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Photo Challenge: Patterns

This week’s WordPress Photo Challenge is  Patterns.

Patterns are found in nature. And in turn, we foolish humans try to mimic the majesty of nature’s patterns in the man-made world. . I photographed two examples of patterns I found this year in Rochester, N.Y.

While one is a pattern only nature could create (well, maybe man helped it along with a bit of hybridization), one is a pattern created by man, or a woman, in hopes of preserving nature.

The first is a lilac. But these are not your ordinary lilacs.

This week is Rochester’s Lilac festival, an event that draws thousands to the area for music, great food, and of course, to inhale the fragrance from the city that can boast the nation’s largest collection of lilac bushes in Highland Park.

Photo Challenge: Patterns

While white lilacs are the most fragrant, photogenically, my mom and I like this striped variety the best. I give full credit to her photographic wizardry here. I also learned from the blog, eattheweeds,  that lilacs are from the edible olive family.  In addition to their intoxicating fragrance, lilac blossoms and seeds can be used in cooking and wine making.

The next photo is a pattern that struck my eye at Rochester’s Greentopia Festival, held every September. As much as I searched and searched on the Internet, I could not find a link to this artist/vendor, so if you know who makes these, leave me a comment and I will certainly give the artist a little link love:

Wallets made out of recycled and laminated magazine and newspaper print. A perfect accessory for the sustainability-minded mom!

Wallets made out of recycled and laminated magazine and newspaper print. A perfect accessory for the sustainability-minded mom!


Photo Challenge: Big

transporting a wind turbine blade. These things are big. Let’s hope we see more of these on the road as a sign of the growth of wind as an alternative energy.

Now, full disclosure here, this is not my photo.


I DID take a photo like this on a summer road trip but, thinking I would never use it, erased it from my camera, to be gone forever. The WordPress weekly photo challenge this week makes me realize, you never know when you are going to need a shot, so hang onto everything!

When you take trips on long stretches of roads like we do, every now again at a rest/truck stop, you come across a tractor trailer carrying something enormous.  Curiosity piqued, we HAD to drive closer in the dusty truck stop parking lot to check it out.

Conclusion: Wind Turbines are BIG. Let’s hope that our use of wind energy in this country only gets … bigger.

A Woman with Roots Firmly Planted in the Good Food Movement

Sue Gardner Smith, manager of the Brighton and South Wedge farmers markets, stands with a old abandoned barn along Westfall Road in Brighton. The barn is part of a site proposed as the Brighton Farm and Farmers Market expansion and renovation project.

Sue Gardner Smith, manager of the Brighton and South Wedge farmers markets, stands with a old abandoned barn along Westfall Road in Brighton. The barn is part of a site proposed as the Brighton Farm and Farmers Market expansion and renovation project. / SHAWN DOWD//staff photographer

Perhaps it is no coincidence that a woman with a surname derived from an old French word meaning “gardener” would become a grass-roots champion of the sustainable and organic food movement in Brighton.

With humble determination, Sue Gardner Smith turned her activism into a career in managing farmers markets — first in the South Wedge neighborhood of the city and now in Brighton.

Gardner Smith was the oldest of seven children growing up on a 70-acre farm in Wayne County that had been in her family for a century. She remembers walking through its cherry orchards with her father and tending to the family garden with her mother and siblings.

Being the oldest in a large family, Gardner Smith developed the nurturing traits of a “mother hen” by cooking meals and caring for her younger siblings. In her early culinary experimentation, some dishes were tastier than others. Even into adulthood, she still gets teased by her siblings at her first attempts in the kitchen.

“When I was nine, I came up with a dish called chipped beef on toast. It was wretched. … I have to say that my cooking and tastes have improved vastly since then,” said Gardner Smith, who now prefers making dishes like ricotta cheese and onions stuffed into Swiss chard leaves she grows at her 10-foot by 10-foot plot in the Brighton community garden, a project also under her charge.

In her experiences of living in cities abroad and in the United States, nothing unites people more than food. She has shopped for fresh produce in the open-air markets and dined in the cafes in the plazas of Brussels. In London, there was the tavern and pub culture, “neutral” places where local neighbors could gather for a meal and a drink at the end of the day.

During her 15 years living in the San Francisco Bay area, she visited restaurants like Chez Panisse and markets such as the Berkeley Bowl, where the air buzzed with a sense of what she called “food energy.”

“It’s not just about eating. It’s how people gather at markets to socialize and catch up with neighbors as they shop. It’s the sounds of local musicians playing among the produce stands. I have long felt that Brighton should have this kind of gathering place, and I’m glad to watch its success,” she said.

Since 2008, the market held each Sunday in the Brighton High School parking lot from May through October is a testament of Brighton’s desire for high-quality and locally grown food. One thing Gardner Smith admits is that from a short-term perspective, eating organic and local is a bit costlier. Also, a recent Stanford University study recently concluded that organic food is no more nutritional than conventionally grown food.

However, she believes these factors will not curb the organic, locavore trend. This is because people are starting to put values on reducing their carbon footprint and the use of harmful pesticides, and developing a direct and trusting relationship between the grower and the producer at local markets.

“The study missed the point and had too narrow a focus. When you buy local and organic, you develop a sense of trust with the farmer, and you are also helping to support the local economy,” she said.

In addition to buying locally produced food, Brighton residents also expressed a desire to get their own hands dirty in avegetable garden of their own. In 2009, the creation of a community garden in Brighton seemed like the next step.

“It seemed like an obvious sister project to the market,” said Gardner Smith, who with a committee helped build a fence and a gate system around 100 10-foot by 10-foot plots on Westfall Road by the historic Groos house. Outside of a few stubborn groundhogs that managed to breach the fence, Brighton residents have enjoyed the bounty of their harvests.

Now that the shorter days and cooler nights of autumn are here, it is time for Gardner Smith and the other Brighton gardeners to put their plots to rest for the winter. But that doesn’t mean that plans for coming years will be put into hibernation.

Her ambitions for future years include using funds from a $250,000 state grant awarded to the town to preserve a farmhouse, a barn and some of the farmland on Westfall Road. The proposed project aims to create a permanent location for the farmers market and an expansion to the community garden with educational opportunities for schoolchildren to learn more about agriculture.

“Not only is my job rewarding, it’s also a lot of fun. I’ve met so many wonderful people in Brighton who are committed to this meaningful work that really has made a difference.”

Indeed, Sue Gardner Smith’s name suits her well.

It’s Time to get all Israeli on our Water

.Tal-Ya Water Technologies (Tal means dew in Hebrew) developed reusable plastic trays to collect dew from the air, reducing the water needed by crops or trees by up to 50 percent. (photo from

While gardeners and farmers feel the drought first, it won’t be long until we all feel it. No one, not even your neighbors who keep watering their lawns despite the news that more than 50 percent of the country is facing a drought not seen since the 1950’s is immune.

This summer has been brutal on our water supply. Newspapers and media reports are full of the plight of the farmer as they watch crops wither because most are at the mercy of rainfall for water.

But perhaps this drought is waking us up to appreciate the most precious resource we all take for granted. And it may be time to rethink and apply some extreme agricultural practices as the earth heats up.

In times like these, we can take a lesson from Israel.

Israel is one of the driest countries on the planet. On average, it receives only 19.4 inches of rain annually. Yet, thanks to cutting edge technology, and even more, the stubborn willingness of a people who know that in order to practically live in Israel, you have to believe in miracles, Israel blooms.

A lustrous display of pomegranates in an Israeli market.

This tiny country has learned to efficiently use every drop of water that falls from the sky in the summer or coats the mountains in the north in winter to grow some of the most beautiful produce in the world. Check out this photo of huge greenhouses growing vegetables like eggplants, tomatoes and peppers in the Negev Desert. Check out this photo courtesy of Daniel Lawrence’s blog:

Hundreds of greenhouses line the Negev Desert and grow crops year around. The greenhouses are completely computerized so as not to create any error in the cultivation the plants. Peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes are the main crops grown here.

Israel not only makes the desert bloom, but it has developed technology and methods that the rest of the world can use to reverse and prevent desertification, as noted in this post from is an online magazine that offers topical and timely reports on how Israelis from all walks of life and religion, innovate, improve and add value to the world.

So here are a few tips we can learn from Israel to conserve our water resources not only during times of drought, but for the long haul:

  1. Stop Watering Your Lawn. Right Now. – You! Yes, you, the suburbanite! Fuggetabout your lawn. (okay, fuggetabout it is technically a Brooklyn/New Jersey and not an Israeli term, but let’s get back on topic) Israelis don’t have silly things like lawns. Lawns are nothing but vanity.  I’ll say it again: STOP WATERING YOUR LAWN NOW. Your brown lawn has gone into dormancy and watering your lawn artificially just puts more of a strain on its root system. It will come back soft and green when the rains return.
  2. Use drip irrigation – Did you know that agriculturalists in Israel invented drip irrigation technology? Instead of wastefully watering your garden through a sprinkler, where most water evaporates into the air, use drip irrigation to deliver the water right to where the plants need it – the roots.
  3. Save that H2O from your A/C – As shown in the photo above, Israel has developed technologies that draw humidity out of the air for irrigating crops. On a smaller scale, you can do the same by catching water runoff from your central air conditioner (my hose empties into the slop sink) to water plants and vegetables
  4. Less Wasting Water at Restaurants –  When you sit down at a restaurant in Israel, don’t assume that the waitress will automatically fill your glass with endless glasses of water. No way are they just giving water away if it’s not asked for.  You have to ask for the water, sometimes twice – in two different languages, until the waitress gives you a glass of water. So, next time you dine out, if you are not going to drink the water, tell your server not to pour, or refill your glass.
  5. Selective Flushing – Here is a picture of just one type of toilet flush in Israel:                                                                                                                                  The flush mechanism is divided into a big section and a small section.  If you are reading my blog, you are indeed a very intelligent person, so I’ll let you figure out what purpose each section serves.
  6. Shower Shorter, or Shower with a Friend – a drought is a great excuse to share your shower.
  7. Rejoice in the rain: Finally, instead of getting all bummed out when your ball game or picnic gets rained just be thankful. Think of the farmers who need the rain for their crops and livestock (a.k.a. your food, right down to that box of Cheerios and glass of milk at the breakfast table). Any event, even a wedding, can have a postponement, a change of venue or a rain date. But there is no substitute for the blessing of rain.

I pop eese I po peeeze – It’s time to make Watermelon Ice Pops

First, I have to tell you that my inspiration to write this blog stems from three sources:

222 Million Tons – This is the amount of food we waste each year. This food blog wants to put a change to that by offering delicious recipes and ways to take action on how to waste less food;

Your Kind of Salad: Another food blog where I found this beautiful recipe for watermelon pops;

and, my daughter.

If you were  confused at the headline of this blog posting, you are not alone.

When my daughter was about 16 months old and was being watched by her aunt on a hot July afternoon, it was this occassion that my daughter put together one of her first sentences beyond “I love you.”

It was: “I popeese”

Translation: Ice Pop Please.

It was on this hot day that my daughter wanted what most of us want on a hot day, something very cold.

An ice pop.

So, she repeated this sentence over and over to her aunt and her aunt’s boyfriend who could not figure out what she was trying to say.

Now, any other infant would have had a meltdown tantrum at this point. Not my daughter. She simply walked over to the refrigerator, and, with her tiny hand raised above as if she was holding the torch like Lady Liberty, she patiently, and a bit more slowly, repeated

I -Pop – Peeze!

She finally got what she wanted:

Flash forward 15 years:

The other day I came home with one of those cute, personal sized seedless watermelons

I will not make that mistake again.

While it was cute as a button on the outside, inside, it was a mealy, mushy disappointment.

But it was $3. I couldn’t just toss it away. What a waste of food and money.

So, following the recipe I found on Your Kind of  Salad:

I scooped out the watermelon flesh:

Pureed it in a blender

Passed the pulp through a strainer.

Then to this I added one cup of corn syrup (I know this sounds like a lot of a bad thing but the corn syrup adds a nice smooth finish to the pops) and the juice of one lime:

And poured it into the molds:

Then the hard part. You have to wait about six anguishing hours for the pops  to freeze.

At last, they are frozen.

So, when the world hands you mushy watermelon, don’t throw it out, make ice pops!

Ick. My Kid had a Tick. Here’s what to watch out for this Spring

Any time I get a call from the school nurse,I know it’s not good. I’ve gotten calls about broken arms and feet. Pink Eye and broken eyeglasses. But perhaps the scariest call was one I got just last week.

The school nurse at the school where my youngest child attends called with the news that a tick had been removed from his neck.

As my head reeled from the news,  the nurse said that the good news was that it was not embedded, they got the whole thing out, and the tick in question was waiting for me to take to the pediatrician’s office.

Well, thank goodness for small favors.

I answered the nurse’s questions.

No, we don’t have a pet.

No, we have not been wading through any fields with high grasses. So, where on earth could my son have picked up a tick??

When I arrived at school shortly after the dismissal buses left, the circle of teachers hanging about outside the nurse’s office chattering about things like “Lyme Disease” and “they’re running rampant this year” were not comforting words to encounter at all.

“Emm, hello? I’m the mom with the kid with the tick,” I said, trying to drop the hint that the teachers should watch what they have to say lest an extremely freaked out neurotic parent happened to be in the hallway.

Once in the nurse’s office, I found my son happy and not freaked out at all but seemingly fascinated at the tiny parasite that had tried to suck his blood. The tick was safely contained within a prescription medicine bottle. The child was actually concerned for the tick’s well-being. Was he lonely or hungry in there? Would he run out of oxygen? Apparently, my son was under the impression he  had acquired a new pet.

According to an article in yesterday’s Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, tick season will come on earlier this year and be more severe than in recent years because of the warmer weather. And, as the earth heats up, more severe than normal tick seasons will unfortunately become the norm.

Tips to avoid ticks include:

  • Wear long pants and long sleeved shirts when walking in wooded and grassy areas. (The only thing is, my child got a tick simply by being out on the school playground).
  • Use an insect repellent with DEET
  • Those with long hair should tie it back when hiking or gardening.
  • After spending time outdoors, thoroughly check yourself, your children and your pets for ticks.
  • Stay on trails when you hike. If you leave the path, wear long pants tucked into your socks.
  • If you find ticks, remove them immediately. Pinch the tick near its mouth and pull it out slowly in a continuous motion. Don’t twist the tick because doing so may leave mouth partsembedded in the skin

The good news for my son and for those of us living up north:

My son’s tick friend was a common Dog Tick or Wood Tick. These ticks do not carry Lyme’s Disease.

Deer Ticks, the Lyme’s Disease carrying variety, are less common in Northern areas like Western New York and there are very few cases of Lyme’s Disease.

So, enjoy the outdoors this spring and summer, but if someone (like my son’s classmate) says there is a small bug on you, don’t take it for granted. Let’s be safe out there!

Lilac in the April Snow

How can this be? Last week, exactly last week, it was nearly 90 degrees. I went for a walk with a friend and we couldn’t seem to drink enough water. Stopped on my way home for an iced coffee, worrying how my kids would make it through their track practice. This is how: I had about five kids making a water break stop at my house along their running route.

Last week, I picked a bouquet from my garden that looked like this:

And today, we pulled out the parkas and boots one more time. I had to go digging under the car seats for the snow brush that I hardly used this virtually snow-free winter.

How can this happen? I’ll tell you. I live in Rochester.

Rochester, where lilacs rule supreme in late April and May. Rochester has the country’s largest lilac collection and we celebrate this each year with our annual lilac festival.

This year, in spite of their very early bloom and the damage to 10 percent of Highland Park’s lilac bushes, some of them 120 years old, the Rochester  Lilac Festival is set for May 11-20. It is one of Rochester’s most popular events, attracting thousands of visitors.

But this morning, my lilac bush looked like this:

Those lilac branches yesterday were reaching up to my second story window. I can’t imagine what the rest of spring and then summer has in store this year, can you?

Fire on Staten Island

The view out the window from my childhood bedroom in Staten Island is still the same.  to a few more townhouses with tiny yards and tiny round pools, and then a golden field of wetland marshes with a strip of blue of the Atlantic Ocean in near distance. The field surrounded our neighborhood on three sides. On very clear days you could see the New Jersey Shore out my window.

Most kids in New York City don’t get a view like this, or hear the sounds of mockingbirds or red-winged blackbirds in the early spring, and then the chirping of crickets and the peeping of frogs at night in the summertime. But Staten Island kids like me, who grew up at the edge of a field, have their senses filled up with country-like sounds and sights and smells while at the same time living at the dooorstep to the busiest, noisiest city in the world.

This week, on a visit back to Staten Island, I was also reminded of one of the dangers of living so close to a field: brush fires. I remember the orange and the heat and the black smoke of these fires as they wrapped around our neighborhood: my parents and neighbors hosing down their siding when the flames got really close, the black ashes that fell from the sky.

This time, the fire was not near my house but came from inside the notorious site of the former Fresh Kills Landfill. Apparently, the brush that was collected as a result from last summer’s Hurricane Irene ignited because it has been so hot and dry.

This white, acrid-smelling fog filled the island and there was no escape from it. You could even smell it inside the Staten Island Mall.

Luckily, no one was hurt and no houses were damaged. But it gave SI a grim reminder of what smog and smoke they could be facing if the city went ahead with plans to open a waste-to-energy plant around this very spot. 

Mama’s Got a Brand New Bag, and I don’t care if you don’t like it

Do you remember a repeated exchange between two dogs in the Dr. Seuss book, “Go Dog Go”?

Perhaps this picture will jar your memory:

The dog wearing the very frilly hat is not insulted by the other dog’s dislike of his hat. He keeps his hat on and is not disuaded by the rejection of his silly head covering.

They agree to disagree and have a pleasant parting  exchange.



The other day, on a rare shopping outing,  in addition to buying a pair (okay, two) of much-needed black flats, I came upon the store’s purse collection.

I know that for many women, the purse is the must-have power accessory. Women may spend hundreds of dollars on a handbag and change their look at least once a season.

Me? I cashed in a gift certificate I received on my birthday a few years ago for an over the shoulder cloth handbag. Except for the occasional wedding or evening occasion, I have not changed purses in nearly three years.

I looked at the new handbag displays at this shoe retailer and then the worn straps and the bottom of my bag, which was beginning to tear. Yes, it was time for a new bag.

I chose a handbag from Sakroots.

Here it is:

I was drawn to its orange and red flowered pattern. It reminded me of wallpaper from the 1950’s. It has all the whimsy and just enough kitch for a springtime handbag.

My new bag is a bag with purpose.  Sakroots gives a portion of each purchased product to The Nature Conservancy’s Plant a Billion Trees program. The program is working to reforest the Atlantic Forest of Brazil.

But when I got my bag home, was it greeted warmly by my family?


“Eew! That’s a horrible bag,” exclaimed my daughter. “Why did you buy  that  bag?” said my daughter.

“It looks like an old granny bag. It’s so old stylish,” said my husband. This is coming from a man who still wears sweater vests to work.

On first instinct, I scrambled for my car keys and dug up the receipt, looking to return my purchase as soon as possible.

But wait. No! I liked – no – like – no  – LOVE – my quirky new handbag. Like the canine in the Dr. Seuss book, I will take the critique of those around me, but then I will move on.

So, do you like my new orange-with-red-flowered bag? I hope you do. But if not, that’s okay too. Because I do.

“Good -bye.”


Everything’s Coming Up .. too soon

The warmth in March, and everything that goes with it is coming at us all too soon. The last few days of March have behaved normally, reminding Rochesterians what a Rochester March should really feel like. Sunny but raw. Windy and cold. But last week’s weather was the talk of the town here in Ra-cha-cha. […]

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