Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Let's All Sing Like the January Birdies Sing

Upstate NY, on the edge of the snowbelt.  Long winters.  Lots of snow.  Ice.  Clouds.  Gloom.  That's our trademark winter.

But not this year.

And not only that but during the winter here, birds don't sing.  Maybe they don't have too much to sing about.  Maybe they are too busy trying to stay warm.

But last week, right after sunrise, I heard the screeches of a peregrine falcon echoing through downtown Binghamton. (A pair lives on top of our 10 story Security Mutual building.)  And this morning - I heard birdsong near the Broome County courthouse.

Tonight, about 1/2 hour before sunset, I was exercise walking on the West side of Binghamton and saw and heard a bunch of sparrows chirping away in some vines.

Normally, we don't hear birdsong here until perhaps the second week of February.  It doesn't seem to be related to temperature - we've had "heat" waves in January (a brief break between the normal snows of December and the normal snows of February and March) and the birds don't sing while the snow is melting.  Although today, we did tie our record high, 54 degrees. (12 degrees Celsius).

What does this mean?

Many people are afraid there is going to be a huge "payback".  Personally I think it is going to come on February 29.

We'll see.  Cheep cheep!

Are birds where you live singing?  Have you even had a winter?

And with this burst of birdsong, I finish the Ultimate Blog Challenge.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Disaster Tourism?

Yesterday, I saw a segment on The Weather Channel that discussed a controversy concerning the Joplin tornado of last year.

The Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) was offering, to quote the Weather Channel account, maps
"... which combine facts on the tornado, points of twister-related interest and images of destruction."  The maps were "being made available at welcome centers and hotel front desks."

People are quite torn about this, needless to say.

I went to the Joplin CVB website and if they are still doing this, it isn't readily apparent from the website.  There are some pretty neat stories about Joplin, however, including one featuring Bonnie and Clyde.

As someone who lives in a neighborhood of upstate NY that suffered damage (for some homes, so extensive the houses are being condemned) from a flood back in September, I totally oppose it.  Why?

There's a difference between people going out to disasters (and trust me, there are a lot of these people out there) to gawk and an entity actually promoting it.  Even the unofficial gawkers are not truly welcome.  But to make it into an official industry?

I can speak from experience on this.  It is no fun watching people flock to your neighborhood (as happened during a lessor flood in 2006 that the 2011 flood eclipsed), park, stare, take pictures, look at you like you are a specimen in the zoo, and even get in the way of people genuinely trying to help.  I guess the only thing that saved us this time from the zoo treatment while the flood was at its peak was the fact that our neighborhood was unreachable this time unless you came by boat.  Or helicopter.  One major road was under 8 feet of water.  People who evacuated couldn't get in.  People who stayed were left to their own devices.

Slowly the recovery started,  But when, in October, the local paper announced a "commemorative book" with a front cover picture of what looked like an aerial shot of my neighborhood under water, the trauma came right back.

Thank heavens our town and county haven't decided to make us and other stricken neighborhoods such as Castle Gardens, the Southside of Binghamton, Twin Orchards, and the Town of Owego, into tourist attractions.

And our trauma is not at all like the trauma of the people of Joplin who were in the path of the tornado. Their homes, their lives, gone in an instant of terror.  No chance to escape.  Survival or death, in some cases, was totally random.  That does not do wonders for you emotionally.

And now these people are an official tourist attraction?  When many of them haven't even rebuilt their lives yet?  Now people can come and officially stare at what should be privately shared with others who shared their experience?

I know there is another side to it - I suppose the hope that disaster tourists will bring in money that Joplin can use for the rebuilding.

But I'm sorry.  To me, it just doesn't seem right.

Don't exploit those whose lives that tornado touched.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Civil War Sunday -The Amazing Secret of Sherwood Forest

No, the amazing secret of Sherwood Forest doesn't have anything to do with Robin Hood and his Merry Men. Although it would have been interesting to watch them fight in the Civil War, dressed in their bright green clothes and using their longbows and clubs to fight....well, I don't know if they would have sided with the Union or the Confederates.  But Friar Tuck would have been quite the sight.

No, I am talking about Sherwood Forest Plantation, in Virginia, which is suddenly (I suspect) going to become a whole lot more popular as a tourist destination than it has been - all because of an 83 year old gentleman who lives there.  His name is Harrison Tyler, and he happens to be the grandson of President John Tyler, a U.S. President who served from 1841 to 1845.

John Tyler was born in 1790.  In other words, a man born in 1790 has two living grandsons.

To put this in perspective, Jane Garfield, the granddaughter of President James Garfield (who was a Major General for the Union in the Civil War), is 99 years old. Garfield was President 40 years after Tyler.  (Garfield was also the second president of the United States to be assassinated-he died just before his 50th birthday.  The first President to be assassinated, of course, was Abraham Lincoln, the U.S. President during the Civil War.)

It's one heck of a story, this grandson, and has taken the Internet by storm in the past week, just after we passed the 150th anniversary of John Tyler's death in 1862.

So, putting Harrison Tyler aside, what is so fascinating about President John Tyler?

Although John Tyler's administration is interesting from an aspect of studying pre Civil War history, his actions after states started to secede is what holds fascination for me.

A Peace Conference was held in February 1861 to reach a compromise and enable the Union to continue.  It was hoped a settlement could be reached before Lincoln took office in March of 1861. (unlike today, Presidents in that era took office on March 4 and not January 20).  John Tyler came from his home at Sherwood Forest Plantation to attend.

John Tyler, sent by his native Virginia, was the head of this conference.  It did not succeed, although a Constitutional amendment was proposed. 

After the failure of the Peace Conference, Tyler sided with the Confederacy, and was a delegate from Virginia to the  Provisional Confederate Congress.  When elections to the First Confederate Congress were held in 1861, Tyler was elected to their Congress but died before he took office.

He is buried in Richmond, VA near the grave of President James Monroe.  As he was in rebellion his death was not officially mourned by the Union.  On the other hand, the Confederacy declared him a hero.  A grand funeral was held in his honor.

This is a fascinating story indeed, and I hope to visit Sherwood Forest Plantation one day.  And who knows,  if my tour group is big enough, and has enough pretty women, maybe Harrison Tyler will be our tour guide.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Would You Write 24 Letters in February?

When is the last time you got a letter from someone?  In the mail system of the country you live in?

A post in another blog, Depression Cookies, made me think about this.

I don't mean a letter from a business, or from the government, or from your elected representative, or from someone soliciting a contribution from you?  No, I mean a real live letter, "Dear AM.......Love (or Sincerely, or Yours Truly), someone in your life", from, oh...

A friend?
A relative?
A loved one?

For me, I think the last time this may have happened was in July of 2003.  An aunt, who was 77 at the time, corresponded with me for many years.  She lived hundreds of miles away.  We talked occasionally on the phone, but letters filled the gap.  I can guess the approximate date, because she died that summer.

(No, actually that is not true.   And the occasion where it happened is worth another blog post.  Nevertheless, it's been years.)

Of course, like so many others, I do my corresponding now by email or by Facebook message.  Texting? Not yet, because my phone doesn't have a keyboard, and I find it awkward.  But as soon as I get a different phone, I'll probably be texting away.  Although, there is something strange to me about using a phone for...well, nonverbal communication.

All of these methods are wonderful, and fast, and get the job done.  But letters, ah, a letter.  How many emails or text messages have you lingered over, saved in a box, taken out and reread months or years later?

A website, A Month of Letters, wants to reintroduce us to the pleasure. Quoting from the site:

"I have a simple challenge for you.
  1. In the month of February, mail at least one item through the post every day it runs. Write a postcard, a letter, send a picture, or a cutting from a newspaper, or a fabric swatch.
  2. Write back to everyone who writes to you. This can count as one of your mailed items.
All you are committing to is to mail 24 items. Why 24? There are four Sundays and one US holiday. In fact, you might send more than 24 items. You might develop a correspondence that extends beyond the month. You might enjoy going to the mail box again."

Will I do it?  At this point, no-even in my peak letter writing days (in college, believe it or not) I don't think I mailed something every day!  I can even imagine the writer's cramp-ouch!  But I just may sit down and write a letter....or two....or three.

I do think, however, that the challenge is very worthwhile, and am doing my part to publicize it on...hmmm, a blog.  But writing a bunch of letters to publicize it wouldn't work quite the same, would it?

Would you join such a challenge?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Who Among Us is Worthy?

As the sister in law of a 50ish year old man with autism, I have to say something about a recent event.  A little background first.

I know someone who, when a boy, was helped tremendously by Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).  He had an illness that stumped doctors in this area.  His health failing, he was brought to CHOP and they were able to diagnose his illness.  He received treatment.  He recovered.

He was worthy.  Our medical system worked for him.  He is an adult today.

And then, there is the case of little Amelia Rivera, who was recently refused a kidney transplant by CHOP because...well, she suffered from Wolf-Hirschhorn Syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes many difficulties for those with it, including intellectual disability.  Finding a donor was not a problem (as it is in too many cases of kidney transplant.)  CHOP refused to do the transplant because she was

After the mother went public on a support site, the story went viral.  In all fairness, we probably do not know the whole story.  But, in reading some articles, and comments, and lurking around on CHOP's Facebook page, it would appear that this kind of medical decision is not an isolated instance.  From what I can tell, CHOP is rethinking their processes, and are continuing dialog with little Mia's family.

Not that long ago I blogged about nostalgia not being all it's cracked up to be.  My father had epilepsy due to a brain injury he suffered in his service during World War II.  There was little nostalgia associated with the prejudice he suffered when he came back home.  In fact, in some states, I would not have been born because he might have been subject to involuntary sterilization.

So....in our modern day and age people with disabilities are still being denied medical care. Their lives just aren't as valuable as yours or mine.

So what will happen when my brother in law needs medical treatment? Thank heavens that day has not yet come. But will he be deemed worthy?  Until recently, insurance discrimination against people with autism was very much a problem, and it is only slowly being addressed by state laws prohibiting such discrimination.  Do we need legislation to prevent medical discrimination in care, too?

Some have written a lot more elegantly than me on the issue of the worthiness of Amelia to get this transplant.  I invite you, in particular, to read this.

If we say we value life, it has to be all life-not just the lives of the smart, the lives of the wealthy, the lives of the beautiful.  Our medical system is broken, for this and other reasons.  We all have stories to tell from our own experience. Medical bills we can't afford, insurance that won't pay, not having insurance and suffering the consequences.  And now....we'd better not be disabled, either.

We must fix it, for many reasons, including the most selfish reason of all.  One day that person being denied care may be - you.  Or me.

May Amelia's case have a good resolution.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Naked Building

How many stories are there in the Naked Building?

I don't know.  Probably not eight million. But I am sure there are thousands and I would like to share some of what I know.

It's a story of flood, of recovery, of loss of hope, of A Long Goodbye.  How the story will end we still don't know.

The Naked Building was built in 1942, during a time when the Triple Cities of New York were prosperous, with a booming economy.  This sturdy brick building, some 300,000 square feet,  was built by the military, and leased to General Electric.  When I moved to Westover (a neighborhood just to the west of Johnson City, NY) in the 1980's, General Electric was still operating in that sturdy brick building. But as the years passed, General Electric passed the business off to Martin-Marietta, who became Lockheed Martin.  Lockheed Martin sold that portion of their business to BAE Systems in 2000.  So for all this time, this has been a place of productivity and employment.

It was a good place to work, this industrial facility located in a residental/commercial neighborhood, and so it went until September 7, 2011.  After relentless rain due to Tropical Storm Lee BAE flooded.   What did those employees think when they left their building that night?  Did they dream they might never return?

For almost two months a recovery company and numbers of temps worked 24/7, under blazing generator-powered lights, but the building could not be put back together.  Many custom made machines lay in ruins. BAE couldn't risk another flood.  Maybe they know something about changing weather patterns....

The decision was made in November to abandon the building.  The BAE sign came off the front.  The parking lot stayed empty. A passerby walking down the public sidewalk could see into the building, see bare walls, stripped down to the metal studs, throughout the abandoned building.  It had become The Naked Building.  BAE promised to stay somewhere in the area and said they would make an announcement when they found a place to relocate to.  And then the building would be torn down.

But then an amazing thing happened at The Naked Building.  One day, a delivery man was parked near one of the entrances, wheeling in cases of soda.

Employees started coming back.  Certainly not the 1300 of before the flood-maybe more like 150 or so.  But the parking lot next to the building held more cars each day.

What was happening?  This week, I found out.

The building will be abandoned by February 28.  A skeleton crew has returned, mainly to assist with clearing out anything that can be saved.  The air quality in the building (I am told) is terrible.  It smells terrible inside. The floors are warped.  The manufacturing workers have been furloughed (i.e. are on unemployment) since the day of the flood.  I knew that administrative and some others had taken up temporary headquarters in a former IBM facility in Endicott (now called "Huron"), and I'm told things aren't all that great for them, either.  And yes, The Naked Building will be torn down.  The Long Goodbye is almost over.

Last week, the employees were told they would learn their fate "in three weeks".  I suppose that means we will all know in the next two weeks.  I'm still told BAE will "definitely" stay in our county - but where?

Or, when all is revealed, will we discover that our hopes were swept away with the flood?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Winter Wednesday-The 100th Birthday

Today, a woman I've known for some 40 years celebrated her 100th birthday.

I don't want to go into the cliches of "she was born when the Titanic was the greatest ship in the world.  She was a toddler when World War I began.  She's seen so much history...." because it's all true, but there is so much more to this woman.

She still lives at home, still cooks. still cleans.  She is very stooped over, so stooped over that she looks at the ground when she walks, and must use a cane.  Yet, her mind is sharp and her memory isn't impaired at all.  She is so feisty, and loving.  But don't get into an argument with her!

In November, family came together for a big celebration near New York City.  Her 99th birthday celebration was postponed three times due to inclement weather and they didn't want that to happen again for her 100th.  So they took no chances and had the "big" party right after Thanksgiving.(she also had a smaller gathering at another restaurant today, her actual birthday.)

So what does a 100th birthday look like?

This is the Irish neighborhood where the party took place. (a little ethnic fusion here).
And the inside of the pub.
After dinner, we walked around the neighborhood.  Here's a wall mural.
And some more ethnic fusion.

100 years of living and memory.  I hope to see her again in April.  What a fantawtic woman.  I hope know her for a long time.  And I hope that if I ever reach old age, I will have her health, and her attitude.

Happy birthday!!!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Happy National Peanut Butter Day

Did you know today is National Peanut Butter Day?  I found out on Twitter.

Next to chocolate, peanut butter has to be one of my favorite foods.

I love it in almost every form.  Peanut butter from the jar:  both creamy and chunky.  Pretzels stuffed with peanut butter.  Peanut butter sauces found in various cuisines.  And, a dish my spouse makes occasionally, which involves chicken kabobs marinated in a coconut milk/peanut butter mixture (with soy sauce, garlic and optional pepper sauce) for a couple of hours, and then grilled.

For some reason though, peanut butter reminds me of.. peanuts.  Peanuts remind me of.....Georgia.

Georgia reminds me of...Jimmy Carter.  And Jimmy Carter (the "peanut farmer President") reminds me of his home town of Plains.

When we visited Plains, GA a couple of years ago, we went into a store specializing in peanuts called Plain Peanuts.  As soon as we entered the store, we were offered samples of fried peanuts (yes, and they are good-I'm less crazy about boiled peanuts, though), peanut fudge and peanut brittle.

I don't remember if they had peanut butter but they had everything else Peanut.  We left with a large peanut purchase, gifts for folks back home.  Those people in Plains, GA are smart.

So in their honor, I will celebrate National Peanut Day with some Trader Joes Unsalted Peanut Butter Pretzels.   And maybe even have some peanut butter.

What is your favorite way to eat peanut butter?

Monday, January 23, 2012

The 800 and the Streak

On a warm January night (45 degrees!) I sit down to write the 800th post of my blog.

Happy 800 to me....when I look back at my early blogs, I see the progress I have made.

The blogging marathons I've participated in (four now, in the past year) have helped me develop the discipline of daily writing. (A life not full of caregiving an elderly person or caring for little children helps with the streak, too.)

I've blogged every day since late April of 2011, and I am going to have to make a decision pretty soon.

Do I want to keep the streak going?

Daily blogging, in a way, is like a treadmill.  You stay upright only as long as your legs keep moving.  If you stop moving, you slide off the mill and end up on the floor, on your butt.

If you slide off the mill, will you get up and get back on?

But on the other hand, do I have enough to talk about to keep going?

This is a "general purpose" blog.  If I go to a farmers' market, I blog about it.  If I see interesting wildflowers (well, not in January) I post pictures of them.  If I find an interesting fact about the Civil War, I talk about it.  If a madman guns down 13 people just blocks away from me, I write about it....in fact, that shooting, in April of 2009, led me to start the blog and is the subject of the first post.

One can even be cynical and say that if we had not had the flood in September that swept through my Triple Cities neighborhood (and many others) I might have not had as much material as I have been fortunate enough to find in the last 800 posts.  Truthfully, I would rather have a vibrant, thriving community than all that material. (and I "ain't done yet" with that material, sadly.)

I guess that is what has pleased me the most about the 800 and my streak.  This has become an Internet diary of the last (almost) three years of my life.  I hope one day I can look back.  Maybe I'll even have grandchildren who will read this blog one day. 

That's good reasons to keep up a streak, isn't it?

I just hope that Binghamton doesn't show up on CNN ever, ever again.

Why do you blog?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Civil War Sunday - Washington Roebling

What do Brooklyn, Brunswick, ME, Cincinnati, OH, Gettysburg, PA and the Civil War have in common?

The answer is, the Roebling family, a family responsible for some of the most historic bridges in this country.  One of their members, a civil engineer by the name of Washington Roebling, served in the Civil War.

Chances are, you may well have traveled over at least one bridge designed by the firm of  John A. Roebling's Sons.  These bridges include the Brooklyn Bridge, the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge (connecting Cincinnati, OH and Covington, KY) and the bridge above, the Brunswick Topsham Swinging Bridge over the Androscroggin River in Maine (photo above).

I have walked across both the Brooklyn Bridge and the Brunswick Topsham Swinging Bridge.  You couldn't ask for two totally different experiences.  The Brooklyn Bridge is traveled by thousands of people daily - by car, by foot, and by bicycle.  The scenery is breathtakingly urban, dominated by skyscrapers on both sides of the East River.  At the time the bridge was built, Brooklyn was a city separate from New York City.  (In some ways it still is-for example, still having its own library system.)

The bridge between Brunswick, ME (a college town I have blogged about before) and Topsham is a pedestrian only bridge.  Brunswick, ME has many connections to the Civil War, among them the fact that the book Uncle Tom's Cabin was written there and that General Joshua Chamberlain of Gettysburg fame also lived there for a time.

Washington Roebling served in various capacities as an engineer in the Civil War, including at the Battle of Gettysburg.  Stricken by the bends due to an accident during the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, he spent the last 40 plus years of his life as a physical invalid with a very active mind. Despite his disability, he outlived many people in his family and even ran the family business for a time when in his 80's.

If you've seen the Smithsonian rock and mineral collection at the Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, you can thank Washington Roebling for the beginnings of that collection.

When you think of engineers and the bridges that link our lives....think of the Roeblings.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Year of Gardening Interestingly

Winter has come to our upstate NY town, with a big (for this year, that is) 3 inch snowstorm in addition to the snow we picked up on Thursday.  I could sure use some more winters like this almost snow less one.  And now my hanging basket that had the black petunias in them this past summer, sleeps under a blanket of snow.

So it came to pass this week that a letter came from our community garden organization, with the annual registration form and a news update.
Our community garden has existed for many of the years we have lived in this community, but with the prospect of a regional farmers market being built a few hundred yards away, things are really taking off.  From a community garden of "do your own thing" some great (or not great, depending on your point of view) things are going to happen.

1.  Our community garden season will end September 16 this year.  In our zone 5 climate we would have a hopeful 4-5 more weeks of good gardening.  That will be used to plant a green manure crop, the first ever in the history of the community garden.

2.  The gardening committee is seriously thinking of going organic.  We are not  (I freely admit) organic in our garden plot:  we are guilty of an occasional use of chemical fertilizer (but we NEVER use synthetic sprays) They are thinking of a 3 year phase in period with an immediate ban on plastic mulches.  That is going to hurt us.  We do use plastic mulches for our tomatoes - the garden has a tremendous weed problem because people will buy a plot, plant it and then never be seen again - their plot grows up in weeds and the seeds spread easily.  But what has happened is that many people, apparently, are not cleaning up the mulches at the end of the season.

This year, the floods of September impacted a lot of people where they would not have had the time or mental energy to cope with closing out their gardens but apparently this has been happening in previous years, too.

The problem I see with the "all organic" is:  what exactly is organic?  Even some certifying organizations don't completely agree on what makes organic organic.  Well, the gardening committee is aware of that.  They are going to have some ground rules drawn up.  It will be interesting to see what the rules are.  And, they are going, at least, this year, to continue to allow synthetic row covers which we do use - extensively.

And last...and this may be a little controversal with some members - because of the increased visibility of the garden sites they are going to enforce weeding more strictly.  Not requiring every last one be pulled, but you have to keep them cut down.

That one is going to be interesting.

But what this all means is that our community garden is reaching maturity.  And because we are all members, we have the right to give feedback and work out the disagreements. 

This will be an interesting gardening year indeed.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Gronk of the Flood

What do a day care center, a dinosaur, and a flood in upstate NY have in common?  One heck of a story is what.

In 2009 I blogged about the hART of BC, an organization founded by the grandson of Johnny Hart, the  native of this area who created the comics BC and Wizard of Id.  Mason Mastroianni, the cartoonist grandson who took over the comic strips when John Hart died, planned to have styrofoam dinosaurs, in honor of BC's Gronk character, decorate downtown Binghamton, NY during the summer of 2010.  The dinosaurs would then be auctioned off, proceeds going to charity.

The Gronk dinosaurs did come to downtown Binghamton. but didn't stay long, the victim of vandals.

Eventually, they were auctioned off and I found two of them last year.

Meanwhile, one of them had an amazing journey through time...and flood

Mom's House, a wonderful and worthy organization, had been a recipient of one of the auctioned dinosaurs.  The dinosaur found a home in their Johnson City day care location (in a neighborhood bordering mine) but that location was flooded, up to their ceiling, in the floods of September 7 and 8 caused by Tropical Storm Lee.

A ditch in my neighborhood bore silent witness in November, filled with ruined children's toys possibly from a child care center on Oakdale Road, and possibly from Mom's House or local private houses.

But there is one happy ending to this story, as the Mom's House Gronk was found in their yard by a family living on Oakdale Road.  Returning to their home after a three month absence, they found Gronk.  Not knowing who it belonged to, the heavy dinosaur was decorated for Christmas.

One day, Mom's House volunteers saw the dinosaur and contacted the family.  The dinosaur was returned to Mom's House at the end of last year.

With luck, Mom's House will return to Johnson City in June.

Johnny Hart would have been proud.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

What's in a Typo?

Thank you to The Daily Retort for letting me know about the Kodak bankruptcy.

As Tor Constantino declares in his blog, the fact that Kodak left a very noticeable typo on their bankruptcy website spoke, in a way, to a total lack of detail.

At one time I would not have cared about a typo.  I remember, when I was young, that although I enjoyed writing, I detested any study of grammar or punctuation.  And, spelling was my weakest subject of all (next to math).  I came close to failing 10th grade English because I had a teacher who quizzed us weekly on spelling - and made those quizzes a large part of our grade.

(Yes, I'm grateful for spell check, but I know it has its limitations.  I'm also grateful my spouse is a much better speller than I am.  But I digress.)

Thanks to blogging, I've found that the art of communication depends a lot on the proper use of English.  No one is perfect, least of all me, but I do try to improve my writing.  My daily blogging is a type of self-discipline.  I've participated in several blog challenges.  I do it so I can constantly improve this art form I took up almost three years ago. I  hope I am succeeding.

So, a company that meant so much to me in my childhood - Kodak film, Kodak brownie cameras, Kodak paper, Kodak paper...that Kodak quality...all gone.  It wasn't in a flash (oooh, bad pun) and wasn't unexpected, but it still makes me sad.  Another part of my long ago childhood, gone.

Speaking of that typo - I went to the website Tor quoted - went there at 9pm tonight, over 5 hours after Tor posted, and the typo Tor found IS STILL THERE.  So if you hurry, maybe you'll see it, too.

I will take that lesson to heart. We must always strive for quality in our writing, and in our lives.

Thank you, Tor.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Winter Wednesday-The Placid Stream

The  Internet community has blacked out to protest SOPA and to show what censorship looks like.

And with that, I would like to tell a true little story about small things.

Once upon a time there was a little creek in upstate New York.

On a late peaceful Sunday afternoon, near sunset, it looked serene, as the winter cold was starting to freeze it over (finally).
A few hundred yards away the creek meets up with the Susquehanna River.

Such a peaceful setting.   Nothing bad could ever happen in this picture, could it?

Well, one day in September, it started to rain.  Just a few harmless raindrops.  Few people paid attention.

But then the rain fell harder and faster.  A couple of days later, that placid stream was out of its banks and it and the Susquehanna River were pouring over flood walls and flowing down streets, a force that could not be stopped until hours after the rain stopped.  Finally, the creek and the river finally went home.

They took houses, jobs, memories, businesses and dreams with them.

What did we in upstate New York learn?

Bad things start small, almost beneath notice. Then they build.  And if we are not on guard, they may sweep us away.

We must always our safeguard our freedom of expression. The Internet has become the oxygen of our world.  It must be safeguarded.   The Internet was born in freedom, which sometimes lets bad things thrive  But we can't destroy the freedom of the Internet to fight the bad guys.

There has to be another way.  And we have to find it.

But SOPA isn't it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Fool for Fazool

 On the eve of the global blackout to protest SOPA and PIPA, I am dreaming of a rainbow, of a world that is free.  I dream that we be free to eat what we want and free to post what we want and link to any site that we want.  (I will write more about that tomorrow in my Winter Wednesday feature.)  My hope is that we continue to  have choice, and that we continue to have the freedom of the Internet that has brought me the ability to interact through blogging with people from all over the world.

I invite you to learn more about SOPA and PIPA and the threat that they pose to sites like You Tube, Wikipedia, Reddit and more.

I rarely get political in my blogs, so I will now return to my normal programming....

One of the wonderful things about gardening is being able to control the vegetables you eat.  To be healthy, to buy local if you can't grow your own.  I don't do much gardening any more and my spouse now does the heavy lifting.  I thank him.

No longer at the mercy of the supermarket, the gardener is free to indulge the imagination.

Do you think tomatoes must be red?  That potatoes must have brown skins?  That peppers must be shaped like bells?  That dried beans must be one of the small number of varieties carried by your local market?

What you see above is a little sampler of the carrots my spouse grew in his community garden this year.

There is a very simple Italian soup dish called pasta fagioli, which is pronounced like "fazool".  The rainbow of carrots would have gone very nicely in this dish, but we saved it for a different meal.

The major ingredients in pasta fagioli are pasta and beans.  We used to grow dried beans in our garden, but no longer do.  We bought these canary beans in the Grand Mart food store in Centreville, Virginia.

The green onion would have been homegrown in season but, alas, it is winter.

The pasta is a pumpkin shape that we also bought in Centreville.  My spouse's fagiolis are less soup and more like stew, but you can add more liquid if you would like.

I am no food photographer, but this simple meal was delicious.

I invite you to try a "fazool" the next time you are wondering what to make for dinner.

And I invite you to browse the Internet tomorrow, January 18, and join the Internet Blackout.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Goodbye Boeing

Some 35 years ago, I lived in Wichita, Kansas with my spouse due to his job.  We lived there about 4 years, and for this native of New York City, it was a unique experience indeed.  I enjoyed Wichita in many ways (although this was during the era of the BTK Strangler, as we called him then) and in some ways was sorry to leave.

After we moved to Binghamton, we saw IBM (the "king" of industry when we came here) go downhill.  We saw many people we knew laid off, scrambling to find jobs in other industries.  Many never enjoyed the prosperity of their IBM jobs ever again.  Their lives turned out totally different (and sometimes better, I have to admit). 

Wichita called itself the Air Capital of the World for good reason.  There were three major aircraft companies located in Wichita at the time we lived there:  Cessna, Beechcraft, and the largest one - Boeing.  These companies were to Wichita as Endicott-Johnson Shoes, and later, IBM, were to the Binghamton, NY area.  People strove to work for the aircraft companies.  At my job in Wichita (not aircraft related), almost every spouse worked for an aircraft company. The aviation industry ruled this city of about 280,000.

No, the Wichita I knew was not a dusty cowtown inhabited by tumbleweeds.  It had a wonderful River Festival every May.  It had a lot of green trees, a wonderful bicycle path along the Arkansas River, the Mid-America All Indian Center,  a historical Wicihta recreation called Cowtown, and was a good place to raise a family. (At one point in time, I lived on the edge of downtown, and was able to walk to work for one of the few times in my life.)  But the summers could be wicked hot, and after the summer of 1980, it was time for a change.

Times do change.  And now Boeing is leaving Wichita for good.

When I read about this in early January, it brought back a lot of memories.  One may wonder why I would care about a city that I have not set foot in for almost 30 years and....well, I knew some of their employees socially.  I wonder how many of those people were there at the end.  I was shocked to find out that only about 2100 people were still working for Boeing Wichita plant.  My memory may be vague, but I think there were some 15,000. people working there when I lived in Wichita.

If your grandparents fought in World War II, it is possible they flew in an aircraft made in Wichita.  Your parents may have flown in a passenger plane made in Wichita.

It's the American story, repeated so many times....and it does make me sad.

I don't know if I will ever have the chance to visit Wichita again.  If I do....it will be a very different place. In more ways than one.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Garden Bloggers Blooom Day - January 2012-Suddenly Winter

It's the 15th of the month again - it's time for my virtual gardening fix.  Here in upstate New York, it is winter, and any gardening has to be indoor.

Thank you once again, May Dream Gardens, for sponsoring this Garden Bloggers Bloom Day.

Today, it was sunny, and got up to 17 degrees F. (-8 C, for most everyone else in the world). Right now, around sunset, it is 13 F (-10 C).  We have about an inch of snow on the ground after an unbelievable extended period without snow.  We live on the edge of the "snowbelt", and this may well become a record breaker year without snow. 

But, with the snow, this is what my yard looks like.

Here's an overview of my back hard, with the black structure being our compost bin.  In the foreground, is a large variegated green and white grass that does well in the part shade conditions.

With not much of a yard, we attempt to grow some trees in pots.

More pots in our front yard.

Here's a better view of the ornamental grass.

And, our Lenten Rose plant.

It's so hard to believe that on New Years Eve things were so different.  Our flowering cabbage, grown in a pot, was still thriving.  Now, it's dead and dropping.
And we even still had parsley. (That's deceased, too.)
As far as my indoor ventures, I have two amaryllis plants, neither of which are blooming for some reason.  And, my African Violets are between blooms.  They are starting to send up a couple of flower buds, so perhaps by February I will have something to report.

But one thing I will not be reporting is on paperwhites.  After my experiment last year, I am not trying to grow them this year - apparently I am part of approximately 25% of the population who finds their scent less than appealing. 

Which makes me wonder - am I the only Garden Bloggers Bloom Day participant who can't stand the scent of paperwhites? (I have the same problem with the scent of some-not all-lillies).

Happy GBBD to all and see you in February.

Civil War Sunday - The H.L. Hunley Rises Again (Sort of)

The first time I learned about the Confederate submarine CSS H.L Hunley, I was at a Civil War reenactment near Binghamton, NY.

There was an exhibit showcasing the naval aspect of the Civil War:  one that is overlooked by so many student of the Civil War, who concentrate on the land battles and the soldiers and civilians caught up in the conflict.  I was intrigued, and hoped to visit Charleston, SC one day to see it (more on that later in this post).

I'm guilty of ignoring the naval war, too.  Although, I blogged previously about the ironclad USS Monitor, which was built (in part) from wood obtained just a few miles from my home near Johnson City, NY. (If you've read that post - No, I've never solved the mystery of what happened to the Monitor marker that was once located inside the Oakdale Mall in Johnson City.)  When I grew up, every school child learned about the battle of the "Monitor vs the Merrimack" (the Battle of Hampton Roads) and the end of the wooden ship era.

The H.L. Hunley, though, was a submarine: and many of us just don't associate submarines with the Civil War.  It was a "secret weaon" of the Confederacy - its existence shrouded in secrecy, a submarine that performed one mission sucessfully, and then sank several minutes later, taking its entire crew to a watery grave.

For years, people searched unsucessfully for it - P.T. Barnum even offered a reward for its recovery.  It was finally found in 1995 and the crew buried in 2004 (in what is called the Last Civil War burial.) Since 2000, people have been working on its restoration in North Charleston, SC.

A major landmark (so to speak) was reached in its restoration this past week when a truss keeping the Hunley stable was finally able to be removed.  The sub can now be viewed (in its restoration tank) without the obstruction of the truss.

As for me trying to see the Hunley-spouse and I made it to Charleston last year, but when we tried to visit the Hunley, we got hopelessly lost.  (We ended up at a Civil War reenactment instead, which I will blog about one of these days.)  So, maybe getting lost was for the best.

I hope we will return to Charleston before too long, so we can finally view the H.L. Hunley.  Good things come to those who wait....

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Rainbow of a Winter Farmers Market

How do you bring people to an upstate NY small city downtown on a winter Saturday morning?

Simple.  Host an indoor farmers market with easy parking.  And just stand back.

There has obviously been a hunger for year round interaction with farmers here in the Binghamton, NY area.  Today spouse and I made our second visit to the Binghamton winter farmers market, which is taking place Friday evenings the first Friday of the month, and the second and fourth Saturdays.

This brings needed foot traffic to the downtown of our small city of some 47,000. people.  Will these people shop elsewhere downtown?  It's hard to say - there are only limited Saturday shopping venues downtown, but I am hoping that some small businesses, such as the local downtown nut roaster M&D R Nuts, will benefit from the increased visitors.

What do you find in a winter farmers market in upstate NY?  The criteria is that everything sold must be raised, grown or crafted in New York State. That includes alpaca wool....

whole grain English muffins....(we bought the multi grain: they were already out of our favorite, cheddar....)

honey....(this vendor was also selling stewing hens for $2.50 lb, and we picked one up.  We used to raise our own chickens years back, and look forward to the golden goodness of a free range chicken soup.)

Apples, herbal products, and more meats....
....and more wool.
Another vendor was selling brussels sprouts on the stem, and a "winter root mix" of carrots and some other goodies.

I saw some gloves at one of the alpaca booths, and stopped by.  I asked the proprietor if she made fingerless gloves.  I don't want them for texting but rather because I have a medical condition that makes my hands (and feet) red/purple and cold all the time.  Winter can be hard on me, especially if the heat in my office isn't working right.  Well, she didn't have any in stock but she could make them from her stock of fingered gloves (she uses them herself).  She asked me to choose a color, and I chose a nice turquoise.

I should have them in another week and then:  winter, watch out - with my white/red coat, I'll be wearing a rainbow!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Suddenly Winter! Garden Dream Time

After a wonderful almost snow free November, December, and first 12 days of January....winter has arrived here on the edge of the snowbelt in the Binghamton, New York area.

Blame it on Friday the 13th?

It arrived with a bang of high winds.  In a matter of minutes, pouring down rain turned into a snowglobe effect, with huge snowflakes swirling through the air although it was still 39 degrees F outside.

Fortunately, it was still above freezing when I left for work.

Right now it is 24 degrees F (colder at our airport, where temperatures are taken).  But we have a secondary cold front coming through tomorrow.  By tomorrow night it is supposed to be down in the single digits. (On the Farenheit scale we use in the U.S., single digits are brrrrrr as the freezing point is 32 above zero.)

So I am counting the days to Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, when I can virtually visit gardens in places where it is actually - summer!

Until then, as the snow starts to accumulate, I will live in my garden catalogs and dream.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Fried Blue Tomatoes?

One of the pleasures of the winter "hot stove gardening season" here in upstate New York is gathering all of your gardening catalogs together to decide what we will be ordering.

This year (actually, back in December) the Territorial Seed Company catalog arrived in our mailbox.  Considering that we've been gardening since the 1970's, and have explored a lot of catalogs, we've never looked at Territorial's catalog before.

We've always loved the unusual - we grew purple potatoes and beans back in the 1970's, for example, when only a handful of seed catalogs offered them.  Not content with red watermelon, we quickly gravitated to yellow.  White carrots?  Sure.  Rainbow chard?  Of course.

But....blue tomatoes?

That's one of the varieties Territorial is offering.  Or, to be exact, Indigo Rose tomatoes.

This tomato is said to have an indigo "almost blue" skin with high amounts of anthocyanin, a naturally occurring pigment that is being investigated for various healthful qualities. 

Am I ready for a blue tomato?  I've had white tomatoes, green (ripe green, that is) tomatoes, striped tomatoes, fuzzy tomatoes (Garden Peach), and even brown tomatoes.

So, why should blue tomatoes give me just a little pause?

After all, I eat blueberries, and eggplant.  And, as my regular readers know, I even grew black petunias this summer.

For right now, these are going on our "maybe list". 

What else is on our list for the 2012 gardening season?  I'll write about that later this month.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Winter Wednesday-Birds Nests and Bare Trees

I'm sure glad I didn't promise to feature lots of snow pictures in my Winter Wednesday feature.  Because, here on the edge of the snowbelt of upstate New York, in the northern United States....we still have no snow on the ground.

January 11.  I repeat that to myself, over and over. 

And today was sunny and 46 degrees.  Although, it was colder for a while last week, and is supposed to get cold again tomorrow.  So we could get snow.  I know we will eventually.

So, to celebrate a once-rare warm, sunny day (the two do not normally go together) I'd like to talk a little about bare trees.

When I was in high school, one of my teachers asked us to take special note of trees when the leaves are off.  "You'll see so much if you just look", the teacher said.

Ever since, I've always been fascinated by trees during their sleeping season.  The teacher is right:  you see so much.  Like, in the early spring, you see the sap rising.  You can tell by the color of the upper branches, which seem to glow.  And then, the trees start to flower.  Unlike ornamentals, your average oak or maple tree has a very small flower.  But they are large enough to make the upper branches glow once again.

I love that glow (especially the red glow) because it means that spring has arrived.  It's so pretty against a blue sky.

But what about the early winter?  What will bare trees show you then?  Well, one of the things you will see is....birds nests.  And maybe other objects of nature.

I am not enough of a birder to know what kind of nests these are but, on a walk on the Vestal Rail Trail, I saw some interesting objects up in the branches.  (these pictures were not taken today, but the sky looked very much like that today.)
This looks like several.  I assume these are nests - I find it difficult to use binoculars so I can not be 100% sure.  But that is my assumption.

Finally, something right out there on the edge.

If anyone has a guess as to what I took pictures of, I'd love to hear from you.

What do you love the most about bare trees in winter?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Nostalgia Ain't What It's Cracked Up to Be

Pining for the "good old days" is probably as old as humanity is.  But today, we have electronic ways of expressing it - especially, for the last 15 years or so - email.

Anyone over the age of - oh, 45 or so - has gotten these emails. You know "those emails": the emails full of photos of Howdy Doody and church keys and reminiscences of old black and white TV show.  Memories of idyllic childhood straight out of Dick and Jane books try to get you to pine for the "good old days".

Yeah, right.  And that is because there is no such thing as the 'good old days".  Never has been.

If yoiu, gentle reader, are in your 20's and 30's, just wait....in about 20 or so years that nostalgia mosquito is going to bite you.  One day you'll find yourself frustrated with technology that your 10 year old child uses effortlessly.  Or you'll suddenly realize that TV shows (if they even have TV in 20 years) just aren't made the way they used to be.

That "my childhood is a museum" feeling that I used to get talking to my son will be your feeling, too.

And the thing is:  "those days" weren't ideal.   Not everything was great.  Not everything has gone downhill.

So exactly what it is about the "good old days" that I don't miss? . For my younger readers: you get one point for every item where you actually knew what I was talking about without using the link.  Ready?  Let's go!

1.  Coke-bottle eyeglasses.  If you wear glasses and have poor vision (like me) I am thankful daily for ultra light lenses that don't leave permanent sores on your nose and your ears.  And which don't break because the lenses were made of glass.

2. Typewriters.  I learned to type on a manual typewriter in Mrs. Gottlieb's 7th grade typing class.  Mrs. Gottlieb was the most feared teacher in my school.  She put tape on all the keys so you couldn't cheat and find the correct key by glancing down.   Typewriters?  Well, if you didn't have one, you'd have to pay someone to type your term papers.  It was a complex process:  inserting paper into a roller, rolling it into position, setting the margins, typing, and when you heard a bell, you knew you were about 5 spaces from the end.  Time to hypehenate, then return the carriage to where it started, and type your next sentence.

3.  Carbon Paper.   And  onionskin.
If you needed copies, you just didn't tell your word processing software to print multiple copies.  You took special paper, and inserted carbon paper between each sheet - and heaven help you if you made a typo and had to correct all of those pages.  That was an art form in itself.

4.  Old fashioned medicine.  I'm probably going to get an earful about this.  But, let's put it this way.  I have a medical condition, easily treated today for many people with diet, exercise and medication.  My grandmother died from the same condition in 1927 because there was no treatment.  Things wouldn't have been much better in the 1950's.

Modern medicine has a lot of problems, no doubt about it.  But enough of us are walking around right now who may not be on this earth if we hadn't expanded on the medical knowledge of the 1950's.

5.  Pup tents.  My first camping adventure was in a small canvas tent borrowed from a fellow college student.   Guess what.  It rained. Do you know what happens when it is raining and you touch the walls of your canvas pup tent, which, from the weight of the water, has sagged so the entire tent is inches away from you?  What happens is that you spend the rest of the stormy evening in the ladies rest room of the campground.  Which, in this case at least, wasn't a latrine.  Give me a modern tent made of synthetic materials any day.

You'll notice I am talking about technology and not culture, not people's attitudes.  There's enough material there for another blog post.

Do you feel nostalgic for your childhood or teenage years?  What don't you miss about it?

Monday, January 9, 2012

When will We See Our First Robins?

To so many people, a sure sign of spring is sighting the first robin.

The owner of a business that I friended on Facebook (and I highly recommend them if you like B&B's and are visiting the Americus, GA area) posted yesterday that she had seen her first robin.  (she posted a picture, too.)

Granted, Americus gets spring weather....oh, at least 6 weeks (probably more) before we do.  But this is January.  Does this mean an early spring?

After some research, I would say....probably not.

I was delighted to find a number of websites devoted to robin migration.  While some birds migrate driven by day length, for robins it seems to be a complicated combination of average temperature and availability of food.  And one thing the east coast has been lacking....record breaking lacking...is snow.

Not only that, some robins don't migrate.  They tough out the northern winter.  I never knew this.  I don't think I've ever seen a winter robin. But in this strangest of all winter years, who knows.

Just the thought of robins makes me long for spring.

One thing I love about spring is the birdsong. At this time of year bird song is almost totally lacking.  Just the thought of early robins is enough to get my spring-loving heart pounding.  After all, an integral part of the frenzied dawn concerts our feathered friends provide in the spring is the song of the robin - many times starting the concert off before dawn.

It makes me want to count the days before I hear the concert for the first time.

Has anyone else seen robins this winter?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Civil War Sunday-The Photo in the Flooded Museum

Today is the 4 month anniversary of the flooding (due to Tropical Storm Lee) of Owego, NY.  In Owego is the Tioga County Historical Museum.  Within that museum is a treasure - an original Mathew Brady photograph of Abraham Lincoln.

When we took a photo of this on December 17, this photo was hanging in the basement, again open after flood renovation.  It was there with some office equipment - no exhibits.  My spouse spotted it and we stared at it in amazement - as you can see from our reflections in the bottom of the photo.

You will see color in this:  this was colorized in some manner - in my eagerness to view the holiday exhibits in the museum, I never read the explanation! (Shame, shame, shame on me.)

I missed a 2010 exhibits at this museum which included a number of Brady photographs.  But this particular one was in permanent exhibit in the lower level, which flooded.  The museum lost a lot of their exhibits, as they had to triage the exhibits for restoration.  I hope this will be exhibited in an area of the building less prone to flooding,when the museum is fully restored.

But getting back to this picture.

This is called a "Zouave Lincoln" portrait.  So, who or what are the Zouaves?

They were originally North African (Algerian, to be exact)  troops that served in the French army in the 1830's-noted for their colorful uniforms.  The "craze", if you could call it that, spread to the United States. There were Zouarve units in the Civil War,(although I think that mainly was in the 1861 period), consisting of various volunteer regiments.  There was at least one new York Zouave regiment.

Lincoln is not wearing the Zouave. So I am curious as to why this is called a "Zouave Lincoln". There was a little plaque below the photo but I must admit I did not read it.

If anyone knows the story of this photo, I would love hearing about it.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Everything Will Be All Right

Today, during our most unusual of winters, it dawned snow less and reached 49 degrees.  A pleasant day-we joined throngs of people exercise walking on the Vestal Rail Trail.

Four months ago today, it was so different.  The day dawned with expectations of heavy rain - perhaps 3 inches.  Instead, the rain came and came and came.  Flash flooding started.  On September 8, we recorded 7.49 inches of rain.  Historic flooding then hit, and my blog became one of too many stories of flood recovery mixed with my attempt to record what was happening in my little world.  My spouse and I were relatively lucky.  Many in our neighborhood and area were not.

We ended the year 2011 with an official rainfall total of 68.05 inches - the record, in 2006 (when we also had flooding - but just a fraction of this time) was 49.78 inches.

So how are we doing here in the Binghamton area with our recovery?  I want to share some neighborhood pictures with you, some taken today, some earlier.  It's been a hard road, and many have suffered.  But others have gotten employment from the clean up and the rebuilding.

But to give you some perspective - Tioga County, the county next to ours, lifted its state of emergency - this week.

One of the most hard hit areas of my neighborhood was a street called Endwell Street and the neighboring Oakdale Road. A business owner, at the corner of Endwell Street and Oakdale Road, put up the "Everything Will Be All Right" sign shortly after the flood, and it still stands.  Next to this building, immediately after the flood, was a tent manned by volunteers, serving neighborhood people meals.  The Red Cross helped out, as did the Salvation Army.

Feet from that building, one of my neighbors had to be deep water rescued attempting to evacuate when the floods hit.
This picture, taken in early December on Oakdale Road, shows a fraction of the rubble that had to be carted away.  These apartment houses had to be gutted.  I don't know if they will ever be reoccupied.

A few blocks away, work progressed today on the flood recovery of Ollies, a store that opened just a month  before the flood.
On another local street, a new foundation has been installed in this apartment building.  The power of water is incredible.Some condemned buildings were practically knocked off their foundations. 

But the most powerful sign of hope in our neighborhood is....the local YMCA.
Our local Y has been through the flood and flames.  Not only were they hit by the flood but, in the midst of their recovery there was a fire that put them even further behind.  But they make progress daily.

Local businesses continue to reopen.  Some, however, never will.  This property (photo taken in early November)  is up for sale.
So, life goes on.  I spent some time today reading my blog posts from immediately after the flood.  So much has happened.  And I'm glad I had this blog to record it in.

But finally, what about Endwell Street?  Sadly, most of it will never be occupied.  There will eventually be a buyout and the vacant houses will be torn down.  For now, they stand as a symbol of....well, those former residents are truly the ones who will have to tell you that.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Gimme Farmers' Market

Gimme Farmers Market!

Earlier this week, I blogged about the upcoming Binghamton, New York downtown farmers market.  Tonight was the night.  It's been four months since we went to First Friday - four months and a world away, as I'll explain more about tomorrow.

It was small but busy.  In fact, one of the vendors, Gimme Cookie, was already sold out of the English Muffins we love.  There were two other bakers, but no other English Muffins.

The most intriguing item?  Something we didn't buy because we didn't need it but - a first for any farmers market we have been to - cold pressed organic sunflower oil. 

We brought home:  2 garlic bulbs, a loaf of whole wheat bread baked in nearby Endicott, an energy bar, and a 2 lb bag of polenta "fresh ground from organic NY grains". (NOFA-NY Certified) from the same booth selling the sunflower oil.  This booth also had several varieties of organic beans in 2 lb bags but we are pretty stocked up on beans, too.  They were also selling lavender flavored cheese, which we will have to investigate another time.

In the meat department, one booth was selling goat meat, another free range Cornish game hens.

The friendly woman who sells honey to my walking companion was doing a brisk business at her honey booth. (we bought the garlic from her.).  I was tempted by a small bottle of autumn "bamboo" honey.  It was darkish, which I like, but bamboo doesn't generally grow around here.  The booth was too busy to really have a conversation with her.

Maybe next month.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Trader Joes Dilemma

We have been fans of Trader Joe's for years.  For those who have never been in one, Trader Joes is a specialty "local" grocery store chain specializing in low cost but high quality natural and organic foods:  everything from specialty breads, to cheese, to frozen entrees, to fresh vegetables, to (where permitted by law) low cost but quite acceptable beer and wine.

It is always best to buy directly from the food or beverage producer at a Farmers Market or similar venue, but if you can't, I feel Trader Joes is a good option. I personally don't think fresh produce or meat is a strength of theirs:  but if you want inexpensive organic mustard, or wonderful jarred tomato sauces, Indian foods, nuts, fruit juices, or all kinds of organic canned beans, they are your best bet.

We have been hoping against hope that Trader Joes would come to the Binghamton, New York area.  Right now, there isn't a Trader Joes- no, not one - anywhere in upstate New York.  Our nearest Trader Joes is in Westchestser County, just to the north of New York City - or, Danbury, CT. Both of these options are about a three hour drive from us.

Now, Trader Joes is going to open its first upstate NY store - in Rochester. (alas about 2 1/2 hours away from here.)

It will be opening near a Wegmans, a native-Rochester supermarket chain that also does a lot of buying from local farmers during our growing season, and also has a pretty decent "Nature's Marketplace".

This is nice for the people of Rochester, and I will be especially interested in seeing how they compete against Wegmans.

I still would like them to come to Binghamton - except I have a little dilemma about this.

We've been to several Trader Joes:  besides Westchester County, NY and Danbury, CT, we've been to stores in New York City (right near the site of an awesome farmers market in the summer), a suburb of Atlanta, Centerville, VA, and Portland, Maine.  For all the good things they sell - and their very friendly staffs - I haven't seen much evidence that they support local farmers in the fresh foods/breads/cheeses they do sell.  Whereas, local health food stores often do support local growers.

This may not be fair - they do have to maintain a certain amount of volume.  But perhaps they could feature some local foods in a "limited time only -speciality" area.

So, should I be waiting with eagerness for them to come to Binghamton?

I think so. As much as I like to have local health food stores, our area needs a low cost alternative very badly. And, I hope that Rochester is just the beginning - that they will be opening additional stores in upstate NY.

Hence, the dilemma.  Local and more expensive?  Or nationwide and cheaper?

I hate those choices.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Winter Wednesday-All Was Green on New Years Eve

This is the last blog post I ever would have expected to write in early winter here near Binghamton, in upstate New York.

In years past, when my son was younger, we sometimes went to go to First Night on New Years Eve. It was usually very cold (sometimes near zero), and there was always snow on the ground.  It was an effort to go from one venue to the other, braving the weather, but we and others did it.

And see any green other than Christmas decorations?  See anything growing?  Perish the thought!  No, winter was here.  And it would stay for another three to four months, here on the edge of the snowbelt.

Well, this year has featured the strangest winter in my 25 years or so living here.  And it isn't just us.
(For the record, Binghamton's snow is measured at the airport, which is up on a high hill, so we have had maybe 3 inches of snow, total, at our house.  But, we still normally get a lot of snow.)

So what did we do on New Years Eve this year?  Bundle up and brave the chill?  Well, not exactly.

It touched 50, and we took a walk on the Vestal Rail Trail.

There were still some stray flowers on the witch hazel bushes at the west end.  And on our walk, what did we see, but....a mullein plant!???

Back at the house, there was a dandelion flower starting to open in our front yard!

Inspired, I went into my back yard and....
...all my primroses were still quite green.  Will they think they are in Seattle and bloom in February?

We still have parsley in a pot, too.
Well, after the New Year, it did turn chilly.  Today it was 7 above when I went to work. (At the airport, it was 2 above).  Yesterday, we got a dusting of snow.  Today, it was still sticking to the grass, but gone from the sidewalk.

But....how long will this continue?

Not that I'm complaining.  But I can't shake the feeling that Nature will have its revenge...and we will pay for this.  I'm not just whistling in the wind (so to speak) - the ecology here does depend on snow.  It will be interesting to see what happens this coming spring and summer, if this weather pattern continues.

Are you having a strange winter too? (too wintery or not wintery enough?)  Or, in the Southern Hemisphere, summer?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Winter Farmers Market In Downtown Binghamton, New York

It's official!  A winter farmers market has come to downtown Binghamton, New York (indoors, of course-right now, for example, it is 9 above as I write this.)

The market will be open the first Friday of each month, as part of an existing event in downtown Binghamton called First Friday.  It will also be open two Saturdays a month during the morning.

Free parking, too!

To quote from their website,

"All products will be from NYS or made by the farmer.  Some items you could purchase are pea shoots, sunflower shoots, NYS/OG dried beans, pasta, sunflower oil, artisan cheeses, organic and grass fed beef, pork , chicken, rabbit, cheese, eggs, honey, maple syrup, dried herbs, fresh baked bread, salves/tinctures, jam, and much more!"

Another feature this Friday will be "special guest farm artisans".  I understand that, for example, there will be a demonstration of herbal infused oils.

This is the vendor selling jam.  I don't get much into jam but all of my homemade jam was thrown out after the flood so maybe I'll want to pick up a jar.

I'm excited.  I've seen almost all of these items (except for the sunflower oil - wonder how farmstead sunflower oil is made) at the summer market at Otsiningo Park.  My walking companion is pumped, too - she loves local honey and was going through withdrawal.

The only thing that may put a dent in this market is terrible weather and - the way this winter is shaping up - we won't have to worry too much about that.

Having a winter farmers market may just bring more people to downtown Binghamton and - with many of our farmers suffering from a too wet summer and our September 7-8 flooding, a chance to gain some much needed income.

Hope to see you there! (Hope to see me there, too!)

Monday, January 2, 2012

Support Local Food in 2012

At the beginning of the year, so many of us try to start over....try to improve ourselves.  We make resolutions.

I don't, at least not any more.  I just try to improve on what worked for us the previous year.

Now it is time for us to think of a "simpler time" (except it really wasn't, but that's a blog post for another day.) and a  meal my spouse recently cooked featuring local foods.  You don't have to have land - you can live in an urban area, which we do - you just need to love to cook and make the time for it.  I'm very fortunate to have a spouse who loves the kitchen.  And, we still have some produce from our summer community garden - and  some leftovers from the last farmers markets. 

We shop at farmers markets because we want to be able to interact with the food producers and support our local economy.  I will admit we do enough supermarket shopping - too much.  If I were still making resolutions, mine would be to increase my support of local farmers this coming year.

So, about that meal.....

The meat (we are meat eaters) was a locally farmed brisket of beef, slow cooked with onions from our garden.  We are fortunate, in our part of New York State, to be able to grow excellent keeper onions.  We are in a "long day" area (long summer sun) so "short day" varieties like Granex (the "Vidalias" grown in a specific part of Georgia) will not grow for us.  Our onions are sharp, good for cooking, and keep well.

One of the two vegetables were carrots, again from our garden, and stored. They were cooked and sweetened with local honey.

The other vegetable was potatoes, grated with (our) leeks and sauteed into potato pancakes.

Spouse took some Empires (a tart and good all purpose apple), and made it into a wonderful applesauce for the potato pancakes.  Apples are an integral part of upstate NY life and we are fortunate to live right in the midst of apple country.  As a result, we get local varieties, a number of which you can not find in the supermarket.

Some apples with good keeping qualities will keep a couple of months in the refrigerator or in a very cool place.
The wine was a - yes, upstate New York wine. Again, we are fortunate to live in wine country.  But more and more, local wines are being produced and in some farmers markets they are able to sell local wines.  If not, and you are a wine drinker, definitely check your local retailer.

You don't have to live in upstate NY to find good produce.  Many cities now have good farmers markets, and, wherever you live, you will find  good local fruits, veggies, and eve, n meats at those markets.  You may also find good baked goods. 

We have shopped in local farmers markets in Maine, in New York City, in Maryland, in Virginia, in Kansas, in Arkansas, in South Carolina, and in Vancouver, British Columbia (among other places).  Each time is an adventure, and we always learn something.

Learning and eating...what a wonderful way to spend time.

Support your local farmer in 2012!  And, if you haven't tried gardening before, and have the space, give it a shot. Even an Earthbox and six tomato plants will give you a harvest of taste you will never forget.

Your local economy and your taste buds will thank you.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Civil War Sunday - Happy New Year

Welcome to members of the Ultimate Blog Challenge, new and old.

I am in my late 50's, living in upstate New York in the United States, and I like to write about anything that strikes my interest.  I do not do this as a business, but because I enjoy writing.  I also enjoy photography, as you'll see from time to time.

This is my third time participating in this Challenge. On Sundays, I write a United States Civil War post. (I'm not a historian or a "buff"- just a person who likes to investigate the human side of the war.)

On Wednesdays, I have a Winter Wednesday feature, chronicalling this most strange of all winters in our area.

Every other day I write about-well, you'll have to visit daily to see.   Because my area, and my neighborhood, was damaged by flooding in early September, I write from time to time on the flood recovery.  Otherwise,there is no steady theme.  On the 15th of each month I participate in a Garden Bloggers Bloom Day.  And, I can not wait for spring.

Today, of course, is New Years Day so I was curious to see what happened 150 years ago today.  Next year will be the 150th anniversary of the implementation of the Emancipation Proclaimation. But what about 1862, the first New Years Day our divided country was at war with each other?

I found this item of interest - a scan of a diary page.  This is from the diary of a soldier from Delaware, Cyrus Forwood.  "Recieved our second requisition of clothing."  So ordinary.  But think about it....

Today, if the Civil War was being fought, the soldiers would be sending emails back and forth.  They would have Facebook pages.  They would be on Twitter.  (I can't believe they wouldn't be keeping electronic records.)  The battles would be carried on the evening news, the results known immediately.  Pundits on national channels (either pro Union or pro Confederacy) would debate the merits of every action of either President Lincoln or President Davis.  Each general would have his supporters.

But the soldiers would still need clothing.  And, they would still miss their families back home.

The Civil War was fought 150 years ago, and the soldier had only a couple of tools - the diary and the letters home.  The newspapers sent out reporters and battles (except for some few photographers) and camp life were drawn by artists for the people back home.  The clothes were wool and cotton, not synthetics that wouldn't get wet.  Shoes were a far cry from what our soldiers enjoy today.

It was such a different world, 150 years ago.

And I think that is why I am so attracted to it.  Not as a reinactor but...someone who wants to understand how we got to where we are today.

So I hope you will visit me again during this Challenge, and learn about the Civil War (and life in Upstate NY) along with me.

Again, welcome!