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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Butterfly Garden at Hadley Elementary

If you have been any kind of follower of my blog, you should probably know by now that I love gardens.  And I love butterflies and flowers and birds.  And vegetables.  So I was very excited to learn that Debbie Windoloski of Gardenscapes, in cooperation with Principal Jeff Udall and school mom M G-O'C, is building a butterfly garden at the Hadley Elementary School this month.
From the letter requesting donations:

The garden will be located on the front right end of the school and will be a special place for butterflies, birds and pollinators, and more importantly, the children of HES who will enjoy the garden and help plant and take care of it. In the future, we hope to build vegetable gardens as Phase 2 of our schoolyard gardens project.
I think every school should have gardens -- butterfly, flower, and vegetable!  What a wonderful way to teach students about nature and healthy environments and sustainability and nutritious food.  This is a great project, and I look forward to seeing how it turns out.
Students are already growing annuals for the garden -- some butterfly zinnias, mini-sunflowers, and butterfly cosmos.  Ground will be broken (clearing space for the garden) Saturday, May 4, at 7:30 AM, but the big event, the dedication ceremony, will be in June. 

For more information about, to donate (they are happily and readily taking donations of labor, tools, butterfly plants, and more), or to support this garden project, contact Debbie Windoloski at Gardenscapes (phone and email contact available).

Thursday, April 18, 2013

My Trip By Train

Before this weekend, I had never taken the train in the United States; the subway, yes, a train in Europe, yes.  But never in the United States.  However, I am increasingly disappointed and vexed with the rapidly degrading service and increasing cost of airplane travel, so I decided to try my trip by Amtrak -- I needed to get to Ohio to visit my parents.  Below is the travelog I wrote on my from Springfield, MA, to Pittsburgh, PA.

6:30AM departure.  We took the river route out of Springfield, past farms and forests, rolling across the countryside of New England. My seat was by the window, with plenty of leg room and two power outlets on the wall to my right. It was early and the train was quiet, starting off slowly and picking up speed. Occasionally the horn sounded, but it seemed quite in the distance. The seats seem more spacious than the typical airplane seats; they definitely have more legroom.
There is some sorrow in traveling by ground -- it means seeing not only the beauty of the country, but also the dirtier side of things -- like all the trash people dump behind their houses and in the wood where they think no one will see and the refuse from manufacturing.
We pass through neighborhoods and past marshlands and between trees of the forests, and though I brought lots of reading, I can't take my eyes off the window.  The train runs along the river much of the time.
A stop at a pass-through, and now stop at Windsor station. "Takeoffs" and "landings" are so smooth, with none of the stomach-jumping you get in an airplane. This car of the train is starting to fill up, and I guess I am surprised, not realizing how popular trains still are (or have become again).
Taking the train across the countryside of America, I feel like I should be singing "This land is your land."
Hartford. Lots of people getting on here. I might have a seat-mate.  Kensington. Stop. Wallingford.  I love all these classic old train stations, their stone and brick and wood architecture.

Amtrak 143, making all scheduled stops all the way to Washington D.C.  New Haven.  Train has nearly filled up.  8:37 Bridgeport, CT.  Stamford. Coming soon to Penn Station.  New Rochelle.
Penn Station. The bathroom stalls are much too small, but there is a nice waiting area for ticketed Amtrak passengers and plenty of places to get food.
The new train, Pennsylvanian 43, has curtains and foot rests, outlets at my seat, and even more space available. Some seats face each other. I, of course, in seeking a window seat, end up with a big curtain at my shoulder, but a nice big window ahead of me. Heading out any minute now.
Rolling along, the PA43 is not as smooth as the other train -- a bumpier ride, but faster with fewer stops.
I am reading "The Richest Woman in America: Hetty Green in the Gilded Age," and there is quite a bit of railroad history included, which makes it seem like an appropriate read for the day.
With a thirty minute wait, in Philadelphia I got off the train; the station here is beautiful. It is full of little restaurants and shops, but the architecture is high. Such a pity that travel has become so low, when there once was such beauty and class. 
Apparently, rail travel has increased 44% from 2001-2011; that's fairly significant.

No wifi on this train, though it was promised on the website.  Perhaps I am not on the wifi car, or this is one of the trains without.
One of the best differences between train and plane is that when you look out the windows of a train, there's actually something to see -- for the whole trip! And I could spend hours, perhaps days, watching out a window; it is more refreshing than even watching a movie.

People still wave at passing trains -- kids boating down the river, people standing in their yard, a fisherman.
5:17. Soon to be rounding the famous Horseshoe Curve. Trains slowly making their way through the curves of the foothills of the mountains. I fear a freight train blocked most of my view of the horseshoe curve, but what I was able to see was impressive.
Dinner on the train is a chicken caesar salad ($8) and a carton of milk ($2!).  I have snacks, but am getting a bit tired of those.  The cafe car has a fairly decent selection of eats.
The train is quiet and not nearly as crowded.  With a few more stops to go, people seem to be settling in for Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh!  Twenty minutes early.  There is a classic Ohio Railroad car on the tracks; I should have taken a picture. 
Now I have some time to relax before my ride arrives.

I did not write on my return trip.  I had three trains, instead of two, though the route was very similar.  One of my trains was delayed and overbooked, causing a delay all the way up the line and getting me into Springfield about 30 minutes late.  All the return trains had wifi, but functionality depended on how many other people were trying to access it at the same time as me.  Nevertheless, I quite enjoyed my journey by train and am looking forward to another trip.  And hopefully I can replace planes and automobiles with trains more often -- so many advantages..
Happy travels!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

My Com-Post

Gardening season.  The season I long for all through January and February.  If I could successfully plant in February, I certainly would, but I seem to live in the wrong part of the country for that.
Since moving to Hadley, none of my gardens have found success.  A few spindly tomato plants, some leggy lettuce, a few peas, and a couple of happy zucchini, but no onions, no real tomatoes, few beans, and absolutely no melons.  When you see the results of my soil tests, you might understand why.
My subsequent research into amending my soil suggested compost and fertilizer (not a big surprise...).

I've been working on making my own compost, but started late in the year last year, and it's not ready yet.  So last weekend my friend, Mrs Robin-Hood's-Forest, and I took her truck out to Bear Path Farm to collect a load of super-rich compost.  Upon arrival, the proprietor was busy loading up a truckload of compost for delivery, but I suspect that had I given advanced notice, he would have been happy to load my friend's truck for us (actually, I don't have to suspect -- he told us so).  However, he also has a self-serve compost pile, and we spent a little time shoveling a cubic yard of the compost from that pile into her truck.

The compost piles at Bear Path Farm.  Visit the website to read about the process and ingredients.
Mrs RHForest's truck loaded with compost.

We trucked that compost back to my yard and tossed it all into the garden, where I spent the rest of the afternoon turning it in to the sandy soil.  The garden bed looked so much happier and healthier after that, and the next day I planted peas and spinach.
Dark, rich, unsifted compost.
My little garden bed, with compost and hay dug in.
I have since added a little organic fertilizer to the garden, and I will keep you up-to-date as things get planted and start growing.  I am super excited to have my garden started, and I'm hoping to get some more things planted this week/end, if the weather and schedules cooperate.  Since I usually begin craving my garden in February, I'm quite proud of myself for waiting until the end of March & beginning of April to truly get underway.

I mentioned that we met the owner of Bear Path Farm -- a nice guy, a hard worker, and a quick responder to queries via phone or email.  You can contact him through the information on his card:

And a special thanks to Mrs RHForest for the photo of the compost piles, the use of her truck, and her hard shoveling work!