Friday, April 3, 2020

Windham Food Pantry open by appointment during COVID-19 crisis

By Elizabeth Richards

With school closures and non-essential businesses shutting down food insecurity can become a much bigger issue in the community.  The Windham Food Panty is a resource that can help.

“The Windham Food Pantry is making every effort to ensure that residents are receiving enough food to help them during this difficult time,” says Colette Gagnon, Social Services Administrative Assistant for the Town of Windham.  Gagnon runs both the Windham Food Pantry and the Windham Clothes Closet.

Of particular concern, Gagnon says, are individuals and families that have suddenly found themselves without the means to buy food and non-food products. 

The food pantry generally serves about 300 people per month, but Gagnon says there’s been a rise in demand due to the current situation.  “I’m getting a lot of new people who are reaching out,” she says.  “They’ve lost their jobs and so they’re reaching out to get food. And we’re here to help, in any way we can.”

The food pantry, located at 377 Gray Road in Windham, is open by appointment only at this time.  Gagnon said they are serving one person at a time due to the requirements for social distancing.  “We’re being very, very cautious about that,” she said.

Donations are being accepted, also by appointment.  There is a specific need for donations of toilet paper, tissues, soups and canned goods.

People in need of an appointment, or anyone wishing to make a donation to the food pantry, can call 207-891-1931 Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

Cyber safety tips when working from home

By Lori Sussman

Cybercrime has been growing with the increased use of connected technology. Recent events only confirm what we know. We all need to be vigilant when conducting business over the Internet. Hackers are using our coronavirus fears to make their spear-phishing and misinformation campaign more effective. As coronavirus infections surges, hackers are weaponizing information about the COVID-19 virus. They intend to spread malware and disinformation, according to security researchers and the State Department. The US intelligence agencies are showing examples where Russian actors, linked with Moscow through "state proxy websites," have been using "swarms of online, false personas" to spread misinformation about the new coronavirus.

Here are some tips to help you navigate cyberspace safely:

1.   Keep all software up to date.
Turn on automatic system updates for your device.
Make sure your desktop web browser uses automatic security updates.
Keep your web browser plugins like Flash, Java, etc. updated.

2.   Use antivirus (AV) software and keep it up to date. Use antivirus software from trusted vendors and only run one AV tool on your device.

3.   Use firewalls and other home security systems and solutions. A firewall helps screen out hackers, viruses, and other malicious activity that occurs over the Internet and determines what traffic can enter your device.
Windows and Mac OS X comes with firewalls (Windows Firewall and Mac Firewall).
Your router should also have a built-in firewall to prevent attacks on your network.

4.   Use strong passwords and consider a password manager tool.
Adopt user-friendly phrase-like passwords but have at least eight characters and a maximum length of 64 characters.

Don't use the same password twice.

The password should contain at least one lowercase letter, one uppercase letter, one number, and four symbols but not the following &%#@_.

Choose something easy to remember and never leave a password hint out in the open or make it publicly available for hackers to see.

Reset your password when you forget it. But, change it once per year as a good practice.

5.   Use Two-Factor or Multi-Factor Authentication. Two-factor or multi-factor authentication is a service that adds additional layers of security to the standard password method of online identification. Many platforms commonly used like Facebook offer this option.

6.   Learn about Phishing Scams. Everyone needs to be very suspicious of emails, phone calls, and flyers. In a phishing scheme attempt, the attacker poses as someone or something the sender is not to trick the recipient into divulging credentials, clicking a malicious link, or opening an attachment that infects the user's system with malware, trojan, or zero-day vulnerability exploit.

These schemes often lead to a ransomware attack. 90% of ransomware attacks originate from phishing attempts. A few crucial cyber safety tips to remember about phishing schemes include:
Most importantly – don't open an email from people you don't know!

Know which links are safe and which are not – hover over a link to discover where it wants to direct you.

Be suspicious of the emails sent to you in general – look and see where it came from and if there are grammatical errors

Malicious links can come from friends with infected computers. So, be extra careful!

7.   Protect Your Sensitive Personal Identifiable Information (PII). PII is any information that can be used by a cybercriminal to identify or locate you. PII includes information such as name, address, phone numbers, date of birth, Social Security Number, IP address, location details, pet names, or any other physical or digital identity data. In the new "always-on" world of social media, you should be very cautious about the information you include online.

8.   Use Your Mobile Devices Securely. Your mobile device is now a target of more than 1.5 million new incidents of mobile malware. Some quick tips for mobile device security:
Create a complex mobile passcode – not your birthdate or bank PIN

Install apps from trusted sources

Keep your device updated – hackers use vulnerabilities in unpatched older operating systems
Avoid sending PII or sensitive information over text messages or email

Use Find my iPhone or the Android Device Manager to prevent loss or theft
Perform regular mobile backups using iCloud or enabling backup & sync from Android

9.   Backup Your Data Regularly. Follow a simple rule called the 3-2-1 backup rule, where you keep three copies of your data on two different types of media (local and external hard drive) and one copy in an off-site location (cloud storage).

10.   Review Your Online Accounts & Credit Reports Regularly for Changes. With recent events, it's more important than ever for you to safeguard your online accounts and monitor your credit reports. A credit freeze is the most effective way for you to protect your personal credit information from cybercriminals right now. Essentially, it allows you to lock your credit and use a personal identification number (PIN) that only you will know. You can then use this PIN when you need to apply for credit.

Science and math in the kitchen

Sage and Ian Bizier making "real bread"
By Briana Bizier

The past few weeks have been full of new experiences for many of us. Parents in the Windham and Raymond area found themselves at home with their children after all RSU14 schools closed due to concerns about spreading the COVID-19 virus. Many of us also had a sudden crash-course in telecommuting as we attempted to work from home. And many local grocery stores’ shelves were shockingly empty. For me, this meant I came home from the store last week without bread for the first time in my life.

I’d made two loaves of molasses oatmeal bread over the weekend, but my two little food critics kept asking for “real bread.” So, on Monday I pulled out my twenty-year-old copy of Fannie Farmer’s cookbook and found a recipe for basic white bread. Then I called my children into the kitchen to help.

Like many other parents across the world, I spent last week trying to carefully curate an enriching educational experience for my two children while my husband and I simultaneously struggled to adjust to working from home. And, like many other parents across the world, I’ve discovered that it’s actually impossible to serve as a replacement kindergarten and fourth-grade teacher. The Bizier family has learned many things over the past week, and one of our most humbling lessons has been how incredibly valuable elementary school teachers truly are.

Yet we’ve also discovered that education can take many forms. As I called the children into our sunny kitchen to make bread together, I realized how much science and math underlies even the simplest recipe. When we added a packet of yeast to warm water and watched for bubbles, I asked if my children knew yeast was alive.

“Whoa,” said my five-year-old Ian, staring at the yeast with newfound interest. “You mean those are animals?”

A quick Google search while the yeast proofed reveled that yeast are actually fungi, in the same broad category as mushrooms and mold. The yeast we use for baking bread eats sugar and then produces carbon dioxide gas, which is then trapped as tiny bubbles in the bread dough, making the bread rise.

“That is pretty cool,” my nine-year-old daughter Sage admitted.

Once the yeast and warm water mixture had begun to bubble in its small bowl, we started mixing the dough. I read the recipe aloud while Sage measured the flour, sugar, and salt into a bowl and Ian mixed the ingredients. When she couldn’t find a measuring cup for three cups of flour, Sage decided to add six half-cups of flour instead, proving once and for all that an understanding of fractions is an important life skill. Ian helped me count out tablespoons of sugar, and the kids argued over who would be the first to knead the dough. They ended up kneading the dough together, although somehow that still wasn’t enough to stop the argument.

An hour later, I called the children back into the kitchen to witness how big the bread dough had grown through the yeast’s enthusiastic sugar consumption.

“The yeast did all that?” Sage asked as she pressed the elastic surface of the newly-risen bread dough.

“Well, with a little help from you kids,” I answered.

As we moved the dough into loaf pans to rise once again under a damp tea towel, I thought about the crash course we’d just had in practical math, science, and culinary arts. It wasn’t the lesson I’d designed for the day, but it was still a learning experience. And, as we all adjust to the current reality of living during the COVID-19 pandemic, let’s remember that educational opportunities come in all forms.

If you have older children, my husband Dr. Bizier, the Honors and Advanced Placement chemistry teacher at Windham High School, has a website featuring “Chemistry of Cooking” projects completed by his students. Your student will need an RSU14 email address to log in to the site, where they can peruse PowerPoint presentations about everything from the chemistry of chocolate chip cookies to how to make the perfect Reuben sandwich. You can find the website here: https://sites.google.com/grsu14.org/dr-bs-chemistry-of-cooking/home

In case you’d like to try making “real” white bread yourself, here’s the recipe from “Fanny Farmer”:

2 tablespoons vegetable oil or butter
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup hot milk
1 cup hot water
1 package dry yeast
6 cups of white flour, approximately

Mix the oil or butter, salt, and sugar in a large bowl. Add the hot milk and hot water, then let cool until lukewarm. In a small bowl or cup, mix the package of yeast and 1/4 cup warm water and let stand for 5 minutes to dissolve. Add the dissolved yeast and 3 cups of flour to the butter, water, and milk mixture; beat until well blended. Add another 2 cups of flour, mix, and turn onto a lightly floured board. Knead for a minute or two, then let rest for 10 minutes. Adding just enough of the remaining flour so the dough is not sticky, resume kneading until the dough is smooth and elastic (no need to fight, there’s plenty of dough to go around). Put the dough in a large, greased bowl, cover, and let rise until doubled in bulk. Gently punch down and shape into two loaves. Place in greased loaf pans, cover, and let rise again until doubled in bulk. Preheat oven to 425. Bake bread for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 375 and bake for 30 minutes more. Remove from pans and cool on a rack.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Local field trip options for parents

By Rachelle Curran Apse, Director of the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust

As a working parent of two young kids, adding homeschooling parent to my daily requirements (since schools closed March 16th) has been overwhelming to say the least. To keep our spirits up, get exercise, and decrease the cabin fever, I aim to bring the kids on a morning field trip to a local forested trail every sunny day to explore our fascinating local landscape.

Our first trip was to Nelson Preserve to walk the 1.5-mile loop trail on conserved land owned by the
Presumpscot Regional Land Trust, which is located next to 187 Flaggy Meadow Road in Gorham.
On our adventure we practiced our math through a scavenger hunt collecting different types of leaves and seeds. We explored the life sciences when listening to different bird songs and observing woodpecker holes. We ate tasty snacks, jumped off stumps, climbed on downed logs, and all felt much better about life by the end of our exploration. We are planning to head to Black Brook Preserve on Windham Center Road in Windham.

The Presumpscot Regional Land Trust has an interactive online map with all the walking and hiking trails in Gorham, Gray, Standish, Westbrook, and Windham plus downloadable maps for all 14 Land Trust trails and the Sebago to the Sea Trail (a 28-mile trail from Sebago Lake to Casco Bay). All of these trails are free and open to the public and families are welcome to explore the land. This is all possible thanks to the support by hundreds of Land Trust members and business partners. Go to www.prlt.org/preserves-trails to learn more. Happy adventuring.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Book Review: “Last Things” by Jenny Offill

Reviewed by Jennifer Dupree, Circulations Supervisor at the Windham Public Library

I’ve been a fan of Jenny Offill since reading “Dept. Of Speculation” which I think is an amazing feat of flash fiction. Her debut novel, “Last Things”, was recently re-released and I’m now equally enamored with the novel as I am with the flash fiction.

This novel is told from the tender and precocious point of view of eight-year-old Grace, whose mother is at once fantastic and unpredictable, joyful and full of despair, loving and disappointed. Her father is certainly steadier than her mother, but he, too, is imperfect. What I love about Offill’s writing is how she renders her characters as fully human—dark and light, good and bad.

We follow Grace through a strange road trip with her mother and her father’s acceptance of the role of Mr. Science on TV. Through her, we meet her odd cousins, her in-love-with-her-mother boy-genius babysitter. We get facts peppered in from her scientist father and ornithologist mother’s take on the world. There’s no way not to adore Grace.

Offill is funny and, I can’t say this enough, kind to her characters. She has heart. And, she uses an incredible amount of restraint in her work which, for me, makes the work clear, precise, and un-put-downable.

Continuing human ingenuity and compassion during the recent pandemic

By Briana Bizier

From school shutdowns to toilet paper shortages, this had been one of the strangest and most stressful months many of us can remember. The COVID-19 virus that has spread around the world, prompting the United Nations to declare a global pandemic and Governor Mills to announce a civil state of emergency in Maine, has brought much of our daily life to a standstill in these past two weeks.

These are difficult times. In the face of a frightening new virus, and especially when we are told to stay home alone in order to practice social distancing, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. However, these are also the times when communities depend upon one another, and when one person’s actions might literally save lives. Historic challenges have always been met by human ingenuity and compassion.

The COVID-19 pandemic is no different.

https://jobs.spectrum.com/Here are some of the many things you can do today to help support your friends and neighbors during this outbreak:

Check the Center for Disease Control’s website - found at CDC.gov - and follow their recommendations. As of press time, the CDC is advising Americans to stay home as much as possible. The COVID-19 virus is extremely contagious, and it’s possible to spread the virus before
you start to feel sick.

Even while you are staying home, it’s still possible to make a huge difference in someone’s life. Call, text, or email your friends and neighbors, especially members of at-risk communities like the elderly, individuals with compromised immune systems, and families with special needs members. See if there is anything you can do for them in the coming weeks, such as picking up groceries or medication. For example, Cathy Clements commented on the Windham Eagle’s Facebook page to say she’s offered to grocery shop for residents of a senior housing unit.

Remember that it’s possible to help run errands while still practicing social distancing; you can always leave a box of essentials on the front porch! Speaking of those essentials, if you have plenty of staples, like toilet paper and hand soap, consider sharing with people who might be running low until the stores are re-stocked.

Be sure to reach out to your friends and family who live outside of your community as well. Even if you can’t deliver a box of toilet paper and hand sanitizer to a relative in Boston or Seattle, you can still call, FaceTime, or even send an old-fashioned letter. Many of us are suddenly finding ourselves at home with a surplus of time on our hands. Use some of that time to reach out and strengthen your real-life social network.

Now is also the time to make a plan! Especially if you live alone, you should have a clear plan in place in case you become ill. Who will help you with groceries, errands, and visits to the doctor? Even if you don’t live alone, it’s a good idea to partner up with another family who could lend a hand if you need help. While you’re reaching out to your friends and neighbors, ask them about their plans in case of illness.

Think of the people you know who work in the healthcare field. Things are about to get very busy for everyone from surgeons to the janitorial staff. Reach out now to see how you can support them, even if it’s virtually.

Finally, be aware of the huge economic toll this pandemic will take on our community. Many local businesses, from restaurants to hotels to hairdressers, are already suffering from decreased business and revenue. Choosing to buy local products at the grocery store, or to buy groceries and other essentials at a local store, will make a huge difference to members of your own community. Even if you’re practicing social distancing, you can still purchase gift cards and place orders online.

As an example, this coming Sunday is traditionally Maine Maple Sunday. Although events have been canceled or rescheduled, many of our local sugar houses are still willing to accept orders online or over the phone. Your maple syrup, gifts, or other local products can be packaged and set outside for you to pick up.

This is also an important time to donate to your local food pantry. In Raymond, the food pantry is located at Lake Region Baptist Church, and Windham’s food pantry is found at 377 Gray Road. This is going to be a very difficult month for many of our friends and neighbors, and your generous donations will make a tremendous difference.

Yes, these are very difficult times. We haven’t faced a pandemic on this scale in recent memory. The school closures and litany of canceled events are anxiety-provoking, and we would all be forgiven for occasionally looking up to see if the sky is, in fact, falling.

Take heart. There are many things we can do right now to get through this pandemic as a community. Show kindness when people are scared, be willing to lend a hand where you can, and do your best to stay positive. Human beings are incredibly resilient. We will emerge from this crisis… together.

Another week at home with the kids? Try making a science journal

By Briana Bizier

Congratulations to all the parents and caregivers in Windham and Raymond who are just now finishing their first week without school. This has been a challenging week for many of us, and I’m sure I’m not the only parent who has a new-found admiration and respect for elementary school teachers!

Ian and Sage Bizier record their observations
If you’re looking for an activity that’s both education and will keep your children busy for the next week, why not start a science journal? At its heart, science is based on careful observations of the natural world and a willingness to challenge our assumptions. Practicing social distancing and managing children during a school closure are both challenging, but this time at home also offers us a rare chance to watch natural processes unfold without distractions from the larger world.

This week, my two little scientists began observing the vernal pools in the woods behind our house. Vernal pools form in New England woodlands when the snow and ice retreat, and they typically dry up by the end of summer. These pools are essential breeding grounds for frogs and salamanders. For years, I’ve wanted to watch the pools and determine when the frogs begin to lay their eggs, but we’ve always been too busy to trek into the woods every day.

Well, we are no longer busy. So, on Monday, my children’s first day without classes at Raymond Elementary School, the entire family headed into the woods with a measuring tape, a yardstick, and a few notebooks. Over the next few days, we watched two vernal pools shrink in the sunlight, grow in the rain, and ice over after particularly cold nights.

Before we go into the woods for our “science walks,” I ask my fourth grader and my kindergartner to make a hypothesis about what we’ll find. They record their hypothesis and the reasons behind it (the kindergartener draws a picture). Then, we test their hypotheses by observing the pools. By the end of the week, we plan to create graphs comparing the sizes of the two pools over the past five days. We haven’t found any frogs or salamanders yet, but we have at least another week of careful observation to go.

Those of us who live in Windham and Raymond are especially lucky to have access to such rich natural environments. However, even if you don’t have woods in your backyard, you could hike the same trail every day and record your observations.

Or, if you are staying at home, this is the perfect time of year to begin observing plant growth. Do you have daffodils sprouting in your yard? Why not measure them every morning, or have younger children draw pictures of them? These science journals could easily be incorporated into your annual vegetable garden, too.

“We are going to plant seeds and observe them germinate and grow,” Jeanine Skillings of Raymond told me.

Bird watching is another excellent subject for a nature notebook. This time of year, many birds are returning to their summer ranges in Maine, and it’s always exciting to spot a new species. Older children could chart the number or species of birds at a feeder over a week while younger children could draw pictures of the birds.

Creating a science journal has another benefit as well, and one that will help the parents and caregivers who have found themselves suddenly thrust into the unexpected role of teacher. At times when it seems like the world is coming apart, going into nature can be deeply reassuring. Our social calendars have been completely upended, but the daffodils are still coming up. The orioles will return. And the spring peepers will once again lay their eggs in the vernal pools tucked away in our woods and, someday very soon, they will begin to sing.