Monday, September 26, 2011

Autumn in New York

Fall has definately arrived here.  School buses are back on the roads, goldenrod and the wild purple asters are everywhere, the trees are starting to don their fall colors, and in Fredonia, the grape harvest has begun.  We could tell last week-end that the harvest was getting close as we were out visiting in the Branch.  The aroma of concord grapes filled the air and was delightful.

Our Fredonia Branch lies in the heart of the grape belt in Chautauqua county, NY which is the largest grape producing area in the United States.  (The second largest area is the Yakima Valley in Washington.)  For 3 to 5 miles inland along the eastern shore of Lake Erie there are vinewards everywhere.  Lake Erie is a shallow lake and so the water warms up in the summer and freezes over in the winter.  This makes for ideal growing conditions for grapes.  The winds blowing inland from the lake in the fall are warmed by the water and prevent any early frosts from harming the grapes. In the spring, the winds blowing inland are cooled by the icy waters and those cold winds keep the vines from budding out too early.  Most of the grapes grown here are Concords.  60% are comitted to Welches which has a large juice processing plant about 15 miles south of Fredonia in Westfield.  There is another large plant in Dunkirk owned by Cott which processes juice for store brands, the main one being Kirkland for Costco.

This last Saturday after our teaching appointment, we saw our first grape harvester.  Pretty blue thing ready to start picking.

Grape Harvester

Here you can see right down the middle of the harvester which goes over the row of grape vines.  There are rows of paddles on each side which flop back and forth through the vines knocking the bunches of grapes off.  On the bottom are two rows of horizontal rotating discs which form a "floor" and move the grapes to the back of the harvester where they go on to a conveyor belt which moves them up to the top of the harvester and shoots them into the bin traveling along side in the next row. The discs are spring-loaded so that a post moving down the center can push the discs aside and then they spring back behind the post forming the floor again.

Down The Middle
 Here the harvester is starting at the beginning of the row.  Next to it drives a 2nd tractor towing the bin that the grapes are dumped into.  Notice the bin ready to be pulled into the next row.
Harvester with bin to the side
Here the harvester and bin are part way down the row.
Picking the Grapes
When the bin gets full, it is towed to a flat bed trailer that has 16 large crates on it.  The bin is hydraulically lifted and dumped into a crate.  Each bin and crate holds several tons of grapes.  When all the crates are full, the truck is off to the processing plant.  The trucks have to meet an appointment at the plant.  The grapes have to be processed within a few hours because the fermentation process will start if they stand too long.  The processing goes 24 hours a day, so the harvesters have to keep a well planned schedule to meet their appointments.  It also means they have to work all hours of the day and night. 

You might wonder how we know all this.  While we were parked by the side of the road taking pictures, the man in charge came over and invited us to come over and taste his grapes and was happy to explain it all to us.  As we were talking to him we noticed that his shirt had his company name on it with "Silver Creek, NY - Yakima, Wn" written underneath.  We asked him about it and he said that he also owned a vineyard in Prosser, Washington.  We told him that we had both been raised in the Yakima area.  He asked what brought us to NY and we told him about our mission to the Palmyra Temple and about how we spent our weekends in Fredonia.  He said that he had been to the Hill Cumorah Pageant years ago and that what impressed him the most was how good the people were.  All in all, we had a most enjoyable and informative visit with him and his grapes were sweet and delicious.

Susan filled up her 5 gal.collapsable jug with concord grape juice at a vineyard further down the road that sold the fresh pressed juice and took it home and bottled it on Monday.  We have juice to last the rest of our mission. 

Well, have a great week all of you.  Be sure and listen to all of conference.  What a blessing it is to hear from our prophets twice a year.  We just read the new Ensign.  What a great testimony of the Book of Mormon.  We love you all.

Friday, September 16, 2011

What a day!

   We were given a rare opportunity for service this Thursday.  Some of the communities in our temple district down along the Pennsylvania and New York border have been experiencing severe weather the last two week from the hurracane that hit the east coast and another severe storm right after it.  This caused the Susquahanna River to flood.  In Owego, NY, the river rose over 20 feet above its banks causing disastrous damages throughout the villiage and surrounding area.  Historically the river has flooded here about once in every 100 years.  However this is the 2nd major flood in 5 years.

   In response to the disaster, the Church is sending in the Mormon Helping Hands disaster recovery volunteers to help out.  President Sherwood offered the help of the temple missionaries and as a result all of the 20 couples who were able, were sent to Owego to help in the assessment phase.  The Church didn't want the senior missionaries doing the actual recovery work (They were afraid we might hurt ourselves) so they had us go door to door throughout the whole area talking to the people and filling out forms with requests for help.  Those forms will now be evaluated and the Helping Hands volunteers next week will be sent to the homes with the greatest needs.

  We left early Thursday morning for Owego prepared to spend Thursday and Friday doing the assessment for Helping Hands.  We arrived at the Stake Center in Owego about 9:30 am where we were trained, divided into groups of two couples each, given our assigned areas to work in and then sent out by 10:00 to begin working in our areas. 

The first area we were given was a neighborhood on the side of the valley.  They were significantly higher than the river.  While some had flooding in their basements from the heavy rains, none had any serious damage to their homes.  As we talked to them they expressed their concern for those in the other parts of the city, and we learned of their efforts to help others. 

The next area we were given was in the bottom of the valley, right next to the river.  What a disaster!  The damage to the homes, and the piles of debris were huge.  The water had not only flooded their basements, but in some areas was up to 3 or 4 feet above the main floor level.  All the furnishings had to be taken out.  All the dry wall that was wet has to be ripped out.  All the carpeting has to be torn out.  The flooring has to be ripped up.  We saw some homes where the foundations caved in and the yards were in the basements.  We saw two homes that had completely burned to the ground, probably due to electrical system failures.

No one can live in any of these homes currently.  There is no power, water and sewage.  They are just trying to get the homes emptied, repaired, and then ready for living in.  It has been a week since the last storm and some had help from family, friends and their churches already.  Many others however were just coming back to the disaster after having been evacuated.  Others had no help and were trying to do it on their own.  We were able to find some who would need the help of our Helping Hands volunteers who will be here next week.  They are expecting upwards of 300 members to be there.  This week the local stake is concentrating on helping their members. 

Here is the river that brought all the water.  It is now almost back to its normal level.
Beautiful Susquehanna River near Owego, NY

This is the neighboorhood we were canvassing.  People were just empting out their homes and putting it on the front of their property. 

Another load of someones possessions is dumped and hauled off.

This was a sign on a telephone post in our neighboorhood.  It marked the elevation of the flood in 1929.  Notice the spike just above the sign.  This flood was about the same height.
These next two pictures are of the same house.  Notice the gap under the front porch.  The foundation has caved in.  You are seeing into the basement.  In the following picture the front plantings are now in the basement.

Here is one of the homes that burned

The next two pictures are a sample of the mess in downtown Owego.  Piles of debris outside every building waiting to be scooped up by front loaders and hauled away by dump trucks..

We finished up our 2nd area about 4:00pm and went back to the stake center to turn in our assesment sheets.  We expected another assignment for the next morning, but were told that the assessing process was almost done and we wouldn't be needed on Friday.  We were to go home.  It appears that the "Temple Missionaries Team" accomplished in one day what they expected was going to take two.  It felt good to be a part of the bigger picture that will continue next week as the volunteers come in to help these people.  However, one side of me all day long wanted to quit this "assesment" and just dig in and help these people.

So what have we learned.  We were pleasantly amazed at people's concerns for each other.  Many said to us, "We have friends and family and we will have this house empty in two more days.  There are others that have no help.  Please go to them."  Many in the community are taking in those who no longer have a home.  Some have given up.  "We are getting what belongings we have and are leaving.  The bank can have the house."

Many expressed their gratitude that things weren't worse.  We are not aware of any serious injury or death.  One good man summed it up this way:  "The hardest thing I ever did was bury my daughter.  This doesn't even come close." 

As we looked at all the destruction and the possessions waiting to be hauled off, our hearts went out to these people.  And yet doesn't this put into persective our lives and what is important.  "Things" come today and are gone tomorrow.  None of that is really important.  What is important is our relationships to each other and to our Heavenly Father and his Son.  We need to strengthen those relationships.  Those relationships, especially with The Father are what will pull us through the trials/disasters that will come into our lives.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Fun Day Off

Last Monday we went to the 1000 Islands with the year around temple missionaries.  This is an area where the St. Lawrence Seaway leaves Lake Ontario.  There is supposedly around 1800 islands in this area that is about 30 miles long on the the seaway.  It is a famous area for summer vacations and tourists.

Hint: To be called an island it has to be out of the water year around, be at least 3 ft square, and have at least 1 tree and 1 other form of vegetation.  Most of the islands are on the Canadian half of the seaway.  Most of the larger islands are on the USA side making the land area about equal.  Many of the islands have homes on them.  It is amazing how small an island can have a home on it.  We saw one with about a 150 sq. ft. home on about a 160 sq. ft. island. 

We went on a boat tour of these islands.  We saw many islands with their homes but most of the time was spent on two islands looking at two "Castles".  One was Dark Island with Singer Castle.  The other Heart Island with Boldt Castle.  Both were build around 1900.   
Singer Castle

Singer Castle

Singer Castle was built by the 5th President of the Singer Sewing Machine Company.  He called it a "Hunting Lodge".  It has the feel of a medeval castle and is loaded with secret passageways for servants to use. 

Singer Castle with boathouse

Singer Castle Breakfast Room
This was Susan's favorite room.  Magnificant arched windows on three sides of the room looked out over the water. 

Singer Castle Light Sweat Cabinet
This was their version of a tanning bed.  Notice the light bulbs all around the sides and bare wiring that you could touch and get burned or shocked.  This would be an OSHA nightmare.  You sat on the stool and closed the doors.  The mirrors all around reflected the light onto your body.  Your head stuck up out of the hole on the top.  This was located in the massage room.

Hidden Passageway behind bookcase
Servants were looking out from these secret passageways ready to step out and provide whatever service was needed such as refilling a glass, etc.  They would then quickly dissappear again.  The only exception was in the ladies lounge area where his wife did not want anybody to observe them.  Servants could only come when they were called for.
Boldt Castle
Boldt Castle
Boldt Castle was built by some guy named Boldt who was building it for a summer home for his wife.  He was the proprieter for the Walsorf-Astoria hotel in NYC.  His wife died before it was finished and he stopped all work on it.  It remained vacant for over 50 years, and had much vandalism.  It is now owned by the St. Lawrence Seaway authority.  They are constantly trying to finish the original design but have committed to never finish it completely.  Boldt said his wife didn't get to see it completed so no one will.  The first floor is now completed and furnished.  The families bedrooms on the 2nd floor are completed.  Nothing has been done yet on the 3rd and 4th floors.
Boldt Castle Power House
This was on one end of the island and was to contain the large generators that would provide electricity to the island.
Boldt Castle grand staircase and balcony
Boldt Castle above the grand staircase
This is a view of the ceiling 4 levels above the main floor showing the stain glass sky light. You can see there was balconies all round overlooking the grand staircase.

Boldt Castle Master Bedroom
This bedroom on the 2nd floor is a rounded room in a corner.  Even the windows and glass were curved.

Boldt Castle Children's Playhouse and Tower
This was the children's playhouse and tower.  They are working on it so it is blocked off.  You can see the workman on top.  Can you imagine having a playhouse like this when you were a kid?  You could really feel like a knight or a princess.
 Other Islands
These are some other islands.

Boldt Castle Boathouse on Wellesley Island

Three Sisters Lighthouse
This is actually three islands connected by stone walkways. The lighthouse was actually in use.

This is a small island with a home on it.
 We had a delightfull day with the other missionaries.  We are not going to say anything about the sunburns we had the next day.  We should have know better then to spend the day on the water without sunscreen or hats. 
Have a great week.  We love you all.