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No, Really, it's for the Neighborhood Kids

>> Sunday, February 28, 2010

After the big storm, our snow-o-meter got to:

It compressed quickly.  Technically it was a good inch above that when we first woke up on Friday, but an hour later it had compressed an entire inch, and that's when we took the photo.

It was enough snow that the dogs were completely overwhelmed by it.  At one point Lucy accidentally stepped off the area we had packed down for them and floomp!  She disappeared up to her panicked little eyeballs.  Watching the hounds move through that much snow is hilarious.  They have to bound like bunnies, and all but their ears disappear with each bound.

That was some of the heaviest, wettest snow I've ever had the misfortune to shovel.  Thankfully, on Friday morning, the neighbor I think of as "Mr. Grouchy" snow blowed much of the driveway for us.  I guess I have to stop thinking of him as Mr. Grouchy, huh?  He never cracked a smile, never even acknowledged us with so much as a nod, just silently and frowningly blowed out the driveway.  I'm grateful, with or without pleasantries.  We would have been absurdly late for work if we had had to shovel it all, and would possibly have done permanent damage to our spines.

Come today, Sunday, my husband and I started to work through the day's to-do list - various errands, cooking, cleaning the house...  Sometime early afternoon we scrapped it all and went to go outside and play in the snow instead.

We built a snow fort.  For the neighborhood kids, of course.  Yeah.  That's it.

The snow was so sticky that it was incredibly easy to build with.  It helped that we built it in the back yard along the narrow street that runs behind our house.  With a street that narrow there's nowhere to put the snow but up, so the snow bank was very high to begin with.  The walls are maybe 4-5 feet high from the inside, and from the outside along the street they were much higher.

I'm guessing our window arch might last a day, if we're lucky, given how fast things are melting.  None of the fort would withstand much of a snowball assault.  It lacks fine details, and is quite lumpy.  But it does have a window, peep holes, and stairways.  And to a creative imagination, the tree stump inside is a lovely table.  Dang, was it fun to build rather than doing all the things we were supposed to do!

Now to thaw out my extremities, and finish some of that laundry...


Snow, finally

>> Thursday, February 25, 2010

I've been lamenting for weeks that if it's going to be winter, it ought to really be winter.  Hooray for me, today is finally a proper Central New York winter day!  Too bad it was a work day.  Oh, how I miss snow days.

When we left the house this morning our sophisticated snow-o-meter read:

By the time I got home it read:

Meh.  At least it's something.  The roads on the way home were, as my husband so eloquently put it, "slicker than snot on a doorknob."  I like being able to properly utilize my snow tires.

It's still snowing like crazy, and that makes me happy.  The forecast is for a total of 12" to 15" of snow.  While that's admirable, even if we got that much it's still not enough for me.  I'd prefer a good old-fashioned whallop, like the blizzard of '93.

That, incidentally, was the year that I did the exchange in York, England, and by the time the March blizzard hit, the girl I exchanged with was at our house in Central New York.  She thought 43" of snow in 48 hours was pretty fun, especially since she'd only ever experienced a few inches at a time, and that rarely.  York doesn't get that much snow any more.  Here she is, in the incredible snow fort we built in my parents' front yard: 

There was a tunnel that stretched probably a good 6 feet through the snow, and at the end of it we built an igloo snow fort.  It was great fun, although the very thought of crawling through that tunnel now makes my pulse quicken and my chest tighten.  Sometime between then and now I've developed a mild case of claustrophobia.

My best friend also got snowed in at our house at the beginning of that storm, and it was a thrill to have the whole City of Syracuse shut down.  For a couple of days only emergency vehicles were allowed on the roads.  Do you know what that would mean for me now?  A snow day.  I'd kill for a snow day.  My office never, ever closes, but I figure "emergency vehicles only" would actually do it.  Too bad 15" of snow is patently insufficient to achieve "emergency vehicle only" status in snowy Syracuse.

In other fun storm memories, how about the 1998 ice storm?  The storm bypassed Central New York, but I was in college in Maine at the time, and most certainly experienced it in all its wrath.  When I called my parents on the second day of the storm, they couldn't believe the stories I told about the ice.  Syracuse just got rain, and apparently my parents hadn't been watching the news.

I don't recall how much ice there was, but these photos give you some idea.  Here's a good friend of mine trying to chisel out her vehicle.

She's definitely going to kill me for posting that photo of her talking, but it's the only photo I have showing the ice accumulation.  In the background you can see the trees bent double under the weight of the ice.  And to the left you can make out the thickness of the ice on her truck bed.  Now THAT was some ice!

That storm was really rather tragic as such things go, as there were something like 30 fatalities.  There were a lot of farm animal fatalities, too, because farmers could not get adequate water and ventilation to their livestock, and quite a number of barns also collapsed on animals.  The damage to power infrastructure in the affected areas was staggering, and some people were without power for nearly a month.

In Maine, my college was well equipped to handle power outages.  We were also right near one of the more major metropolitan areas (for Maine), so we got our power back quickly.  Friends, neighbors, and faculty weren't all so lucky.  I was actually off campus when the storm hit and couldn't get back to campus for a day or two.  The roads were impassable from so much ice and so many downed trees and power lines.  For days afterward, once I finally got back to campus, all day long I could hear the incessant sound of people trying to hack through the ice encasing their cars.  Lots of people broke windshields, mirrors and windows by hacking too hard at them.

After graduation, I worked in Northern New York for a few years, which also got hit by the ice.  I distinctly recall driving up Route 81 and along Route 11 and noticing the spiky appearance of the landscape.  So many trees had snapped off under the weight of all that ice that the North Country looked strangely pointy for a number of years afterward.

I wonder, how would we fare in a major storm at our house?  If we lost electricity, we'd still have the wood stove for heat, although without being able to run the fan on it we wouldn't be able to keep more than one room really warm.  Otherwise we would just lose the lights and the fridge - everything else should continue to work.  A small generator to run the fan on the wood stove and the fridge would be ideal, but they're so expensive we haven't invested in one yet.  But how much fun would it be to camp out - us two and our 5 fuzzy friends - in front of the fire for a few days?  Sounds like a grand adventure to me.

I shall have to wait for a different storm, however.  This one's just a little bit of snow fun, not one for the history books - at least not in Central New York.


Ruins, Yet Again

>> Tuesday, February 23, 2010

After driving about for quite some time, wandering different bits of the trail and getting a little bit lost, my husband and I finally found what we had set out to discover.  The Cayuga County Trail was once a railroad track that has now been converted into a trail.  It's hard to say precisely what these buildings would have been used for because there's a shocking amount of garbage that has been shoved in them over the years. Most of the larger rusting bits looked like farm equipment, so my best guess is these were used for storing and loading grain and other farm goods.

Regardless of their history, they are decidedly picturesque in fading February evening light.

It's hard to believe some of these are still standing at all.  I was afraid to sneeze for fear I'd blow them over.  I pity the poor squirrel or bat whose weight finally does in the one above.  It gave me a little more hope that my lovely old house with its slightly leaning basement wall has a long time before I need to panic about it.  And our barn, which is rapidly beginning to look like some of these, could stand for decades yet.  At least our barn still has 4 walls and a roof, although the angles at which said walls and roof meet up are becoming more peculiar with each passing year.

These wonderful old barns were hauntingly still and quiet while we snapped their pictures.  No creatures stirred, and for the first time all day the wind dwindled to nothing.  It was as though time was temporarily frozen.

I love the textures of the old wood as it slowly rots, and the remaining hints of the red paint that used to grace the boards.  I wonder why red is the universal color for barns?  It's sometimes amazing to me that neglect and decay can be beautiful.


Outdoor Shortcuts

>> Monday, February 22, 2010

The Spouse and I went to a new gym on Sunday morning to try it out.  We haven't decided whether to join or not - I hate that one has to commit for 18 months to get a remotely reasonable rate.  I sincerely wish gyms had seasonal memberships because we don't really need a gym in the summer.  When it's nice out, we bike, hike, jog, rollerblade, garden and canoe.  For more upper body workout we just stand still in the back yard and swat mosquitoes.

I know myself - no matter how much I'm paying a gym I'm not going to be inclined to exercise indoors in the summer when I can be outdoors instead.  In the winter, though, we turn into pathetic lumps.  Every stinking winter.  Oh, sure, we still get out for a few hours of walking or snowshoeing each weekend, but that's hardly enough to keep us in shape.

This year I've had enough of our lazy winter lumpishness.  Adirondack High Peak season is just around the corner, and I'd prefer not to collapse in a gasping heap 1/2 way up the next mountain.  So, I dragged our sorry butts to a nice gym that's not too far from home to try it out.

Incidentally, we have to decide by Thursday if we're going to join in order to get the best rate and a whole bunch of free stuff, like t-shirts, gym bags, two sessions with a trainer, a free hour on the tennis courts, and some other odds and ends.  I like free stuff, whether it's really free or not.  I'm appalled that I feel compelled to join within the next 5 days to get the "free" stuff, just as they intend.  I like to think of myself as being resistant to peer pressure and advertising since I don't have a TV, don't listen to the radio other than NPR, and seldom read magazines and therefore hardly ever see or hear ads.

Clearly I'm just deluding myself.  I'm completely susceptible.  I'll keep you posted on just how fabulous the free t-shirts and gym bags are.

The purpose of this little aside is to explain why our Sunday walk wasn't really a walk so much as a series of little stops in the car, and very short forays into the cold.  By the time I got done running 2 miles and using a whole bunch of nautilus equipment at the gym, my legs and arms felt like cooked spaghetti.  I then went home and ate a massive lunch, thereby undoing most of the work I'd done burning calories at the gym.  I then did NOT feel like being cold.  I always seem to reach that point in February - I'm so sick of winter I can hardly stand it.

After my post a couple of weeks ago about the ruins we'd stumbled upon along the Erie Canal, my father mentioned some ruins he had found along the Cayuga County Trail that runs from Cato to Fair Haven.  He also mentioned that they were right where a road crosses the trail.  So, for our weekend outdoors adventure, Spouse and I decided to go on a quest to find the ruins.

We started off in the Village of Cato, where we actually started walking down the trail a little way.  We found some friends:

And evidence that they spend a lot of time in this little stream.

We also found a few scenic spots.

I love this donut of snow around the base of this tree.

And the incredibly striking color of red berries against snow.

Between the spaghetti legs, the headwind, and the numerous stinky snowmobiles, we did not get far down the trail before we wound up back at the car and went seeking the next spot where the road crosses the trail.

We drove for a while and stopped along the road to shoot pics of some corn against a brightening evening sky.

We made our way over back roads up to Route 104, where we stopped and got out because there was a cool bridge over what I think is Sterling Creek.  Just as we got onto the bridge, the sun appeared, lighting up the trees in the distance.

My arms still feel like spaghetti and holding them up to this keyboard is getting increasingly difficult, so I'm going to make y'all wait for tomorrow to find out if we ever did manage to find the ruins...


Simon Outtakes

>> Saturday, February 20, 2010

If there is one thing Basset hounds are good for, it's amusing photos. Having a good camera just hanging about means there will be infinite opportunities for catching the hounds in some kind of funny, wrinkly, droopy pose, and with the new lens we've been snapping lots of experimental shots.

Here are a few we took of Simon in the last week that amused me - just thought I'd share.

Wrinkles slide forward.  He must have extra strong eyelid muscles to be able to hold up all those wrinkles while looking down:

No idea why his tongue is sticking that far out of his head at this moment:

Check out the lip flapping in the breeze, and all the snaggly little teeth:



The York Minster and the Treasurer's House

>> Thursday, February 18, 2010

My other good ghost story from York is as follows.

The York Minster dominates the city of York.  It is the largest gothic cathedral in northern Europe.  It's like a living thing, cropping up over and over again as one turns corners throughout the city.

The history of the York minster, in brief, is as follows.  The first York Minster was built for the Anglo Saxon King, Edwin of Northumbria.  He had been baptized in a small wooden church in 627, and ordered a stone church built to replace it.  That church was built and survived the Viking era of York, but was damaged by fire in the Norman conquest of York in 1069.  It is unknown where that church lay.

Incidentally, the title "Minster" is given to churches that were established in the Anglo Saxon period as missionary teaching churches.
On the roof of the York Minster

The Normans ordered a new Minster to be constructed in a separate location, and that is the location of the present Minster.  Construction was begun around 1080, and completed around 1100.  Bits of that version of the Minster are still visible in the undercroft.  The present Minster was constructed in stages, between about 1215 (starting with the north and south transepts) and 1472 (ending with the western towers).

The Five Sisters Windows

Next to the Minster, across a narrow cobblestone street, lies a building known as the Treasurer's House.  In medieval times, it served as the home for the treasurers of the Minster, which was a prestigious and coveted position.  In 1547 it passed into private hands when the office of treasurer was abolished as a result of the Reformation, and the house remained under private ownership until it was donated to the National Trust in 1930.  It's a magnificent house, although it has undergone so many renovations it is difficult to know what it may have looked like at any given time in history.  Sadly, I don't seem to have taken any photos of it.

The ghost story I heard on the ghost walks of York is as follows.  In 1953, a young plumber by the name of Harry Martindale was doing some work in the basement of the Treasurer's House.  He heard the sound of a horn or bugle in the distance, although thought little of it as he assumed it was the sound of kids playing in the street outside.  Suddenly the horn sounded very close to him.  He scrambled into a corner of the basement, from which vantage point he observed a bunch of tired and dirty Roman soldiers walk through the basement wall, through the room, and out through the wall on the other side of the basement.  He could only see the soldiers from about the knees up - it appeared to him almost as though they were walking through the basement on their knees.

After the incident, Mr. Martindale fled from the basement and told his tale.  Initially, historians were skeptical about his story because the description Mr. Martindale provided of the soldiers did not match what was known about the Roman soldiers at that time.  He described unusual kilts, helmets and other armaments, the likes of which Roman soldiers had never been known to wear. 

Fastforward to the late 1960s.  When the central tower of the York Minster began to collapse, a massive collaboration among historians, archaeologists, architects and engineers was launched to save the structure.  Before they could inject massive concrete supports into the basement to support the tower, excavations were done.  Elements of the Norman predecessor to the Minster were uncovered.  Additionally, archaeologists unearthed a Roman road that extended under the Minster in the direction of the Treasurer's House. 

Further excavation in the basement of the Treasurer's House revealed that the Roman road did indeed run under the basement, approximately 15 inches below the present floor.  The Roman soldiers Mr. Martindale saw had been walking on their own road, and that was why they could only be seen from the knees up.

Additionally, other artifacts were discovered in the Minster excavations that corroborated Mr. Martindale's descriptions of the soldiers' armor.  Other archaeological discoveries had also been made between 1953 and the late 1960s, that confirmed that indeed, Roman soldiers could have worn the clothing and armor Mr. Martindale had described.

This is probably one of the best documented ghost stories in York.  I have to admit, it's a convincing tale, since Mr. Martindale had talked with historians in detail about his observations long before the excavations under the Minster began.  Mr. Martindale was not a historian, and could not possibly have known about the presence of the Roman road, nor that Roman soldiers had ever worn such attire, as no one knew those details until many years later.

I heard many other ghost stories in York, but those are the two I remember best.  Remembering all this about York makes me want to take another trip to England!



>> Wednesday, February 17, 2010

I promised ghost stories, so I shall deliver. Honestly, I'm running out of good things to blog about this time of year. I could use a good dose of spring. Absent that, I can at least tell some ghost stories for sitting around the fire of an evening. After all, I love to tell stories. I guess that is part of the reason I started this blog in the first place.

I mentioned last week that I spent some time living in York, England when I was in high school. York is a spectacular old walled city, with incredibly old buildings, the largest gothic cathedral in northern Europe, and wonderful atmosphere. One of the things I loved most about York was the sense of history just radiating off those cobblestone streets.

On the walls of the city:

Check out this ancient church and its wonky floors. I stumbled upon this one afternoon, tucked into a courtyard surrounded by buildings.

There are dozens upon dozens of tiny passageways and alleys around the city, referred to as "snickelways". While not the most romantic and medieval of all the snickelways, this snickelway was actually in the house I lived in, and led to the walled garden behind the house.

With a city that old, one is bound to have some sordid bits of history, like Clifford's Tower.

What a sad story - I cannot even comprehend having to make the kind of decision those 150 people had to make on that March night in 1190.

With history, especially gruesome history like Clifford's tower, tend to come ghost stories. York was named by the Ghost Research Foundation International to be the most haunted city in the world, with 504 recorded hauntings. For 17-year-old me, that amounted to some great history lessons, and a whole lot of fun, too.

There are a number of different ghost tours in York, and they compete fiercely with each other for business. I went on several in my time there because I got such a kick out of them.  It was fascinating to compare the different versions of the same story told by the different tour guides.  Some of those tour guides were talented actors.

Anyway, you can imagine my surprise when, on my first ghost tour, the tour stopped at...

My host family's house.  Yikes!

The house was supposedly named "The Plague House" in some old city records. In an ancient city like York, the bubonic, pneumonic, and/or septicemic plague made its rounds through the city more than once, often decimating the population. During outbreaks, city officials would mark an "X" on the door of any house in which someone was infected with the plague, warning people to stay away from the house. Eventually, officials would then enter the houses to remove the bodies.

I heard two different stories about the house at 5 Minster Yard. In one version of the story, during one of the plague outbreaks, a young girl living in the house contracted the plague. Her parents panicked and abandoned her, leaving her to die alone in the house.

In the other version of the story, the whole rest of the family contracted the plague - everyone except the young girl. Because of the X on the door, no one would approach the house, despite the girl's desperate cries for help from the window. In that version of the story she died of starvation.

When the officials later came to clear out the bodies, they found her lifeless body.  Presumably just for dramatic effect, the story tellers would often suggest that the girl had slipped into an opening in the wall while she was crying out the window for assistance, and that when the officials came to collect her body they merely left her there and bricked her body in. That bit of the story I never did understand - why on earth would they leave her? I admit, though, that it kind of wigged me out that if you measured all the rooms on the second story of the house, it did seem that there was some space in the middle that you couldn't access. A hidden room, long ago bricked up? Probably nothing so exciting, but one does wonder.

Surely the question you all want to know the answer to is, was the house really haunted? I never saw anything suspicious during my brief time there, and at least at that time my host family hadn't, either. However, the people who had lived in the house before my host family had allegedly seen a young girl's ghost crying in the spare bedroom.

Whether because of that rumor or perhaps just because they wanted to keep the spare room free in case they had other guests while I was there, my host family renovated a room in the attic for me rather than putting me in the spare room. Although I have a wicked sense of curiosity about such things, I think I'm glad I didn't have to sleep there. I would have worked myself up to a major case of the willies every night.

The only curious thing that I experienced wasn't until I got back home and developed my pictures. Near the end of my stay, I took some photos of the inside of the house. One turned out very strange. There were no reflective surfaces in the room other than the window you see in the photo, which had curtains hanging in front of it. This doesn't look like anything in particular to me - I certainly don't see the shape of a ghostly, night gowned, plague-ridden child in it - but it is interesting. I still wonder what caused the weird effects.

The window that the ghost tour guides would stop and point at was a tiny little window, not the one in the photo above.  You can hardly see the ghost tour window in this photo:

If you look at the little stone house on the end of the row, you can see one large bay window on the end, and just to the right of that is a much smaller window. I'm certain the tour guides point to that window for effect because it is a charming little window. Inside the house, that window merely led to a hallway, not a room:

The girl I exchanged with and I had tremendous fun scaring people on the ghost tour.  We would hide in that hallway and wait until the tour guide got to the most suspenseful bit of the story. Then I would silently press my hand against the glass of the window, and we'd collapse into hysterical laughter at the screams of all the poor souls on the tour. Even the tour guide was a bit taken aback the first time we did it.

I still chuckle to remember it.

The next installment of the ghost chronicles:  The York Minster and the Treasurer's House.


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