Friday, January 28, 2011

Farming During a Revolution Part 2

Today's "what the heck" moment came when I was playing FarmVille, picking up the gifts and helping out my FarmVille friend in Tunisia....while listening, live, to President Mubarak (of Egypt)'s speech.

The Tunisian revolution has spread.  And while I listened to Mubarak announce that his government would resign and there would be a new government tomorrow (although he was going to stay in power), I was gathering valentines, wooden boards, bushels of produce and freshly "baked" virtual bakery goods sent to me from Tunisia.

Now, I am watching live riots in the streets, in the dark.  People clapping and shouting, cars on fire.

The unrest is spreading to Algeria, to Syria.

Cairo is on fire.

My FarmVille friend says, of Facebook, that it "helped overthrow a President/Dictator who was in power for 23 years. 3 weeks of protests and the flow of info on Facebook brought him down."  But the situation is wearing on him, there in Tunis.  We are very lucky, here in the U.S. -at least for right now.  We get to watch it on TV.

My FarmVille friend is still living it.

Another 25 years ago Moment - Challenger

There are two events linked together in my mind and heart.

January 21, 1986:  the death of my father.  And, a week later, the explosion of the Challenger.

I wasn't a member of the generation which had this event as their "defining moment" but I can still remember exactly where I was.  I was in an office in Fayetteville, Arkansas, that Tuesday, just having returned from burying my father out on Long Island.  I was at work, when one of my co workers announced he had just spoken to one of our customers, and he relayed the news to us.

It was the first time I had felt anything in a week.  Simply, I had been numb since getting that phone call that my father had passed away in a Brooklyn emergency room.  This was the first thing I felt since that phone call.
The space program had meant so much to me growing up.  I became a big fan of science fiction - for some years, in fact, it was all I read.  So the shock penetrated through the numbness.  Now I was really surrounded by death.

It is so hard to imagine that 25 years have passed since that day, and here we are, with the manned space program soon to end.  25 years later, and an astronaut by the name of Mark Kelly ponders whether he will fly in that last mission, because his wife lies in a rehab center, survivor of an attempted assassination.

Two 25 year commemorations in a week.  And to think I was a teenager when we had the 25th anniversary of the end of World War II.  Time flies when you are having fun (or not).

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Another Johnson City Downtown Idea

Let's see.  Downtown Johnson City has been declining for years.   Although, I blogged a month or two ago, that there seems to be a little improvement:  thanks, no less, to a Wal-Mart opening a mile or so away, I really can't see much else happening.

So finally there is an idea floated:  free parking.

Two hours worth.  Long enough to shop, or eat.
Of course, if a certain election issue had been passed, there wouldn't even be a Johnson City right now.  Pick, pick, pick.

Free parking would be nice.  Even nicer would be a downtown where people feel safe in walking.  Or working.  But, it's a start.  If you get people downtown, then momentum may build, and that day of a safe downtown may come.  (the only question is-Endicott thought of this years ago, why did it take the trustees so long?)

I wonder if the Wal-Mart effect is working.  I could really dream, and hope that some of those nice historic buildings downtown get day.  But as they say, long journeys start with a single step.  Or, parking space, if you will.

So, trustees, what about it?  Are you going to vote free parking in?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

It Isn't Easy Heating Green

The repairman left about an hour ago.

I had briefly blogged, earlier this week, about my concerns that our year old "green" heating system would not be able to cope with the minus temperatures of earlier this week.  Well it did....and fortunately for us, chose this afternoon (41 above) to break down, rather than a couple of days ago.

When spouse came home from work, he noticed it wasn't as warm as it should be.  Going down to the basement, he was greeted by a flashing light and a notification of "A6".  He whipped out the owners manual and "A6" was pump failure.  He called the contractor who put the system in (December of 2009) and a repairman came out - several hours later; apparently they were having a lot of "no heat" calls.

Wonder if we were the only A6's.

Not only that, but the tankless hot water heater associated with the "furnace" was down too.  So we had neither hot water nor heat, thanks to the wonders of modern technology.

Hmmm.  We got rid of an old furnace, almost 19 years old, last year because of a tax break, and a rebate from our gas/electric utility. That furnace never gave us any major trouble.  So we took the green plunge and....

It seems that these pumps have proved troublesome.  Apparently there is a newer version, and hopefully we will get one tomorrow. Right now we have a temporary pump, so at least we have heat.  And hot water.  The best part was, the unit was still under warranty.

I still like the idea of "heating green".  But my faith in any type of computerized appliance/system continues to fade, as does my faith in much that is modern (period).  We recently got rid of a washer, bought new about 5 years ago, that continuously had the same part break down.  We bought a used one, without the fancy bells and whistles.  So far it is working fine.

Now, to hold our breath about the heating system.  If it had broken down two days earlier, it would have been below zero. Two days later...we would have been out of town.

At least it had good timing.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Fire and...Water

I bet that businesses near the Press Building in downtown Binghamton are revamping their disaster recovery plans in the wake of the December fire that I blogged about earlier.

Sadly, the latest news concerning damage to the historic Press Building is that the damage is a lot more extensive than first suspected - not so much from fire but from the water used to fight the fire in the neighboring Midtown Mall (aka Strong Building).

Chenango Street is still closed at the intersection where the buildings burned.  The Midtown Mall is boarded up and much of the damage is not visible to the public.

The law firm that helped renovate the building-just a mere two years ago? -and partially occupied the building, is now in the position of setting up temporary offices.  Fortunately they had a good disaster recovery plan.   A lot of downtown businesses are helping them, in the spirit of "the best of Binghamton", including other downtown Binghamton law firms and a neighboring life insurance company. One day they may move back in but it will be a long hard process. 

The winter drags on....and only time will tell if the Press Building will be saved.

Monday, January 24, 2011

17 Below!

17 below zero - not at my house but at my son's. (he's in a cold spot).  Others I know living in the country reached the double digits of below zero so it wasn't just him.  We reached 6 below at our house, mercifully without much wind, so it was mainly a non event.  And, our heating system (see last post) worked just fine.

So, for me, Arkansas still holds my "lifetime" cold record of -15.

The only nice thing about this type of weather is we have sunny days.  Nothing like the sun to lift your spirits.

But there is sunlight at the end of the winter tunnel:  the days are getting visibly longer on both ends (sunrise and sunset).  Before you know it I'll be able to walk after wait, there is still that little matter of all that snow on the ground.  Especially in Binghamton, which doesn't believe in residential snow removal.

Now...back to normal.  Tomorrow back to the clouds, back to some snow.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Arctic White Chill Descends on our "Green" Heating System

Right now (6:15pm) it is 6 above.  It is supposed to be at least 6 below by morning.

This type of weather is not unknown but it has been a few years since our last major cold snap - and the first since we've gotten a new heating system, a "green" gas-run heating system made by a company called Quietside. Instead of our old hot water heat system, we have a small box on our basement wall and a vent in our back yard that is steaming up quite a storm right now.  We also have a tankless hot water heater.  We've had this system a little over a year (thanks in part to some tax breaks but it was still a stretch for us financially) and now it is going to have its first real test.

Others in NY would laugh at this trepidation.  In Lake Placid, for example, it will probably be around minus 25 or so by morning.

I have a lot of memories of "extreme cold".  In fact, our coldest weather within spouse and my experience wasn't even here:  it was in Northwest Arkansas.  Our thermometer got down to minus 15.  A neighbor a little lower than us had his thermometer measure at -21.  As all our wild blackberries died, I don't doubt the minus 21.  And we survived this with a homemade barrel wood stove.  It wasn't easy and it wasn't comfortable, and I'll tell the story (maybe) in this blog one day. But we did it.

It was common, in that part of the country, for pipes to freeze.  Radio and TV stations would broadcast warnings for people to keep a trickle of water running in their pipes.  Moving water doesn't freeze as fast.

Now, in the comfort of our more mainstream "American" home, we will see how the new heater fares. (and how our gas bill fares.)  So far so good.

More later this week.

In the meantime.....dreaming of the South.

Friday, January 21, 2011

25 Years Ago Today in Brooklyn

25 years ago tonight I got a phone father had passed away in an emergency room in Brooklyn.

My father was an almost-lifelong resident of New York City, a veteran of the Army Air Force, a single father, a loving husband, a man who liked to invent and..a traumatic brain injury survivor back in the day when there was little or no support for a brain injury.

When I follow the progress of Gabrielle Giffords in the news, I think of my father, and I know a little of the hard road back that she faces (despite the optimism of the rehab center she entered today.)

I think of the many sacrifices he made for me, when I was too young to appreciate it.  I think of the many walks we took on Sunday afternoons when I was a little girl.  He used to love to watch houses being built.  I would walk at his side, transistor radio blaring a Yankees game.  He could strike up a conversation with anyone, and his very shy daughter must have puzzled him tremendously.

He loved to read, bought two newspapers daily, and read them on his commute to and from work on the subway.

He loved his city.  He gave birth to a daughter who fled that same city as soon as she graduated college (who didn't even attend her graduation, she was so eager to leave).

He would have been 97 years old in July.  But by writing about him, he will live on forever (or at least as long as Blogger stores blog entries) through the Internet.

You did a good job, Dad.  You passed on your love of history.  In some ways I have turned into you.  I still don't step on metal grates in the winter because you taught me not to.

I will always miss you.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Tracking the Revolution using FarmVille

The last 24 hours or so has been a surreal experience.

Yesterday evening I was on Facebook when a relative contacted me.  I have a cousin stationed in Tunis, Tunisia, and this relative had asked for everyone he knew to pray for the safety of the cousin and family. (If you haven't been following the news, do so:  there is quite an interesting political situation going on there right now.)  He gave me some updates and I decided I would try to friend the cousin's husband, who was posting several updates daily regarding their situation. His posts were pretty scary, especially the part about sleeping on the floor the night before with their children because of nearby gunfire.

So, while my spouse was on the phone with his family about a situation in his family, I was chatting with someone in Texas and trying to friend someone in Tunisia.

Anyway, I sent a friend request and when I came home from work tonight, I found he had accepted.  Now I can read his posts directly instead of getting them through the other relative.

I also had a pleasant surprise.  The cousin's husband plays FarmVille.  And, he had recently planted some 12 and 24 hour growth crops.

Farming during a revolution.  Now I will be able to track how stable his everyday situation is through how he plants his crops.  Or, maybe he is just an optimist.

Gives a new meaning to social gaming, doesn't it.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

For Binghamton Fire, It's "Deja Vu All Over Again"

Yogi Berra couldn't have said it better. The actual headline was "Will the Strong survive?

I had blogged about the fire in December that could have taken out three historic buildings in downtown Binghamton.  The fire started in something called the "Midtown Mall" which originally was called the Strong building.

Someone, right after the fire, had promised me some historic photos of downtown that I could post on this website, including at least two pictures of other historic downtown fires.  I still don't have the promised photos, but the newspaper article has a picture of a 1919 fire (a fire with similarities to the December fire) next to a photo of last month's fire.

Similar?  Well, both fires apparently started in similar areas of the building.  Both fires didn't involve injuries (thankfully) but the fire fighters of 1919 and 2011 had to use heroic measures to save the buildings.

In 1919 the "phoenix rose from the ashes", so to speak, and the department store that occupied part of the building stayed in business, and even expanded, until the 1970's and the move to suburban mall shopping killed it.

There had also been a masonic temple, and that was rebuilt on Main Street in Binghamton in 1922.  That Main Street building has had a bit of an interesting history but today stands majestic, but empty.  Its renovation ended, partly done, over 20 years ago.

Let's hope the same doesn't happen for the Strong building.  Downtown Binghamton deserves better.

(And let's hope I can get hold of those photos.  I'd love to post them!)

Social Justice Brewing in Americus Coffee

Today, on a chilly January day in upstate NY (supposed to go down to zero tonight) I visit, in cyberspirit, Americus, Georgia.  It is 62 degrees according to a blog I read by a resident, and the small amount of snow they had a week ago is now a distant memory.

One thing lead to another and I ended up visiting the website of Americus's coffee shop, located not very far from the Habitat for Humanity store in Americus.  We had visited this place last March and it is the real deal - people who are in business to serve humanity and promote social justice - not to promote "fair trade" as a type of brand. (In fact, you can read more on their site about trying to stop what some people are trying to make "Fair Trade" into.)
The description of their recent "snowstorm" was, I hope, tongue in cheek.  You have to read it and enjoy (hopefully, while brewing a good cup of coffee.)

There is a coffee on the website that sounds so delicious that we would buy it except right now we have bags of coffee on the microwave, in the freezer.....I don't know how we got overstocked but we did, so it is going to be a few months before we have to buy coffee again.

I've been a bit "under the weather" the last few days, and thoughts of that 62 degree Americus sunshine sound really appealing just about now.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


So many people, when they think of ducks, think of several things:
1.  That "duck" dish that some Chinese takeout places sell, the one with pieces of duck crowned with tops of fatty skin
2.  Those nice ducks quacking in ponds, with the brownish females and the colorful males.  Nice to throw bread to and watch them dive for it
3.  And, if they have been to a zoo, maybe those really beautiful mandarin ducks (not related to the ducks in item #1).  Long ago, when I lived in Wichita, Kansas, I lived near a park that had a small (free!) zoo, and they had a pair of these ducks, if my memory is correct. They were so colorful and regal.
4.  Ducks for hunting, duck decoys, duck and cover...

Many of us don't know it, but ducks are so much more.  How about eggs?  Years ago, when spouse and I lived in rural Arkansas, we raised ducks for eggs. We mail ordered a breed called the Campbell, which, sad to say, is now on a "watch" list of rare, endangered livestock.  The Campbell duck is a bit on the thin side, with an upright posture.  Their eggs are a tiny bit bigger than chicken eggs, white in color.  They make excellent baked goods - I would gladly buy duck eggs from someone for that purpose.  So moist, and like goods baked with honey, containing natural preservatives. They also make excellent hard boiled eggs.  (sorry, vegan friends.) Scrambled or omelet- not so good-their whites have a consistency, if cooked in that way, that reminded me of (sorry), mucus.

Need a good, lean duck for meat?  The muscovy is your choice.  We personally did not keep them as we leaned more towards birds for eggs and companionship (can you tell I love birds?) but many small farmsteads in Northwest Arkansas kept them.  They are large, and they don't quack. They have very warty heads but, as people like to say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

  The game FarmVille (no, please don't run away, this isn't about my obsession with FarmVille) is finally recognizing the world of ducks, too. (Hurray, they are finally listening to me!)  They are having us build duck ponds (using construction items donated by our farming neighbors) and when we are done, rumor is that we will be given the opportunity to obtain these ducks:
-Pekin (these are your white supermarket meat ducks, btw)
-Golden Eye (these are a sea duck, to my knowledge not domesticated)
-Cayuga (for some strange reason I can't remember for sure if we ever owned a pair-well, it's been almost 30 years), domestic meat/egg ducks that originated in NY State
-Muscovy (there are many colors/types, I hope they pick a colorful one)
-Scoter (another sea duck)
-Red bill (an African duck)

The nice thing is, we will have opportunities to learn more about ducks of the world.  (the probably not so nice thing will be that most if not all of these will be expensive, and I refuse to spend "real money" on this game.) did bring back nice memories of a time when ducks were in my life every day.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Drowning? Text a Lifeguard

I'm still in disbelief about this and it's been almost two weeks.

I go to a water aerobics class at our local Y.  I've been in this class for years.  The lifeguards are college aged young people, for the most part.  They do, I am sure, a wonderful job.

 A couple of times over the years, I have made reports where I felt the lifeguards weren't paying attention.  As young adults will do, sometimes these lifeguards have friends come over, and talk to them.  I'm not thrilled about that.  Their job is to watch people exercising in the water, including a number of seniors.  It takes just a second, if someone had a heart attack, to (heaven forbid) slip under the water.

A couple of weeks ago, the class had not yet started.  Right before our class is a lap swim period, and it was winding down.  They were taking the lane markers out of the water, but a couple of people were still swimming.  And, there were some water aerobics class members already in the pool. 

What was the lifeguard doing?  She was....texting.  OK maybe she wasn't texting.  Maybe she had her cell phone out and was making random motions on the keyboard.  Or was surfing the net.  Or was watching a TV show.  At any rate, the more I think about this-I don't care if the class hadn't started, there were people in the water.

I don't want her fired.  I want to know that the Y has a policy about this type of thing.  I was wrong to let it go so long without a report.  I've never gotten feedback regarding my previous complaints.  But I hope the Y doesn't think it is OK for their lifeguards to be paying attention to their cell phones while on duty.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Whiteflies and Impatiens

Aaaargh!  Watering plants on my front living room window sill this afternoon, I found a very suspicious, heart sinking sight....these tiny white oval things.

The dreaded whiteflies have struck.

I had them once before, a couple of years ago.  Several years ago, I had an outpatient procedure and a friend of mine very nicely got me a kalanchoe plant as a "get well soon" gift.  Softharded as I am, I kept the plant after it stopped blooming.  I had it, oh, a couple of years.  It grew but never bloomed again.

One day, the whiteflies came.  I didn't know what they were at first but (ha ha) I soon found out.  I did manage to keep other plants from becoming infested.  I since found out that kalanchoes are very prone to these pests.  So a year or so ago, after a neighbor had surgery, got one of these plants, didn't want to take care of it, and gave it to me, I kept it until it finished with its blooming...then put it outside (it was late summer) and finally let the frost claim it.

Well, this time, the pests have appeared on several impatien plants I had potted up for the winter. (How do I do that?  Simple, impatiens root very easily in water.  I take promising cuttings when the first frost is predicted, and if they root, I plant them and keep in a pot on a north windowstill.  They will even bloom for me, but not as nicely as they do outdoors.  I don't try to keep the actual outdoor plants through the winter, I have done that but find the cutting method works better.)  And, it also infested two plants next to it - one a plant I call a Charlie plant because someone called Charlie I met at the Ithaca Art Trail event in October gave me a cutting.  I have no idea what the plant is, but it does nicely on the north windowsill, especially if you take new cuttings each fall. These root nicely in water, too.

So what am I going to try to do?  The same thing that worked last time (after I got rid of the infested kalanchoe) to save plants neighboring the infested plant.  Luckily I had some insecticidal soap in the house, and spouse nicely mixed a small batch for me.  This is the first line of defense.

I hope it works.

This is the first time my Charlie plant, or my impatiens, have gotten whiteflies. It's always "something".

Friday, January 7, 2011

Livvie Owen and Autism in Literature

As someone with a brother in law with autism, and a son's good friend who has Asperger's Syndrome, I have picked up a couple of the recent books written from the point of view of someone with autism.

When a "neurotypical" (person not on the autistic "spectrum") person writes a book with a "first person" narrator with autism, it becomes a very big challenge.  Also, me trying to write a book review is its own challenge.  I'm not an English major, just someone who likes to read.  I don't consider myself "literary" but I do consider myself intelligent-and I've spent some time with teens/adults on the "spectrum"....not as much as a parent/advocate/special ed teacher but perhaps more than a lot of laypeople.

Anyway, it's become somewhat fashionable to write these types of books.  People with autism are one of the flavors of the hour.  Problem is, people of this hour aren't people of the next hour.  They fade into the "who cares" category, and people with autism do not deserve that type of treatment.  So I hope that this is not a literary "fad", that good authors will continue to explore this element of human nature.

But, back to my stab at a book review.  I believe I've blogged before about my "discovery" of what is called young adult literature.  To my delight, it isn't all vampire love novels.  There is a lot of good, meaty, stuff out there.

So, I wanted to write a little about a YA book I read recently:  Livvie Owen Lived Here by Sarah Dooley.

This particular book is written by a teacher of children with special needs who lives in West Virginia.  So....Livvie Owen (Olivia), a high school student with autism,  lives in a small, dying town in West Virginia called Nabor with her younger sister, her older sister, and her Mom and Dad.

Good stuff:  Livvie is in a special ed class at her small West Virginia high school.  The school scenes ring absolutely true (in my somewhat limited experience with special ed classrooms).  The boy obsessed with snakes, the non-verbal girl who is Livvie's friend and communicates using pictures attached to a strip with Velcro, and the other class members with their various disabilities, all are part of her world. Obviously, the school has worked with Livvie to try to teach her to control her behavior, to try to find ways to calm herself and prevent tantrums, but Livvie finds herself many times in situations where she just can't react to properly.

Which introduces the plot of the story.   The family has had to move, over and over, because Livvie outlives her welcome with the landlord.  Or with the neighbors.  Her behavior (especially the noises and the tantrums) disturb, or frighten,then the family is evicted, and the family is on the move again.

When the story opens, they are living in a old, wornout trailer, and soon after they are being served still another eviction notice.  The family must move again.

This situation rings true also.  It isn't easy being poor, and I am glad this issue was explored in great detail in this book.  The author took some of this from personal experience in her own childhood, and it is something well deserving of exploration.  It is also obvious that the small town is dying, but the family stays there because it is familiar to their daughter...and it is so hard for people with autism to accept change.  My brother in law struggles with that almost daily.

Livvie realizes this housing situation is because of her behavior (which she tries so hard to control but the control just isn't there despite her best intentions), and she comes up with a very special plan to find a new house....with the help of a factory whistle from her childhood and a dead cat.  (yes, you'll have to read the book to find out how.)

The other part of the story I felt rang true was the relationship Livvie had with her two sisters.  It was complicated.  They loved her but there was also anger and resentment, and the complex relationships were explored as the length of the book permitted.   The parents were loving and patient, and Livvie was fortunate to have grown up in a stable family.  Not all children with autism (nor do all children, obviously) do.

The teachers in Livvie's life are also portrayed sympathetically.  Few people realize the job that special ed teachers have - we are lucky to have these dedicated individuals.  After a series of substitutes (and those scenes rang true also!) a very caring teacher enters Livvie's life and sparks change in this young adolescent.

Where did the book fail?  I think, as a narrator, that there was a lot of inconsistency.  Livvie (who is severely autistic and can barely read or write, although she is far from "stupid") has quite a vocabulary and command of words as narrator that just seemed inconsistent with how she was portrayed.  There was also a great deal of inconsistency in how Livvie was able to understand non-verbal communication (this, incidentally, is a major challenge for people with autism.)  In some instances, Livvie could not understand or "label" emotions but just a couple of minutes later would be describing quite complex emotions showing on the faces of characters.  She would ponder her inability to read a certain type of emotion and several pages later, she would be reading the emotion quite well.  I realize some of this was to move the story along, but to me this aspect actually distracted me from the story.

Still, in all, a most worthwhile book which I would recommend to anyone.

I understand this is a debut novel and I very much look forward to this author's future work.  I've done a little reading in her blog, and she sounds like a woman I would like to meet one day.  Maybe at a small town library.  Like the ones in Northwest Arkansas that I frequented 30 years ago and....maybe something to blog about one day.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Dandelions and singing birds in January in Upstate NY

I took a short walk around my neighborhood today and to my delight, I found two dandelion flowers in someone's lawn.

What is so delightful about this find is what made it all possible:  no snow on the ground.

That's right.  Upstate NY.  January 4.  No snow on the ground. (except in very isolated spots.)

It may drive certain people crazy, but I am thrilled.

It didn't get quite as warm (41 degrees) as it did late last week(when we reached 52) but the 52 degree weather late last week brought its own rewards:  singing birds.

Anyone who denies climate change solely because of political beliefs should reconsider.  Whether or not this is a normal fluctuation of our weather (which has happened before in human history) or due to ecological damage:  it is here, and it is changing all of our lives.  These will indeed be interesting times.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

FarmVille Chinese

Haven't posted about FarmVille in a while...have been too busy doing all the "holiday" (read "Christmas") FarmVille quests and other stuff.  Now the New Year is here, I've put my "holiday" decorations into FarmVille storage, and it is time to farm. I've been in somewhat of a farming rut, and am trying to expand my crop growing into some new crops.  Speaking of which-

The popular online game FarmVille has extended itself to China.

One of the premier FarmVille news sites has done their research, and found several crops unique to the Chinese version:  including "caterpillar mushroom", ginseng, areca palm nut, lingzhi (a medicinal herb) and....peony.

Wouldn't it be cool if we American farmers could have these crops to celebrate the Chinese New Year.  After all, this is supposed to be an international game....which I think Zynga sometimes forgets.  Plus, we do have a Chinese population in this country.  I went to high school with some first generation Chinese, and there are a lot of Chinese in New York City (and other population centers).

And now back to regular blogging.  I've had so much to write about lately, that it ended up with me not writing about anything at all.  I'll try to rectify that, although it may not be for another 2-3 days.