Sunday, July 31, 2011

Civil War Sunday-He Couldn't Run from History

On U.S. Route 28 near Manassas, Virginia (near the parking lot of a CVS pharmacy) is a historical marker.
We passed that intersection a couple of times last Sunday, and who knows how many people pass by it every day.  But that marker "marks the spot" of a piece of history.  The Civil War is full of these types of stories, but to me this is one of the most interesting.

The marker marks the spot of the Yorkshire Plantation, owned by a wholesale grocer by the name of Wilmer McLean. He was a slave owner. He was never anyone "important" to history, but he is know to all lovers of Civil War trivia because he tried to escape history - but history wouldn't let him.

Wilmer McLean's house was used by the "hero of Ft. Sumter", Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard as Beauregard, commanding Confederate troops, prepared for what because the First Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas).  A cannonball dropped through the chimney and destroyed Beauregard's dinner.

The Civil War did not begin in McLean's house but the first large battle basically did begin on his property.

That area of Virginia suffered greatly from the war, and finally, in 1863, Wilmer McLean decided he had had enough and moved his family about 120 miles away to where he thought the Civil War would never reach him again.

He was wrong.

In April of 1865, a messenger knocked on McLean's door.  It seemed that Robert E. Lee was preparing to surrender to the Union's General Grant.  His house was needed as a meeting place.  Could they use it?

They did use it, and the Civil War ended (well, actually it didn't, but that's a story for another time) in McLean's parlor.

After the surrender was signed, everyone wanted a souvenir.  So the Union troops started to walk off with McLean's furniture.  As the troops hauled McLean's furnishings out the door, they handed the protesting McLean money.  Concerning the desk where the surrender was signed, I have read two stories of its fate. One is that General George Armstrong Custer (yes, he was a Civil War general) was asked by another Union General (Sheridan) to haul off the desk where the surrender was signed. I've also read that Custer actually took the desk himself.

History does not record (to my knowledge) what furnishings McLean was left with.

As for the pen which was used by the surrender, there is an interesting story about that too.

To add further insult, the money McLean made during the Civil War (in sugar smuggling) was in Confederate money, which now was worthless because of the surrender signed in his house.

Finally, bankrupt, he had to sell the house in 1867.

Sometimes you can run...but you just can't hide.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Does Marriott Know Something I Don't Know?

 I've done it!  31 posts in July - so I have met the Ultimate Blog Challenge.

My 32nd post for July is going to be an interesting one.  I am going to be turning off commenting if I start getting the wrong kind of comments - for someone who majored in cultural anthropology this is "PG" but I don't know who this may attract.  I'm taking the chance, though, because this is too funny not to share.

Or maybe it isn't funny at all, depending on your beliefs.

Companies, when designing online surveys, really need to take care to only ask the questions they intend to ask.

As we speak, I am taking a Marriott Guest Satisfaction Survey for the property we recently stayed at during our trip to the Manassas, VA area for their Civil War activities.

One of the questions is, and I quote:

"Excluding yourself, please indicate how many people from each category selected were staying with you in the room(s) that you paid for during your most recent stay at the [name of property]:  spouse or significant other?"

So, ummm.....Marriott wants to know how many spouses I was traveling with?  Or, significant others?

Now, I want to mention here again that I majored in cultural anthropology in college.  So I am well aware that a number of countries legally recognize this practice- mainly, the practice of polygyny, or one male married to more than one female at a time.  Polyandry, the practice of one woman married to more than one man at a time, is a lot rarer but does exist (legally) in a handful of countries.

Neither practice, however, is legal in the United States.

So why does Marriott want to know this?

Or do they know something I don't know?

Or did someone make a big goof?

I paused there for a couple of minutes.  What should I say?  Should I tell them "one", which is the truth?  Or should I spice it up a bit?  And what would happen if I did answer with some other number than "one"?

Don't you just love our electronic world?

Friday, July 29, 2011

More Adventures with Autism

Regular readers of my blog know that I have a brother in law with a developmental disability called autism.  My brother in law is in his 50's and lives with his elderly mother (her choice).  We live about 150 miles away. As anyone who has ever done long distance caretaking can be an adventure.

One thing is for certain when you have a loved one with a developmental disability.  Life is never dull. There is a constant learning process, a constant advocacy process.  And you learn a lot of things:  patience, the need to be assertive without being aggressive, the need to network and make contacts. And, to keep on top of things.  We don't always do so well on the latter.

I had reported a month or so ago that there were some changes in my brother in law's "service coordination" which we needed to check into.  Here, I have to explain that my brother in law receives service coordination under something called a Medicaid Waiver.  In NY State the particular waiver is called the Home and Community Based Waiver.

Medicaid has a very bad "name" with the general public but in reality it is a lifeline for many families with disabled members.  Of course, keep in mind that what I am writing about is happening in New York.  Each state has its own Medicaid program.

At the same time, when you deal with government bureaucracy, there is the "Catch-22" factor.

To set the stage for this: disabled people on this particular Waiver receive "Medicaid service coordination" from an agency.  For my brother in law, it is his local "ARC".  And, NY is cutting budgets, as are many states.  On top of this, my brother in law's service coordinator was retiring due to health reasons.  My mother in law requested we contact the new coordinator.  So we're sort of in a Perfect Storm situation.

We made contact (after several phone calls, which is typical) with her supervisor back around the 19th but with our Civil War trip the blog post I wanted to write got swallowed up.  But I really need to talk about this now.

The supervisor told us that there have been changes in NY service coordination rules. For example, the service coordinator used to have to visit with the client (also called the "consumer") one a month.  Now it is 3 times a year.  But then came the bombshell...

My brother in law was losing his Home and Community Based Waiver.  Why?  Because he hadn't used any services in the past year.

And why wasn't he receiving services?  Because the ARC was never able to find someone to provide the services our brother in law needed. (this has been ongoing for several years, incidentally.  It's complicated why - I'm sure the wages they are able to pay in what is basically a very high cost of living area has something to do with it.)

Gotcha!  Catch-22!

Well, my spouse (who made this phone call) wasn't about to take this lying down, which is where the assertiveness and advocacy part come in.  And basically, the supervisor ended up agreeing that it was a lack of provider, not a lack of bro-in-law using the services, that was the concern. And that he really needed these services (training to help him become more independent, which would help his aging mother out tremendously, too.) So they are going to keep trying.  But then:  "if we find a provider it will be no problem to get him back on the Waiver."  Which is....well, there is another rule when dealing with government.

Don't believe it, ever, when they say anything will be "easy".

It was hard enough getting him onto this waiver.   And now it is going to be easy to get him back on if they ever find someone to provide these services?  Forgive me for taking this one with a few bags of salt.

So anyway, they sent us some paperwork to review, which we got the other day.

And now, the new service coordinator has called us, so we will start on another round of missed phone calls and phone tag.

Isn't it fun and exciting? 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Catoctin Mountain Orchard

When traveling, one of our pleasures is to sample local food.  We will visit farmers markets in season.  More rarely, we visit orchards.  I was excited when I found that our route to Virginia last week would bring us right past an orchard we had visited online, but never in person.

I recently read (in a travelers guide) about this special orchard in rural Maryland, along Highway 15 (the path Lee took his troops on when they invaded the North and ended up at Gettysburg at the beginning of July, 1863).  We are in the heart of fruit season, and while our area excels in apples and blueberries, there are some fruits that just don't grow here.

Like peaches.

Like (commercial) blackberries.

Like plums.

And guess who had them all.

The first thing you see upon your arrival is a variety of cut flowers for sale.  Over on the side of the building are fields of pick-your-own flowers. There is nothing like that in our area.

If the weather had been more temperate I would have taken a nice long break there, but it was so hot in that sun.  So, instead we went indoors.  Greeting us were pints of freshly picked blackberries, assorted white and yellow peaches, and several varieties of plums.  They were offering samples - entire fruits! - of one of the plums, called Methley.  They were so sweet.

We purchased some apple/cherry cider made locally in nearby Frederick, MD and decided we would return on our way back to upstate NY to pick up some fruit.

This time, they were sampling something called a Cameo apple.  Supposedly a natural cross between a Red and Golden Delicious, it does resemble a Red Delicious in shape and color.  However, unlike a Red Delicious, it is so crisp.    We didn't buy any, but we did pick up some plums.  (we had already bought so much produce at Grand mart in Centreville, VA, that our car was in serious danger of bursting.)

On the way out we treated ourselves to one more view of the lovely flowers.

What a beautiful location this is in.

One day, I hope to return. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Wildflower Wednesday-Civil War Site Plants

Would a blogger be so dedicated to bring you new content for Wildflower Wednesday that she would brave 104 degree weather to take pictures of plants on Civil War sites in  NorthernVirginia?


I only have one picture of flowers for you. Maybe all the flowers were hiding from the heat.  But, undaunted, I decided to take pictures of plants I normally don't see in the two places I take wildflower photos.  So now, for your viewing pleasure:  plants of Civil War sites.

This plant, growing on the roadside at Mayfield Fort near Manassas, is growing something that looks like young pears. But I almost wonder if this is a hardy kiwi.  Call this one a mystery plant.  Does anyone know?

This next plant is no mystery to me.  When we lived in Arkansas, we had several of these on our property.  This is a sassafras tree.

This plant has sumac like leaves but white flowers.  It's not poison ivy and I feel like I should know what this plant is.  But I don't. 

Another one of these plants, more close up.  It's hard to see with all that green, but I wasn't going to stand out there in the 114 heat index heat and try to get something better.

Finally, two old favorites in one photo.  Queen Anne's Lace on the left and the beginnings of goldenrod on the right. (These are blooming here in Upstate NY, too.)  They were in the shade.

 I've read accounts of the battle of Bull Run talking about pink wildflowers in bloom.  Whatever they were, I never saw any.  I was disappointed that I didn't see anything that looked like pink wildflowers on the Manassas battlefield but then again, I really wasn't looking.

It was nice to have a change of scenery.  Next week, back to upstate NY.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Dreams of Zone 5 Crepe Myrtle

People like me who live in gardening zone 5 (Binghamton, NY area) dream of being able to grow some of the really beautiful flowering plants. True, we have lilacs, and various flowering trees (apple, cherry, etc.). But there are several 'queens of the flowering plants' that would die after just one of our winters.

One of these is a shrub I miss from living, years ago, in more temperate climates.  When I went down to Virginia last week, I knew they would be in bloom.  It had been years since I had seen them, and they did not disappoint.

Crepe myrtles.

I was not inclined to go on a picture taking spree in the 104 degree heat, but I did get a couple of pictures I wanted to share with you - in case you have not ever seen these beauties in blooming action.  I know these are everyday plants to some of my readers in - for example, Texas - but they aren't for us of the snow belt.

Back years ago, when I made my acquaintance with the crepe myrtle, the main colors were pink or purple.  Now, some 30 years later, we have white, red, pink, purple and I understand there is even a weeping variety.

These plants tend to have a number of disease and insect problems but I've read this is being worked on, too.

Thanks to the fact that no one has yet invented smell-o-blog, I can not bring you the fragrance.  It is a light fragrance-it would never compete with a lilac, for example - but it is definitely there.

(I was also hoping the magnolias would be in bloom, speaking of fragrance, but it appeared we were just a little too early.)

This is the Henry Hill Visitors Center at the Manassas Battlefield outside of Manassas, VA.  The shrubs blooming in the right of the picture are crepe myrtles.  

This is a stand of crepe myrtles in a shopping center in Fairfax, VA.

There is one stand of crepe myrtle I wish I could have gotten a picture of, given the number of times we passed it.  It was in a Centreville, VA shopping center up against the wall of a gym. These were huge specimens, I would guess at least 9 feet tall, growing up against a wall of the gym.  But I just didn't want to get out of the air conditioning of our car to take their picture.

I wonder if anyone will ever be able to breed a variety that will be hardy down to zone 5.  I'll be your first customer.

After that, someone needs to work on hardy camelias.....

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Mystery of The Binghamton Dinosaurs - A Year Later

This post is the "all time" favorite on my blog.  So I thought it would be interesting to do a "sequel" but I ran into some problems.  But first, a note of explanation.

The post in question (and a couple of other posts during that time period on my blog) tell the story of Mason Mastroianni, the grandson of Johnny Hart, the cartoonist from this area who did the B.C. and Wizard of Id strips for many years.  Upon Johnny Hart'sdeath, Mason took over the B.C. strip.

It's almost spooky.  Mason almost does Johnny Hart drawing better than Johnny Hart did.

Mason also came up with a wonderful idea called hART of BC, which involved having various local artists do their "impressions"of the dinosaur Gronk from the B.C. strip. These decorated Styrofoam dinosaurs would then decorate downtown Binghamton and other parts of the Triple Cities before they were auctioned off or otherwise purchased by companies or people who had sponsored the artists.

It was a great plan.  There was only one problem.


The dinosaurs had to be taken off the streets prematurely, but it wasn't soon enough for some of them.  At least one was severely damaged. 

They were displayed for a while at the Oakdale Mall, Johnson City's indoor shopping mall.

Now, the hART of BC Facebook page exists, forelorn, its wall not having been updated since last year.

I'm assuming the auction idea went ahead as planned. I tried to do a Google search and there just doesn't seem to be much information about the fate of the dinosaurs. I do know where one of them is.  It is in a local dentist's office (not mine.)  It is visible from a window but I'm not sure they would want to have me lurking and trying to take a picture from outside.  But what happened to the others?  Did the auction raise the amount of money they wanted?  Where are the dinosaurs?  Does anyone care?

How sad that I just came from a part of the country that treasures its heritage - some of it more than 400 years old - and yet Binghamton has trouble with something from last year.

It isn't the first time this area has tried to promote a good idea, only to have it turn to dust  It probably won't be the last.

This isn't the sequel I wanted to write.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Civil War Sunday-He Stood Like a Stone Wall

The commemoration of the 150th anniversary of First Bull Run/Manassas is over, for us.  This morning we must pack up and leave.

My "Civil War Cap" is off to so many people.  To the reinactors who braved the incredible heat to bring us living history.  To the City of Manassas, VA and the National Park Service for wonderful organization.  (I have a suspicion that the City is going to lose a lot of money-I hope I am wrong.)  To the many volunteers who, again, braved the heat and made it all possible.  To the people I spoke to:  the citizen of Manassas who explained about the Amtrak service and shared his memories of train travel to California, the reinactor who shared his memories of Shiloh and how he "woke up in the morning frozen to the ground and had a sunburn by noon", and the Marines who did a fantastic narration of what life was like for a new, green recruit and how the Civil War experience made this country great.

These are some memories of the living historians.  The man who was reinacting Mathew Brady, the photographer, and shared his collection with us. (we were going to buy one, but never returned due to the heat.  I am so sorry.)  The stamp collector at the Battlefield who shared his collection with us.  I saw Confederate stamps for the first time.  He also showed us some of the first day cancellations at Charleston, on the 150th anniversary of the day shots were fired at Fort Sumter.

I hope to return to this area (Prince William County one day, as it is so rich in history. (and good food.)

And now, I'd like to share some of my photographic memories with you.

From the reinactors parade in Old Town Manassas on Friday:

As the Marines at the Manassas battleground explained (and I have mentioned in a previous post) the uniforms were not standardized in this first battle.  North and South wore blue and grey. And red.  And brown.  Below is an example of that.

In this next photo, women of the era.  We rode a shuttle bus with some of the ladies.

A view of the Manassas battlefield, with artillery in place.  One nice thing about the battlefield is that there was so much of it. This battlefield is a lot better preserved than some.

 Where Judith Carter (the owner of some of the land (Henry Hill) the battle was fought on - an 85 year old widowed invalid who could not leave her home - shells demolished her home) is buried, on the battlefield.   Not the last civilian to die in the Civil War by far.

And finally, what battlefield would be complete without a monument.  Here, Thomas Jackson "stood like a Stone Wall" and got his nickname.
And now, back to "real life".  

Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Northern Virginia Residential Farmers Market

The motel we are staying at in Centreville, VA is in a mixed residential/commercial neighborhood off a main road.  To our delight, when we entered the short road our motel is located on (along with a number of apartment complexes) a sign announced a Friday evening farmers market from 3:30 to 6:30 pm.

We had to go and see how it differed from the farmers markets in the Binghamton, NY area that we live in.  Northern Virginia is  two gardening zones "ahead" of us (zone 7a for Centreville vs. 5b for Binghamton), which would make a difference in what was ready.  We couldn't wait to see the local food that awaited us.

One stand featured produce from nearby West Virginia:  early white and yellow peaches, Mountain Pride tomatoes, white nectarines, cantalope, Shiro and Methley plums and okra.  The farmer was sampling many of his varieties- the delicious sweetness of almost everything sold us.  We purchased a quart of plums and a couple of huge Mountain Pride tomatoes.  We can get excellent Amish cantalope where we live, so we passed.  As for thanks.  I don't miss the fact that it doesn't grow well where we live (it isn't hot enough for long enough) although it is an ornamental plant.

He also had blueberries.  We are in blueberry picking season where we live, so we also passed.  (I tried one and it was very tart.  I think ours are better.)

Another booth had what looked like Striped German tomatoes along with corn and melons.

And then, there was the prepared food.  One booth offered crab cakes and steamed crab, another booth BBQ'd chickens (huge chickens) and southern style potato salad and a third booth a wonderful honey wheat bread.  Obviously, they were set up to offer meals to go for hungry commuters.  Alas, the prices (from the viewpoint of people who live in a lower cost of living area) were a bit much.  $7.00 for a loaf of bread?  $8.00 for a dozen ears of corn? (our going rate would be around $4.50 a dozen).

Have you every noticed regional differences in corn?  Some areas of the country will only eat all yellow, some only white, and some only bicolor.  In our area, almost all the corn is bicolored.  In this market, the corn was all yellow.

At 4:30 pm, the heat was absolutely brutal.  The peach vendor had a wet towel draped on his head.  The market was set up in a paved parking lot and I felt so sorry for the vendors-especially the BBQ man.  The air temperature, at that point, was 104 with around a 114 heat index. As commuters arrived home, sales became brisk despite the heat.

Tomorrow, we head home with our purchases and with memories of wonderful Civil War commemorations.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Fort that Defends Home Depot - A Special Civil War Friday

Today we, and many other people interested in the Civil War, gathered in Manassas, Virginia for the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of First Bull Run, or First Manassas (depending if you are from the North or the South).  (the actual anniversary was yesterday, but the commemoration continues through the weekend.) I will talk more about about this on my normal Civil War Sunday post this Sunday, but today I wanted to talk about a very serious subject:  the preservation of Civil War battlefields.

We are lucky to have a Manassas National Battlefield Park, because a lot of Civil War battlefields have been swallowed up by progress.

Time Magazine recently did an article on the Civil War.  A very important thing that they did (whether or not you agree with their analysis of "if we are still fighting the Civil War") was highlight, with the use of reinactors, various Civil War battle sites which have been swallowed up by urban neighborhoods and shopping centers.

It happens everywhere.  Last year it almost happened in Virginia, and only in January were the plans to build a Wilderness Wal-Mart on 51 acres near the site (but, beyond the boundaries of the Battlefield) of the Battle of the Wilderness.

The Civil War Trust, a preservation group, estimates that 20% of the "hallowed ground" of the Civil War has already been lost.

And with that, I wanted to mention something I experienced today on the Manassas City Tour.

One of the sites I visited today was Mayfield Fort.

The Fort (or the 11 acres that still exist in an undeveloped situation) was built (along with various other fortifications) to defend the railroad junction at Manassas.  The junction's strategic importance to both sides(and its necessity of not falling into Federal hands) triggered the Battle of First Bull Run.  A Stars and Bars  flies over the Fort. (it doesn't look that different from the Union flag of the era if the wind isn't blowing full, which was the case when I took this picture at noon today.)

In the blazing heat, it was hard to walk around, and we stayed in the shade while the reinactors on the left side did an artillery demonstration.  (What you are also seeing are historical plaques, explaining the history of the fort) In fact, while we were there, a person was taken away by ambulance due to being overcome by heat.) What you don't see is what the fort is now defending.  This is on top of a hill, and if you kept walking through the photograph to the edge, you would see beneath it ...housing developments.  And a Home Depot.

This is the other photo I took before we gave up braving the heat, and left the site.  This is a "Quaker gun" i.e. it looks like a cannon and would have been painted black. Various Quaker guns were displayed at the Fort to fool the Federals.  (They were called Quaker guns because Quakers are pacifists, and these guns could never be used to fight a war.)

If you look to the extreme right side of the photo, about 2/3 of the way up, you see one of the apartment houses built around the Fort.

I want to make it clear that I am not against progress and not against development.  What I am against is the trivialization of our history.  Without our history, we lose our identity as a nation.

And I am very glad the remains of the Fort was preserved.

And I am even happier that the Home Depot will never have to fear an attack from the Union Army.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Korean Food - A Special Civil War Thursday

We are in Centreville, VA, about 4 1/2 miles from the Bull Run battlefield.

So close and yet so far.

The temperature when we got here was 99.  It soon rose to 100 with a heat index of 110.  After over 6 hours of driving, we got to our motel and decided to go to the Manassas Battlefield National Park. There were a lot of activities there. 

Unfortunately a lot of people had the same idea.  It would have been totally impossible to make the needed left turn (with no traffice light) we needed to make in order to get to the special parking lot, with a shuttle bus that would have taken us to the visitors center. So we drove past the park, getting a quick view of  Henry Hill and a series of historical plaques.  So, there went our original plan.  Time for Plan B.  And plan B turned out to be something we never would have dreamed of.

Asian food.

If history is my first love, eating is my second.  So leave it to me to turn a visit to a Civil War battlefield into an international food opportunity. (more on that later).

With hopefully a good nights sleep refreshing us, we are going to try again tomorrow.  Tomorrow, the temperature is supposed to go up to 103.  So we will have the authentic Civil War experience - roasting in the heat.  At least, we are not wearing heavy wool uniforms.  Fortunately, some of the sites are open at 8am.  At 10am the reinactors (for the battle reenactments of Saturday and Sunday) will parade, and I can only hope the temperature isn't near 100 degrees by parade time.  Then we can figure something out that involves air conditioning.

The Civil War soldiers would not recognize present day Centreville, VA.

The area where we are staying is heavily Korean.  You pass by shopping centers with businesses which have names...well some of them are lost in the translation to English.  Way lost.  Like the store called "Spider Mart".  I thought it was a heat related hallucination on my part but my spouse saw it also.  Frankly, I would rather not know what it was selling.

Fried by the heat, we decided to check out an international food store near our motel called Grand mart.

Imagine, if you will, a large supermarket.  You walk in the door and the first thing you see is Korean melons on sale.  They are elongated, yellow with white stripes.  They actually looked familiar.  I think we tried to grow them many years ago.  Then we saw the jackfruit. And then....and then.....

And then there were the other fruits and veggies.  Winter melon, snake squash, bitter melon, Korean cucumbers.  Local peaches.  Various yams - red, purple, yellow. Sesame leaves, bitter leaves, something that looked like perilla. Banana flowers

Then we moved on to the fish.  All types of fish:  red snapper, sea bass, eel, live blue crab, live tiliapia swimming in a tank.  Meat consisted of pork and goat.

There was a tasting table set up with various samples of condiments.  I recognized seaweed but not much of anything else.

All the signs were bi-lingual, but none of the announcements in the store were in English.   Most of the clientele would have been people totally unfamiliar to the Civil War combatants.

Once we got past the Asian and Indian section, there was a large Hispanic food section.  We picked up a couple of bagged beans there.  We also picked up some of the yams.  And then we went to Trader Joe's and picked up dinner.  Tomorrow, when our heads have (hopefully) stopped swimming, we might eat out in an Afghan restaurant in Fairfax that we read about.  Or, we might stick (no pun intended) to Cheogajip Chicken, a Korean fast food chicken chain that has an outpost in Centreville.

Whatever comes tomorrow, I suspect it will be an interesting post.  I might even have something about the Civil War to blog about.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Wildflower Wednesday - More Mysteries of the Wildflower World

This will be a "short" Wildflower Wednesday as tonight is going to be very busy for me.

I did not take pictures on Sunday-it was already hot when I got out on the Vestal Rail Trail around 10am and I wanted to beat the heat. So I have some photos that were taken earlier.

This first photo, is not a picture of a wildflower.  It is a picture of a plant that has set up residence in the shady part of my backyard.  The leaves resemble grapes but I know wild grapes don't grow in the shade.  The whitish thing in the middle is some kind of cluster starting to ripen.  It isn't a cluster like grapes but is tightly packed. Call this a mystery photo. Does anyone know what this is?

It doesn't seem to have changed much in the past couple of weeks.  I will continue to keep an eye on it.
In Arkansas we had a plant we ended up taking to the University of Arkansas, and they identified it as something called Canada Moonseed.  It grew at the edge of our field.  It's a good thing we didn't sample it because it was poisonous.  What gave it away was the single, large seed in the "grape".

The goldenrod are starting to bloom.  These yellow flowered plants, to me, are the start of fall.  Many people think it is goldenrod pollen aggrevating their allergies when it is really ragweed.  There are some beautiful fields of goldenrod here in the northeast United States.  They should bloom into early September so I'll have plenty of time to take a photo.

Last, but not least, is another mystery flower.  White, to me it resembles phlox but everything I read about fall phlox seems to indicate it is usually purple.  This picture was taken on the Vestal Rail Trail.

Next Wednesday I hope to have something "a little different" for you.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

It's Crying Time at the Community Garden

The invasion of the critters continues, and it is not pretty.  And, the rains have (for the most part) dried up.

This is the time that tries the Otsiningo Park community gardener's soul.  July is the month of garden harvest, and garden heartbreak. And sometimes both.

The critters and insects have done their work well.  Beans delayed. Chinese greens brown and full of holes from flea beetles.  Our squashes are turning yellow.  We have harvested the grand total of one squash.  (so now you know where to send your spare zucchini.)  We can't figure out why the critters are out in full force this year.  At the house, not satisfied with petunias, they are now hitting our nasturtium.  Nasturtium!  But enough of my whining.

I've wanted, for a while, to post pictures of our community garden.  I had taken some back in June.  Now might be a good time, as we travel down Memory Lane before the invasions started.

This first photo was our hurried attempt to salvage our pole beans.  The white stuff is a row cover fabric, which has proved to be our best friend in some of the critter wars. But you can't get pollination with the row covers.  Only now are the pole beans starting to climb the poles.  We also have (bush) filet beans, which got chewed pretty good, and we've gotten a handful of those beans.  They are wonderful - and expensive to buy.  So I hope the rabbits enjoyed their gourmet treat.

This next photo isn't of our garden.  Our garden suffers from the fact that my husband (who does 99.9% of the work) just can't get there every day (the garden is about a 10 minute drive from our house.)  No, this is the lovely garden of a man of Asian descent, who is there almost every day, and his garden is a work of art.

The last two years he's given us some starts of lettuce.  We are seriously thinking of going totally over to plant starts of most vegetables, although we would have to buy most of them.  We just don't have the energy for this war.

I don't know whose garden the last two pictures are of.  I suspect it may be a BOCES garden.  Whoever is responsible for it has done one heck of a job.  The green things on posts, incidentally, are Topsy-Turveys.
And finally, another view.

Tomorrow, Wildflower Wednesday.

Monday, July 18, 2011

When Falcons Cry

Some strange things are going on with the behavior of the peregrine falcons who live in downtown Binghamton.  Since I am not a wildlife expert, or a bird expert, I am at a loss to know why-all I can do is describe from the viewpoint of someone who has worked downtown as long as these birds have lived on top of the Security Mutual Building.

I wonder if they are unhappy.  OK, I know there are people who say birds can't feel emotions.  I love being around birds, and I disagree.

I hear them crying.  A lot.  It is a haunting cry and echoes through the city streets nearly every morning.  This year they are much more vocal than they have ever been.  And this has been going on for over a month.  It is not normal behavior compared to previous years.  I may be "humanizing" their behavior but I imagine them upset about something.

The other thing I've noticed is that their choice of dining has changed.

It's hard to ignore the, uh, remains of dinner when you walk past the Security Mutual building.  Falcons, in my view, are picky eaters. They will only eat certain parts of the prey bird, and then leave the rest of their meal for some poor human to clean up for them.  (I'm glad I'm not that person.)

For years, the prey has been pigeons.

Not any more.  Dinner is now consistently small birds, maybe even songbirds.

The pigeon population started to decline when the falcons moved into Binghamton in 2001 but we still have pigeons.  I see them nearly every day.

Which brings me full circle back to the crying birds.  Could it be that they aren't finding enough prey?  I would think they would move (after all they can fly)?  Did they lose their babies this year?  Are they sensing something about the weather, perhaps the coming winter?

Is there something going on?  Or am I fussing about nothing?

I wish I knew.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Civil War Sunday - So You Think It's Hot Out?

Welcome again to Civil War Sunday, on a hot sunny day.  We broke 90 today (which isn't unusual but doesn't happen that much) and we are supposed to be in the 90's all week.

So, what does that have to do with the Civil War?

(I don't play "Civil War trivia" for trivia sake, but rather to try to open a window to the way things were.  To understand why things are, you must understand how we got there.)

And so, I am grateful for the cool house I am writing this in.  I got back earlier (much earlier!) from my exercise walk, wearing a shirt made from a modern synthetic fiber.  Gee, I sure did work hard, for that hour. And then I went to a music festival in a Binghamton park, but I didn't like the band, I forgot to bring a lawn chair and the dry grass (our rain has dried up) itched my legs.  Poor me.

Right now we are having record temperatures in the Heartland.  Even Minneapolis has a heat index of 106 as I write this.  Tomorrow it is supposed to get up to 97 (air temperature) tomorrow.   Then there is Manassas, VA.  On Thursday they commemorate the 150th anniversary of the first Battle of Manassas (1st Bull Run), the first major battle of the Civil War.  Let's see:  the weather forecast for Manassas, VA:

Thursday:  high of 100.  (38 degrees Celsius.)

Friday it is 102. (39 Celsius)

Saturday it will be back down to 100.

Now, let's use our imaginations.

You're a soldier.  You don't know it yet, but you are about to fight in the first major battle of the Civil War.  Up to now it has been just skirmishes.  People still think there will be some small fighting here and there, and then both sides will make nice, make up and the Confederates will rejoin the Union.  But that doesn't help you.

You are dressed in a heavy wool uniform.

It is probably not blue or grey.  It is whatever your militia wore, or you put together.  Colors aren't standardized yet, nor are flags.

And now you have to fight a battle.  And not only that but you are the main entertainment for the day.

People are out there watching you, in the stifling heat similar to that of what Manassas will be experiencing on Thursday.  People living in Washington, DC have grabbed picnic hampers and bottles of brandy to enjoy the day.  Some brought umbrellas to shield themselves from the heat.  One person brought sandwiches for the troops from his state.

But there you are, fighting in the 100 degree heat.  And some 1000 of your comrades, both North and South will die, on that July 21 afternoon.

You will fight again and again and again.  And all of it in that heavy wool uniform.  In that heat.  And in that cold.  And everything inbetween.

(if you want a fuller description of this bizarre start to a bloody conflict that would end up claiming some 620,000. lives, read this Washington Post article.)

Cheese and a Taste of the Finger Lakes Wine Festival

I wanted to make a little addition to my post of yesterday, talking about what seemed to be a lack of NYS cheese at a festival that was promoting NY products (especially wine).

So if you are expecting a Civil War Sunday post:  there will be one, but it may not be until later today (depending on how much more heat I can stand.)

There was one local cheese producer at the Finger Lakes Wine Festival (including Yancey's Fancy, and I believe I also saw Helluva Good represented there) and I would be remiss if I didn't mention them. (Again, the disclaimer that I do not get paid for promoting any products on this blog.

This cheese producer is Side Hill Acres Dairy Goat Farm and Cheese, and I highly recommend their products.  I've had many of them, including their flavored goat cheese logs.  I'm not a big drinker of goats milk, but they sell that on the farm.  At one time they used to have goats milk ice cream (which, needless to say, you had to eat there.)  I've taken their tour, and go up there every October for an annual event they hold on the Saturday of the Columbus Day weekend.

At the Festival, they were sampling goats milk cheddar (dry, but tasty) and various of their goat cheese logs.

But, that was the only "smallish" cheese producer I saw there.  If there were others and I missed you, I apologize.  There were three large tents with vendors and with thousands and thousands of people jammed in there (I am not exaggerating) on a nearly 90 degree, bright sunshiny day, I couldn't visit everyone and keep my sanity.

Some people would suggest I lost my sanity a long time ago, but we won't go there.

I will write more on this festival perhaps next Saturday, (on the food aspects) because...well, there was a lot more to the festival than just sampling wine. (and I promise, I will get around to the wine part after the Ultimate Blog Challenge is over.)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Finger Lakes Taste of Wine-But Not Cheese?

I spent today at the Finger Lakes Wine Festival in Watkins Glen, NY.

After the Ultimate Blog Challenge is over I will speak more of the wine aspect of this festival. 

For now: Since I like to talk about farmers markets and local foods on Saturdays (although it is not an official Saturday feature of this blog) I wanted to spend a little time today on something about this festival that disappointed me.

When you think of local New York food, there are several  foods you should think about.  There is sweet corn, and our grapes and our apples, our onions (we are a top grower of cooking onions and we, personally, grow fantastic cooking onions in our community garden) and our wine industry - but our state also has a thriving dairy industry.  Our state is blessed with a number of local cheese makers, and some national brands.

So, you would think, there would be a lot of local cheese being featured along with the wine. After all, is not cheese a natural to go with wine?

Well, there were flavored oils (many were very good), flavored balsamic vinegars (ditto) hot sauces, and someone featuring garlic in various forms.  But, not much in cheese, and I was disappointed.

Yancey's Fancy was one of the sponsors of the festival, and they had a number of their cheeses available for sampling, including one I haven't seen in any local market, a steakhouse onion.  And, the Yancey website offers some pairings of their cheeses and wine.

(Incidentally, I am not paid to mention any products).

But...why no other local cheeses?  There were some 130 wineries presenting their products (this is an all-you-can-taste event, by the way) along with many breweries. But why only a limited amount of cheese?

Especially as 40,000. people were expected to attend, and I think 39,000 were there by the time we left.  My head is still spinning (and not from the wine, either.)  That's a lot of people to expose your product to.

I'm puzzled.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day-July 15

Another month has come and gone.  It is again the Ides of the month, and May Dreams Garden is having its Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, where garden bloggers post photos of what is blooming in their yards on the 15th of the month.  And what a beautiful day today is, here in Binghamton NY - temperature 83, low humidity, lots of sun. Aaahhhhh! 

This month, I have some interesting plants.  Too bad I don't know what some of them are.  We have a talent for losing tags, or otherwise forgetting what we planted.  So we have anonymous herbs, hostas, daylillies and irises at our house.

This first pictures is of one of our "mystery" plants.

We've had a tiny rock garden in the sunny front of our house for about three years.  This year, one of the succulants started to bloom a couple of weeks ago.  I am pleased to report it is still in bloom.

Our daylillies are in bloom.  This is in our back yard.  These are very large, fragrant blossoms.

This is a Crocosmia, and this plant has an interesting history.

Late last spring (2010) a local store had a clearance on Crocosmia corms. We decided to try them.  We put them in a large pot, where they proceeded to send up foliage, but nothing else.  We overwintered them and then put them out this spring.  They didn't seem to do anything, and we allowed grass and mint to grow.

A couple of weeks ago - a flower stalk appeared out of the grass and mint.  And now, the surviving plant's flower is opening.

We are towards the end of hosta season. We have three varieties.  Two of them, including this one, have fragrant flowers.

And finally this herb.  I have forgotten what I planted, but I believe it is St. Johns Wort.  Too bad I didn't know it was an invasive species at the time, although (knock on wood) we've not had a problem with it.

See you again in August, when the long finger of fall starts casting its shadow.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Groundhogs and Rabbits -This Means War

We have been waging war against one or more groundhogs in our back yard, and possibly a rabbit. And they are winning.

Up to now, groundhogs have stuck to some old reliable favorites, eating any kind of brassica we try to grow (i.e. flowering cabbage/kale), parsley, cucumbers, peas.  We wage a constant war of we fence, they get in, we fence, they get in.

This year, we tried putting pots of parsley and flowering cabbage up a couple of feet.  It worked for a while.

Last night we came home to find my petunias, the "sky blue" petunias that I bought from Burpees that turned out to be lilac, defoliated.  And the plants up high, they were all defoliated too.  I'm wondering now if we are fighting rabbits and groundhogs.

Something chewed through our fence.  As in "chewed".  It's a plastic fence. So much for that.

They are after our Jacobs Ladder, our brunneria.  They were eaten too.  We've put Remay cloth over them, hoping it will discourage whatever it is.

So, what's left?  Well, so far, the same petunias that I planted in the front yard haven't been (knock on wood) touched.  I also have some in a hanging basket, so I will still have some.

So our survivors include:  day lillies.

Astilbe (with a stray day lilly tht ended up in the shade.

And, in our front yard, the white marigold that was pounded into submission during our hailstorm earlier this year, is finally blooming.  It looks like a dwarf plant but somehow I don't think it is.

I have other pictures to share of survivors, which I hopefully will post next week.  I'll also be taking some pictures tomorrow for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day - if anything is left when I come home from work.

It's really getting discouraging.  As we age, there is less energy to go around (and seemingly less time, too.)  The one good thing is - it gives me something to write about.  Sigh....

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Wildflower Wednesday- The Poisonous, the Edible and the Blue

Some of today's pictures were taken at home and others on the Vestal Rail Trail.

Before I dig in, the usual warning:  be careful if you decide to pick/eat any wild plant.   Use a guide, or better yet, be taught by an expert who knows what he/she is doing.  The life you save could be your own.

The first plant could be (in a way) considered a wildflower - since right now it is in flower.  But pokeweed  is known more for its leaves, edible in the early spring.  The mature leaves, and the berries these flowers will develop, are quite poisonous.

Many people associate pokeweed with the south, but I've seen it in various places here in Upstate NY.  It just doesn't grow as big as it does in Arkansas, where I made its acquaintance.

This plant is growing in a place in my front yard where it gets a lot of shade. It's grown there for several years.  We end up pulling it up (there isn't enough to harvest for greens) each year and somehow it keeps coming up.

The leaves, by the way-I've eaten them and they are pretty good.  But they are a lot of trouble to prepare.  In Arkansas, some people would pick them and sell huge bags:  which would cook down to almost nothing.

There are also some medicinal uses given for this plant - I certainly would not try to do this myself.

This next flower is growing right outside my front door.  It has teeny tiny blue flowers with five petals and a yellowish center.  They remind me of forget me nots but I have something I've called forget me nots come up in early spring, with slightly larger flowers.  I spent a lot of time tonight trying to google his plant and I am just not sure.

Speaking of blue, I decided to revisit the chicory.  Our chicories (blue sailor) are so prolific this year.  They are blooming their little hearts out.  These are an import, and are quite an interesting plant.  I finally got a picture showing their beautiful blue.  They are both edible and medicinal, although I'm not sure how truly edible the wild variety is.  I've never tried to find out.

Last but not least is this huge wildflower plant, the Common Mullein.

This plant is medicinal, although (again) I have never used it for this purpose.

Next week:  upstate NY starts to drift towards fall, even as we celebrate summer.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Runners and Roses and a Mystery Tree

Oh darn.

I can't report on today's big news in Binghamton, NY because this is supposed to be a PG blog (during the Ultimate Blog Challenge, anyway).  So all I can tell you, before I launch into a gardening post, is that a co worker decided to go out for lunch today.  Driving down Main Street in Binghamton, she observed a sudden pile up of traffic in front of her, and a police car, lights on, right behind her.  The object of the police car's interest came running past a few seconds later.  Dodging cars, this man was apparently trying to beat the heat.

He was wearing sneakers.  And...uh...nothing else.

I wonder if we'll ever find out "the rest of the story".

So who says Binghamton, NY isn't...well, I was going to say "exciting" but that might be a poor choice of words under the circumstances.

So, back to our regularly scheduled blog.  (and if I get kicked out of the Challenge, oh well).

I realized today that I have not been posting garden-type blog posts too much recently, and I have a backlog of photos. Also, I realize that I had promised my regular readers pictures of the roses in bloom at our local Cutler Botanic Gardens back in June.

So, not as...oh dear, the Binghamton Noontime Runner, are:  roses.  And not your everyday roses.  A lot of the varieties are the old fashioned roses, the ones that do not bloom through the summer, but their fragrance is so heavenly you don't care.

I didn't get a lot of pictures of those because I was too busy sniffing.  And I do have other rose photos taken around Binghamton, which I may share when winter sets in and there are no more flowers blooming outdoors.

This first pictures has the name tag at the bottom, if anyone has really good eyes.

This one is one of the old fashioned varieties, perhaps a cabbage rose.  If only we had blog-o-smell....

This next one is a  multiflora rose.

And a pretty red one.

And finally, this isn't a rose.  This is a blooming tree.  And, as happens enough times when you don't process things right after taking pictures - I forgot what it was.  Except that it is Japanese.  And the flowers were not scented.  Any guesses?  No prizes if you can name this tree, but I will thank you in the comments.

Monday, July 11, 2011

It Felt So Good

July Fest is over.  This morning, downtown Binghamton was back to normal.  Where crowds had gathered the past three days, gentle breezes blew through the almost empty streets.  The vendors were gone, the sidewalks cleaned, the music stage disassembled.  The only live music was birdsong and an occasional burst of rap music from a passing car.

I ended up going to July Fest all three days. Friday because I work down there anyway, Saturday to browse the booths I couldn't get to Saturday, and Sunday to listen to a musician by the name of Gap Mangione, performing with with his New Blues Band.

Funny how we can sometimes close ourselves off to new musical experiences.  Last year, the first year of the Binghamton Jazz Festival (held with July Fest), my spouse didn't want to go at all.  He loves hard rock music - groups like Avenged Sevenfold, Slipknot, Staind.    Of course, the roots of rock are complex, and include jazz.

Would we have gone if Gap wasn't Chuck Mangione's older brother?  Probably not.  But I am very glad we went.  A lot of the music was what I would consider "easy listening" but the day was sunny, and it was so nice to sit downtown and people watch.  The musicians in the band (including Gap) were excellent and we enjoyed the hour and a half or so that they played.  

I wonder how many people half expected Chuck to suddenly appear onstage and play.  He didn't, of course, but Gap did several songs written by his brother.  The last song of the set was "Feels So Good".

It did, Gap.  It did.

Here's a picture of the band.  Gap is in the white shirt.

Oh, one other thing.  Gap sure had the biggest smile I've ever seen.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Civil War Sunday - You Are All Green Alike

For Ultimate Blog Challenge readers, welcome to my Civil War Sunday posts.  I am not a "Civil War Buff" but a layperson interested in history, and the Civil War is one of my interests.  (It has been for years; this isn't just a 150th anniversary of type of thing.)  I like to think of history as living, and ongoing.  In some ways we are still fighting the Civil War today, even to how we name the battles.  So on to our story...

Since the shelling of Ft. Sumter in April of 1861, some people, both North and South, continued to feel that the war would conclude rather quickly.  The Federals, in particular, were so confident that many militias were asked only to commit to the "rebellion" for only 90 days.  Some thought there would be little bloodshed.  For others, the coming battles were promises of entertainment.

Come July, the 90 day enlistments were almost up.

So far, this July of 1861, there had only been several skirmishes.  Both sides were basically green, untrained in fighting war.

That would soon change.

On July 11, 1861, the Battle of Rich Mountain would be fought in what is now West Virginia.

Ten days later, the first "true" battle of the Civil War would be fought, near Manassas Junction in Virginia.  On July 21, 1861, both sides would realize that this wasn't going to be a 90 day war.

Before the battle, Abraham Lincoln famously said "Your men are green, it is true, but so are those of the enemy; you are all green alike."

I will be writing more about First Bull Run later in July.  Call this post a "coming attraction".  But first, this note:

You will note that I call the battle First Bull Run, thereby revealing that I am a Northerner.  So a quick word of explanation to those new to learning about the Civil War so you don't get terminally confused.

A number of battles have two names.  (And, there are some cities or towns that "hosted" more than one battle:  in fact, less than a year later, there would be a second battle at Manassas. So you may also have the first battle of, the second battle of, etc.)  Northerners tended to name battles after bodies of water:  hence, Bull Run (which is a creek) and, 14 months later, Antietam (again, a creek.)  Southerners tended to name battles after the nearest town or landmark- hence, to a Southerner, the same battles would be called  Manassas and Sharpsburg.  I note that the National Park Service calls the respective battlefields Manassas and Antietam, probably because the first is located in the former Confederacy and the second is located in Maryland, which stayed with the Union.

That's all part of the excitement of studying this war.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Power of Music to Heal Wounded Cities

Earlier today, I blogged about Binghamton's July Fest.  But, I had something special I wanted to say about the power of music to heal.

To think that several years ago, this festival almost died in a sea of apathy (along with downtown), and today Court Street was filled with people of all ages enjoying the sunshine, is enough to give someone chills.

Music is a powerful tool.  It can even help to heal wounded cities.

Binghamton has seen more than its share of hard times.  Losing Endicott-Johnson, and later losing IBM (I am talking here about the Triple Cities, not strictly Binghamton but its two smaller neighbors to the west, Johnson City and Endicott) and the well paying jobs that left with IBM, was a very big blow.  When we moved here in the mid 1980's this area was full of decaying factory buildings - sadly this has not been fully fixed.

But now, downtown Binghamton is on the way back up.  There are a number of reasons for that, including influx from New York City-which may or may not always be a good thing. (Why?  I will blog about that another time.  And, when I say something like that, please keep in mind I am a native of New York City.)

Two major Binghamton events, July Fest and the August Chris Thater Memorial, added music last year. (Again strictly speaking, the Chris Thater Memorial does not take place in downtown, but rather on Binghamton's West Side) and - the crowds came.  And they stayed, and enjoyed, dancing and interacting, into the wee hours of the night.  There's no way this would have happened without the draw of music.

I know my spouse would never have set foot in downtown Binghamton on a sunny Saturday afternoon without the lure of music.  I suspect he is far from the only one.

Tomorrow, the special appearance will be that of Gap Mangione. 

I hope to be there.

Cherry Quest, Gimme Cookie, and Magic Paint

Just another Saturday in Binghamton, NY.

This morning I was determined to buy some local sweet cherries.  The same U-Pick farm as last week was still offering them but with our schedule, we knew we wouldn't be able to get up there in time.  Instead, we headed to the Otsiningo Park Farmers Market.  There was a vendor there selling New York sweet cherries for $2.75 a pint.  We bought a pint and....they were soft, sweet and juicy.

The cherry quest has ended, and I am happy.  With other berries I have in the house, and the start of the local blueberry season (finally!), a pint should last 2 or 3 days.

We also picked up a dozen farm fresh brown/Arucana eggs.

We finally stopped by a booth called Gimme Cookie.  This booth features naturally baked cookies, using free range eggs.  The variety changes by the season.  But besides their obvious cookies, they make handmade English muffins, and that is what we wanted.  A co-worker had offered me one of their English muffins, a (whole wheat) basil pesto.  It was heavenly.  By the time we got there (10:30 am) the booth was out of all their muffins, except for two packages of whole wheat dried cherry/dried blueberry.  Fruit in English muffins (or bagels, for that matter) do not appeal to either spouse or me, so we passed.  And because we won't be able to make the market the next two Saturdays, we'll have to wait.  Noting the English muffins are $1.00 each, they had better be good - and they are.  They bear little resemblance to store bought.

After that, we took a 2 3/4 mile exercise walk, and the highlight was this little critter on the path:

 Then we headed to July Fest in downtown Binghamton.  This is a combination jazz festival and art show, with lots of craft booths.

This picture is of something called the Magic Paint Brush project, which originated here in the Triple Cities several years ago, and is now expanding.  Their mission is to serve the community of special needs individuals and their families through art.  This was their set up, and all were welcome.

Here is an overall view of the festival, showing some of the historic buildings downtown Binghamton is blessed with, and the sunny day we were blessed with, too.  Sunny days here are not the most common occurrence.

A view down a different street. (the grey building is not historic but rather our State Office Building, the tallest building in Binghamton.)

And finally, what would a jazz festival be without jazz.  The music was added for the first time last year, and was an instant success.  For the first time ever, July Fest is three days, and the music was responsible for the expansion.

There is more I want to say about this subject, and I will do that in a separate post.

Next year - who knows?  It will be a special anniversary for this festival, and I can't wait to see what is planned.