Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Historic Binghamton, New York

Do you remember The Twilight Zone?  Many people do, whether they saw it in its original showing on television in the early 1960's (as I did) or in reruns (as folks younger than me did).

I never dreamed I would work in the city where Rod Serling grew up, but I do, and a couple of times a month (at least) I even walk on the street where he lived  His childhood home on the West Side of Binghamton is privately owned and not open to the public, but there are many places you can walk and enjoy a nice spring day on streets where Rod Serling no doubt walked many times.

Rod Serling's neighborhood today is part of a historic district - called the Abel Bennett tract.  

There is nothing Twilight-Zony about this lovely historic district, named after the first mayor of Binghamton, especially on a sunny spring day like the one we had on Saturday.
Come take a little walk with me, as we pass by pink and white flowering trees.

Another view of pink cherry blossoms.
And, in a front yard, yellow and white species tulip and blue anemone.

And with that, I bid farewell to the bloggers in the Ultimate Blog Challenge.  I had a good time, and hope you did too. 

My next challenge is the 2013 WordCount Blogathon in June - I hope to see you there.

Monday, April 29, 2013

My Blogaversary and the Chickens

Today marks the 2nd anniversary of my daily blogging streak.  Yes, starting with my post of April 29, 2011 I have blogged daily. Through thick, through thin, even through the aftermath of a flood (thanks to us having been on vacation, and our neighborhood never losing power).  Will I go for Year 3?  I don't quite know.  I don't know how much of an achievement daily blogging is - perhaps it is more an indicator of how crazy I am.

After all, I have a memoir to write.  I made my 10,000. word goal on my Chicken Memoir for the April session of Camp NaNoWriMo (10,300 words to be exact) and just might sign on again for July.

It's been quite an experience starting to write a memoir of growing up in New York City and then totally changing my life around by moving to rural Arkansas and living on 34 acres.  I've found I'm far from the only person who has written about experiences with chickens - which I owned and loved -hence, my "chicken memoir".

I have been away from chickens for almost 30 years, and times have changed tremendously.  Thanks to the site Mental Floss, I found out today just how out of touch with the chicken world I am.

I knew there was such a thing as urban chickens.  I've heard chickens several times while exercise walking through the West Side of Binghamton  (a household in Binghamton, NY can own up to four chickens.) I don't live in Binghamton, and I don't know if chickens are legal in my town of Union.  But more and more, cities are legalizing chickens - at least, hens.

There are chicken blogs, chicken message boards, and now - chicken motels.

Yes.  You see, urban chicken owners aren't necessarily into livestock for earning a living, unlike farmers, who need to schedule their lives around their animals and their crop cycles.  Some animals need a lot of care - for example, dairy animals   need to be milked every 12 hours. Chickens need to be cared for daily.  Eggs need to be collected. City people want chickens but also still want to vacation.  So what happens to the chickens when it is vacation time?

When my spouse and I lived in rural Arkansas, we were able to take short vacations only because one of our two neighbors would look in after our chickens, ducks and geese.  They would feed them, collect eggs (which they kept, of course) and lock them up at night.  We did things for them if they had to be away.  That's how things work in the country.

But if you are an urban chicken keeper, your neighbor might not be interested in sitting your chickens.  Hence, chicken boarding.

I am intrigued by the idea, although I can quickly see some downsides. But, it does make sense to offer a service for which there is a demand.

A retirement career for my spouse and me? My spouse, quite honestly, has missed chickens in his lie more than I have.  I don't think I'm ready to restart my life with chickens.  At least, right now.

But it would be nice to think there might be chickens in our lives again, one day.

But, first, I must ask.  If you run a chicken motel, what would be your chicken turn down service?

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Civil War Sunday - The Confederates of Upstate New York

It's funny how life works, because when you are busy traveling hundreds of miles to learn about Civil War history, you can sometimes find it in your own home state of New York.

It's even more fascinating when the history involves a New Yorker who served the Confederacy.  This isn't the only time New York and the Confederacy have been linked - there is the fascinating story of the hamlet of Town Line New York that appears to have seceded from the Union and did not rejoin the Union officially until 1946.

There are a number of fascinating articles online about whether this secession actually happened. (All I can say is that, despite statements that their fire department logo still includes a Confederate flag - their current patch has an American Flag and Flag of the State of New York.)

And then there was Jedediah Hotchkiss.

I had not heard of Hotchkiss when, in March of 2012, I was browsing the wonderful Civil War bookstore located in the National Park at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.  I found a book "Civil War Battles The Maps of Jedediah Hotchkiss". by Chester G. Hearn and Mike Marino.  I quickly found that the book was not a biography of Jedediah Hotchkiss, a schoolteacher and geologist before the Civil War, who ended up becoming the mapmaker for Stonewall Jackson.  (We are coming up on the 150th anniversary of this famous Confederate general's death, and I will be blogging more about him next Sunday.)

Still, I found value in a book that contained some of Hotchkiss' maps, and Civil War era photographs, and I bought it. 

Later last year, my spouse found that one of his co-workers is interested in the Civil War, and this person told him "You've got to go to the Old Stone House Museum in Windsor!"  I work with a couple of people who live in Windsor, (which is a rural village a few miles from here) and it turns out one of them knows the person who runs that museum - she offered to set up a visit for us and her sister, who also loves the study of the Civil War - but we were never able to make the connection.

So, a second time, I ran into Jedediah Hotchkiss. He was born, and grew up in, Windsor, on property where this museum is now located. He later moved to Virginia, which is how he ended up on the side of the Confederacy, making maps for Confederate generals. 

So, object lesson here - don't ignore treasures in your backyard.  Tomorrow, I'll be contacting my co-worker.  Time to visit.

And now, it will also be time to hunt for other New York Confederates.  None of us should be surprised - few of us today realize just how this war split our nation (and still does, to some extent) and how fighting it made the United States the country it is today.

Do you have a nice regional museum that mainly locals know about?

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Sustainable Saturday - Living on The Ledge

What could be more sustainable than taking wasted space on your sunny windows or even sunny walls (in a bath enclosure, for example) and growing herbs, lettuce or even beans? 

Are you tired of knocking over plants on your kitchen windowsill when you use your sink? (I am). Do you wish you were the perfect waterer so your window ledges would never need repainting? (Or, as with so many of our windows, we have a tiny window sill and you wish you just had room to put plants on them, period)?

Before I start sounding like an infomercial, my usual disclaimer:  no, I am not receiving any compensation for this post - and no, I have not used what I am about to blog about myself.  Although I'll be thinking strongly about that, perhaps come fall.)

We were out and about this morning, going to several local nurseries to plan our plantings for this year, when we saw this display:

When I saw the planter with pole beans thriving inside of it, I had to talk to the woman tending the display.  We ended up having a pleasant conversation.

This woman is is the inventor, and told my spouse and I that this product was made locally, here in the Triple Cities of upstate New York. 

She demonstrated how you can get her "living ledge" to "stick" (not quite the right word, but it does assemble easily and firmly, yet causes no damage to anything it is applied to) to your windows. 

If you go to her web site (yes, you can purchase this online) you'll get a better idea of how it works.

If it works as demonstrated, this would also be a wonderful way for apartment dwellers in big cities to grow some of their own herbs, or lettuces, or even air-cleaning houseplants.  You can bottom-water easily with these units, too.  How I would have loved this when I lived in New York City!

I have a soft spot for female entrepreneurs (my grandfather was a small business owner, but the gene skipped me) and if they are trying to enrich the local economy, so much the better.  I wish her the best.

Do you grow small plants like lettuces or herbs indoors?

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Zone of Alienation

This is one zone you probably don't want to be in, this abandoned zone which some call the Zone of Alienation.  Its other name may be more familiar to you.

It's been deserted for almost 27 years now, these cities and villages in a country that existed then but no longer exists.

It's a living laboratory for the study of how nature reclaims an area that was once a city, and a living laboratory to study what happens after a nuclear disaster.  And this city could become Europe's biggest wildlife sanctuary, some 1,600 square miles, because what scientists thought would happen to the life remaining in that city hasn't happened.

We in the west know this city, and a nuclear power plant, as Chernobyl.

A nearby city, Pripyat, founded to house the workers at the Chernobyl plant, also lies abandoned.  It had about 49,000. residents on that day, Saturday April 26, 1986, when disaster struck during a systems test at the power plant that gave Pripyat its reason for existing.

Because the then-Soviet Union tended to keep disasters secret as long as they could, the people of the Soviet Union didn't hear of the disaster from their own government for nearly two days.  Meanwhile, we in the West were both horrified and fascinated as the news trickled out.  We heard about it for months afterwards.

The abandoned cities and villages are being reclaimed by Mother Nature.

It may amaze you to know that you can actually take organized guided tours of a portion of the Zone of Alienation.  And, it may amaze you even more that some scientists are hotly debating what is happening to wildlife, even as the zone remains quite radioactive.

Make no mistake - this was a disaster that affected thousands and thousands of lives - the lives of the families of the dead, the lives of the thousands who were evacuated not knowing they would never return home, the lives of thousands more who feared contamination of their food and contamination of their bodies.   I also know that this disaster, with 31 "official" deaths, has no doubt claimed a lot more people through cancer and other illnesses, and will continue to.

But the pictures fascinate, both the pictures of the deserted cities, site of so much human misery, and - the wildlife.

Is it possible that one day, the Zone of Alienation may be the Zone of Amazement?

Would you want to visit Chernobyl?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Hold Me Closer, Tony Danza

Have you been guilty of mishearing song lyrics, to sometimes comic results?

I have.  I bet you have, too. A number of websites exist for the purpose of discussing song lyrics and allowing people to discuss lyrics that other people have misheard, sometimes with quite comic results. 

There is even a name for this - mondegreens.

Take the song "Tiny Dancer", by Elton John.  I love that song.  I have several of the earlier Elton John albums, such as Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboys, Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only the Piano Player and Yellow Brick Road.  Plus, one of his greatest hits albums.

I've spent countless hours, since the early 1970's, listening to these songs. (I will also admit I am not partial to his later work.)  I clearly hear "Hold me closer, tiny dancer". But somehow, I never realized that young Tony Danza had crept into the lyric when I wasn't looking.

"Tiny Dancer" came out in 1971. Tony Danza was born in 1951. The show "Who's The Boss" started in 1984.  So, Tony Danza must have been pretty young - about 20, to be exact - when he appeared in the lyric, only 13 years after the song came out.

For the record, I never have watched the TV show Friends (the show that immortalized the "Young Tony Danza" lyric), so no wonder I was the last to know.

Until yesterday, that is. A tweet led me to the website Mental Floss (a wonderful magazine, by the way, and I can't wait until the next time I visit my childhood friend in Brooklyn so I can sponge off read her husband's copy) which had rated the "Ten Most Often Butchered Song Lyrics".

And "Tiny Dancer" was #1 on the list of most misheard lyrics!

Now, my personal most misheard lyric is the Bruce Springsteen/Manford Mann's Earth Band classic "Blinded By The Light.", as immortalized in this skit.

Meanwhile, on the other side of Atlantic, the BBC has had its own fun with mondegreens.

I must admit, in more than one instance, that the wrong lyric makes more sense than the right lyric.

Do you have a favorite misheard lyric?  Or have you been singing the wrong lyric of a particular song for years?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Spring Things - The Flowers Have Come! The Flowers Have Come!

Shout it from the streetcorners!  Proclaim it throughout the Triple Cities of upstate New York!  Spring has arrived.

On the West Side of Binghamton, I took these photos today while on my exercise walk.  The rain held up long enough for me to take these pictures.
Saucer magnolia.
A weeping cherry.

Yesterday, the sun shown so bright that the forsythias glowed. I wish I could have caught the glow with my camera.  These pictures were also taken on the West Side of Binghamton (later this week, I may show some pictures taken at my house and in my neighborhood.)

Here's a cherry.

And a star magnolia.  Magnolias here are so fleeting - sometimes the flowers only last a day or two before they drop - depending on the weather.

Finally, from several days ago, species tulip.  In some ways, I enjoy the hardy species tulip more than the fancy varieties of the hybrids - the Parrots, the Rembrandts, the fringed, the peony tulips. There is something so bright, so hardy, about these little specimens - and I love the stripes that some varieties bear. (They also seem to weather our climate better than the hybrids.)

Is it spring yet where you live?  If it isn't, I hope you enjoy this sneak preview. (And for my readers in Australia and New Zealand, please just enjoy.)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Fame and Fortune Will Have to Wait

One week left to Camp NaNoWriMo.  One week left to write my chicken memoir, the vehicle by which I will achieve fame, fortune, and the adoration of millions.

No, thousands.  No, hundreds.  Well, maybe twenty people, including my spouse, my childhood friend in Brooklyn, a couple of people at work and, if I'm lucky, my sister-in-law. (My sister in law even traveled to Arkansas, back in my chicken days, to visit my spouse and me.  Now, that's a sister-in-law!)

Some people had their salad days.  I had my chicken days.  And, my salad days, too, but I digress.

I was idealistic once.  And then, life beat it out of me.  Not totally, because I still believe in the sustainable lifestyle.  But trying not to freeze in a leaky cabin in Northwest Arkansas  heated by a wood stove made from a 55 gallon drum during a Blue Norther, is not my idea of sustainable living.  It shouldn't be yours, either.

What I would really like to do is write a funny memoir, but then I don't know how I would deal with the sad stuff.  There was some sad stuff.  Sad stuff comes to us all.

So, right now, because Camp NaNoWriMo (like the official NaNoWriMo 50,000 word novel in 30 days competition in November) is about nonstop writing with no editing, I have 6,985 words worth of "I did this, I did that, and,if you are interested, here's how to raise chickens and definitely how NOT to build a leaky cabin."  If you want to read about potsy and Spauldeen balls, and Black Austrolorp chickens, this will be your book.  If I keep up the memoir writing after Camp is over, that is.

Now, all I need to do is follow through.

Have you ever written your memoir?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Earth Day 2013

After our community 2012 Earth Day event was cancelled due to the aftermath of the flood of September 2012 that impacted portions of the Triple Cities (Binghamton area) of upstate New York, the event returned for 2013-actually two events.

After having waited on a long line the Saturday before to recycle some electronics, we realized how much of a demand there was for that kind of service. Many people do not want to see their old computers, cell phones, DVD/CD players end up in a landfill, but many communities do not offer an alternative.  And if they do, and you give the material to a recycler, are you assured that your old electronic "junk" won't end up in a third world landfill?
Universal Recycling in Binghamton, New York (and other location throughout the United States) is trying to prevent that.  The electronic material you bring in is broken down into components and the various ingredients (as described by the young man we spoke to at the Broome Community College Earth Day event on Sunday) are sold to companies that can use them.  They do everything possible to keep materials out of landfills.

We also spoke to employees of Broome County about their composting programs, and to a man who sold us a composter years ago, which we still use.  He told me that, for years, he's had a vermicomposting (worm composting) box in his office, and many of his c workers were unaware of it.  He brought it to the Earth Day event and showed me the worms, but to be honest, I am too squeamish about worms to consider it.

This time, we did not leave with tree seedlings (we have several growing in pots from previous years but have no room on our small lot to plant them) but did get a free packet of scarlet runner bean seeds, crocheting instructions for making a beach bag out of plastic grocery bags and a cloth bag for our grocery shopping.

What did you do for Earth Day?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Civil War Sunday - The 35th State

Before and immediately after the start of the United States Civil War, a total of 11 states seceded from the Union, starting with South Carolina on December 20, 1860 and ending with Tennessee on June 8, 1861.

Four of these states (Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee) did not secede until formal hostilities started with the Confederate bombardment of Ft. Sumter, in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina on April 12, 1861.

Of the states that remained in the Union, five were slave states:  Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, Missouri, and a fifth state that was not a state when the Civil War began.

The state of Virginia paid a heavy price for its participation in the Civil War.  More battles were fought in Virginia than any other state (Tennessee ranks second in that statistic), and, during the war, it split into two states, with the western part of the state (under circumstances which some historians argue were illegal because the official government of Virginia never gave permission for the part that became West Virginia to leave - but on the other hand, Virginia had left the Union by then) voting to rejoin the Union as the State of West Virginia, a slave state.

The movement for the western part of Virginia to leave Virginia dates from before the Civil War, but, because of the Civil War, was able to become a reality.

As so many other "facts of history", the history of the Civil War is complex, with many twists and turns, and I am only a layperson, not a trained historian. There is a lot material online, if you are interested in how the exact process took its course.

What can't be disputed is that on March 26, 1863 voters approved the constitution of the to-be state of West Virginia along with an amendment called the Wiley amendment that would have gradually emancipated ("gradually" is the key word here) slaves in the state, and on April 20, 1863, 150 years ago yesterday, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that area that would become West Virginia had met all the requirements to achieve statehood and would be a state 60 days later:  on June 20, 1863.

June 20-23, 2013, the state of West Virginia will celebrate its sesquicentennial, the only state that entered the Union during the War Between the States.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Sustainable Saturday - Spring (Plant) Cleaning

(My Earth Day post will be on Monday.)

When we are trying to engage in sustainable living, it's a good idea to have some plants strictly for pleasure. Plus, houseplants can clean indoor air, improving your quality of life.

I have several of the air cleaning plants at home.  I have three spider plants, several Mother-in-law's tongue (I bought my first plant at a "houseplant party"in 1977 and still have the original plants-or their descendents), a Warneck dracaena (my plant is over 6 feet tall) and aloe vera (more on that later).  At work...well, that's a post for another day (luckily I work in a plant-friendly office.)

But over the years, plants can get spindly, woody, or need dividing.

My Vicks plant, for example, is woody and has been dropping a lot of leaves - perhaps due to some overwatering.  I am going to take some cuttings and propagate it, and then put the rest of the plant outdoors once we pass our last frost date.  It will have one nice season in the sun and then I will have to figure out what to do with it come fall.

Most people don't have rosemary plants as houseplants, but we have to - at least, in the winter.  We overwinter several plants - luckily, my spouse is strong as I have a bad back.

We lost a rosemary over the winter - the first one we propagated from our original mother plant. In the Binghamton, NY area where we live, it is too cold (zone 5) for rosemary to overwinter outdoors. (This is how we do it.)   This elderly plant is struggling to come back but my spouse is not optimistic.  This plant may date from 1989 - and if it doesn't live, this plant above will be our new senior plant.

My Aloe Vera came from Home Depot (it begged me to buy it) and must be close to 10 years old. It is  seriously pot bound, which may not be a problem, but I think I've been watering it too much, too.  I need to see if there are any pups and if so, I'll divide it.

Do you have houseplants?  Do you have a spring "cleaning" of your plants?

Friday, April 19, 2013

Tweeting the Night Away

Binghamton, New York and Boston, Massachusetts. Some five hours apart.  Worlds apart.

In downtown Binghamton, population 47,000, I found myself in the throngs of noontime shoppers.  With my former walking companion, I was in a department store helping her to shop for a baby shower for a little newborn baby girl. We oohed and ahhhed over the cute outfits, purple and pink and yellow and pale green, covered in little flower prints.

I left work and sighed as the 74 degree breeze washed over me.  I admired the springtime flowers.

The beautiful blue of chionodoxa..

I doubt anyone was listening to our police scanners online, or tweeting about our backyards.  We had our 15 minutes of fame on April 3, 2009.  But, you know, because of our mass shooting that day, I can identify in some way with that city five hours away.  In a small way, we are siblings.

 Now, at 8:49 pm Eastern Time, we are in some kind of unreal drama in the town of Watertown, MA.  If this had been a movie script, it would have been tossed on the discard pile.  Boston Marathon bombers.  And, four days later, after a carjacking (with the driver released!), and a police chase worthy of a M rated video game complete with suspects tossing bombs and grenades out of their car, Boston and surrounding areas were in a suspended Friday, mass transit shut down, people told to stay home and stay away from windows.  No spring day for them. 

Instead, people posting pictures on Twitter. Deserted downtown Boston.  Deserted I-93.  Deserted Kenmore Square, it's iconic Citgo sign.  It's like the movie set of some strange apocalypse movie.

The house on Franklin Street.  The suspect, in Watertown, hiding in a boat.  Watertown? Boat?

Dead? Alive?

So now, I follow the news on Twitter instead of TV.  I find links to eyewitness photos.  Links to police scanners.  And the most hysterical, side-splitting irreverent tweets.  I don't dare repeat them here.  It really isn't funny except maybe in a black humor kind of way but I'm reading them to my spouse, while he eats pistachio nuts on the couch and watches a baseball game, and he's laughing away.

And now, it's just been confirmed by NBC news that the suspect is alive and in custody.  I read it first on Twitter.  Boston, can you breathe now?  It's safe to turn off your computers now.

What a spring day.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Lightening Bugs at a Quarter of

Memoir writing at the virtual Camp NaNoWriMo is making memories flow.

I started out in college as a history major, but within a year had switched to cultural anthropology.  One of the required courses was a course in anthropological linguistics.  It became one of my favorite courses, which amazed me because my auditory skills aren't a strong point.

Taking that course is how I found myself on a New York City college campus on a beautiful fall day, asking fellow students what time it was.  My aim was to find students from various parts of the United States (and even the world) and ask them certain questions.  Based on the answers they gave, I would draw a "linguistics" map.

Think about this for a minute.

You know those sandwiches made with thick, long, crusty Italian bread?  Commonly, those sandwiches are made from cold cuts, mustard, lettuce tomato, onion, sometimes salad dressing and pepper rings or pickles.

What do you call that sandwich?  In the old days, if you were from New York City, you probably called it a hero.  In New England, you might have called it a grinder.  In Philadelphia, a hoagie.  My husband, who spent part of his childhood in Westchester County, New York, calls them wedges.

How about those early summer insects who fly in the evening and are able to light up part of their bodies?  What do you call them?  Fireflies? Lightning bugs? Lighning beetles?

How about carbonated drinks?  Soda?  Pop?  Soda Pop?

And that's why I was pulling aside random strangers, asking them to take a survey, and then pointing to my watch.  The little hand was on the 3 and the big hand was on the 9.  And I was writing down their responses:  did they say a quarter to three?  Or a quarter of three?

How did they pronounce the words Mary, Merry and Marry? (midwesterners, like one of my late aunts, tend to pronounce them exactly the same.)

In a way, that class has stayed with me all my life.  Little did I know that in the 10 years after my college graduation I would live in Florida, Iowa, Texas, Kansas and Arkansas, and I would hear my class in action as I interacted with people in each area.  Even after I moved to upstate New York, I listened to the women who told me that "they were pregnant for (name of their child)" rather than the New York City "pregnant with".  And, something enjoyable wasn't just good, it was "wicked good".

Now, years later - so many of these regional expressions are merging.  Perhaps thanks to a certain fast sandwich chain, many of us call that Italian bread sandwich a "sub".   I don't hear "wicked" used as much as I used to.  But other expressions live on, and I look forward to seeing fireflies this summer while I sip on a diet soda.

What regional expressions are used where you live?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Spring Things - Nature Paints

The up and down see-saw of spring in upstate New York continues.

Right now, it is 60 degrees. (15.5 Celsius) with a beautiful blue sky and a light breeze!  Perfect sighing weather.  By the weekend that will be a memory.

But at least we aren't in Colorado with more threats of snow.

Our white is coming from flowers - for example, violets.
Andromeda, or lily-of-the-valley bush.
For purple, hyacinth.
For yellow, forsythia.
Here's a closeup of the first forsythia flowers.

And back to white, bloodroot.

Spring at last!

Until this weekend, anyway.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Saved by the IRS

Today, it is Boston's turn.

Just as in the past it was the turn of so many cities, so many societies, so many peoples, too many to count.  For some, it comes in the middle of peace.  For others, it comes by way of years of war.

Yesterday's event at the finish line of the Boston Marathon was so random.  Death or amputation were a matter of inches or yards.  That's the scariest type of violence.  It can strike anywhere, anytime.

In the short term, I was grateful.  One of my cousins lived in Boston until recently.  And in the long term, I am grateful, too.  I know people who have fought in war.  I know people who experienced war as civilians.  So much violence, and too many times we don't pay attention until it "happens to us".  Then it becomes personal.

I know a woman whose daughter has run in the Boston Marathon before, most recently with her fiancé. Both live in Boston.  Today, I had an email exchange with the woman. Neither her daughter nor her future son-in-law qualified this year.  Her daughter was on a plane at the moment of the incident (which is scary enough, given memories of 9/11) returning home.  The future son-in-law?  Normally he would have been at the finish line, congratulating friends.  But yesterday he was at home - doing his taxes. (Our income tax filing deadline was yesterday).

Saved by the IRS.  I could make a joke about it, but it wouldn't be too funny.

I've been to Boston, and have walked past the exact spots where the bombs went off.  We've been visited by evil, bombs planted by persons who knew what they were doing, and sought to kill rather than inflict property damage.

The trick, now, in the days after the bombing, is to bounce back.  Boston will do it, just like so many of us do it after tragic events in our lives. Not that it's easy.  Not that memories will remain for life.  Not one of us will have a life without tragedy touching it.  Some will be touched more than others, and some will be tested more so than others.

Being from New York City originally, I know people who personally witnessed parts of 9/11, including the collapse of one or both World Trade Center towers.  Some of them commuted to work daily, routed past the closed subway stations that had been damaged.  Some lived in the area, which for a while was called "the frozen zone" or "Ground Zero".  They couldn't avoid the daily reminders. Every time there was a scare - the November, 2001 plane crash in Queens, the Times Square bombing - the memories return.

Boston will learn to cope, too.  New York and Boston are baseball rivals, but we are all Americans together.   One day I will return to Boston, and I will walk on Bolyston Street to Copley Square. It's a beautiful street with a wonderful mix of architectural types and lots of shopping.  I'll visit the Prudential Center again (what a vew of Boston from its observation area!) and I'll browse in the public library.

And that's a promise.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day April 2013-Give Spring Credit for Trying

Welcome, flower lovers from all over the world, to Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. Hosted on the 15th of each month, GBBD (as we fondly call it) is a chance for flower gardeners and flower lovers from all over the world to show off what is growing inside - or outside, for those where it is still too cold - their houses or wherever they live.  As usual, this meme is brought to us by May Dreams Gardens.

Please be sure to visit May Dreams Gardens and other participants in GBBD.

In the Binghamton area of upstate New York, spring is trying.  It is really trying.  It gets warm and then it gets cold.  It gets warm and then it gets cold.  Over the last several days it got cold. Now spring will try again, starting today.

And the good news is:  we have flowers outside!  At last!
The Lenten Rose bush we planted two years ago has finally bloomed.  And the one we bought in the late fall as a blooming plant is coming back - who knows, with luck it will bloom again next year.

Too bad the flowers face down, because this is what they look like.
One of our primroses has started to bloom.
In our back yard, bloodroot flowers are just opening up.  We got this plant from a native plant nursery in Ithaca, New York called The Plantsmen. 
The crocuses are finishing up, but many are still out, along with the first of the daffodils. (This picture was taken several days ago.)  Meanwhile, I am hoping our first daffodil will be blooming by tomorrow.  Forsythias are almost ready to bloom in the next day or two, too.

What's blooming for you today?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Civil War Sunday - Halfway

A couple of days ago we passed the approximate "halfway" point of the Civil War.  Unlike the people alive on April 14, 2013, those who were alive on the day Ft. Sumter in South Carolina was bombarded by Confederate troops under the command of  P.G.T. Beauregard on April 12, 1861 had no idea what horrors the next four years would bring.

Here, at the halfway point of the Civil War, we have the luxury of being able to look back and look ahead at the same time.

We don't have to look ahead very far.  May 1-5 is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Chancellorsville in Northern Virginia, a battle that would take the lives of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson and kill and wound about 29,000.  others.

Many battles followed that.

How many people would die as a result of the Civil War?  The people alive at the half way point would have no way of knowing. In fact, we living on April 14, 2013 have no true way of knowing, either.  For years, the accepted figure was 620,000.  In 2012, a demographic historian at Binghamton University in upstate NY, across the river from where I live, suggested a different figure:  750,000.

Yes, it happened, and shaped the country we in the United States live in.  That's part of the reason for our fascination, even for people like me who had no ancesters living in the United States at the time of the war. (My ancestors did not come to this country until the first two decades of the 20th century.)

Right now, I'd like to continue a tradition of this blog - repeating part of a blog post from April of 2011, when I visited Ft. Sumter and Charleston, South Carolina just before the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, with a slightly rewritten end.  Next week, we continue with events more connected to April of 2013.

Ft. Sumter - The Beginning

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the way back, you can see the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, that is on display in Patriots Point in Charleston Harbor.  A symbol of the more modern United States, that was given birth through the Civil War, and a popular tourist attraction in Mt. Pleasant, on the "other side of the river" from Charleston.

What would the Confederates have thought?

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Sustainable Saturday - Why Buy Local?

What is a localvore or locavore? (I've seen both spellings).

One definition is "a person dedicated to eating food grown and produced locally".

Question immediately arise, such as: "what is local"?  Is it 10 miles?  50 miles?  100 miles?"  And, should that food only be organic food?  What if small local farms practice organic farming practices but don't have the money required to obtain an official organic certification?

Still, more and more people are investigating this food option.

This can get a little difficult if you live in the middle of a large city or in an area with a short growing season.

Here in the Binghamton, New York area there is a store called the "Old Barn Hollow Market" and it is an interesting place, indeed.
Their aim is to buy from producers 50 miles or less from Binghamton, although they will go up to 100 miles.  We are fortunate to be in dairy, maple syrup and apple/blueberry country.  For items not growable here (such as citrus) they have a buying club.  We haven't participated in that yet.
Here are a couple of examples of our recent purchases.  Above, left to right, is a loaf of day old cheese bread, a container of maple syrup-sweetened yogurt (made with non-homogenized milk), a quart of non-homogenized skim milk (and it was sooooo good) and a dozen eggs.  Not shown is garlic.  At the time of that visit, in March, the store was also selling beets grown using a technique called "high tunnels (or tall tunnels)"
This week we returned and purchased more garlic, some non-homogenized half and half (which was fantastic) and a bag of baby bok choy (I am going to blog more about the bok choy next Saturday).  The garlic, alas, is the last of the garlic until the new crop comes in late this summer.

So, why does it matter if you buy from a "localvore" store?

1.  You are buying from your regional neighbors and that money will circulate back into the local economy.
2. The owner of the store knows what he or she is selling, and can talk to you intelligently about all the items in the store.  If they can't answer your questions, they will go online and research (like the Barn Hollow person did with the bok choy above).
3.  You will know exactly who is growing or producing each product.  Each item is proudly labeled, and a good store will provide the websites or addresses of each grower. 
4.  The producers WANT you to contact them. Imagine that!  They want to have a dialog with you, their customer.  They want to know what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong, too, and if there is any product you would like to see them grow or produce.

5.  Although these items tend to be more expensive than store bought you can't assume they will be more expensive.  The garlic was quite reasonable, we felt, and a local supermarket was selling the same amount of baby bok choy for a dollar more - and the supermarket bok choy wasn't even local.  You have to shop carefully, but it can be worth the effort.
6.  This type store is a great alternative in areas where farmers markets do not operate daily.

Does your area have a localvore movement?

Friday, April 12, 2013


Many of us are talking about the number 42 in Binghamton, New York, today.

No, we aren't talking about 42, the movie about Jackie Robinson, now playing in our local theatres.

No, we aren't talking about the Answer to the Ultimate Question about Life, the Universe, and Everything.

No, we are talking about the length's of someone's career.  Someone who was arrested this week for grand larceny,someone who was the former Binghamton Parks and Recreation director, someone who should have retired in March at the age of 71, after a distinguished 42 year career.  Instead, he resigned in November.  Now, he could be facing a felony charge and 15 years in prison, if convicted.

That's an important point - this man hasn't been tried for this crime yet.  His alleged crime? Stealing at least $50,000. in funds from the Binghamton Department of Parks and Recreation.  We may never know the full amount (assuming he is guilty, of course) because the investigation can only go back five years.

"He handed a trophy to my son", one of my co workers said.

Another co-worker said he knew the accused's next door neighbor.

In a city of 47,000, people know each other, and many are in shock.  They are asking "Why? Why would someone jeopardize a lifetime of good works to steal money?"

Another co-worker commented that she would rather be "penniless with a clear conscience".

The Mayor of Binghamton said, in an interview, that this person was “kind of like an icon around here.”

Now, this man is a tarnished icon.  He interacted with our comunity's youth while he was (allegedly) stealing money collected by the taxpayer to serve those same youth.

And all we can do is ask "Why?" and "Say It Ain't So, John".

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Laying a Chicken Memoir

 I am supposed to be attending Camp NaNoWriMo (short for "National Novel Writing Month") in April.  My goal was to write 10,000 words of my memoir.  No pressure.  A nice virtual camp.

A funny thing happened on the way to the memoir.  I got diverted by my chickens, and I haven't even owned any in almost 30 years.

I had a working title (created only after a bunch of agonizing) called "Life Among the Chickens". 

My working discription was"A woman who grew up in the urban New York City of the 1950s and 1960's finds herself homesteading in rural Arkansas in the early 1980's, learning along the way about chickens, outhouses and what really matters in life."

Well, this is all true (I did grow up in New York City, I did find myself homesteading in Arkansas in the early 1980's and it was certainly an interesting experience) but what I keep asking myself is:

What about my life would people really care about?  In other words, what makes my life so special?  It's nice to think we are all special in our own ways, but that doesn't produce a great story.  I'm not thinking "best seller" here but "why does my life have meaning?"

I really don't know right now.  And then I made things worse for myself.  I somehow lost about half my manuscript (I thought I had backed it up by emailing it to myself, but apparently not) so my true word count is about half of what appears on NaNoWriMo.  Shame on me.

Next (can you see the excuses piling up?) I've been sick the last two days.  During the worse of it, I was on the couch (while a plumber was working on our plumbing, in the middle of me having a stomach virus) watching You Tube videos of elevated subways running through my neighborhood.

No wait.  It was a fascinating experience. At least it was for the twilight zone of being sick.  Those chickens seemed far, far away...about 1400 miles worth of far away.

Finally, I discovered that "chicken memoirs"seem to be "in" right now.  A quick look online found these memoirs, and I froze because if this is what it takes to be published, I'm doomed.  The chicken memoir has been done.  And done.  And done.  Just four examples:

1.  "Still Life with Chickens:  Starting Over in a House by the Sea" by Catherine Goldhammer

Problem:  no sea anywhere near Arkansas.

2.  "Chicken and Egg:  A Memoir of Suburban Homesteading with 125 Recipes" by Janice Cole.

Problem: My idea of cooking is popping a Healthy Choice frozen meal into the microwave.  Don't think there are too many recipes for frozen dinners.

3.  "Barnheart The Incurable Longing for a Farm of One's Own" by Jenna Woginrich.

Well, this one is sort-of me, which brings up the question:  do I have anything new to share? Well, there was the hissy-fit I threw when the Springdale, Arkansas library wouldn't issue me a library card in my own name but that in itself does not a memoir make.  And, my experience in Arkansas cured me of farming, or whatever it was that I was doing out there.

4.  And finally, "Once Upon a Flock" - Life with My Soulful Chickens" by Lauren Scheuer.
The Boomer Muse blog said of the Soulful Chickens book:

"The happiest book I've read lately happens to be one of the top 10 most anticipated memoirs of 2013 by Publishers Weekly and it's about chickens. Yes, but you won't see any chickens baked, broiled or stir fried in Once Upon a Flock: Life With My Soulful Chicken by illustrator Lauren Scheuer."
Good grief, one of the top 10 most anticipated memoirs of 2013!

In other words, the market is being flooded with chicken memoirs!  Who would have thought....

So, I can do one of two things:  either write to please myself OR, change the emphasis and keep plowing forward.  But either way, I do have to get back to the memoir.  I just can't chicken out.

What is your best excuse for not writing?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Spring Things - Blooms and Birds

Yes, it's spring, even if we have the possibility of mixed precipitation bearing down on us for Thursday night.  (At least it isn't 19 degrees F with near blizzard conditions, like it was in Denver, Colorado earlier today.)

I am writing this on my laptop (the evening before).  This is what spring is looking like in the Binghamton area of upstate New York.
Sunday, when we actually had sunshine, I took this picture of the first crocus in our lawn.
Now, some buddies have joined it.
And, after a two year wait, I finally have a Lenten Rose flower!  Others will join it in a day or so, and I'll have flowers for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day (April 15).

For some reason my first daffodil, which has had a flower bud for several weeks, still hasn't decided to open up.

And - yesterday my spouse had to stop a couple of small grey birds from building a next in our mailbox.

I saw a male cardinal in my yard, but I wasn't able to get my camera in time.

Tomorrow, we will have truly spring like weather - a chance of thunderstorms and "severe weather".

What does spring mean where you live? (Even if you have just entered fall).

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Hope Floated

Like too many people in the United States over the past three or four years, we in the Triple Cities of upstate New York know what it is like to be flooded.  Our flood of September 2011, called "The Flood" here, happened after the rainiest summer on record, capped by two tropical storms several days apart.  The last one dumped about 10 inches of rain on us. 

Our two local rivers cried "Enough" and even neighborhoods not officially in flood zones flooded.

Now, 19 months after the flood that did so much damage to my neighborhood and other neighborhoods in the Triple Cities, I find myself looking back - and trying to look ahead.

I was inspired to do that after noticing the land around the vacated building that, until September 8 and 9 of 2011, was a busy BAE Industries plant employing around 1350 skilled workers in one of the largest wood frame structures in the United States, is fast becoming a garbage dump. We are talking about 34 acres here, some of which fronts Main Street just west of Johnson City, New York.

 I took this photo at a bus stop in front of the building.  BAE had thoughtfully provided a bench for those waiting for the bus.  I don't know who is dumping the garbage, but it is disgusting. I'm pretty sure some of the guilty are bus riders but I think there is a lot of "drive by" dumping going on.  I wouldn't mind picking some of it up so I don't have to stare at it daily, but that would be called "trespassing".

 This building is supposed to be torn down eventually but in the meantime, the county provides security.  Something tells me I will have to fight to get this cleaned up, the way I had to get snow cleaned on the sidewalk the first few times this winter.  Maybe it's time to give the Town official who finally helped me with the snow removal a little ring-a-ding....

So what else is going on in walking distance of where I live?

This was an office of a beloved doctor.  No more.
I don't know if someone is trying to finally rehabilitate this property, but this is what it looked like about two weeks ago (note, some of these pictures are some two weeks old but trust me - nothing much has changed.

Some houses will never be inhabited again.  They are awaiting a Town buyout.  In the meantime, they rot-literally.  I don't know if this is specifically one of the houses that will be razed after the buyout but it is located by a street that will never be fully inhabited again.  Part of my neighborhood, lost forever, peoples lives floating away on a tide of muck and diesel oil.

So many people lost so much.  Up to now, I've had a rule not to take pictures of residential property impacted by the flood.  I've only taken pictures of commercial property- until now.  I apologize if anyone reading this ever lived in this house, because I do not post these to titillate.  I live here, too.

There is one glimmer of hope.  We have lost businesses, including BAE, and including a long-time business that was in this building - Tony B Tire. Ironically, this building never flooded but their customers moved away.  Now, someone is moving into the building.  One can only hope they will be as good a neighbor as Tony B's was.

So many flood stories in this nation.  So many impacted by national disasters. 

Wish us in Westover luck.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Sweetheart and the Lady

Two women died today.  One was beloved in her country.  The other...well, this is not a political blog and I am not here to weigh in on what kind of difference she made. 

Both strong in their own ways.  Both left this world a different place. 

Annette Funicello died today.  I don't know how well known she is to the younger generations in this country, or to my readers in Britain, France, Australia and New Zealand.  So, let me take you down Memory (or History) Lane:

The first part of the video shows you a show beloved to baby boomers such as myself - The Mickey Mouse Club, starring various talented young people including a teenager by the name of Annette.  The second part includes Annette as an adult.

It wasn't Annette in the Mickey Mouse Club, or Annette in multiple "Beach Blanket" movies, or Annette as a singer, who truly made a difference in this world.  It was Annette in the last 25 years of her life, as someone afflicted with a neurological disorder called MS, who made a difference to many people.

Before Annette revealed why she was stumbling, slurring and falling, the media, and even some people, treated her cruelly. accusing her of drug or alcohol abuse.  Once she revealed she had MS, she used her remaining time in the public eye to raise funds for research.

I know two people with MS.  It is a terrible, unpredictable condition.  It doesn't manifest itself in the same way, person by person.  It can go into remission and then return.  It can rob you of movement, or rob you of life itself.  It strikes quickly, or takes tiny bites out of you.

After she could no longer stay in the public view, Annette continued her work as long as she could, while being cared for by her loyal husband.  Today, she was taken off life support.  She was 70.

Meanwhile, thousands of miles from where Annette Funicello took her last breaths, came the last moments of the person known as:  well, many things, ranging from The Iron Lady to Thatcher the Milk Snatcher.  People loved her or hated her, and, sometimes, both. 

She was 87.  She participated in her first political campaign at age 10. How many of us know what direction our lives will take at age 10?

Thatcher was the first female British prime minister. I scratch my head thinking about country after country who had or have female heads of states. But one country hasn't.  Yes, the United States.(That's all the politics you will get from me today.)

I can tell you she made quite an impression in the United States, too. 

Two ladies, miles apart and ages apart.  Two strong women. A sad day for many.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Civil War Sunday - Indiana Jones, I Presume?

Sir Henry Morton Stanley was known to generations of Americans as a foreign correspondent sent to Africa by a New York City newspaper, who found a missing missionary, Dr. David Livingstone,in a village on the shores of Lake Tanganyika.  Dr. Livingstone had set out in 1864 (during the Civil War) to find the headwaters of the Nile and had disappeared. 

Sir Stanley, it is said, was a "real life" Indiana Jones.

I don't know if the story of Stanley and Livingstone is taught in our schools any more.  I doubt it  But we heard about it in the late 50's and early 60's.  We learned the famous words Henry Morton Stanley uttered after his journey through Africa, after many adventures.  It was a masterful understatement.

"Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"

But, in a way, this journey actually started in....

I want to bring you back to a spring day in 1862.  A day that may have had frost on the ground when the troops woke up but warmed up fast, as a Civil War reenactor who had participated in Tennessee battle reenactments had described to me.

During that spring of 1862, the war had been ongoing for almost a year.  Federal troops were attempting to invade the South, and were progressing up the Tennessee River.  They had set up camp on the west bank of the Tennessee River just north of the Mississippi/Tennessee border, near the settlement of  Pittsburg Landing.  On April 6, the Confederates launched a surprise attack.

Read the description of one of those Confederates as he prepared for battle:

"Day broke with every promise of a fine day. Next to me, on my right, was a boy of seventeen, Henry Parker. I remember it because, while we stood-at-ease, he drew my attention to some violets at his feet, and said, 'It would be a good idea put a few into my cap. Perhaps the Yanks won't shoot me if they see me wearing such flowers, for they are a sign of peace.' 'Capital,' said I, 'I will do the same.' We plucked a bunch, and arranged the violets in our caps. The men in the ranks laughed at our proceedings, and had not the enemy been so near, their merry mood might have been communicated to the army."
This man was a 21 year old (this is in some question - he may have been 19) who volunteered for war in Arkansas, joining a regiment called the Dixie Greys.  He wasn't even an American; he was a young man from Wales who happened to be in Arkansas when war broke out.  His enlistment would change his life.  His name was John Rowlands.

The soldiers engaged, and the next two days live on as the bloodiest in our nation's history.  This man's memoirs continue, and we leave him at the point where he became a prisoner of war.

Rowlands was one of the lucky ones - at the end of the two day battle, the statistics tell the story of dead, injured and missing:  The Union won this battle, but at a terrible cost, according to the National Park Service:

Union Casualties: 13,047
Confederate Casualties: 10,699

As we continue to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the United States Civil War fought (on the battlefield, that is) from April 1861 to April 1865, it is sometimes good to take a look back before we look ahead again.  We must never forget the cost our country paid for this war.

But, what about John Rowlands?

You may have guessed it - John Rowlands and Henry Morton Stanley are the same person.

Rowlands, aka Stanley, was sent to a Union prisoner of war camp, where he decided to join the Union Army. But he became severely ill and was mustered out of the army.  He ended up seeing some more action, eventually, and then, before the end of the war, became a freelance journalist.  Eventually, his newspaper sent him to Africa to find the missing Dr. Livingstone.

The rest, as they say, is history.