Thursday, May 31, 2012

Endings and Beginnings

This is my final post of the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon.  I hope I am a better blogger for it.  Last year's Blogathon launched me, I truly believe, as a writer.  My next challenge, the Author Blog Challenge starting on June 2, may either launch me as an author in training (as far as "will I ever be a published author?") or convince me that blogging is as far as I should go.

So, a look back on the 31 days of the Blogathon.

What's New and What Have I Learned?

I now have a Facebook page for my blog, Ramblin with AM.  If you enjoy my blog, and are on Facebook, swing by and "like" me.  Wouldn't have taken that step without the Blogathon.

I swapped posts with two other bloggers, and hope to be able to do it again with both bloggers later this year.

I got an iPhone right before the Blogathon. What a learning experience.  One thing I did, as a result of using my phone to read blogs, and participating in the Blogathon, is that I decided to experiment with not using Captcha on comments.  I've done enough commenting now to know how frustrating certain of the things we bloggers do to prevent spam can actually prevent readership, not just spam.

Thanks to a guest blogger I swapped posts with, I found out about photo compression - and am now using compression software.  Thanks to a comment by another Blogathoner, I am going to look into watermarking my photos.

My blog was mentioned on  an Internet radio broadcast.

How have I done?

My most popular post was "Pinterest, Spam and a Dash of Porn", which leads me to believe that
a.  If you write anything about Pinterest, readers are going to come.
b.  If you mention porn.....well, never mind.

Perhaps I should rename my blog "Ramblin' on Pinterest"?

My Civil War posts and some of my flower photography posts got good traffic, too.

But, interestingly, the most referrals to my site are coming from (I googled this) a Russian attack site.  I never click on any links in my traffic stats, and it is a bit painful to realize that referral spam is still quite alive and well.

It's hard for me to know my true traffic because I'm only using Blogger's built in tools.  So that brings up the age old question:  should I leave Blogger?

Have I Been Able to Read Many Blog Posts and Find New Blogs I Like?

Not as much as I would have liked.  I lost nearly a week to an infection and generally not feeling well.  And, because of a lot of participants, the Blogathon, in all honesty, was like (another cliche) drinking from a fire hose.  There was way too much to absorb.  But I did find a few new blogs I will be visiting after the Blogathon ends.

What do I Need to Do Now?

Believe in myself more.   Build my confidence to take the next step, whatever that turns out to be.

The common wisdom says bloggers should focus on one subject.  But that isn't me. I get bored concentrating on one thing. I think my weekly features do help me focus.  There are Civil War Sundays, Wednesday Spring Things (which will need to be renamed in three weeks) and Sustainable Saturdays, plus  Garden Bloggers Bloom Day on the 15th of each month.

As for what I will be doing the next month in an Author Blog Challenge-I truly have no idea.

And so..four questions for you, my reader, as I move forward:

If you are from the Blogathon, do you feel it was a success for you?  Do you think you will be carry forward the momentum?

For any reader,  is there anything you would like to see more of on my blog?  Or less?

And now, to dream another 11 months, to the next Blogathon.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Spring Things -Cutler Botanic Gardens

This will be my last Spring Things of the 2012 WordCount Blogathon. One more post tomorrow and I am done! (Then time for the next challenge - the Author Blog Challenge in June.)

Spring is nearly done, too.  The calendar page still says we are in the month of May.  However, the plants in bloom, here in upstate New York, are screaming June! June! June!

Saturday, I was out and about in the Binghamton, New York area.  I visited Otsiningo Park, and also our local botanical gardens, Cutler Botanic Garden. 

Cutler is small but worth visiting if you are in the Binghamton, New York area.  It features several perennial theme gardens plus an All-American Selections display garden.   It was heavily damaged in last year's flood but the master gardeners have put in hours and hours of  restoration work.  To them, I say thank you.  This little gem of a garden is free, unless you want a guided tour or a class.

The roses are out.  There is a very nice collection of heirloom roses.   I didn't make note of the varieties but this white rose immediately attracted me.

Red roses.
Pink roses.

Not to be outdone, the irises cried for my attention.  Purple irises have failed at my house (I don't know why but I've had an almost total iris failure) but were showy at Cutler.

At nearby Otsiningo Park, these irises are blooming at the park entrance.

And last but not least, a closeup of these irises.

With summer almost here, I have a number of wildflower pictures ready to share with you in June.  See you again next week!

What is your favorite flower of late spring?  Roses?  Irises?  Clementis? Early hosta?  Something not hardy enough to grow in upstate NY (zone 5b?)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Lazy Tuesday

I thought I would extend the Memorial Day holiday and take the day off.  Actually, once the Blogathon is over (Thursday) I have to gear up for a new blogging challenge (Saturday).

The following post is one of my most popular posts, a little reworked.

One of my favorite pastimes is finding magazines from the World War II and Cold War era (especially World War II) and this was a nice find at the Ithaca, NY library book sale in 2009, my first year of blogging..  This book sale, held twice a year, is one of the largest in the country.  They usually have some boxes of old Life, Look and such magazines.  Sometimes they are musty, but they are always a treat for people like me to read.  The next sale is in October, and I hope I can make it up there.

Enjoy!  The original post can be found here.

Twice a year, I make my pilgrimage to the Ithaca Friends of the Library Book Sale.

If you aren't of a "certain age" you will not remember Life magazine (except maybe in the name "Time-Life"). If you are of a certain age thinking of this magazine will bring back memories.

In a corner of the sale, I followed the musty smell and found a stack of old Life magazines. Many were heavily damaged but several were still in pretty decent condition. The subscribers (the mailing labels were still on the magazine, and they didn't belong to the same person) seemed to have a common interest in the space program - and in the Soviet Union.

Remember the Soviet Union?  The monolith that was the scariest part of my childhood - and crumbled in time for my son to be born?

The magazines were $1.00 each.  Pretty cheap history.

After some digging I found my little treasure - the March 29, 1943 "Special Issue USSR" with a picture of Joseph Stalin on the cover. Now keep in mind that I grew up during the Cold War, and did my share of Duck and Cover.  To this day, hearing the sirens calling out the volunteer fire department make me cold and scared for a quick second before I reassure myself that they aren't air raid sirens announcing the atomic end of the world as we know it.

Well, my inner historian reminded me that at this point in time the U.S.S.R was our ally (against Hitler). And sure enough I paged through the magazine and saw this article "Red Leaders. They are Tough, Loyal, Capable Administrators". Not exactly the, er, party line I would hear in my growing up. Other articles praised the accomplishments of the Soviet Union, and even the accomplishments of the Russia of the past 1,000. years.

Remember the U.S.S.R? Remember the Reds? Remember Communism? My now 22 year old son doesn't. He wasn't even two years old when the Soviet Union fell on Christmas Day, 1991. As for my generation, the Red Menace dominated our childhoods. What a difference a few years makes.

To my Cold War amazement, there was even an article "The Soviets and the Post-War" subtitled "A Former Ambassador to Moscow Answers Some Perplexing Problems". The author is one Joseph E. Davies, who famously supported the Soviet government even back in the 1930's, before we became allies.

One question asked of Mr. Davies was "Is Russian determined to pursue the cause of world revolution?" His answer began "In my opinion, no."

Seven years later, in the Joseph McCarthy era, this article may have been unprintable. The story of Joseph Davies is quite interesting, if this article is accurate.

For anyone interested in history, this was a great find.

Do you remember the Soviet Union?  Duck and Cover?  The Cold War?  Do you like old magazines for their glimpses of a world now gone?

Monday, May 28, 2012

Civil War Sunday Special Edition-Memorial Day

Today, in the United States, it is Memorial Day.  The WordCount Blogathon, which I am participating in, has a theme day with online software called Wordle.  I felt I didn't want to take today off, but do visit other Blogathoners to see what they did with their wordles.

This day, sadly, has evolved into a major shopping event for many people, missing the element of what it originally stood for.  I must admit, I will be participating in some of those sales.  It is also thought of as the "unofficial" beginning of summer.  In my area of Binghamton, NY, the area carousels we are famous for open for the season, as do the lakes, and some other recreation areas.

But in memory of my late father, a disabled (non-combat) veteran of World War II, I will also take some time to honor his memory and those of other veterans I know.   Which leads me to a discussion of how this holiday originated here in the United States.

This holiday, in my youth, was celebrated on May 30.  Today, it is the last Monday of May, to allow many to have a three day weekend.

There are several versions of the origin.  Some of the stories depend on if you were from the Federal side, or the Confederate side, of the United States Civil War (1861-1865.).  What the stories have in common is that Memorial Day, once known as Decoration Day, originated in a desire to honor the sacrifice of those who died in our Civil War.  The Library of Congress lists several stories.  Here are what are perhaps the two main origin stories:

Waterloo, New York, considers itself the birthplace of Memorial Day, and has a federally recognized Memorial Day museum.  According to this story, Henry Wells, a local druggist, suggested a holiday in the fall of 1865 to honor the sacrifice of Civil War dead.  The idea gained traction, and the first Memorial Day was held on May 5, 1866.

But there are other stories. One takes place in Mississippi, a state late a member of the Confederate States of America.  As that story goes, many of the wounded of the bloody battle of Shiloh (1862) were taken to Columbus, Mississippi.  Columbus ended up with its Friendship Cemetery full of Civil War dead of both sides.  Eventually, the Federal dead were relocated to other area cemeteries.

According to Columbus, the first Memorial Day was held on April 5, 1866, as the women of Columbus decorated the graves of both Federal and Confederate soldiers buried in Columbus.

While I am speaking of cemetaries where Civil War dead are buried, I would be remiss (building on yesterday's theme of differences in how North and South refer to aspects of the Civil War) if I didn't mention the differences between Federal and Confederate gravestones.

Regardless of what the "true story" of Memorial Day is, I want to leave you with a modern, local story - the story of a family of a solider from Pennsylvania lost in the Vietnam War. 

May your Memorial Day be a meaningful one.  Was there anything special you did today to mark the date?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Civil War Sunday - How the Civil War is Remembered

The Civil War* fought in the United States from April of 1861 to April of 1865 is remembered in different ways by the North and the South.  One way that it is remembered unites out country - the celebration of Memorial Day, which in our country is observed the last Monday of May.  I will post more about the history of Memorial Day tomorrow.

When I wrote my Memorial Day post (which will be a special Civil War Sunday Special Edition posting tomorrow) it struck me that there are two versions of how the holiday originated - one, the "official version", is the Northern version.  To those reading my blog who are not from the United States, the Northern States won the war.  And, as Winston Churchill famously said, "History is written by the victors."  But there is also a Southern version of how the holiday originated.

The holiday "Memorial Day" was once known as "Decoration Day".  That usage is in the distant past for many in our country now, as the holiday has evolved as a remembrance of all Americans killed in all wars. 
But a lot of the split between North and South still exists in the very language we use to describe the Civil War. 

Some of these include: (and keep in mind that this blog is being written by someone who grew up in the North, lives in the North, but did live in the South for about 6 years.)

1.  The name of the War. *The National Park Service and many histories refer to this war as the Civil War.  I refer to it as the Civil War because that is the way I was taught, and the fact that the term "civil war" is somewhat generic, defined in some dictionaries as "a war between political factions or regions within the same country."  But a good number of Americans living in the South will not call it the Civil War even today.  Some alternate names include:

The Second War of Independence
The War Between the States
The War Against Northern Aggression (yes, I will immediately bristle over that name but I do try to present both sides of this story.)
The War of the North and South

2.  Names of battles.  In July, I visited Manassas, Virginia to commemorate the 150th anniversary of...well, that depends.  The Confederates called it First Manassas.  The Federals called it First Bull Run. (Round two of this battle will be commemorated this August.).  Actually, a lot of battles have dual names, depending on if you are in the North or South.  Southerners tended to name battles after a nearby town, or landmark.  Northerners tended to name battles after geographical features such as rivers.

In the case of the above battle, Manassas was a nearby town.  Bull Run was a nearby creek.

This past March, I visited the Antietam battlefield in Maryland.  Antietam is the name of a creek and is how the battle is titled in the North.  The Confederates called the battle Sharpsburg, after the nearby town of Sharpsburg.

 3.  Causes of the war.  As a layman and not a historian, I will not touch this one with a 39 1/2 foot pole.  But ask an educated person of the North, and an educated person of the South, "What caused the Civil War?" and you are going to get some pretty different answers, and chances are those people will blame the other side.  Yes, even 150 years later, the war is still being fought in its own way.

How were you taught about the Civil War?  Are you from the North or South (or a different region) (or a different country)?  Did you have ancestors in the war?

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Sustainable Saturday -Not Just Trees Grow in Brooklyn

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of visiting a childhood friend, who has lived in Brooklyn (a borough of New York City) for many years.  Right now she is battling cancer and I wanted to send some blog love her way.

She and her husband own their own home.  As is the case with many homes in Brooklyn, there is very little space.  Can sustainability be possible in that small space?  Yes.   City homeowners can do a lot with that small space.  They may not be able to grow all of their own food, but they can give it a good effort.  Yes, it is possible to grow fresh herbs, strawberries, tomatoes, basil, lemon balm, and more in a New York City garden.

Not just trees grow in Brooklyn.
Here is the front yard of one of my friend's neighbors.  A typical Brooklyn yard, it is jammed with ornamentals and even a former birdbath with a pot in it.  Former?  Well, New York City has cracked down on standing water during mosquito season - including bird baths. Water in a bird bath in NYC can be quite costly.

My friend only has a limited amount of dirt.  In her dirt, she has a rosemary plant, and a fragrant rose.  In various containers, she has strawberries and lemon balm.  

Here are her strawberries, in bloom.

Here are some more of her herbs.  My friend was also transplanting tomatoes when I visited..  Her basils, for some reason, had all died suddenly that afternoon.  As for the fragrant rose on the right side, it was past peak.  But these roses would have made an excellent potpourri.

Only a couple of fresh blooms remained,  Here is one I am holding up, to show its size.

I wish my friend the best of gardening luck this summer.  And it would be great if you would leave a note for her (she reads my blog), too.

Please note:  The Sustainability Saturday post for next Saturday will be on Friday instead, since I am beginning another blog challenge on June 2.  But it should be back the following Saturday.

Do you have a limited space, like my Brooklyn friend?  Are you a city gardener?  How, if you do strive for some self-sufficency, do you accomplish that?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Pinterest, Spam and a Dash of Porn?

I joined Pinterest about 3 months ago.  I've had a really good time pinning, making sure I check out pictures before I pin them.   I won't pin anything originating from Google or Etsy, for example. (the latter is a site where crafts people market their goods), or if, for any reason, I feel there may be a copyright problem.  I try to be respectful.

Other users of Pinterest can take your "pins" and "repin" them onto their own "boards". They can repin, and/or "like", and/or add a comment.  The ability to add comments is a double edged sword but I rarely have had problems.

The problem is, spammers can add comments to your pin and then your picture is out there (let's say, a picture you posted from your blog - which many bloggers, including me, do) with a spam comment.

Pinterest will email you when someone repins, likes, or comments on one of your pins.  If you do a lot of pinning, you just don't have time to read those emails.  But, I strongly suggest you do.

A spammer got hold of one of my pins and added spam about a weight loss site. 

The email from Pinterest (the usual "so and so has repinned your pin (name of pin) "has a link to report the pinner.  I tried clicking on the link and the link did not work.

I went to Pinterest to see how I could report this.  It doesn't seem to be a very easy process (if someone can explain this to me, I would really appreciate it.) but I got the idea that I had to go to the board where my pin (with the spam) had been repinned, and right click the pin.  I would then get a menu and could choose a function that would report the pin.

When I went to the board- I sure got an eyeful.

Let's put it delicately.  A lot of the pictures (all of which had this weight loss spam attached to it, it appeared) had pictures of women in bikinis.  But not all of them did.  Some of the pictures I would consider soft core porn.  As in, a man and a woman, without clothes from the waist up, with two bars across the woman's, uh, well, this is a family type blog and I will not explain the pictures further.

I can assure you my picture had nothing to do with women in bikinis or the other thing.  And I wasn't going to wade through all those pins to find it. 

OK.  I don't consider myself a prude, but I don't want my pin posted on some board with that type of material (or any type of material!) with spam relating to weight loss.

Moral of story:  The Internet is what it is.  Like in real life, there are decent people, and there are those who will take advantage.

So what can I do about it?  I would surely love to know.

And, have you (if you are a user of Pinterest, that is) had a similar experience?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

If I Knew Then What I Know Now

So many of us have occasional regrets.  If we had done things a little differently - if we knew then what we know now - blogging is no exception.

The 2012 WordCount Blogathon, which I am proudly participating in, had a theme day yesterday:  if we bloggers knew, when we started blogging, what we know today, what would we do differently?

Oh gee, time to be a cautionary lesson to others.  I must admit, though,  it was interesting to read what my fellow Blogathoners had to say.  Turns out a lot of us were thinking along similar lines.

Here's my list, only a day late (I didn't want to disturb my Wednesday theme day):
1.  Different platform (maybe).  Blogger suited my needs and it isn't bad - but I look at Wordpress blogs sometimes with a little envy.  I'm still on the fence - I think moving now would be too much of an undertaking. And, free is good.   But still....

2) Different blog name.  "Ramblin' with AM" does describe my rambling style, not quite focused on anything,  But more and more, my inner voice is telling me that it is time to focus.  Right now, I have three theme days - Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.  I want people to be able to come to my blog and have an idea of what they will find. I found out that I really did care that people read, learned from, and enjoyed my blog.

3) Join a challenge right away.  The Blogathon taught me more about blogging in one month of 2011 than I learned in the previous two years.

4 ) The Daily Posting Thing. I would have started out posting daily for, oh, 2 months and then tapered down to 3 or 4 times a week.  What I did do was post irregularly for two years.  Then I went on a 13 month binge of daily postings which is still in progress.  After the challenge I signed up for in June, I don't think I am going to maintain the daily blogging.  I need to stay fresh and practice my writing in other ways.

5) Fewer labels.  I have so many labels I'm surprised my blog hasn't collapsed under their weight.  I must do a massive cleanup, as soon as I clean my house.  In other words, don't hold your breath.

So....there you have it.  I've also learned to ask questions at the end of many of my posts, to start a conversation with my readers.  So here's my question for today:

What is the one piece of advice you would give to a blogger just starting out?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Spring Things - Fall in Spring?

It was such an early spring in upstate NY.  We had crocuses blooming in mid-March.  We had forsythias in late March.  We had trees leafed out in April (just in time for a snowstorm that hit not too far away from here).  We are still running a good two weeks ahead on some blooms.

And now, on May 19, it is apparently time for fall.  Is it my imagination, or...?

Exhibit 1:  this wildflower picture taken in Otsiningo Park on the edge of Binghamton, NY.

You may think there is nothing remarkable about this picture (which could have been of better quality, I admit.) But, unless I am mistaken - these are wild asters.

Fall asters.  Maybe New England asters, maybe not (I am not a wildflower expert).  But fall asters nevertheless.

As in "they bloom in late summer".

This is not late summer.  We are still a month from summer.

I looked online, and I didn't see much on spring asters - although, it may be possible.  (Anyone out there know?)

Exhibit 2:

I have blogged about crickets more than once.  To me, crickets are the shadow that falls on summer.  
When you hear crickets, what I call "late summer" has begun.  It's nature's call to fall letting fall know it is nearly time to start entering the play of nature.

I heard crickets on May 21, 2012, on the Vestal Rail Trail.

They are not cicadas.  We do get 17 year cicadas here.  I couldn't find, on line, forecasts of cicadas emerging this year.  And, they have a different sound.  A friend of mine, who lives in the countryside about 10 miles from here, verified that she has heard crickets at her house, too.

Can the goldenrod be far behind?

Will we have snow in August?

I am starting to get this....very......bad.....feeling.  Mother Nature is confused.  Very confused.  And that can't be good.

Are you seeing any fall insects or wildflowers where you live?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Friendly American Adapts to Polska

Today I feature a guest post by:  Sheila Callahan at Help! I'm Blogging.  Sheila is a self described "Jersey Girl" currently based in Warsaw, Poland.  I will have a guest post on Sheila's blog today, also.
For today’s guest post I've been struggling to put together some witty and interesting facts about my life in Poland, but unfortunately I keep running into a brick wall. So I'll quit trying to be fascinating and just tell you a few things I've noticed about Polish superstitions and customs.
Back in America, I never thought twice about embracing someone while standing on the threshold of the house. When guests came and went, we always greeted people and said goodbyes at the doorway. Not done in Poland. Embracing anyone over the threshold is considered bad luck.
In Poland it's also bad luck to buy an even number of flowers for a bouquet, unless it's for a funeral.
As far as everyday customs, what I’ve noticed here is that Poles do not wave hello or goodbye like we Americans do. People tend to bow slightly when greeting friends. Oh, and if you're on the street, you do not smile and say hello to strangers, like you would often do in America.
This last reality has taken a lot of getting used to. I grew up saying hello to people, even those I didn't know, when I passed someone walking in my neighborhood, for example.
Here, it's simply not done. On the rare times that I forget myself and smile at someone or say hello to an elderly person, they just look at me and appear puzzled.

Have you encountered customs that took you completely by surprise?

Monday, May 21, 2012

And Now Robin

And now it's Robin
Another falsetto stilled
Just Barry is left

Today, on the Word Count Blogathon, we are supposed to write some haiku poetry (three lines, 5, 7, 5 syllables). with a seasonal element (a symbol of winter, spring, summer or fall) and ideally, a surprise transition from the idea of the first two lines into the third.

The above isn't any of that.  Well, it does have the syllable count.

But that is all I could think of, hearing last night of Robin Gibb's death from cancer.  Age 62.  I have loved the Bee Gees for many years.

Once, we were all young
Carefree and without sickness
Now, we slowly die.

I wanted to pay tribute to Robin, with one of my favorite Bee Gees song, the song that started their journey to the top:  New York Mining Disaster 1941.  Such a simple song, but such a powerful blending of voices.

One more spring, we ask
So we can sing one more time
Before winter comes.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Civil War Sunday -Drayton Hall – Guest Writer Christina

Today I feature a guest post on my Civil War Sunday feature.  Please welcome Christina from the blog Lazy Bones Running.

Drayton Hall, located on the Ashley River outside of Charleston, South Carolina is “without question one of the finest of all surviving plantation houses in America” as declared by the South Carolina Department of Archives and History. The southern plantation house was built for John Drayton in 1744, passed through 7 generations and opened to the public in 1977 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  

Only three plantations along the Ashley River survived the Union Army after the civil war. Historians believe from reading letters that Drayton Hall survived the post-war destruction because it was used as a hospital most likely for small pox.  There are also 2 other less likely theories on how the house survived.  The first story is about a slave who told the Union troops the house was owned by a Northerner, which could have been Drayton’s cousin. The second theory is Sherman was in love with one of the Drayton women.

Drayton Hall is different than other historic houses in that it is preserved as compared to restored.  As you wander the rooms with a guide, you see the original plasterwork, a back circular stairwell and cracked, faded paint, much of it last painted after the civil war and it wasn’t painted again. You’ll even the see hole for the “toilet”, which fit a bed pan.  Still void of electricity, heat and plumbing, this is a true historic house. Especially after touring restored plantations with luscious gardens in the Charleston area, there is a stark beauty and appreciation experiencing the historic house in its raw state.

If you have an opportunity to visit Drayton Hall, make sure after touring the house to wander the spacious grounds and view the house through the reflection pond. 

Pictures by Christina at Lazy Bones Running 

Christina is a blogger from Phoenix, Arizona with a passion for running and travel.  In June 2011 she vacationed in South Carolina and fell in love with Drayton Hall, especially the reflection pond.  Visit Christina at Lazy Bones Running 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Sustainable Saturday - Hybrids and Lifts

I had planned to use "Sustainable Saturday" mainly for food and agriculture, but am stepping a little out of my comfort zone for today's post.

Today, as part of the New York Heritage Weekend, venues all across New York State held open houses or festivals.  Since it was Sustainable Saturday, I visited a venue called the Center for Technology and Innovation.

This center is located just outside of downtown Binghamton, New York, in an industrial area.  They hold, I found out, several open houses each year.

One of the missions of this center is to preserve and restore technology that was developed in our local area.  (Did you know, for example, that innovative car companies operated in upstate New York during the early 20th century?) I will feature more about their mission in a future blog post.

Today, as part of Heritage NY, the Center was demonstrating the technology of tomorrow.  This included several types of hybrid or  vehicles and a hybrid lift that uses the downward motion of the lift to generate power back to the unit.

I have talked about BAE Systems, late of my neighborhood, and relocated in nearby Endicott (ironically, on the former IBM campus - IBM having originated in Binghamton, NY as a time machine manufacturer and then moved to Endicott and eventually the world) due to flooding caused by Tropical Storm Lee in September 2011 that destroyed their Westover facility.  This is one of the items that they manufacture - a hybrid truck

Another thing they manufacture is hybrid buses - they used to test these in my neighborhood and I would see them sometimes.

There were several electric cars on display:  a Chevy Volt (not made here but it was a local dealer displaying them) which is not a true hybrid; and an electric car that was once a regular "gas guzzler" 87 Dodge Daytona until modified by its owner, Jason Horak..  He explained the modification cost about $25,000. (not too cost effective, admittedly) but he can go 100 miles on a charge, which currently costs him about $2.00.  Here is an explanatory poster, and a picture of the back batteries.

Jason explained to us that although it appears that the batteries appear to take up most of the hatchback, in reality they are set pretty far down and he carries luggage, groceries, etc. in the back (with a cover, of course) easily.

This is a picture of the Chevy Volt, which, again, is not a true "hybrid" but does have a gasoline engine in addition to being able to run on electricity.

And finally, the lift, which is manufactured by local Raymond Corporation, a manufacturer of forklifts.

( here is a video demonstrating the lift in action).

Do you think a hybrid vehicle is in your future?  Does your home town use hybrid mass transit vehicles?  Or manufacture hybrid equipment?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Welcome Home

This post is a bit personal - and is meant to honor a neighbor, a friend of my son's, a reader of my blog (thank you) and someone fighting a battle with cancer.  You know who you are.

Welcome back home.  I was so glad, coming home from work yesterday, when I saw you sitting outside your house.  The last time I saw you was in mid-March, before something laid you low.

You looked good, sitting there in the spring sunshine.

I missed your posting your music finds from Pandora on my Facebook, timeline, or whatever they call it nowadays.  I missed your sometimes strange comments on my blog. (you do know what an unusual person you can be, don't you?).

Something tells me you are going to make up for lost time.  One day soon I will see you on your porch, repairing still another bicycle.  This is what you love to do.

You came home on a really beautiful day.  And I don't think you will mind if I share you with my readers and followers.  You deserve your 15 minutes of fame, in the sunshine.  Before you had to go away, you ordered some trees from Arbor Day Foundation for my son.  We intend to plant one of them for you. 

You've been a friend to so many of the boys in the neighborhood.  I'm sure they all missed you.

Here's a little welcome home gift for you.  This is a virtual rose from the garden of my friend in New York City.  It's an old fashioned rose and it smells so sweet.

So once again:  welcome home.  Your garden is waiting for you.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Spring Things - Westover Purple and Pink

I forgot to tell the fans of my Wednesday Spring Things features that I was posting for a special theme day for the Word Count Blogathon I am participating in.  I owe my readers a big apology - I hope you came back today because I'd like to share some neighborhood flowers with you from my upstate New York area. 

In my garden, I am trying a Cherry Star Superbells in a container.
I also am once again trying a perennial viola.  I've tried a couple of times before, in containers, without success.  This time I have planted this plant in the ground.
Nearby, a neighbor's pink rhododendron blooms.
Flowers don't have to be ornamental.  I noticed flowers on my chives this morning.  

And finally, here is my mystery flower of the week.  I'm a bit embarassed to admit this, but I see these around town and have no idea what they are.  I've tried looking in a couple of online catalogs but there are so many purple perennials out there that I am just going to be lazy and ask one of my kind readers to help me out.

Every spring, gardening hope blooms that the coming year will be successful. 

Nothing says "hope" like a blooming plant!  Don't you love these shades of pink and purple?  What an artist Mother Nature can be.

What's blooming in your garden?  What are your plans for this year, veggie or flower? (and if you are in the Southern Hemisphere - I'd love to hear from you, too.)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Second Act of Snowbirding

It's time to flee the snow in my native New York for good.  I hope blogging is what will enable my escape.

In my case, I will be turning 60 later this year.   Every winter, here in upstate NY, seems harsher and harsher.  Walking in downtown Binghamton can be downright hazardous.

This past winter, with the grand total of one slippery-slidey morning, was a huge blessing.  I know it won't repeat.  Next winter, we may be back to our normal 80 plus inches of the white stuff.

I don't ever want to see another winter, experience walking in minus degree weather, or shovel ever again.   Yet, I love upstate NY, and want to continue to live here in the summer and fall.

I've been blogging every day for a little over a year now.  A half hour, an hour, of writing practice.  One day, I hope to have enough skills to be able to earn enough money through blogging, or writing, to make my dream come true.

This isn't the first time I've tried to write, though.

When I was in junior high, I wrote a book about a man who was stranded on one of the Canary Islands,   He found a race of civilized canary-men, and had various adventures with them.  By total coincidence, many of these adventures bore a striking similarity to those experienced by one John Carter in the Barsoom books of Edgar Rice Burroughs that I loved so much. 

Then, a month short of my 13th birthday, my mother died suddenly.

The bird-men book was forgotten.  Now, writing became my refuge from a world that felt like an atomic bomb had been dropped on it.  I poured out my pain on page after page of spiral notebooks, staying up sometimes to 1 or 2 in the morning. 

Then, I passed through my teenaged years and those writings were lost and forgotten, too.

Three years ago I discovered blogging and all that pent-up writing started to pour out. Then, in September of last year, my neighborhood, my area, flooded and once again blogging was a lifeline to sanity.

Blogging is so different from how I make my living now.  I have a full time job in an industry I have worked in for 35 years.  I have never been self-employed.

I am still thinking this through, and don't know exactly how I will structure my second act. Will I be able to ever have enough skills to freelance?  Could I write some kind of e-book?  And then what? Become a snowbird?  I know several people who snowbird, and this appeals to me.   I will have to work at least part time after retirement to make it happen.  If I can work from home - well, so much the better.

I will try my best to keep up that 1/2 to 1 hour a day pace.  Day after day.  One day I will be ready.

Will I be able to achieve my snowbirding dreams?  I can't wait to find out.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day - May 2012-Spring Exhausts Itself

Welcome, WordCount Blogathoners and others to my 15th of the month post - Garden Bloggers Bloom Day.  This meme is brought to us by MayDreams Gardens - please visit her site and the other participating blogs after you check out my photos.  You will see plants and blooms from all over the world.

We are still running ahead of schedule here in upstate NY.  The lilacs (which had an off year) have already bloomed.  My irises aren't ready yet and my rhodies are just barely starting to open.

First up are the purple flowers.
Our columbine, purchased last year, is loaded with blooms.

Just in time for GBBD, my first rhodie bloom opens.

Here's a yellow flowered bleeding heart.

This is our yellow spurge (with some violas planted next to it.)

Speaking of violas, these are pansies we planted last fall.  They returned this spring and are blooming furiously, in red, purple and yellow.

I have lily of the valley blooming too, but they didn't come out well.  OK, be shy.

And finally, a little treat.  This is a telephone pole by our house.  A woodpecker loves to stop by and peck but we rarely see him/her. Yesterday evening, there was the woodpecker!  With maximum zoom this was the best I could get but - well, I have a long way to go as a wildlife photographer.  I'm glad plants stand still!

Ahhhh, spring.  Hope you enjoyed my little corner of upstate NY.  What is blooming in your garden?

Monday, May 14, 2012

A Rose Blooms in Brooklyn

Okay, it can happen to anyone.  I had a blog post up for tonight and then managed to accidentally delete it.  So I am going to try to repost it, but it just isn't going to be the same.

I spent this weekend in Brooklyn, one of the five boroughs of New York City.

Tourists congregate in Manhattan, with its skyscrapers, museums, Broadway theaters, and other well known attractions. But most of the population of New York City does not live on Manhattan Island.  They live in the five outer boroughs:  Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx and Staten Island.  In those boroughs, they will find neighborhoods, restaurants, ethnic markets, and - trees.  Lot of trees. Small backyard gardens.  Flowering plants. Parks.  Birds.

I was born in Queens and grew up in The Bronx.  My Mom grew up in Manhattan.  My Dad grew up (and spent a lot of his life) in Brooklyn.  So, my heritage spans a lot of the great city of New York.

Why not join me in a little excursion out of Manhattan?  Let's hop a subway together - destination, Brooklyn.

In a childhood friend's backyard in Brooklyn, a fragrant rose blooms.  (I hope to feature more of her back yard sometime in the near future.)  These were just about done blooming - I was lucky to find this one still opening.

In a nearby front yard, pink and red roses bloom.  I could swear I heard a mockingbird sing.

And finally, in still another nearby yard, a Yellow Rose of Brooklyn.

Not everyone in Brooklyn has a yard.  Many people live in apartment buildings and condos.  But the lucky people who are able to own homes cherish every square inch of their small yards.

Have you visited New York City and ventured out of the familiar tourist areas?  If you did, I'd love to hear your adventures.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Civil War Sunday - The Civil War Roots of Mother's Day

So many things in our life here in the United States can be traced to the Civil War.

This will be a short post, because I am on the road with my spouse today, traveling from New York City to spend some time with my mother in law. We will have dinner with her, hopefully help her learn to use her iPhone, and then return home to upstate New York.

And it is all because of the Civil War.

True, mothers were honored long before the Civil War, in many cultures and in many ways.

In 1870, a feminist by the name of Julia Ward Howe issued this Mother's Day Proclamation. If this name sounds familiar, she is the same person who wrote the words to what we now know as The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

What was behind this proclamation?

Julia Howe was quite aware that all the people who died or were maimed in the Civil War had mothers. These mothers sent their sons (and sometimes, in disguise, daughters) off to war - and sometimes, these sons fought on opposite sides, brother vs. brother

Her thought was to have an international day of honoring peace and motherhood.

Of course, our modern Mothers Day celebrations aren't exactly that. They are more celebrations of greeting card makers, chocolates, florists and other purveyors of goods suitable for giving.  I hope that my mother in law enjoys the basket of plants we are giving her.

As we like to say in our country, it's the thought that counts.  So, happy Mother's Day to my mother in law. 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Sustainable Saturday - Say Cheese! Say Dexter!

For several years, the artisan cheese producers in upstate New York have attempted to establish a Cheese Trail.  New York wineries have the Wine Trail.  Why not a Cheese Trail in conjunction with the Wine Trail?  The combination is natural.  I'm not sure any other wine making area has created something like this (if they have, could you let me know?)

This year the cheese makers on the Trail will have four open house weekends.

The next "Cheese Trail" open house will be the Saturday and Sunday of the Memorial Day weekend.

One of the participants in May's Cheese Trail is a cheese maker called the Finger Lakes Dexter Creamery.  This cheese maker is doing something unique in the Western Hemisphere - making Kefir Cheese from Dexter milk. 

The Dexter breed, originating in Ireland, is an ideal breed for the small farmstead.  They are small, friendly, efficient and dual purpose - milk and meat.  The Dexters we saw back in 2009 when visiting the Finger Lakes Dexter Creamery were indeed friendly.

What is kefir?  It is not yogurt, although it is a cultured milk product. Many people attest to its health benefits although I personally do not eat it.  (The Kefir cheese, though, was definitely unique - in a good way.)

There are also a number of goat dairies on the Trail.  I miss the goat milk ice cream one of them, Side Hill Acres, used to have available for sale.  I only had it once, but the memory will live on for years.  Side Hill also sells kefir.

 Part of the spirit of sustainable agriculture is to attempt to buy local whenever possible.  I would ask you to buy from your local farmers whenever possible - at a local farmers market, on the farm (if possible) or even at one of the increasing number of supermarkets who are purchasing from local farmers.

If you do live in upstate New York - please find time to visit these local cheese producers.  You'll be pleasantly surprised at what you find.

Friday, May 11, 2012

To E-Read or Not to E-Read? What a Question

I've been thinking about this for a few months.  Should I join the e-reader movement?  Should I ditch my spare room full of dusty (well, some of them) books - some of which are over 100 years old - and buy a Nook or a Kindle?

This is not as easy a decision as you might think.

I love books, meaning physical books.   I love how they look.  I love how they smell (usually). I love their portability.  You can take a book and read it on the beach.  In the backyard.  In a bubble bath.  On a train.   Anywhere except in the rain. (why do I feel like I'm channeling Dr. Seuss right now?)  No charged batteries required.

You can pack a paperback in your suitcase.  Or even in a large pocketbook, ready for a suitable occasion.  You can read them in the sun.  You can read them in the bath.

And you can get books at the library.  I use the library so much I almost feel guilty about it.  I even pay fines with a smile, knowing I have just contributed to the library.  Ditto with library book sales, which are like chocolate to me.  It's the thrill of the hunt.  What will I find?   I spent time last Saturday at the Ithaca, NY library book sale, and left with a smile (and $27 of merchandise).

And, most of some point in time, will publishers decide to discontinue books?  Will I, in a small way, help the demise of physical books if I get an e-Reader?  The last thing I want is to have on my life's resume is a part responsibility for the death of traditional books.  How could I live with myself?

Books are books.  You don't have to worry if your book is available in the right format for a Kindle, a Nook, or some other format.  You don't need an Internet or phone connection to get one. A well crafted book (no acid paper) will outlive me.  It may outlive my son.  An e-book?  Will the format be around in 20 years?

But, I have to face the fact that more and more of my friends and co-workers are joining the e-reader revolution. These people, mind you, are in their 50's and 60's.  They have lived with books all their lives, but they are choosing to get e-readers.

1.  You can buy books that strike your fancy from the comfort of wherever you are.  A wonderful thing for impulsive people-until they get the bill.
2.  Free books or books that are cheaper than the physical editions.
3. Being able to adjust fonts.  Now, this is a big one for the senior reader.  Trust me, younger bloggers, on this one.  When you turn 40, this is suddenly going to get very important as print suddenly shrinks to the size of teeny-tiny ants.

4.  Privacy.  There was a hysterical skit on Saturday Night Live last Saturday (the content of which I can't mention in a family blog) about why a Mom would want a Kindle.
5.  If you travel abroad, you can easily get books in your preferred language.

And finally, one last observation.  I was dragged into digital photography kicking and screaming.  Within a day, I was absolutely hooked.  Why did we ever use film?  Well, film has uses but digital photography has uses, too.

So, maybe I will compromise, get an e reader, and keep my books.

What do you think?  Do you refuse to get an e reader?  Have you made the plunge?  And if so, do you use both your e reader and physical books?


Thursday, May 10, 2012

MacKenzie-Childs and Pinterest

I'd like to rework a blog post I posted back in 2009, when I was a relatively new blogger, to see how I might do the post today..  Because I pinned some of these pictures on Pinterest last month, the original post has suddenly received a lot of interest.  I have a feeling the people clicking through will be a little disappointed because my blog isn't full of fashionable furniture and crafts.

Now I wish I had taken a lot (back in the old days, we would have said "a few rolls") of pictures.  Of course, back then, there was no Pinterest.

If you are ever in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate NY, do visit MacKenzie-Childs.   Much of what they sell are artisan made pieces and the prices are not for the timid.  They do have affordable knobs and some other small items.

The landscaped grounds are free, and if you enjoy the combination of fine crafts and chickens, this is the place for you.  During the growing season, you will see some flower gardens, again free.

If their merchandise hadn't been so far out of reach for a lot of us, I may have featured this on one of my "sustainable Saturdays" - not because of the materials, but because of their support for artisans.  I wish I had the money to buy some of their merchandise.

If you are on Pinterest, feel free to pin these or other pictures on my blog.  Blogger does not have a good "pin" button, but hopefully one day they will.  Also, if you are more interested in this style, do visit the MacKenzie-Childs Pinterest boards.

MacKenzie-Childs: Not for the Timid

Almost three years ago we visted Aurora, NY (in the Finger Lakes) for the annual MacKenzie-Childs barn sale. MacKenzie-Childs is an upscale artisan crafts destination.. Their pottery, furniture, and other decorative items are...shall we say, quite bold. If you love checkerboard patterns, this is your place.

These are examples of some of their furniture.
Unfortunately, photography was not permitted inside their "farmhouse" which was decorated in this style: but this will give you some flavor of the kind of merchandise they offer.

Inside their farmhouse were even more examples of this art.  My favorite room was the bathroom, which was done in checkerboard tile.  Even the sinks were decorated.

Outside, there is a "chicken palace" where normally there is a nice collection of rare chickens - to my disappointment the chickens were removed for the occasion. They did leave some geese, who ran up to everyone who came close, waiting for a handout:

Here is a garden gate.  This shows the detail put into their garden gates plus offers a little peak into one of their gardens:

Finally, here is a view of one of their gardens.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Spring Things - Mysteries of the Vestal Rail Trail

A walk this Sunday brought a number of natural mysteries - I hope some of my readers can help me.

For example, this purple plant - there don't seem to be any others in plain view on the trail.  It was perhaps a couple of feet high.  Any guesses?

Next, is a very tall tree.  The green leaves towards the bottom of the photo are from a different tree.

Rather, the mystery is what looks like pick blooms from a really tall tree in back of it.  I took this with a 10x zoom, and this is the best I can show you- sorry, but this was too tall for me to get a good picture.  Some women were looking at this tree when we arrived.  None of us could figure out what this other tree is.

I wish I had smell-o-blog for this next one.  I tried to get a closeup and it didn't work that well.  These are elongated, narrow clusters of small white flowers with yellow stamens.  They smelled very sweet.  Maybe someone can ID these from the shiny leaves in the center of the photo. One of the flowers is just to the right of center.

And finally, butterflies (?) were flittering around a Russian Olive tree.  A few minutes later I found one of the same variety, lying on the ground of the trail. Dying of natural old age?  Or injured and dying?  I don't know.  Does anyone?

Can anyone identify any of these mysteries for me?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Put on a Happy Face - The 8 Month Flood Anniversary

Today is the 8 month anniversary of the flooding in the Binghamton, New York area due to torrential rains caused by Tropical Storm Lee. 

I've blogged so much about this that I can write the words in my sleep:  "flood", "Tropical Storm Lee".  But words don't really begin to describe the last eight months here in the neighborhood of Westover, near Johnson  City, NY.  We've seen the best in people (neighbors coming together) and the worst (a drug addict setting a flood-vacated house in my neighborhood on fire).

I was so lucky in comparison to so many.  The flood waters stopped before they got to my house, by a measured distance I still shudder to think about.  We had water in our basement, but we never lost power.  We lost part of our first floor flooring.  Our front and back doors are doing this weird kind of settling thing.  But enough people in my neighborhood lost their homes, either temporarily or permanently, though. Westover also lost a large area employer - 1350 people - when their 800,000. square foot building flooded.  Fortunately they found suitable quarters several miles down the road but those 1350 jobs were touch and go for a while.  They still aren't guaranteed safe, not that any jobs can be nowadays.

How do you measure progress?  By the number of cars reappearing in neighborhood streets, due to people slowly returning to homes?  By stores continuing to reopen?  By trees coming back and blooming this spring?  By our Westover Y, once stripped down to the concrete floors and a desk consisting of a card table and a computer, now carpeted and once again boasting a front desk?

In the very hard hit neighborhood of Twin Orchards, the garage of a house being fixed up sports a happy face

A few hundred feet away, a beautiful Russian Olive tree blooms.  Nature endures.
Ours wasn't even the hardest hit area.  About 15 miles to the west of us is the village of Owego, the "coolest small town in America".  Many businesses have reopened after months of clean up efforts.  I love the mural on this building.

And near our house, a flooded shopping center is again open for business.

Thank you to the businesses who have stayed.  Thank you to the people who fed the stricken of my Westover neighborhood in the days after the waters receded.   Thank you to the employees of Wegmans Supermarket and BAE for going door to door to offer help when your own businesses were closed due to flooding.   Thank you, Maureen McGovern, for honoring a Westover fan with a visit and singing at a flood relief concert.

And thank you, dear reader, for allowing me to tell this story still another time on this, the 8 month anniversary of our flood.