Tuesday, December 18, 2007


This next week when so many of us are traveling, if you're on the road, be mindful of those who spend so much of their lives on it. Help out a trucker by blinking your lights twice if he or she passes you once their rig has cleared! This allows them to be sure it's safe to get back into the right-lane. Don't be shocked if they blink back as a thank-you! This is old-school trucker-speak that will show them you respect their space and greatly surprise them, coming from a 4-wheeler!

Photo Credit: Melissa Hinnen (2007)

Additionally, share the road! A friend designed the above bumper sticker recently to remind us all of so many needless accidents with Amish buggies. Yes, they go slower than cars or trucks, so slow down instead of rear-ending them!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Food Banks: We're One Step From Running Out

From today's New York Times:
Food banks around the country are reporting critical shortages that have forced them to ration supplies, distribute staples usually reserved for disaster relief and in some instances close.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The World Is Flat, Who Knew?!

Photo Credit: Orlando Ferguson (1893)

Hmmm...it's a bit of a stretch, wouldn't you say? And what about all those pictures of the big blue ball. I dunno 'bout this one folks, but I was recently reminded (thanks to Al Gore), that Geocentricity still lives. Yes that's right, there are still those among us who believe the earth is flat. My brother was a member of The Tychonian Society (now called Association For Biblical Astronomy) for many years. I'd forgotten they existed, until last week Al Gore mentioned in a "Going Green" interview that "There are still those who believe the world is flat, but that doesn't mean we give them air-time or a podium" (Not an exact quote, from memory). Mr. Gore was responding to a question about the naysayers of Global Warming.

I am certainly no authority on this issue. I do know however, that Geocentrism states the earth (not the sun) is the center of the universe, and does not move. Now whether or not this means they believe it to be flat as well, I can't say for sure, but I think so.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Car Shopping

I'm not car-shopping at the moment, but wanted to compile a helpful document for someone whose research I admire, and has made my work more understandable and meaningful.

I often create a list or spreadsheet to help me make my bigger decisions. I’ve started a spreadsheet that can be weighted by prioritization during your search. For example, there’s a column for a unique quality that a particular model may possess that is very important to you, and this would be weighted heavily. Additionally, if a sunroof is a deal-breaker to you, it too could have a very high rating. I’ve included some of the aforementioned models, and left out those that my research wouldn’t allow me to recommend, or that I concluded would not be “relatively cheap.”

There are important decisions we make as consumers. As well, we become what we consume. These are times when the impact of our decisions on our planet, is on our minds more than ever. Should we go with an alternative energy source (hybrid is one example), or not?

Used vs. New? I recommend purchasing a used vehicle, and would consider a used one up to about 70,000 miles. I don’t know if buying a new car adds to the number of used cars that never get sold and end up as waste, but this recommendation is mainly for financial reasons.

Own vs. lease? I do not recommend leasing for most situations. If you were a traveling salesperson, I’ve read it can make sense for someone in that line of work to lease, but from what I’ve learned, leasing is never-to-rarely a good business decision.

I have a friend who tells me that she considers every dollar she spends to be a vote. One caveat, she’s a multi-millionaire and can afford to pay cash for her cars, and several more times over for organic food than non-organic. I also have friends who boycott the Walmart’s and Starbucks of the world for some of the same reasons, and some different. And there are others still, who favor the “Made In America” tag.

Should we purchase from Toyota after one might conclude they encouraged sexual harassment in the workplace (one might argue that by not taking their female employee complaints seriously, they were more than enabling the behavior, in fact encouraging it). They did finally take action, and I personally think that Honda and Toyota do deliver the best vehicle for the money.

Highway vs. City. The saying goes that “highway miles” are more desirable than city driving. I believe the thinking behind this is that the highway is often open road, whereas the city often has you starting and stopping, and especially if you have a manual transmission, can place more wear and tear on your vehicle (e.g., clutch, brakes, tires). A manual tranny will tend to yield a higher MPG if you don’t slam it!

Some of the Consumer Reports site is free, and I agree that it is of great value to subscribe. CSR writes to avoid the New Beetle 4-cylinder model, but I am not sure why or which exact year they mean by “New.”

I have some knowledge of the mechanics behind cars as I have done my own repairs for years on both cars and motorcycles, learning from my brother how to reseat valves, bore-out pistons, and pimp a carburetor. I’ll never forget walking into a Yamaha dealer holding part of my carburetor and asking if they could order it for me, I didn’t know the name, but knew I needed that part. The look on the clerk’s face was priceless. There was also the time I walked into a Harley dealership and asked if they could raise my foot-pegs because I like to lay the bike over on turns, but the pegs can throw you (and the bike!) if they hit the road hard enough and at the right angle. “Lady,” I was told, “You just need to slow the hell down!” But I digress.

Finally, it may simply come down to what one can afford, and finances may simply be the baseline that impacts all other choices. I would suggest finding your baseline, and moving from there. My research is far from exhaustive so feel free to alter the spreadsheet to your findings.

I’m hoping that this spreadsheet will aid you in getting to that place. I didn’t set any calculations into it, as I don’t have your priorities to weight it, and I’m not an Excel guru. Perhaps someone reading this might be able to tweak it for you.

I leave you with some helpful links that will guide you through the process-things like checking underneath for rust, and around the flooring and side-boards. Also, looking for puddles of fluid under the car that might suggest leaking. All of these and many more can be found at these links below. Let us know how you fare:

1) Mouse-over on all the major dealer sites for a quick look at suggested price (this can usually be haggled)

2) Used Car Checklists:





3) Car Buying Guides:




4) Car Pricing Guide:


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

House Hunting?

It's a buyer's market in the housing industry right now. I've even looked at a few places myself recently, but you really want to know what you're getting into. I read numerous articles, performed my own research online, read books, and talked with friends who are home-owners. You will want to do all that yourself, but here's one piece of information that I didn't learn until it was almost too late.

I was in the basement of a house in New Jersey that was for sale, with my broker. The place was vacant, and the electricity had been shut off, so we were nosing around with flashlights. By the way, seeing a vacant house where the electric's been shut off, is sort of like taking a used car for a test-drive with the dealer while they've got the radio cranked. I bought my first used car this way, unknowingly, but learned a hard lesson. The car needed repair, but I didn't hear the noises until driving it myself without the radio blaring. If you're looking at a house that's vacant, BYOF...Bring Your Own Flashlight!

So, we're in the basement of this vacant place, and my broker (who's luckily a personal friend) says to me, "Hey, you have any idea what this is?" Well, I hadn't. I'd never seen anything like it before, and this wasn't something that's written about in most home-buying guides. We were staring at a huge round cylindric-looking thing, sealed with lots of large nuts. My broker wondered if it might somehow be connected to the sewer system. I whipped out my cell phone and called my trusty handy-man friend. This guy guts brownstones in the city and restores them to their original lustre, he's truly amazing. I asked him if he had any idea what this contraption could be. That's when we nailed it. He told me to never buy a house that has a system like this.

Here's the skinny. This is one person's opinion, and there are valid reasons why this type of system exists, I simply don't want to invest in a house that has one-it's just one more thing to have to have repaired. Most cities have a public sewer system. Plumbing tends to work on gravity, so most houses are built such that the sewage can naturally flow downhill, and into the public septic system (which I think tends to run along the same path as the street in front of your house).

This particular house was nestled down a steep hill from the road. Not to mention, you might even need to have a 4WD vehicle just to get out of the driveway in the Winter, but I digress. The moral of this story was best described by my handy-man friend, ever so eloquently I might add, "No one wants to pump their **** and **** uphill! Plumbing was meant to work on gravity. What are you planning to do if the electric goes out?" Well, I really liked that house, but thought long and hard about this. I even considered putting a septic tank in the yard, but I am certain the town has ordinances against that sort of thing.

These systems are called Pressurized Sewers or Grinder Pumps, and you can read more about them by going to these links:

http://www.eone.com/sewer_systems/intro/index.htm (The video on this site gives me vertigo, but I'm amazed that anyone would take the time to produce this!)

Again, there are reasons why one might need the aforementioned type of contraption, but I'm wondering if composting toilets here, and here (photo above) aren't the best solution, but where do you empty them?! Even if you own your own land, I can just see the lawsuits from neighbors complaining of sewage leakage, but then again, it's legal to put cow and horse manure on your garden, isn't it? Can neighbors sue for that (odor, leakage)? Does anybody reading this have any thoughts?

I'd love to know what Ty Pennington of Extreme Home Makover would say about this? "Hey Busdriver, move that house!" I digress, but that show's reason enough to justify having an idiot box. I threw mine out years ago, but recently decided there's valuable content to be had on the blasted thing, you just need to search for it. Don't miss this show!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

NYC Food Bank Supply Scare

This past Sunday I was moved by one of our church's soup kitchen volunteers. She's a bundle of energy and teaches Broadway and film stars how to tap-dance when their roles require it. A group of us were having a light lunch after church at a nearby restaurant when she bounced up to our table and apologized for being late. She had the last-minute idea to let those poor souls in line dress up their chili themselves. Her words spoke volumes, "Yeah, I decided that when you're cooking an industrial-style meal like that, if you let those in line add their own dollop of sour cream and shredded cheese, it adds a feeling of "home" to the meal. Takes a bit longer this way, but it places a warm and personal touch to the meal."

Last week's New York Times and NY Daily News both reported on our current dwindling supply of food for the needy, juxtaposed with an increase in those needing assistance. These poor often hold full-time jobs, while remaining homeless. That's right, they work hard just like you, but don't even get paid enough to afford a studio apartment in a bad neighborhood.

There is something you can do. You can phone
our local NY representatives and tell them you support the 2007 Farm bill. But act now, because the bill expires October 31, 2007.

One other thing you can do is print out these tri-fold "Street Sheets" and keep them with you. So often we don't know how to really help the needy when they ask us. Giving them a buck or two seems fleeting. If you can take the time to stop and have a brief conversation with them, get to know their name and address them that way, they may tell you more specifically what some of their needs are. These sheets are broken up into food services, shelter, legal and other. I am working with a new initiative called Partners In Grace, to distribute these sheets more widely across the city. We'll be producing a seminar in January on "Ten Things You Can Do To Help Those In Need When They Approach You."

I Mennonited It!

I like to joke about how I "Mennonited It" when I fix something that's broken, or repurpose something instead of throwing it out. For example, I remember when we were kids and the muffler on our car would blow. Often it was due to the muffler piping, not the muffler itself, so we'd take a Campbell's Soup can, splice it, then place two of these hose-clamps around it and voila, our muffler would be good for another year or more. So this weekend when I woke up to find my coat hanger doubled-over, broken at the joint, I went to my local hardware store, bought a couple of these clamps and some piping, and my coat rack is as good as new.

This magazine, Ready Made, is chock-full of all sorts of "re-use-it" type of projects. Here's one I plan to try myself. Take an old inkjet printer and turn it into a tool chest. Check it out!

Papal Address To Mennonite Delegation

Here is a copy of the address Benedict XVI made to the delegation members of the Mennonite World Conference whom he received in audience last week.

Dear Friends,

"Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Cor 1:2). I am happy to welcome you to Rome, where Peter and Paul bore witness to Christ by shedding their blood for the Gospel.

In the ecumenical spirit of recent times, we have begun to have contacts with each other after centuries of isolation. I am aware that leaders of the Mennonite World Conference accepted the invitation of my beloved predecessor, Pope John Paul II, to join him in Assisi both in 1986 and in 2002 to pray for world peace at a great gathering of leaders of Churches and Ecclesial Communities and other world religions. And I am pleased that officials of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity have responded to your invitations to attend your world assemblies in 1997 and 2003.

Since it is Christ himself who calls us to seek Christian unity, it is entirely right and fitting that Mennonites and Catholics have entered into dialogue in order to understand the reasons for the conflict that arose between us in the sixteenth century. To understand is to take the first step towards healing. I know that the report of that dialogue, published in 2003 and currently being studied in several countries, has placed special emphasis on healing of memories.

Mennonites are well known for their strong Christian witness to peace in the name of the Gospel, and here, despite centuries of division, the dialogue report "Called Together to be Peacemakers" has shown that we hold many convictions in common. We both emphasize that our work for peace is rooted in Jesus Christ "who is our peace, who has made us both one… making peace that he might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross (Eph 2:14-16)" (Report No. 174). We both understand that "reconciliation, nonviolence, and active peacemaking belong to the heart of the Gospel (cf. Mt 5:9; Rom 12:14-21; Eph 6:15)" (No. 179). Our continuing search for the unity of the Lord's disciples is of the utmost importance. Our witness will remain impaired as long as the world sees our divisions. Above all, what impels us to seek Christian unity is our Lord's prayer to the Father "that they may all be one… so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (Jn 17:21).

It is my hope that your visit will be another step towards mutual understanding and reconciliation. May the peace and joy of Christ be with all of you and with your loved ones.

The Simpsons Were Mennonite?

Who knew?! Learn more here:

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Stuff On My Cat

Gotta love this site! Pure fun! No animals were harmed in the making.

My nieces burst their buttons laughing at me trying not to awaken Ginger and Putty while having them "pose" for submittal to the site. They were recently chosen, and featured on the site. The title of this photo was "Cat-A-Tonic," pun intended!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Those Literary Lions

Photo Credit: Patty Nohara/New York City

Did you know that the two lions in front of the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue each have a name? That's right, one is named Patience, and the other is called Fortitude. They were named in the 1930's by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, for the qualities he said New Yorkers would need to survive the economic depression. Learn more here: http://www.nypl.org/pr/lions.cfm

Friday, October 19, 2007

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Your Own Personal Swami

OK, I can't make this stuff up, folks. Can you believe this?! For only 75-grand, you too can have your own fake swami. I kid you not! Neiman Marcus just released its annual holiday catalog, and for a whopping $75,000.00 you can purchase this dud. That's right, you can ask this talking-head (with a microchip installed) a question, and he'll spit out a 'personalized' answer.

Tell you what, I'll make you a better offer. If anyone reading this wants to pay me a mere $60K, I'll give you my cell phone number, promise to keep it on 24-7, and will answer any questions you have for 6 months. Now that's a bargain. I give great advice!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Cousin Gathering

I was in Lancaster, PA again this weekend, this time to attend a cousin luncheon. This particular gathering was to commemorate my aunt's most recent painting that was a commissioned piece to honor the memory of the little Amish girls who had been brutally murdered one year ago. Our family knows and works with many of the Amish who were parents of these children, and my aunt had prints made for each of them.

The title of this piece is, Come Unto Me.

Below is more of her artwork. She only took up painting a few years ago, so is still building her portfolio. My camera decided to malfunction during the gathering, so I have no cousin photos to share from this trip.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Blessing Of The Animals

Today I attended a special service at Saint John The Divine Cathedral here in Manhattan. This space has got to be one of the most sacred in New York City. Its architecture is the closest to anything in Europe I've seen here in the states. My friend who was part of the service gave me a behind the scenes look inside the catacombs, and even downstairs where they are storing some of the art while they restore from a fire they had a year or more ago.

Once each year, this cathedral offers a Blessing Of The Animals service to mark the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and birds. They often showcase a few rare animals (to NYC) like porcupines, camels and monkeys, while interspersing amazing liturgical dance. If you've never seen worshipful dance, it is really something to see.

The animals in the service were from nearby shelters and farm sanctuaries, and there were representatives with tables of literature outside, offering information about animal rescue and proper treatment. After the service, anyone can bring their own animals to be blessed. People bring snakes, dogs, cats, hamsters, you name it.

Those who know me well, would tell you that my goal is to see an owl in the wild, so technically these from Sunday don't count ;)

Eagle Owl

Screech Owl and Spectacled Owl Respectfully!

Barred Owl

Lanner Falcon

Arctic Gyrfalcon

These birds above were all part of the service and were from a rescue organization called The Raptor Project. I'm always a little cautious when I see birds on a leash, but I'm told these would have died if left in the wild. Here is the organization's mission statement:

Many of the birds in The Raptor Project have permanent handicaps and have been donated to this project by crowded wildlife centers around the country because they were unable to be re-introduced to the wild. Some faced euthanizing and now have been tamed and trained to educate the public as charming ambassadors of their species and the environments they inhabit.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Security Bulletin Problem Creates Message Flood

Small article in The New York Times today about a government e-mail snafu that made it to the SANS Internet Storm Center. By the way, I'm registered for the next SANS Security BootCamp in New Orleans, anyone coming with me?

DHS 'Spam' List
Published: 2007-10-03,
Last Updated: 2007-10-03 20:26:37 UTC
by Marcus Sachs (Version: 3)
The US Department of Homeland Security sends out a daily Open Source Intelligence Report to a subscription list of hundreds, perhaps thousands of recipients. This morning a reader replied to the list address with a request for a change and his note got re-sent to all of the list subscribers. In the next hour or so, dozens of readers have replied, creating a mini-DDoS of sorts to the subscriber's inboxes. This points out an important point - if you maintain a broadcast mailing list make sure that the address will not reflect email from sources other than the owner of the list. Otherwise, you will become a training example for SANS.

While this is not a Cyber Security Awareness tip, it comes mighty close.

(DHS has been notified.)

Update #1

As of 1920UTC, about six hours into this event, over 275 emails were sent. Nearly one-half were either pleas to stop sending more replies or people demanding to be unsubscribed (in spite of the fact that unsubscribe instructions are at the bottom of the DHS daily reports.) Many of the posts were humorous, some offered jobs, at least one was a "vote for me" political advertisement, and many more offered their names and contact information in case somebody was looking to connect with their sector or region. While 275 is not even close to the millions of emails that get sent on a typical commercial spam run, it is a large number for a "flash crowd" or whatever this may eventually be called. It also revealed a nice cross-section of who subscribes to DHS daily publications and consider themselves part of the defensive security community. Most definitely do not have the Jack Bauer (character from the series "24") mentality of total seriousness and no-joking attitude.

We did a bit of investigating and this does not look like a typical Mailman or MajorDomo listserve administered by DHS. Instead, it appears to be an email address on a Lotus Domino Release 7.0.2FP1 server hosted by a government contractor that reflects email to a list of thousands of subscribers. It's not clear why a single email got reflected today and not in the many previous months this service has been available. Quite likely an email administrator either clicked a box last night, rebuilt the system, migrated it to a new server, or did something that un-set a setting designed to prevent this type of event. Regardless, the situation is still not fixed. As this diary is being written another email just came through. Sigh....

Update #2

The pain continues...in the past few minutes the CSC server has started spewing "attachment blocking notifications" in response to the emails sent in that had MIME formatted content. So now we brace for another round of spew.

A reader sent us an interesting idea - all it takes now is some wise-acre (or a BadGuy™) to send a zero-day PDF or Word attachment to the nearly 300 names now available and nail a few dozen gullible security professionals.

Marcus H. Sachs
Director, SANS Internet Storm Center

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Oh What A Beautiful Mornin'!

What a banner morning! I headed out with Howie and Anita on a week-day morning for a little extra punch in my week. I felt like I was in the Amazon Forest. There were multi-colors flying everywhere. I'm told the "bird season" here will wane soon, so I want to get in as many views as possible. Here's our list:

1 Black-and-white Warbler
1 Brown Thrasher
1 Cape May Warbler
1 Carolina Wren
1 Dove
Multiple Downy's
1 Eastern Towhee
1 Flicker
2 House Sparrows
1 Northern Parula
1 Red-Bellied Woodpecker
1 Red Start
3 Robins
Multiple Rock Doves
2 Sapsuckers
Multiple Sparrows
Multiple Squirrels

Monday, October 1, 2007

Cupcakes Anyone?

My friend Beth Feldman has been a very successful Publicity, Marketing and Communications maven. She recently made the bold leap of starting her own company, all the while promoting a new book and raising a family. If anyone is a RoleMommy, it's Beth. My best to her! Reading about her recent successes, I came across a funny story she tells about being snubbed at a school bake sale for bringing Dunkin' Donuts. What a shame. I so dislike when people think they are better than you. As an added plus, her story was posted on a really cool site all about cupcakes, you gotta check it out!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Old Fashioned Hymn Sing Anyone?

A friend told me about a Shaped-Note harp sing that he attended recently in Brooklyn. It must have been amazing. I have to say that I was very sad when many of the Mennonite Churches changed their hymnals to what seems to now include very few of the old standards. I recently attended a Mennonite Hymn Sing
where their newer hymnal was used, and I was heartened by the requests that folks called-out, even those among the younger demographic-I made a mental note that all except one, were old standards! This lead me to wonder how many of us are even singing any of the other songs in this new, more modern, Mennonite Hymnal? I personally feel that the old hymns are what I connect with most in my Mennonite faith. I apologize if I seem to be complaining, I just grew up a very traditional Mennonite.

I still get teased by my NYC friends, because while so many of them grew up reading the classics, I was busy memorizing The King James version of the Bible, much of which can still recite. Many churches don't read from that version anymore, but I cannot help myself as I still reverse-translate whatever scripture is being quoted to me, back into the good ol' KJV!

I leave you with this beautiful sacred hymn that a kind soul sent to me with the hope I'd find some comfort as I mourn my cousin's passing:

121 Florence
Tune: Thomas W. Carter, 1844
Words: Philip Doddridge, 1755
Meter: Common Meter Double (8,6,8,6,8,6,8,6)

Not many years their rounds shall roll,
Each moment brings it nigh,
Ere all its glories stand revealed,
To our admiring eye.
Ye wheels of nature speed your course,
Ye mortal pow’rs, decay;
Fast as ye bring the night of death,
Ye bring eternal day.

Ye weary, heavy-laden souls,
Who are oppressed and sore,
Ye trav’lers through the wilderness
To Canaan’s peaceful shore.
Though chilling winds and beating rains,
The waters deep and cold,
And enemies surrounding you,
Take courage and be bold.

Though storms and hurricanes arise,
The desert all around,
And fiery serpents oft appear,
Through the enchanted ground.
Dark nights and clouds and gloomy fear —
And dragons often roar —
But while the gospel trump we hear,
We’ll press for Canaan’s shore.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Are You Ready?

I will be traveling to Lancaster, PA again this week, this time to pay my respects to the family of my dear cousin who passed away suddenly at a very young age.

How sad, and how sobering. We must be ready at any time. I can't help but recall a very powerful message we heard recently at church from a guest-speaker, Rev. Keith Fiveson. Reverend Fiveson is an InterFaith Minister, a term which is new to me, but as I understand it, means they embrace all religions. His voice can really project, and he is quite tall, so he made an impressive impact as he approached the lecturn and immediately began with a booming, "Are you ready? ARE YOU READY? Well, are you? Ready? I mean, really ready? Are YOU ready?"

Both his vocal flection and fluctuation were amazing. At first, I thought he lingered too long on this phrasing and I almost became annoyed, but after much thought, I believe I was not annoyed, but in fact, unnerved or uncomfortable, and I'm still learning that when I'm affected in this way, if I look deep inside myself, I will find this feeling is often prompted because there's something very important there for me to learn, and I can greatly benefit by investigating further. To this day, I can't quite shake Mr. Fiveson's haunting version of this question. How 'bout you?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Hurray! Beavers Are Back In NYC, Chewing Up Trees!

Photo Credit: Julie Larsen Maher/Wildlife Conservation Society

Newswise — The beaver, the state mammal of New York, and whose image adorns the official seal of New York City, has returned to the Big Apple after an absence that dates to colonial times, when the animal was hunted to local extinction. The evidence can be found on the Bronx River, where employees from the Bronx Zoo-based Wildlife Conservation Society have discovered a beaver, and its lodge along with numerous gnawed tree stumps, proving that a New York City original has come home. The beaver has been photographed and filmed.

Very cute video below! Beavers are notorious for being elusive, but this video captures an outline of the little critter inside his dam using thermal imaging. Well done!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

I Spent Two Days In Lancaster, PA

This past week, I spent two days in Lancaster, PA. I went there for several reasons. One, I wanted to help my friend Heidi Beth with eight computers that I had donated to her community service for children. Heidi Beth and her husband Will, were the Managers at Menno House when I lived there. Menno House is a brownstone in Manhattan owned by the Mennonite Church and used as living quarters to anyone affiliated with the Mennonite church doing missionary work, or attending college in New York City.

Most anyone who knows me, reaches-out to me when they have computers to recycle or upgrade. They know I will take the old ones off their hands and rebuild them, then place them in the hands of those who need them most. It is one small way in which I can use my skills to help those less fortunate. My friend Bill, an Engineer from M.I.T. had about 6 PC's and 3 MAC's to get rid of. His company was upgrading, and Heidi Beth had recently called me to ask if I knew of any equipment she could acquire as a donation to her community project. Shortly after leaving New York City, Heidi Beth and her husband Will bought a house in a very poor section of Lancaster. They quickly became a fixture in the community, and have revitalized their neighborhood with their kindness and compassion. Heidi Beth opens up her home to kids after school, as a means to keep them off the street. They know they can come to her for food, shelter, and help with their homework. She wanted to turn the front room of their home into a “cyber cafĂ©” experience, where kids could add a digital element to their learning experience. She is also very active in the martial arts community there, and has inducted several of the kids into her Capoiera classes. She told me accounts of seeing a complete turn-around in children’s demeanor, grades in school, and overall health since becoming involved in Capoiera. After working from noon to midnight, and up again at 5 a.m., I ended up with a small LAN both wireless and wired, and about 4 decent workstations.

I also wanted to visit with my cousin Julia who has been battling cancer for the past two years. My cousin Mel, who lives here in New York City and makes frequent humanitarian trips to Iraq to take medical supplies to children dying due to sanctions, also really wanted to visit Julia, but because of his career-choice, has very little money. I told him I would rent a car, and he could travel with me.

Another reason I wanted to visit Lancaster is that my cousin Stanley (who lives in Delaware) was going to be in Lancaster with his mother. Our mothers are related and hadn’t seen each other in quite some time, so I wanted to plan a dinner where we could all catch up.

One more reason to visit home was to see my Aunt Mary Louise who I had not seen in several years. We thought it was high time that we got together. We had a nice breakfast with my mother.

Lastly, and always a reason to get back home, is to visit my brother Harold and his family. Harold was in a horrific automobile accident several years ago, and unfortunately has never recovered mentally and physically. Since Harold’s accident, I have maintained an informational Web site on head injury, coma and traumatic brain injury, and I keep it going because I get occasional letters from families in similar situations, thanking me for its helpful information. September 18, 2007 will mark the eighth year since Harold’s accident in 1999.

I find it worth mentioning that as we were driving on familiar back-roads in Lancaster, en-route to dinner, I saw a bicyclist approaching and noticed he looked unusually decorated with a lot of colorful riding gear. It wasn’t until he passed, that I realized it was Floyd Landis! And by the way, NO, I don’t think he “did it.” I believe he was either “slipped a Mickey” or showing higher levels due to his medical condition. Mennonites are poor liars, as it goes against their grain. There’s no way he was secretly sipping any juiced-up Kool-AID.

Something else I came across on my travels was a sign that my mother and I saw on the side of a Dentist office in Lancaster next to a huge picture of a tooth: “We cater to cowards!” I saw that and I immediately had to phone my friend Jane who works at the NYU Dental School.

My trip wouldn’t have been complete if I did not pay a visit to my 86-year old cousin Martha whom I’ve referenced before on this blog. Martha was recently the subject of New York based artist, Jayne Holsinger, whose gallery opening happened last week. Cousin Martha came up to the city for it, and I spent the entire evening with her at the gallery. Both Martha and the paintings were very well received. The artist is a member of the Manhattan Mennonite Fellowship, and wanted to create art that portrayed her Anabaptist roots with dignity and integrity.

Finally, I always try to stop by to visit our Amish friends when I’m home. We have many Amish friends, and I don’t always have time to visit each of them every trip, but this time I stopped to briefly visit with the Amish family who bought my father’s homestead. This particular home has great meaning to our family, as it was where my father grew up, and I believe his parents as well. My Aunt Ruth likes to tell the story of “The day I was born was the day we got electricity.” Of course we laugh sometimes about how the Amish bought the farm and then ripped out all the electric.

A few years ago when my sister was home, she told me about how she drove by the ol’ homestead very slowly. It just so happened that the Amish owner was outside working, and asked if she needed some help. She explained that her father's family grew up there and it came up in that conversation that my sister had acquired a very old aerial photograph of the farm. He said he'd very much like to see it, so I figured I'd make a few copies and drop it by the next time I was in the area since I tend to take more trips there than my sister. Well, that sat on my “To-Do” list for some time, but after about a year, I got it done. I snail-mailed it to the Amish man, and the next time I was in town I drove by and he again was outside. He didn’t know me at first (because he’d only met my sister), but as soon as I told him I was a sister to the other gal he’d met and had mailed him the photos, his face lit up. He was very pleased to see me. He then asked me if I knew what year the photo had been taken, but I wasn’t sure. After I got back to NYC, I dug it out of storage again, and tried to make out what was written. It was hard to read, but appeared to be from 1919. This past week when I was in town, I stopped by to deliver this date to him, but he was not home so I left a note on the door.

People often ask me if I knew any of the Amish families affected by the tragic story earlier this year. I did, and in fact spent the latter part of that week sitting with them as they recounted their nightmare, supporting them in any way that I could. That schoolhouse was a few miles from where I grew up. When I asked my Amish friends if there was anything I could do to help, they said my visit was enough.

My bird list for the day is short. I was in the car for a few hours, then inside the rest of the day, but I had barely left the Holland Tunnel when out of the corner of my eye, I saw a pair of pantaloons wafting in the breeze. This was no whirligig folks! This was a big ol’ Red-Tailed Hawk, sitting atop a building, peering down at me! I saw many other hawks along the way, some perched on lampposts, while others chose the tops of telephone poles or trees. There were some Seagulls and Mourning Doves also on the wires to greet me.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

What A Day In The Park!

Well, when you're me, and the first bird of the day you see is a Red-Tailed Hawk, you know your day is going to be great! Circling overhead, right where I usually enter Central Park, there it was.

I arrived in the park around 8:40 a.m. and phoned my birding buddies to see where they were so that we could walk together. They told me that they were going to be arriving a bit later this morning, so I killed some time around the castle. I ended up relaxing on a big rock that doesn't get a lot of traffic. Next thing I knew, a little girl (who couldn't have been more than 3 years old) had slipped and fallen into the pond! I was closeby, heard her screaming and saw her flailing her arms in panic as her head was bobbing under. I immediately dropped everything and ran to her. I anchored myself on the rock and shouted for her to "Grab my hand! Grab my hand!" She was so frightened, she almost couldn't, and I thought I was going to have to jump in, but in seconds I was pulling her out, trying to calm her down by repeating over and over to her "It's OK, everything is going to be alright." I'm starting to tear-up just typing this. Her parents came running over shortly afterward, thanking me. Strangers had gathered and they too were thanking me. Some wanted to call the newspapers saying, "The Mayor will give you a medal" and I just told them, "I didn't do anything that anyone standing here wouldn't have done." I was also afraid that Children's Services might try to take the child away from the parents. They had two other girls and seemed like decent people who made one mistake. One of my friends said to me, "Yes, but that's one mistake you can never let happen!" of which I agreed, however, does this warrant the child to be taken away? I'd heard just this week of a similar instance. I am not a parent so I cannot say, but it seemed a bit of a grey area to me.

Onto birding. My friends soon arrived and we had a very special day. A Connecticut Warbler had stopped to eat more than its body-weight of worms while en-route to South America. This little bird was putting on an awesome show, and had drawn quite a crowd. I asked why it was so rare if it was named "Connecticut" and must live nearby, but I was told its name was a misnomer.

Move over Conan, a new celebrity just flew into Manhattan!

Next we saw this lovely Downy Woodpecker

This mushroom was an incredible color of yellow!

Turtles Having Fun

One of my friends who comes out to say "Good Morning" to me when I walk by each week.

Homeless? Did you know that a percentage of "Homeless" souls hold down full-time jobs but they just don't make enough to pay rent. I was shocked to learn this recently. They need shelter, just like you do. They need food, just like you do. And they work, just like you do. They need to clean-up and change clothes, just like you do.

1 American Redstart
4 Baltimore Orioles
2 Black-and-white Warblers
Multiple Blue Jays
1 Cedar Waxwing
1 Connecticut Warbler
1 Downy Woodpecker
Multiple Ducks
1 European Starling
1 Grackle
1 Mockingbird
1 Mourning Dove
1 Northern Cardinal
1 Ovenbird1 Red-Tailed Hawk
Multiple Rock Doves
Multiple Sparrows
Assorted Grey Squirrels
Assorted Turtles

Sunday, August 26, 2007

American Kestrel

Photo Credit: Larry Ridenhour/Bureau Of Land Management

This is one of the most beautiful birds one could ever see. It's technically a falcon, and I heard screeching overhead on my way home this evening, looked up, and there was an American Kestrel, flying right over Manhattan!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Where The Birds Are

Today was a banner bird day. I saw something moving in the underbrush, and as it turned out, it was a couple of Prairie Warblers, which I don't think are seen too often in Central Park. Along the way, we met a well-known and respected Ornithologist who pointed out a very rare sighting of a Yellow-Breasted Chat. I don't propose to be a bird expert, and the only reason I know some of these names is because I have listened carefully while birding in the park with folks who are well respected, but I am learning. I did learn today that when "birding" you want to wear camouflage-like colors (makes sense and I'd basically been doing that anyway because I'd thought of it on my own, but my birding-expert friends confirmed it). Here's our list from today:

4 American Redstarts
1 Baltimore Oriole
3 Black-and-white Warblers
1 Black-throated Blue Warbler
2 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers
Multiple Blue Jays
3 Cape May Warblers
1 Carolina Wren
1 Cedar Waxwing
1 Chestnut-sided Warbler
1 Downy Woodpecker
5 Mockingbirds
1 Mourning Dove
Multiple Northern Cardinals
1 Northern Flicker
2 Ovenbirds
2 Prairie Warblers
Multiple Rock Doves
Multiple Sparrows
1 Veery
1 Yellow-breasted Chat
Assorted Grey Squirrels
1 Rat
Assorted Turtles

Check out the mold growing on this fungi. Who knew this kind of thing could happen? Mold on fungus?!

A Turtle Pond regular pointed-out that she was pretty sure these were the goslings from a few weeks back. They've been busy eating!

Got turtles? Check.

I've seen this same guy for three weeks in a row!

The Blue Jay's colors are spectacular!

Here's my first-ever photo of a female cardinal. I also saw a Flicker today and a Cedar Waxwing, two totally awesome birds!

Ahhh, freshly cut grass. I learned from my father that if our yard looked like this after mowing, there were two things we had to do (a) take the blades off the mower and sharpen them and then (b) put them back on in a balanced fashion so they were level. Looks like The Great Lawn mowers of Central Park need a tune-up. Maybe it's toward the end of the season and they're getting ready to do that over the winter.

Imagine...if these doors were open.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Where The Books Are

I purchased three really interesting bird books today. This first one looks amazing, I basically read the entire thing in the store and just had to have it. I don't normally buy things that I don't absolutely need, but I treated myself today, and all of these were discounted heavily.

This second book looked appealing to me because I'd heard from a professional birder recently that there is a new thought (and research) behind why birds call, and that it's not always for any real purpose. I am not sure I can accept that, as I would think that birds only really "talk" when there is a real reason, but I'm going to read this book and see what I can learn.

This last book had one of the funniest cartoons I've seen in a long time. Inside the book, there is an illustration by Robert A. Braunfield of a woodpecker entering items into a journal, recording what humans he saw that day and what they were wearing along with the color of their hair and eyes, just like we do with birds.