Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Lessons of April the Giraffe #GiraffeWatch2017

I thought about whether I should post the story of April the Giraffe today, or it I should go for a fluffy (in a manner of speaking) topic such as "Should We Have Peep Flavored Oreos?"

Me?  I'm watching the giraffe cam.

Watching April the giraffe has "gone viral". A Harpursville, New York (about 20 minutes from Binghamton, where I work) educational animal park is now in the news worldwide because they set up a webcam on You Tube with a live feed and also decided to set up a Go Fund Me page to raise money for their park. (I'm not linking to any fundraiser, for a reason I'll explain shortly).  Many people  are watching April as they have spare moments.  In fact, when I logged on Monday evening, over 80,000 people were watching April live.  Now, at about 6am, it is about 44,000 viewers.

Why the fuss?

April, a 15 year old giraffe, is pregnant, and should be delivering her 4th calf any time  now.  Maybe any minute now, because her baby bump is quite evident and you can see ripples of movement.   Her mate, Oliver, waits patiently in a nearby enclosure.  (Why not together?  Male giraffes are aggressive and may injure their mates.  They are allowed brief visits - I've seen one on the cam - and Oliver is watched carefully during those visits.)

However, there are those who don't believe in confining wild animals in this way.  The owners would state, in return, that Animal Adventure is an interactive educational facility. I have not visited it but I have seen the owners out in the community at various events.  They obviously love what they are doing.

The owners decided to post the last days of April's confinement online, and you can determine the conditions these two giraffes are being kept in.    I am not qualified to do that, but I can see where I will end up with comments both pro and com.  I welcome them, just asking that you keep them polite and respectful of me and other commenters.

Her food and water are out of camera range, in case you are wondering.  And, yes, she and Oliver are permitted outside time, as weather permits.  This is still, after all, winter.

Here are some facts from the You Tube posting:

"The calf will weigh around 150lb and will be about 6' tall at birth.
The front hooves will come out first followed by the snout.

Mom will naturally raise the calf, with weaning could take between 6-10 months, maybe longer. We will not rush this process – it is just a documented range of captive weaning.

Once the calf is born, we will have a contest to name it.

Giraffes are pregnant for 15 months

Upon naturally weaning, the calf will move on to another facility to start a breeding program there. We cannot retain offspring, as it would lead to incestuous mating and undermine the genetics of the program and species.

They eat hay and specialized giraffe diet but love romaine lettuce and carrot treats."

But, there is more to this than watching a giraffe.

If you go to You Tube, you will notice that comments for the cam have had to be disabled.  In fact, last week, someone reported the cam feed as having "nudity and explicit content" and it was taken down for a time.  While they were allowing comments, the trolls (you won't find any at the park, by the way) were quite active.

And, the fundraising?  There have been people putting up fake You Tube and funding sites.  People have been scammed.  In a live chat on You Tube last night, there was some discussion about that.  If you do want to donate, I strongly suggest you make sure it is the real park site first.

So, what do you think of April, and her giraffe cam?  It seems to me Animal Adventure has been educating us just as much about human behavior as animal behavior.  Sad.  This giraffe cam has taught us lessons, all right.

Not just the lessons the owners of Animal Adventure wanted us to learn.

UPDATE 3/6/17: There is now a website devoted to April - please be careful that you go to the official website, which is http://www.aprilthegiraffe.com/

And if you want to read about Oreos, I'll be happy to post about them on Thursday.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Music Monday - Bill Paxton

Actor Bill Paxton died yesterday at the age of 61.  His roles were many and varied, including a major role in one of my son's favorite movies, Twister.

Here are some of his best roles.

I wondered if there were any music videos that Bill Paxton appeared in so I could blog about him today.  Sure enough, I found one, by a group popular in the 1980's called New Order.

Touched by the Hand of God shows a young Bill Paxton and Ray Dawn Chong, daughter of  comedian Tommy Chong.

But it gets better.  Do you remember a song called Fish Heads, by Barnes & Barnes?  (If not, you may not want to watch this.  If you remember the song, you may not want to watch this either.  If you like bizarre stuff, though, definitely watch it.)  Bill Paxton was in that video, too.

Here is some more information about the musical side of Bill Paxton.

RIP, Bill Paxton.  Another actor dead too young.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Civil War Sunday -Two Tales of a Tubman

History is not a selection of boring dates and facts.  History is the story of us, the human race.

History is full of people whose stories are as fascinating as anything you will ever find in fiction.

The American Civil War period (1861-1865 and the years before and after) are full of fascinating stories of people who, in another age, may have gone unnoticed.  But here they were, in unusual or hard times, and they changed the course of the human race.

Last Sunday, I blogged about a great man, born a slave, who became an orator, an abolitionist, a supporter of women's right to vote, an educator, and a newspaperman (among other things).  Frederick Douglass had many links with my native New York State.  So many stories of history are just around the corner, or mere miles away, from where you live.

Today, while thinking about upstate New York, I think about a woman, also born into slavery, who accomplished so much:  Harriet Tubman.  So I had this post partially written when realized that I had blogged about Tubman before, in September of 2014.  So, readers, you have two Tubman stories for the price (so to speak) of one.

Ms. Tubman was born a slave in Maryland, as Douglass had been.  Her original name was Araminta Harriet Ross.  Like Douglass, she did not know exactly when she was born - it is estimated she was born between 1820 and 1825.

Unlike Douglass, Tubman's early life was full of physical abuse, including a head injury inflicted as a punishment as a teen causing her seizures, narcolepsy and other permanent injuries.

After her owner died, Tubman feared for her future - she was sickly, and her economic value as a slave was limited by the injuries she suffered as she was growing up.  Think of her, fearing for her future.  "Just" a slave woman, what could she do about it?

A lot.  Tubman was fortunate enough to live in Maryland, a slave state that bordered Pennsylvania, a free state.  If she made it to Pennsylvania, she would be free.  Tubman successfully escaped slavery in 1849.  Like Douglass, she was able to flee to Pennsylvania.

How did she do it?  She was guided by dedicated opponents of slavery, the Quakers, who, with others, had set up a network called the Underground Railroad.  Walking at night, Tubman would be guided by the North Star, ever further north.  The guides were called "conductors".  She would sleep in hidden basement hiding places at night.   She walked from Maryland into Delaware (another slave state) and finally, into Pennsylvania.  This journey several hours long by car today, took Tubman some seven weeks.

If you were a slave finally free, would you ever go back to slave territory?

Tubman received word that family members were about to be sold.  She went back and guided them to safety.   Again and again, a total of 11 times, Tubman went back into slave territory to guide slaves to freedom, literally risking her life.  She was called "Moses" by some admirers and "The General" by others.  She rescued her brothers, a cousin, and others.

Eventually, slave owners put a $40,000 bounty on her head.  In 2017, many Americans don't even make $40,000. a year.  Back then, $40,000. was a fortune.

Tubman was never caught.  Everyone she "conducted" made it to freedom safely.

During the Civil War, Tubman both acted as a scout and spy, and also guided the Combahee River Raid, which liberated more than 700 slaves in South Carolina.  It is possible that Tubman was the only woman who led a military action during the war.  Tubman was never able to get an official government pension for her service during the war, one of many injustices she suffered during her life.  Congress ended up passing a bill, just for her, to receive a pension, starting around 1897.

Tubman's association with upstate New York started before the war began.  Then-Senator William Seward (the same Seward responsible for the purchase of Alaska from the Russians) sold Tubman a plot of land near Auburn, in the Finger Lakes.

After the war, she lived in this house with her second husband, and an adopted daughter.  Eventually, Tubman started to care for the elderly and infirm in her house, herself suffering from her health problems.
Harriet Tubman's barn

In 1903, Tubman donated a parcel of her land to the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Auburn, which still owns the property today. The Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged opened in 1908, and Tubman ended up living in that facility.
Harriet Tubman's grave - her daughter is buried nearby
Tubman died there in 1913 and is buried in Auburn.

Over the years, Tubman has been more and more admired.  In the next few years, she will be the first woman to be featured on American paper money, the $20. bill, replacing President Andrew Jackson.  And her property will become a National Historic Park.

The recognition is way overdue.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Local Saturday - Spring Ends

We are having a thunderstorm, here in upstate New York, as I blog.
Vestal Rail Trail, February 19

This is why people come to my blog in February - to see sights like this.
Lenten Rose - finally blooming!

Not to see sights like this.

My bulbs are coming up. 

Crocus 2-24, Binghamton (not mine) - Look for the small purple thing
Yesterday (not able to take a picture) I saw snowdrops blooming in another yard.

Today, I saw a dandelion.

This past week, one of my spouse's co workers saw three robins.

We've been hearing geese migrating back north the last several days, honking loudly.

When it gets back below freezing tonight, with possible mixed participation (freezing rain/sleet/snow), they are going to be really confused, those poor robins and geese.

But for us, we know better.  Mother Nature knows it is February.  She has given us a break.

It's over.  Time for winter to take over once more.

Tomorrow - A Civil War Sunday post. 

Friday, February 24, 2017

Skywatch Friday - A February Sunrise

Here are some pictures of the sunrise on February 23, as I left for work.  We are in, as is much of the United States, an unseasonable warm spell.

The first picture, obviously, was taken facing the east.

A couple of blocks away, the sunrise progresses.

Right after the second picture, I faced the west.  Part of the joy of the sunrise is seeing the color changes in the opposite direction.

And, just a couple of minutes later, the colors shift.

Visit #SkywatchFriday and see pictures of the sky from all over the world.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

How Winter Used to Be

On February 24, 2014, I posted the below blog post.

That was in the good ol' days when winter was winter.

I still own this warm LL Bean coat, but I haven't had to wear it too many times this winter. 
That isn't to say that we haven't had a winter this year.  On February 12, this was the scene in our front yard - something we call "heart attack snow" as it is so heavy.

 But this is the forecast for today. Possible thunderstorms?

And what about tomorrow?

Tomorrow, February 24, 2017, it is expected to get up around 70 degrees F (21 C) here in Binghamton, New York. 
How wonderful it is to walk on sidewalks not encrusted in dirty snow along the sides.  How wonderful it is to cross the street without dodging snow piles.

Some people love winter, but I am not one of them.

We in the United States, in the midst of an unbelievable warmup, continue to wonder "is this for real?  Or will it end in a bad way?"  Well, another snowstorm is on its way.  Surprise.

So today, a reminder to us of how a normal winter used to be like, just three years ago.  And if you have a good customer service story to share, please feel free.

The L.L. Bean Coat

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

This experience, though, has to be a first.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And maybe, one day, it will really be spring.  Meantime, tonight, it is supposed to dip down to 10 above (-12.2 C), and by Wednesday, 3 above (-16.1 C) .  If you see someone with a blotchy white/ivory coat walking around Binghamton, you'll know who it is.

Have you had a really good customer service experience?

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Winter Wednesday - Lenten Rose

I have a Lenten Rose in my Binghamton, New York - area garden.  It's been trying to bloom for some six weeks.

Bloom where you are planted, the saying goes.  But what if you keep trying, and can't?

It gets covered by snow.  It gets uncovered.  It gets covered by snow.

Now, we are in a most unseasonable warm wave.  By "we", I mean much of the United States.  Today, we are preparing to experience possible record warmth, on this day that, years ago, would have been a Federal holiday - the birthday of George Washington. 60 (15.5 C) wouldn't be a record, but it would be close.  This is not February weather.  Except, in our new normal, it apparently is.

This weekend, the snow started to melt, and the flowers were exposed again.  This is not necessarily a good thing,as our maple syruping season may end much before it begins.  You can already see the sap flowing in some of the trees (their branch tips get a certain glow.)  Or, as happened last year, trees may bloom prematurely, and never recover.

Could spring be on its way?  Or is this another false alarm?

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Still Dreaming the Impossible Dream

Every gardener has his or her impossible dream.  Some of us try to grow a plant that the experts say just can't be grown, just to see if it could be done.

Years ago, when my spouse was in the military, we were stationed in Wichita, Kansas.   There, we met a fellow airman, Jim.  Jim had grown up in West Virginia.  He missed two things terribly:  bluegrass and azaleas.  Neither grow well in Wichita, a hot, windy climate.

Jim tried.  And he failed.  But he tried.

For me, in zone 5b upstate New York near Binghamton, the impossible dream is the camilla, a beautiful flower that is not supposed to grow here.  The climate isn't right.  It gets too cold.  I thought I saw one once in Brooklyn, although it was past the blooming season.   But Brooklyn is in hardiness zone 6b.  I've never seen one here in the Binghamton area.

So, of course, spouse and I decided we had to try.

In April of 2015, my spouse and I traveled to a camilla nursery in North Carolina where they specialize in cold hardy camillas.  We bought one, called April Rose.

After the buds already formed opened and bloomed, new buds grew.

In 2016, despite animals (we suspect squirrels), our camilla bloomed, for the first time, on upstate New York flower buds.

But, after that, buds never grew in the summer of 2016.  I suspect the plant isn't getting enough sun in our back yard, where we had to put it so it would have a chance to survive the winter.

This is what our April Rose looked like on February 18.  No buds.

It will not bloom this April.  Maybe, buds will grow or next year.

You know what?  I'm still dreaming that impossible dream, that April Rose will bloom again for me one day.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Music Monday - President's Day

Today is a Federal holiday, one that is observed in all states but in various ways.

In honor of the Presidents of the United States, here is a short musical tribute.

Abraham, Martin and John - a song sung by Dion, pays tribute to two Presidents cut down by assassins, Martin Luther King, Jr. and President Kennedy's brother, Bobby, also cut down by assassins.

Happy Days, a song that was picked up as a campaign song by the longest serving of all our Presidents, Franklin Roosevelt: was previously the subject of one of my blog posts.

In this political climate, it is instructive to travel back into the 1970's, another age of unrest and fear, to talk about another President, Richard Nixon.  "Justice Don't Be Slow", by Steppenwolf.  Nixon was the first and only President to resign.  His Vice President also had to resign.

This final song is a song from the Civil War era and happens to be, even today, the state song of the State of Maryland.  It sings indirectly about the Federal President during the Civil War (Abraham Lincoln; see above), who is described as a despot. (The history behind this song would make an interesting Civil War Sunday).  This version has the official lyrics prior to last year, when certain edits were made, 151 years after the war ended.

There are lots more songs to choose from if you are interested.  Do you have any to add?

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Civil War Sunday -Let's Have Tea

After a nearly two year hiatus, I am starting up, at least for the remainder of February, and all of March, my United States Civil War Sunday feature.   Although I am not a historian, I have always been interested in history.  After all, history is the story of all of us, past and present - not just events, but people.

And who doesn't like a good story about a great person?

I firmly believe that if we don't remember the lessons of history, we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes that past generations did.

A man by the name of Frederick Douglass died on February 20, 1895.  Our country could use him today.

On February 1, someone in high office said something that seemed to imply that Douglass was still alive.  His descendants decided to turn that into a teachable moment. 

It is my pleasure to introduce you, my reader (knowing that some of you are not from the United States) to this most remarkable man who had many ties with my native New York State.

Frederick Douglass never knew his exact birth date.  He was born into slavery in Maryland sometime during February of 1818. His original name was Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey.  He barely knew his mother, whom he was separated from at an early age (not uncommon with slaves in that area) and was raised by his grandmother. His birth mother died when Douglass was 10.

At around the age of 12, the young Douglass was hired out to a man living in Baltimore, Hugh Auld, brother of Douglass's owner Thomas Auld. Hugh Auld and his wife were not experienced slave keepers, which may explain what happened next.

Hugh Auld's wife started to teach Douglass the alphabet.  I can not emphasize here the importance of this act - slaves were not permitted literacy, and in many places, teaching a slave to read or write was a crime.  Any slave, in turn, who was literate had to hide that fact or risk heavy punishment or even death.

Imagine that your love of reading must be kept secret, as you have no right to be literate.

Soon enough, Hugh Auld convinced his wife that teaching Douglass was a mistake.  But it was too late.  In secret, Douglass taught himself to read and write, using various resources, including a school primer owned by Hugh Auld's son, and the Bible.  Later, as a teenager, he was hired out to another man and started an underground slave school for the other neighborhood slaves.  He was caught and brutally punished by being hired out to a known "slave breaker".  Almost psychologically broken, he still managed to survive the experience.

Eventually, in 1838, Douglass was able to escape to the free state of Pennsylvania and then onward to free New York City.  He married (he and his first wife were together for 44 years) and they settled in Massachusetts, another free state.

Douglass eventually took the last name of "Douglass" from a poem, The Lady of the Lake, by Walter Scott.  While still living in Massachusetts, he joined the abolitionist movement - a movement to abolish slavery.  By the early 1840's, Douglass was traveling frequently and giving the most eloquent speeches many had ever heard.

Some people didn't even believe he had ever been a slave, so Douglass decided to write the first of several autobiographies to educate the public about his origins and early life story.  This book, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave (published in 1845), is in the public domain here and in most countries.  If you look online, and it is legal, you will find PDFs of it on many websites.  It is about 108 pages.

Keep in mind that Douglass, at this point, is still an escaped slave.  It was quite possible his owner, Thomas Auld, could hire people to capture him and bring him back to slavery.  After all, he was Auld's property.  So, also in 1845, just as the Irish Potato Famine was starting, Douglass traveled to Ireland and Britain, and spent the next two years there.  There are several historical plaques in Britain and Ireland commemorating that visit.  More importantly, British supporters raised enough money  and Douglass was able to purchase his freedom from Thomas Auld.

Returning to the United States in 1845, he began his association with upstate New York, particularly the upstate New York cities of Seneca Falls and Rochester. If you are interested in learning more about Douglass, many of his other writings are online, free to read.  Or, you can watch a 44 minute "living history" depiction of Douglass produced by a Virginia TV station.

During the Civil War (1861-1865), three of Douglass's sons served in the military.  One became a First Sargent and anther a Sargent-Major.  The third was a recruiter. 

Douglass fought for many causes, including improving the lot of the nation's former slaves (they were all freed after the Civil War), education, and women's right to vote.  He used words, not violence, to advance the causes he believed in.  I must also point out that his beliefs were sometimes complicated, and contradictory.

Douglass believed in the young art of photography, and was the most photographed man, it is said, of the 19th century.

Politically, Douglass was the first African American to be nominated for Vice-President (he did not support this, and did not campaign) and the first African American man to receive a vote for President.

In addition to his work in the abolitionist movement, Douglass also did much work in the women's suffrage movement.  If you are a woman in the United States, you owe much to Frederick Douglass.

Here is another part of this amazing life story: In 1877, knowing his former owner Thomas Auld was dying, Frederick Douglass traveled to Auld's side and they reconciled.  I don't know if I could ever have done that if I had been a former slave.  Could you have?
Which brings me to these statues.

Douglass lived for about 25 years in Rochester, New York, also the home of suffragist Susan B. Anthony.  Near Anthony's home is a small park, and there, you will find this statue, called "Let's Have Tea".  Here, Anthony and Douglass's statues...well, they have tea.  A black former slave and a white school teacher having tea as equals?  That, in itself, would have been a revolutionary act.

Douglass died on February 20, 1895, in Washington, DC, shortly after visiting a meeting of the National Council of Women, and receiving the last standing ovation of his life.

Douglass is buried in Rochester, New York.  Here is his grave in Mt. Hope Cemetery.
Mural of the Douglass-Anthony Bridge, Trader Joes, Pittsford, New York
Also in Rochester is the Frederick Douglass-Susan B. Anthony Bridge.

Although our nation's leader may have incorrectly implied that Douglass was still alive, he was right in one respect.  The vision of Frederick Douglass is alive.  His courage in learning to read and escaping slavery still inspires us.  His supporting the rights of minorities and the rights of women continue to be carried forward by those who still believe in his vision. He taught that protest must always be peaceful, and that we must never give up when protesting for a just cause.

Next year will mark the 200th anniversary of Douglass's unknown birthday - and we can even hope that our President will wholeheartedly join in.

Come to think of it - yes, in a way, maybe Frederick Douglass is still alive - in all of us.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Local Saturday - One Building at a Time

I originally blogged this in 2013 and reran this in 2014.

The years have not been kind to the area of upstate New York where I live.  Nor have they been kind to many other areas of our country.  Major employers have downsized, moved operations overseas, or disappeared. (By the way, did you know that IBM and Whirlpool both got their start in Binghamton, New York?)

What follows is the story of one of many historic buildings in Binghamton, New York that still, despite urban renewal, sit in ruins.  Patiently, this building waits for its fate.  Some four years after I first published this post it still sits, empty.   Some would call it a symbol of our country.

I say this in a non partisan way:  our infrastructure badly needs to be rebuilt.  We need to concentrate on local buildings and road, and on bringing back local jobs.  The question, of course, is "how"?  And, at what cost?

Perhaps doing it one building at a time will start the journey.

Here's my post:  

"From Edward G. Robinson to Ruin".

What do Eddie Foy, Ethel and John Barrymore, Sara BernhardtGeorge M. Cohan, Teddy Roosevelt and Edward G. Robinson's first professional stage performance have in common?

Answer:  this building in downtown Binghamton, New York.
Stone Opera House in 2013
This is the Stone Opera House on Chenango Street.  It was a grand old opera house once, but its flag waving days are long over.  This 120 year old plus building, neglected and possibly close to its final days, patiently sits as passerbys walk by without a glance.  It's the shame of Binghamton.

In the 1930's it became the Riviera Theatre, and closed for good in 1973.  Now it sits, rotting and boarded up.

This is what it looked like once.

Actually, there are abandoned theaters all over this country.  Can we ever hope for someone to rescue this building and do something for it?  As of today, to the best of my knowledge - nothing has happened.

Even as crumbling buildings downtown are renovated and turned into student housing, the Stone Opera House waits.  And waits.

Sometimes, I wish I was very rich....

Friday, February 17, 2017

Skywatch Friday - Pink Skies

Only one more month until St. Patrick's Day.

I'm not about to post pictures of a green sky.  But pink, well, that's another story.

Yesterday morning, I left my house in upstate New York to commute to work. I was just in time to see the last seconds of a pink dawn sky.

After an exercise walk at the nearby shopping mall, I was greeted by a pre-sunset sky, the clouds lit up by the setting sun.
It's so nice to go home in light.

Visit Skywatch Friday for other pictures from all over the world.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Taste of Alternate History

In elementary school, social studies was my favorite subject.  By the time I was 10 years old, I had also discovered science fiction.

My introduction to science fiction was a book by Robert Heinlein called Have Spacesuit Will Travel, and then to what I consider as soft science fiction - the Barsoom series of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

It was love at first read.

Contrary to popular opinion, science fiction isn't just about space travel and interacting with alien races.   It is said that science fiction is the literature of change.  It is certainly the literature of ideas.

Somewhere along the line, I discovered a book called The Man in the High Castle, by Phillip K. Dick, and was introduced to two new genres - dystopian literature, and alternate history.

In The Man in the High Castle, Phillip K. Dick imagined an alternate world which diverged from ours when Franklin Roosevelt was assassinated in 1933.  In our world, Roosevelt survived that assassination attempt but the Mayor of Chicago was killed.

In that alternate world, where Roosevelt died,  the Allies lost World War II.  The Nazis and the Japanese conquered the United States, and divided it up between themselves. Now, it is the 1960's and.... (Note: if you've seen the Amazon.com series, be aware that it differs from the book in many ways).  So, alternate history works simply - imagine something happens that didn't happen in our timeline.  Then what happens?  It's lots of fun.

Even Stephen King has written in a genre that could be related to alternate history - a book called 11/22/63, a strange type of historical novel with strong elements of time travel.

Anyway - as I blogged about earlier this week, my local library gave me a Valentine's Day gift - a book by Harry Turtledove, who is a prolific writer of alternate history.

My favorites of his?  A series called Worldwar.  If I told you the plot, you might run - but please don't.  It's 1942, we are fighting World War II, and alien lizard like creatures invade Earth.  Yes, really.  It works, especially because of the detailed research Turtledove obviously undertook. 

While researching something for my blog, I found a free story by Turtledove posted online.  So now, here is a gift for you, my reader:  a short story by Harry Turtledove. You can call it a soft introduction to alternate history.  I caught onto it pretty quickly, but I still enjoyed its depiction of an elderly woman, one who lives in a world just slightly different than ours.

And that made all the difference.

Do you read/enjoy alternate history?  What books are your favorites?

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day February 2017

On the 15th of every month, Carol, an Indiana garden blogger, hosts a meme called Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, which is a sneaky way to make us keep a garden journal.

 I know some areas of the country have had an early spring.  Carol's is one of them.

Not here.

It is February in my upstate New York zone 5b garden, meaning there are no flowers outside.  Snow rules.  And today is no exception. Actually, underneath the snow, I know I have a lenten rose trying to bloom.

Maybe this weekend I'll see the plant again.

Until then, all I can show you is what is inside my house.
A Phalaenopsis, a present to myself for Valentine's Day.
We bought another plant for my mother in law.

Once again, African Violets save the day.  This is the end of one plant's flowering....

....and the beginning of another plant's bloom.

Meanwhile, the Persian Shield plant I brought inside in the fall is just barely hanging on, but it is blooming.  I could only get blurry photos out of my iPhone (these blooms are small).

And two of my Thanksgiving cactuses have buds on them.

Finally, here is my snow covered Lenten Rose as it looked earlier this week, when we were between snowstorms.

Just think, only two more months till spring (don't believe the calendar if you live up North).

Visit May Dreams Gardens and see what is blooming all over the world.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

My Library Valentine

We all want to be loved and appreciated.  Some of us will celebrate Valentine's Day today.  I'd like to send you, my readers, a couple of virtual Valentines today to show that I appreciate you.

Flowers and balloons.
Is this better?  (Come back tomorrow, for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, and see what I bought myself for Valentine's Day).

But, last week, I got an unexpected gift of all for Valentine's Day, and today, I opened it.

A couple of Saturdays ago, I had gone to the Johnson City, New York library (which is called Your Home Library) and saw a display of wrapped books.  The sign invited me to pick one.  To my delight, the library told me it was mine to keep.

I love alternate history, and I thought I knew what the book was.

I was wrong, but it was by an author I am quite familiar with.  I've read a number of his books.  Fortunately, not this one.

Harry Turtledove has written some excellent books.  And some not so excellent books.  We'll see which this belongs to.

The best part, though, was coming back this past Saturday, finding several unclaimed Valentines remained, and getting one for my guest photographer.  I hope she enjoys her cat related mystery.

Tell someone important in your life today that you love, or appreciate, them.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Music Monday - Al Jarreau

Multiple Grammy-award winning artist Al Jarreau died yesterday at the age of 76.
Jarreau, active to the end of his life, he had only retired from touring last week.  Next month, he would have turned 76.

Here are some videos you may enjoy.

Morning.  Al Jarreau always seemed so happy.  We need that so much today.

After All.  So smooth.  So delicious.

We're In This Love Together.

And finally, a jazz classic- Spain (I Can Recall).  Just listen to the lyrics.

Another great gone. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Everything's Political In Its Own Way

As we become increasingly polarized in the United States, even small acts like watching television have become political.

 The popular TV satirical show Saturday Night Live, on for over 40 years, now ratchets up its satires of the new Administration in our country.

Now, even the Super Bowl, which once was a championship football game eagerly awaited by fans, who partied and watched the game and commercials (and non-fans who partied and watched the commercials) has become political.

Here is a comprehensive list and links to some of these (and other) Super Bowl commercials.

If you don't have the time, here are a couple by themselves:

A commercial originally aired in 2014 by Coca-Cola was rerun, to much controversy.

Then, there was a commercial so controversial that the TV network showing the Super Bowl required an edited version.  The full version (above) is available on You Tube and runs a bit over five minutes.  Over 10 million views, and if you want to see the Internet in action, just read the reviews (or, perhaps, don't.)

February 12 used to be celebrated as the birthday of our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln. We haven't forgotten that Lincoln was President during a time when the United States was at war with itself.  Over 700,000 dead later, the states that seceded lost the war, and, today, we are a nation of 50 states.

Days after the war ended, Lincoln was assassinated by someone who sympathized with the rebels.

What we call the Civil War, others The War Between the States, and still others (still) the War of Northern Aggression is in our DNA.

The United States is at a crossroads.  More than ever, those who supported the man who is now our President and those who did not are at odds with each other.  So much so, that families and friendships have been torn apart.  People debate at work.  I find myself resenting those who voted a certain way, and I'm not the only one.  On both sides.

Our country has been in terrible situations before.  Perhaps, from history, we can learn some lessons before we tear ourselves apart.

I am therefore going to restart my Civil War Sunday feature, which ran from 2011 to 2015 (the 150th anniversary of that war) with two new Civil War Sundays.  The first one, next Sunday, will be on Frederick Douglass (because, apparently, some in our country think he is still alive.  Another Mandela Effect situation?)  I may continue this into March, with some selected reruns.

I can promise no less on Lincoln's birthday.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Local Saturday-A Library Valentine

Last Saturday, I visited the local Johnson City, New York public library.
February 2017
Two years ago I blogged about this library and admitted that I rarely visited it.  It's small, and it isn't (sorry) in the best location.  I did visit a couple of other libraries in our area - we are fortunate to have several,

Times change.  Needs change.

When my developmentally disabled brother in law moved up here later in 2015, we found Your Home library was a good fit for him.  We took him there for a few months.  Then, I found it is just the right size for me when I want to find some good things to read without a lot of effort.

Like last Saturday.

One thing this library has is a beautiful sun room, where they display books recommended by librarians and others. Can you resist this room?  Be honest.

See that display in the middle?  Here is part of it, close up.  Even full size, I know it is hard to read.  But you can see a display of "mystery books", each described on a Valentine cut out. (Sorry, I can't make it bigger.)

A sign invited readers to choose a book, so I did.

I took my wrapped choice, and my other selections, to the circulation desk.  I received a surprise there.

My other books were checked out.  Then, still in the wrapper, the clerk handed the wrapped book back to me.

"It's yours to keep", the checkout clerk said.  "Take all the time you want.  If you like it, keep it.  If you don't want to keep it, feel free to donate it back to the library."

Wasn't that sweet?  This small Your Home Library gave ME a Valentine!  The best kind, too (next to chocolate - spouse, don't get any strange ideas.)

From the description on the Valentine of my book, I suspect I know what book it is.  I don't own it, and I haven't read it in a long time (if it is the book I think it is) but it was the book that turned me on to alternate history.  If so, what a gift.

It also reminded me that it's been a while since my brother in law with autism, "B", asked to go to the library.

Now, if you have a public library in your area, it's your turn.  It's easy to give a library a Valentine back.

Take books, DVD's, audiobook, or other items they lend out (our local libraries' funding somewhat depends on the volume of use). Return them on time, without damage.  Take advantage of their programs-if yu have children or grandchildren, take them to story time.  It's one of the best gifts you can give a young person.  Shop at their library book sales.

Also know that libraries do so much more than lend books.  They help people look for work.  They provide databases that would cost money if we subscribed to them ourselves.  They provide Internet to people who can't afford it otherwise.  Some even lend seeds (although ours no longer does).

Support your local library.  It's always there for you, but that may not be true one day.

What was your most memorable gift book?

Friday, February 10, 2017

Skywatch Friday - Snow Moon Eve

Today features a rare combination - a lunar eclipse, a snow moon, and a comet.

Here's more on this rare combination.
On what I could call "Snow Moon Eve" (last night) I took this picture of the moon rising over a snow covered small upstate New York community. 

Here is another view of yesterday's snow. 

To see pictures of the sky all over the world, visit other bloggers participating in #SkywatchFriday.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

February Flowers

What this world needs is more flowers.

Here in upstate New York, it was warm yesterday.  We had a record high of 48F (8.8 Celsius) and our snow mostly melted (just in time for another snowstorm).

In my backyard, a Lenten Rose has been trying to bloom for the past month.  The snow falls.  The snow melts.  The snow falls.  The snow melts.  We used to get January thaws here, but then winter rolled right back in.  This winter, the fall and melt pattern has kept up all winter.
This is what the lenten rose looked like at sundown last night.  It's still trying to bloom..

It's determined.

Meanwhile, both of my pansy plants are still alive and well, although neither are blooming.

This morning, the snow is back, the temperature is 22 (-5.5C) and, it feels like 11 (-11.5 C) with the wind chill.  It's still dark, so no snow photos for you.

Welcome back, winter.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Winter Wednesday - Snow and Resolutions

Today, a photo of a dead tree in a frozen over swamp in rural Broome County, New York, for my blog readers who love snow.

This was taken by my "guest photographer" in a swampy area which is frozen over, so my guest photographer was able to get "up close and personal" with this and other dead tree roots sticking out of the ice.

So, what does that have to do with the other thing I want to talk about today?

I read a blog post yesterday that made me think.   

"February 7 is the day we give up".

That's right.  We start the year with the best of intentions.  We start out at full speed, with the best of intentions.  But, before you know it, we realize it is going to take time, and work, to reach our goals. We say "the heck with it." And that happens...around February 7.

I had this word for the year....what was it, again?  Oh yes.  Determination.

I had already forgotten it.

But yesterday, something interesting happened to me.  It was drizzling, and the temperature was right at freezing.  The conditions were right for freezing drizzle.   I knew that was a possibility as I started my commute to work.

I'm scared of ice.   But I ended up having to walk on some sidewalks yesterday that were just starting to ice up.  I didn't have ice cleats on, and my balance (despite the balance exercises I do) isn't the best.  I was so tempted to freeze (no pun intended) in place the first time I started to slide.  But I knew I had to keep moving.

I made it to my destination.

Once there, we talked about some serious things in a meeting, but also shared a couple of jokes.

That's more advice from the post I read yesterday- remember to laugh and have a good time.

I will remain determined, and I will remember to be grateful, and to laugh, every day.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Mandela Effect

Did you know that Nelson Mandela died in prison sometime in the 1980's?

If you do know that, you aren't alone.

I first heard of the Mandela Effect this past New Year's Eve when my adult son came to visit us for a couple of hours.  Over some food, he asked "remember the Berenstain Bears?"  I sure did.  We owned several of the book series.  They were a favorite of son's when he was young enough to be read to.

"How do you spell Berenstain?" son asked, innocently.  He knows I am a terrible speller, but my spouse is excellent in that skill.  So I tried to dredge up the memory of one of the covers, and saw "Berenstein".

"Berenstein", I responded, confident.  I saw it in my mind's eye.  It was so obvious.

"No", said son, "it's Berenstain".  For the next five minutes, we argued back and forth.  I was so positive.

I was also so wrong.

And so are a lot of other people.

Son then told me about the Mandela Effect.  It's named after a common belief that Nelson Mandela died in prison, instead of being released, and living long enough (he died in 2013) to be the President of South Africa from 1994 to 1998.

Apparently, many of us have common memories of things that never existed.  Never happened. 

There are lots of common memories we hold that drift into Mandela Effect territory.  The Berenstain misspelling. A painting of King Henry VIII holding a turkey leg. The famous movie request "Play it again, Sam."  The name Coca Cola not hyphenated.  A movie released in the 90's called "Shazaam", starring the comedian Sinbad.  It's so clear in our memories.

Nope.  False memories.  Didn't say that.  Wasn't spelled that way.  Logo didn't change.  Item never existed. 

There's even a Reddit group for these discussions.

That New Year's Eve, I ended up going to a website that blamed this phenomena on the Devil (seriously). But, as a reader of science fiction, I don't buy into the "alternate reality" theory, either.  I think that our minds do play tricks on us.  As we are all human, we are basically wired in the same way.

Still, it is a strange phenomenon.

What do you think?  I'm wondering if this happens worldwide, so if you aren't a reader in the United States, I'd especially like to hear from you.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Music Monday - They Are the Champions

Our Super Bowl last night may have been one of the most exciting ever, with a come behind victory by a team famed for its come behind victories.  It literally had to go into overtime, the first time ever.

Now that we have survived the Super Bowl, how about some sports oriented music?

I'm thinking here of songs I used to hear at our minor league baseball games in Binghamton, New York. We would be entertained during the game, especially during the "7th inning stretch" where fans would get up between innings, stretch, move around and even dance.

So the music was dance music.

Cotton Eye Joe:  for years, this song, as sung by the Scandinavian group Rednex used to entertain us at the Binghamton Mets (Double A baseball) games.  Alas, the Binghamton Mets are no more; they were renamed at the end of last season.  They are now called the Rumble Ponies (don't ask).  At least they weren't renamed the Stud Muffins.

Then there was Lazy Mary, by Lou Monte. This song is a remake of the Italian tarantella  "Luna Mezzo Mare", and has quite an interesting history.

For some years, before the game began, the B-Mets management would play Renegades of Funk, as covered by Rage Against the Machine.  This song has an interesting history, which actually involves a neighborhood near where I grew up in the Bronx.

But the song perhaps most associated with sports may well be this gem from Queen.  The 1977 "We Are the Champions."  This morning, this is again the theme song of the team that won the Superbowl

So congrats to the New England Patriots.

What songs do you associate with sports?

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Snow Snow Snow

I made a promise to a number of my blog readers, who live in places that never see snow, that I would share some of the snow here in upstate New York with them.

In fact, they can have all of it.  Kidding.  I think.  In our harsher winters, I wouldn't be.

Today, I am keeping my promise to share the snow.  Readers from warmer climes, prepare yourselves.

It makes you look at your world in a new way when you think of something so common to you that is exotic to others.  

Dear readers in warm climes, we haven't had a really snowy winter so far here.  In fact, we've had stretches of days without any snow on the ground.  But, it is February, and, for us, that is the heart of winter. The snow is here.

These are some pictures I took in downtown Binghamton, New York on Friday morning.
Shrubs, downtown Binghamton, February 3

Bench, downtown Binghamton, February 3  

Left to right, Security Mutual Building, Civil War Monument, Broome County Courthouse
If that isn't enough snow for you, here are some of my favorite snow posts, for your enjoyment.

Oreo snow.  Yes, there is such a thing.  I think so, anyway.

Must Frosty die?

Great Glops of Snow.

The winter that's been a wonder. 

And finally, if you wonder if snow sneakers are a thing - they are. (I'm not into snowshoeing or skiing, by the way - I've never been into winter.  Alas.)  The snow sneakers in this post are still going strong, by the way.

Happy Sunday!