Sunday, September 28, 2008

Warning: Houses in Photo are Smaller Than They Appear

I know people in NYC live in tiny spaces, but people come to Binghamton for cheap housing and room to stretch out a bit in big old turn-of-the-century homes. So this new house that is going up a few blocks from our house, at only 220 square feet, is really, REALLY crazy. Note: This photo shows the house in its ACTUAL SIZE.

Our 1.3 mile drive to my office takes us past a site that had long been home to a neighborhood eyesore: the polluted corner lot that was the longtime home to a dry-cleaners. I'm not sure why this stretch of street is so grubby- possibly the toxicity of the old dry cleaners?- but I routinely walk past trash that has included . . . a dirty diaper. YUK.

The dry cleaning biz had been closed/abandoned for years, and the City of Binghamton finally got some state funds to tear the place down. That left the site - located in a once-nice stretch of Seminary Avenue that has become pretty run-down- bare and ready for development. The only problem is . . . no one is building any new housing for miles.

So along comes a guy- apparently an unemployed sculptor who mostly lives with his mom not too far away - who decided he's going to build his own house. Keep in mind- he's not a construction guy or a contractor or anything. He's a surfer-looking guy who I noticed early one morning as I jogged by. It struck me as odd because he was the only man on the construction site. It looked like he was driving a rent-an-excavator or something- he just didn't match the big yellow piece of machinery he was using to work the lot.

As weeks have passed, the foundation has been poured, the wood framing and plywood walls have gone up, and the roof is starting to take shape. I had planned to do my own research and blog about it, but there was a front-page article in the local paper today that did all my work for me: apparently the guy bought the lot from the city for $5,000 and spent another $8,000 in materials. He did almost all the work himself. How did he learn how to build a one-man-living-hut? The library!

Yup! He credits the book "Do-It-Yourself Housebuilding" with teaching him everything he needed to know. Here are some more photos. Two hundred twenty feet. Cannot wait to see the finished product. Too damn funny.

National Alpaca Farm Days

It's been a while since I blogged, probably because the summer festival season has tapered off. With the excitement of June's Irish Festival, July's priceless Lumberjack Festival and August's Garlic Festival fading from memory like hobos from the American rails. I will confess that I skipped the much-anticipated Cauliflower Festival yesterday, when I discovered that Margaretville, NY was about 80 miles from here. I don't care how much "white gold" they have for me- it still couldn't pay for the gas necessary to get there.

At the same time, we haven't quite yet begin the jam-packed Craft-Fair/Holiday-Fair Season, extremely busy in these parts. So you can imagine my excitement when I read that this weekend would host National Alpaca Farm Days. woo HOO! Hellllloooooo, fluffies!

I've written before about the ubiquitous alpaca farm in upstate New York. There are actually what appear to be "rival" alpaca farms around here, with multiple locations buying up TV ad time and generally marketing better than 95% of the local businesses. We decided to visit the one with the most clever name of all: located in nearby Apalachin, NY, the place is called "Alpacalachin Farms." Clever, eh?

Unfortunately, the weekend has been very rainy and the expected "fluffies" were, in actuality, more like "wets" and "matteds." At least they weren't also "stinkies." In fact, it turns out alpacas are very easy-to-live-with creatures: they are friendly, mild mannered, don't really bite or kick, have soft/non-hoofed feet, not particularly smelly and super-soft (when not carrying around 2 days' worth of rain in their fur). Bonus: they make a soft, sort of purring noise that the owners find quite soothing (I asked if it was like the roar of the ocean, or the hum of freeway traffic to him- neither of those analogies seemed to register.)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Can an entire brand of soda really stay off the internet? in 2008?

Today we took a little trip to Owego (population 8,000), the bustling county seat of Tioga County (population 50,000). Owego is about half way between Binghamton and Ithaca, so- although it's the capital of a very rural farming region- it tends to feel a bit more like a cute Finger Lakes town than a burned-out industrial town.

Owego is a funny mix of really artsy boutique shops and throw-back stores straight out of 1952. My favorite is the J. J. Newberry's store- complete with teal facade and scripty-writing that you remember from your childhood.

Between lunch and browsing the great used book store and buying homemade fudge, we popped in to pick up a diet soda, but could not achieve that simple goal. How is that possible?? Because this Newberry's only sold something called "ADK" soda, in flavors like "cola" and "blue pop." Better yet? There was not a single diet soda in the entire store.

But the part of all this that really freaks me out is that I came home to dig up some info on this mysterious "ADK" brand of soda- and I can't find any information on it!!! It is possible that ADK is a product of Adirondack Beverages, but that is just speculation that even my crack-research skills cannot confirm or deny. What gives? Is it possible that this soda has escaped the information age? Has it been sitting in the storeroom of the Owego Newberry's since the 70s? I'm totally at a loss to explain it.

I guess I shouldn't be too surprised, however, because this Newberry's also sells this most-fantastic-ever "rain bonnet," definitely not produced since 1962 (they must have really stocked up on this one, back in the day).

Actually, I'm trying to do some research now on J.J. Newberry's, the once-ubiquitous national chain of five-and-dime stores, and finding that the entire chain never have even merged onto the Information Superhighway. Were the chain's stores mostly closed by the early 1990s, and this is just a locally-owned store that never bothered to change the sign? Craziness. Time warp, for sure.