Friday, September 22, 2017

Colorful Buckhorn Island State Park

Yesterday afternoon, I went to visit Buckhorn Island State Park. When I arrived, I noticed a man spraying himself with insect repellent and suddenly realized that I had forgotten to do so when starting on my journey to the park.
I asked him if I could use some of his repellent and he was happy to share. He told me that his name is Phil and that his son's name is Michael.
They were going to enjoy some fishing in the Niagara River. The three of us walked together for a short distance, until Phil and Michael found their first fishing hole. I noticed that there were a number of people in the park. Some people were walking dogs; others were riding bicycles. 

Autumn colors are starting to appear in the park. The leaves are turning color, the apples and wild grapes are ripe, and the cattail heads are opening up.
I saw critters, too.
Add caption
The little frogs moved a bit too fast for my camera and me but the snails were delightfully slow and even a snake made the decision to pose for me. 

It was a peaceful walk. I managed to get back home just before dark, which was a good thing because I didn't really want to turn into a pumpkin. Come to think of it, on my way home, I did take pictures of pumpkins. There is a house that turns its front yard into a pumpkin patch every year. So pretty! 

(But where is Charlie Brown? And when will the Great Pumpkin come?)

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Super sized garden: #WordlessWednesday

seen in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario

Ten years ago...

Ten years ago, I was set free, turned loose from the federal prison camp in Danbury, Connecticut.  It was time to seek out new adventures and new experiences. It was also time for me to reflect on the prison experience and on the protest that led me to prison. 

I crossed the Fort Benning fence to say no to torture and assassination and to say yes to human rights and to life. I crossed the Fort Benning fence to express my dismay that a military training school (Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly known as the School of the Americas) was focused on public relations, rather than on accountability. The allegations that this school trained Latin American troops in torture and assassination were met with stonewalling and reluctantly produced and heavily redacted documents. I went to protest at the gates of Fort Benning because I sincerely believed that, if ordinary people made sacrifices, change could happen.

I was very optimistic. Maybe too optimistic. Change did not happen. I am not that optimistic any more. 

But... back to ten years ago. I came away from prison, carrying the stories of the women with whom I lived, worked, and with whom I shared laughter and tears. These women, who had been ripped away from their homes and their families, had given me far more than I could ever give them. I had gone to prison to bear witness to injustice and I found women who had borne the injustice with grace, courage, and love in their hearts.

Here are some things that I took home with me:

Watching women trying to parent their children via daily (and expensive) fifteen minute phone calls helped to make me understand that the War on Drugs was a War on American Families. I met women in prison who were never caught with any drugs at all. They were charged with conspiracy because they were in a relationship with the wrong guy and they didn't turn their boyfriend or husband in. Being clueless about your significant other's involvement in illegal drugs is not considered a valid excuse. I also learned that being forced to participate in the drug business by an abusive spouse is also not considered a valid excuse.

The segregation unit in the prison (the oddly named "Special Housing Unit") seemed to be some rather abusive form of aversion therapy. Put people who may have broken some rule, either petty or major, into a little cage and keep them there until they squeal or cry uncle. Take them to the shower in handcuffs. Oh, and added bonus if you make the handcuffs just a little bit too tight. Some people were kept in the SHU for months. It is considered to be psychological torture.

Health care is the nightmare of the prison experience. It was atrocious. Ill inmates were assumed to be malingerers, avoiding working at their prison jobs. The process for arranging for emergency medical services seemed to be slow, to the point of being life threatening. I remember one woman who suffered with a heart condition. She was a sweet lady who smiled readily and shyly. She was very ticklish and giggled just at the sight of fingers coming toward her. She went to the hospital for a treatment. The doctors wanted to keep her overnight at the hospital, but she was brought back to the prison, apparently against medical advice. A few days later, she collapsed. She was taken back to the hospital but, as far as I know, she never regained consciousness, and she passed away.

The women I met in prison were bright and resourceful. They made cheesecakes out of a variety of odd materials, such as canned pudding, powdered nonfat creamer, and other stuff. They used pencils and sticks as knitting needles. They made do with what they had in the environment.

The women in prison were creative and they shared their gifts. Some of them taught classes, such as painting, yoga, Polish, Spanish, and dance. Some of them taught more informally. Prison is where I learned how to prune shrubbery and to transplant seedlings and larger plants.

I never met a single woman in prison who could be considered a menace to society, were she to be released. I wondered why they were in prison. I wondered why I was in prison. One day, I was talking to my boss in the grounds maintenance shop and I said that I didn't understand why I had not been sentenced to community service. He said, "You can do your community service here."

I felt sad about leaving some dear friends behind in prison. These ladies have since been released and are back home. I have been fortunate enough to have made some very long lasting friendships in prison. Many of these women have become activists and are campaigning against mass incarceration. Some of them will be guest bloggers right here, in this blog.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Experiencing beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario

from left: Devin, Vivian, and Diane
As I mentioned in my Friday adventure post, I was surprised to see my nephew Devin at my sister's house. On Saturday, I went back to my sister Vivian's house for another visit with Devin. My sister Diane came over, as well. The four of us decided to have an afternoon adventure. So... where do we go? How about Niagara Falls? In New York or in Canada? We agreed on Canada and we also discussed how crowded Niagara Falls, Ontario, would be on a Saturday afternoon. So we decided to visit Niagara-on-the-Lake instead.

view from the restaurant, where we
had our lunch. As you can see,
Niagara-on-the-Lake is a lively,
walkable community, and
window shopping is fun there.
Niagara-on-the-Lake is a town in the Niagara region of Canada, where the Niagara River meets Lake Ontario. It has a population of 17,511. It is the home of the famous Shaw Festival, which features productions of George Bernard Shaw's plays in three theaters, from April through November each year. Niagara-on-the-Lake was settled in 1781 and was incorporated in 1792. Its original name was West Niagara.

lovely items, suitable for
a tea party, that
were for sale at a
small store that we visited
During the War of 1812, the settlement was burned to the ground by American troops. Years later, Niagara-on-the-Lake became one of the first places where escaped slaves from the United States, who had traveled on the perilous Underground Railroad, found freedom. Many of them settled in Nova Scotia, and their descendants still live there.

Historic building in Niagara-on-the-Lake

Some interesting features of Niagara-on-the-Lake include architecture. A few of the oldest churches include Ontario's oldest Anglican church, St. Mark's (built in 1791);
one of the many historical
markers in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Historical markers come in pairs:
one in English and the other
in French.
Ontario's oldest Catholic church, St. Vincent de Paul (built in 1826);

and the oldest structure in Niagara-on-the-Lake, the McFarland House (built in 1880).

view of the Escarpment

another view of the Escarpment

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Documenting a radiantly sunny September day

This morning, I wondered what I wanted to blog about today. What stories were there to be told? What images to be shared? I looked out the window and saw that it was truly a radiantly sunny day, just six days before the start of autumn. I thought... why not document my adventures here in Grand Island, New York. 

Last year, a house
burned down very quickly.
It was torn down and
the land was sold. Just
recently, construction
started on a new house.
Soooooo.... I set out with a camera around my neck, ready to document the interesting images of the day. I left the house, headed to Elderwood, a nursing home in Grand Island. At Elderwood was a food truck from Chef's, an Italian restaurant in Buffalo. Not long after I left the house, I saw my friend, Diane, who was driving her car. She had stopped to pick me up. It was nice to see Diane driving because, a few months ago, she was in a car accident,which resulted in injury to her. 

Bouncing back from an injury is challenging. There is pain and loss of confidence, not in your own driving but in your ability to predict the behavior of other drivers. Unfortunately, there are people on the road who are not really paying attention, for various reasons: texting, talking on cell phones, mediating disputes in the car, or anything else that distracts them from keeping their full attention on the road. 

minion at the garage sale, looking
to be adopted.
Diane and I visited a garage sale in Grand Island. A mom and her daughter were selling a variety of things, including a half-size refrigerator. We found out that the mom and daughter had just recently moved here from Syracuse. As I was born in Syracuse, I enjoyed talking about central New York with them.

the food truck from Chef's restaurant.
Then, we got back in the car, and Diane dropped me off at Elderwood. I went to the food truck, which was from Chef's restaurant, in downtown Buffalo. I looked at the selection of foods and chose eggplant parmesan, which came with spaghetti, a marinara sauce, cheese, and bread and butter. Yum. I sat down at an outdoor table to enjoy my meal.
Lunch at the food truck. The eggplant
parmesan cost $6.50.
Unfortunately, there were a few yellow jackets, who also wanted a taste test of my meal. They aren't bees, although some people call them bees. Confusing yellow jackets with bees is a common mistake. Yellow jackets aren't bees; they are wasps. Yellow jackets can be quite aggressive and a yellow jacket can sting over and over again, which can't be a very pleasant thing for the recipient of the (seemingly) endless stinging session.

The folks at Elderwood were giving
away sunglasses. Hmmm, wouldn't
sunglasses make me look super
cool, especially when I'm driving
this BMW convertible?
Other than a bit of annoyance from the yellow jackets, eating outside was a pleasant activity. I was joined at the table by four women who work at St. Stephen School, which offers education to children from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. They let me know that St. Stephen will hold its annual chicken barbecue and basket raffle from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. tomorrow. All proceeds will benefit the school and its educational mission.

The Pepper Mill has
been closed for several
years. My parents
used to enjoy eating
there. A new
restaurant, called 773 North,
will open sometime
soon in that location.
After lunch, I started walking home. Before long, I was across the street from my sister's house and was surprised to see her car in the driveway and the garage door open. I also saw a man standing on the lawn, talking on a cell phone. Hmmm. My eyesight is not awesome enough for me to identify people who are across the street so I crossed the street and soon found myself happily hugging my nephew Devin, who was on his way back to California from a business trip in Quebec. He had stopped to stay with his mom for a few days.What a wonderful surprise that was!

After visiting, I walked home via the town's linear bike path and a few roads.
seen along the bike path
On the bike path, I met a couple who had been riding their bikes and who were relaxing at a bench. They expressed an interest in Grand Island history so I answered a few questions and told a story or two and encouraged them to come to the October meeting of the Grand Island Historical Society.

one view of Woods Creek

footbridge over Woods Creek
Another view of Woods Creek, at a
different location
I arrived at home and was so happy that it was warm enough for me to sit on the porch. My friend Carmen came and delivered a box filled with produce from the Becker Farms CSA. I found a huge stack of corn and a spaghetti squash, among other produce. I'm thinking of making fresh corn chowder. I'll look for recipes for spaghetti squash.
Omelet, potatoes, and tea...
I cooked dinner, but, after my big lunch, I really wanted a light dinner, so I made an omelet and sauteed potatoes and onions.

What sort of adventures have you been enjoying today?

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Floral smiles at the sun

The sunflower is an amazing plant. Its botanical name is helianthus annus. It's a very tall plant, with an average height of 9.8 feet (three meters). The tallest sunflower plant on record was an astonishing 30.1 feet (9.17 meters). It has large flower heads, and the flowers could be a variety of colors, including yellow, orange, red, or other colors.

One of the amazing things about the sunflower is that it's all about mathematics.
The flowers in the center of the sunflower are called disk flowers, and they are organized in a spiral pattern. 

According to Tree Hugger: The pattern of seeds within a sunflower follows the Fibonacci sequence, or 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144.

And, not only is a sunflower mathematical, it's also useful. People and birds eat the seeds. Sunflower oil is not good for eating. Apparently, it's used in fast foods.
Unfortunately, sunflower oil is connected with all sorts of health problems, including heart disease and cancer. It has higher than normal omega 6 contents, connected to the production of bad cholesterol (LDL). If you do use it in cooking, please do so in moderation. Sunflower oil is very good, however, when used topically. It is good for the skin and it helps retain moisture and fight wrinkles.

Sunflower seeds are good to eat. They are also good to put into bird feeders. They are very nutritious and are an excellent source of vitamin E and a good source of vitamin B1 and copper. They are also a source of manganese, selenium, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin B6, folate, and niacin.

portrait of sunflowers,
by me
People love to look at sunflowers and they are great subject for paintings.
Another version of sunflower, by me
The most famous person to paint portraits of sunflowers was Vincent Van Gogh.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The 52-week photography project: picture inside picture

The topic for week 31 of the 52-week photography project is "frame within a frame." It's a picture within a picture. The Dogwood photography studio describes it as "a classic compositional tool to frame the subject within the frame of the image." 

I originally learned about framing the shot as a compositional tool when I joined a "photo safari" class in Washington, D.C., during the cherry festival in 2013. The frame could be such things as windows, doors, arches, and overhanging branches. 

Here are some of my images from the past week:

On Thursday, August 31st, I was at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' press conference at Unity Island. The topic of the press conference was work that is being done to restore the ecosystem of Unity Island, which had been compromised by the presence of an incineration plant between 1938 and the late 1990s. The photograph is a view of Canada from Unity Island.

On Sunday, September 3rd, I rode a ferry from Grand Island to Tonawanda, operated by Niagara River Cruises.  The first thing that I did was to go to Lou's in North Tonawanda for breakfast. This is the view of Webster Street from inside the restaurant.

This is the bridge that links the City of Tonawanda with North Tonawanda.

After the ferry trip, I went to June and Roger's Labor Day picnic on the west side of the Grand Island. Here's a view of the Niagara River.

On Tuesday, September 5th, I went to Zumba at the Grand Island Dance Center. The balloon was from a celebration of the dance studio's grand reopening. The dance studio was completely remodeled, with the walls being painted, the ceiling lifted, and a new dance floor installed.

On Wednesday, September 6th, I went to the 755 for lunch with Jean and Lee. The 755 is a Lebanese restaurant in the Old Market area of Niagara Falls, near Pine Avenue. We shared a sampler platter, which featured a large variety of delicious Lebanese foods. Afterward, we went to the nearby farmers market. This is a view of the surrounding area from the farmers market.

Next week: The adventure in photography continues.

Colorful Buckhorn Island State Park

Yesterday afternoon, I went to visit Buckhorn Island State Park. When I arrived, I noticed a man spraying himself with insect repellent an...