Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sustainable Agriculture Theme for Earth Day on FarmVille?

No, I haven't heard any rumors yet.  So, I will get one started.

FarmVille (the farming game on Facebook that people love to hate-or love to play) has been releasing a lot of game enhancements recently.  So, why not celebrate Earth Day?  Right now, for Superbowl, there is a Farm Bowl on Farmville, complete with Cheering Chickens, Line Quackers, Football Helmet decorations, and other football themed items.  This is in addition to the Super Pumpkins we have been growing in celebration of a couple of FarmVille milestones.

So for Earth Day why not have (I've suggested some of these before - here goes again)
Solar Panels for farm houses and barns;
Decorative recycling bins;
Native trees and shrubs-how about elderberries and pawpaws, maybe even lowbush blueberries or wild strawberries;
Heritage breed chickens and pigs;

Heirloom tomatoes, peppers, corn or squash;
Organic fertilizer when you fertilize your neighbors' crops

The cows would give organic milk that week.  The hens would lay free range eggs.

How about it, Znyga?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Five Days to my Brother In Law's Visit

Thursday, my brother in law should be up here for his visit while my mother in law visits relatives in Florida.  He'll be in town a bit over a week, and we will take him back home downstate.

We don't know exactly yet how much time he will spend with us, and how much with his other brother, who also lives in our general area.  But I am sure I will have a lot to write about.

My brother in law suffers from asthma, and I guess that is my major concern.  Our house is a bit dusty because of the general nature of the neighborhood we live in.   He had one bad asthma attack one time he visited our house.   Because I have no other family members with asthma (that I know about) I am a bit concerned that I will be able to respond properly if he has another attack.  So I may need to do some research to give me more of a comfort level.

It will be an interesting next couple of weeks.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

To Twit or not to Twit? Is that the Question?

After months of bragging about "no Twitter"....I may, gulp, decide to give it a try.

January sure is the month of change.

Why?  I am not sure.  I've seen the bad of Twitter (the tweets going back and forth during the tragic shooting in Binghamton last April, giving no information and declaring only their tweeter's lack of maturity.  Which is why I decided to call tweets "twits" - I'm sure that wasn't very original.)  But there are aspects of it that intrigue me, too.

But first I have to figure out how Twitter works.  Gee, I remember back in....1996?  I had to figure out this thing called the Internet, complete with its strange lingo-and I did it...I went online in January of 1997 and never looked back. (by that you can tell I'm not an early adapter-but not necessarily a late one, either.)

I'll do my research and then....we'll see.  Hopefully by then it won't be the thing that suddenly everyone is doing.  And, I promise...pinky swear....that I will tweet, not twit.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Newspapers Online Circa 1981-Cutting Edge! Read all About It!

Hey, it's the wave of the future!
This link shows a video from a 1981 newscast.

Too bad the reporter didn't have a crystal ball.

Or a link into the future.  If he did, he'd hear a lot of laid off newspaper people screaming to him "Don't do it!"

And what was so  horrible about what he did?

Watch the person dial into an online service (CompuServe?) using a rotary phone and then reading a paper online.  It only takes two hours to download.

Remember, boys and girls, this was before the Internet.

Is my son ever going to love this!

As for a family member who works for a newspaper....maybe not so much.  But I am going to send it to her anyway.

You see, for various reasons, including the Internet, many people don't read newspapers-paper newspapers that is-anymore.  Like my son, and many his age (almost 20).  Meaning the newspaper my relative works for, and many others, have been busily laying off people for months.  Or going out of business.  Or trying to "change with the times", but not knowing what the correct change needs to be.

So if the man in this clip is still around he may be wondering "What was I thinking?"

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

So What Happens When it is 50 degrees in Binghamton in January?

Answer:  you get torrential downpours, flooding, and potholes springing up like a bumper crop.  All from an unusually warm weather system that struck yesterday.

Ok, fine, it's our punishment for looking at snow in Florida with wonder, curious about a place that declares an emergency when a frost threatens.

Good news:  it isn't the Flood of 2006. 
Bad news:  people living on washed out roads, water in basement, damaged driveways.

But all is well with the world.  It is cold again.  And today, it snowed.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Autism "then"

This is the "condensed version" of a very long story.

My brother in law was born in the 1950's, with two older siblings already in the house. 

In his infancy, he became sick and ran a very high fever.  According to my mother in law, the fever was the dividing line between normal development and things that seemed more and more wrong, compared to how his two older siblings had developed.

The medical profession's answer to that was to offer her criticism and blame.

For example, he wasn't showing any signs of learning to talk and the doctor said it was because she was "spoiling" him.  He didn't speak until he was nearly five.  If she was advised to institutionalize him, she has never confided in me about that.

When it came time for his first communion and confirmation, the priest didn't want my young brother in law to participate with the other children.

At some point in education, he was put into "special education" classes at what in New York State was called BOCES.  In those days before IDEA and "Section 504" the right of the disabled to a free, appropriate public education was non existant.  Every day he would come home, bullied again.

He craved routine.  He had frequent temper tantrums.  He did not respond to others, and was friendless.  He spoke in a flat voice, not making eye contact. He had an amazing ability to remember dates and the weather on each day of his life.  He could predict dates in the future (i.e. ask him when Easter will be in 2020 and he will tell you instantly).

At some point, a caring teacher saw something in my brother in law, and he ended up back in "regular" education, graduating high school.  This, mind you, without a diagnosis, without a scrap of intervention.  My mother in law tried to advocate for him in a world where you hid your disabled (hopefully not in the attic), and she labored alone.  Remember there were no support groups, no Internet, and not even a name for what my brother in law was experiencing.   Until one of her friends talked my mother in law into taking my brother in law to a special place where they would study him, and there would finally be a name, an explanation.

He was 19.  And, the name was autism.

After a short lived try at college, it was found that my brother in law had some ability to work with his hands, and he ended up at ARC.  Back then it was called the Association for Retarded Children. 

There is much more to this story, but for now, this will have to suffice.

As the time grows close to his visit, I will write more.  My brother in law's story deserves to be told, and he is limited in his ability to tell it.

Autism then vs now Part 1 of several

The world my brother in law grew up in influenced a lot of his life, as it does for us all.  It also influenced the choices that were made for him - both in childhood and adulthood.  And even shaped his personality and how he behaves now.  This, remember, was a world without early intervention, without ABA, without special education programs.

A few posts ago, I talked about my Dad's life with Diabetes back in the 60's.   Some of that is my love of history but I think we need to step back into the past when it comes to autism, also.   In order to understand the present you have to study the past.   And the fact of the matter is, attitudes of people to those with "disabilities" were way different back then.   Then, autism was hidden.  Then, it was something to be ashamed of, or at worst, diagnosed as a mental illness.  There was little help.  The mother was blamed, as my mother in law was.

Some would say "why dwell in the past?"  Well, I don't intend to dwell there.  But what I and my spouses' side of the family is dealing with is something that resulted from those choices, with those opportunities (or lack of).  So please keep in mind, when I talk about my brother in law and my feelings, that he did not grow up in the world of today. If you want to judge please hold off judgement for now.

Rather, I hope that my experiences and his will help others now walking in our shoes.

In the next post....autism "then".

Friday, January 22, 2010

Coming Soon-My Brother in Law with Autism

Regarding my wonderings of yesterday, I kow what I am going to do now.

So this is a good place to start.  My mother in law is going down to Florida next month for 5 days.  My brother in law will be up here during that time, and a little bit before and after, with another family member, and spending time with us.

So stay tuned for those adventures.

People with autism have a hard time with changes in routine.  Fortunately brother in law has been up here before and has stayed at this family member's house before.  But I think this may be the longest time he's ever been away from home.  The other times my mother in law has traveled (which isn't often), a neighbor was able to take care of him.  But they have moved out of the area.

This will be a very interesting time.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

What Should I Do?

I think the Blogger "Next Blog" link is trying to tell me something.  Fate sometimes moves in mysterious ways.

I had some spare time the other day, went to my (this) blog and started clicking on the "next blog" link.  Due to updated Blogger software, this is supposed to analyze the type of blog you are and send you to similar blogs for your entertainment and education.

That night, all I got were blogs written by people with health conditions and people with special needs children.  Some really serious special needs conditions too.  It was humbling.

And what it made me realize is that there is a part of my life I haven't written about in this blog.  I don't know if I want to, or if I want to start a new blog.  And if I start a new blog, if I want to link from this blog. 

Here's why.

I have what some may call a unique perspective.  My mom had rheumatoid arthritis back in the 1960's, before she passed away from what I think was something related to both her health condition and her addiction to cigarettes. (let's see if I start getting drug addiction blogs now on my "next blog" link.)  Course, in those days way too many people smoked.   My Dad suffered a tramatic head injury during World War II and lived with epilepsy the rest of his life.  And, I have a brother in law with autism.    There's a lot of attention paid to autism nowadays, but it is to children with autism.  Guess all those children dry up and blow away when they turn 21.

Trust me, they don't.

I have a lot to say about autism and special needs past and present, and some of it probably wouldn't make some of the special needs community jump with joy. 

But I feel I will pop if I don't let some of this out.  Not that I would post constantly, but enough to make it worthwhile.

If I had a huge community of readers, I would let them vote.  But I don't.

Should I write that blog talking about that other part of me?
Should I link it to this blog?

Let's see if anyone in the cosmos answers this.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Lost Wet Dog

The Lost Dog Cafe in Binghamton is, ironically, located on the corner of Henry and....Water Street.

Ironic because pipes froze on the 4th floor of the building they rent and water poured into the first floor restaurant, forcing an evacuation of the lunchtime crowd

There is even a short video of the event on Facebook.

Today I passed by and a cleanup company was there with their equipment.

For the sake of those whose jobs hang in the balance, let's hope they can reopen.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Beautiful Historic Building in Downtown Binghamton

 Ah, the glories of what downtown Binghamton used to be like- as reflected in the remaining buildings of that golden age....

The Security Mutual building is a landmark building in downtown Binghamton.   There is a lot to see.  I took a tour in 1987 - it was business related (for the job I had at the time) - and the detail I saw was fantastic.

This is a wonderful article in today's newspaper.  Too bad there are no tours of the building that I am aware of.  Right now you have to have business within the building in order to enter it, and the public is restricted to a couple of areas.  It would be a great fundraiser to have tours, perhaps on First Fridays.

One of the features of the building, as I recall (not included in this article) is a huge conference table that was created from one solid piece of wood.  That must have been one gigantic tree.  They don't "make'em" like that any more.

The Peregrine Falcons love the building, too.  If you walk by the building you, many times, have to walk around the remains of today's dinner. 

I hope Security Mutual considers allowing tours.  They already do many other things to help out downtown, notably provide hanging baskets to decorate downtown lamposts during the summer.  (and, I'm sure, a lot more things I don't know about.)  The money raised could go to any one of several organizations doing good for downtown Binghamton.  Nearby Phelps Mansion already does this.

So how about it?  I would love to see this-Downtown Binghamton needs all the help it can get.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Social Networking Success-At Least for Now

Pants on the Ground fansite on Facebook...Ok we are talking 72 hours after the event and there are some 660,000. fans.

Of course, who knows how many fans there will be a week from now.

My advice to Larry Platt is...enjoy your 15 minutes of fame.  Personally, I hope you get a lot more than 15 minutes.  You are one cool dude.

And, I hope you see something financially out of what is happening; that people don't become rich off of you.  That will be the more interesting story.

Meanwhile, in Haiti.....

Credit Unions-Please don't market like this!

Here's another credit union I belong to, and something they did recently that has me totally puzzled.

This credit union sent out $8. checks to their members.  My son and I got these earlier in the week..  I knew better not to cash a check you aren't expecting to get until you read the fine print.  And sure enough: If you cash the check you are signing up automatically for a program that includes credit card alerts, companion airfare, hotel savings, rebates, and so forth.  It is run by something called Affinion Benefits Group.  If you cash the check, there is a $6 monthly fee for these services.    I'm honestly surprised a credit union would do something like this.  I talked to some co-workers about this and one of them had a daughter who had already cashed her check, not realizing she was signing up for something.

(In all fairness, I will say the credit union was quite upfront in the mailing about what would happen if you cashed the check.  But the envelope this came in looked like some kind of official communication, saying 'Check Enclosed' and, especially in January you are going to open any kind of financial communication thinking it might have something to do with your taxes.)

Why would a credit union do something like this?  Isn't a marketing tactic like this misleading?  I was not very happy about this.  I hope other credit unions aren't doing something like that.  Especially the credit union "Dear John in Afghanistan" of an earlier post belongs to.  I let his mother in law know right away about this.

Please, credit unions, don't act like the big banks!  Please remember you are "for the people".  It's great to make a profit, but not by making your members angry at you.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Credit Unions-for the People!

People who don't belong to credit unions don't know what they are missing.

What exactly is a credit union?  It is non-profit, first of all.  It exists to serve its members and its community, second of all.  You can save a lot of money by joining, third of all.

Many credit unions now allow you to belong by living, working or even worshiping in the community they serve.  It isn't like the old days when you had to hope your employer offered one.

One credit union I would love to join is Alternatives, in Ithaca.  I don't want to single any one credit union out, but their philosophy meshes with a lot of my beliefs.  Of course, if what Alternatives stands for turns you off, there are many credit unions out there with a more general philosophy:  service to their members.  And they do mean service. 

I belong to two credit unions.  Much of my business is with one of them, and I stay because the level of customer service is exemplary.

However......there is a certain amount of marketing going on with some credit unions, that I feel is not totally within the credit union philosophy.  My last post, and my next post, talk about that.

When Good Intentions Go Bad

I note once again I have belonged to credit unions for about 35 years; my Dad belonged to one for many years before that.  I believe strongly in the credit union concept.  This is why I am so disappointed.

A credit union I belong to, several months ago, started deducting $2. a month for identify theft coverage, from the basic "share account".  They did advise members of this but it's a negative option, in other words they started doing it unless you told them not to.   And if you do want it, you have to keep enough money in your basic share draft to cover this.  For example, if you have a small $25 share account and the rest of your money is in CD's, IRA's, checking, or whatever, this is going to run your small share draft account down pretty quick.  You must maintain this share account as a condition of membership so this isn't a small thing!    I suspect the poor employees there are going to be fielding all kind of complaint calls especially when their members' share accounts dwindle into nonexistance.  

When I complained they told me they had told people in a mailing this would happen- which was true, but again this should not have been a negative option.

My boss came to me the other day-he hadn't read the mailing.  He was mad as heck about all these $2. deductions he suddenly realized were happening and wanted to know if I belonged to that credit union, too.  Credit union #2...please rethink what you are doing.  I've always been so happy with you in my 24 years of membership, you've been such a help to me time and've always been there for me....but please rethink any "negative option" items.  We are all adults here, we can read our mail and decide for ourselves if we want identify theft protection.  And take our lumps if we don't take the coverage and our identities are stolen. 

Thinking again about "Dear John in Afghanistan"...are their members in medical situations, caretaking situations, maybe even in the military...going to notice this happening, until their accounts are eaten up?

I applaud the credit union for caring that our identities were stolen...but couldn't have this been done a different way?

The moral of the story?  Always read your mail.  Especially if it is a financial institution.  Even a credit union.

Instead of Your Mega-Bank - Support Your Local Credit Union

While I do not normally indulge in political or financial controversy, I am supporting an effort among certain financial people to get more people to join their local credit unions

I support local sustainable agriculture, and credit unions run along some of the same principles.

Credit unions aren't perfect, and I am going to blog about that too...but first a blast from my past.

My family was considered "disadvantaged" growing up.  Sometimes there wasn't much between us and a square meal right before payday.

What saved us was my Dad's credit union.  Literally, I know on more than one occasion he borrowed money so we could pay bills.  No, I am not being melodramatic here.  The credit union trusted him-and he paid the money back.

I don't know what credit union it was.  But what I can tell you is, I've belonged to credit unions since 1976.  Back in those days there were no community charters so you had to join through a job or an association of some sort.  I would have been a member prior to 1976 if I could have been.

And, I still am.  In fact, I belong to two Binghamton area credit unions-one since 1986.

In future posts, I will explain more about what makes credit unions great-and a couple of recent practices that have me a little concerned.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

American Idol-Your Season is Over!

And to think that I was going to write about credit unions tonight....

I should have blogged after listening to American Idol last night.  Simon Cowell hit it right on the head when he said that we would not be hearing the last of the last song sung last night, Pants on the Ground, an original song performed (and danced by) a man way too old to qualify for the competition.

He's quite the interesting man, too.  Google this and see what you get.

Well, I had to wait until I came home from work, and found it had gone viral.

The song really is catchy.  Even better than William Hung's She Bangs.

It's nice, with all the really grim news out there, to have a distraction.

Let's see.  There's a Facebook fan site already.

And ringtones.

Well, no need for the competition.  You have found your Idol.  Who cares that he is way over the age limit of 28.  He sings, he dances, he's the real deal.  Pack it up and go home.  Seniors Rule!

Thank you, General!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Another Reason Why I Can't Go Home Anymore

One more reason why trying out nostalgia can bite you in the you-know-where.

I sometimes surf around Facebook and type in stuff from my past, just to see what comes up.

Today I decided to type in the name of my sleepaway camp.  It wasn't just any sleepaway camp.  You see, as a child of public housing growing up in the Bronx in the early 60's, the fact that my parents didn't own a car, and their income made me a disadvantaged urban youth.  Luckily, I didn't know that growing up and I wouldn't have cared.

Through a elementary school friend, I found out about a camp in northern NJ called Camp Sussex.  My friend went there.  She lived in a different housing project so was disadvantaged, too. Since she was going, I wanted to also.  Three weeks away from home.  It would be my first time away from home, at this camp for poor kids.  So poor, we weren't even expected to bring our own clothes.  The camp provided them.  The camp provided everything, including transportation from Manhattan.

I went to camp and a couple of things happened that first day.

First, my friend treated me like I didn't exist.
The second was, I was massively homesick.  I ended up in the infirmery overnight, as I had somehow worked myself into a fever.  Literally.

I was shown a lot of kindness there, and reported to my bunk first thing the next morning.  I never looked back.  I survived being snubbed by my "friend" and made other friends.

This camp was located in a then-rural area of northern NJ.  It was surrounded by beautiful hills.  There was a lake.  There were hiking trails (rumored to contain quicksand pits and lethal snakes).  There was the opportunity to put on a camp musical.  Every dinner, before the prayer (yes, there was a religious element to this camp) we sang "Be Kind to Your Web Footed Friends".  I still remember the words.  We woke up to "Reville", made our bunks, had an inspection, watched the American flag raise, and listened to "taps" at Lights Out.

Many of the camp counselors were college students.  I became friends with one in particular, who went to Bryn Mawr.  We wrote to each other for months after that session but lost touch.

I had my first crush at Camp Sussex, and my first "boyfriend".

Years later, my cousin married someone who had gone to Camp Sussex.  And at work, for several years I sat feet from a former Camp Sussex counselor.  Problem was, she was born the last year I went.  So we didn't speak about it much.  I wish we had.

Anyway, I had known that the camp had never quite changed its mission, but had closed around 2005.  There were hopes to turn it into a sports camp, an "education through sports" camp.  Derek Jeter's father was somehow supposed to be involved.

Well, on Facebook, I found out, as Paul Harvey used to say, "The rest of the story".

The closed camp has been severely vandalized.  It was alleged that the local police had never been too happy about the camp being there (I guess we disadvantaged kids polluted the place?).   Over the years, the rural area had become urbanized and the local youth had their way with my beloved camp.  The camp hadn't been secured, anyone could just walk in, and the police didn't seem to care too much. (in all fairness, I only know one side of the story.)  Bottom line, it would take over a million dollars just to get the camp fixed up enough to even begin about reopening.

There were pictures on Facebook showing the damage. (there's even a 3 minute short on You Tube documenting some of the damage.)  My heart broke, seeing those beautiful hills for the first time in over 40 years. And, on two Facebook sites, discussions among some of over 400 people who belonged to a fraternity of former campers, counselors and even administrators, have taken place.  They loved Camp Sussex.  I loved it in some ways, too, because it showed me there was a lot more to life than the streets of the Bronx.

Know what?  I wish I could find out how all of us "disadvantaged youth"of Camp Sussex turned out.  How many of us are professionals?   People who have made life better for others?  And, for how many of us, did Camp Sussex make a difference?

I wish I didn't know about the vandalism, though.

Like my neighborhood, now a slum, now my beloved sleepaway camp.  Sometimes you just can't go back home.  How I sometimes envy people who can!

Friday, January 8, 2010

No I don't Care What Color Your Bra Is!

Psychologists must be having a field day with Facebook.

First there were the people posting how bored they were at their jobs, forgetting they had friended their bosses.  Then there was the woman who posted photos of herself having fun....which somehow her insurance company, while paying for her depression treatment, managed to find.

Now we are somehow supposed to fight cancer by revealing the colors of our bras on our Facebook walls.

As someone with several in-law relatives who have had breast cancer and knows a couple of other people fighting it as I blog, and participates in Relay for thanks.

Hey, maybe this was the idea of a psychology student.  But I doubt it.

Of course, it beats the No Pants Subway Ride 2010 by a mile.  That's on Facebook, too.

And now, I'll return to playing Farmville.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Bronxites who have moved elsewhere

On Facebook there is a group called "Bronxites who have moved elsewhere".  (The Bronx is one of the five boroughs of New York City.)  The name is self explanatory.  At the time I started writing this blog entry, there were 1,364 members.   Now there are 1,379 members.  In the outside world, there are probably about 500,000. potential members.  That's my guess anyway.   Maybe even more.

The Bronx was and still is a big place.

We're all having a great nostalgia fest on that site, but let's think about it a minute.

All of us in that Facebook group, we all left.

In a way that doesn't speak highly of a hometown, does it.

We from the Bronx aren't the only ones who left hometowns that couldn't keep its young.  There are small towns and large towns all over this country where the young people have left, or are leaving.  There are many reasons:  lack of opportunity and crime, for all I know, are the top two.  Maybe hopelessness, which is tied to these both.  Boredom.

I wonder how universal the urge to leave is as you approach adulthood.  My son made a lot of noise as a teenager that this place (upstate NY) was the pits, etc etc. but....he's still here.

Spouse drove him and me through my old neighborhood about 5 years ago, and let me tell you, he was much less than impressed.  I wish I didn't have to say that but it is the truth.

What an irony, my father who loved NYC, his daughter who left and never look back, and his grandson who has many opportunities to visit "the city" but hates it.

In some ways I wish I never did have to leave the Bronx.  It's good to have a virtual Bronx but we can't live in our memories forever.

So let's enjoy our nostalgia (and I'll continue to participate in the group) but let's also remember why we left, and wish all the best for the young people in the Bronx who are its future now.

Friday, January 1, 2010

This is Why I don't Make New Years Resolutions

Today was what I like to call a "bonus" day.  After yesterday's snow, and this week's windy chill, the sun partially came out (that's a surprise in itself this time of year) and it got into the low 40's.  After the below zero wind chills, it felt so warm it was almost like being in Florida.  (not.)

Time to walk!  Luckily the Vestal Rail Trail had been cleared so on went my walking shoes and we did the entire 4 mile trail.  Considering that 3 months ago I could barely walk a block without my back and right leg acting up big time, that walk was a New Year's gift itself.  (the back is far from resolved and I will know more on January 6...but at least I have made my way back to doing my full exercise walk!)  Then on the way home we swung past the place where Dougs Fish Fry (them of the pancreatic cancer fund raiser back in November) had set up their mobile kitchen - another pleasant surprise - and spouse/I celebrated the New Year by sharing a fried fish sandwich and order of onion rings. 

The almost 8 pounds I've gained thanks to the back thing will just have to wait another day.