Saturday, April 30, 2011

Suddenly Spring

Only a week ago our trees were just budding out.  Forsythias were out, but winter was hanging on for dear life.  We were still having enough cloudy days with temperatures barely into the 50's.

There is a saying in my spouse's family that late Easters are always hot.  That wasn't the case here, but over the weekend, there was some kind of unseen alarm clock that must have gone off in the natural world.

Don't blink, Southern Tier, or you will miss spring!

We went downstate for three days and when we got back on Monday, the Bradford Pears were in bloom.  And now they are fading fast, along with the flowering cherries and some other flowering trees.  The magnolias are budding today;  by Monday they will probably be gone too.  The redbuds are coming out now along with some early azaleas.  Andromedas are still blooming but not for long.   Hey, what happened? 

Unfortunately, this is what happens when we have late springs.  We get the "everything at once" syndrome.  Green bomb.  Suddenly Spring.

Since my back went out again Thursday, I don't know if I will get any "action" shots to show you.  (and, I do mean "action".) 

This does make me long, in a way, for the springs of the south.

On March 21, we stayed in Mt. Airy, North Carolina and the Bradford Pears were in full bloom.

 On March 30, we stayed in Mt. Airy, North Carolina, and the Bradford Pears were in full bloom.

I don't wish for tornadoes but sometimes I wish we could have a spring like that.  The stately progression of one flowering tree after another.  And they even hang around for a while.

But don't get me wrong, I am enjoying every bit of it.  Spring is here, here, here, here!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Bring Me My Chariot of Fire.....

Oh, if only TV had been invented before 1509. And, the Internet.  And Facebook.  Just think.  Instead of having to watch "The Tudors"....

We could have seen the wedding of HenryVIII and Katherine of Aragon live.  And rerun.  And rerun.  And when he married Anne Boleyn someone would maybe have run videos of the weddings side by side.  The birth of his son?  Would Henry have had a Facebook page

Instead, I saw an event today whose broadcast would not have been possible the year I was born.

"In a sense every wedding is a royal wedding...." we were told today.

I got to see about 7 minutes of the royal wedding this morning, scurrying around to get ready for work.  I'm watching it now as a rerun on MSNBC.  With all the power Henry Tudor had at his fingertips, he never could have imagined this.

Instead, I imagine this as a sort-of live telecast of The Tudors.  The very existence of the Church of England that married William and Catherine was thanks to Henry and the inability of Katherine to produce a male heir.  And, even in a 2011 wedding, three reasons were cited for people to marry - the first being the production of children.

Oh Catherine.  Be grateful that you weren't used as a pawn to gain power by your family, as Anne Boleyn was.  And don't feel all that pressure to produce a male heir.  You won't end up in the Tower of London.

When I heard James Middleton give the Bible reading , (the part of the ceremony I saw live) I heard commentary that it didn't uset the translation of the King James Bible - considering that Prince Charles is Patron of the King James Bible Trust.  Hmmm?  Well, nowadays it would be only food for bloggers, not a trip to the chopping block for the offending party.  (it was disappointing in a way, given the 400 year history of the KJB.)

The  homily?   It was very thought provoking.  Especially if you think of Charles and Diana and what became of their marriage.

The special decorations of Westminister Abbey for the wedding?  Made me wish for a HDTV (still don't have one!)

Later in the ceremony I saw Elton John and his husband, singing "Jerusalem" with the crowd. Ever since I first heard that song in Chariots of Fire, it has given me chills to hear it.  I really can't explain why.

I send (over the Internet, this evening) Catherine wishes for a happy, long marriage. (Given William's love of the warrior life, I hope she keeps busy.)   I hope she doesn't suffer the fate of two other famous Catherines:  Katherine of Aragon (daughter of Queen Isabella of Spain) and Catherine Howard.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Useless in Savannah? Or, the Scent of Tobacco

The Daily Beast recently posted a listing of "20 Most Useless College Degrees."

One of the majors was Art, and an accompanying picture showed the campus of the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD).

If you ever visited downtown Savannah, GA, you wouldn't think an art college was useless, because...well, how do I put it...SCAD basically owns it.  And, however they have managed to do it, they have made a lot of money in the process.

Was it a bad thing?  From the point of view of this tourist, I don't think it was a bad thing at all.  SCAD has given back a lot to Savannah, including a lot of urban renewal.  (and, one of these days, I'll even post some of my Savannah photos.)  Their students provide downtown Savannah with a lot of vitality.  Binghamton could take a lesson from that. (we are trying, true, but still have a long way to go.  Still, if they want to study Savannah in depth, I volunteer to go.  Just not in July or August.  March 17 would be nice.

I tried to support SCAD, honest I did.  We went into one SCAD store hoping to buy a souvenir but found a lot of very pricey items for sale.  True, the items were high quality.  If I had the budget I definitely would have paid $15. for a bottle of tobacco scented hand cream.  Tobacco?  No, it didn't smell like cigarette smoke.  It smelled like tobacco flowers.  I had never smelled this fragrance, and I loved it.  Alas, I passed it up.
...Binghamton could learn a few lessons from Savannah and the role a college can play in the revitalization of a city's downtown.  And, who knows, maybe Binghamton will have a special scent too, one day.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Green and the Grey

The last couple of days. I got a break from the seemingly eternal winter-into-spring holding pattern we seem to be experiencing here in the southern tier of NY.  I was downstate, 40 miles north of NYC, and to my delight saw enkianthus, andromeda, forsythia (well we have forsythia blooming here too), plus the usual assortment of spring bulbs.  Magnolias were getting ready to pop.  There were also assorted flowering trees putting on a show.  I thought I even saw a weeping peach.

We heard spring peepers!   We saw the sun!

After a two day dose of green, we left, and after passing through Middletown, came back to the grey of the Catskills, which we must cross on the way home.  Fog, grey, drizzle.  At least, by the time we got home, it was close to 65 degrees.  There have been some rumbles of thunder tonight.  We are under a severe thunderstorm warning.

In a way, it's about time. (Hope I don't eat my words.)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Two Springs

My First spring, in mid to late March, was a celebration of all that southern weather could bring in coastal Charleston and Savannah.  Sunshine, warm breezes, blooming dogwoods and azaleas, late daffodils finishing up, early irises opening their flowers, the last of the camillias displaying their rose-like red and pink flowers, the first of the roses showing their buds, thunderstorms, green skies, hail, and torrential rains. (Thankfully for us, the tornadoes held off until we left.)

Now, here in the Southern Tier on Earth Day, the warm breezes are a mostly-distant memory. Here, in Second spring, spring fights for every toe hold, the occasional warm day competing with day after day of unrelenting clouds, chilling winds, with birds singing through it all.  The crocuses have finished.  In today's 30ish degree weather, the daffodils and early tulips nod in the cold breeze, with hyacinths almost ready to open their blossoms.  In our back yard, the Lenten Rose is in bloom and the bloodroot is showing its white flowers.  But I protest at having to enjoy them with a coat on.

Later today, it will be with a raincoat on, too.

On the other hand, I could be living in Fairbanks, Alaska, where the University weather station reports there is still 10 inches of snow on the ground.  Their mean snow melt date is April 22.  Last year the last snow melted on April 21.  Not this year.

Spring in Binghamton, please come!  Please tell me that when Nanticoke Gardens opens on Monday, that you will be ready for their plants.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Civil War Stamps and the Battles of (Manassas? Bull Run?)

I am not a stamp collector, but I did expect there to be an issue of Civil War stamps and I was not disappointed.

Concurrent with the April 12th sesquecentennial of the shelling of Ft. Sumter in Charleston Harbor, was the release of the first of several Civil War stamps.

I invite you to read the article posted about this is a very good one.

One thing I was struck by in the article was the mention of the "Battle of First Bull Run."  This battle was also known as First Manassas.  Bull Run (named after Bull Run Creek) was the name of the battle (actually there were two battles, about 13 months apart) as I learned it, growing up in the North.  First and Second Manassas are the title given by the descendents of the Confederates.  But interestingly, the National Park Service site (a U.S. National Park )is called Manassas National Battlefield Park.

In some ways our country is still divided, even to what we call some battles.  And when I travel in the South, it always strikes me when I see buildings proudly flying what we call the American flag.  And how many proud sons of the South serve in the U.S. Military. (when my spouse was in the military, I can tell you, a lot of his fellow soldiers were from the South.) but in other ways, the Civil War is still being fought at the same time.

Why would we care about First Manassas or First Bull Run, whatever you want to call it?  Because this was the battle (fought July 21, 1861) where both sides first truly realized that this war was not going away, that both sides were going to be into it for the long haul.  Many of the symbols we associate with the Civil War grew out of this battle.  The Union troops or Federals wearing blue, the Confederates wearing gray or butternut brown, the flag we know as the Confederate flag (there were several, and my favorite, the Stars and Bars, looked too much like a U.S. flag in the windless conditions of the battlefield that day)

No one could have seen what that long haul would cost.  Over 618,000 dead.  If you look at the population of our country in 1870 (39,800,000) it comes out to about 2% of the population.

We can only imagine how devastating this must have been, to both North and South, especially to the people of the South. (some may wonder, why is a Northerner being sympathetic to the South?  Keep in mind that they bore the brunt of the civilian casualties.  Maybe they "deserved" it but if they deserved it, that is a discussion for another day.) And while we are at it, let's remember some of the places that suffered greatly before and during the Civil War.  Bloody Kansas wasn't named Bloody Kansas for nothing. (and I did live in Kansas, earlier in life, for about 4 years).

Recently, Time Magazine ran an article on Why the U.S. is still fighting the Civil War.  The horror was so great that we blocked chunks of "why" out of our collective mind...and many people are still doing it.

Myself, I can identify with the Civil War so much....yet (as I've blogged before) I had no ancestors here at the time.

So, as part of my interest, I'm seriously thinking about visiting Manassas for the July 21st anniversary of First Manassas, First Bull Run or whatever you want to call it.   Depends on if I drive my spouse crazy with this outburst of history.

Virginia Tech Anniversary and the Civil War

Today is the 4th anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre. From one town impacted by a massacre in April to another, I remember this anniversary, just as I did when I passed the exit for Virginia Tech in my travels last month.  We had our anniversary recently, and we are trying to look ahead.

The Virginia Tech website looks ahead.  One feature on today's website was an article by someone attempting to save old battlefields from development.  Why should anyone care?  Because it is so important to know our heritage, both the good and the bad.   So sometimes it is good to look upon the past to learn lessons we can apply to the present.   And that is why the 150th anniversary of the Civil War is important to dwell upon.  Similar to the 1960's (the last "big" anniversary) we live in times full of change and uncertainty.  So it was in the 1860's too.   So it has been many times in our country's history. 

We have a lot to learn.  It is even instructive to delve into why we've forgotten so much.

I will be writing more on the Civil War (as promised), in the near future.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Should I Save the Date?

I had read about it....and now they have reached downtown Binghamton.

Major networks have reported about this.

Billboards have sprung up in many cities warning about it.

It is almost the day of judgment, and the announcement has reached downtown Binghamton.  Yes, the caravan of brightly painted RV's, announcing the end of the world on 5/21 of this year, has arrived.

About 10:30 this morning I was in a meeting, facing a window looking at a particular intersection, and I was amazed to see a fleet of what I thought were painted delivery vans (they were RV's) going down the street.  Their message?  The World was ending!  The date was May 21!  It wasn't going to be 2012 but 2011! The Bible guaranteed it!

At one point a woman exited one of the vehicles, took up residence in front of an office building, and started to hand out leaflets.

My spouse saw three of the vehicles in another part of the city later in the day.

Of course, only time will tell if this latest calculation is correct. But it would be a waste of time to point out all the other times people have been wrong about "the end".  After all, as investment companies like to say "Past performance is not indicative of future results." 

But interestingly....our local paper's website didn't have anything at all to say about the visit.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Crack Willows

I haven't indulged my FarmVille obsession on this blog for a few months.  So, today I'd like to speak about drug-addicted, wait.  There really is such a thing as Crack Willows, one of FarmVille's latest introduction.

Recently, FarmVille has permitted us to operate farms in England (FarmVille English Countryside).  We travel to and from our English farms on a motorized dirigible...sort of a steampunk-like touch, perhaps.  A number of English-like items have been introduced, such as Dexter cows, Sebright chickens (I almost purchased one in real life, regret that I never did), Modern Game Hens and now....crack willows.

Crack willows are so named because of their tendency to have branches separate from the main tree with a distinct cracking sound.  Such branches will travel down rivers and then easily root out and take root sometimes miles from where they started.  They root so easily that in our country, they are considered invasive.  

They even form hybrids with native willows.

They are all over NY State and a number of other states.  They are European in origin but I guess I've seen them everywhere and not even known about them.

Until FarmVille, I never even heard of them.

So who says playing computer games isn't educational.  And seriously, invasive plants are a serious matter.  Who knows, perhaps FarmVille can help us become educated to some of them.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Civil War - Ft. Sumter

I was not able to make the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, at Ft. Sumter, in Charleston Harbor.  But, I did visit Charleston in March and I must say that Charleston must have more history per square inch than almost any other city in the United States.

 As a "Yankee", it is also fascinating to me to see "the other side".

If I had made it, there would have been so much to see and experience.

But in another way, it was good that we were able to experience a lot of downtown Charleston instead of chasing around various Civil War venues.

On a building downtown is this plaque.  The actual building is no longer there but at this site the Ordinance of Secession  for South Carolina was passed.  South Carolina was the first state to leave the Union, in December of 1860.

Over the next four months, a crisis built at a fort in Charleston Harbor, Ft. Sumter.  Actually, not too much of Ft. Sumter from the Civil War exists; much of what is on the site now dates from the Spanish-American War.  Nevertheless, there is a lot to see.

This first picture is the boarding of the ferry that takes you to Ft. Sumter.  The ferry ride lasts about 1/2 hour each way and you have an hour or so to tour the fort.  Boarding, we had a good view of the lovely Ravenel Bridge that spans the Cooper River.  Charleston lies between two rivers, the Ashley and the Cooper.

A taped narrative plays as the ferry approaches the island Ft. Sumter is located on.

When you embark at the Fort, what you see remaining of the Civil War fought looks like this.  It is amazing, given the bombardment this fort suffered, that any of it is still standing.

Inside one of the Spanish-American War buildings, is a museum where the Ft. Sumter Flag is on display....battered but in a place of honor.  There are 33 stars (states) on this flag. (It wasn't until later that I was told that flash photography can damage old cloth...but there was no sign prohibiting flash photography that I saw.  After the fort was surrendered to the Confederacy the union Major kept the flag.  This flag traveled throughout the North and was "auctioned off" to raise funds for the war.

On the way back, you can see the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, that is on display in Patriots Point in Charleston Harbor.
In a way it's good that we visited before the crush of people coming to commemorate the anniversary.

We enjoyed our visit very much but wish we had had more time to explore.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

More on Charleston Rice

It is amazing how our recent trip to the Low Country turned into a combination of enjoying the spring flowers and finding all sorts of local food to take home.  The other day, we turned to another burlap bag of local rice we brought home, Aromatic Brown Rice.

Spouse, our family cook, made a pilaf of it and declared the aroma was equal to that of basmati rice.  It cooked up nice and flavorful.  As we prefer whole grains in our diet, the fact that it was brown rice was a plus.

Now, rice pilaf (to the best of my knowledge) is not a staple of the Low Country.  The popular preparation for rice is Red Rice, which is basically rice cooked with bacon, tomatoes, onion, and pepper and some other ingredients.  However, I seem to have a problem with tomatoes at times, so we didn't try it that way.

We also bought a Charleston recipe book, and there is a Red Rice recipe in the book, so our next rice recipe should be out of that book.

I could write a month's worth of food posts related to the Low Country.  Some of the foods we enjoyed were flounder, she-crab soup, shrimp and grits (and salmon and grits-believe it or not, yummy).  Hush Puppies were popular, but were a bit on the sweet side.  Speaking of flounder, I didn't have the style most popular in Charleston - Crispy Flounder.  Crispy Flounder, as served in Charleston, is a whole flounder (minus the head), which is battered, scored, and fried.

Between dreaming of Charleston food and posting on the Civil War, I should be busy for a while.

Second Blog Anniversary - Thank you!

On this second anniversary of my blog, I am going to link to my very first blog entry, which was my "eyewitness" account of being out and about in downtown Binghamton while the "hostage" crisis (which turned out to be much, much worse) at the American Civic Association was taking place.

I'm glad this spurred me into starting this blog.  And I'm glad I haven't had anything as exciting as that day to report to you, my readers.

And no, I am not going to offer a prize to my faithful readers like some blogs do.  However: I do want to say, to all of you, that I appreciate your reading and following my various ramblings.  I hope I have informed you, entertained you, given you some occasional food for thought.  I hope I have not wasted your precious reading time.

Thank you for following my blog, and I look forward to writing for your pleasure in the year ahead.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Civil War and Me

In commemeration of the upcoming 150th anniversary of the Civil war our local PBS station has been rerunning Ken Burns "Civil War" film series from 1989.  Last night, they had the last episode-the southern surrender and the aftermath.  It included two "moving pictures", one from the "Great Reunion", the 50th anniversary reunion of the Battle of Gettysburg (1913) and one of the 75th anniversary reunion.

I wasn't able to find video of the 1913 reunion online but I did find some still pictures.  I was able to find, at this same link, a video (not on the Ken Burns film) showing some of the veterans being wheeled in, one carried in on a stretcher, for the 75th anniversary reunion in 1938.

The last verified Civil War veteran died in 1956.

It has always amazed me, as a person who loves history, how I love to learn about the Civil War when, in fact, none of my family lived in the United States when the war was fought.   Or, how I have memories of the 100th anniversary happening, but my parents weren't going to take me anywhere and so I never got to visit any Civil War sites before I was an adult.  But the Civil War has a hold on my heart.  There is just "something" about it, something that makes me want to learn and experience....more and more and more.

I am far from an expert, I wouldn't even call myself a Civil War buff, but there is just something about standing on a Civil War battlefield.  It literally gives me chills.  And, I can't wait to do Civil War related things over the next 5 years.

Because of vacation timing at work, I couldn't be at the beginning-in Charleston, SC, 150 years later, April 12, 2011.  But I will be there in spirit, with some photos of my recent visit to Charleston and a couple of Civil War related activities.  And hopefully, over the next 5 years, I'll be able to visit some special Civil War sites at the "right time."

Incidentally, there are a lot of Civil War websites - I enjoy one in particular,, which contains a section that is a treasure trove of Civil War information.  But there are many, many others.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

And Now, The Lawsuit

It was only a matter of time. 

A lawsuit has resulted from the tragic mass shooting at the American Civic Association on April 3, 2009.  The Gander Mountain store in question is located in nearby Johnson City.

I have some opinions on the subject, but will not voice them, only to say that I can not put myself in the shoes of one of the people directly affected by the shooting.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out, however, especially given that this shooting took place in New York State.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Carolina Gold Rice

My recent trip to Charleston, SC held several pleasant surprises for me.  First and foremost, was our proximity (an easy walk down the narrow sidewalks of the historic Ansonborough neighborhood where we stayed, a walk appreciated by my gimpy back) to the Charleston City Market.

 The Market consists of several open buildings in a four block area. These are the entrances to two of the buildings.
The Market (at least, at this time of year) is not primarily a "farmers market" and not all the goods are locally produced, either.  But we had a wonderful time talking and interacting with some of the local artists, and went back several times.  (note, there are no pictures of those artists or their work.  I would not ever do that without permission, and I know many artists do not want pictures taken.)  If I end up posting photos of some work in the future, it will be of work that I purchased and credit will be given.)

One product that is local, and a revival of a historic heirloom food, is Carolina Gold Rice.

What we bought was grown locally and distributed through Charleston Specialty Foods. The distinctive yellow cloth bags packages of this rice are sold by several vendors at the market, and also are for sale at various historical venues throughout the Charleston area.  As the bag explains:

"In 1685, a distressed merchant ship paid for repairs in Charleston with a small quantity of rice seed from Madagascar.  Dr. Henry Woodward planted the seed in South Carolina, beginning the state's 200 year history as the leading rice producer in the United States."

So why should you pay a lot more for an heirloom variety of rice than the plain old (I won't mention any brand names) stuff you find on the supermarket shelves?

For various reasons, the cultivation of rice had slowed in the South Carolina low country, and much "Carolina Rice" is actually grown outside of the Carolinas.  The Carolina Gold Rice Foundation is attempting a comeback for this rice, and as the bag also explains "We are proud to be South Carolina's first product made with Green-e Certified Renewable Energy."

So how can you go wrong?  In one swoop you encourage the production of heritage foodstuffs, and support renewable energy and sustainable agriculture.

The rice can be ordered online or by calling 1-877-RICE-4-YOU. (and please note I am not being paid for this, or any other, endorsement I may make.)

So, how does it taste?  And what is the rice like?

I would judge it as medium grain.

It's definitely distinctive, and delicious.   Spouse (our family cook) made a pilaf with it.  It came out fluffy, and nice.

Nothing could be....err, finer.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Leopold's Ice Cream

One week ago, I was walking the streets of 87 degree downtown Savannah, GA.  As a northerner sick of winter and desperate for spring, I wanted sunshine, but not that much heat.  Somewhat exhausted by the walking and the heat, my spouse and I ducked into an ice cream shop we had both heard about, and wanted to try.

We were treated to some of the best ice cream we have every had.  I don't say that lightly; I have been a fan of Ithaca's Purity Ice Cream for years, and have also enjoyed the products of the Cayuga Lake Creamery.  (As always, I have received no compensation for these types of endorsements).

Make room, upstate NY Ice Cream, I now have a new co-favorite.

Leopold's Ice Cream.

The present owner (Stratton Leopold), one of the sons of the founder, used to be a Hollywood producer and various one sheet movie posters decorate the store along with other movie memorabilia.  As the website also explains,

"Much of the décor is original including the original soda fountain, soda fountain cover, back bar, sundae holders, banana split boats, malted milk dispenser, etc., etc., are available and are still being used. Even the old Philco radio and the wooden, interior phone booth from the old store are being used."

This is part of the store interior (it was hard getting pictures, given the crowds and the narrowness of part of the store.)

And these are some of the movie posters.

I wish I could have transported the ice cream back to Binghamton.  Of course, it is all natural and artificial dyes are not used, according to the website.  (otherwise, would I be writing about it?)

We didn't purchase the Tutti-Frutti favored by Savannah's famed late singer and songwriter Johnny Mercer but the seasonal Guiness and Girl Scout Thin Mints (the founder of the Girl Scouts came from Savannah) were greatly enjoyed.  These were seasonal flavors.

Not long after we had the ice cream, the heavens opened and torrential rain and hail poured down on Savannah.  We left downtown earlier than we had planned, and headed for the Byrd Cookie Company....a tale for another day.

The Second Anniversary - A Moment of Cybersilence

A "moment of silence" in between blogging about my recent travels.

Today is the 2nd anniversary of the senseless shooting at the American Civic Association building on Front Street in downtown Binghamton.

So much has happened since then - sadly, these shootings continue, such as the recent tragedy in Tuscon, AZ demonstrate.  And, several days ago, as (on our way home) we passed the exit for Virginia Tech and I remembered what happened there nearly four years ago.

For us here in Binghamton, what has been the aftermath?  For the family, friends and surviving co-workers, life has gone on for them.  Money is being raised for a memorial, but we "aren't there" yet.  For the rest of us-knowledge that life can change in a split second.

Meanwhile, today, the anniversary will be marked quietly at the ACA building.