This winter’s silver lining? Great skiing!

Herridge Cabin, one of many rustic shelters scattered among ski and snowshoe trails in Gatineau Park. Photo: Lucy Martin

Herridge Cabin, one of many rustic shelters scattered among ski and snowshoe trails in Gatineau Park. Photo: Lucy Martin

With sympathy for the majority of folks who are seriously tired of winter, it has been a fabulous season for skiing. I’m strictly cross country so I can’t speak to downhill conditions. But I imagine those have been good too.

Quebec’s Gatineau Park is a much-loved recreational mecca for Canada’s capital region, only a short hop from Parliament Hill. It’s had good snow since late November – and trail grooming is still going strong.

The National Capital Commission runs Gatineau Park. The NCC sent out this press release on Thursday in regards to what it called “an exceptional season” that’s not over yet:

Canada’s Capital Region — With recent snowfalls, the 2013–2014 cross-country ski season in Gatineau Park will continue until April. The NCC notes this season as being exceptional compared with the previous eight seasons for which records have been kept. This year, the NCC also saw an increase in the number of season passes purchased.

End of season extended: The NCC will continue grooming operations and the ski patrol service until at least Sunday, April 6. After that date, services will be adapted

Renauld Cabin. Photo: Lucy Martin

Renauld Cabin. Photo: Lucy Martin

according to the weather conditions until April 15 — which is well past the March 31 expected end of season used for planning over the past eight years. Grooming operations will not continue past April 15.

The 2013–2014 ski season so far: The season began on November 29, three weeks earlier than the 2012–2013 season. So far, skiers have had 119 days of skiing, while the previous eight seasons had an average of 113 days. More than 6,400 skiers bought a season pass this year, representing an increase of more than 9.5 percent over last year. Sales of daily passes are also up this year.

As summarized and updated by John Warren, in his weekend outdoor reports for the Adirondack region, it’s been a great year for skiing.

Lake Placid’s Jackrabbit Trail is known to listeners through NCPR postcards from Brian Mann. Here’s a summary/report from that location as of 3/27:

Continued cold since Monday mean we still have powder surfaces as of Thursday.  This will change as Friday will be in the 40s with rain, followed by clearing on Saturday and daytime temperatures again in the 40s.  Cooler and sunny on Sunday, then more clouds and chances of snow at night or shower during the day through next Wednesday.  Temperatures will still be below freezing at night, so no significant melting of the snow we have is expected – we just won’t have the nice powder surfaces.  Likely the last weekend for Cascade and Whiteface Club, but Van Hoevenberg and the Paul Smiths VIC will continue to groom.

Summary: The season that seemingly wouldn’t start, now seemingly won’t end.

Of course, the snow will melt. And the gardener in me is quite ready to see some green and start digging again. But my, my, my! What a winter it’s been for skiing!

If you ski or snowshoe, what’s the winter been like for you and where have you found the best conditions?

Skiiers take to a bench to soak up late-March sun near Herridge Cabin. Photo: Lucy Martin

Skiiers take to a bench to soak up late-March sun near Herridge Cabin. Photo: Lucy Martin

The birth and life of a great story

homelessstudentmapNCPR reporter Sarah Harris hit one out of the park this week. Sarah’s two-part story on the experience of a homeless high-school student in Parishville was months in the making, and we expected that it would do well on broadcast.

If you missed it on air or online, here it is:
Sixteen and homeless, in Parishville woods
Sixteen and homeless, pt. 2: homeless no more

It had all the classic elements of great news coverage, an untold story with great emotional reach, great sound, local voices, and focused on a problem that most people don’t recognize exists in their own backyard. As a plus, it ends well after a great effort on the part of a local community.

The situation was not uncommon, just unrecognized. 3,218 schoolchildren were reported to be homeless in the counties of the North Country last year. Sarah brought this story to light through the experience of one girl and her extended family, but through that lens she tells a story that clearly resonates with listeners across and beyond the region. How can we tell? This story has gotten more traffic than any other story published by NCPR online in the last thirteen years. It went viral on Facebook and was picked up and syndicated widely. It has generated a flood of comments in calls, in email and on the stories themselves.

But beyond the attention paid to this story by now more than 20,000 readers and listeners, it has moved the dial in the real world, too. Here’s what Sarah says about the impact this story has had since broadcast:

Powerful stories can go viral, and have a wide reach. But they also have an impact at home. I spoke with Geri Lynn Wilson, guidance secretary at Parishville-Hopkinton Central School, this morning. She says yesterday, Desiree listened to the first part of the story, along with her teacher and the entire class. They all cried. There were a lot of emotions and a lot of questions. Geri Lynn called it a “teachable moment.” The whole school — from little kids to older kids on the BOCES bus — is talking about the Wieczoreks. They’re learning that homelessness can happen to anyone. They’re learning that it happens in our small communities. And, says Geri Lynn, they’re accepting it. They’re continuing to embrace the Wieczoreks.

Let’s let this be a teachable moment for us also. Let’s take a harder look at how, and why, over 3000 North Country students were homeless last year. Let’s remember that Desiree and her family are real people, and for them, the wide distribution of this story can have real repercussions. And let’s learn from Geri Lynn Wilson and Melissa Scudder, who went above and beyond to help a family when they needed it. Let’s learn how to be good neighbors.

When we didn’t eat grapes

From somewhere between the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s no one in my family or circle of friends bought grapes.

Why? Cesar Chavez.

The United Farm Workers co-founder was successful in using a boycott of grapes to raise the national consciousness about migrant worker conditions. He was so successful that grapes became a “tainted” fruit for many of us even years after the boycott ended (it was certainly over by 1970). In truth, there’s a little bell that goes off in my mind even today whenever I purchase grapes. The bell signals this message: it’s okay, the boycott is over, you’re not a bad person for buying grapes.

A  new movie based on the life and work of Cesar Chavez is being released this week. Like his contemporary social activist, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Chavez made personal and professional mistakes. And, like Dr. King, the flaws made the man more human, more approachable, and ultimately more admirable. Neither was a saint; both were extraordinary–and ordinary–men.

Here’s the trailer for the movie, directed by Diego Luna and starring Michael Pena, with John Malkovich, America Ferraro, Rosario Dawson and Wes Bentley:

With the publicity around the recent 50th anniversaries of the 1963 “I have a dream” March on Washington, and of the assassination of President Kennedy, the release of “Cesar Chavez” recognizes another piece of the social drama that was being acted out during the 1960s.

While I haven’t yet seen the movie, the cast is strong and the reviews are generally positive. More importantly, this reminder of the struggles of migrant workers got me to thinking about today’s labor landscape.

Wiki graph

Wiki graph

By the early 1980s, a decade before Chavez died in 1993, the United Farm Workers membership had dwindled to less than a third of its 50,000 peak in the 1960s. Through the next few decades, union membership nationwide dwindled to an all-time low, at least since the earliest days of the 20th century when labor was first organizing itself to bargain with management.

In 2014, the complex challenges facing the American labor force include a loss of jobs to globalization, mechanization, and, to some extent, dis-organization. In the face of these conditions, how can labor bargain for better wages or benefits or working conditions? Make no mistake, some industries still employ people in appalling environments–think, for example, about the mega-poultry processing world or the questionable agricultural work settings still plaguing many migrant workers.

I am not trying to imply that labor unions during their 20th century heyday operated without fault. Part of the reason membership dwindled was the entrenchment of bad practices and abuses in unions themselves. But if you trace American labor history from 1900 through 2000, unions played a leading role in creating our nation’s middle class. The diminishing union impact in the automotive, transportation and construction industries has directly paralleled the decline of the middle class and the expansion of the chronically under- or unemployed.

The United Farm Workers story under the leadership of Cesar Chavez was an important and compelling chapter in U.S. labor history. How many other labor actions–whether strike or boycott–so effectively engaged millions of Americans in an act of collaboration–removing grapes from dinner tables across the entire continent for five or more years? Pretty amazing.

“Noah” takes Christians to the deep end of the pool

NoahMovie“Noah,” starring Russell Crowe, is being marketed as a kind of action-disaster movie — think “Gladiator” meets “Armageddon.”

And on its face, the Great Flood story from the book of Genesis seems like a made-for-the-big-screen epic.

It’s a life or death struggle played out on the widest possible scale, as humanity struggles for survival.

Expect big special effects and pounding music as the storm clouds gather. (See the official trailer below)

The problem, of course, one that Christians have struggled with for centuries, is that in this particular action-adventure story, the “bad guy” of the great myth is a guy we thought was on our team.

It’s not Sauron or Satan or Loki or some other Voldemort dark-lord villain that’s out to destroy the world.  It’s God.  You know, as in, the Father.  The Maker of Heaven and Earth and Us.

"Le Deluge," Antonio Carracci, c. 1615.

“Le Deluge,” Antonio Carracci, c. 1615.

“I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land,” He declares, “for I am sorry that I have made them.”

In the movie version, Russell Crowe looks mournfully into the camera and says, “He’s going to destroy the world.”

The morality of this pronouncement — the lack of morality, rather — is stunning.  Imagine a father deciding to give up on his children, deciding that they are so far beyond redemption that they deserve death.

Hard to swallow, right?  In the centuries after the Old Testament was written, we humans developed ideas about ethics and justice and forgiveness that soundly reject the concept of collective punishment, of blood debt, of cleansing by genocide.

So the idea of God literally drowning every man, woman and child on the planet takes one’s breath away.  Actually, taking breath away is exactly what He intended.

“I am bringing the flood of water upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life,” God promises, according to the text.  “Everything that is on the earth shall perish.”

God decides, of course, to save Noah’s family and a collection of animals.

But the story still describes an act of murderous rage which great thinkers and poets and theologians have grappled with for centuries without much success.

“Perhaps during the great flood God in His mercy put men to sleep,” suggested the great Portugese writer and Nobel laureate Jose Saramago:

So death might be gentle, the water quietly penetrating their nostrils and mouths without suffocating them, rivulets gradually filling, cell after cell, the entire cavity of their bodies.  After forty days and forty nights of sleep and rain, their bodies sank slowly to the bottom, at last heavier than the water itself.

But in his effort to soften the idea of God’s murderous wrath, Saramago instead captures the horror of a creator god snuffing out an entire planet’s beautiful creatures.

Bill Maher, the atheist and professional pot-stirrer on religious issues, won headlines earlier this month by arguing that the Noah story — and the new film — cast God as a “psychotic mass murderer.”

His language was crude, bitter and carefully crafted to spark controversy.  But I suspect that Maher is on to something in questioning a part of Christian cosmology that causes even many devout Christians to blink.

“He sent a flood to kill everyone — everyone,” Maher pointed out.  “Men, women, children, babies.  What kind of tyrant punishes everyone just to get back at the few he’s mad at?”

Here’s the full segment from “Real Time with Bill Maher.”

As critics will point out, the Noah story is only one of many Biblical tales in which God does things — and demands things of his followers — which strike modern readers as brutal, barbaric, even evil.

But of course, that’s simplistic.  The Christian God is not a psychopath.

But neither is he a Sunday school shepherd.  There are veins of darkness and terror in Scripture that are every bit as frightening as the veins of light are hopeful.

I think it’s fair to argue that this thorny aspect of the Judeo-Christian tradition is part of what is emptying church and synagague pews, in Canada, Europe — and increasingly here in the United States.

Even as many progressive and moderate Christian leaders work to repackage their faith as a fun, relatively unchallenging “lifestyle choice,” there remains at the heart of Scripture an often painful and and troubling cosmology.

This latest treatment by Hollywood probably won’t do much to help American Christians wrestle with all that.

“Noah” won’t shine much light on how these ancient texts match — or don’t match — our modern sense of justice and goodness.

But I’m guessing more than a few movie-goers, especially more casual Christians who haven’t read their Bibles, will leave theaters in the coming weeks scratching their heads.

They’ll be asking who the bad guy was in this film and maybe asking new questions about the sometimes very angry and jealous and frightening God at the heart of their tradition.

Stomp, smash, swat, scrub

Wikipedia photo

Wikipedia photo

A few years ago someone brought a bag of flour to my house. It was infested with pantry moths, plodia interpunctellaalso called Indianmeal moth, North American High Flyer, and Weevil Moth.

If you’ve ever had an infestation, you know how persistent this moth–and its larvae and webbing–can be.

After months of smashing and swatting moths, then finding a nasty weave of webbing in bags of flour and other grains, I rolled up my sleeves and got serious.

I threw away everything in my pantry cupboards that wasn’t tightly sealed in glass jars or tins. I tossed all of the old shelf lining and scrubbed thoroughly. This pretty much worked. Weeks passed and I only saw one moth. It turns out, that’s all you need to see to still have a problem.

Sure enough, as the weeks passed, more moths.

A friend gave me several moth traps–basically a sticky surface infused with a substance that attracts the moths. This was effective–combined with a second round of cleaning.

So, now, five years later, why am I writing about pantry moths? Well, they’re back. I’m about to go at it again. The beginning of Spring cleaning.

If you have a pantry moth problem, here’s a handy Wikipedia guide to what needs to be done.

Good luck. They’re persistent little buggers.

Measuring happiness

einsteintongue

Photo: Google.

This is another “list” story, so move right along if you find those silly or boring. According to a recent article in the Ottawa Citizen:

Canada is said to be the second-happiest country in the world, according to a recent life satisfaction study. The winner: the equally cold, Denmark.

In fact, the study shows that between 2003-2011, nine out of 10 Canadians (or 93.2 per cent) reported that they were satisfied or very satisfied with their lives. But how do other nations measure on the overall happy-o-meter?

I’d give you a list with the alleged answer, except I’m really not sure which data set the article is referencing. When I look at more recent happiness surveys, most do not put Canada in second place. For example, this OCED Better Life Index measures what it calls life satisfaction by country. Their 2013 data put Canada in 8th place, behind Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands and Finland. The U.S. comes in 14th, behind Israel. A different site includes world maps with color codes for happiness and life satisfaction.

I guess one reason the subject comes up at all right now is on the tailcoat of something called International Day of Happiness. That fell on March 20, the first day of spring. (Coincidence? I think not!)

Yes, there’s a world of international days out there that many have never heard of, at least according to the UN.

That may sound like proof the organization has too much time on its hands leading to so much busy-work. But consider this from the UN blurb on Happiness Day:

General Assembly the Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated that the world “needs a new economic paradigm that recognizes the parity between the three pillars of sustainable development. Social, economic and environmental well-being are indivisible. Together they define gross global happiness.”  The meeting was convened at an initiative of Bhutan, a country which recognized the supremacy of national happiness over national income since the early 1970s and famously adopted the goal of Gross National Happiness over Gross National Product.

I don’t know if North American culture can wrap its head around Gross National Happiness as a goal or something that can be measured. But I’m all for creating new and better economic paradigms.

Meanwhile, welcome spring! There’s a cause to celebrate!

Spring unsprung

Spring Evening, Hayami Gyoshu, 1934

Spring Evening, Hayami Gyoshu, 1934

Spring sprung earlier today, at 12:57:07 pm. Happy New Year, if you’re Iranian. Bye-bye winter, everyone else. The thing is, though–spring may have sprung, but my brain is still unsprung. The white of the world still pales my mood, the cold is still upon my knee and elbow. Beneath the thin layer of oozy driveway mud, the ground is still hard as a rock. So I’m just not feeling it.

That being said–I’ve been whining like a cranky toddler since mid-November, so it’s time to shake it off. I observe more daylight, and a growing abundance of birds–and that’s good. If I was in my best self, I’m sure I would have observed many other signs of spring. So help me out here–share some bit of evidence you have seen that let’s you know spring is on the way in a comment below.

haru75

And as a firm believer in the power of poetry, this also seems like a good day to fire up the annual Spring Haiku Challenge. Share in 17 or so syllables something muddy, damp, pale green. Some taste of awakening, some thread of song on the air. We’ll just add to last year’s page, so you can have plenty of samples to draw upon for inspiration, or perspiration–whichever technique works for you. Try the Spring Haiku Challenge.

Here’s an icebreaker:

Today, yesterday–
nothing changing, naught gone green,
just this faint wet scent.

I’m going mad this month!

NCAA team colors. Photo: Shane Keaney

NCAA team colors. Photo: Shane Keaney

It’s officially spring which means the start of the Big One. Yes, of course, the baseball season, but I’m thinking here about the other big one: the NCAA Basketball Tournament.

Let’s just lay some ground rules for this article: it’s not about the problems with collegiate sports, like the exploitation of student athletes, or inflated coach salaries paid with public dollars, or the rampant illegal gambling associated with the brackets. That’s another article, another story.

For this article, can we agree to just focus on the fun of the tourney?

For those who are uninitiated, the NCAA college basketball tournament is a three week rush of excitement, Cinderella stories and kids living out their dreams.

The bracket is simple: four regions, single elimination, if you win six straight games, you are crowned national champions. Teams are seeded in each region from 1 – 16 (without getting into the relatively new “First Four”) based on various factors used by the selection committee which is made up of Athletic Directors from various conferences. Here’s how that works: when a committee member’s conference is discussed they must excuse themselves from the room so the seeding remains as impartial as possible.

The committee looks at things like overall and conference record, strength of schedule, quality wins and all sorts of advanced metrics. What you get at the end are 4 number 1 seeds, 4 number 2 seeds, and so on down to the number 16 seeds.

What I love the most about the tournament is that the players are not just kids from the perennial powerhouses like Syracuse, Duke, Kansas and North Carolina. Players from the likes of Coastal Carolina, Wofford and Weber State get to shine on the big stage, too. Every few years you have one of those schools make an impossible run—like last year’s then ninth-seeded Wichita State’s getting into the Final Four. (This year they’re a number 1 seed.)

Last year’s tourney also featured the high flying Florida Gulf Coast University—they made it all the way to the Elite 8 as a 15 seed! I highly recommend a YouTube search for Florida Gulf Coast highlights from last year. In 1985, Villanova won the tournament as an 8 seed, the lowest seed to ever win. It is also notable that the tournament only became a 64 team format in 1985.

Okay, now it’s time to prepare your bracket—the grid used to predict who will win during each elimination match. Be cautious about defaulting to all of the favorites:  the only time all four number 1 seeds made the Final Four was in 2008, when Kansas won. Here’s another thing you will hear: historically the first round matches have favored specific seeds and more upsets have favored other seeds. For example, in the first round the number 1 seeds have never lost. NEVER, EVER LOST. So that’s a no-brainer, but don’t expect every 1 seed to go far: in 2010 the number 1 seed Kansas lost to number 9 Northern Iowa in the second round. One upset that is always expected is a 12 seed taking down a 5, it almost always happens at least since the expansion in 1985.

Photo via Google Images

Photo via Google Images

I’ll keep my personal rooting interests private, let’s get into some predictions which I am sure will come true…but probably won’t. That’s the nature of the tourney.

I expect Florida, the number 1 overall seed to do well, but I don’t think they will win. The Gators do have experience at the helm with Billy Donovan who won back to back championships with Florida in ’06 – ’07, but those teams featured three players taken in the top 10 of the next NBA draft. A powerhouse of a team, this year’s squad features the NCAA’s third best defense in giving up points per game, but their offense is nothing to write home about. Additionally, they played in a mostly weak conference–besides Florida, only Kentucky and Memphis made the tournament.

A team I have my eyes on is Oklahoma State, who could go as far as the Elite Eight. If you don’t know the name Marcus Smart, then you should keep your eyes open during this tournament. As a sophomore, Smart averaged 17.8 points per game, plus, for a shooting guard, he pulls down good rebound numbers and nice assists as well as playing tough and disruptive defense. Smart is most well-known for an altercation earlier this season against Texas Tech during which Smart shoved a fan who allegedly made racist remarks.  Smart was suspended for three games as a result. Now none of us will ever know who said what that day in Lubbock,  but I can guarantee this kid–who can shoot well, play physical and good defense–will be playing with a chip on his shoulder. In this tournament, one great, determined player can carry you a long way.

Wichita State went 34-0 this season and earned themselves a 1 seed as well, but they play in the Missouri Valley Conference, a mid-major conference not typically known for producing successful teams. So, they didn’t play against the toughest competition all year. I expect them to win the first game but round two they will play probably Kentucky who has talent up the wazoo including freshman sensation Julius Randle. I expect Kentucky to win and to go further than their seed predicts they should – don’t let the 8 next to their name scare you from putting them at least in the Sweet 16. I do expect that Kentucky will run into some trouble though when they play defending National Champion Louisville.

Louisville plays in the former Big East, which now goes by the name the American Athletic Conference– significantly weaker than it used to be due to “realignment.” That being said, Louisville was 8th in the nation in points per game and was 15th in the nation in points per game given up. Louisville also has two things most teams don’t have: Rick Pitino, a veteran coach who is a two time national champion with seven Final Four appearances; and, Russ Smith, the six-foot-nothing guard who has been tearing up the competition lately. These two won last year and, in Smith’s senior season, you can guarantee he is determined to repeat.

Okay, here’s where I go out on a limb…with my Final Four picks.

MY FINAL FOUR

Michigan State –coach Tom Izzo is leading a team that is finally 100% healthy—and they had a pre-season number 2 ranking nationwide.

Syracuse – who should have a relatively easy road to the Final Four with what, I expect, will be an early exit for Florida in their bracket against a surprisingly tough and good defensive Pitt Panthers. ‘Cuse, started off 25-0 before hitting a skid, but with Jim Boeheim leading the Orange, I expect the time off between an early ACC tournament exit and the start of the NCAA tourney will serve them well.

Creighton – if one great player can carry you, then the probable Wooden Award (player of the year) winner Doug McDermott should be able to take his Blue Jays to the Final Four.

Louisville – as stated before, great coach, great star and great offense / defensive ranks should catapult them.

I think in the Championship, Louisville will repeat over a more physical Michigan State team. Most of the predictions are wrong, but if I am 100% right then Warren Buffet will owe me a billion dollars!  And, of course, most of my winnings would be donated to NCPR.

(Editor’s note: Jon and Radio Bob are going in on a bracket together and plan to win Mr. Buffet’s money–and set up an endowment for NCPR. Just in case they don’t win, remember to support your local public media folks here at NCPR. Thanks!)

 

Habitat magic: everyone can (learn to) hammer

habtaylor

Taylor Silvestro, SLU women’s field hockey assistant coach, nails it! (Note: she’s got her protective eye wear on.) Photo: Ellen Rocco

 

Or use a tape measure or saw, or help pick up around a construction site, or cut insulation board.

When I agreed to serve as an advisor for a group of 15 St. Lawrence University students headed to Goldsboro, North Carolina during spring break to participate in Habitat for Humanity, I had two fears:

Myles Guiler and Biz Alessi in the van as we head to North Carolina. It was a great ride, filled with hours of listening to all genres of new and classic music. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Myles Guiler and Biz Alessi in the van as we head to North Carolina. It was a great ride, filled with hours of listening to all genres of new and classic music. That’s Joshin Atone at the wheel.  Photo: Ellen Rocco

1. Could I survive the 14-hour drive in a van, and a week at close quarters…with a group of students?

2. Could I be useful?

The answer to both  turned out to be “yes.” In fact, the students and the work made the week a transformative experience.

Here’s what I learned:

1. Habitat doesn’t “give” houses to anybody.  While Habitat homes are very reasonably priced and mortgages are offered at low-interest rates, the owners must purchase the homes. In addition, Habitat home owners must contribute a lot of hours to Habitat construction projects.

2. Students who participate in Habitat for Humanity projects–whether at local sites or afar–are special. Our group looked forward to the week, performed on the site with enthusiasm and energy, and spread laughter and joy wherever they went.

Tithal walks the girder between floor joists installed by...us! Photo: Ellen Rocco

Tithal walks the girder between floor joists installed by…us! Photo: Ellen Rocco

3. You can make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear–at least if you’re a Habitat construction site manager like Ethan or Tithal. These guys turned 70 amateurs into an effective team of carpenters and roofers. Over the five day work period, one house acquired roofing, exterior insulation, windows and doors; the other went from a muddy foundation site to a framed structure. You know more than you think you do, or you can quickly learn enough to be truly useful. I saw Ethan and Tithal train first-time-on-a-construction-site students into roofers and carpenters…maybe not ready for the trade unions, but they got the job done. No power tools. All by hand.

4. The experience made me feel grateful every moment I was there. Grateful to be of help. Grateful to meet and work with so many wonderful people. Thank you, Goldsboro Habitat!

Would I do it again? Co-advisor Taylor Silvestro, the St. Lawrence University women’s field hockey assistant coach, said it all for both of us: “In a heartbeat.”

If you’d like to participate locally with Habitat, visit this page to find an affiliate near you. If you’d like to contribute money to Habitat, visit this page.

Here’s a photo collection tracking our week in North Carolina to give you a feel for what the experience looked and felt like.

From the trip down: North Carolina has very different laws (and much lower taxes) on the sale of cigarettes. Photo: Ellen Rocco

From the trip down: North Carolina has very different laws (and much lower taxes) on the sale of cigarettes. Photo: Ellen Rocco

 

Sleeping on the floor at the Goldsboro Community Center. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Sleeping on the floor at the Goldsboro Community Center. Photo: Ellen Rocco

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

hab5a

First (cold) morning on the job. From the left: Taylor Silvestro, Anna Hughes, Emily Geiger, Libby Boissy, Julia Simoes, Morgan Kirby, Kellan Morgan, Biz Alessi, Margot Nitschke, Kiana Harris, Erick Sievert, Joshin Atone, Myles Guiler, Danny Lobo, Danny Hunt, Mike Theobald. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Here’s what the two houses we worked on during the week looked like on the first day we arrived:

Anna Hughes helping to level crawl space dirt inside foundation. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Anna Hughes helping to level crawl space dirt inside foundation. Photo: Ellen Rocco

hab7

The other house looked like this–roof crew gets up there for the first time. Photo: Ellen Rocco

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Steps along the way during our week on the job site:

hauling mud and water away from the construction site. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Anna, Margot and Kellan hauling mud and water away from the construction site. Photo: Ellen Rocco

 

The roof goes on. Photo: Ellen Rocco

The roof goes on. Photo: Ellen Rocco

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Habitat construction leader Ethan explains the fine points of barbeque, oops, I mean construction, to some of the team. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Joshin pays close attention as Habitat construction leader Ethan explains the fine points of barbeque, oops, I mean construction, to some of the team. Photo: Ellen Rocco

 

Morgan with Takisha, one of the Habitat home owners-to-be. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Morgan with Takisha, one of the Habitat home owners-to-be. Photo: Ellen Rocco

In the background of the photo below, the foundation of the house we worked on. The more finished house was not one of our projects. But, note the windows piled against the other home we worked on. By the end of the week, those will be installed.

Mid-week, another cold morning on the site. SLU team. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Second morning on the site. SLU team happy about donated donuts and coffee. Krispee Kreme! We’re in the South. Photo: Ellen Rocco

 

SLU roofing "gals" on the right. SLU guys worked on installation of "blue board" (exterior insullation). Photo: Ellen Rocco

SLU roofing “gals” on the right. SLU guys worked on installation of “blue board” (exterior insulation). At the ladder, our friend Stewart from Virginia Tech (one of the other schools on the Goldsboro site). Photo: Ellen Rocco

Lunch break on the "front porch." Photo: Ellen Rocco

Lunch break on the “front porch.” Photo: Ellen Rocco

 

The team had to eat. Working hard, y’know.

We ate a lot of peanut butter. One evening's kitchen team made "breakfast for dinner" complete with waffles and we spilled out of the kitchen door to eat on the back steps. Photo: Ellen Rocco

We ate a lot of peanut butter. One evening’s kitchen team made “breakfast for dinner” complete with waffles and we spilled out of the community center kitchen door to eat on the back steps. Photo: Ellen Rocco

 

On our final evening, we went to a barbeque restaurant. Photo: Ellen Rocco

On our final evening, we went to a barbeque restaurant. Of course. Photo: Ellen Rocco

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Okay, the moment you’ve been waiting for: what we accomplished, along with the students from Virginia Tech, Delaware Valley, and Rochester…not to mention the real carpenters on the job, Tithal and Ethan. Here are photos of the two houses shortly before we left.

Framing started the next morning--the floor is in and the rooms have been laid out. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Margot, Biz, Myles, Mike, Erik, Lobo and Dan. Framing started the next morning just before we headed north. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Julie takes a final photo from the finished roof. Note windows and doors. They're installed! Photo: Ellen Rocco

Julia takes a final photo from the finished roof. Note windows and doors. They’re installed! Photo: Ellen Rocco

If you’re interested in working with Habitat, remember to check out this link to find a Habitat chapter in your community. If you’re a college student, check your campus. There may be a chapter. Or start one.

Ottawa to welcome cat video festival

An Internet Cat Video Festival in Oakland, CA. Photo: Mark Hogan, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

An Internet Cat Video Festival in Oakland, CA. Photo: Mark Hogan, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

So, there’s this thing called “Just for cats“, which quips that it offers “all the cattiness of the film fest, but with cats.” As their website puts it, the effort:

…honours our favorite pet with a masterfully curated compilation reel from the Walker Art Center.

Now there’s no need to search for funny cat videos alone – together we can enjoy the best clips up on the big screen, and help raise money for cat welfare in Canada too

The Canada-based Just for Cats tour involves showings at various locations to raise money for animal-welfare organizations. Ottawa Citizen arts reporter Peter Simpson says that’ll be coming to Ottawa sometime later this year. But hey, why wait? Start your viewing now. And make sure you enter your video for possible screening too, if you reside in Ottawa.

This all began as an Internet Cat Video Festival the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Their first screening in 2012 was written up by the New York Times as a giant hit. Subsequent screenings have also been very popular, according to this 2013 Walker press release:

Over the last year the Festival has spawned an international tour including events in Boston, San Diego, Austin, Memphis and Portland with upcoming festivals in Vienna, Austria and Jerusalem, and numerous lecture and conference presentations including SXSW and TEDx.

As Simpson writes in his always-fun Big Beat arts blog:

The Toronto date on the cross-Canada tour in April will be hosted by Laureen Harper, wife of the prime minister, who is a strong advocate for stray animals and shelters. If Mrs. Harper attends the Ottawa cat film festival, one must hope she brings her husband along, for nothing says cute and cuddly like Stephen Harper.

There are no shortage of cat videos for programmers to choose from. It’s widely held that cat videos account for almost all internet traffic, except for the small bits taken up by porn and pirated music.

His post includes links to many favorite cat videos, with appropriate commentary:

The cat numbers are staggering, and while people may think Grumpy Cat is the star, my lazy research shows that “Surprised Kitty (original)” is the leader, with more than 73 million views. And to think that all the Surprised Kitty does is to react when its belly is tickled. (Why does this remind me of Rob Ford?)

Youtube numbers aside, Grumpy Cat is the current star, with TV appearances from CNN to TMZ.  to commercials, etc. Grumpy Cat’s sole skill is an ability to scowl,which seems a genuine talent when compared to Lil Bub, whose is famous for letting her tongue hang out of her mouth. (Er, Rob Ford, again.) The zenith of cat videos is “Lil Bub Meets Grumpy Cat,” which is like Alien vs. Predator with naps.

I don’t see a working/direct link for how to enter your own cat video for the upcoming Ottawa event, but I gather there is a way. Here’s how that’s described on the Just for cats Facebook page:

Want to See Your Cat on the Festival’s Big Screen and Win Free Tickets?

To enter, post your cat video on our wall and tell us what city you are in (you must live in the city of the festival). Ask your friends and family to like your video. The top10 most liked videos will be juried and a winner announced. The winning video will be shown at your local festival!

Nice videos only, no hurting the kitties.

Our cat is getting on in years. Her antics are not terribly video worthy. But I tell you she is a world champion at detecting clean clothes and taking a nap on them. And the clever dear is black and white so her hair will show on anything. (True fact: she is in my lap as I type this post.)

What amusing (or not-so-funny) things does your cat do?

Christmas morning photo of "Spot", who cannot object to being a camera guinea pig. Photo: Lucy Martin

Spot says: “Did someone do laundry? My nap throne awaits!” Photo: Lucy Martin