Enter Title Apology Here

Hi reader(s).  (I know there’s at least one of you, because you told me so in person… thanks, Vera!)  I’m feeling kind of bad about neglecting you for a whole month; you might accept my excuses but I certainly hope you’ll accept my apology.  To make it up to you, I’m going to start trying to add some pictures.

I don’t think it makes sense to go over everything that’s happened in the last month in one post, so I’ll bring you up to date with a few highlights. Three trips out of town – the first two look remarkably like The Travelling Engineer Problem as I made two more trips to Ohio; the third was to Princeton Reunions which was another thing entirely.  There was also the Memorial Day holiday, and learning to be a spumphouse_small_croptonemason1.  We determined that we needed a “well house” to protect all of the equipment that goes with the new well that’s coming online soon, and so we decided to berm it in to save on heating costs.  Let me tell you, this is slow, heavy, hot work.

Evening Entertainment

On a friend’s recommendation, we tried a different place for karaoke, called K-HOUSE.  This seems to be a local one-off Ithaca establishment despite the rather generic name.  The bulgogi was far from generic – it was truly excellent.  The song selection was quite good, although our tastes are obscure enough that between us we failed to find a dozen songs we were hoping to sing.  One of the weirdest things about the place is that although there’s a stage in the corner, the big screen for the words is right over the bar, so unless you rent one of the private rooms, you wind up standing in the middle of the room singing to the bartender, rather than facing your “audience.”

Then, while at reunions, I had the great pleasure of attending Princeton University Players’ production of The Fantasticks.  This show is one I did as an undergrad, but with Cameron Platt ’16’s creative directorial choices, it came to life in a completely new and very moving way for me. I also got to see the always hilarious improv of Quipfire!, the group that had to wait for me to leave before they started.  And, of course, arch sings.

IMBY Progress

Some miscellaneous progress notes: Believe it or not, the pallets of concrete blocks shown above had a wrapper that indicated they were made in NY.  Also, I finally ordered wood for the “covered bridge” shed I plan to build – and that was locally grown, rough cut hemlock from Robinson Lumber. When I had to buy gas for the lawnmower, I followed up the Mirabito lead (Apr 12) and found they are selling ethanol-free gas (which you might consider a good thing, or a terrible thing, but since I’ve followed Agway’s advice and used that, I haven’t had any carburetor or muffler exhaust problems).  I bought a hammer to replace one I’d lost2 and was pleased to find that Stanley Bostitch makes hammers in Mexico (could have come a lot further)… and that they have a 100 year warranty.  Wow.

Even closer to home, the literal backyard is starting to yield food, and I’ve had some spinach (for instance, in an omelette with backyard eggs), lettuce, chives. The cherry in the front yard is promising real production this year, perhaps even enough to rival the abundance of the one tiny “pink champagne” currant bush that just keeps on giving.  Onions, potatoes, peas, peppers, and a cucumber are all progressing well so far. I may even let some of the winter rye I planted as a cover crop keep growing and see if I can process it.

Not as Local as I’d Like

I had to refill the water softener that serves my home and 3 others on one well. We use potassium chloride (KCl) because it’s better for the gardens, and as a nice side effect, I avoid having to eat bananas to prevent leg cramps.  The brand comes from the North American Salt Company, which pretty well describes them – they have mines and plants all over.  Packaging, at least, seems to happen along the Great Lakes, so there’s some chance this is getting here by rail or water.  If push came to shove, though, we could switch to sodium chloride (NaCl), and for that Ithaca has its own salt mines, close enough to bring it by horse-drawn wagon.  If one worries about such things in a post-industrial world…

I also bought some anti-deer fencing and wooden stakes, which though purchased at Agway, are surely from far-flung places.  Once the trees grow up (now hopefully unencumbered by the deer) maybe I can make my own stakes…

Frustrations with Mega-Corps

When I tried to find the whereabouts of Woodstock Foods, which has a nice looking “non-GMO” campaign going, I was pretty effectively stymied.  Their web site doesn’t have any physical location information on it.  A Hoover’s search suggests it is actually a subsidiary of United Natural Foods (UNFI, also of Providence, RI), a $6.7 billion dollar Fortune 500 company. That doesn’t inherently make them bad, but considering that the Gross State product of Rhode Island is only $45 billion and that UNFI isn’t even among the top 20 employers in the state, it seems unlikely that the company is particularly “local” to there, and by extension to anywhere.  Also, I found a piece of glass in my sandwich one day, and their peanut butter seemed the most likely culprit.

  1. If you build a stone wall and don’t charge anyone, does that make you a freemason?
  2. Thought I’d lost… oops.

The Travelling Engineer Problem

Some computer science geeks like to talk about the “Travelling Salesman Problem.”  This post has nothing to do with that, because as an engineer, my company almost never sends me to visit customers. Plus, when I travel, it’s typically to one destination, and back home.   For a few days this week, that was to the mother ship, er, main office in Ohio.

The problem, then, is this: what does “local” mean when you’re not at home?  At a restaurant on Wednesday, I had the option of drinking a beer from the Great Lakes (GLBC Rye of the Tiger), or from my home state (STBC Unearthly IPA). This turns out to be a pretty trivial choice, because the Great Lakes beer actually comes from closer to where I was sitting at the time than Southern Tier is to my house.  We’ll call that “good” (and it was tasty, too…)

On the “ugly” side are things like stopping at a gas station and buying snack food because I didn’t bring snacks with me from home.  That would have been the smart thing to do.  I was able to at least choose Snyder’s of Berlin (PA) chips, which puts about 200 food miles between the source and my purchase point along I-90.  I am not at all proud about the factory-farmed stick of processed meat-product that I selected to add some protein.  Nuts would have been a better choice, I’m sure. (Actually, eating my own fingers might have been a better choice, from both a health and flavor perspective.  But not while I was using them to drive.)

For regular meals, I had a couple of different options open.  The company kindly puts me in a very nice hotel which not only includes breakfast, but offers a “social hour” with food (even wine and beer) most evenings.  Last time I visited, they even had a local wine among the choices.  There have been times when (after a long drive and a long day at work, and no desire to go out again and find a restaurant) a few bites here has been enough of a meal.  Alternately, there are a number of very nice restaurants in walking distance of the hotel… and I did walk, despite the early spring thunderstorms.  One of the things that, for me, defines “very nice” is that they’re not chains, and that I’ve actually met and conversed with the owner at multiple of these establishments.  So in that sense, these are local establishments, and I feel pretty good about patronizing them.

For lunches, I took a different approach on this trip than in the past, by only eating half my dinner and having leftovers to bring into the lunch room.  (The “not stuffing myself” part was a wonderful side effect.)  One day this week, the company had a “picnic” (free food in the lunchroom) to celebrate baseball season – complete with bags of Cracker Jacks.  (For anyone my age who had them as a kid, you’ll remember these as “boxes of Cracker Jacks” from the Borden ownership period.  You may also remember them having prizes that aren’t crap. Thank you, Frito-Lay.) So that is another way of getting free food on the company.

Finally, a note on transportation is probably in order.  Why would I choose to drive 715 miles?  Isn’t that bad for the environment?  Well yes, of course it is.  My other options are: fly 872 miles (round trip), and then rent a car and drive another 70-80 mi; or drive 130 miles RT to the nearest Amtrak station, then take a train 660 miles RT; and drive 70 mi at the other end.  When you consider total BTU plus driving a fuel efficient vehicle (I averaged about 42mpg), the drive is about 2.2MBTU; the flight is 2.4MBTU; the train is 1.67MBTU.  The problem is, there is only one train per day, which leaves at 9:50pm and gets in at 3:30am… when there are no car rental places open.  And then where do you go? Even with “early check in” you can’t go to the hotel at 4am the previous night.  I did the train adventure once, and all of the late night limo services and other complications nearly doubled the total duration of the trip, making it completely impractical.

Someday, I hope we will have real passenger train service again – a stop in Ithaca, and more than one train per day.  I love trains, and would happily go back to this if it was a serviceable option.  But by the time that happens, I may be long retired from this job.