Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Your Albany School Board Election

The Albany School Board has two of its seven seats open right now. So, you get to vote not once but twice on Tuesday November 8th.

Does it matter?

Heck yeah.

The School Board governs our 15 public schools and is responsible for 10,400 students. Of these, about 8,400 are enrolled in public schools and about 2,000 in taxpayer-supported charter schools. The school budget is $206 million and constitutes more than half of your property taxes.

There are three candidates running for these two available seats. We've had oen candidate forum, last night at Albany High, graciously hosted by the League of Women Voters.

Next Monday Oct 24th there is another candidate forum, this time at the Albany Public Library main branch, hosted by the Albany chapter of the NAACP. There will be one last forum; as soon as we have details we'll post that info.

Come to a forum, learn about the candidates, and please exercise your right to vote on Tuesday, Nov 8 !   

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Summer Harvest: Blueberries

It's blueberry season! You'll find them in the grocery stores, in farmer's markets, and if you are feeling adventurous, you can pick your own at many farms. We picked our blueberries at Indian Ladder, which is also picking raspberries and black raspberries. Blueberries is one of my favorite things to pick because preserving is easy and those frozen blueberries are delicious in baked goods, yogurt, and even plain as a snack!

Once you've picked or purchased your blueberries, spread them out on a cookie sheet to freeze them. This prevents the blueberries from clumping (but if you let them dry after washing, it's probably fine to just freeze them right in the bag). After they have frozen, you can fill up a gallon sized bag and thank yourself all year long!

I went on a quick trip to Baltimore and was able to stop at a delicious farm stand with some Silver Queen sweet corn that we devoured and I've frozen the extras to kick start my corn saving. More on that in August when the corn is sweetest though!

Here's my favorite blueberry muffin recipe:

Monday, July 11, 2011

Library Budget Vote: Absentee Ballots

I've voted in many elections, but this upcoming Library budget vote is the first time I'll be voting absentee ballot. The ballot is above. I picked up the application at our local library, but it's also available here. A stroll over to Academy Park (the Albany City School District offices across from the capital and city hall) to drop off the application and we got these ballots right away. We'll drop them off before we leave town and then have voted! If you are going to be out of town or unable to get to the polls, then I urge you to get your applications in for ballots now. The deadline if you'd like the ballot to be mailed to you is tomorrow by 4:00 and to drop off is the day before the vote (Monday, July 18). Of course, if you are in town for the election, please make sure you vote that day, Tuesday, July 19. It's important to have your voice heard regardless of your vote.

More information on the vote is available here.

If you care about the libraries and want to help to make sure the budget can be passed, there is still time to help! Phone banks will be on-going Monday through Thursday (tonight through 7/14) 6:30- 8:30 p.m. at Citizen Action, 94 Central Ave (half block away from Henry Johnson Blvd.; parking on the street). Please contact if you are able to help!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Summer Harvest: Garlic Scapes

Garlic scapes are the curly stalk that emerges from the garlic plant about a month to six weeks after the first leaves of the plant come up. The garlic scapes are harvested after they appear so that the energy of the plant is pushed into the garlic bulb, making larger garlic heads. Garlic scapes are delicious and can be eaten raw: in salads or pureed in dips, or cooked: tossed into stir fries or in any way that you would use garlic or onions. It’s also one of the first things that I preserve from my garden, usually in the form of garlic scape pesto. This year, I also did a few half pints of Dilly Scapes, where the garlic scape replaced the usual bean in the recipe. This is a total experiment, but one that is worth trying if you use small jars that you can just process in your regular pots and pans.

Garlic Scape Pesto:

I have to confess, I’m one of those who does not have a recipe for pesto. But there is a really wonderful one here on Dorie Greenspan’s blog “In the Kitchen and on the Road with Dorie.” When making garlic scape pesto to eat, I toss the garlic scapes and olive oil into the food processor, adding pine nuts, sea salt, and Parmesan cheese as we move along. The results are always delicious.


When I’m processing for freezing, I usually leave out the cheese. I find the taste of the pesto is better, and then the pesto can also be used as seasoning. Adding the Parmesan cheese after thawing is very easy. I’ve read that many leave out the pine nuts before freezing, but I haven’t found any noticeable difference with the pine nuts frozen, so I add them in as well. After processing, I line a cookie sheet with wax paper and drop dollops of the scape pesto onto the sheet. I place this in the freezer and allow it to freeze and then toss the frozen clumps into a gallon sized garbage bag.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Missed us? Here's Our Top 5 Excuses on Why it's Hard to Update a blog in Spring.

Top 5 Reasons Why it's Hard to Update a Blog in Spring...

Yes, some people do it and do it well. But we're new to this and there are so many temptations in spring!

  1. Baseball. If you have children playing it, you know.
  2. The garden. This is the time of year filled with potential, we are dreaming of tomato sandwiches and dilly beans, so the work is fun. But, it’s still work.
  3. Everything winds down in spring. If you are involved in something, there is some big event in the spring. Usually that you need to organize. I'll throw birthdays in this category, because every weekend there are birthday parties galore.
  4. The great outdoors. It’s so stunning out, the blue skies and green grass and flowers….
  5. Baseball. See above.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Teacher Evaluations and New York State Tests

The Albany school budget has passed. The people who run the charter schools in Albany have revealed themselves as unethical rascals. What’s next on the education horizon? New teacher evaluation reforms. As we look more closely at education, the teacher is increasingly getting the brunt of the blame for poor student behavior.

It would be naive to say there weren't any bad teachers out there, because there are. It would also be short sighted to downplay the importance on a child’s life of having a good teacher, because everyone knows that an amazing teacher can literally change a child’s life. (Click here to listen to Planet Money’s podcast on the economics of a good teacher). But when it comes to education, it seems like our eggs are all in one basket. The basket of: if you have a good teacher, they will produce high test scores in a child and then and only then will we have a well educated population.

Most likely driven by the above theory, Governor Cuomo pushed State Ed and the Legislature to have the New York State test be 40% of the new evaluation for teachers. But how valuable are these tests? A standardized test can be a useful tool to assess a large body of students. Having a national or even state-wide benchmark to ensure students are achieving at a certain level seems very logical. However, would that test still be logical if there was no benefit to the individual student? The New York State tests that students take are presented and graded in such a way that they are not reasonably able to be used for individual student assessment.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Reader Comment: Top 5 Results of Tuesday's Budget Election?

There are election results and then there are the results of the elections. We'd like to compile the Top 5 Results of Tuesday's Budget Election.

What do you think was the most dramatic outcome of the budget election on Tuesday? Was it the school budget vote going through? Was it the library vote not going through? Was it the fliers surrounding the school budget vote? Were it the people who won the library trustee seats?

Let us know. Either leave a comment, send us an email (, or leave a comment on our Facebook page.

We'll put together a list from the comments for next week's Top 5.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Albany Votes and Anonymous No Longer.

Albany went to the polls yesterday and passed the Albany City School District budget. It looks like the library budget did not pass, although according to their website, they are going to do a recanvass of the voting machines. Below is information taken from the WNYT website:

Albany City SD

School budget passed: 3,555 yes to 3,382 no
Proposition 2 (sale of 270-272 Central Ave.) passed: 4,694 yes; 1,068 no
Proposition 3 (sale of Philip Livingston school) passed: 5,673 yes; 1,017 no
Proposition 4 (no-cost construction project) passed: 4,002 yes; 2,644 no
Proposition 5 (Library budget) FAILED: 3,490 no; 3,462 yes
Library trustees: 2 open seats
  • Donna Dixon -- 3,383 (winner)
  • Timothy D. Smith -- 2,706 (winner)
  • Felix Mendoza -- 1,408
  • Jose M. Lopez Jr. -- 1,318
It's interesting to look at the numbers of votes, the totals are below:

School budget passed: 6937 total votes (3,555 yes to 3,382 no)
Proposition 2 (sale of 270-272 Central Ave.) passed: 5762 total votes (4,694 yes; 1,068 no)
Proposition 3 (sale of Philip Livingston school) passed: 4657 total votes (5,673 yes; 1,017 no)
Proposition 4 (no-cost construction project) passed: 6646 total votes (4,002 yes; 2,644 no)
Proposition 5 (Library budget) FAILED: 6952 total votes (3,490 no; 3,462 yes)
Library trustees: 8815 total votes (people could vote up to two times, so divided in half= 4407.5 although this does not count for bullet voting)

From these numbers, there was clearly a focus on the library budget (there were 15 more votes cast on the library budget vote than on the school budget vote). I'm looking forward to looking at the actual voting tallies as compared to past budget votes to see how much the false propaganda spread by Charter School supporters affected voting.

That's right, thanks to the Times Union's Scott Waldman's reporting, with assurance we can now say that the negative propaganda sent out was sent by Charter School supporters. Specifically, it was sent by School Performance, Inc. Also known as SPNY. As reported by Waldman in the TU (story link here), "Tom Carroll, who founded the Brighter Choice Foundation -- which supports all of the city's 11 charter schools -- is on the board of School Performance Inc., according to the most recent public records available. Chris Bender, executive director of Brighter Choice, has also served on the School Performance board."

A little digging gives the following information:

Monday, May 16, 2011

School District and Library Budget Vote Thoughts

There is an optimistic side to me that doesn't go away, no matter how far I march into this sometimes cynical life. One of my optimistic beliefs has to do with voting. I believe that an informed vote is a correct vote, whether it agrees with my informed vote or not. Because of that, it's hard for me to push someone to vote one way or another. Although I'd like to see votes go my way, I appreciate that this world is made up of many different people that have needs that don't always match my own. With these thoughts in mind, I'm going to share my opinions on tomorrow's budget votes and whether you agree or disagree, I hope that you go out and vote. Poll locations can be found here.

School Budget Vote: Ginnie's Vote: YES
It's funny when I jump up on a soap box and wax poetic and then go ahead and contradict myself. But, we're in a situation where it's hard for me to imagine a truly informed NO vote. The school district levy is 0%, which was achieved through the teachers sacrificing for their students and through hard work on the part of the school board and administration. A NO vote is listening to the vitriol spouted by a cowardly anonymous source. I can't fathom an educated reason to vote NO on this budget. If you have an issue with the way the district is run, then you should pay attention to the candidates for the School Board, voting NO doesn't change your taxes dramatically but it does directly hurt Albany children. For more information on the School budget, you can look here, and past Albany Spark posts on the budget are here and here.

Library Budget Vote: Ginnie's Vote: YES
My family uses the library so much that in good conscience I couldn't vote anything except YES. We borrow stacks of books, audio books, movies, music. My children have done countless crafts and if I added up the hours we've listened to the Pine Hills children's librarian read books during story time, it would probably easily equal several work weeks.

Two Seats on Library Board up for Election

People only seem to pay attention to things when it comes to money. This is especially true when looking at the Library and School District votes. People get up in arms about the budget, but then barely pay attention when seats on the boards that create that budget are up for election. If you are really outraged or excited about the library budget vote, there are two seats up for election on Tuesday and you should put effort into researching the person you are voting for on the library board. They will help determine the future budgets and direction of the library.

The library has asked each of the candidates running for office for a bio and has put it here on their website. Two candidates will be elected, which means that as voters, we can vote for up to two candidates (if you feel passionately about a candidate, you can just vote for one, which is called a "bullet vote"). These candidates are, in ballot order:

1. Donna Dixon
2. Felix Mendoza
3. Jose M. Lopez Jr.
4. Timothy D. Smith

Find out about them and support the one that shares the same vision for the library that you do. Then go out and vote and encourage others to do so as well. The more citizens voting, the better our city!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Reminder of Why Albany is Great

Out of the negative, there is always a light of positive.  The recent orchestrated attack against the Albany City School District's budget vote has outraged many who live in Albany.  People are speaking out at community meetings, one family has decided to answer the mailed out "window signs" by giving out poster boards to anyone who wants to put a sign in their window, and finally, people are sending emails urging others to vote yes.  One of the best examples of this is below, written by Leo and Martha Levy.  Thanks to Leo and Martha and all who are coming together and reminding us of why our city is so great.  

We are writing to urge you to vote "YES" for the proposed 2011-2012 budget for the Albany City School District.  (The rest of this message is commentary -- and links to information -- and pasted articles.) 


We have not been pleased with the manner in which Governor Andrew Cuomo has sought to portray New York State's public school districts  as well as school district administrators, teachers and other staff (and, by extension, the children and families who are dependent upon those public school districts) as better able to sustain fiscal sacrifices in these difficult economic times than those New York State residents who (in these difficult economic times) are earning annual incomes above $200,000.  Still, that is our current political reality -- and the Governor's current political power has made it necessary for school districts around the State to either find significant sources of funds that are independent of State aid (e.g. increased property taxes) or to significantly cut back on expenditures -- or to do both.

Recognizing that the mood of many local property taxpayers is such that a school budget based on a property tax increase to make up for all lost State aid likely would lead to the defeat of that proposed budget at the polls, it was with some relief that we saw the cooperative effort between the Albany Board of Education and the administration and teachers of the Albany City School District that yielded a proposed budget for 2011-2012 that had no increase in the tax levy over the current year.  It might not have been the budget that we would have crafted, we thought, but, surely, it was a prudent budget to present to Albany's voters for approval.  Who would oppose such a budget?  Perhaps there would be little need to campaign for the budget's passage by the voters on May 17th.

We did not foresee the actions of those who are determined to weaken the public school system to the point that it will no longer be viable.

A few days ago, we, along with many other citizens of the City of Albany, received a large, glossy postcard in the mail that, in urging defeat of the proposed school budget, offered blatantly misleading statements.  The mailing prompted a front-page article in the Times Union on 5/10/11, an article, whose text is pasted below, that noted that the source of the expensive mailing was not identified -- "Phantom call for 'no' vote: Uncredited brochure calls for turning down Albany school budget."

Friday, May 13, 2011

Photos of the Negative Fliers

Although most people got the negative fliers, several people either didn't or didn't hold onto them. Below are photos of them.

First, to put things in perspective, a snapshot of Albany's budget from the Times Union:

Flyer 1: Front and back:
Sent about 3 weeks before the vote

Flyer 2: The window sign
Sent the week before the vote

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Enough is enough.

Educating children is an uphill battle. There are so many variables, so many things that can go wrong. If you add to that an urban district with a high population of children coming from underprivileged homes, the variables are even higher. Teachers and administrators need a lot of support to give these children the best possible chance to be all that they can be in life. Because every child deserves that.

This is not to say that we should give the Albany City School District a blank check to go and voraciously spend money. In fact, we should carefully pay attention to the budget and ensure our voices are heard. We should come to the budget discussion with facts and knowledge, not scare tactics and lies. That only hurts the children of Albany and the tax payers of Albany.

Although there is no proof on what group has sponsored these recent mailers and negative phone polls, there is no doubt that those sponsors do not care about educating the children of Albany. It's also evident that they have deep pockets. The estimates I've heard for the mailers is in the range of $5,000 per mailing (this is a broad estimate not based on any specific numbers). The calls, let's say cost $1000 each. I've heard of two. With two mailers and two negative survey calls, that estimated cost is about $12,000. So, bottom line, they are so against the children of Albany getting a good education, they are willing to throw real money at it. In a time when people are tightening their belts, a time when the teachers have put their students before themselves, a time when the children need funding more than ever, it's especially insulting.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Courage...and Cowards in Albany

There is nothing like an act of courage to attract opposition from cowards.

Last week, the teachers of the Albany Public Schools, along with the senior administrators, sealed the deal on a courageous negotiation. The teachers, through their union, agreed to freeze their pay for a year as a way to help this community in a time of need. The administration agreed to avoid teacher layoffs. This is a great agreement for our community. It saves money when we need it desperately. It saves teachers, and after all, we aren't going to educate anyone without teachers ! All in all, everyone did the right thing.

It took courage on all sides to arrive at this agreement. It took the vision to believe that we could achieve a 0% tax levy increase in a year when everyone is hurting for money. No other school district in the state has managed to accomplish this.

Well, you know what happens when you do the right thing in Albany. Someone is bound to object.

In an act of extraordinary cowardice, an as-yet unnamed group mailed out thousands of glossy, expensive flyers to folks all over Albany. I hardly know where to begin in tearing into this junk mail:

* This flyer said that "taxes are too damn high". Aside from the error in grammar (they should have written "too damned high") this was awfully offensive language to send into people's homes. Some of us have children, and we like to teach them to communicate politely. I didn't appreciate having this sort of language broadcast into my home via the US mail in one-inch high red letters.

* The flyer made the false claim that the tax rate under our new school budget would be 20% higher than two years ago. The writer of this flyer must have a really good crystal ball, because the tax rate for 2011-12 hasn't been established yet. No one knows what it will be. What we do know is that the tax levy contains 0% increase. The tax rate is th eproduct of several factors; the only one under the control of the school district is the levy. The levy has been set for no increase.

* Let me just say this again: the tax levy is rising 0% this coming year. For the last three years it has risen an average of about 2.9%. If the writers think taxes are too high, surely a 0% increase would be a GOOD thing to be supported? Explain again why, if taxes are too high, one would oppose a no-increase levy?

* Here's the best part: the flyer has no information about who sent it. It is unsigned. I am a fanatical supporter of free speech. Voltaire said it best: "I detest what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

People have the right to engage in whatever form of political speech they like, and no matter how offensive, wrong or false their statements are, we protect their right to offend, make mistakes, and lie. But if you're going to make a major political statement, at least have the decency to sign your name. Even the average twelve-year-old knows that if you want to say something, have the guts to say it openly and identify yourself. John Hancock set a wonderful example for us all to follow way back in 1776.

Engage in civil, courteous, constructive debate, and let us know who you are. Don't hide behind the mama's skirts of anonymity.

We've seen these kinds of childish tactics before.

I look forward to learning who the gutless cowards were who sent this flyer.

What do you think?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Top 5 Things to Preserve in Your Freezer

Everyone knows that buying produce locally is better. You use fewer fossil fuels, money is kept in your community, its easier and cheaper to buy organic, and it’s reputed that produce ripened in place is better for you. If you live in California, you can probably buy your produce locally year round. But as you know, living in the northeast, we have several months of plenty followed by many months of scarcity. If you are working toward getting more of your food locally, how can the average person realistically do that year round?

The answer of course, is preserving food. Preserving food is simple in theory, harder in practice. When most people think of preserving food, they think of canning and drying food and just shut down. Although neither of these methods are hard to master, they are less daunting when doing them with someone who has experience. But, even someone who can’t boil water can freeze something. Take a look at the Top 5 below and think about the amount of freezer space (really, how many old kinds of ice cream do you need on hand?) and the amount of time and pick one thing to preserve this year. I promise, if you do it, you’ll feel like a rock star. You might even start shopping for an energy efficient chest freezer! Instructions for how I freeze all produce below is at the bottom:

1. Blueberries: Right when school lets out and into July, blueberries are in season. There are a bunch of U-pick places (and even a fabulous free place by Grafton), we usually pick at Indian Ladder. It’s a fantastic family outing and as a parent, nothing is more satisfying than making your children work for their food. Remember that at least one quart should be for family consumption, but if you aim to have each older child pick their own quart and you pick two, you’ll have a good start. Do this twice and you’ll be silly with blueberries for the season. You can make muffins, snack on them, make pies, toss them in salads, they are delicious, local, and good for you.
2. Corn: This is my favorite thing to freeze because freezing your own is so much better than what you buy in the freezer section. My frozen corn tastes like summer corn and is so delicious in just about everything. I continually freeze the corn through the summer, I always buy a dozen ears of corn from the farmer’s market. The ones we don’t use, I cut the kernels off the cob and then do the preserving method below. If you are a big soup maker and have the space, I’d recommend hanging onto the cobs as well, toss them in the bottom of the soup pot and the winter soups will have an amazing sweet corn taste. Now, you can easily toss handfuls of corn in soups, stir frys, or even just cook it to serve as a side. It’s local, delicious, and again, good for you.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Big News for Albany!

Last night, I was exhausted. The running around to all of the baseball games and spring events caught up with me and I turned in early. This morning I awoke refreshed and with a packed inbox of exciting news. Sometimes it's not the early bird that catches the worm! The rundown: The ACSD is now looking at a 0% tax levy, with zero teacher layoffs, and zero schools closing (details to follow), plus it looks like we're even closer to getting some chickens. The Common Council voted yes 8- 7 to allow backyard hens in Albany. Because the vote is so close, there's a chance the Mayor might veto the bill. For or against, let the mayor know of your stance: 434-5100 or email:

If you've been following the ACSD budget, you're aware that the projected tax levy for next year was 1.7% (please remember from previous posts that this does not necessarily have anything to do with how much more your taxes may or may not go up, the ACSD has nothing to do with that exact figure). After a teacher's contract agreement that was reached yesterday, the tax levy increase will be 0% (again, this is coming from the school district, if the assessments change, which the school district cannot control, your taxes may still go up). Although I do have some reservations about the budget, those reservations come from some concerns about programs and me being overly fiscally conservative. On a whole, I'm astonished by this budget. It's amazingly good for a very bad fiscal time. It's an easy Yes vote.

Some details:

Friday, April 29, 2011

A Tomato Top 6

Today I’m taking a break from everything and focusing on my baby tomato plants. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have a tomato addiction. So, today’s top 5 is all about the tomatoes. Realistically, most plants come in 6 packs, so we’re going to do Ginnie's Top 6 Tomatoes to grow in Albany.

  1. Sungold Cherry Tomatoes. I have to start with my shame. This tomato is not an heirloom, but is so delicious and such a wonderful plant, it’s worth compromising your tomato values for. These giant plants are covered with orange cherry tomatoes that are the perfect blend of sweet and tart. Try one warmed from the sun and you may also become a tomato addict.
  2. Bloody Butcher: Really, worth it for the name, but this tomato is the best early tomato I’ve found. I’ve had vibrant red Bloody Butcher tomatoes from at the end of June and it has a wonderful garden tomato flavor that is often lacking in early tomatoes. What I usually do with these plants is tandem plant them with a late tomato and either actually pull the plant or cut it back so there’s no space wasted.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Passing the Library Vote Campaign Information

If you are interested in helping the library work to pass its budget, below are some ways you can get involved.

  1. Phone banking: Our voter ID effort starts next week. We’ll be at Citizen Action, 94 Central Ave., Albany (Monday-Thursday, 6:30 p.m.-8 p.m.) and the CSEA Regional Office, 1 Lear Jet Lane, Latham (Monday-Wednesday, 6 p.m.-8 p.m.). We need people to fill the seats. If you’re willing to do some voter ID, contact Will Takach, the campaign’s phone bank coordinator at or 465-8646,
  2. House Parties: A number of people have already signed up to do informal house parties (no fundraising involved) to bring their friends and neighbors together to talk about the Library and the need to pass the budget. If you’re interested in hosting a party, please contact Joan Weiss, the campaign’s house party coordinator at 281-6037.
  3. Business Community Outreach: We’re looking to garner support from the businesses near the Main Library and the Arbor Hill/West Hill, Pine Hills, Delaware Ave and New Scotland Ave branches. If you know of business owners in these areas or folks involved in any of the BIDS or Merchant’s Associations, please get back to me and I’ll forward the information to the volunteers who are reaching out to these important supporters.
  4. Tracking Blogs/Talk 1300/Letters to the Editor: This is a job for each of us to do. I’ll be sending out Rapid Response messages to all of you when action is needed. By the way, there’s a profile of Fred Dicker in today’s NY Times. His mother used to work at a library. Click here<;nl=nyregion&amp;emc=ura1>  if you’d like to read the article.
  5. Supporter Petition: This, too, is something we can all do. Attached is our petition. Please circulate this and get as many people to sign up as possible. You can either fax me the sheets at 438-2120 or you can go online to <>  and add their names at the site. If you haven’t already signed up at the site please do and then send a message to our local elected officials. 

Friday, April 22, 2011

Friday Top 5: Earth Day

Happy Earth Day! This Earth Day, we’re focusing on “Know Thyself.” Today take a look at yourself and your lifestyle and see what little things you can do to make those small everyday changes that have the biggest environmental impact. Below are our top 5 suggestions.

1. Walk more. The beauty of living in the city is the many places you can walk. How much do you walk in your neighborhood? Check out your neighborhood’s Walkscore here.

2. Start composting. I know, it seems daunting, but it’s not. Check out these links for urban composting ideas. If you can’t do it yourself, look into having the Radix Center Community Compost Initiative do it for you for a small fee.

3. Pledge to get your hands dirty today. Do this by either planting something or cleaning something up. This does not have to be big, you could just pick up some garbage on the sidewalk that you might usually walk by. Planting does not need to take all day. Put some pansies in a planter. Getting your hands dirty can be as big or as small as you want. Today start small to see how easy it is and make a pledge to try to get your hands a little dirty every day.

4. Reassess yourself. It’s often the little things that waste the most energy. Do you turn off the lights when you leave a room? Check to see if your faucets are dripping (or are they so old that it’s tough for the kids to turn off all the way, like in my house)? What appliances are plugged in all the time that don’t need to be? If something’s plugged in, it’s using energy, even if it’s off.

5. Bring a mug or cup with you. Think about how many cups you’d save if you just brought your mug with you. It’s cheaper for more of your favorite beverage if you bring your own because businesses don’t need to buy your cup. In fact, if you bring your mug to All Good Bakers or Tierra Coffee Roasters today you can get a free coffee. Tierra Coffee Roasters is also celebrating Earth Day with free live music tonight from the amazing Albany musician Brett Sears.

Remember that every day can be earth day and think long term changes. You can do it!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Budget season -- your turn -- Library

Both the Albany City School District and Albany Public Libraries have settled on the budgets they will present to the public for approval in May.

ACSD Budget page

Library Budget page

WHAT DO YOU THINK?  Let us know your thoughts about the LIBRARY budget below.

Budget season -- your turn -- Schools

Both the Albany City School District and Albany Public Libraries have settled on the budgets they will present to the public for approval in May.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?  Let us know your thoughts about the SCHOOL budget below.

Friday, April 15, 2011

2010 Federal Taxpayer Receipt

In honor of April 15, the income tax deadline, an extra post.

Ever wonder where your tax dollars go? Now the government has its own "Federal Taxpayer Receipt" (click here) where you can insert the amount that you pay for Income Tax, Medicare, and Social Security and see how much you're paying each year for which program. If you are one of those that send out early and aren't sure of your numbers, they also have a few general income levels you can click on.

A married family with two children with an average income of $80,000 is paying $1,015.97 on Defense, $938.71 on Healthcare, and $185.42 on Education and Job Training. It's well worth the look over to calculate how much you are contributing to the programs you care about and to the ones you don't care for so much!

Happy Tax Day!

This Friday's Top 5

Top 5 things to do with your kids over spring break:
Make sure to click the links to check hours for each business before heading out. Also, please bear with my photo experimentation!

1. Take back the student ghetto with your own little students. Devour a loaf of bread from All Good Bakers, grab a sandwich from Sunspot then a cup of coffee from Hudson River Coffee House. Remind yourself why you live in walking distance to some great places and remind the college students that kids are cute and worth being role models for.

2. Visit the Albany Art Room (encourage them to stay in Albany when they move!) and treat yourself and your kids to goodies from Scratch. If you love iced coffee there is no better one anywhere. Afterwards, go ahead back to Scratch and grab lunch and have a picnic in the park.

3. Check out the Albany Pine Bush Preserve. They have activities all week.

4. It's getting warmer out and it's vacation. Time for frozen treats! Get gelato at Crisan one day then go ahead and compare to the ice cream at Emack and Bolio's. Repeat. You might want to toss in your local Stewart's ice cream for kicks. It is vacation.

5. Take advantage of your local library programs. During vacations my family spends almost every day at the library, they always have great activities for families over breaks.

5 isn't enough? How about a Bonus: Take in a show. Check out Steamer 10's great vacation shows.

No kids? Every link above is fun for adults too. Enjoy spring and all our city has to offer!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Slightly off Topic: DC Scavenger Hunt for Kids

Spring break is next week for area schools and it seems like the hot trip to take this vacation is to Washington, DC. We love to take road trips with our kids (ages 9, 7, 5) and made the trip down last summer. Because I am a geek at heart, I gleefully poured through the travel guides (borrowed from the Albany Public Library) and made a scavenger hunt for our trip. I'm not sure if the kids or I loved the hunt more, but it made the trip a blast. Museums that would have been ho hum for their ages were exciting because you never knew where we would find the next clue.

If you are going to try a whole trip scavenger hunt, I'd suggest:
1. Keep a travel journal and make the scavenger hunt part of it. We used a small notebook as our DC travel journal, ideally just choose something small and easy to carry around. We usually put fun things like states we've been through or license plates we've seen in there. We also jot down what we've done each day, usually we have each child contribute writing or drawing or gathering items to tape in. These journals of our trips are by far our best souvenirs.
2. Make sure there is a prize at the end. We told our kids if they finished the scavenger hunt, they would each get $15 to pick out a souvenir, roughly $1 a clue to share. Those ridiculous things they choose are still treasured items because they worked so hard for them. As a parent, it also makes it easier to swallow spending $15 on a stuffed bear in a leather flight jacket with goggles.

ACSD School Board Passes 2011-12 Budget

ACSD School Board passes 2011-12 Budget
The ACSD School Board passed the 2011-12 budget on Tuesday with a vote of 7 -0. The budget for next year will be $206,528,639 with a 1.7% raise in the tax levy. Below is the rundown. As always, if you find any mistakes they are mine and no one else’s. Many thanks to all who worked so hard to create this budget.
Part of the budget is an additional $532,872 “Administrative Efficiency Aid” from the state. This was given to 70 out of 700 districts in the state that had extraordinarily efficient administrations.
First, an answer to robocalls that were going out to Albany residents. As an opinionated aside, I am appalled in this economy that money is being spent on this. We’re cutting programs and someone is out there spending money on something so petty? Why not use the money for good, to help children?
Setting the Record Straight:
Recent Phone Survey in Albany is providing misleading information:
1. Claim: Enrollment in the district is decreasing
a. Fact: Between September 2008 and 2009; enrollment increased by 466 students.
2. Claim: The District has $15 million of Unappropriated Fund Balance
a. Fact: The District has incorporated $9.3 million of this money into the 2011-12 budget. The remaining amount represents about 1 ½ payrolls.
3. Claim: The proposed High School construction project will raise taxes.
a. Fact: The taxpayer share of the proposed $11.4 million construction project will be paid in full by EXCEL aid. There will be no increase to the taxpayers as a result of this project. 100% paid by State-aid.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Chickens and Victory Gardens

Chickens and Victory Gardens
I have a tomato obsession. It started a few years ago when I got several giant golden tomatoes in a box of tomatoes to make sauce. Since then, I've been on a mission to grow and try as many varieties of tomatoes as possible, especially heirlooms. In my city garden I indulge my obsession, growing usually around 30 varieties and about 65 tomato plants. The funny thing is, when talking to people about my tomatoes, most are amazed that I live in a city. Now, in fairness, I have a large city yard, but many rural, suburban, or development yards are larger. For most people cities and gardens are not synonymous despite the fact that gardens and urban livestock have played an important role in the history of cities.
Before our globalized community, food was grown close to where it was needed. One of the first uses of Boston Common was for livestock to graze. Often social movements included vegetable gardens as a way to feed the poor and to beautify the landscape. A major aspect of the 1890’s – 1900’s City Beautiful movement

Friday, April 8, 2011

This Friday's Top 5 Best things about the Library

This Friday's Top 5 is all about the Albany Public Library. We're going to have two lists, the first is a Guest Top 5 from the President of the Library Board, Dennis Gaffney and the second list is what Albany Spark readers said were their Top 5 Library favorites.

Guest Top 5:
Top 5 Coolest Things at the Albany Public Library!
Click on the links to find out more!
1. You can make the library your office-away-from-home by using the free Wi-Fi.
2. You can download—and keep—digital music for free if you have an Albany Public Library card.
4. You can visit the just-opened Albany History Room on the second floor of the Main Library. Here you can learn about Albany’s fascinating history in books, pamphlets, clippings, newspapers, and photographs. You can learn about the lives of Albany citizens through city directories, census records, and newspapers. The Collection is open to researchers during regular Library hours. For more specialized assistance contact Ellen Gamache at 427-4327.

5. You can get free homework help and tutoring for your school-age children at the libraries. Just call your neighborhood library to sign up.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Spring is here -- GIANT robin sighted near Buckingham Pond

What appears to be a three- to four-foot tall red-breasted robin has been sighted in the neighborhood between Buckingham Pond and Western Avenue.  Seen here perched on the top of the garage, residents are urged to exercise caution and post its whereabouts here.

ACSD School Budget Update

School Budget Update
These are my notes from the 3/31 School Board meeting, the notes are based on the presentation and the Power Point presentation print outs. Some of the additional information is from the 3/17 meeting. Any mistakes are my own and not the presenters. I apologize in advance for those. I have my own opinions on the school budget which I tried not to allow to cloud my information sharing. You may see them in a later blog post.
Although in these fiscal times it’s hard to imagine a budget that anyone would like, I’m impressed with the great deal of work that Asst. Superintendent for Business Affairs Bill Hogan, Superintendent Dr Colucciello, and the Board members have put into this budget. I’m also impressed with general fiscal responsibility our district has shown so our budget, while dramatic, is not nearly as dramatic as it could be, especially when compared to many local districts.
Upcoming Program Presentations:
April 12: Board Special Budget Session to adopt the budget (7:00, Albany High)
April 14: Board Round Table Meeting and adopt budget (if not done one the 12th). (7:00 at Delaware Community School, cancelled if the budget is adopted)

Friday, April 1, 2011

Friday Top 5: What are your library favorites?

For this week's Top 5, we're looking for some input. Our libraries have recently undergone quite a bit of construction and expansion. What do you love about the libraries? We'll compile the results for an upcoming Top 5.

So, Albany, what is YOUR Top 5 things about the Albany Public Libraries?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Albany Common Council - notice of public hearing on possible restructuring

This notice was publishied by the City of Albany:
Common Council City of Albany, New York Notice of Public Hearing Committee on Council Operations and Ethics Richard Conti, Chair

Wednesday, March 30 at 7 PM Albany City Hall Eagle Street

Wednesday, April 13 at 7 PM Albany Housing Authority 200 South Pearl Street

Wednesday, April 6 at 7 PM Pine Hills Branch Public Library, 517 Western Avenue

Wednesday, April 27 at 7 PM Albany Community Development Agency 200 Henry Johnson Blvd. (2nd floor)

Topic: Proposals to Restructure the Albany Common Council

Friday, March 25, 2011

This Friday's Top 5

To show our own March Madness, we're doing 2 Top 5's today. With the current attention on Pine Hills, I wanted to share some of my favorite things about living here.
Top 5 Reasons I love to live in Pine Hills
1. Walk to: restaurants, the library, supermarket, movies, schools, the park. (this could be its own Top 5!)
2. Beautiful old houses.
3. Sound of children running around having fun.
4. Walking distance to great friends for our children and us.
5. Amazing neighbors!

The second Friday's Top 5 is a shameless attempt to gain readership. Share the site with your friends, or like us on Facebook by clicking HERE.
Top 5 Reasons to Like Albany Spark on Facebook.
  1. New blog posts will pop up in your news feed.
  2. You can just look at the beautiful photo Viaduct photo without having words on top of it.
  3. You’ll be helping what we hope is positive change in our great community.
  4. You can tell people that you are really going on Facebook to read the community blog posts.
  5. After 25 fans, we get a username!

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Next week we'll see if the rally at the Capitol has any effect on the state budget. The rumor mill is telling us that there will probably be an on-time budget. That means we need to think beyond next week and look at what we can do after the budget passes also.

School districts throughout the state are making deep cuts in their programs, closing schools, and asking for help. One nearby district (not Albany) is looking at dropping their Kindergarten! Is this what we've come to in 2011? Billions for a few millionaires but not one penny for public schools? Our founding fathers would be appalled.

Living in Albany, it is pretty easy to complain. If it isn't the politics, it's the weather. If you haven't hit a pothole lately, that means it is still winter.

But we started this blog because we know we can do better. We do have beautiful summers, autumns and winters here, even if spring is kinda lousy. We can see what isn't working, so we can envision a different future also.

Our community will become whatever we make it. It's (gradually) warming up outside, so get out, get active, join your neighbors and let's make Albany the place we want it to be.

More Education Cut Protests Scheduled

The Alliance for Quality Education is organizing another action against the budget cuts.  Below is a copy of an email received by members of the Spark Editorial Board:

Wednesday, March 30th, is the day. All those against the direction Cuomo is taking our state will converge on the Capitol for the largest action against the budget cuts. Across issues and from across the state now is the time to come together to Wisconsin ize the fight, stand shoulder to shoulder and be heard with one voice. Community, students and labor fighting as one against Cuomo's attack on all but the wealthiest.

When: Wednesday, March 30th, 2pm-???
Where: New York State Capitol building
Who: All those against Governor Cuomo's budget and plan for the future of our state

If you are interested in attending, you can RSVP on Facebook here or you can call this number: 518.465.4600 x115.  

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Millionaire's Tax and Education Check Event and Press Conference

In order to keep people involved and aware, we will post different events that may be of interest to people in Albany.  

Millionaire's Tax and Education Check Event and Press Conference

What: Local education activists and activists from New York City will be delivering checks to State Senate republicans for the amount they are set to give to millionaires from our students because of their unwillingness to extend the millionaires' tax. A tax that would give us $1 billion this year and $5 billion next year towards the record education cuts. The office stop bys will be preceded by a press conference explaining our action and the irresponsibility of the republicans to not extend the tax in such a dire financial situation for our state and schools.

When11am, meet inside State St entrance to Capitol; 12pm press conference; 12:30-1:30 lobby visits

Where: meet inside the Capitol (State St entrance), press conference and office visits in Legislative Office building

Who: local education activists and activists from NYC

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Made in Albany

Made in Albany: a list of businesses that are Albany Owned and Operated
This is a time of scary economic forecasts for our city. The governor’s budget is dire and both the school district and city have a long road of belt tightening ahead of them. Albany has always been unique. Being a capital city can have its perks, many people who live here were less affected by the recession because of the continuing jobs with the state and the colleges that are here. However, it has its drawbacks as well. Most Senators and Legislators, although they live in our city part time and drive down the same pot-holed streets do not consider our city home. This view of Albany as a place to work instead of a place to live is older than the Empire State Plaza with its highway connections out of the city.
So what can we do? We can begin by looking at where we spend our money. Every dollar we spend within Albany is a dollar we put toward the future of our city. Most dollars you spend outside of our city you could just as easily spend inside of it. It also does not have to have a high price tag attached to it, if you usually go to Yuppy Chopper in Slingerlands, you could just as easily go to the Co-op, Hannaford or Price Chopper on Central Ave. When you do that, you are sending a clear message to those companies that Albany is viable and worth being part of.
You can go further than this. There are many Albany businesses that are owned by Albany tax payers. Need a cup of coffee on Lark Street? Stop in to Scratch, owned by an Albany resident. Grab a muffin or cupcake too, you won’t regret it. Hankering for Mexican? Owners of El Mariachi and El Loco all live in Albany. Want to go for a drink? Owners of Juniors, The Stone Crow, The Pub, and The Point live in Albany. If you do need to go to the grocery store, try stopping in to the Honest Weight Co-op, where many of the owners and people who work there live in Albany. Need artwork for your walls? Buy from an Albany artist, there are amazing artists producing work right in our fair city.
So, let’s make this happen. Spend your dollars where you live. Beyond that, help create a “Made in Albany” list of businesses, click on the “Albany Owned and Operated” tab and look at our list so far. Are you an Albany business owner who lives in Albany, or do you go to a fabulous Albany place that is owned by someone who lives here? Leave the info in the comments section. We’ll keep a compiled list for you to check out before you go shopping.
It’s time we remind people what a great place Albany is to live by supporting our neighbors!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Friday Top 5: Welcome Signs of Spring!

The Friday Top 5

Rating things is a common occurrence in our society.  At the end of each year there are lists on the top news stories, top blogs, top books.  We also love to ask: What’s your favorite color?  What’s your three favorite songs?  If you were stranded on a desert island, which five things would you bring with you? 

The beauty of a rating list is that it quickly encapsulates the heart of a topic, it is as informative as it is fun.  On this blog, we hope to collect many Top 5’s.  Each Friday we’ll either unveil a Top 5 or solicit suggestions for an upcoming one.  The subjects of our Top 5 will be as varied and interesting as our city.  The week following, you’ll be able to see the new list on the Top 5 tab as well as a blog post.  If you have ideas about a subject, we are always looking for them!  Email them to:  

But with spring in the air, it seemed like we needed to celebrate it so here’s our Top 5 this week:

Top 5 Welcome Signs of Spring

  1. Crocuses!
  2. The first day you don’t need a coat to go outside.
  3. Seeing your neighbors outside again after the long winter. 
  4. The smell of the first barbeque. 
  5. The splash of puddles from children with giant rubber boots! 

What are your favorite signs of spring, Albany

Any suggestions for upcoming Top 5 lists?