Monday, September 22, 2014

The Flood Survivors

In my yard, there is a small garden statue.

It is weatherworn, but the angel sits in my yard, deep in thought, watching the insects and birds that visit my front yard flower garden.

The angel didn't always live at my house.  Three years ago, it was for sale at a nursery near Owego, New York.

On September 8, 2011, Tropical Storm Lee hit the northeast United States, in followup to another tropical storm days earlier (Irene). Our soggy soil could not hold the 10 some inches of rain that Lee dumped on us after our rainiest summer on record, and Lee triggered massive flooding.

My neighborhood of Westover, near Johnson City, New York was hit hard, as my regular readers know. Owego was hit even harder.

The nursery, after it reopened, put various salvaged goods up for sale at reduced prices.

In a pot was a Persian Shield (the reddish plant with the large leaves-Strobilanthes dyerianus) that had survived the flood, and I somehow knew I needed to rescue it. 

Then, I saw the angel.

Today, the original Persian Shield lives in my office, and I've had cuttings grow outdoor in pots the past three summers. The plant has been a joy for me with its shiny red leaves.  And the angel is my Flood Angel.  It watches over me, and my neighborhood.

Why does my neighborhood need a flood angel?

Slowly but surely, the houses that were so severely damaged they could not be saved, are finally being demolished.  Now, this past week, we got some news that our neighborhood had been waiting for, since November of 2011.  

A neighborhood is more than just a collection of buildings.  And, for us, hope is a wonderful thing.  Perhaps now, we can finally start to move forward.

(To be continued).

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Civil War Sunday - The General and the Game

Sometimes, the United States Civil War has connections that lead us to unusual places, if only we are willing to travel down those old, winding roads.

I always love a good story, and this story is a good one, complete with a myth that causes thousands of people to visit a small city in upstate New York every year, just as I did earlier this month.

In early September, I visited a museum, and saw this portrait.  It's of a Union General.  In his early life he was a civil engineer.  But the exhibit had nothing to do with the Civil War.

The man in the portrait fired the first defensive shot of the Civil War, at Ft. Sumter, in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina.  He was second in command at the fort.  He fought at Second Manassas and Gettysburg.  A statue of him stands today on the Gettysburg battlefield.

He wrote two books.

Later in life, after the war, he established San Francisco's first cable car company.

And today, no one seems to care that this man even served in the Civil War.  His name, instead, is connected with something else, a something in the lives of many Americans each summer.

That is why this Civil War portrait of a New York State native hangs in a sports museum in Cooperstown, New York.
It may have something to do with this photo I took a few evenings ago.
Here, at a minor league championship baseball game, the opposing teams line up - the Richmond,  Flying Squirrels (Virginia) vs. the Binghamton Mets (New York).

That championship game would have been impossible during the Civil War, as our nation split in two, and Richmond served as the capital of the Confederate States of America.  New York, meantime, stayed with the Union.
Let's also note this structure in Cooperstown, New York, where I saw baseball immortal Bob Feller pitch back in 2009 (he has since passed away), named after this man.

Cooperstown, New York - the site of baseball's Hall of Fame.  All because of Abner Doubleday.
This May Be the First Baseball

For many years we who grew up in the United States loving baseball were taught a story-that Civil War general Abner Doubleday invented our national sport around 1845, some 16 years before the Civil War started.

Too bad it isn't true.  (Probably).  But the story refuses to die.  And, in truth, the Civil War (1861-1865) helped to make baseball, which was a regional game enjoyed in the New York State area prior to the war into the sport it is today. 

New York soldiers serving in the war taught the game to their fellow soldiers.  In down times between battles, the game helped to pass the time.  The military leaders promoted the game among their troops.  The game then spread to prisoner of war camps on both sides of the war.  In some POW camps, towards the beginning of the war (before the horrors of Andersonville and Elmira, among others, got underway), baseball games were organized.  Sometimes, Union ballplayers even played Confederates.

It was sobering, seeing a championship game between a New York team and a team from the former Confederacy earlier this month, to realize that one of the few good and decent things that came out of the Civil War was baseball.

Even if Union General Abner Doubleday (probably) did not invent it.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Sustainable Saturday - How to Grow Edible Ornamentals in Your Front Yard

Do you have a tiny urban plot? Or, is your back yard too shady to grow food crops, as mine is?

Don't despair. It is possible (although not always easy) to grow food plants under less than ideal conditions.

I do not have deer problems at my house, but have tremendous problems with groundhogs.  So everything listed here is groundhog-resistant but I can't vouch for their ability to withstand foraging deer.

One solution is container gardening, which I will blog about another time.

Another solution is ideal if you have ground but just not enough.  Why not grow ornamental but edible plants in your front yard? (Note, the zoning in some communities may make this difficult - if none of your neighbors are doing this, there may be a reason - check into it.)

Why have only a lawn? Unless you are unlucky enough to have neighbors who object to this, you may be able to sneak some ornamental, edible plants into a flower bed.

Scarlet Runner Beans July 2013
These scarlet runner beans were in a large flower pot in my front yard last year. We put fencing around it when they were younger due to animal damage.  The harvest was not as great as if we had put them in the ground, but we did get some beans.

I've entertained you with pictures of my yard this week, so wanted to share this picture from last year with you. Every year I do something a little different.

In the front of the photo, I had pepper plants on the left side, orange gem marigolds (edible flowers) on the right side.  Groundhogs do not disturb these.

Behind them - garlic chives (beginning to bloom with white flowers), perilla .

As with flowers, you would prepare your soil with compost and make sure you keep plants watered.  Pick your veggies frequently for best results.

Here's a closeup of one of the peppers I grew last year in my front yard, called Bishop's Hat. They were quite hot.  This year, I am growing several "fool me" jalapenos in my front yard.

Moving along to another pot-
I have an ornamental Perpetuo basil plant - and yes, it is a very good culinary variety.  I am growing this again this year.

You will note no brassicas, and no lettuce.  Groundhogs, alas, are too fond of these food plants.  If you can grow them, though. lettuces are quite ornamental, coming in various leaf shapes and colors.

Last year, I grew tomato, basil, and ginger in one pot.  Yes, I grew ginger in upstate New York.  I used a technique described by a fellow blogger and I got a good harvest.  This year, I am growing ginger by itself - not all the rhizomes germinated but the plants, right now, are several feet high.

Have you ever tried sneaking ornamental food plants into your flower beds?

Friday, September 19, 2014

How Did the Baby Boomers Get Online in 1958?

A "personal favorite" posts from the first years of my blog, edited a little.
My son is no longer a teenager.  And he never did locate a Betamax player. But we have enjoyed obsolete technology together - such as my old reel to reel recorder from when I was a teenager.  I'm still a bit surprised that my son never decided to open a Museum of Obsolete Technology.

No, wait, there is one - his room. (Only kidding, dear son, especially as you live on your own now).

Still, don't you think this Betamax commercial is just a little touching, even if it is obsolete?

Next, let's consider my iPhone 4S. With the release of iOS8, which I dare not install, my phone would become (if I did install it) what young people call "a brick".  When I got my first computer, in 1996, would I ever have imagined that one day my phone would have more capabilities than that computer? Or that I would use my phone to go online?   No.

Hence this post:

So How Did The Baby Boomers Get Online in 1958?

First, I am not trying to mock my teenage son. But it shows how, in some ways, the mindset of the present generation is so much different from those of us born only 35 or 40 years earlier.

My son knows about what the computers of the 1950's looked like. People of my baby-boomer generation, do you remember the UNIVAC?

Do you remember the famous "hoax" picture of the 1954 RAND prototype of the first home computer? Maybe that was what son was thinking about when he asked his question.

One evening my son asked me "how did you get online when you were growing up? Did you have one of those huge computers in your bedroom?" I thought he was pulling my leg.

He wasn't.

Although he intellectually knew there was no "internet" as he knows it back in the 1950's or 1960's, he had to believe that there was something out there, just something very clunky, probably in black and white, and using technology full of vacuum tubes.


Interestingly, son is also very interested in "old technology". For example, he is looking for a good Betamax player (and has several Betamax tapes). He just couldn't make that intellectual leap of people living before certain technology existed..

 Let's think about this a minute. I bought my first home computer (a bit later than other people, I admit) in 1996 and went online in January of 1997. So my son was in early elementary school at the time.

From his viewpoint, there was a computer in his life "forever".

By the way, when did the Internet start? The answer is complicated. This link has quite the discussion and the answer is..."it depends".

Do you remember life before "online"? Or, has there been a computer in your life "forever"?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Summer Ramblings-Every Garden Tells a Story (Part 2)

I am pleased (and amazed) at the response my post of yesterday, about the stories my front yard/flower garden tells, got.

I shouldn't say "my" garden - my loving spouse of 40 years is responsible for a lot of what you see, especially when my back gets cranky.

So I told my spouse he now has fans from all over the world.  His reaction? "I should hope so."

He doesn't read my blog - he doesn't do all that much online, bu he patiently puts up with my online meanderings.  So drop him a comment at the end of today's post and thank him.

Today, I'd like to tell you some more stories about my flower gardens.

In the center bottom of the photo above, you can see some white marigolds.  Another reader of a post this week reminded me of a time, long ago, when Burpee ran a contest for its customers - the winner would be the customer who was able to provide Burpee with the seeds of a true white marigold. 

Burpee had been trying for years and years to produce a white marigold.  Finally, they turned to their customers, and someone won it - 21 years after the contest began.  A couple of morals from this story - first, never give up.  Second, have conversations your customers or your readers.  Keep them engaged.  Give them reasons to like you, and to buy from you, or read you. (I can use these lessons sometimes, myself, as I am a natural introvert.)

The stones you can barely see at the bottom of the photograph - those are from some of our travels.  In 2002, we visited the Crazy Horse monument in South Dakota and we were permitted to take stones blasted from the mountain that is being sculpted into the monument.  The story of the Crazy Horse Monument is epic and I don't use that word loosely - I encourage you to read about it.
I also want to share a couple of pictures of my shady back yard with you. 
This pink turtlehead hails from Asheville, North Carolina, a milder clime than ours.  Some people buy souvenier t-shirts or mugs when they travel.  I buy plants and garden decorations, as I mentioned yesterday.  Many of the plants I buy are from warmer areas, and they don't survive our harsh New York winters.  But sometimes they do survive- like this pink turtlehead.

Our back yard tells its own story. 

Many years ago, the late Joan Gibbs, of Gibbs Perennial Gardens in LeRaysville, Pennsylvania,taught me the secret of shade gardening.  Don't strive for showy flowers, she warned, because you rarely will get them in the shade. (Although, that turtlehead is an exception, don't you think?)  Instead, look at leaves.  See the colors, the shapes, the shading, she continued.  Look at how plants look in each season - spring, summer, autumn, and winter.

That's what you want to strive for.  And with her advice, that is how I started my part shade/shade garden in the back of my house.  Such good advice she gave me.  Observe, and be willing to change how you think. Discard what you've already learned. Keep an open mind.

That works for such much more besides gardening.

So, those are my stories for this week. 
Do you want to hear more garden stories?  I have so many to share.

If you like what you see, comment, and "like" my blog's Facebook page. I will respond to all comments (eventually), although I'm a bit behind right now.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Summer Ramblings - Every Garden Tells a Story (Part I)


This is my last Summer Ramblings post.  Fall begins on September 22, at 10:29 PM.  Chances are I'll be fast asleep when it comes.

I like autumn, once I am dragged, kicking and screaming, into it.

One of the truths of fall here in the Binghamton, New york area is that nothing in our four season climate is permanent.  The sun is rising later each day, and setting earlier each day.  Each time it gets cold, it never gets quite as warm again when the cold front has passed through.

One day I will wake up to a blackened garden, and soon after that, colored trees. Next, the icy winds will start to whip.  Already, I can envision ice and snow on the ground. 

Then the cycle will start again.

Oh, about that garden story....

A couple of days ago, one of my blog readers asked to see my front yard, not just individual flowers.

I am not a lawn lover. I do have grass on my lawn, but because my front yard is the only sunny area my small plot of land has, we have our sun perennials in our front yard.  After all, you wouldn't want to see a bunch of lawn grass pictures, would you?

Please say "no".

So I thought, "why not end summer with pictures of what my yard looks like now?"

I took some of these yesterday evening and others after work today.  The lighting was not perfect last night, with all our clouds.  But, face it, upstate New York sees more clouds than some places.  Well, many places.  Sometimes, we spend weeks in dull light and then wonder what that bright ball in the sky is, when it finally appears.

I will be quiet now, and let my front flower garden tell its story.
First - why is there a concrete fire hydrant in my front yard?  Wouldn't you like to know?

The answer is simple. Some people buy souvenier T-shirts, or mugs, when they travel.  But not me.

I buy plants and other stuff for my yard.  I picked up this concrete fire hydrant in a store in a farmer's market (there, that means a permanent market and not a place where farmers come and sell out of their trucks) in North Carolina.

I saw that fire hydrant and it just called to me.  Why not?   I don't want to be ordinary.

The plants are poinsettias from the last holiday season, which I hope to get to rebloom this winter in the house. These plants are not hardy here. In the back is a hardy mum.

Above, in the lower left, is sedum (the low pink plant). That was given to me by a friend.  In the white pot are heirloom petunias I was able to buy this year from a locally owned nursery. The white flowers are garlic chives.  The red flowers are my dear red dahlias, given to me almost 20 years ago by a work friend who passed several years later from cancer.  We must dig these up each year and then replant in the spring.  It's been an honor to preserve the plants she entrusted me with.

Here, on the left side are purple and green basil, and white marigolds. There are also a couple of pots with tomatoes, and several hanging baskets.

Like my garden's story so far?

Do you own something odd that you display?

I will continue this story in a future post.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

What's the Next Best Thing to an Auctioneer Checkout Clerk?

I love clever commercial, like this one.

Can you imagine an auctioneer as a checkout clerk?

Neither can I, but a large farm stand in Bainbridge, New York, has the next best thing.  And I so wish I had a video of him in action.

Frog Pond Farms, I'll be the first to admit, is a mixed bag.  Not all the produce it sells is locally produced.  Not all of it is high quality, either., I'm sorry to say.  You have to be careful.  But, especially if you buy in bulk, the savings can be amazing.
And people come from miles around to buy there.  We've been there three times this year.  They do label the produce as local if it is local.  If it isn't marked, it isn't local.  You can buy local, or not, as you choose.

Despite its shortcomings, I still like the place.  Even on a Saturday, when it is so crowded you can barely move, I like it.  There is a corn pit where children can play.  There are pigs for the children to watch.  There are local cheeses, and fresh eggs for sale.  There is a donut stand.  I'm not a fan of donuts (a holdover from a long ago job in a donut store) but donuts are perfect for this type of store.

Frog Pond lets you sample the produce if you want, as long as you eat it on premises.

The best attraction of all, I think, is the man who works there at the checkout, weighing, calling out the prices in a stylized sing song like an auctioneer, and adding them all in his head. He does the weighing, too.  He's been there for years and I wish I knew his name.  In fact, I wonder if he is the owner. Not too many people do mental math in public anymore. I wonder if he has children, and if he's taught them that skill.

I wanted to bring you some of the magic of Frog Pond, as we transition from summer to fall.  I don't make that transition without a lot of kicking and screaming.  These pictures, in fact, were taken the last week of August, but you can see the transition in these pictures.
We aren't that far from frost now.
If you went there today, you would find grapes, winter squash, pumpkins, and mums, and lots and lots of apples.

And a man who, perhaps, should be in the next Geico commercial.

Do you have a favorite farm stand?  Or a favorite checkout person where you shop?