The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘Newtown Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant’ Category

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It’s National Raspberry Tart Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Call me Ezekial for my visions of a dire future are informed solely by the lessons of the past. When the NYC DEP people told the Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee of their plans for a “waste to energy” project at the sewer plant in Greenpoint a while back (I think at the end of the last Bloomberg administration?), they also mentioned that they intended for the equipment which would convert the waste methane produced by their industry into a usable fuel – “natural gas” – on the Greenpoint Avenue side of the sewer plant, a humble narrator grew agitated.

The DEP people said “c’mon, it’s behind the fence, what could happen?” I turned around to Councilmember Steve Levin, who was observing the meeting, and said “Greenpoint has a long history of huge industrial fires, and it’s only a matter of time before a car or truck accidentally blasts through the fence, or a fire starts nearby that could threaten the perimeter here.” “Do we really want a high pressure gas manifold on heavily trafficked Greenpoint Avenue with only a chain link fence to protect it? What if?”

Mr. Levin took note, but the DEP was dismissive. The DEP is always dismissive, and the agency does not like its pronouncements or plans being questioned by unwashed rabble like myself, the State of New York, or the Federal Environmental Protection Agency.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Not six months afterwards, a paper recycling yard across the street from the sewer plant caught fire and burned for several days. DEP had people on the plant’s grounds sweep their property facing the smokey fire with hoses, for fear that wind scattered embers from the blaze across the street might cause damage or start a fire at the plant. The next Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee meeting came around and I got to say “I told you so” to the DEP. The councilman gave me a knowing look and acknowledged that I “called it,” and that was the end of that. The DEP people went along with their plans to install the gas equipment on a busy truck route called Greenpoint Avenue.

Of course, the Citistorage Building fire on the East River side happened a few months later, so allow me to reiterate…

Greenpoint has a history of fires that occur in large industrial buildings that tend to burn for days and days. In 1882 and again in 1919, the entire refinery complex on the Newtown Creek coastline between Greenpoint Avenue and Meeker Avenue were immolated and utterly lost, and in the 1882 fire – the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge burned down. Don’t believe me? Ask my colleague, Greenpoint Historian Geoff Cobb, or do your own research on the subject.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Imagine my recent joy, therefore, when another of my little prophecies came true.

I was at the plant to attend a presentation offered by the DEP regarding their “Long Term Control Plan” for combined sewer overflows into Newtown Creek. The plan is a lot of hoo-hah if you ask me, a Potemkin Village’s worth of politically convenient bioswales, rain gardens, and unfunded mandates for large scale construction projects which is designed to compel future generations into finding a way to pay for it all, rather than asking it of the current one. The LTCP process, citywide, is turning out to be a wonderful example of non urgently passing the buck while billions of gallons of sewage flow into New York Harbor every single time it rains. They want to build pump houses and dig retention tunnels, but all of it begins in twenty to thirty years and…

Thirty years ago, New York City was financially crippled and crime was at an all time high, and you couldn’t give away the waterfront land in Williamsburg or Long Island City. Twenty years ago, America had “won the Cold War” and it was the “end of history.” Rudy Giuliani was already a bit crazy, but not like now… Bill Clinton was President… you would have been hard pressed to get anyone to believe the sort of dystopic world we now live in, or the property valuations of Williamsburg, were just on the horizon. Donald Trump? What?

A lot can happen in 20-30 years, and there’s no time like the present for “getting it done.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Funnily enough, I had attended a tour of the plant on Sunday April 22nd, and these shots were captured on Wednesday the 26th. Anonymous informants who work at the plant informed me that some driver had not recognized the presence of the fence when traveling west from North Henry Street, and crossed Greenpoint Avenue at accelerating speed, and plowed into the fenceline without braking.

As a point of trivia, North Henry Street actually does continue through the plant, it’s just closed to non official traffic. I seem to recall seeing a street sign for it inside the fence quite a while ago, but I also might be imagining it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The good news, which came to me in another Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee meeting on the 30th of March, is that DEP’s partners in the “waste to energy” project – National Grid – now prefer a spot deeper within the plant’s grounds to install their equipment to harvest the waste methane which is not on Greenpoint Avenue.

Ezekial, call me Ezekial, for I am a prophet.


Upcoming Tours and events

First Calvary Cemetery walking tour, May 6th.

With Atlas Obscura’s Obscura Day 2017, Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour – details and tix here.

MAS Janeswalk free walking tour, May 7th.

Visit the new Newtown Creek Alliance/Broadway Stages green roof, and the NCA North Henry Street Project – details and tix here.

Newtown Creek Alliance Boat tour, May 21st.

Visit the new Newtown Creek on a two hour boat tour with NCA historian Mitch Waxman and NCA Project Manager Will Elkins, made possible with a grant from the Hudson River Foundation – details and tix here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

prime strength

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It’s National Zucchini Bread Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned yesterday, Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself spent a rainy Earth Day in industrial Greenpoint, and our first stop was at the brand new Green Roof at 520 Kingsland Avenue. Our second appointment was with the NYC DEP, who were offering tours of the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant pictured above. As a note, this was an abbreviated version of the tour, which only included an audience with the newly hired and immensely cool Deputy Commisioner Pam Elardo and the second Superintendent of the plant, Zainool Ali. A brief lecture on sewer operations and the DEP’s mandate was followed by a visit to the walkway that hovers over the digester eggs. The old version of the tour included a few other areas of the plant such as the electrical rooms and screening facility.

As you’d imagine – I’ve been on this tour several times over the years as a member of the Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee, my role as Newtown Creek Alliance Historian, and just out of my own puerile interest.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The walkway above the digester eggs is encased in greenish blue glass, which always poses a bit of a challenge – photographically speaking. The glass tends to act as a neutral density filter and lends a color cast to the shots you can capture up there. Also, as mentioned, this isn’t my first rodeo up there – so I’ve developed certain countermeasures on both the capture and digital darkroom sides to deal with the glass issue.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s nothing you can do about rain, however, so as my pal Bernie Ente used to advise – just use it to your advantage. One is quite enamored with the image above, which is one of the better atmospheric shots I’ve managed to capture so far this year. This is looking west, obviously, towards the shining city of Manhattan and over Greenpoint.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking eastwards, towards Maspeth and the Kosciuszcko Bridge project. You’ll notice that there aren’t rain or glass distortions present in this shot, or the one below. That’s due to my having visited the walkway multiple times in the past and knowing where there are lapses in the wraparound glass big enough to shove a camera lens through.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s probably going to be the very last “birds eye” shot of the 1939 era Koscisuzcko Bridge seen above, doing the active duty it’s been engaged in for 78 years, that I am going to ever take. On Thursday the 27th, Governor Cuomo is going to officially open the new bridge and the NYS DOT is going to shortly thereafter reroute the BQE onto it. The demolition process of the 1939 bridge is meant to begin playing out over the summer and should be completed sometime this fall, whereupon the second half of the “K Bridge” project will start.


Upcoming Tours and events

First Calvary Cemetery walking tour, May 6th.

With Atlas Obscura’s Obscura Day 2017, Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour – details and tix here.

MAS Janeswalk free walking tour, May 7th.

Visit the new Newtown Creek Alliance/Broadway Stages green roof, and the NCA North Henry Street Project – details and tix here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

cultural tone

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It’s National Pigs in a Blanket day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Saturday last, Earth Day April 22nd, was a misty and rainy day in the Newtown Pentacle. Regardless, Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself attended a couple of Newtown Creek oriented events and one had a chance to get busy with the camera. The shots in today’s post were captured at the Newtown Creek Alliance/Broadway Stages Green Roof project at 520 Kingsland Avenue in Greenpoint, a spot which you will have a few chances to visit with us (NCA) this spring and summer – notably on May 7th during our MAS Janeswalk event (details found at the bottom of this post).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The views from up on the green roof are pretty staggering. 520 Kingsland Avenue is right at the center of the “soup bowl” as I call it, which surrounds the incredible Newtown Creek. Lately, I’ve been obsessed with the topography related to the waterway. The Queens side, until you get to about two and half miles back from the East River in Maspeth is flat as a pancake – literally a flood plain which was aboriginally a series of marshes, swamps, and tidal meadows. The Brooklyn side in the same area is also fairly flat, but there’s a few undulating prominences. Bushwick, Eastern Maspeth, and Ridegwood form a literal ridge of steeper elevations around the creek. The terminal morraine of Long Island, or actual non glacially deposited rock, starts in Maspeth at Mount Olivette cemetery.

That’s Long Island City, of course, with the astounding amount of real estate industrial complex activity along Jackson Avenue and Northern Blvd. on full display as it rises behind the Long Island Expressway truss over the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

520 Kingsland also lets you peek into a series of industrial properties normally hidden by security fencelines and see what’s going on in them. Pictured above is part of the Metro Fuel truck fleet. Metro is a biofuel company founded by a buddy of mine – Paul Pullo – which was purchased a few years ago by the billionaire John Catsimatidis, of FreshDirect and Gristedes supermarket fame.

Metro is a biofuel company, meaning that they recycle all sorts of waste like fryer oil and cooking grease, as well as feeding soybean and agricultural oils into their mix to produce various grades of fuel oil.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another buddy of mine, Mike Allocco, runs a recycling processing plant on Kingsland Avenue, and 520 Kingsland Avenue’s rooftop let’s you check out his family owned and operated operation at work from a safe distance. Allocco Recycling has been a generous partner with NCA on another project we’ve got going down there – the Living Dock. My pal Will Elkins, NCA’s project manager, has been working his fingers to the bone on “The North Henry Street Project” which includes the Floating Dock and plans for shoreline restoration work along a minor tributary of Newtown Creek called “unnamed canal.”

For more on Will Elkins’ efforts on the Living Dock – click this link to visit NCA’s page on the subject.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Commanding, and less common, views of the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant are also available from 520 Kingsland Avenue. Those four cylinders in the center of the shot are actually gas jets which burn off excess methane generated by the sewer plant, making the City’s Department of Environmental Protection the single largest producer of greenhouse gases in Brooklyn. Dichotomous to their adversarial roles in the ongoing Newtown Creek Superfund situation, the DEP has entered into a partnership with the National Grid company to capture the methane instead of burning it off. The DEP calls this project “waste into energy” and it’s heraldic to the kinds of public/private partnerships which just might help ameliorate the devastating effect that climate change is going to bring to the maritime archipelago which NYC is embedded into.

The 21st century is going to see a lot of these kinds of partnerships, I believe.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Happily, one no longer needs to sit upon the good news that Governor Andrew Cuomo will be coming to Newtown Creek on Thursday to inaugurate and open the new Koscisuzcko Bridge, as the NY Daily News has already spilled the beans and press releases are already floating around with the news.

via the Governor’s press office –

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the grand opening of the first span of the new Kosciuszko Bridge. The Kosciuszko Bridge, which will be the first new bridge constructed in New York City since the Verrazano Bridge in 1964, will be open to traffic in both directions on April 27, 2017. The Governor will mark the grand opening with a spectacular light show coordinated to music airing on multiple iHeartRadio stations. The light show is the first performance in “The New York Harbor of Lights” that will illuminate crossings with multi-color LED light shows that will be visible for miles. The shows will transform New York’s already awe-inspiring structures into international tourist attractions to drive additional tourism revenue. The premier of “The New York Harbor of Lights” will also include coordination with the lights of the Empire State Building.


Upcoming Tours and events

First Calvary Cemetery walking tour, May 6th.

With Atlas Obscura’s Obscura Day 2017, Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour – details and tix here.

MAS Janeswalk free walking tour, May 7th.

Visit the new Newtown Creek Alliance/Broadway Stages green roof, and the NCA North Henry Street Project – details and tix here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

unequal heating

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Creek Week concludes, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Kosciuszcko Bridge replacement project pictured above, with the 1939 Robert Moses model bridge providing a backdrop to the under construction cable stay model. That’s the Brooklyn side, for the curious. This is a $1.2 billion replacement effort, “fast tracked” by Governor Cuomo, which is intended to replace what’s considered to be the most dangerous bridge in New York State – which happens to carry hundreds of thousands of vehicle trips a day as the Brooklyn Queens Expressway runs across its 2.1 mile long structure (along with its approaches).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

These shots were captured while onboard a NY Water Taxi hired for the evening by the Open House NY organization, and my colleague T. Willis Elkins and I were onboard to represent Newtown Creek Alliance and narrate to two sold out crowds. The second trip was heading back out from the Newtown Creek towards the East River just as sunset was occurring, and as always – Newtown Creek was and is a visual spectacular.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has been trying to capture as many angles and shots as possible of the old Kosciuszcko Bridge for a couple of years now, simply because within the next 24-36 months it will have been eradicated from common memory.

This whole “Newtown Creek Historian” business isn’t just about revealing the past, it’s about leaving behind a visual record for those who haven’t been born yet about what the place looked like during its superfund and early 21st century transformational period.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve mentioned it before, but the plan which the State DOT has put forward is that once the eastern side of the new bridge is complete, they are going to reroute the BQE onto it. Then, they’re going to demolish the 1939 model, and in its footprint, build the western section of the new cable stay bridge. The great news about that is that there is going to be a pedestrian and bicycle path on the western side of the bridge.

One looks forward to walking the camera across, and getting aerial shots from up there.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The burning thermonuclear eye of God itself was setting in the west as our NY Water Taxi navigated back towards the East River. That’s Blissville in Queens on the right hand side of the shot above, and the former location of not just Charles Pratt’s “Queens County Oil Works” but just about the very spot where the first large scale oil refinery in the United States – Abraham Gesner’s “North American Kerosene Gas Light Company” was founded.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the Brooklyn or Greenpoint side of Newtown Creek, the former home of the Standard Oil Company of New York and birthplace of what would be one day known as Mobil Oil is closest to the camera, which are now the ExxonMobil Greenpoint Remediation Project properties at 400 Kingsland Avenue.

Sitting on part of the former oil company properties in Greenpoint is the NYC DEP’s Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, largest and newest of NYC’s 14 sewer plants.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

DUGABO – or Down Under the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge Onramp – is the heart of petroleum country on Newtown Creek. Greenpoint Avenue heads west into Brooklyn, terminating at the East River at Transmitter Park, whereas it continues into Queens and once having crossed Queens Blvd. – it transmogrifies into Roosevelt Avenue and continues all the way out into Flushing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

From a maritime industrial point of view, the DUGABO area surrounding the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge is probably one of the busiest sections of Newtown Creek in the 21st century. SimsMetal and Allocco Recycling host regular tug and barge traffic, as does Metro fuel.

In the distance is the Pualski Bridge and the towers of the Shining City of Manhattan.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, August 6th, 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. –
Insalubrious Valley Walking Tour,
with NY Adventure Club. Click here for more details.

Sunday, August 14th, 11:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

Sunday, August 21, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Poison Cauldron Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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From high atop Greenpoint.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The eight anaerobic digester eggs of the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment plant in Greenpoint gather a lot of attention. At the very top of these stainless steel vessels are catwalks which connect them together into two groups of four. You’re something like 140 feet up, and the entire assembly is wrapped in blue green glass.

The shot above looks southwest, across Brooklyn.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On top of each of the individual eggs, you’ll find all sorts of plumbing and control mechanisms. There’s also a view port through which you can observe the bubbling sludge as its “cooked” by the biological processes within.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just for perspective, here’s a look at the things from outside the plant. The shots in today’s post were captured from the catwalk closest to the camera.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s actually fairly challenging to shoot from the catwalks, as that green glass screws around with the camera’s light meter and sensors. There’s also reflections to deal with, which you’ll see a few of in these shots, and needless to say – the glass ain’t exactly super clean.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking down at Kingsland Avenue and Allocco Recyling, over the methane jets which burn off the mephitic gas produced by the digester eggs.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking towards the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge, towards Blissville in Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking west, over the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant’s grounds, towards Manhattan.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another perspective on the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge, this time with Blissville’s former Van Iderstine property, Calvary Cemetery, and the Kosciuszcko Bridge at the Maspeth border in frame.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Kosciuszcko Bridge replacement project is in the background, with a “green asphalt” plant and a Waste Management transfer station in the fore. That’s Newtown Creek flowing on the right side of the shot.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A wider view of the scene, this time you’ve got the ExxonMobil 400 Kingsland Avenue property in view as well.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Tomorrow – Creek Week continues, but from an entirely different perspective.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Wednesday, August 3rd, 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. –
Glittering Realms Walking Tour,
with NYC H2O. Click here for more details.

Saturday, August 6th, 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. –
Insalubrious Valley Walking Tour,
with NY Adventure Club. Click here for more details.

Sunday, August 14th, 11:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

Sunday, August 21, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Poison Cauldron Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

thicker fungi

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Deep within the bowels of New York City.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned yesterday, I was asked to speak at a Waterfront Alliance meeting which was scheduled to occur last week in Greenpoint at the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, and the DEP folks who manage the plant offered to bring the WA group through the facility for a tour. Of course, I’ve been through here several times, and due to my various committees and general obsession with Newtown Creek, the sewer plant is kind of a familiar place to me – but you never say no when City employees open a locked door and invite you in somewhere to take a look around.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We actually got to go to a section of the plant which I’ve seldom seen, which is the generator and electrical room. Normally the plant consumes power from off the CON ED electrical grid, but during power outages and high usage periods the DEP can flip the switches that power up the plants own power turbines and fend for themselves.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The DEP engineer conducting the tour explained that these turbines are functionally jet engines whose thrust drives the generators. There was some routine maintenance going on and we got to see what the equipment actually looks like, which was a first for me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Of particular interest are the pumps and enormous pipes through which the waste water enters into the plant, pictured above. On a dry weather day, these pipes carry around 310 million gallons of the stuff. The day we were visiting with the DEP followed a terrific thunderstorm that had just rolled through the night before, and the DEP folks said that they had processed an astounding 800 million gallons of water at the plant.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above looks down around two to three stories from a catwalk, and the gizmo framed by the yellow steel is one of the actual sewage pumps. DEP has had some issues with these pumps, supposedly a factory defect, and they are being repaired/replaced by the manufacturer. A misplaced sensor inside the pipe was forming a turbulence in the flow to form which caused the pumps to cavitate.

The cavitation, which is the sort of motion that a washing machine on spin cycle creates, was causing fastenings to work themselves loose and creating general mechanical havoc for the engineers.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is the screen room, where mechanical claws pull solid materials out of the wastewater flow. The smell in this area of the plant is unique – distinct from the smell of sewage, I would mention. Sewer solids smell like… the best analogy I can offer for the smell is to suggest what it tastes like when you lick the terminals of a 9 volt battery – metallic, bitter, and shocking.

More tomorrow.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Wednesday, August 3rd, 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. –
Glittering Realms Walking Tour,
with NYC H2O. Click here for more details.

Saturday, August 6th, 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. –
Insalubrious Valley Walking Tour,
with NY Adventure Club. Click here for more details.

Sunday, August 14th, 11:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

Sunday, August 21, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Poison Cauldron Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

frantic note

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By gum, it’s Creek Week.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, one found himself at a relatively early hour over in Greenpoint at the Newtown Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant’s Nature Walk. I was there to meet the Waterfront Alliance board people, and speak about both the history of Newtown Creek and the things which the Newtown Creek Alliance is working on in pursuance of our goal to “reveal, restore, and revitalize” Newtown Creek.

All that notwithstanding, as is my habit, I was early and luckily enough the Vane Towing Tug Hunting Creek was transiting under the Pulaski Bridge. That gave me something to do while I was waiting.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has always been a bit fidgety, a childhood habit which has never been abandoned. It’s difficult for me to “sit still” which sort of precludes me from photographing birds – which requires you to emulate stalking and hunting. Fifteen minutes with nothing to do is an interminable interval. It drives everybody who knows me crazy.

Hunting Creek was towing a fuel barge, which I later discovered, to the bulkheads of Metro Fuel in Greenpoint.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Vane Bros.’s Hunting Creek tug is a common sight for me. I first mentioned her back in 2013, and a few different views of it making the same transit on Newtown Creek were offered in 2014.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I say it all the time – 60% of everything in life is about “showing up,” and getting there a bit early. The good news is that shortly after the Hunting Creek disappeared out of view, one entered into the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment plant and before the meeting started – the NYC DEP folks invited the Waterfront Alliance group on tour of the facility. That’s where the other 40% of everything happens – lucky circumstance.

More on that tomorrow – at this, your Newtown Pentacle.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Wednesday, August 3rd, 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. –
Glittering Realms Walking Tour,
with NYC H2O. Click here for more details.

Saturday, August 6th, 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. –
Insalubrious Valley Walking Tour,
with NY Adventure Club. Click here for more details.

Sunday, August 14th, 11:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

Sunday, August 21, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Poison Cauldron Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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