Sunday, May 31, 2009

Last Survivor of Titanic Dies

My son, when he was in 4th grade, was fascinated by the Titanic. He read various books and even built a little Titanic model.

Even as a teen, he would occasionally ask me if there were any Titanic survivors left.

As of today, there no longer are. The end of an era and of a piece of my son's childhood.

The saddest part of the story is that she had to auction momentos of the Titanic last year to pay her nursing home fees.

Weather Underground, The Saga of the Florida Owls and Lots of Wonderful Bird Photos is a lot more than a weather site. They have an extensive collection of weather related, nature related, and other photos. A friend loves to send me links to the best photos and it is almost like I know some of the photographers.

If you love birds, you will love the following link: one of the loveliest photos of owls I have ever seen. The story that goes with it could have had a much sadder ending due to flooding down in Florida, but luckily most of this family survived.

I also like to follow pictures taken in Alaska-here is one

And finally, here is a wonderful baby bird photo.

I am a relative newbie with digital photography (I resisted it for a long time, especially because I have a lot of problems viewing the LCD screens) and I hope one day I can take photos of enough quality to upload here. Perhaps in my, ha ha, retirement.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

WABC Rewound 2009 Posted on the Internet

I missed being able to listen to WABC Rewound this Memorial Day but it has now been posted online at Airchexx

Enjoy Cousin Brucie and other favorite DJ's and old commercials and news reports.

And speaking of Airchexx, I don't listen to them very much but I should more often, given my interest in history. They have a pretty good blog on their website, too.

Late May and Flowers are in Bloom!

This was not supposed to be an overly pleasant day. So to our surprise, the clouds cleared and we had a chance to get gardening work done and even put our air conditioners in.

Our Rhododendrons are in full bloom. Our irises are too. If I feel like it, I'll take some pictures and upload them later. (no promises)

We have two main types of tall bearded irises, both fragrant - a light and dark purple kind, and a type that was described to us as a "Kool Aid Iris". It is light purple and smells just like grape Kool-Aid. It was supposed to be a rebloomer but, in the 14 or so years we've had it, it has never rebloomed.

Some bearded irises we had bought at an iris show a couple of years ago are blooming. They are shorter. One is white and is heavily fragrant. A couple are yellow.

My mother in law had overbought for her flower beds and we ended up with some "bonus" dark purple petunias and French marigolds which I may put into a planter.

Our weedwacker isn't operational right now so I took a good old fashioned clipper and clipped grass around our beds. Ouch.

Meanwhile, some volunteer tomatoes have come up in our pansy bed and we will try to transplant them into our community garden. Three backordered pepper plants came in the mail yesterday, so we now have all of our vegetable plants. We ordered several varieties of eggplants and these are in an Earthbox on our back patio.

Meanwhile, the cardamon plant I bought in April up in Ithaca has settled in well at my office. It truly is a low light plant. The miniature impatien I also brought to work had stopped blooming for a while but it is putting out new tiny flowers.

By the way, if you have never heard of the Earthbox, check it out. This is our second year. We have very little room at our house for gardening, and this box enabled us to grow peppers and lettuce last year. This year we are going to see what it can do for heirloom eggplants.

Well, my break is over; time to get out again.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Bob Feller Still Pitching at Age 90 - and will be pitching Father's Day!

This is a must see, if I can talk spouse into spending the weekend in Cooperstown.

Since I won't be spending June 21 in Fairbanks watching midnight baseball, this is the next best thing: The All Star game in Cooperstown, NY.

Bob Feller, among others, will be pitching.

What a treat for a history buff and someone who used to enjoy baseball - and was too young to see the real "good old days".

The closest I ever got to a baseball all-star was getting to meet Mudcat Grant several years ago. He is quite the southern gentleman, very soft spoken - and was walking with the help of a cane. We all have to grow old, and sometimes it seems like the most unfair thing in the world.

I hope I am lucky enough to get to see this Father's Day game. And I hope Bob Feller is able to pitch.

Midnight Baseball

Back when I was young, and dreamed of seeing the midnight sun (scary but fascinating dreams) I was also a baseball fan.
I never put the two together, but Fairbanks has.

Can you imagine a game that starts at 10:30 pm and is played totally by natural light -and has never once been called for darkness? (I wonder, though, if it has been called for mosquitoes). This is on my all-time travel wish list now.

The amazing part of this annual event is the number of major league/all star baseball players that have played for the Fairbanks team in this midnight classic. Including one pitcher much beloved by NY Mets fans, one Tom Seaver, who won the 1965 game for the Alaska Goldpanners.

I haven't followed baseball for many years, although I do go to several minor league local games each year. Too bad I didn't know about this 30 years ago. I would have been on the first plane.

In my next post, I will give an alternative for those who can't make it to Alaska.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Diabetic Alert - Greek Festival Starts Tomorrow!

If I become diabetic (which may be in my future, family history being what it is) I am going to have to figure out how I can keep scarfing the goodies at this festival. The sweet, heavenly, Greek dessert goodies, that is.

The first weekend of June used to be "Super Festival Weekend" in this area. It isn't any more, but one of the remaining festivals is celebrating its 36th year, with the best sweets in town, a week "early". This is the 36th annual Grecian Festival at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation in Vestal. There are various Greek meals available, music, crafts, dancing (lots of late night Greek dancing), and more, but I go right for the gusto...the desserts, that is. Honey overload in a box, to go.

Oh yummy heaven. I don't mean just baklava (although yes they have that). These are specialties you won't find commercially. I'm sure they are painstakingly handmade by the members of the congregation. Many of them soaking luxuriously in honey, stuffed with nuts and goodness. If you wait for the weekend, some of the better ones are already sold out.

I don't like crowds, so I don't go later in the evenings, when things really get moving (no pun intended!), but this festival is something many locals wait for.

I've spent so much time praising Ithaca that I have not given enough attention to the festivals in the area. Hopefully I will post more later. Food wise, though, this one is Number One. With apologies to the SpiedieFest, which I promise I will write about soon.

People Search Engines - Who Knew?

Until I read this article in PC World magazine I had no idea that these "people search engines" even existed. These search the "deep web" for traces of your online activity-yours, or anyone you care to spy on, that is. And just think, anyone can use these. To spy on you.

I used several of these to "spy" on myself. I don't do social networking, I don't post videos on You Tube and I certainly don't have anything out there I would be ashamed of, and yet one of these engines dug up an wish list I had posted (for my own use!) several months ago. Granted, I don't care if people know I was shopping for noise cancelling headphones but in my middle aged opinion, it is....creepy.

If you agree, there are ways you can protect your privacy. Read this article and take action! (and see if you can resist the urge to spy on your ex, on your high school classmates, and even (horrors) your children.....)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Ithaca Festival - and Things to do in Ithaca Part 2

And now, back to Ithaca. You must be thinking by now "why isn't this person moving there?" Well because....then I would have nowhere to visit.

Next weekend is the Ithaca Festival, which I haven't been to in many years...pure Ithaca. After all, how many festivals do you know that offer the chance to purchase carbon offsets? If I had a larger lot, I might take them up on buying a red bud tree.

If you are in the all means come. The Sunday (last day of the festival) should be the biggest and best. Lots of music, lots of good food done Ithaca style....various ethnic foods, vegetarians welcome. The website has much more information than I can give. Very child friendly, too, as I recall.

and since I promised More Things to Do in Ithaca, here are some more of my favorites:

1. The Ithaca Art Trail-although for that you will have to wait till the fall. This will be our third year going to this weekend. One allowed us to participate in a traditional tea ceremony. There are about 53 artists that hold open houses during the Columbus Day weekend and the weekend after. All types of art are represented - painting, sculpture, fabric, a most wonderful welder/iron worker, glass, photography, pottery....and to top it off, the Friends of the Library have a fall sale at the same time. (Oh by the way, the spring sale is in its final weekend....May 23 through 26 to be exact. )

2. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, in the Johnson Center for Birds and Biodiversity, in the Sapsucker Woods Sanctuary. No need to be a birder to enjoy this site. Want a wonderful place to walk and enjoy nature? Easy access trails, (very well maintained), plenty of viewing platforms with nice places to watch birds outside. Inside, there are binocular stations and very clean bathrooms. Very educational and very enjoyable. Bring the children! And, like other Cornell Unlike other Cornell attractions...this one you can actually find parking, probably because it is not on campus. There are various bird-oriented events throughout the year.

3. Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, on the Cornell Campus. Art museums are not my "thing" but this one is quite decent and...are you detecting a pattern here? "Free". One warning, parking situation could be better. The exhibits vary. I remember a Frank Lloyd Wright art glass exhibit I enjoyed.

4. Speaking some more of museums, I have not been in the new digs (pun intended) for this place -The Museum of the Earth We visited when my science minded son was young, and we all had a great time although their collection was in very cramped, inelegant quarters. I have a feeling that is no longer the case. This one is not free, but I have a feeling it is well worth the admission. Something many people don't know about the Ithaca area - and the Triple Cities area I live in also - is that we have fossiliferous rock right in our back yards. I have found rocks with fossils (brachiopods, I suspect) near the Susquehanna River, just blocks from my house. Ithaca has these sites too, such as the Portland Point quarry.

5. One last museum, the Ithaca Sciencecenter. We haven't been there in around 7 or 8 years but my son loved it when he was younger. What can you say about a museum that the late Carl Sagan was involved with? It's a lot bigger now. I remember a Rube Goldberg-like contraption in the front lobby that we all loved to watch and an imaginative science-minded play area outside. This is located near the Farmers Market (Steamboat Landing) that I wrote about in my "Things to do in Ithaca Part 1" posting. I remember us doing a "planet" walk, with the distance between the sun and the planets in scale. It was fun trying to find the "monument" for each planet, almost like a planetary scavenger hunt. We got lost at some point, maybe between Neptune and Pluto. Of course, since Pluto has been declassified since we walked, I wonder what they did with the Pluto "monument".

I still haven't run out of things to do, and I'll try to continue this another time without using the famous pun "Ithaca is Gorges" once. (If you have to ask....well I should explain next time I talk about Ithaca.)

Security Guards at your Local Library?

I haven't revisited the Binghamton shooting of April 3 recently in my blog (13 dead plus the gunman) although I can assure you that it is far from forgotten.

Here is one of the little ways that concern over personal safety whittles away our personal freedoms. Remember the story about how you can boil someone alive by putting them into ice cold water and then turning up the heat ever sooooooooooooo slowly and they won't notice until it is too late?

Last month, in an incident totally unrelated to the shooting, our county office building ended up unusable for a month due to an accidental discharge of dust and the resulting cleanup.

The offices in that building had to be moved temporarily. One of the temporary locations was the Broome County Library on the edge of downtown Binghamton. As a certified bookworm, I go there at least once a week.

One day I entered, and to my total surprise (there were signs on the door, but I ignored them) there were security guards in the lobby, and a metal detector. What a pain (I thought) as I had to empty my pockets, have my pocketbook searched, etc. and then go through the scanner. All this to get out a couple of books?

The reason the guards were there was because of the relocated offices; they were giving these offices the same security as the county office building enjoyed.

However, over the next month of security at the library, a couple of interesting things happened. First (and I have to mention, this library is not in, shall we say, Binghamton's best neighborhood-sorry, downtown boosters) the guards found an interesting assortment of objects on some people trying to enter the library. And I don't mean library cards.

Second (and this I found out through speaking with one of the librarians), there had been a lot of incidents there-incidents that had many of the staff somewhat concerned about their personal safety. Suddenly, no more incidents. (I have to note here that even before the lobby guards, they did have a guard circulating through the building. But apparently that wasn't a deterrent for those bent on trouble.)

Third and last, to my horror, I found out that a certain person had used the library computers on more than one occasion. Because the computer records are wiped we'll never know what this person was using his local library for. Yes, it was the April 3 mass murderer of innocents, Jiverly Wong. And who knows if he was carrying more than his library card? And what would have happened if he didn't like something there?

Overall, the librarians were feeling a whole lot safer, and I have to admit that I was feeling a whole lot safer, too.

One day I went to the library and there were moving men carrying boxes out-our county offices were leaving. The next day, the lobby security guards and their metal detector left too.

I wrote a customer comment form asking for them back. It's probably not going to happen. I forget the figure given to get them back, I think it was somewhere around $36,000.

Just think. I want them back. I want someone screening everyone before we enter the local public library. Know that pot we live in? Turn up the heat a notch.....

Thursday, May 21, 2009

My Childhood and Young Adulthood Considered as a Museum Piece

I thought about a woman who has been my mother in law's neighbor for many years. The neighbor is in her 70's.

We both grew up in the Bronx, 2 miles and some 20 plus years apart.

We can reminisce about a major shopping area in the Bronx off Fordham Road and the Grand Concourse, shopping at the same stores, going to the same movie houses and even eating at the same restaurants. We read the same magazines (including Life and Look). We used pay phones. We drank the same brand of soda (in 7 oz green bottles). We remember the same shows, although it is true that she heard a lot of them on radio and I watched them on T.V. We even remember when TV had steady schedules and seasons that always began the same week each year. We played potsy on the sidewalks. (I'll stop now before I sound like one of those "I love the 50's" emails that circulate.)

There were many differences (popular music, fashions, hair styles, to name three) but we have so much in common that we've had several nice chats about our respective childhoods.

Now think of someone 26 years younger than me. Or, put it this way. My sister in law is 12 years younger than me and there is so much we don't have in common (not that she grew up in my neighborhood, but just in general).

And the 38 years between me and my son? It's sometimes like trying to build a bridge across the Grand Canyon.

Never mind how I accessed the Internet in my childhood or if I played video games during a teacher's strike in 1968.

Let's see some of the things I've had to explain to him: For starters: typewriters. Record players. Rotary phones. Carbon paper. Mimeograph machines. Telegrams. The Space Race. Communism. The Soviet Union. Hollerith cards (OK, I am being technical here, but my son did dream of majoring in computer science at one time in his life.)

I've had some surprises in my career as a parent but having my childhood and young adulthood considered a musty museum piece was a big surprise.

I will, however, have my revenge. Just wait until he has kids.

Flex Spending Accounts-Worth the Hassle?

I don't know exactly why, but my medical Flexible Spending Account administrators have suddenly become audit crazy.

The medical FSA is a great idea on paper. I am no tax expert so I will not attempt to explain them; the link above does a great job. But let's say I want to have $3,000. in the account at the beginning of the year. The administrator gives you (in our plan) a debit card and on January 1 the administrator loads 3,000. on the card. Each paycheck (and I am paid biweekly) they take a deduction out and at the end of the year they have taken out the $3,000. to fund the account. But you have the $3,000. in full to spend on January 1 and it is pre-tax. You can use the money on any qualified medical expense. Need to pay a doctor's co pay? Swipe the card. Need a prescription? Swipe the card.

Downside? Of course. If you don't spend the $3,000 (or whatever you put in) by the end of the year, it is lost. But (unfortunately) we don't have that problem.

This is the third year I've had the card. The administrator can audit anytime and I am OK with that. The first two years there was one audit (one bill) each. But for this year they have audited about 8 different receipts so far, and we are only in May. Who knows what else is to come. Not only that but two of the audited items were hospital bills I paid by mail, giving them my debit card number. So the date of service isn't even the date the hospital charged the card to pay my bill and how am I suppose to prove the date and the expense difference? Especially when one is for a $15 co pay and I have all these different doctors with $15 co-pays?

I had to dig a little to match up the services. This is going to be a major pain. Unfortunately my spouse and I both have several health conditions that require visits to doctors, blood work, etc. so this is not a one time problem. For Pete's sake that is why we got the card and joined up to begin with!

Let me make it clear, I'm very grateful for having health insurance and the FSA. So many people don't have health insurance now. I am truly fortunate. If I didn't have the health insurance the FSA would be even more of a "lifeline" because of you getting all the money to spend up front and "paying it off" in installments.

But still...leave it to the government to mess up a good thing that benefits many people who do have health problems.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Going online in the 1950's - Revisited

I posted previously about my teen aged son wondering how I got online back in the 1950's. Thanks to a comment I received on this, I realize this just isn't my 19 year son, there is some kind of disconnect in experience between the generations that (perhaps) has never quite existed before.

My spouse commented "we can imagine a time without televisions and telephones, why can't they visualize a world without computers and the Internet?"

This isn't a trivia question. It is an entire question of mindset and worldview.

Last night I had dinner with a cousin (who goes to college here) and her parents, come to help her pack and go home for the summer. My cousin admitted to trouble with the concept too.

Meanwhile, when these young adults ask us "when did you first use a computer?" some of us really have to stop and think. The moment wasn't an important part of our lives. It wasn't like we date stamped the moment knowing our children would ask. Few people every dreamed computers would become what they are today. We lived life quite well without these gadgets thank you, even though they have become indispensible to us now. To our children they aren't gadgets, they are part of life itself, like air and water and food.

Has anyone else had this kind of experience with their children or other young adults in their lives?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Perfect Use for all your old VCR tapes

I couldn't resist this table made out of old VCR tapes. May have my son try to make this.

The Arctic Eternal Day-Continued

Fairbanks gets closer to its 24 hours of sunlight. Today: sunrise 4:21, sunset 11:19. 18hrs and 58 minutes of "day". When I sign on right before 6am (we are 4 hours ahead) NY time, it isn't completely dark any more.

Soon the trees in the little webcam will be leafing out for the short subarctic summer. I wish they had a flower garden in the picture. Hey, folks, could you consider planting one?

I decided go to another Alaskan webcam, in Anchorage. This one shows Mt. McKinley on a clear day, which is pretty amazing, given the 120 air mile distance between the mountain and the city. And guess what? I can see it today!

Meanwhile, in Longyearbyen, Norway, above the arctic circle, it is beautiful, sunny and 27 degrees.

The sunsets may fascinate me, but the little windows on a world I will never know are just as interesting.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Ithaca, NY Stuff Part 1

Here are some of my favorite things to do in Ithaca, NY:

First, eating

1. The Cornell Dairy Bar on the Cornell University campus. Wonderful local ice cream. Parking is a bit "iffy" on weekdays.

2. Greenstar Coop. Clean, high quality food, lots of bulk items, local food, and more.

3. The Saturday and Sunday Farmers Market at Steamboat Landing. Lots of local produce (much of it organic) and craftspeople. Artisan cheese. Locally grown meet: pork, beef, bison. Finger Lakes wines for the sampling and purchase. Live plants - flowers, herbs, veggie starts. Cut flowers. And many prepared food stands, everything from macrobiotic to Laotian.

4. Gimme Coffee!

Second, Gardening:

1. The Plantsmen Nursery -I've mentioned this wonderful nursery before. They are far from your average nursery. Where do I start? OK...#1, it is kids friendly. #2 is the free Gimme Coffee, and biscotti, if you get there early enough. #3, the native landscaping plants...remember think globally, act locally? #4 the unusual annuals, many grown from Seeds of Change seeds. #5 the very knowledgeable, friendly staff. For example, we admired the Marsh Marigolds and they didn't hesitate to ask about our growing conditions and explaining that no, they probably wouldn't work for us.

2. The Farmers Market (see above)

3. Cornell Plantations. If you want to see trees in bloom (150 acres worth), 12-odd demonstration gardens, one of the most beautiful collections of plants in containers and so much more - this is your place - and the best part of it is: it is free. One caution - as is the case with so much of Cornell, parking is a bit dicey during the week.

I'll post some more "great things to do" later.

So How Did The Baby Boomers Get online in 1958?

First, I am not trying to mock my teenage son. But it shows how, in some ways, the mindset of the present generation is so much different from those of us born only 35 or 40 years earlier.

My son knows about what the computers of the 1950's looked like. People of my generation remember the UNIVAC?

Do you remember the famous "hoax" picture of the 1954 RAND prototype of the first home computer? Maybe that was what son was thinking about when he asked his question.

One evening he asked me "how did you get online when you were growing up? Did you have one of those huge computers in your bedroom?" I thought he was pulling my leg.

He wasn't.

Although he intellectually knew there was no "internet" as he knows it back in the 1950's or 1960's, he had to believe that there was something out there, just something very clunky, probably in black and white, and using technology full of vacuum tubes.


Interestingly, son is also very interested in "old technology". For example, he is looking for a good Betamax player (and has several Betamax tapes). He just couldn't make that intellectual leap. Let's think about this a minute. I bought my first home computer (a bit later than other people, I admit) in 1996 and went online in January of 1997. So my son was 6 at the time.

From his viewpoint, there was a computer in his life "forever".

By the way, when did the Internet start? The answer is complicated. This link has quite the discussion and the answer is..."it depends".

When Life Gets Tough....Turn to the Internet

This is a helpful website from a non profit organization. Their mission is to help you "Understand, Prevent and Resolve Life's Challenges"

We all go through difficult times and need all the help we can get.

Helpguide empowers you to make educated health and lifestyle choices to prevent illness and improve your health. This non-profit resource provides over 150 articles reviewed by recognized professionals.

ISP Customer Service from the Inside

This is a must read article "Confessions of a ISP Customer Service Rep"

If you ever wanted to know why ISPs do what they do, here's the view from the inside. An educated consumer is a wise consumer.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Back in the.....U.S.S.R

I had to do it. I made my pilgrimage to the Ithaca Friends of the Library Book Sale.

My "find" was not a book, but rather some old magazines. History Lovers heaven!

If you aren't of a "certain age" you will not remember Life magazine (except maybe in the name "Time-Life"). If you are of a certain age this magazine will bring back memories.

In a corner, I followed the musty smell and found a stack of old Life magazines. Many were heavily damaged but some were not. The persons (the mailing labels were still on these, and they weren't the same person) seemed to have a common interest in the space program - and in the Soviet Union.

They were $1.00 each and - to be honest- reeked, so I didn't want to buy too many.

After some digging I found my little treasure - the March 29, 1943 "Special Issue USSR" with a picture of Joseph Stalin on the cover. Now keep in mind that I grew up during the Cold War, did my share of Duck and Cover, and to this day hearing the sirens calling out the volunteer fire department make me cold and scared for a quick second before I reassure myself that they aren't air raid sirens announcing the atomic end of the world as we know it.

Well, my inner historian reminded me that at this point in time the U.S.S.R was our ally (against Hitler). And sure enough I paged through the magazine and saw this article "Red Leaders. They are Tough, Loyal, Capable Administrators". Not exactly the, er, party line I would hear in my growing up. Other articles praised the accomplishments of the Soviet Union, and even the accomplishments of the Russia of the past 1,000. years.

Remember the U.S.S.R? Remember the Reds? Remember Communism? My 19 year old son doesn't. He wasn't even two years old when the Soviet Union fell on Christmas Day, 1991. As for my generation, the Red Menace dominated our childhoods. What a difference a few years makes.

To my Cold War amazement, there is even an article "The Soviets and the Post-War" subtitled "A Former Ambassador to Moscow Answers Some Perplexing Problems". The author is one Joseph E. Davies, who famously supported the Soviet government even back in the 1930's, before we became allies.

One question asked of Mr. Davies was "Is Russian determined to pursue the cause of world revolution?" His answer began "In my opinion, no."

Seven years later, in the Joseph McCarthy era, this article may have been unprintable. The story of Joseph Davies is quite interesting, if this article is accurate.

I don't want to get political here, so just suffice it to say that this magazine, and the other three I bought, will be a source of much pleasure to me.

The Intersection of Cyberspace and History

Last Friday, there was an article in the Wall Street Journal. I found it online today, but I am not sure how long non-subscribers will be able to access it.

The focus of the article was on the use of technology to both save (digitally) old manuscripts, some of which are so damaged that they will be unusable in mere years, and also to use technology such as CT Scans to read such documents as recycled parchment (a common practice). In some instances we can now read the documents that were "wiped out" to make room for the new documents. Scans have even allowed us to read scrolls that were blackened by fire, and scientists hope to read scrolls destroyed by volcanic eruption.

The best part is that the article has links to various online sites where you can view some of these treasures, in addition to other treasures such as Christopher Columbus's diary and one of Leonardo da Vinci notebooks.

Incredible. I know I am far from the only blogger to draw attention to this article. It deserves all the publicity it can get.

This research and preservation work requires a lot of funding, and I hope these historians can find it. Many people do not realize how precious and fragile history is. And what are we without history? Think about it.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mothers Day to the Five Mothers in My Life

On this Mothers Day I want to pay tribute to five women who helped make me into the person I am today.

The first person was my mother, who died too soon and too young. She was a stay at home mother who, I know, wanted to be in the workplace but the times (the early 1960's) did not support that. Instead, she became the mother that the neighborhood children would call for treats. Yes, call. We lived on the fourth floor of an apartment building in the Bronx. When we would play, and got hungry, we would gather under the window and yell in unison "Mom!" Somehow she always knew "Mom" meant her and not one of the other 130 Moms in the building. Well, OK, sometimes we had to yell for a few minutes. But soon, a bag would be dropped out the window for all of us to share.

Mom was so very proud that her English skills were such that she had gotten a job meant only for college graduates. She graduated from high school and never went further in her education. She had been a contest judge for a famous organization and I used to love to hear her tales about that. She had also studied to be a dental hygienist, and still had one of her textbooks. It was way too hard for me and I was amazed that she could have studied from it.

When I was 10 years old, I broke my leg. As my 6th grade class was on the 4th floor of my elementary school, and there were no elevators, the school sent a home instructor to my apartment for the two months I was out of school. As it happened, the teacher grew up in the the same neighborhood as my mother and they would have coffee and chat as I worked on my studies.

One Friday morning in November my mother left me to go shopping. When she returned, she was crying. She turned the TV on and that is how I found out about the assassination of John Kennedy.

In the last years of her life, rheumatoid arthritis stole much of her mobility and left her so exhausted that she would lie on the couch. She was so very depressed, too but I was too young to understand. I would rub her feet and help her feel better. I would go to the market with her and do the shopping while she sat in the front of the store.

The second mother was the mother of a good friend from school. After she died, "Mrs. Frank" showed me how to use a washing machine, how to open cans (would you believe I didn't know how!!) and so much more, and kept an eye on me. She is still alive today and I hope she had a wonderful mothers day.

The third mother was my Aunt Trudy, who lived in Tampa, FL and in many ways stepped in to fill the huge hole the death of my mother created in my life. I visited her three times in my teen years. She showed me and taught me many of the things that my mother would have shown me if she had been alive. My Aunt also died young, from pancreatic cancer.

The fourth mother was my Aunt Mary. My Aunt Mary lived out in Iowa but after I married and moved out to the Midwest, I became close to her. She was one of the most understanding, most accepting people I was ever to meet. I list her fourth but in many ways the mark she left on me was second only to my own natural mother.

The last mother is my mother in law. She is 81 now and a very strong woman. I hope I have her wits and her determination when I am 81! She is a two-time cancer survivor and the mother of a man with autism. My brother in law was born years before autism was something discussed in the daily news. She was one of the generation of women who did not institutionalize her son and tried to make as normal a life for him as she could while he was growing up. The parents of children with autism today owe a lot of gratitude to women like my mother in law, who "made it up" as they went along, without support, without understanding.

Happy Mothers Day to all mothers. Thank you to the women above, and to their sons and daughters, some of whom are still in my life.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Second Spring-Part 1 - Ft. Myers FL Garden

This is my second spring this year. In March we spent a week down in Florida.

This set of pictures is from the Edison-Ford Winter Estate in Ft. Myers, Florida. The pictures do not begin to do justice to the gorgeous plant specimens we saw there.

The first two pictures are of a bougainvillea. Definitely not a plant you would ever find outdoors in the Binghamton, NY area. It was so refreshing to see something blooming.

The next picture is of an orchid. I had never seen one growing on a tree trunk. I keep orchids, and one day I will have to write about my, misadventures, trying to keep orchids alive.

Many people do not know that Thomas Edison's second wife, Mina Miller Edison was a devoted gardener. Nor do they know that Thomas Edison himself did a lot of experimentation with plants with an eye toward exploiting their commercial use.

This is the link to the Edison-Ford Winter Estates.

Finally, here is a picture of a banyan tree. It's hard to show the size of this tree but what we saw was actually after a pruning done last year. Here is some information about this wonderful tree-which wouldn't grow here, either.

Gas-One Year Later

Funny what a difference a year makes.

Today, noticing that gas has gone up 10 cents a gallon since this morning, we found ourselves looking for a gas station where the prices haven't gone up yet. Local gas station was charging $2.39. Finally found a station selling at $2.25. They were changing their signs to $2.29 but hadn't changed the pumps yet.

Hard to believe that two months ago, in St. Petersburg, FL, we paid $1.84 a gallon.

Last year at this time we would have felt like the luckiest people in the world to pay $2.39 a gallon. In fact, in the first week in July, we paid $1.39 a litre in New Brunswick. To convert to gallons multiply that by 3.785 so that is $5.26 a gallon Canadian-back when the Canadian dollar was about 1.02 U.S. I'm not going to do that conversion.

Our record for gas prices in the U.S. was $4.21 a gallon on the Maine side of the Canada/U.S. border (Calais, ME) on that same trip.

Yes,'s all relative. But, let's see what is going to happen now.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Eternal Sunsets of the Spotting Mind

Back to my favorite website. And my childhood obsession with the 24 hour day.

When I was growing up in the Bronx,I used to have dreams about living in a place where the sun never set. In these dreams, sometimes the sun would set, but it would be very late at night. I would gaze out my window at 11pm (in my dream) and it would still be light. Sometimes, though, it was dark all the time. I would look at the stars, and they were different. This would, for some reason, frighten me.

When I found out that there were, indeed places which had 24 hour light and 24 hour dark, I began to wonder about what it would truly be like to see the sun at midnight, or experience total darkness.

As an adult, I haven't had that opportunity (either way) except through the Internet.

Last year, through Eternal Sunset, I tracked a location in Antarctica and a location in Fairbanks, AK for an entire year. However, neither location has the true 24 hour swing - Fairbanks, for example, has a maximum daylight time of 21 hrs and 45 minutes (approximately.) They do have 24 hour "light"on the day of the summer solstice but the sun does set.

Now, I have, again through Eternal Sunset, found an actual 24 hour web cam location - in Norway. Svalbard & Longyearbyen, to be exact. Right now, as I write this, it is almost midnight. The sun is right on the horizon. The web cam is pointed at it. It is 28 degrees above zero, snow on the ground, and several people on snowmobiles are clearly visible. I wish I could be allowed to post a picture from this website. This is a childhood dream come true. What is it like to live there?

There are photos of this area, and stunning would not begin to describe it. What does the person who runs this website do for a living? Does he sleep at all during the arctic day? Has he ever been to more temporate climes? If so do our days and nights seem weird to him?

One day I will sign his guestbook, although I'd better not tell him about my obsession with the Eternal Sunset. Some things are better left unsaid.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Crack for Book Lovers

Has anyone ever threatened to leave you because books threaten to drown your living space? And you've thought twice about what has to go-your partner or your books?

If so, this is the sale for you.

Twice a year, in Ithaca, comes one of the largest library book sales in the country.
Where? 509 Esty Street, Ithaca, NY
When? May 9-11, May 16-18, May 23-26
October 10-12, 17-19 and 24-27
Here's the website, for more information.

Why do you want to go to this?
Because it's huge.
Because it's there.
Because it is Ithaca, home of Cornell U and Ithaca College.

This isn't junk (well, some of it is. But...). And it isn't just books. It is DVDs, records (all kinds, all ages), video tapes (even Betamax), video discs, old video games, old computer programs, old magazines. If you collect, you may just find a gem here.
And if you don't....well it's a wonderful place to spend hours.

The spring sales tend to be a little less crowded than the fall sales but be prepared to spend a lot of time on line to get in, especially now that the fire marshalls are enforcing the "no more than so many people in this building" rule. Parking is sometimes a bit challenging too. But nothing worth doing is easy.

And, you may just make a good friend while waiting on line.

Need more things to do in Ithaca while you are there? I'll make a post on that soon.

Belly Dancers and a Cherry 57 Nash

Last night spouse and I went to the "First Friday Art Walk" in downtown Binghamton. This is an event that takes place the first Friday of every month where various art galleries and other venues open at night for viewing. Several places that normally charge admission are free. It started out with stores on a particular street and has now spread, including venues outside of downtown. Here's the website:

It's a neat event for a small city. We aren't trained "art observers" we just know what we like and don't like. It's a good way to sample various types of art all in one evening. Two local museums also open free that evening. There is a free shuttle trolley. Although the event officially runs from 6-9 pm, the party really doesn't get started until later-although we aren't there by then.

Three things of note:

First, we saw a belly dancing performance out on one of the sidewalks. I have an in law who is a belly dancer and I wonder what her take on it would have been. It was a lot of fun to watch but I don't know if I would have been brave enough to walked barefoot on that sidewalk.

The second was an exhibition of art work by the late Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead. That's where the "Cherry 57 Nash" comes in. If Jerry Garcia hadn't become a famous musician, who knows? His art, to be honest, is not my cup of tea except for, amazingly, some art that he worked on soon after coming out a diabetic coma. He worked on his art as therapy because he had lost a lot of his motor skills. He created visions of what he had seen coming out of his coma. They were absolutely otherworldly. Really made you think.

The third was a coffee shop that featured a young man who was billed as a "culinary artist". He created some very unusual dishes, all of which incorporated coffee. There was a raw shaved asparagus which looked like spinach fettuccine - dressed in oil. It was wonderful. There was shrimp with a coffee based dip. I don't eat shrimp but spouse dug right in. Lastly he had a steamed asparagus spear dish with a coffee dip, again very imaginative. That is exactly what our city needs. The gentleman had been a chef in some big city restaurants, he explained, but his wife was a native of Binghamton and he was. I wish him well.

Finally, a number of galleries were donating contributions that normally went to pay for refreshments to victims of the American Civic Association shooting. Some were also donating a percentage of their sales last night. Very sobering to remember that the last First Friday was the night of the shooting. How quickly time passes. So much has happened here in the last month as our community begins to heal.