Monday, September 30, 2013

A Song to End September By

Here in upstate New York, on the last day of September, we are having dry, mild weather and and trees are starting to turn.  The yellow trees, especially, glowed yesterday like liquifying gold in the early morning light.

This will be a short post today as I prepare for the Ultimate Blog Challenge.

Music to end September by.

I could feel at the time
There was no way of knowing
Fallen leaves in the night
Who can say where they´re blowing.....

And now, we march onward to fall.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Civil War Sunday - In Your Former Back Yard

In the United States, when we think of the Civil War, we think of soldiers, North vs. South, epic battles, brother against brother, guns, cannons, and national parks.

But we rarely stop to realize just, exactly, what the lasting effect of our American Civil War was.  In many ways, 150 years later, we are still recovering, in ways we don't fully realize.

Take Arkansas, a former Confederate state, for example.  And a small town in Northwest Arkansas,in particular.

At this time last month, I was visiting the Northwest corner of Arkansas.  As my regular readers know, I lived in that area some 30 years ago. 

A little background, first.

Arkansas was one of the last states to join the Confederate States of America.  They did not secede until after the first battle of the Civil War in April of 1861.   Arkansas, which was a slave state, borders a state that stayed in the Union, Missouri.  The story of border states is special, and Arkansas is no exception.

Arkansas, in 1861, was still very much on the frontier.  But there were many bright spots pointing to a prosperous future.   One bright spot in particular was a community called Cane Hill. 

It was the first community settled by Europeans in Washington County (home of Fayetteville, and the Arkansas Razorbacks). It was a community on the cutting edge of progress.  Cane Hill was the home of Arkansas' first public school, first library, and first Sunday school.  

It had a newspaper, banks, hotels, a Masonic Lodge.

The Cane Hill school, in particular, has a fascinating history. 

At Cane Hill mills were built to grind wheat and corn. The community thrived. In 1852, the Cane Hill school was chartered as Arkansas' third college.  Its future seemed assured.  In fact, Fayetteville, another college town some 20 miles away, currently has a population of over 75,000. people.

You'd think Cane Hill, today, would be similar.

But for Cane Hill, history would not smile on it as broadly.

Fast forward to 2013.
The community, in 1901, was renamed Canehill but there is still enough usage of the old "Cane Hill" name. (I prefer Cane Hill myself). It has one main street, Arkansas Highway 45.  It has approximately 1400 residents, and a post office.  This is basically a rural farming community.

When I lived near here, the meat processing plant we used for our chickens was in Canehill.  In the early 1980's a convenience store with gas pumps was built.  Neither seem to be there any more.  The post office is still there.  A historical marker telling of a fight connected to the Civil War was near the convenience store, but that seems to be gone (or moved) now.

But, if you know where to look, some scars of Cane Hill's past remain.  In the 1980's, I saw these twice a day in commuting too and from work in Fayetteville, but I didn't know what I was looking at.  Now, thanks to some history minded people and the Internet, I know  Somewhat.

In 1861, at the start of the Civil War, Cane Hill College lost its student body as they joined the Confederate army.  The college closed. 

On November 25,1862, war came to Cane Hill in the form of a skirmish.  Today, there is no state or national park on the site, but there are now some attempts to place historical markers at important sections of the skirmish.  Three days later, there was a battle at Prairie Grove, about four miles away, commemorated by a well-thought out state park. (I will blog about Prairie Grove, too.)

Even before Cane Hill and Prairie Grove, groups called "partisan rangers" operated within Northwest Arkansas.  Law and order started to break down.  Whatever the partisan rangers were called (there are other names) they were basically guerrilla fighters.

The not-told-enough truth of battles and their aftermath is:  the civilians in the way of the troops suffer. Their farms are trampled, their livestock are run off, their crops ruined.  If they didn't have time to replant, they faced starvation come winter. It took years to recover.  Meantime, law and order continued to break down.  All over Northwest Arkansas, not just in Cane Hill, the guerrillas brought terror and death to the people, more than the actual battles ever did.

In some ways, say historians (keeping in mind I'm just an interested layperson), this guerrilla war was the true war in Arkansas.  It turned Northwest Arkansas, literally, into a barren wasteland of burned houses and deserted farms with overgrown field.  The people who could, fled.

In 1864, Union troops burned Cane Hill and the college.  Only one building survived, which was used by the Union troops as a field hospital.
This is that building today, along Highway 45.

After the war? Well, Cane Hill did rebuild but it would never live up to its former urban promise.  Cane Hill College did survive - for a while,  It ended up being rebuilt, but history, again, did not favor it continuing in Cane Hill.  It moved and still exists today, in Clarksville, AR, as the University of the Ozarks.  (Before it moved, though, it made history again - being the first college in Arkansas to admit women, in 1875.)

These are the ruins of Kidds Mill, which was here during the Civil War.  These walls are rebuilt a lot more recently.  (I have to admit some confusion about the actual name of this structure - if anyone can help this New York Yankee out, I'd appreciate it.)

This wheel (which you can see almost in the center of the wall photo) is also post-Civil War. However, the Confederates did camp here, before the skirmish at Cane Hill.

When I lived here, this was mainly a "rest area" with a parking space and a garbage dumpster.  The dumpster is gone and it is obvious there are some attempts to restore the structure.

In the early 1980's, I had absolutely no idea of the history of Cane Hill.  I am fortunate that my interest in the Civil War (and the existence of the Internet) led me to a story rich in drama.

Canehill, today, celebrates its history through an annual festival in late September. I am hoping that, if I am through the region again, I can visit several of the structures here that are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Later this year, I will blog about the skirmish at Cane Hill and the Battle of Prairie Grove, Arkansas.  And, perhaps, even a little more about Cane Hill College.

Funny what you can find in your own back yard - or former back yard.  Even a former back yard 1400 miles from where you live now.

Have you ever found out about the history of an area years after you left?

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Sustainable Saturday - Fresh Ginger and Mystery Pokemon Pumpkins

(My posts on Binghamton Restaurant Week, and the Heartburn Incident, will continue next week.)

Today's Otsiningo Park (Broome County, New York near Binghamton) farmers market was full of surprises.

For example, fresh ginger.   That was the first time I've seen it in my area.
You'll note it doesn't look like the tuborous ginger you see in supermarkets or Asian food stores.  That is because it is fresh.

After a blogger encouraged us to grow our own ginger, we are in the process of doing that in a pot in our yard. But we've had three frost warnings already (no frost) and true frost should be here some time in October.  So our ginger won't be outside for too much longer.

We decided to buy a piece, just in case our potted ginger doesn't produce.  The pieces for sale were smaller than the "show" sample in the photo, but good enough for a family for two.

How do you use fresh ginger?  If you ask, I'll write more about using homegrown ginger in a future post when we harvest whatever is in our pot outside.)

The other new offering was something the vendor called "pokemon pumpkins".  But, I've looked online, and can't find this.  Anybody know what this winter squash/pumpkin is? (the red things in the picture are potatoes.)
Next, some more familiar veggies.

Corn is still at the market, a big surprise, because normally it is finished by now.  Our unpredictable changing climate here in upstate New York?  No matter, I'm looking forward to it tonight.  Fresh corn must be eaten as soon as possible, and I like it cooked in the microwave with just a little butter.

More of what was being offered was normal for the early fall.  For example, gourds.
Bok Choy and Rainbow Chard. (our chard failed this year, don't know why.)

Lots more was for sale, including garlic, lettuce (finally!), kale, cabbage, cauliflower, eggs, baked goods, and potted mums.

As I read this post to edit it, I realize I have readers from all over the world - from England, to New Zealand, and even Florida and Nebraska in the United States.  I'd love to hear what is in your farmers market if it is growing season for you, or what you are looking forward to, if it isn't.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Heartburn for Charity

Restaurant Week ended yesterday here in Binghamton, New York.

For those who don't have this program, you may want to consider it for your community.

This started out in 2010 as a once a year promotion, and is now twice a year.  It is a win-win for both restaurants and their patrons.

It works like this:

Participating restaurants offer either lunch or dinner, or both.  These are prix fixe meals.
Lunch is three courses for $10 - an appetizer, a main course and a dessert. (some restaurants offer a wine or beer in exchange for the appetizer).  Dinner is "$25 or less". Most restaurants chose to charge either $20 or $25, and the dinner prix fixe menu consists of four courses.  For lunch it's usual to offer a choice of two appetizers, three main dishes, and two desserts, but this can vary.

They can, at their option, also offer their regular menu.

This is the caring part - a portion of the proceeds go to charity.  This time the charity is CHOW, our Community Hunger Outreach Warehouse.  Our Binghamton community suffers from high unemployment, and high underemployment, and an important thing to remember (this was related to me by a person who volunteers at a local food pantry) that a high percentage of those who use those food pantries are working poor.

I work in downtown Binghamton, and I can testify that the restaurants are packed during Restaurant Week.  It's a good time for chefs to highlight their creations and gain new customers.  It's a good time for people (who can afford to eat out) to try new restaurants out and eat out for a good cause.  And, a good time for both businesses and customers to reflect on their good fortune in being able to participate.

Monday - my experience as a restaurant goer and this past Restaurant Week.  Why do I say "heartburn for charity?" I'll explain more about that tomorrow (it ended well).

Does your area have a similar restaurant program or a special business event in your area that raises money for local charities?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Banned Books Week

Should a book ever be banned?

This is quite the serious question for someone who normally avoids controversy in her blog posts.  However, at one point in my life, I wanted to be a librarian.

I would have been right on the front lines of fighting book banning.

You might be surprised at the lists of books that have been banned, at least once, somewhere, by a government, a school.  They include such classics as:  (I have read all of these, incidentally, and hope I've remained uncorrupted)

The Chocolate War
Two Mark Twain classics:  The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
(more on Huck Finn later.)
Black Beauty
To Kill a Mockingbird
Flowers for Algernon
Where's Waldo?
In the Night Kitchen (I read that one to my son.  He's a productive young adult, hopefully not scarred for life).
The Dead Zone (I'm not the greatest Stephen King fan but I loved that book.  And oh yes, Carrie, another book I loved, was banned, too.).

Here is some information about banned books that may interest you.

Even if you don't believe books should ever be banned (I am one) some books make you think hard. How about Mein Kampf, written by one of the most evil men who ever lived?   I know people whose families suffered greatly in the Holocaust.  I've read the stories of many others, including adults who suffered unbelievably as children and wrote about their experiences in their old age.

No, books of the worst evil should not be banned.  I think, if you hide evil, you increase its power. The same for banning books that contain evil. 

Violence? Sad, that we have mass shootings nearly every month in this nation (one of the worst happening in my very own community in April of 2009), but violence in books is an evil we must protect people from?   (And, just ask anyone who grew up in a war torn nation about being exposed to violence.)

If you hide books that discuss bullying frankly, you ignore a problem that has gripped our nation.  I used to work with someone whose daughter had a friend who killed herself due to online bullying.  That girl, dear readers, was 12 years old. 

That three letter word that begins with S and ends in X? Guess we must protect people from that, although most of us originated from that act.  I know a number of women who started to read Fifty Shades of Grey (another banned book) and put it down for one reason or another - including "bad writing". (Based on their feedback, I made the choice not to try it out.  My decision!  Not a censor's.)

Huck Finn, with its use of the N word and discussions of pre-Civil War slavery? It makes a lot - a lot - of people uncomfortable.  But, if we don't work through that part of our continuing problems with our legacy of slavery in our country, we will never truly be united.

Even memoirs get banned. The Glass Castle. Just talked about that at work this week. People love the book.  Two co workers highly recommended it to me.   Oops, it's on the list. 

To me, with each and every one of these books, it was important to note the public eventually had the right to come to their own conclusions.

I invite you to read a book today, especially if you are a fellow blogger.  And even if you aren't.  Read one that was banned by someone, somewhere, once.  Or one that, maybe, still is.

You have a long list to choose from, including some of the best books ever written.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Fall Fancies - Should I Worm Out of This?

I'm thinking of worming out of a class on worm composting.

Yes, it is the first Wednesday of fall here in upstate New York, time for my Wednesday Fall Fancies feature.  I did this last year on Wednesdays and will do so again this year - featuring anything to do with fall.

The outdoor composting season is almost over here in the Binghamton area.  Soon, the long winter will be here, and I will be struggling with the issue of winter composting.  To be exact: what to do with vegetable scraps?

I don't want to throw them out in the garbage.  They make nice compost; "gold" to any gardener.  I can't put them in a frozen compost heap.  Composting doesn't "happen" in the winter here.  But I don't want them in a plastic bag on the back door, where they will mold and rot and stink, either.

What to do?  How to continue composting in the winter?

Some people get crocks with deodorizing disks to do indoor composting.  Some (I am told) will put bags out on the back porch to freeze, for addition to the compost heap when spring comes.  That must be fun when the first warm weather comes.

Last week, I found out about a worm composting workshop being put on by the Cooperative Extension of Broome County in October.  The Broome County Division of Solid Waste Management the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation are providing funding, so the workshop is free.  For attending, I get "a worm bin made from a plastic tote bin, complete with bedding and some starter worms."  There is a limit of one bin per household, and you must attend the workshop to receive the bin."

I was told (by someone else who had just signed up) that space was filling up fast.  I signed up just in time.

So, that evening, proud of myself, I told my spouse, the main gardener (and cook) of our family, that I had signed up for the workshop.  Wouldn't it be fun, being able to compost with worms?

His response was his "are you kidding me?" look.  We've been married over 35 years, so I know that look well.

His concern was, with our small family of two, that we would be able to keep the worms alive.  We eat a fair amount of veggies, but his fear is that we won't have enough.

And, in doing some reading, I'm finding other concerns - smell (which we are trying to avoid by doing this worm composting in the first place) and fruit flies.  We used to have some major fruit fly problems years ago with homegrown storage onions, and I don't care to rerun that adventure. (My son built simple, cheap traps for them but - you haven't lived until you have fruit flies in the house.  They breed - and breed - and breed.  It ranked up there with the infestation of pantry moths we had once, but at least that doesn't seem to be a hazard).

But, even putting the fear of fruit flies aside, my spouse has another valid point:  work.

It sounds like a lot of work for the return of compost.

So, I am going to turn to my Readers.  My dear, sweet, knowledgeable, Readers.

Readers:  have any of you composted indoors with worms?  Or know anyone who has? Or, would you even think of it?  Or, would you run screaming into the night at the mere thought of worms in the house?  Were you successful?  Or was it too much bother?

Should I embrace this wormy adventure? Or should I free up my space in the workshop for someone else?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Should this Historic Building Be Demolished?

I love old buildings.  They have character, craftmanship, and are a part of our history.

But sometimes, it s time for them to go.  Even if they "have a full market value of" 3.6 million dollars.  And, even if this was considered at one time for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.

The old building I am about to talk about has been a part of my neighborhood for some 60 years. (Hmm, almost as old as I am.)  I've written about this building more than once. 

At one time it was one of the largest wood truss structures in the United States.  Yes, right here in my little neighborhood near Johnson City, New York.  When I moved to Westover, it was a GE facility.  It has gone through several defense tenants, starting with Remington in 1942.

It's been vacant since September of 2011. I've written about this building more than once. and since September 9, 2011, this building has experienced The Long Goodbye
Now, the weeds grow, including in the parking lot. 

The building is a lot bigger than it looks from its frontage on Main Street.  It lies on some 27 acres of land.  When I found a "History of AF Plant 59" online, I was amazed to find that there are actually six structures in what seems to be one "building".  The largest one, if I am reading this correctly, is some 612,000 square feet.  Some of it was built in what I found out was "Style Moderne".

Again, hard to see or to take pictures of, because going on the property itself would be trespassing.  I don't have a telephoto lens for my iPhone.

The three tall trees are Bradford Pears, so pretty in the spring. 

The part on Main Street.

Reading about beautiful maple flooring in the history document can almost make you cry, because this flooring, no doubt, was destroyed in our flood of September 2011. 

So, to go back to my title question, "Should this historic building be demolished?" Sadly, the answer is yes.  It can not be restored, and it has been sitting for over two years, to further deteriorate.

Now, after various required studies, the building will be scheduled for demolition.  There is asbestos in there, so it may be a slow process, but demolished it would be.  All we need is a date.

And replaced by what, we still don't know.  My understanding is, they will not be able to put buildings on the property, which is a shame. It would have been (with proper attention paid to the flood situation) a great place, right on a bus line, for a regional Farmers Market.  My guess is, it will be turned into a park.

Your long goodbye is almost over, BAE aka Air Force Plant 59.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Worries for the Future Part 2

In an earlier post back in August, I posted about needing to plan for the future of my brother in law, who is developmentally disabled with a condition called autism.  

We live in New York State, and what you are about to read may not apply in your state/country.  I want to share this as a cautionary tale, not as a "how-to" primer.

We've (we and other siblings/spouses) been involved in other advocacy for him, but now the time for this big step of "what comes after his Mom" has come.  She is 85 years old, and eventually, will no longer be able to care for him.  Or, worse-the inevitable will happen and she will leave this Earth forever.
If, heaven forbid, she died tomorrow, this is the future the State of New York has prepared for my  brother in law and other disabled individuals without a guardian, according to a knowledgeable person we consulted.
1. He becomes a ward of New York State;
2.  He can't stay where he lives (if his Mom died, he's the only other person living in the house) because he would be alone, and the state will not allow that.  He is deemed to need 24 hour supervision, and the state can't provide 24 hour supervision where he lives now  So housing must be found for him;
3. the court appoints an "advocate" for him, and it is potluck - could be anyone - maybe a person that doesn't know my brother in law at all;
4. Then the State finds emergency housing for him - "first available bed" which could be something not at all appropriate for his disability, but too bad.
And, by refusing the placement, it may be years before another opportunity comes up.

We can't help him without one of us becoming his guardian.

People with autism, in the best circumstances, find it difficult to cope with any type of change.  And this, to use a cliche, would be the mother (no pun intended) of all changes.

Years ago, my mother in law told us recently when we discussed my spouse applying for guardianship, her husband (dead some 15 years now) and her were advised to apply for guardianship.  Her husband elected to ignore this advice.  After he died, she saw a lawyer and certain other documents were drawn up but again, guardianship never happened.

The blessing is, my mother in law is still alive.  She is trying to age with some kind of grace, but refusing to let go of her disabled son.   This man is blessed in that he has a family who cares for him. We are finding that a lot of older men and women in that situation are all alone. No one cares.

So, my spouse is seeking guardianship for his brother.  It's been an adventure, which I will write about more as time permits.

"To be continued".

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Civil War Sunday - The Creek of Blood

I am not a historian. But, like any true historian, I know that an important way to learn about history is to go to source documents.  Documents written by someone who has witnessed or experienced a historical event can be quite useful in understanding what happened.

At this point of the Civil War 150th commemoration, we've just passed the 150th anniversary of one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War:  Chickamauga, September 19 and 20, 1863.

Much has been written about this battle, which was both a Union defeat and a hollow Confederate victory.  My spouse and I had hoped to attend the reenactment, but circumstances (and a cataract ripe for surgery) dictated otherwise.

But I really don't want to write about the battle itself, which was fought over two days and resulted in approximately 34,000 casualties (killed, wounded, captured).

There is a legend that "Chickamauga" (the battle is named after nearby Chickamauga Creek) means "River of Blood" in the Cherokee language, but this is probably not true.

What was true is that there was a whole lot of suffering.  Just imagine, in early July is a battle, the Battle of Gettysburg, with some 51,000 casualities and barely two and a half months later, this battle.  And, the war still has not quite two more years to run, although no one knows that yet.

One of the soldiers in this battle was a young man who had enlisted in the Ninth Indiana Infantry, on the side of the Union.  He fought at Shiloh, at Chickamauga, at the nearby battles of Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge, and participated in Sherman's March to the Sea.  He knew about the horrors of war firsthand.  After the war he became a newspaperman and a writer of short stories, many of them drawing from his experiences in the Civil War.  One of his stories even became the basis for a Twilight Zone episode - the TV show created by Binghamton, New York's own Rod Serling.

His name was Ambrose Bierce and he knew well that not only did soldiers suffer, but so did all the civilians who came into contact with the combatants.  We may never know the true final casualty count of the Civil War but it may well be more extensive than any of us can easily picture.

Which brings us to one of Ambrose Bierce's most famous short stories - a story called Chickamauga.
I highly recommend this story, both for the skill of the writer and the subject matter, but I also warn you it is not easily read.

When you read it remember that in this story, as in any war, so much is not what is seems.

I will explore the theme of civilian suffering (not necessarily the suffering that has gotten the most attention from historians) in a future post.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Sustainable Saturday - The Goodness and Pride of a Grape Pie

Grape pie, oh my.

You've heard of apple pie, strawberry/rhubarb pie, peach pie, pecan pie, and blueberry pie. Everyone has their favorite recipe for pie and many regions of our country have a pie that represents them.

For parts of upstate New York, our local pie of pride is grape pie, made with Concord grapes.

Yes, Concord Grapes.  Those grapes, the grapes you find in concord grape jelly and grape juice and yes, certain types of very sweet wine.  But, commercial varieties of those products don't always reveal the true taste of the concord grape.  (I never tasted "true" grape jelly until I was about 14 years old - and then, never went back to the commercial type.)

For that, and a grape pie, you need fresh Concord grapes, which are available in many farmers markets here in the Binghamton, New York area at this time of year.  These grapes can be more expensive than supermarket grapes but they are a native heirloom.  Support your local grape farmer!

Concord grapes were developed, in 1849, from a wild, North American grape.  I am not any kind of grape expert, but I do know there were problems with disease affecting European grapes that the early settlers tried to grow.  The Concord grape, developed in Concord, Massachusetts escaped those problems because of their native American heritage, plus they matured relatively early, perfect for escaping the first frosts.

In 1869, a New Jersey dentist, Dr.Welch, developed a bottled unfermented grape juice, using the then new process of pasteurization.

Some people do not enjoy eating these grapes fresh, because they have a very tart skin, but I love them. I find the texture of the grape inside to be something like muscadine, but more bursting in flavor (and smaller, too). If I start eating a bunch, I can't stop.

I don't worry too much, because Concord grapes are high in nutrition and low in calories.  They are high in polyphenol, an antioxidant.  They contain vitamin C, calcium and phosphorus. One cup of concord grapes, according to online sources, contains 62 calories. As they are a good natural source of oxalates, these sources warn that people prone to kidney stones should watch intake of Concord grapes. (Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional.)

Since the initial grapes, a seedless variety (smaller than the original) has been developed, but both varieties were for sale yesterday at the downtown Binghamton farmers market.

In fact, I love fresh Concord grapes so much I never get around to making grape pie.  I'm not that good of a pie baker, anyway.

Oh yes, the grape pie of my title.

If you really want to eat pie, go to the Naples, New York grape festival next weekend in Naples, New York.  If you can't make it to Naples, or other local farm stands, you may want to try this recipe.

Or, even better, go to the Cayuga Lake Creamery in Interlaken, New York, for their Grape Ice Cream.

Does your area of the world have a favorite pie?

Friday, September 20, 2013

A Summer Song

Here in the northern hemisphere, summer leaves us on Sunday.  That doesn't make me burst into song, but rather, makes me a little wistful.

When I need some inspiration, I turn to music.

Time for some summer music to say goodbye to.

My all time summer song was a long time ago hit for the English duo Chad and Jeremy, and it's an excellent way to say "goodbye"

How bittersweet.

Summer has been the favorite topic of songwriters for many years.  Here are some other summertime favorites, as we get ready to say goodbye to August:

Summertime - a George Gershwin classic.
Summertime - 1958, the Jamies.
Summer in the City - The Lovin' Spoonful.
"Summertime Blues".

"Hot Fun in the Summertime".
 And finally,what summer would be complete without at least once listening to Mungo Jerry's "In the Summertime"?

Do you have a favorite summertime song?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

When Local Food Makes Good

Recently, I blogged about the Chobani Yogurt recall. (Hopefully, if you buy Chobani, you've checked your fridge to make sure you don't have any of the recalled product.  If so, follow directions on the Chobani website.)

I'm pleased to announce that Chobani has now responded to the form I filled out on their website, and I will be getting coupons for replacement product.

Chobani is a local food here in upstate New York, although the recalled yogurt was not produced in New York - but in a new plant opened earlier this year in Idaho.

The interesting part of this process was the fact that, after I blogged about the recall and posted pictures of two of the recalled yogurts in my fridge (afterwards, I found a third, but didn't bother to tell Chobani about it-we're only talking $1.00 here, folks), Chobani posted a comment on my blog and told me to contact their quality control team.  Nice to know they are monitoring social media.

Anyway, Chobani, you don't have to comment on this post.  I'll look forward to the coupons when they come.  For what it is worth, I bought two containers of Chobani (my favorite flavor, Blood Orange) on Saturday.

But I made sure, first, that the product was made in the New York plant. (you can tell from the product code on the lid).  I have to admit that I'm still a bit leery of that other plant right now, but that should change with time.

The other thing of interest was - when I used Bing to search for "Chobani recall" several days ago, the first result was a sponsored ad for - Muller Yogurt, one of Chobani's competitors.  All I will say about that is, in the words of the late great Arte Johnson:  "Very interesting."  There's more to it but I'll let Arte say it himself.

I hope those coupons come soon.

Have you stayed loyal to a company whose product was recalled.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Simply Summer - A Birdhouse for My Soul

This is my last Simply Summer post for the year - mainly because today is the last Wednesday summer of the year. (Want to suggest a name for my Fall Wednesday posts?  Please comment!)

So, it is a wonderful day to talk about....


I have never seen a bluebird on my small lot just outside Johnson City, New York. That doesn't mean they aren't there.  A birder, I am not!  But we have a lot of trees in the area around our house, and I've been playing with the idea of attracting birds for a long time.  I don't want to feed the birds - I don't want the day in/day out responsibility of feeding squirrels birds. 

So when this giveaway for a handmade Bluebird House came along, I couldn't resist.  This bluebird house is handcrafted by Michael's Woodcraft.  in Greenville, South Carolina. (I've never been there - Asheville, NC keeps distracting me.)  He loves woodworking, and he loves birds.  And flowers.  Like me, except I tried my hand at woodworking once (in 11th grade) and was lucky to escape with both hands intact.  As I've mentioned before, I am not good at working with my hands.
The bluebird, besides being - well, blue (my favorite color) is also one of the best friends a gardener can have.  They eat insects.  Lots of insects.  And I hope they will especially enjoy the bushels of gnats that we get here every year.

And, guess what, dear readers?

I Won the Bluebird House! And not only that, it's even painted blue.  Just for me.

Back in my teenaged days, I would have said "how cool is that?"

Here's a picture of the house Michael will be sending me.  Spouse and I have been discussing the best place to put it.  That post seems like a great idea - and I could mount a hanging basket on it.

I'll let you know when I receive it.

Finally, in honor of the end of summer, a song.  I was going to do a post on "Summer Songs" before I got word that I won the birdhouse.  So in honor of this event, I present this song, which isn't actually about a birdhouse, but, rather, a nightlight shaped like a blue canary.  (I'm not making this up.)

So, for the first time in my life, I will have the job of being a landlord.  It looks like the House Sparrow will be my #1 enemy.  I hope I am up to the challenge. 

If we fail, I have a good friend who lives in the country. And she has friends.

Somehow, this bluebird house is going to be used.

Have you ever had a bird house?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

In Fear of the Frost


From the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

1. a thin layer of ice that forms on the ground, on grass, etc., when the air becomes cold
2.  the occurrence of weather that is cold enough to cause water to freeze and frost to form

To farmers of fruits such as strawberries and citrus, especially in areas where frost is rare but happens, (for example,  central and southern Florida), a frost can be a disaster.

For gardeners in upstate New York, frost is as certain as death, taxes, and snow.

It came this morning to several people I know in outlying areas. But in Binghamton and Johnson City proper, given our location in a river valley, we escaped it.  It also helped that clouds started to form in early morning.  We were lucky.  At our house, it appears the temperature got down to 39 degrees.

Yes, it is a little early even for us.  And we have another chance for frost tonight.

So what does frost do?  Well, first off, temperature is funny.  At the height air temperatures are taken, it could be too warm for frost, but at plant level, it can be cold enough for frost can form.  Frost formation can depend on wind, on clouds.  We have a rough guide from experience.  When will frost form? And when won't it?

What frost does is form ice crystals on the plant leaves, and, for tender plants, it will injure or kill the plants.  And what plants are tender?  Well, a lot of what we grow in gardens:  tomatoes, peppers, squash. Many annual flowers, including nasturtiums and marigolds. Some herbs, such as basil.  Many other plants can take a light frost.  Some can even survive what we call a "hard freeze".

Sometimes, you can save your tender plants by covering them. In that way, the frost doesn't form. But that only works so long.  At some point, you have to let your plants go to that Great Plant Place in the Sky. Or wherever.

When that happens, I mourn the loss of the tomatoes, peppers and basil, and the ending of summer.  I say goodbye to my frost-blackened flower plants. (Conveniently, I ignore the memories of sweaty heat waves and the droopy droughts of summer.)

As I (fortunately) don't depend on my garden for all, or even most of, my food, I don't fear the frost, but I do fear what comes next.

But once the frost comes, I won't be unhappy.  It will be time for apples and pumpkins, for cinnamon scented cider, for donuts from the Cider Mill, for butternut squash, for the semi-annual Ithaca Library Book Sale, and the Ithaca Art Trail.

Unlike last year, we have a good apple crop.

And there is the turning of the leaves

On second thought:

Bring fall on!

Do you live in a four season climate? What is your favorite season of the year?

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Next Great American Fruit?

I think I missed something in the world of farmers markets here in the Binghamton area of upstate New York.

In our Sunday newspaper, there's a list called "Eat Local, Eat Well" provided by a local farmer.  "Here's a look at the fresh produce available this week at Broome County farmers markets", it promises.

Grapes - check.   I bought a bunch of local grapes-Concords - yesterday, which I will blog about in the near future.

Nectarines - check.



Cue memories of Northwest Arkansas, circa early 1980's.
This is a pawpaw tree, planted in downtown Fayetteville, Arkansas.  When I lived in Arkansas, 27 years ago, these small native trees grew wild.  Foragers knew that these trees produced a fruit unlike anything that you could buy in the store. They fall from the tree when ripe, so you never get an underripe fruit.  They have an intense smell (they can't be mistaken for anything poisonous) and tasted, to me, like a banana on steroids. (Many describe the taste as a cross between a mango and a banana but back then, I had never tasted a mango.)  I didn't like the taste, but my spouse did.

They are also highly perishable.  They bruise easily, so they will need to be grown locally.  They have large seeds.  And, not that it matters to me, they are - well, ugly.

But a lot can happen in 27 years, and, apparently, a lot of work has been done on breeding these trees.  Pawpaws are now cultivated and available in a limited number of farmers markets.

One interesting thing about the pawpaw is that they are not pollinated by bees.  They are pollinated by beetles or flies.  And, they are hardy in our zone, unlike bananas or mangoes.

I'm now wondering which farmers market in our county has them.  I'd like to check these cultivated pawpaws out.

If I like them better than the wild ones (or if my palate has changed in 27 years, which is quite possible), I have a West Virginian by the name of Neal Peterson to thank for being able to purchase them.

Some think they may be the next great "American fruit". Well, why not?

Have you eaten pawpaws?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day-Transitions September 2013

September is the month of transitions in my garden near Binghamton, in upstate New York.

The first fingers of fall rest lightly upon us in upstate New York.  We woke up yesterday with temperatures in the low 50's and wind.  Today, when I woke up, it was 47 degrees (8 Celsius) but at our airport, a record low of 36 (2 Celsius). Another cold front is supposed to come through tonight.

It will be warm again by Tuesday, true.  But each time a cold front comes through, it will be less warm.  The winds have become biting and no longer refreshing.  Fall lays upon us with the coming attraction of the impending winter, my least favorite time of year.  We could have a frost before the 15th of next month.  And then it will be months of lake effect clouds, snow, ice, and the dead brown of a sleeping nature.

But there is one thing that keeps me warm - Garden Bloggers Bloom Day.  This meme, brought to us on the 15th of each month by May Dream Gardens, brings gardeners from all over the world together to show what is growing, inside and/or out.  If I'm cold, I just transport myself to a warmer part of the world.

So this is what is blooming for me this month.  
On our back doorstep: a kalanchoe, given to me by a neighbor who was hospitalized a couple of years ago, and got this as a gift.  We'll have to take it in soon (not hardy here), but  it is still thriving.

In our front yard:

Garlic chives.
Alaska nasturtiums, with their white splashed leaves.  I love nasturtiums, and this is my favorite variety.  I hadn't grown it in a few years, and decided to become reacquainted.
Sedum, which is coloring up nicely.
Pink glads.  This year, we decided to renew a love affair

New Guinea impatiens. Our more common impatiens have all died off, every one, apparently from the impatien blight, but these are going strong.

And in our back yard -
Turtlehead (taken last night, glowing in the sunset).
Japanese anemone (just starting to open).

And now, my mystery flower of the month.  Last year, our neighbor a few doors down was dividing these plants and offered us a plant.  This got buried, and we forgot all about it.  Today, I found it, hidden (and almost drowned) in a patch of aggressive herb plants.  I suspect it is a hardy mum.

Finally, I wrap up with a blooming houseplant.
The plant on the right (the left is an amaryllis) is a Swedish Ivy plant, but we call it a Creeping Charlie plant, because that is the name the person who gave me the cutting - three years ago, on an October art trail stop in Ithaca, New York.  - gave it.

Be sure to visit some of the other gardens from all over the world today, on Garden Bloggers Bloom Day.

What's growing in your garden, or in your house?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Sustainable Saturday - The Transition

Two weeks ago, in Fayetteville, Arkansas, it was 98 degrees and we sweated our way through a farmer's market.

Last week we were back home in the Binghamton area of upstate New York, and the produce still said "summer".
...and heirloom tomatoes.
But today, it was an unpleasant low 50's with a strong wind, strong enough to rattle some of the tents of the vendors.  Customers of the bakery truck that also serves breakfast huddled, clad in jackets, with coffee steaming in cups held to their cold lips.  The weather was announcing that outdoor farmers market season would be over in just a few short weeks.

And the produce, seemingly overnight, had changed.  We still had corn, but now, next to the bicolor Butter and Sugar, lay the all white late variety Silver Queen. 

The apples are coming in.

And, next to the apples, winter squash.  Acorn, butternut, red kuri, delicata, hubbard, the names roll off the tongue.

Pumpkins.  And more winter squash.  Gourds.  Dried ornamental corn.  Mums.

I bought a small basket of deep purple concord grapes.  They were a cultivated variety, almost seedless.  The yellow jackets buzzed away to other displayed grapes reluctantly as the farmer put our purchase, slowly, in a bag for us. When we got home, I ate a cluster, the tart, tough skin not fooling me.  I knew the reward of what laid under that skin, and I gorged myself on the pulpy, tart/sweet, firm concord grape flesh.

The first fingers of fall rest lightly upon us in upstate New York.   It will be warm again.  But each time, it will be less warm.  The winds will be biting and no longer refreshing.  Soon, the sun will be with us less than 12 hours a day.  Tonight, the sky glows as the sun sets.

Fall is almost here.

Friday, September 13, 2013

When Local Food Goes Bad

Sad when a good local food goes bad - literally.  And it's sad, because this started out as one of our local foods here in upstate New York.  We are in dairy country and - well, let the Chobani Yogurt website explain it:

"....our Founder and CEO, Hamdi Ulukaya, stumbled upon a classified ad for a yogurt plant recently closed down by Kraft. After initially throwing the ad away, Hamdi listened to his gut, fished it out of the trash and went to see it that day. He decided to buy the plant on the spot, and went to work on perfecting the recipe for Chobani ... The first cup... hit shelves 18 months later and has since grown to become America’s #1 yogurt."

Chobani makes Greek style yogurt, with active cultures, with rBST free milk, and without preservatives.  I love Chobani yogurt, especially the blood orange flavor, and I always felt I was supporting my community by purchasing it.  But now, something has gone wrong.

And, ironically, it wasn't in the original New York State plant, but in a new plant located in Idaho.

While I was on vacation the last week of August and the first week of September, I started seeing some Facebook posts about friends finding bulging containers of Chobani in their fridges, and something about a recall.

When I returned to this area, I found out that someone I know claims to have become sick from eating Chobani. She ate only a couple of spoonfuls, because it tasted so awful.  Right now, I think the official count is 118 reports of people becoming sick, but I'm wondering if this number is underreported.

Anyway, as soon as I could, I went into my fridge, and this is what I found.
It's hard to see, but this is bulging. I also had a container of Orange Vanilla, which was recalled, but isn't bulging.  And it never will, because I threw both containers out and they are now in the Broome County Landfill. Which is where our tale continues.

If I hadn't been on vacation I probably would have tried to eat these by now and gotten a spoonful of horrible tasting yogurt in my mouth.  Thank heavens for vacations.

The aftermath of the recall is part 2 to this tale. People I know who emailed Chobani using the instructions on the FDA website have gotten no response. 

Hamdi, the founder, has personally apologized on the website for this incident, and that touched me.  I believe the apology is genuine. This is a perishable product, and I am grateful no one was (apparently) seriously injured.

The one person I know who called rather than used the website form was told to take the container to her supermarket for a refund, which is not what the Chobani website told us to do.  And, I reported my containers nearly a week ago, and have received no response, either.  I know Chobani has its corporate hands full, and we're talking about a retail value of about $2.00, so I will be patient.  And yes, if I am given coupons, I will use them.

Strangely, one person I know hadn't even heard of the recall until the supermarket she purchased it at contacted HER.  She had used one of the store loyalty cards when she purchased it, and it was on their records.  Kudos, store in question, for this action.  

It's never good when local food goes bad.  I'm hopeful that Chobani will weather this succesfully.

However, I am going to be checking their codes from now on, and purchasing only the lots made in New York State.  A bit unnecessary, perhaps, but I was disappointed to find that some of my "local food" was being made nearly 2,500 miles from us.

Have you ever been involved (as a consumer or corporately) in a food recall?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Nostalgia Ain't All It's Cracked Up to Be - Cataract Edition

A while back, I blogged about how the good old days really weren't.  Today, as my spouse underwent cataract surgery on one eye, I was reminded again of how nostalgia ain't all it's cracked up to be.

I had a long time to ponder this, as first I waited for my spouse to be taken for prep, then waited nearly another 45 minutes for him to be taken to the operating room.  And then, another wait in the recovery room.  The entire process, including transportation to and from, took about four and a half hours.

Spouse has had the cataract for about a year, and in the past few months it deteriorated rapidly.  It got noticeably worse just in the last two weeks.

Basically, a cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye.  It can occur in one or both eyes.  If both eyes develop cataracts at the same time, it can cause blindness.  In the case of my spouse, the cataract had "ripened" (meaning it was ready for surgery where insurance would pay)  and was causing him significant distress.

This cataract surgery is one a lot of older people have had, and it's almost like a routine procedure in our country. With modern medical technology, it's an outpatient procedure. The eye surgeon takes the natural lens out and replaces it with an artificial lens. With my spouse, the actual procedure took only about 10 minutes, and he remained conscious for the entire prep and procedure. (His report: it was painless, but weird, including an interesting light show in his field of vision.)

In certain instances, the patient may no longer need glasses.  It's a nice outcome if a surgery actually makes you better than you were, rather than just correcting a condition.

My spouse won't be one of those who can throw their glasses away, but it's only several hours after the surgery and he's already seeing improvement in his vision.  It's possible that he may be cleared for driving as early as tomorrow.  Now we need to hope that he doesn't develop a complication, or an infection.  He's taking three different types of eye drops to prevent the latter.

So, what's the point of all this?

I know someone who had cataract surgery in the 1980's.  Her procedure took about 2 hours, she had stitches (the thought of that gives me the creeps, a long recovery period, and she wasn't able to resume driving for several days. 

And prior to this surgery being available at all? All we need to do is look at the cataract situation in developing countries.

According to one statistic I read, 50% of "preventible" blindness cases in developing countries result from cataracts. Where families live "on the brink", a blind family member becomes a burden, and can affect the entire family's ability to survive.

Doctors have teamed to bring cataract surgery to these developing countries and to people who have been blind for years, the surgery is literally a miracle.

Am I nostalgic for the "good old days" before this surgery was available?

Quality of life isn't only about technology - and there are parts of modern life I would rather be without - but if you are facing blindness due to a cataract, technology is certainly something you want on your side.

Do you think the "good old days" were the good old days?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Summer Things - The Return to Normal

I'm going to a party tonight.

I'm not much of a party goer, but I will enjoy this party.  And what I will enjoy even more is its date:  September 11.

"9/11", in our country, has a certain meaning.  We all know it means "September 11, 2001", also known as the day that terrorist attacks in three points of our country (the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Virginia, and a Pennsylvania farm where a plane destined for still another target crashed) took over 3,000 lives.

I grew up in New York City. 13 of these people who died (including a fireman) went to my high school, and some others from my school helped in the aftermath.  I know several people who saw one or both World Trade Center towers fall.  I know people who knew people who died there.  I knew someone, up here in Binghamton, who lost one of his two sons. A part of him died that day, too, and he took early retirement later that year.  He lost his other son several years later, in what I suspect may have been "collateral damage".

It was a horrific story, retold and retold each and every year as the anniversary approached.  But, actually, many other things have happened on September 11, including it being my late father in law's birthday.

For years, no one would hold a happy event on September 11.   But that is changing.

I felt, years ago, that life would go on eventually, and September 11 would again be a day during which people in the United States could be happy.  We would still remember, but we could also be happy.

Perhaps, twelve years later, that time has come.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

How Not To Change a Watch Battery

I don't always try to fix things, but when I do, I make things worse.

I am the most klutzy person in the world.

So when the woman at the jewelry counter told me I could change my own watch battery, I should have run out of the store as fast as I could with my fingers stuck in my ears.

Instead, I have today's blog post.  That's the beauty of blogging (and writing in general) - nothing that happens to you goes unwasted.  Hence, my true, embarrassing, confession.

My spouse and I completed a road trip from upstate New York to Northwest Arkansas, and back.  Along the way, I began to realize that my watch didn't seem to be keeping the time any more.  I reset it a couple of times but at some point, I vaguely became aware that no matter when I looked at my watch, it read four o'clock.

Now, time should stand still in a good vacation, but I eventually figured out that having a great time on vacation (or my watch deciding it wanted to be on vacation, too) wasn't the reason for my watch's lack of time keeping.  Did I have the battery changed in Arkansas? Of course not.

So, yesterday, back home in the Triple Cities, we were exercising on the Vestal Rail Trail.  We were near Kohls, where we bought the watch last Black Friday.

So, rather than take it to the mall, where I normally have batteries changed, we decided to try Kohls.

We brought it to the jewelry counter, where the conversation with the sales clerk went something like this:

AM:  Do you change watch batteries?
Clerk: Only if you bought the watch here.
AM: I did (handing watch to her).
Clerk: (looking at some kind of list):  We are out of a lot of batteries.  Let me check.

So she checked, after prying off the case to see which battery I needed, and sure enough, they were out.  But, no worries!

"There's a Radio Shack down the road", the helpful clerk said.  "They will sell you this battery, number 377, for about $6.00.  And it's easy to put the back on - just see this little notch?  Fit it over the stem, and click it into place.  You won't need any tools."

So, fool that I am, I took her advice.

Now, I need to stop and explain that I have various talents.  Repair isn't one of them.  My father fixed things.  My son loves to fix things and earns his living using his hands.  But the "ability to fix things" gene skipped me.  It isn't lack of confidence.  My fingers just don't do what my brain wants them to do. 

But here spouse and I were, at the Radio Shack, and sure enough battery #377, with tax, was about $6.77.

We got home and I - well, I turned to my spouse, who has a cataract in one eye (which will be operated on later this week) and said "I can't see the little notch too well.  Can you?"

That's another thing. When you are nearsided at age 60, you Don't. See. Little. Things. Well.  Like, my spouse, with his cataract, could see better closeup.  Believe it or not, he can.

So he tried and tried, and couldn't do it, and handed the watch back to me.

I tried and tried. Then I got a bright idea and went to You Tube to find a video on How to Change Watch Batteries.  We watched one and we seem to be doing everything right.  But the case won't snap back on.

Finally, spouse turns to me and says "Boscovs (downtown Binghamton, where I work, has a department store) has a watch repair place, RIGHT?" (insert glare here).

Right.  I can't wait to see how much they will charge and I will have to pay every penny, like the person who decides to fix his/her plumbing and messes the whole thing up.

Anyone want to make a house call?

Monday, September 9, 2013

Hungry Like the Wolff

Sometimes, you have to leave home with a hunger to grow and develop.  And then you return home, and blow everyone away.

Welcome home, Brian Wolff.  Hungry to grow as a musician, you moved from Binghamton to Austin.  Austin, Texas, has a thriving music scene and Brian has grown in a way he never could have if he had remained in Binghamton, New York.

Yesterday was Blues on the Bridge (coincidentally, on the second anniversary of our flooding from Tropical Storm Lee).

Blues on the Bridge is Binghamton's annual outdoor music party.  There is no admission, but we (and many others) support the festival through buying T-Shirts or raffle tickets.  It is a true community effort.  There are usually around 13 bands, mostly local, and all high quality. There are two stages so there isn't much wait time between bands.

Although beer is sold, the atmosphere is definitely family friendly and music lyrics are kept "PG".  The vibe is mellow (like we used to say back in the 60's) and there is a low key police presence - just enough to keep things - well, mellow.

Unlike September 8, 2011 when we were in the midst of torrential rains from Tropical Storm Lee, we enjoyed weather in the high 60's yesterday.  By the time the music stopped (at 10pm due to a city noise curfew) it was getting pretty chilly.

We were welcomed by the Blues Brothers - sort of. (Looks like they were too busy singing.)
Crowds enjoyed the sunny weather. (The stage is down by the traffic light and a bit hard to see). There is a bridge, not visible in the photo, but the festival has grown so much it is no longer safe to actually set up on the Washington Street bridge.
Brian Wolff was flown up from Austin and was reunited with his band for a nighttime performance.  It was high energy and, by the time they ended, many people were dancing.

Binghamton Mayor Ryan performed at Blues one last time (2nd from left) with the headline group Rooster and the Roadhouse Horns.  He isn't running again, so I wonder if our new mayor will have any musical talent.

At one point, the organizer of the concert yelled out at the crowd "they say that Binghamton is one of the most depressed cities in our country.  Look around you! Does anyone seem depressed?"

I wish it was as simple as that.  But it isn't. Still, we have one heck of a music party every September, and it makes me happy to live in this area. (Check back in February, though, to see how I feel then.)

Does your area have a popular music festival?