Monday, November 30, 2009

The Widows of Christmas

My mother in law is a Widow of Christmas.

We watched "It's a Wonderful Life" with my mother and father in law on the evening of Christmas, 1998.  My father in law, who had suffered 2 previous heart attacks and had bypass surgery 4 years ago, went to bed and died from a heart attack during the night.   He had only retired from work 2 weeks before.

We still gather for Christmas each year.  The house, once decorated in his style, is decorated in hers.  And yes, she has stayed in that house, now with help, but she is still there.

My mother in law never talks about what she goes through every Christmas, at least not to me or her son.  But she is far from the only Christmas Widow.  Christmas can be suffocating in our culture.  It has become much more a commercial holiday than a religious celebration of a birthday special to Christians and I, for one, do not think that is a good thing.

Christmas is a holiday where you are supposed to be merry but some people think of it in a different way.  With whatever happened in their lives there is an edge to the joy.  I remember working for many years with a woman whose first husband died on Thanksgiving Day.  It never totally leaves you.

It has certainly made me a lot more aware of the people who "fall" through the cracks of the holidays for one reason or another.  We need to remember them, and include them in our celebrations and in our plans.

In my in-law family there is one less tradition.  What about that wonderful Frank Capra movie? I've never watched that movie, once one of my favorites, since that night.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

To Frack or Not To Frack? That Is Our Question

The word "frack" has several meanings.  One of them is as a replacement word for a certain four letter word.  Some people in our area would like to say that about something called hydro-fracking.

Not too long ago, the discovery of natural gas in our region (in our Marcellus Shale rock) made a lot of rural land owners very happy.  How could you go wrong, leasing your land, making money off the lease and helping our country attain a degree of energy independence at the same time?

In August of 2008 I was shopping one Saturday at the Union Square Farmers Market in Manhattan, and saw a vendor from Ithaca.  Of course I had to strike up a conversation with him, wondering what he was doing in Manhattan.  But soon our conversation passed from pleasantries to a discussion of natural gas drilling in Tompkins County (where Ithaca is located).  He warned me that this process had ruined drinking water and polluted land in other regions where it had been tried, and he and other rural landowners in his area were trying to warn people of the "other side of the story".

Other people are now coming around to a realization that we may be in for more than  we had thought.

Particularly hard hit is Dimock Township right across the border in Susquehanna County, PA.

While visiting the Susquehanna "Art Trail" in October, I passed one of these rural operations:

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has online resources for landowners approached to sign one of these leases.

I am not taking a stand on this, given that this blog does not delve into "controversal" issues. (however, I think you can tell where I stand from some of the links I have posted.) But I think we all can agree that  certain things that look great on paper can have "unintended consequences".

Fracking definitely needs to be studied more before we proceed.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Mounted Police of Black Friday

Yesterday morning I had "Black Friday withdrawal" and ended up getting out with spouse about 7:10 am to see what places we could get into.  This wasn't where we live but where we were visiting, so our shopping experience was in northern Westchester County, New York, in a mall called the Cortlandt Town Center.

At Office Max, which had opened at 7, we were supposed to buy my son a flash drive.  There were only several of the 8MB flash drives my son wanted.  But the computers weren't working right, so we were on line almost 1/2 hour.

Then at Home Depot, we were greeted like royalty, with four different employees scrambling to get me a shopping cart or offering help.  One located something we were looking for.  Now, if they could only do that the rest of the year, I might be tempted to shop there more often.

Then, we looked towards Wal-Mart, in the same shopping center.  There weren't lines visible outside, which was a good sign.  But, parading in front of the store were....three mounted policeman.

Now I grew up in NYC so mounted policeman aren't unknown to me.  But I hadn't seen mounted police in a long time.

I do not know much about horses so I don't know what breed the horses are.  I can tell you these horses are very tall, and the mounted police very imposing.  The horses, I know, are very well trained and invaluable in crowd control.  New York City has been using mounted police since around 1875, but I wasn't aware Westchester (the county just north of NYC) used them also.  Now I do know.

I know Wal-Mart wasn't taking chances after the tragic occurrence last Black Friday on Long Island.

Sure enough, as we approached the store there were a number of men wearing "event" day-glo vests, directing people into the store.  Inside the store I saw at least 10 men wearing actual police uniforms (not security guards) plus more "event" people.

It was actually possible (by this time it was after 8am) to move around the store.  I did a small amount of shopping in the toy and sporting goods area, and saw cash registers open in sporting goods.  I have to say here that I am a reluctant Wal-Mart shopper.  For various reasons I try to take my business elsewhere but for the shopping I was doing, getting the most for my dollar was a necessity. 

Of course the line wasn't moving.  The man in front of me explained the computers were down, and it wasn't the first time this morning either.

At least the people there seemed somewhat mellow.

We did finally get out of there.  And Wal-Mart did right with the security, as evidenced by what happened later yesterday in California.

It made me wonder if Wal-Mart made much money with all they had to pay out in security. 

There were also a number of union people handing out leaflets in front of the store.   They have their own story to tell about Wal-Mart.

We did a little more shopping today and it didn't seem like the crowds were much more than there would have been on an average Saturday. We look hard for bargains and aren't going to overbuy.

I can tell you that a lot of people in the Triple Cities of Upstate NY are worried about a lot more than their Black Friday bargains.  So it will be interesting to see how the shopping season goes.  Perhaps finally, Americans are finding once again the "true meaning of the season" - which isn't all about shopping.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Black Friday

I've been shopping Black Friday for years, even before many people knew the name.  I know I've been doing it for over 10 years.

Years ago I would go to the mall about 7 am, in plenty of time to get the sales at KayBee Toys (for my then young son, plus other children I would shop for), at Sears, and several other stores.

Each year the crowds got bigger.

Then came along the sites that leaked ads weeks ahead of time.  Now it was an organized event.

Last year, after we found ourselves unable to get into a Wal-Mart at 5am, and saw the huge lines in front of other stores, we decided we would be better off doing something else.

Now, of course, Black Friday is oozing past Black Friday, just as Christmas now starts in August.  Now Black Friday begins the beginning of November.  Soon it will be just another day.

For many people, times are grim.  We are fortunate to have our jobs but many others have lost theirs, or live in constant fear of losing theirs.  The retailers have adjusted to this new shopping mood, so it will be interesting to see what this Black Friday brings.

Meanwhile, a couple of years ago, retailers were phasing out layaway.  Now it's back.  A couple of years ago, retailers were tightening up return policies.  Seems like that's changing back, too.

I wish the Black Friday shoppers, those who still have money, well.  And for those who are out of work....please take some of those savings and support your local food pantry or your local "angel tree".

Happy Holidays to All.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Long and Winding Road Back to Where I Once Belonged

I'm watching the freestyle round on the finale of Dancing with the Stars.

I saw Kelly Osbourne's freestyle final performance, danced to "I Will Survive".

She fell....and smiled.   Not the best dancer, she still shone; she still had a great time.

It's going to be a long time before I can ever be on that dance floor.

It's been an interesting road, these past 8 weeks since I injured my back and learned the meaning of immobility, sciatica, leg spasms, and not being able to dress yourself.  In the range of back injuries this probably didn't even rate a 2 out of 10.  I've heard the stories of those who have endured treatment after treatment, and surgery after surgery.  I know how lucky I've been for so much of my life, and now I've known what it is like to lose your mobility, your ability to even put a shoe or sock on, or to sit for more than a few minutes.

Perhaps I shouldn't even use the title I've chosen for this entry.  I think especially of people who have had strokes.  Their road is so much longer.   I've experienced only a fraction of what they have to go through to reclaim their lives.

Now, when I see those high energy dancers on the dance shows I love, I think of the pain, the stress fractures, the dislocations, that these dancers endure.  They get treated, then go out there, smile, and deliver, and keep dancing through the pain.

Tomorrow's session may be my last with the PT.   Because of my two therapists, I can dress myself again, I can sit again, I can walk again.   I do my theraputic exercises.  I sit at work with a lumbar roll.  I watch my posture.  I walk, but not uphill.  One day I may even return to the water aerobics class I've attended for 14 years.  Do they even miss me?

Next week I see an orthopedic surgeon and find out what is next on the agenda.

I hope I carry on like Donny Osmond did, with a show stopping performance, drawing on all his years as a Vegas performer.  

Me dance?  Maybe one day.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

46 Years

For baby boomers, the assassination of President Kennedy was the "defining moment" -  the moment that would be frozen in our minds forever.  Every person my age can state where they were, what they were doing.

It is so hard to believe, that in our age of cell phone cameras and Twitter, that there is only one movie that has been analyzed over and over again.

This is such a defining event that even international sites , such as this one, run by a 38 year old German man, on the Internet that no one could have dreamed about on that day.

So, what was my story? I should have been in school.  But I had broken my leg a month before, and I was being home educated thanks to a tutor sent to my home a couple of times a week by the New York City Board of Education.  But not that day.  I was home, alone.  My mother (my stay at home Mom) had gone out shopping, and I did whatever I was doing (probably reading a book, knowing me.) I wasn't watching TV.

She came home.  She was crying.  I think it was a little after 1pm Eastern Time.

She turned on the TV set and that's when I found out.  It was unbelievable.  We were in shock.

When my friends came home from school, I met them by the elevator in my apartment building, and we talked for a long time.  No, we didn't email, we didn't IM, we didn't call each other on our cell phones.  We talked, we shared, the type of communication we had in those prehistoric days.   I don't remember exactly what we said.

Meanwhile on TV...We did have TV, black and white of course.  We listened to CBS or NBC or CNN back then, no Fox News, no MSNBC.  The networks had non stop coverage.  All programming was canceled, something that wouldn't happen again until September 11, 2001.

There was one more thing.  My pet canary had died the day before.  Mom took me down to the pet store the next day to pick out a new canary.  We found a beautiful yellow bird with a blackish spot on its head.  "He's mourning President Kennedy", I said.

We bought the bird.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Arctic Night and Antarctica Penguins

Around the globe, I continue to chase the Eternal Sunset, thanks to the Internet.

In Fairbanks, Alaska, the day length is down to almost 5 1/2 hours.  Yesterday, the low temperature was minus 29.  The webcam shows a low, weak sun shining on a miserable looking foggy landscape.

In the Svalbard Islands, Norway, the sun won't be rising again until March.  Eternal dark blankets the island where the town of Longyearbyen huddles, but it is a lot warmer here above the arctic circle.  Almost 40 degrees warmer.

But at Bernardo O'Higgins base in Antarctica, the penguins have gathered, the  midnight sun shines, the snow melts, and mothers sit on their eggs.  These are Gentoo penguins.  No March of the Penguins for them but it is fascinating to be able to watch them live on a webcam.

What a marvel the Internet is. So taken for granted by my 19 year old son.  But not by this aging baby boomer.

Organic FarmVille?

I have become one of the many FarmVille addicts on Facebook.  I am writing this blog entry in while waiting for raspberries and strawberries to ripen.

I've read that FarmVille is now one of the most popular online games ever.  It is a Sim-type game where you build a farm and gain "coins" and "experience points" by plowing, planting and harvesting crops.  (If you don't come back in time?  Well your crops wilt and you lose that harvest.)

You can also buy and "harvest" animals and trees.  You can purchase buildings, tractors, and decorations.  And, if you have friends playing as your "neighbors", you can help them and they help you in turn, which gains you more coins and experience.  In fact, the way the game is structured, you really need to have friends in order to progress.  You send each other gifts (animals, trees, decorations and more), many of which are obtainable only as gifts.  You periodically have the opportunity to "fertilize" each others crops with "super gro".  The game gives you periodic opportunities to do "work" on their farms, too.

Like any good game, you progress through levels.  As you level up, more features of the game are unlocked.

All of your actions are recorded and you can earn "ribbons" for certain things.  The game then gifts you even more coins, experience points and gifts.

So, what's there not to like?  Not much really but I could wish for a more organic/substainable agricultural experience.  It would be really nice if we could, on FarmVille....

1.  Buy various breeds of chickens, pigs, ducks, cows, turkeys and geese- not just a "generic" animal.  I'd love my chicken coop to contain Redcaps, Silver Spangled Hamburg, and Dominique chickens.   Or how about being able to buy or gift Pilgrim Geese?  or Bourbon Red turkeys?  How colorful would that be? (I did own some of these breeds. Scary to see how endangered some of them are now, and I am not in a position to own them any more. )
2.  Buy heritage apple trees, not just an apple tree.  Imagine growing Black Arkansas, Pippin, Banana, Ten Ounce or Quince apples.  Ditto for other type trees;
3.  Fertilize our friends' farms, if we choose, with compost;
4.  Be able to purchase windmills, waterwheels, solar panels, and other alternate energy equipment to run our barns, wells, and equipment; and
5. Be able to purchase and grow "wild trees and fruits":  pawpaws, elderberries, quince, wild persimmons (I had wild persimmons on my land in Arkansas), wild strawberries, lowbush blueberries.

No, I don't want FarmVille to preach.  So maybe just offer some of these as special, limited time things to buy (as they do with other "seasonal" items.)  So then, if people become curious, they can do the research.

The developers of FarmVille know just what they are doing.  I think these ideas would increase the fun.  So, how about it?

Johnson City Lives!

I'm a week late in reporting this but:  after the absentee ballots were counted, dissolution of the village failed.  Not by much, proving once again that every vote counts.

Now, village officials have to think of what to do next.  How to cut the budget without (too much) suffering.

Was it fear of the unknown?  Fear that police protection will suffer?

Although I don't live in Johnson City, I know people who do.

Stay tuned.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Last Fish Fry

Tonight was the last Dougs Fish Fry to Go benefiting PanCAN.

Thank you for making the trip, Dougs, and letting us enjoy yur wonderful fish the last three weeks.  And thank you for all your work in helping the cause of fighting pancreatic cancer.

You rock!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Purple needs to be the new pink

Kay Friedlander.  For those who live in Ithaca, a social worker, a helper to many with their eldercare issues.  She has devoted her life to helping others.

And now, one more role....pancreatic cancer spokesperson. And pancreatic cancer patient.

She cites some of the same statistics that I saw at the fish fry fundraiser I blogged about last Friday.

And it was amazing, after I sent out an email to friends about the fish fry, that I found out how many have lost friends, relatives...some as young as 42, some dead as little as 2 weeks after diagnosis. 

With all due respect to those I know who have survived, or are battling, breast cancer, this cancer needs to be "brought up to speed".  Research must be funded, and funded now.  This cancer needs to have some type of early detection, needs to be where breast cancer is now in the public mind.  Publicity.  Walks.  Marathons.

My memories of my late aunt melting away from pancreatic cancer are still so fresh in my mind.  The bruises she had from constant falling.  The pain that finally could not be controlled.  The parade of relatives coming to visit one last time.  And now knowing the risk her two children, my cousins, bear having had a first degree relative with this cancer.

Kay says we must contact our elected officials.  Try to get funding increased.

Let's think a minute.

How did breast cancer progress from the cancer no one spoke about to the cancer that is spoken about?  From women undergoing surgery in the 1960's, not knowing how many breasts they would wake up with, to what we have today:  thinking pink everywhere, breast cancer centers giving out pearl bracelets for a mammogram?  Was it the availability of early detection?  Was it the outgrowth of "woman's lib"?  However the breast cancer movement did it, the pancreatic cancer movement needs to do it now.

Purple is the "color" of pancreatic cancer.  It's going to take more than a bunch of fish fries.

Purple must become the new pink.

NYC has the Rockefeller Center Tree-We have Books Books Books

The Penguin Putnam booksale (a classic event every November in our area) is in progress.  Two more days, if memory serves.

I, of course, waited until I was able to get there, before announcing to the world.

Imagine DK, Readers Digest books, childrens series (Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Bobbsey Twins), Taste of Home cookbooks, art kits, stuffed animals, hard and soft cover best sellers (yes, true best sellers) and more, at 90% or more off.  This is a must for day care centers, for kindergartens, for people with a lot of grandchildren, and for book lovers of all ages.

The books are imperfect but with a lot of them you would find it hard to see what the problem was.

What you do need for this sale is a lot of patience.  Patience on the traffic jam, patience navigating very crowded aisles, patience waiting for checkout.  One year, when I went on a Saturday (bad mistake unless you are a hardy bargain hunter), I waited 2 hours to check out.

Be sure you have a strong back, or bring a rolling suitcase.

I know people travel to this sale from Albany (3 hrs away) and even further.

It's a holiday tradition.

So what does that say about Binghamton? 
Happy  Holidays!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Fighting Pancreatic Cancer One Fish at a Time

Just finished my yummy fish dinner from our local Pancreatic Cancer fundraiser.  (I wrote about that yesterday).

Unlike last week, we visited while it was still light.  So we saw an information plaque which gave various facts about pancreatic cancer.  One of them was pretty sobering:  it said that the state of pancreatic cancer research is approximately where breast cancer research was in the 1930's. 

Well, we who were alive in the 1970's know how much the fight against breast cancer has advanced since then.

Circa 1960's, if a woman was suspected of having breast cancer, she went under the knife.  Many times they did something called a frozen section biopsy while the woman was under.  If this biopsy was positive for cancer, the mastectomy was done then and there.  No counseling, no opportunity for the woman to make a treatment decision, no warning, no nothing.  The woman woke up minus a breast.  Who cared about her feelings?

How grateful we women should be for the amount of progress made since then.

Now it is time to apply that same can-do spirit to pancreatic cancer.  Why?
1.  There is no early detection method for pancreatic cancer.
2.  (partially as a result of #1) this is one of the most deadly forms of cancer there is.  We are talking an approximately 4% survival rate after five years.

It is not unknown for people to die less than a month after diagnosis.  That is way devastating to the family, never mind the person with the cancer.

3.   Not that celebrities should be more important than the rest of us but do you remember:  Michael Landon?  Jack Benny?  Donna Reed?  Rex Harrison?  Joan Crawford?  Fred Gwynne? Luciano Pavarotti?  (some of these are more baby boomer icon names.)  And of course (recently) Patrick Swayze. 

And, the sad but true fact is that it is the loss of celebrities (or the famous) that call people to action.  Although, as this article points out, there aren't too many "famous" spokepeople for this illness-they don't survive long enough.

And, if a cause isn't (excuse the expression) "sexy", it doesn't get the money.

Pancreatic cancer certainly doesn't get the money.

We must change that.

(Written in honor of my aunt Trudy, who died from pancreatic cancer in 1974).

Them Good Old Days of Simple Electricity

Several days ago I wrote about the dangers of dwelling in the past where everthing was just peachy-keen, when in reality, there were some really nasty things happening in the 50's and 60's that some of us would just as soon not remember.

Still, there are some things I could sometimes wish would become more simple. More 50'ish....maybe.

A local utility ad made me think about that.

Remember those golden years of the 50's and 60's (and 70's, and 80's, and....) when you got electricity and a monthly bill and you paid it?  Remember when you didn't have to think about fixed vs. variable, or who exactly your supplier was?  Or vote on it each year?  Or compare plans and get totally confused?  Remember those wonderful days of Regulation?

Well those days are long gone, at least here in upstate NY.

Every November for the past three years we'd get this mailing from our local utility and would have to "Voice our Choice".   Or not.  I wonder how many people actually read those mailers and sent them back.  Although we did, I wonder about our elderly neighbors.  Know what, there are a lot of elderly people in these parts.

Well worry us not anymore.  Voice your Choice vanishes January 1, 2010.  But with it goes fixed rate electricity. 

You know when you get those letters that tell you "In order to improve our already fantastic [yeah, right]customer service we are about to [do something that is going to make your life more miserable]? I have that feeling just about now.  Is anyone going to explain what our options really are?  Are we even going to get a letter? What happens if you don't read the newspaper?  That newspaper that sometimes doesn't show up, that shrinks again and again, that resembles a lottery in that you never know if your favorite column, writer or even section is going to be there when you open it up.  That newspaper is supposed to inform us about this complicated issue?

I can imagine myself being in my 80's, like my mother-in-law, and trying to do this.  That's right, fellow baby boomers, just wait.

In the meantime....I hope we get some real information about this.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Frying Fish for Pancreatic Cancer

 Pancreatic cancer is personal for me.  It killed an aunt, an uncle and a great aunt (both sides of my family have been touched.)  My walking buddy's brother in law is fighting it.  A former boss lost her sister to it.  And on and on.

Pancreatic cancer is personal to the purveyor of the best fried fish in the universe, too, and this November we can do something to fight this most dread of all diseases.  

All you have to do is show up tomorrow or next Friday at Doug's Fish Fry to Go at Planet Pre Owned Cars on the Parkway between the hours of 11 and 7 and purchase some of the best fried fish this side of heaven.    For $6.00 you get an unbelievable portion of fish in the crispest batter you can imagine.  For an extra $4, add cole slaw and French fries.   If you can't eat fried fish or are a vegetarian please consider donating money into the container for donations.  A portion of proceeds are being donated to PANCAN.

If you don't live in Binghamton..know anyone going to college here?

One day pancreatic cancer will be as easy to diagnose as breast cancer, or cervical cancer.  We can always dream.  And pray.  Please turn out for this. (They were there last week and I forgot to blog about it.  Shame shame shame on me.)  Please give your support.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Special Veteran

Many years ago, when we were a lot younger and my spouse was serving in the military, we befriended a younger single man.  At the time we were stationed in Kansas.  This young man had grown up in Missouri.  One day he invited us to his parents' home in rural Missouri.

I got the feeling this invitation was quite a leap of faith for him.  That
he didn't do this kind of thing very often.    We accepted the invitation and spent a weekend with his family.

His father was a Korean War veteran.  It was a Saturday night and,we were warned, the father was going to overindulge in alcohol.  And so he did.

It was obvious that this inebriated older man was reliving his experience in war.  He was in the middle of a battle.  He shouted out commands.  He fought demons only he could see.  Finally, he was carried to bed.

Our friend's mother explained this happened every weekend.  Long ago, the father was young and in battle.  His commanding officer was killed.  The Dad received a battlefield promotion and he was suddenly in charge.   It did something to him, hurt him in a way he was never able to recover from.  Every Saturday night he would seek solace in the bottle. Although he relived the battle and was obviously suffering, in the morning he would remember nothing.

I have never been in war.  I know people who have.  I know people who were civilian casualties of war, too.  But this Korean War veteran has stuck in my mind over many years.  We never received another invitation.  We drifted apart when our friend, sadly, became more interested in drugs than in our friendship.  In his own way he fought demons too.

War claims many victims and I wish we treated our veterans with the respect they deserve.  Not just lip service.

I wish I could tell our friend today we were not ashamed of what we saw.  I wasn't mature enough then to understand.  Now maybe (maybe) I am.  And, if his Dad is still alive, I hope that he has found peace at last.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Never Forget

November 9 and 10.

For some reason certain dates seem to attract more than their share of anniversaries.

November 10....

The 40th anniversary of Sesame Street.

The 34th anniversary of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

And the 44th anniversary of the death of my mother.

It happened during a major northeast blackout.   Our neighborhood did not get its power back for nearly 12 hours so for us the blackout of November 9, 1965 extended into November 10.  Many of the details of that night (re the blackout) are etched into my memory.  It took me many years to make peace with the events of that night, which may be a blog entry for the future.  (And, maybe not.)

The blackout that seemed so immediate then isn't even known by many people anymore.   Most people alive today weren't alive on that night.  Memories will fade.  Sometimes, that's good.

Sometimes, it's not good.  Sometimes we should Never Forget.

The night of November 9/10, 1938 was an important night in German and world history, the temporary triumph of one of the greatest evils ever to exist.  And, for that matter, let's remember November 9, 1989.  It is so hard to believe that the Berlin Wall fell 20 years ago, while I was pregnant with my son.  The same son for whom the U.S.S.R and East/West Germany/the Red Menace are a historical curiosity.  But for us baby boomers, especially those of us who grew up in Germany, we know different.

The death of my mother, the death of people on a Great Lakes ship, the start of a legendary TV show, all pale before this.  We must never forget Kristallnacht.  And, we must never forget the freeing of a people.  All on the same night on a famous day in history.

Farming on Facebook

I am about a week into playing my first online game on Facebook.  It is a social game, and with only one friend also playing it I am not going to get rich quick, but it is fun.

FarmVille is a Flash-based game.  You could call it a very simplified version of the Sim games that I never played, but my son grew up with.  Stuff like Sim City and Roller Coaster Tycoon, for example, was part of his childhood. (Sadly, he's moved on to various Third Person Shooter games.)
In FarmVille, you build a farm.  You start out with some crops the game planted for you, so you can immediately harvest for money.  At that point you are on your own, unless you have friends.  You start at level 1.  You pay "coin" to plow your land, but get experience points.  Then, you plant your crops.  Then you harvest, but you have to time it because if you wait too long, the crops wither.

At the beginning it's easy to move up to higher levels  The higher the level, more crops are unlocked, and you can start adding animals, trees (their crops don't spoil) buildings and so forth.

If you have "neighbors" (friends that are playing the game) you can "gift" each other, fertilize each others' plants, and gain points chasing away critters and other tasks the game assigns you.  You can buy limited edition animals and decorations.  You can buy barns, villas, and tractors.

ZZZZZZZ, right?

  There are achievement ribbons, the opportunities to put animals that have wandered onto your farm out for adoption, and so forth.  You can even take a picture of your farm.

And, the animals make really cool sounds.  If you have young kids, I think this would be a fun game to play with them.  Maybe when I have grandchildren....

You would be surprised (I was, anyway) to find out how much is written on FarmVille.  People really get into this, calculating with spreadsheets which crops are the most useful at various stages of the game to gain experience points or profit.  People have written guides to the game.
I don't know how long I am going to keep with this, but soon, when I am online, it will help pass the time when that bitter Upstate NY winter finally hits.

(and who knows, one day they may give out ribbons for organic farming and sustainable farming can dream.)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Ah, those wonderful 50's and 60's-or not

If you are the typical 50-something, you pass various joke emails back and forth....about aging, weight gain, and "how good it was in the 1950's".

There are the pictures taken from old black and white TV programming.

There are the quizzes you pass only if you know about Black Jack gum, wringer washing machines, and The Lone Ranger.

There are the "we got raised fine despite (name hygienic measure of your choice that didn't exist in our childhood)" stories.

Ah, those good old days.

Like memory, nostalgia is selective.

And the 1950's weren't just Howdy Doody, skate keys and green Coke bottles.  There's the stuff we forget.  And the stuff we don't really want to think about.

I sure remember the always present sores on my nose from those heavy glass framed glasses.  How thankful I am for modern technology. And for the blood pressure pills that save me from the fate of my grandmother.

My spouse remembers the boy next door, the one close to his age, the one who had a heart defect and never made it to adulthood.  As an adult I found out how his mother carried him to school because he was too big for a stroller, she didn't have a car and the school refused to provide transportation for him.  You see, there was no law protecting his rights to a free and appropriate public education.  That's just the way things were.

I remember when I was young, my parents (and me, indirectly) being discriminated against in housing because of our religion.  And how, as an adult, I got to read the papers of a house I was purchasing in Wichita, KS, and seeing how there was a pre-civil rights act "restrictive covenant" that would have prohibited a person of color or a Jewish person from purchasing it.

I remember how girlfriends interested in playing school sports were just plain out of luck.

I remember employment ads in the paper separated into "Help Wanted Male" and "Help Wanted Female".

I remember my father telling me about being stationed in Biloxi, MS during World War II and seeing the colored drinking fountain signs and worse.

I grew up knowing that my father, who suffered from epilepsy due to a head injury suffered in service to his country, found himself time and time again discriminated against when trying to look for work.  (Of course, this continues today, but at least there are laws that intend to protect against this.)  You see, in the early 60's his job was moved 700 miles away and he didn't want to uproot his family.  Yes, that stuff happened even then.

I know now that, in certain states, he could have been sterilized (although perhaps not by the 1950's), and you would not be reading this blog today if this had happened to him.

I remember that a former co-worker lost her mother in childbirth due to a health condition I was successfully treated for in my pregnancy, and my son and I are both alive today.  But her mother isn't.

I remember the man I met last month, alive because of a heart transplant.

I won't even get into some of the "adventures" of my brother in law growing up, because people then just didn't understand (or care) about autism.  Nope, that wouldn't have made it to Leave it to Beaver.

Yup, those good old days of black and white.

Do I sound bitter?  If I do, I don't mean it.  I will be the first to admit there are things about the 50's that we would do well to still practice.  Like common courtesy to our fellow man.  Like patience, like not expecting things "instantly."  Like respect.  Like children being able to explore on their own, being able to spend time just daydreaming, not having every minute of their day planned and regimented by adults. 

But, we should not live in a past that never existed.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Facebook of the Dead

Facebook continues to be invaded by 50 somethings, if my office is any indication.

The two most cited reasons are to keep up with family (especially grandchildren) and to find classmates they've lost touch with.  Hmmm, that's what I am trying to use Facebook for, too.  Must be a generational thing.

I have found a couple of people I've lost track of over the years, but none (so far) from my childhood.   One explanation may be simple-being female.  As in, the last names I knew people by may no longer apply.

I wish there was a place where you could post that information on Facebook (i.e. a "lost and found" area for people you knew once.)  Maybe there is, but if there is, I don't know about it.

Meanwhile, I have found several younger cousins (teens) I've only had limited contact with (due to living out of state)  but I still hesitate to try to friend them.  Remembering how I felt as a teen (and having a teen in the house) makes me quite aware of how easily a teen can be embarrassed.

Would these young cousins want to have anything to do with a person up there in her 50's?

And finally, there is the heartache of finding the person, or rather, the memory of the person.  Over the years three people I've considered friends have passed on, two to cancer and one to liver disease.  The older I get, the more I know that is going to happen.  All of these deaths were before Facebook.  But now, there is always the chance of the search for a classmate or childhood friends ending with that sad knowledge that the person was on Facebook, but now he or she is gone.

It's enough of a problem that Facebook has taken some heat over the "dead friends" problem.  They've recently came up with a "solution".

However, one good thing about Facebook seems to be that it is going to force the 50 somethings of this cyberworld to keep thinking "young".   In fact, I recently embarked on playing my first online game, thanks to Facebook. (more on that in another post.)

As I can feel my mind getting less agile by the day (it seems, sometimes) that can't be a bad thing.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Don't Anyone ever Tell you Your Vote Doesn't Count

I don't think anyone expected the results of the Johnson City dissolution vote to be:

2,139 against dissolution
2,138 for dissolution

This is out of some 14,000 plus residents.  I don't know how many are registered voters.   This was a surprise to a lot of people, spouse included.

Now it will be up to 172 absentee ballots to be counted.

If Dissolution wins, Johnson City dissolves as a village as of December 31, 2010.

If not I don't think this issue is going to go away.


This Saturday I made what is probably my last visit to an icon of the Catskill Mountains, Memories.

This store has been around a long time....40 years, I believe.  Now, it is closing its retail business, to concentrate on Internet business.   Or, they may open weekends only during the warmer months.  I hope they do.

The final decision to close (or semi-close)may have come as NY Rt 17 becomes an Interstate, and the part of NY 17 Memories is on will become a mere service road.  Construction has gone on all summer, and the overpasses to come are quite visible now.  The one traffic light between Binghamton and Middletown is counting down to its final days.

Memories has always been a repository of wonderful antiques and reproductions.   And more.  For years they've had a player piano that you can insert a coin and play.  No one has ever purchased it.  It was still there.  As was the antique auto that has been inside the store many years, too.  Lots of nooks, with lots of discoveries around each corner.

I made several small purchases at 60% off but before I left a 1947 LIFE magazine caught my eye.  On the back was a Camel cigarette ad, one of the "4 out of 5 doctors smoke Camels, etc." that are so ironic to the modern eye.  I would have bought it but they wanted $10.  It was in good condition, but I spent that money on a couple of Made in Occupied Japan miniature vases.

Speaking of old ads I ran across this list of "10 ironic ads of all time". Besides the ones we probably all remember (if we are baby boomers) such as the aformentioned doctors endorsing cigarettes, there are gems such as a promotional video for the 1960 Corvair and a James Dean Safe Driving commercial.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

New York Finally Joins The Nation in the Modern Voting Age

Several months ago, I participated in a demonstration of the new way we in New York State would vote.

Today it was for real.

Luckily, our precinct is never very crowded.  I wonder when, in fact, it will be merged with another precinct.  For now, it's in walking distance of home, which is nice.  But, although NY voting is supposed to start at 6am, my polling place doesn't open until noon.  This means I have to vote after work, but that's OK.

The people who signed us in also gave us a quick "how to".  We were given a paper ballot, went to a four-occupant corral to fill in the ballot with a special pen, then went to the machine to feed it in.  You watched a screen to see if the ballot was accepted.

For both spouse and myself, it went quickly and without a problem.  It helped that there were only four items to vote on.

Nearby Binghamton is electing their mayor.  At least one co-worker was blase, saying "one is just like the other."  She decided not to vote this year.

I wonder what the turnout in Johnson City was like.   Were their polls crowded?  Apparently region wide, turnout was very light so it wasn't just our little precinct.  Whether that favors dissolution of Johnson City or not, I really don't know.

Spouse still thinks it will fail. In a few hours we will know.

The polls here close at 9pm so it may be a while until we know if Johnson City is no more (politically speaking, that is) or not. Once again, stay tuned.

Monday, November 2, 2009

One More Day Until We Know Johnson City's Fate

And guess what?

The Johnson City dissolution debate is in its final day.

 Several posts ago I wondered, "What would George [F. Johnson, the person Johnson City is named after] do?" Now, we have our answer.

No, it wasn't revealed during a Halloween Night seance. (and Houdini didn't show up either). Rather it has been revealed through our very own newspaper, the Press and Sun-Bulletin. In a recent editorial, it was revealed that George F. Johnson may well have voted "yes" for dissolution, based on his various philosophies.

It does make interesting reading.  Keep in mind that George F. Johnson, in many ways, was years ahead of his time.  I'm sure many older people in this community wish he could come back for long enough to guide us through this crisis.

Stay tuned for the results.

Oh, and Houdini?  At the Magic Castle you can even participate in a seance to celebrate his life.  Maybe one day they will even make contact with George F. Johnson.

First Below Zero in Fairbanks

Yesterday it got down to minus six in Fairbanks.  Guess our "Indian Summer" is almost over, as our area trees sheds the last of their leaves.  Enough times you can tell weather patterns by what is going on in Fairbanks (several days into the future) but not always.  We'll see.  After all, it is November.  Their high yesterday was 15 above; right now it is 9 above.

Meanwhile, in Longyearbyen, Norway, 6am here, noontime (or maybe it's 11am now with Standard Time) not even a trace of pink on the horizon...and it is still light enough to see but you also see lights on in buildings.  And at Bernardo O'Higgins in Antarctica, the penguins hunker down.  They are still getting snow in their springtime.

So go the changes of the season, all over the world.