Monthly Archives: October 2009

Newburyport Current Endorses Holaday

A friend of mine with a long institutional memory has told me that this is the first time that they could remember when the two local papers endorsed different candidates.

I would agree with the Newburyport Current’s analysis which you can read here.

And their analysis came down to, out of two “terrific” candidates, who would be best suited to lead the city in these very difficult economic times:

“Holaday’s careful and measured approach to problems, her wide range of experience with people from all corners of the city, and her deep roots and long institutional memory are the types of qualities the next mayor probably will need. Then there are her major assets: her expertise with budgets, her knowledge of not only how to create programs, but also how to fund them, and her legal background.”

And the Newburyport Current does have glowing things to say about James Shanley as well. And I would agree, that no matter what :

“You could look at the mayor’s race and say it’s kind of a win-win for the city, and no matter what, things will be fine.” (The Newburyport Current, October 29, 2009)

Local Newburyport Political Leadership

I was watching Charley Rose last night, and he and the person that he was interviewing were talking about the nature of politics. The conclusion that they appeared to arrive at, and I am paraphrasing here, is that politics is yes, an ability to form sound political policy, but politics also involves “passion,” and “irrationality.” They were talking about national politics. But I would argue that those same principles, “sound policy,” “passion” and “irrationality” are also part of the local political process.

The Newburyport Daily News has endorsed James Shanley for mayor of Newburyport, MA. They were talking about how James Shanley’s proposal for Newburyport’s Central Waterfront (see earlier entries) makes “economic sense” and that Mr. Shanley’s “management of the City Council has been businesslike, respectful and efficient.”

What the Newburyport Daily News endorsement does not take into account is the “passion” and “irrationality” of local politics. And I would argue that the reason “the city has been unable to achieve (a solution to the issue of the Central Waterfront) in 41 years,” would not be for a lack of good ideas over the last 4 decades, but because this piece of land, for whatever reason, brings out tremendous “passion” and yes, forgive me, sometimes “irrationality.”

I think both candidates, Donna Holaday and James Shanley, would be very respectful, efficient and business like in their approach to the office of Mayor of Newburyport. However, having watched both candidates for any number of years now, I think Donna Holaday has a better grasp and a lot more tolerance for the “passion and irrationality” of Newburyport politics, which I would argue, would be a much underestimated and under-appreciated, but much needed quality in local political leadership.

The Newburyport Rail Trail

Entrance to Newburyport's Rail Trail--High Street

Entrance to Newburyport's Rail Trail--High Street

Sunday was one of those amazing, “this is why we live here,” kind of gorgeous, mild fall days. I had not checked on Newburyport’s Rail Trail for awhile, so I thought that I would go down to Market Street and see if I could walk down to the new bridge across Low Street, that was put in this past August.

The bridge over Low Street  headed toward the train station.

The bridge over Low Street headed toward the train station.

One of the questions that is often asked is, why is the city putting money towards a very expensive Rail Trail, when it could use the money for other things, in particular schools.

The answer to that, is that these kinds of projects have a completely different funding source, than, for example the Newburyport Schools do.

The Rail Trail from underneath the High Street over pass.

The Rail Trail from underneath the High Street over pass.

Route 1, which is right next to this part of the Rail Trail (one would never know it).

Route 1, which is right next to this part of the Rail Trail (one would never know it).

This is from the city’s website:

“Funding for the design of the Clipper City Rail Trail came primarily through grants from MHD (Massachusetts Highway Department) and the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), as well as the Community Preservation Act (CPA). The City hired Stantec (formerly known as Vollmer Associates) to develop the design for the facility. The City also secured the commitment of $3 million in federal and state funding for construction of the trail as part of the regional Transportation Improvement Plan. The primary source of funding is the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) Improvement Program, which is designated specifically for projects that help reduce congestion and tailpipe emissions including by definition bicycle and pedestrian pathways. (This funding source cannot be used, for instance, for work on conventional roads or bridges, or schools and other general needs.) The reliance on federal funding requires that the MHD take charge of advertising, contracting, and managing the construction of the project once the design is completed. The City works closely with the MHD Resident Engineer to manage the contractor during the construction phase.”

From the Low Street bridge going up towards High Street.

From the Low Street bridge going up towards High Street.

These are some of the photos that I took. As you can see Newburyport’s Rail Trail is still under construction, but you can begin to get an idea just how remarkable an asset to the city that it will be.

Newburyport Election 2009–The Liberator

If you have not done so already, go out and get yourself the latest copy of The Newburyport Liberator (I get mine at Richdales, but they are sold all over town). You may or may not agree with the Liberator’s endorsements, but this election copy (October 23, 2009) would be extremely useful in giving people information about the candidates, to help them make up their minds about who they might vote for, on Tuesday, November 3, 2009.

Jim Roy, the editor of The Newburyport Liberator, has worked for decades on Newburyport’s parking issues and for an Open Waterfront on the NRA property (the two dirt parking lots on either side of the Firehouse Center for the Arts), so take this into consideration as you read who the Liberator has given its endorsements to.

However, all the candidates, both for mayor and for Newburyport City Council, are given some space to express their answers to 3 questions, so the reader can hear directly from the candidates themselves.

The Newburyport Liberator also gives a big fat endorsement to voting “yes” for the Newburyport Charter Review, and has its take on the 20 candidates running for the opportunity to lead the discussion about where the Newburyport city charter could go. So, by all means, go get yourself a copy.

Debate for Mayor, Election 2009

I watched the mayoral debate between Donna Holaday and James Shanley last night on Channel 9 (see earlier entries for other times, as well as the video and link below).

I came away thinking that we are lucky to have two really good candidates, who I think would both make good mayors.

I know both of the candidates, and they both have very knowledgeable and “geeky” sides, as well as relaxed and funny sides.

In the debate I saw the knowledgeable, thoughtful and “geeky” side of both candidates. What came across was Donna Holaday’s strength on the financial aspect of running our city, especially doing the budget, which is huge. And James Shanley’s strength on the planning and developing side, which is also huge.

In my conversations with James Shanley over the years, I’ve often been struck that he has gone to regional planning seminars-conferences, that none of the other Newburyport City Councilors had gone to. In the debate candidate Shanley referenced one of those conferences, with a comment, and this is not an exact quote, “It was kind of a ‘geeky’ thing to do,” which, it sounded like on tape, brought chuckles from the audience. James did manage in that debate to show the relaxed and humorous side of James Shanley, a side which is very appealing.

Gillian Swart in her post on the debate has her take, and she does point out the importance of Donna Holaday’s financial expertise, especially when it comes to the budget.

Below is the video of the evening debate and a link to PortMedia, so you, reader of the Newburyport Blog, could make up your own mind about who you would like to vote for mayor of Newburyport, MA.

(Editor’s Note: The video is no longer available at PortMedia.org)

The Newburyport Mayoral Debate, Election 2009, video courtesy of PortMedia.
(Voting day is Tuesday, November 3, 2009.)

Newburyport Mayoral Debate, Election 2009

For those who did not make it to the Newburyport mayoral debate last night at Newburyport High School, you can watch it on Channel 9 at PortMedia. And I would imagine that PortMedia would eventually have it on video like the interviews with the candidates (see earlier entry).

The schedule is as follows:

10/22/2009 at 5:00 PM

10/23/2009 at 12:00 PM

10/24/2009 at 4:00 PM

10/27/2009 at 8:00 AM

10/30/2009 at 4:00 PM

An article in the Newburyport Daily News about the debate can also be read here.

My phone has rung (I did not make the debate) and I have read the article. It was my feeling that Donna Holaday really needed to “knock it out of the park” to win, and certainly to make absolutely no mistakes, and to demonstrate her relaxed, charming and funny side. Apparently that did not happen.

In challenging James Shanley about the candidate’s “proven leadership,” apparently there was a less than tactful rebuttal by Donna Holaday, which by all accounts ” ..drew audible gasps and grumbling from the audience, and Holaday apologized to Shanley immediately after the debate ended, saying her words didn’t come out as she intended.” (Newburyport Daily News article.)

I’m not a betting woman, but in my experience there is sometimes one thing in a mayoral race that decides the outcome of the election. And my response was, “Good grief, that’s it. The election is as good as delivered. This will put James Shanley way over the top.”

I will watch the debate on PortMedia.

Editor’s Note: I have heard other voices over the day, saying that the debate was pretty much a tie, and the “incident” at the very end was “nothing,” and was actually an appropriate comment. Good for PortMedia in video taping the event.

Editor’s Note 2: I’ve heard from even more voices, which have said that Donna Holaday was superb.

Newburyport Central Waterfront Risk, Election 2009

In re-reading the 2 previous posts on the mayoral candidates differing positions on their vision for Newburyport’s Central Waterfront, I was struck by something.

If I had “recently” moved to Newburyport, and a candidate had suggested to me that we replace what was destroyed on the Central Waterfront during Urban Renewal (see last 2 earlier entries) with historically sensitive buildings (James Shanley’s position), I might say, “Why not? That makes perfect sense to me.”

The problem for me is that it might make perfect sense, except that this particular piece of land, in this particular city, with a particularly long and volatile history, for whatever reason, is unbelievably emotionally charged.

A friend of mine likens it to the abortion issue, not that in any way it has remotely the same seriousness as that particular issue, but, locally, it does have an emotionally charged electricity about it. We have gone to COURT about this piece of land.

If James Shanley does get elected mayor, pursues this idea for the Central Waterfront, I think people will come out of the woodworks and go nuts, making what Mayor John Moak (see two earlier entries) went through seem like a “walk in the park.” And I wonder if the “new people in town,” that James Shanley talks about, would have the same passion, and fight, because it is my take that they would need to fight and fight relentlessly for this waterfront proposal, or just say, “Forget about it, this is just not worth it.”

Think about how upset people got about having a ticket booth on the boardwalk (see earlier entries). And that was just a tiny, shack-like ticket booth, not buildings.

So for me, although James Shanley’s idea for the Central Waterfront could make sense in a vacuum, or some place else, it strikes me, to even suggest going there, as being “politically deaf, ” and this concerns me.

Having ideas about projects is one thing, but reading the political climate, and understanding whether or not a project is politically viable, is crucial in a civic leader, especially the mayor. And should James Shanley pursue this project, if he were to be elected mayor, I think it could consume everything else that he would want to accomplish.

Building on Newburyport’s Waterfront

I looked back at posts on “the waterfront” on the Newburyport Blog. And when the blog was started back in January 2006, for about 6 months the subject of the resistance to Mayor John Moak’s proposal of paving over the Newburyport’s Central Waterfront, comes up over and over again, and I had forgotten just how viscerally passionate people were. There were still entries on the subject in 2007.

I don’t know if in three years that passion about this particular piece of land has disappeared, but it would be hard for me to imagine that it would have. And if folks were upset about Mayor John Moak’s proposal, how would they feel or react to mayoral candidate James Shanley’s much more ambitious proposal of building “something historically based, something like what was there before” (The Newburyport Liberator, October 9, 2009) on Newburyport’s Central Waterfront.

I’m sure that James Shanley, who is a very bright and thoughtful man, if he were to be elected mayor, would appoint a commission of very bright people to look at this “new” approach, to make this piece of land, which the candidate has called an “underperforming asset,” generate money for the city.

And then I can see all hell breaking lose, a little like all hell broke lose when Mayor John Moak started the process of trying to put mostly parking on that piece of land.

On July 2006, Al Decie wrote on the Newburyport Blog about Newburyport’s Central Waterfront, “The public’s wishes have been expressed loud and clearly by majority votes and voices in referendums, surveys, and in the courts.”

It is true, as James Shanley has said, that people like Al Decie (unfortunately) no longer live here, and that there may be a lot of new people, who “don’t understand how we got here” (Newburyport Liberator again) do. But, Mr. Decie is right, this piece of land produces such passion, that it has been involved in a very long, expensive and drawn out process IN COURT. And the issue was about building on that very same spot.

So either we as a city have “moved on” and are willing to think about a completely “new” approach to a much fought over piece of priceless downtown, Newburyport property. Or, if we even consider that route, those wild passions could come forth again (you can almost bet on it) and could derail much good that needs to be accomplished.

Personally, I like Donna Holaday’s approach “reduce the parking, install grass, plantings, landscape design…it would be perfect.” (Newburyport Liberator, same issue again) And we could concentrate on what Stephen Karp would be building on either side of the Central Waterfront, and “get on with it.” Do I really think that this “miracle” would ever happen in my life time. I haven’t before (see earlier entries here and here), and actually, I am still skeptical that it could.

Newburyport’s Central Waterfront, Election 2009

The differences between the two candidates running for Mayor of Newburyport in the 2009 election, Donna Holaday and James Shanley are beginning to emerge. And the one, unbelievably significant distinction is their plan for Newburyport’s Central Waterfront.

The Central Waterfront is not the land owned by Stephen Karp and New England Development, but the two “dirt parking lots” on either side of the Firehouse Center for the Arts, that the city has been fighting about for the last 40 years. It has always turned out to be a political third rail.

Jim Roy, the editor of the Newburyport Liberator, is one of those people who has fought for an Open Waterfront, and knows the most minute, tiny and important information about this whole long 40 year process. In the latest issue of the Liberator, which is out now, Jim has two very good interviews with both mayoral candidates. And in the next issue, due out this weekend, there will be an Op-ed piece by Mary Lou Supple, former chair of the NRA, in response to the interviews, specifically concerning the Central Waterfront. (I get my copy of the Liberator at Richdales, but you can find issues of the Liberator all over town.)

The position of James Shanley would go something like this–during Urban Renewal (The Newburyport Daily News did an excellent series on Urban Renewal called “A Port in Progress”), the city tore down a whole lot of historic buildings that were once on those two dirt parking lots. The city could put back buildings that would be in scale, that would run parallel to Water Street, leaving both access and views of the Merrimac River, that would resemble the wharfs, taverns and shops of earlier days, with places to sit and enjoy the mighty mouth of the Merrimac River.

Donna Holaday’s position is crystal clear. NO buildings. That space is “the Jewel of the city.” There should be a park period on the Central Waterfront, which is what the citizens of Newburyport have said that they wanted and have vigorously fought for, for at least 30 plus years. It’s time to get on with it, and make this long awaited vision finally come to fruition.

The Central Waterfront has always been Newburyport’s political third rail. I think that Mayor John Moak was “surprised” by the visceral response that he got early in his administration back in the winter, fall and summer of 2006 when he wanted to pave the central waterfront for parking. Mayor Moak was only talking about cars, not buildings. I think if we put aside 40 years of “discussion” that we as a city have had about the Central Waterfront, we would be opening one incredible can of worms.

To President Obama, “Why do People Hate You?”

One of the things that has floored me this summer is, to me, the irrational amount of “hate” displayed towards President Obama. It’s gotten so out of hand that it alarms many of us. My friend Frank Schaeffer, never one to be subtle or understated, is involved in a group called “Stop Domestic Terror.” It may seem a little over the top, but it works for me.

But what is certainly not over the top, is a question posed to the President of the United States by a 4th grader at a Town Hall Meeting at the University of New Orleans on October 15, 2009. The question to President Obama by Terence Scott, “Why do people hate you? They supposed to love you, and God is love.” Amen–and out of the “mouths of babes.”

You can read the whole story on CBS here. And see the video of the young man’s question and President Obama’s answer below.

Writing about Newburyport Elections

As a blogger, I really, really don’t like election time. Even if I might disagree with a candidate or wonder about their qualifications, I am always impressed when someone takes the time to run for office–it indicates that they care a tremendous amount about Newburyport, MA. And I really get more upset with an electorate that isn’t paying attention and does not vote, than with differences in the candidates.

Tom Salemi over at the Newburyport Posts says, in his always tactful approach, something along the same lines. Tom Salemi’s post on the subject, “Take Time to Care” can be read here.

blond_blogI thought I would go back and read what I had written for the Newburyport election in 2007. And I came across something that I had “drawn,” which I think is still to the point and pretty funny– not as tactful as Tom Salemi. You can see it to your left. Paris Hilton could probably be substituted with a more 2009′ish “it” person, but the general idea would be the same.

Voting is a tremendous privilege, and I’m with Tom Salemi, whoever you might be, take the time to get to know about the candidates, there are many available venues, as Tom points out. And get to know about this year’s very important issue on the ballot, The Charter Review, which Tom has all kinds of information about on the side of his blog.

Newburyport Councilor at Large, Election 2009

The election for Newburyport City Councilor at Large. There are 5 seats for Newburyport Councilor at Large and 7 folks are running. All 4 incumbents would get my vote. They are, in no particular order:

Kathleen (Katy) Ives
Thomas (Tom) Jones
Steven Hutcheson
Barry Connell

For me that leaves the seat vacated by Donna Holaday, who is running for mayor of Newburyport. The three people who are also on the ballot would be Michael Ferrick, Ari Herzog and Frances Sullivan. It is just my “take,” but Francis Sullivan might lack a certain “toughness” that in my mind would be a must for anybody on the Newburyport City Council (they don’t call us “Cannibal City” for nothing).

For a Newburyport City Councilor embarking (either chairing or being on a committee) on a “rumble,” in my mind would be no picnic. A “rumble” being a large meeting where folks are very upset about a certain issue, the landfill or the wind turbine would be two examples that come to mind.

One of the things that I found very interesting in the taped interview by PortMedia (see earlier entry on the two videos of the candidates running for mayor of Newburyport MA) is Donna Holaday’s comments that often the neighbors in such instances, like the landfill or the wind turbine, become the “experts,” providing the City of Newburyport with much needed information. And the “neighbor”, “experts” need to become an asset to whatever project might be going forward. (This would be different than NIMBY, “not in my back yard.”)

Anyone who has become involved in a city project on a volunteer basis, knows just how much minute information they know, whether it be traffic, the Fruit Street Historic District, High Street, the Central Waterfront, just to name a few.

So ideally, I think it takes a certain “toughness” along with a certain amount of “wisdom” to know when the neighbors have become the “experts” and not NIMBYs, and to constructively incorporate them into the process and learn from their accumulated knowledge. And one of the things that I like about Donna Holaday, is over the years, and in that interview, she has demonstrated that ability to pay close attention to information which she might not have known about or appreciated before. This would be refreshing in a mayor.

But for Newburyport Councilor at Large, Ari Herzog or Mike Ferrick–to tell you the truth, at this point in time, I just don’t know.

Newburyport Charter Review

On November 3, 2009 we (residents of Newburyport) go to the polls and vote whether or not we would like a discussion about whether we would like to think about changing our current form of government or not. We will be voting only on whether or not to have a “discussion,” that’s it, just a “discussion.”

And we will be voting on who we would like to elect to have that discussion.

Tom Salemi on his blog The Newburyport Posts, has this subject covered. Tom Salemi is also running as a candidate for Charter Review. He has my vote because he would be great (and not because he is a fellow blogger, but because he would be great), and there are a whole lot of other folks who would be terrific as well.

20 candidates are running for 9 spots. And Tom has done a terrific thing. If you go to the side of his blog, you can click on anyone of the candidate’s names, and you will get a page with their picture and bio/statement.

Tom Salemi also has all kinds of terrific information about what exactly a “Charter Review” would be on the side of his blog. And the Newburyport Charter Review also has it’s own website.

Way back when in June 2007, I wrote what is probably one of my more favorite posts on why our current form of government would be so antiquated. And here is an edited version:

“My Dad and I were talking about Newburyport, MA. My father loves politics.

Q. My Dad: What qualifications do you need to be mayor?

A. Me: Pause. Tilting my head. Another pause. You just need to be 18.

Response. my father and I: Pause. Another pause… peals of laughter.

You got to admit, that’s a pretty apt response.

And one of the other things that my Dad thought was pretty wild would be the fact that that the mayoral term is only 2 years.

My Dad: 2 years??

Me: Yup, 2 years.

My Dad: No one could possibly get anything done in 2 years.

Me: Yup, you got it.

My Dad just shook his head in utter amazement.”

Election for Mayor of Newburyport

I think that we have two good candidates for mayor of Newburyport, MA–James Shanley and Donna Holaday, which makes me very happy.

We go to the polls and vote on Tuesday November 3, 2009. You can judge for yourselves which candidate you would vote for.

The two candidates have been video taped, thanks to PortMedia and CEB, and Gillian Swart (of Port Reporter Unlimited) does a really good job of moderating (congratulations to Gillian). So here they are in no particular order. You can also link to the videos of all the candidates–Newburyport City Councilors as well as the two candidates for mayor, at PortMedia here.

Donna Holaday for Mayor:

James Shanley for Mayor:

Gluten Free, Newburyport and the North Shore

I will admit that I was hoping that I would turn up some fellow Newburyport and Massachusetts North Shore gluten free/Celiacs (see earlier entries) by writing about the subject on the Newburyport Blog.

And voila, so far someone local who makes gluten free cookies and a fellow Newburyport Celiac has contacted me. Thank you! But according to the statistics, 1 in 133 people have Celiac disease, there have to be a whole lot more folks out there–and I could sure use your help.

One of the things that I have discovered, is that although gluten free awareness is spreading by leaps and bounds, my experience of being told to go on a gluten free diet (no wheat, barley or rye) immediately, which is life altering and overwhelming, and then pretty much left hanging with no recommended support system, is by and large the norm.

From what I can make out, Beth Israel Hospital has a research and Celiac center in Boston, and Children’s Hospital in Boston has support for families with Celiac disease, but Massachusetts appears to be lacking behind many, many states in Celiac support. (And for a state full of cutting edge medical stuff, this seems odd.)

And I think our health care system doesn’t help much either. In researching why in the world my health insurance could possibly go up 37% in one year, I discovered that doctors will only be paid for office visits, not phone calls, much less emails. One of my doctors that I have known for years, recently told me that he now has to become a “businessman,” seeing as many patients as possible in a day, instead of spending the time talking with them, making sure that he knows them, and helping them with individual problem solving approaches, because otherwise he will go out of business. Discouraging to say the least.

And because Celiac is just beginning to be researched, it appears that a person would be “lucky” just to be diagnosed, but having a “Celiac team” to help figure out how to adjust to this weird thing, in most cases seems elusive.

I’m all for having a Newburyport or Massachusetts North Shore Gluten Free/Celiac support group. I’m sure there are a whole lot of people beside me who could use one too. And although there are no “comments” on the Newburyport Blog (see many earlier entries), I do have a contact email–info (AT) marybakerart.com.

Crazy Health Insurance Rate Hike

My health insurance this year goes up a whopping 37%. It is so high I weirdly feel embarrassed, instead of angry and outraged.

I am one of those people who basically gets to buy their health insurance “retail,” no bargaining power for moi.

Ed Cameron graciously tells me who to email on the Massachusetts State level, and I send Representative Harriett Stanley, the co-chair of the state’s Joint Committee on Health Care Financing an email and Cc it to Representative Mike Costello and State Senator Steven Baddour, my own Massachusetts state representatives. From the article in the
Newburyport Daily News
, it is quite evident that Harriett Stanley is well aware of my predicament and others like me, and is doing her dardest to do everything that she can to address the issue. But 37% ??

And, thank goodness one can no longer say that nobody is paying attention to the issue when the top guy, the President of the United States, is all over the place, talking about my exact problem. If President Barack Obama can’t pull this off, I am beyond sunk.

My health insurance sales rep has been great. She and I have worked together for almost a decade to try and get the best possible deal possible. We are now, after all these years, on a first name basis.

Two years ago a “deductible” health insurance plan was the answer. The deductible was high enough, however, that I didn’t go to the doctor (which may be the point of a high deductible??). Could Celiac/gluten free (see earlier entries) have been diagnosed sooner? Who knows. Last (health insurance calendar) year I said “To Hell with it, I’ll pay the stupid deductible,” and it turns out it was a good thing that I did.

This year to bring down the monthly cost, the deductible would be so off the charts that I would basically be paying for everything aside from very large medical bills. And the monthly premiums would not have been that much lower. The health insurance rep could think of nothing else to come up with, so 37%… beyond “Ouch.” And she was embarrassed about not being able to come up with anything except “pretty unacceptable.”

But, as I said to my health insurance rep, when my son will no longer be able to be on my health insurance plan, which is soon, in New York City he would pay roughly two and two-thirds (almost 3 times) more for the same quality of insurance that he is now getting in Massachusetts. My vow to my son is that I would make sure that he would always have health insurance. So, after much research, he will get a lesser product in the state of New York for “only” twice what he would pay in Massachusetts for a much better product. Triple “Ouch.” (This weirdly makes Massachusetts look not so bad.) One could only imagine how badly I would like health insurance reform to pass on the Federal level? Please, please, please.

Celiac Slump in Newburyport

I begin to figure out how to eat at home with this gluten free, Celiac thing (see earlier entries), but what about my beloved, in a pinch or not even in a pinch, Newburyport take-out restaurant.

I go to my first line of take-out defense, Chinese–Szechuan Taste on Pleasant Street. On one of my Newburyport walks I stop by during a non-busy afternoon time. I look at the soy sauce on the table, it contains “wheat, ” ie gluten. I am too discouraged to ask about how they prepare the actual food. I will come back at another time.

My next stop is my beloved Purple Onion on Inn Street. One of my favorites, their “Roast Beef Sandwich on Multigrain Bread” is obviously out, but what about their “Garlicky Saute Chicken” over rice? I talk to the owner who graciously goes and checks the labels on their tamari sauce–it contains wheat/gluten. I am crestfallen. I will return at a later date and we will check the ingredients in their guacamole, shredded cheese (yes this can contain gluten to prevent caking–good grief), hot sauce and sour cream. Too many labels in one spot for me today.

And I think “Ah hah,” Newburyport, a city that is cuisinewise diverse, has two Indian restaurants, Indian food being naturally gluten free using rice and bean based flours (who knew I would know about this sort of thing two months ago??). I go over to Pleasant Street again, enter the small, beautiful park, Tracy Place and go into Jewel In The Crown restaurant. I explain my predicament and the response is “Not to worry, no wheat.” I tell them that they have now become my new best friend, and I have found my first celiac take-out place. Whew.

And when I go to Jewel In The Crown restaurant for lunch the next day, they could not be more gracious, and are very patient in repeating the phrase that now makes me so happy: “No wheat.” And I look forward to eating every item on their menu, something I would never have done before being told to go on the gluten free diet from Hell. My celiac slump feels slightly less slump like as I try my first dish, “Chicken Saag,” in an introduction to a brand new cuisine. And I am so taken with chicken saag, that I go home to my trusty computer to find a recipe for this incredible gluten free dish and add it to my now beginning celiac repertoire.

PS. Not Your Average Joe’s restaurant in Newburyport has a gluten free menu. I tried their grilled chicken breast, garlic mashed potatoes and roasted green beans, and it was great. It was also very nice to walk into a place and no have to explain this “weird” thing, and to have them completely understand.

Apple Pie and Newburyport’s Farmers’ Market

One of my great treats this warm season of 2009 has been a Sunday stroll down Federal Street to the Farmers’ Market at the Tannery in Newburyport, MA (see earlier entry). And my discovery of “the pie guy,” who is actually Cape Ann Pies www.capeannpies.com.

Both my grandfather and my grandmother on my Dad’s side migrated from Canada, and one of the favorite family traditions was pie, specifically apple pie, for breakfast. Good apple pie is hard to find, especially after the Baker Canadian version, and I found great apple pie, by the slice no less, from Cape Ann Pies right here in Newburyport, at our very own Farmers’ Market. Eureka.

If I had known that the slice of apple pie that I had in August was to be my very last slice of apple pie, I would have held a wake, I love apple pie that much. And as a result of the diet from hell, the gluten free diet thing (see previous post), apple pie–nevermore.

I stopped my Sunday ritual of heading down towards the mighty Merrimac River in search of apple pie. I could have gone down for all the zillions of “healthy” stuff, organic vegetable and fruits, etc at Newburyport’s Farmers’ Market–that would have been an obvious thing to do. But the thought of “no more pie” had me in Farmers’ Market avoidance.

But one beautiful Sunday in September I walked to downtown Newburyport, down historic State Street and along winding Water Street, full of its historic architecture, and, yes, there at the Tannery was the Farmers’ Market, teaming with its vendors and their customers.

Crossing the street, I made my way to “the pie guy.” I wanted him to know that I was no longer one of his regulars, not because I didn’t love his apple pie, but because of this “gluten thing,” and my apple pie mourning. And sure enough, he had a piece of apple pie set aside, all wrapped up, hoping that I would “come back.” It was a good thing that I had my sun glasses on, because otherwise he would have seen my eyes well up in tears.

When I told him about the gluten free, no more pie, bread or muffins, fun stuff, his response was, “No, it’s a lie!”

“No, this Celiac stuff actually makes sense,” says myself. And I tell him if he ever comes up with a gluten free pie to let me know ASAP. He tells me that he has tried, and we both say at the same time, “It tastes like garbage.”

Next year, or maybe by the time the Newburyport Farmers’ Market comes to its seasonal close, I will march down and scoop up all the naturally, obviously, remarkable gluten free veggies and fruit. But at the moment, since apple pie was one of my “guilty pleasures” and carrots etc. are not, I may need a little more time to grieve the passing of the “loving apple pie and eating it” years.

Gluten Free–What?? in Newburyport

I open my mailbox, weeks ago, possibly now months ago, checking on when my last posting would be on the Newburyport Blog. There is a fat letter from my doctor. I cannot imagine what it could possibly be. Results from a lab test long since forgotten by moi. Apparently my body is silently destroying itself, ironically because of “comfort foods,” bread, cookies, pasta, crackers–stuff that contains something called “gluten.” I am immediately to go on something called a “gluten free diet.” Accompanying the lab results is a xeroxed list of all the things that are now “verboten.”

I, who always thought I was lucky enough to be born with the “skinny gene,” (see previous post on “shapewear”) actually have something called Celiac, a very unfortunate version of the “skinny gene.” And I who have never had to go on a diet in my life, now get to go on the diet from hell, from this point forth and forevermore, as long as I get to live. Apparently it is the only “cure” for Celiac disease, something that is nowhere close to being on my radar screen.

I immediately sit down to my trusty computer and look up “gluten free” and “Celiac.” Viola, it turns out that one of the grocery stores in Newburyport, MA carries a whole “gluten free” section. I immediately drive North from my abode, and low and behold, there it is, gluten free bread, cookies–I say to myself, “I’ll start with those.” One taste of these gluten free “treats,” out they go, $$ down the garbage hole. (Apparently I am far from alone in this initial outing and response.) I cannot bring myself to go from soft, fluffy bread and crunchy crackers to stuff that has the consistency of sand.

The Newburyport Blog has taught me how to research, and research I do, for weeks, now going on months. My initial research shows that gluten appears to be everywhere, chicken broth, soy sauce, liquorish, cereals, sunscreen, make-up, toothpaste, pudding, gravy, hot cocoa, just to name a few. And I am overwhelmed.

However, it also appears that I not only have a “wicked smart” doctor who has picked up this once possibility, but there is also now a budding gluten free awareness in the USA, and the beginnings of a huge gluten free industry, even as hospitals madly do research in this under-researched item.

And weeks, yes, maybe months after receiving “the letter,” I am not only grateful that this weird thing is not something much, much worse, like a “three months to live” sort of thing, and I am coming out of shock enough to once again post something on the Newburyport Blog.