Sunday, August 31, 2008

West Fest

After a long day at West Fest, I walked home through the sleepy west-Binghamton streets and stopped for this shot. This is the gazebo at Recreation Park, sort of magicial at night, don't you think? The park is close by, maybe five blocks from our house, and passing through it always rustles up a lot of nostalgia. I'm not sure why. It's just a big empty plot of land in the middle of the mostly quiet residential West side, with a swimming pool, playground, tennis courts, and lots of gorgeous old oak trees. Sometimes we walk our dog there-- he appreciates the squirrels who are lured by those oaks.

The trees are beautiful. I'll admit it. But my nostalgia has more to it than that. Rec Park brings me a sense of history, the knowledge of what Binghamton was like before most of its companies, and most of its people packed up and left town. For the first half of this century, this whole area was a wildly prosperous place, in no small part because of the Endicott-Johnson shoe company which had its headquarters nearby. It employed thousands of people. It financed homes for its workers, and offered employee health insurance. Throughout the Greater Binghamton area, the company erected libraries, public swimming pools, parks, and carousels. There was a concert hall that had minstrel shows on Sunday evenings, free for workers and their families.

Walking through Rec Park alone, I think about what it would've been like to raise a family here sixty years ago. Minstrel shows. Ice cream cones and carousel rides at Rec Park. Swimming in the giant public pool (shaped like the sole of a boot) that held 2,000 bathers. I guess it's all too easy to romanticize, but to me it seems like EJ represented capitalism at its best, when even the biggest, most prosperous companies were run by people who looked out for their employees, and understood their role in the local economy.

Binghamton now is a testament to what happens when those jobs go overseas. The population has dropped, from 85,000 in the 1950s, to a little under 50,000 today. There's no more minstrel shows or boot-shaped swimming pools. But there's always plenty of room on the carousel.

Here's some pictures from West Fest 2008, hosted by the venerable Cyber Cafe West.

My husband (far left) and his band, The Second Class Citizens.

The owner and his dog, Lila.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Happy flowers

Sorry to have been scarce lately. I've been here, as usual, giving in to the mellow of a gray rainy day and embroidering. I was in my studio armchair, with Pete sleeping on the back like a furry neck pillow. My lamp glowed against the dim windows, occasionally there'd be the crack of a walnut onto the roof (from the tree in our backyard), and through it all was the constant, steady pop and hiss of my needle poking up and being drawn through.

Yes, I love embroidery. And it's funny, because I am not a patient person. Through the few years I've been at it, I feel like I've learned something about myself. Maybe, just gotten in touch with part of me I didn't know was there. It makes me feel steady, grounded, and purposeful. It's sort of like meditation. Meditation, with happy round flowers, blooming on turquoise linen.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Vegetable soup, and drive-by sconing

There's nothing like a cool breezy late-afternoon devoted to a sputtering pot of chopped vegetables. There's a recipe in the original Moosewood cookbook I've always been tempted by. It seems so simple, and unusual-- chopped summer vegetables (onions, corn, carrots, green beans, bell pepper, broccoli, zucchini) sauteed in oil until tender, mixed with two pureed potatoes, nutmeg, black pepper, thyme, and a quart of milk. It was definitely tasty, ladled over toasted sourdough bread cubes and spiked with a little Tabasco.

And, because last week Patrick brought me a quart of vanilla yogurt accidentally when I wanted a quart of plain yogurt, and I had a scone recipe that features yogurt, I made Lemon Yogurt Scones. Wow, they were good. Even better was bundling half of them into a tupperware, still warm, and shuffling over to assail our neighbors Jen and Corrine as they pulled into the driveway. A drive-by sconing. How do you like that.

The pansies I planted, the marigolds are volunteers from last year. Aren't they pretty?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Sleeping peacefully

This is Pete. Pete is the most passive, mellow, gentle cat you will ever meet. He's also, like most cats, stuck up. We like to nudge him over onto his back, always marvelling at his complete lack of ambition: he doesn't fight. He curls up and dozes off, right where he lay on the floor. Everything life throws at him, he acts like that was his plan all along, he just hadn't quite got around to it yet.

Yesterday morning, Pete was nowhere in sight. We keep our cats inside, but now and then they've been known to make forays into the wild. In our former life in Ithaca, Pete was an outdoor cat. Pete has never forgotten this. After a concerned (but mostly amused) ten minutes, I spotted him, barely eight feet off the ground in the crotch of the colassal black walnut that shades our backyard. Marooned. Desperate. Crying for salvation.

This, from a cat whose face has never bore an emotion other than mischeviousness, conceit, or utter insouciance.

Well, it was a different side of Pete I experienced as I eased myself onto the top step of the ladder and reached for that plush underbelly. He was definitely rattled after his night in the wilderness. I think he probably had his ass handed to him by one of the neighborhood strays, or maybe a raccoon. It wouldn't take much to knock the stuffins out of that sissy.

In other news, I finished this today:

That linen was part of a cute dress (size 4) I bought at Salvation Army awhile back. I loved the material. The more I shop for fabric, the more firmly I believe that the best way to get it is via thrift stores. Viva recycling!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Four square

It was one of those summer evenings. It's late August, we've all faced the fact that summer is mortal. The consistent green of roadsides and fields has lately been giving way, leaf by leaf, to bronze and rust. The night times have a chill, and we all need our long-sleeved shirts once the sun goes down. This is precious time. Soon it will cede to winter. So, get down. Whoop it up. Party like there's no tomorrow, because tomorrow there could be snow.

Ah, life in upstate New York. We're simple people. All we need, really, is one of those downy summer twilights, plenty to eat and drink, a grassy backyard, and a bunch of friends. And a big green rubber ball, for the playing of Four Square.

Playing Four Square, even with this easygoing bunch, always makes me a little jumpy. I learned to play Four Square at 4-H camp, the summer I was nine. We'd play in the steel-roofed Rec Hall. The line was forty kids long. It took an hour to make it to the front of the line. And once I did, the mean-faced straw-haired jerk camped out in the server's square would immediately fire the ball over into my box at forty mph, a single aggressive serve I'd be unable to volley back. And that would end my turn, and I'd stand in line for another hour. How I ever learned to play is a mystery. So every time, I still expect to see that kid, his twelve-year-old-frame as intimidating to me then as the Hulk.

I guess it doesn't help that I've got a seriously competitive streak. Two beers, and two successful rounds of Four Square, and I morph into this freak, becoming a rules Nazi, (Nick, OVERHAND!) and charging across the square in mock rage when someone gets me out. I've probably just got repressed Four Square angst from all those hours in line. Maybe I should see someone about that?

It was great to see everyone last night. As we all move forward with our lives, buying houses, changing jobs, taking classes, having kids, it's important to catch up on laughter, understanding, dreams. And four square.

Photo credit: Nick Corcoran

Friday, August 22, 2008

Stocking up

This is my kitchen windowsill. That massive purplish thing in the background is an eggplant, purchased this morning at the Farmers Market. While at the Farmers Market, I loaded up on the most incredible bell peppers I'd ever seen-- green and red. I bought half a dozen of each, and once I got home it took probably ten minutes for me to dispatch the whole lot into uniform strips, bagged and ready to be stored for winter. I love stocking up this time of year. Everything is in season, the prices are great (the peppers were 50 cents each!), and it's all local. It's not hard for me to decide between buying California-grown peppers from Wegmans in February and making my own. Wielding a well-balanced chef's knife makes me feel so capable and industrious, and oh, the satisfaction of provisioning my nest for winter. The squirrels hide their nuts, I chop my peppers.

Lurking behind the baggies, in the basket, is my cucumber pile. Those are from the garden. Our 4 x 4 foot plot of Marketmore 76 vines has been producing about eight cucumbers a week for almost a month. That is a lot of cukes! And I love them, but they're just not the most inspiring of vegetables. You can't cook 'em. You can slice 'em. Or dice 'em. Mix them with oil and vinegar. Or mayonaise. Or sour cream. And that's about where it ends. And I should add that I already have four freezer bags of pickles put up! But, what's a girl without a plan? Next week, I'm making some sort of Chickpea-Potato-Eggplant curry. I'm gonna make it hot, which Patrick will like. I, on the other hand, am a whimp when it comes to spice. So as an accompaniment I will make a big vat of Cucumber-Yogurt salad, sort of like raita, only with more cukes. This will enable me to eat the curry. A good plan, I think.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


I'm glad you're here.

Today I finished this:

and put it in my store. Look familiar? I was able to do it using the scraps from this. I love it when that happens.

I've decided that nothing beats early morning sun, a cup of tea, hand sewing in an armchair listening to This American Life.
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