Category Archives: Rochester

Lucky to Live in the ROC (Part 2)

I’m back with another exciting installment of “Lucky to Live in the ROC,” an ongoing series in which I extoll the virtues of my hometown, Rochester, New York.

(Bonus tip: Scroll to the bottom to see the CUTEST PICTURE EVER TAKEN OF MY DAUGHTERS, and then return here to continue reading.)

Part 2: HIGHLAND PARK

When I first moved to Rochester as a child, I immediately noticed the abundance of trees.

Maybe my impression was colored by the fact that my former street was a busy four-lane highway, and my new address was on a quiet road covered by an arc of leafy elms. But to my twelve-year-old mind, Rochester was a green oasis compared to the drab Buffalo suburb I’d come from.

I soon discovered many lovely parks in and around Rochester that supported my first impression. And, of all the parks in the area, Highland Park turned out to be my favorite.

Highland Park was designed in the late 1800s by Frederick Law Olmsted (the designer of New York’s Central Park). Its 150 acres are located within the city limits. It’s an arboretum that showcases more than 1,200 lilac shrubs (over 500 varieties), as well as magnolias, rhododendron, azaleas, and many other beautiful plants, while maintaining a natural, flowing vibe. It also features an amphitheater, Highland Bowl, that is used for outdoor movies, theater productions, and music concerts.

Highland Park is a great place to visit in the spring, when many flowering plants are at their peak. For a guide to what’s blooming when, click here.

A Lilac Festival is held in Highland Park each May, with music, art, food, and – of course – lilacs.

Winter in Highland Park can be a good time for photos, too, until your fingers get numb from the cold.

Here are my top three memories from past visits to Highland Park:

#1: Attending a Sarah Vaughan concert in the 1980s at the Highland Bowl amphitheater. Fun fact: My daughter Erica (age 1 at the time) came along with me. About 30 years later, we learned that her husband, Richard, had been there, too. Coincidentally, they tied the knot at Warner Castle, located IN HIGHLAND PARK! Could their fate have been written in the stars that night?

#2: Seeing Herman’s Hermits there during the 1990s. Somewhere in my archives, I have a blurry snapshot of Peter Noone (taken by me) singing “I’m Henery the Eighth, I Am.”

#3: Taking my daughters there to see the flowers. One year, on Mother’s Day, a reporter noticed Katie and interviewed her. She was on the news that night!

Well, I guess you can see why Highland Park is special to me. I think I’ll go there today and take more photos.

Tip: Follow me so you won’t miss the next fascinating episode of “Lucky to Live in the ROC,” in which I’ll discuss the FOURTH-OLDEST ROLLER COASTER IN THE WORLD!

Lucky to Live in the ROC (Part 1)

A friend is staying with me this summer, and the weather has been cooperating. In fact, since his arrival, we’ve had almost constant sunshine (and that’s really rare for Rochester). As a result, we’ve been going out on little adventures every day.

Now, through my friend’s eyes, I’m starting to appreciate my hometown more than ever, and I’ve decided to write about this in my new series, “Lucky to Live in the ROC.” In each segment, I’ll discuss something really special about Rochester, New York – something that makes me glad I moved back home.

PART 1: THE LITTLE

The Little Theatre, a.k.a. “The Little,” is located at 240 East Avenue in downtown Rochester. It was built in 1929 as part of the Little Cinema Movement (an alternative to commercial movie houses), was constructed in the Art Deco style by Edgar Phillips and Frederick Pike, and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. In my opinion, it’s the best place in Rochester for movies, especially if you like independent and foreign films. In addition, it has a great little café with live music and food (including a light, delicious limoncello layer cake).

The Little Theatre, Rochester, NY

We recently visited the café at The Little to hear Hanna & the Blue Hearts. Hanna PK grew up in South Korea; her parents were in a rock band. She learned to play piano at a young age, but it wasn’t until she was an adult that she discovered American blues, and it knocked her out. (My friend Aleks, guitarist for the Blue Hearts, tells me she was “gobsmacked.”)

You can read more about Hanna’s evolution as a blues musician in the WXXI news story, “Music Heals Hanna PK and the Blue Hearts.

Tony Hiler (drums), Hanna PK (vocals),
Aleks Disljenkovic (guitar)
Gian Carlo Cervone (organ),
Hanna PK (piano, vocals), Tony Hiler (drums),
Aleks Disljenkovic (guitar)

I love Hanna not only for her musicality (she plays piano and guitar, covers the blues and American classics, writes her own songs, and sings), but also for her huge heart, which comes across in her original lyrics as well as her stage presence. And the music she and the band play is world class. To my mind, hearing Hanna & the Blue Hearts play the blues is one of the most uplifting things I’ve experienced, here or anywhere else.

And I’m getting an education about the blues, too. After hearing the Blue Hearts’ version of Memphis Slim’s “I’m Lost Without You,” I asked my friend Aleks about it, and he sent me a link to a video – Memphis Slim performing the song along with famed guitarist Matt “Guitar” Murphy. I’d never heard the song before, never heard of Slim or Murphy, and now I’ve heard both of them play another great version of the song.

Then I did three things: I looked up Memphis Slim (and learned his real name), I looked up Matt “Guitar” Murphy (and learned that he played in the Blues Brothers band and even played a role in the Blues Brothers movie), and I listened to Hanna’s version of the song, which is track 4 on her new CD, “Blues All Over My Shoes.” I learned a lot that day.

As I said, I’m lucky. Lucky to live where I can hear Hanna & the Blue Hearts playing LIVE at the Little Theatre (and all over New York State).

Do you feel lucky living where YOU live?


Dirty Little Secret Garden

My new raised bed organic garden has a secret, and I’m here to spill the beans:

It’s going to be a bountiful harvest!

How do I know that? Well, I don’t. But after spending a significant portion of my annual food budget on this dirty little project, I’m trying to stay positive.

I tried a raised bed garden once, with poor quality soil that was only about 4 inches deep. The birds loved my arugula. My carrots grew sideways.

But I wasn’t ready to give up. Now that I’ve put down new roots here in Rochester, where I’ve got a new backyard to play in, I’ve decided to dig deep into gardening one more time.

Growing a few tomatoes and peppers is simple, right? You just turn over some dirt, plant, weed, and harvest. But because I’m me, I had to watch a video, buy a book, and spend countless hours agonizing over every tiny detail, even including the garden’s eventual location (which I’ve changed three times).

The book I bought, “All New Square Foot Gardening” by Mel Bartholomew, is great. It explains, in simple language and with pictures, how to build 6-inch deep raised bed garden boxes, what to fill them with, what to plant, and when to plant. I’m trying to follow Mel’s instructions step by step, and so far things are going according to plan – albeit slowly.

The first thing I did after buying Mel’s book was to start some seeds indoors. That was the easy part.

The hardest part, for me, was calculating the amount of dirt (a combination of peat moss, vermiculite, and compost, which the book calls “Mel’s Mix”) needed to fill my 4 x 4-foot boxes to a depth of 6 inches. The math shouldn’t have been that hard, but I tied myself up in knots trying to convert pounds of compost to cubic feet. Oh well, we can’t all be Einsteins when it comes to measuring shit!

And did you know that, according to gardentabs.com, there are at least six different types of compost? You can probably tell I’ve developed a bad case of OCD (Obsessing on Compost Details).

In case you’re brave enough to try this at home, here are a few photos, and what I’ve done after reading the book and planting seeds indoors.

  • Drew garden designs (at least five different versions). Settled on one version, a design using four 4 x 4-foot boxes.
  • Calculated the amount of lumber and type of fencing needed. (My yard is frequently visited by birds and rabbits, and sometimes even deer).
  • Ordered fence materials from Gardener’s Supply Company. Also ordered a smaller fence and gate contraption from them. This was an impulse buy, for an additional garden next to the house, where I hope to plant lots of tomatoes. (I hope I’m not overdoing it, folks).
  • Shopped for cedar boards at Home Depot, Lowe’s, and two local lumber yards.
  • Realized I can’t afford cedar. It’s $30 for an 8-foot board, and I needed 8 of them. New pine was out of the question, too, since all I could find was pressure-treated and could leach chemicals into the soil.
  • Continued my search for lumber on Craigslist and found a supply of new, untreated larch. Granted, it was in Buffalo (75 miles away), but it looked good in the photo and was only $10 a board. Plus, the guy selling it had made his own raised bed gardens with it and said the wood had lasted 13 years so far. Drove to Buffalo, bought the wood. The seller advised me to wear gloves to avoid splinters. Good guy!
  • Carried the boards into my basement, one at a time. Wore gloves. No splinters.
  • Called Home Depot; they said they’d cut the boards in half for me. Lugged them upstairs again and loaded them back into my car. Home Depot worker said “I’m not supposed to do this” but went ahead and cut them all into 4-foot lengths, for free. Felt like a real carpenter.
  • Took a closer look at my lumber. Realized some of it was warped so badly I couldn’t really use it. So much for that good guy! But 3/4 of it was fine. I would build 3 boxes instead of 4.
  • Shopped for screws and brackets for assembling the boxes. (Tried doing this on my own, with limited success. Did much better when accompanied by someone who actually knew something about hardware.)
  • Managed to assemble the boxes in my basement without help, despite having zero carpentry skills. Example: I think (but I’m still not sure) I may have been using the wrong kind of screws at first, since I couldn’t get them to penetrate the wood even when using my power drill. It might have helped if I’d read the drill’s manual first. I later discovered what those little numbers on it meant: torque.
  • Carried boxes outside (with help) and placed them into position.
  • Bought peat moss, vermiculite, and compost. (This took six trips to four different stores, plus one on-line purchase, but that was just my OCD kicking in.) Mixed them all together on a tarp.
  • Filled boxes with “Mel’s Mix.”
  • Shopped for wooden strips so I can make 1-foot grids to lay on top of the boxes. Discovered that even wooden strips are expensive! On a whim, visited a craft store where I found spruce strips, cheap, and exactly the right length.
  • Wondered how in the heck I’m going to erect a 7-foot tall mesh fence around my garden.
  • Tried to remain optimistic.

Am I regretting my decision to create a raised bed organic garden this year? Absolutely not! At least not yet. I’ll keep you updated on my progress.

And by the way, if you need any extra zucchini, please let me know.

Where Did I (Gink)Go?

photo credit: olga drach on unsplash

Quick: What ancient Chinese tree is known for its reputation as a memory-enhancing supplement?

If you guessed “GINKO,” you’d be just partially right, because you misspelled it. The word is “GINKGO,” but I’ll forgive you for using only five letters, because you’ve probably been playing too much Wordle.

I’m writing about the ginkgo tree today for three reasons:

  • Their leaves are gorgeous.
  • They’ve managed to survive for thousands of years.
  • I have some photos of ginkgo trees to share with you.

But on a deeper level, my reasons are more complicated. As you may remember if you’ve been taking your ginkgo supplements (just kidding!), my dog Maya and I packed up and moved cross-country last year. You can read about our journey in my previous blog series, “New Latitude.” I stopped blogging temporarily, but now that I’m all settled in, I want to get back to my mission: writing stories inspired by my camera.

Yesterday, I uploaded 24 new photos, and I’ll be writing about each one, starting with GINKGO LEAVES:

And now for some Fascinating Facts about the Ginkgo tree:

  • Its scientific name is Ginkgo biloba.
  • It’s native to China.
  • Although its natural range is a small area of China, it has been cultivated in other parts of the world. (My photos were taken at Highland Park in Rochester, New York.)
  • Fossils in the Ginkgo genus date back to the Middle Jurassic period (about 170 million years ago). It was cultivated early in human history.
  • Its DNA genome is about three times as large as our human genome, which is thought to be why the ginkgo tree has many natural defenses against bacteria and chemicals. In fact, it’s so resistant to environmental assaults that six specimens growing in close proximity to the 1945 atomic blast at Hiroshima, Japan survived and continued to grow as healthy plants. They are still alive today.
  • According to an article by the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, its use as a dietary supplement for the treatment of various diseases is mixed, and more study is needed.
  • It originally was two separate Japanese words pronounced “gin kyo.” Its current spelling dates back to a probable spelling error by a German, Engelbert Kaempfer.
  • It can grow to over 100 feet tall.
  • It’s considered a “living fossil.” Some living specimens are reported to be over 2,500 years old.
  • The ginkgo leaf is the symbol of Tokyo.

I’m glad I thought to take pictures of those pretty ginkgo leaves in Highland Park last summer. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been so inspired to learn more about this admirable tree. I’d love to read about what inspires you. Please leave a note in the Comments section if you’re so inclined.

Before I go, I just want to say it’s (gink)GOOD  to be back!

—–

If you haven’t already done so, please check out my brand new book, “Wordle Poems: A Poem a Day for Wordle Nerds,” on Amazon. It contains 30 original poems inspired by the daily act of Wordling. No spoilers! Reviews are greatly appreciated!

For more of my writing, visit my author page over at Bardsy, as well as my book, “Standing in the Surf,” on Amazon. It’s a photo journal about the Pacific Northwest area known as the Salish Sea, which includes Whidbey Island, Vancouver Island, Stanley Park, Butchart Gardens, and more.

New Latitude, Episode 4: Tossin’ and Turnin’ in Tucson

If you’ve been following my current blog series, New Latitude, you’ll know I’m moving 2,000 miles northeast, and that my offer on a house I’ve seen only via the internet was accepted. I don’t usually toss and turn, but buying a house like this, and moving across the country in the middle of a pandemic, can change a person. And I have no one to blame for my recent sleepless nights but myself.

Oh, and I also blame my upstairs neighbor, a young guy who plays loud music, has squeaky floors (and a squeaky bed), and owns a shrill alarm clock that wakes me up at five a.m., five days a week. I’m really looking forward to getting out of here, and into my own home, where I can sleep as late as I want to and play my own loud music!

Last week I closed on the house, and I’m now the proud owner of … well … we’ll find out just what it is that I’m the proud owner of in about four weeks, when I finally get to set actual eyes on the place.

I realize I’m one of the lucky ones, seeing as I’m retired, I’m healthy, and I’ve managed to secure an appointment for my first COVID vaccine. But meanwhile (or quarantinewhile), here are some of the challenges I’ve been dealing with regarding my upcoming move:

  • New date! The mortgage company changed the closing date and gave me about a week’s notice to get my banking act together. Inconveniently, that week included a federal holiday (MLK Jr. Day) and the U.S. Presidential inauguration (which I also thought might be a bank holiday). I needed an in-person appointment to withdraw my funds, and appointments that week were scarce! On top of that, my lawyer didn’t know the exact amount I needed to send him yet. I managed to secure an appointment on a Tuesday, learned the final amount on Wednesday, and the wire transfer went through on Thursday. That part had to be requested by me using an online form. The confusing instructions I was given referred to a “title company” but, being just a regular human being, I did not know what that was. I took a guess that it was the bank holding my mortgage, and pressed “send.”
  • Not signed? After I electronically signed one of the necessary forms, the person at the other end said it wasn’t signed, although it was … I checked … and I wasn’t able to sign it again. It all got sorted out eventually.
  • Am I insured? My homeowner’s insurance account listed two different effective dates. When I called it to their attention, they said it was just a glitch and not to worry. Right! Tell that to my pillow when I’m crying into it at night!
  • Misspelling! My realtor’s name was spelled wrong on one of the forms (the bank’s error) and needed to be retyped during the closing.
  • Whew! The wire went through, the forms got corrected, the closing was conducted on Friday via FaceTime … and after an hour of signing papers, I was congratulated on being a new homeowner! At least I think I was … it’s all a blur.
  • Vaccination Plans! I’d been hoping to get both COVID vaccines here in Arizona before I moved (I’m in group 1b) … then because of the delays in vaccine distribution, I thought I’d get the first one here, then get the second in New York. Luckily, I checked this plan with the hotline in New York and they said no, I’d have to get both in the same state. I was able to get an appointment for the first one in New York, even though I’ll have to drive 300 miles from my new home to the vaccination site.
  • Managing the Move: I then spent countless hours determining how and when to leave Arizona (and who would move me). I needed a spreadsheet and flow chart to time my arrival in New York early enough to factor in a 10-day quarantine (required by the state), settle into my new home, and then drive to my vaccine appointment.
  • Moving Supplies: Normally I would just go to grocery stores, ask for empty boxes, and drive to U-Haul for other supplies. But as we know, things are not normal. I ordered boxes, tape, and bubble wrap online and got to work packing, taping, and labeling. I ran out and had to re-order. May have to do it again!
  • Anti-COVID Supplies: I bought a good supply of masks (I’m planning to double-mask), sanitizer, gloves, wipes, etc. I also made a list of food and supplies to bring in the car, in order to minimize stops along the way.
  • AAA SNAFUs: I called AAA for route suggestions and a list of COVID-safe, pet-friendly hotels, and they were glad to oblige. Unfortunately, they snail-mailed the info to one of my old addresses. They also said they’d email me a copy. I never received either. When I contacted them again, they said they’d re-send the email with my correct address (but didn’t). When I called a third time, they finally got it right.
  • Snow Patrol: I’d probably be driving through snow, so I bought a snow brush and ice scraper on Amazon, ordered more warm socks, and checked to make sure I knew where my gloves and hat were hidden. We don’t use them too often here in Tucson, but we do on days like this:
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is winter-in-tucson.jpg
  • Car Headaches: My car dealership had recently recommended that I buy two new tires and change my differential fluid (they wanted to charge me $700). I decided to go to my trusted mechanics down the road instead. When they saw my car, they informed me that I do not need two new tires and that they could not in good conscience sell me any. Further, my differential fluid was very clean and did not need to be changed. I then purchased a tire tread gauge (curbside pickup!) and double-checked the tire tread depth myself — and triple-checked by taking the car to a second tire store (again, curbside service!) — and everyone agreed that the dealership was trying to rip me off. I paid $50 for some new windshield wipers and an air filter and felt just fine about never returning to my car dealership again.

For the record, I’m not holding any of these SNAFUs against anyone, because I know times are tough and people are overworked, underpaid, and doing the best they can.

And even though I’ve been tossing and turning, I’ve recently discovered a way to cope! And I owe my new attitude to three excellent documentaries. Which ones, you ask?

Well, I hate to leave you hanging, but this blog post has gone on long enough. Please stay tuned, because very soon I’ll be blogging about those three documentaries, and how they improved my attitude. See you during the next exciting installment of New Latitude!

New Latitude, Episode 2: Do’s and Don’ts

Previously, on New Latitude:

After having moved from upstate New York to Tucson, Arizona seventeen years ago in search of a decent climate and better job, I’d come to a realization. I’d had my fill of blue skies. I was sick of sunsets that bathed the mountains in rosy hues each night. I hated wearing sandals in January. Authentic tacos were the worst. And all those darned hummingbirds! I longed for upstate New York, where the winters are brutal, the summers are humid and mosquito-filled, and there’s only one hummingbird – the ruby-throated – to identify, if it ever shows up at all.

Ruby-throated hummingbird. Image by Susan Killian @ Pixabay

No wait … none of that’s true, except for the first sentence. Rewind!

What I really meant to say was this: I’ve loved living in Tucson, but the pandemic had called a sudden halt to my regular flights back home to New York State to see my family. Who knew when I could travel there again? Call me loco, but I decided to relocate – to Rochester, where I’d be within a day’s drive of my entire immediate family. Sure, winters would be less than wonderful, but I could at least gaze upon my family’s frozen faces in person, instead of on a computer screen. Besides, the lease on my apartment was coming up for renewal. It was time for a new direction, so I took my first baby step: “Zillow-surfing.” 

And now for Episode 2: Do’s and Don’ts (of buying a house)

Zillow-surfing brought me up close and personal with hundreds of houses, without ever having to set foot in them. I got to see the good, the bad, the ugly, and in some cases, the dirty laundry. Through Zillow-surfing, I made some major decisions, like:

rent vs. buy

1 bath vs. 2

¼ acre vs. 10 acres and a barn

fenced yard backing up to private woods vs. unrestricted view of the auto body shop next door.

Image by Harald Dona @ Pixabay.

Once I’d narrowed my choices down, I started to get excited. But the more excited I became, the more impulsively I acted. I guess I got carried away and ignored common sense.

If you, too, are considering buying a home, here’s some unsolicited advice:

  1. DON’T rule out renting an apartment before buying a house you’ve seen only on the internet. Photoshop can give houses an instant makeover that’s even more amazing than the ones you’ve seen on Fixer Upper.
  2. DON’T cancel your Disney Channel and Hulu Plus subscriptions in the hopes these sacrifices will enable you to afford a house above your means. You’ll soon come to regret your decision, especially if you haven’t seen enough of “Cuomo Prime Time” or “Hamilton” yet.
  3. DON’T fool yourself into believing you’re a skilled negotiator. You’ll just be disappointed in yourself.
  4. DON’T buy a house in a “hot market” city, especially if it happens to be during a “seller’s market.”
  5. DON’T waive an engineering inspection.
  6. DON’T commit to making up the difference between the purchase price and the bank appraisal.
  7. DON’T mail a sizable deposit to the seller without confirming you’ve written the check on the correct bank account — the one with sufficient funds — and not the other one, the one with only $33 in it.
  8. DON’T buy a house in the winter and plan on leaving the house vacant until spring. Pipes in vacant homes have been known to freeze and burst.
  9. DON’T buy a house during a pandemic without knowing when a vaccine will be available. You’ll want protection while driving cross-country, and I’m not talking about a bodyguard (although that would be nice).
  10. DON’T buy an 8-foot couch and two recliners immediately before deciding to move.

By the way, I’m guilty of all of the above.

Image by Gerd Altmann @ Pixabay.

Oh, and DON’T hire a moving van without shopping around. Luckily, I HAVE been shopping around, and the estimates differ wildly — as in a low of $2,800, and a high of — don’t laugh — $14,000. That’s not a typo! “Two Men and a Truck” wanted to charge $12,000 to $14,000 to move a two-bedroom apartment. That must be some classy moving truck they have. And speaking of trucks, did they think I just fell off a turnip truck?

Yeah, those are pumpkins, not turnips. Good eye!
Image by Sweethearts82 @ Pixabay.

On the plus side, interest rates are low right now, so I took the plunge. I bid on a house, and my offer was accepted. And don’t worry, I think I got a sweet deal, an engineer looked at the house before I bid on it, the bank waived their appraisal, the check eventually cleared, and I’m hoping the vaccine will become available soon … for everyone’s sake.

Yes, moving is going to be a pain, and yet I feel good about my decision. Sometimes you just have to take a chance and DO some of the DON’Ts.

Tune in again next time for the next exciting episode of New Latitude, in which I’ll reveal the outcome of my mortgage application! (It’s still a mystery to me.)