Thursday, July 31, 2014

How a Journey of 1000 Steps Begins - Part 2

On Tuesday, I started a series on how our journey to advocate for my spouse's developmentally disabled brother in law started.  As I blogged about, my father in law died suddenly, one Christmas night in the 1990's. 

After the viewings, and the funeral, the paperwork started.

"B"(as I call my brother in law in this blog) helped my mother in law and me make the phone calls to various agencies, to my father in law's former employer (he had just retired), to Social Security, and to the ARC chapter who ran the sheltered workshop where "B" worked.

The ARC, in the "old days" had another name (so unacceptable today):  "The Association of Retarded Children". Yes, things were so different back when "B" was born, in the 1950's.  Or, even, in the 1990's when our advocacy journey began.

"B"'s association with ARC dates, I believe, from his late teens.  A long, long time.

"B" didn't make the calls.  I made a lot of them, but if we needed a statistic (such as the date he retired, the date he turned 65, and so forth) "B" was right there with the information.

That is one of his talents.  Not all people with autism have that kind of talent, but "B" does.  He can, for example, remember the weather (a special interest of his) for almost every day of his conscious life.  He also has an internal calendar with dates of almost everything that has ever happened to him.

You'll recall that I blogged, back in June, about "B" insisting that the family cat was responsible for his father's death.  In talking to the ARC, I asked if there was any kind of help they could provide in helping "B" adjust to the death of his father. (Incidentally, in case you are wondering - yes, people with autism do process death differently than many people without autism.  Perhaps this should be the subject of a future post.)

The answer to whether the ARC could provide help was "No."  The reason why shocked me-it was so unexpected.  And it started us on our journey of advocacy, which came to a milestone earlier this month, as my spouse was granted guardianship of "B".

So long ago, my father in law had insisted, every time we asked about "B"'s future, that "everything was taken care of".

It turned out that nothing was taken care of.  There was one important detail he had neglected t take care of. And that was why "B" couldn't get this, or any other service besides a sheltered workshop, from ARC.

"To be continued".  (Yes-there will be a third post.)

My readers, thank you for coming to my blog!  For now, I may have to cut back my blogging for August and September  I still plan to blog daily, but posts may be reruns, or photo posts.
I still will have good content for you, but a family situation is taking a lot of my mental energy right now.  I hope you will understand.

And know that I appreciate you, my readers, every one.  Thank you for reading my story - and thank you for your comments.

See you in August!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Summer Ramblings - I am Grateful

Today, a simple post on a simple subject - gratitude.

I love to exercise walk, and many times my spouse and I find ourselves walking on the West Side of Binghamton, New York.  A lot of people there like to landscape  Today, I wanted to share some of what I see on those walks.

Walking - such a simple act, but not everyone I know can do that. 
Butterfly weed with a bee (see upper left corner).  We all should be grateful for bees - without them, we would starve.

A Binghamton porch.  For us who are not homeless, let us be grateful for the roofs over our heads.
Dahlias and a flower to the right which I don't know, but it sure is pretty. Without my glasses, my vision classifies me as legally blind (and that's been true since elementary school).  I am grateful for the ability to see and for modern technology.
And finally, the roundabout in downtown Binghamton, where I work.  Not quite the west side, but there is something about early morning light that makes the juxtaposition of the two year old roundabout and the 100 or so year old buildings - something special.  I am grateful to have a job.

What kind of beauty is in your day today?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

How A Journey of 1000 Steps Begins - Part 1

Our journey of 1000 steps (feeling more like 1000 miles) with my developmentally disabled brother in law, "B", deserves two more blog posts this month.  One will be today, and the other on Thursday.

For those who followed my story last month, my spouse has a developmentally disabled younger brother, "B".  When I did my several autism-related blog posts last month, I blogged that my spouse had applied to become the guardian of his brother.

This month, the guardianship (with some stipulations) was granted.  My spouse has a steep learning curve ahead of him, as he learns his duties and responsibilities.

Today and tomorrow, I want to blog about how this journey began.  It didn't begin with the application for the guardianship.  In fact, it started years ago. I've known "B" for over forty years.  We've spent time with him, taken him shopping (one of his favorite activities), done other things with him.

What I wanted to blog about was how we got involved in advocating for him.

My father in law was a good man, but he would always brush us aside when we would make inquiries as to if "B"'s future had been planned.  I think, in his mind, he had done what he could for "B".

While my father in law was alive, he always reassured his other children that "everything was taken care of" pertaining to "B".

It hadn't been.

My father in law died suddenly, one Christmas night in the 1990's.  His death was discovered the following morning.

Earlier that year, "B" had a milestone birthday party.  At one point, someone noticed that my mother in law was the only attendee over a certain age who was not a widow, and made a remark.  How could any of us know that, some months later, my mother in law would suddenly enter the ranks of widowhood?

We were visiting, as it happens, that Christmas-after morning when my mother in law awoke to find she was a widow. 

Needless to say, there was the shock, and suddenly having to make funeral arrangements.  My son was then in elementary school, and there as the impact on him, too.

At the funeral home, and the funeral, many people came up to us to tell stories of good things my father in law had done for them.  It was a great comfort.  But then, the funeral was over, and we were all on our own, left to carry on.

It was time to start planning for "B"'s future, even as we coped with the aftermath of my father in law's death.  Thursday, what happened next.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Where Late the Sweet Blackbirds Sang

My spouse and I have been walking on the Vestal Rail Trail in Vestal, NY (a trail created from an old railroad right of way) for years.

We've enjoyed a wetlands at one end of the trail (no longer an end because the trail was extended last month, but to me it will always be an end).  We used to enjoy seeing the red winged blackbirds, the males with the red mark on their wing. When we saw them in the wetlands, we knew spring was here.

They would perch on the cat tails, each (I imagine) guarding its own territory. We would enjoy their calls all through the summer.

These blackbirds were common to the land we owned so many years ago in Arkansas.  They are memories of our youth.  I am not a birder, but I love birds.  I always have.

We hadn't been to the Trail in two or three weeks.  We went there yesterday for our exercise walk.

And this was the wetland.  Or, rather, that was where it used to be.

This is what was left, as yesterday, in a far corner.

Why?  I ask myself.  I can't seem to find the answer online.  Why did someone dig it up?

A sad day.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Civil War Sunday - The Saddest Affair

150 years ago today, another terrible chapter in the United States Civil War was about to be written.

War is an ugly business, and civil war (so misnamed!) may be the most ugly business of all.

As we join this story in progress, the city of Petersburg, Virginia, about 25 miles from the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, has been under siege by the Federals since the middle of June, 1864.  Petersburg, then with a population of some 18,000, was one of the few supply routes to Richmond still uncut by Union forces.  Its railroad connections were crucial to the Confederate war effort.

On June 15, 1864, the Federals mounted a large assault against Petersburg. The city had been well fortified, in 1862, by a ten mile trench line called the Dimmock Line, This line, built by both slave and Confederate soldier labor, enabled Petersburg to defend itself.

For three days the Union army fought, attempting to cut the remaining railroad links. The Confederates successfully defended Petersburg.

Finally, the Federals realized they had to lay siege to the city.  Both sides dug in.

Summer passed, in the hot, broiling sun.  And, in Virginia, the sun is broiling indeed.

The entire story is a fascinating one.  I am only providing the barest of details.

Someone got a bright idea.  One of the Union regiments is composed of soldiers who had been coal miners in their civilian lives.  Why not have them dig a mine shaft and tunnel under the Confederate lines, pack the tunnel under the lines with explosives, and set it off?

Then the Union would send in troops, well trained for the assault, who would take advantage of the death and confusion after the torpedoes (what contact mines were called in those days) exploded. Victory would belong to the Union.  The siege of Petersburg would be over.  And the war would be over not long after as the Confederates, their last major supply lines cut, would have no choice but to surrender.

Except - things didn't go exactly according to plan.

The mine shafts were started, but the Union high command lost interest soon after.  Nevertheless, although the high command considered it a busywork project, the tunneling continued.  In a remarkable effort, this tunneling was done by hand.  A ventilation system had to be designed that couldn't be seen by the Confederates, and it was designed.  Quoting from Wikipedia:

"The mine was in a "T" shape. The approach shaft was 511 feet (156 m) long, starting in a sunken area downhill and more than 50 feet (15 m) below the Confederate battery, making detection difficult. The tunnel entrance was narrow, about 3 feet (1 m) wide and 4.5 feet (1.4 m) high. At its end, a perpendicular gallery of 75 feet (23 m) extended in both directions."

After a failed battle in late July, the Union high command decided the tunneling/explosion idea wasn't so bad after all.  Again, quoting:

"The Federals filled the mine with 320 kegs of gunpowder, totaling 8,000 pounds (3,600 kg). The explosives were approximately 20 feet (6 m) underneath the Confederate works and the T gap was packed shut with 11 feet (3 m) of earth in the side galleries and a further 32 feet (10 m) of packed earth in the main gallery to prevent the explosion blasting out the mouth of the mine."

On July 27, 1864, the packing of explosives into the tunnel was started.  On July 28 the powder charges were armed.

And then.....

The troops that had been training, for some two weeks, for the assault after the torpedoes went off were "United States Colored Troops" - in other words, free blacks in a segregated Union Army.  But Union General Meade, the day before the scheduled explosion, decided he didn't want to use the "colored" troops.  He claimed they would be exposed to needless slaughter.  Other people say Meade believed black troops were inferior fighters.

So, at the last minute, white troops were assigned to the assault - untrained and unprepared.

On July 30, 1864, at 4:44 am, the explosives were detonated.  And, the battle commenced. 

The untrained Union troops found themselves basically entering a pit with steep, sandy, unstable footing.  And once the Confederates recovered from the surprise, the slaughter commenced.  All day they fought, in that broiling sun, in conditions too horrible to imagine.

The Confederates maintained their lines.  On August 1, a truce was called so the dead and injured could be recovered.  Bands from both sides played music, for two hours, while the bodies were brought out.  Over 5,000 casualties from both sides combined, in a slaughter that would win new awards for military stupidity.

General Grant said "It was the saddest affair I have witnessed in the war."

And the siege dragged on for another eight terrible months.

Pictures of the Crater in 1865 and today. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Sustainable Saturday - The First Tomato, The Last Garden?

A little peak into our community garden.

Yesterday, we harvested our first tomatoes from the Otsiningo Park Community Garden in Binghamton, New York.  It's finally tomato season here in upstate New York - a fleeting few weeks of tomato bliss.  These tomatoes, incidentally, were consumed as soon as I took their picture.

Our tomato plants are loaded with flowers.

The onions are almost ready for harvest.  This is our most reliable crop, year after year.

Our butternut squash still has a way to go.  But as I watch them grow towards maturity, the cold winds of fall start blasting in my mind, even as the hot sun of summer warms me.  After all, these are - winter squash.

And winter rules here with a heavy hand.  We are out of its grip for a few short months.

Our sunflowers, many of them volunteers, fill our garden plots and fill my vase at home. 

Tomorrow, we plan to plant borage seeds, supplied to us by a fellow blogger.  We haven't seen their blue in our garden for almost 30 years - why?

But our plants are blissfully unaware that they are in danger.

The community garden we've been gardening in for many years may be closing.  This may be its last season.

If this comes about, this is the second community garden that has folded on us in our almost 30 years living in the Binghamton, New York area.

We've suspected this for a while and now it appears the end may be coming.

I will blog about this more another time.  But for now, we enjoy summer while we may.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Will a Watched Seed Germinate?

Before I dig in (in a manner of speaking) into today's subject, I wanted to thank everyone who commented yesterday on my "Never Too Late to Learn" post. My dear readers, you are the best.  Thank you for your comments.

And now, I have something else to be thankful for. 

Today's subject is the Paw Paw, which I blogged about last November.

The Paw Paw is a native American fruit.  I had made their acquaintance in the early 1980's when living in rural Arkansas. Where I lived in Arkansas is a USDA plant hardiness zone 7a (meaning normal minimum temperatures of 0 to 5 degrees F).

Last November, I found paw paw fruit at a Binghamton, New York localvore store.  It had been grown right in Binghamton, zone 5b (-10 to -15 degrees).  Obviously, this man had succeeded in growing them in our area.  I bought one fruit and kept its six seeds in the fridge all winter, in damp peat moss.  In spring, I planted the seed, one per small container, and kept on my back porch.

I had been about to give up hope, when, earlier this month, I saw signs of germination.  This is what the most advanced seed looked like on July 20.  The shell of the seed is covering the leaves, the seedling rooted in the ground.  Each day the seed husk held higher and higher.

July 23.  At this point, five of the six seeds have germinated.

Today, July 24, the seedling stands proudly, straight as a soldier.  I am thankful it's gotten this far.

In some ways, this is like watching a chick hatch out of an egg.  Hatching is a longer process than you may think, as the chick chips away at the eggshell's inside with its "egg tooth". You wonder, until the moment that egg cracks enough for the chick to fall out, if the chick will succeed or not.

Now I will be in suspense until the leaves escape from the seed husk.  I know I can't hurry it along, any more than you can hurry a chick breaking out of its egg.

Will my seedlings succeed?  I can't wait to find out.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Never Too Late to Learn

I live in blogging fear.

I live in fear, every time I post something, that I am going to be read by a word nerd, and I am going to be found lacking. 

What if I dangle a modifier? What if I put a period inside the closing parenthesis instead of outside? What if I misplace a modifier?  What if I use "whom" instead of "who"?

Will they still need me?  Will they still read me?

Although I knew, from around the age of four, that I wanted to write, that I needed to write, English was not my favorite subject. Not even close. History was.

I lived in fear of my English classes.  I was not a good speller.  My teachers liked to have weekly spelling quizzes.  Even in 10th grade, I was still being subjected to them. I think I failed a lot of them.

One of my teachers even entered me into a SPELLING BEE to motivate me to improve my spelling.  Needless to say, I failed in the first round.  I sat alone in the room where the losers were to gather, as everyone else (it seemed) progressed to glory. 

I know I occasionally commit a Word Crime.

I know grammar is the structure of the written English language.  As someone interested in history, I know what happens when a written document isn't clear.  (Prime example: the second amendment to the United States Constitution.)

I have always struggled with grammar.

 "10 items or less" doesn't ruffle my feathers at all.

I don't pay attention to the Oxford comma.

My mother, may she rest in peace, loved the English language.  She tried to teach me how to diagram sentences.  My school didn't teach that skill.  She thought it would help me out.  It didn't.  I can't even remember how to do it.

My spouse's school taught sentence diagramming. Go figure. He loves spelling and grammar.  He has an extensive vocabulary.

My sister in law majored in English in college.

I'm a college graduate, and I know it is never too late to learn.  I have the power to become a word nerd, too.    The Internet can be my tool.  I can become a better writer through self-education.

Being in my sixties may be a chance to have a different kind of second childhood.  It may give me the opportunity to finally learn grammar. It is giving me the desire to read some of the classics that I didn't want any part of back in high school  The Great Gatsby.  One Hundred Years of Solitude.  Pride and Prejudice.

Or, at least, the debut novel California, which is written in my favorite genre - dystopian literature.

Let's see where I go with this.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Summer Ramblings -Ode to Joy

How many libraries do you know that have their own garden?

We have a library on the edge of downtown Binghamton, New York.  Just outside the entrance is a garden.  There is a church across the street with a carillion.  As we entered the garden, it was playing a song.

"Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee"! my friend exclaimed.
"Beethoven's Ode to Joy!", I replied.

We were both right.

The first thing we saw was a rose with three different colored flowers.  I've seen two differently colored flowers on a rose plant - but three?
The hydrangeas are coming into bloom.
Here's a close up.

The hostas are finishing up.  Here's what they looked like at the beginning of July.
And finally, also from earlier this month, the library day lillies.

The garden has a gazebo, and a picnic bench.  One day I may just bring my lunch out there.
After I got home, I looked up the lyrics to the hymn my friend heard. It ends:
"Ever singing, march we onward,
victors in the midst of strife;
joyful music lifts us sunward
in the triumph song of life."
Perfect music for enjoying a garden.

Do you know of another library that has a garden?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

It Wasn't Supposed to End Like This

July 20, or 21 (depending on where you live) was the 45th anniversary of mankind's first steps on the moon by astronaut Neil Armstrong- unless you are someone like my father's father, who went to his grave thinking it was a Hollywood fabrication.

Neil Armstrong dead some two years now, never lived to see this anniversary.   Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, waging a social media campaign.

My personal memories? That day, July 20, I went with my Dad to see a space exhibit in midtown Manhattan - and late that night, we watched Neil Armstrong take his step on a flickering black and white TV picture in our Bronx apartment.

Who would have expected the space program would end (in my mind, it's ended) the way it did?  With a whimper?

In July of 2011, I wrote this blog post, and I would like to repeat it today.

Fly Me to the Moon....

I interrupt the normal programming of this blog to bring you this special announcement.

The United States space program ended today.

Today has left a large hole in my heart.  And perhaps one in our country's heart.

I was a child of the Space Race.  In October of 1957, Sputnik 1 was launched.  Ever hear of it? Or the Soviet Union?  Well...

The Soviet Union was a "union" of Russia and a number of other nearby countries.  Their government was "communist", committed to the destruction of the capitalist system - and our country.  Or, so we were told.  Those were scary times.  When I was a toddler, being called a Communist could be enough to cause someone to lose their job.  There were special congressional hearings.  Blacklists.

The Soviets had "The Bomb".   We and they fought what was called the "Cold War".  If they won and took us over, all would be lost.  The Soviets were totally evil- that is what I was taught, as a schoolchild growing up in the 1950's and early 60's.

When the Soviets launched the first satellite in October of 1957, our country was thrown into a panic.  We needed to get our children educated in the sciences, and quickly, so we could get into space with our satellite before the Communists took space over.   This drive accelerated even more quickly when the Soviets put the first man into space in 1961.

We as a country committed ourselves to reach the moon in a speech given by President Kennedy in May of 1961. 

50 years ago, we decided to go to the moon.  We would beat the Soviets there.  We knew they were trying to get there, too.

Competition is the heart of the capitalist system.

I saw some of the various launches in school.  Others, on our black and white TV at home.  First, we blasted one man into sub-orbit.  Then, one man into orbit.  Then, into many orbits.

And then, the Soviets took a walk in space. So we had to also.

To make a long story short, we made it to the moon first.  Several more missions got to the moon and then in the 1970's we totally changed direction.  We decided to have a program with partially disposable space crafts.  We haven't been to the moon since that decision and, in fact, no one else has been, either.

In the middle of all this, the Soviet Union ceased to exist.  Probably a lot of the urgency disappeared with the Soviets.  We no longer had an enemy to compete with.

And then we realized it was way too expensive for the government to keep up the space program.  Private industry would have to take over, and that is part of the reason for what happened today.  The entire story is complicated, and this is a very shallow telling of the tale.

Today, several generations know of the space program mainly for Tang, and freeze dried ice cream.  But, in reality, it enriched our lives in so many ways we can't even imagine - everything from MRI technology to cell phones (have you ever seen the first Star Trek series?) to - well, there is an entire NASA Spinoff website that explains this.

Think about this.  We won the space race, right?  And now -we won't have a way to get into space on our own, for now.  We will have to depend on....

The Russians.

Now, that's irony.

We can ask  "so who cares?  Why is it important to keep exploring space?  (No, the answer isn't going to be to fight the space aliens traveling right now to our planet to conquer us....but who knows, maybe they are.)  No, the answer is not about being able to resist our future space overlords.  (Or...just think of this nightmarish thought - terrorists launch a satellite....)

It has a lot to do with the human spirit.  Humans are explorers.  The drive is built into us.  In every generation are born people without fear (or maybe, people without common sense).  The wider our horizons, the wider our thinking.  Our acceptance of new ideas, our flexibility, our ability to roll with change, depends on this. 

Will we lose our spirit?  If we do, our country is lost.

I fear this has already happened to our country, and we must fight it.

I rarely write serious blog posts, but this is one of them.

Be it by government, or be it by private industry, we can't give up space.

After posting this, I read an awesome post on the subject.  I am linking to it, so you can read it too.

What are your memories, if any, of the space program?

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Unsolved Mystery of the Cheesequake

Today's trivia question:  What is a Cheesequake?  I originally asked this question in 2010, after attending a wedding out of town.  I never found out.  So, four years later, I am hoping you, my blog readers, can help me.

Is a cheesequake
a.  What Wisconsin natives yell when the earth moves under their feet?
b.  A San Francisco boutique cheesecake (possibly now out of business) producer?
c.  A Washington State cheeseburger? or
d.  A New Jersey toll road service area?

If you answered "c", you've taken too many "How to Ace the SAT" review courses.

The correct answer, of course, is b, c and d.  And thereby hangs a tale.

b.  San Francisco Cheesequakes ("Cheesecakes that Rock") may have gone out of business since 2010.  But back then, their web site  had the most intriguing sounding cheesecakes.  (not that I've ever had one, so this is not a plug.)  Candycap Mushroom Cheesecake, anyone?

c.  How about a Double Cheesequake at the X Earthquakes Biggest Burgers in Pullyap, Washington?  (And, are they still in business?)

d.  The New Jersey Cheesequake.  There is my mystery.

In July of 2010, spouse and I traveled to the Jersey Shore from the Binghamton, NY area.  This involved travel on the Garden State Parkway, known as the country's busiest toll road.  We had been warned about the traffic and we already knew how aggressive and high speed the driving would be, so neither came as a shock.  We proceeded through The Oranges and The Amboys when to our wondering eyes did appear, near exit 120....

The Cheesequake Service Area.


Spouse and I turned to each other simultaneously.  What was a Cheesequake?  We pondered various answers.  A strange New Jersey restaurant chain?  A former cheese factory that had exploded and was now a historical site?  Some kind of corrupted Native American word?

Our wonder grew as we passed by a sign for Cheesequake State Park.

Turns out spouse's guess of a corrupted Native American word was correct.  My spouse, however, speculated that "Cheesequake" came from the same word that Chesapeake (as in Chesapeake Bay) derived from.  That apparently is not the case, according to what I was able to research back then.  If my sources are correct, Chesapeake comes from a Algonquian word meaning a village "at a big river" while Cheesequake comes from a Lenape word for "upland village".

Drawing from my (too long ago) college anthropology courses, I recalled that the Lenapes (formerly known as the Delaware) are part of a much larger Native American groupage called the Algonquians.  So, there may still be some truth to this speculation.

At any rate the word has nothing to do with neither cheese nor earthquakes.

Cheesequake State Park does sound fascinating.  It may even help for me to learn how it is pronounced.

The service area, apart from the full service (mandatory in NJ) gas it sold for 20 cents less a gallon than Binghamton gas when we left, was not at all distinguished. 

But still, it left us with a desire to go back and visit the park.  Four years later, it is still a dream, but we do want to vacation locally later this summer.  So...

For now - can anyone tell me how Cheesequake is pronounced?  And what the word means?

I know you, my valued readers, won't let me down.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Civil War Sunday - Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt, Police Commissioner of New York City.  Rancher. Cowboy. Conservationist.  Rough Rider. Person the Teddy Bear was named in honor of. Author. Assistant Secretary of the Navy. United States President, one of four to be on Mount Rushmore.  Winner of a Nobel Peace Prize.

And some of his greatness could have been related to his link to the United States Civil War.  Not bad, considering that Roosevelt was born in October, 1858.  In other words, he was two years old when the Civil War started.

Like many Americans, Roosevelt had links both to the Union and to the Confederacy.  Roosevelt's father, Theodore "Thee" Roosevelt, was an active supporter of the Union during the war.

Roosevelt's mother, on the other hand, was from Georgia, which seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy during the Civil War.   Roosevelt's mother, the former Martha Bulloch, came from a slave owning family.  It is said she was a model for the character Scarlett O'Hara in Margaret Mitchell's famous novel, Gone with the Wind. (Others say Scarlett O'Hara was based on Margaret Mitchell herself.  Perhaps we will never know. But it's fun to speculate.)

Two of her brothers fought in the Navy of the Confederate States of America. 

Her brother Irvine, Theodore Roosevelt's uncle, served on the CSS Alabama, sunk off the coast of France in what is known as the Battle of Cherbourg in June of 1864. (Yes, there was a United States Civil War naval battle fought off the coast of France.  It was a fascinating incident- I should have blogged about it. I wonder if my European blog readers learned about it in school, because I never did.)

Growing up, Roosevelt loved the water and all things nautical.  He read letters from his uncles, and must have imagined himself living their life of excitement and challenge.  You have to think these stories fired Roosevelt's imagination, and some of the adventures he had as an adult.

Theodore Roosevelt, eventually, became (in 1905) the first sitting President to visit the South since the 1865 end of the Civil War.

Today, you can visit Bulloch Hall and learn more about the ancestry of our 26th President.

Do you have links to both sides of the Civil War in your family ancestry?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Sustainable Saturday - Hot Jazz and No Coffee

Was it only yesterday that the daffodils were blooming?
Now, sunflowers are blooming, bees are buzzing and hot weather threatens us next week in upstate New York
Finally, people are coming out to the Downtown Binghamton, New York Farmer's Market.  I still intend to write the email/letter I blogged about last week to our local state assemblywoman about some of my fears, and thoughts about possible ways the market could prosper.   For the first time this year, I felt energy at the market. 

The jazz was hot yesterday, as Energee Jazz entertained at the market (above, setting up).
Ayana D, the band's singer, drew office workers, retirees and local residents in with her renditions of "Summertime" and other favorites.

Summertime veggies are coming in.

At Fojo Beans (rightmost tent in the above picture) I hung out for a minute inhaling coffee as the owner ground some beans for a customer. 

And then, I noticed something interesting. 

Someone walked past me, commenting to her companion that she had gone into that tent looking for a cup of coffee, and they were not serving coffee. That is true - they sell ground beans and whole beans.  They do not brew coffee for sale.

No one else does, either.  I visited Tampa, Florida's farmers market in March of 2013, and someone there was doing a brisk business selling iced coffee.  Why not in Binghamton?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized this simple fact.

Some years ago, there was a local vendor who used to grill chicken spiedies (a local dish) and sell them to the market's lunch crowd.  But at the market right now, there is no one selling prepared food (if I don't count Full Quiver Farms and her breads and cookies - recommended, by the way.)  No coffee, despite the fact that there are at least two coffee houses in downtown Binghamton who could set up a booth.  There is no one offering lunches to go, yet there are restaurants throughout downtown Binghamton.  Not all office workers have time to eat a sit down lunch.

There are two breweries in downtown Binghamton, both of which are brewpubs - neither are present at the market, yet, if you go to the Ithaca market, an hour away, several wineries (a major New York industry, incidentally) are there sampling their wares. (We have a winery but it's not in Binghamton, so I am just trying to think local here.) There is no one selling "dinners to go" for downtown office workers to pick up and take home.

Something really seems strange.  I do not know if the issue is lack of interest, a Binghamton ordinance, or simply that no one wants to try new things out.  Or maybe they did do these things at one time and they didn't work.  But if it hasn't been tried for several years. I know that the demographics of Binghamton are changing, especially with more and more college students moving into downtown.

Maybe I am just not knowledgeable enough to know that something won't work.  Maybe I am just the person who needs to speak up and suggest something.  I have no vested interest.  I don't own a business.  I'm "just" an office worker.

"Just" someone that can make it happen.  If I don't try, it never will happen.

Let's see if I go through with it. You, my readers, will be the first to know.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Lifestyles of the Rich and Checkerboarded

Come with me to the small village of Aurora, New York.

Early in June, I visited a local upstate New York company called MacKenzie-Childs.  Their products are expensive (very expensive) but once a year they have a "barn sale" where you can buy items on sale.   I would only be able to afford most of their items if I won the lottery.

Many of the goods, true, are imported, but there are others that are at least partially produced on site.

But it doesn't cost anything to look at these luxury goods.  And it doesn't cost anything to dream. 

We didn't have time in June to visit the area where the artisans work.   That's a dream for another time.

People come from many miles on barn sale days to shop and to look at the gardens on the grounds.  I decided to be different and visit on a day when hardly anyone was there.

This is just one example of their ceramics.

A garden swing greets you.

If there are checkerboards, it must be MacKenzie-Childs.

You enter here into a wonderland showroom.

This is a sample of their outdoor garden..
This is where their geese live.

This is the house that checkerboards built.

The annual barn sale started yesterday.  I'd love to go back one day for the sale, but right now, I'll content myself with what I saw during my June visit.

And if my dreams came true, I would buy....ah, that's a post for another time.  Maybe even tomorrow.

Checkerboard love.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

My Cheesecake Secret

Want the secret to great cheesecake?

Doesn't this cheesecake look lovely?  It is made with local strawberries, picked last Saturday.

The crust is made with graham crackers and lemon Oreos.  The filling has hand squeezed lemon juice and lemon zest lovingly grated by my spouse.  And, there may be a secret ingredient in there, too.

Here's the story:

After making strawberry jam on Saturday, I decided I wanted to make a cheesecake.  I made that decision while picking up a couple of last minute groceries on Saturday.  I whipped out what spouse calls "the magic phone" (my iPhone 4S) to find a quick, low fat cheesecake recipe.

Now, please don't click away to another blog.  Please!  I fully realize that "cheesecake" and "low fat" should never appear in the same sentence.  Or, in the same cheesecake.  But, spouse and I both follow Weight Watchers, and we did need to make some concessions to maintaining our weight.

So, I found this recipe on Kraft's website.  It's called Philadelphia 3 Step Low Fat Berry Cheesecake.  Philadelphia? For my foreign readers, don't worry about it.

The key factors were
1.  Three steps, about as many as I can handle (those steps,  if my spouse isn't around, usually include "peel plastic back from frozen dinner. Then, microwave 5 minutes.  Let sit." )
2.  I had lots of strawberries - almost six pounds worth.
3.  I was so in the mood for cheesecake.

It was time to make all kinds of unknown substitutions creatively tweak the recipe to keep the calorie count this side of where we could still eat it.

Have you ever tried fat free cream cheese and eaten it again?  Me, neither.  I bought neufchatel cheese instead.  I decided, instead of three eggs, to use one egg and two egg whites.  And the crust?  2 graham crackers for a 9 inch pie pan?  Seriously?  Why bother with crust at all?  I decided to use a little less sugar.  I kept the vanilla extract - cheesecake must have vanilla.  There was also the lemon juice and the zest, which I will cover later.

I quickly turned to some lemon Oreos I had bought for the office to pad out the crust.  The person of honor, who loves lemon everything, had decided she didn't like lemon Oreos after all, sticking me with about half the contents.  They were getting soft, as Oreos will if they are open for more than 30 minutes.  (OK, fess up, who keeps Oreos around for more than 30 minutes?). Just perfect for a crust.  I also decided to add more graham crackers.  This was a crust, after all.

Cookies went into the blender.  Results (no butter or other fat) went into a metal pie pan, already prepared with organic canola oil.  And then, into a large bowl, I dropped three packages of softened neufchatel cheese. American neufchatel cheese, that is, which is like a lower fat (but still plenty of fat) cream cheese.

Well, if you are waiting for one of those food posts where the author lovingly takes a picture of each step, this isn't going to be that post.

Things had gotten just a wee major-league cluttered in the kitchen between the jam making, the cheesecake and my spouse's attempts to prepare dinner.  I had to move my baking efforts to the top of our chest freezer, where my spouse, preparing to BBQ some fish, had laid out the fish, and his grilling marinade, which he had poured into a small, glass bowl.  His marinade consisted of lime juice, chopped garlic, and some sesame oil.  Next to that bowl he placed the plate of fish, and some scallops.

Spouse squeezed the lemon juice and grated me some zest.  He combined them into a...yes, you've guessed it.  Another small, glass bowl.  And they were both on the freezer top.

So when I got to the next step of my cheesecake, in went the...

...garlic marinade.

I immediately (why is it always after you do something wrong?) realized my error and gave out a cry.  "My cheesecake is ruined!", I wailed.

At the risk of insuring no one will ever visit my house again for dinner (or anything else), my spouse came over, surveyed the damage, and shrugged.  "We can rescue it", he said. "And the lime won't hurt.  Neither will the oil" I hadn't beaten the cheese yet, so the blocks were still intact. Most of the liquid had gathered under the bottom block, which was supported by the bowl in the way that the marinade and the cheese weren't really touching.  Ok, a little, and there was some garlic on top of the neufchatel mound.

So spouse, oh so delicately, poured off the marinade, while I picked out the garlic, hoping that I was getting every little piece. "Don't worry", spouse said.  "Remember when we ate that garlic ice cream at a local garlic festival?  Wasn't it good?"  (Yes, we are still married.)  "And, the lime will just make it taste better."

So, prepared for the worst, I beat the cheese, added the lemon juice/zest, the sugar, the vanilla extract and then the eggs.  Baked, cooled, chilled, added the strawberries mixed in with some of the low sugar jam I made the same day.

I think I detected one piece of garlic so far. But we are eating small pieces of the cheesecake, so we may run across some more.

So, that's the secret to a good cheesecake.  Garlic marinade.  Only kidding - I think!And it was pretty good.  I think it's a bit dense - maybe next time I would add some no fat greek style yogurt.  Or, another egg white.

Have you ever had a kitchen mishap?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Summer Ramblings - Pink Skies at Dusk

We've had some stormy weather this past week in upstate New York.  In the last week, according to the National Weather Service, we've had eight confirmed tornadoes.  One, tragically, resulted in four deaths.

But there is something else a storm can result in, if you aren't in the midst.  Great photo opportunities.
Taken by my son near Maine, New York, July 14.
Westover, near Johnson City, NY 7-13-14
The day before, a storm hit us with heavy rains but the heavy winds predicted missed us.  And after the storm is over , we got a pink sunset.  This sky reminds me of the sky in an old Venus Paradise coloring set. (Remember them?)
As the sunset progressed, the sky got pinker.

Colors in my flower garden just glowed.
Hostas tinted pink.
These flowers are almost white.  Even the ground (brown mulch) was glowing in the pink sunset.

Yes, the weather can have beauty, even as it can turn deadly in an instant.

Do you have a weather story to tell?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day July 2014- Day Lillies

Welcome to Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, July 2014 edition, where gardeners worldwide post what is blooming in their homes, or gardens.

This past week my town in upstate New York has been under two tornado warnings.  There was a tornado less than 100 miles from us where a house was picked up and dumped on another house, killing four people. This "isn't supposed to happen" in upstate New York.

But it did, and it may have been the deadliest tornado in New York State history.

And then, this past Sunday, still another tornado, this time near Watkins Glen.  The aftermath of the storm - not sure if it was exactly the same storm that hit us later in the day - caused a beautiful sunset that almost took my breath away.  More on that later in the week.

So happy we escaped the severe weather where we live,  near the small upstate New York village of Johnson City.

The word for today is "day lilies".

Rains have kept my upstate New York garden lush.

More and more each year, I am appreciating day lilies.  This year, I bought two new ones at the Plantasia event in Charleston, South Carolina this past April.  Many people load up on souvenirs when they travel.  My spouse and I bring back plants.  The plant above is one of those souvenirs.
This is the other day lily.  The sellers, some of whom were northern transplants, steered me to varieties that would survive my zone 5b winter.  Let's hope.

Needless to say, the names of the varieties are long lost. That's a garden habit I can't seem to break.  (Maybe one day I'll host a contest to tell me what all my plants are.)
I've had this day lily for years.  It's fragrant, and large.  I have a bunch of them in my back yard along a fence.  The first bloom opened today, just in time for GBBD.
Four at once.
I've had this one for years, too.

I got this one at a local Cornell Cooperative garden sale for $2.  They, in turn, got it from an elderly gentleman who could no longer care for his collection.

And my final one. This is an early lily for me.  It's almost spent but this evening, I see two more flowers just starting to open.  This was taken when it was more in its prime.

I definitely plan to expand my collection.  In my small yard, something will have to go and - alas - I think it will be some of my underperforming bearded irises.
This dahlia was given to me by a work friend, who passed away from melanoma some 24 years ago this June.  I'll be devastated the year my spouse or I can no longer dig it up and overwinter it.
This is a newer dahlia, from this year.  I love the reddish foliage.
Coral Bells.
A fuschia in a pot surrounded by Persian Shield.
Let me remember this beauty come February, when all is frozen and sleeping under ice and snow.

In our community garden plot, several miles away, our sunflowers are blooming.

And finally, just showing that not all garden beauty is in flowers, one more pot, with coleus and Persian Shield.  I've had this Persian Shield plant since the devastating flood that hit our area in September, 2011.  I purchased it as a flooded nursery was clearing out its damaged merchandise, and have kept it alive indoors in my office each winter since.  I've also kept the coleus alive since 2012.  To me, that's part of the fun of gardening.

Please, stop by May Dream Gardens, the host of this 15th of the month gardening meme.  And then, visit other gardens from all over the world.

Do you flower or vegetable garden? What's growing for you?