Sunday, August 29, 2010

Bicycles and Bluegrass

Such a wonderful thing that has arisen out of tragedy.

In 1983 a student by the name of Chris Thater, while cycling, was killed by a drunk driver near Harpursville, NY.

His friends would not let that senseless death rest.  Rather, they have turned it into one heck of a memorial.  The Chris Thater Memorial.  A two day bicycle race held in a residential neighborhood in Binghamton bordering Binghamton's Recreation Park, made somewhat famous by several episodes of the Twilight Zone.  (Rod Serling grew up nearby and spent a lot of time in that park), it celebrates "Stop DWI" and brings bicyclists from all over the world to our small city.

For the 27th year, bicyclists assembled from all over the world: Australia, Guyana and more (even Asheville, NC).  The scene:  surreal.   Neighbors set up lemonade stands or sit on their lawns and watched the riders. Riders sped around blocked off streets (some posts protected with hay bales) at 30-35 mph with local residents cheering them on and ringing cowbells. In the park there was a mix of people listening to music, dancing, gyrating with a hula hoop, visiting the refreshment stands.  Residents and racers rode bicycles through the park. ( I talked to a woman who came in with a tandem recumbant bicycle-more on that in another post (maybe).)

Mission in Motion was there, and I briefly was able to talk to the team member I know before her race started.

This year, an expanded music lineup entertained all.  What a blast, hearing good music while watching the riders going around and around.  Every 2 1/2 minutes or so the pace car came by, followed by the pack, speeding in back of the stage.

They say upwards of 10,000. people come each year.

Here are some of the bands we enjoyed:
One Click Culture
The Terry Walker Project (sadly, the sound system never quite worked for them - but if you love Blood, Sweat and Tears you'd love them.  And, they did an unbelieveable cover of James Brown's Living in America;
Dirt Farm

Both spouse and I were somewhat overcome by the sun and never got to see another highly regarded band from Rochester, the Boogiemen.

This year, not a cloud in the sky, and I have a sunburned neck to testify to that.  That's not usual weather for Binghamton.  One could almost think Chris Thater was smiling down on us, knowing his untimely death was not in vain.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Heritage Farming on FarmVille

For all my complaints against FarmVille (and I can't complain - it is tree after all, unless you WANT to pay for it) I will say that FarmVille is paying a lot more attention to heritage farming issues lately.

Here are some nice recent touches:

1.  Adding the opportunity to run farmstead wineries, "spas" and bakeries, using goods you grow on your farm to make products.  You then sell products to your neighbors, and some of your goods can also be "sold" in return for fuel.  I understand a "pig pen" feature will be added in the near future, where pigs can be fed from the bushels of certain crops the FarmVille farmer grows.  That will be interesting to see. 

2.  More and more "heritage animals" and unusual breeds:  Scots Grey chickens (I never owned them in my years of chicken ownership but they are an old time breed, similar in looks to Barred Rocks (which I have owned), and date from about the 16th century), Boer Goats (this website is a hoot)-and I understand more are to come-and many more.  When you get one, go online and read about them.

3.  Crops:  besides the recent short term organic blueberries, there are purple podded peas and purple carrots.  Yes, I've grown both!  Many people don't realize that the original cultivated carrots were not orange.

Why should I care?  Because FarmVille is probably the closest that many Americans (and maybe others) will ever get to a true small farm.  Granted, true small farms don't have tiki bars, miniature Eiffel Towers and Tuscan Wedding Tents.  But what they do have is very hard working family oriented people who care about the food they grow.

Yes, FarmVille, way to go.  Keep up the good work-but not too fast, we don't want any more glitches.  Even if they are organic glitches.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

OMG-My MIL is on Facebook

I hope I am as up to date when I am in my 80's.

Actually, I've been (along with some of her friends) encouraging my mother in law to get on Facebook for a while.  To me it is easier than email and it has wonderful photo sharing tools.  She had a lot of misgivings, although she is very social.  I couldn't blame her for some of her misgivings, especially about online safety.

But today, a niece from way out of town visited and - voila-she was on. She joined about 4 hours ago and already has 9 friends.  I hope this niece set her up for maximum privacy settings.

It was a pleasant surprise when I came home tonight and found the friend request.

Way to go. 

So far the friends are all younger relatives, ranging from their 60's to their 20's.  I hope she can make contact with "true" friends.  Wouldn't it be something?

Now (hee hee) if I can interest her in FarmVille.....

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Urban Eggs

Grow your own eggs!

Urban chicken farming.  What?  Who, me? Well, it is a time honored tradition.  You would be surprised to know the cities that allow keeping of chickens.  I'd love to know your experiences - please feel welcome to post.

Isn't it illegal?  Well, that depends on where you live.  If it is illegal, don't try it at home. But do lobby for having the law changed. Various communities have changed their laws in recent years.  After this "egg scandal" I bet more will.  Be sure to do your research so you don't learn "the hard way".

Again, this isn't a political blog so I will keep to my area of expertise - I do love chickens, and I used to keep them. But be aware:  it is work!  (but maybe no more than owning a couple of dogs.)

We haven't tried urban chicken farming.  Yet.  But the latest scare, the famous Iowa egg scare, may have a lot of people thinking about trying it.

I'm not going to give you a lot of advice, having only raised and kept chickens in rural settings.  Instead, if you are lucky and your local laws allow, here are some tips from my store of experience:

1. Stick to the ladies.  You probably will have to, anyway, as urban laws generally ban roosters (for very good reasons).  But chickens will lay eggs quite happily without a rooster.  I doubt they miss the males anyway.  You won't miss roosters either.  They can be very aggressive and they have spurs on their legs. (Ouch!) They don't crow once at dawn and shut up for the day.  Oh no.  It's more like every few minutes and they only stop at night.  They will wear your ladies out. Again, stick to the ladies unless you want to eat chicken, also.

2.  Socialize your ladies.  If you get the chicks young, spend time with them.  Handle them.  They do make good pets, if you don't mind pets who can dig up your garden in seconds flat.  Fence well.  They can fly, especially the smaller breeds and your neighbors won't want chickens in their flowers any more than they want your cats in their flowers. 

3. Get the right breed for your needs.  Decide if you want the chickens for both meat and eggs or just meat, or just eggs.  If you want meat there a place or person who will do the deed or will you have to?  Are you up to it?  It's not pretty.  But some will say you should do this from beginning to end.  Be sure to choose a breed with a name.  Some "all purpose" breeds will give both good meat and nice, brown eggs.

You won't be able to do the mail order of my last post, as you have to get 25 at a time (to keep each other warm).  If you are lucky you have access to a farm store.  Otherwise, you will have to find some friends and split an order.  

4.  But if you do eat your chickens be aware these are not your supermarket chickens.  They will have lots of flavor-and lots of toughness.  There are some very nice recipes out there for "free range" chickens and there is a reason for those recipes. They make wonderful soup, by the way.  Wonderful, golden, tasty true chicken soup. They say it is great for colds.  My son sure swears by chicken soup for colds.

5.  But back to thing you also need to be aware of is that egg production is photo sensitive.  In other words, if you want eggs in the winter you are (unless you live in a place like Florida) going to have to put lights on them to artifically extend their day.  If you don't, you aren't going to get many eggs.  Be sure you make provision for that.

Feed?   If you don't have a local farm store you can mail order the food.  They will need a mix of grains, or layer pellets if you want to simplify their feeding.  Great supplements include weeds from your garden and bugs from your garden.  (Squeamish alert) we used to feed our chickens grasshoppers and weeds.  They love both.

6.  Finally, chickens....well, um, that food you feed them comes out the other end.  Don't use it on your garden without aging it, and make sure your neighbors are OK with it.  Otherwise, dispose of in an "organic" manner.  I guarantee it if you offer the used bedding for free you will have some very eager gardeners ready to haul it away for you.  (maybe you could sell them some eggs, too.....)  Be considerate of your neighbors, always.  If you tick them off you aren't going to be successful - period.

Sorry for the ramble but I just couldn't resist sharing what little I know.  Good luck, and take my advice for what it is worth-I hope it is worth something to you.  Maybe one day we will take the urban plunge-although I don't think so, we want to travel too much!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Mail Order Chicken Memories

I never realized that Iowa is the #1 egg producer in the country.  I wonder when that happened. (I could research that, but....)

I lived briefly in Iowa in the 1970's and have been back many times since.  When I think of Iowa, I think of (not necessarily in this order):  Pork, soybeans, corn.  In fact, if you ask my son (who has been to Iowa several times) his memories, they are of miles and miles of very boring cornfields.  I don't think I saw many chicken houses there (and yes, I have been in them, when I lived in Arkansas-a former neighbor bought a chicken farm and we visited him.)

When I think of Iowa, I also think of local food, of heritage breeds, of farmers who still care.  Iowa does have at least one heritage breed poultry breeder, who we bought from several times when we lived in Arkansas:  the incomparable Murray McMurray Hatchery.

Iowa also has wonderful, friendly people and a wonderful place we have never been to-the headquarters of the Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa and its Heritage Farm..

Exactly the opposite of the current egg scandal farm owners, the folks at Seed Savers work to keep genetic diversity in our seeds, and also seek to keep heritage breeds of certain animals alive.  Their work deserves to be well publicized.  Please visit their website and read their blog.

Too bad Iowa right now is in the news for something totally different-tainted eggs. Half a billion eggs recalled.  And, thanks to factory farming, shipped to 22 states. It would seem these farms have had many violations-the "same old same old".  I will not go into a rant about food safety regulations-this is not a political blog.  So instead I would like to share some memories of when Iowa farming goes right.

I have fond memories of visiting the Iowa City Farmers Market.  Iowa City is a college town so, as you could expect, they had their share of organic booths.  Of course, everything was locally grown and made.
Yes, in Iowa the small farmer still exists, marketing the most delicious pork and beef (sorry, vegetarian readers), plus all the usual veggies.  In a climate hotter than ours in the northeast, one even saw okra and some other southern favorites for sale.

But I promised to speak about mail order chicken memories. I want to share something about raising chickens and "growing" our own eggs-from Iowa chickens.

Back in the 1980's, when we kept chickens, we would spend the New Year perusing the Murray McMurray catalog, with its brightly colored pictures of what was even then called "rare" chickens.  These are the chickens with names, not numbers:  Barred Rocks, Rhode Island Reds, Black Australorps, Buff Orpingtons, New Hampshire...and on and one-about 130 breeds total.

We would make our selection and place our order (in the mail, of course).  No internet, no fascinating website giving pictures of their operations, no instant update of stock on hand.  Rather, we placed our order and waited for the day we specified.  We did it the "old fashioned" way which, in those days, was the only way.

On the appointed day, there would be a phone call from our local rural post office.  We had to come and get them; they would not deliver.  The box, cheeping away, was rushed home.  In a miracle that we could never get tired of, the living chicks survived the trip.  Just imagine opening a box and being greeted by 25 cheeping 2 day old chicks!  We would take each one out gently, dip its beak in water, and put each precious chick in a little pen under a warm light.  The waterer and feeder were made from mason jars screwed into special "lips".  We fed them commercial but unmedicated chick starter.  After a day or so, they would be ready for supplementation with the occasional June Bug attracted by the light.

This next part is not for the squeamish.  The chicks would get hold of the unfortunate bug and chase each other, trying to snatch what was left of the large bug (it didn't last very long) in a game of chick free-for-all.  The whole while, they would be screaming in delight.

Don't ever say baby chicks are cute.  Not unless you've seen one of those feedings.

You have to love chickens to know them. And you have to accept their nature.  Chickens are omnivores, and they lust for blood.  If one of those chicks accidentally got cut, it would have suffered the same fate as that bug.

Well, those chicks would grow, and about 6 months later the female (pullets) would start to lay their small beginner eggs.  The males?  Well, that part isn't for the squeamish either.  (I'll leave the part out about how roosters treat the hens also.)  Now, that's living.  Nothing like a wonderful, thick shelled, fresh egg.  Except if you want to hard boil, in which case you want a slightly aged egg.

Know what?  We never worried about salmonella.  We ate raw (from scratch) cake batter.  We even made (gasp!) real eggnog!

We moved back to urban life in 1986, and our chicken life was over.  Well, maybe not so fast.

But what about Iowa, land of Seed Savers and rare chicken flocks? (yes, Murray McMurray uses local farmers to produce their eggs for hatching.)

I hope that the reputation of Iowa isn't tainted by this nightmare example of factory farming and inadequate food safety regulation. Instead, think of seed saving.  Think of heritage chickens.

Support your local farmer.  Know who produces your food.  Know HOW it is produced. Ask questions. Ask lots of questions.

That's one way to protect yourself.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Healing Wounds One Garlic Plant at a Time

No, this post isn't about the medicinal uses of the garlic plant.  But if you came here by mistake, please stay and read anyway.

I'm talking about a totally different type of healing, healing psychic wounds of a community.

Yesterday we went to the ACA's Garlic Festival on the edge of downtown Binghamton.

After a one year hiatus due to the horrendous shooting of April 3, 2009, we welcome the festival back.

We weren't going to go until today, but the weather report, combined with a one hour postponement in an event we were supposed to go to yesterday afternoon, combined in us making the trip yesterday.  We didn't have too long to say, so didn't go inside to purchase garlic food.  There were lines and we didn't have time to wait.

Just think, going inside, into a building that some might say was haunted.  But how fitting that laughter filled that space yesterday.

Outside, the mood was just as festive.  A number of booths were selling...well, what else, but garic.  Spanish Roja, White German, Music, Elephant, and many more, hung braided, sat in bags, or loose, next to plates with pieces cut up for pre-purchase sampling.  We bought a couple of bags of spouses' favorite, Music.  Another booth had local pestos- spinach, sun dried tomato, red pepper, and more. Still another booth had pesto made from garlic scapes.  (Garlic scapes are the top of the garlic plant, just as the seed area starts to form.  They are delicious but you have to get the plant at just the right time or they become tough.)

Still another vendor, reminiscent of the New York soup man Jerry Seinfeld modeled his "Soup Nazi" after, sold his genuine Pennsylvania smoked sausage.  If you looked at him wrong, he told you to "Go to the back of the line!"  (No Garlic for You!)  But it was all in good fun, the crowds gathered to enjoy his banter and we bought some sausage from him, too.

Local food, local garlic, even garlic ice cream (which I would never dare to try).  A good time was had by all.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Arverne By the Sea

 I've talked about growing up in what became a slum neighborhood of the Bronx, but I am actually from Queens.

I have only a few childhood memories of tales of the place that was my home back when I was a little baby, from where my parents moved from when I was five months old.  I was never to least so I thought.

Stories my Dad told me as a child, so distant in my memory, flooded back recently.

I was born in the Rockaways, an area of Queens (part of NYC).  We lived on Beach 56th Street, in a neighborhood called Arverne.  

Arverne had become a slum, too, by the time I was a teenager.  My two childhood homes, both slums.  No wonder I escaped New York City all together.

My Dad told me he would wheel my baby carriage on the Boardwalk.   I was a baby during the winter.  When it snowed, the snow would melt in the salt air.  I love the ocean, although I don't see it often. The ocean is in my blood.

The other day, I picked up an old New York magazine where I exercise.  People discard magazines and books.  Sometimes I find something interesting.  This magazine caught my eye.  I brought it home.

The magazine talked about various New York City neighborhoods.  One made me totally stop and gasp.

 Arverne by the Sea.  The magazine called it an "urbanist experiment".

It's urban renewal as you've never seen it. A social experiment.  To be blunt, a lot of the area is high crime, and the commute to Manhattan is quite long.  But on the bay side, Arverne by the Sea rises, challenging a hurricane to destroy it.

New York City does get hurricanes, you know.

I found something else online..the word Edgemere Houses.  It's not the housing project where my parents lived-I wish I could remember the name but I know Edgemere wasn't it.  But-  I looked Edgemere up on the Internet and found a treasure trove of photos....including that boardwalk where I was wheeled in a baby carriage. Part of it is called Ocean Promenade and all together it's the largest boardwalk on the East Coast.

But much of what it winds through is....vacant.  Abandoned.  Such sad photos. Arverne by the Sea seeks to change that.

Arverne by the Sea.  I will continue to follow the development with interest, and wish it much success. One day I will remember the name of the housing project where I lived as a baby, and perhaps the Internet will allow me to solve another puzzle of my childhood.  And maybe one day both Arverne and my Bronx neighborhood will rise again from their ashes.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Garlic of Hope

Another sign that the American Civic Association is returning to normal, whatever normal can be, after the horrible day of April 3, 2009 when life for the families of the 14 dead (including the murderer of 13 innocents) changed forever.

A couple of weeks ago a banner was strung across Court Street, announcing the return of the Multi-Ethnic Garlic Festival this weekend.  A yearly event, it was cancelled last August due to the shootings.

We've gone to this festival several times.  A lot of fun, you get to sample various garlics and garlic products.  Spouse fell in love with one particular garlic variety called Music.  He plans to buy some at the festival.

My walking companion said to me "how can you go back into that building after what happened?"  We never spent much time in the building-the garlic vendors were outside, although inside the building you could get various cooked and raw garlic delicacies, including ice cream.

I don't know how they would handle it but I wouldn't be surprised if the building is closed to the public.  As for me-yes, I think it would be spooky and sad. If I went inside, I might just break into tears, feeling the vibes of the dead. After all, I do know someone whose church friend was the woman who switched places with another teacher so she could get away for her wedding anniversary-and her friend died.  But we will see.  In a way, if they have the building open, I should go in. And not just as a curiosity seeker.

In the meantime, we are so happy the festival is resuming.  Indeed this is the garlic of hope, a hope of healing.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Alligators Along the Susquehanna

...and, a Johnson City drainage ditch.  Near our new Wal-Mart, no less. (The Johnson City one has been caught, according to the news.)

Our local CBS affiliate got a picture of the Susquehanna alligator.

First, decorated real live alligators.  I'm sure the fishermen in this area aren't amused, and neither are the people who like to gather at various unofficial "swimmin' holes" along the Susquehanna.

However, as someone who grew up in NYC (land of the alligators in the sewers) and lived in Florida (alligators in ditches there are a dime a dozen)...well, we probably have more to worry about from snapping turtles around here.

Of course, if someone actually gets hurt, it won't be a joke anymore.

Who says Binghamton is boring?

And folks, please...alligators do NOT make good pets.  Or Upstate NY wildlife.  Just ask the folks in Florida, who fish them out of swimming pools and other spots.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Survivor Stories

In honor of my mother in law, who is a 2 time breast cancer survivor, I post a link to a site called Survivor Stories.

This is a local project and tells the story of 9 cancer survivors (6 of them breast cancer).

Please visit this site and click through to the photos and videos.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Homemade Root Beer

In researching something else, I ran across this item about Amish selling homemade root beer in farm stands in Lancaster County, PA.

I've been getting into a lot of "remembering" about my younger life, so this brought me back to when we used to make our own root beer.

It isn't really that difficult once you learn how, but it's a bit tricky and involved and you may need to practice a few times.  No, you don't have to go into the woods and dig sassafras roots.  In fact, you shouldn't.  We did have a couple of sassafras trees and the roots, when scratched, did smell like root beer.  But even then (back in the early 80's) the cancer causing properties of sassafras were already known.  So we did what can still be done today-we mail ordered root beer extract from a brewing supply company.

Next step is to gather bottles.  You want very heavy duty bottles, like Champagne bottles or other sparkling wine (unless you like exploding bottles and glass all over your house).  You also need caps, and a capper.  You can get these from brewing supply companies, also.  A teeny bit expensive, but you'll only have to buy the capper once.

The rest of the recipe can be found here (note, when we were making it, there was no internet.  So we followed directions that came with the extract.)  You will see, if you read this, that true root beer gets its carbonation from yeast - but it has very little alcoholic content.  Your children can drink it safely.

What if you don't want to go to the trouble and don't live in Amish country?

In that case, if you have a local brewery, they may well already be making root beer.  It may cost $1.00 or more a 12 oz bottle, but...well, this isn't the supermarket stuff.

Two root beers I have personally sampled (and no, I am not being paid to post this information) are from the Ithaca Beer company in Ithaca, NY and the Millstream Brewing Company in Amana, Iowa.  (Both companies also make ginger beer-not really a beer, but not your supermarket ginger ale, either.  It has a bite!)

(Speaking of the Amana colony in Iowa, that brings back a lot more memories.  One day I'll dig into some of those memories.)

Have you tried to make root beer?  Or have you had the "real thing"?  I'd be curious to know.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


I have turned commenting on again.  Blogger now has a spam filter for comments so I am going to trust that it works.

Commenting is central to the purpose of a blog - let's see how long it is before I have to moderate another comment from the other side of the world with hidden links to objectionable content.

Anyone want to place bets?

UPDATE 8/14/10:  This post got spammed-and it was caught. (thank you, Blogger.) So I will leave commenting on for now. 

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Help The Broome County Library

The Broome County Library is having a book drive.

You can donate new or gently used books (I have a lot of both!) for the chance to win a mall gift certificate.

Hmmm....if I do this does that mean I can buy more books at the Ithaca Friends of the Library book sale in October?  Make dear spouse really happy that he has a clear space to sit in?  No, it isn't that bad but it is getting there!

I normally stay away from the mall so I'll have to remember this one.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Save the Pelham Parkway Trees!

This article won't mean a lot to you if you didn't grow up, or ever live in, the Bronx.  But everyone who cares about urban quality of life should care.

I had an aunt, growing up in the Bronx, who lived close to Pelham Parkway-as did my grandmother until she was put into a nursing home when I was 7.  I have fond memories of some of those trees that NYC is getting ready to chop down for-yes, for what?

They aren't diseased.  From what I understand, the City, in its improvement wisdom, wants to install a guardrail to protect pedestrians.  From what I also understand, it isn't necessary to chop the trees down.  The sole purpose is only to make life easier for the contractor.

New York City values its green spaces.  I agree with a writer that if Pelham Parkway was in certain other neighborhoods (especially high visibility Manhattan neighborhoods) every celebrity in 30 miles would be on the case.  But here in the Bronx....well, no.

Wouldn't it be nice if people who grew up in the Bronx or who once lived in the Bronx-oh, let's say Billy Joel, or Regis Philbin (hey, they nearly named a Bronx street after him), Woody Allen, KRS One (OK, he's a Brooklyn native, but what about it?), Al Pacino, or Elliot Spitzer all got together....could you imagine?

What about it, famous ex-Bronxites and current Bronxites?  What about it?  The residents care.  All former Bronxites should care, too.  There is an online petition - I do not tend to sign these - I really don't think they matter, but I provide the link.  I just may sign it.  Would you consider it, too?  (after you sign the petition you are asked to give to IPetitions, but this is purely optional.)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Parrots Preening and Monkeys Typing

Friday fun in Binghamton....or, what a person who grew up in NYC does for fun in her adopted upstate NY home town.

Downtown at lunch, we had the Friday farmers market.  I had to get there late but I heard music that sounded vaguely familiar, and as I approached....yes, it was Monkeys Typing!

No, not actual monkeys.  A band which I haven't heard at the Farmers market in, oh, a couple of years.  They played at July Fest, but I wasn't there at the time.

Monkeys Typing is what some call a jam band; their music reminds me of the Grateful Dead.  I am no Deadhead or any kind of music expert but I know what I like.  I enjoy their music very much.

The usual crowd of office workers blending with local residents (yes, we have people living in our downtown), street people, students, and so forth were grooving to the music.  I shouldn't have been surprised by the number of grey haired people (hey, if I dou't dye my hair, I'm one of them!) who were sitting under the small canopy provided (this time not enough chairs for the music lovers) to enjoy their music.  Even to this day I think of rock as a "young person"'s music...except that all of us baby boomers are now practically senior citizens.

The Farmers Market continued to feature the heart of our harvest-corn, garlic, tomatoes boueberries, beans, cabbage, cut flowers.  My walking companion was eying a basket of what must have been heritage cherry tomatoes.  They were all colors of the tomato rainbow; yellow, red, and even green. (yes, there are tomatoes that remain green when ripe.)  Actually I'm wrong, there were no black (which are really purple) or white ones.  Be it as it may, I talked her into getting a pint, and at $2.00, I think it was a bargain.  I hope she enjoys the flavor.

Spouse and I were hoping to enjoy First Friday.  However, spouse had pulled a leg muscle earlier in the day and walking was a bit painful. So instead, we agreed on one stop-the grand opening, just over the bridge from downtown, of Parrot Safari Toy Factory, a wonderland of parrot toys, parrot food and....parrots.  And macaws.  And parrotlets, conures, cockatoos, cockatiels - and English budgies.

No, not the "shell parakeets" Americans are used to.  These were true English budgies, originally bred for show, and much bigger than their American cousins.  I've seen pictures of them but had never seen them "in person" before.  I've owned parakeets for many years, although not in recent years.  I've been having hankerings to have one in my life again.

The price was reasonable also, just about what area pet shops charge for your normal parakeet.

To my surprise (as they aren't parrots, but rather are related to finches) the owner pointed out several canaries to me in the upper tier of cages.  Canaries were actually my first pet (other than goldfish); one of my aunts owned a couple and, bird lover that I was even at the age of 8, I finally talked my mom into one.  (I'll have to tell that story one day.) The price was very reasonable also.  I know some birds were on sale for the grand opening, but I hope those prices stay in force for a while while we agonize.

I will be back.  Now I am conflicted.  Parrotlet?  English Budgie?  Canary?  or none of the above?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Spiedie Fest Weekend

So much going on today and this weekend, it would be impossible to list it all.

Let's give it a small try though.

The Spiedie Fest is right up at the top.  Everyone needs to go at least once in their life.  It started out as a festival to celebrate the Spiedie, a local food specialty. (I'll be booed out of existence but I will come clean and say that I am not a fan of spiedie sandwiches-I find them dry and almost inedible.) but the spiedies themselves-yum.

Then, partially thanks to local mover Ron Rogers the Spiediefest became just as much a hot air balloon rally.

Then, they added music.  And "meet and greets".  Now, it is one powerful festival.  I was hoping to go this year with an out of town friend but it wasn't meant to be.

Tonight is also First Friday.  If I go it will probably be to see a "Parrot Safari". 

Tomorrow?  Well, the Vestal library is having its annual book sale/farmers market/Iris sale.  There won't be any parking but we'll probably end up over there anyway.   After all, no Otsiningo Park market due to the Spiediefest (as far as I know.)

Maybe this year I won't try to buy more irises that I really don't need.  But they are so tempting.  Anyone want some of our spares?

The one "bummer" about this weekend is because of the closing of Otsiningo Park to non-Spiedie Fest events, we won't be able to access our community garden plots.  Those luscious tomatoes will have to wait.

Well, that's what I get for trying to write a post in an insomniac moment. zzzzz.  I'll leave this for now, and hopefully will report later on an interesting weekend.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Bees Real and Virtual

I was so happy to see honeybees Sunday and yesterday.  So happy that I didn't mind when one ran right into me, busily fertilizing a mint flower, as I walked past the plant on my walk around the neighborhood.

I've read the stories about honeybee decline (I'm not linking to a "what you may think" site, by the way) and have seen it at my house.  Even a couple of years ago I would risk stinging by trying to cut flowers off my rhododendron.  Now, hardly any bees gather in June when it blooms.

But Sunday, the sunflowers in our garden were loaded, which made cutting an adventure.  That is good news.  (and, please, do read the link.  I love the Freakanomics people even if some of their observations don't quite jive with mine-but I love outside-the-box-thinking.)

But now, bees have been disappearing online.

Huh?  The Internet has bees?

Sure it does.  How do you think blogs get fertilized to make little baby blogs?  Oops, bad joke.  Bad, bad joke.  No, that's not it.

You guessed it-I'm about ready to make another FarmVille posting.  This time, it's about bees and glitches.  Sure 'nough, the geniuses at Zynga decided our farms needed bees to pollinate the crops.  So we were all given beehives to build.  Had to get materials from our neighbors, a total of 50.  Then, after the beehives were done, we had to find a queen bee, meaning we had to plant certain crops where they hung around.  I'm glad I found mine in a couple of days.  After that, I was able to start adding bees.  Thank you, FarmVille neighbors, for sending them.

Then the bees started to disappear. 

Nearly every day (and I do play every day when I'm not out of town) I got a message saying I hadn't tended my beehive and a bee had flown away.  Maybe they are hard at work on my sunflowers and neighborhood mint, but I don't think so.

Big surprise, it's a glitch.  Zynga is hard at work resolving the glitch but I don't think I've gotten my bees back.  I'm not crying-yet.

But, as detective Adrian Monk would say, "here's the thing."

Somehow I didn't catch anything about bees disappearing if you didn't tend the hives daily in the announcements.  I wouldn't have wasted time building hives.  Some of us have lives, Zynga, including people who caretake elderly parents, or other sick relatives.  Some of us travel for business and it's a bit exhausting keeping up with the farm.  Some of them don't play daily due to religious reasons. (one of my FarmVille neighbors is such a person and he would never dream of playing on the Sabbath or various other occasions.)  And...well the list goes on.

You really should have disclosed that before people started to build.  I follow a major FarmVille blog (I suppose that means I don't have a life) and never saw this fact.  So these people are going to have to chase around for their bees.  Why?  Why? 

How about turning this off permanently, FarmVille?  And, once again, PLEASE, please fix your glitches before introducing more stuff?  Or, one day, you might just get....stung.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Binghamton Saturday

 More on what we do in upstate NY for fun.

Got up, had some blueberries for breakfast, headed out to the Vestal farmers market.  Things were in full swing, with stalls featuring new potatoes, blueberries, cabbage, plums, apricots, lettuce, garlic, zucchinis, yellow squash, green and purple beans and those luscious (but too big for our small family) Amish Cantaloupes.  We bought some new potatoes and cucumbers.

A stall with people from Binghamton's Cybercafe West were sampling the most delicious hummus - there was enough garlic in there to make it a winner at any garlic festival.

Next, a 3 mile walk, followed by a quick stop at Sams Club.  Hadn't been there in months, was nice to see they had almost finished their remodeling, and had started up sampling again (on a much smaller scale.)  Picked up a quick item.  Wished once again that we would get a Costco.

Then we headed out to Wegmans for the big "Meet the Growers" event.  Sorry to say, yawn.

Frankly, I was disappointed.  The event was hidden somewhere out in the parking lot;  once in the tent it wasn't even clear where the growers were.  There was a clambake, with the farmed clam producer running a contest to win a weekend camping at their resort on the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia.  There was something we thought belonged to the clambake but it turned out that Wegmans was sampling salad and their sub sandwiches.  No signs telling anyone who was where doing what. We almost missed the samples, and, more importantly, the growers.

There were two growers.  That was a disappointment, although I understand this is harvest season.  I wonder how many people found them to say hi.

One was by a display of his tomatoes-they were large but, again, sorry to say, looked half ripe-like the old time supermarket tomatoes that had the gourmet taste of red Styrofoam.  Wegmans specializes in tomatoes that actually have taste, so perhaps they tasted good-but if these were in my garden, I would not have picked them, based on their looks.

The subs were very good though-not overly salty and there was a choice of white or whole wheat bread.

There was a booth sampling tart cherry juice (advertising health) and next to it the Wegmans Fizz Truck sampling...well, non-health. 

Wegmans, you can do better.  You have done better with other events.  This didn't do the growers, who I'm sure had other things to do on their farms, proper justice.

Back home, to rest, and a visit with a neighbor-but more on that later.