Friday, June 28, 2013

Carrot Hairdo

Baby carrots these days find it very difficult to stand out when they're all uniformly trimmed and shaved. Every once in a while, one brave little carrot will make it through processing and packaging and end up on a kitchen cutting board. On these rare occasions, carrot connoisseurs are often faced with the dilemma of either preserving the orange oddity or tossing it into a chopped salad with all of the other average looking veggies.

I encountered such a carrot once. He'd probably always wanted to grow up and be in a punk band, with his green spiked hair. But what do I know? I don't speak carrot. I eat a lot of salad though, and boy was that baby carrot sweet and crunchy.

"Stop staring at me like that!
What are you doing with that knife??
No! NOOOOOooo!"


This year the official start of summer was June twenty-first, also known as the summer solstice. Summer is my favorite season. It always has been. I love the heat, I love feeling like I'm in an oven even if it means feeling hot and sticky. It is somehow soothing and comforting not needing to pile wool blankets over me just to stay warm at night.

I also love summer because it means more time to spend outside being active. As kids, my sister and I could always be found outside running around my grandma's yard, relishing the extra playtime until the mosquitos forced us inside. It's a wonderful thing to not have to cut playtime short because it's getting too dark. In those childhood summers, we had so much time at our disposal, we would burn up all of our fuel from dinner and run back inside to chow on some leftover chicken or boiled potatoes before rushing back outside to keep playing. Those were the good days.

This year I wanted to honor those cherished memories by paying homage to the sun and all of its burning glory. That is why I set my alarm for 5:20 am so I could wake up with the early birds and catch the sunrise on the longest day of the year.

It wasn't the most spectacular sunrise I've ever seen, in fact I didn't even glimpse the sun until 6:05 because I had failed to account for the houses and trees blocking my view. It was still a delightful experience. Although I didn't spend those extra morning hours running around my lawn pretending to be a horse, I did get a lot of tasks accomplished that would have gone undone had I snoozed until it was time to get ready for work. At least I've grown up a little.

I also made sure to catch the sunset at Westminster Park with my boyfriend who didn't have the drive to wake up and watch the sunrise with me that morning. I couldn't blame him. It was ridiculously early. Viewing the sunrise and sunset for the summer solstice was my small way of giving thanks for the bright, warm sun that makes summer such a special time of the year.



Last Minute Gift

Not many sets of twins can brag about having separate birthdays. My identical twin was born right before midnight and I was born right after. In the past my sister has held her slight seniority over my head, but never before has it mattered as much as it did for our twenty-first birthday. I mean come on, she was legally allowed to consume alcohol for a full twenty-four hours before me!

Despite our different birthdays, we usually exchange gifts at the same time. Since turning twenty-one is all about the alcohol, I carefully chose my gift amidst the rows of gleaming glass bottles at the liquor store. I knew my sister is big on tequila... I mean she had heard good things and was looking forward to trying it for the first time... wait, who am I fooling? Anyway, choosing the right brand was tricky. I glanced over the familiar household names along with some of the more obscure labels. Would you drink tequila flavored with a larva? I swirled around a bottle of tequila and watched as the white, segmented larva danced around in the golden fluid. Setting the bottle back down, it was hard not to imagine the unsettling, chewy crunch after imbibing larva infused tequila. No thank you.

I settled on a bottle that I'd never seen before but looked impressive and artistic with skeletons adorned in sixteenth century garb. Since my sister is the artistic sort, it seemed fitting. My selection was approved by the cashier who exclaimed the skeleton tequila "is a good one." Hopefully my sister would agree.

So, if you ever want to purchase alcohol as a gift but feel that handing over a bottle is a bit too insincere, try this:

Paper bag you got at the liquor store
A sharpie
A piece of rope or string
A card-sized piece of cardboard

Look up a bunch of drink recipes made with whatever alcohol type you are gifting.
Sharpie them onto the paper bag.
Write a little message or just another recipe on the card.
Cut a hole in the card.
Put the string through the card.
Tie the string around the neck of the bottle and bag.
Voila. It looks like you tried a little harder than just swiping your credit card.

The bottle

The bag

Friday, June 21, 2013

Kayaking Downtown

As part of our science camp counselor training, my coworkers and I kayaked up Onondaga Creek yesterday, from Dorwin Ave to the Inner Harbor. This trip was meant to give us a continuous view of the creek as it shifts from a fairly rural to a more urban landscape. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and we were leisurely following the current, so the day couldn't have been any more pleasant. I giggled like a little girl as a big yellow butterfly nearly crashed into my face before fluttering across the creek and disappearing into some tall grasses. I stared in awe as an immense, graceful heron glided elegantly overhead, legs straight and feet pointed like an expert diver. For a moment I imagined I was living amidst dinosaurs and the great beast overhead was really a pterodactyl. The warm heat from the sun made my eyelids heavy and the flutey songs of nearby birds dared me to doze off.

This fleeting feeling of utter serenity endured only until the first instance I lifted my paddle too high and accidentally splashed my face with creek water. Immediately I was reminded of the dreadful water quality of the creek and I made a mental note to monitor my paddle strokes more closely. It was only moments later the characteristic creek stench hit me. The stink of sewage filled my nostrils and the water that splattered across my face earlier suddenly seemed to be burning my holes through my skin. Or at least that's what my brain wanted me to think. Either way, what started out as a beautiful and relaxing kayak trip transformed into a race to the finish as the stench worsened. All I could think about was how infected my eyes might get if I kept accidentally splashing them with E. coli. infested water.

The sad part is Onondaga Creek could be a great recreational resource, but it has a bad reputation and people don't want to submerge themselves in water that smells like a toilet. Despite cringing every time a drop of water splashed on my shoulder and trickled down my arm, I could absolutely see the potential in the creek. It passes through the heart of downtown, and I paddled right past a dragon statue that I admire every time I visit Armory Square for a nice meal or to peruse the nearby record store. A creek that runs right through the city is a pretty unique feature, and it made me appreciate the trip more as I gazed up at familiar city buildings. Other parts of the creek are completely enclosed by old growth trees and bushes, giving it a beautiful shaded canopy. You would never know you were kayaking through downtrodden parts of Syracuse if it weren't for the sewage smell.

Under a bridge in the city
Photo courtesy of The Town Shop

Beautiful greenery surrounding the creek
Photo courtesy of The Town Shop

Killer Creek

Having gone to school in Syracuse for three years, I have only recently become acquainted with Onondaga Creek, a waterway flowing north from Tully and emptying into Onondaga Lake. This summer I have been training with my fellow counselors for a summer science camp taking place mid-July. Our camp dives into the chemistry, geology, plant, bird and insect diversity associated with the creek. We compare these biologic indicators at varying points, starting in the rural headwaters and as it transitions to an urban environment.

We've spent many waking hours taking water samples and cataloguing species to see what changes we can infer from our data. About a week ago we were taking measurements of the creek at Dorwin Ave when an unsavory older gentlemen pulled up in his beat up deep green pick up. He hobbled over to the fence donning denim jeans and a button down denim shirt, favoring a cane with his right hand. He purposefully leaned over the chain link fence to observe us as his long gray beard bound with a single wooden bead dangled over the rickety fence.

I had been bird watching a little way off and as I came back to rejoin my comrades I spotted the old man intently watching my crew. The only way to pass through the fence to get to the creek bank where the counselors were taking measurements was by passing through a narrow entrance mere inches from where the old man was standing.

Expecting to exchange brief "hellos," I approached the man with a smile when he turned and asked, "What are you all doing out there?" I started to explain our summer camp when he cut me off and began to vehemently explain how dangerous it is to enter these waters in waders. In a patronizing tone he told me how the muddy creek bed will suction your feet and before you know it you'll be reaching down with your hand to pull your feet out, your waders will fill with water and the weight will pull you down, knock you off balance and send you tumbling down the creek to a watery death. He said this to from personal experience, having lost three relatives to the creek. While I could sympathize with his story, I could not get over his use of numerous swear words as he passionately told his tale. By this time all of my counselors had congregated by the fence opening and shot each other nervous glances as the man went on to scold us for being so careless in the creek.

It is one thing to give people a helpful warning, but to yell at us and talk down to us as if we're irresponsible children is another story entirely. This man's poor conduct made me question what exactly were the circumstances of his family tragedies, if they had in fact happened at all. If he wanted to retain a bit more credibility, I might have suggested to him not to swear and yell at us, which only bolstered his image as a poorly educated country bumpkin. Perhaps his family members were tragically swallowed by the creek after one too many beers on an afternoon spent fish wrangling. While the old man really may have been expressing genuine concern for our well-being, his way of going about it will forever crown him as the crazy old river man at Dorwin Ave.

View of the creek