Sunday, August 26, 2012

For the Birds

My friend, Steve Jaffe and his wife Janice moved to Virginia, a stone’s throw from the Chesapeake Bay. Steve built a new house, a large pole barn and a garden.  With a combination of fields and woods, Steve always has something going on with flora and fauna.

Recently, Steve sent two photographs of birds sitting on his finger. Here are the pictures and his account of how they joined him. . .

We've had several birds hit the large glass windows on our house. These two guys survived the crashes. They both hit the ground motionless, but I could see they were still breathing.

In the picture above, I walked over and softly rubbed the bird’s head and feathers while several of his clan watched from the nearby fence. After a few minutes I lifted him so he could stand, and put my finger at his feet. He hopped on with no coaxing.

So at that point I'm beating the outside wall to get Janice's attention to get the camera. I walked all the way around the house to get her; the bird stayed on the whole time and obliged three pictures. We then sat on a front porch rocker for a few minutes; He wasn't much of a conversationalist. He finally gathered his wits and flew off.
The second guy hit with a real bang and must have been out for 10 minutes. I picked him up and held him ‘til he could stand. He stayed on my finger for about 20 minutes. He was such a wreck I had to help preen him. I put him in a shady spot where he stayed for some time, and he finally flew off.

I'm going to adorn the windows with something that keeps the birds away.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Summer Houses

The Sunset over Cape Cod Bay, September, 2011

Although the summer has rocketed by, there are still over two more weeks until Labor Day, summer’s official end.

If you have the time, this is a marvelous time of the year to take a vacation in the country before fall and winter return. A “vacation” can be anything from a day trip to an entire week at a cottage on the water.

Just a week ago, our friends Aosta and Seth invited us to a summer house party on Otsego Lake. Although the drive was less than two hours, it was if we had entered another world.

The view to the south of Otsego Lake

The house they had rented had a lakeside deck and it was possible to look all the way up and down the Lake. Much of Otsego Lake’s shores are wooded. If you squint just right, it’s possible to imagine that James Fenimore Cooper’s Deerslayer would come out of the woods at any moment.

After considering this historical fantasy, we were back in a congenial present. There was a large dinner table, crowded with food, lots of genuinely friendly and congenial people and the Lake was a delight to swim in.

Speaking of delightful swimming: when pools and lakes are too warm by the summer heat, swimming at a bay or ocean beach can be refreshing. Saltwater swimming can be the gift that keeps giving, even into late September. The water can be warm as the leaves are changing.

While out in the country, keep an eye out for fresh produce. In some communities, the farm stand is as busy as a supermarket. But there are also places where a farmer or gardener puts out a few ears of corn or tomatoes on a table by their driveway.

With the nationwide drought, the number and variety of vegetables may be less than last year. So, that makes any produce you do find all that more appreciated.

In July, lightning bugs ruled the night sky. They are now gone from our backyard. However, the night is still alive with a chorus of unseen insects that hum, buzz, whir and make other noises that might arise from a piece of music composed by Philip Glass.

I hope you have a great time between now and Labor Day. If you have any stories from present or past summer vacations, feel free to share them as comments at the end of this blog post!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Hassle-free Travel between JFK to Manhattan

A taxi to JFK is a fast, convenient and sometimes
reasonable way to get to the airport
(© Andrew K. Stauffer, )

New Yorkers have the following old joke:

Lost tourist: How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

Man on street: Practice. Practice. Practice.

With practice and planning, we now have options in traveling from Midtown Manhattan to John F. Kennedy (JFK) Airport: personal car, taxi and the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR)/Air Train combination.

Choosing car, cab or train depends on your schedule, number of travelers and budget. When we traveled between midtown and JFK in January, there were three of us and a large suitcase. Compared to the cost of three one-way tickets on the LIRR and Air Train, the taxi cost was reasonable, the service more convenient. Coming back, with two of us and no baggage, the Air Train was as convenient as the taxi and less costly.

Here’s how the options stack up:

Personal Car: If you already have a car in the city, this can be a reasonable option. The costs include tolls if you use the Queens-Midtown or Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and, possibly, short-term parking.

JFK has limited automobile access from the Van Wyck Expressway to the north and the Belt Parkway to the west and east. In rush hour, both roads clog up. Limited routes and rush hour traffic require planning enough time to get there.

If you go to JFK for a passenger pick-up, you can park in short-term parking or use the recently opened “cell phone parking lot,” at the Federal Circle exit, near the airport entrance.

When your traveler is ready for pick up, he or she calls from the curb and you then go get them. If you try this plan, take time before arriving at the airport to learn where the flight is arriving, there are many terminals, and where arriving flight pick-ups are.

With two people available, one person can wait at the terminal for a welcome and helping out. The other drives back to the cell phone parking lot and waits for the call.

Taxi: The fares are $45 now, plus tolls and tip, if any (no surcharges apply, and there is no luggage charge in NYC) for any trips to OR from JFK and anywhere in Manhattan, or $52 starting September 4, 2012.

When we took the cab in January, it was clean; the driver was alert, careful fast. The big suitcase fit nicely in the trunk. The cab dropped us right at “departing flights” at our terminal.

If you leave from a hotel, hotel staff may push you to use a car service instead of a taxi. Car services are not constrained by a flat fare and you could pay significantly more.

Here is the Long Island Railroad station at Jamaica, where rail travelers can transfer to and from the Air Train
(Photograph courtesy of MTA Long Island Railroad)
 Air Train: This is a combination of LIRR and Port Authority rail service between Penn Station, at 33rd Street and 7th Avenue, and JFK. There is also a less expensive subway/Air Train connection, but it takes longer and may be more complicated for people new to the subway.

The Air Train is a set of computer-guided rail coaches that go between airport terminals, rental car offices and parking lots - - and the LIRR’s Jamaica station in Queens.

On the trip where we took the taxi out to Kennedy, we returned via Air Train. The walk from the Jet Blue terminal to the Air Train station took five to 10 minutes. It was speeded along with moving sidewalks and was in a covered, climate-controlled walkway.

The Air Train and LIRR trains run relatively frequently. Both services are clean, well-lighted and felt safe at 9 PM on a Sunday evening.

You pay the $5.00 Air Train fare when leaving the train at Jamaica or the stations in JFK. Staff will help with ticket machines; it is possible to buy an Air Train/LIRR pass, which saves a few dollars.

Once you pay the fare, you walk one or two minutes and are in Jamaica station. The LIRR takes about 15 minutes to get to Penn Station from there.

LIRR/Air Train pricing may be confusing. The price depends on whether you travel on a week day or the week-end - - or peak/off-peak. A one way Air Train/LIRR ticket ranges from $8.75 to over $13.00. The Port Authority website explains fares. The Long Island Railroad website also includes pricing information.