Sunday, November 30, 2014

Civil War Sunday - Thanksgiving

Did you know that the American celebration of Thanksgiving is intertwined with the Civil War?

This is Abraham Lincoln's October, 1864 Presidential Proclamation of Thanksgiving, 1864.

The roots of the national (not regional, or local) "official" celebration of Thanksgiving in the Civil War date back even earlier,however.

Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederate States of America, made a declaration of Thanksgiving in 1861.

Back in 2011, I wondered how the first Civil War Thanksgiving (1861, our first year at war with each other) was celebrated by the troops on both sides.

In1861 there was no national Thanksgiving.  Every state set its own date.

Thanks to another blogger, we have a good description of how Thanksgiving was celebrated by the troops in 1861.  Some of the foods are those we would gobble (pun intended) down today.

The troops had a lot to be thankful about.  Similar to the Thanksgiving dinner our troops get today (if at all possible, according to location) the troops on the designated Thanksgiving Day for their locality got special rations, and the chance to eat "real food":  turkey, potatoes, and even oysters.

Recently, the New York Times published an article about the Civil War origins of our modern United States Thanksgiving.  It is interesting reading, especially the part about the city of Petersburg, Virginia and their Thanksgiving - under siege by Union forces. Like so much about the Civil War, there is nothing simple about the origins of Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Sustainable Saturday - Is Buying Local Always Best?

Today, in the United States, is Small Business Saturday.

It is ironic in a way that it comes the day after Black Friday, a day too many of us (including me) spend shopping for bargains in big box stores.

I've reworked a post I first wrote in December of 2011, three months after devastating floods hit portions of upstate NY.    Sadly, the buying dilemma - local business selling imported goods vs. national business selling local goods - still continues.

My original post was called "The Buying Dilemma".  Here is my updated version.

It's a very popular thing right now to "Buy American":  we must maintain our manufacturing base, and save jobs for Americans.  I've been trying to "buy local" (or at least "Made in the U.S.A.") for several years now.

But sometimes the choice is hard.

When we visited the State of Maine back last September, we were impressed by the pains the people of Maine took to promote items "made in Maine".  There were a number of stores in the Portland and Brunswick, ME areas specializing in Maine-made merchandise:  everything from mustard to Poland Springs water and vodka to blankets to balsam pillows to toothpaste.  Supermarkets featured local foods and beverages in special displays.

But we also found that enough of the merchandise in a Maine institution, Renys, was not made in the U.S.A.

Too many times now, people who want to do right by their fellow Americans face a choice:

Buy merchandise not made in the United States from a local business?

Or buy American from a national chain?

I've wanted to "buy local" in light of the devastating floods that hit our part of upstate NY in September but I am finding that choice isn't so simple.

On Black Friday 2011, we found an area rug in our local Kohl's, on a great sale, and proudly made by Mohawk in the U.S.A.

But in a local gift store in nearby Owego, a town hard hit by the flood, we tried our best to replace Christmas ornaments destroyed in the flood - and found that the majority of the ornaments - and all the patriotic ornaments - were made in China.

Should we have skipped the rug because it was being sold by a large national chain? (no, we bought it.)

Should we have passed on the China-made Christmas ornaments? (this one was harder but we did buy some.)

What about the local Home Depot?  National chain, blocks from our house, hit hard by the flood of September 8, 2011; reopened the day before Thanksgiving.  On Black Friday we were there at 5:05 a.m., passing under a sign saying "Welcome Back, Friends!".  The store was mobbed, and I would bet that some of those employees welcoming us had lost their homes in the flood.  They would have lost their jobs, too, if Home Depot had "hung it up".  (we still try to buy in a locally owned hardware store when possible but some of those Black Friday specials were irresistible.)

These decisions come nearly every day.  Today, I needed a new dish drainboard - and I ended up buying a made in U.S.A. product from Sterlite, in a national chain store (Target). The price was slightly higher than the Rubbermaid (made in China) but I gladly paid it.  But still, it wasn't from a small business. 

In other words, this decision - like so much in life - isn't that simple.  All I can hope is that I make the right decisions with my hard earned shopping dollars.

What do you think?

Friday, November 28, 2014


The sun is finally coming out after a couple of days of snow and overcast here in upstate New York, just in time for the day after our Thanksgiving.

Today is a day for all kinds of transitions.
Near Johnson City, New York November 10 Golden Hour
We have transitioned from the golden glow of fall...

Near Johnson City, New York November 26 the white of winter.
Our Thanksgiving Turkey 11-27

We have transitioned from dinner with family or friends.... shopping until we drop on what we call Black Friday. (And I just found out Black Friday, our major bargain shopping day in the United States, is now being adapted in the United Kingdom.  I honestly don't know if they will thank us or condemn us.)

I was up at 4:30 am, after a fitful sleep, so I could get to my local Home Depot at 5am.  It's one of the most pleasant places to shop on Black Friday- lots of helpful employees. One went out of her way to find one of their bargains which, somehow, no one knew how to locate.  They have coffee and even donuts from a local donut shop for the bleary shoppers.
Santa Time at the Local Mall
It's 10am and I'm not done yet.

Is this a season of transition for you?

I am going into reruns the next couple of days, as I attempt to write 11,000 or so words in three days to "win" NaNoWriMo. Probably hopeless, but we'll see.

See you in December!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Cranberries Roasting on an Open Fire

On this Thanksgiving Day in the United States, I think back to my childhood, and the battle of the cranberry sauce.
It's a nice thing to think about as we recover from about eight inches of snow.

In those days, there were two ways to make cranberry sauce.  In my growing up years (the 1950's and 60's) cranberry sauce came from a can.

When my Mom was alive, Thanksgiving featured jelled cranberry sauce, with no berries.  After my Mom died, my Dad started taking me to my Aunt Ethel's house for Thanksgiving dinner.  It was one of my favorite times of the years, as I loved my Aunt Ethel, my Uncle Lou (both passed years ago), my Uncle Lou's two bachelor brothers (one of whom is still alive and well in his 90's), and my two cousins, who became surrogate sisters to me, an only child.

Aunt Ethel roasted a turkey, with stuffing, made sweet potato cassarole topped with marshmallows, and served - whole berry cranberry sauce. 

Ugh!  (Sorry, Aunt Ethel - it wasn't you.  Believe me.)

And then, when I married, I found my husband's family served a cranberry orange dish. I didn't like it, either.  I missed my Mom's canned jellied sauce (well, I missed Ocean Spray canned jellied sauce, but never mind that.)  Since my mother in law sometimes reads my blog, I hope she'll forgive me for mentioning that, too.

But, as I grew older, my tastes changed, and I discovered something else.  Fresh cranberries.  And I actually started to prefer the whole berry sauce, with a touch of citrus.

Cranberry sauce, dear blog readers, is so easy to make if you like the whole berry kind.  It only takes minutes, a non-cook like me can whip it right up, and there are few reasons not to make your own.  Those of us on Weight Watchers have to take it easy with cranberry sauce - it is normally loaded with sugar, and I'd rather save the calories for something else - like stuffing.
This is how I made it for today.

1 bag (12 oz) fresh cranberries, rinsed. If any stems in bag, remove.
1 cup sugar (I used a stevia/sugar blend put out by Domino - all natural, and you only use 1/2 cup. But then again, I have to watch my weight.)
1 cup water
small amount freshly grated lime rind

In saucepan, mix cranberries, water.

Bring to light boil, cover, stir occasionally, until most of the cranberries have popped

Add the sugar or sugar/stevia, mix, lightly boil some more until the other berries have mostly popped. Then, add the lime zest, and finish boiling.  Cool, refrigerate, and serve.

Then, sit back and watch the Macy's Thanksgiving parade in New York City as your turkey roasts.

I love the classic floats.  Like Harold the Firemen.
And Harold the Police Officer.  (These, incidentally, are not the originals from the 1940s!)

A Goldfish

And the Wimpy Kid.

There was even a Mt. Rushmore float.

Oh yes, about those roasting cranberries.  I have a blogging friend (I've never met her, but I know she is my blogging friend) out in Nebraska. And yesterday, she shared a couple of cranberry dishes with her readers.

Cranberry pie.

And - easy peasy cranberry sauce made in the oven!  Yes, you can roast your cranberries on an open fire! Next year I might just make a variation of her sauce (without orange juice, which I have issues with - I'll figure something else out, though. Just think, you don't have to stand there and stir.

Are you celebrating Thanksgiving today?  Or did you already, back in October, like our Canadian neighbors?  How do/did you celebrate?

Happy Thanksgiving to all my blog friends.  I am thankful you have stopped by today.  I have to try to catch up on NaNoWriMo (seriously behind), but I have not forgotten you, and I will catch up with comments in a few days.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Fall Fancies - Snow

The snow is coming down heavily here in the Binghamton area of upstate New York, and it is starting to get dark.  It's hard to say how much we've gotten, since it has been just above freezing, but we have at least five inches on the ground..

This snow is the wet and gloppy kind, hard to shovel, but lovely on trees.   It is not a good day for travel on this, the busiest travel day of the year.  In our country, tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  Many people along the East Coast are going to have problems getting to where they need to go.

Today, I will give thanks for the beauty I saw.
At lunchtime, downtown Binghamton (noting that the tree to the left still has brown leaves on it!)
Our courthouse.

Court Street.
By 3pm, the snow was coming down heavily on the West Side of Binghamton.
Yesterday, I published a photo taken around sunset in my neighborhood of Westover - this was almost in the same location today.

I am grateful I don't have to be in this right now.

And I am grateful that you have stopped by to read my blog.  If you are in the U.S. may you have a Happy Thanksgiving.

What is your weather like, today?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

In the Calm Before the Storm

On the way home from work today, in Binghamton, New York, I saw signs on the highway announcing "Avoid Travel Wednesday/Heavy Snow Expected".

Gee, thanks, on the heaviest travel day of the year, thanks to our Thanksgiving holiday.

We have gone from snow showers/light snow tomorrow, to suddenly three to five inches (12.7 cm), and we are on the edge of the storm at that.  Winter Storm Cato, the Weather Channel has called it.  We are under a winter weather advisory. 

Winter is finally here, after it got up to 66 degrees yesterday (18.9C).
Let us enjoy some pictures of the calm before the storm, near the Susquehanna River in Westover.
Westover again.
Sunday, sumacs.

And, although this wasn't taken today (it was taken on the 19th) I love this after sunset photo of downtown Binghamton.

There's just something about fall sunsets.

Tomorrow, winter begins.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Easiest Chocolate Cake in the World

I am about to show you how to make the easiest chocolate cake in the world.  It is light, fluffy, and versatile.  Without frosting, it is even good for people on weight reduction diets (portion control is key, of course - you can't have a huge chunk).
These are the ingredients you need.

1 package chocolate cake mix - I like the ones that have pudding in the mix.
1 15 oz can of pumpkin (the pure pumpkin puree, not the "pumpkin mix" with sugar and spices)
1/2 cup of liquid egg whites, or egg whites from 4 eggs

Grease 9 x 13 pan
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Mix all ingredients together. It will be a bit hard to work this batter, but you only need to make sure all the lumps are out of it.  But do make sure all the lumps are out of it.

Spread (this will take a bit of patience) into the pan.  Bake about 30 minutes or until done.  And that's it!

Here's the baked cake. 

There are those who frost this, and those who will add chocolate chips or other add ins.  I don't.  In the Weight Watchers program, the only points are from the cake mix, and the egg whites (and four egg whites spread into a 9 x 13 pan pointwise are negligible.)  It doesn't get better than this.

Don't like pumpkin?  Well, I don't like pumpkin.  I can't tell it's in there.

There are those who don't add the egg whites, and you are welcome not to, but I think the texture is better with them.

Dear readers, that is it!  Have these three ingredients on hand, and you are ready for company or any occasion.  And, with the pumpkin, it is perfect for fall baking.  Thanksgiving, anyone?  (No, not me. But just about any other time, yes.)

By the way, I like this warmed up in the microwave.

Do you have a favorite, easy recipe?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Civil War Sunday - Color It by Number

This is going to seem like an odd question but - do you remember Venus Paradise color by number sets?  And, if you do, do you remember Civil War themed coloring sets?

I remember Venus Paradise sets so well, but not the Civil War sets. I accidentally found them online yesterday, and now I am intrigued.

Color by Number and Paint by Number as a hobby was popular in the early 1960's.  My Dad and I both enjoyed pencil color by number.  These were pre sketched drawings with numbered spaces. They came with colored pencils, numbered to correspond.  It was a most relaxing hobby and we would sit at the kitchen table, together, coloring.  This was also the era when the United States was commemorating the Civil War's 100th anniversary, between 1961 and 1965.  So the existence of Civil War coloring sets made by Venus Paradise, and one showing up in an online museum, does not surprise me. 

The one picture I could look at online showed some Civil War soldiers, on horses.  It wasn't a battle scene.  I wonder what the other scenes were.

In August of 2011, I blogged about my love of Venus Paradise coloring sets. With slight edits, here it is.  This post led one of my friends to pick up a modern pencil coloring set for me, which was such a sweet thing for her to do.

Ah, memories of childhood.  Does anyone else remember the Civil War Venus Coloring Sets, or Venus Paradise in general?

Color By Number - Memories of Paradise

Yesterday evening, coming home from my water aerobics class, the sky reminded me of the sky of a color by number painting.  All those shades of blue and light purple.

Do you remember color by number?  It was really popular in the 1950's and early 1960's, when I was growing up.   You can still find color by number in paint today.  But what my family loved was the Venus Paradise sets.  They were color pencil color by numbers.  They had sets geared to all ages - from children old enough to color to adults.

The pencils were numbered, and you got the pencils you needed for your set with the set.  My favorite was #7, Peacock Blue. You can even find the list of colors online (except for two "mystery colors").  It would seem that some older artists miss them, too - they were high quality but as a child, I just took them for granted.

My Dad and I would color together.  I would have my child's set and he an adult set.  I remember one in particular, set with famous buildings.  I remember him in particular working on a Taj Mahal picture.  I looked at him color with great concentration.  He put wax paper on top of the part of the picture he had completed so it would not smear.

His picture had so much detail.  You could barely make out some of the numbers in the small portions.  But I would grow up one day and be able to do complicated pictures just like my Dad!

Except I lost interest, until my son was born.

I went to all the stores (when he was old enough to color) and no one had them.  In fact, I couldn't find any kind of color by number pencil art set, period.

Venus Paradise is out of business.

The good news is that there is a pencil color by number set out there now. Better yet, the people who own the business remember Venus Paradise.  So perhaps a new generation of children will remember pencil by number sets fondly.

In writing this post, I find my spouse remembers the sets too.  He thinks when he retires, it might be fun to buy one.  But sadly, this is something I'm not sure will ever return to favor for the general population.  I'm told there is no collectors market for these, either. you remember Venus Paradise?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Sustainable Saturday - A Crisp Thanksgiving

 In the United States, this Thursday is Thanksgiving.

Today, our local newspaper had a front page article on buying local food this Thanksgiving, which I hope to blog about more before Thanksgiving.

Today, though, I wanted to share with you a special apple crisp I made a couple of weeks ago.  I know I blogged about apple crisp earlier this year, but I love it so - and crisp is an easy make ahead recipe during the busy Thanksgiving cooking season.  So, this is one of the several crisp variations I make each fall.

What I used for this latest crisp is something called a Thornberry apple.  This is not a common commercial variety, so you can use any commercial baking apple.  We are so fortunate in upstate New York to live in apple growing country.

And yes, this is the true color of the apple.

Our local pears mostly failed this year, so I can not make a true apple/pear crisp with all local ingredients.  Also, I used blackberries (yes, blackberries) from a local supermarket.  I think either blackberries or blueberries add to the flavor and color of the crisp. 
Apple/Pear Crisp (9 inch square pan, serves 9)

2 pounds baking apples (I will use a Thornberry and some Crispins, a heirloom apple grown locally, when I make this for Thanksgiving).  In the recipe above, I used a pound of apples and a pound pears.  For all my metric readers, two pounds is just about one kg.

4 tbsp brown sugar (you can also use 1 tbsp sucralose as an alternative) (that's about .59 ml)

2 tsp lemon juice (about 10 ml)

1 cup frozen blackberries (I don't thaw them)  This might be 128 g but I really don't know for sure, because I am using cups in a volume sense, not a weight sense.  Sorry, my dear metric readers, you are on your own here and going forward. And as for my British readers. there is this.

Anyway, back to my recipe:
Thornberry apple slices. Trust me, this is the real color.
Peel and slice cored apples and (if you use them), pears. Mix all ingredients together.  Place in a 9 inch square baking dish that has been oiled or buttered.

For the topping, I use this recipe, which is an adaptation of a low-cal topping.  If you prefer, substitute your own topping.


1 cup quick oats
4 tbsp brown sugar
4 tbsp light butter
1/2 tsp freshly ground cinnamon (I used allspice last time - this time I made sure I had cinnamon on hand.  I buy the sticks and grind in a mortar and pestle.  It's worth the extra work.  Wish there was such a thing as smell o'blog).
1 tsp vanilla

Mix all ingredients together and blend well. Top crisp with mixture.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 50 minutes or until the apple slices are the consistency you want.  Let cool, unless you can't wait to eat it.

I couldn't wait.

The brown item at the lower right is some leftover chocolate pumpkin cake.  I'm tempted to post that recipe Monday as it is the Easiest Cake Ever, except I know my blogging friend Amy in Nebraska will never read my blog again if I post the recipe.  (When she sees said post, she will know why, especially after all my whining on her blog about how I don't like pumpkin.  And actually, I still don't.)

I think apple crisp is even better the second day, so I will make this the day before Thanksgiving.

And now, dear blog readers, I must get crackin' on my NaNoWriMo novel. I am so seriously behind.

Do you have a favorite Thanksgiving (or other fall celebration) dessert recipe? Please share!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Snow Doors

By now, I bet that most everyone in the United States has heard about the terrible snowstorms in the Buffalo, New York area over the past several days.  Some areas received over 51 inches of snow in less than 24 hours.  Others have had so much snow, that their houses are covered in snow.  Many motorists have been stranded.  At least eight people (as of this writing) have died. (I also hasten to assure my readers that New York is a large place, and, as I write this the snow on the ground where I live is....a dusting.

Heavy snowfalls are far from unknown in New York State - in fact, we have an annual competition called the Golden Snowball.  The city where I work (Binghamton) has even won it a couple of times.  But if Buffalo moved its official weather station to Hamburg, for example, they could win it this year without having another flake of snow fall. (I suspect a lot of residents of the area around Lake Erie wish that no more snow would fall this winter.  Anyone for a bunch of surplus snow? You must haul yourself)

Something especially fascinating is what you might call the snow door effect.

There is something awe inspiring about the thought of opening your front door and finding - a wall of snow.  And, in our modern day and age, you can take a picture and have it all over the Internet in seconds.  People take pictures of themselves in front of their snow dog, their toddlers, their dogs.

But there is a different kind of snow door, as I found out about yesterday when some one commented on a blog post I published back in June of 2011.

This house on the edge of property owned (or at least operated) by the Cornell Cooperative Service in Binghamton has a door that is many feet above the ground.  I knew there must be a reason and asked , in June of 2011- did anyone know?  Maybe this once had a second floor outside stairs and porch?  Or maybe Superman rented out the space?

And then there was the low window on the first floor, on the right.  Somehow, this seemed so....unbalanced.

Well, I found out yesterday what this second floor door is.

It is a snow door, put there for cases when the snow got so high, you need to get out through the second story of your house.

So clever and yet - I never guessed.

A door to nowhere - unless you live in snow country, in which case you may be more than happy to have this door in your house.

Does your area have a special invention that helps live life where you are?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Penmanship and History

Recently, someone left a comment on my blog about the dying art of penmanship.  That inspired me to repeat a post from one of my Civil War Sunday blog series.

It would be a terrible thing, in my opinion, if we lost the ability to read historic documents.  However,, fewer and fewer schools are teaching cursive writing.  And, what about "penmanship" - something that is also a dying art in our age of texting and typing?

I had to practice penmanship in school.  It was a hated part of my education and my handwriting is a mix of print and cursive today. But, I read cursive fluently. My son, who is in his mid 20's, never learned cursive, but he was exposed to it.  If he has children?  My understanding is, they won't learn cursive at all.

With some minor edits, I present:

Civil War Sunday - Civil War Penmanship and Dr. Charles Leale

This past week, some exciting news was announced - the report of the first doctor to reach Abraham Lincoln after he was shot was found.  The doctor was Dr. Charles Leale,a doctor who had seen Lincoln speak several days before.  For some reason, Lincoln's face fascinated him and he decided to go to Ford Theatre that fateful night of April 14, 1865, to study Lincoln further.  Accounts say he was only about 40 feet away from Mr. Lincoln when he witnessed the assassination.

Of course, it is always exciting for historians to have a source document found.  But, to me, what is more exciting is the availability online of the document itself.

For example, doctors have wondered if Lincoln's life could have been saved by modern medicine. As of 2007, the answer would have been "yes but with a lot of brain damage".  Now, we have an exact account of the medical measures taken.

From my point of view, though, what fascinated me the most was the document itself.  If you look at it, you will see it is beautifully written.  Not only is the writing that of an educated man, but the quality of penmanship is breathtaking to the modern reader.  For example, I would never win an award for my penmanship.

Handwriting was a common form of communication during the Civil War, 150 years ago.  Those fortunate enough to be schooled spent countless hours practicing penmanship.  There were no typewriters commercially available (to the best of my knowledge) until right after the Civil War, although typewriters had been invented.  Many documents were handwritten.   Part of judging how educated a person was consisted of judging that person's penmanship.

Each side, Federal and Confederate, wrote countless letters, battle orders, and the like. Some kept diaries. Most all of these were handwritten.

What I found is that there were two main styles of writing during the Civil War era, "Copperplate script" and "Spencerian script."  I am not a graphic designer, but it seems from the small amount of research I did that both scripts, in one form or another, are still quite alive and well.

Even the instructions provided for Spencerian script sing to me.

With penmanship an instinctive skill, the writer was free to express his thoughts - and I could imagine the thoughts of Dr. Charles Leale flowing as he wrote about the fateful night of April 14 and morning of April 15, 1865. He did not talk about that night, the night he spent holding the dying President's hand, for years.  He  made his observations public in 1909, the 100th anniversary of Lincoln's birth, in a speech called "Lincoln's Last Hours".

Dr. Charles Leale died in 1932, one of the last living witnesses to the assassination.

Have you learned calligraphy?  Do you mourn the removal of cursive handwriting from elementary school curriculum?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Fall Fancies - November Rain

The last few days, people in my part of upstate New York have been fortunate.  Some two hours from us is an epic snowstorm.  We've escaped the worst of the "polar vortex" blast of ice cold November weather.

Before I settle into my post, I want to thank everyone who has commented on my blog this month.  I haven't responded too many times to the comments that much (NaNoWriMo is a great excuse) but know that I appreciate each and every one of you. Thank you!

My guest photographer friend, who lives out in the countryside near Binghamton, New York, was taken by her dog on a walk earlier this week.  I wanted to share with you what they found.

My friend is fascinated by the hollies on her land, which are glowing a beautiful red.

In the snow, her dog plays hide and go seek, sort of.  Can you see the dog?
Hollies from a distance, as a nearby pond starts to ice over.  The foggy, sleety, rainy conditions mute the colors.  This is so like November around here.
So unlike the same pond, a different angle, in late September and early October, but the November picture has its own kind of beauty.

Thinking of "November Rain" makes me think of a song from 1991.  Its music just seems so...Novemberish.

The cold has settled in where I live.  What's the weather like where you live? 

Monday, November 17, 2014

A Random Act of Kindness to Remember

Yesterday, shopping for a card for a friend who is about to undergo surgery on Wednesday, I received a random act of kindness that was so special, that both of us ended up hugging and crying right in the middle of the store.  I don't know the name of this woman, but I am tearing up again just thinking of her.

I don't know if I will ever meet her again (I only shop in this local store, a gift shop, several times a year) but if not, I hope she finds out, somehow, how much what she did meant to me.  And, may she receive much goodness in her life. (It's too soon, but one day I'd like to blog about it.)

In November of 2010, I also experienced a random act of kindness.  I've experienced some since but this one, in a way, also was special.  Maybe, I shouldn't say this one was special - all of them are special.  But, I wonder how the man in this story is doing.  Is he better off?  Despite what must have been hard times for him, he had such an upbeat attitude.

As we approach the Thanksgiving season here in the United States, , I need to remind myself that I have a lot to be grateful for.

Since this post was written, so much has happened in my life, and in the lives of those I love.

Have you ever experienced a random act of kindness?  I'd love to hear about it in the comments.
I saw something inspiring, as we get closer to the Thanksgiving season, this afternoon.

I had gotten out of work early for a couple of appointments.  After the appointments, spouse decided we should get our Thanksgiving turkey.  We did so, and then remembered that a nearby Aldi had good sales on fresh cranberries and also celery.

I don't know if you have an Aldi's where you live.  If you do, it is an interesting concept.  Aldi is actually a huge chain in Germany, with stores in various stores on the Continent and also in Great Britain.  In the United States, for some reason, they initially came in as a "bargain" store, with (in my opinion) dirty, ill lit stores.  I would not shop there for years.  You couldn't get a shopping cart without paying a deposit. You had to bag things yourself (and if you didn't bring bags, they would gladly sell them to you.)  The employees "did it all", the same people doing store cleanup, stocking, and cash register.

When my son took German in school, his teacher came in one day with an Aldi ad from Germany.  What a difference!  Aldi in Germany is almost like a combination grocery/department store.  But meanwhile, back in upstate NY...

Due to that ad, we gave them another shot.  'They had seriously upgraded the stores in the meantime, with better lighting and edible produce. So we do shop there on and off, depending on the sales. You can't beat their prices, although I don't think I would ever buy fresh meat there.  But they do have a number of really decent store brands (they sell very little national brands, if you care about that-I don't) and when they have specials on German food....well, they are German.

At one time, their target clientele, to be blunt, was lower income people.  But now with the economy, you find a lot of middle class people in there too.  Times are hard.  I'm grateful for the Johnson City Aldi.  (they've even opened a second store just to the north of Binghamton).

Anyway, there we were getting ready to check out.  We only had three items.  The line was long, although the lines there tend to move quickly.  The person at the back of the line had an overflowing cart. "Here, go ahead of me."  The next person also let us in, and also let go ahead of him a person right behind us who had two items.  His clothes were a little dirty and he walked like he had a stiff leg, with a limp.

We struck up a conversation with the man with the limp.  He had some extra money because he had sold two cars at auction today.  He had been up since 5 am.  It was a good day for him, because he was able to buy another car to fix up and sell.  Best of all, it was his birthday.  He couldn't see why he should spend $30. at Texas Roadhouse [a steakhouse chain in the U.S.] when he could buy some frozen steaks and cook him at home (we don't know if he had a loved one waiting for him.  I hope so).  He was so glad to be spared a few extra minutes on line, so he could get home and rest.

I hope this gentleman had a wonderful rest of the day, due to this random act of kindness.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Civil War Sunday- War is Hell

Since many of my readers are not from the United States, here are some fast facts about Atlanta, Georgia.

1.  It is the cosmopolitan capital city of the state of Georgia. 
2.  Population of the city proper is about 448,000 but its metropolitan area's population is around 6.1 million - and the major traffic jams there bear testimony to that.
3.  Among many other things, it is known as the home city of The Weather Channel, CNN, Home Depot, Delta Air Lines, Turner Broadcasting, Coca-Cola, and many other corporations.  You may have heard of some of these.
4.  150 years ago yesterday, a Civil War event, the thought of which still brings pain to so many,  began in Atlanta, Georgia.

If you don't think Sherman's March to the Sea isn't well remembered in the former Confederate states (which include Georgia), I will tell you a true story.

I am a native of New York State. I lived some years in the South (Florida, Arkansas), but most of my life has been spent between New York City and upstate New York.

Several years ago, my husband and I visited Charleston, South Carolina (the first state to secede from the Union, in late 1860), where the Civil War began in April of 1861.  A fellow blogger recommended we go to a Civil War reenactment being held near Charleston during our visit, and asked us to look up a reenactor she knew.  We did this, and found the man, who was giving a talk to a number of people attending the reenactment, which had not yet begun.

The reenactment wasn't for one particular battle, but combined several battles fought in the Charleston area.

This knowledgeable man was talking about aspects of the Civil War and answering questions.  We asked some questions, and it must have been obvious to the other people in the group that we were from the North - our heavy New York accents gave that away. (You never do lose the accent of the New York City area). All was going well - until the reenactor started to talk about Sherman's March.

The temperature suddenly dropped about 20 degrees and, at least to me, it was like everyone was looking at my spouse and me. The looks were not friendly.

We left the discussion and walked elsewhere.

It doesn't matter how educated you are about the Civil War.  If you only know four things about the Civil War, they might just be the bombardment of Ft. Sumter that started the war, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Gettysburg Address and....Sherman's March to the Sea, which started in Atlanta on November 15, 1864 and concluded in Savannah, Georgia on December 21, 1864.

If you've never heard of the Battle of Atlanta - well, chances are you have heard of it (at least in fiction). It is part of the famed movie Gone with the Wind.

Prior to the March starting, Union troops had captured Atlanta in September, 1864.  Sherman ordered  the city burned. 

When Sherman gave the order that the city be evacuated and burned, the Mayor of Atlanta appealed to Sherman to reverse his decision.   This was Sherman's response. 

This is not easy reading.  But war is not easy for anyone.

After spending some time in Tennessee and Alabama, Sherman split his troops into two parts. With 60,000 men under his command, the March began.

In the March, (known as the Savannah Campaign by historians), Union Major General William Sherman's aim was to destroy the capacity of the Confederate South for waging war.   He succeeded in that aim by marching across Georgia, destroying much in his path. As far as the innocent civilians that got in the way, their livestock and food was stolen and (if they resisted) their houses were burned.  And, 150 years later, the after effects of that campaign still linger psychologically.

Ironically, if you ever hear the expression "War is Hell", try this quote from General Sherman:

“It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell.”

Sherman died on February 14, 1891.  His funeral, in St. Louis, was attended by thousands.  Flags flew at half staff.  One of his pallbearers was former Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston. 

Johnston had surrendered his troops to Sherman near Durham, North Carolina, not long before the war ended.

Johnston contracted pneumonia at the funeral and died a little more than a month later.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day - November 2014 - Cactus Surprise

If Garden Bloggers Bloom Day had been on November 13, I still could have shown you some flowers in my zone 5b garden in the Johnson City area of upstate New York.

But yesterday, with the first snow that stuck (we had sleet and snow last Friday, but it didn't - here, anyway) and a hard freeze, I had to let go. 

Now starts the season of hoping some indoor flowers bloom each 15th of the month, so I am not totally embarrassed in front of the world.  Gulp.
Welcome to Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, where gardeners from all over the world show what is blooming.

For example, my Thanksgiving (more on that later) cactus are blooming.  Even this little cutting in a tiny pot is blooming for me. (Did you know that grammar geeks say that cactus, cactuses and cacti are all correct to use as the word to describe two or more cactus plants?  So please do not leave a comment about "cactus" as a plural.)

But before I show you more flowers, I want to show you that, as of about 7am this morning, I still had a couple of flowers left outside, in a hanging basket.
A petunia still bravely bloomed, a spot of pink in the brown all around it.  This plant has survived, twice, down to 25 degrees F (-3.8 C.)  I don't expect it to bloom much longer. 

So, what else do I have? Well, first, a confession.  Last Saturday I went to an open house at a local nursery/florist, Tioga Gardens, and replenished my supply of flowering plants.

I bought this African Violet while the African Violets I already own, roots trimmed and put back in pots with fresh soil, show their displeasure.
And, I could not resist a white Christmas cactus in bud, or so I thought. Now that it's opening up, lovely light pink blossom are emerging.  (sorry, no name tag in the plant). But I had a big surprise, reading today's post on the host blog for the GBBD meme.  I do not own any Christmas cactus - every last one of my Christmas cactus are actually Thanksgiving cactus - same genus, but different species.  The secret is in the leaves - if they have points on them, you have Thanksgiving cactus.

And maybe that explains why my plants bloom in November...

Finally, back to my flowers from this summer, here is a geranium I brought inside (one of several).  I have no idea why the picture looks like this - this is a reddish geranium.  But I loved my iPhone 4S's interpretation of this flower so much, I decided to post it anyway.

And now, I must start a hunt for a true Christmas cactus - maybe I'll have one to show you next GBBD.

Did you like what you saw? Please comment, and then please visit May Dreams Gardens, which hosts this meme every 15th of the month, and click on other links to see what is blooming all over the world.

Friday, November 14, 2014

In the Still of the Morning

All is still.

Begonias just before sunrise 11-14. At this point they had already passed away.

The first snow has fallen and powders the ground.  Our first freeze has come

It is time to let go, here in the stillness of the early morning, in the 25 degree weather.  It is time to enjoy the stillness of winter.

Every year, I go through this ritual.  I cling to summer, screaming.  When the first frosts threaten, I cover plants. I bring in my hanging baskets (and I have a lot of them.).  Then, as the frosts get closer and closer, I take cuttings.

I can't let go of summer.

I can't let go of the flowers, the herbs, the veggies.

But one day I wake up and it's 25 degrees, and there is a thin layer of snow on the ground.

The forecast is for sub freezing temperatures every day.


There no longer isn't any point.  Still, perhaps, I try one last time.

I have to give up the effort.  I must give in.

I tell myself winter is not that bad.  I will have my indoor plants.  I will have the remains of what I harvested.  I will have the season of rest, of hot soup.

Still.  I will count the days until the first crocuses peek out of the ground, and snow no longer blankets the ground.

(End of five minutes worth of free writing - no editing, no overthinking.  Just like NaNoWriMo, which I am way behind in.  Oh well, there's the rest of the month....)

I am linking today to Five Minute Friday. 

Five minutes of free writing.  Today's prompt was "still".

Join me again tomorrow for "Garden Bloggers Bloom Day."

Thursday, November 13, 2014

"B" and The Rokerthon

Today, in the United States (for those of us who have cable TV) we may have the chance to watch history being made - live.

Al Roker, a TV weather presenter, is going to attempt to break a Guinness world record for most consecutive hours presenting a weather forecast. He plans to present for 34 straight hours.  The current confirmed record is 24 hours.  The unofficial record was set in September by a Norwegian woman who did some of the broadcast in her bathrobe.

This is being done, incidentally, to benefit a charity related to the USO, a serviceperson support organization with a long, distinguished history.  And fans will be able to interact with Al on social media during this weather report to beat all weather reports.

People are already calling it a "Rokerthon".  Let's just say that Al Roker is a showman.  He can be quite funny, and he can also skate along the edge of - shall we say - being a bit outrageous.  Or even risque.

These are the terms and conditions of this weather reporting marathon, which is already in progress (it started 10pm Eastern time last night).

Al gets a 5 minute break each hour. He can save them up (in other words, by not taking them) to have a longer break.

He can't talk about weather taking place more than seven days in the past.

He can't talk about weather predicted more than seven days into the future.

He can only talk about the weather. (Sorry, Al, no BBQ!)

And, there will be an official from the Guinness organization on site at all times to ensure that everything is the way it should be, so that the record can be official.

I was disappointed that the Weather Channel wasn't livecasting it on Al's own Weather Channel show this morning, will live stream all 34 hours. I am watching him right now - and you can send him some encouragement on Twitter, or drink some green tea and eat some jerky with him.

So what does this have to do with "B", my brother in law with autism?

Well, many people with autism have what is called a special interest - something they are obsessed about.  "B"'s special interest is the weather.  In fact, my spouse is an amateur metereologist, and has already shared how HE would do this Rokerthon if he was called to do it and not Al Roker.  But his love of weather is nothing like the love of weather that "B" has.

"B" isn't much of a conversationalist so he could never do his own "B"athon, but one of his topics of conversation, when he chooses to converse, is the weather.  Especially the weather in the city where the brother he loves lives.

I hope that Al Roker talks about Binghamton and Johnson City, and "B" gets to see it.

Knowing Al, he might even do it in a bathrobe.

Do you plan to watch any of the Rokerthon?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Fall Fancies - We'll Always Have Yesterday

These photos of the gorgeous color in the Binghamton/Owego area of New York State should speak for themselves.  Sometimes, words only take away from a story.

That's one of the beautiful things about blogging - it is visual, and you have these posts to look at when the seasons have moved on and fall is a distant memory.

For a lot of the United States, fall is a distant memory, with ice and snow already settled in.  But, for us, we had a day yesterday of blue skies and temperatures near 60 F (15 C).  This kind of day almost never happens here in November.  I admired it from a chair in a dentist's office.

Fall color has lasted longer this fall than any fall I can remember in the nearly 30 years I've lived in upstate New York.  I took these pictures over the last several days.  Soon this will be a memory.
The glow comes partially from bright yellow trees, including this massive gingko tree in a historic neighborhood in Owego, New York.

Another gingko stands near the Susquehanna River in Owego.

And, last but not least, the glow of a fall sunset as seen through a maple tree on the West Side of Binghamton.

Today it rains.  And tomorrow, our colder weather starts.  It will be another season - the season of Letting Go.

More on that topic another time.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red

On November 11, 1918, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, World War I ended, but not before eight million plus people died.

Of that total 888,246 were British.

The British and Canadians call today, November 11, Remembrance Day.  We in the United States call it Veterans Day.

This is a breakdown of the  total death toll worldwide.

Just for one country - the number 888,246.  It is impossible to visualize this, or the total World War casualties, but the British found a way to help us.

In the dry moat of the Tower of London, 888,246 ceramic poppies were planted starting this summer, a sea of red, there since August but I (an American) did not see this on television until just recently.

My ancestry is not British but one of my uncles was a civilian casualty of World War I.

Although in this country we don't use the imagery of poppies in the same way as the inhabitants of the former British Empire do, I can appreciate the imagery.  It is so different than the way we in the States tend to commemorate the holiday.  We have parades, but so much (everything from "Veterans Day sales" to the more recent practice of retail stores giving vets discounts on Veterans day) seems to revolve around retail sales and not really honoring our veterans.

Lest we forgot, a poem that still gives me chills, years after I read it for the first time, written by a Canadian doctor, Lt. Colonel John McCrae, in 1915.  

Some feel the poem glorifies war but there is the first part of the poem to consider.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

And Lt. Colonel McCrae?  He died, in military service, before World War I ended, from complications of pneumonia.  But before he died, he had seen too much death.

Perhaps that is how we must visualize war - the story of human suffering, one person at a time.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Fall of The Wall

August 13, 1961-November 9, 1989. 

This is one gravestone I am happy to see.

It's been 25 years since the Berlin Wall fell.

 (A haunting whistle and a song about the ending of the Cold War)

By the time my son was born, in upstate New York, the Wall had already fallen.  But, since the day it literally rose overnight in my childhood, that Wall became part of the Cold War that I grew up in.

The wall separated neighborhoods.  It separated families.  People risked their lives trying to flee to freedom in West Berlin.  At least 136 people died in connection with the Wall (including at least one guard shot by an escapee.)

Ceremonies were held this weekend in Berlin to commemorate the end of the Wall.  Mikhail Gorbachev  and Lech Walesa joined German Chancellor Merkel in celebrating.  It is noteworthy that Chancellor Merkel grew up in East Germany (she was born in West Germany) and was in a crowd that headed to West Berlin that incredible day.

East Berlin.  East Germany.  West Berlin.  West Germany.  Even 25 years later, the names sound so natural to me.  Germany was divided up by the victorious allies after World War II ended, seven years before I was born, and Berlin, located in East Germany, was similarly divided.   After all, those names were a part of most of my life.  I am grateful that my son never had to learn those names except in a history class.

My son ended up taking two years of German in high school, and would play online games with German teenagers.  Theirs was a generation that didn't have to live through what my generation did and what the Greatest Generation that suffered so in World War II went through before then.

Last night, in Berlin, eight thousand white balloons were released into the air, followed by fireworks over the Brandenburg Gate.

The Berlin Wall now exists in pieces spread all over the world.  But parts still stand in Berlin.  Look at them, and ponder the depths of what mankind can do to itself.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Civil War Sunday - The 144 Bottles of Terror

"Sooner or later, everything old is new again." - Stephen King

We in the United States fear a terrorist attack on New York City.  It's already happened in the lifetime of most of us now alive - on September 11, 2001.  It's actually happened before that, for example, on September 16, 1920.

Now, think of this scenerio.

People at war with the United States plot in Toronto, aiming to disrupt a Presidential election.  Several cities in the United States are targeted: Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati and New York City.  Their plans are to set fires, using a modern inflammatory chemical, as a distraction and to spread fear.  The election would be disrupted.

The conspirators are homegrown men, not from overseas, the type of attack we fear most.

This is, as the saying goes, "ripped from today's headlines".

New York City, November, 2014?

No, November of 1864, as rebel Confederates plotted to spread terror and get the Union to the negotiation table.

The fascinating story is told here, but to summarize:

As I had blogged about last week, President Abraham Lincoln was up for reelection on November 8, 1864. Things were not looking bright for his reelection.  No President had been reelected since 1832.  His own former commanding general was running against him.  Many in the United States were weary of war, and the Confederates were hoping for a general uprising.  Many in New York City, in particular, would join the uprising - or so the plotters hoped.

The original plot was to set distraction fires, seize treasuries in the cities and raid prison camps to set Confederate prisoners free.   But then Colonel Robert Martin, in charge of the conspirators charged with seting fires in New York City, decided he wanted to burn New York City to the ground.

A retired druggist was hired to concoct an incendiary called Greek Fire - a chemical that had been developed around 672 and was used as a weapon - especially useful in naval warfare as Greek Fire would float on water and burn.

This video shows the power of Greek Fire.  Imagine if this plot had been carried out exactly as planned.

The Greek Fire was packed into 144 bottles and distributed to a network of conspirators.

The fires would be timed in such a time as to cause minimal death - but a lot of destruction.

Some conspirators lost their nerve, And, the plot was found out and Union troops guarded the cities during the election. The election went on as scheduled and Lincoln won.  So, the Confederates decided to try again, setting fires in a series of New York hotels on November 25, 1864 in closed off hotel rooms.

They forgot one crucial fact about Greek Fire - it needs oxygen to burn.  Most of the fires smoldered, and some fires went out on their own, but the New York City fire department had one busy night.  One fire, at the Barnum Museum, was set by a drunk conspirator and was more successful.  Some 2,500 people were in the building, attending a play.  The fire did burn in the open air and, fortunately, no one was killed.

New York City stood unburned.  No one was killed.

If the Confederates had decided to target a local gas works, which contained pressurized tanks full of gas, the result may have been far different.

Would the course of the war have changed if New York City had burned? We will never know.  As it was, only one conspirator was caught (and subsequently was executed).  And, the attempted firing of New York City was condemned by the public.

And the war ended, on its own, several months later.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Sustainable Saturday - A Fictional Future Grows in Brooklyn?

Can I write a novel about a future sustainable Brooklyn forced into a sustainable lifestyle by climate change by a girl growing up in that future?

I am participating in a writing self-challenge called NaNoWriMo, which requires its participants to write 50,000 original words (a rough draft, no editing) during the month of November.  Just writing anything fictional is a challenge for me - 50,000 words in 30 days is a huge challenge, especially when I've already encountered writer's block on days six and seven.

For my NaNoWriMo novel, I decided to write a young adult novel called Gravesend, named after a neighborhood in Brooklyn I have a little familiarity with.  Set approximately 40 years in the future, I intended it to be a dystopian novel - my favorite form of young adult literature. 

But a funny thing happened on the way to the novel.
Not the fictional Gravesend

My protagonist has taken charge (yes, this is the kind of thing that happens when you write fiction) and has started to write it herself.  And, therein lies the problem. 

She isn't living in a dystopian Gravesend.  And she isn't the character I expected her to be.


Oh, it isn't a fun Gravesend to grow up in, it faces some big problems, and my girl, whose name is Alex (short for Alexandria), has seen her share of weather related tragedy.  In fact, she's an orphan due to a superstorm, and those storms have become more and more frequent.  But I am starting to get lost in her daily life.  And you know what?

Inspired by an article I read the other day on people attempting to grow rice on an island off the coast of Manhattan, I actually am writing about a future Gravesend full of conflict, but also full of hope.  And farming.

I'm really curious to see where Alex is taking my novel, now that she's taken over.

I'm still behind where I should be, but let's see if I can catch up. Watch my progress on my right sidebar.  And, if you are participating in NaNoWriMo, come be my buddy - you will find me at RamblinWritr.