Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Wildflower Wednesday - The Season Starts to Wind Down

Late summer, and we are almost out of new wildflowers.  It is the last day of August - how time flies!  The goldenrod will probably be in bloom another week.  Purple loosestrife, as pretty as it is, haunts our wetlands.  Japanese knotweed continues its bloom.  I've featured these in previous posts.

Binghamton's Otsiningo Park, which I have featured in other posts, may have flooded thanks to Irene.  It usually floods after very heavy rains. I've been too busy, in all honesty, to check that out.  So I am, instead, featuring some photos taken a week ago, before Irene.  At this time of year there should be no change.

Milkweed pods abound.

My mystery grape leaf-like plant growing in a very shady area is putting on new growth.  I still don't know what this plant is, but it has already dropped its seeds, and they were definitely not grapes.

And now, for my mystery plant of the week.  Actually I have two of them.  This first one reminds me of purple loosestrife, but it is not growing in a wet area.  It isn't ironweed.  So what is it?

And finally, there is this mystery yellow flower.

Next week, I hope to check out Otsiningo Park (if I have time).

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Hollow Gold of Aging

Aging isn't easy and I'm only starting to enter the really bad part of the journey.

Earlier this summer, I was treated to a very honest post by a Cape Cod innkeeping couple.  Kudos to them.  It seems to be politically incorrect to admit that aging is not something to look forward to.  Baby boomers are supposed to be vital, "aging well".  We will be dancing when we are 90, when we aren't training for a marathon.


Aging isn't fun as anyone of a "certain age" knows.  For every tale I hear of an 85 year old woman walking, swimming and enjoying her great grandkids, there is one of an eighty-something year old crippled with arthritis, or drifting into the final stages of dementia.

With my mother in law up here due to the storm, I see this close up.  I am treated to her sharp memory and stories, but then I see her in pain, of her wanting so much to be up and about. Where she is staying there are too many stairs to climb to get to her bedroom. She needs a special toilet seat.  She misses her recliner - the motorized type that helps her up and down.

She values her independence but that independence comes at a higher and higher price each day.  The grab bars she depends on.  The "I've fallen" wristlet she wears.  The next fall she must dread, because she's fallen several times and each fall is harder to recover from.  Inside her head, I know she is 25 again.  But her body does not respond to her 25 year old thoughts. 

Sorry, but you aren't going to tell me there is anything golden about that.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Hurricane Irene and People with Autism - The Saga Continues

Last Friday I had blogged about the coming of Irene, and the fact that I have a brother in law with a developmental disability called autism.  I wondered how he would cope.  Like many people with autism, he finds it hard to communicate.  And, like most people with autism, he does not like disruptions in his routine.  None of us would want to evacuate, but for him, I thought it would be very difficult.

The reality is:  "it's complicated."

Saturday, my sister in law brought my mother in law and my brother in law up here to Binghamton (about 150 miles from the NYC area).  My MIL and BIL stayed with one family member and my SIL with us.  The couple of times our brother in law was over here, he did seem anxious but it was under control.  I don't know how long it will stay that way.

This was in his favor:
1.  He was with family, people he knew, at all times.
2.  He knew Irene was coming - so it wasn't unexpected.

3.  He's been up here before, and he has stayed in the house where is he sleeping before. 
4.  This may be speculation, but his previous visits were on weekends.  And this trip to safety was on a Saturday.  So in a way it was part of a routine - a routine that only occurs once or twice a year, but a routine nevertheless.
5.  (this one is important, I think.)  He was able to have privacy. And quiet. He is more or less left alone to watch TV. Again, that is part of a routine from when he visits up here.

Of course none of that would have happened in a shelter-especially the quiet, and the privacy. And, indeed, anybody with autism who has to end up in a shelter has a nightmare ahead of them.  My brother in law, frankly, lucked out.

But the routine of his normal visits up here won't last past today, because he normally leaves on Monday afternoon.  And here we are at Monday evening.

He won't be going to work at the sheltered workshop (the last I knew, he worked Tuesday and Thursday) tomorrow.   What happens when the week drags on?  Because the reality is, MIL's house downstate is still without power.   We got hold of a neighbor, who says conditions are pretty bad down there.  Trees down, roads out, things you would expect.  It would seem that at one point the center of Irene passed right over the village where she lives.  And, we can't take her back (the family member who brought them up had to leave) until the weekend.  We better hope she has power by then.

On top of everything, my brother in law has a cold and so he can't be feeling his best.

Over the weekend, many of us in the family were showing anxiety.  But now the storm is over, the sun is out, (in fact it is quite gorgeous) and we hope to get brother in law out tomorrow.

And, by the way, we all are safe.  No flooding. We never lost power.
We were lucky.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Civil War Sunday - Hurricanes, Earthquakes, and the Civil War

I was going to write about something totally different - but I am putting this up yesterday (Saturday) as by tomorrow we will be in the "fringe" areas of Irene and perhaps without power.  And my sister in law (and faithful reader of my blog) who evacuated from the NYC suburbs will be visiting our house in the Binghamton, NY area shortly.  So, this will have to be short in between getting ready for her visit.

I got to wondering, did any hurricanes affect military activities during the Civil War?  And the answer, of course, is "yes".

This National Geographic article talks about the "hurricanes of history" including a hurricane that disrupted Civil War naval operations in November of 1861.  As all those who follow the weather know, November is pretty late for a hurricane.

And, back to the present, a 150th anniversary Civil War event on Hatteras Island in North Carolina has been postponed to October - when a hurricane will be unlikely.

Unless the same thing happens that happened in 1861.....just showing how we are still just as much at the mercy of the weather as we were during the Civil War.

And not only that, what about earthquakes?  We had one earlier this week, with an epicenter in Virginia. Were there any during the Civil War?  Yes, and apparently it was centered in Virginia, too.  (this same site gives more information regarding hurricanes during the Civil War.)

What a difference (or not) 150 years makes.

Hurricane Irene Insomnia

The heavy rain woke me up this morning so a short post.  I am near Binghamton, NY (upstate NY) away from the shore, but we are receiving rain from Hurricane Irene now.  We will be getting heavy wind later this morning and that is the point where we would be in danger of losing our power.

My sister in law from downstate is here and I hope she is sleeping better than I am.  According to the Weather Channel, all the major highways in her area:  the Saw Mill, the Taconic-are closed.  I know that they had announced closings a couple of days ago of the Bronx River Parkway.  I feel for her, because she won't know what she is coming home to (home being a suburb of New York City) until she arrives home.  Same for my mother in law and brother in law, who are staying with another relative in this area.

When daylight comes (less than an hour) we will awaken to an interesting world.

We are under a wind advisory until 8pm and under a flood watch through "late tonight".  Our forecast:  tropical storm conditions possible.  Windy, etc.   Right now it is 66 degrees with gusts up to 31 miles per hour.

I am going to post this, and my Civil War post (already written) now.  If we still have power, I will try to post again sometime today.  If I can talk my sister in law into writing a guest blog for posting in early September (she is a blogger, too) I think that would be fun.  Otherwise, we have a lot of books in the house. 

Be well and safe, all my readers in the Irene zone!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Uncertainty in the Coming of Irene

Right now it sounds like the weather is going to be deteriorating faster for us than was first forecast. We are not in the hurricane zone itself but are under a flood watch, and the rain is going to be here tonight.  The good news is that my mother in law, and brother in law with autism who live in a suburb of NYC are being brought up here by my sister in law.  They will be staying with another relative locally. 

Now let's hope we don't lose power.

Ironically, Monday and Tuesday are supposed to be beautiful.

And, I have a cousin in law driving on I-95 right now from Rhode Island to NJ, so I hope she stays safe.

To all my readers in the hurricane zone, be safe.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Hurricane Irene and People with Autism

As my regular readers know, I have a brother in law with autism.  He lives with my elderly mother in law in the NY Metropolitan area.  Although he is obsessed with the weather and watches the Weather Channel continuously, he is also terrified of heavy rain, thunderstorms, and other forms of extreme weather.

And Hurricane Irene is on the way.

People with autism suffer greatly from natural disasters for a number of reasons.  People with autism (and these are generalities - I don't like to stereotype but I feel I need to here) tend to be very anxious.  They do not adapt well to any change in their routine.  A hurricane-well that is a big change from routine.  Many (not all) find it very hard to communicate - some, in fact, are not verbal.  My brother in law is verbal, but many of his thoughts are locked up inside of him.  And people with autism can be very sensitive to sensory stimulation - hearing, smell, vision.  Combine this with a hurricane, which would provide almost anyone with sensory overload, and you have a recipe for autism disaster.

At this point in time we are hoping a family member who lives a lot closer than we do will be able to stay with my mother in law and brother in law.

Some people with autism can communicate in writing, and do via blogs.  I found this blog post by a person with autism on Hurricane Irene (and this week's earthquake.)  It's interesting.

I don't think my brother in law would say it any better, if only he could.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Accessible Jose Reyes

Back in 2002, my son was young.  We would take him, a couple of times a year, to B-Met games.  The B-Mets or Binghamton Mets are the Double A farm team of the New York Mets.

As I've blogged before, minor league baseball is very different than major league baseball.  It is played in a family friendly small stadium atmosphere, with very few truly bad seats.  It is relatively inexpensive, and is a fun way to spend a summer day or night-especially when it is a fireworks game.  You are right up close to the action and even have a chance of catching a ball.

For a youngster, there was another fun part of the game.  Back in 2002, the ball players, after their warmups, would come to the fence separating the infield from the stands, and children would cluster, balls, programs, and pens in hand.   The ballplayers would autograph the balls!  For free!

If you were really lucky you ended up with autographs of players who later moved up to the major leagues.

One of those ball players in 2002 was a young B-Mets prospect by the name of Jose Reyes.  We were lucky enough to see him play and our son may have gotten his autograph-although those balls are mostly lost and the one we know about has very faded autographs. One thing for sure, he stood out from the other players back then, and shortly after we saw him, he was promoted to the major league Mets.   Jose Reyes, as anyone who follows baseball knows, is still with the NY Mets, and is a superstar.  An $11 million dollar superstar.

Tonight, Jose Reyes returns to NYSEG Stadium for a three game visit while he completes rehab for a hamstring injury.  Local Mets fans are going crazy.  He is, after all, returning to his original fans, the ones who came out to see him play before he was a household name.  And they will watch him from those close up seats and maybe even catch a ball he hits.

When he plays tonight, perhaps some of those children who stood by the fence waiting for him to sign autographs will return - as teens or as young adults - to cheer him on.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Wildflower Wednesday-On the Eve of the Hurricane

As earthquake chatter dies down, and we find ourselves in the possible path of Hurricane Irene (we wouldn't be struck by the hurricane but we might have wind gusts up to 70 mph), it is time for our thoughts to turn to....wildflowers.

Right now, although the sun still says "summer" our climate (zone 5, upstate NY on the edge of the Great Lakes snow belt) cries out "fall is almost here".  The wind has a little chill, the sun has to fight harder to warm us, the angle of the sun is a little more subdued.  And the wildflowers are transitioning into fall also.  So besides flowers, we have berries, such as these white berries on this mystery plant. (it isn't poison ivy.)

This is Japanese knotweed, a major source of pollen for bees this time of year.  It is almost impossible to get rid of once established but it sure is pretty.

A wild morningglory, light purple with stripes.

Purple loosestrife, the bane of wetlands.
Black walnuts (in their green husks), not quite ripe.  It looks like we are going to have a banner year for nut trees, judging from how loaded they look.
And finally - this may be Japanese knotweed growing at a different angle but I am not 100% sure.
Let's keep our fingers crossed that Irene does not devastate the East Coast and that we have wildflowers to look at next Wednesday (and not massive floods).

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Great Reaction of 2011

Well, this was a change of plans.  I was going to blog about someone living in the midwest (outside the "crepe myrtle" zone).  Everyone told her no, crepe myrtles (a large shrub I've blogged about before) won't grow in your area.  But no, she tried it anyway.  And guess what.  Her crepe myrtle grew and she called it her "beautiful Says Who tree.

I was going to talk about how maybe I should go for it and try to grow a crepe myrtle, although I don't know what zone she lives in.  Microclimes can only help you out so much.

But today we had an earthquake, and it was a lot more exciting than the earthquake I blogged about last year.

No, wait,  it wasn't the earthquake that was so exciting.  It was everyone's reactions.

This isn't my first earthquake but it was the scariest by far.  I was at my desk at work when suddenly the building lurched and things on my desk started swaying back and forth.  Even after the pit in my stomach cleared up, a co-worker's bouquet kept vibrating.

I thought at first someone had rammed into the building (that actually happened once) but when the motion kept going, I realized it was an earthquake.

People evacuated at least one of the tall (if you can call a 10 or 11 story building "tall") buildings downtown.   I am, of course, writing of downtown Binghamton, NY.  And, thanks to the Internet, I soon knew that the earthquake was in - Virginia?  and only 5.9? I couldn't believe how we felt it here.  I still can't believe it.  I missed Twitter (the same Twitter I resisted joining for so long) because it is blocked at work.  Figured that would be the place to get my information.

When I got home, I found out just how much excitement I had missed, here in my little upstate NY enclave. Cell phone networks jammed.  The Capitol and Mall evacuated.  NYC buildings evacuated.  Commuter trains running slow.  The National Cathedral damaged.  A cousin in law in Texas posted on Facebook declaring he was praying for all of us.  (I did appreciate the prayers but, honest, we are OK.)  My friend in Tunisia posted on Facebook bragging about how nice the beaches were today there in earthquake-safe Tunisia.

My young adult son called.  Mom, did you feel it?  He (he works at night) was woken up.  Ever the scientist, he noticed how his TV was moving back and forth and then it suddenly changed motion and started to move side to side.  And then he left his mobile home just to be safe.  He's all prepared for natural disasters and childed me that I'm not.  He usually doesn't call just to chat, so it was nice to hear from him.

Well, it seems none of us in the Northeast are prepared for natural disasters. Earthquakes, anyway.

And now, for Hurricane Irene....

Monday, August 22, 2011

Technology or Magic?

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Arthur C. Clarke.
In the last 24 hours, two things have happened that show us just how much technology has changed us.  What was miraculous when I was born is commonplace now.  Or, thinking about it another way, it's - magic.

First, there is the revolution in Libya - live on Twitter, live online with streaming feed on Al Jazeera English and other sites - I watched, transfixed, last night, leaping from Twitter to the live feed, while CNN on TV blared in the background.  And why? Besides the obvious wanting to know what was happening, I have a Facebook friend who lives in Tunisia.  I messaged this friend in Tunisia and was reassured that things are peaceful in Tunis right now. 

(I also chatted with my friend last month, when I was visiting the Centreville/Chantilly, Virginia area (because he used to live in Vienna, VA) and asked him questions about traffic, and parking at the Vienna Metro station.  Just stop and think.  I'm asking someone in Tunis about the traffic on Rt. 23.  And complaining about the parking charge at the Dulles branch of the Air and Space Museum.)  Magic?

At one time the ability to do this kind of thing would have had you executed for witchcraft.  Now, we take it for granted.  Even when I was born, seeing live footage from across the ocean would have been totally impossible.  There were no satellites in orbit.  Transatlantic phone calls were difficult, had bad connections, and were tremendously expensive.

I could have called my friend (maybe) but I would have needed a bank loan to afford the phone charge.

The other "magic" moment of the last 24 hours is brought to us by Hurricane Irene.  We turn on the Weather Channel and everyone is talking about this killer storm heading for Florida.  On Facebook, my spouse's cousin posts about her preparations.

We so take for granted that we will be warned to get out of the way of a killer storm.  But if you could bring, say, Henry VIII into your living room - he would have thought it was satanic.

As an aside:  Do you wonder what hurricane forecasting was like before our modern technology?  You don't have to look too far.  History gives us one relatively recent example - the Galveston Hurricane of 1900.  Think here "between 8,000 and 12,000 dead." and that was before the major population growth of the last century in the Houston metropolitan area.  No Weather Channel, no storm-spotter planes, no enhanced satellite images, no ability to move large populations out of the way quickly.

Technology (or magic) can only do so much, of course.  Katrina took about 1800 lives for a variety of reasons and bad decisions.  And Irene, if it lives up to its billing, could do similar damage if people don't listen, or make the wrong decisions.

But still, we have the advantage of technology.  Or, if you look at it another way - magic.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Civil War Sunday-The Wedding of the Century

What was the most epic wedding you can think of?  Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries (just yesterday)?  William and Kate?  Charles and Diana?

Nah.  How about the wedding of Charles and Livinia?  After all, it was the wedding of the century.

The 19th century, that is.

Celebrity weddings of the century are nothing new.  We aren't the first generation to celebrate entertainers, to make them millionaires, to track every aspect of their lives.  And, back in 1863 two war weary countries (the United States and the Confederate States of America) were ready for a distraction.  Thanks to a showman by the name of P.T. Barnum, they got one.

On Tuesday, February 10, 1863 two dwarfs, Charles Stratton (better known to history as his stage name, General Tom Thumb) married Mercy Livinia Warren Bump (better known as Livinia Warren) at Grace Church in New York City. 

I found these Civil War facts and more in a fascinating novel, "The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb" by Melanie Benjamin.  This is not an autobiography but a novel.  Melanie Benjamin has done her homework well, and written an entertaining book in the style that a woman of the 19th century would have used.  The one thing I would have liked to have seen in the book was a centerfold of photos, like many modern autobiographies of celebrities contain.  But that is a small quibble.

Civil War photographer Matthew Brady photographed Warren for Harpers Weekly.
According to Benjamin, Lavinia Warren started her career on a riverboat going up and down the Mississippi.  At one point in her career, a man by the name of Grant purchased a private audience with Miss Warren for him and his family during a stop in Galena, Illinois.  When Lincoln was elected, the riverboat was stranded in
Vicksburg, Mississippi (later the site of a famous siege by the same Mr. Grant.)  Ms. Benjamin states that Livinia escaped the riverboat at Vicksburg, MS during a riot after Lincoln's election, with the help of another entertainer.

Later, Warren was hired by Barnum, and she was introduced to General Tom Thumb. The rest was history.

As for what happened after the wedding, you should read the book rather than have me tell you.  It is a fascinating story.  And as for Barnum, we may know him as a showman but he was a lot more.

P. T. Barnum is known by many today mainly for his name, which still exists in the "Ringling Bros & Barnum and Bailey Circus".  But that was just one small portion of his career.  He was an abolitionist and his sympathies solidly lay with the North.  His  American Museum was one of the most visited attractions in the country during the Civil War.

It  burned due to arson in 1865.  As the war progressed it had featured exhibits supporting the Union cause.  The belief is that Confederate sympathizers started the fire, in revenge.

After the war, Barnum served two terms in the Connecticut legislature.

It's fascinating how the Civil War weaves through the lives of so many people, but that only makes sense.  How could it not have touched everyone in our country alive then?

To me, that is one of the continuing fascinations I have with this war.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Vestal Farmers Market and Garlic Ice Cream

Today, in between two exercise walks, my spouse and I visited the Vestal, NY farmers market and the garlic festival at the American Civic Association in Binghamton.

We weren't able to do our scheduled blueberry picking.  We wanted to make a second pick to enjoy fresh berries for another couple of weeks before we had to return to supermarket berries.  Normally, the season would still be going strong on August 20. But not this year.  Spouse called three places.  Two were closed down - the season ended yesterday with torrential rain and hail.  The third still had berries but warned they were sparse and small.

We decided the drive to the U-Pick place wasn't worth the gas we would expend.

The Vestal Farmers Market did have berries, but we passed, buying instead sweet corn, some garlic (Music) and a head of green cabbage.

The parking lot was jammed - the market sets up in the parking lot of the Vestal Public library, alongside one of the most heavily traveled roads in this area, the Vestal Parkway.

Here is a display of melons, potatoes, cucumbers, and more.  Besides what I reported in the post on Binghamton's market yesterday, were plumcots, cauliflower, hand spun wool products and a Binghamton coffee shop sampling its quiche and salsa. (the salsa was excellent.)

And here a bounty of corn, including the two ears we bought.
The tragic thing about the American Civic Association on the edge of downtown Binghamton is that if you do a Google search on it, what you will come up with is multiple accounts of the tragic shooting of April 3, 2009 which left 14 dead (including the gunman) and put Binghamton on the national map for a few days.  But you won't find very much about the organization and its works, at least in an initial search.  The ACA is a most worthwhile organization and should not be remembered just for that shooting.

One of the annual events the ACA puts on is its annual Multi-Ethnic Garlic Festival.  In 2009 it was cancelled as the ACA was still dealing with the aftermath of the shooting, including the need to (gross, but true) fix up the building.  Last year the festival was held again, and again this year the garlic vendors were out in force.

I loved this vendor's crafted wooden sign. We bought some German Red garlic from this vendor after a taste test.

Braided garlic on display.
The many varieties on sale included German Red and German White, Elephant, Music, Carpathian.  One vendor also had (small) shallots for sale.  There was a mustard vendor, a couple of flavored oil vendors (garlic, of course) and even a local winery had a booth set up.

There was a Kettle Corn vendor and people kept asking him if it was garlic flavored.  It wasn't.  I think that vendor lost an opportunity, but maybe he will come back tomorrow with garlic flavored kettle corn.

And last, but not least, was the food for sale inside, including kielbasa, German potato salad, and more.  The line was long, so we went outside where several other cooks from the ACA had set up. The lines were shorter and we enjoyed some - yes, enjoyed - garlic ice cream.  Theirs was vanilla ice cream with raw garlic combined into it.

Believe it or not, it was good.  But I tasted it for a good hour after.  Roasted garlic might work better.

Luckily, for once, there is no such thing as smell-o-blog.

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Farmers Market Friday

 (Curious about what downtown Binghamton's Farmers Market looks like?  Some views can be found on a blog with various videos taken at the Binghamton Farmers Market - check out the first few seconds of the Monkeys Typing video, for example.  And what is a Monkeys Typing?  Keep watching the video and enjoy.)

The small farmers market in downtown Binghamton (Tuesdays and Fridays 9-2pm) has reached summer peak.  On the small/narrow street by our Courthouse a two man group by the name of Acoustic Expressions performed today while shoppers browsed for blueberries, early apples, plums, Pennsylvania peaches, garlic (German White), onions, peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, bagged spices, baked goods, artisan soap and more.  Nearby, a hot dog vendor's wares sold briskly.

On the nearby courthouse steps, downtown office workers ate lunch as storm clouds started to gather.  A woman showed off her tomato purchase to co-workers.  A man explained how he and his wife used to can tomatoes, using an old fashioned crank machine which took off the skins and separated out the seeds.  His co-workers listened attentively.

An hour or so later, the heavens opened, and rain poured down.  The streets temporarily flooded as thunder rumbled and, towards the end, small hail pattered.

So hard to believe that in a couple of short weeks, we will have our last Friday market concert.  And a month or so later, the market will end its 2011 season as cold winds start to blow, and snow flurries swirl.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Little Kitchen of Horrors

This is a true story, without photos for a reason, as you will soon read.

Tuesday I was cleaning up dishes after breakfast when I saw a little blur to my right, where our stove is.  I know that means a mouse so I turned.  Right next to the stove was a mouse, staring at me.  We started at each other.  I know the mouse must have been startled and would run and hide under the stove.  But no. This mouse stared at me, not sure of what to do, ran across the floor, ran across the floor again back to the beginning and finally (running so close to me that I nearly screamed) ran into the one former bedroom (currently my library) on our ground floor. 

I am not ashamed to admit I ran out of that kitchen and left the dishes half done for about 5 minutes before I would even go back in there.

I left spouse a note, and he bought some mousetraps, put one out Tues night. (yup, when it comes to mice, I run for the husband.) Yesterday morning I saw where we had caught one and he disposed of it.

This morning, I went into the kitchen to heat up breakfast and there was a sprung trap by the stove, with a little dead mouse lying underneath the sprung trap.

So I went about my business when suddenly there was a loud clatter and a high pitched squeaking, like an "ee ee ee" but even higher pitched.  THERE WAS ANOTHER MOUSE AND THAT MOUSE WAS ATTEMPTING TO DRAG THE TRAP BEHIND THE STOVE.  But the space was too small.  It kept trying and trying.  I had to eat my breakfast hearing that pathetic "ee ee ee" and the occasional bumping of what I knew was the mouse trying to drag the trap.

And the squeaks were so loud. I never went back in to see the final, er, disposition of the matter.
I don't want to speculate if that mouse was trying to save the other mouse, or the relation of the other mouse to him/her.  Or if mice have those types of feelings.  It was creepy.

When my spouse came home from work, he saw the sprung trap and wondered why it was jammed up against the stove.

Now tonight, we have to try to get the other mouse.  How many more are there?

Stephen King would know what to do with this story. 

Do mice take revenge?

And can I ever, even indirectly, kill a mouse again after seeing that sight this morning? 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Wildflower Wednesday Extra-Hibiscus and Morels

Late this afternoon, my spouse and I took our exercise walk through the West Side of Binghamton, NY.  Taking a different route than usual, we were treated to several front and side yard displays of huge hibiscus flowers.  Magenta ones, white ones.

They brought back memories, memories of a remarkable woman who left this earth eight years ago today. 

She loved hibiscus.  She would have been overjoyed to know I was enjoying hisbiscus on the anniversary of her death.

My friend grew up in a rural area outside of Tulsa, OK.  She was educated in a one room schoolhouse, taught by the schoolteacher-her mother.  Her brother and sister accompanied her to school.  She went to college, married a man who became a college professor, was a stay at home Mom, later went back to college and got her masters degree, taught elementary school briefly, and ended up in a full time job in Iowa that she still held when she died suddenly at age 77.  She had no plans to retire.

The day before she died she visited a farmers market, saw an orchid plant she liked and made plans with the vendor to come back on the next market day and buy it.

She also loved her morel mushrooms.

Every year, she would hunt morel mushrooms.  She never told anyone where. She had her own "secret spot".  She didn't find them every year. But one year, when my husband and I were visiting her at her home in Iowa, she found some.  She cooked them for us, rolling them in batter and frying them.  They were so good.

We've only had morels one other time.  That time, it was a military buddy of my spouse's, whose parents lived in rural Missouri.   They were cooked the same way.

Morels aren't wildflowers, but they are wild. Although, I found a website which explains how you can grow them.  (as always, read at your own risk. Especially with mushrooms.)

I'm glad I'm able to share these happy memories with you.  Happy Wildflower hunting!

Wildflower Wednesday- Here's Pye in Your Eye

This is a special Wildflower Wednesday.

I am featuring a "guest photographer" while I prepare a special Wildflower Wednesday tribute to a special woman who made a big difference in my life.

My guest photographer, whom I hope to feature more in the near future, is a woman who lives in the countryside on the border between NY and Pennsylvania.  She's lived in the countryside a lot of her life and loves the country life.  Her sister is a wildflower (well, plants in general) expert.  My guest reads my blog faithfully and I want to thank her for her support.

One of her favorite wildflowers is Joe Pye Weed.

It's in bloom so I would like to share some of her photos with you today.  Not all of these were taken this year but - that's part of the fun of wildflowers, isn't it.  (and maybe next time, I'll ask her to write the post, too.)

This is a closeup of Joe Pye weed.

Joe Pye at a church.  (and yes, there are cultivated varieties.)

A field full of Joe Pye.

A field of wildflowers, including Joe Pye.

And finally, I wanted to share one from her "archives". 

Next week will be another surprise for you. (I hope!)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Mystery Grape Plant- I Need Your Help

Back in July, I blogged about a mystery grape like plant in my back yard. It was growing in a shady spot.  I had not noticed it when it had bloomed, only when the cluster of - whatever it was - was developing.

Every since then, I tracked it.  On August 10 I mentioned I would write about it (perhaps) the following week.  I took a picture soon after, showing the seeds were maturing.  They certainly were not grapes.  The maple seed to the left of the seed cluster gives you a point of reference in seeing how big this is.

Now we are here at the "following week" and I went out to the back yard to find -

that the seeds had fallen to the ground.

What an anti-climax.

I picked some of the seed pods off the ground.  I opened one up.  It is hard, and green inside.  I don't know if I will keep the pods or just throw them away.

I suppose I could go to the Cornell extension for help but that wouldn't be fun.

I went to the Internet.  I can't find this plant even after an hour of searching and reading some booklets, including one on wild vines of Iowa. (Yes, this isn't Iowa but some of our plants are similar).

So now, I really need to appeal to my readers.

Any guesses?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - August 2011

It's that time again - the 15th of the month at May Dreams Garden - when bloggers post pictures of what is in bloom in their garden.

 In another couple of months, all I'll be able to post is pictures of frostbit plants and, eventually, snowdrifts.  And then we'll be done until the spring bulbs come out.

But we aren't there yet, thank heavens.

Right now we are in a rainy pattern.  We up here in upstate NY (Binghamton area) are luckier than our fellow New Yorkers downstate, who drowned yesterday. Today, it was overcast and drizzle.  But we are being watered by nature while many of our fellow gardeners are stricken by drought.

As for my garden, it isn't looking all that great after the unusual heat of July (during which we were out of town!) but I still have some perennials.  In fact, much of what we have in bloom are either herbs or annuals.

This (taken from above, as my back was really stiff today - sorry) is a new astilbe we bought at a plant show in Ithaca in the Spring - and we promptly lost the label for it.  It bloomed this year and the flowers are unusual - plus, they have been blooming for a while now, longer than our other astilbes. But it looks like it is nearly finished.

This, in bloom, is pineapple mint.  The leaves are variegated but much of the white you see are the flowers - all my mints have been especially loaded with flowers this year.

This next one is lavender.

Garlic chives.

I decided to share one of my annuals - a sunflower, complete with bees.

Finally, a repeat - yellow bleeding heart - this is the Energizer Bunny of our perennials.
The shadow of fall is already falling onto my garden.  Who knows what will be blooming in September?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Civil War Sunday - Thomas Nast and Winslow Homer

 I am not an artist.  I can barely draw a stick figure.  So I have always had great admiration for those who can take those images in their mind and actually translate them into something we can recognize, and appreciate.  Or can take something they see and make us see it too.

I know a number of people who have studied art as adults and have taken lessons, especially in painting. (If I go this route of lesson taking, I will choose photography as the means of expressing myself.)  I know it is not easy.  And how much harder would it be to do this in the midst of a war?

Last week, I wrote about Civil War "image making" (what they called photography back then during the infancy of photography).  This week-well, art has been with us as long as we have been human, documenting our daily lives.

The Civil War is no exception.

I received some nice comments on a blog post I made earlier this week about the popularity of color by number pencil sets in my childhood,.  I'm not an artist, and not an art historian but I do enjoy art as an observer and respect its role in helping us understand history.  Accordingly, I decided to look into the art of the Civil War.  Not the art of today that uses the Civil War as its subject, but rather the art of the Civil War used to record it as it occurred.  I was very surprised to see the names of two artists who gained fame later in the 1800's.

From my studies of history, I know the name of Thomas Nast , who crusaded against the Tammany Hall political machine in New York City. (In fact, Thomas Nast is buried near where I grew up in the Bronx.).  If you identify the elephant with the Republican Party and the donkey with the Democratic Party, you know of the works of Thomas Nast.  If you visualize Santa Claus as the plump, jolly man with the white beard and red suit trimmed in white fur, you are visualizing Santa Claus as first drawn by Thomas Nast.  What I did not know is that Thomas Nast started his career (he was barely in his 20's when the war started) as a Civil War illustrator- very much on the side of the North.

And then there is Winslow Homer, known for his art (in various media) of hunters, farmers, women (farm women, teachers, and others) and the peaceful coast of Maine.  He, too, started out as a Civil War artist.

This site explains Civil War art in a lot more detail, should you want to learn more on the subject.  One day I might, too.  History is composed of so many things, and artistic expression is so much a part of the human experience.

I am grateful that comments from a blog post led me down this road.  Thank you.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Day in the Life of Otsiningo Park Farmers Market and Community Garden

Today, we spent some time in the "crown jewel" of the Broome County, NY parks system:  Otsiningo Park.

Every Saturday during the summer, the park hosts a farmers market.

We bought some cheddar whole wheat and carmelized onion/whole wheat English Muffins from Gimmee Cookie.

We got some sweet corn at another booth.  Sweet corn was a very brisk seller.  We are at the peak of fruits and veggies:  we had everything from lettuce, kale, okra, onions, new potatoes, first garlic, blueberries, corn, watermelon, muskmelon, cheese, to meat ranging from veal, goat, beef, to chicken.  Other vendors had cheese (we are in a major dairy area), butter, eggs and sausage.  One vendor had Cornell nectarines and donut peaches.  (we can't grow either locally).

And many people were buying cookies and pies for dessert.

On the walking trails, a lot of wildflowers competed for our attention, along with this bunch of wild grapes hanging overhead.

We then visited our community garden.  I walked around admiring other garden plots.  Trying to "kill two birds with one stone" I took this picture of a plot through a tall wildflower.

Here is some ripening corn (again, not ours.)

From our garden, we picked beans, tomatoes, leeks, and a pattypan squash.

Of course, I'm always focused on the plants. But Otsiningo Park is so much more.

One day I may take pictures of the actual park!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Aarigaa! The Midnight Sun Lives

It's been a while since I've written about my obsession with the midnight sun.
I've always wanted to learn more about the natives of Alaska who were the people of the midnight sun, too.  I had studied them a little bit when I majored in anthropology in college, but I wanted to know more.

I just found a book, short but packed with breathtaking writing, that did just that.

Sometimes I have no idea why I pick up a book.  I like to explore the Young Adult section of the Broome County library and sometimes a title or a picture just calls to me.

Recently, that happened with a book called Blessing's Bead, by Debby Dahl Edwards.  I really don't have any idea why I picked it up.  But I literally couldn't put it down, and not just because of its depictions of the midnight sun and the darkness of winter.   I learned so much more from this book.  If I used an Inuit rating system, I would give it 5 Aarigaas (their word for "Wow").

This is a story about a young woman, almost a teenager, of the Iñupiaq people. Some would call them Eskimos, although my understanding is that the correct word is Inuit.  Blessing is taken from her Mom by Anchorage's child protective service agency and sent (with her younger brother Isaac) to live with her grandmother who lives in a remote Inuit village above the Arctic circle.  This starts out as a very rough transition but ends happily in more ways than one.

Although Blessing's knowledge of the Iñupiaq language is limited when she arrives, she is able to understand it by the time the book ends.  This is no easy task, as illustrated by these words for the lack of sun. (the pronunciations are those given by the author.)

I learned the word Nippivik (nippy-vick)-  the time when the sun sets (November) Siqiñgilaq (see-kiny-gee-lyaq) the time of no sun, and Siqiññaatchiaq (si-kin-nyaht-cheeahk)  the time of the bright new sun (January).  I don't know if I will remember it.  But what words of power they are.          

However, the story did not begin with the story of Blessing (which takes place in 1989).  Rather, it started as the story of her great-grandmother Nutaaq, which starts in 1917 and continues into 1918.  Nutaaq's older sister Aaluk marries a Siberian Inuit that summer and travels back to his village to live.  Normally she would come back to visit annually during a trading fair.  But then, the Spanish flu epidemic arrives.  Nutaaq's mother, father, "nearly all the babies, and all the old ones, with the old knowledge we never yet learned" and basically most of the village, die.   Her descrition of the "Ones We Lost" is so beautiful it makes you cry.  A culture left adrift, so depressed they would not even care for their reindeer herds.  What would happen to them?

The survivors are called to a meeting and forced by a missionary to pick a new spouse. (This, and the flu epidemic, were historic events.) The survivors are married on the spot in a mass ceremony and adopt the young orphans.  Nutaaq, (one of the young women forced to marry) meantime, never sees Aaluk again.  Nutaaq has no idea if Aaluk, in Siberia, was taken by the great sickness.  What was called the "Ice Curtain" has come down, and the Siberian Inuit can not visit their Alaskan relatives, and vice versa.  They are separated by politics none of them understand.

When we skip ahead to 1989, the Alaskan Inuit of Blessing's adopted village speak a dialect called Village English, use snowmobiles, gather clams from the beach in plastic grocery bags and have managed to blend their traditional culture with the European culture around them.   They are Christian. They eat both Sailor Boy crackers and whale meat.  What would Tupaaq had thought? (this part was especially fascinating to me).

When the Iron Curtain came down in Europe, the Ice Curtain came down also, and Blessing is there when the first Siberian Inuit flight arrives at her village.  There is an old man with them.   He is Aaluk's son.

I normally don't do "book reviews" but this is a must read for all lovers of the midnight sun, and the land where it shines in the summer.  Even if we love it from afar.

And the bead?  Well, you'll just have to read the book yourself.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

QR Codes - Good or Bad?

It's funny how things reach a critical mass and suddenly they are everywhere.

You know what QR codes are even if you don't know their name. (The QR means "quick response". )  Six months ago I don't think I had seen one.  Now they are everywhere. ads, on product tags in stores such as Home Depot, and even in books.

They have actually been around for a while - since the 1990's.  I understand they originated in Japan.

So what are they?

You will see this square black and white thing with black squares and white spaces.  If you have the app on your phone, you snap a picture and...well, you are supposed to get video, or extra information, or whatever, on your phone.  It's optional right now ("additional content")  but I can see a time where t won't be optional.

And if you can't afford to access these codes, you will be marginalized.

I never knew what QR codes were called, until I read portions of a book called "I live in the future and here's how it works" by Nick Bilton.  It's fascinating:  to someone in her late 50's, both scary and exciting.

What I don't like about QR codes is that they may force me and others to get a smart phone.  I don't want to get a smart phone, as seductive as they can be.   I don't want to be tied down.  I want to be in control.

I like to live a somewhat simple lifestyle.   I don't want to be locked into a cell phone contract, be it one year or two year.  Nice prepayment penalties, right?  So instead, I use something called Trac Fone, which allows you to have month to month service, and doesn't require a contract.  Also, its phones are simple.  They basically make phone calls.  The newer ones have keyboards so you can text. (I don't text:  horrors! Well, my son thinks so.)

I will make this clear:  I don't think the Internet is frying our brains.  I welcome other forms of getting information besides the frozen print page. (Nick Bilton writes quite a bit about this).  But:   I want to be able to control my access to information.

And if I have to tie myself down to a contract (noting I do not have a contract for my Internet service-I can quit without a penalty - try that with a smart phone contract!) just to use QR codes:  well, no thank you.

But:  not so fast.  Recently I read a magazine article about something called Safety Tats.   If you have children, you may want to check this out.

So....I remind myself that technology is like fire.  Fire is neutral, neither good nor bad.  It's how you choose to use it:  cooking food (good), arson (bad).

So let's not be afraid "just because".

But I still don't think I will get a smart phone soon.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wildflower Wednesday - Urban Neighborhood Wildflowers

Can you find wildflowers in an urban neighborhood?

Where I live is not true urban (i.e. downtown Binghamton, or neighborhoods in NYC) but that wasn't going to stop me.  My mission:  just walk around my neighborhood in the Binghamton, NY area and see what I could find.

This is what I found today in a three block radius of my house.  This is nightshade.


In my herb garden I found a Queen Anne's Lace, both a flower, and the "fruit" (to the left of the flower).  That ferny stuff, by the way, is Southernwood, which the Queen Anne's Lace is growing right in the middle of.

And finally, pokeweed.  I found this in several neighborhood yards here.  Who says pokeweed is for the south only?

There are other plants blooming right now, including plantain, another urban favorite.  And, there were patches of chicory here and there with their lovely blue flowers.  And a few mystery plants.

Remember, earlier this summer, I wrote about a vining plant in my back yard, in a very shady spot, with grape like leaves and a cluster of something developing?  Well, I decided to track it this since there must have been a flower involved at some time - and it is wild.  If I don't have a different subject for next Wednesday, I may right about what is still a mystery plant.

What wildflowers are growing on your property?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Color By Number - Memories of Paradise

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

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

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

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

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

Except I lost interest, until my son was born.

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

Venus Paradise is out of business.  And, I couldn't even find a set on eBay (I did find a couple of auctions for the pencils.)

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

In writing this post, I find my spouse remembers the sets too.  He thinks when he retires, it might be fun to buy one.  But sadly, this is something I'm not sure will ever return to favor for the general population. you remember Venus Paradise?

Monday, August 8, 2011

A Woman with Autism Fights Breast Cancer

From time to time I follow the blog of a woman with autism by the name of Donna Williams. She is an accomplished blogger, and artist.  She has autism. 

 Donna Williams has breast cancer.

Any blog written by a woman fighting breast cancer would be of interest.  But so many people with autism have major difficulties with communication (such as my brother in law) that being able to read of Ms. Williams' experience is even more amazing. And sobering, as she has to make the decision of whether she should subject herself to chemo.  All of us, we would struggle with chemo.

This speaks to me too, as my mother in law's family has a history of breast cancer.

Some of her recent entries are long.  But take a few minutes and enter her world.  It is a different world, but a world that too many of us will have to enter at one time in our lives.

Be scared. And be amazed.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Civil War Sunday-Image Making

Not all the reinactors at the Manassas Battlefield and Old Town Manassas during the 150th anniversary commemoration of the Battle of First Bull Run/First Manassas were soldiers.  The soldier reinactors get a lot of attention, but there are many dedicated people who take civilian roles.

At Manassas, some were members of Lee's Lieutenants Army of Northern Virginia, a reinactor's group.

Wayne Ritchie, of Rocky Mount, NC is a Mathew Brady reinactor who is a member of Lee's Lieutenants.  We met him at Old Town Manassas, at the living history area on the Manassas Museum grounds.  Sweat running down our faces, we listened with great interest as Mr. Brady, the famous Civil War image maker (there were no "photographers" in that day) showed us some of his most famous pictures, and the glass plates used to take the pictures.

Since I've loved to take photos since I was a little girl, this was fascinating.  I started out with a brownie-like camera and black and white film, progressed to an Instamatic, but this was another world of photography entirely.

The glass plates could only be used once.

This is his camera. 

Mr. Brady - er, Richie, told us about visiting Robert E. Lee shortly after the war ended and how he took one of the most famous images of his career.  

Mr Brady spent some time with us describing the process of image making.   It was a very involved process.  Way different than our point and shoot cameras with auto focus, various settings, optical zooms, red eye removal, video, and memory cards.

Mr. Ritchie loved to speak to children.  We saw him talk to a couple of different groups of children.  That's the great thing about interacting with the reinactors, how they love to share their love of Civil War lore with others.  They must be asked the same questions over and over, but speak to people with the greatest patience.

If someone wanted to take his picture (with a modern digital camera, of course) he patiently explained that there were no pictures to be taken, but rather images.

Some of Brady's images served, for the first time, to bring the horrors of war to the American people. Indeed, the process of photography, in a way, was invented just in time for the Civil War.  And, that portrait he took of Robert E. Lee is an icon now, so to speak.

As far as the real Mathew Brady, his life had a sad end.  He ended up going bankrupt because, after the war was over, no one wanted his pictures.  And yet, our knowledge of the Civil War would have been way different without the photos taken by Brady and his assistants.

We owe him a huge debt every time we discuss the Civil War, because the images we have of that war in our minds are his images - or those of his assistants.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Dreaming of Tasty Tropical Fruit Trees At Home (!)

I live in a zone 5 gardening area of upstate NY.  There is no way i am going to grow coffee, figs, lemons, lives, cinnamon, avocado or any other tropical plant outdoors here.  (I can't even grow...sigh....crepe myrtles or camillas.)

However, I recently ran across a book called "Growing Tasty Tropical Plants * 
*in any home, anywhere" by Laurelynn G. Martin and Byron E. Martin.

Sounds great, doesn't it.

But not so fast.

It's a very enjoyable book, and some of these plants will be in my daydreams.  I don't know how many will be actually in my house, which (alas) does not have much in the way of full sun windows.

Nor does it have, in the winter, high humidity.

And, from a couple of experiences, my plants (I learned the hard way with kalanchoes) can very easily get mealybugs.

Now true, I have the obligatory avocado tree growing in a pot in my back yard, started some years ago from a pit buried in peat, and put in the refrigerator (I read this was an alternate way of germination.)  And, from time to time, I've kept a pineapple top alive - of course, I've never gotten a pineapple out of the experience.

But, a local nursery sells coffee plants - and they are attractive.  And, according to this book "Coffee plants adapt well to the low light and low humidity typical of home environments.  Flowers and fruits appear when the plant is young...Under ideal growing conditions, this can happen in less than a year."

Not that I am going to get a supply of coffee from a plant, but it does sound like something I would want to see in the winter.

And, my spouse is eager to have a supply of Meyer Lemons.

So...should I make this into a new project?
Have any of my readers grown these tropical fruiting plants?  If so, I would love to hear about your experiences.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Burpee Customer Service Shoutout

After several years of buying herb and flower plants from Burpee with great success, I was very disappointed this year.

It took me a while to email them (guess I was too busy trying to stretch myself in blogging "contests") with the sad story of how most of their plants were so wet when I got them that they died soon after, but I did, last weekend.  I also mentioned my sky blue petunias that weren't, just as a point of interest.

It took a couple of days, but I got an email from Burpees...with a credit to my charge card:  and I am taking the liberty of quoting from the email:

Thank you for informing me of the problem with the shipment of your plants.  I am sorry that they arrived in poor condition.  Our plants are healthy when they are packaged, but sometime they do get damaged while in route.  I will notify the nursery, as they do like to keep on top of any issues with our packaging and shipping procedures.
We have issued you a refund back to your card for the plants that have died and the sky blue petunias.

(You'll remember the sky blue petunias that came were not blue but rather a definite purple, as per the photo I posted on this blog.)

The petunia credit was a pleasant surprise - after all I did get 11 plants and they are thriving - yes, even the ones that were decimated by some animal are blooming again (surrounded by fencing this time)

So, Burpees - thank you - and I look forward to that credit.  It will go, hopefully, to fixing my front stairs.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Come to Binghamton, NY to Escape the Heat!

We were watching the Weather Channel last night when a statistic brought both my spouse and I to full attention.

Ft. Smith, Arkansas reached 115 degrees yesterday.

We lived in Arkansas some 30 years ago (back when Bill Clinton was governor-yes, we had the chance to vote for him.  And had drivers licenses with his signature, perhaps.  In fact, we lived in Fayetteville, Arkansas for a brief time, and maybe not that far from where Bill Clinton lived in the 1970's.

I've wanted to go back for a long time.  But not right now.

Arkansas gets hot.  It can get humid.  But it doesn't go over 100 in the Fayetteville area all that much.

On Tuesday, Fayetteville reached 108, breaking their previous record for August. (Their all time record was in July of 1954-and don't be surprised if it doesn't get broken soon.)

Meanwhile, for us, it was cloudy, rainy - with a high of 78 at our house.

Aren't things just slightly unbalanced?  Not just for us - we got close to 100 two weeks ago - but for the entire country.  We get rain and weather in the 70's and almost everyone else is baking.

I think, while we lived in Arkansas, it reached over 100 a couple of times.  In 1985, I seem to recall a September when we had a heat wave.  We sat under a tree near the chicken coop with some iced tea and watched the chickens try to keep cool.

Remembering how the farmers market vendors sweltered two Fridays ago in that parking lot in Centreville, VA makes me feel for all the people in the affected hot/drought areas.  I thought we had it bad in Wichita, Kansas (without air conditioning) when we lived there in 1980 and we ended up with....well, they may exceed those records this year, too.

Right now I am grateful for living here in Binghamton, New York.  In fact....why don't we give our little city a tourism boost?  Escape the Heat!  Experience the Forgotten Feelings of Rain.  We could make a fortune.

But, just wait for winter.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Wildflower Wednesday-Our Local Rail-Trail

I've featured wildflowers from the Vestal Rail Trail (where I do a lot of my exercise walks) in Vestal, NY in many of my Wildflower Wednesday posts.  It turns out this rail trail is a rich source for wildflowers.  A lot of it is in full sun but increasingly there are shady areas.  There are dry areas and wetlands, so we get a good mix of habitats.

This is a little history of the Rails-to-Trails movement, which explains this movement is over 40 years old.  We've had our rail trail some 20 years, I believe - and spouse and I have done a lot of walking on it.

It measures 2.1 miles and there is a plan to expand it - money permitting, of course.

This is the 'head' of the trail.  On the bottom right, you can see Queen Anne's Lace in bloom.

Here is a wild grape plant, with its small cluster.

I was thinking this was purple loosestrife but I wonder if this may be fireweed instead.  These plants aren't in a place which I can get to easily to look at leaves, etc.

This is my mystery flower of the week. This came out blurry, and I apologize.  There are a lot of these flowers.  The stalks are top heavy and they are dragging on the ground.  They looked white in the wild, but in this photo have a little purple in them.

Finally, white asters.  Blame my bad back (which has been stiff lately) for the focus, which could be better.
Have a happy August, all.  May my fellow bloggers in drought areas get rain soon.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Angry Blueberry Birds

Saturday, we made our annual U-Pick blueberry journey to a local U-Pick farm called Castleberries, in Port Crane, NY (near Binghamton).  Both spouse and I love blueberries, and they keep a long time in the refrigerator.   We always pick once a year, and sometimes twice.

There's nothing like freshly picked blueberries (or any other fruit, for that matter): fresh, sweet, and warmed by the sun.  I don't put sugar nor cream on them.  I have always eaten them au naturel.

One interesting feature of this orchard is the way they scare birds away.  Birds are the bane of blueberry farmers.  On our way to Virginia a couple of weeks ago, we saw an orchard with nets draped over the bushes.  We sympathize.  Castleberries may do this, but they also have a special system in place, one they have used for years. We call it the Angry Birds system.  (long before the game of the same name.....)

Loudspeakers blare out what are probably bird distress calls.  Or maybe, in bird language, the recording is saying "horrible tasting berries!  Poison!  Stay away!"  At any rate, it is fun standing out there in the sun, enjoying the outdoors, and periodically hearing these frenzied birdcalls.  My son, when he was younger, used to get a kick out of it.  Which, I guess, shows how long this orchard has used this system because youngster is an adult now. 

It must work, because they have never updated it.

The variety of blueberries being picked was a new one to us.  I don't know its name but the bushes had an unusual habit - the branches drooped, almost weeping.  It wasn't the best set up for someone with a bad back (me) because I don't like to sit on the ground.  Sitting on the ground would be the best way to pick.  I decided not to do that.

Another strategy is to go to the back of the rows, because most people don't want to bother to walk all the way out to the far end of the picking area.

It was hard going between the rows and I got frustrated wading through blueberry branches - which, fortunately, do not have thorns.  But finally I found a bush loaded with berries, and I settled down to picking, sweat streaming down my suntan-lotion protected face. (Wegmans Dry SPF-55:  works great.)

We picked about 6 pounds, and will be sharing some with family when they come up in a few days.

The berries really are sweet, too:  so much better than the blueberries I sampled two weeks ago at a Virginia farmers market. 

I guess blueberries make August worthwhile.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Happy Cricket Day

Saturday, July 30 was "C" day this year.

"C" day is the annual Cricket Day where I hear crickets for the first time.  Goldenrod is in full bloom when their song begins, and the cricket chirps sing that fall is coming soon.

Fall isn't here yet  Not just yet.  The dog days of August have only started, with their heat and humidity.  Sweet blueberries await picking, tomatoes are rushed from the vine to the waiting bread with mayonnaise (ok, I only do that once or twice in a summer because tomatoes and me don't always get along, but it is a summer pleasure) and corn...well, it isn't easy to overdose on fresh area bicolor corn with butter.  Or Smart Balance, since we must watch our cholesterol.

For us in Binghamton, August is also time for the Spiedie Fest, the Chris Thater Memorial bicycle race, and University Fest.

But August also brings us one month closer to fall.  And hence, the song of the crickets can be bittersweet.

I usually hear the first song when walking in the neighborhood.  This year, I heard it from my next door neighbor's porch.  The neighbor who lost his wife on the 4th of July.  So C day was especially bittersweet.  My neighbor, 86 years old, unable to walk without a walker, riddled with arthritis, in the fall/winter of his life. 

How many more C days will he hear?