Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Still Dreaming the Impossible Dream

Every gardener has his or her impossible dream.  Some of us try to grow a plant that the experts say just can't be grown, just to see if it could be done.

Years ago, when my spouse was in the military, we were stationed in Wichita, Kansas.   There, we met a fellow airman, Jim.  Jim had grown up in West Virginia.  He missed two things terribly:  bluegrass and azaleas.  Neither grow well in Wichita, a hot, windy climate.

Jim tried.  And he failed.  But he tried.

For me, in zone 5b upstate New York near Binghamton, the impossible dream is the camilla, a beautiful flower that is not supposed to grow here.  The climate isn't right.  It gets too cold.  I thought I saw one once in Brooklyn, although it was past the blooming season.   But Brooklyn is in hardiness zone 6b.  I've never seen one here in the Binghamton area.

So, of course, spouse and I decided we had to try.

In April of 2015, my spouse and I traveled to a camilla nursery in North Carolina where they specialize in cold hardy camillas.  We bought one, called April Rose.

After the buds already formed opened and bloomed, new buds grew.

In 2016, despite animals (we suspect squirrels), our camilla bloomed, for the first time, on upstate New York flower buds.

But, after that, buds never grew in the summer of 2016.  I suspect the plant isn't getting enough sun in our back yard, where we had to put it so it would have a chance to survive the winter.

This is what our April Rose looked like on February 18.  No buds.

It will not bloom this April.  Maybe, buds will grow or next year.

You know what?  I'm still dreaming that impossible dream, that April Rose will bloom again for me one day.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Music Monday - President's Day

Today is a Federal holiday, one that is observed in all states but in various ways.

In honor of the Presidents of the United States, here is a short musical tribute.

Abraham, Martin and John - a song sung by Dion, pays tribute to two Presidents cut down by assassins, Martin Luther King, Jr. and President Kennedy's brother, Bobby, also cut down by assassins.

Happy Days, a song that was picked up as a campaign song by the longest serving of all our Presidents, Franklin Roosevelt: was previously the subject of one of my blog posts.

In this political climate, it is instructive to travel back into the 1970's, another age of unrest and fear, to talk about another President, Richard Nixon.  "Justice Don't Be Slow", by Steppenwolf.  Nixon was the first and only President to resign.  His Vice President also had to resign.

This final song is a song from the Civil War era and happens to be, even today, the state song of the State of Maryland.  It sings indirectly about the Federal President during the Civil War (Abraham Lincoln; see above), who is described as a despot. (The history behind this song would make an interesting Civil War Sunday).  This version has the official lyrics prior to last year, when certain edits were made, 151 years after the war ended.

There are lots more songs to choose from if you are interested.  Do you have any to add?

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Civil War Sunday -Let's Have Tea

After a nearly two year hiatus, I am starting up, at least for the remainder of February, and all of March, my United States Civil War Sunday feature.   Although I am not a historian, I have always been interested in history.  After all, history is the story of all of us, past and present - not just events, but people.

And who doesn't like a good story about a great person?

I firmly believe that if we don't remember the lessons of history, we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes that past generations did.

A man by the name of Frederick Douglass died on February 20, 1895.  Our country could use him today.

On February 1, someone in high office said something that seemed to imply that Douglass was still alive.  His descendants decided to turn that into a teachable moment. 

It is my pleasure to introduce you, my reader (knowing that some of you are not from the United States) to this most remarkable man who had many ties with my native New York State.

Frederick Douglass never knew his exact birth date.  He was born into slavery in Maryland sometime during February of 1818. His original name was Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey.  He barely knew his mother, whom he was separated from at an early age (not uncommon with slaves in that area) and was raised by his grandmother. His birth mother died when Douglass was 10.

At around the age of 12, the young Douglass was hired out to a man living in Baltimore, Hugh Auld, brother of Douglass's owner Thomas Auld. Hugh Auld and his wife were not experienced slave keepers, which may explain what happened next.

Hugh Auld's wife started to teach Douglass the alphabet.  I can not emphasize here the importance of this act - slaves were not permitted literacy, and in many places, teaching a slave to read or write was a crime.  Any slave, in turn, who was literate had to hide that fact or risk heavy punishment or even death.

Imagine that your love of reading must be kept secret, as you have no right to be literate.

Soon enough, Hugh Auld convinced his wife that teaching Douglass was a mistake.  But it was too late.  In secret, Douglass taught himself to read and write, using various resources, including a school primer owned by Hugh Auld's son, and the Bible.  Later, as a teenager, he was hired out to another man and started an underground slave school for the other neighborhood slaves.  He was caught and brutally punished by being hired out to a known "slave breaker".  Almost psychologically broken, he still managed to survive the experience.

Eventually, in 1838, Douglass was able to escape to the free state of Pennsylvania and then onward to free New York City.  He married (he and his first wife were together for 44 years) and they settled in Massachusetts, another free state.

Douglass eventually took the last name of "Douglass" from a poem, The Lady of the Lake, by Walter Scott.  While still living in Massachusetts, he joined the abolitionist movement - a movement to abolish slavery.  By the early 1840's, Douglass was traveling frequently and giving the most eloquent speeches many had ever heard.

Some people didn't even believe he had ever been a slave, so Douglass decided to write the first of several autobiographies to educate the public about his origins and early life story.  This book, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave (published in 1845), is in the public domain here and in most countries.  If you look online, and it is legal, you will find PDFs of it on many websites.  It is about 108 pages.

Keep in mind that Douglass, at this point, is still an escaped slave.  It was quite possible his owner, Thomas Auld, could hire people to capture him and bring him back to slavery.  After all, he was Auld's property.  So, also in 1845, just as the Irish Potato Famine was starting, Douglass traveled to Ireland and Britain, and spent the next two years there.  There are several historical plaques in Britain and Ireland commemorating that visit.  More importantly, British supporters raised enough money  and Douglass was able to purchase his freedom from Thomas Auld.

Returning to the United States in 1845, he began his association with upstate New York, particularly the upstate New York cities of Seneca Falls and Rochester. If you are interested in learning more about Douglass, many of his other writings are online, free to read.  Or, you can watch a 44 minute "living history" depiction of Douglass produced by a Virginia TV station.

During the Civil War (1861-1865), three of Douglass's sons served in the military.  One became a First Sargent and anther a Sargent-Major.  The third was a recruiter. 

Douglass fought for many causes, including improving the lot of the nation's former slaves (they were all freed after the Civil War), education, and women's right to vote.  He used words, not violence, to advance the causes he believed in.  I must also point out that his beliefs were sometimes complicated, and contradictory.

Douglass believed in the young art of photography, and was the most photographed man, it is said, of the 19th century.

Politically, Douglass was the first African American to be nominated for Vice-President (he did not support this, and did not campaign) and the first African American man to receive a vote for President.

In addition to his work in the abolitionist movement, Douglass also did much work in the women's suffrage movement.  If you are a woman in the United States, you owe much to Frederick Douglass.

Here is another part of this amazing life story: In 1877, knowing his former owner Thomas Auld was dying, Frederick Douglass traveled to Auld's side and they reconciled.  I don't know if I could ever have done that if I had been a former slave.  Could you have?
Which brings me to these statues.

Douglass lived for about 25 years in Rochester, New York, also the home of suffragist Susan B. Anthony.  Near Anthony's home is a small park, and there, you will find this statue, called "Let's Have Tea".  Here, Anthony and Douglass's statues...well, they have tea.  A black former slave and a white school teacher having tea as equals?  That, in itself, would have been a revolutionary act.

Douglass died on February 20, 1895, in Washington, DC, shortly after visiting a meeting of the National Council of Women, and receiving the last standing ovation of his life.

Douglass is buried in Rochester, New York.  Here is his grave in Mt. Hope Cemetery.
Mural of the Douglass-Anthony Bridge, Trader Joes, Pittsford, New York
Also in Rochester is the Frederick Douglass-Susan B. Anthony Bridge.

Although our nation's leader may have incorrectly implied that Douglass was still alive, he was right in one respect.  The vision of Frederick Douglass is alive.  His courage in learning to read and escaping slavery still inspires us.  His supporting the rights of minorities and the rights of women continue to be carried forward by those who still believe in his vision. He taught that protest must always be peaceful, and that we must never give up when protesting for a just cause.

Next year will mark the 200th anniversary of Douglass's unknown birthday - and we can even hope that our President will wholeheartedly join in.

Come to think of it - yes, in a way, maybe Frederick Douglass is still alive - in all of us.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Local Saturday - One Building at a Time


I originally blogged this in 2013 and reran this in 2014.

The years have not been kind to the area of upstate New York where I live.  Nor have they been kind to many other areas of our country.  Major employers have downsized, moved operations overseas, or disappeared. (By the way, did you know that IBM and Whirlpool both got their start in Binghamton, New York?)

What follows is the story of one of many historic buildings in Binghamton, New York that still, despite urban renewal, sit in ruins.  Patiently, this building waits for its fate.  Some four years after I first published this post it still sits, empty.   Some would call it a symbol of our country.

I say this in a non partisan way:  our infrastructure badly needs to be rebuilt.  We need to concentrate on local buildings and road, and on bringing back local jobs.  The question, of course, is "how"?  And, at what cost?

Perhaps doing it one building at a time will start the journey.

Here's my post:  

"From Edward G. Robinson to Ruin".

What do Eddie Foy, Ethel and John Barrymore, Sara BernhardtGeorge M. Cohan, Teddy Roosevelt and Edward G. Robinson's first professional stage performance have in common?

Answer:  this building in downtown Binghamton, New York.
Stone Opera House in 2013
This is the Stone Opera House on Chenango Street.  It was a grand old opera house once, but its flag waving days are long over.  This 120 year old plus building, neglected and possibly close to its final days, patiently sits as passerbys walk by without a glance.  It's the shame of Binghamton.

In the 1930's it became the Riviera Theatre, and closed for good in 1973.  Now it sits, rotting and boarded up.

This is what it looked like once.

Actually, there are abandoned theaters all over this country.  Can we ever hope for someone to rescue this building and do something for it?  As of today, to the best of my knowledge - nothing has happened.

Even as crumbling buildings downtown are renovated and turned into student housing, the Stone Opera House waits.  And waits.

Sometimes, I wish I was very rich....

Friday, February 17, 2017

Skywatch Friday - Pink Skies

Only one more month until St. Patrick's Day.

I'm not about to post pictures of a green sky.  But pink, well, that's another story.

Yesterday morning, I left my house in upstate New York to commute to work. I was just in time to see the last seconds of a pink dawn sky.

After an exercise walk at the nearby shopping mall, I was greeted by a pre-sunset sky, the clouds lit up by the setting sun.
It's so nice to go home in light.

Visit Skywatch Friday for other pictures from all over the world.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Taste of Alternate History

In elementary school, social studies was my favorite subject.  By the time I was 10 years old, I had also discovered science fiction.

My introduction to science fiction was a book by Robert Heinlein called Have Spacesuit Will Travel, and then to what I consider as soft science fiction - the Barsoom series of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

It was love at first read.

Contrary to popular opinion, science fiction isn't just about space travel and interacting with alien races.   It is said that science fiction is the literature of change.  It is certainly the literature of ideas.

Somewhere along the line, I discovered a book called The Man in the High Castle, by Phillip K. Dick, and was introduced to two new genres - dystopian literature, and alternate history.


In The Man in the High Castle, Phillip K. Dick imagined an alternate world which diverged from ours when Franklin Roosevelt was assassinated in 1933.  In our world, Roosevelt survived that assassination attempt but the Mayor of Chicago was killed.

In that alternate world, where Roosevelt died,  the Allies lost World War II.  The Nazis and the Japanese conquered the United States, and divided it up between themselves. Now, it is the 1960's and.... (Note: if you've seen the Amazon.com series, be aware that it differs from the book in many ways).  So, alternate history works simply - imagine something happens that didn't happen in our timeline.  Then what happens?  It's lots of fun.

Even Stephen King has written in a genre that could be related to alternate history - a book called 11/22/63, a strange type of historical novel with strong elements of time travel.

Anyway - as I blogged about earlier this week, my local library gave me a Valentine's Day gift - a book by Harry Turtledove, who is a prolific writer of alternate history.

My favorites of his?  A series called Worldwar.  If I told you the plot, you might run - but please don't.  It's 1942, we are fighting World War II, and alien lizard like creatures invade Earth.  Yes, really.  It works, especially because of the detailed research Turtledove obviously undertook. 

While researching something for my blog, I found a free story by Turtledove posted online.  So now, here is a gift for you, my reader:  a short story by Harry Turtledove. You can call it a soft introduction to alternate history.  I caught onto it pretty quickly, but I still enjoyed its depiction of an elderly woman, one who lives in a world just slightly different than ours.

And that made all the difference.

Do you read/enjoy alternate history?  What books are your favorites?

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day February 2017

On the 15th of every month, Carol, an Indiana garden blogger, hosts a meme called Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, which is a sneaky way to make us keep a garden journal.

 I know some areas of the country have had an early spring.  Carol's is one of them.

Not here.

It is February in my upstate New York zone 5b garden, meaning there are no flowers outside.  Snow rules.  And today is no exception. Actually, underneath the snow, I know I have a lenten rose trying to bloom.

Maybe this weekend I'll see the plant again.

Until then, all I can show you is what is inside my house.
A Phalaenopsis, a present to myself for Valentine's Day.
We bought another plant for my mother in law.

Once again, African Violets save the day.  This is the end of one plant's flowering....

....and the beginning of another plant's bloom.

Meanwhile, the Persian Shield plant I brought inside in the fall is just barely hanging on, but it is blooming.  I could only get blurry photos out of my iPhone (these blooms are small).


And two of my Thanksgiving cactuses have buds on them.

Finally, here is my snow covered Lenten Rose as it looked earlier this week, when we were between snowstorms.

Just think, only two more months till spring (don't believe the calendar if you live up North).

Visit May Dreams Gardens and see what is blooming all over the world.