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?