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Photo Challenge: Home

Hmmm. Home. The WordPress photo challenge: Home could not have come at a better time in my life, a more doubtful time in my life.

After all, I started this blog, transplantednorth, feeling like a transplant who was uprooted from my hometown. It’s only now, as my family prepares to move again, am I understanding that I have been home for quite sometime in Rochester.

What is home?

Is it where you grew up?

Is it where your kids grew up?

Is it wherever you happen to lay your head down at night?

this is a good home. The new owners will be very lucky.

this is a good home. The new owners will be very lucky.

This is a photo of our current home, in all its Rochester snow-covered glory.

But it won’t be our home for much longer.

I don’t know what my new home will look like.

I don’t yet know nor can I visualize the surrounding neighborhood or town of the home of our very near future.

So folks, I guess you can say my blog will become a bit more bleak from here on in as we start to say goodbye to all my kids know as home.

I am hoping to pick up again, to be more cheerful and a return to my more optimistic self once in Detroit

I

find

a

new

home.

Grow, Tomato, Grow!

Long ago, in another state, the Garden State, my neighbor Joe, a retired chain-smoking fireman, chided me as I put a tall tomato cage around the tiniest tomato seeding in my garden.

“Yeah right, like that’s gonna grow,” he said with smile as he pulled the waistline of his polyester pants over a plaid short-sleeved shirt.

Two months later, I teased him right back.

We were up to our ears in cherry tomatoes. Picked ’em by the basket. And beefsteak tomatoes too. I had so many cherry tomatoes I had to give them away, and my city-dwelling co-workers in Manhattan gladly took some of the perfectly ripened produce  off my hands. And of course, I gave some to Joe and his wife Pat because I was a good sport.

This year, I could have purchased some tomato plants that already had flowers or, heaven forbid, green fruit, and stuck them into the ground in my spot in the community garden for instant gratification.

But it’s far more satisfying for me to know that from seed to ripened fruit, I grew a tomato all by myself. When you grow from seed, you can control the variety and are not at the mercy of whatever is sold at the local greenhouse or big box hardware store. It’s also a lot cheaper.

So, once again, I plant a tiny tomato seedling in the ground:

RUTGERS tomato, started from seed in my basement. It’s got a long way to go before I get a tomato.

And, by putting that big metal cage around this tiny seedling, I am saying “I have faith that you will grow and by summer’s end, provide a bumper crop.” And that’s what you call a real homegrown tomato.

Behold, I am the drain whisperer

Nothing, NOTHING gets me more bent out of shape than a clogged drain in the shower or sink.  I obsess over it. I can do nothing else until I can witness that ultimate sound of water flowing effortlessly through a clear drain, the appearance of the tornado-like whirlpool signaling that the block has been unblocked.

And when you live in a house that is nearly 90 years old as I do, I can look forward to this cycle of first frustration and then elation every three months.

At first, we try to ignore it. For some reason, we don’t learn from one clogged cycle to the next.  We don’t use those plastic guards to keep the long hair of mine and my daughter’s from going down the drain.  Nor do we consider shorter hairstyles to prevent the buildup of (ewwwww) hair.

Yes, this is gross. But perhaps a topic that most can relate to have the stomach to read on.

So, as we stand in the tepid water that accumulates around our toes, we think, “maybe this will work itself out….”

But then, one fateful morning, my husband leaves for work, not telling me that the shower is clogged, seemingly for good. And my kids don’t bother to tell me their sink is clogged until it is overflowing between the original basket-weaved floor tiles, through the floor boards, and into my repeatedly plastered dining room ceiling. In desperation, I hoist the new dining room table from harm’s way of the water trickling down the dining room chandelier.

Then, it is time for my mission, my quest to unclog the clog.

First, I try the method that will do the least harm to the environment and my pipes: A cup of baking soda followed with a cup of white vinegar. The mixture momentarily fizzes in the sink or shower…. and then… nothing. Clog still there. No motion in the murky waters.

I go downstairs. Have breakfast. A cup of coffee. All the while killing time to see if there is any progress, any movement.

After about an hour, I get out the plunger.  No luck. Another cup each of vinegar and baking soda. Another wait. Another plunge. Still no luck.

Frustration. Black goopy muck seeping from my drain. I’m about to give up. I’m about to call my husband and cry and ask him to pick up some deadly chemical substance.

But then, suddenly, the waters subside. I achieve swirl. The clog is unplugged. I have conquered the clog, once again.

My drain is clear. My work is done. I am hit with a wave of triumph.

Screw college. I should have been a plumber… I would have been making a lot more money by now.

“Come in,” I said “I’ll Give You Shelter From the Storm.”… if you clean my basement

I love having summer guests. This summer, I convinced my brother and sister-in-law  to come up for a long overdue visit the last weekend of August. Even though my husband and oldest son would be away on a father-son baseball road trip to Cooperstown and a double-header at Citifield, I welcomed their visit. Niagara Falls, a water walk in Stony Brook State Park and the Erie Canal were in my plans. Hurricane Irene, a flu-like virus, and cleaning my basement were not in my plans. But all of the above happened in one packed weekend.

I am apparently a negligent housekeeper.  It’s not that I didn’t clean before my family arrived. I scrubbed bathrooms and even dusted and vacuumed stairways and rugs. But, my undiagnosed ADD shows through in my cleaning. I miss a lot of spots. And I’d rather be gardening, reading, or writing than cleaning.

To my defense, my two children had just returned, laundry and all, from summer camp. We still had mountains of dirty socks and sleeping bags to conquer when the Cooper clan showed at my door on Thursday. And I still prepared a birthday party dinner for my nephew, planned a picnic for the next day at Stonybrook, and played tour guide again on Saturday at Niagara Falls.

Then, somewhere between the Maid of the Mist and the Journey behind the Falls on Saturday, I got sick. Once home, I surrendered myself to my bed and the mercy of the Cooper Cleaners.

Now, I know my brother and sister-in-law weren’t criticizing me at the sorry state of my basement. Glenn was truly concerned about the high humidity rate in my basement and my out-of-comission dehumidifier.  He was concerned because he noticed mold growing on some of my basement walls, and, well, my office chair, and the soggy condition of some of the contents of my downstairs pantry. And there is a cause for concern, as my youngest has asthma.

“When was the last time this thing worked?” he asked, as I lay in bed, about my basement dehumidifier.

I confessed: I cleaned it out earlier this summer. I vacuumed out the lint vent and the metal coils in back. But I hadn’t noticed if the dehumidifier was working in many months.

“How old did you say this thing was?”

“I honestly don’t know, bro.”

So, I pulled myself out of bed and off we went to the Home Depot to get me a new one. While we were there, my brother was also on the hunt for a backup sump pump. Hurricane Irene was battering the east coast. We were watching coverage of the storm’s progress all day, and he was concerned his New Jersey basement would become flooded. We got a dehumidifier, but no luck on what he needed. He checked Lowe’s too, and they were out of the sump pump as well. Apparently, people had traveled as far as Albany and Connecticut to get ones for their flooded homes.

Sunday rolled around. My family decided to wait out the storm at my place and not traverse the roads until Monday. That was fortunate for me,  because I became even more sick.

I spent the whole day in bed. When I rose, I went downstairs to find my dining room table  was filled with clean, folded laundry. I went further downstairs to my basement, to find the remains of the dirty laundry sorted in baskets. And my  basement floor had been swept clean.

AND: My brother installed my new dehumidifier and got the humidity level down to 65 percent.

I felt embarrassed and guilty that this was supposed to be my sibling’s getaway and they were instead holding down my household while worrying about theirs. I was eternally grateful.

And what was the payback? The Coopers returned to New Jersey, after being rerouted several times from the New York State Thruway and Route 17 to find they had no power.

Why?

Not because of Irene. Because a crazy old man who lived across the street, jealous that their side of the street had power and his had none, blew out a power transformer on the block with a shot-gun.

He got arrested, according to the news report. You can’t make this stuff up. It’s true.

Thanks for taking care of me, little brother and sister. A thank you gift is coming in the mail.

Bye-bye Tar Beach, Hello Green Roof

Growing up in Brooklyn, if you couldn’t make it to the real beach on a hot summer day, all you had to do was go up to Tar Beach. Did you go to Tar Beach?

“It was really hot up there,” my mom told me on a recent visit, as she told me about how she and her friends would spend hours up on the roof using sun-reflectors even to maximize their tans. Ahh, the good old days!

Tar roofs, though hot and contributors to global warming, made great song material, though, you must admit.

The Drifters sang about the sun burning the tar up on the roof in “Under the Boardwalk” and how to forget all your cares “Up on the Roof.” Elton John sat up on his roof and kicked off some moss in “Your Song.”

Perhaps Elton should have cooled his boots for a moment and left the moss alone. Growing plants on roofs — from vegetable gardening to sophisticated sod membranes that soak up urban water runoff and cool the air — are becoming a required building material in cities like Toronto and Chicago. 

I know that tar roofs are not exclusive to Brooklyn, no matter how Brooklyn-centric my point of reference may be. In fact, cities  like Chicago, where new laws are in place requiring new buildings to have green roofing materials, the temperature on a tar roof can be 78 degrees hotter than that on a green roof.

Walk across any asphalt parking lot on a summer day and then walk across a green lawn. You don’t have to be a scientist writing a big fat feasibility study to understand how black top paved surfaces and roofs heat the earth and green areas have the potential to cool it.

In Rochester, NY, The Harley School is employing this technology as one long-term science project and can boast that they are the area’s first school to have a green roof. This sustainable technology will not only act as a natural insulator, keeping the school warmer in winter and cooler in summer, but it will teach its high school students about how buildings affect the environment.

The tar roofs of the past, according to environmentalists, are the bane of city living because they create urban heat islands and contribute vastly to water runoff.  Rather than being just a green trend, cities such as Chicago and Toronto require roofs of new buildings to include cooling, greenhouse-gas absorbing plants.

The Harley School on Oct. 18 installed two 10 x 10 ft. plots of hearty winter grass on the roof of their building on 1981 Clover St. The school spent $2,000 for materials and also received an in-kind installation and materials donation from Zaretsky & Associates landscapers in Western New York.  In order to grow a section of green roofing, school engineers had to assess if the school’s roof could withstand the additional weight of a weatherproof membrane barrier, two inches of topsoil, the weight of the growing plants, and the water they will retain.  The grassy roof serves as a natural insulator and will keep the building cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.  School officials expect to reap the benefits of these initial costs within 3-10 years.  

Peter Hentschke, a science teacher who will be working with Harley’s upper classmen on researching the impact of the green roof, said the project provides students with hands-on learning. The students will develop mathematical methods and equations to determine how much energy their school saves by comparing temperatures of the school’s different roofing materials. They will also calculate how water runoff is affected by the green roof.

 “Rooftop plants catch rainwater and runoff that would have ultimately run into the sewer and overburden water treatment centers. The students are tracking current rainwater runoff with water gauges and will track this throughout the school year,” he said.  

Chris Hartman, Harley’s social and environmental sustainability coordinator said the students are “all fired up” about learning about the green roof because it has real-world implications.  

“The Harley students are really in the driver’s seat of this project. They know that it is cool to have a green roof, but the challenge will be to come up with the methodology to show how green roofs have an impact in the world around them,” said Hartman. He added that students hope to share the data from the green roof with their classmates, and perhaps local colleges such as the University of Rochester and Rochester Institute of Technology.

If we all started growing green things on our roofs, perhaps by the time these kids graduate college, our cities would from above look less like Tar Beach and more like the ancient hanging gardens of Babylonia. I wonder what songs they will inspire by then.

Bats in the Belfry: The educational conclusion

After you are told by the Batman in the middle of the night that you may have a bat colony in your attic, sleep does not come easy. 

In my last blog post, I wrote about the night we were visited by a bat. There was a bat in our house. We saw it one minute and it flitted to an unknown location the next.  

If you live up in the cold North like I do, and have not had the sufficient funds to replace every charming leaky window in your 77-year-old home, then you are familiar with the practice of wrapping your windows in shrink plastic for insulation.  On The Night of the Bat, the wind outside howled, causing the plastic wrap on our bedroom wrinkle and crinkle.   Of course, I mistook every wrinkle and crinkle for the wings of a bat and shot straight up in bed every 10 minutes throughout the night. I’d never wanted morning to come so badly.  

Have you ever had a bat loose in your house in the middle of the night? I later learned that we were not alone in this experience.  Bats seem to be a common occurance in older, charming homes. Bats are the one uncharming feature that the realtor leaves off the charming English Tudor house listing.

We shared this story the next day with many of our friends. One couple we know,  who are avid campers, said when a bat swooshed over their heads in bed one night, they didn’t hesitate to pitch a tent over their bed to get a good night’s sleep.

I’ll have to remember that for the next time.

Morning finally came. I probably slept for two hours at best and my nerves were fried when my husband woke me to tell me about his discovery.

“You have to see this, I found the bat!”

He led me to our living room and I think I hid my head in his shoulder all the way down the stairs. Behind the honeycomb shades, up by the ceiling, there was a small shadow. Suddenly, this terrifying creature of the night seemed harmless. Even vulnerable. I quickly put on my boots and ran outside to get a better look.

Between the living room window and the shade, our winged intruder hung upside down and was fast asleep. I have to admit, swaddled in its pale grey wings, this small bat, the same creature that terrorized me, looked pretty cute.

A few hours later the Batman came for a visit. No, it wasn’t the Dark Knight or Caped Crusader of comic book fame. Just a guy with a five o’clock shadow at 10 a.m. wearing a red and black lumberjack flanel and jeans ripped through the knee.

He asked if our kids were around because they might like to see the bat up close and personal.

My fearless children ran down the stairs in their slippers to watch what became their own private wildlife demonstration. The Batman put on heavy gloves, produced a coffee can with holes cut in its lid, and gently removed the bat from our window shade. It was tiny, it was frightened, and now, in the capable hands of the Batman, it would be released into the wild.

As much as we love nature and wildlife, we resolved to keep these creatures out of our house for good. And no, upon further inpsection, we did not have a colony of bats in our attic.

What we did have was a lot of holes and cracks. Bats have a very flexible skeleton and can slip into a crevice the size of a matchbox. The Batman’s price for bat removal: $50. The Batman’s asking price for bat proofing my home: $1300.

After recovering from the sticker shock, we then called in another local hero: Leroy. Leroy is one of those guys that everyone knows by first name only and his name gets passed around by all the neighbors. For half the Batman’s asking price, he batproofed our home and gave me a full education on how you know if a bat is in your home.

1. Evidence of guano, or bat poop in your attic. Enough said here.

2.  Look at places like attic louvers, where the chimney joins the house, and gable ends of your house structure itself.  To my shock, I could put my eye between chimmney in our attic and the house frame and SEE outside. So this is where the critters were getting in. Leroy then used foam insulation and sealed up the gap like this:

  Keep in mind that sealing the opening must be done while also leaving for a way for bats to exit without re-entering the space. In an ingenious use of pantyhose, Leroy created a contraption that allowed a one-way exit for any bats that may have remained in our attic. If the openings are blocked during the daylight hours, the bats would have been sealed inside with the rest of the family.

I am happy to report that this story happened seven years ago and this house is clean of its bats. All the children are healthy rabies-free and none foam at the mouth. I wish you a bat-free winter and remember — bats really are harmless for the most part and want nothing to do with you, or your hair.

The only thing our society needs to fear – bedbugs!

Good night.

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