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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Fright and NaNoWriMo

Today it's Halloween.   A time for decorating, for trick or treating, for pretending you are things you aren't. And to prepare for a writing marathon.

Halloween decorations have become so popular in the United States these last few years, that you find them almost everywhere.

In Northwest Arkansas, for example, when I visited in August, some decorations were already up. (this was in a Wal Mart parking lot.) I loved the hay bale jack o'lantern.
I found another hay bale jack o'lantern at a local Southern Tier of New York dairy farm.

Here in upstate New York, bushes are covered in fake spider webs. Pumpkins rest on porches.  Inflatable witches rest in some front yards.
In a downtown Binghamton apartment, a space under a window has been transformed into a graveyard.
On the West Side of Binghamton, another front yard graveyard.

This is "fake" death and fright, though.  Sometimes, the scary truth is just a few hundred feet away.
In downtown Binghamton we have a 9/11 monument, complete with a girder from the former World Trade Center.  Knowing that there are groups who would love nothing better than to inflict this kind of pain on the world (and having just done so, in Kenya, not too long ago) is truly scary.

And, there is one more type of fright.  The fright of the writer facing a blank computer screen.

Tomorrow I start my participation in NaNoWriMo. This requires me to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Last year was my first time, but this year I am actually a bit scared.  Will I be able to write 50,000 words devoted to a memoir?  I've already written some 20,000 words of memory in two previous Camp NaNoWriMos.  But this is the big time.  My reputation is at stake. I have fans rooting for me! I have writing buddies!

Gulp. Nothing Halloween can scare up for fake fright can compare with this.

So I may not be seeing you that much in November.

I'll be checking in from time to time. You may see some "Best of AM" posts this month, but I plan to continue my daily post schedule.


The preparations are done.

Tomorrow, the work begins.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Fall Fancies - The Last Sniff of Summer

Today, a friend and I took a noontime walk in downtown Binghamton, in upstate New York.  What did we find, on this lovely mid-50's (about 13 Celsius) late October day?
Roses are still blooming, despite a mild frost. (We will get our hard freeze in two or three days). My friend sniffed every one we passed, and found a couple of nice scented ones for me to enjoy.
In a corner near a senior housing development, a lonely flower blooms.
Nearby, a red tree was showing off.  We have an interesting blend right now of bare trees, green trees and colored trees.
Earlier this morning, I was walking through downtown.  At our county courthouse, it was close to dawn and the yellow-brown trees were glowing in the streetlights.
Moving back a little, this was the overall view.

It's hard to believe that the time of snow isn't too far off  But there is actually something a little worrysome in these pictures.  As I mentioned, we have trees that haven't turned downtown, and even where I live near Johnson City.  It's late to have trees with leaves, and each year, the last leaves leave the trees later and later.  We always had full leaf bags before Halloween. This year we haven't even started to rake yet. (we probably will start this weekend.)

My husband has been tracking the last leaf falls for about 10 years now, and there is no change to the pattern of "later and later" yet.

Climate change.  Why does anyone deny it?

Trees with leaves are hazards when the first snows come.  Snow sticks to leaves and branches, or even entire trees, may come down.

Hopefully, the first true snow (we've already had snow showers) will hold of at least a couple of weeks.

If it is autumn where you are, how are things progressing?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Gamechanger

It's one year since Superstorm Sandy made landfall on the East Coast of New York City.  Tonight, communities on the shore remember with lit candles and flashlights.

As my regular readers may recall, I was born in the Rockaways, in New York City, one of the areas tragically affected. From afar (over 150 miles away away), I tried to use social media to keep track of what my relatives and friends in New York City were experiencing.

This kayak on a Brooklyn street some distance from the ocean (photo taken by a friend) was just the tip of the damage.

A year later, enough damage still remains, although the recovery continues.

We can remember what was, in a visit I made to Red Hook (another affected neighborhood, in Brooklyn) shortly before Sandy .  And, indeed, I've walked the streets of Red Hook again, as I promised to do in that post.

I want to share some photos with you, on this first anniversary of Sandy, of hope reborn in Red Hook.

In some places, when I visited in May, the damage was quite apparent.

But nearby, an open garden center was selling blooms.
A Red Hook housing project has experienced some rough times.

But, just days after the Boston Marathon bombing, Red Hook was raising money for Boston.

Still, so much work remains.  In another Brooklyn neighbor, Gerrisen Beach (in walking distance of one of my relatives), rebuilding continues amidst frustration.

This kind of story, thanks to climate change, has become way too common throughout our world.

At a recent local meeting of our neighborhood and town regarding our own post-flood issues from Tropical Storm Lee in September of 2011, officials called Sandy "the gamechanger".

It was the event that made New York State finally take notice, they said, of all that has been happening with our weather.

I hope our officials are right.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Mystery of the Snowbow

Is there such a thing as a snowbow?

My spouse and I saw this in the sky last Thursday about 4:50 pm in Johnson City, New York.  We were having a mixed rain/snow shower and we suddenly saw this rainbow - or snowbow? in the eastern sky, while driving.

I took a couple of pictures through the windshield of our car.

Looking online, I find that there may (or may) not be such a thing as a snowbow.

This says no.

This says yes, but what they describe isn't what I saw.

What I think I saw, though, was a true rainbow, produced by the rain component of the shower.

Still, it's the first time I've ever seen a rainbow associated with snow.

To my science minded readers - what do you think?

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Civil War Sunday-On the Less Beaten Path

There comes a time in the life of a student of the United States Civil War where it is time to leave the normal path - the path of major battles, preserved and interpreted in national, state, or county parks - and set off into a not-so-packaged experience.

That time came for me and for my spouse this past August, as we decided to trace a not so well known Civil War battle in Northwest Arkansas at Cane Hill.

As I've blogged about previously, many Civil War battlefields are privately owned, including Cane Hill.


At a nearby state park that preserves a different battle (Prairie Grove), we were able to pick up directions.  They are also available online.

I don't know if this was the work of one person, or of many, but I would like to thank whoever took the time (and spent the money) to erect these plaques and trace the path of the battlefield.
Today, the Cane Hill battlefield is farmland.  This is the first stop on the self-guided tour.

Plaques now exist to educate the student about the battle.

For example, here is where the opening shots were fired.

The second major stop is the abandoned Cane Hill College, which is known today (in another location) as the University of the Ozarks.  I do not know what this structure with the name "Cane Hill" is.  Nearby, there was a millstone lying on the ground.
Only one building remains from the Civil War era, which is dorm that was used as a field hospital after the battle.
Now, there is a historical plaque at the college, and one of the post Civil War buildings looks like it has been used recently. Either that or there is a historic air conditioner in one of the windows on the first floor.
There was a sidewalk there that I took pictures of but they didn't come out good.  It had  signatures traced in the concrete - I would guess they were made by graduates of the college.

The next stop is an abandoned mill, Kidd's Mill. Confederates camped behind this mill before the battle, perhaps where I took the picture.

Another view behind the mill.

And...that is where the tour ends.  Because we got lost and we were never able to find where we were supposed to go next.

Yes, that is another part of the experience when you are traveling in a rural area.  Sometimes roads aren't too well marked, or are in poor condition.  We did enjoy ourselves, though, and learned something of Civil War history in a part of the Confederacy too often ignored. 


Saturday, October 26, 2013

Sustainable Saturday-The Icy Fingers of the Winter to Come

After this Saturday, all but two local farmers' markets go into hibernation until late next spring.

This morning, an icy breeze whipped through the Otsiningo Park farmer's market, as vendors huddled in the 40 degree cold.  One vendor was even wrapped up in a blanket in the bed of her truck.

Even the savoy cabbage was purple with cold. (We bought one of these, and will report on their taste.)

We are still adjusting to the cold here.  The coats have come out, and they won't be going back in their closets until April.

Yet, shoppers were out, looking at cabbage, radishes, turnips, green peppers, honey, cheese, and frozen chickens.

We moved on to a farm stand that will be closing for the season Thursday.  Russell Farms is located in Pennsylvania, across the border from us in the Southern Tier of upstate New York, and it has a satellite farm stand in Vestal, NY.  Next to a farmer's market, Russell Farms is the next best thing.  Although they don't grow most of their veggies this time of year, they do have their own apples, and they are selling produce from southern Pennsylvania - Pennsylvania Dutch country.
For example, this head of savoy cabbage (objects in back of it let you judge how big it is) set us back $1.00.
They had Romanesque cauliflower, a heirloom from the 16th century.
We also picked up some green cauliflower.

Next week, our small twice a month indoor winter farmers market begins in downtown Binghamton. And, the farmers wishing to brave the cold for one more month will huddle in the parking lot of the Vestal library.  Now, that's dedication.

Will your farmer's market be going indoors for the winter?

Friday, October 25, 2013

David, Goliath, Parental Loss, and NaNoWriMo

Do I want to have my soul devoured by a November ritual called NaNoWriMo?  I just might, because of an interview I listened to last night.  But first, bear with me a moment or two.

Do I want to spend this November feverishly trying to write 50,000 words for my own personal satisfaction, and to show myself (and maybe the world) that I can do it again?  My manuscript from last year is still in my computer, with one of the main characters (a fictional daughter by the name of Madison) occasionally pounding on the lid of my laptop from within, demanding that she be let out.  I haven't revisited the manuscript nor Madison - it was a work of mental healing, a fictionalized "what if" of my life, something never really meant for public consumption.

But, how can I resist another heart-pounding competition against myself?  Bravely, earlier this month, I decided I would be a rebel and write my memoir. (This is a fiction competition, and memoirs aren't fiction. Hence, I would be a "rebel")  I've made a couple of stabs at this memoir - back when I didn't know what was involved in writing a memoir.

I have tried to educate myself recently and realize I have a long way to go in actually writing a true memoir.

The doubts were gathering, like grey lake effect clouds on an upstate New York November afternoon. Do I really want to gaze into the navel of my life? (especially if I use cliches like that). Can I do it and write something worthwhile? Oh, that devil, insecurity.

I don't have delusions about this being marketable.  I wasn't raised in a dysfunctional family.  I didn't survive a war.  I have never been an alcoholic or a drug addict (unless you count chocolate as an addiction). I am not famous, not even in my dreams.  I have always felt there was nothing significant about me.  I'm just an average "Jane" from New York City.

Apparently, I am wrong about being average.

Last night, I listened to a TV interview with the author Malcolm Gladwell,  You may not have read his books, but his ideas have entered the modern consciousness - from tipping points to outliers. I read the book "Outliers", and enjoyed it very much.  I love the concept of "things aren't necessarily what you think they are."  Some critics feel Gladwell oversimplifies, but this isn't meant as a review of Gladwell's ideas.  Rather, it is about something Gladwell said in last night's interview.

Gladwell has written a new book called David and Goliath.

To quote the New York Times, the book is " about the advantages of disadvantages — and the disadvantages of seeming advantages.".  (One example Gladwell gave is the disproportionate number of successful people with dyslexia - something that caught my ear as one of my cousins has dyslexia.)
Then, something else he said had me suddenly thinking about my memoir-to-be.

Quoting again from the NY Times:
"..one of the most unconventional theories in “David and Goliath” is that for certain people, losing a parent early in life can be an advantage. He cites the work of Marvin Eisenstadt, a psychologist who did a study showing that “of the 573 eminent people for whom Eisenstadt could find reliable biographical information, a quarter had lost at least one parent before the age of 10” — and 45 percent had lost a parent before the age of 20."
My Mom died (suddenly) when I was 12.  And I would say that yes, that loss was the defining moment of my life.  In fact, I have never written about it.  Some memories of that night in November of 1965 are too painful for me to write about, even nearly 50 years later.

Was having my Mom die at age 12 an advantage for me?

Strangely, in some ways (am I disloyal to my Mom to say so?) I would say "yes".

I now have the theme of my memoir: loss and coming out, a different but better person, on the other side. Loss of a mother as a child.  My childhood neighborhood, which turned into a slum when I was still growing up there.  Loss of a dream of rural self-sufficiency in Arkansas.

In some ways, we are all survivors of loss.  Or, will be survivors of loss, if we live long enough.  What can be a more human theme than surviving loss?

I have registered on the NaNoWriMo website.  My working title is "An Insignificant Life", in honor of the late author Frank McCourt.

If you plan to participate in NaNoWriMo this year and if you want to be your writing buddy, you can find me under RamblinWritr (no "e").

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Hunting for The Harvest Moon

I am writing this before we know for sure if we got our killing frost this morning here in upstate New York.

It is supposed to get down to 30 degrees, with scattered snow showers.  Back on Monday, it was sunny and in the 60's.  Things change so quickly in the fall. One day sunny, the next day lake-effect gloomy.  One day, nice breeze and the next day a breeze that cuts you to the bone.  One day the leaves on trees are green, and the next day (or so it seems) they are gone.
Black Walnut Tree, Vestal Rail Trail, Vestal, NY

In the fall, the Moon takes over the sky.

In September, our full moon is called the Harvest Moon. The Harvest Moon rises right after sunset and sets right after sunrise the next morning.  I never understood why it was called a harvest moon until I lived in rural Arkansas, some 30 years ago. 

Back when I grew up in New York City, I had never experienced what the full moon could do.   I never saw the true night sky, either.  What I saw was a washed out version, with a few constellations scattered here and there.

In Arkansas, living on an unpaved road without lighting, I saw the Milky Way for the first time, and I saw the power of the full moon. I saw it light up our land so brightly you could read by its light.  When snow was on the ground, it was almost like daylight.    I never stopped marveling over how the night sky was really supposed to look like.

Now that I am back in an urban environment, I no longer read by the light of the Moon.  But I still love to see the Harvest Moon of September, and the Hunter's Moon of October. 

Here, in Westover, near Johnson City, NY, we have a harvest moon sunrise.

In the west, meanwhile, the moon was about to set behind a row of trees.

For this year's Hunter's Moon, we were also going to have a penumbral eclipse of the Moon.  I was so excited when the clouds broke up and I was able to see the Moon.
Picture taken during the height of the eclipse.
But what I couldn't see was the eclipse.  I read, later, that my experience wasn't uncommon.

So, in a few minutes I will leave for work, in the dark.  When I return home I will know if the frost hit.  If it did, I will say goodbye to my flowers and steel myself for the winter to come.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Fall Fancies - The Last True Days of Fall

Fall, to us in upstate New York, is a fleeting thing.

It is the short season of trees turning color - of red, yellow, and brown - before the snow starts to fall.

Monday, it was mild, hitting 60 degrees.  Yesterday started out mild, before the cold came in, with a taste of bitter wind.  A little after 4:30 I took my exercise walk with my spouse, as the sun shone in our eyes.  The sun gets lower every day.

Tonight, we will be getting our killing frost.  And, we may also be getting our first snow flurries, if you believe the National Weather Service.

But for now, red, yellow, and brown rule the land.

Mushroom and burning bush, West Side of Binghamton.

Otsiningo Park, near Binghamton, New York.

Knotwood, an invasive plant, turns yellow in Otsiningo Park.
Tree on the West Side of Binghamton.

Soon, we will have the last of our fall color.

A burning bush glows.  In just a few days these leaves will be a distant memory.

Fall will last until December 21 on the calendar but, for us in upstate New York, it will be gone by the end of the month.  Let's enjoy it while it lasts.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

We're Glad We're Doing This

For many years, we didn't grow glads. It was a combination of having to stake the flowers and also having to store and replant this year.  Fortunately, my spouse is a hard worker in the garden because, with my bad back, a lot of things wouldn't happen otherwise if my back wasn't being cooperative.

 This year we decided to give glads a try, buying yellow, pink and purple varieties.


Here are two of the colors I put in a bouquet back in July.
Glads blooming in August.  These I decided not to cut.

Here's a glad that rebloomed (flowers looking tighter together) recently.  I know of at least one other local gardener who had reblooming glads this year.  Generally, they do not do this here.

Now, frost threatens, and the heat of summer is only a fond memory, as we may have snow flurries tomorrow. Glads will not overwinter here in our zone 5b climate, so it is time to dig up the corms and store them for next year.

A work friend of my spouse's told my spouse how to do it.

Dig up the corms, snipping off the foliage. (We are doing this as we are soon to have frost, but the friend does this  or 3 week before).  Clean, and let "cure" for a couple of weeks. The old (original) corm must then be discarded, along with any corms that are not firm.  The tiny cormlets, we were told, can be replanted next year, but will take up to five years to bloom, so we probably won't want to bother with them.

In this case, we now have two corms - and both can be planted next year. We ended up with over twice as many corms as we planted.

The friend said to soak the corms in water with a small amount of Lysol (four tsp to one gallon) to prevent thrips.  Let dry before storing in open paper bags.

So, by this time next year we may have a lot more glads to plant.  Or, to give away.

Neighbors, watch out!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Beautiful Basil

 It's the time we dread - saying goodbye to our gardens.

Yesterday, we finished preparing our community garden plots for the winter.  We probably won't get a killing frost until Thursday morning, but, per the rules of our garden, the last gardening day is October 27 (frost or not).  Some community gardens allow you to keep plants there all year round (for example, allowing you to grow perennials); ours doesn't.

Fences had to be taken down, sunflower stalks had to be stomped to the ground, and produce had to be picked.  Debris had to be put in dumpsters.

Today, its the turn of the small garden at our house. We have a garden in our front yard - mostly flowers but a couple of food plants (basil, a pepper.)
Our dahlias will need to be dug, but we will wait until after the killing frost.  We dug our glads up (more on that later in the week).

The focus today was on our basil.  We had both taken today off from our jobs for a trip that ended up not happening.  But instead, we lucked into what might be the warmest day of the rest of the year.

 In the front yard, we had our Italian basil.
In our back yard, Thai basil, which were volunteers from last year.  We've never had volunteer basil before and the several plants were a pleasant surprise.

I sat out in the back yard, in our 60 degree (and breezy) weather, stripping off the leaves. This was te view from my tiny porch.

The perfume of basil quickly filled the air, and, after I brought the leaves inside, the house.  (Where is that smell-o-blog plug in when you need it? )

Then, my spouse, the cook, took over.  While I wrote my blog post and took pictures, he got out the food processor, and blended the leaves with a little chicken stock, to a fine cut, not a puree.  This is an experiment - because of watching our weight, we didn't want to use oil.

Then, into the ice cube trays they went.

Spouse will use this for various purposes, including flavoring tomato sauce.  We don't do much with pesto, but I will wish I had fresh basil leaves for a nice tomato/fresh mozzarella salad.

I'll be dreaming of that salad until next summer.

How did you spend today? I hope it was a beautiful one for you, too.