Friday, February 28, 2014

Reams of Dreams

Last night, as I started to write this, it was seven degrees F with a wind chill of -12F. It's two above now (don't ask me about the wind chill)as our ice cold winter continues.  I'm grateful - it was supposed to be four below zero.  Thank heavens we can afford the heating bill.

Spring seems like it's months and miles away.  Will it ever come?  Will the polar vortex loosen its hold on us?

Stores are running out of ice melt and a bad storm is predicted for Sunday into Monday.

Never mind that southern friends on Facebook report tulip trees, paperwhites, and daffodils blooming.  Never mind that Charleston, South Carolina is in the 50's as I type.  Here in upstate New York, it is harsh winter, with the winds of early March already whipping around, making being outside an absolutely miserable process.

But there's a cure.
Seed catalogs!  Reams of dreams, thinking of that perfect garden we will grow this year.

In fact, I've already purchased my first two packets of seeds.  I was in a store the other day, and I couldn't resist.  These packets are both organic, and will be grown in Earth Boxes in our back yard.

I'm doing things a little differently this year, though.

I used to buy most all of my seeds mail order. Then, for the last couple of years, we have bought them locally, except for a handful of specialty items not available locally. We also bought a lot of mail order plants.

This year, we are going back partially to mail order, concentrating on catalogs (such as Baker Creek, above) that have signed the "Safe Seed Pledge".

If you are concerned about where your food is coming from and who is supplying the seed (and what has been done to that seed), what I would ask you to do is try to grow your own food as much as possible.

We have a small yard, and have used a community garden for many years.  I don't blog about my garden efforts enough.  Why?  I'm not sure, but, after all, my Twitter name is @RamblinGarden, and I need to do more garden blogging.

So you, my faithful readers, are put on notice.

I'm so looking forward to a home grown salad (featured above: spinach, filet beans, strips of red peppers) from our first produce.

The only thing this salad is missing is a good heirloom tomato.
Onion plants in our community garden, 2013
Before we know it, spring and summer will be here, and our garden will look like this.

But until then, we dream, and we make our seed lists.

In a few days: what we will be planting.

How are you spending the last few weeks of winter (if it is winter where you live)?

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Best of AM - The Peanut President

I have visited several United States Presidential birthplaces or childhood homes.  The varied backgrounds of our Presidents are always a source of amazement for me.

Sunday, I blogged about the Andersonville National Historic Site, where one of the most notorious Civil War POW camps existed. On February 27, 1864, 150 years ago today, the first prisoners were transported there.

In 1924, a man was born, and grew up, just a few miles from the Andersonville site.  He is still alive, and still quite active - in fact, he is planning a trip to Venezuela later this year, at the ripe young age of 89.  And, oh yes, he was our 39th President.

Here is a post I wrote on Jimmy Carter in 2010.

The Peanut President

Jimmy Carter has always fascinated me.  He came seemingly out of nowhere, seemed to have what it took to be President, but once he got into office he never succeeded.  Yet, in private life, he has succeeded beyond what may have been his wildest dreams.

What in his upbringing, what in his childhood values, what in his education made this man?

And why has this area of Georgia grown organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and others?  What here was so special?

We are visiting the Americus/Plains area to find out. In this blog entry I am concentrating on Jimmy Carter the man.

This is the house that Jimmy Carter grew up in.

Jimmy Carter grew up outside of Plains, GA in a solidly middle class family.  The actual town, which no longer exists, was called Archery.  The realities of rural life in those days created a childhood of lots of hard physical labor.  His father, loving as he was, did not believe in keeping anything on the farm that did not "pay its own way".   And this was hard farming, although the Carters were rich enough to have tenant farmers.  Still, Jimmy worked side by side with area black farmers, performing distasteful chores such as "mopping cotton".

"Miss Lillian", Jimmy's mother, was a nurse who did not turn anyone away, black or white.

Jimmy's father encouraged Jimmy to work and play alongside of the local black farmers.

The Carters grew cotton, peanuts, and sugar cane.  Student farmers still raise these crops at the homestead today.  They kept goats for meat, and mules to plow the fields.

And, in this windmill, is the germ of using "alternate energy".  There is nothing new about windpower.

The Plains High School the Carters attended has been closed (as part of consolidating various school districts).  This is a classroom set up the way it would have looked for Jimmy Carter in the 7th grade. Like so many famous people, Jimmy Carter credits a high school teacher, Miss Julia Coleman, as another great influence on his life.  In 1940 Eleanor Roosevelt invited her to the White House to honor her.  I highly recommend reading about her life.

 This is the outside of the high school.

Plains was the "Big City" for Jimmy Carter.  This is what it looks like today:

Jimmy Carter lives just outside of Plains today, and when he is in town, teaches Sunday School at his church.  This is Jimmy Carter's "Church Home".

When we had first planned our trip, Mr. Carter was not supposed to be in town but this has since changed. We won't be able to change our plans but it certainly would have been interesting.

The Carters also raise a lot of money by auctioning various belongings, momentos, and even paintings.

So, what about this childhood made Jimmy Carter so special?  Didn't many other Georgians had a similar rural childhood?  Not exactly.  There were Jimmy's parents, the hard work ethic instilled in him, his travel in Navy service.  But what else?  The Americus area has something very special, and you can find out more about Americus by reading some of my other posts from 2010.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Winter Wonders-The End of Winter Blues

If I started an online petition to END WINTER NOW, I would probably get hundreds of thousands of signatures.  Not that we have a choice about the weather.

The weather shows us who is in charge of our planet, and it isn't us.

Susquehanna River, Binghamton, New York
Ice covered rivers - just wait until ice breakup time comes.  (What looks like snow in this picture, taken yesterday, is ice.)  I don't think we will have the same problems as those reported in places like Indiana, but ice breakup can be an awe-inspiring time, nevertheless.
NY 17, earlier this winter
A foot of snow, and even here in upstate New York, the highway becomes barely driveable.

Outdoor cafe - closed until - well, they may have to change their mind about March 15.
Outdoor cafe tables wait, forlornly, for spring to arrive.
All of us are waiting.  And waiting. Enough already!

The end of winter blues have struck.  Spring feels so close, like we can almost touch it.  But all we breathe in is ice cold air. Right now it is 14 F, with a wind chill of 5 above.  This should be our high temperature of the day. Tomorrow, low of 5.  The day after, low of -2.  And so it continues to go.

Yes, spring will come. But today, it seems like it never will.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Lady in Number 6

I had just blogged about "human wormholes", elderly people who are living links to history, and I didn't even mention Alice Herz Sommer.

To say she was a music teacher and a concert pianist was only the beginning of describing one of the most remarkable women of the 20th (and 21st) century.

She had her own Facebook page, at the age of 110.  I had been one of her fans.

A documentary based on her life had recently been nominated for an Oscar in Best Short Documentary. It had been released in some 100 theaters two days before her death.

She faced and survived horrors most of us can not even imagine, as a concentration camp survivor during World War II. Her mother and her husband died in the camp. Her six year old son survived, but she ended up outliving him.

Alice Herz Sommer, died Sunday at age 110, surrounded by her family. 

Despite her experiences, she never lost faith in humanity. Here are a few of her quotes:

"I look at the good. When you are relaxed, your body is always relaxed. When you are pessimistic, your body behaves in an unnatural way. It is up to us whether we look at the good or the bad. When you are nice to others, they are nice to you. When you give, you receive."

“Only when we are so old, only, are we aware of the beauty of life.” 


“Hatred eats the soul of the hater, not the hated.”

A remarkable woman. Let us celebrate her remarkable life.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The L.L. Bean Coat

I occasionally  blog about customer service experiences, both good (Chobani yogurt) and not so good (a local Binghamton, NY restaurant, who acknowledged my email but only after several days and although they said they would respond, they never did.)

This experience, though, has to be a first.

There is a long time company, located in Maine, called L.L. Bean. They have been in business since 1912 and have a reputation for excellent customer service.  Their clothing can be a bit pricey, but I've been wearing one of their light fleece jackets for years and years, and I will go into mourning the day it finally falls apart.

In September of 2011 I bought a ski jacket in their flagship store in Freeport, Maine.  It was a splurge, and I don't ski, but it had some features I wanted.  It was a light ivory/white, which I wanted, so I could be visible at night if I had to go out.  It had a nice red liner, so fleecy and comfy.  I hadn't worn it enough to have to wash it until this year, when it became my go-to coat, in our extended "polar vortex" weather.

I washed it yesterday, and to my horror...well, let my email to L.L. Bean from today tell the story.

"I purchased during a visit to Freeport in 2011, a white ski jacket with red liner... I didn't wear it much the winters of 2011 and 2012 but wore it a lot this winter and got it dirty. I washed it for the first time yesterday-cold water, gentle cycle as directed. The red liner has bled all over the coat in various places and is visible from the outside in many spots on the hood and the back. It is cosmetically ruined. Is there anything that can be done? I love this coat and we are ready to go into another cold wave later this week. Thank you."

Less than 1/2 hour later (on a Sunday!!) I got this response:

"I am sorry to read the red liner on your North Ridge Sport Jacket bled.
Unfortunately, the jacket was discontinued in 2011 and is no longer available for replacement. You are welcome to return the jacket if you wish. We would issue you a gift card for the return... Simply print a return form and return shipping label[from our website]."

After a little further correspondence (which they responded to in minutes, as if someone was waiting there to get my email) I was told no rush if I need the coat until it warms up - there is no time limit on returns!  (I've read that - and now I know it is true).

And maybe, one day, it will really be spring.  Meantime, tonight, it is supposed to dip down to 10 above, and by Wednesday, 3 above.  If you see someone with a blotchy white/ivory coat walking around Binghamton, you'll know who it is.

Have you had a really good customer service experience?

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Civil War Sunday - The Prisoner of War

On February 27, 1864, the first Union prisoners were moved into what has become perhaps the best known POW camp of our Civil War.  Today, it is known as the Andersonville National Historic Site, and it is located in southwest Georgia.  It is free, and is well worth a visit.

Today, the Andersonville site commemorates the suffering of all POWs, from all wars.

The treatment of POWs in our American Civil War had an interesting history, and these terrible camps were set up by both sides.  In the next couple of weeks, I hope to blog more about this, including a camp in what is now downtown Columbia, South Carolina, Camp Asylum, which archeologists are racing to excavate a small portion of before development destroys it for good.

This, with some edits, is from a Veterans Day post in November of 2010.

In Andersonville, Georgia, there is a special museum devoted to the POWs of all wars.  Best of all, it is free of charge.  We spent an afternoon there back in March, 2010.  Although I was attracted to Andersonville as part of my interest in the Civil War, the museum featured information from a number of wars.  I especially was drawn to the exhibits talking about POWs from World War II.

Many people, when they think of "Andersonville", think of the infamous Union prisoner of war camp, more properly known as Ft. Sumter.  (even today, the county is called Sumter County.) But there is a lot more to the Andersonville National Historic Site.  First, there is the National Cemetery.  The original graves are those of the dead of Andersonville, those who never had a chance to become veterans.  Some names are known, many are not.  This is a portion of that cemetery, which now holds about 20,000. graves of the dead of several wars:

Then, there is the "reconstruction" of Ft. Sumter.  Imagine 33,000 men held captive on 26.5 acres, by people who, four years before, had been their fellow countrymen. Now they were at war.  Walking this land, you can almost feel the ghosts.  The "tents" (obviously not originals) in this picture were called shebangs, and the soldiers who owned them were rich, in the society of prisoners-at least they had some shelter from the elements.  During the 14 months of its existence, some 30% of the men confined there perished.  The very first casualty was a soldier from New York State.

In fact, I know someone who is descended from a Union soldier, a chaplain, who was imprisoned at Andersonville. (His ancestor survived).

These walls are not original, but are based both on photographs and archeological excavations done in the late 1980's.  The original walls were hurriedly built by slave labor.

The stream that watered the prisoners is still there today, along with markers for various "wells" that were dug by the prisoners.  Seeing those markers gives you chills.  The official water supply had, in short order, been contaminated by human waste. These markers are what survives of desperation.

The camp had never been intended to hold 33,000 men and the Confederacy, barely able to feed its own soldiers, couldn't spare much for food or shelter.

Thanks to archeological digs, historians were able to reconstruct the "deadline", a line inside the walls-if a prisoner went over this line they were shot dead.  For many, doing this intentionally was the way they left the prison.

We could step in. We could step out.  We walked around with bottled water.

We may have walked with ghosts.

The commander of the prison, Henry Wirz, was tried and executed after the war was over.

Walking those grounds was like walking a Civil War battlefield, but in a way even more special.

The final picture is of one of the monuments on the grounds.

One observation was made by the owner of the bed and breakfast in Americus, GA where we stayed.  There were many Civil War prisoner of war sites both in the South and in the North. Both sides were guilty of atrocities towards their prisoners.  But Andersonville may exist as a memorial park because...well, after all, the North won.  And isn't it true, this owner asked me, that victors write the history?

The POW Museum does have a very large map showing the sites of these various camps.  One, which is well known to historians in our "Southern Tier" area of upstate NY, was the Elmira Prison. Sadly (so perhaps that B&B owner was correct) it is true there is no national park there.  There is a monument, but the prison site today is a residential area and a park-and it is said that few people living there know the history of their neighborhood.

Is there destroyed history where you live?

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Sustainable Saturday-Greasy Beans in Upstate New York?

It is time to order our seeds for our 2014 community garden, here in the Binghamton area of upstate New York.

We look through catalogs, and ponder, and know that this year's garden will be the best ever.  There will be no drought, no rotting from too much rain, no insect pests, and no critter damage.  Everything we plant will come up, will flourish, and we will harvest record yields of everything.


You must be an optimist in order to garden.

And, your heart must beat faster when you see something new.  Will you try it out?

Two Septembers ago, we visited Asheville, North Carolina and had the opportunity to visit several local farmer's markets - or, as they call them there, tailgate markets. (Unlike New Yorkers, North Carolinians reserve the term "farmers markets" for markets held in permanent structures).
North Asheville Tailgate Market, 2012
Even if there isn't a tailgate in sight, tailgate markets they are. 

In a North Carolina market, you will find products and produce you won't find in any upstate New York market.  That's part of the fun of travel.

Some vendors were selling something called a greasy bean.  We saw them for sale, but because we had no cooking facilities in the B&B where we were staying, we couldn't try them.  What they are is a pole green bean, without the tight fuzz you find on the pod of the typical green bean.  This gives them a shiny, or "greasy" appearance.  We were told they had excellent eating qualities, and that they were a bean grown in certain areas of the southeast, including Kentucky, and western North Carolina.

I must have signed up for this catalog somewhere when visiting Asheville, because the last two winters I have received an Asheville seed catalog called Sow True.

Last year, we didn't buy very much mail order,but this year, I decided we needed to support some of the smaller, non GMO catalogs.

So I opened up the Sow True catalog and what did I see:  Greasy beans.

The world of beans is fascinating: there are so many kinds to choose from. We've lived in several parts of the United States over the years, and have tried some of these varieties (when we lived in Kansas, we grew dried beans and in Arkansas, we grew yard long beans and crowder peas. ) But here in upstate New York, we do have a shorter growing season (perhaps 150 days) than Asheville (I would estimate between 185 and 195 days).  So, our first question was:  will these greasy beans even grow here?

We don't know. Some greasy beans, for example, have been grown in the Pacific Northwest with varying degrees of success.  But greasy beans here?  I've never seen them in any farmers market, not that I've been to every one in this area.

Again, I don't know if they will succeed.  But my heart says we should try.  Why not? Isn't experimentation part of learning?  What do we have to lose but some space in our community garden? And, if we succeed, we have a food unavailable locally at any price.

Have any of my readers tried to grow greasy beans outside of their normal Appalachian range?

Friday, February 21, 2014

A Day as Sweet as Honey

This morning, it was above freezing here in upstate New York, near Binghamton, New York.  The snow was melting, and rain was a couple of hours away.

We still have lots of snow on the ground, after our long stretch of cold and snowy weather.

In the sunrise, the sidewalk on Main Street in Westover was not showing any scenic beauty. What you are seeing is ice with standing water. Everything was dreary and dirty. This is the non-beauty of late winter snow here, not the stuff of Hallmark cards.

And then the rains came.  And came.  And came.  But the temperature rose, to a high of 47 F (8.3 C).  Melt, snow, melt! But don't flood! Our silent prayers came in unison.

Then, in late afternoon, the sun came out.  Suddenly, the day was as sweet as honey.  The sunshine penetrated through our minds, still in self imposed hibernation.  Birds tweeted.  "Spring is a month away!" the sunshine sang to us. "Open your coats and let the sunshine in.  Dance and twirl in the the warmth.  The golden hour is just minutes away!  Awaken, maple trees, and feel the sap start to flow. Your time is almost here, too. Can the crocuses be far behind?"

And, at the end of the day, I slid on the ground as I took this picture.  But tomorrow there is a promise for more sunshine, more honey.

And then, next week, it's back to lows below zero.

We'll enjoy the honey while we can.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Treasured Links to the Past - Or Human Wormholes?

She is what some call a human wormhole.  And I hope she'll forgive me for saying so, because she knows I love her very much.  It's not the most elegant name, the "human wormhole" but if you think about it a little, the name is a bit catchy.

Yes, I know she looks like a woman of a certain age.  To be exact, she's 102 years old.  But she's so much more.  She's a treasured relative in my spouse's family.

She is a link to the past.  She may be physically frail, but her mind is as sharp as the day she was born. Maybe even sharper.

She's a living link to the past, the past that, for all but a handful of us, exists only in textbooks.  When I touch her, when I talk to her, I am touching history.

She was alive when the Titanic made its maiden voyage (1912).

She was alive when our country enacted a constitutional amendment permitting the income tax (1913).

She was alive during the post World War I flu epidemic (1918-1919) and vaguely remembers wagons traveling from house to house where needed to pick up the dead (what a childhood memory).

We are fascinated by human wormholes.  I've blogged about some of them myself, from the living grandson of a U.S. President who served from 1841 to 1845 to a man who witnessed Lincoln's 1865 assassination and lived to tell the story on a late night game show in 1956.

One story has an interesting twist.  It is said that Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who fought in the Civil War, shook hands with both former President John Quincy Adams (born in 1767) and a young/future President John J Kennedy (whose life was cut short by assassination in 1963).  I can not find any firm evidence for this having actually happened (there is a fascinating discussion online about whether it might have been possible, though). However, Holmes did have a link to more than just the Civil War, where it is said he once saved Lincoln's life.

Holmes, who lived from 1841 to 1937, had fond memories of his grandmother, who could remember red coated English troops marching through the streets of Boston at the beginning of our Revolutionary War. When she was five. In 1776.

If I live long enough, I might be a human wormhole, too.  I don't know if that makes me happy - or scares me a little.

Do you know anyone who would qualify as a human wormhole?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Winter Wonders - Ready to Slide on Ice?

A freezing rain advisory is in effect starting at 7am here in the Binghamton area of upstate New York. Our forecast is "rain and freezing rain" with a high of 39 degrees F. (3.8 C).  Rejoice!

We are then going into a very temporary warmup.  We tend to get freezing rain here after a cold spell, as we start to warm up above freezing.  But our "warmup" will be only into the 40's and only for three or four days.  Not like where I used to live in Arkansas, where it was in the 60's yesterday.

On the other hand, later this week, they may be getting tornadoes.  Guess I'll pass, after all, and stay with what I have.

Ice can be beautiful.  Several weeks ago, I featured my "guest photographer" and some of her frost pictures.

Today, she is back with some ice pictures.
This one, she calls "ice veins".

These were taken in the countryside to the east of Binghamton, New York.
She calls this "Ice reflections"
"Ice crunchies".
"Ice trails".

And, finally,  I call this "ice layers".

Meanwhile, icicles are hanging on houses everywhere, due to our recent sunny weather.  You wouldn't want to be hit by one of these deadly missiles in my neighborhood.

Give me snow, any time.

Is it still winter where you are?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Best of AM - The Amazing Secret of Sherwood Forest

As part of our "President's Day" holiday yesterday in the United States, various facts about past Presidents were posted on Facebook.  I was pleased to discover that a man  I had blogged about a couple of years ago - one of two living grandsons of our 10th President, who served from 1841 to 1845- is still alive, according to a source I trust (

Here, for your enjoyment (a day late) is the amazing story.  I never did make it to Sherwood Forest - but, it is still on my list.  I don't know, though, if Harrison Tyler still gives some of the tours.

The second grandson -  Lyon Tyler (in the above video) is apparently still alive, although he is reported to be in declining health.  Jane Garfield, granddaughter of James Garfield mentioned below, is apparently still alive also, at least from Internet research I was able to do.

Civil War Sunday -The Amazing Secret of Sherwood Forest

No, the amazing secret of Sherwood Forest doesn't have anything to do with Robin Hood and his Merry Men. Although it would have been interesting to watch them fight in the Civil War, dressed in their bright green clothes and using their longbows and clubs to fight....well, I don't know if they would have sided with the Union or the Confederates.  But Friar Tuck would have been quite the sight.

No, I am talking about Sherwood Forest Plantation, in Virginia, which is suddenly (I suspect) going to become a whole lot more popular as a tourist destination than it has been - all because of an 83 year old gentleman who lives there.  His name is Harrison Tyler, and he happens to be the grandson of President John Tyler, a U.S. President who served from 1841 to 1845.

John Tyler was born in 1790.  In other words, a man born in 1790 has two living grandsons.

To put this in perspective, Jane Garfield, the granddaughter of President James Garfield (who was a Major General for the Union in the Civil War), is 99 years old. Garfield was President 40 years after Tyler.  (Garfield was also the second president of the United States to be assassinated-he died just before his 50th birthday.  The first President to be assassinated, of course, was Abraham Lincoln, the U.S. President during the Civil War.)

It's one heck of a story, this grandson, and has taken the Internet by storm in the past week, just after we passed the 150th anniversary of John Tyler's death in 1862.

So, putting Harrison Tyler aside, what is so fascinating about President John Tyler?

Although John Tyler's administration is interesting from an aspect of studying pre Civil War history, his actions after states started to secede is what holds fascination for me.

A Peace Conference was held in February 1861 to reach a compromise and enable the Union to continue.  It was hoped a settlement could be reached before Lincoln took office in March of 1861. (unlike today, Presidents in that era took office on March 4 and not January 20).  John Tyler came from his home at Sherwood Forest Plantation to attend.

John Tyler, sent by his native Virginia, was the head of this conference.  It did not succeed, although a Constitutional amendment was proposed. 

After the failure of the Peace Conference, Tyler sided with the Confederacy, and was a delegate from Virginia to the  Provisional Confederate Congress.  When elections to the First Confederate Congress were held in 1861, Tyler was elected to their Congress but died before he took office.

He is buried in Richmond, VA near the grave of President James Monroe.  As he was in rebellion his death was not officially mourned by the Union.  On the other hand, the Confederacy declared him a hero.  A grand funeral was held in his honor.

This is a fascinating story indeed, and I hope to visit Sherwood Forest Plantation one day.  And who knows,  if my tour group is big enough, and has enough pretty women, maybe Harrison Tyler will be our tour guide.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Best of AM - What's In a Name?

I am going to take several days off and repost some of my favorite posts.  Today, I'm resting and celebrating - well, I'm not exactly sure what. Read on.

What's in a Name?

Today, in the United States, we are celebrating a holiday, no one really knows.

When I was growing up, there was a holiday, Washington's Birthday, which was celebrated on - imagine that, his birthday. February 22. We'll ignore the fact that Washington actually was NOT born on February 22.  He was born on February 11, 1732, under the old Julian calendar.  When Britain switched over to the Gregorian calendar we now use, his birth date was renumbered.

(Can you imagine the chaos today, in our computer-driven world, if they renumbered the calendar?  More proof that our ancestors were more adaptable to change in some ways than we moderns are.)

February 22 became a Federal holiday in 1885. Washington's Birthday, honoring George Washington, our first President.  The beloved "Father of our Country." 

Well, that meant that sometimes the holiday could not be celebrated as a three day weekend.  We couldn't have that, could we?  In the early 1970's it was decided that Washington's birthday, and several other holidays that were celebrated on specific days, would be moved so we could have three day weekends.

So, this holiday was moved to the third Monday of February.  Ironically that also means it can never be celebrated on February 22.

After all these years, most people here no longer call the holiday "Washington's Birthday", although that is still its official name.  It is called either "Presidents' Day" or "President's Day". (Sometimes, Presidents Day with no comma.) And herein lies the power of a comma.

Presidents' Day:  honors all Presidents. President's Day: honors one President.  George Washington. Or maybe not always.

Adding to the confusion, states have passed their own laws specifying what the holiday is called, and the honoree(s) thereof.  Some states honor Washington.  Some states honor Washington and Lincoln (Lincoln was the Federal president during our Civil War 1861-1865). At least one Southern state honors Washington and another President, Thomas Jefferson, as most of the states that seceded during the Civil War still choose not to honor Lincoln in any way, 152 years after the fact.

So, if you are in the United States, happy....uh, whatever your state calls it.

And if you are not from the United States - does your country have something as confusing?

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Civil War Sunday - The H.L. Hunley 150th

150 years ago tomorrow, February 17, 1864, submarine warfare began.

We don't think of the United States Civil War as being a naval war, but in fact, a portion of it was fought in naval actions - in harbors under siege, and on rivers.

On February 17, 1864 a Confederate submarine, primitive by today's standards but a marvel of technology back in 1864, embarked on a mission in Charleston Harbor. Charleston, in Confederate South Carolina, was where the Civil War began.  The Federals had been blockading the harbor. The brave men of the Hunley's crew knew that the vessel had sank the previous October, killing its crew and the man the sub was named after.  Would they accomplish their mission and return safely?

Can you imagine being in a small, claustrophobic sub, lit only by candles, powered by a hand crank, approaching a Union ship with a torpedo attached to a spar jutting out from your tiny vessel?

That night, the Hunley approached and sank a Union vessel, the USS Housatonic, signaled that they had achieved success...and then disappeared, not to be seen again until 1995.  The sub was raised in 2000, its dead buried with great ceremony and the sub moved to a building in North Charleston, South Carolina.  Now, researchers are closer than ever to finding out why the Hunley never returned from its mission.

Below is a post I wrote on the H.L. Hunley when I visited the restoration lab in 2012.  I do love the legend of the gold coin below, and this weekend, visitors to the H.L. Hunley will receive a copy of the coin.

The Legend of the Gold Coin (From April 7, 2012)

 Legends are always fascinating.  And sometimes, they are even true.

Today is the 150th anniversary of the second day of the two day Battle of Shiloh (Pittsburg Landing) in Tennessee.  This battle was the bloodiest battle in America up to its time (but would be surpassed later that year near a creek in Maryland called Antietam).   General Albert Sidney Johnston of the Confederate States of America lost his life at that battle (which was won by the Federals).  In a war that had so many "what if" turning points or "could have been" turning points, it may have been the death of Johnston that lead to the ultimate defeat of the Confederacy. (Ironically, it is also possible he was killed by friendly fire).  But, I will leave those debates to the historians.

What I love about the Civil War is those "rest of the stories" and one concerns a legend that turned out to be true.

The legend tells us that the sweetheart of one George Dixon gave him a gold coin as a token of her love as he went off to war, on the Confederate side.  He promised his sweetheart he would keep it with him always, and he kept that promise.  The coin was in his pants pocket as he fought at the Battle of Shiloh, and a bullet hit him - in the coin.  The coin deflected the bullet enough that the wound did not require amputation, and George Dixon lived to fight another day.

Lieutenant George Dixon died on the submarine H. L. Hunley, in Charleston Harbor, in 1864, as I have blogged about previously.  The Hunley was a marvel of the technology of the 1860's, a functional submarine that saw combat, but the crew met their death at the bottom of Charleston Harbor hours after their first and only battle action for reasons still unknown.

During the excavation of the H. L. Hunley, the coin was indeed found next to Dixon's body.

It is a $20. gold piece, bent, with an inscription:
April 6 1862
My life Preserver

In the lab, traces of lead were discovered on the coin, leading scientists to conclude that the coin was indeed hit by a bullet.  And, due to where it was found, the authenticity of the coin is unquestioned.

I recently toured the lab restoring the Hunley.  You can not take photographs, but you can see the ship (in a preservation tank) and the coin.  And, that morning, something happened that could only happen in Hollywood. Except it didn't.

I was examining the coin, in its display case, with an older gentleman.  He mentioned that his great-great-great-great (I may have left out a "great" or two) grandfather had fought at Shiloh.

Bet Lieutenant Dixon was winking at us at that moment.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day February 2014-While My Garden Gently Sleeps

Today, my upstate New York garden gently sleeps as the snow comes down, yet again.
My front flower garden sleeps under a blanket of about 1/2 inch of fresh snow on top of snow already fallen.  In our area, we are actually running a little bit behind our "normal" seasonal snowfall, but there is no such thing as normal anymore.
My back flower garden, with the compost bin in the upper left hand corner.

I need to hunt for flowers indoors.  What do I see?
Two poinsettias.  What is so special about leftover poinsettias? Well, these are left over from Christmas 2012. Late last year, I almost killed them when I moved them to a new window and forgot to water them.  I saved them just in time , but instead of leaves growing, the colored brachs grew in.  Without even trying. 

So I have "blooming" poinsettias once again, without the traditional "stick them in a box every day from 5pm to 8am".  Bet if I did this on purpose, nothing would ever have happened!

The primrose I bought for a sick relative which I decided to keep so she wouldn't have to care for it is still blooming.
Two of my African violets have started to bloom in the last couple of days.  Here is purple.

And white.

My Persian Shield is still blooming, but none of the flowers would cooperate with me in the tangle of plants I have up in my bedroom (pots taken in from the summer patio).  This was the best I could get.

Also overwintering is a pot of variegated leaf geraniums but they aren't blooming.  They are waiting for spring.  We all are waiting for spring.  What is in store for us the rest of this month?  Let me guess: more snow and cold.

Hopefully not a repeat of this, which my son sent me from his truck parked in front of his home this week.  (-24F, -31 C).

Every fifteenth of the month, I participate in Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, a meme brought to us by May Dream Gardens.  Visit her site, and then visit gardens from all over the world.  That's where I am headed now. 

I'm ready for spring.  The blogger at May Dreams Gardens is ready for spring.  People all over the Northern Hemisphere are ready for spring. 

What's blooming in your garden, home, or area?

Friday, February 14, 2014

Bad Communication

It's February 14, Saint Valentine's Day.  The perfect day to talk about Chocolate and Bad Communication.

I meant to have a slightly different title but my blog posts, lately, have been publishing themselves without me telling them to publish.  So, I promise I will talk about Bad Communication.

But first a little peek into celebrating Valentine's Day when you have recently had an impacted wisdom tooth pulled (and are still debating the wisdom of same) and can't eat seeds, nuts, or anything that could get lodged into where the tooth used to be.

On tonight's menu:

The Chocolate Lab wine I blogged about earlier. Yes, I'm off antibiotics.  For now, anyway.

Salmon.  It's Valentine's Day, it's soft, it won't stick in my teeth and it's pinkish red.  Spouse will serve it with a home made maple and mustard seasoning.

White asparagus.  I've never eaten it before and it is a first for my spouse, too.  But a local supermarket had a really good price on it.  I am generally not into light-deprived produce, but am looking for tender food tonight.

What is white asparagus?  Well, asparagus grows as a perennial, sprouting every spring from perennial roots.  The asparagus is the shoots before they grow too old and start to leaf out.  White asparagus is green asparagus that has been covered so that light can not hit the spears. Without the light, the spears turn white - and are supposedly more tender.

 My spouse looked up how to prepare it.  It can be prepared much the same way as green asparagus, but with one exception - it has a tough skin.  First, the entire spear must be peeled.

Then, after it was steamed, it had to be peeled some more.

So, something tells me this will be the first, and last, time I eat white asparagus.

Filet beans and winter squash.

And, for dessert, chocolate mousse. This is a recipe my spouse has used for many years.  He rarely makes desserts, so this one has to be easy.

Take 1/2 cup semi sweet chocolate chips, melt in microwave.
Beat 3 egg whites until they are midway between soft peak and hard peak.  (we use the refrigerated egg whites, which are pasteurized, as we do not have our own chickens. )
Take 1/3 cup cup rum or Firefly banana liquor.  If rum, add 1/4 cup sugar and mix with the rum until the sugar dissolves.
Next, add the alcohol mixture to the chocolate, mix till smooth, and wait until the mixture has cooled a little.
Finally, fold in the egg whites.

Pour into dessert cups and chill, at least 4 hours.
Makes 4 servings

Now, I promised to blog about Bad Communication, and if you tend towards queasiness, you may want to skip to the end.

One of the possible complications of the particular type of wisdom tooth extraction I had is exposure of the sinuses - in other words there's a hole where the tooth used to be, and if the tooth was up in the sinus cavity (as mine was), you have a hole in your sinus cavity that, hopefully, at least has a membrane between it and said cavity.  If the membrane was punctured, you have what is called a "communication".  As in "your nose communicating with your mouth".  My oral surgeon isn't sure right now if the membrane was punctured but he didn't like what he saw today.  He will know for sure in a couple of weeks as healing continues.  This is not a communication you want.

This is a great thing if you are a kid and want to gross out your friends by drinking water and having it pour out your nose, but other than that, it isn't good at all.  There are surgical options if the hole doesn't close on its own and there are also hundreds of horror stories on the internet about people and their experiences with this condition.  I'll spare you.  I'll also spare me.

Right now, I am uncomfortable and I feel on and off like I am on a plane that is descending (that ear pain you get) and my right nostril hurts, but there is no water pouring out of my nose.  Not yet, anyway.  I make snorting sounds and I get interesting sensations sometimes when I drink water.

(For the queasy, you may start reading the post again.)

As a good friend helpfully pointed out the other day, she always knew I had a hole in my head.

I wish all my readers a happy Valentine's Day, or at least, not a bad one.

Tomorrow, instead of Sustainable Saturday, I will celebrate Garden Bloggers Bloom Day.  If you love flowers, stop by.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Making of a Golden Snowball

The Golden Snowball is a competition between five cities in upstate New York: Albany, Binghamton, (where I work) Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo. We compete for the most snowfall in a season.

In a way, it's hard to compete when you have no control over the results, but it is a lighthearted way to survive the harsh winters we tend to get here in upstate New York.  Of course, there are areas of upstate New York that get way more snow than these five cities.  But, the contest is what it is.

Although the competition unofficially started in the late 1970's, an enterprising person has put together statistics, starting in 1940, to show who would have won each year if there had been a contest.  There's just one little problem: Binghamton and Syracuse did not start to compile weather statistics until the year of my birth, 1952.  And, Syracuse, some 70 miles from us, tends to be the champ.  A lot. Like a couple of years ago, when someone I know who lives in a suburb of Syracuse got 51 inches of snow.  In three days.  And that was just the beginning of winter.

Back in 1977, when Rochester started the competition up, it was called the Snow Derby and there was an actual award presented to the mayor of the winning city.

It was even made fun of once by Jimmy Fallon and Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live, but I can't seem to locate the video.

So, who will win this year?
Right now, it just might be Buffalo, but we aren't giving up here in the Triple Cities.

Here are some pictures of our efforts in my neighborhood of Westover. We've been doing our part in the last week. We're trying to gain the lead but I'm afraid to ask anyone to cheer us on.  These pictures were all taken today,as the snow continues to come down.
One of our front yard bushes.
A tree.

More bushes.

And, a photo I manipulated, because I wanted the catalpa "beans" to be visible. I've tried for three days to get a good shot and my sinuses (not happy at me because of the hole in them- more on that in a few days) have taken out a restraining order on my further photography during snowstorms.

I'm grateful all of this is snow, and not ice, or even worse, rain.

How is your city or area doing in the crazy weather our world is experiencing?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Winter Wonders - Something's on the Move

Uh oh.

At 3 pm today, our National Weather Service declared we were under a winter storm warming here in the Binghamton area of upstate New York.  The forecast is for six to ten inches of snow, starting in the early morning hours tomorrow.

Ah, it feels just like the good old days when, by mid March, we would have two or three feet of snow on the ground, and my toddler son, with playmates, would make snow tunnels in the front yard.  (I'm sure he doesn't remember when the snow was higher than he was tall.)

Thank heavens we weren't further south in Atlanta, Georgia.  A couple of weeks after a snow storm (tiny, by our northern standards)  that left motorists in absolute gridlock, they are having an ice storm that has left the streets almost empty.

And England?  Epic flooding is their lot. We know about flooding here, but not quite on that scale.

Something is on the move.

But back to my son, he now lives about 20 minutes away from us, and we communicate by text.

This morning, I texted:
It dropped to minus 6 F after I left for work
And he responded:
-20 F or -29 C
Yes, he was 15 degrees colder than we were.  It's amazing, some of the cold pockets we have in this area, and he is unfortunate enough to live in one of them.
Here, even in an urban area (he lives out in the country), I can see the wonders of nature.  Last year's bird's nest, last week's snow.

This week,  moon rises have fascinated me.  Yesterday evening, I took this, the moon barely visible in the mid right of the photo.

And, the sky glowed shortly after in the sunset.

Yes, something's on the move. Beware!