Monday, April 30, 2012

If An 84 Year Old Can Use an iPhone So Can I

Today, the Ultimate Blog Challenge is over and tomorrow I start the WordCount Blogathon.

And on June 2 I start the Author Blog Challenge.

But that is not why I am sweating bullets.

The reason is simple:  yesterday, I got an iPhone.

What have I done????

What gave me the courage to leap from a 4 year old Trac Phone, one that can make phone calls and not do much else (no camera, no keyboard, just a very basic phone), to a (gulp) iPhone 4S smartphone?

Three reasons.

1.  My young adult son upgraded his phone to an iPhone. This wasn't a surprise.
2.  Then my sister in law, who is 12 years younger than I am, upgraded her phone to an iPhone.  I know she was thinking about it, and now she acted.

But then came the clincher.

3. My 84 year old mother in law got an iPhone!

And that is when I said to myself:  "Self!  If a woman who was born during the Depression, grew up during World War II, saw her loved ones go to war and back, worked in New York City and later for two magazines whose names you would instantly recognize, raised four children including a son with autism (in a day without any supports for such a Mom or such a boy), and got her first computer in her 70's can still have the zest in life to take this leap, then I can do it too!

Sometimes you just have to close your eyes and take that leap.

I applaud my mother in law's faith that she will be able to learn this phone and do what she wants, which is to keep in touch with family and friends from her chair.  For her, mobility is more of an issue each and every day. She is a courageous woman.

And sometimes it just takes that one thing to make us take the leap into the unknown, too, to leave the comfort zone of our everyday life.

That's why I blog, and take on blogging challenges.

Good luck to you, if you are in the Blogathon or in the Author Blog Challenge.  And wish me luck with my new iPhone!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Civil War Sunday - Music and Muskets

Welcome, future Blogathoners, to my Civil War Sunday posts.  I will explain them more next Sunday but for now, please know that I concentrate less on major battles and more on the people, and the "times", of the 1861-1865 era.  I will also sometimes blog about Civil War era people and what they went on to do after the war.  Today's post is about Binghamton, New York.

Phelps Mansion Museum, on the edge of downtown Binghamton, New York, was built in 1870 for Sherman Phelps, a businessman and judge here in Binghamton.  The architect was Isaac Perry, who went on the later fame as the New York State architect.

So many towns and cities in the United States have their own hometown Civil War heroes - Binghamton, New York is no exception.

Our "hometown hero" here in Binghamton, New York wasn't even born in the United States, but in Scotland.  His family came to the United States when he was about 8.   His name was David Ireland.

Ireland fought in a number of important battles of the Civil War, including Gettysburg, where some historians believe he played a pivotal - but unsung - part, at Culp's Hill..

Like so many who fought in this tragic war, Ireland didn't die in any of the battles he fought in.  Instead, he died of dysentery in 1864. 

But what does David Ireland have to do with a building that wasn't built until six years after his death?

In 1863, David Ireland married Sara Phelps, daughter of Sherman Phelps.  Afterwards, he left to went back to war.  He never made it back home to see his bride, and did not have any children.

Today, a Civil War reenactment and special music event will be held in the Phelps Mansion Museum.  This is a yearly event - this year's event is called "Music and Muskets".  In past years, there has been a reenactor playing David Ireland.  This year there is to be a musician playing Civil War era music on actual instruments from the era.

When Phelps Mansion was built in 1870, it was in a mainly scenic, rural area.  Today, there is very little scenic about where it is located, in an urban area that (I must admit) is a bit run down.  But it is well worth visiting if you are in your area, especially if you can take one of the free tours offered the first Friday evening of each month.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Long Strange, Blogathon Journey

I welcome the other crazy and not so crazy people signed up for the 2012 WordCount Blogathon.  Where do I begin in introducing myself?

Well, how about this?  If you explore my blog (please do!) you might notice that I have blogged every day since April 29, 2011. (Yes, that does prove my insanity.)

So this is my one year of consecutive posts blogging anniversary.  I never meant to do this, but here I am.  Just like I never could have imagined what the 365 days (366?) between April 29, 2011 and April 28, 2012 would bring to my area, and to me.

In some ways, I'm glad I didn't know what the future held.  The weather events of the last year have changed every person living in the Triple Cities of upstate NY and indeed, those living in a lot of upstate NY, Vermont, Alabama, Missouri, Kansas, Thailand, and so many other places that have experienced the wrath of nature.

Just as a mass murder in Binghamton, near where I work, on April 3, 2011 made me start this blog to begin with.

But I digress.  I did want to talk about the Blogathon.

I can thank a certain nameless person whose initials are Billie Noakes, may she (sputter)....well, she is the person to blame for me even being here.  What she did was email me on May 1, 2011 and tell me about the Blogathon - I only had hours to register, and no time to think.  So I did it, as I explain in this May 4, 2011 post about why I blog.  (Do you get the feeling I tend to be a little spur of the moment?)

I am so glad I did it, and you will be, too.

Think you can't do it?  Yes you can.  Really. 

You will meet an amazing community of writers if you join.  Some newbies, some established free lance writers, some published authors.  They will be supportive.    They will answer your questions.  And no question is too stupid to ask!  Please, sign up.   There are some great prizes to motivate you. And even if you don't do all 31 days, you will grow and develop. Trust me on that.

I joined Twitter because of the Blogathon.  I am even on Pinterest now because of the Blogathon.

And now for a little information on my blog, Ramblin with AM.

I live in an area of upstate NY with a combined population of about 100,000.  It is a beautiful area, but beset with a lot of problems.  I am from New York City originally, and even lived in rural Arkansas for several years.  I am probably also one of the older bloggers in the Blogathon, so I sometimes write about nostalgia and my struggles with technology.

On Sundays, I blog about the Civil War. (not as a historian or a reenactor, but as a "laywoman".)

On Wednesdays I blog about Spring Things, which are usually nature or flower related.

In between, I blog about anything that strikes my fancy - local food, farmers markets, flowers, vegetable gardening, walking on the local railtrail,  travel, and our area's recovery from devastating floods last September. (I'm so lucky to have my house because part of my neighborhood did flood, and some of the houses will never be lived in again.).

On the 15th of each month I participate in a Garden Bloggers Bloom Day (which I found out about from another Blogathoner.) and you get to enjoy my sometimes blurry photos.

So, please join in on the fun.  Yes, fun.  Moments of sheer terror....but fun, too.

I look forward to interacting with you!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Frost Fears

My front yard is in bloom.  But it may not be for that much longer.

Here in upstate NY, a chilling thought has struck with tonight's weather report.

We've had an early spring.  Dogwoods and lilacs are blooming now - beautiful tulips are in bloom, as are late daffodils. We had already planted our rosemary plants in the herb garden, trusting it wouldn't get much below freezing anymore.

So many trees and flowers in bloom, at a time of year where normally we'd only now be seeing crocuses, Bradford Pears and forsythias. 

Then suddenly - tonight we are under a freeze warning.

Our record low for today is 28, but normally none of these plants would be blooming now, either.

Will we lose our lovely flowers?  Will trees, tomorrow, be full of brown blossoms?  Will the lilacs fail this year, just as they are coming into full bloom?

Has spring played a final, cruel joke on us after tempting us with flowers since mid-March?  Or will I find out how hardy these mid spring flowers can be?

I'm glad I took pictures yesterday on my exercise walk in Binghamton. Because tomorrow morning this may all be a memory.

But it was sure great while it lasted.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Here's The Thing

I've blogged from time to time about buying local.  I shop at farmers markets, I try to "buy American" when possible.  This year I am patronizing local nurseries for my seeds and plants instead of buying a lot of seeds mailorder because one of the best nurseries was flooded out twice in 2011- but one thing I rarely do is visit my local indie bookstore.  (I admit to being a very heavy user of the local public library).

Today, I did visit the local bookstore and now I have a decision to make.

RiverRead, I haven't visited you in months!  Inexcusable for someone who loves to read and works in easy walking distance from you.  And, at that, you were flooded back in September.  I must put my money where my keyboard is and buy something form you.

So, today I went into the store.  After a few minutes of browsing, Pat (a co-owner) offered me a cup of coffee.  I took her up on it.  I especially enjoyed the fact that the sugar was sugar cubes - and that, next to the coffee pot (coffee purchased from Toms, a local store in Binghamton) was a very nice selection of herbal teas.

Then I saw The Perfect Book.  Not for me, but for a loved one.  A certain occasion is coming up the beginning of June that calls for a gift.  I looked through the book.  Had I wanted to, there was a nearby cozy chair to curl up in.  The book would be just perfect for that person.

But (as TV detective Adrian Monk used to say) "Here's the thing."

It was $40.  That's not an easy purchase for cheaps...I mean, frugal, me. So I paused a bit, browsed a little more, and left.

When I got home, I looked up the book on  I don't buy from them that much, but I have always had great experiences with them, and I am a Prime member to get their streaming TV.  And, I know they sometimes offer deep discounts on books. was selling the book for $24.39 and I would have free 2 day shipping with my Prime membership.

So....again, "Here's the thing".
Local bookstore, friendly owner, holds "meet the author" events, has a lot of interesting books, buys local themselves:  $40. does nothing I know of for our upstate community but its cost is some $15. less. Same book.
Shipping from some distant warehouse would take additional natural resources, so the local store would be the "greener" purchase.

I don't need it until early June so time isn't a factor.

The little devil on my shoulder said "Buy it from Amazon.  You could do that and still have a little less than $15. left to buy something at the local store."  OK....

The little angel on my other shoulder said "RiverRead. Do The Right Thing."

Should I put my money where my keyboard is and Buy Local?

If it was you....what would you do?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Spring Things - Creeping Phlox and the Flood Tulips of Binghamton

Our spring in Binghamton, New York continues despite the cold weather.  The one good thing is that we escaped Snowpril (and not by that much, either).

This spring, it seems the creeping phlox is especially beautiful.   It's such a nice plant for sloping yards, and Binghamton has enough of them.

I found these walking on the west side of Binghamton:

and this, complete with shadows. (Sorry, don't have Photoshop.)

And finally, this.
Meanwhile, in downtown Binghamton, in front of what I called the "Three Towers", senior housing that flooded during our epic floods in September from Tropical Storm Lee, their huge beds of tulips are blooming - showing the resiliency of nature.  (the towers, by the way, are occupied once again.)
Our spring has been so long, and it still isn't over. 

I'm enjoying every minute, every flower, of it.

What's blooming in your area, or your yard (if you have one) right now?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Texting in the 1930's

It wasn't that long ago that my (then) teenage son asked me how I had gone online in 1958. He was imaging my bedroom filled with a huge UNIVAC computer.  He just couldn't imagine a world without the Internet.

His generation probably can not imagine a world without texting, either. But, unlike the Internet, texting did exist in the 1950's.  But we didn't know it as texting.

More to the point - does anyone out there remember Telex?

I do.  In 1981, I (living in the United States) got a job with a company that did business with several companies in England.  We needed a way to communicate fairly quickly with them for confirmation of certain transactions.  Quickly, that is, for the early 1980's. 

Keep in mind, there was no Internet, no email (well, there was email even as far back as the late 1960's, but it wasn't accessible for the majority of us).  We did have telephones but trans-Atlantic service was still expensive.  And fax?  This was just starting out.  We didn't have a fax machine.  What we did have was....


Our company had a Telex machine and a trained operator.  A Telex machine (and yes, they still exist) is basically a telephone that doesn't use speech.  It has a keyboard and a printer, and the owner subscribed to a Telex network.  You could "call" anyone who had a Telex machine (they each had a number assigned to them) and type out a message.  The recipient would print out the message, and could then respond back in kind.

The service was enabled across both sides of the Atlantic back in the 1930's and still exists today.

These operators didn't know it, but they were texting, 1930's style.

I never did have to learn to use the Telex. But I bet it would have been fun.  And you know what?  Nothing in those days was instantaneous, but I don't think we were any the worse off for it.

Am I the only one to remember this original form of texting?  And, does anyone else think things were just a little "saner" back before we could do things instantaneously?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Snowpril Anxiety

The Weather Channel is already calling the winter storm in progress in Western NY "Snowpril".  Not only were we blessed by an early spring (unbelievably early, with so much leafed out now that normally wouldn't have leafed out until May), but winter decided to send snow now, instead of during its regularly scheduled time in November, December, January, February and March.

Better late than never?  No.

We are lucky here in the Susquehanna River valley near Johnson City, NY.  The snow part of the storm decided to stay just to the west and south.  There was sleet in the "cracks" of the car (i.e. the windshield where the wipers are) this morning.  But it was pure rain coming down.  We got some very heavy rainfall overnight - fortunately we've dried out quite a bit since our September floods.  Before I went to sleep I heard it mixing with sleet.


The anxiety remains every time we get heavy rain.  In talking to a neighbor this morning, I realized it wasn't just me.  "I'd rather that it was snowing", she told me, "because snow won't flood us."

Somewhere, it was snowing, and it wasn't that far away.  I saw a couple of SUVs with snow on their roof and fronts driving down Main Street.  A number of school districts to our west and north closed for the day.  A lot of people were without power in those areas, too.

We had just taken our snow tires off last week.  Oops.

The crabapples were coming out in our neighborhood and the rain and sleet knocked a lot of the blossoms off.  I hope our apple crop up in the hills wasn't affected.  Anxious time for farmers, too, and anyone who decided to jump the normal season with their gardens. (we didn't take that gamble, and are very happy for it.)

The rain is supposed to mix with snow overnight, but the temperature is expected to remain above freezing.

It's not nice to fool Mother Nature, and it's especially not nice when Mother Nature fools you.

Winter's last hurrah on April 23.

I hope.

Were you affected by the "Snowpril" storm?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Civil War Sunday-The Plot to Steal Lincoln's Body

I thought long and hard about what to write today for my Civil War Sunday. 

Today is Earth Day:  so maybe give my post an environmental slant?  Indeed, there are links to at least one environmental study of the effects of the Civil War. 

Thinking of the crazy weather we've been having lately- what about weather during the Civil War?  Covered, also, at this link. 

So, what I would like to write about instead is something related to an event that happened this week back in 1865 - the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and his passing on April 15, 1865 at about 7:22 AM.

Grave robbing was far from a rare occurrence in the 19th century.  In fact, there was an episode of the PBS show History Detectives that started with a person who thought he had a strange Civil War weapon in his possession.   It seemed to be an explosive device - a torpedo.  (back in the Civil War era the word "torpedo" was a general term referring to an explosive device - not the same meaning as today.)

It turned out to be a torpedo all right - a device that, if a grave robber tried to disturb a grave, would explode in the robber's face.

Abraham Lincoln's body could have used one of those.

I'm starting to read a fascinating book called "Stealing Lincoln's Body" by Thomas L. Craughwell.  It is based on a true story of some counterfeiters back in 1876.  Their gang's best engraver was in prison.  They needed him.  They decided to steal Lincoln's body and hold it for ransom.

The ransom would include a pardon for their engraver.

Lincoln's body wasn't guarded.  After all, who would want to steal it?

Did the counterfeiters succeed?  What about the Secret Service?  What finally happened at the end?

You'll just have to read the book to find out.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Fellowship of the Flood

Earth Day has been cancelled in Binghamton, NY.

No, really, it was cancelled.  There was an Earth Day celebration at our zoo, true.  But the Earth Day celebration that would have taken place at MacArthur School in Binghamton was cancelled due to our September flood.  The flood destroyed the school.  (It may never reopen - this is still up in the air.)  There wasn't enough time to find another site. 

Just another something cancelled by the flood. The Binghamton Earth Day was always fun - we got tree seedlings, Frito Lay samples (there is a local Frito Lay plant), free seeds, plus got the chance to browse exhibits, for a very minimal admission charge.

So what we ended up doing was going up to Ithaca, which is about an hours drive from where we live near Johnson City, New York.  We visited the Farmers Market and went to the Danby Green Homes Tour, which I will blog about in the near future.  At the Tour (15 "green" houses open for touring by their owners - or at least the green energy parts) we ran into a Danby woman who was, apparently, on the same "track" as we were.

We got to talking.

Amazingly, not only was this woman familiar with our neighborhood (Westover, one of the flooded neighborhoods of the Triple Cities), but she had volunteered for the flood cleanup in Owego, one of the worst hit towns.  She told her story to us, explaining she was compelled to help.

With another woman driving, she first stopped at house after house in Candor, which is between Ithaca and Owego, offering bottled water, and whatever help she could give.   Eventually, she helped in Owego. (I blogged some about their flood recovery in November and December of last year.)  I told her about the volunteers who showed up "just because" in our neighborhood, going door to door to offer help in the worse hit parts.

And, one of the houses on the Green Tour had some flooding, too.  It's sometimes hard to remember that the floods of Irene and Lee (ours was from Lee) hit so many people in upstate NY and other parts of the Northeast.   With other flooded communities we are part of what I call The Fellowship of the Flood.

My spouse and I, living in Westover, are part of the Fellowship of the Flood.  My childho od friend in Brooklyn, battling cancer for the second time, is also a member of the Fellowship of the Flood.  Her mother lives in rural Delaware County and as of February, the closest supermarket to her house still hadn't reopened. (that village, Margaretville, was very hard hit.  And if you want to see worse, look up a village called "Prattsville".) So either my friend or another family member had to bring food, or someone had to go to the next nearest supermarket, some 20 miles away.

Nearly eight months after the flood, thinking about it can still, under certain circumstances, bring up some pretty raw emotions.  But not when talking to another member of the Fellowship of the Flood.  I get a lot of comfort from talking to other Fellows.  They understand.  They've been there.  And a lot of them had it so much worse than we did.

So much to be grateful for, as we spent a gloomy April day in Ithaca.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Talking to Your Past

One of the amazing things about blogging is that you can talk to your past.  But there is no guarantee your past will see you.  Or hear you.

On April 30, 2011 I posted (with a couple of edits) this post on spring.  Yes, spring is usually a rare commodity here in upstate NY.  Late to come, quick to leave.

 If only I could blog to my past self today.  I wouldn't mention the floods of September of last year-why sadden her?.  No, I would have talked about a wish come true, and how wishes coming true can sometimes have a strange twist.

So here goes:

Dear AM of April 30, 2011:
You wished for spring last year, after a hard winter.  We don't get as many hard winters here as we used to, oh, 20 years ago but last years' winter was hard.  And bruising.  Two people I know fell and hit their heads.  At least all I did was bruise my butt.

The winter of 2011-2012 was nonexistent.  What if I told you we shoveled snow maybe 3 times?  That the sidewalks were bare for maybe 90% of the winter?  That we had crocuses blooming before spring came on the calendar?  Or that the Bradford Pears here were blooming before the end of March?

It was heaven, AM.  It was everything I thought an early spring would be.  The trees stayed in bloom for weeks (it seemed.)  In fact you can still see forsythias (also out before the end of March) here and there.   Today we walked in Binghamton and those trees with fragrant white blooms and lilac like leaves (but these are trees, definitely) were in bloom, perfuming the 78 degree air.  Crabapples were showing their pink best.  Late daffodils and mid to late season tulips were competing with creeping phlox to give the best display.

So, what would you say to the fact that WE HAVE SNOW IN THE FORECAST FOR MONDAY?  No, not flurries.  Accumulation.  At least we aren't in Rochester, where I hear they are predicting a foot.

Would you scream and stamp your feet and say IT AIN'T FAIR?  Oh please, nature, don't pull the spring rug from under us.  Please keep the flowers and warmth coming.  Please....let the weatherfolks be wrong.

If you could talk to your self from a year ago, what would you say?  And, are you about to face a very unpleasant spring surprise from Mother Nature, too?

And now, the post from April 30, 2011:

Suddenly Spring

Only a week ago our trees were just budding out.  Forsythias were out, but winter was hanging on for dear life.  We were still having enough cloudy days with temperatures barely into the 50's.

Don't blink, Southern Tier, or you will miss spring!

We went downstate for three days and when we got back on Monday, the Bradford Pears were in bloom.  And now they are fading fast, along with the flowering cherries and some other flowering trees.  The magnolias are budding today;  by Monday they will probably be gone too.  The redbuds are coming out now along with some early azaleas.  Andromedas are still blooming but not for long.   Hey, what happened?

Unfortunately, this is what happens when we have late springs.  We get the "everything at once" syndrome.  Green bomb.  Suddenly Spring.

This does make me long, in a way, for the springs of the south.

On March 21, we stayed in Mt. Airy, North Carolina and the Bradford Pears were in full bloom.

 On March 30, we stayed in Mt. Airy, North Carolina, and the Bradford Pears were in full bloom.

I don't wish for tornadoes but sometimes I wish we could have a spring like that.  The stately progression of one flowering tree after another.  And they even hang around for a while.

But don't get me wrong, I am enjoying every bit of it.  Spring is here, here, here, here!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Urban Chickens? Cock A Doodle Doo Yes!

On Saturday, my spouse and I were walking in Binghamton, an upstate New York city of about 47,000. residents, when we heard....

a crow.  A rooster crowing?

We heard it again. No doubt about it.  Years ago, we owned our own chickens, which we raised for eggs, for meat, and for entertainment.  We are quite familiar with crowing.

We walked by the house we thought the crowing was coming from and didn't see any easily visible evidence of chickens.

But chickens are in Binghamton, and they are legal.  As they are in a number of cities all over the United States, including some that may surprise you (New York City, for example).  Generally, ordinances permitting chickens will
a.  allow a maximum of 3 or 4 chickens per family;
b.  allow hens only, not roosters;
c.  require the chickens be confined to a yard or coop;
d. may or may not allow slaughter on the home premises; and
e.  many times will require a permit that you must pay for.

Are you interested in the nitty gritty of raising chickens? My experience is rural and not urban.  I've distilled some of my general knowledge which I am happy to share with you. 

Of course, I can't give advice on issues of how to build a coop in a city, or fence your feathered friends in.

As for that rooster in Binghamton....its legality may be somewhat questionable.  It seems the Binghamton ordinance doesn't outright prohibit them but does discuss the noise issue.

Our local paper (still mad at them, see my post of earlier this week) featured an article on urban chickens in today's issue. You'll enjoy the video interview on the website - made me a little bit nostalgic.  By the way, the featured people on "Margaret Street" are NOT where we heard the rooster crow.

Would we keep chickens today?  Probably not, as we are enjoying our empty nest too much to have to worry about chicken sitting when we are gone.  But maybe one day.....if we talk that talk of local food, we should walk that walk, too?

Do you keep urban chickens?  If not, have you thought about keeping some?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Spring Things - Floral Art in Binghamton with a Chicken Chaser

It's tulip time here in Binghamton, New York.  And daffodil time. Crabapple time.  And art time.

I found this floral decoration on the front of a house on the West Side of Binghamton.

Some wonderful art can be found in the Broome County Library's garden.  Yes, garden.  Not only does our library lend seeds, but it has a flower garden.   It was an urban renewal project, built by donations, and contains flowering plants, a gazebo with picnic tables, and places where you can just wander for a few minutes on your lunch time.

With a back drop of a church and flowering trees, stands a statue of a local dentist, Dr. Donald Bronsky.

Beautiful stones identify the garden plants.

I visited the garden three days ago, and what was in bloom?

A white daffodil with a pink throat...

...and assorted plants.

What a beautiful spring.  And would you believe, today's paper featured urban chickens on their front page?  I heard a rooster crowing on a walk in Binghamton this past weekend - and now I know it wasn't my imagination.

 But no pictures - yet.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Read All About it!

I write this post with a heavy heart, because I have subscribed to my local newspaper (no matter where I have lived) for over 35 years. 

I know the newspaper industry is in deep trouble.  (Disclaimer, I have a relative who works for a major newspaper publisher, but I did not discuss this post with her.  I may, once I post it.)  And, I realize businesses can't give away content online without a financial return.  The "free" model works for many industries - apparently it doesn't for the newspaper industry.  Ok, fine. But....

Yesterday, I received a letter from my paper.  "I'm writing to announce some energizing news!" it began.  As someone a little wise to the ways of the world (I hope) my inner voice said "Uh-oh."

Sure enough.  Our newspaper will continue to be printed (or so they say).  It will also be available "across all devices 24/7"  In other worlds I'll be able to get it on the tablet I don't own, the smart phone I don't have, plus the computer I do have, for only (unless my math is wrong) an additional $10 a month.

No choice to just be a paper subscriber. Or just an electronic subscriber.  All or nothing.

So, what happened to choice?

I would like to point out a few things:

1.  My spouse, who is the main newspaper reader in my family, does not use the computer for news.  Period. (he doesn't even use email.  It falls to me to manage his email.)
2.  My son, who is a young adult, probably has never read a paper in his life, unless forced to at school, and he doesn't read the paper on line either.   My son is far from alone, although he grew up in a household where he saw both parents buried in newspapers.  So why would he  pay $23 a month to get the newspaper delivered on his smartphone or computer?
3.  If I want news online, I don't choose my newspaper website as my first choice.  I get immediate news from Twitter.  I get internet news from a variety of sources including television websites (local and cable.)

I don't want the electronic stuff.  I don't want to pay extra for things I am not using.

I've supported my paper for years through my subscription, and this is the thanks I get for my brand loyalty.

I wonder how many of this paper's subscribers are older people, who have subscribed for years, who still read the paper paper, and wouldn't be able to read news on their phones without a magnifying glass.  Our region has a higher than average population of elderly. 

Young people don't read newspapers so they aren't going to add readership by doing this, either.

So what happens when the paper alienates their loyal readers and doesn't do anything to attract the young? 

I would love to know the logic, the research the industry has done, to support this decision.

Our paper is a Gannett paper, so I have to know this is coming down from "Corporate".

So this is my message to the Binghamton Press and Sun-Bulletin:  No wonder your industry is dying.  You have no imagination.  You punch your loyal customers in the stomach.

Am I alone in feeling this way?

Do you still read newspapers? (If you do, would you mind sharing your decade - 20's, 40's, 60's or whatever, with me? )  Is your paper doing something like this?  If not, how would you react if they did?

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Seed Lending Library

The Broome County public library, in Binghamton, new York, has started a Seed Lending Library.

"You can check out seeds at the Information Desk starting April 7th.  You will need a valid library card..."  The seeds are donated, and are organic.

There is no cost, and the seeds offered include tomato, radish, cabbage, cucumber, lettuce, melon (noting melon can be a bit of a gamble crop here in upstate NY-I hope what they are offering is a short season variety) cilantro, parsley and broccoli.

Apparently some public libraries out in California have had similar programs.  I have a feeling BC Library is on the cutting edge.

The expectation is that people will save seeds from the best plants and give back to the library.  "however, you will not be penalized...."  I would hope not.  The reason given is that this is a new program. 

In a way, I have to be a little leery over the expectation that people will be expected to return seeds at the end of the year.

1.  Are people going to be educated as to exactly how to save seed and return at the end of the year?    It may be easy to save cucumber seed.  Parsley, not so much.  It is, after all, a biennial and the person has to be able to overwinter it.  There may be a similar problem with late cabbage in that the gardening season may be over by the time the cabbage bolts.  If they are community gardening, it may be impossible to keep the plants that long.

2.  Some items offered, such as eggplant, plus the aforementioned melon, are not easy to grow here.  Eggplant, especially.  I've tried to grow eggplant several times (from purchased plants!) with wildly varying success and I have about 35 years of gardening experience.  A couple of the offerings, I think, are just not good choices for beginners.

3.  Some veggies offered, such as cabbage and lettuce, don't bolt until the useful life of the plant are finished.  Again, people will have to be educated to this.  And, they will have to sacrifice the very best plants, to fulfill what is expected of them in the seed saving arena.

These, however, are quibbles and I hope this is a successful program.  With a little education, I think it can be.

Thank you, High Mowing organic seeds, for donating seeds to this program.

Do you have a seed lending program at your local public library?  Has it worked for your area?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day April 2012- April Showers Bring Mass Confusion

Welcome once again to Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day brought to us by May Dreams Gardens (thank you once again for hosting this meme!) where we display what is blooming in our gardens on the 15th of each month and browse the posts of our fellow gardeners from all over the world.

So what has happened since we gathered last, on March 15, here in upstate New York?

For the March 15 post, an extremely mild winter caused early bulbs, such as crocuses and early daffodils, to bloom way ahead of schedule.  And then it got even better or worse.(depending on your point of view.)

Here, as in so much of the United States, our spring was totally topsy-turvey.  We got April weather - even May weather -the week of March 18 and  trees responded, showing their blooms a good three weeks or more ahead of "schedule".

Then we got a hard freeze.  At my son's house (I was on vacation, safe in Raleigh, NC) it got down to 16 degrees.  At our house I estimate it was somewhere in the 20's.


Despite the damage, spring was here for good.  And, like so many other gardeners, I am reporting May blooms blooming today.  For example -

In my front yard, purple tulips.....
Red tulips....(with a backdrop of grape hyacinths)


And in my back yard, primroses.
Back to my front yard, my euphorbia is starting to show yellow...
And two pansies that overwintered finally opened their flowers today, just in time for GBBD.
For some reason, my lenten rose is showing a lot of new foliage growth but no flowers. I have a sinking feeling we planted it in too much shade.  Meanwhile, our columbine (never had one before last year for some unknown reason)  is also putting out foliage at a great clip.  Hopefully, I'll know by the May Garden Bloggers Bloom Day if these will bloom.

Some area lilacs and rhodies are even starting to bloom now (a good month ahead of schedule!) although not mine.

This type of spring is not necessarily good for our area, though.  We have a local maple syrup industry, and I talked to a producer at yesterday's Farmers Market.  Their season was much shorter than normal.

I'll be posting other pictures taken around Binghamton, New York, later in the week, if you want to stop back by.

Happy GBBD!  How's your garden doing?  If you are in North America, have you also had a strange winter and spring?

Best of AM - Civil War Sunday - Ft. Sumter

I posted this before I officially started my Civil War Sunday feature last year.

I would like to share some of my earlier work - this, from April 2011, when my spouse and I visited Charleston, South Carolina, where our Civil War started.  With my usual bad timing, I wasn't able to visit during the 150th anniversary of the start of our War Between the States, or Civil War, April 12, 1861.

Today, I face having to post twice:  once for my Civil War Sunday feature, and once for my 15th of the month Garden Bloggers Bloom Day feature.  I will be back with fresh posts next week.

Please also enjoy the post I will post later today for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, too.  This will feature what is blooming in my upstate New York garden - a far cry from the Civil War, but a lot prettier.

The Civil War - Ft. Sumter

I was not able to make the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, at Ft. Sumter, in Charleston Harbor.  But, I did visit Charleston in March and I must say that Charleston must have more history per square inch than almost any other city in the United States.

 As a "Yankee", it is also fascinating to me to see "the other side".

But in another way, it was good that we were able to experience a lot of downtown Charleston instead of chasing around various Civil War venues.

On a building downtown is this plaque.  The actual building is no longer there but at this site the Ordinance of Secession  for South Carolina was passed.  South Carolina was the first state to leave the Union, in December of 1860.

Over the next four months, a crisis built at a fort in Charleston Harbor, Ft. Sumter.  Actually, not too much of Ft. Sumter from the Civil War exists; much of what is on the site now dates from the Spanish-American War.  Nevertheless, there is a lot to see.

This first picture is the boarding of the ferry that takes you to Ft. Sumter.  The ferry ride lasts about 1/2 hour each way and you have an hour or so to tour the fort.  Boarding, we had a good view of the lovely Ravenel Bridge that spans the Cooper River.  Charleston lies between two rivers, the Ashley and the Cooper.

A taped narrative plays as the ferry approaches the island Ft. Sumter is located on.

When you embark at the Fort, what you see remaining of the Civil War fought looks like this.  It is amazing, given the bombardment this fort suffered, that any of it is still standing.

Inside one of the Spanish-American War buildings, is a museum where the Ft. Sumter Flag is on display....battered but in a place of honor.  There are 33 stars (states) on this flag. (It wasn't until later that I was told that flash photography can damage old cloth...but there was no sign prohibiting flash photography that I saw.  After the fort was surrendered to the Confederacy the union Major kept the flag.  This flag traveled throughout the North and was "auctioned off" to raise funds for the war.

On the way back, you can see the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, that is on display in Patriots Point in Charleston Harbor.
In a way it's good that we visited before the crush of people coming to commemorate the anniversary.

We enjoyed our visit very much but wish we had had more time to explore.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Titanic and the Centenarian

Last Sunday, I spent Easter afternoon with a 100 year old woman, my spouse's aunt.  She is fascinating company.  She's healthy, has all her mental facilities, and has wide ranging interests - and a hearty appetite and zest for life to match.  She still lives at home, still does her own housework.

I love the several times a year I get to visit with her.  It thrills me when I hug her, and she tells me that she loves me.

And, if she had been born on the other side of the Atlantic - who knows, she may have been on the Titanic.As it is, she is (to me) a link to the day the Titanic sunk.

Yes, she was alive on April 14, 1912.  Granted, she was an infant, but she was alive.  She is living history, a living link (of sorts) with that day many people are going to commemorate today.

On 20 minutes to midnight April 14, 1912, a British passenger line, considered unsinkable, hit an iceberg.  A little more than 2 hours later, it sank. The public on "both sides of the pond" was fascinated then, and they still are now.

As a child, my young adult son built a Titanic model from a kit, and devoured every book Scholastic published on the subject.  I may even have some of them in the deep recesses of my spare room/library.

There are several memorial cruises retracing the route and also visiting Halifax, Nova Scotia.  I thought it crazy at first, but then, reading more about it, I realized that people have come from all over the world to participate.  Some were descendents of people who were on the ship. Some 150 victims are buried in three cemetaries in Halifax.  The city's maritime museum specializes in information on the subject.

So why the continued fascination?  Isn't a disaster a disaster?

Someone made this comparison to me:  what if a plane crashed tomorrow with no survivors, and Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Madonna,  and Oprah Winfrey were on the plane?  (If any of you four are reading this, I am so sorry for dooming you.)  It would be weeks before the news media reported on anything else.

In its own way, this was what happened on the Titanic.  Some of the names of the dead include:  John Jacob Astor IV, (of the Astor family), Isador Straus (co-owner of Macys), Major Archibald Butt (an aide to Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft).  These people were very well known in 1912.

Then there was the drama, the heroism, the lack of lifeboats, the captain who went down with his ship,  the men sacrificing their lives while their wives were able to escape, (noting that Isador Straus' wife refused to leave his side and won her own fame for dying with her husband). And that orchestra.  The famous orchestra that went down with the ship. 

Every element of a good story was present that night.

Can you imagine what would happen today in a similar disaster?  Well, it isn't hard.  There was the Costa Concordia, not exactly cruise ship heroism's finest hour.

Are there any living survivors of the Titanic?  No.  The last survivor (who was born in February of 1912) died in 2009 at the age of 97.  So, our only living link are those centenarians like my spouse's aunt.

My aunt-in-law and the Titanic.  They have so much in common besides their age.  Together, they would have made one heck of a story.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Joyous Times at the Community Garden

Community gardening season has opened in Binghamton, New York!

For the past 15 or more years, ever since the garden moved to its present location and plowing was provided by the county, we would normally have to wait until early May to get into our plots.  Some years, snow was still on the ground in April and the ground was too wet.  In other years, I guess the county had other things to do first.

We are in a zone 5 area.  Waiting to plant until the beginning of May has been a frustration. We just haven't been able to get decent peas or spinach with such a late start, before either heat or short nights (or both) struck.

But...this year the plots were plowed, staked out and ready for the planting this week.  This may be part of our super-mild winter and early spring (we have transitioned into more seasonal weather - had ice pellet storms Wednesday) but it may also be because our gardening season this year will be ending on September 16 instead of October 31.

Spouse, who has very early work hours, got out to the garden in the afternoon and now we (I, in all honesty, provide mainly moral support)  have peas, spinach, Chinese cabbage (a gamble) and a couple of other things planted.

Speaking about the early end to the community garden season - apparently the community gardeners were enthusiastic about having a cover crop planted after September 16 and felt it was worth the sacrifice of the rest of the season.  (I haven't heard much feedback about the desire to go organic within the next five years, however.)

Later this year we will also see the start of construction (next to our gardens) of the new Regional Farmers Market.  We are looking forward to this, after having been to the Regional Market in Raleigh, North Carolina earlier this spring.

Now all we can hope for is good weather and not too many bugs.  As for the latter, our mild winter may have made that decision for us.  For the former - we'll just have to see.

Good times ahead - after our floods of September, this area needs all the good news it can get.

Do any of my other readers community garden?  I'd love to hear from you.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Polio and a President

On the anniversary of Franklin Roosevelt's sudden death on April 12, 1945, I wanted to talk a little about a scourge of my early childhood that, hopefully, will never reappear in our lifetimes.

I visited Warm Springs, Georgia in March of 2010 and saw the Little White House where Roosevelt died, the unfinished portrait that still sits in the house, and the pools where Roosevelt had found relief from his polio.  Yes, Roosevelt was a disabled man in a time were disabled people were disrespected and discriminated against - so much so that Roosevelt had to hide the fact that he depended on a wheelchair for mobility.

Otherwise, people might have thought he was unfit for office.

That would be totally inconceivable today - but those were very different times.  Still, Franklin Roosevelt had a large role in making disability acceptable, and gave hope to a lot of people with polio.  Ever hear of the March of Dimes?  It started as a movement to find a cure for polio

At the time of his death, polio was a feared scourge.  I can vaguely remember the panic that was felt during the summer - the peak time for polio. Parents would even keep their children away from public swimming pools, as it was believed that pools were one place you could "catch" polio.  As children, we believed that being near a storm drain could give you polio.

But then everything changed.

A charity called The March of Dimes was founded by Franklin Roosevelt in 1938..  Roosevelt had a simple idea- asking Americans to send in a dime, just one dime, to fight polio.  The "march"of dimes helped to finance research, so that the Salk and Sabin vaccines could be developed.   In honor of Roosevelt's fund raising, his face appears on the dime and has for many years.

Ironically, Roosevelt's polio may have been misdiagnosed - but many people alive today can be grateful for that misdiagnosis.

 I was one of those young children in those old black and white photos lining up in schools for their polio shot.

I was a member of the first generation in human history that did not have to fear polio.   And to my son, polio is just a historical curiosity - although one of his older cousins married a woman who had polio as a child, and has a noticeable limp to show for it.

Today, we are fighting a different epidemic, one that won't be helped by a March of Dimes.  The epidemic is autism, and I will blog about it again in the near future.  My brother in law, who is in his 50's, has autism.  But that is a discussion for another time.

I realized, in researching my blog, that I had never published my photos of Warm Springs, and I hope to fix that in the near future.  And yes, there is still a Roosevelt Institute for Rehabilitation in Warm Springs.

If you need a story on how one person can change history, and enrich the lives of millions, you need look no further than this story.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Spring Things - Does This Oak Make Me Look Small?

This isn't strictly a "spring thing" except that we visited this in the spring.
There is nothing that can make you feel small as much as a huge object of nature.  Like this live oak tree.  This is just a small portion of the oak, which is called the Angel Tree.  It is located on Johns Island, one of the islands that partially surround Charleston, South Carolina.

The shade it casts measures over 17,000. square feet in area.  The green blotches on branches are resurrection ferns
Here is one of its many branches.
And here is another, haunting view. 

The Angel Oak's age is estimated as somewhere between 500 and 1500 years old.

We had never heard of the Angel Oak.  We heard about it from a native, who said "you just have to see this; it is so peaceful."  Apparently this is quite the attraction, as there were a number of other people there oohing and ahhing.  On private property, it is free (there is a low key gift shop nearby), and there are even picnic tables nearby.

It was peaceful.  It's hard to describe the feeling we had.  Awe?  Something more?

But, there is more to this story.

The Angel Oak is in danger from development. There are some online petitions to convince the City of Charleston not to allow the development, which appears to be for a development called - what else- Angel Oak Village. The Angel Oak may not be directly threatened, but there are other old live oaks in the area, and they will be.

I didn't find anything recent on this development, and hope that future generations will be able to feel the same awe as I did three weeks ago today.

Have you visited a natural place that made you feel especially at peace?  Have you visited the Angel Oak?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Nothing Like a Smartphone to Make You Feel Stupid

I reject the "you are growing older, so you just can't learn new things" (I'm somewhat close to turning 60) argument - except when it comes to certain technology.

I grew up in an era where telephones were large, clunky things with a dial. They hung on your kitchen wall.  They had a dial tone.  You waited for the dial tone before you dialed.  (At least I didn't have to turn a crank and ask the operator to dial the call - I'm not THAT old.)

You used them to - make phone calls.  Phone calls consisted of using the dial, which had a disk with holes in it, to dial numbers.  There was an art to it.  If you didn't dial properly, you got a wrong number.  There was only one type of ringer.  It rang.  The person answered.  He or she had no idea who was calling until they answered. There was no such thing as caller ID  Or an answering machine.

Calls were billed using "message units" in my native New York City.  If you were in the Bronx and wanted to call Brooklyn, you had to be prepared to take out a bank loan if you spoke more than 5 or 10 minutes.  I forget how much a message unit cost, but it was a lot.  Long distance was even worse.  The calls were billed at rates that varied depending on the time of day - or night.  Overseas?  We never even tried.

Now I live in an era where my son and girlfriend sit on the same sofa and text each other.  Neither would know how to dial a phone with a dial.  Nor can they imagine a phone that doesn't also take pictures, act as a GPS, or allow you to connect on Facebook or browse the Web.

Right now I have what I call a 'stupid phone'.  It makes phone calls, plus has some other functions that I have absolutely no idea how to use, because I don't use them.  It's a Trac Fone, so I've never had a plan.  That's the nice part. However, Trac Fones have many limitations.  You can't download any kind of QR reader to them.  You can't text things to those five digit numbers.

I am tired of watching people whip out their phones to take pictures or record videos at special events.  I'm tired of needing a GPS (we don't have one) and not being able to use my phone.  And, when my son told me at Easter dinner Sunday that he was going to upgrade to an iPhone, I was set to join the wonderful world of technology.

Let me tell you what happened.  (My younger readers, please forgive me.  Your day will come.)

Son has Verizon, so we went to "his" Verizon store.  I was greeted, and directed to a knowledgeable sales rep who looked like she was about 14 years old.  That was actually comforting, because I figure the younger you are, the more knowledgeable you are when it comes to phones.  And she did have the figures right at hand.

My son was paying about $80 a month on his plan. I figured adding a second line would be about $10 more.


It was about $70 more but part of that is a data plan upgrade required for an iPhone - his plan will be going up, too, if he does get an iPhone.

The sales rep welcomed us to look around so we did.  There were all these displays - phones for calling, phones for texting, phones that were smartphones.  There were even iPads.  Of the smartphones there were 4 or 5 different manufacturers. After the Galaxies, the Droids, the LG's and so forth, my head was spinning.

We left without making a decision.

I don't know what our decision will be.  But with the proliferation of QR codes (there was even one on the cover of the latest issue of my Consumer Reports) I figure I had better join the smartphone age before I am left out of things all together.

I've heard too many stories from people my age, kind of half embarrassed, relating how they struggle to use their phones.  I don't want to be one of those people.  I want to learn the features.

Maybe I'll be on that sofa one day, with my son and girlfirend, texting them and sending them photos.  And posting on their Facebook walls.

Is there anyone else out there of "a certain age", who has taken to smartphones?  Or, do you use the phone as a phone, and ignore the other features?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Loss of Independence Day

One fall is all it takes when you are in your 80's.  One fall to take away your independence.

There's no manual for loved ones of elderly parents or in laws.   Seems you have to make it up as you go along.

My mother in law lives about 3 hours away from us, so my spouse and I are technically "long distance caregivers".  We are fortunate that my mother in law (who lives with, and cares for, a developmentally disabled son) (her choice) is fiercely independent and is a mentally strong person.

A two time cancer survivor, she struggles with various physical issues, including residual weaknesses on her left side from a small stroke, and a bad knee due to arthritis. 

BUT....she has fallen several times.  She's always had balance problems, even when she was younger.  She walked for exercise, but it wasn't enough.  It is scary to see this woman (who I have known for over 40 years) age, because in some ways I see myself in her.  It's like a "coming attractions" of a bad, sad movie, and I know I have to work to avoid her fate.  If at all possible.

She has had several falls serious enough to require medical attention, and each one is harder and harder to recover from.

The last fall was yesterday, surrounded by loving relatives at Easter dinner.  It only took a second, and she was there on the fall, with a gash in her arm.  It was a miracle she didn't hit her head.

Fortunately one of the relatives present was a caregiver at one time (her parents are both dead now) and knew just what to do.  I tried to absorb what she did. 

The fall before that, late last year, she fell into a curio cabinet, remained conscious, and was able to talk to her son, and give him directions. She was able to call someone nearby who is a nurse and thank heavens that person was home.  But I truly don't know what he would do if she was unconscious.

She does wear one of the "call for help" buttons.  She's had the service for several years. 

But we are three hours away and both of us work.Thankfully, our son is grown. She has a daughter closer, but that daughter is single, works full time, and lives in constant jeopardy of being laid off.  And mother in law doesn't want Meals on Wheels.  She doesn't want "government" help.  She pays for lawn care and a weekly housekeeper but my instinct is, that isn't enough anymore.

If we started calling her daily she would not take that well.  Anything that smells like "you aren't independent anymore" is not wanted.  At least at this point of time, she can drive, but we don't know how long that will last.  Her area doesn't have good public transportation. 

So we walk what seems like a tightrope.  We want to respect her wishes, which are to be independent.  But we fear for her safety.  Relatives she depended on a lot for moral support just moved to Florida in their retirement.  She does have a support system but....

One day that day is going to come, the day she can no longer be independent.  She doesn't want that day to come anytime soon.  I don't want it to come, either, for her sake and mine.  How do we best make that happen?

Have you been a long distance caregiver of an elderly parent or in law?  I would love to hear from you.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Disaster and the Opportunity to Change for the Better

 (If you are looking for my Civil War Saturday post, please look at yesterday's post, which discusses the Battle of Shiloh and a legend that turned out to be true).

September 8, 2011.  The day it all changed.

As readers of my blog know (boy, do they know) that was the day that torrential rains from Tropical Storm Lee made our rivers and streams cry uncle, causing flash and river flooding.  So much was much has changed, and we are now at the 7 month anniversary.

Houses still lie vacant in my neighborhood and others (I was one of the lucky ones).  Some businesses closed, and their buildings lie vacant, too.  It is not pretty.  Sometimes I think I never, ever, want to see another building stripped inside to the wall studs, ever every again.  Or a house spray painted with an X, a P or a K.

There is a flip side to disaster, though, as we are finding.  Disaster can trigger change for the better.  Businesses can be rethought and strengthened.  People can redesign their homes for the better.  People can come out stronger for the experience (although that is a very hard process and I don't want to minimize it or turn it into a cliche.)

In our neighborhood near Johnson City, New York, called Westover by locals, our Aldi was redesigned and reopened totally remodeled, with energy saving equipment.  It is better than ever.

I've blogged time and again about BAE Systems, a defense plant (well, a former one) near my home.  This is what it looked like, abandoned, about 10 days ago.  Eventually (maybe this year?) the building will be torn down, with the land hopefully being used for park land.  Could you imagine a green space coming out of disaster? (I hope they keep the landscaping in the front, including these Bradford Pears).

BAE Systems tried their best to recover their facility in my neighborhood.  (photo below taken during the recovery effort.) The rapid recover never happened.  The effort to salvage the building and the custom made machinery within was not successful.  BAE ended up moving several miles down the road.  Not good for Westover but.... so doing, it may revitalize Endicott, a once-great village which has fallen upon hard times.  Buildings abandoned by IBM (which, ironically, began business in Binghamton, New York), are occupied once again, and BAE can take these buildings and redesign them as they desire.

Endicott's main shopping avenue is in walking distance of the facility, and "The Avenue" is filled with lunchtime shoppers once again.  I can only hope our loss is their gain. (I can also hope they stay beyond the 5 years they have promised to.)

Even in nearby Twin Orchards, an area terribly devastated by the flood (their flooding included raw sewage), an 80 year old man grabbed disaster by the horns and pulled his business back into the sunshine.
It isn't visible in this exterior photo, but Pete totally redesigned the layout of the restaurant.

In personal matters, I have a brand new HE washer and brand new high efficiency dryer, something I would have waited for years to do, if not pushed into it. (Doing laundry is now like operating the Starship Enterprise.) Some old home canned goods I was dithering over got tossed for me by nature.  Then there is my new living room floor.  I now longer have the carpet I hated.  Not that I am happy over why I got these new things, but the fact is, I was able to get them.

This is not to say that everything that happened is happiness and sunshine.  Change is hard.  Many have suffered tremendous financial loss.  Jobs have been lost, as a number of area employers did close forever, including some in and near my neighborhood.  But sometimes we can use a disaster as a reason for change that has been put off.  We are pushed, and we make the change.

And, sometimes we are the better for it.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Civl War Saturday (Special Edition)-The Legend of the Gold Coin

Legends are always fascinating.  And sometimes, they are even true.

Today is the 150th anniversary of the second day of the two day Battle of Shiloh (Pittsburg Landing) in Tennessee.  This battle was the bloodiest battle in America up to its time (but would be surpassed later that year near a creek in Maryland called Antietam).   General Albert Sidney Johnston of the Confederate States of America lost his life at that battle (which was won by the Federals).  In a war that had so many "what if" turning points or "could have been" turning points, it may have been the death of Johnston that lead to the ultimate defeat of the Confederacy. (Ironically, it is also possible he was killed by friendly fire).  But, I will leave those debates to the historians.

What I love about the Civil War is those "rest of the stories" and one concerns a legend that turned out to be true.

The legend tells us that the sweetheart of one George Dixon gave him a gold coin as a token of her love as he went off to war, on the Confederate side.  He promised his sweetheart he would keep it with him always, and he kept that promise.  The coin was in his pants pocket as he fought at the Battle of Shiloh, and a bullet hit him - in the coin.  The coin deflected the bullet enough that the wound did not require amputation, and George Dixon lived to fight another day.

Lieutenant George Dixon died on the submarine H. L. Hunley, in Charleston Harbor, in 1864, as I have blogged about previously.  The Hunley was a marvel of the technology of the 1860's, a functional submarine that saw combat, but the crew met their death at the bottom of Charleston Harbor hours after their first and only battle action for reasons still unknown.

During the excavation of the H. L. Hunley, the coin was indeed found next to Dixon's body.

It is a $20. gold piece, bent, with an inscription:
April 6 1862
My life Preserver

In the lab, traces of lead were discovered on the coin, leading scientists to conclude that the coin was indeed hit by a bullet.  And, due to where it was found, the authenticity of the coin is unquestioned.

I recently toured the lab restoring the Hunley.  You can not take photographs, but you can see the ship (in a preservation tank) and the coin.  And, that morning, something happened that could only happen in Hollywood. Except it didn't.

I was examining the coin, in its display case, with an older gentleman.  He mentioned that his great-great-great-great (I may have left out a "great" or two) grandfather had fought at Shiloh.

Bet Lieutenant Dixon was winking at us at that moment.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Lessons of the Pet Shop of Death

Are you ready for a natural disaster?  Or your death?
You've drawn up your will, made your wishes known to family.

But, have you thought about your pets?

They are part of your family.  They deserve and have earned your care even after your death.  Or after a natural disaster.

We in the Southern Tier of upstate NY learned this the hard way last September.

A local pet shop (I will not mention their name within this post, but it is part of a chain) flooded in our September 8, 2011 floods in Johnson City caused by Tropical Storm Lee.  The site had flooded at least once, before the shop opened.  The owners of the chain would have had access to this knowledge.

I will not get into the controversy over who was responsible - the village of Johnson City, management....but the sad and sorry fact was that some 100 animals died in the flooded store, scared and alone, because they were not evacuated.  Another 100 or so animals were saved and brought to a location about an hour away.

In all these months of me blogging about the flood recovery, I have never spoken until now about the Pet Shop of Death.  But I can tell you that in the days and weeks after the flood, so many people discussed, debated, cared about what had happened in that store on Harry L. Drive. (and, if you do want to know more, please feel free to click here.) In the swirl of people dealing with flooded basements and homes, not having clean water to drink or a place to wash their clothes, finding the roads they normally used closed and damaged, coping with their displacement or the displacement of their workplaces, and everything else that accompanies this type of disaster, people cared about those animals.

It hurt.  It still hurts.

Or, as tragically happened to a relative - she lived alone, and died instantly in a car accident.  She had two cats, both rescue cats.  She volunteered time in an animal shelter.  She had a will.  But she had not made a provision for her cats. This can happen, too.

So, I would like to ask each of my readers this question, because a weather disaster can happen anywhere, at any time.

-Have you thought about, if there is a disaster, who will care for your pets?  Your chosen people might not be able to when that day comes, but at least you have tried.

-Have you made it known, if you live alone and pass away suddenly, who will take in and care for your pets?  Not just hoped, but spoken to the person(s) and gotten their agreement?

If you haven't, please do so today.  Or, at the latest, tomorrow.  Your pets love you, look to you, depend on you.  Don't let them down.

I was petless during the flood, and am still petless.  But this may change in the future, and I will make these arrangements before ever being honored by the company of a pet, ever again. 


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Gateway to What?

In the wake of urban decay, loss of jobs and the finishing touches of the flooding caused by Tropical Storm Lee on September 7 and 8 of last year, Binghamton and the other parts of the Triple Cities face what some call a "defining moment".

In front of the ruined former BAE Industries building on Main Street in Westover, blocks from where I live, beautiful Bradford Pears bloom.

But no one is there to admire the trees because the 1300 employees are working, at least for the next 5 years, a few miles down the road in Endicott, one of our "Triple Cities". BAE vacated this building due to the flood, and the building was too damaged to repair. The taxpaper is picking up the millions of dollars spent to try to salvage the building before the effort was abandoned in November.

Almost daily, more and more garbage accumulates on the lawn in front of the vacant building.  People are deciding to use this lawn in my neighborhood as a garbage dump.

Meanwhile, after the 5 years are up, BAE gives no guarantee they will stay in this area, period.

In downtown Binghamton, about 4 miles from Westover, streets, sidewalks and planters are being torn up to start what is called the Gateway Project.    It's nice to fix a tricky intersection by building a roundabout.  But, as empty factory buildings (not just BAE, but all over the Triple Cities) literally rot, officials say of Gateway "The project aims to make the city more aesthetically pleasing for its residents and easier to navigate through."  Are you kidding me?

(Rubble from the start of the roundabout construction).

I wish our problems could be solved by a roundabout.  But the building below, where the approach to the roundabout will be located,was seriously damaged by fire in 2010, and has been vacant since around 1974.  Many years ago, it was a Woolworths.  It was being renovated for student housing when the fire hit in 2010.  Now, despite claims that renovation continues, who knows.  It's not the only vacant building downtown, either.  Far from it.

It doesn't have to be this way.  Rochester, about 2 1/2 hours away by car, proves otherwise.  And they didn't do it by building a pretty roundabout.

Binghamton can not ignore the fact that another flood will kill this area.  We have to think big, and creatively.  We have to get people to want to stay.  Because, as also reported in today's paper, people continue to leave this area.  Our county is leading this exodus from upstate New York.

If we don't stop living in the past, and fast, the roundabout will be a Gateway out of Broome County.  If job losses or another flood don't get us first.

In the near future, I hope to share some ideas about our future. 

Do you live in a city that has come back from the brink?  I'd love to hear from you and find out what your city did to recover, and to find itself once again.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Spring Things - Bluebells of Virginius Island

Virginius Island, in walking distance from Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, used to be a thriving mill village back in the 19th century.

Harpers Ferry is best known for the John Brown raid that was one of the factors leading to the United States Civil War, but the area is actually rich in a lot of other history, too.  One day I will blog more about it.

Virginius Island lies in the Shenandoah River near where it joins with the Potomac.  The entire area (including the lower part of Harpers Ferry) is a flood plain and has been flooded again and again.  Recurrent flooding ended the occupation of Virginius Island.  Now it is abandoned.  The island is gradually returning to nature.

To get to Virginius Island, you cross the Shenandoah River on a bridge that has a train running mere feet away from where you walk.

Last month, the Virginia bluebells were in full bloom.

They grow even around the ruins.

The confluence of the Shenandoah and the Potomac seems so peaceful, but those rivers actually have a lot of rough water.  And when the floods come, they are deadly.

We think we can conquer nature but when it comes right down to it, we are only fooling ourselves.