My grandmother was the cook in the house when I was growing up. She was a traditional good, thrifty German-style cook but the meals were a little repetitious. On Sunday we had a roast and then the next three days we had leftovers. We had beef three days in each week and pork for two days. I was 17 before I tasted pizza. The only pasta we ever ate was elbow macaroni and that was in the form of macaroni and cheese. We ate out twice a year and each time I was cautioned to order something safe like the roast chicken. When I was in high school and she was in her late 70’s a revolution occurred in our kitchen. Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking began to be televised and our home and the entire United States started to understand cultural diversity.

I cringe when I think of those bygone days when everyone lived in a cultural food ghetto. If your family was German you ate potato pancakes, roast pork, and vegetables boiled into submission. If you were Italian you ate only Italian dishes. My mother went to school in the South and never overcame her distaste for collards. I grew up thinking that British food was “mushy” and Italian food was “stringy”, the Chinese lived on chow mein and Africans had no cuisine at all. Thinking that your own food was naturally superior and healthful was the accepted cultural outlook. There were as many prejudices about food as there were about ethnicity and skin color.

Friends of mine who are black bought a house in the 1960’s in a previously all-white neighborhood. One day they caught their neighbor staring through the dining room window as they ate dinner. When my friend invited the neighbor, Violet, in she remarked, “I am just amazed! You eat with knives and forks just like the rest of us.” Violet’s amazement was just a little more pronounced than my family’s reaction when we had dinner at the home of a Jewish family and they served hamburgers. They ate the same kinds of food as we did, what a surprise. Yes, we were all that provincial and closed-minded.

Today people eat out more and they are far more adventurous when it comes to food. At the Loft we support the new gastronomy that lets you travel the world on one plate. Recently the celebrity chefs were from a local restaurant and the kids ate a Portuguese dish with pork and clams. I hear it was not only delicious but also ground-breaking. The kids who thought they would never eat anything “weird” loved it. They made one small step in getting to know how other people live when the walls of their self-imposed culinary ghetto began to crumble.

Once you learn that sushi is not poison you might become more interested in Japan. If you eat Polynesian food and love it you might want to know more about Pacific culture. Maine is a wonderful state and I would not want to live anywhere else on earth but I want our kids to see the options in the world. I want them to embrace their own culture and the lives of others. Once a former Game Loft member said to me, “I’ve been to Toledo, I never have to travel again.” I know that was an isolated comment because that young man married a girl from Ireland and visited her family there. We are working at the Loft to open the world to our kids and to prepare them to enjoy all it has to offer.

Thank you Mark and Anita at Captain A.V. Nickels Inn and Mermaid at the Homeport for serving our kids a traditional Portuguese dish with pork, clams, and calamari in a perfectly seasoned tomato based sauce. It was spectacular!!!

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Our son went to a preschool program that had the slogan, “I am lovable and capable.” Those are valuable concepts for a kid to embody whether s/he is three or eighteen. It is a sentiment that we try to capture at the Game Loft. Being lovable is easy when you are three. Little children are messy, smelly, and adorable. By the time they become teens they are still messy, often smelly, and sometimes a long way from adorable. To really love them you have to aim your love at the place between the adorable childhood they are leaving and the respectable adults they are becoming. Sometimes that feels like we are taking a shot in the dark. Little children are considered capable when they use the bathroom without prompting or pick up their toys under the watchful eye of an adult. We expect so much more from teens, sometimes forgetting how much they have learned in so short a time. Now that I have reached an age when I worry about the toll that over-exertion can take on my body I am grateful for teens who are becoming capable, in fact, I love them.

This has been an exceptionally snowy winter. The climate folks warned us that global warming could lead to heavy snow accumulations and they were right. For those of you out of town be happy because we are buried in snow and our teeth are chattering with the cold. Snow drifts are over my head and getting to the bird feeder is like an arctic expedition. What would we do without the band of Game Loft snow shovelers?

The Loft has been shoveling out elderly and disabled folks in Belfast since my neighbor first asked for our help. That was a huge break-through because formerly she had distrusted and disliked kids. She saw them as violent and threatening but when the snow blocked her door she had nowhere to turn. It shows personal strength to completely change your perspective and Elizabeth Minor was strong. She died last year and I still miss her. I am glad that she was spared the anxiety of dealing with the snow this winter. But she left us a legacy, and that is the idea that Game Loft members shovel snow. They realize in this act that they are capable of work that others cannot do.

When I asked Brian how much snow he had moved this year he said, “More than I ever thought possible.” My calendar says that spring is coming in two days. The snowdrops will have to force their way through ten inches of snow and the crocuses are still sleeping under the snow drifts. I am hoping that we have seen the end of shoveling because Brian left the roof rake in our gutter where it is frozen solid. One point for lovable, zero for capable.

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Last week I told you about Sol, the young man with a crushing burden of family and school problems. I knew that Sol would be a success if he could summon the courage to attend the Second Annual Waldo County Speakers’ Tournament held on Saturday. This has been a hard winter for all of us in Waldo County. The mountains of snow and the unrelenting cold temperatures have made us discouraged. It is in times like this that we cling to the little things as signs that everything will work out all right in the end. I should have known better.

Last week Sol learned that his family is being evicted from their home. With ten people in the household and very little money it will be difficult for them to find a new place. That insecurity was probably the last straw for Sol and last week he dropped out of school. Over the weekend I held onto the hope that he would change his mind. I thought that if only he could attend the speakers’ tournament and have a success that it might be enough to give him hope.

When we opened the doors at 11 we learned that things can always go wrong. The first thing was that Ray had misplaced his Loft keys and Mike had locked his inside the Loft. I don’t carry Loft keys and all the rest of the staff was out of town. We could see the supplies we needed from the back window but there was no way to get inside. Finally Ron Tufo, our handyman extraordinaire and troubleshooter, arrived and gave Ray his keys. Then we learned that a third of the kids we had planned on were sick and would not be attending. That left us with five participants, 10 quarts of melting ice cream, and about 30 adults. The show went on.

I waited by the door for Sol from 12:00 to 1:00. No Sol. I felt like a kid waiting for Santa. If only Sol would show up it would prove that things would be O.K. The program began. No Sol. Every shadow that passed the window seemed to me to be Sol showing up. It wasn’t. We erased his name from the list of presenters. He never arrived.

There is so little we can control in the lives of youth. We can’t control their families or their school experiences. We can try to help them make friends but new friendships can burst like a soap bubble. We create opportunities for success but the kids have to walk through the door. Sometimes we have huge successes and other times we just keep on offering what we have to give and hoping for the best. We won’t give up on Sol even though his future seems pretty bleak right now but maybe success is closer than we think.

By the way, the kids who did make speeches were terrific. Gerald Womack won in the Junior Division and Ravi Weaver won in the senior division. Congratulations to all the kids who participated, we are so proud of you. Ravi and Jon Landers will be going to the regional public speakers’ tournament on March 28 in Orono. Good luck to both of them.

Ravi Weaver and Jon Landers

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Jumior category: Gerald Womack, Zack Woehler and Kirk Stillman

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