Friday, May 31, 2013

WordCount Blogathon Housekeeping - I Go Green!

 Where did all the rain go?

That's what you may be saying after viewing my blog this morning.  I've done a bit of long-overdue freshening up of my blog, in preparation for the 2013 WordCount Blogathon, which starts tomorrow.

It's not too late to register but you must act today.  There are over 180 of us participating. Here's the experience of one alumnus. (You can still participate if you don't register today but you are not eligible for any of the prizes.)

But back to my housekeeping.  I've had the "rain on the window" template (symbolizing the terrible summer of 2011, with record rainfall, two tropical storms and one massive flood) for too long. Out with the rain and in with the green!

As so much of my blogging involves gardening/flower photography, I decided to go with Blogger's Dandelion template (it's not called that, but that is what it is.)

Let me know what you think.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Moon Castle

If only this was fiction.

Famed fantasy and science fiction writer Jack Vance has died at the age of 96.

Vance wasn't just a science fiction/fantasy writer - he was also a mystery writer. If you have read the Ellery Queen mysteries, you may be aware that various authors were permitted to write under that name.  Jack Vance was one of them.

In the mid 1960's, I was given an Ace Double (a paperback series put out by Ace with two books.  You read one, then flipped the book over and read the other.)  One of the novels was "The Dragon Masters" by Jack Vance.  I was captivated, not even being aware that the novel had won a Hugo Award.  Jack Vance, along with Edgar Rice Burroughs, helped to feed my addiction to stories that transported me to strange worlds.

I don't remember when I first read the novella "The Moon Moth"  (another Hugo Award winner) but I consider it one of my personal favorites.  I am no musician, and I so identify with a man (trying to solve a murder mystery on another planet) struggling to survive in a music oriented culture where a poor choice could cause your death.  Or worse....

A novella I enjoyed, The Last Castle, won both Hugo and Nebula awards.   On a distant world, humans have enslaved various alien species, including one called the Meks. In their castles, humans live a decadent life.  But now the slave Meks have rebelled, and are winning.  Only one human castle is left....

Worldbuilding (creating a world that is believable, realistic, and consistent for your story) is difficult.  Perhaps because I was a cultural anthropology major, I tend to be very particular about worldbuilding in a fantasy or science fiction setting.  Jack Vance was a master of that art.

But perhaps the most amazing thing about Jack Vance wasn't his writing. It was the fact that, for the last 20 or so years of his life, he was legally blind.  Yet, he kept on writing, into his 90's.

Now, that's aging with grace.

Has a favorite author of yours survived into his or her 90's?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Spring Things - The Glow of Spring

The other day, an amazing thing happened here in upstate New York. 

The sun came out!

Seriously, this area is not noted for its 300 days of sunshine a year.  If anything, it's the opposite.  So when the sun comes out, we celebrate.  And some of us grab our iPhones.
If the sun peeks outout near sunset, things glow.  Like these irises....

Violas, almost looking like they are bathed in black light (UV-A)
...and a rhododendron flower caught in the act of opening.

Put some of these together and this is what you get.

Part of the fun of photography is playing with light.  If you are lucky, the sun performs for you.

I love sunset.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

My Dream Coffin

If you had the chance to be buried in a custom made coffin that was designed to celebrate your life, what would you choose?

In Ghana, this philosophy has become an art form.  No, more than an art form.  A status symbol.

A fisherman buried in a giant fish coffin.  A grandmother who had never flown buried in an airplane coffin.  Businessmen are buried in Mercedes coffins.  People have been buried in cocoa bean coffins, in rooster coffins, even in Coca Cola bottle coffins.

In Ghana, this is a serious business.  A funeral celebrates the life of the deceased, and the rites must be "just so".  Families can go into serious debt to give a proper send off to a family member.  A coffin can easily run a year's salary.

So, what would be my dream coffin?  Well, some might consider the subject morbid, but, a comment left on my blog today reminded me of an important fact:  It's our mortal body that is being...well,  buried or cremated or whatever else.  As someone who majored in cultural anthropology, I had studied burial customs of peoples around the world. 

"It" will happen to all of us eventually, and wherever we go next, our shell will be left behind.  In many cultures, the body is treated with reverence, and ceremonies are held to comfort those left behind.

The tradition of my ancestors, which normally involves a plain wooden box with no metal hinges or nails, and no embalming of the body, has always appealed to me.

And, if you really want to be green, there is natural burial.  I wouldn't be surprise if that is a problem in New York State, though, and I do not want to become a burden to my family.

But - a chicken coffin? 

Just maybe....

Monday, May 27, 2013

"One More Garden For My Mom"

This is taking place today in a city in the United States.

All around his house, neighbors are having parties, having family over for a holiday whose purpose is to remember those who died in war, and all those who served in the military.  But he isn't home.

He's in the rehab wing of a nursing home.

By now, he should have been starting his garden. It's unimportant where the garden is.  It could be anywhere. 
He's gardened for many years, this man who is now in his late 60's.  He never married, never moved away from home.  He's lived in the same house all his life.

Now, his mother is 101 years old.  A year ago, when she turned 100, the local newspaper commemorated the milestone.  She's a feisty woman, his mother.  I've known her for over 40 years.  She's a gem, and when we say goodbye, we declare our love for each other.

At her 101st birthday party, people flocked to her.  The owner of the restaurant, one she has gone to for many years, came over to shake her hand.  By the time you are 101 years old, it doesn't matter what type of person you are.  You are instantly famous.  All you have to do is look at the person and say "she/he's 101 years old!".  And everyone stops, and ooohs and aaaahs.

The years, in some ways, were kinder to his mother than they have been to him.  A couple of years ago, he was in this rehab wing.  Now, it's his mother's turn.

For her first hundred years, she never took prescription medicine.  She kept house, cooked from scratch, picked wild greens and flowers, took care of her son.  Now, their roles have reversed.  He must take care of her.

She doesn't want help. She wants to be able to move, to cook, to clean, to keep up with current events.  She does not want to be in rehab.  But she was put there after her third hospitalization since October of last year.  She trains as an athlete might, but her goal is not competeting in the Olympics-it is of trying to find a new normal.  For her, it is being able to stretch, to move, to walk.  She takes therapy for hours every day.  She works the exercise machines.  She hopes to come home in another few days.

While she works out, her son keeps her company.

He dreams of putting his garden in.  "I want one more garden for my Mom", he tells my spouse.

I think we all fear she won't reach 102, this woman who was alive when the Titanic went down. When soldiers went off to war in World War I, she was there. When they returned with the "Spanish Flu" and millions died, she was there. When solders went off to war in World War II, she was there.

And now, they are dying. Their memories die.  Our connections with those events die.  But, maybe not just yet for the man's mother.

The man will plant his garden. And, life will go on.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Best of AM - Civil War Sunday-Memorial Day

Tomorrow, in the United States, it will be  Memorial Day.  This is a portion of a post I wrote for Memorial Day, 2012.  I feel it is appropriate for my Civil War Sunday feature.
This day, sadly, has evolved into a major shopping event for many people, missing the element of what it originally stood for.  I must admit, I will be participating in some of those sales.  It is also thought of as the "unofficial" beginning of summer.  In my area of Binghamton, NY, the area carousels we are famous for open for the season, as do the lakes, and some other recreation areas.

But in memory of my late father, a disabled (non-combat) veteran of World War II, I will also take some time to honor his memory and those of other veterans I know.   Which leads me to a discussion of how this holiday originated here in the United States.

This holiday, in my youth, was celebrated on May 30.  Today, it is the last Monday of May, to allow many to have a three day weekend.

There are several versions of the origin of Memorial Day.  Some of the stories depend on if you were from the Federal side, or the Confederate side, of the United States Civil War (1861-1865.).  What the stories have in common is that Memorial Day, once known as Decoration Day, originated in a desire to honor the sacrifice of those who died in our Civil War.  The Library of Congress lists several stories.  Here are what are perhaps the two main origin stories:

Waterloo, New York, considers itself the birthplace of Memorial Day, and has a federally recognized Memorial Day museum.  According to this story, Henry Wells, a local druggist, suggested a holiday in the fall of 1865 to honor the sacrifice of Civil War dead.  The idea gained traction, and the first Memorial Day was held on May 5, 1866.

But there are other stories. One takes place in Mississippi, a state late a member of the Confederate States of America.  As that story goes, many of the wounded of the bloody battle of Shiloh (1862) were taken to Columbus, Mississippi.  Columbus ended up with its Friendship Cemetery full of Civil War dead of both sides.  Eventually, the Federal dead were relocated to other area cemeteries.

According to Columbus, the first Memorial Day was held on April 5, 1866, as the women of Columbus decorated the graves of both Federal and Confederate soldiers buried in Columbus.

While I am speaking of cemetaries where Civil War dead are buried, I would be remiss (building on yesterday's theme of differences in how North and South refer to aspects of the Civil War) if I didn't mention the differences between Federal and Confederate gravestones.

Regardless of what the "true story" of Memorial Day is, I want to leave you with a modern, local story - the story of a family of a solider from Pennsylvania lost in the Vietnam War. 

May your Memorial Day be a meaningful one.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Best of AM Sustainable Saturday - Hybrids and Lifts

This post is from May of last year.  This New York Heritage Weekend did not seem to repeat this year but there will be something even better this June 1-2 and 8-9.  It involves beer and technology - old and new. (Binghamton itself never had a commercial brewing industry "way back", at least any that I know of, but other New York state cities did.)  Should be interesting.

Please enjoy this post about what happened in May of 2012 in the meantime.

Today, as part of the New York Heritage Weekend, venues all across New York State held open houses or festivals.  Since it was Sustainable Saturday, I visited a venue called the Center for Technology and Innovation.

This center is located just outside of downtown Binghamton, New York, in an industrial area.  They hold, I found out, several open houses each year.

One of the missions of this center is to preserve and restore technology that was developed in our local area.  (Did you know, for example, that innovative car companies operated in upstate New York during the early 20th century?) I will feature more about their mission in a future blog post.

Today, as part of Heritage NY, the Center was demonstrating the technology of tomorrow.  This included several types of hybrid or  vehicles and a hybrid lift that uses the downward motion of the lift to generate power back to the unit.

I have talked about BAE Systems, late of my neighborhood, and relocated in nearby Endicott (ironically, on the former IBM campus - IBM having originated in Binghamton, NY as a time machine manufacturer and then moved to Endicott and eventually the world) due to flooding caused by Tropical Storm Lee in September 2011 that destroyed their Westover facility.  This is one of the items that they manufacture - a hybrid truck

Another product they manufacture is hybrid buses - they used to test these in my neighborhood and I would see them sometimes on my way to work.

There were several electric cars on display:  a Chevy Volt (not made here but it was a local dealer displaying them) which is not a true hybrid; and an electric car that was once a regular "gas guzzler" 87 Dodge Daytona until modified by its owner, Jason Horak..  He explained the modification cost about $25,000. (not too cost effective, admittedly) but he can go 100 miles on a charge, which currently costs him about $2.00.  Here is an explanatory poster, and a picture of the back batteries.

Jason explained to us that although it appears that the batteries appear to take up most of the hatchback, in reality they are set pretty far down and he carries luggage, groceries, etc. in the back (with a cover, of course) easily.

This is a picture of the Chevy Volt, which, again, is not a true "hybrid" but does have a gasoline engine in addition to being able to run on electricity.

And finally, the lift, which is manufactured by local Raymond Corporation, a manufacturer of forklifts.

( here is a video demonstrating the lift in action).

Do you think a hybrid vehicle is in your future?  Does your home town use hybrid mass transit vehicles?  Or manufacture hybrid equipment?

Friday, May 24, 2013

Like Christmas in May

My spouse and I have cut way back on starting plants from seed for a number of reasons (time and energy being a major reason.  Perhaps, laziness is another.)  I suspect that when we retire, we will get back to starting plants from seed.

We generally purchase plants from a couple of local nurseries who grow their own plants, Nanticoke Gardens  and Tioga Gardens. We also buy (too much!) from the Ithaca area annual extension sale, which I will blog about in June.  Thankfully, my spouse and I are both working right now, and can afford this obsession.

But sometimes, we find ourselves mail ordering some types of plants we find hard to get locally.

It's fun when that package arrives - almost like Christmas in May, except (unless you are forgetful like me and forget what you ordered!) you know what you are getting.

This year, I decided to treat myself to some flowers from Burpees-an impatien that is a Burpees exclusive.  I also ordered a type of basil, Cardinal basil, that I've grown the last several years (except last year, when I skipped my annual Burpees order due to extreme disappointment- a rarity - with my order of 2011).

The plants arrived yesterday, in a plain cardboard box with some ventilation holes.  I've ordered plants from several mail order growers and it is my observation that Burpees provides the best shipping of them all.

 Impatiens are a gamble this year.  A nasty downy mildew threatens to imperil the commercial production of impatiens.  (Thank you, Kathy Purdy, for giving me a heads up about this condition earlier this year.) I decided to buy these plants, nevertheless, and will see what happens.  We have ideal impatien conditions in our yard, and impatiens are one of my favorite flower.
Impatiens tend to survive shipment in good shape, and these came in the box, protected mainly by some cardboard and some paper placed on top of the plants to make sure they stayed damp.

Here are my Salmon Splash plants, taken out of the box.  They look good now but the trip they take does stress them, and they need about 48 hours to recover before they can be planted.
The Cardinal basil is another matter.  The plants come encased in a protective green container (beneath the plants, in this picture).  I will give them their 48 hour rest and perhaps even wait until Memorial Day to plant them.

What is so great about Cardinal basil?  They have thick leaves, bush up nice, are slow to bolt, and when they do bolt, the flowers are red - yes, this is one of the most ornamental basils I've ever seen.

I am still, in a way, amazed that non-dormant plants can be sent in the mail.  Like Christmas in May, the gardener can't wait for the growing season, and the goodies that await.

Do you start your own plants?  Do you travel miles to buy them?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

There's No Place Like Gnome

I truly wish I had this kind of imagination.

Near to where we parked our car for our exercise walk on the West Side of Binghamton, New York, we found this little scene close to the ground.

I couldn't get the whole picture framed in my iPhone, but this gives you a taste of what we saw.  I hope you can see the little sign on the little door built into this tree so perfectly.
This isn't in a garden but was rather in a street tree.

I'm still groaning!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Spring Things - Invasion of the Aliens

They can be beautiful. They can be fragrant.

They are also deadly.

It's the invasion of the aliens - the alien plants, the invasives.  If you have a back yard, chances are you have one invasive species in it.  These invaders crowd out native plants and change our environment.  They can have adverse impacts on wildlife.  They tend to be fast growers.  The most famous invasive may be kudzu but there are lot of other aliens lurking out there in a backyard or vacant lot near you.

Some examples of invasives now blooming here in upstate New York:
Russian Olive. (taken on the Vestal Rail Trail, our local rail trail. That is far from the only invasive species on that trail - soon enough, the rugosa roses will be in bloom.  Yes, another invasive.)
Honeysuckle (taken on banks of Susquehanna River, downtown Binghamton, New York.)

A different honeysuckle (same location).

And finally, wisteria.  Not all wisterias are invasive, but Japanese wisteria is invasive in a lot of the East Coast of the United States.  In March, you can see this beautiful purple bloom up in trees in parts of South Carolina and Georgia. Problem is, it also kills the trees, as does Chinese wiseria.  I found this specimen of wisteria today on the West Side of Binghamton in an ornamental situation, and this may not be one of the invasive species.  I certainly hope it is.

What invasive plants are a problem in your area?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Forty Minutes to a Changed Life

Forty minutes was all it took for a massive tornado to sweep through Moore and Newcastle, Oklahoma, yesterday afternoon.  Forty minutes that changed many lives forever.  Forty minutes that took at least 91 lives, as of this writing. 

Tornadoes are a fact of life in that part of the United States we call Tornado Alley.  I lived in that area of the country (Iowa, Texas, Kansas, Arkansas) for almost 10 years.  In fact, last night, the county where I lived in Arkansas was under a tornado warning for awhile. (A tornado warning is issued when a tornado has been spotted - vs. a tornado watch, which simply means conditions are favorable for formation of a tornado.)

When I lived in Kansas, I met people who had survived tornadoes.  It is a traumatic experience none of us would want to go through.  In this tornado, two elementary schools suffered direct hits and the survivors will live with that memory for the rest of their lives.  A horse farm was hit and, in part of the live coverage, you could see horses that survived wandering around near what used to be a residential neighborhood and was now a pile of debris.

It was surreal, this live coverage, which would have been impossible when I was growing up.

All you had to do is go to Twitter to find out the latest.  You saw photos and videos from the scene.  And, you read worse.  It was heartbreaking - simply heartbreaking - if you read some of the other hashtags that were trending, you saw tweets from people whose relatives are in the affected area of Moore, or Newcastle, Oklahoma.  At least one tweet came from a woman whose cousin attended one of the destroyed elementary schools.  Her cousin was missing.

If you didn't have a Twitter account, you could try the New York Times website, which was streaming live video from the various scenes.  You saw emergency workers, with yellow helmets, swarming over the debris that had been one of the schools.  The only way you could have survived this tornado was to have been underground, in a reenforced concrete bunker.

Google?  You can Google a city or county and if it is under a tornado warning you will see it in a box at the top of the search result.

People continue to live in what we call the "tornado belt". Many grew up there, and their families have been there for generations. When I lived there, we had tornado sirens to warn us.  Now, things are a lot more high tech, but sometimes you only get several seconds of warning.  You can not look out the window and see a tornado coming. And, these storms don't always strike in the afternoon.  Sometimes they strike in the middle of the night.

I saw some of the coverage live, from KFOR-TV, channel 4 in Oklahoma City, yesterday, as a weather helicopter filmed a tornado in action.  When you see the power of those storms close up, you know that your life is so much less in your control than you think.

When dealing with nature, control is an illusion.  All we can hope for is to spend our lives without ever feeling the full force of nature's power.  Especially if you live in Tornado Alley.

Today, the storms are expected to return.

Monday, May 20, 2013

WordCount Blogathon 2013

I'm going to participate in the WordCount Blogathon 2013 and you should, too.

It's as simple as that. 

I hope you will join me and several hundred other bloggers.  You will never regret it.

Three years ago this past April 30, a woman who has been in the life of one of my cousins for many years sent me an email encouraging me to join a blogging challenge called the WordCount Blogathon. She's a published writer and she had signed up.  At that time, I had been blogging for a little over two years, posted sporadically, and had no idea what I wanted to do with my blog.

I knew I wanted to write.  I've written all of my life - well, ever since I learned to read and write.  As a child, I wrote (bad) comics and (bad) stories. I was on my junior high school's yearbook staff.  I stopped creative type writing as an adult, but always wrote as part of my jobs-even if it was only letters to customers or business clients of my employer. 

Blogging was a natural for me because it ties in with photography, another interest I had never -um, developed.

I liked blogging but I didn't know where to go with it.

On April 30, hours before the sign up deadline for the May annual challenge, I took a leap of faith and signed up for the WordCount Blogathon challenge.  The challenge sounds simple but is possibly the hardest thing you will ever do in blogging - post each and every day, no exceptions, no make up days, no excuses, for 31 days straight.

There were possible prizes if you made it through the 31 days, and I admit that was part of the reason why I completed it.  It was hard.  As we say in the Binghamton area of upstate New York, it was WICKED hard.  But then, several months later, I realized I had kept posting every day, and decided I would keep posting daily-for my personal satisfaction.  As of today, I haven't stopped the daily blogging.

So, what about the WordCount Blogathon?  I did it again in 2012, and I am doing it again this year.  Last year, I even won a prize! (and then, I joined another blogging challenge and won prizes - perhaps I should have purchased lottery tickets, too, because I'm one of those people who never win anything.)  Not anything big. But, if I ever seriously decide to take up non-blog writing again, my prizes will be valuable.

In 2013 the Blogathon moved to June but the challenge is the same - blog every day for a month.

If you join this challenge, what can you expect?
-You will be able to blog what you want.  There will be several theme days, but they are strictly optional.  If it is like past years, there will be a Haiku day. There will also be an opportunity to find a kindred spirit in the Blogathon, and guest post on each others' blogs.  Unlike some blog challenges, there are no direct prompts.  But you won't be left without support.  No, far from it.
-You will be stretched to your creative limit
-You will have the chance to discuss blogging with fellow bloggers, and learn from them.
-You will be participating in a professionally run challenge - Michelle Rafter, the founder, is a professional journalist and she knows what she is doing.
-You will have fun.  Yes, really!
-You will meet new people.
-You will find fame and fortune.

No, the fame and fortune part may not happen.  Not right away, anyway.  That will have to depend on you.

Me? It's time to refresh my blog, and I am going to use the 2013 Blogathon to make some needed changes.  What changes? I don't know yet, but by the end of the Blogathon, I will know.

Don't be afraid.
Just Do It.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Civil War Sunday - The Women in the Caves

I first became interested in the Civil War because of a drawing in a textbook.  I don't know how old I was - it may have been 5th grade.

The drawing was of women living in a cave, trying to cook their dinner, in the middle of a naval bombardment.  It fascinated me.  I had to know more.

When we think of the Civil War we think of blue against gray, of battles, of naval engagements, of the glory of battle.  The truth, of course, is far different.  The Civil War was brutal for most of its participants.  Soldiers weren't the only ones to suffer, either.  The 150th anniversary of extreme suffering by a civilian population caught in the cross fire of war is about to begin.

On April 30, 1863,  General Grant and his Union Army of the Tennessee crossed over the Mississippi River into Mississippi, a Confederate state.  This long, mighty river, still a major route of transporting goods in our country, was of strategic importance to both the United States and the Confederate States of America.  It was urgent, for both sides in this war, to maintain control of the Mississippi River.

Five major battles in 17 days resulted, with the Federals winning all five.  The Confederate troops were pushed back, after the last of these battles, Big Black River on May 17, 1863, to the city of Vicksburg, on the banks of the Mississippi River.

The Confederate commander, Lt. General John C. Pemberton, ordered civilians out of the city, but many refused to go.

Late on May 18, Grant and his troops arrived at the city.  Grant decided to attack Vicksburg, feeling the demoralized Confederate troops would soon surrender.

He was wrong.

Grant made two attacks, on May 19 (150 years ago today) and May 22.  His troops were repelled.

General Grant decided to lay siege to Vicksburg.  In the bluffs I remember from the drawing in my elementary school textbook, the civilians dug caves into the yellow clay soil - easy to dig, but firm enough not to collapse.  Some six weeks of terror followed, as some 22,000 shells rained down on the city and its citizens while they awaited reinforcements.  Food became scarce, which is the point of any siege.

Some of these civilians wrote letters and diaries, including Emma Balfour.  It is grim reading.

On the evening of July 3, Lt. General John Pemberton made the decision to surrender Vicksburg. His men were weak with hunger and relief hadn't been able to reach his army.   On July 4, 1863, Vicksburg surrendered.  July 4 is Independence Day in our country.  In a year of peace, there would have been parades, patriotic speeches, and fireworks.  In a year of war.....

Their memory of suffering was so strong that Vicksburg refused to celebrate Independence Day until 1945.  They do celebrate it today.

And then the civilian casualties (some 20 dead, officially) faded into history.  As for Pemberton and Grant:

Lt. General Pemberton was labeled a traitor for surrendering to the Federals. He died, in Philadelphia, in 1881. (and, no, he did not invent Coca-Cola. That was a different John Pemberton.)

General Grant - went on to other victories, eventually becoming the General-in-Chief of the Armies of the United States, and, after the war, became President of the United States.  And yes, he is entombed in Grant's Tomb.

Are you descended from any of the civilians of Vicksburg, or have you ever visited? I never have, and I hope to do so one day.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Sustainable Saturday - Sustainable Travel

How do Americans get to work? It would be no surprise to most if I told you it was by car, driving alone.  However, in New York, some 28% of people take mass transit - buses or trains.  When I lived in New York City, I took a bus to college, and took subways to summer jobs and to get to Manhattan.  In my childhood, a car ride (my parents did not own a car, which was not uncommon in New York City back in the 1950's and 1960's) was a luxury.  I learned to walk and use mass transit, and walking has remained an important part of my life. (Full disclosure, I take the bus to my job in downtown Binghamton, New York).

In a sustainable lifestyle, we want to use the most efficient/safe mode of transportation, whenever possible, as far as "miles per gallon" of fuel-including food, for human-powered transportation.  As it happens, the most efficient use of fuel is made by riding a bicycle. 

Those who believe in sustainable living do think about their driving, and many do try to use more ecology-friendly modes of transportation.  In most parts of the United States, though, it is very difficult (if not impossible) to live without a car.

This may eventually change - people of my son's generation drive less than my generation.

Although most ecology-friendly modes of transport are safer than car travel, accidents do happen, sometimes with disastrous results.  There are many debates about the safest mode of transportation, but it may well be taking the bus. (The same website states that motorcycle transport is the most dangerous.)  When trains crash though, you have hundreds of passengers involved.

Which is what happened yesterday when two commuter trains, one coming from New York City and and one traveling to New York City, wrecked in Connecticut during the evening rush hour.  One train derailed, swung to the left, and swiped the other train.  Between the two trains there were about 700 people on board.  Miraculously, no one was killed, but 72 people were hospitalized, 2 still in critical condition tonight.  The tracks were damaged, too, and there is no alternate way to get these Connecticut commuters to New York City.

They could drive, which is not something anyone wants to do in midtown Manhattan on a weekday (even if you had a place to park, which is unlikely.)

Train travel from New York to Boston is suspended, possibly for the next 10 days.

And, in one more twist of modern life - I did not hear about this crash until today, because I was watching network TV last night.  If I had been on my computer, I would have learned about it from Twitter, with crash survivors tweeting from the scene.

Do you have access to mass transit?  Or, are you able to walk or bicycle where you live?  Or, do you have to totally depend on your car?

Friday, May 17, 2013

Down By The Susquehanna River

Do you have a river flowing through your city or village?  Have you ever given it much thought?

The Susquehanna River flows just a few blocks from where I live - I would bring my son down there sometimes when he was younger (much younger).  We would walk, skip stones, and otherwise enjoy ourselves.  I am a big believer in exposing children to nature at an early age.

Where I work in downtown Binghamton, New York I am near two rivers - the Chenango and the Susquehanna.  There is a little park where they meet called Confluence Park and a couple of nearby bridges that cross the Susquehanna.  As for walking - there is a walking trail called the Riverwalk.

At lunch yesterday, I took a walk with a work friend.  This is what my friend and I saw yesterday, down by the Susquehanna River on the edge of downtown Binghamton.
The South Washington Street Parabolic Bridge.  This historic bridge is now pedestrian only.  I've walked across it many times during exercise walks.
Another view of the mighty Susquehanna, near the "confluence" of it and the Chenango.
Our rivers here give us life.  They can also sweep our life away- there have been several historic floods of the Susquehanna, the most recent in September of 2011.

The Chenango River is too shallow for commercial navigation but can be kayaked or canoed.  The Susquehanna, too, provides hours of enjoyment for kayakers and others, especially as you get into Pennsylvania. This mighty river is 444 miles (715 km) long.

Do you have a river near you?  I hope it is not too polluted, which is a story for another day.  If it isn't, pay it a visit and let me know what you find.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

When Good Searches Go Bad

I was intrigued by one of the coupon offers in my local paper this Sunday.  It was a coupon and ad for a soda called "Zevia".  During the warm weather, I  get an urge now and then for something fizzy, and the seltzer I usually drink doesn't quench that particular thirst.  But, I gave up sugared (or, shall we say, corn syrup sweetened) sodas years ago and I don't feel that good about drinking sodas with artificial sweeteners.

I've had mixed success with the natural sweetener Stevia.  I've tried some of the commercial brands of stevia based sweeteners and find them to have an unpleasant bitter aftertaste.  But, I was intrigued by this Zevia soda.  Although the ad didn't come out and say it was using stevia, the name of the product implied it.  So I thought "well, it's worth a try.  I used to drink TAB years ago, and that had a bitter aftertaste that I liked.  Maybe I will like Zevia."

So I went to the website.  There was a feature where you could input your zip code and the site would locate nearby retailers for you.  I looked forward to seeing if I could buy it locally.

The results were - somewhat interesting.

I live in the Binghamton, New York area.  After I input my zip, I was given various retailers - in the state of Maine, in the Bangor area, to be exact.  The last time I was in Maine (September of 2011) Maine was several hundred miles from my home. I doubt it's moved.

The website helpfully gave me the distance from my zip code to Bangor, Maine.  According to, my upstate New York zip code is 4,277 miles from Bangor, Maine.  According to Google Maps, my zip code is about 530 miles from Bangor.  Of course, I could be one of those folks who believe everything they read on the Internet.

So, I did what any reasonable person would do.  I reran the search, this time with my mother in law's zip code.  And the search worked!  So I reran the search with my zip, and this time it worked.

I'm wondering if the people running this website know there is some kind of glitch in their search function, though.  I may tell them about it, after I get home from my shopping trip to Bangor, Maine.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day - May 2013 Spring Things

Welcome, flower lovers from all over the world, to Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. Hosted on the 15th of each month, this is a chance for flower gardeners and flower lovers from all over the world to show off what is growing in their gardens, in their houses, or wherever they can grow flowers. As usual, this meme is brought to us by a blogger from the Midwestern United States, May Dreams Gardens.

After you visit my flowers please go to her site and visit many of the other posts from all over the world.

After a slight detour the last few days (yesterday, we tied our record low temperature), spring is supposed to return today.  Here's what is blooming in my garden in the Southern Tier of Upstate New York.
My tulips are almost done, but I still have some late ones blooming.
Tulips don't do as well here in upstate New York as daffodils do, but we had lovely tulips this spring.

Daffodils are finishing up.  This is my last one.

I have two Euphorbia blooming in my front yard.  In the tradition of my losing garden labels, I have no idea what varieties these are.  I am a sucker for anything variegated, and this was no exception.
I also have a more traditional Euphorbia next to it.
Primroses are moving past their prime, but this one still has some nice bloom.

Lilacs are in full bloom.  We have three, all shared with neighbors.   This bush on our property line might well be 30 or more years old, and it is having a banner year for both us and our next door neighbor.

This lilac was supposed to be a yellow lilac. We bought it one fall from a nursery we usually don't do business with.  It died over the winter, and they sent a replacement at no charge.  At least it is blooming (in its 3rd year) but it definitely isn't yellow.  Apparently, a lot of people in the United States are disappointed with their "yellow lilacs" but this isn't even yellow!
One more of my flowers - columbine.  I bought this one on a whim. I have another one, which isn't blooming yet, but its production last year has left me with 20 or more little columbine plants.  Anyone want one?

I have so many other flowers in bloom and others with buds - everything is bursting forth at once!  I hope I can come up with flowers for next month's GBBD!

What's blooming for you?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Through the Eyes of a Tourist

Now, this is the kind of blog that I would have loved to have written if I had never moved out of New York City - assuming that
a.  I had been interested in architecture 40 some years ago, and
b.  I had a cell phone camera.

If you check out the "Scouting New York Guide" on the above blog, you will find an awesome (and I don't use that word lightly) guide for anyone who plans to visit New York City.  Or, better yet, already lives there. 

Because something strange happens when you live in a place - many times you just don't notice it.  If you live in New York City, well - you have to make a living, raise your children, make dinner and file your taxes.  Inbetween all of those things, are you running around with a camera and visiting top New York City attractions?

I would bet money that you aren't. 

One of the best things that ever happened to me was leaving New York City.  Because now, I look at "the City" through the eyes of a tourist.  I'm "that person" who you curse at on the Brooklyn Bridge because I am blocking your way as you walk or bike the bridge for the 4,509th time.  Meantime, it's my first time out, and I have my camera out.  (One day I should post some of those pictures, taken several years ago.)

Or, I'm the idiot stopping on Madison Avenue to take a picture of this building. I looked it up when I got home and this is the Carlton Hotel, Madison Avenue and E. 29th Street, built in the Beaux-Arts style, and restored in 2008.

But if I lived in New York City and worked in the area (this is four blocks from the Empire State Building), I'd probably be rushing past it every day, not giving it another thought.

So, I was especially thrilled when one of my high school friends shared a link on Facebook, from that same Scouting NY blog, about the lobbies of Bronx apartment buildings.

The Bronx is one borough that doesn't get much respect - but I spent 21 years in the Bronx, and I spent many happy hours on the Grand Concourse as a child.  My years in the Bronx did not end happily, however, and if I ever complete my "chicken memoir", you will find out why.

But still...reading about the places I once knew makes my heart beat fast. 

Have you ever become a tourist in your own home town?

Monday, May 13, 2013

We Interrupt Spring to Bring You Winter

Winter is supposed to be done, here in upstate New York.  It's May.  April showers, May flowers, that's the contract we have with Mother Nature, right?

But, today we had snow showers, biting winds, and something called graupel.  And tonight, even as you can hear neighbors mowing their lawns, we have freeze warnings.
This is what one of my "homemade" hanging baskets looked like, earlier this weekend.  In the background, behind a ramp, is a lilac bush.  The lilacs are in full bloom, and you'll see pictures of them on Wednesday for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day..  My irises have buds.  Main season azaleas are showing color in nearby yards.

I have a Mother's Day tradition of going to nurseries, picking out plants, and planting hanging baskets.  Tonight, instead of hanging in the spring breezes, the baskets I made yesterday are on my living room table, along with our tomato plants. Other plants are on chairs nearby.  There is barely enough room left for my spouse and I to eat.

Neighbors are covering up flower beds but we've decided our pansies and sweet alyssum are safe.  We don't put any tender plants out this early in May - there is always a risk.

It is 45 (7 Celsius) right now as darkness settles over Johnson City, New York.  It could drop as low as 25 (-4 Celsius) tonight.

Spring, please come back!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Civil War Sunday - The Jackson Women

Today, in the United States, it is Mother's Day.

It is important to remember that during the Civil War, life could be short.  Dying during or right after childbirth was common.  Infant mortality was high, as was death from a number of illnesses that are treatable today.

Many casualties of the Civil War came from infection, and illness, not directly from the hazards of the battlefield.  A number of Civil War generals (on both sides) died in action.  Perhaps the most mourned was a Confederate general by the name of Thomas ("Stonewall") Jackson.

150 years ago Friday,"Stonewall") Jackson died from pneumonia.  This followed Jackson's wounding several days earlier, towards the end of the Battle of Chancellorsville, by friendly fire.  His left arm was amputated in a field hospital not long after in an attempt to save his life.  150 years ago today, Jackson's body lay in state.  And in more modern times, candlelight vigils were held on the anniversary of the last night of his life.

But, this made me think of Stonewall Jackson's family, and what their fates were.  What follows is a little slice of 19th century life.  (A genealogy of Thomas Jackson is available online, if you are interested.)  As tragic as Stonewall Jackson's death at the age of 33 was to many, we may want to consider this:

1.  Julia Neele Jackson, Thomas Jackson's mother:  Two years after Thomas (the youngest of her three children) was born, his 6 year old sister and his father died from typhoid fever.  Jackson's mother was 28 and was 9 months pregnant with her fourth child at the time.  The day after Jackson's father died, Julia gave birth to his sister Laura.

A young widow, Julia Jackson supported her three remaining children in various ways, eventually remarrying.  She died from complications of childbirth when she was 33 years old.

2.  Eleanor Junkin Jackson, Thomas Jackson's first wife:  married less than a year to Jackson, she died in childbirth.  A son was stillborn.

3.  Mary Anna Jackson, Thomas Jackson's second wife:  Mary and Thomas had two daughters.  The first daughter died in infancy.  The second daughter, Julia Jackson Christian, was an infant when Jackson died, with Anna (the name she preferred) at his side.

Anna lived into her 80's.  She never remarried and wore clothes of mourning for the rest of her life.  She was a published author of two books.

Julia lived into adulthood, married, and had two children of her own (a boy and a girl) before she died, a young mother, of typhoid fever.  Anna raised her two grandchildren.  The boy, Thomas Jonathan Jackson Christian, died the year I was born.

Julia Preston, Thomas Jackson's granddaughter, lived to 104, passing away  in 1991.

But, in a story so tragic in many ways, there is one more tragedy to explore.  We talk about how the Civil War tore apart so many families. As it happens, Thomas Jackson's family was one such family.  Remember his sister Laura, the sister born a day after their father died?  Her sympathies were with the Union.  And, she paid a huge personal cost for that loyalty.

Laura Jackson Arnold became estranged from her beloved older brother and never reconciled with her family after the war. Her husband divorced her over her Union loyalties.  She died in West Virginia (a part of Virginia that split from that Confederate State and joined the Union on June 20, 1863, the only state to join the Union during the Civil War - in another bit of irony) in 1911.

All civil wars are tragic.  Ours was no exception. As we pay tribute to the mothers in our lives today, let us take a moment to remember the many mothers who suffered (and continue to suffer) in war.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Sustainable Saturday - Red Hook Strong(er) In 2013

Red Hook is a neighborhood in Brooklyn that had seen better days, had seen a period of decline, and was starting on its way back up.   I had visited it a couple of times last year with friends, and found a lot to intrigue me.

Then, along came "Superstorm" Sandy last October, which hit New York City and surrounding areas full on.

If you think Red Hook was brought low by Sandy, fugetaboutit.  As I blogged about last year, neighborhoods can be "sustainable".  There is a lot of heart in this neighborhood and a lot of small businesses.  Those businesses, including one I visited in September, are struggling to recover.

Now, we are six months past Sandy.  What is Red Hook like?  There is a lot of recovery - and a lot of work still needing to be done. 

When you enter Red Hook, this is what you see-pure urban grit.

This shows some of the work that still needs to be done.  In a nearby area, I smelled a very familiar smell - flood smell.  It's a smell you don't forget, and I smelled a lot of it in my neighborhood in September of 2011 after Tropical Storm Lee.

A few blocks away, a garden center was open for business.
Beautiful plants for sale in the garden center contrasted with the gritty neighborhood surrounding it.

Nearby gardens I saw in September are gone for now, but progress in restoring them is being made.

I will leave you today with a picture of the Red Hook waterfront.

In the coming weeks in my blog- one Red Hook small business fights back, and a larger one that has been one of the driving forces in the Red Hook revitalization reopens.

Friday, May 10, 2013

What Am I, Chopped Liver?

I've mentioned before (but not enough) that I have a brother in law, in his 50's, with a developmental disability called autism.

This has impacted his life, the life of his parents (his mother, still alive, still cares for him in her 80's), the lives of his siblings, and the spouses of his siblings.  We continue to struggle with various issues, as his mother ages, and we found ourselves (my spouse and I) long distance caretakers of two.

I've wanted to tell his story (and ours), both past, present and future, and perhaps use my blog to network with people in similar situations.  So many autism blogs are written by parents of young children or even young adults, which is fine (more than fine - those voices deserve to be heard) but I don't know how many other are in my situation.  And, it is a complex situation. Those families with children, I hope, will have it better when their children grow up.

There's at least one support group for adult siblings of those with developmental disabilities, but, as far as I know, nothing for their spouses.  As we would say in my native New York City "what am I, chopped liver?"

So, onward to the 2013 WordCount Blogathon.  This blogathon requires, of its participants, 30 straight days of posting.  No days off.  No opportunities to catch up. There are some nice prizes the participants compete for.  There's a haiku day, a guest post day, and several other (all voluntary) theme days.

The 2011 WordCount Blogathon was the impetus for the growth of my blog.  The 2012 WordCount Blogathon got me onto Twitter.  I highly recommend you join in the fun and register for the 2013 WordCount Blogathon.

But I haven't signed up yet, and here's why.

I don't know if I want to start a new blog. Can I write enough material for 30 days?  Can I find myself blogging daily on two different blogs?  I work full time, and this would be a lot of stress.  (Even trying to figure out if I want to have blog #2 on a different platform, and if I want to have a second Twitter account, if I want to set up a new Facebook fan page - all stress.)

On the other hand, it would challenge me.  Since I've been blogging for over two years straight, there really isn't no challenge in just blogging daily.  There has to be more for me to continue my growth, and doing two blogs would be that challenge.

So, I will reach out to my readers.   What would give me the most benefit for the least amount of extra work?  Should I try the second blog and compete only with it? Should I try to compete with both blogs? Or should I be safe and just register this blog, the blog I've always competed with, and do the second blog on the side (perhaps linking my first blog to it in some way during the competition.)

I don't want to be chopped liver.  I don't want others in my shoes to be chopped liver.  I want our voices to be heard.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Singing a Song of Sandy Survival

This past Sunday, we visited the campus of Kingsborough County Community College in Manhattan Beach (one of the many neighborhoods in the New York City borough of Brooklyn) for their annual Spring Concert.

Kingsborough County Community College is considered one of the top five community colleges in the United States.  One of the perks springtime students enjoy is the ability to use a private beach on the campus - what could be more perfect than a New York City college campus with its own beach?

Well, not when a Superstorm like Sandy hits.

All but the last picture were taken on the campus of Kingsborough Community College.

As we approached the campus, we started seeing a lot of damage - and a lot of dead trees, especially conifers.  Our friends told us cleanup work began immediately, along with measures to leach salt out of the soil, but the trees took it hard.

A beautiful work of modern art with "Sandy Trees" in the background.  What is that woman thinking?  What did she witness during the superstorm?
Some flowering trees in the background.  These deciduous trees in the foreground may have a chance at recovery

(More damage still being fixed near the college).

Meanwhile, at the concert auditorium, people were arriving, many of them (and many of the musicians) senior citizens.  I heard more than one friend greet another with tales of losing their homes or apartments.  That story is all too familiar to me, in my area of upstate New York, due to our own flooding in September, 2011.  But our flood was river water, not the ocean.

Two choruses performed - the "Day Chorus" of day students and volunteers, and the "Night Chorus" of night students and volunteers.  One of my friends is a member of both choruses.  We were also treated to the Brooklyn Wind Ensemble and Concert Band.

There were a number of songs with a religious theme, or "river" imagery (as in "crossing over to the other side").   One song in particular, Arlo Guthrie's "Valley to Pray", was an absolute pleasure to listen to, as was a medley of song from Les Miserables.

In the aftermath of Sandy, it just seemed surreal to sit in that audience.  But, after all, life doesn't stop after a disaster - nor should it.

Later this month - more on Brooklyn's Sandy survival.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Spring Things - Spring Comes to the Concrete Canyons of Manhattan

Yes, you heard me right. It's spring in New York City!

The borough of Manhattan is famous for many things.  Wall Street. Museums.  Street food carts.  Times Square.  Lots of traffic.  Bright lights.  Great food.  People who never sleep.

The Empire State building towers above, soaring towards a beautiful blue sky.

But if you take a few minutes, and don't look for the obvious, you will also find, near where I took this picture of one of New York City's most famous building, these sights:

Flower beds.
Tulips and grape hyacinths in bloom

And even, in the background, a Japanese maple.

But that wasn't all.  Near to this landscaping was something even more remarkable, in a neighborhood called NoMad. 

Come back later this week to learn the story of a most remarkable building and garden.