The new (improved?) My Yahoo

I’ve had Yahoo as my homepage for ages. I’ve customized it to the T – with the colors I like, the content I want to see and the order in which I want to see it. My mail, local weather, lottery numbers and traffic reports are all right there at a glance. The news is there, too – front and center. World news, local news, political news and odd news. You name it, it’s there.

Until today, apparently.

Now, I’m all for keeping up with the times. I’d hate for anyone to be left in the dust as the world around us goes blooey on technology and such. However… when keeping up with the times means revamping everything I’m comfy-cozy with… well… that just pisses me off.

Yahoo? You’ve pissed me off. Royally.

They’ve revamped the entire page. Yes, I can customize it – but not to my specs. To theirs. With all the crap going on in the world, you’d think this ‘upgrade’ and ‘enhancement’ would be a trivial matter. Ah, but to me, having this constant, this simple place to visit each morning as a start to my day, was a comfort. A sign that at least something in the world was unchanged and familiar.

Alas… the unchanged and familiar is no longer so. Yahoo’s new homepage is busy with graphics, displaced modules, and advertisements. Instead of slowly waking to Yahoo news and other features of my pretty purple homepage, I’m greeted with a blitz of visual noise and confusion. So, how did I solve this problem? Well, I’ve reset my homepage from Yahoo’s main page to my inbox page. Yup. Yahoo mail is now my home page. Granted, I can’t see the news or other features but at least when I first go online, I’m not hit with that weapon of mass confusion.

I should probably make this blog my homepage… and in fact, if you soon see a Google search button somewhere over there to the right… well… you’ll know that’s just what I did.

Change? Yeah. Change is good. To a point. I expect at least some say in what that change might be and how it will affect me. I want options. I want choice. Yup. I suppose that sums it up. I’m simply a pro-choice kinda gal.

Sorry Yahoo. You lose.

Vacation

I can’t believe our vacation is finally here. Well… almost finally here. We leave Tuesday for nearly a week in Charleston, South Carolina.

I’ve been researching Charleston activities and have come up with an exciting list of must-dos. First on the list – because we’re all into anything historic – is the Civil War Walking Tour. That is a must. Actually, we’ll do that on our last day there because straight from Charleston, we’re driving up to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania where we will do the Union’s version of a Civil War walking tour.

We’ve been to Gettysburg several times already but I’m going to say this upfront for any of you planning to go – Visit the Farnsworth House Inn.

There is a civil war cannon shell sticking out of the side of the building, a building riddled with civil war bullets. They offer a ghost tour in their basement – which we have yet to attend but hope to this time. It is said a ghost walks the halls of this Inn – and people spend the night there!! And, best of all, in my opinion, they make the most amazing – A. Mazing. – spoon bread and pumpkin fritters in all the world. Every time we go there, I say I’m going to ask for a recipe but I chicken out. This time… this time… well… we’ll see.

An hour closer to home from Gettysburg is Hershey Park, so, we’ll spend one day and night in Gettysburg and the final day in Hershey then head home.

Ah, but Charleston will be the highlight. My must-do list is packed with exciting things – the Festival of Houses and Gardens, which says it all, I think. A visit to the Heyward-Washington House – which is a house built in 1772.

1772!

Charlesston offers Ghost and Legend walks, Slavery and Freedom walks, of course the civil war walks and for one evening, a dinner cruise. Daughter is excited about the glass-bottom boat ride in the marsh. Yikes. Being on the water in a glass-bottom boat when crocs are following us with their eyes and hungry mouths… I dunno. “Fun” isn’t the word that leaps into my head.

Of course, we will also visit Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. I’ve heard some truly amazing things about this place. It sounds like a full day trip. Sprawling grounds with bridges and ponds, gardens… ah, imagine how some of us lived way back when. As opposed to how others of us survived.

Our week will be filled with excitement, I am sure. But two of the most exciting things I’m looking forward to are the ride down – there’s something about packing up the car with luggage and cooler and leaving in the wee hours of the morning that I find thrilling – and the hotel pool. Yay! Swimming. In a pool. I don’t care what state we’re in – a pool is a pool and we’re diving right in!

The only downer is leaving the cats behind. <sigh> I do miss them so when we’re on vacation. And I worry about them – do they miss us? Are they scared? Of course, I have great cat sitters, so in my head, I know they’ll be fine, but…

Well… seriously, if these were your furry loves, you’d hate leaving them, too, wouldn’t you?

TNR

I volunteer at an animal shelter. It’s rewarding work but often sad as well.

We’re a no-kill cat shelter. On the surface, that sounds wonderful, and it is. We don’t kill cats that have been there “too long” in order to make room for new cats. However, what that means is we become filled to capacity quickly – and often. If our older cats are not adopted, and sadly, most people choose kittens over adult cats, then they remain with us until they live out their natural lives, never to have a loving family of their own. That severely limits our ability to rescue new cats or kittens and get them into loving homes.

This is kitten season. Kittens arrive at the shelter en masse now and while MOST of them will find homes, the young mothers of these kittens will be returned from whence they came. Yes, they’ve been spayed, so they will not repopulate the area, but they’re out there on their own again, having to fend for themselves. Why? Because we haven’t the room to house them.

The most humane way to treat the cat overpopulation problem is with a relatively simple thing called “TNR”, or trap-neuter-return. Strays are humanely trapped, spayed or neutered, allowed to heal, then returned to their community. Sadly, some of the trapped cats were once family pets but have since been abandoned for various reasons – some of which you cannot imagine. They’re friendly and innocent and have only survived the ‘wild’ because of luck. They need homes. They need to feel and be safe again. Unless the cat population is controlled by the practice of TNR, too many of these sweet things will continue to reproduce and add yet more strain on an already strained system – where too many shelters filled to capacity will destroy the animals they hold or be so overwhelmed they’ll unwittingly lose sight of the reason they’re volunteering there in the first place. To rescue animals and to find them safe and loving homes where they can give (and receive) affection only those privy to a cat’s world will ever fully appreciate.

Trap-neuter-return. A solution to so many problems.

And on a personal note – Bonita, you sweet beautiful thing, you will be missed by all of us, human and feline alike.

Falaise – “cliff”

Long Island’s Castle Gould was built to look like Ireland’s Castle Kilkenny.

Castle Gould

Castle Gould

Castle Kilkenny

The Gould family, who commissioned this castle were displeased with the results and never stepped foot in it. The castle stood abandoned for two years before Daniel Guggenheim – whose wealth was  derived from silver mining – purchased the castle and surrounding 250 acres of prime Long Island land in 1910. The acres, bordering the Long Island sound, were part of Long Island’s famed Gold Coast.

The Guggenheim’s never lived in the Castle Gould either. Instead, they used it as the stables and built Hempstead House on the vast property.

Hempstead House side view Hempstead Hous backview

Harry Guggenheim – son to Daniel Guggenheim – was given 90 acres of the property and on it, built Falaise.

Ah… Falaise. This is a house at Sands Point Preserve in Port Washington, Long Island. And what a house it is. We’ve been trying to get in to see it for about 8 years. Daughter was only 4 at the time and children under 10 are not permitted. Since she’s turned ten, we’ve made several attempts to get tickets to see the home but arrived on holidays when it was closed to the public, or on Wednesdays (our Sunday) when, again, it was closed to the public. FINALLY we made it one day. There was time – one more tour for the day. We parked and RAN to the office to buy three first-come-first-serve tickets only to be told they’d sold the last two tickets of the day seconds earlier. Yesterday – unplanned – we arrived at Sands Point Preserve and took a chance. Voilà! Three tickets. We didn’t crack a smile or hoot in celebration until that shuttle bus stopped at those magnificent front gates and the amazing courtyard beyond.

We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the house, but I made up for that by taking plenty outside…

From the outside looking in From the inside looking out

All five of the above photos are taken from within the courtyard. The entire house is impossible to get in one shot… I couldn’t even capture it all in these five.

Falaise, translated from French to English, means “cliff”, and there is a perfect reason this home was named, “Falaise”. In the style of a medieval French Manor house, it is built to sit on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Long Island Sound. It’s a sprawling mansion – wider than the eye can see – but narrow, a corridor of stunning architecture.

Hand-carved stones and lava (magma) pillars in the arch over the front door

When you walk into the home, you enter the foyer and from that entry you can look straight through to windows on the other side, not thirty feet away. Step down five or so stairs and you enter the receiving room. Glorious in it’s decor – with Renaissance paintings, medieval wooden beams and an incredible collection of medieval carvings set into the walls. Truly a magnificent room.

The layout of this home is unique. Narrow and long, each room is set on a different level – up one step, down two, up a full flight, down three stairs. The intricacies of layout are exciting and made me think of mystery and dark castle halls. Though the home is in no way frightening but rather beckons one to search and discover.

My favorite room of all was the breakfast room. After all the heavy medieval wood and artwork, the windowed walls in the breakfast room were a wondrous sight. Though we were there on a very overcast day, the daylight filtered in and warmed us in a way that bid us welcome.

Harry Guggenheim was ambassador to Cuba during Herbert Hoover’s presidency. Harry was a highly decorated pilot in both world wars, he had a vast interest in flight and invested both in Charles Lindbergh’s adventures and those of Robert H. Goddard (“one of the fathers of modern-day rocketry” and for whom the Goddard Space Flight Center is named). Having founded Newsday, the front pages of that newspaper – for which his third wife was editor – were framed and hung on the walls touting the headline “Man Walks on the Moon!”

Sadly, photos are not permitted within the home but there were plenty of photo ops on the outside.

Of the home from the terrace               The pool and gardens

Through a window – a photo of one of the medieval stone carvings that decorated the walls within the home. Truly remarkable.

Falaise was donated to Nassau County by Harry Guggenheim. It was his wish that the house be seen as he lived in it – with all of his belongings in place and not to be disturbed in any way. He mapped out which rooms the public should see and he mapped out the precise path the public should take through the mansion. His wish was for us to see how he lived and ‘live’ for a short time along with him. It felt that way, we felt wanted and comfortable, if not just a tad envious of the glorious richness that once graced this land.

Summer Recipe Roundup

Thanks to Barrie Summy, we’ll have a summer’s worth of yummy foods. With everyone posting recipes, not one of us will be left wondering what to bring to the next gathering. So… here’s my recipe contribution… 

Ambrosia ~ The Fruit of the Gods

1 – quart low fat or fat free plain yoguart

1/2 package of miniature marshmallows

1  1/4 cups shredded sweetened coconut

1 thinly sliced banana

1 – 15 oz. can sliced peaches – cut into smaller pieces – drained

1 – 20 oz. can cubed pineapple – drained

1 – 15 oz. can fruit cocktail with light or no syrup – drained

1 dozen or so marachino cherries halved and set on paper towels to drain completely

To be certain all or most juice is out of canned fruit, set in colander and lightly press. Leave to drain for 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, in large bowl, combine plain yogurt, marshmallows and coconut.

When canned fruit has thoroughly drained, blend into yogurt mixture. Gently fold in banana slices. Spread Ambrosia into a 10x10x3″ pan and garnish with halfed and drained marachino cherries. Refridgerate at least one hour before serving to give all flavors a chance to blend.

Keeps in fridge 3 -4 days.

Ambrosia ~ Fruit of the Gods

Ambrosia ~ Fruit of the Gods

Um… yes… the Ambrosia in the photo has already had a few servings removed. It’s THAT good. So good, it was eaten before its photo was taken.

Viruses – physical and technical

I wanted to blog about writing again today but I was almost unable to do anything online at all… in fact, my computer refused to boot up this morning. It took three attempts – two force shut-downs, three reboots with system scans and one final automatic system restore in order to get my computer going.

Here’s what’s been going on –

The night before last, a bunch of pop-ups took over my screen. They were all the same – blank web pages with “about:blank” in the address bar. Apparently, “about-blank” is a virus, adware, spyware or other hijacking program that somehow weaseled it’s way into my system. Even when I was off-line, the popups would pop up. Tens of them at first, then what seemed like hundreds.

I disconnected from the internet – shut down the wi-fi – and did all the scans I could think to do to rid my system of whatever bugs it had. Nothing seemed to work.

Yesterday, I downloaded some anti-spyware programs from the web – and yes, I was concerned that some of them might actually feed the virus rather than destroy it. I downloaded StopZilla, AdwareAway and Spyware Terminator (I hear Spyware Blaster is a good one to run, too). I ran all of those plus McAfee, Spybot and Adaware. Each program deleted something it called a “high” or “critical” threat. Done. I thought.

Then I had to take my cat to the vet – he’s been losing weight and there’s no explanation for it. He lost a pound at the last check up last week and another ounce and a half by yesterday. He has another appointment for next week to be weighed but was given one of his vaccinations yesterday. I took him home and he had a terrible reaction to it – never happened before and he’s now 11 years old. He was itchy. Itchy like you would not believe. Rolling, scratching, rippling his muscles looking like his skin was crawling. I rushed him back to the vet and he was given an antihistamine that should have knocked him out. It had the opposite affect. He started mewing and throwing up all over the place. And then he turned very aggressive. My sweet, affection kitty turned into the Looney Tunes version of the Tasmanian devil! He was panting and bolting through the house. His body got all puffed up like when a cat is ready to kill. And then he went after my smallest cat – Lady. He was biting and hitting her and she just fell to the floor in surrender. I had to fight to get him off of her. Finally, finally – about an hour later – he calmed and was my sweet, skittish boy again.

With all that, I didn’t even think about my computer. Or… about backing up my work. If you’re hearing the death march, I’m not surprised. The last time I backed up my work was about two weeks ago. If that.

This morning, the computer wouldn’t start and I thought for sure I’d lost everything. I don’t know to what point my system has been restored but it’s working now and I’m about to back up everything. Every. Thing. Then, I’m going to call the vet and tell him what happened to my cat last night. And THEN, I’m going to run all the scans I can run on my system and maybe even call in a pro.

“about:blank”. If you see it back up EVERYTHING and call someone who knows about computers. Don’t wait. Don’t try to fix it yourself. It’s sneaky. It hides in various files, renaming itself so your anti-virus or spyware detection programs cannot find it. It’s nasty and will make your life hell. I know this first hand.

I’m blogging – when I should be writing my story

I admire the writer who can wake in the morning primed and ready to write. I admire the writer who can balance home and family with quiet, private writing time. I admire the writer who can deal with real-life drama while creating some drama of her own.

I used to be that writer. Years ago. Of course, that writing wasn’t something I’d share with the world – though at the time I thought it was better than anything out there.

I’ve become more critical of my writing over the years. If a word doesn’t fit the rhythm of the prose, I’ll obsess until I’ve replaced that word with just the right one. If a tiny plot point seems out of sync with the rest of the story, it will haunt me as I make dinner, fill the car with gas, help Daughter style her hair.

So, I’m always thinking about my writing – always thinking about what comes next in the story and just how I want to say it. But I’m not always getting it down on the page. Indeed, there have been times when doing the dishes, the bills or even the yard work is more attractive to me than writing.

What’s up with that???

Methinks it’s simply part of my process. 🙁

I wrote an article not long ago titled, “Thinking IS Work”. For writers, writing is easy. It’s the planning, the precise wording, the puzzle pieces neatly fitting – the missing puzzle pieces – and the thinking that put the ‘work’ in our creative day. I tend to spend a lot of time thinking and looking for those missing puzzle pieces. Once I finally sit, the words do flow but getting from here to there… well… utter torture.

Obviously, getting the words on the page is the ultimate high for a writer – myself included. Then why do writers like myself do so much to avoid it? Maybe because of the required investment of time, energy and emotion? Writing fiction is definitely a commitment of heart and head. When I sit to write, I need to know I will not be interrupted. Only then can I immerse myself in the story and FEEL the anguish or delight my characters feel. Only then will those characters ‘speak’ to me. Only then will that depth be transferred to the page. No half-way investments. It’s all or nothing – and that can be absolutely draining.

Starting a scene or chapter is the hardest part of all for me. POV switches, change of emotion or action… all work as the proverbial brick wall in my path. However, once I’ve forced myself to just have at it and have written my way into the story – with the knowledge that I have X amount of time to myself – the words add up, the emotion roils and the scene is there in all it’s glory. At least in my completely biased opinion. It’s a wonderfully productive time that makes me wonder why I put such effort into avoiding it in the first place.

What about you? Are you a rise and shine kind of writer, primed and ready to go? Or are you a tantrum thrower who has to drag your muse, kicking and screaming as they say, to the page? What is the easiest part of writing for you? The hardest? And how to you overcome that which keeps you from plopping your butt in the seat and keeping it there until a solid day’s work is done?

 

Improv Everywhere

I’m not big on practical jokes, but when a group of people can draw the attention – NOT ire – of even the busiest New Yorker, I’m intrigued.

Improv Everywhere , a group dedicated to “causing scenes”, caused a definite scene in New York’s Grand Central Station back in January of this year. Their mission? To freeze in place for five full minutes while NY and New Yorkers buzzed on around them. The mission was aptly titled, Frozen Grand Central.

The reactions are fun, the result amazing. What a cool – harmless – project. And how nice that New Yorkers stopped to take note. See? We’re not all about getting from here to there and nothing more. If you stop dead in our path… we do notice. 😉

History underfoot – the Vanderbilt Motorway

Now, the NYC Greenway

There are bits of history everywhere. Too bad we’re often too busy to notice it, or too uninformed to be aware of it – even if it’s right under our feet.

There’s a bike path in Queens near Cunningham Park – the NYC Greenway. It’s a hidden gem not just for biking but for walking, if you’re so inclined. It’s approximately 3 miles and walking/biking from one end to the other will certainly give you a workout. I know because we walked this path yesterday morning – from one end to the other and back. So peaceful there in the woods… actually, there are no woods. Just clumps of trees on either side of the path, with homes beyond them. Continue along and beyond the trees there is the highway – Northern Parkway to be precise. So here you are strolling in what feels like a surround of nature when in reality you’re smack in the heart of the city. Ah, but the woodsy scent, bird songs and rustle of leaves as chipmunks and squirrels dart here and there make you forget about what’s going on beyond the trail.

Motor Parkway today To Alley Pond Park

The trail was not always so quiet. In fact, it was not always a trail but a high-speed motorway designed, financed and built in 1908 by and for one of the Vanderbilts. William K., to be exact.

William K. Vanderbilt was a car racing enthusiast who built this highway with the intention of using it to hold the Vanderbilt Cup. The road was graded just so for racing, the curves meant to challenge. This private motorway was the first in the nation to use bridges and overpasses to avoid intersections.

Two years of racing on this road, however, proved disappointing. Some spectators were injured and others killed during a race in 1910, and New York decided to disallow racing on anything but raceways – and that included private roads. No longer able to hold the Vanderbilt Cup, and with a need for help to pay back taxes, William K opened the road to the public – amazing that a Vanderbilt would need help paying for anything, yes? Twelve toll ‘lodges’ were built to collect a total of $2.00 in tolls. I guess you could say the road was opened to the privileged, not necessarily the public at large. These socialites traveled the road at high speed – 60mph! – in order to reach the gold-coast party circuit, then travel it back after the parties wound down. Clear sailing from Queens to Suffolk County, New York. Forty-five miles of scenic road.

Toll collectors lived in the toll lodges. Reminds me of the guards on the Great Wall of China who lived right there on the wall – their lives spent patrolling and nothing more.

This is the Meadow Brook toll/lodge

With the birth of Prohibition in the 1920’s, the road had new purpose. Rum-running. As a private road, there were no obstacles to this process, and rum-runners certainly had the funds for tolls. Ah, but William K. didn’t approve and so brought in state police to… well… police the road and run the rum-runners out.

Eventually, the road became obsolete. The need for high speed ways to get from here to there was met by the city and state. Northern Parkway was built – a FREE highway with bends and curves more conducive to leisurely driving than racing.  Motor Parkway was eventually given to New York in exchange for back taxes still owed. Fourteen miles of the original road have been modified for today’s use, but  sadly, other areas of it have become obscured by time, weeds, neglect and ignorance.

The three mile stretch that still exists in Queens contains some of the original cement guardrails – 100 years old.

Old and new combined

(Old and new together – Early 1900’s cement guard rails in foreground, with early 2000’s metal guard in back.)

They show age, they show neglect. They don’t come close to showing us the grandeur they once proudly guarded. And yet, they remind us to ask questions and seek answers of a past long forgotten, and truthfully, can we ask more than that?

SPIDER!

Anyone who knows me, knows I am not a creepy-crawler fan. In fact, anyone who knows me, knows I reach for my inhaler when one of those creepy-crawlies starts creeping and crawling.

This will be a short and to the point post because the creepy-factor is off the scale. WAY off the scale.

Daughter is cleaning her room today – that fact alone deserves its own post. Don't make me come over there!

Problem is, that room so rarely gets deep cleaned because of all the ‘stuff’ in there, that today we’ve found a very strange and scary-looking spider.

Okay… to me, they’re all scary looking, but… well… if you’re game, have a gander at these pictures and tell me if they don’t send shivers of disgust scurrying down your spine…

Oh… and if you happen to know what kind of spider this is – and whether it’s one to fear – give me a shout-out, ‘kay? 

Ready?

Captured Spider - what is it
WHAT IS IT 2     What is it

Yes, that’s the same spider. I can’t believe I did this, but I actually put the camera on macro then used hubby’s photographer’s loop to get an even closer closeup shot. I really need my inhaler now…

 

<<<EDIT>>>

UPDATE: We didn’t find other spiders in the room, fortunately, and this one’s photo will travel to exterminaters for examination. But, meanwhile, to put fears to rest and to help y’all identify an actual brown recluse spider – from which you want to stay far, far away – here’s a photo of one:

Brown Recluse Spider - Public Domain Image

Notice the top portion of the body – I know, I know, you don’t want to look that close. I don’t blame you, but do it here with a picture so the next time you see a brown spider, you’ll know exactly what to look for.

On the top portion of the body, where the legs come from, there is a darker marking. Look closely at it. The dark part is shaped like a violin with the neck of the violin pointing to the spider’s lower body. It’s almost like s/he’s got it slung over his shoulder to be carried on his back.

Cool once you know what to look for. Cool because it means chances are, that’s not what you have. Releif… it’s not what we had.

****

Public domainThe brown recluse spider image is a work of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, part of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, taken or made as part of an employee’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.

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