Bluegrass is hungry work: in the kitchen at IBMA in Raleigh

String Fever listeners hear a lot about the IBMA — International Bluegrass Music Association.  Every year the trade organization holds a week-long conference and music festival, providing opportunities for artists to connect with agents, DJs,  record labels, and their fans.  It also provides an opportunity for artists, DJs, agents, and other music industry folks to network with each other.

This is my second time around for IBMA week, now held in Raleigh, NC.  Folks here seem very courteous, warm and generous; the traffic isn’t too bad, and the weather is great.

A little later in the week I’ll tell about the people I’ve met, interviewed, and learned from, but for my first day in town, I volunteered to prepare food for a fundraising reception for Leadership Bluegrass, a professional training segment of IBMA which encourages greater participation and promotion of the bluegrass music genre. I’d like to participate in the class someday, but for this year, I volunteered in the kitchen.  This is where Day 1 in Raleigh begins for me:

I’m at the Raleigh, NC law firm of Williams-Mullen. They have offered to host our reception. This is one of the many conference rooms on the 17th floor, with beautiful views of the city.

I’m at the Raleigh, NC law firm of Williams-Mullen. They have offered to host our reception. This is one of the many conference rooms on the 17th floor, with beautiful views of the city.

It’s time to get to work, and the food is almost all set to go:

 

 I’ve been chopping, slicing, dicing (and shopping!). Things are looking pretty good here… and the view is amazing.


I’ve been chopping, slicing, dicing (and shopping!). Things are looking pretty good here… and the view is amazing.

This has been my view for most of today:

This is the catering kitchen - I wish we had one of these at NCPR!!

This is the catering kitchen – I wish we had one of these at NCPR!!

The crowd is gathering in that beautiful lobby.  The food is going over well, and bluegrass players, supporters, and alumni of Leadership Bluegrass are having a great time:

Plenty of networking going on here.

Plenty of networking going on here. These women are from all across the US.

Old friends are just arriving for the conference, and catching up.

Old friends are just arriving for the conference, and catching up.

 

Hey! Isn't that guy in the hat Bill Knowlton of WCnY in Syracuse?  Yes it is!  He's visiting with a friend from the Boston Union, a radio host & bluegrass photographer from Maine, and the band Nu-Blu from North Carolina. You never know who you come to IBMA week.

Hey! Isn’t that guy in the hat Bill Knowlton of WCNY in Syracuse? Yes it is! He’s visiting with a friend from the Boston Bluegrass Union, a radio host & bluegrass photographer from Maine, and the band Nu-Blu from North Carolina. You never know who you’ll run into during  IBMA week.

Meet The Bankesters, aour entertainment for the evening.  They're a family band - that you'll be hearing more of on String Fever!

Meet The Bankesters, our entertainers for the evening. They’re a family band  that you’ll be hearing more of on String Fever!

"Fill The Fiddle Case" was the theme of the reception. With money, that is.  In other words, bluegrass fans - through their love of the genre - have collectively created a 'bluegrass love child" ... and now it's time to pay child support to keep the next generation of bluegrass leaders moving forward.   Sound much like public radio??

“Fill The Fiddle Case” was the theme of the reception. With money, that is. In other words, bluegrass supporters need to keep the next generation of bluegrass leaders moving forward.
Sound much like public radio??

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen….

Meet Mary Burdette, my travel mate and hostess for this opening reception.

Meet Mary Burdette, my travel mate and hostess for this opening reception.

 

Now that the kitchen work is done, I’m ready to dig into some great bluegrass music and meet some new musical friends.  I’ll check back soon with another postcard from Raleigh.

Meanwhile, if you have a favorite musician you’d like me to interview, please email me – Barb@ncpr.org – and I’ll do my best to record it this week.  Check back here for more updates on what happened at the IBMA .

The annual IBMA Awards night is this Thursday — I’ll tell you ALL about it as soon as I can, and you can also stream the show live online via the IBMA website, IBMA.org. There are several other  award recipients that are recognized through the week, including new members of the Bluegrass Hall of Fame.  I’ll keep you posted.

See you on the radio, and thanks for tuning in!

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This blessing called Indian summer

The glory of fall and Indian summer. Photo by Peter Rufi, Creative Commons

A slice of Indian summer from 2005. Photo by Peter Rufi, Creative Commons

What a glorious week! Sunshine and delicious temperatures, against the backdrop of fall colors and the special quality of light that saturates our world this time of year.

This last gasp of warmth is often called Indian summer – more about that name in a second. And it really comes in handy too. A nice psychological boost, not to mention a final window of opportunity for weather-sensitive work.

Case in point: We had a deck repair that concluded the day before a two-week road trip. All that bare wood with winter on the horizon, not good! But no worries, I thought. It can be stained when we get back. Except that our return in mid-September was so cold and rainy people were turning their furnaces on. Darn it!

Thankfully, good old Indian summer did make an appearance. Nearly a whole week of sun, no rain and temps above any danger zone for the task at hand. I spent a few solid days sanding and staining and was very grateful that chance came. Of course, there’s more that needs doing in the garden too. But those chores still happen in the cold or the damp, however less pleasant doing it then may be.

Heres more on that term, from a .pdf supplement by Brian Pierce from the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA):

What is Indian Summer?

The first cold spell of the fall signifying the change of seasons makes many people long for Indian Summer. But what exactly is Indian Summer?

True Indian Summer is a period of abnormally warm weather following the first killing freeze of autumn. A killing freeze occurs when the overnight temperature reaches 28 degrees of cold…and may or may not occur with frost. Indian Summer typically occurs in mid to late autumn and can occur more than once.

In Europe…the equivalent of Indian Summer is termed Old Wives Summer or in poetry as Halcyon Days. In England…it is known as either St. Martin’s Summer or St. Luke’s Summer depending on the date of occurrence.

Apparently the term has become a standard term in English speaking countries. Indeed, the UK is enjoying an Indian summer this with mid-September temperatures that rival or exceed sunny Spain. This generated articles in the British press explaining that the term does not come from India, but (quite probably) from colonial days in North America.

One such explanatory item from the Guardian even cites an article from 1837 that expands on the term and its origins. A quote frequently used to source the term comes from Hector Saint John de Crèvecoeur, who wrote in 1778:

Sometimes the rain is followed by an interval of calm and warmth which is called the Indian Summer; its characteristics are a tranquil atmosphere and general smokiness.

But why call it Indian summer? Here’s what the Old Farmer’s Almanac says on that:

There are many theories. Some say it comes from the early Algonquian Native Americans, who believed that the condition was caused by a warm wind sent from the court of their southwestern god, Cautantowwit.

The most probable origin of the term, in our view, goes back to the very early settlers in New England. Each year they would welcome the arrival of a cold wintry weather in late October when they could leave their stockades unarmed. But then came a time when it would suddenly turn warm again, and the Native Americans would decide to have one more go at the settlers. “Indian summer,” the settlers called it.

A constant problem with Internet research is that so much of what is found simply copies and repeats sources, that may or may not be correct. So I throw this out to the collective and nuanced expertise of All In readership. Where do you think the term came from? Is it possibly offensive, as in the name of a Washington football team?

Whatever you call it, here’s to a grand spell of wonderful weather.

Quebec farm tries exotic crop: saffron

Crocus sativus plant, Peißnitzinsel, Germany. Image HeiWu, Creative Commons

Crocus sativus plant, Peißnitzinsel, Germany.
Image: HeiWu, Creative Commons

Do you cook with saffron? Me neither.

It’s rare and expensive. But then again “expensive” can also be worth growing yourself, or trying out as a cash crop.

I was surprised to read this recent CBC item about a farm in Quebec that’s giving saffron a try.

Pur Safran, located in the small Quebec village of St-Elie-de-Caxton, expects to harvest 450 to 500 grams of the precious spice before the end of October.

“We would like for Quebec to become self-sufficient in saffron production, because we can do it,”  said Pur Safran co-owner Nathalie Denault, who not only produces the spice, but teaches other potential growers the ropes.

Saffron comes from the reddish-orange stigmas of a particular crocus flower and is considered to be the most expensive spice in the world.

Crocus sativus, Atlas des plantes de France. 1891

Crocus sativus, Atlas des plantes de France. 1891

NPR’s food blog, The Salt, had an item in early September entitled: These 5 crops are still harvested by hand and it’s hard work. The foods listed were saffron, vanilla, chocolate, palm oil and cottonseed oil.

The tropical stuff isn’t going to do well around here. But saffron starts as a bulb and is pretty tough. Much of the world’s supply comes from places like Kashmir, which reportedly suffered severed damage to saffron production due to floods this year.

The Quebec saffron farm has a (French language) website Pursafran with more photos and info on their efforts. Saffron is famously associated with the yellow dish paella, but can also be used in many other recipes.

Actually, I did grow saffron from a few bulbs when I lived in Kars. It’s no harder than any other crocus. The hard part (for me) was remembering where I’d planted it and remembering to watch for the flowers and harvest the delicate stigma in the fall.

Having moved to North Gower, I can start that attempt again, if I mail order more bulbs and keep better track of where they are!

Harvesting saffron in Iran. Image:Safa.daneshvar reative Commons

Harvesting saffron in Iran. Image: Safa.daneshvar Creative Commons

The big launch: a whole new ncpr.org

The new ncpr.org is launched. Artist: Carey Rockwell from Danger in Deep Space, a Tom Corbett Space Cadet Adventure, public domain

The new ncpr.org is launched. Artist: Carey Rockwell from Danger in Deep Space, a Tom Corbett Space Cadet Adventure, public domain

If you have visited NCPR in the last few days, you will have found a lot of changes. On Tuesday night Bill Haenel flipped the last set of switches to launch the first complete redesign of NCPR since about 1914 (in internet years). It’s been a little lively around here ever since as we address issues that didn’t show their heads until after we went live, and as we fix up old pages, sections and navigation to work properly with the new design. That process will continue for a while, so I hope you will bear with us during our shakedown cruise.

But the site is working well enough on most devices and browsers to be let out in public and I wanted a chance to brag on Bill’s accomplishments a bit. The first big deal in my mind is the new home page. The old design featured a few curated and promoted items at the top, and most of the rest of the content was brought to the page through whatever happened to be newest in the particular feed that put stuff into that particular box. That meant that most items on our most heavily visited page were there “just because,” and were not selected and curated by a human editor to suit our audience. Some features that didn’t update often carried some very outdated stories, and some contained stories that just didn’t work inside the old site design. Bad robot.

No more. If you go to our home page now you will find at this moment 33 stories, posts, photo features, videos and audio features from NCPR and from our public media partners that were selected from among the hundreds of items available to be the best, or the most important, or the most interesting features available. If you want to see everything produced by NCPR News, go to the news page; if you want just the best and the most timely, you will find it on the home page. And if you want more than these 33 items, you can load in more, and they will still be hand curated from among all the sources we tap.

The other big thing I like about the home page is that you can actually use all the content directly from the page, without going to a different page to read the whole story, or listen to the whole story, or watch the video, or share it with your friends. Using the read, listen, watch, or share buttons on a home page story will bring it all forward into view. This a real innovation and will save visitor’s time and a lot of extra navigation and page loading and backtracking when they want to browse through a number of items.

And unlike the old site, this one will adapt itself to the size of the device you are viewing it on. So win, win, win, in my humble opinion. The media players are based on newer technology. The photos display larger than ever before, if you are on a large screen. Content types we couldn’t display properly before, such as First Listen album previews, video collections and NPR slideshows now work properly for the first time. And there’s lots more to come, including stories from public media network and program sources we couldn’t tap before.

I could go on and on, but the best way to get the idea is to explore for yourself. Play Lucinda Williams new double album, which the rest of world won’t see until Monday. Watch John Hodgman, at the behest of his secret ape overlord, put Tweedy out on the street to hawk their new release door to door. Read the NPR ombudsman’s take on the ethics of language used in reporting on terrorism. Meet an Adirondack couple whose solution to funding high winter heating costs is outside of the box. And more.

This had been a huge job with Bill Haenel doing all the heavy lifting–a full year in the works. And did I say?–It looks simply marvelous.

My friend got a death threat for her reporting

My college friend Zaheena Rasheed is a journalist in the Maldives, a Muslim island nation off the coast of India. Zaheena has fought for basic political freedoms there since she was a teenager. She now writes for an online, English language newspaper, Minivan News. Minivan means ‘independent’ in the Maldivian language of Dhivehi.

For Zaheena, yesterday was scary.

DSC_0685

Zaheena makes Ramadan treats with her family. Taken during my visit there in 2009. Photo: Sarah Harris

“Dark night in Male (the Maldivian capital),” she wrote on Facebook. “I received a death threat at 5:39 pm saying ‘you will be killed/disappeared next.’”

Vandals destroyed her office’s CCTV camera and launched a machete into their door.

Maldives is best known in the west for its high end island resorts and low-lying terrain that’s vulnerable to climate change. But what a lot of people don’t know is that Maldives is a country grappling with the confluence of democracy and religion. The past few years have been marked by political instability and and the ever-growing influence of radical Islam.

The Maldives was governed by dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom for 30 years. During that time,  people left their home islands and migrated to the capital island Male, seeking services. Now, about 100,000 people pack into the capital island that measures a mere 2.2 square miles.

In 2008, Gayoom was ousted in a peaceful, democratic election, and replaced by now ex-president Mohammed Nasheed. I went to the Maldives with Zaheena in 2009. Democracy was an exciting, burgeoning force then — people felt their votes had made a difference.

But in early 2012, Nasheed was forced out by a military coup. And a month ago, Zaheena’s colleague Ahmed Rilwan, a journalist and active pro-democracy blogger, disappeared at knifepoint. He has not returned.

According to Minivan News, a recent report implicated radicalized gangs in Rilwan’s abduction.

I cannot help but contrast Zaheena’s political reality with my own. I have never had to fight for basic political freedoms. I enjoy freedom of the press every day, when I come into work and sit down to make phone calls and write stories. I might occasionally have to deal with a sticky bureaucracy of people who don’t want to talk — but that is very different than a text message threatening death.

On a road trip in Texas during freshman year spring break. Our friend Sam is on the left.

On a road trip in Texas during freshman year spring break. Our friend Sam is on the left.

I’ve spent the day and night worry about Zaheena’s safety. It’s hard not to, especially just after American journalists Fames Foley and Steven Sotloff were beheaded on camera by a militant from the so-called Islamic State.

In college, Zaheena and I spent endless nights giggling and and talking about our families and our boyfriends and our dreams. We both settled into the same career: telling true stories because it’s essential to healthy democracies and healthy communities.

But in the North Country, I can practice my craft without having to look over my shoulder. For me, independent reporting doesn’t have the same personal price.

 

Photo Tour: Lowville Cream Cheese Festival #10 – the best yet

The weather was beautiful -- and the crowd was hungry for all things cream cheese...

The weather was beautiful — and the crowd was hungry for all things cream cheese…

Welcome to  Lowville Cream Cheese Festival Number Ten!  All the wacky games, food, contests, entertainment, and cute pets that I’ve come to expect, plus perfect weather and a fun crowd.

In case you missed it, here are a few of the highlights from the festival.  I didn’t get photos of the wacky pet contests this year, but there were plenty.

NCPR was media sponsor for the day.  Kraft is a major sponsor of the festival, and it highlights Philadelphia Cream Cheese – their main product at the plant in Lowville.  There is a recipe contest that’s world class…. look for some of the winning recipes in an upcoming Philadelphia Cream Cheese cookbook.

The whole town gets behind y this festival, and it really shows. It's my favorite event of the whole year.

The whole town gets behind this festival, and it really shows. It’s my favorite event of the  year.

Kraft Foods once again created the world's largest cheesecake, delivered by refrigerated truck on this special stainless steel trailer.  It was created and served  by a team of volunteers who work for Kraft, and all 4,000 servings were GONE within a few hours!

Kraft Foods once again created the world’s largest cheesecake, delivered by refrigerated truck on this special stainless steel trailer. It was created and served by a team of volunteers who work for Kraft, and all 4,000 servings were GONE within a few hours!

Nothing but crumbs left.  The cheesecake was great.

Nothing but crumbs left. The cheesecake was great.

 

Of course, there was PLENTY of food everywhere at this festival!  I was particularly fascinated with all the foods that you can get on a stick:

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What Cheesecake-on-a-Stick really looks like.

What Cheesecake-on-a-Stick really looks like.

 

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These Taters also come on a stick...

These Taters also come on a stick…

There was also plenty of food that wasn’t served on a stick:

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What does a banjo have to do with BBQ???  I feel a banjo joke coming on....

What does a banjo have to do with BBQ??? I feel a banjo joke coming on….

There was entertainment ALL day long:

... starting with Cubby and Cuddles the Clowns.

… starting with Cubby and Cuddles the Clowns.

The Atkinsons delivered a great set of bluegrass music!  This is Shelene and Dick, matriarch and patriarch of the band.

The Atkinsons delivered a great set of bluegrass music! This is Shelene and Dick, matriarch and patriarch of the band.

The Nelson Brothers - dairy farming brothers from Rome, NY, really had the street rocking with classic country music.  These guys are rock stars!

The Nelson Brothers – dairy farming brothers from Rome, NY –  really had the street rocking with classic country music. These guys are stars!

Here are the Nelsons off-stage... still rock stars.

Here are the Nelsons off-stage… still rock stars.

Next up:  an oldies band called Good Golly (yes, they opened with that song!).

Next up: an oldies band called Good Golly (yes, they opened with that song!).

Of course, the Lowville Cream Cheese Festival is also a celebration of local agriculture and agribusiness.  There was plenty of JD green around:

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Something for everyone.

Something for everyone.

 

Of course, there's nothing like a crowd to draw politicians - and talking heads!

There’s nothing like a crowd to draw politicians – and giant talking heads!

Lowville Academy has a community service requirement for all students.  These girls were doing a stellar job on trash duty, and put in a long day of work.  Other volunteer students set up/took down chairs, hay bales, shoveled, swept, hauled, lifted and otherwise kept the festival ticking throughout the day.  Well done, volunteers!!

Lowville Academy has a community service requirement for all students. These girls were doing a stellar job on trash duty, and put in a long day of work. Other volunteer students set up/took down chairs, hay bales, shoveled, swept, hauled, lifted and otherwise kept the festival ticking throughout the day. Well done, volunteers!!

.. and there were SO MANY WACKY GAMES!  Here’s just a small sample:

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That's right... Cream Cheese Bingo.

That’s right… Cream Cheese Bingo.

Throw the blob of cream cheese at the Bingo board... and that's how it's done.  It's hard to see, but this board is covered with blobs of cream cheese.

Throw the blob of cream cheese at the Bingo board… and that’s how it’s done. It’s hard to see, but this board is covered with blobs of cream cheese.

This is the Cream Cheese Toss -- a lot like baseball... or... soft ball.  Think soft blobs of cream cheese, thrown by your team partner.  See how many you can hit (with the bat) in under a minute.  That's Lowville mayor Donna Smith marking time for this competition.  She's mighty brave -- just look at the ground around her!

This is the Cream Cheese Toss — a lot like baseball… or… soft ball. Think soft blobs of cream cheese, thrown by your team partner. See how many you can hit (with the bat) in under a minute. That’s Lowville mayor Donna Smith in the green T-shirt –  marking time for this competition. She’s mighty brave — just look at the ground around her!  Also note the cream cheese on the left contestant’s nose — she just kept right on swinging!  What a trooper!

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Dauber is the Cream Cheese Man at the festival.  He greets folks who are waiting in line for cheesecake.  He coaches kids who are painting on the cream cheese mural, and he’s sort of a cream cheese ambassador.

Notice how white Dauber is at the beginning of the day....

Notice how white Dauber is at the beginning of the day….

 

... and how colorful he is after being 'painted' by so many kids.  I would not want to drive home in that outfit!

… and how colorful he is after being ‘painted’ by so many kids. I would not want to drive home in that outfit!

The crowds were huge, but happy.

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There was even a Discovery Center (large enclosed area with dozens of child-friendly distractions) for kids:

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... and lots of face painting.

… and lots of face painting.

The Lowville Cheese Store was there in force, wearing their wacky hats and selling GREAT cheese!

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All the cheese sold at the Lowville Cheese Store is made from local milk.  It is part of the local farmers' co-op.  Samples included 10-year-old cheddar, and maple-bacon cheddar... among many others.  You can't miss the store as you drive through Lowville - it's on the south end of town, sporting Miss Lewinda the huge cow in front of the store... often wearing huge sunglasses.

All the cheese sold at the Lowville Cheese Store is made from local milk. It is part of the local farmers’ co-op. They offer samples of every kind of cheese they sell, which makes them VERY popular at this festival!  You can’t miss the store as you drive through Lowville – it’s on the south end of town, sporting Miss Lewinda the huge cow in front of the store… often wearing huge sunglasses.

So… it was a great, full day of festivities and fun.  I’ve been there every year – for all ten of the festivals, and I think this year was the very best so far.

In case you’re beating yourself up over missing it, don’t fret — they’re celebrating Halloween at the end of the month!

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Hope to see you next year at the Cream Cheese Festival!  For more information, visit www.CreamCheeseFestival.com

 

 

 

Soot, peppers and tradition

 

peppersisistastesa2014

Roasting peppers on an open fire is not for clean-freaks. But, ooh, they taste so good. Isis, here, testing our work. Photo: Mary McCallion

 

For years, my friends Mary Harding McCallion and Isis Melhado and I have been getting together in the fall to roast peppers.  For this week’s garden post, I share a series of photos taken recently as we gathered  for our annual Roast of the Peppers, with friendly participation from Mary’s husband Jochen Sieckmann (who helps out even though he’s not a fan of garlic and our method involves a lot of garlic). We’ve been tracking your gardens all summer–great photos on an almost weekly basis from growers across the region. Now, it’s harvest and clean-up-the-garden time. Keep the photos coming! Send them to me at ellen@ncpr.org. For the rest of this post, I’m going to let the photos tell the story.

It starts with peppers, an open fire, and lots of garlic.

Peppers roasting on our open fire pit. Photo: Mary McCallion

Peppers roasting on our open fire pit: yes, you want them totally blackened. Photo: Mary McCallion

Isis, chief pepper poker. Photo: Mary McCallion

Isis, chief pepper poker. Photo: Mary McCallion

Here comes the garlic. Photo: Mary McCallion

Here comes the garlic. Photo: Mary McCallion

Blackened peppers are cooled in brown paper bags before skinning. Photo: Mary McCallion

Blackened peppers are cooled in brown paper bags before skinning. Photo: Mary McCallion

 

Lots of bagged peppers away skinning. Photo: Mary McCallion

Isis and Jochen with lots of bagged peppers to be skinned. Photo: Mary McCallion

It gets pretty messy skinning charred peppers. Photo: Mary McCallion

It gets pretty messy skinning charred peppers. Photo: Mary McCallion

 

Soooo good. Photo: Mary McCallion

Soooo good. Photo: Mary McCallion

All four of us grab onto the biggest pepper of the day. Photo: Mary McCallion

All four of us grab onto the biggest pepper of the day. Photo: Mary McCallion

 

One of the largest ones, totally charred, before peeling. (That's the Oswegatchie River behind us, by the way.) Photo: Mary McCallion

The big one, after charring, before peeling. (That’s the Oswegatchie River behind us, by the way.) Photo: Mary McCallion

Adding the garlic to the peeled, cut up roasted peppers. Add olive oil, put in bags and freeze. Photo: Mary McCallion

Adding the garlic to the peeled, cut up roasted peppers. Add olive oil, put in bags and freeze. Photo: Mary McCallion

The day's work. Photo: Mary McCallion

A portion of the day’s work. Photo: Mary McCallion

Part of the tradition is an al fresco meal. This year, Jochen made squash soup and we roasted some homegrown potatoes.

Isis chowing down on Jochen's squash soup, and Ellen's bread. Photo: Mary McCallion

Isis chowing down on Jochen’s squash soup, and Ellen’s bread. Photo: Mary McCallion

Slightly over-roasted potato...another mess. But I love those fire-charred spuds. Photo: Mary McCallion

Slightly over-roasted potato…another mess. But I love those fire-charred spuds. Photo: Mary McCallion

Mary, Ellen, Isis with a bowl of roasted peppers. Photo: Jochen Seickmann

Mary, Ellen, Isis with a bowl of roasted peppers. Photo: Jochen Seickmann

Remember: send me those harvest and garden clearing photos, or photos of harvest meals. ellen@ncpr.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Think twice before braking (or speeding) for animals

Should this be the guiding rule for the animal/human trade-off? Image: Creative Commons from ТимофейЛееСуда

Should this be the guiding rule for the animal/human trade-off? Image: Creative Commons from ТимофейЛееСуда

Here’s a small news item from this week in which a Quebec couple got a speeding ticket for $258 while rushing their unconscious dog to a veterinarian.

According to the CBC, pet owner Francine Monette complained, “There was no compassion, no hesitation, no nothing. [The officer] was like ice. He could have given us a warning.”  The same article details that after making the traffic stop, Laval Police Constable Franco Di Genova did escort the car to the veterinarian’s office, where the pet chihuahua, Mister Albert, died.

The Ottawa Sun reports the Laval Police Department says the officer responded properly:

“The couple was more than 35 km/h over the limit,” said Lieut. Daniel Guerin. “We have a lot of empathy for the lady and her dog, but citizens cannot make ambulance runs, especially when they’re emotionally involved.”

Guerin added that Monette and her husband were stopped on a highway that has the highest collision rate in Quebec.

This incident concerns a pet that may have died in any case and a dispute about a speeding fine. But it reminded me of a far more serious car/animal incident, also from Quebec.

As recounted by this 7/16 commentary from the National Post:

The fatal collision occurred on June 27, 2010, when [Emma] Czornobaj stopped her Honda Civic in the passing lane on Highway 30 in Candiac, south of Montreal. Czornobaj, now 25, told police at the time that she had pulled over, turned on her hazard lights and exited the car to help a family of ducks out of harm’s way on the highway (witnesses later testified that Czornobaj’s hazard lights were not on). Moments later, André Roy, 50, driving a Harley-Davidson motorcycle carrying his daughter, Jessie, 16, slammed into the back of Czornobaj’s parked vehicle. Both Roy and his daughter were killed.

However well-intended Czornobaj’s action may have been, she was tried and convicted of criminal negligence causing death and dangerous operation of a motor vehicle. The maximum sentence for those charges could be as severe as life in prison, though that seems unlikely. Sentencing that had been set for August was delayed until September. An on-line petition that opposes jail time in this case has drawn well over 17,000 signatures to date.

In another situation involving animal rescue, this August a pet owner in Ottawa died after re-entering a burning townhouse complex hoping to save her (blind) pet Dalmatian.

Very likely many readers would either respect the selflessness of going back for a pet, or do the same themselves. But surely it’s one thing to risk your own life over that choice, and something else again to risk the lives of other drivers, or endanger first responders who may have to try to rescue the recuser.

In this CBC interview from July 16, Czornobaj said “It was just a reaction to what was on the road. You know, some people – which really hurts me – say ‘Oh, she chose between human lives and duck lives’ and that’s not what happened.’ “And yet two people died. It does suggest one must think carefully about their response to road situations.

On a broader level, there’s a variety of advice about how to handle animal encounters while driving. Keep in mind the peak danger for hitting animals like deer tends to be the soon-to-be-upon us season of Oct-Dec.

Although the examples discussed in this post are far from identical, where would you draw lines about how much should be risked to save animals?

Few want to hit animals on the road, but that's not the whole story when it comes to road safety. Image: Creative Commons, uploaded by AlbertHerring

Few want to hit animals while driving, but that’s not the whole story when it comes to road safety. Image: Creative Commons, uploaded by AlbertHerring

Talk like a pirate – or travel to their haunts

Illustration of Blackbeard's Jolly Roger flag. It depicted a skeleton piercing a heart, whilst toasting the devil. Traced from a scanned image of Konstam's book. Source: Wikipedia, Creative Commons

Illustration of Blackbeard’s Jolly Roger flag. It depicted a skeleton piercing a heart, whilst toasting the devil. Traced from a scanned image of Konstam’s book. Source: Wikipedia, Creative Commons

Thanks be to me matey, Todd Moe, for a telling us all this be talk like a pirate day. It slipped me mind.

And that’s it, I’m done. Because it’s hard to talk like a pirate. After Argh, avast, ahoy and shiver me timbers, what’s left? (Some of ye can bestir yourselves to greater efforts, but my powder runs short.)

According to media and Internet sources, Sept 19th is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Really.

Here’s more on that . Apparently a newspaper humorist is to blame:

Ever since Dave Barry mentioned us in his nationally syndicated newspaper column in 2002, what once was a goofy idea celebrated by a handful of friends has turned into an international phenomenon that shows no sign of letting up. Whether you be new to the notion, or one of the millions who’ve made it your own personal excuse to party like pirates every September 19th, welcome! Stick around, check out our social media sites, an’ learn all about September 19 – International Talk Like A Pirate Day!

Coincidentally, I am recently back from time at Ocracoke Island, on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, where real pirates once made port, including Edward Teach, AKA Blackbeard.

This Feb 2014 Smithsonian article gives a good account of “The Last Days of Blackbeard

…Blackbeard’s life and career have long been obscured in a fog of legend, myth and propaganda, much of it contained in a mysterious volume that emerged shortly after his death: A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates. Nobody knows for sure who wrote the book—which was published pseudonymously in 1724—but the General History almost single-handedly informed all the accounts that have come since. Parts of it are uncannily accurate, drawn word-for-word from official government documents. Others have been shown to be complete fabrications. For researchers, it has served as a treasure map, but one that leads to dead ends as often as it does to verifiable evidence, which scholars covet like gold.

ocracoke

Ocracoke Inlet, 1775 map, via Wikipedia, public domain.

While in Ocracoke we stopped by something called Teach’s Hole (full name: Teach’s Hole Blackbeard Exhibit and Pirate Specialty Shop). It’s a combination of pirate souvenirs and a small museum about Edward Teach and pirate days in the area. We’ve been there before, and paid the extra dollars to see the museum side. (But apparently one pirate flag is not enough, someone had to stop again so our household could own two.)

September is off-season so it was only us and the store owner. He said when they opened over 20 years ago it was difficult to find pirate-themed items, they had to find huge number of different individual suppliers. That go easier after the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. But, he said, it’s sort of dying down again.

Of course, pirates have had their fans as far back as Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure IslandPirate allure has legs. It won’t vanish, even if it ebbs and flows.

While at the store I was harassing my spouse about his boyish regard for pirate symbology. (And it is a boyish regard because he didn’t care enough to watch all the Johnny Depp Captain Jack Sparrow stuff.) Putting on my best schoolmarm identity I asked how any adult could seriously admire raping, stealing and pillaging honest, hardworking civilians?

The spouse had a decent rebuttal. He couldn’t really justify the larceny, nor the modern practices of piracy. But he has some regard for at least one aspect of the golden age of piracy, as a rare, early outlet of democratic organization.

Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard, illustration from

Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard, an early engraving by Benjamin Cole, via Wikipedia, public domain.

In a time when ordinary sailors were whipped and hanged for the slightest offenses, pirates sailed under “articles of agreement“, which they had some say in drafting and enforcing.

Not just thieves then, but free thieves. Little wonder they were hunted and hated by authority

By the way, according to the previously mentioned Smithsonian article, “…Despite his infamous reputation, Blackbeard was remarkably judicious in his use of force. In the dozens of eyewitness accounts of his victims, there is not a single instance in which he killed anyone prior to his final, fatal battle with the Royal Navy.”

Anyway, for those who like that sort of thing, this is your day!

 

Oil: are we crazy, optimistic or greedy?

Photo: Mike Psiaki, via Creative Commons, some rights reserved.

Photo: Mike Psiaki, via Creative Commons, some rights reserved.

I’m no more an expert on the global oil industry than anyone else. I am old enough to remember the 1973 oil crisis–when Middle Eastern production was reduced to put pressure on Israel and its allies following the occupation of Gaza–which led to a U.S. ban on oil exports, a ban that has remained in place through multiple oil crises in subsequent decades. Until now, maybe.

NPR reported this morning that the President is favorably inclined to reconsider and remove that export ban, in light of increased domestic fuel production in recent years and the availability of expanded fuel resources, partially because of new extractive technologies like hydrofracking.

Since 1973, we’ve seen a brief public and corporate response to oil crises and then, each time the price of fuel at the pump declined, our national memory is wiped clean again and we’re back in the 1960s when fossil fuels seemed limitless, cars got 10 mpg, and “national security” was code for the cold war with the Soviet Union not domestic vs. imported oil availability. So through multiple fuel security scares, our long-term response has been relatively trivial, except for developing new extractive technologies. This brings to mind an old saying, which I’ll paraphrase: doing something the same way over and over without success is a sign of insanity.

But, maybe it’s good ol’ American “can do” optimism. Another story from NPR considers the current price decline at the fuel pumps. In recent years, with the growth in the Chinese, Indian and large emerging economies, with conflicts across the globe, we would expect a rise in demand and cost. Instead, prices have declined and there’s plenty of fossil fuel. This fuels our optimism about the future: we will continue to find reserves and ways to extract those reserves and, by the time those reserves may be depleted, we’ll have found new reserves or new fuel solutions. This makes economic growth possible, and economic growth is good.

Or are we just greedy when we accept 25 mpg SUVs as a good enough response to climate change? Can the planet handle our material greed? In developed and developing nations? In our own country? In you? And me? Is the extraction of seemingly limitless fossil fuels and the use of those fuels by billions of people something our planet can handle?

Just asking. Crazy, optimistic, or greedy?