Monday, December 31, 2012

An End and a......?

It's New Years Eve.  A time to say goodbye and, hopefully, a time to look forward towards a fresh slate.

I could talk about some changes I want to make to my blog for the coming year.

I could talk about the joy I felt in shopping for clothes today, prompted by a gift card from my mother in law, and finding that I could fit into a size I thought, just a mere three months ago, that I would never fit into again.

I could talk about having to fight again to have that sidewalk near my house, in front of a 800,000. flood-ruined building, cleared of ice and snow by the county that has taken possession of the property.  The battle against winter gets harder each year.

But I won't.

Instead, I want to talk about a blogger in her 20's, who fought a battle against breast cancer for almost all of her adult life.  She was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer when she was 21. Her name is Bridget Spence and she lives in Boston.  The end of her journey through life is near. She asks the blogging community to let her go, so she can complete her journey.

I had just found out about her, via another blogger, and now I must say goodbye.  Four days ago, she wrote her final post.  If you go to her blog, don't just read her final post.  Read the comments.  This is one woman who impacted many, many lives with her courage, her spirit and her dignity.

I rarely get religious in my blog entries. Bridget thought of this portion of Matthew 6 when she wrote about her sister in law getting ready to give birth, knowing she might not live to watch her niece grow up.  This is taken from Matthew's description of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount:

          “That is why I am telling you not to worry about your life
           And what you are to eat, nor about your body and what you are to wear.
           Surely life is more than food, and the body more than clothing!
           …Can any of you, however much you worry, add one single cubit to your span of life?
           And why worry about clothing?  
          Think of the flowers growing in the fields;  they never have to work or spin;
           Yet I assure you that not even Solomon in all his royal robes  was clothed like one of these.
           Now if that is how God clothes the wild flowers growing in the field…
           Will he not much more look after you, you who have so little faith?

           So do not worry;
           Do not say, “What are we to eat? What are we to drink? What are we to wear?”
          " So do not worry about tomorrow: tomorrow will take care of itself.  
           Each day has enough trouble of its own. “

I was humbled by reading portions of her blog.  It was a good way to end this year.

May the upcoming 2013 be good to the world.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Civil War Sunday - Emancipation

150 years ago on January 1 - Emancipation.

I wanted to share a post by a Civil War blogger as my last Civil War post of 2012.  I have not yet had the chance to see the movie Lincoln, but everyone I know who has seen it has declared it an excellent movie.  Even people not Civil War buffs.

This Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, part of the original Emancipation Proclamation document will be on public display at the National Archives.  (2 of the 5 pages on display will be the original document).  The document is rarely displayed because it is so fragile.  How I wish I could have been there, but circumstances did not permit.

The Emancipation Proclamation, of course, did not actually free any slaves.  Not right away, anyway.  Total emancipation was not achieved nationwide until December of 1865, with the ratification of the 13th Amendment [to our Constitution].

The Emancipation Proclamation was basically a wartime measure, but it made clear the direction that the Civil War had taken.

Also, to celebrate this event, the United States Postal Service will issue an Emancipation Proclamation Forever Stamp, available on January 1.

This is the text, again from the National Archives website:

A Transcription
By the President of the United States of America:
A Proclamation.
Whereas, on the twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit:
"That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.
"That the Executive will, on the first day of January aforesaid, by proclamation, designate the States and parts of States, if any, in which the people thereof, respectively, shall then be in rebellion against the United States; and the fact that any State, or the people thereof, shall on that day be, in good faith, represented in the Congress of the United States by members chosen thereto at elections wherein a majority of the qualified voters of such State shall have participated, shall, in the absence of strong countervailing testimony, be deemed conclusive evidence that such State, and the people thereof, are not then in rebellion against the United States."
Now, therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief, of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion, do, on this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and in accordance with my purpose so to do publicly proclaimed for the full period of one hundred days, from the day first above mentioned, order and designate as the States and parts of States wherein the people thereof respectively, are this day in rebellion against the United States, the following, to wit: Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, (except the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the City of New Orleans) Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia, (except the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Ann, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth[)], and which excepted parts, are for the present, left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.
And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.
And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defence; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.
And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.
And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.
In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the eighty-seventh.
By the President: ABRAHAM LINCOLN
WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

If Only Congress Could be Run by Local Government

Two days ago, I blogged about having to slog through over a foot of snow in front of a county owned building several blocks from my house.  The building is on a main thoroughfare through our area, and there is a heavily used bus stop in front of the building.

Last night, I emailed a Town official and the County Supervisor, very nicely (I am never nasty with a complaint letter or email), not knowing which County agency was responsible for this 800,000. square foot building (a victim of our September, 2011 floods).  The building had been owned by the Air Force at the time of our September, 2011 flood caused by Tropical Storm Lee.  Since, it had been taken over by our County.

I asked the officials if they could intervene and get the sidewalks cleared off.

In an area (upstate New York) that commonly gets 80 inches or more of snow in a year, this is not an idle concern.  In a bad winter, those uncleaned sidewalks could have been a hazard for months.

So, what happened?

At 10:03 AM today I received an email from Town official Tom Augostini (who kindly answered me despite the fact that I misspelled his last name - so sorry!) advising the name of the agency responsible - and giving me his cell phone number should the problem recur.

When I got home from work tonight there was a phone message from Rose Sotak, the Town of Union Supervisor - no need to call her back but she wanted me to know that my concerns were going to be addressed.

They certainly were.  The sidewalk had been plowed by the time I got home.

Don't you wish our Congress would be as responsive?

Guess who will definitely get my vote next time they are up for reelection?

 I want to give a shoutout to both of these officials.   Thank you!

Now, I hope, that when it snows again.....that will be the true test, won't it?  It is snowing now and we are supposed to get 3 to 5 inches.  Check back later this week!

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Mayan Apocalpyse and the Eternal Sunset of the Spotting Mind

Thank you, Sue Ann Bowling, for alerting me to this website and making my arctic solstice dream come true.

Sue Ann Bowling is a fellow blogger - and also a resident of the Fairbanks, Alaska, area, a scientist and a science fiction writer.

I have blogged before about my fascination with the midnight sun - and the midday dark - including the dreams I used to have when I was a little girl.  I have never lived north of where I am currently living, near Johnson City, New York.  Yet, when I was a little girl, growing up in New York City, I had a number of vivid dreams about living in a place that had daylight past 11pm - or sometimes, almost total darkness at noon.  The constant light made me happy - especially the dreams of midnight light-  but when I looked at the stars in the darkness dreams, they frightened me.  (I do mean "little": these dreams are some of my earliest memories.)

You didn't glimpse many stars when growing up in the Bronx.  But I somehow knew the stars were "wrong".

Now, thanks to modern techology, I have seen the Alaskan day on the first day of winter.

The video shows time lapse photography of the sunrise in Fairbanks, Alaska - and the painful crawl of the sun across the horizon, only to set again less than 4 hours later.  Call me strange, but this video gave me chills.

Sue Ann Bowling describes "North Pole weather" every Monday on her blog, and I treasure her observations. 

She is a scientist.  I write from my feelings, without regard for the science.  She witnesses what she writes about.  I can only imagine, and try to reconcile the mysterious dreams of my childhood with her observations.

I don't know if I'll ever solve this mystery of my early childhood.  But I may come close.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Can I Fight City Hall and Win?

It stinks (I have no better word that can be used in a family friendly blog) when governments are held to a different standard than the people they supposedly exist to serve. (Governments serving the people - what a concept.  In the United States that is the theory, but - too many times, it is just a theory.

So, because of that, I wrote emails to a Town official and the newly reelected County Supervisor tonight.  I will keep you, my faithful readers, up to date on whether I get any response.

As a little background:  my neighborhood was once the home of one of the largest, if not the largest, wooden frame structures in our country.  In September of 2011 it was occupied by BAE Systems.  Then Tropical Storm Lee came and flooded the building with some 42 inches of water. (It also flooded much of my neighborhood, but that is besides the point.) Goodbye, BAE, which moved several miles down the road.  The building, then owned by the Air Force, was taken over by the County. 

Up to this winter, BAE (and, before then, Martin Marietta and GE) took care of the sidewalks in a timely manner.

Since BAE moved out at the end of February, 2012, (they only had a skeleton crew on site but still provided some snow removal)  no one has maintained sidewalks when it has snowed.

This morning, I had to walk through naturally fallen snow and also the snow thrown from Main Street by town snow plows.  It was physically difficult.   I am a 60 year old woman with a bad back. I was panting by the time I got to the bus stop, walking through what must have been nearly a foot of heavy, wet snow. (And yes, I do exercise.)

As of this evening, the snow appeared to be untouched.  There were three people waiting at the bus stop in front of BAE.  Although this building is vacant, that bus stop is frequently used by the public.

I saw various citizens, tonight, walking on the side of Main Street - living up to its name, it is heavily traveled by cars.  In other words, walking in the streets is dangerous.

I do not know who is responsible for snow removal - the County provides security but I don't know if they are also responsible for snow removal. In reading Town of Union code, this would seem to be a violation.  I believe the Code requires snow removal within 5 hours after the snow ends.  It does for flesh and blood citizens, anyway.  For the County - who knows?  The same County that exists to serve its citizens?  But we know how that goes....

I live, by the way, in an area that frequently gets 80 or more inches of snow in a year.  My fellow citizens and I may be wading through snow (and slipping on ice) in front of this approximately 800,000. square foot building from now until March.  Or even April, if we have what used to be a typical winter here.

It will certainly be interesting if either of these officials monitor their email (or even have assistants who do.) Something tells me I will be keeping my phone busy after the New Year.

Have you ever "fought City Hall?" and won?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Darker Shade of Writing

I'm taking a break from my normal Wednesday feature, as the snow comes down. We are supposed to get 6 to 12 inches of snow before it turns into a "wintery mix".

The last month has been interesting - not necessarily in a pleasant way.

A 100 year old relative hospitalized twice. I saw her last in October, and yesterday, she seemed so....frail.  She had a wonderful appetite and stuffed herself.  When the talk turned to Newtown (so many discussions nowadays do....) she immediately voiced her opinion.  Bless her, not only does she have all her mental facilities, but she keeps up with all current events.  But she barely escaped being put into a nursing home, this last time.  Against medical advice, her son, who himself suffers from various health issues, brought her home.  I can only hope things work out, because these relatives do not have much in the way of money.

It's the moment we all dread - the moment many of us eventually have to face with aging parents-what to do? Her problem, thankfully, was not a fall, but something that can hopefully be controlled with medication for a long time. 

And then, there is the situation with my mother in law.  We live 150 miles from her, which makes us long distance caregivers.  She falls several times a year and her last fall was about two weeks ago.  At least this time she told her daughter, who is the closest in distance to her, about the fall. She aggravated an old injury from another fall, and is suffering with back pain.  Because of medication she is on, she can't take much in the way of pain killers.  She hasn't been able to walk without support for a while, but she may have to transition from a cane to a walker.

Driving is more and more difficult and her county, a relatively rural NY county, does not have much in the way of services for its senior citizens. 

She's stubborn and it's great for her spirit and morale, but not great for her three non-disabled children, who she doesn't listen to until she hurts herself, and then it is too late.  There is also the added complication of the fourth child, a man in his 50's who has autism.

I really haven't talked about some portions of my life up to now.  I'm doing some heavy thinking these past few weeks, wondering if I should talk more about these issues I face as an aging baby boomer - or if it will turn off my younger readers if I do.  And, if I should talk more about some of the other issues we here in the United States are facing.

So, I will ask my readers:

Should I talk more about issues like aging, long distance caregiving and adults with autism?  I wouldn't give up the photography, and talking about gardening and sustainable living, but this is a direction I want to take with my blog.

What do you think?

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

An Upstate NY Christmas

Christmas 2012. (pictures taken December, 2012 by RamblinwithAM).

A Binghamton, New York sunrise.
 A hill top near Binghamton, NY.

Poinsettia and amaryllis.

A tree in Phelps Mansion, Binghamton, New York.

Christmas dog.

 And, one final touch of Hanukkah.

Happy Holidays to all of my readers. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Don't Give Up Christmas - A Call to Action

 The other day, I listened to CNN - something I don't do much of anymore but I just happened to tune in - and they were talking about people in the United States who were so depressed about the Newtown shooting that they had decided not to celebrate Christmas.

Outside of Newtown itself, whose residents should make the decisions that best work for them, I think that is a mistake.  Throughout history, people in deadly situations have decided to keep trying to live the best they can as they survive wars and natural disasters.  We can not imagine what it was like, for example, to live in London during the Blitz. Or, what it was like to celebrate Hanukah in Nazi Germany.

This is not exactly on the same scale, but I wanted to share something here in Binghamton, NY, the site of the #8 most deadly shooting in U.S. history in April of 2009.  (How I wince as  type that - this is not a sport to keep statistics on).  These are not empty words - Mary Sherlach, the school psychologist killed at Sandy Hook Elementary, went to high school in nearby Vestal, New York.  We mourn her death even as we relive memories of that day in April, a mass shooting in an adult education classroom for immigrants.

But now, fast forward to 2012.

Every final workday before the Christmas holiday break, a downtown Binghamton, New York tradition takes place in a building lobby.
I approached the building on Friday, its lobby brightly lit.  This building was built in 1904, is 10 stories tall, and is the third tallest building in Binghamton.

Normally, the building isn't open to the public but on this day, the public is welcome to come into the warm lobby.  What awaited us?

A decorative ceiling, so common back then, so lacking in modern buildings.

...and more carolers.  These are employees of a local life insurance company, Security Mutual, who gather every year for a half hour of caroling in the marble lined lobby. (The paintings visible in the above picture date from the 1980's, I am told.)

And finally, one more detail from the lobby.

The only thing missing is the music. I wish you could have heard it. You would have laughed, cried, felt your heart soar, and been brought back to Earth, all in the space of half an hour.

 I planned to include a video from one of the instrumental numbers, "What Child Is This", but - let's just say - I had "technical difficulties". So, instead, I'd like to bring you this thought:

Don't give up Christmas.  For many our holiday season is unbelievably sad.  But it is time to act, and maybe through action, we will start to heal.

First, love your family.  Hold them close.  And then:

Gather the facts.  Examine the facts - not the propaganda that abounds all over the media and Facebook- carefully and thoughtfully.  However you then feel our country should act to insure a mass shooting never happens to another city - not Binghamton, not Aurora, not Tuscon, not Blacksburg, not Newtown....examine your heart.  And then act.  Organize.  Mobilize.  Express yourself. Be true to yourself.

We have too much at stake not to.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Civil War Sunday - Civil War Santa

Year end has come again.  It almost seemed like yesterday.....

This year things are subdued in the United States, as we still digest the aftermath of the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting.  It is well that we reflect on the fact that our country was at war with itself 150 years ago today.  As sad as we may feel right now, remember how much worse it was for those living then.

(Binghamton, New York Civil War monument, Courthouse Lawn, downtown Binghamton, courtesy of RamblinwithAM.)

I have blogged a couple of times about the Federal ironclad USS Monitor, a ship that has a link to my Johnson City, New York area ..  I had hoped to visit the Mariners' Museum in Newport News, VA that houses its surviving portions, but my schedule this year didn't allow me to.

I still hope to visit - it is supposed to be a well done exhibit and well worth the trip from upstate New York.

But now, it is time to say goodbye to the USS Monitor.

On December 30-31, 1862, the USS Monitor sank in a storm.  Although rescue operations were in progress, the ship sank before all onboard could be rescued, and 16 crew members perished.

Next Sunday, December 30, 2012, they will be remembered in a special ceremony at the Mariners' Museum.  There will be other special events, including a special tour reserved for descendents of the crew, its shipbuilders, and others with a link to this ship.

I also wanted to wish my readers who celebrate Christmas a most wonderful Christmas - and leave you with this thought taken from an article about the Civil War Christmastime of 1862 and a budding cartoonist:

"Tragedy, grief, sadness, deprivation, heartache know no boundaries in war.  Families on both sides of the conflict, North and South, had felt the long, grim arm of war. At Christmas, when times are difficult and families are separated, the despair is even more difficult to bear...."

We normally don't think of jolly Santa Claus, American style, when we think of the Civil War, but we should.  Again, from the article, speaking of the later to be internationally acclaimed Thomas Nast:

“Santa Claus in Camp” and “Christmas Eve, 1862” were drawn for a war-torn country in 1862.  Now, 150 years later, they remain two of the most riveting images of the Civil War. Not only do his illustrations impart an insight into the politics of the war, they also offer a rare window into the deep and intense emotions of the people who lived through these difficult years, in both North and South."

Thomas Nast gave us our earliest images of the now-modern jolly, obese Santa Claus.  Today Santa is known by children of all ages around the world as Nast envisioned him, starting in the midst of our Civil War.

You can view these images online. 

Much of Nast's Civil War work was pro-Union, but these two images are side-neutral, and withstand the tests of time.  They speak to us today as much as they spoke to the Americans of 1862.  Dwell upon them, especially on the eve of Christmas, 2012, and know what war truly did to our country 150 years ago both in ranks of the fighters and on the home front.

Happy Holidays to all of my readers, and a Happy New Year.

The Banana Slicer, the Pen, and the Sock Puppets

My Civil War Sunday feature will be posted later today, but I dd not want to wait until after Christmas to blog about the Amazon Review Purge.

To the horror of published writers (both "indie" and "traditionally published") Amazon has "refined" its review policies - maybe this time, a little bit too much.

I am not going to write or comment on the purge itself - many authors have already weighed in. As I am not a published writer, I have nothing to add to the conversation except to say:  sales of books depend heavily on reviews - and these reviews can be obtained in some interesting ways. We've always known that in our hearts, but now the dirty laundry is being hung all over the Internet for all to see.

On the other hand, folks, do not despair!  As of 9:30 this morning these helpful (non-book) review are still on Amazon for your use and enjoyment!  Read them carefully:  they may be gone by the time you read this post.  I am seeing some writing talent in these reviews.  Maybe these people should be running Amazon and not the yaho-oh, sorry, that name is already taken by someone else-running this purge.

If I had found these a week ago, I would have had another Apocalypse Confession to post. (by the way, I am still holding out on my yearly binge read of the Weekly World News).

Thank you to a high school friend who posted links on Facebook to the first two reviews.

Bic Cristal Pen (for her) $6.00

Banana Slicer - $2.50

Uranium Ore - $39.95 (yes!  you can mail order yourself uranium ore!)

The Laptop Steering Wheel Desk $29.95 (yes, it's still in stock!)

And, finally, for the serious photographer who has everything (or the serious photography wannabe who has nothing):  An unbelievable telephoto zoom lens.

We in the United States need a good laugh today.  The Amazon purge isn't funny, because I do depend on reviews - not just of books, but items I am purchasing.  I've always taken reviews with a decent helping of "reviewee beware" but I may have to rethink my use of reviews completely.

But you have to admit - I made you laugh!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Sustainable Saturday - Tall Tunnels

We woke up this morning to our first true snowfall, here in the Susquehanna River valley near Johnson City/Binghamton, New York.  Not only had snow fallen, but winds were gusting.

It was a good day to visit our twice monthly indoor farmer's market in downtown Binghamton.
Several baked good vendors were there, along with a couple of meat/poultry vendors, plus people selling honey, herbal products and fudge.  One vendor still had, amazingly, fresh produce.  This indeed was all local, produced via a farming technique called "Tall Tunnels".  This basically is a smaller version of a greenhouse, which, from what I've read, can extend the growing season 4 to 6 weeks or even longer.  They do take, however, a lot of work.

We purchased one of the butternut squashes (other winter squashes were also available) and the last local garlic we will have this year.

This same vendor normally has beef available, but his is in short supply because his slaughterhouse has shut down beef processing for deer processing.  Once deer season is over, his beef will return.  That, of course, is part of the sustainable lifestyle - sometimes you just can't get what you want.  That was a normal part of my childhood back in the 1950's - you didn't have year round fruits and veggies flown from all over the world.  We are fortunate that we do not have to depend on hunting for our meat, as so many of our ancestors had to.

Meanwhile, in my front yard, conditions were a bit chilly. Peeking above the snow are the remains of basil, oregano, lavender, and other herbs and perennials.  Sleeping underneath is thyme.
Sleep peacefully, herb and flower garden.

Sleep in wintery peace.

See you again in the spring.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Whimsical Christmas

Now that we have survived the Mayan Apocalypse, it is time to turn towards the upcoming Christmas holiday.

Here are some of my favorite whimsical (or original) decorations photographed around the Binghamton/Owego, New York area of upstate New York.

Darn!  We missed the Zombie Apocalypse, too! (taken at O Tannenbaum in Owego, November 2012)
The perfect wreath for the knitter. (taken at O Tannenbaum in Owego, November 2012)
A little collection of Christmas critters.
And, the famous Owego, New York "book tree", updated for 2012.

Tomorrow, I have a downtown Binghamton, New York treat for you.

What is your favorite  "non traditional" holiday decoration?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Apocalypse Confessions

It's the zero hour..  At 10:11 pm the world comes to an end.

All over Twitter, people are tweeting their Apocalypse confessions - those deep dark secrets we all hide.  Those secrets that will make everyone hate us if only they knew.

You know you have one of those secrets  You know you want to confess before the end.

Here, I'll start it off.

I have a secret vice.

It's The National Enquirer type tabloids.   I don't read them all that often, but once or twice a year, I will get several copies, and binge-read.  I eat up those articles about how Laura Bush has left George Bush because of his drinking.  I read about The Final Days of Clint Eastwood.  I gobble up the Predictions of the Psychics Predicting Events of 2013. I even read the ads in the back.  The mediums who will solve your love and money problems.  The dating classifieds.

It's getting to be that time again.  I can feel the hunger growing.

I hope the world ends first.  I must resist.  But Bat Boy is calling, Ed Anger is gesturing, and I must obey the aliens who kidnapped me when I was young.

What's your secret Apocalypse Confession?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Fall Fancies - Electric Trains and Erector Sets

In downtown Binghamton, New York there is a small antiques store called Midtown Antiques.  Yesterday, when I passed by their storefront window, I saw someone setting up an electric train display.

Today, the set up was complete.

How many children through the years have wished for electric train sets for Christmas?  I suspect not too many children do so today, but when my spouse was growing up, almost every child longed for one.

What would he have done if he had found this under his tree?

Years ago, there was a man in Johnson City, New York (just to the west of Binghamton) who had a business in his basement (as I recall) building electric train layouts.  So many times I almost got my spouse one of those sets.  I never did, and I suspect he died years ago.  I tried doing an Internet search - no luck.

There was one other toy in the window that intrigued me - this antique Erector Set. 

Do you remember electric train sets?  Erector sets?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Best of AM - The Auto Train

Today, I return to one of my first blog posts, and give it a little rework.

I went out to lunch with four work friends.  We walked past a store display, where someone was putting together a large train display.  Trains fascinate me, and fascinate many people.  There is a romance to train travel that doesn't exist for other forms of travel.  It makes me think of the subways that were an everyday part of my life growing up in New York City - the good parts of subway travel, that is.
In 2006, it had been 30 years since I last set foot in Florida.

I can remember a lot about what is now called "old Florida" from three visits between 1966 and 1972 and two years of living in Florida from 1974 to 1976. I can remember Busch Gardens in Tampa when it was a free brewery tour followed by a free trained parrot show. I can remember Disney World when it first opened (my first visit was 10 months, I believe, after its opening.) and you paid separately for rides.

I can remember riding one of those rides, It's a Small World, when it was at the NY Worlds Fair. In fact, it was part of Disneyworld when the park opened and still operates today.

So how did I prepare for this nostalgic visit? By researching it to death. I discovered various Tampa landmarks were gone-Mirabella's, Maas Brothers - and others had been bought up or had name changes.  The Tampa skyline definitely was not what it was back in 1976. But absolutely nothing prepared me for what was to come.

But first - .how to get to Florida?  As my friends know, I have not been on a plane since 1996, and I don't know if I will ever get myself on one again.

I remember seeing ads for the Auto Train in the early 1970's when I still lived in NYC. I think, back then, it was private. I had always been curious about it. So we booked it, myself, my spouse and my 16 year old son-and our 1999 Altima.

Once the train pulled out of the station in Lorton, VA, there was the amazing sense of getting ready to complete a journey that had started in 1966. Thirty years earlier, an Atlantic Coast Line train had brought me home from Tampa, FL during an airplane strike.  Now, once again, I felt as one with the land we were passing through. The rocking, the train sounds, the whistle blowing, once so familiar to me. In Fredericksburg, VA we passed near Civil War battlefields we had visited years ago. At Quantico, we went right through the marine base and watched helicopters in flight. We passed over a beautiful lake and had close up views of the countryside. In Richmond, VA we passed so close to a highway we could see the faces of drivers heading in the opposite direction. It was so tempting to wave!

We passed people going home for their supper hour. In one town we passed right down the middle of their main street, with driveways backing right into the path of the train.

Even after darkness fell, and the hours passed, I would peer out the window every time lights and the start of whistleblowing, announced a town. We passed through southern North Carolina as I fell into a fitful sleep. The train seemed to speed up. When a train passed in another direction sometimes it seemed as though the train would rock right off its tracks. Finally, we pulled into a well lit station - our one stop, to change crews and do maintenance only: Florence, South Carolina. We stayed there a while, and then traveled on.

At some point I woke up in time to see a huge, well lit billboard for a Crab Shack on Tybee Island and didn't know if it was part of a dream or not.

The next thing I knew, it was 6am and time for breakfast. I had no idea where I was - it turned out to be southern Georgia.

As darkness made way to light, my son and I gazed upon a southern greenscape. What a feeling it was to share this with my son, pointing out the southern vegetation and other landmarks as we came across them. How awesome is it to share a piece of your life with your teenage son?

The sun was already high in the sky as we crossed over the St. Mary's River into Florida, glaring down with the promise of a boiling August Florida day. After breakfast, we slowly wound through Jacksonville, FL. Jacksonville is the largest city (area wise) in the United States and the Auto Train gives a very good view, taking a good 20 minutes to pass through. To my delight I saw names I had not seen in 30 years...Kash and Karry, Winn-Dixie. They had survived the 31 years since I had last been in Jacksonville.

South of Jacksonville, we saw many shade houses, and the conductor announced these were fern growing areas. Certainly nothing you would have seen from the Interstate.

Finally we got to Sanford, and the circle started in 1966 was complete. We eventually made our way to Tampa, and other adventures.

This turned out to be the last vacation I would take with my son, who is now living on his own.  I wonder if we will ever travel again together.

Do you enjoy train travel?

Monday, December 17, 2012


I had to step back.

A combination of a big day in my life, several days of lingering illness (I'm finally starting to feel better), a birthday and "too much social media overload" made me step back for a couple of days.

I shut off the computer yesterday (except for maintaining my blog), turned my back on Facebook, and only did one brief email check.  Today, I checked email only because I was expecting some big news in relation to a longtime friend who is battling cancer, and stayed off of Facebook except for a couple of brief visits.

Guess for me, that is being unplugged.

I will return to normal but not quite yet.  Tonight I am just going to enjoy the evening and catch up with some (hard copy) reading.  I will continue to blog, but don't expect anything extensive for a couple of more days.


And if you are wondering why the friend in Brooklyn knows why.  I am so thrilled because she

The big R word.

The joy is tempered because I know others who are still fighting that nasty, unfair fight.  But today, this dread disease has suffered one setback and I hope there will be more and more setbacks for The Big C.  I hope, and pray, that one day no one will ever have to fight this fight, ever again.

Dear friend, tonight I celebrate with you.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Civil War Sunday - Was There an Angel of the Battlefield?

This past week marked the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Fredericksburg.

It's been a long time since I've visited the Fredericksburg, VA Civil War battlefield, walked the Sunken Road,and paid my respects at the National Cemetery where some 15,000 soldiers are buried.  One of the points I try to make time and again in my Sunday Civil War blog posts is that there is nothing glorious about war.  The Battle of Fredericksburg, a Confederate vicotyr, was no exception.  The City of Fredericksburg was part of the battle, and its civilian residents suffered along with the soldiers.

There is a legend that a Confederate soldier, Sergeant Richard Kirkland of South Carolina, heard the moans of the wounded and dying soldiers who fell in the battle, crying for water.  The legend states that, with the OK of his superior officer, he gathered up as many canteens as he could find, filled them with water, and ran out onto the battlefield.

At first, the Union troops fired on him, or so says the legend, until they realized that he was trying to give water to the dying troops.  At this point, it is said, both sides looked on in amazement as he tended to the dying of both sides.

There is a monument on the Fredericksburg battlefield that commemorates this event.

Richard Kirkland was a real person, and died at at the Battle of Chickamauga on September 20, 1863.

But did he do what legend says he did?  In various readings online, I conclude it is quite possible that this is only legend.  A great legend.  We may never know for sure.

The Fredericksburg battlefield is one of four battlefields in a relatively small area.  I have visited all four and highly recommend a visit to this area.  Think well, these battlefields teach us, about the horrors of war.  

There is a fantastic blog post that talks more about Fredericksburg. It is long, but well worth reading.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day - Dec 2012 - Yellow Christmas Cactus and Green Fall

Welcome to my 15th of each month post as I participate in Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, where gardeners from all over the world gather to check out what is blooming in gardens (and inside houses for those of us not in our growing season).  As usual, this meme is brought to us by May Dreams Gardens - please be sure to visit her blog, and click on links from other participants.  You will see a world of beauty!

In my zone 5 garden in upstate New York, it is nearly winter.  Our fall has been mild, with hardly any snow. Since, in a normal winter, we can get between 80 and 100 inches of snow, the lack of snow is mourned by some, but I couldn't be happier.  The grass is still green, dandelions are still blooming and as of today, I have one outdoor plant in bloom - a purple alyssum.

I'll share that picture later in the post but first I would like to show you my yellow Christmas cactus.  I bought it in November with tiny buds and was quite pleased when the buds started to swell.

At this point the flowers were more pinkish than yellow.

More fully open.

And finally, fully open, now showing their yellow, but still with a hint of pink.

My African violets also continue to do well.  Here's one of them:

I try to put one "mystery" plant into each of my GBBD posts.  I was given a cutting of this plant while visiting the Ithaca (NY) art trail two years ago. The plant has done quite well and sometimes has small blooms.  The person who gave this to me had no idea what the plant was and I don't know, either.  Does anyone know?  The tiny flowr is almost in the center of the picture.

I only got two impatien cuttings to root this fall.  They are in a northern window, and the first bloom looks to be ready to open.
 I did have one major "fail" this fall.  My amaryllis are just sitting and sulking.  So, I bought a clearance plant on Black Friday (the day after our Thanksgiving in November) for $2.50.  It was already sprouted, and had a bud.  I was hopeful the bud would do something.  But it has dried up, although the plant itself is growing.

And now, finally, to my one outdoor flower.
 If GBBD had been three days earlier, I would still have had blooming petunias, but a 23 degree night three nights ago put an end to their season.
So, all hail the mighty purple alyssum, the latest in the year blooming plant I have ever had in my 25 plus years of living in upstate NY.

What's blooming in your garden or on your windowsill?

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Bluest Holiday Evening of All

I was planning to blog today about "Blue Christmas" - those who feel pain during the Christmas season due to tragedy in their lives. One of my Facebook friends - a lovely woman I have never met but I used to play FarmVille with - was feeling a lot of pain.  One of her sons died a couple of years ago, and she was missing him deeply.

Tonight, after the unthinkable happened earlier today in Newtown, Connecticut, all I can think about is the unimaginable amount of pain the residents are in tonight.  The surviving children who were in that elementary school today had their childhoods stolen from them today.  A mother is dead at the hands of her son.  An older brother was falsely accused of an unspeakable crime.  The entire country is sending the affected families prayers tonight, but few of us can even begin to imagine what those people are going through right now.

A President cried publicly.  Hardened police officials allowed their emotions to show.

We all struggle to try to understand.  When I came home from work tonight, my Facebook wall was full of reactions. We will struggle for a long time.  I suspect we will never fully understand.

I don't have anything new, anything profound, anything imaginative, to add to the discussion that is going to be taking place in the coming hours and days. 

All I can do is add my voice to the voice of many other Americans tonight.  The people of Newtown are in my thoughts this bluest holiday evening of all.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Art of Temperature Taking


What things happened yesterday on this special day?

I am amazed that I know someone that has seen two 12/12/12's.  This person is one of my spouse's aunts, who is an amazing 100 years old - mind as sharp as the day she was born. She will be turning 101 early next year.

There was another number for me yesterday - 99.5.  After two full days of continuous shivering and obvious coming-down-with-something, I broke down and took my temperature.

That went something like this:

Spouse, being helpful, digs a thermometer out of our medicine cabinet.  It is an old fashioned glass thermometer that is left over from my son's early childhood. I took my temperature - and then realized I couldn't read the tiny thread of mercury, or whatever it is.  Or, fo that matter the tiny numbers on the glass tube.

Spouse tried. He couldn't see it that well but thought it was registering 99.6.

So he then dug out our digital thermometer.  I popped it in, and soon it beeped - 99.5

Hurray for modern technology - the glass thermometer is something else I will never be nostalgic over.  It certainly isn't friendly to almost 60 year old eyes.

I am therefore going to take the day off from coherent blogging.  Hopefully, by tomorrow, I will feel better .

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Fall Fancies - Confused Nature

With our unseasonable mild weather and lack of snow, nature is confused. Shouldn't it be winter, it thinks.  The daylight is at its shortest. But other indications scream "spring".  What's a plant to do?

Back on November 7 I blogged about a confused cherry in a local superarket parkling lot in Johnson City, New York.  As of Saturday, it was still in bloom. 

Now we are in December and nature continues to be confused.

These pictures were taken on the West Side of Binghamton, in upstate New York - some on December 9, some the week before.

Lamium (spotted dead nettle) in bloom, with more blooms forthcoming.

A confused forsythia. 

Snapdragons.  True, these may have been sheltered by being near a house foundation and mulched with stone - but I don't think I've ever seen any still in bloom this late in the year.

But, some plants aren't fooled.  There is this plant --- snowberry.  The berries remind you of something we are lacking - not that I am complaining - snow.  Of course, I don't know if this plant would have leaves in December....

My guest plant expert says:
The U.S.  is home to a number of Symphoricarpos, this is albus.   (Some of the hybrids between this and others in the clan yield a gorgeous coral-pink berry, a berry like this but with the mixed coloring of this and the redder smaller-berried species.)  All the Symphoricarpos are great cover, nesting sites and food for birds.  And tough as nails.

Is nature confused where you live?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Mrs. King's Dolls

I did not start out to blog about a shooting tragedy, but it is ironic, in a way, that I planned this post before the news of the shooting tragedy today in Portland, Oregon.

We in Binghamton, NY, a small city of about 47,000. in upstate NY near the Pennsylvania border, suffered our own shooting tragedy on April 3, 2009:  13 dead, plus the shooter.  Sadly, there have been a good number of mass shootings since that day.

One of the dead in the Binghamton shooting was a 72 year old teacher, Bobbie King.  Besides her work at the American Civic Association, where the shooting took place, she put in countless hours of volunteer work at Hanukkah House, the Binghamton museum I have been blogging about the past few days.

Every year, portions of her collections of dolls and dollhouses would go on display at Hanukkah House for the enjoyment of the community. There is nothing said in the descriptive material about Mrs. King, but her doll collection was a legend in this community.

Since Ms. King's untimely death, her family has graciously continued the tradition of displaying some of her dolls and dollhouses.  When I view these dolls each year, I can almost imagine them crying over the tragedy that took their owner's life.  We like to say that good comes from bad, though, and I like to think that these dolls are celebrating Bobbie King's life and all the people whose lives she touched in her 72 years on Earth.

Looking into Mrs. King's dollhouse, you see a world in miniature.  If you didn't know better, you might think this was a room in a mansion taken from above.  The detail is incredible.

Here, you see a set table with a miniature tea service.
And here, a bedroom complete with crocheted coverlet.
Sadly, today, we have a situation where innocent lives were again taken by....who?  why?

Binghamton asked that question almost four years ago,and, in a way, it is fitting that I write about Bobbie King's dolls tonight.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Lighting the Darkness

Hanukkah House is a museum in Binghamton, New York, inside a Reform synagogue, which is housed inside of a historic mansion.

This museum has meaning on many different levels.  But first, a couple of observations about Hanukkah.

 Over the years, Hanukkah has grown in importance, at least in the United States, because of its observance close to the Christian holiday of Christmas.  The two holidays are not at all related, however.

Hanukia (more commonly called Menorahs) are lit during the holiday in religious observance of a miracle that took place in 164 BCE (Before the Common Era, which Christians call BC or Before Christ).  Menorahs have spaces 8 candles (originally, oil lights) that are lit by a 9th candle, the shamash (servant) candle.  The shamash is placed either higher or lower than the other candles.  On the first night, the shamash and the first candle are lit, accompanied by traditional blessings. On each night, one candle is added until the 8th night, when all 9 candles burn bright.  (There is also a tradition where all the candles are lit on the first night, and then one is removed each night.) The candles are normally paraffin wax, usually colored, but can also be made from beeswax.

In places where flames are not allowed, electric menorahs are used.  Some homeowners use electric menorahs for safety or other reasons, too.

Hanukkah House has a wonderful collection of traditional and modern menorahs.  A fact that may surprise you is that menorahs, although used in a religious ceremony, can be decorated in many ways, many of them secular.  They are truly expressive art of the Jewish people. I can not give proper credit to the people who lend these menorahs to Hanukkah House but hope I am honoring them with my photos.

In many families children are given their own menorah and these are decorated with art that appeals to children.   Here are some menorah examples:

A menorah that honors the World Trade Center, and New York City....

A bird menorah left) and a wagon menorah (bottom right)...

...and two traditional menorahs, highlighting the tablets of the Ten Commandments.

But Hanukkah House is a lot more than Hanukkah, as I will show in the coming days.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Civil War Sunday - When the Jews were Expelled on Hanukkah

On this first full day of Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, my thoughts go back to the first day of Hanukkah in 1862.

We think we are so safe in our homes, but history teaches us that situation can change in seconds.

On that day, December 17, 1862, General Ulysses S. Grant issued General Order 11, which ordered all Jews living in parts of three states under Federal military control to vacate their homes and leave those states within 24 hours.  It is a sad, and not well known, incident of the United States Civil War.

A copy of the order can be viewed online.

The history of why Grant issued this order can be read at the links above, but to summarize, some Jewish merchants (and Christian merchants also) were engaged in the sale of black market cotton, which benefited the Confederacy.

 This is the order:
  1. "The Jews, as a class violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department and also department orders, are hereby expelled from the Department [of the Tennessee] within twenty-four hours from the receipt of this order.
  2. Post commanders will see to it that all of this class of people be furnished passes and required to leave, and any one returning after such notification will be arrested and held in confinement until an opportunity occurs of sending them out as prisoners, unless furnished with permit from headquarters.
  3.   No passes will be given these people to visit headquarters for the purpose of making personal application of trade permits."
The order affected Jews living in parts of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi.  And there was no appeal.  Some Jews living in Holly Springs, Mississippi ended up walking 40 miles to Memphis, Tennessee.

What happened next? Newspapers all over the country (thanks to the Associated Press)  took up the cause of the displaced Jews.  Others felt it was a correct decision. Some Jews decided to visit Lincoln in person to plead their cause.  Quoting from the Sun Sentinal article above:

"A Jewish merchant from Paducah named Cesar Kaskel traveled to Washington on a mission to have the order overturned. Upon arrival he was able to arrange through an Ohio congressman a meeting with the president."

When Lincoln hard about the order, he immediately countermanded it.  Please keep in mind that during this period, Lincoln was getting ready to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which would free slaves in states in active rebellion against the United States - while meanwhile, General Grant was expelling another minority from their homes.

And what about Grant?  He repented this order both publically and privately, but it followed him for the rest of his life.  As students of history know, after the War ended, General Grant ran for President in 1868.  General Order 11 was a campaign issue, and Grant said:

"I have no prejudice against sect or race, but want each individual to be judged by his own merit. Orders No. 11 does not sustain this statement, I admit, but then I do not sustain that order. It never would have been issued if it had not been telegraphed the moment it was penned, and without reflection."

Could Jews vote for Grant?  They could, and they did.  Grant won the election.

History teaches us many things.  With the 150th anniversary of our Civil War, we will learn a lot about a chapter of our history that still has relevance to us today.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Sustainable Saturday - Hanukkah House Binghamton

Tonight it is the first night of Hanukkah.
It's time for a little recycling, this time of a blog post from a couple of years ago.  This post was originally made in 2011, changed slightly to update it

While most of us in the United States are preparing for Christmas, the Jewish people of this country have been celebrating Hanukkah.

In Binghamton, there is a wonderful museum in a historic mansion that opens for a month every year, this year from November 15 to December 27.  Run by volunteers, Hanukkah House is free (but donations are accepted).   Today, I'd like to show you some of the mansion and some of the displays from 2011.  I hope to visit Hanukkah House again this week and if I do, I will post some of those photos.

 Entering the museum, you can see both an overview of the museum and one of the fireplaces of the historic Kilmer Mansion, where the museum is located.  The painting over the fireplace is of the mansion. 

More fireplace detail.
Decorations above the painting of the mansion.
And finally, ceiling detail.

Each year Hanukkah House has a theme.  In 2012, it is "Light in Darkness - Hanukkah During the Holocaust".

On December 15, Hanukkah House will feature a special presentation of a Twilight Zone episode (Rod Serling grew up in Binghamton) that took place during the Holocaust. 

If you are in the Binghamton, New York area, I encourage you to visit Hanukkah House.  Whether or not you are Jewish, you will find a lot to interest you, I promise.

Friday, December 7, 2012

An Old New Perspective on Pearl Harbor

Today, December 7, is a day meaningful to the generation that preceded mine - the generation that is sometimes called "The Greatest Generation".

My parents were a member of that generation,  After 1941, December 7 was never a date on the calendar to them, ever again.

Pearl Harbor Day was the day that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, which was not yet one of the 50 United States.  Japan declared war on the United States shortly after the attack. The United States declared war on Japan the next day, and Germany declared war on the United States three days later.

Many amazing stories of survival and eyewitness photos came out of the events of that Sunday morning but no story may be as amazing as the story told by this 97 year old former reporter for a Honolulu newspaper. It has remained untold until now.

I have never been to Hawaii, but I hope to visit one day.  The USS Arizona memorial will be one of my "must see" stops.

Yesterday I blogged about my trepidations over growing old.  I can wish to grow old in the way that this former reporter has.