Saturday, January 31, 2015

A Homemade Healthy Super Bowl

This is my third Super Bowl on Weight Watchers, which creates quite a challenge.

For those of my readers not in the United States, a brief explanation.  Super Bowl Sunday (tomorrow) is the final, championship game of our football (meaning American football, not football meaning soccer -oh, never mind) season. People gather to drink lots of beer, eat lots of snacks, gorge on mass quantities of fried chicken wings with caloric sauces, and watch commercials that cost millions of dollars.  And, somewhere in there, there is a sports match and a half time show featuring a celebrity singer.  This year, it's Katy Perry.

"Healthy" and "Super Bowl" normally do not go together. And, if you aren't careful, "delicious" and "healthy" variations of high fat items do not go together, either.

The first time we tried to make healthy snacks, it was New Years Eve, 2012, I was new to Weight Watchers and much of the food my spouse made was inedible.  Dry. Tasteless  Ugh. We decided that, in the future, we would not try to do "healthy" makeovers of fatty food, but rather, forge our own trail.

So, we have (no pun intended) lightened up a bit.  It's a splurge day.

We will have guacamole, although we won't make it in this device.  It is so simple - peel ripe avocadoes, mash (we like ours a little chunky), add chopped sweet pepper (orange, yellow, red), garlic, scallions, a little salt, a touch of homemade ground chili pepper (my spouse's own secret mix, so I can't tell you) and a touch of lime juice. Just don't eat too much.  Easier said than done.

We serve with chips - these happen to be local chips made about an hour away from us.  Or, make your own baked ones - take fresh corn tortillas, cut into triangles (pizza cutter works great for this), spread on cookie sheet, bake at 400 degrees F until they start to turn light brown.  (Celsius folks, you are on your own-sorry.)

Salsa makes a wonderful dip - and fat free salsa has no Weight Watchers points. It's so easy to make, too, if you have good fresh tomatoes available. If not, use canned dice tomatoes (preferably fire roasted diced tomatoes).  Simply chop up ripe fresh tomatoes or use the canned ones, combine with chopped pepper and onions, season with cilantro, lime juice, salt to taste, jalapenos if you like it spicy.  Or, buy it pre made in the refrigerated section of your market.

We'll be serving fresh fruit although, at this time of year, there is little local fresh fruit to be had here in upstate New York.  This is the time of year we are grateful to Florida, California and Chile.

We don't bother with low fat versions of high fat dips - we are not fans of fat free mayonnaise or fat free sour cream.  You can substitute fat free Greek yogurt with a touch of lime juice (for zing) for sour cream, too.  An easy dip can be made with the fat free yogurt, a can of black beans, some cilantro, salsa, just blending it to consistency.  Add jalapenos for spice.

And last, instead of those chicken wings, how about some Thai Chicken Skewers?  We haven't tried this recipe yet but I am a big fan of powdered peanut butter.  We have used a product called PB2 but decided to use "Just Great Stuff" which we found locally.  It is organic, and uses organic coconut sugar, sustainably harvested and low glycemic.  I know some people shy away from this type of product, but I don't have a peanut allergy, and this is a good alternative for me.

Do you make your own snacks?

Friday, January 30, 2015

Five Reasons Why You Should Still Write Letters

Yesterday, I saw a blog post asking "Is letter writing a fading art?"

It really made me think about all the things of my childhood that are now obsolete:

Mimeograph machines
Vacuum tubes
Rotary phones
Waiting for a letter in the mail.

When I was growing up, long distance telephone calls were expensive.  Adjusted for 2014 dollars, a 10 minute long distance call from New York to Los Angeles (east coast to west coast of our vast country) in 1950, two years before I was born, would have cost about $65.81.  (For those not in the United States = that's a lot of money). So, let me explain it another way for my foreign blog fans.  On this date in 1950, the minimum wage in the United States was $1.00 an hour.  If you made the minimum wage, that 10 minute phone call would have cost a lot of hours of work.

So, unless it was urgent, people wrote letters to each other.

I wrote so many letters in the first 30 or so years of my life. It was as natural as breathing for me. And, in the last 10 years, I've hardly written any.  Shame on me.

So, why should anyone care about the fine art of writing a letter?

1.  It's a way for young people to communicate with older generations.  I just got to thinking - bet my spouse's 103 year old aunt (yes, she turned 103 earlier this year) would be delighted to get a letter.  Which leads me to reason #2:

2.  It's a way to preserve history.  Can you imagine a collection of love texts bundled and tied by a lovely ribbon, to be found in a closet years later by a grandson or daughter?  I can't, either.

How about all those historic correspondences that historians depend on to get glimpses into history?

3.  It makes you stand out.  Who gets letters anymore?  Write letters, and you are sure to be noticed. Some newspapers even want to interview you.

4.  It brings out the artist in you.  When I was a teen, I decorated envelopes with cartoons, jokes, and so forth.  Last year, I got a gift from a blogger, and guess what? A decorated envelope.  Memories!  And, remember stationery?  I used to get such joy shopping for stationery.

5.  Pen pals? Anyone out there remember pen pals?  As an adult, I had a pen pal for a while who I found through a pen pal section of a country living magazine.  I sometimes wonder what happened to her.

There are even more reasons than the ones I can come up with.  I won't even blog about how cursive writing is dying out.  Soon, there will be few people even able to read it, meaning so many historical documents will be unreadable by the average man or woman.

Some things deserve to become obsolete - such as $65.81 phone calls.

Some things, such as writing letters, shouldn't become obsolete.  And I am just as guilty of enabling letter writing to die out as anyone of my generation that has abandoned the art.  Or not transmitted the art to their children. I didn't do that, either.

Do you still write letters?

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Ten Things I Love About My Spouse

How about a link up where we show some blog love towards the one who loves us?

Bethany, over at Dandelion Pie, is sponsoring a linkup where she gives us permission to brag about the man (or woman, as the case may be) we are sharing our lives with.

Well, although my spouse does not read my blog, I am going to take Bethany up on this.  Why?  Because, dear reader, this is my 1900th published blog post.
Bring on the celebration!

What an excellent idea, to blog about the spouse whose patience makes my blogging possible, on this important occasion.  Thanks, Bethany.

Therefore, I present:  10 Things I Love About My Spouse But Not Necessarily In This Order

1.  He puts up with my snoring.  Of course, HIS snoring is much worse.  Sometimes, epic.  Well, maybe not that epic. But pretty bad.

2.  He cooks for me.  In fact, he's cooking for me right now!

3.  He puts up with my blogging.  Like when I'm blogging and dinner is ready, and I'm totally oblivious to that fact.  Or breakfast.  (Not lunch.  He doesn't do lunch.)

4.  He's been known to take me to work when the weather is really bad.

5.  He remembers birthdays, anniversaries, etc.

6.  He takes care of me when I am sick.

7.  He puts up with my bad moods.

8.  When I was addicted to FarmVille, he put up with that, too.

9.  He likes to do many of the same things as I do.  Not everything, mind you.  But that would be boring!

10.  He loves to travel with me, and I could not have a better travel companion.

Do you have a list to share?  Go over to Dandelion Pie, and post in the comments!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

It's Lump Day

Do you know what day it is?

A good friend of mine does. But before I go into the details of this special day for her, I need to backtrack a little.

Yesterday, I blogged about a friend who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer.  The next step after the biopsy that diagnosed her was for her to have an MRI to stage her (to find out how far along the cancer was)  So, she had her "girl" MRI'd, and, let's just say, you don't have this test done with many clothes on.

Let me have her tell you (with her permission!) what happened next.

Of course, after it was over and I was standing in my little cubbyhole [not dressed enough for public display], the fire alarm went off. I finished dressing, peeked out and lights were flashing and the PA system said, “Code Red in Atrium”, but nobody was running away. The fire trucks were there, too, but guess it was a false alarm.

THEN I decided to hit the ladies’ before going out in the cold. Hung my coat on the door and placed my purse on the edge of the sink. While I was, let’s say, unable to jump up and run across the bathroom, my purse fell into the sink which activated the faucet. I dumped everything out when I got here and ran my heater on the inside  lining. Nothing got ruined.
 And you thought YOU had a bad day.

Well, when she saw the surgeon, he told her that her lumpectomy would have to be done on a Wednesday, because he only does lumpectomies on Wednesdays.
 For most people, this is what Wednesday is.  It's - well, let the camels tell the story.

For my friend, it's Lump Day.  Hopefully, the hospital won't have a fire alarm in the middle of her surgery.

My friend loves puns. And so, I'm busy trying to round up greeting cards with pun themes.  I've got one I will send out to her soon.

There is nothing funny about cancer, yet, her stories have a way of making me smile.

My friend reads my blog regularly, so those who left well wishes or offers of prayers yesterday will be read by her, and appreciated.  Thank you.

You, my readers, are the best.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Tale of Two....

Once upon a time, there were two friends.  They had been friends for over 16 years.

These two women, on paper, have little in common.  One is big city bred, one small town bred.  One an only child, the other with full and half siblings. Different religions.  Different life experiences.  An animal rescuer and a petless person.  One is an expert punner.  The other is her victim.

Yet, they had become friends.

One day, one confided in the other.  There was something wrong. A suspicious lump where no woman wants a lump.  She had had a mammogram and an ultrasound.  The results required a biopsy.  She was waiting for the results of the biopsy.

The other friend said, funny you should mention that.  On my recent exam, my gyn found a suspicious lump in my dense breasts. She showed me, and I felt it.   I had a mammogram and an ultrasound.  Negative, the other friend continued, but I just got a call from my gyn.  She felt something didn't add up between the results and what she (and I) had felt.  My gyn wants me to come in for a followup....

They hugged, and talked about what would happen if the results were positive. They would support each other.  In case treatment took their hair, they decided on the color of their wigs.

One friend's biopsy result: Positive.

The other friend's followup:  Negative. 

A good writer would write such a good, punny, ending to this, but, knowing my friend will be operated on tomorrow, I just can't.

I just know something about tomorrow is going to make me smile, because that is the kind of person my friend is.

And tomorrow, you are going to smile, too.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Our Home Library

No, I'm not doing a post about all the books in my house, although I should.  My son once joked I had a better selection than some booksales. Well, I think it was a joke.

Rather, I decided to blog about one of our local libraries.

Have you ever thought about how libraries are named?

My favorite library name of all time may be that of a library in a small town near Ithaca, New York.  It is called the Ulysses Philomathic Library (Philomathic means "love of learning").

But "Your Home Library" in Johnson City, New York is my second favorite.

Who wouldn't like to go to their home library?

Well, um, me.

We all take local buildings and institutions for granted.  After all, they are there, we pass them every day, and we take them for granted.  And I do pass this building five days a week, sometimes six.

We have several local libraries within a few miles radius of where I live.  As a result, I hadn't been in this library, which is the one nearest to my home, in many years.  I am a frequent visitor to the library near to where I work, in Binghamton, but had neglected my own home library.

Shame on me!

Saturday, I decided to change that.

This building was built partly in 1885 and partially in 1920.  It's a small library, but full of local history.  When you enter, in fact, there is a small display of local history - a portrait, newspaper clippings, and other memorabilia.

There is evidence of an earlier era wherever you turn in the small rooms.  It is not an easy library to use, I'll admit.  The Binghamton library (built in 2000) is modern and spacious.  But this building has character.  And fireplaces.

Here's another one of the fireplaces.

And one more view of the building.

Local public libraries face many challenges today.  Their funds are constantly being cut.  People are loathe to vote in the tax increases they need to survive.  But these libraries are, increasingly, so much more than a place where you can walk in with a card and walk out with one or more books to read.  They provide internet access, wi-fi,  computers for those who don't own one, job hunting services, e books, CDs and DVDs, magazines, free tax preparation done by volunteers, free databases, and so much more. One of our local libraries even features yoga classes on Fridays.

What is your local library worth to you? 

Do you use your local library? 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Civil War Sunday - The Years Ahead

If I blog every Sunday about the United States Civil War, I will only be blogging for the next three or so months.  But the ending of the war in April, 1865 (that isn't technically true as the last battle was fought in May of 1865, but that's a story for another time) didn't mean that history stopped.

I fear that blogging about the 150th anniversary of the war that made the United States what it is today may not interest my many foreign readers, but history has so many lessons to teach all of us.

150 years ago, as I mentioned, the Civil War was entering its final months.

In January of 1865, we got a sneak preview of what the ending of the war would bring for the slave population of the United States, courtesy of none other than Union General William Tecumseh Sherman.

His is another story of how convoluted the story and study of history can be.

General Sherman was concerned about winning the war for the North. On the other hand, he wasn't too concerned about the slave population of the Confederate territories he and his armies had pillaged and occupied.  It may (or may not) surprise you to learn that Sherman, along with most other whites of his day (even those who opposed slavery), was a racist.  His interest was winning the war for the United States, not in doing anything for the slaves in the areas he was fighting in.

But thousands and thousands of slaves, freed as Sherman destroyed the plantations where they were enslaved, started to follow his armies.  Some tragic things happened to those slaves, especially at a location in Georgia called Ebenezer Creek.

On January 16, 1861, Sherman issued Special Order 15, which is worth reading all the way through, although it is a long document, just for a historic flavor.

St. Johns River, Florida, photo taken from Auto Train by AM
Sherman formulated a plan after meeting in Savannah, Georgia (which he had conquered right before Christmas of 1864) with black ministers and the U.S. Secretary of War. Sherman had a vision of resettling these freed slaves on a strip of confiscated land between of Charleston, South Carolina and the St. Johns River in Florida.  This would serve a number of military objectives for Sherman.

Would the idea of reserving land to freed slaves-40 acres of tillable land in parts of Georgia and Florida- have worked?  (Many know the plan as "40 acres and a mule" but the mule was more intended as a loan than a gift.) We'll never know, because the plan only lasted until the fall of 1865.  At that point, the war over and a new President in charge of the post-war United States, the land reverted back to its former owners. The freed slaves faced many, many years of misery ahead of them.

Another sad chapter in the history of the Civil War was about to begin.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Local Saturday - Italian Seeds

A snowy morning in upstate New York.

It's time for some seed daydreaming.

One of the catalogs we ordered was called Seeds from Italy

It advertises itself as "Heirloom Italian Garden Seeds" and, since my husband's ethnic background is Italian, we thought it would be interesting to see what an Italian seed catalog contained.
Some of the seeds are organic ("biologica").  Most, not all, are open pollinated.  Many of the veggies are familiar to those of us in the United States, but others are not a familiar part of our gardens.

Like capers. ("cappero")

Or a zucchini bred to produce mostly flowers.

Or parsley root, a parsley that produces a root that is also edible.  (It is not the same thing as parsnips).  Years ago, I grew parsley root. A supermarket here sells it seasonally in November and December.

This is the fun part of gardening - the dreaming, and the ordering.  I don't know if we will order any of these Italian seeds, but their Italian soaps are interesting, too.

The hard part of gardening is yet to come.  With the ground frozen, there is still plenty of time to dream.

Do you garden?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Memory Pie

Today, in the United States, it is Pie Day (not to be confused with March 14, which is Pi Day).

So, thousands of bloggers will be blogging about their favorite pie recipes.

There are amazing bloggers out there who blog about pie and football, all in the same post.

I've blogged about pie before (how about some grape pie?), but I have never told the story of my Most Memorable Pie.

It was the mid 1970's and we were over a thousand miles from home.  It was my spouse's first Thanksgiving in the military.  He was undergoing technical training in Texas.  And he had friends in his class, all of whom were far away from home, too.

For the most part we were in our late teens or early 20's, but among us was a slightly older man.  Sgt W. was from Iowa and he was a soybean farmer.  As I recall, he had joined the National Guard and was training with my spouse's Air Force class.

And Sgt W. had never eaten a soybean.  He had never sampled the crop he grew.

In the mid 1970's, soybeans weren't common the way they are today.  But I had become an on and off vegetarian in college, and I had fallen in love with a couple of books - Diet for a Small Planet and Recipes for a Small Planet.  As I wasn't working, and my spouse was making the tiny salary of an airman, money was tight and we used the methods explained in this book to stay healthy.  We ate whole grain homemade breads, bean and rice casseroles, and even dishes made with the healthy soybean.

In one of these books was a recipe for a mock pumpkin pie made with pureed soybeans, pumpkin pie spice and other ingredients I can't remember (nor could I find the recipe in a long Internet search last night). 

My spouse invited several of his classmate friends, including Sgt W., to Thanksgiving dinner.  And, an idea hatched in my mind.  Why not make something with soybeans for him?

We had a turkey, and other items no longer remembered.  It was one of the happiest Thanksgivings I remember, because we were all away from home but not lonely, and I remember our companionship much more than I remember the food.

Except for one thing.  When I served my "pumpkin pie", Sgt W. dug in, and said he liked it.  So did everyone else.  I even liked it, and I don't like pumpkin pie.

So I admitted to him that his "pumpkin pie" was really soybean pie.  And he didn't seem to mind.

I wonder what he said when he returned home to Iowa when his class was over.  We never saw him again after that.

I don't know where Sgt W. lives today, or if he is even alive.  Sadly, I  know at least one of the young men at that dinner passed several years ago.  And I don't know if W. remembers the young woman he had Thanksgiving with, in an apartment near an Air Force base in Texas in the mid 1970's, and the soybean pie she served him.

If you are out there, Sgt. W, happy Pie Day to you.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Time for Reruns?

A recent online book review gave me a flashback to a not so favorite time of my life.  And, in that flashback, I realized I wanted to revisit some of that time.

Mind you, just some of that time.  Not all of it.

I don't know about you, but high school was not the best time of my life.  No, it was far from a great experience for me, which is one reason (besides cost) which I have never attended any of my high school reunion.  I did go to one of my spouse's (we didn't know each other until college) reunions and it was - interesting.

Nor, did my high school alumni association know where I was until my sister in law ratted me out worked a part time college job (she's a few years younger than I am) at compiling data of alumni of the high school I attended.  Not knowing why there was no information for me in their directory, she helpfully gave them my married name and current address.

I ignore the mailings.

I hated high school English. This may be a surprise to you.  After all, am I not an avid reader and blogger? (I'm saying avid.  Not "grammar geek" or technical expert.)   I love to read, yes.  I taught myself to read (so did my sister in law) at the age of four, and I'm surprised I didn't wear out my New York Public Library card.

I was possibly one of the best customers of the bookmobile that stopped every Thursday afternoon (except during the summer) at my NYC housing project.

But I hated English class for so many reasons.
1.  I am a poor speller.  Always have been.  And what do they do in English class, but continuously give students spelling quizzes? (at least, they did in the 1960's).
2.  I was too shy to participate in class discussions.  More points off.
3.  Grammar drove me crazy.
4.  But last, and certainly not least, was the Required Reading List. And the dreaded Book Discussions.  And what books I had to read.  Books I never would have touched with a 39 1/2 foot pole in my non school life suddenly became steep mountains to climb.  The discussions were torture.  The last thing I wanted to do was dissect books.

I just wanted to read them and experience them and be lost in them, not analyze them.

So sometimes (true confessions) I would hide in the back and read a book I was interested in.

The online book review I read was a review of one of those books I had to dissect in high school.

Flashback.  And you know what?  I realized - I may actually want to reread some of those books.

Some of them, in fact, I can barely remember.
Of Mice and Men.  The Great Gatsby. The Red Badge of Courage.

Maybe a teenaged me couldn't experience them without a bunch of eye rolling.  But the 62 year old me might be able to.

Maybe, for some of these books, I needed maturity.  Or seasoning.  Or more experience in life.

My tastes have changed.  I once hated feta cheese.  Now, it's my favorite. I hated gin the first time I tasted it, and never tasted it again, until recently.  I liked it.  (Of course, it was probably a much more expensive gin than whatever I tasted when I was a young adult.)

I don't know if I will do this literature rerun thing, but it is tempting.  I still won't dissect those books, though.  I still want to read them and experience them and be lost in them.  When they end, I want to hurt with the ache of being ejected from a world I didn't want to leave.  I want the voice of the author to stay with me and keep me company, and speak to me from hidden corners.

Did you hate high school or equivalent?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Winter Wonders - The Road

You love pictures of snow and ice.

Admit it.  It doesn't matter if you live in the North, or if you live in the tropics and have never seen or felt real snow. 

No matter how many times you slog through it, or shovel it, or say bad words to it, there is nothing like some scenic pictures of snow to make you think "how pretty is this?"

For these pictures, thank my guest photographer, who lives in the countryside a few miles outside of Binghamton, New York, and loves to take walks.

I wonder where this road leads?  To adventure?  To excitement?  To gentle peace and quiet?

Take a deep breath, and relax.
Sometimes, her sister's dog keeps her company. On the dirt country road, the dog walks and explores, as dogs should.  Ah, the freedom of the country. 

Sometimes, there seems to be a lump in the road.  But it is only a temporary obstacle., a shadow, and eventually, it will be gone.

The snow will eventually be gone, too.  But enjoy its temporary beauty while it is there.

What is the weather like, today, where you live?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Boy and Some Snow

How would a young boy react to a record breaking snow in a city where it doesn't snow all the time?

Yesterday our Weather Channel gave us a fascinating glimpse into the world of a young boy who grew up to be an important part of the history of the United States.

Yesterday was a federal holiday - Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I do not know how many of my readers living outside the United States have heard of the late Dr. King (assassinated in 1968) but he is one of only three people in United States history to have Federal holidays in their honor. (King's actual birthday was January 15 - like so many other Federal holidays, this holiday always falls on a Monday.)

Dr. King was a Baptist minister.  A leader of the Civil Rights movement.  A social activist.  A man who had a dream.  That dream changed the lives of millions of people.

This is perhaps his most famous speech yet - it starts slow, but once it gets going - perhaps one of the top speeches of American history. 

But once upon a time, Dr. King was a young boy.  Born in 1929, he was 10 years old when he wrote a short letter to his father about playing in snow.  Dr. King's childhood was spent in Atlanta, Georgia, where it does snow, but not that often.

The young Dr. King had a great time making snowmen and throwing snowballs, and cleaning off a sidewalk.  He mentioned how hard a job the sidewalk cleaning was.

It turns out the snowfall he shoveled was a record snowfall for Atlanta.

Atlanta has a reputation for epic - as in "epic horror" - snowfalls, and ice storms.

But young Dr. King had a fun time with the record snow he was fortunate enough to experience.

Just reading this short letter makes me want to learn more about Martin Luther King, Jr. the boy and the man.  Not the legend, but the man who once enjoyed a snow day.

A fantastic thought - greatness lies inside all of us.  Greatness comes when you let it out.

Will I do things this year that are DIFFERENT? (My word for 2015)

Monday, January 19, 2015

When Things Were Simple

Once upon a time.....

There was one phone company, and one choice of phone. 

There was one electric company.

There was one way to watch TV.  (and, I even remember my parents getting their first TV).

There was one kind of chocolate.  (Milk)

Your employer gave you a pension.

We long for the good old days.  If you are old enough (and I am old enough) I can remember a world without the many decisions we have to make each day.  Perhaps that is what we are longing for - the freedom from the constant press of having to make choices.

Which electricity option? Fixed, variable, pay extra to have part of your electricity generated by wind energy? (Yes, my electricity carrier offers that option - of course, not for your particular house.)

Which food?  Organic, natural, gluten-free, low fat, no salt, non-GMO, no corn syrup, no artificial sweetener?

If you garden, which seed?  Hybrid, heirloom, non-GMO (I will have something to say about that in the near future), treated, non treated, organic, suitable for containers?

Music?  On air radio, CD, MP3, satellite radio, streaming, live?  And if streaming, which service?  I don't even want to list the choices.

Chocolate:  single origin, bittersweet, semi sweet, dark, milk, chili, bacon, hazelnuts, peanuts, almonds, white, organic?

Pension -now it is in our control (in the United States) but we also have to make the investment choices.  How many of us have the expertise? Small cap, medium cap, large cap, bond, index funds, and more.

Too many choices.

No choice is bad.  Not enough choice is bad. But too much choice is bad, too.  Part of it is the pressure of making the wrong decision.

I realized this one day when visiting New York City.  I was in a Manhattan neighborhood, and hungry for some lunch.  But it couldn't be just any lunch.  I visit New York City, at most, once or twice a year.. I was in a city where (it seems) there are four or five restaurants on every block.  I couldn't make up my mind.  What if the food was terrible? What if I made the wrong decision?

I was paralyzed.

Finally, my spouse had to make up my mind for me.

I think it is simplicity we crave.  We want to spend more time enjoying life, and less time having to make decisions.

Some choice is good.  Control is good. Too much of anything is a bad thing, I think.

Would you want to go back to the "good old days"?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Civil War Sunday - The DNA of History

Sometimes, I wonder what I would find out if I took a DNA test to discover my ancestry.  I can do that, apparently for "only" $159.

Two actors, one of the 20th century, one still alive and acting today, turn out to have interesting ancestry.  Wouldn't it be nice if I was related to someone who change history?

DNA tests won't reveal that, but it sometimes seems that famous people through the ages are related to each other.

To find out about one of them, we need to go back 150 years.

150 years ago this week, a man by the name of Francis P. Blair, Sr. was working to try to broker a peace agreement between the United States and the Confederate States of America. The war between our States had been going on since April of 1861.  Many people were exhausted, and efforts were being made to negotiate a peace. (Those efforts did not succeed, in case you are wondering.)

If you saw the Steven Spielberg movie Lincoln, you saw this character in action, played by actor Hal Holbrook.

Blair's role in American history is extensive, although he is not a household word today. For trivia lovers, his life contains plenty to be fascinated about.  For example, if you've ever heard of Silver Springs, Maryland, you can thank Frances Blair. He fell in love with a spring, made silvery by flecks of mica, when his horse threw him near it - or, so the story goes.  Silver Springs grew up around that spring.

If you have ever visited Washington, DC, our nation's capital, you may have seen Blair House, the guest house for visitors to the White House.  Yes- it was once the house of Frances Blair.

It was in Blair's house that Robert E. Lee was offered command of the Union Army - but, when Virginia seceded from the Union, Lee resigned and took command of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.

Union General William Sherman (of "March through Georgia" fame - or infamy- was married at Blair's house.

And, in 1950, two men tried to assassinate then President Truman at Blair House.

So many famous and influential people have stayed at Blair House.

But, as infomercials tell us - But wait!  There's more! (Sometimes, I love clichés.. Sorry about that.)

Francis Blair, Sr., the founder of the Republican Party, and the father of a Civil War General, was also the great-great grandfather of actor Montgomery Clift. (I have also read that Clift was adopted, so I am not certain if that relation is by blood or adoption.)  Apparently, this was not the only connection Clift had with the Civil War.

Clift starred in a movie called From Here to Eternity in 1953.  His character's name was Robert E. Lee Pruitt.

Clift starred in a movie called Raintree County (with Elizabeth Taylor) in 1957.  The plot was related to the Civil War.  But the movie was still being filmed when Clift (who had a major drinking problem) got into a car accident during the filming of the movie. 

He was permanently disfigured. He was only 45 when he died, in 1966.

Meanwhile, it turns out Abraham Lincoln has a link with a movie actor of modern times - George Clooney. Clooney, it would seem, is a half-first cousin five times removed from Lincoln. 

A DNA test wouldn't tell me who I was related to, but I wonder what untold stories are waiting to be told by my DNA. 

I might just think about saving up for that test.

Would you want to get your DNA tested, if you could afford it?

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Local Saturday - Green Eggs and Maybe Ham

It was time for the indoor farmers market in Binghamton, New York.

We only have one winter market here in our area, and it only meets twice a month.   These are the lean months of produce in upstate New York.  Our growing season is well over, with ground frozen and snow cover everywhere. 

Although the bakers, the honey sellers and the crafts people have lots of wares to offer, the farmers (except for the dairy farmers selling cheese) are running low on supplies.
We didn't need eggs, but I couldn't resist taking a picture of these farm fresh eggs.  It's hard to see, but they are light green in color.  Not too many supermarket eggs look like this.  Green eggs inside?  No, they are normal chicken eggs inside.

Did you know that chickens are sensitive to the amount of light they receive, and egg production will go down dramatically if you don't use artificial lights on them in the northern climes during winter?  It's true.  Most commercial producers use artificially lighting on their chooks.  I don't know if this farmstead producer does.

At the market, the last of the fresh produce from fall was for sale . The northern spy apples beckoned, but I wasn't in the mood for making apple crisp.

Instead, spouse decided to roast a turkey. When this is the temperature at breakfast time (that's -16C for most of the world, incidentally), hot food roasting slowly and heating the house sounds so good.  (Maybe later next week, I'll blog about the roast turkey.  If you ask.)

Spouse needed some large onions.  We have lots of onions left (we grow fantastic onions at our community garden) but he bought three of these, nestled here side by side with the last of the squash and some storage cabbage one vendor was offering. 

We didn't buy ham today, but if I am showing you green eggs, I have to show you ham.  So here you are. (We did buy beef from this producer today, though.)

Is the growing season over where you live? What was your weather like today?

Friday, January 16, 2015

Travel Soup

Many of us pick up souveniers when we travel.

Some buy jewelry, others local artwork, still others coffee mugs or paperweights or even refrigerator magnets.

My husband and I pick up food.
My lighting puts a yellow cast on everything - a food photographer I will never be

Last night, my spouse made me soup for supper.  Our weather here in upstate New York has been cold and there is nothing on a cold winter's night like a bowl of homemade soup.

Especially when the soup is made with souvenirs of our travels.

Here is my spouse's recipe.  He is a hands on cook, throwing in some of this and some of that so his recipes are never exact, and neither are his explanations.  If you are an experienced cook, you'll get it.  If you aren't...well, good luck.  But this soup was so delicious tonight that I wanted to share it with you.

Travel Soup
Sea Island Peas (an heirloom field pea we picked up in Charleston, South Carolina.)  You can substitute another small bean -perhaps a red bean.  Or, another bean, but you would have to presoak.
Smoked Ham Hocks (which we bought in a Mennonite store in Ohio)
Enough water to cover meat

You do not have to presoak the peas.  Rather, put them in a pot of cold water with the smoked ham hock, with 3 or 4 bay leaves and garlic cloves, chopped coarsely, to taste.

Bring mixture to boil, then lower to very gentle boil, with pot covered. 

Cook this until the meat and peas are tender. (He wouldn't give me a definite time but said about two hours.  So, your judgement.

 Then, take off lid, turn heat up a little until gently boiling, then let reduce until the broth is as srong as you want it.

Remove meat and beans, strain broth in a fat separator to remove excess fat, then put defatted broth into another pot.  Then, add veggies:  sliced carrots, celery, green onions, spinach, corn, or whatever you have on hand.  Then cook until veggies are tender.

Separately, cook some pasta until al dente, drain, add to soup bowls.

Take meat off bone, chop up into chunks as big as you want, and then put into the soup bowls.  Put a measure of beans into each bowl.  Finally, add the broth/veggie mixture.

Serve with my corn muffins I blogged about earlier this week.

Do you like soup? What is your favorite soup?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day - January 2015

On the 15th of every month, gardeners from all over the world participate in a meme called Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, hosted by an Indiana garden blogger, May Dreams Gardens.  I've been participating in this meme since mid 2011, when I was told about it by a blogger in my very first blogging challenge.

GBBD, as we call it, can get just as addictive as blog challenges

But, for this gardener in zone 5b Johnson City, New York, January can be a challenge, as I scour the house looking for something that is blooming.
This is an unknown coleus I got at a farmers market this past spring.  The vendor did not know its name.  It is a narrow leafed coleus, that is all I know.  When it grew outside, the leaves were almost like little red needles.  They are slightly broader and greener in a northern window in my bedroom.

I rooted some branches (I tried to overwinter the entire plant but it died) and they now have these tiny flowers.
One of my two kalanchoes, under siege from whiteflies, is blooming.  This plant has a story behind it and I will not let it go to kalanchoe heaven without a fight (although the person it was initially given to, sadly, has passed.)
My newest African violet is still blooming its heart out-I purchased it in November and it is still going.

I had potted up some amaryllis.  I have three plants.  One bloomed for me last year.  But I was too late, and they are just now starting to grow. (Well, one is.  The other two bulbs haven't sprouted but are still alive).

And, finally, a plant showing there is always a surprise in the house.

I decided to try to overwinter some of my hanging baskets.  It's been a struggle, butI have some geraniums and one petunia still alive.  Several days ago, I noticed a single bloom on the petunia.

The flower is on its way out, but it waited (barely) until Garden Bloggers Bloom Day.  I even had two Thanksgiving cactuses with blooms just a few days ago, but the blooms didn't make it to today.

Have a few minutes?  Head on over to May Dreams Gardens, click on some other GBBD links, and see what is blooming in gardens (and houses) from all over the world.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Winter Wonders - Trees

The sun has been out recently, here in upstate New York, after a long stretch of dreary, cloudy weather.

It isn't always a good thing to have sunny weather.  For example, my guess is, we will have a sunny day today.  Right now (6:15 am) it is -3 F (-16 C).

But there is a beauty in dreary winter weather, when you look at it close up.

Today, I feature some of the work of my guest photographer, who lives out in the country, and takes walks in the woods to bring me some photos of her country world.

These pictures were taken in mid December, during our dreary spell.
For instance, this frozen beech leaf, still on the tree, makes a wonderful close up.
Baby trees, covered in snow.

And, you never know what you will find around the bend.

What is the weather like for you today?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Perfect Greeting Card

When I was ten years old, my father was hospitalized with a life threatening case of pneumonia.  For three days we didn't know if he would live or die.  He lived, but developed complications that required he be hospitalized for almost two months.  

I missed him terribly.  In those days (the early 1960's) children my age could not visit their hospitalized parents, at least in the VA hospital in the Bronx where he was being cared for.

So I did the next best thing.  I spent my days making get well cards for him.  As time passed, they became more and more elaborate.  I poured my heart and soul into them.  My mother, in turn, would bring the cards to him when she visited him.

I wish I had even one of those cards.  I am curious to know what they looked like and what they said.  I only have vague memories of the content of the cards, although I have clear memories of some of the other things my Mom and I did together as we waited for my Dad to return home.  What I do know is, they were filled with love, and my creativity flourished as I designed each card.

Fast forward almost fifty years.

I am looking for the perfect greeting cards for several people I know.
A Nice Card Cover?
The cards are for people with serious illnesses. They are meant to let the person know he/she is not forgotten, and that I am thinking of them.  Short, sweet and not smelling of "you, the recipient, know from the wording that you are doomed."

I would rather buy the cards locally.  There is a company called Cardthartic whose cards I particularly enjoy, but the local dealers seem to stock mostly birthday cards.
Then, one day, I thought of those long ago cards for my Dad.  Shouldn't I be writing my own greeting cards?

Just as I did 50 years ago.

So, I have bought some blank cards with nice covers.  I am not trying to compete with Hallmark, but I am a writer, after all.   I should be able to write a line or two.

I do wish, though, that there was a nice line of cards, easy to purchase, for times like this.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Yummy Corn Muffins

Yesterday, a gloomy upstate New York day (gloomy because it had warmed up into the 20's) called for some baking.

There is nothing like baking to dispel gloom on a cold winter's day.  Baking helps heat up the house.  It gets you on your feet and the aroma of baking makes a house smell like a home.

Next to chocolate, one of my favorite foods is corn muffins.

Because I am back on the full Weight Watchers diet to get rid of late year weight gain, I decided to bake one of my favorites - corn muffins - but try a recipe that was supposed to be healthier.  I made a couple of substitutions, in turn, since my stomach doesn't like spicy food that much. 

This recipe is dairy free, but is not vegan nor is it gluten free.  Also, it is written in American measurements; with apologies to my metric blogging friends I didn't try to convert this.  From what I've read (although I could be wrong) corn may be less popular overseas than it is in the States.

This recipe is on the Weight Watchers public website.  Here it is, with my modifications below.

Almond Milk Corn Muffins
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1 1/4 cup white whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup almond milk
1 egg
1/4 cup oil
1 tbsp honey (I used local dark, but you could use any honey)
1 4 3/4 oz can chopped mild chilies (if you want heat, use hot chilis)
1 c canned corn kernels, drained (creamed would be interesting, too)

Method (you will need two bowls)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Spray muffin tin with cooking spray, or use oil, or paper liners.

Mix cornmeal, flower, baking powder, salt in one bowl ("dry" ingredients).

In the other bowl, whisk the almond milk, egg, oil, honey ("wet" ingredients) until combined.

Pour wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir just enough to wet everything.  Do NOT overbeat.
Gently stir the chilis and corn kernels into the batter.
Spoon mixture into the muffin tins, filling about 3/4 full.

Bake about 18-19 minutes or until done. (toothpick will come out clean)

Let cool.  Serve warm, or at room temperature.  In the old days, I would always eat corn muffins with butter - no more.  But you are more than welcome to.

So, how did I like these?

They are a bit less sweet than commercial muffins tend to be.  But, I liked them.  Then again, I've been eating the Weight Watchers way for over two years now, so my taste buds have adjusted to this style of cooking.  My husband felt they were a little underbaked (although they were browning, and came out clean with a toothpick), so you may want to watch the time in the oven carefully.

Do you have a favorite way of making corn muffins?

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Civil War Sunday - Thrust into History

I am going to pause my Civil War Sunday post this Sunday due to the events in France this past week.

I have a small personal link to France through family.  One of my cousins married a man born in France to a French mother and an American father.  I met his mother and sisters when they came from France to the the United States to attend his wedding.  The children of that union have visited France to meet their French relatives.

I watched the rally in Paris tonight, live on CNN.  I saw the faces of the thousands there, mirroring sadness, fear, exhaustion, and determination.  The CNN headline read "Standing with France."

A number of French bloggers have read my posts, and I have read theirs.  Through the Internet, we interact with people all over the world every day, and think nothing of it.  It's such a different world than the world I was born into 62 years ago.

So, instead of blogging about a Civil War peace initiative, I would like to blog instead about the fickle finger of history.  

History has a way of taking ordinary people and thrusting them into the front lines of history.  This has happened so many times, and this past week is no exception.

Staff members of a Paris satirical publication.  Shoppers in a kosher supermarket.  A policeman in the wrong place at the wrong time who died in the line of duty, caught on video.  A kosher supermarket clerk who saved upwards of 15 shoppers by hiding them in a freezer.

The events of this week in France, in a strange way, have something in common with the study of the United States Civil War.

When history calls, ordinary people act heroically.
Nothing is ever as clear cut as it seems.
We must not ever give in to fear.  And we realize how hard that can be.
Stereotypes are just that, stereotypes, but they can cause immense damage. 
And, sadly, a country can be ripped apart by hate. But it can also grow stronger from the struggle to understand and overcome.
And, sometimes we don't know what we had until we have lost it.

In our Civil War, history touched the lives of so many people (I have blogged about some of them and hope to blog about others before the end of March), who may have been unknown to history.  But, instead, we study them and learn from their actions.

We in the United States must stand united with the people of France.

Next week, perhaps I will blog about what I intended to blog about this week - a Civil War peace initiative started by a man no longer a household name, but once well known in the United States, and an amazing link this man has with a modern actor once a household name in our country.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Blue Skies Sunshine and a Trampoline?

What a day for a science experiment.

Today, where I live in upstate New York, I was greeted by the sun streaming through my window.  Half asleep, I knew what that meant.

It was bitterly cold outside.  It was eight above zero.  (-13 Celsius)
When I took this picture, it was 12.(-11 Celsius). The rhododendrons are not happy. (Actually, this is a normal behavior when it is cold, to conserve moisture, and they will be fine when the weather gets warmer).

In January and February, about the only time we see the sun is when it is brrr cold.  So that's why my spouse and I are planning to go through some seed catalogs this weekend, and plan our garden for the year.

But nothing beats this Minneapolis, Minnesota principal's ice experiments. 

Especially this one, which has now gone viral.

This man heads an inner city school, and inspires his students with these experiments.  Pretty awesome, in my opinion.

(My Local Saturday returns next Saturday).

What do you do when it is cold (if you get cold winters where you live)?

Friday, January 9, 2015

It's the Almost Wonderful Time of the Year

What is the most wonderful time of the year?

Some people say December is the most wonderful time of the year.

That could be for some, but for others, the most wonderful time of the year is January.

Why do I say that?  My hatred of snow and cold is well known by my blog readers.

Because cold takes us hostage and, while we are huddled in our homes, we keep warm in our imaginations.  We read.  We crochet.  We blog.  We edit our NaNoWriMo manuscript.

During the holidays, in all the busyness, catalogs have been coming in the mail.  In our house, they are piled on a table as they come in.   Our mental energy is elsewhere.

Then, one day, my spouse and I decide it is time.

For us, it is the day the notification that it is time to renew our community garden plots comes in the mail. (We almost didn't have one this year, a blog post for another time.)

The notification came yesterday.  It's official - we have a community garden!

This weekend, out come the catalogs.

Right now, the 2015 gardening season is perfect.  In our imagination, every planted seed germinates. There are no insect or mammal pests.
In our dreams, none of these critters exist.

Bountiful harvests await. There are no failures.  Rainbows stretch from one end of our community garden plots to the other.
The first tomatoes are such a thrill.

In that perfect garden here are no rocks in the soil.  No droughts.  Nobody steals our crops (sadly, that has happened at times).

Now, when we go through the catalogs, we will find DIFFERENT things to grow.  Plants so tempting, we just must try them. 

Then, there are the favorites we come back to year after year.

What will we find in the catalogs?  Would you like to know? (Of course you do.  You wouldn't be reading my blog if you didn't want to know.  Admit it.)

In this year of being DIFFERENT (my word for this year), I can still hardly wait to read those catalogs.

Do you garden?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

International Blog Delurking Week

Come out, come out, whereever you are!  Come out and leave a comment, even a single word, to let me know you are present. 

Now, why should you do that?  Here's why.

Did you know that this week is International Blog Delurking Week?

I didn't know, either, until a fellow blogger at Alphabet Salad told me. (Thanks, Laurel!)

I'm guilty of lurking at some blogs - never commenting - and maybe you are, too.  I'm also guilty of falling behind in reading my comments of the past several days.  But I will.

There is nothing like getting comments to make a blogger happy (except for spam, of course.  That's a topic for another day.)

International Blog Delurking Week lasts from January 4 to January 10.  So, you still have a couple of days to join the fun.

All you have to do is comment on my blog, then go to Stirrup Queens and comment, there.  And, then, grab the badge below.

You can leave one word (a nice word) like "hi!"  

Like Stirrup Queens, I'll even give you a prompt if you want:  what's your favorite food?

But only if you want.  (My favorite food? Dark chocolate.)

You can even go to my Facebook blog page and like me.  OK, I made that part up - it isn't part of the official celebration.  But you can do it if you want. 

(This badge was created by Melissa at Stirrup Queens, who has given all blogers permission to use it for anyone who wants to do their own International Blog Delurking Week 2015 post.)

Oh, and about Alphabet Salad - it's a great blog.  Check it out while you are celebrating!

So - if you are here for the first time, or the 50th, just comment that you are here.   Then, join the fun and spread the happiness.  And if you have commented in the past - thank you!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Winter Wonders - Warmth

My word for 2015 is DIFFERENT.

So, instead of posting some pictures of winter weather taken where I live in upstate New York, I am going to post some different winter pictures, for a change.

If you come to my blog for pictures of snow, come back again.  Eventually, there will be lots of Winter Wonders posts full of snow.

Just not today.

These are pictures I took, in the winter of 2013, in Florida, on Sanibel Island.

Winter butterfly and a flower.
Birds on a wintry beach.  We freeze, they bask in a breeze.
And an orchid made of shells.  Any orchid outside my home right now would be a dead orchid.

Ah, Florida.

Now doesn't that make you feel warm?

Warmth, when the wind is blowing outside, and it is cold.  Oh, so cold.

I like feeling warm. It feels so.....DIFFERENT.

What about you? Do you like being warm, or cool?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Title Envy

I've said it before:  I sometimes wish I had picked a different name for my blog.  Maybe something more clever.  Something that would draw readers like a blog magnet.

I know, I know. It's like saying you don't like the name of your child.  But you picked it, and you have to take responsibility. 

When I started to blog, in 2009, I didn't do that much research on how to name a blog. The name "Ramblin' with AM" reminded me of a radio show of my youth.  I do write about anything that crosses my mind.  My initials are "AM".

So here I am, almost six years later, with Title Envy.

There are certain blogs, certain books, certain stories, that have titles so perfect- or so different, that you just HAVE to check them out.

If there was a Best Title Causing Envy Award, my nominations would be as follows.

Best Blog Titles

Vomiting Chicken.  Yes.  This blogger owns chickens.  She also blogs about so many other things.  And, two of her grown daughters blog, too.  It's a farm blog!  It's a family blog!  It's a blogging dynasty!

Cut the Crap Solutions  She blogs to teach and delight. She does both.

Best Book Titles (and yes, I've read these books).

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee  - possibly the best book written in the 20th century.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Phillip K Dick. Phillip K. Dick is an experience.  Go treat yourself. (This sounds vaguely dirty, but it's not.)

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil:  A Savannah Story, by John Berendt.  You will want to visit Savannah, Georgia after reading this book.  I did.  Twice.
Waving Girl Statue, Savannah, Georgia

Best Short Story Titles (I've read the first one.  I haven't read the second one)

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson (possibly the best short story written in the 20th century).

A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O' Conner

Perfect titles.  Great writing.  I can only aspire to both.

If you were a judge in a Title Envy Contest, which titles would you choose?

Linking back to Write Tribe and a shout out to my other blogging challenges - the Ultimate Blog Challenge and the Ultra Blog Challenge.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Where Early the Sweet Birds Sang

The birds were singing sweetly and energetically in a nearby parking lot when I started my exercise walk yesterday.
It was a winter Sunday in upstate New York.  The day before, a thin snow had covered everything.  My little snow angel statue in my back yard stared at me, deep in thought, perhaps wondering what would happen next.

Today, the scene was totally different.  DIFFERENT is my word for 2015 and even the weather was paying attention to my word.
Rushing water, Vestal, NY January 4, 2015

This was the scene I saw just a few hundred feet down the trail off to one side.

You usually don't hear masses of birds singing in early January here, and I was wondering what it all meant.  DIFFERENT.  We do get January thaws here, but this is not the normal type of thaw.

The rivers are not frozen.

A friend who lives out in the country told me she had seen a bear last week.  Aren't they supposed to be hibernating by now?

Perhaps not.  This winter has been so up and down it is making me dizzy.   I wasn't wearing a coat or even a jacket as my spouse and I walked our four miles.  The temperature made it to 50 (10C). The snow had mostly melted.

It was so nice to be walking outside for a change, instead of in the local mall with its stale air, hard floors and scents of perfumed candles and potpourri. The grass was still green.  Knotweed (hardy bamboo) glowed brown, almost like sap was running in it.
Later, nature treated us to a brilliant sunset.

I do not know why the sweet birds are singing.  I don't think it was just the warm day.  I wonder if the birds know something we humans do not.

If they do, though, they (and we) will have to wait.  It's in the 20's, with howling winds, right now, and by Wednesday night, we are predicted to be down near zero (F).

What's the weather like right now where you live?