Thursday, April 24, 2014

Camp NaNoWriMo April Update

This April, I was supposed to go to camp.

I was supposed to go to virtual camp, a virtual camp for writers.  It's called Camp NaNoWriMo, and I was supposed to write 10,000 words between April 1 and April 30, joined by other writers.  I could write whatever I wanted and I didn't have to show anyone my work.

Sounded nice, right? I would go to the nightly virtual campfires and hang out with my fellow writers.

I was going to try my hand at fiction, something that really isn't "me", and write a YA (Young Adult) piece based on a dream I had many years ago, growing up in New York City.  I enjoy dystopian YA literature, and even as a teenager, my dreams were dystopian.  It didn't hurt that I grew up in a city housing project in a part of the city that was going downhill fast as I entered my later teen years.

This dream involved me attempting to escape a future New York City (I somehow knew it was in the future).

As of today, my word count is 3770 words.

What happened?  (Also known as:  What's my excuse?)

Too many distractions.  A vacation.  A huge case of writer's block.  I've done almost all the writing in the past five days.

I don't like backing off of challenges, but I don't think the writing is going to happen this time.  My teenaged dream to story project will have to wait until I can really sit down and think about it.  Meanwhile, all these things I've read circulate in my mind.  And here I am, supposed to be just writing.  (Note, I am not asking you, dear readers, these questions. I'm supposed to be answering them myself. No cheating!)

1.  Show, not tell. Oh, it is so much easier to explain something than to show it.  Can't I just tell it? (I say this in a whiny voice.  The answer is yes, sometimes.)

2.  Your protagonist has to be likeable.  Oh darn, character development!  Maybe the protagonist can be a jerk, but he or she has to be a likeable jerk.  In non fiction, characters develop themselves.  How am I going to make my main charac...I mean, protagonist (have to use the big word here) likeable but not built out of sugar? I reckon I'm a nice older woman now but when I was a teen, I could be a real jerk. (Yes, I said it here!!)

3.  I haven't even thought of an antagonist yet. Does the antagonist (the person who "opposes" the protagonist) have to be a person?  Can it be a thing? A force of nature?  Like, for example, the weather?  (The answer, dear reader, is Yes.  Whew!)

4.  Dialog.   Doesn't come easy for me.  I get the feeling that an author either loves to write dialog, or hates to write dialog. Guess which camp I'm in.

5.  And I don't care what they say, but I'm not putting a love triangle in the story.  In fact, there will be no romance whatsoever!  I hate love triangles in YA books! Why do authors think they are needed? Is it a law?

How do people do all this fiction stuff and write thousands of words in 30 days???

 There will be another Camp session in July, so if I do drop out, I can try again.

Have you ever started a story and then wondered what happened to what you thought you wanted to write?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Spring Things - Wildflower Wednesday and a Founding Father

I haven't had a Wildflower Wednesday in a long time - too long a time. 

I'd like to share some wildflower pictures I took earlier in April during a trip to Charleston, South Carolina.

 In identifying some of these, I'd like to thank my wildflower helper in New York State.  Anything with a Latin name is her ID.

We are finally starting spring here in upstate New York, but I just couldn't wait for our wildflower season. Enjoy!

Charles Pinckney was a founding father of the United States - an author and signer of the U.S. Constitution, a man who literally lost his fortune due to his public service in the founding of our country.  What is left of one of his plantations, Snee Farm in modern day Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, provided these wildflower photo oppotunities.
Oxalis rubra, purple wood sorrel.  Isn't this pretty?

Blue eyed grass, one of my personal favorites.  I knew this from my time in Arkansas, and I've even seen it here and there in upstate New York. It's hard to see, but these actually bloom at the end of blades of the grass.

 I don't know what the tiny yellow flowers are surrounding the grass. I've seen this up here in New York, and I'll kick myself when I find out.

Strawberries were planted in an abandoned bed (the park ranger on duty knew nothing about this bed) and were also blooming on the edge of surrounding woods.
And finally, not a good picture, but if you can make out something purplish, it is blue toadflax, Nuttallanthus canadensis.

So many times, I go somewhere to study history, and end up wandering around the wildflowers.  Maybe one day, I'll even tell you more about Charles Pinckney-he is a man who is now somewhat forgotten, but we have him to thank for a lot of the protections of our Constitution.

Are there wildflowers blooming where you live?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Would You Drink Your Toilet Water?

Today, in the United States, it is Earth Day.  It's the day to think about the environment, and our impact on it.

Years ago, my spouse and I lived (for about eight months) in Wichita Falls, Texas, a city of about 104,000 about 10 miles south of the Texas/Oklahoma border.  It was an interesting experience but I have not been back since.

Today, I turned on the Weather Channel while preparing to go to work, and there was a fascinating discussion about a city so terribly impacted by drought, that they are trying to get state approval to capture and recycle their "potty water" (as they call it) and mix it in with reservoir water.

Turns out that city is Wichita Falls, Texas.

Things are desperate in Wichita Falls. They have been in a drought for some three years. Their reservoirs are hovering around 25% capacity.

So, are you grossed out by the thought of drinking your toilet water?

A couple of interesting thoughts.

I grew up in New York City.  To me, drinking water was something that came out of faucets.  My parents rarely took me out of New York City - for one thing, our family did not own a car. (Back when I grew up, this was not uncommon in New York City.)  In fact, I never saw a garden until I was 17 years old.  Really.

One day I found out our drinking water came from a place called the Croton Reservoir. As a teenager, I got to see this reservoir - a large lake.  And, I suddenly realized, there were FISH in this body of water.  Fish who ate, drank and...pooped.

I was drinking water with FISH POOP in it.

It wasn't long before I found out that was the least of my worries.  Many cities took their drinking water from rivers (such as Binghamton, New York, whose drinking water comes from the Susquehanna River.).  If your drinking water comes from a river, maybe you know that your drinking water contains wastewater (treated, you hope) from every city upriver from you.  And, in turn, the cities downriver of you are drinking your wastewater.

So many of us already drink toilet water indirectly.  The difference is, Wichita Falls wants to use this treated water directly, mixing it in with the fresh reservoir water, to make up about a third of their water usage.

Not a happy thought for Earth Day, is it?

Well, as it happens,  a lot of people are watching the Wichita Falls situation with a lot of interest.  Other cities are thinking of trying to pass legislation to allow direct usage of this formerly dumped resource.

After all, astronauts are already doing it.

The good citizens of Wichita Falls have dropped their water usage from about 40 million gallons a day to about 11-12 million gallons. But that just isn't enough.  So, besides the waste water recycling project, the city is going to try cloud seeding.  And, people are purchasing rainwater collection systems to try to capture whatever rain does fall.   But, to survive, they may be turning to toilet water.

We can't live without water.  Would you drink treated toilet water to survive?

Monday, April 21, 2014

Remembering a Blogger

While I was on vacation, a fellow blogger and neighbor for many years passed away.   He blogged on environmental issues, under a pseudonym.  He enjoyed discussing gardening with my spouse, and repaired bicycles.  He and his wife took care of my young adult son when we were hit by major flooding in September of 2011 while my spouse and I were out of town.  They were good neighbors, and will be missed.

I would like JC, wherever he is right now, to know the following:

First, his worm bin is OK.  His wife had given it to us last year. It's been an interesting experience, keeping worms, and I plan to blog about it sometime in the next month as part of my "Dear Friend and Gardener" club posts. (Do you garden and blog about it? Come join us).

Here is a shot of JC's worm bin today as we empty the contents out.
I promised B, his wife, that we would plant a tree in JC's honor. Two years ago, he joined the Arbor Day Foundation and got 10 trees as a gift. He ended up giving them to us for our son, but our son was unable to do anything with them. We planted some at JC's house, kept a couple in pots and planted a couple on my property.  One of them, a cherry, is budding out today.

We don't have room for any more trees on our property, but I am going to try to find someone who will be a foster tree parent in honor of JC.

A week ago, cancer took a good hearted man too soon.  One of his last desires was to try to spend some time in the spring sunlight.  Such a little thing but, at the same time, a big thing. I wasn't here to know if he had this final wish granted.  JC, I'm enjoying the sun today in your honor.  My wind chimes are chiming in the light breeze, and the sun feels so good.  We are gardening today, too, and enjoying the last day of my vacation.

Goodbye, JC.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Civil War Sunday - The Northern Confederates

We just got back from a trip to South and North Carolina, two states that seceded from the United States at the beginning of the Civil War.  We think of my native New York State as a solidly Union State but you may be surprised at how many Confederate sympathizers lived in New York City - and, yes, even in upstate New York.

It may interest you that, prior to the Civil War, both Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee served at Ft. Hamilton in Brooklyn, in New York City, and that Abner Doubleday, who fired the first defensive shot at Ft. Sumter (the first battle of the Civil War), was the fort commander of Ft. Hamilton in 1861. (Contrary to popular legend, Doubleday did not invent the game of baseball, but that's a story for another time.)

I still haven't gotten to the Civil War museum I blog about below, but will try my best for this year.

This is a rerun of an earlier post from last year, which I think you will enjoy.

The Confederates of Upstate New York

It's funny how life works, because when you are busy traveling hundreds of miles to learn about Civil War history, you can sometimes find it in your own home state of New York.

It's even more fascinating when the history involves a New Yorker who served the Confederacy.  This isn't the only time New York and the Confederacy have been linked - there is the fascinating story of the hamlet of Town Line New York that appears to have seceded from the Union and did not rejoin the Union officially until 1946.

There are a number of fascinating articles online about whether this secession actually happened. (All I can say is that, despite statements that their fire department logo still includes a Confederate flag - their current patch has an American Flag and Flag of the State of New York.)

And then there was Jedediah Hotchkiss.

I had not heard of Hotchkiss when, in March of 2012, I was browsing the wonderful Civil War bookstore located in the National Park at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.  I found a book "Civil War Battles The Maps of Jedediah Hotchkiss". by Chester G. Hearn and Mike Marino.  I quickly found that the book was not a biography of Jedediah Hotchkiss, a schoolteacher and geologist before the Civil War, who ended up becoming the mapmaker for Stonewall Jackson.  (We are coming up on the 150th anniversary of this famous Confederate general's death, and I will be blogging more about him next Sunday.)

Still, I found value in a book that contained some of Hotchkiss' maps, and Civil War era photographs, and I bought it. 

Later last year, my spouse found that one of his co-workers is interested in the Civil War, and this person told him "You've got to go to the Old Stone House Museum in Windsor!"  I work with a couple of people who live in Windsor, (which is a rural village a few miles from here) and it turns out one of them knows the person who runs that museum - she offered to set up a visit for us and her sister, who also loves the study of the Civil War - but we were never able to make the connection.

So, a second time, I ran into Jedediah Hotchkiss. He was born, and grew up in, Windsor, on property where this museum is now located. He later moved to Virginia, which is how he ended up on the side of the Confederacy, making maps for Confederate generals.

So, object lesson here - don't ignore treasures in your backyard.

And now, it will also be time to hunt for other New York Confederates.  None of us should be surprised - few of us today realize just how this war split our nation (and still does, to some extent) and how fighting it made the United States the country it is today.

Do you have a nice regional museum that mainly locals know about?

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Sustainable Saturday - Cabbage Collards and Strawberries

What do you like to do when you are on vacation?

Some people lie on the beach during a vacation.  Some people hike, some kayak, some mountain climb. I enjoy destinations that allow me to learn about history.  At the same time, I go to farmers markets, if there are any being held near where I am vacationing. They are all so different, and they rarely disappoint.

My spouse and were fortunate enough to be in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina earlier in April for their first farmers market of the year. 

Last Saturday I blogged about a farmer's market in South Carolina's second biggest city, Charleston.  To understand these markets, you need to to understand some of South Carolina's demographics.

Something I never really realized until the first time I visited South Carolina several years ago is just how rural South Carolina is - its biggest city, Columbia (the capital) has a population of only around 130,000. (Contrast this with neighboring North Carolina - its biggest city, Charlotte, has about 775,000 people).  Charleston, the second biggest city in the state, has about 125,000 people.  Mt. Pleasant is the fourth biggest city, and is growing rapidly.

Charleston has become a major destination for people interested in eating, and this has carried over to Mt. Pleasant, across the Cooper River from Charleston.  What I especially liked about this market was the fact that it started at 3:30 pm instead of in the early morning.

 We were greeted with posters advertising a Chef's Potluck, and Lowcountry Farm Tours.  We also talked to a couple of young women promoting local food.
Nearby was a sign advertising fresh pasta.

And more fresh pasta.
We purchased the sweet potato, bacon and leek ravioli, which was delicious, although at the price charged, it would not have been an everyday part of my eating.
We also bought some of these Carolina Sweet Onions and brought them home with us.
Greens were also local. We were introduced to something called cabbage collards, an heirloom - and delicious.

And finally, local strawberries - unexpected, and so welcome to someone living in an area where local berries come in June.

Do you do anything food related during vacations?

Friday, April 18, 2014

Crocuses, Croci, and My Fifth Blogaversary

Spring has come to my backyard.  Honest it has, despite Tuesday's snow.

Yesterday, I promised to show you what was blooming, since I couldn't do it in time for April 15, Garden Bloggers Bloom Day.  But I didn't want to talk about plants - seems like I've done too much of that recently. (Do I hear a big groan from my audience?) 

My crocuses (croci?) had decided to go ahead and bloom without me. Only one was left - the others had their flowers sprawled out on my lawn, all finished, possibly worn out from the exercise of figuring out what their plural form was. (If you are wondering, dear reader, both crocuses and croci are correct, and it's a fascinating story because "crocus" is not derived from Latin.)

Yesterday, I dug my lenten rose plant out of a pile of frozen leaves that had settled around it.  I was wondering why it wasn't blooming, and it turns out it was, hidden under the frosty pile.  I hope this plant finds it in its heart to forgive me for negligent gardening.

My bloodroot also had to be rescued from the same leaves.

Yesterday, I was too busy to rake all the leaves away, including the ones covering my hyacinth and daffodils, and today isn't looking too good, either.  It's food preparation time, as we are doing much of the cooking for Easter dinner, which my mother in law (who is in her mid 80's and only recently was battling cancer) will be hosting.  And I have to prewrite three blog posts.  I like to pretend that there are a couple of people in my life who look forward to reading my daily posts, and, if this is true, I don't want to disappoint them.

Which brings me to the lost blogaversary.  On April 10, 2009 I wrote my first blog post. (It's a grim one, but if you want to click into my archives at the bottom of my blog, and check it out, you are more than welcome.) Because of my vacation, I forgot all about my fifth blogaversary.  So here I am, wallowing in virtual embarrassment.

Bloggers like to celebrate these types of anniversaries with special giveaways.  Well, I don't even know how to insert a rafflecopter (the software commonly used for this).

And I don't even know what to give away.


Seriously, I really do have to give this, and the next year of my blog, some thought.  Up to now, I've had a ramblin' type of blog. But I feel like my blog has become somewhat stagnant, and I really don't know where I want to take it. Do you enjoy the lack of focus? Would you want to see more nature/gardening/local food stuff? Or more about life in upstate New York? More about my brother in law with autism, who, somehow, I don't write about enough?  Long distance caregiving and my mother in law (who is doing much, much, better after her battle with cancer)? Chocolate, which has been totally neglected recently?

What would you like to see as a fifth blogaversary celebration?  And what do you think would be a cool giveaway?  (no chocolate - weather is getting too warm).

Let's see what my readers say: and to each and everyone of you: THANK YOU FOR READING MY BLOG!

Without you, my readers, blogging would be boring, and I would have quit it a long time ago.