Saturday, February 28, 2015

Modernica Winner

Janet Brown, come on down! The Modernica Ceramic Wok is yours.

The winner of the giveaway was chosen by random number generator, from all eligible entries received.

Thank you, everyone, and I wish I could have this planter sent to each of you.

Janet, please use the Find, Follow link for my email address, and send me your shipping address?

(Send a picture when it's filled!)

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Orchid Show - NYBG

Yesterday I caught a train to the New York Botanical Garden.

Why? Orchids! My editor at Gardenista had asked me to write a story about the new orchid show "Chandeliers" that opens tomorrow (find the story, orchids growing tips and photos here; warning, you may want to buy an orchid, afterwards), and I was lucky to have been part of a preview, before thousands of visitors arrive.

A great advantage of our new Harlem address is its proximity to the Harlem-125th Street Metro-North stop, making a trip to the Bronx as short as 20 minutes, door to door. From Brooklyn it took almost two hours, with a change from subway to train at Grand Central.

The short and simple ride was not without incident. Absorbed in an email I was writing on my phone I missed my stop, and had to backtrack, going sprawling on black ice on the platform in the process. I have very interesting knee-bruise.

But safely at the NYBG I was suddenly in a winter wonderland. No black slush, here, but lawns of white. 

And inside the massively ornate Enid A. Haupt Conservatory the damp warmth made me pull off insulating layers, and instantly fogged up every one of my three camera lenses. Momentary panic. It took 10 minutes for them to de-fog.

It was an educating experience and I learned more than I expected (my own experience of orchids has been in the wild, with fynbos and grassland species, not tropicals).

The show is layed out interactively, with very well chosen information displayed. I came away able to ID the orchids on display without flashcards, and the new-found appreciation that some orchids are scented.

Phalaenopsis, the familiar moth orchids, above. 

Dendrobiums - cane orchids. 

The show opens tomorrow, and runs till April 19th.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Harlem winter

Since we have broken records in the last week, with a coldest temperature recorded at JFK...'s a look back at the last three weeks in our immediate Harlem hood.

 127th Street

Until February rolled round winter had been chugging along. Last February was snowy, too.

 Lenox Avenue

But this year, wham bam, we were cold-slammed.

 Lenox Avenue

Even the scaaaaaaary blizzard that made the governor shut down the subway fizzled out, in January. 

Nobody warned us about the next part.


The derelict community garden on our block froze and the snow covered its trash.

 Yes, I have made inquires; no, I have not received answers. GreenThumb is "looking into it."

Even our steps had icicles.

Trees bent with iceweight.

And the flower sellers stayed open, keeping up a steady supply of forced bulbs for me.

The sidewalks are obsessively scraped and then are snowed on or iced over again. 

Wildlife plots its course.

And the stone steps up the rock hill of Marcus Garvey Park are a frozen watercourse.

Most parks have been cleared well, but Marcus Garvey, beautiful in many ways, is also semi-derelict, on these upper levels. The people who come this high are occasional dog walkers, drug users, sex-seekers and purveyors, police (an officer was shot up here last summer), and those who fall in the cracks (, me?). So. No salt for us? Maybe they want we should fall and break or heads. Problem solved.

Beautiful steps, up the chunk of rock too big to blow up, so that 5th Avenue has to move around it.

And home past old Atlah, whose pastor's habits have returned after an uncharacteristic Christmas time lull.

Yes, well. The nutter is still at it.

And so are we. 

In other ways.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Winter White Giveaway by Modernica

Here's something to shake off the winter blues: a winter white giveaway, offered by Modernica - the Modernica ceramic wok.

Not to stir fry your plants, but to contain them. The dimensions of the bowl are 8" H x 22" Diameter. On the stand the height is 10". Holes will be drilled for you upon request if you, the ecstatic winner, plan on using it for planting (in which case they are essential, though if you are super-vigilant you could coax a tropical indoor plant not to need them). The planter should not stay outdoors in freezing winters.

The value is $345.

What would be best planted in the sleek ceramic? Something with fairly shallow roots. Small spring bulbs, herbs (elfin thyme, a perfect, grey mat), hens and chicks, sedums, peace-in-the-home (baby's tears), African violets - plants with interesting texture, so you can enjoy them from above.

Or you can just use it as a washstand. Or to hold a clutch of lemons.

To enter:
-  the contiguous 48 states are eligible. I'm afraid we can't ship further.
-  leave a comment telling me how you would use your Modernica ceramic wok.
-  make sure to include your name (you can make one up, but if you win you will be contacted for your shipping address)
-  add your location, by state.

The deadline for entries is Thursday, February 26th, 11pm EST. The winner will be chosen at random and announced on Saturday 28th. I will ask the winner to email me shipping details.

Good luck!

Sunday, February 22, 2015


Yesterday the temperature stayed above freezing. Snow began to melt. The world dripped. It felt warm. The reprieve was brief, with the cold returning on Monday with a vengeance, on the back of the Siberian Express. The melted streetcorners and sidewalk pools and wet steps and dripping gutters will freeze again, and we will go skating.

So I caught the subway to the southern tip of Manhattan, to see the water.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Composting in a snoasis

One is a bowl of salad for the humans. One is a bowl of salad and vegetable scraps for the composter.

Can you tell the difference?

Vince chose the wrong bowl to put on the table for dinner.

The composter: 20 days, yesterday, since assembly and its first meal

For the first three days I gave it the recommended hot water bottle, changing it every 12 hours.

1 February 2015

Then I said, This is enough. It's like having an invalid on the terrace. So I stopped (the instructions in the manual suggested "a couple of days").

My compost is frozen.

20 February 2015

We could not have foreseen the blast of the Siberian Express, delivering record cold, but I do believe the Swedish composter maker's winter composting assurances border on sins of omission. "With its superior insulation, the Jora composter will continue working through winter, long after other composters have stopped completely..."

An Amazon reviewer is more accurate (Wyoming): "In the winter, pretty soon you have two large lumps of icy garbage."

"Continue working," is key. It implies that composting has already begun, so the interior temperatures inside will already be high. But that does not explain away the hot water bottle instructions for the start of a first batch.

Many of life's disappointments hinge on unfulfilled and unreasonable expectations. More realistic wording in a product's literature is the difference between good and bad PR. There is nothing wrong with this contraption. But the manufacturer creates a problem with a misleading assurance. Just delete the whole hot water bottle thing. Please. We'll pretend it never happened.

Because it doesn't really matter. This is still the best, admittedly high end solution for a small terrace like ours. It is filling steadily, a little meal every evening, and one day the world will thaw (well...maybe) and it will start to cook. Once the first chamber is full they say six weeks till compost. Meanwhile the second chamber fills. Optimistically, I'll have usable compost in mid to late April.

Right now snow is dropping from a white sky and in the bedroom I sit in bed with two space heaters raising the room's usual 50'F to 60. It feels cozy. Our blood has adapted. Outside the flakes have fattened from a fine mist and we are promised another accumulation. We are also fattening, deprived of exercise and roaming.

The birds eat seed in the falling snow but I have not seen the doves for two weeks. I hope they have not, like my compost, frozen.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Happy Ram Year

I caught the 4 express from Harlem to Brooklyn Bridge and walked up to Chinatown and Dim Sum Go Go. Mission: dumplings. Inside, I sat and warmed up, waiting for my order. My legs inside my jeans asked me what the hell I was thinking, and what was so special about the torso that it should get five layers of cashmere and one Canadian thermal jacket? Even the head had two coverings, but the legs, the legs that must do all the work in negative degrees and advertised frost-bite windchill, these have only jeans.

What about the double socks, I reminded them. And the tall boots.


We left, carrying a fragrant bag, with extra green ginger sauce.

The streets were emptier than I had expected, on lunar new year's day. Perhaps because of the bitter cold. And this one had just been washed. I only realized that later, looking at the pictures as a group.

I still wanted pork buns from a joint on Bayard Street. So I walked west.

On Mott I ran into some late celebrations and evidence of the party the night before, and the parade earlier in the day.

And then a herd of streetsweepers stampeded towards us, creating a dust storm whose consequences my sinuses are still suffering.

We fled down Bayard, towards buns.

On the quieter street, no picture, I am very sorry, in the middle of the empty street, and past myself and four police officers, ran a girl. Young, blond. It took me a second to digest what was wrong: Barefoot. And legs bare to the mid-thigh where a black skirt began. She ran all the way down Bayard. I watched.

I bought buns. Then I walked back out to the closest cop, and asked if he'd seen a blond girl running. Barefoot? he asked. Yes, I said. Yeah, he said. Did she not pique your interest? I asked. Eh, he said, She's probably crazy.

Was their shift about to end? Seriously. Why not step out in front of her and ask what's going on?

I should have stopped her, and dealt with the consequences. Maybe it was nothing, but it looked like something. Frostbite, at the very least.

There it is.

New year in Chinatown.