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?
Just got back from a visit from “the old country,” New York City, to visit family and friends. And I can’t stop raving about The Bronx.
We just returned from a place blooming with lilies and hyacinth, filled with beautiful views of the Palisades, the Hudson River and gracious stately homes and gardens.
I’m talking about the Bronx here. Da Bronx. Really!
As a fifth-generation native New Yorker, a lot of my family has roots in the Bronx. My father and grandfathers were born there as well as my father-in-law. But, at the height of the urban blight of the 1970s and 1980s, it was not exactly somewhere we went exploring when I was growing up outside of a trip to the Bronx Zoo.
When most think of the Bronx, they conjure images like urban blight. A crumbling school in the south Bronx that caught fire shortly before game 2 of the 1977 World Series inspired the book “The Bronx is Burning ” by Jonathan Mahler
Or, perhaps they think of the massive, impersonal apartment complexes they sluggishly traverse the Cross Bronx Expressway on their way to the Long Island Sound or the George Washington Bridge :
But on my last visit, my family and I got to visit the Bronx’s best-kept secrets: The Cloisters Museum and Wave Hill.
The Cloisters, right on the Manhattan-Bronx border, is a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art that specializes in European Medieval Art. It is set in a castle-like building jutting over the Hudson River set on four acres of parkland. If you have the time on your next visit and already paid admission to the main branch of the Met on Fifth Avenue, you can treat yourself to this as well:
Wave Hill Public Garden and Cultural Center
Further up the road, and I’m talking a country road that makes one feel as if they are in the middle of the countryside and not just 10 miles from Midtown Manhattan, is Wave Hill. Surrounded by 19th Century mansions,
Wave Hill is a semi-private park that consists of gardens and mansions once leased by the Roosevelts and Mark Twain. In the 1960′s, the Perkins-Freeman family, founding partners of J.P. Morgan, donated the land to New York City, allowing the rest of us New Yorkers, for a small admission fee, to afford views like this:
So, next time you find yourself in New York City, do yourself a favor and visit upper Manhattan and The Bronx. You might find a unicorn:
Or even a fair Bronx princess:
This gallery contains 11 photos.
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. […]
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.
During the long Rochester winters, what I miss most about the summer is my garden. One fall day in early October, when my older son was very small, he accompanied me into the garden as I pulled out the last annuals and put the soil to bed.
As I yanked out the last withering tomato plant, he burst into tears and cried:
“It’s really OVER!!”
One of the favorite dishes of summer for my family that smells as good as it tastes is Pesto.
Take one leaf of basil and rub it between your fingers. The powerful scent it gives off is the stuff of summer. Then, when it is crushed into a paste and mixed with pine nuts, olive oil and cheese, it makes any boring pasta meal a celebration.
To live without basil all winter would be too cruel a reality.
Sure, you can buy yourself some hydroponically-grown basil in the middle of January. One plant, that has about 20 good leaves on it, will cost about 2.99 these days at the supermarket.
You can get out to your nearest public market, like the Rochester Public Market, one of the world’s greatest public spaces. Buy the biggest bunch of basil you can find for about $1.50. It will be waiting for you in a big bucket filled with water and if it’s fresh, will still have the roots attached, dirt and all.
Then, take this green bouquet home. It’s so pretty you may want to photograph it, like I did:
It isn’t long before basil leaves wither. As harsh as it may seem, pick all those leaves off (I amassed 3 cups of basil leaves with this bunch), wash them well in a colander, and place them in a food processor.
I also put in three cloves of garlic that I roasted. Roasting the garlic cloves brings out their sweetness.
Add to this puree 1/3 cup of some very good olive oil and 1/4 cup of toasted pine nuts or walnuts. You can add 1/3 cup of Parmesan cheese here, but this can be added when you are ready to use your Pesto.
Then, pour the mixture into an ice-cube tray sprayed with cooking oil. (My children think this is very strange and have at times placed a pesto cube, in error, into their water. I don’t recommend this.)
A few months ago, were we ever really complaining about the snow and cold?
A few months from now, will we long to feel as hot as it will be today?
When I visit friends and family “downstate” New York, I get a lot of jabs about living in Rochester.
“So, it’s June… has the snow melted yet?”
“You know what the two seasons are in Rochester? Winter and July 14.”
“Do you get snowed in all the time and how do you go grocery shopping to get food in the snow?”
But guess what, folks? We really do get summer in Rochester, and it’s just as hot as anywhere else, especially this year.
Today, if temperatures reach 100 or above, as forecasters are predicting, it will be the hottest recorded day on this day in Rochester since ….. 1894
One of the many advantages of living in Rochester – less traffic, one of the nation’s most affordable housing prices, and great cultural resources – is our pleasant summer. Usually, after a brutally cold winter, our summers are pleasant and comfortable.
Since I moved to Rochester in 2000, we have had summers where the rain fell more than the sun shone. Some summers, the temperatures barely climbed out of the 70′s. Some summers, we feared we would never get a summer.
Right now, I am glad that I did not sign up for a spot in my community garden, as this has been the driest summers in some time. There, gardeners must haul water in cans to quench their crops. I’m content with my little garden that is watered with several yards of irrigation tubing.
Instead of hauling buckets in the heat like a peasant woman, all that is required is connecting a hose and turning a spigot.
So far, I’m getting plenty of tomatoes – though still green,
a few pumpkins
and some peppers.
Most summers, I complain about the limited hours of sun my garden receives. This year, it is getting just the right amount of heat to grow and the limited sun is preventing it from completely shriveling up and dying.
The only thing, or person, I’m worried about shriveling up or wilting in the heat is my son, who is on his first overnight at day camp. I slathered him up with sunscreen, slapped on his white, sun reflecting hat, packed his frozen metal water bottle, and will hope for the best.
“Mom, is this the hottest summer of my life?” The seven-year-old inquired at the breakfast table.
“Yes” I said, popping his Eggo waffles in the toaster.
“Will summers get hotter than this even?”
For that, I don’t have an answer.
So, besides sweltering day campers, what will most Rochesterians do? They will survive just as they do in the winter:
They’ll duck inside a mall, movie theatre, or museum, if not a chilly office
At camps, they will stay inside and play board games, do lots of arts & crafts. And only brave the heat for a dip in the pool.
But in Rochester, we’ll take the heat. After all, the burn of summer’s swelter is better any day than the bite of winter’s wind chills.
As for me, I finished writing and filing my two newspaper articles for the week. I’ll catch up on some summer reading and spend time with my oldest son, already packed up for summer camp. Then, I’ll settle down for a long summer’s nap.
“Where’s the tomatoes?”
Actually, what he said was “Ma kara? Eiphoh ha tomatoes?” But for those of you who do not understand Hebrew, I’ve translated it for you.
This was a question of serious concern from my friend, a native Israeli. And Israelis take their tomato-cucumber salads very seriously.
This is the thing that one must understand when joining a local CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture farm: In early June, in Western New York, those coveted red, vine ripened tomatoes don’t exist. At least, not the kind that don’t grow in hothouses.
For those, we have to be patient.
But, here are some things I have made from our first helping of CSA vegetables from the East Hill Farm, plus the earliest herbs I’ve grown and picked in my own garden:
Lettuce – Not the durable, homogenous pale Romaine hearts you get in a plastic bag at the supermarket. But tender, sweet tasting lettuce. Naturally, these went immediately into a salad.
Kale -Hmmmm, that’s bitter stuff, you may think. But if you join a CSA, be prepared to get a lot of Kale. It really does taste great and is packed with nutrients. It’s best sauteed with olive oil & garlic (the fresh kind provided by the CSA) for a warm salad. Drizzle it with Balsamic Vinegar and toss it with walnuts.
Bok Choy - I sauteed them with garlic and ginger.
Pea Shoots - I sautéed these right along with the Bok Choy.
Finally, something that did not come from my CSA but my own garden.
One night, after shuttling my sons to and from their back-to-back baseball games, I decided not to cook but instead ordered in a pizza.
To jazz up my pizza, I went to my garden. I picked out some baby arugula leaves.Washed them well. Plopped them on top of a pizza slice. Fantastic.
It’s not too late to plant arugula. In fact, it’s the right time to start some arugula seeds now, in a partially shady spot, to enjoy later this summer.
And, have no fear, judging from the yellow flowers that are forming on my tomato plants, I am sure those red globes of sumer deliciousness will be arriving very soon.
There are many magazine articles and blog posts that feature sumptuous photo spreads of gardens in full bloomed glory. Beds of perfect tulips. Rodent and insect-free vegetable gardens bursting with a unbitten, sun-ripened bounty.
This blog post will not be one of those. This is for the rest of us.
Any chance of me having one of those gardens, where the sun actually ripens tomatoes on the vine before the first frost, is gone. I missed out. For whatever reason – maybe it was procrastination, or maybe for lack of believing that winter would ever end this year – I missed the March 1 deadline in signing up for a plot in the Brighton Community Garden. Yes, I believe that day in March, we were under a blizzard warning.
Gardening up North can be frustrating. The season is very short. Veteran Rochester gardeners warn the uninitiated not to plant anything in the ground before Memorial Day weekend. I received gasps of horror when I informed some that I had planted my tomatoes two weeks ago. But they had become so leggy and pale looking under my basement grow lights, I really had no choice.
And my flowers? I’m trying not to have a meltdown after the bunnies in my garden CHOMPED off the heads the poppies that I have waited all winter to bloom. At least those red bugs have not attacked my Asiatic lilies. At least not yet.
That perfect garden is just not going to happen. So, this year I am just going to relax and keep it in perspective. I think about the ravaged midwest and how lucky we are in boring, tornado-free upstate New York. I think of the farmers who rely on the land and ideal weather conditions to make their living.
It has been one soggy spring, one of the rainiest in record in Western New York. In fact, in April, Western New York received 5.81 inches. So far, in May: 3.32 inches. Upstate farmers are weeks behind in planting their peas and corn. And the farmers at my East Hill CSA have already warned us that this year’s crops are getting a late start because of the soggy conditions.
This year, I am leaving my garden primarily up to nature, because I think She is the best gardener after all. I will embrace my failures.
The Zinnias that I started from seed in the winter are quite puny and can really use some sun and heat:
And tomatoes? These are the ones I planted from seed back in February, they also need some sun and need to dry out:
But some plants do well in cold wet weather. Here is a picture of the arugula I started from seed way back in the winter:
But nature is the best gardener. I call these volunteers. This year, if it is not a weed, I’m letting it grow. And who cares if they are not in perfectly straight lines. If it is a seedling left over from last year, I’m letting it be and will let it grow:
That will go very nice with the cucumbers that will grow on this vine, also a pop-up volunteer:
And as for perennial flowers. If you see one of these growing in your garden, jump for joy. It is not a weed, but the start of a beautiful lupine:
Leave it alone, just where it is, and it may grow up to look just like its mom:
So, so much for Post-a-day.
These days, I’m lucky if I can post-a-month.
But I have so many ideas to write about but working, parenting, track, baseball and concert season are getting in the way. So is that chocolate milk that my son just spilled on the kitchen floor.
So, before I have to be in two directions at once, here are some topics I have been meaning to blog about. You pick what I should tackle first:
- More Love Letters: This time, the ones I found between my grandparents before they were married.
- The Robin who made a nest in our front shrub.
- The African Burial Ground in downtown Manhattan
- Transitions from childhood to teen-dom
- What we saw at Ground Zero
Gotta go and watch my youngest play ball!
It’s been a cold dark week. The news nationally, while triumphant, stirred up a lot of questions and decade-old images. What is closure anyway?
Locally, a hate crime has been committed in our town. Our high schoolers are wrestling with the news that this action was allegedly committed by someone they consider a close friend.
But, yesterday the sun finally came out. May is nature’s reward to Rochesterians for sticking it out through the long winter.
So, to forget it all, I took a walk in Rochester’s Highland Park. This park is known for its vast lilac collection – one of the nation’s largest. And with it, Rochester hosts one of its most popular festivals.
So, before the crowds, and the vendors selling fry bread and fried artichokes and – fried everything arrive. I took a walk in Highland Park and snapped the following photographs: