergeant (Ret.) Elizabeth Wonka, who sits on Chenango County’s Traffic Safety Board.

According to Wonka, during her more than 30 years with the state police she saw multiple accidents – including one fatality – where snow (and in the case of the fatality, ice) left uncleared from a vehicle was a contributing factor.

So, for your sake as well as others on the road, take the extra time to thoroughly clear the snow and ice from not only your windshield, but the rest of your car as well.

Tip #2: Give our Highway crews the credit they deserve (and the space they need to do their jobs)

Every time a major city is crippled by a couple of measly inches of snow, Central New Yorkers chuckle to themselves. (No offense, Atlanta!) But what we should be doing is thanking our highway crews. Because without those state, county and local crews, we’d be in the same boat.

Here’s a few things you should know about snow plows, and the people who drive them.

  • There’s a reason they go slow. (And no, it’s not to make you late for work.)

According to retired Chenango County Highway Superintendent Randy Gibbon, who chairs the Chenango TSB, a plow should be traveling under 30 mph when applying sand or salt.

“That speed allows the material being applied to stay on the roadway and do its intended duty, bare the road surface and provide friction,” he explained.

  •  When you see a plow, pay attention and be prepared – even if it’s stopped.

“If a snowplow is pulled over at an intersection, it is probably trying to clear the snow or ice from that intersection,” said Gibbon. So be prepared for it to back up. Look for the driver’s signal regarding what you should do, and be prepared to stop if necessary.

  • Give them some space.

That snowplow driver is doing his best to make the road safer for all drivers. But he (or she) needs space to do their job.

“When you have a snowplow approaching on the other side of the roadway please slow down and safely pull over towards the right,” recommended Gibbons.

And let’s remember, they’re braving the same weather conditions as we are. (Actually worse, since they don’t have crews out there clearing the roads for them.)

Tip #3: Expect the unexpected

Winter driving is all about changing conditions. Drifting snow, snow squalls, black ice… all are things we need to be on the look out for, especially as the wind kicks up and temperatures start to drop. These hazardous conditions can easily take drivers by surprise, Wonka said, as they can exist even when roads are otherwise clear.

The best defense? A good offense, according to Wonka. Always be aware of the conditions around you and be prepared to adjust to them.

Tip #4: Slow Down

According to Wonka, if she were to give drivers only one piece of advice, it would be this: slow down.

“Many accidents are caused by people driving too fast for conditions,” she explained.

That doesn’t mean that the drivers in question were exceeding the speed limit, but rather they weren’t taking into account the fact that vehicles respond differently when the road surface is slippery or snow covered. Especially when you apply the brakes.

Take stopping distance, for example. It takes longer – both in distance and time – for your car to come to a stop. Therefore, you need to take your foot off the gas and start applying the break sooner than you would if the roads were clear and dry.

“Hard stops are more dangerous,” Wonka said, so you should avoid sudden breaking, and allow more space between you and the car in front of you.

Tip #5: Be prepared

Going on a trip or planning to drive in a storm? Wonka recommends keeping an emergency kit in your car. Food, water and a flashlight are some basics you should have with you, but you also want to think about staying warm.

“Dress warmly,” she said, or have an extra layer with you. And don’t forget a hat, gloves and boots in case you have to walk for help.

A full tank of gas is also a good idea, she added, both to avoid getting stranded and so that you can run the heater as needed.

And, when in doubt, consider…

Tip #6: Stay home

If you’re not comfortable driving in particular conditions, don’t.

“People find it embarrassing, but it shouldn’t be,” said Wonka. “It’s ok to stay home if you’re not comfortable driving.”

Looking for additional winter driving tips? Visit these helpful websites.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

New York State Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee

AAA Winter Driving Tips

Introducing…The Accidental Blonde

Melissa Stagnaro 2

My name is Melissa Stagnaro, and no, I’m not a natural blonde. And contrary to my little tagline, I was never even really a brunette. My natural color is more akin to a mousy brown. Or at least it was until the infestation of silver follicles that prompted my favorite hairstylist to action. A few subtle caramel highlights, she said. That was just the beginning; the gateway highlights. It all went downhill (i.e. progressively lighter) from there. I didn’t even recognize how far gone I was until, one day, I heard someone referring to a blonde. It took me a moment to realize he was talking about me!

My Accidental Blonde-ing, as I called it in one of my old columns, delighted my best friend Liz, who is of the opinion that there is no such thing as “too blonde.” When I told her what I was thinking of calling my blog, she immediately pronounced the name “Genius!” and said she’d refuse to read it if I called it anything else.

In fact, you can credit (or blame) this whole endeavor on Liz. She has been nudging me to start blogging again since the moment I left The Evening Sun. You might call it badgering, or borderline harassment. But it was rather flattering. It’s rather nice to know you’ve been missed.

I’m more than a little humbled to say that Liz isn’t the only one that has encouraged me to get back on this particular horse. My needy little ego thanks you all for your kind words, support and encouragement.

Now, you better read the darn thing.

I suppose I should add a little disclaimer…

Be forewarned, my dearest friends and family. You know from whence I draw my inspiration. Tread carefully, lest ye become blog fodder.

xo

M