18 January 2012

Pennsylvania Farm Show 2012

Bailey Kasbee and her pig Oreo.

Every Monday I spend a few hours hanging out with the news team at WITF radio in Harrisburg. Last week I got to hang out with reporter Mary Wilson as she toured the Pennsylvania Farm Show looking for a cool story. She manned the microphone and I snapped photos along the way.

Mary put together a great piece on the show and my photos are featured in a slide show below the transcript (it is radio, you know).

We started out in the food aisles talking to vendors about the politics of free samples. Then we moved on to the art of showing pigs, purchasing Longhorn cattle, raising alpaca and finally grooming heifers for judging.

Check out Mary's piece and my photos at

09 January 2012

This is the boost my brain power

Courtesy of hawkexpress on Flickr
Sometimes, in line at the grocery store, when I’ve run out of tabloid covers to read, I glance at those booklets on brain training. From the look of them, they’re geared toward people who are older, maybe retired, who no longer have kids or a job to stimulate their brains.
    But I never really thought about things I could do to sharpen my memory or hone the connections between reason and emotion. I’m young. My brain is young. I think a lot. I’m even doing it right now. Maybe if I try to exercise my brain too much, I’ll pull a mental muscle or something?
    But if the alternative is my brain going to mush inside my skull, some cranial fatigue is worth the risk.
    So here’s my list of ten ways to do ol’ Brain Train:
Courtesy of Richard Trierweiler
    1. Sleep. This one’s my favorite so I put it first. I love sleep. I never feel like I’ve had enough. But just sleeping a lot is not always the solution. You have to make sure that the quality of the sleep you’re getting is top shelf. That means eliminating noise and light. I use double blackout curtains. They shut out the sun, cut down on street noise and even keep out the cold, saving money on my heating bill.
    2. Be contradicted. There’s nothing more stimulating than a healthy debate. It gives you an excuse to practice expressing your opinion and exposes you to new ideas. I’m lucky on this one. My partner never lets me get away with any statement without citing my sources.
    3. Eat tumeric. This common spice is used in pretty much every Indian, and most Thai, dishes. It’s a staple in my kitchen. Similar to ginger root, it contains curcumin, which may reduce the risk of dementia. One down side — it stains, so be tidy.
Courtesy of chocolate express on Flickr
    4. Eat dark chocolate — and drink red wine. Both are delicious sources of memory-improving flavonoids. And tell your parents to rock this one too. Studies have shown that after age 50, one serving of red wine a day will benefit the heart as well.
    5. Hydrate. I remember commercials from high school prompting eight glasses a day. It always seemed like a lot. But dehydration forces the brain to work harder and may prohibit planning abilities. Plus, you’ll be less likely to develop kidney stones. And I hear those are no fun.
Courtesy of jjpacres
    6. Write by hand. This is one that challenges me. I used to do it all the time. Essay tests in class were part of the curriculum and I never gave it much thought. Now, writing by hand for more than a couple hundred words and I’m cramping up. My new goal is to write the first draft by hand, second draft on the computer. Brain scans show that handwriting engages more sections of the brain than typing. And, it’s easier to remember something once you’ve written it down.
    7. Zone out. Take your brain off the leash and let it wander about. One professor I had in college gave the class permission to stop listening to her if we started to feel sleepy. The break, she said, made us more focused when we came back. And studies have shown that zoning out allows the brain to work on the ‘big picture’.
    8. Delay gratification. It encourages focus, and when exercised at the dinner table, makes that dessert take so much better. This is something I was much better at as a kid. Once I figured out the whole time-management thing, I realized that deadlines are good motivators, too.
    9. Master the Pomodoro Technique. This has nothing to do with pasta, but is a great tool for time-management. You stay focused and work in 25-minute blocks, taking a short break after each. The frequent rests aid mental agility, and you know you want to take it anyway.
Courtesy of WarzauWynn on Flickr
    10. Get out of town. City living is distracting. Just a few minutes on a crowded street impairs memory and self-control (like the urge to pull your hair out). So plan a weekend getaway. Pennsylvania is full of wonderful state and local parks, so this doesn’t mean you have to go far. This is also my favorite.

06 January 2012

Real cold. Fake snow.

Negative wind chills + faux snow makers = the ice beard
Moving from New Hampshire to Pennsylvania I was anticipating a change in the winter clime. Temperatures rising into the 30s everyday rather than peaking in the teens. Less snow and ice, more flurries and slush. Roads salted with abandon instead of a more car- and earth-friendly sand dusting. But driving yesterday up the nearest ski hill (notice I don’t use the descriptor mountain), the wind was fighting me for control over the car, but there was no snow. Bear trees, yes. TK something else wintery. Even the occasional pond sporting a very thin sheet of ice. But no snow.

Until we got to the parking lot of Roundtop ski resort. All of a sudden, it was winter. Just on the north slope and only where the snow-making machines were roaring, but if I chose to put on my frost-colored glasses, I could see the best season of them all (in my opinion).

Not that New Hampshire is immune to green winters - this year is a good example - but I don’t remember popping out of my skis, walking 2 feet to the right and stepping back into Fall.

The snow in October was nice. I guess I should just take it as it comes. Winter in fall and fall in winter.

Faux winter it is.

03 January 2012

Exploring Governor Stable

Thanks to the hard work of the Friends of Governor Stable, a slice of the Susquehanna River valley teeming with boulders is available to climbers. I learned about the Governor Stable boulderfield from a member of the FoGS board last spring. A pass for the climbing season, January through August, is $60. Since I didn't yet have a job and it was part way through the season, I found other places to boulder around York, Pa (like my basement gym).

But I knew the 2012 season was starting January 1, so for Christmas, I bought a pair of passes for Richard and me.

This afternoon, in the 28 degree weather, we drove over the Susquehanna to check out Governor Stable. We parked at the nearby public park and walked up the road to the trail head. Clouds were out in patches. When the sun peaked through I could feel it being absorbed by my black down vest. The wind was minimal, blocked by the boulders, but my toes were cold after 10 minutes.

I soon forgot my toes, distracted by the hundreds of climbs to explore. It's an impressive space and I'm happy to have access to it and to support the people working hard to get that access.

No photos today. My hands soon lost feeling like my toes. But I'm going back so another idle afternoon will be spent crawling over the boulders and hopefully sending some sweet problems.

02 January 2012

My perfect Sunday

I grew up spending most of my Sunday mornings asleep and entirely aware that most of my peers were in church. Now I work Thursday through Monday so this New Year’s Day 2012, was the first Sunday I’ve had off since Labor Day.

The day started at midnight, lounging around a bonfire behind my friend Chris’ parents’ house. We rang in the New Year with a few cheers and the echoes of fireworks and dynamite bouncing off the valley slopes from nearby celebrations. Walking back to the house after a couple more hours of chatting with friends I hadn’t seen for six months, I looked up at the stars. They shined through a hole in the low cloud cover and I realized I hadn’t seen stars for as many months. (A sacrifice of city living, I suppose.)

Rusting "stairs" to Pulpit Rock
Reclaimed coal mine
Woods walking, also known as hiking
After a few hours’ sleep, Chris, Norah, Richard and I woke up to a clear, brisk morning. A hike was on the agenda and since Chris spent grew up in the surrounding woods, we were given a guided tour of his childhood haunts.

The highlight for me was a look into a seemingly bottomless tunnel that was built from 1891 to 1934 under a coalmine for drainage. The tunnel itself was bizarre. Thick rebar lengths that crisscrossed to prevent people from climbing down blocked the 10-foot diameter entrance. It stuck out of the ground at a 45-degree angle like a giant worm from Dune. Looking down we saw rocks and trash that people had thrown but that hadn’t made it very far. About 50 feet down the lower half of the tunnel was caving in and a pile of dirt made seeing any further impossible.
Down the Jeddo

But even more compelling than a giant tunnel was the backstory. Chris told us that he had heard of people taking kayaks down into the tunnel. About three miles away there was an exit, but to get there the kayakers had to make it through pH 0 drainage water with no light and multiple rapids speculated at class 5. And depending on the recent weather the exit could be completely blocked with water rushing into the Nescopeak Creek. For those who make it out alive, the cops are usually waiting at the exit with handcuffs. And, Chris said, the Jeddo Mine Tunnel has a death rate worse than Mount Everest.

A great romp in the woods always needs a spooky story.

Out of the woods and on for pizza!
After hiking out to the car we’d earlier stashed, we headed straight for pizza and garlic knots. The cookies we ate out in the woods, called Million Dollar cookies, were delicious but calories from the butter and excess sugar were gone before we even ate them.

A morning of exploration and friends followed by too much food is my perfect Sunday.