Friday, August 31, 2012

Are We Having Fun Yet?

It is the last day of August.

In one week, we celebra...I mean, commemorate - the one year anniversary of the floods that hit this part (and other parts) of upstate New York due to Tropical Storm Lee.

This is our newspaper's answer to the upcoming anniversary:  survey the readers.  Maybe I would get in the paper if I answered. At the risk of putting my readers to sleep, I will answer.

I have a lot of mixed feelings, believe it or not, about marking the anniversary.  There's a part of me that just doesn't want to talk about it anymore.  There's another part that realizes that it seems no one has really faced the issues that led to this flood.  For whatever reason, our climate is changing and many places not prone to flooding suddenly are - including farms in this area.  It isn't just the urban folk like me.

It's only going to get worse.  We (meaning the U.S. as a whole) must find a way to survive flooding, to adapt ourselves to our new reality. 

Flood walls need repair. They need to be planned differently.  We must have new building codes.  We plain have to learn to adapt.  There's a lot of work to do and I honestly don't see much of it getting done.  Local governments are strapped.  The Federal government is in major deficit? People don't have jobs.  How do we deal with this? 

I'm not having fun yet.  I don't think any of my neighbors are, either. No one is having fun, not the people in Louisiana, not the people in Florida, not the people in Fargo, not the people in Charleston, SC or Minnesota or anywhere else now on the front lines of flooding, except maybe the manufacturers of sand and sandbags.

But, for the sake of argument, if I did answer the survey: these would be my responses.  (and yes, you are excused.  You may now leave the blog.  Please come back tomorrow for my Sustainable Saturday.  Thank you for your time!)

* Required

Name *   Nope.  I understand why a newspaper asks for ID.  But this isn't a letter to the editor.  This is about peoples' personal experiences.  Is it really necessary?

Town *  If I named my neighborhood, locals would know it right away.  Not a good way to get fame.

Best phone number to reach you * This will not be published.  Yikes, they are going to call to confirm?  (See "name")

Have you recovered emotionally from the flood?  No, not there yet.  And maybe that's why you still see mental health volunteers (an excellent organization called Project Recovery) at places like local farmers markets and the Garlic Festival held two weeks ago. The kind follks at Project Recovery told me (yes, I spoke to them at one point about my personal issues) it takes a good year.  Recovery from a loss doesn't happen on a schedule and it isn't going to cut off on September.  But the healing WILL complete itself.  I am 100% sure of that.

Have you repaired your home? How long did it take? What did it cost?   About repairs, we are probably 98% there, but what is left is minor - it is hard finding a contractor around here, still, for small jobs.  Too many big jobs still needing their attention.  I understand this.  And, again, we suffered so much less than many other people in our neighborhood.  Cost: less than it could have been.  We were lucky.  'Nuf said.

What problems do you still face?  I will let those more greatly affected answer that.  I still have a house. I will mention this: Major employer (1300 jobs) left our neighborhood due to the flooding; guess what will happen to our taxes as the building sits and rots away?  

How did government -- local, state, federal -- work or not work for you?  Thank you for the comic relief.  I haven't laughed so hard in weeks. Seriously, I've heard mixed stories re FEMA.  My own experiences I blogged about some last year.

Do you know a neighbor who stepped up to help someone else? Glad you asked because there was a LOT of that.  You would need a special edition of the paper to list.  Neighbors. Churches. Local employers. Fire departments (for their pumps) from long drives away.

I also heard enough stories about those who took advantage, even those who pretended they were "victims". As usual, there are two sides to the human experience and I saw both of them last year.

I just hope there isn't a "next time".  But I know in my heart there will be.  Please, Press and Sun Bulletin, please report on THAT.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Civil War Sunday Special Edition - Birds and Battles

On August 28-30, 1862, Federal and Confederate troops fought near Manassas, Virginia and Bull Run Creek for the second time.

Thirteen months earlier, troops had fought the first major battle of the Civil War.  Troops were not battle-tested.  Some local people packed picnic baskets to make a day of it.  No one seemed to know exactly what to do, although they learned fast.

This time it was General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia facing Major General Pope's Army of the Potomac.  Once again, Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson was there. Different battle but the same end result - the Confederates won again, leading to the Maryland Campaign I will be following for the next month.

Now, where death once ruled, birders come to explore the battlefield.

Yes, 150 years later, many people visit the Bull Run (Manassas) battlefields - to bird.  I was a little surprised to discover this battlefield park of some 5,000. acres (the two battles overlapped some of the same territory) spans a lot of different bird habitats.

The list of birds sighted there is quite impressive.

Online, you can even find a list of birds sighted earlier this month in the parking lot of the New York Volunteers monument.  I've read that Bull Run Creek itself is prime birding territory.

I am not a birder, but I have always loved birds - watching them, owning them (earlier in my life), and listening to their songs.  But, except for people preserving history and memory, this land would have been gone.  Based on what has happened in the surrounding area, it is logical to assume that this 5,000 acres would have been paved over with a housing development or shopping center built on the site.

The site where some 3200 Federal and Confederate soldiers died, those three days in August of 1862.

Our American Civil War was horrible, as is all war.

It is humbling, though, to realize that the creatures of Mother Nature do not care - the birds do not care - they have their own concerns and do not trouble themselves with ours.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Wednesday Blooms - The Blooms of Late Summer

 Before I get into my Wednesday flowers, I want to let the folks on the Gulf Coast know you are in my thoughts.  Last year, at almost this time, we were overwhelmed by Tropical Storms Irene and Lee here in upstate NY.  Some parts of New York, Vermont, and some other Northern states suffered extensively, especially from Irene.  I know what we went through is only a fraction of what you are going through now, on this the 7th anniversary of Katrina.

Now, to happier things.....

One of my favorite late summer flowers is the Rose of Sharon.

This year, they seemed to have bloomed exceptionally well.  I took these pictures with my iPhone while on an exercise walk through the West Side of Binghamton, New York.

A beautiful lavender-pink.
And white.

Here is a garlic chive flower from my garden, just starting to open.
Finally, my mystery wildflower of the week.  I haven't been concentrating too much on wildflowers this year (unlike last summer) so I wanted to share this and get it ID'd.   I didn't see too many of these last year - maybe they didn't like our wet weather.  This year, they are everywhere.  I took this picture on the Vestal Rail Trail.

Some trees are already starting to turn here in upstate NY and it is only the end of August.  Is it the drought? Or the first manifestation of an early fall?  Only time will tell, and I'll be here to blog about it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Does Blogging Make Me Look Fat?

It's time to face reality.
I'm overweight (and only a teeny tenth of a point from being obese).  I still wonder at how it happened.

I was of normal weight for much of my life.  Even after gaining 30 pounds while pregnant with my only child, I was back in some of my pre-maternity clothes 6 days after giving birth. (Don't hate me).  Thanks to breastfeeding, I lost those 30 pounds and another 5 pounds on top of it.  And kept it off, for a few months.

Then, the long march to where I am began.

The last four or so years have been the worst.   The details are besides the point.  Three years ago, already alarmed, I participated in a program called "Mission Meltaway" which taught portion control and other details.  It had a weekly weigh in followed by guest speakers.  It had a walking program, but I've been walking for exercise most of the last 40 years so that was nothing new for me.  I lost a little but it came right back as soon as the program ended.

Know what?  It doesn't help one bit to know how big your portion of meat should be when your food triggers come calling.  Mine are stress and chocolate.  The stress piece is bad at work; I just can't go take a walk or do something physical when I am under a deadline, which happens enough.

To add fat to the fire, the back problems I've had the last three years have restricted some of my mobility.  I'm definitely less active.  It's great for blogging (and, true confession, playing FarmVille) but not so great for my weight.

Then, my doctor told me I had better lose 20 pounds now "or it will be even harder once you turn 60".

So finally, I am going to enroll in an organized weight control program - Weight Watchers.  I blanch at paying money but I think I need the support this program will give me.

I need the accountability, too.  The weekly weigh-ins from Mission Meltaway definitely kept me on track.

I met the person who will be leading the meetings, assuming I do join.  She's been on the program 21 years and, like me, is post-menopausal.  At least, she told us, participants don't have to eat liver once a week anymore.  She's very no nonsense.  Seriously, if the leader had been 20 and stick thin, I may have walked out.

The first thing she told us is that it would NOT be easy.  If she had told us it would, I may have walked, too.

Now I have to ask myself:  how badly do I want good health, a right knee that doesn't hurt, a blood sugar level that doesn't make my doctor "tut-tut" and a dress size with large numbers in it? 

She wasn't kidding about the liver, either.  Thank heavens I didn't need this diet in 1972.

I promise not to blog about this too much, but now that our flood is almost a year in the past, I need to obsess about something else for a change.

Has anyone out there done Weight Watchers?  If so, did you keep it off? Did it work for you?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Q-Tips in September

Yesterday, we turned back the hands of time for a few minutes.

When I go to outdoor venues to see local bands play, I am always surprised to see how many people are of "a certain age". Someone I knows calls them "Q-Tips".

Actually, I am a Q-Tip too.  And this is the trick that time plays on us Q-Tips:

To me, rock n'roll is a music of young people.  I'm always surprised when I see senior citizens enjoying music of the Beatles, the Who, Earth Wind and Fire, and a host of other groups of the 60's and 70's.  When I was coming of age, after all, there was a huge musical divide between our parents and us.

They listened to Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney and big band. 

Our music was boring and repetitive.  It had no substance.  It was a bunch of screaming.

Our music became the music of rebellion.  We would show our parents.  And, to our surprise, we would raise children who loved the same music we did.  Our grown children have their own music (i.e. rap), true, but they also know our music.  I know 20-somethings who love Elvis and the Beatles.

And now we are older than our parents were when they said those hurtful things about our 60's music.  Our hair is grey, we've put on a few pounds, but we can still boogie.

On a Sunday afternoon in Binghamton, New York, at a bicycle race of all places, a group called Rooster and the Road House Horns played the music of groups such as Chicago and Earth, Wind and Fire, mostly to a group of Q-Tips.  The bicycle race (more on that in another post) was over and the young people had left.

Rooster invited everyone to come up and dance and several people of a "certain age" answered the call.

Swaying to the beat of "September", they were teenagers and young people in their 20's again.  And so were those of us who stayed in our seats.

When I was a teenager, the sight would have made me sick.  How sad.  It took me 40 years to understand.

Time has had its way with us Q-Tips physically.  But inside, we are still young.  Our thoughts are young.  The voices we think in are the same young voices.

Every generation understands this, eventually.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Civil War Sunday - The Invasion of Maryland

The United States Civil War, already almost a year and a half old back in August of 1862, is about to get a whole lot bloodier.

Quoting from an application to include the South Mountain (Maryland) battlefield to the National Register of Historic Places:

"On September 4, 1862 General Robert E. Lee's Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, some 50,000 strong, waded across the Potomac River at White's Ferry and into Maryland for the first Confederate invasion of the North."

What is now known as the Maryland campaign began, as the Confederates waded the river to the tune of a song called "Maryland, My Maryland", which is now the Maryland State song.

A series of battles would result through September:  among others, a battle at Harpers Ferry  in what is now West Virginia (Harpers Ferry is noted for much more than John Brown's raid and is very worth a visit), a series of engagements now known as "The Battle of South Mountain" and a battle near Sharpsburg, Maryland, named after a tributary of the Potomac River called Antietam Creek.

I was in that area in March of this year, and will be traveling back later in September to explore the Civil War history of this area further.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Last Giant Leap?

 Late on July 20, 1969 I sat transfixed in my living room with my father at my side.  I was in high school so quite old enough to understand what I was seeing.  Together, we watched a grainy pictures on a black and white TV, a picture I never would have believed in m wildest drams growing up.  Such things were not possible.

A man in a bulky suit edged out of a craft, and his voice crackled on the TV.  He stepped on the ground.

"One small step for man.  One giant leap for mankind."
That man, Neil Armstrong, died today.

No, I am not talking about Lance Armstrong.  Too many jokes recently about people who confuse the two men.

As far as I know, Neil Armstrong never won a bicycle race.  Come to think of it, Lance has now won several fewer than just a few days ago.  But I digress.

 No. Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon.  Today, when we can Skpe friends halfway around the world, when we can email and Facebook instantaneously with people all over Earth - we haven't sent a woman or a man to the moon since the 1970's.

I am sad for so many reasons.  Maybe it is because I realize that many people  really don't understand what happened that day in 1969, or care.  We have lost our will and no longer look to the stars.  We now depend on the Russians, our former enemies, to get us into space.

We have technology now years and years ahead of the technology of the first Star Trek TV series, just as one example.  Many of us own smart phones that Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock would have envied. True, we don't have transporters or starships.

But we don't have much of a space program, either.

In 1969, who would have thought?

Our hero astronauts of the 1960's are aging.  One day they will be dead.

No more giant leaps.  No more small steps.  


The people must want the space program to continue.  And right now, they don't.

Times are tough.  We look inward, not outward.  Perhaps that is what happens when times are tough.  But I don't know about that.  We finished the Capital Rotunda in Washington, DC during the American Civil War.  We built the Empire State Building in New York City (so in the news after yesterday's nearby shooting) during the Great Depression.

I truly hope we have not lost our passion for discovering the unknown.  Hard times never stopped us before.

Only time will tell.

Do you remember the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programs?  Or is it just history/meaningless history to you?

Friday, August 24, 2012

A Record Passing

Oh, our perfect Internet.  Our brave new world of unintended consequences. 

New York City is going extinct, closing store by closing store.

Colony Records is closing after some 64 years in business..

People not familiar with NYC will not care.  People in the theatre, musicians, historians, buyers of sheet music, and lovers of the "old" New York will care a lot.

It is so easy to buy and download some music.  It is so easy to bypass your local business.  Then one day it is too late.  Turn around, and it is gone.  I've been guilty of those practices, so I am not the one to throw stones.

It is probably too late for me to go back one last time.  It has been too many years since I've been to the Times Square area.  On that occasion, 2002, my Southern Tier of NY born and bred son was so overwhelmed by Times Square that we fled into a restaurant and had dinner.  I was a bit overwhelmed myself.  I'm a native of New York City (born and grew up there) but I don't spend much time downtown when I do visit family and a friend.

I would rather not see Times Square return to the porno heaven of the 60's and early 70's but I wish it could be a teeny bit less....sanitized for your protection.

My young adult son, who loves vinyl records and owns a record player, would love the basement.  But he hates NYC.  My spouse?  Maybe.  I'll have to see.

Too many "icons" of NYC have closed in recent years.  Add one more to the list.

Do you love the "old" NYC? Do you have a favorite business that closed in recent years?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Sorry, Time Warner, But Your Service Still Sucks

Hell hath no fury like a customer wait, that doesn't apply to cable.  At least the cable providers don't think so.

You see, you don't have too many options if you want high speed internet around here.  So we put up with the Time Warner runaround when our phone got glitchy, then the Internet service tanked.  No connection at all or one so bad it reminded me of Those Wonderful Days of Dialup (not).  No dial tones, or busy signals if we tried to dial out. 

Their one-track motto is "reboot".  No, it couldn't be their fault.  Not at all.  Reboot, reboot and reboot some more.

Now mind you, we have one of those infamous "bundles"  The one with the landline, the TV and the Internet.  So it was getting to be...well, just slightly frustrating. (Hence the above language, which would have caused my father to reach  for the soap years back if I had dared to utter that word in his presence.)

Anyway, we got a tech out here finally.  And gee, what did he find.

I can't remember how long ago, but a while back we switched from "analog" to "digital" TV service.  I think that was in 2006 but don't quote me-you know how we people of a "certain age" have faulty memories.

Seems like they (they meaning Time Warner) never replaced our wiring.  We had wiring basically leading to nowhere, and the "nowhere" ends weren't capped.  Moisture and other junk got in there.  Tech said digital service is a lot less forgiving of signal glitches than analog.

I'm sure the torrential rains of last year (the ones that ended up flooding our neighborhood, and others in our dear Triple Cities of upstate NY) didn't help the process.

Funny how everything so obvious to the tech was oblivious to the T-W Help Desk (or whatever it is called.  Don't ask me what it is called.  You won't like my answer.)

And you know that new modem my spouse talked them into giving us a couple of days ago?  It had a battery in there.  Tech said those batteries block updates to the type of cable system we have.  Ours shouldn't have had a battery. 


Oh, last but not least.  I tried to get my email Roadrunner email account has been suspended.  It said only "Account Suspended Contact Customer Service."


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Wednesday Blooms - Quick Post a Picture!

After 10 days or so of struggling (including last night) with a glitchy internet access, the Internet Deities have decided to smile upon me in time for my Wednesday Blooms post. (Maybe Time Warner saw my complaint posted in the last blog post, and on Facebook.)

August has been a mix of different weather here in upstate NY- hot, rainy, cool and now getting ready to become hot (well, hot for us) and humid again. 

These photos were taken in the past couple of weeks at a library garden which is an urban renewal project..
A rose in the Library Garden at the Broome County public library in Binghamton, NY, taken after a rain. (you can see some of the raindrops on the petals.
A pink hydrangea called Endless Summer.

One of the beautiful painted stones that identify bushes at the garden.
And, finally, my Mystery Plant of the week. This has purple blossoms loaded with bees. So loaded I didn't dare get close enough for a picture.

Does your library have a garden?  What unexpected places do you find gardens where you live?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

My Fall From Grace or, Time Warner Cable Sucks

Today I got a comment on one of my blog posts about how my "grace shines through". Or something like that. is my fall from grace as I decide to tweet about my problems with my Internet and Phone service provider.  And if you knew me (you don't) you know if I use the word "sucks" - well it is time to run, not walk, to your local tornado shelter.

After suffering through a couple of weeks plus of on and off phone service, spouse calling Time-Warner, their fixes (i.e, "let's reboot the modem and see what happens), we got to thinking, maybe it was our phone.  Like idiots, we replaced it.  Worked for a while until it didn't. Then our internet slowed to an absolute crawl.

Let me define "absolute crawl".  I cut my teeth on a 1200 kps modem.  I remember using Mosaic as an Internet browser.  My first Internet service provider (which no longer exists) billed by the hour and let me tell you, an hour isn't that long when you are connecting using a 14,400 kps modem.  I used to fold and put away laundry while my email loaded.  (and oh yes, compared to friends who were online in 1982, I am an online newbie.) 

So, yes, I know what "absolute crawl" means.

Today, my spouse drove to Time Warner's office and picked up a new modem. (Getting a new modem from them, by the way, can be more challenging than getting Congress to agree on a bill.)  It worked fine - for about an hour.  We left and got home tonight after our exercise walk and - no dial tone.  And oh yes, no Internet.  Spouse called Time-Warner, got put on perpetual hold, then ended up with a totally different tech than he started out with.  30 minutes and tech #2 doing whatever at the other end, tech decides someone needs to come out. At least there is no charge.  Thankful for small favors!

Then begins the game of "let's make an appointment with the Cable Company." Actually (I almost collapsed when spouse told me) they offered a two-hour window.

We'll see what tomorrow brings but guess what.  My spouse and I tend to be very patient people but I have a mother in law in her 80's some 150 miles from here and we need a reliable phone.  Thank heavens I finally joined the modern world several months ago and got an iPhone.  It has been a life preserver during all this.

I am putting this out on Twitter.  I hope it posts OK because I am getting constant error messages from Blogger and I bet that is because my connection is about to go out again.  I can't go into the "preview" mode so if there are errors in this post I apologize.

Wish my spouse luck tomorrow, from 2 to 4.  Trust me, I will be back telling the world how it went.

Music is the Best Revenge

 I am still unable to upload any photos to my blog, thanks to my internet woes. 

Sunday before last I my spouse and I attended a music festival at Rec Park in Binghamton, New York, the park featured in some of the Twilight Zone TV show episodes. Instead of some photos, I'd like to offer some You Tube videos, which I had uploaded in draft before my connection troubles started.

The first video above is of a band called Dirt Farm, which plays Americana and similar musical styles.

The second band (below), the Brian Wolff Band, played a song called Strong, which was a fund raising song for flood relief.  (You knew I was going to sneak our flood of last September into one or two more blog posts before the 1 year anniversary next month, didn't you?)  This is the official video for the song.

Brian Wolff is moving to Austin, Texas in October and I wish him luck.

The last video (below) is of a group called Bad Weather Blues.  Speaking of  Bad Weather, we are just about at the one year anniversary of Tropical Storm Irene hitting upstate New York.  I may blog about that more tomorrow, if I still can't post pictures.

This weekend, at the same park, there will be another music festival accompanying the Chris Thater Memorial.  I hope to blog about that this weekend, if the Internet Deities permit.

Music is the best revenge when you are trying to recover from disaster.  It lifts spirits and allows people to get together, express their sorrow, and work for a happier tomorrow.

And it gets your toes to tapping and your heart to dancing.

What could be better?

If you are in the area, please stop by this weekend and watch some awesome bicycle racing through the neighborhood Rod Serling grew up in.  Calling all Twilight Zone fans!)

Monday, August 20, 2012

My 30 Minutes of Fame

I was basking in the glory of officially being an internet celebrity.  And then my Internet disappeared.

The Internet giveth and the Internet taketh away, so being humble is still the best policy.

Last night, I was interviewed by fellow blogger Sandi Tuttle on her Internet Radio Show,

Sandi and I chat a little about how I became a blogger, and a little bit about community gardens.  If you've ever thought about community gardening, you may want to listen in.

I am writing this (briefly) from another computer and will hopefully have a better post up tomorrow.  Or I will be blogging from an iPhone, hunt and pecking with one finger.

Thank you, Sandi, for putting my name up on the Internet and giving me the chance to speak about a subject near to my heart.

UPDATE 5:05 pm: I have internet again (for now) so am posting the entire link, which I couldn't earlier today:  

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Civil War Sunday - Life in the Slow Lane

We are so frustrated when life slows down for us.

For example (yes, you have reached my Civil War Sunday, and yes, this has something to do with my topic) I've limped along the last week without my speedy laptop, depending on an old computer to do my blogging with.  At one point the download speed of my connection was around 1.29 mps, meaning slo............o..........owww.   Sometimes the blogger software takes several minutes to load.  I'm grateful for my iPhone but I can't blog on it; I'm a one finger typist on its tiny electronic keyboard.  Poor me, yes. 


Yesterday morning we were going to go to a golf tournament and our car (we only have one) had a flat tire.  It was unfixable, and we waited carless while the tire shop (only a mile down the road, so walkable) gives us two new tires.  Meantime, we chomped at the bit...such a nice day, so many places to go to, couldn't, not for two whole hours.

Now fast-backwards to the Civil War era:  1861-1865.

Transportation for civilians is by walking or horse.  Or, if you are lucky, train. (Communication? Well, that's a story for another blog post.  Needless to say, no Internet or phone.)

But what of the foot soldiers of the Civil War, both North and South?

They didn't get to those battles by driving one of several brands of road-ready pickups using the Interstate.  But they sure got around.  As one example, the "home" regiment of the county I live in, the 137th NY Infantry Regiment, was mustered in just after the battles in Harpers Ferry (now West Virginia) and Sharpsburg/Antietam (Maryland).  The 137th NY fought in Virginia, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and participated in Sherman's March through Georgia and then fought in the Carolinas. (I've probably lost a few states here and there)  That's a whole lot of walking.

Yes, they walked.  And walked. And walked, in shoes that didn't fit well, or no shoes at all.  Like other soldiers, they carried 50 or 60 pounds of equipment, and these weren't the ultralight hiking packs of today.  They sometimes went long stretches without food, or adequate water. 

Many of the Confederate soldiers were farm-bred and used to heavy labor and lots of walking.  Enough Federal troops were city or small town bred.  They had to adapt quickly to this new life.

The clothes these soldiers wore were not our lightweight synthetic fabrics of today.  A lot of clothing issued at the beginning of the war ended up abandoned in ditches, too heavy for these overburdened soldiers.  A change of clothing was a luxury.  And oh yes, there were those guns and the ammunition, too.  The tents.  The cooking equipment.  The coffee.  The hardtack.

When we study the Civil War, it is not enough to memorize facts. We must put ourselves into the shoes (literally) and times of the people.  It isn't easy.  Reenactors do their best, but even they can't bring back the times completely. (I've seen reenactors, for examples, carrying cell phones with them during "down times". )

I suspect many Civil War soldiers might have been tempted to swap one of their marching days for my day yesterday.  And no, I wouldn't have traded with them.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Sustainable Saturday - The Organic Community Garden

Our community garden, located in upstate New York, is going organic in the year 2014.

We've known about it since the beginning of the year, and I've been mulling it over for a while.

You would think that I would be overjoyed.  We don't garden strictly organically, in the pure sense of organic gardening, but I know that many of our community gardening neighbors don't garden organically.

It is going to be an educational experience for many of the gardeners.

But first, what is organic gardening?

Well, that depends who you ask.

It's a bit hard putting a mandate into place when practitioners of "organic gardening" don't always agree on a definition of organic gardening.  But let's give it a whirl.

A definition from Garden Web reads:

"ORGANIC GARDENING - the science and art of gardening by incorporating the entire landscape design and environment to improve and maximize the garden soil's health, structure, texture, as well as maximize the production and health of developing plants without using synthetic commercial fertilizers, pesticides, or fungicides."

The  letter from our gardening association (this is a summary) lists practices that are NOT organic:
1.  Don't use herbicides - plant-killing chemicals of any kind;
2.  Don't use non-organic, chemical pesticides.  Organic ones should be used only as a last resort;
3.  Crop rotation is suggested; companion planting is encouraged;
4.  Don't use chemical fertilizers or plant foods. 

However, there are a lot of shades of grey (a certain number may come to mind but it doesn't have anything to do with organic gardening) in these statements.  The Association is going to have to consider a number of practices that some people consider organic - and some people don't.

One of these involves the use of plastic or other synthetic fabrics or ground covers, which will be banned after this season.   Biodegradeable covers will likely be banned after the 2013 season.   This is a topic I want to explore in a future post.

Community gardening is the best way to provide your family with local food - is it too much to expect that these gardeners be organic, too?

Has your community garden "gone organic"?  Do you have a working definition of what practices are and are not allowed?  Did your garden association have to transition, and was it traumatic for the members?

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Flowers of Memory

Have you ever planted a flower (or two, or three) for a dearly departed loved one in your life.  I have.  I wonder how many other flower gardeners have.

Two bloggers gave me inspiration for this post. Thank you, Christine at Inspired Life, for the prompt  (the prompt originally came from   Imagine a phone conversation with a relative who has died.  And Marisa, who left a post about a leopard lily given to her by her flatmate, who also died. 

On Wednesday, I wrote a blog post talking about a red dahlia I've grown (digging up tubers every fall) that was given to me by a friend who subsequently died from cancer.  And, I mentioned a hibiscus I planted in honor of a late, dear aunt.

Today is the 9th anniversary of my Aunt M's sudden death in a car accident.

I wanted to tell you all her story.  If I could talk to her on the phone on this anniversary, what would I say?

Hi, Aunt M!

I want you to know I still think of you often.  I thought of you earlier this month when we had a mini-family reunion.  We talked to two of your children on Skype.  Isn't that amazing?  You never wanted a computer.  We still wrote letters, you and I.  I haven't written a letter for pleasure since the day you died.

I also want you to know that the special hisbiscus I planted in my front yard, in your memory, is blooming very nicely.  I remember how proud you were of your hibiscus and your small vegetable garden.  You were in your late 70's, and lived alone, but you got a lot of things done.  You were amazing.

I remember one of the things we did the day before you died. We went to the Saturday farmers market in the Iowa city where you lived.  You loved houseplants, and you saw an orchid.  You almost bought it, but changed your mind and told the farmer you would be back Tuesday, at the next market  Of course, you never made it.

I also wanted you to know about the "Aunt M" plant.  It is a euphorbia and you would be amazed how long it took me to find that out.  You didn't know what it was, either but you had grown it for years and years in your house  You would grow it outdoors every summer, then take cuttings, overwinter them indoors, and repeat the process.

You had been doing that for over 20 years. The visit before you died, you gave me a cutting.  In fact, I forgot it and we drove back just to retrieve the cutting.  We drove home with it, almost 900 miles.  My plants are still alive, too.  I don't put them out every summer, but I thought you would be pleased to know how much those cuttings make me think of you, too.

It was great talking with you, Aunt M.  I hope there is gardening where you are living now.  Heaven wouldn't be heaven without gardens, would it?  Hope to talk to you again next year.  Bye!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Letter

We've been waiting for this letter for a little more than 35 years.

It's the letter that says:

"Congratulations!  Our records indicate that your remaining principal balance is less than your monthly mortgage payment on the above referenced account....."  In other words, one more payment and we own our house free and clear.  Our third house, several refinances, a second story added on....we've made it.

Yesterday, we got the letter.

True, it's a house now in a flood plain; it's a house whose value dropped who knows how much as the receding flood waters from Tropical Storm Lee drained out of our neighborhood (taking a diesel spill with it) on September 9 and 10, 2011, but it is our house.  In this day and age of so many people underwater (figuratively, that is), so many people foreclosed or about to be, I almost feel guilty about this day.

House sweet house.  OUR house sweet house.

So there's the little voice inside of me saying "How many people in this area end up selling because taxes are so high?  Will you end up like your mother in law, paying more taxes each month than her house payment was way back when?". And  "You may think you suddenly have this extra money in your wallet but you know how things happen....".  All the little voices of gloom and doom.

I need to shut them out, at least for the next month.

We will be making that last payment in a little less than a month from now, and we will get the escrow returned about 30 days later.

We have worked hard for this day.  Now we have to make the adjustments: no more escrow; we must remember to save for our taxes and insurance - it won't be done automatically.  And we need to be frugal with that money.  We've always been frugal, so that is no big stretch. 

For today, I will bask in the glow of that letter. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day - Wednesday August iPhone Blooms

Welcome to the August edition of Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. Each 15th of the month, this meme is hosted by May Dreams Gardens.  Each 15th of the month, garden bloggers from around the world post pictures of what is blooming in their garden.  Welcome, and please be sure to check out May Dreams Gardens and the other participants in GBBD.

Due to some difficulties with my laptop all of today's photos were taken with my iPhone 4S, and cropped using Photoshop Express.  As a purely amateur photographer without any photo training, I fumbled my way through the software and am pleased with the results.  (The iPhone camera isn't too shabby, either.)

So what is blooming at my house in upstate NY, near Johnson City/Binghamton?

Due to my schedule, I took these photos Sunday, but all of these plants are in bloom this morning.

Overnight, we had at least two thunderstorms and some rain.  We've been getting rain since my July post and I am grateful, although Elmira, NY (about an hour west of us) was hit with a small tornado, which still caused enough damage.

A red dahlia.  There is a story behind this dahlia - the original tubers were given to me some 20 years ago by a friend and co worker who had cancer. Sadly, she passed, but we have grown this dahlia every year since.  Last year it put out very few tubers

A hisbiscus.  This plant was accidentally "weeded" last summer and never recovered, never bloomed. But this year, it is back, just as strong as ever.  There is a story behind this plant too, which was planted in honor of a late aunt I loved dearly. She loved hisbiscuses.
A perennial viola, still going strong from this spring.  I bought this at the Ithaca, NY farmers market this spring and will e intersted in seeing if it successfully overwinters.
Sometimes, herbs can have interesting flowers too, as evidenced by this pineapple mint. (The spring is over on its side, which is why it isn't upright.)

And finally, you can be pleasantly surprised by the unexpected.  Every year we decorate the front of our house with ears of dried ornamental corn. (No, we don't grow it - we usually get it at a local farmers market.) The squirrels ate ours this past fall, but one kernel must have fallen.  We let it grow, and it is now blooming for us.  One tiny corn is now starting to peak out with a few tassels.

What's blooming in your garden today?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Electronic Agonizations Part 2-Can You Hear Me Now?

In the good old days.....
1. You had a black phone with a dial.  It probably hung on your wall.  You dialed, a process needing some skill.  You usually got the right number.  You rented it from the phone company. It lasted for years and years.

2. Your TV.  It was usually black and white. It had tubes.  If the tubes burned out you called the repairman (or replaced them yourself if you were talented.)  Some people even built their own TVs from Heathkits. 
They lasted for years and years.

3. Computers? Aren't those for universities and heavy duty science laboratories?  And the phone company, who sends your bill along with a Do Not Fold Spindle or Mutilate card? I bet those huge computers lasted for years and years.

In the year 2012.....

1. Phone connection works.  Phone connection doesn't work. Call cable company. They say no service problems in the area. They tell us to reboot modem. (If there was smoke pouring out of the modem it still wouldn't be their fault.)

Phone works.   Phone doesn't work.  Figure it's the phone. After all we've had it for what, 8 years? Less? Nowadays we own our own phones so we pay $80 for new wired landline phone (yes, we have a landline - although it is through the cable company) with two wireless sets.  Phone connection works.  Phone connection doesn't work. Sometimes it rings and the answering machine doesn't pick up.  Sometimes we get a fast busy signal. Other times a recording about "network problems".  Today, the phone seems to be working.  Tomorrow, who knows. Can you hear me now?  It isn't our phone. Time to call the cable company again, which is tied with root canal on the list of Things I Want to Avoid Forever.

2. TV.  Well, that's a story for another blog post.

3.  Computers?  Yes. I own three, one of which has been packed away since the flood.  It's from 2004, no sense trying to run that old relic.  It's been limping along on Linux for several years, anyway.

 Laptop - 2 1/2 years old - is now my main computer.  Now the computer case cracks, hinge breaks, hours of agonization.  Repair? Replace? Get a tablet? something else?  on and on and on.....

Thank you, all who commented and gave me advice.  The saga still is not over.

My laptop is sitting in the local computer guru's house.  He should call tomorrow with an estimate.  If the price doesn't justify it he will tell me to go to the local Wal-Mart and get a new laptop for $298.  He calls them "throwaways".  He explained to us that certain things, like printers, he won't even fix because you can buy one for less.  Well, if I get a cheap laptop I could get a iPad to accompany my iPhone, or maybe even the Google Tablet (Nexus 7). Then I could have something really portable with a battery whose life isn't measured in minutes.

I don't want to think about throwaways.  I don't want an electronic agonization.  I want the good old days.
Well, maybe not, but why must life be so complicated?  Makes me want to Bend, Fold, Spindle and Mutilate something.

Do you remember Fold, Spindle and Mutilate?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Electronic Agonization Part 1

How dependent we are on our little gadgets.

Saturday, after trying to limp along a laptop with a cracked case (caused, according to my son, by a loose screw!) the hinge broke.  I knew this was going to happen, but was still not totally prepared for it.

So I am going to ask you, my reader, for some help. (No contest, no prizes, just the satisfaction of helping a fellow blogger). 

I need a portable device I can comfortably blog and email on. It has to have a screen big enough for the eyes of a 60ish nearsided person.  It needs to have some keyboard device that an excellent touch typist can comfortably use.  It's as simple as that.
This is what I've done so far:

Brought to where I bought it (a computer store). Find they are now closed on weekends.

Took to Staples.  Quoted $349.  No way.

Now what?  I am going to check with the computer store above later today-actually my long-suffering spouse will, while I am at work.  I also have the phone number of someone who repairs computers and did work for my guest photographer.  But I fear the price will not be right.  I am lucky right now - I can blog and email on an old desktop.  But I already miss my laptop terribly.

When the crack in the case first appeared to be fatal, a neighbor let me test-drive his new Google Tablet (officially called an Asus Nexus 7).  He showed me the on/off switch, and how to charge it, and left me to check it out.  Trusting man, him. (yes, I did return it.)

I'll report on the Nexus 7 later.  (I also got the chance to test-drive an iPad last week).

In addition to my main needs above, this device needs to be able to:
1.  take pictures off my camera (yes, I have an iPhone but I still use my camera. A lot.) for my blog, and general emailing purposes;
2.  Email (yes, I still use email), Twitter, and (sigh) Facebook.
3.  I would like to be able to read Word documents.  I use Excel, but not that much, and I am not that good at it.  But I do use Excel sometimes to keep track of financial stuff.
4. Good battery life. I've already lived with my present laptop's 2 hour battery life.  I need better than that.
5.  Weight.  Yes, lighter would be nicer.
6.  Last  (but not least) price.  I'm afraid if I get a tablet, the "add-on"s will add up to as much as a new laptop.  (but would I be happy with a $500 laptop?  Maybe.  I don't game, except for FarmVille.)

There's the part of me that rebels against even starting this exercise.  My almost 60 year old mind, dragged kicking and screaming is shouting "leave me alone!  Can't you just curl up with a good book?"

No, I can't, and, come to think of it, a tablet would also make a good eReader, as long as I didn't have to read in the sun.

So, I am asking you, my readers, to help me make this decision.  What should replace my PC laptop?

PC laptop? (what I use now)
Mac taptop? (probably not but it is in the back of  my mind.)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Civil War Sunday - The Two Wars

The 150th anniversary Civil War battle commemorations are coming fast and furious now. 

Three days ago, we passed the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Cedar Mountain (aka Slaughter's Mountain), in North Central Virginia.

There's a lot of trivia surrounding this battle:

AP Hill coming to save the day, which he repeated at the Battle of Antietam, a little more than a month later...and which helped to lead to a feud between him and "Stonewall" Jackson....

Thomas Jackson ("Stonewall") once again showing total disregard for his own life, as he rode into the center of battle brandishing a rusted sword....(I admit it.  I am fascinated by Thomas Jackson, although I was born and raised in New York State).

Clara Barton's first "official" battlefield caring for the wounded... (she later founded the American Red Cross and played a large role in identifying the dead of the infamous POW Camp at Andersonville, in Georgia).

But what the Confederate victory led to was the beginnings of a campaign that would lead the Confederates and Union forces to a second battle in Manassas, in Virginia, and then north into Maryland, where the armies would meet again near the Maryland town of Sharpsburg, on September 17, 1862, in the bloodiest one day encounter in United States military history.

That is what history teaches us - the dry "facts".

What else does history teach us?  I found a fascinating blog in the New York Times website the other day, about "The Two Civil Wars"....the Civil War being fought by the soldiers on the field - and the Civil War of the mind as the families of those fighting struggled to understand what their children were experiencing.

It was a gulf of understanding that, for many, was never bridged.

Even today we still don't understand, even as we try to, when we stand on those silent battlefields and feel the ghostly presence of the dead soldiers of both sides.  They whisper to us, try to communicate with us, try to speak to us, try to tell us....


We have to know, and maybe that is why we keep going back to those battlefields, try to preserve them, and try to reenact what happened in those places 150 years ago.

So we can finally understand.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Sustainable Saturday -Godzilla Sunflowers

Have you ever seen a community garden? If you are traveling north on I-81 near exit 5, you will see our garden.  Be sure to wave "hi". (How will you find our plot?  Look for the Godzilla Sunflowers.  More on that later.)

I've been blogging this week about the community garden my spouse (he does almost all of the work especially in the past few years that I've had back problems) rents plots in.  It is located in a county park here in upstate New York called Otsiningo Park.  It parallels I-81 and our gardening efforts are accompanied by the sound of highway traffic.

This garden allows people living in apartments and rental houses and people whose home yards are too small or too shady to grow their own food.

Here are some photos taken today in the community garden.  These are mainly not of our plot as I wanted to give a shoutout to all of our hard working gardening friends.

Some of us have traditional gardens of tomatoes, squash, and corn.

Some of us garden very neatly. (I can assure you, this ISN'T our plot.)

This plot (also see picture above) belongs to an immigrant from Asia.  He has gardened for a number of years next to us.  He's been generous enough to give us some of his transplants - I suspect he starts many of his plants himself.

And then, there is my spouse and I.   This year our main crop is Godzilla Sunflowers.

Our plot seems to have transformed itself into a sunflower paradise.  Many of our plants are volunteer seedlings.  If we sold these flowers, we could probably make back the cost of our garden!  But we don't.  The birds enjoy a lot of the seeds and we cut the flowers for our table.  Only drawback, these flowers shed pollen, and lots of it.

We've had a lot of animal problems. I don't know why the animals have been making beelines to our plot, but we will have no beans this year, and are only now getting squash.  But, our peppers are fine, we had a great onion crop and our tomatoes are ripening nicely.

Our drought is breaking. We are very lucky, compared to a lot of the United States.  My heart goes out to those still suffering from drought.

I will leave you with one last picture  I should have had my spouse stand next to this Godzilla Sunflower for scale. But I can assure you, this one is over 7 feet tall.

If it is gardening season where you live, what's growing well for you?

Friday, August 10, 2012

From a Cemetery to a Rest Stop

In our last episode of "The Saga of the local Community Garden" the community garden we used for our first few years in the Binghamton, NY area, run by Broome County, was discontinued by the County.  The land, once the site of a Potter's field, was sold to a developer for a retail area called "The Gardens".

We went from gardening in a former cemetery to no garden at all.  Our small plot of land at our house is too shady for much of a garden.  The neighborhood groundhog eventually got whatever we tried to start in pots.  For a list of everything a groundhog will eat, email me. It's a pretty long list.

We went without a garden for about three long, very long, years.

But finally, one woman took action.

A woman, Margaret, lived in an apartment in a housing development in Binghamton. She was a long time gardener in the former community garden. 

A local businessman who owned a moving and storage company also threw his support to our cause.  He (or perhaps both of them) met with the county.  People had heard that a rest area on I-81 on the edge of Otsiningo Park was being closed.  Why not have this closed rest area made into a community garden site?

Broome County said if we came up with $500 and 30 signatures  ($35 a person) the county would go ahead and do the initial plowing, but after that they would only do the staking out and hooking up water. A community gardening association had to be formed.

After that the gardening association had to be responsible for plowing in spring, plowing in fall, and paying for the water bill.

A meeting was called of interested parties, and the Otsiningo Community Gardeners Association was born. My spouse has belonged to the association since the beginning in 1997.  Our first gardening year was 1998.

The only thing county does is stake in spring after plow, and in fall they set up a couple of dumpsters for the garden waste. Everything else is done by the gardening association.

Plot fees go to paying water bill, plowing, incidental expenses.

We have been successful, and in fact the plots sold out this year.  But, sadly, Margaret died a year or so after the new community garden started up.

The current President of the Association for the 2012 has some ambitious plans for our community garden. This year, for the first year, a cover crop will be planted and our gardening year will end in mid-September. (normally, it ends the end of October.)   I will blog more about his plans later this month.

Incidentally, our garden is not the only community garden in Binghamton.  A non-profit organization called VINES operates several (what I would call) inner city community gardens in Binghamton.  VINES operates a weekly booth at the Otsiningo Park Farmers Market stocked with produce from an urban farm it runs. 

If any of my readers are familiar with VINES I would love to offer you a guest post slot. 

And if you are a community gardener, I would love to hear from you, too.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

On the Cover of the Rolling....Flood Book

It is said that everyone has their 15 minutes of fame.  Sometimes, that fame is a welcome thing.  Don't you want to be famous?  Doesn't everyone?

Sometimes, it is your neighborhood that becomes famous.

Many times, you just as soon wish it had never happened.
That's what I wish, every time I leave my house near Johnson City, NY and walk or travel more than about three or four blocks.

I pass buildings that became vacant 11 months ago today, and are still vacant.  Some don't have interior walls.  Some are still filled with debris.  Some have "For Sale" signs.  Some still have bushes encrusted with flood mud.

There is the former credit union building.  The former day care center.  The former doctor's practice. The former 600,000. square foot factory building that once held 1300 workers.  The former adult day care center.  The sagging houses that will never be occupied again.  One entire street is almost devoid of occupants, with just a handful of hardy souls trying to reclaim their lives.

The out of business and for sale tire store whose mechanics nourished my son's love of car repair especially touches my heart.  The former.....the former.....

Many businesses have reopened.  The Home Depot.  The Ollies.  The window contractor.  The Aldi.  Our local pediatrician. A dentist.  A massage therapist.   My beloved Unicorn Electronics.  Wild Birds Unlimited.

We must look towards the future and I usually do, but today I look back one last time.

This past weekend, I had several cousins visit from the New York City area, Pennsylvania, and (by Skype) Florida, the midwest and Texas.  We had a lot of fun, and we talked about many things.  Still, a certain book I had taken out of the library drew a number of fascinated readers.  They paged through the pictures while my young adult son provided the narration.

One of the cousins graduated last year from Binghamton University.  She looked at pictures of places she knew. She had graduated in May of 2011 and the pictures were taken during the period of September 7, 8 and 9, 2011 during the flooding caused by Tropical Storm Lee,  It was a book about the flood.  If she had still been going to the college, she may well have volunteered at the Events Center, which became one of the evacuation centers.

My neighborhood is on the cover of the flood book.  My house is even visible (no, not telling you which one) in the aerial photo.

Our neighborhood of Westover, along with several other areas (some of which suffered much worse than we did) have become a symbol of the flood.  Let us name them:  Owego. Castle Gardens.  Twin Orchards.  The Southside of Binghamton.  There are others.  I really don't know why our neighborhood was chosen for its 15 minutes of fame, but it was.

When I first found out our neighborhood would be on the cover, it was emotionally very hard.  It was just a couple of months after the flood, and my feelings were still too raw.  But, when I saw the book at the library this past July, I knew it was time.  Time to put the flood where it belonged, in the past.

Time to read the book.  Time to move on.

So we looked at the book, and then went on to much happier things. We had such a good time that my sides ached the next day.

I wish the flood had never happened.  I wish I could have had the power to prevent the storm from doing what it did to our part of upstate NY and parts of several other states.  But wishes have no power.  Only actions.  We have come so far, and we should be proud.

Next month will be the one year anniversary.  I will write about the flood recovery one last time.  And then I hope to move on permanently to other blog topics.

It is time.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Join Me In the Food Forest?

Food Forests.  A concept out of an urban fairy tale?.

The people of Seattle may have thought they were living a fairy tale when the Food Forest idea was first proposed.  It is no fairy tale, and is taking shape even now.  And it may be the answer to some of the devastation our area of upstate NY, and other areas hit by massive flooding in the last couple of years, have been looking for.

What is a food forest?  Quoting from Take Part, an urban project new to our country is unfolding in Seattle:

"A seven-acre plot of land in the city’s Beacon Hill neighborhood will be planted with hundreds of different kinds of edibles: walnut and chestnut trees; blueberry and raspberry bushes; fruit trees, including apples and pears; exotics like pineapple, yuzu citrus, guava, persimmons, honeyberries, and lingonberries; herbs; and more. All will be available for public plucking to anyone who wanders into the city’s first food forest."

Now let's cut to one of the casualties of our flood here in Westover, an area just to the west of Binghamton, NY.  A flood-ruined 600,000 square foot building lies waiting for the wrecking ball.  11 months ago today, the flood came and almost swept 1300 jobs away from Westover.  (The jobs relocated in a nearby village but this may only be temporary.)

The best our local officials can come up with is to use the land, once the building (one of the largest wood framed structures in the United States) is demolished, as a park.

Well, let's take this a step further.  What about a food forest?  True, the soil may be polluted from one of the parting gifts of the flood - a spill of oil and we-don't-want-to-know what other chemicals.  But you wouldn't want that soil in a park where our children would be playing either, would we? 

A city bus stops directly in front of the building.  There is already a parking lot.  The land and building consists of approximately 30 acres.

What if we had apples, blueberries, raspberries, herbs and other edibles growing on that land?  What if it was free for the picking?  What if we also had lovely blooming plants in the spring?  True, we don't have Seattle's climate, but this is a major apple growing area.  Many herbs thrive here, too.

We already have a local botanical garden in Binghamton in a flood prone area. When it floods, volunteers put it back together. That area is much more flood prone than the BAE property.  So we should not be afraid of the "What if" question.

We would have to find volunteers but I think it would be possible.

So how would we campaign for something like this?  A fellow blogger, Food That Sings, wrote me from Australia:

" And that's where it starts...perhaps you could write a letter about your idea; send copies to the council, the local newspaper;  radio station, even post a copy on the school bulletin board, community shopping centre etc. etc. You could plant the seed; start the growth (ha ha pardon the pun) awesome is that"

Yes, it is awesome  We in the Triple Cities need to be on the map for some other reason than a mass killing of 13 in 2009 and this flood - wouldn't it be great if we could turn this flood into an opportunity for renewal.

And I know just who I am going to write - the man running against the incumbant Broome County Executive.  I met him earlier this year at the Otsiningo Park Farmers Market.  Now it's time for him to put his "money" where his beliefs are.

Check your mail, Tarik Abdelazim.

Does your area have a food forest?  Have you ever visited one?  Do they work?

Wednesday Blooms -Hope Soars

Hope soars where 11 months ago there was mass destruction.

11 months ago today, the only way you could have visited the Cutler Botanical Gardens in Binghamton, NY where this picture and the ones below were taken August 3, or the park (Otsiningo Park) where the hot air balloon was launched, would have been by boat.

The massive rains of Tropical Storm Lee, on top of rains from Tropical Storm Irene and a wetter than normal year, sent rivers and streams over their banks. Parts of Otsiningo Park were covered in eight feet of water.

We are still recovering, as I detail on every anniversary of the flood.

But, hope - and blooms - now rule where stinky mud and ruined structures once stood.  The Master Gardeners of Cornell Cooperative have put in countless hours of devotion and love to get Cutler back into shape.  And, it is all free of charge.
Not all the flower tags are back in place yet.  I believe this might be cultivated Joe Pye Weed
A beautiful red hisbiscus.
And finally, a new hydrangea called "Pinky Winky".  It was love at first sight, me and Pinky Winky.  I must have this!  I will have this! I....

I had relatives visiting from Brooklyn when I took these pictures, and I hope they will take the story of Cutler back with them.

If you are ever near Exit 5 on Interstate 81 North in southern New York State, please drop by.

You may even see a hot air balloon.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Community Gardening in a Cemetery

Question: What happens when a county wants to make your community garden into a movie theatre/restaurant/motel complex?

Answer: The county wins, takes your community garden, paves it over and calls the resulting area "The Gardens".

If you ever travel on I-81 in southern New York State, you will see this complex on the side of the northbound lanes just past Exit 5. There's a Cracker Barrel, a Fairfield Inn and a movie complex.  When I go there, which is not often, I always feel a little pang. "The Gardens" indeed.

And what happens to the gardeners? 

Well, we need to backtrack a little.

When we moved here in the mid 1980's we rented the upstairs of a two family rental home. It was too late in the year to garden. But the following year, even as we were looking for a house to buy, we were suffering from GWS (Gardening Withdrawal Syndrome).  We heard about a garden-owned community garden on Upper Front Street (technically not in Binghamton but it's a Binghamton mailing address so let's not quibble.) We rented two plots.

This was our first community garden.  It was run by Broome County.  We went to the County Office Building in downtown Binghamton on a certain designated day in February.  It was first come-first serve.  You didn't have any ability to keep your plot(s) from the last year.  On the other hand, the county plowed the land in plenty of time for the main gardening season and provided staking to identify each plot, and city water. The plots were 20' x 25', 500 square feet.

What was the garden before it was a community garden?  It was Binghamton's Potter's field. We were gardening in a former final resting place for the area's poor and unknown. Yes, there's a bit of an "ick" factor and I'm glad I didn't know that I was digging in a former cemetery when we first started our gardening.

Before that, the local Native Americans used the land and an archeological dig while we were still gardening the land produced, as I recall, some arrowheads and other Native American finds.

But then the county realized that this land would serve them better on the tax rolls, hence the plans to build "The Gardens"  We gardeners fought it as best we could but the county won.  For several years we did not have a community garden.  It was tough for us as our green thumbs begged for action.

But the Gardeners Struck Back.   More on that Friday.

(Tomorrow and Thursday are the 11 month flood anniversary and I will honor that anniversary - along with my Wednesday Blooms feature - so click in again Friday for The Rest of the Story).

Monday, August 6, 2012

Why Have A Community Garden?

(Onions growing in our community garden plot, July 2012).

I've mentioned here and there that my spouse and I (mainly my spouse, these last few years) have rented community garden plots here in Binghamton, New York.  I've never blogged, though, about, how this community garden actually started.  The story may interest those who have thought about starting a community garden in their area.

Later in the week I will get more into the origin story of our community garden. Today, I want to blog about exactly what a community garden is.

The American Community Garden Association defines a community garden as:

"Any piece of land gardened by a group of people."

It's as simple as that!

Of course, nothing is ever "as simple as that" as I will talk about in the coming weeks.

We've participated in two different community garden associations in our 25 plus years living in the Binghamton area.

We started out when we first moved here, and were living in an apartment.  When we ended up buying a house, most of the lot was pretty shady, and also wasn't big enough to have the garden plot we wanted.  But at least we own our own home.  For many community gardeners, a community garden is the difference between being able to garden and grow their own quality food - and having to depend on sometimes substandard (depending on their neighborhoood) produce.

What are other reasons for community gardeners?

The American Community Gardening Association offers these additional reasons, and I quote from their website:  A community garden:
  • Improves the quality of life for people in the garden
  • Provides a catalyst for neighborhood and community development
  • Stimulates Social Interaction
  • Encourages Self-Reliance
  • Beautifies Neighborhoods
  • Produces Nutritious Food
  • Reduces Family Food Budgets
  • Conserves Resources
  • Creates opportunity for recreation, exercise, therapy, and education
  • Reduces Crime
  • Preserves Green Space
  • Creates income opportunities and economic development
  • Reduces city heat from streets and parking lots
  • Provides opportunities for intergenerational and cross-cultural connections
Stay tuned - in a few days I will continue with our particular community garden organization's "origin story".

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Civil War Sunday - For the Love of Country

I'm recovering from the euphoria of a "cousins reunion" here in my home near Johnson City, New York (a "Union" state during the Civil War) complete with us Skyping family in Texas (former Confederate state), Illinois (former Union state) and Florida (former Confederate state). 

Not all of this particular group of cousins could attend, but I am hoping we gathered enough contact information to be able to stay in touch.

Such an everyday thing, here in 2012.  We take it for granted that families can get together, despite distance and yes, sometimes despite individual politics.

Now fast backward to the Civil War our country fought against itself in 1861-1865.  A common expression is that "brother fought brother" and in some cases it was literally true.

One of the complicated things about the Civil War was how intertwined we were, even in 1861, even before the days of Interstate highways, the telephone, the Internet and, yes, internet communication services such as Skype.

There are some well known instances of families being split apart.

Varina Davis, the First Lady of the Confederacy, had relatives in both the Union and Confederate armies.

Mary Todd Lincoln, the First Lady of the Union, grew up in a slave holding household and had a brother and other relatives in the Confederate army.

And, perhaps the best known example of "brother vs. brother" was two of the children of a United States senator, John Crittenden.  One became a general in the Union army and one became a general in the Confederate army.

I haven't had time to do the requisite research but the question I had was:  how did these families reconcile after the war?  Or did they reconcile?  Did the hatred continue for the rest of the family members' lives?  Have any of their living descendents continued the hatred, or have the reconciliations been made.

Now THAT would be a story worthy of a blog.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Sustainable Saturday - Is Local Always Best?

This is a slightly reworked post I wrote last December, three months after devestating floods hit portions of upstate NY.  Sadly, the buying dilemma - local business selling imported goods vs. national business selling local goods - still continues.

What do you think?

The Buying Dilemma
It's a very popular thing right now to "Buy American":  we must maintain our manufacturing base, and save jobs for Americans.  I've been trying to "buy local" (or at least "Made in the U.S.A.") for several years now.

But sometimes the choice is hard.

When we visited the State of Maine back last September, we were impressed by the pains the people of Maine took to promote items "made in Maine".  There were a number of stores in the Portland and Brunswick, ME areas specializing in Maine-made merchandise:  everything from mustard to Poland Springs water and vodka to blankets to balsam pillows to toothpaste.  Supermarkets featured local foods and beverages in special displays.

But we also found that enough of the merchandise in a Maine institution, Renys, was not made in the U.S.A.

Too many times now, people who want to do right by their fellow Americans face a choice:

Buy merchandise not made in the United States from a local business?

Or buy American from a national chain?

I've wanted to "buy local" in light of the devastating floods that hit our part of upstate NY in September but I am finding that choice isn't so simple.

On Black Friday 2011, we found an area rug in our local Kohl's, on a great sale, and proudly made by Mohawk in the U.S.A.

But in a local gift store in nearby Owego, a town hard hit by the flood, we tried our best to replace Christmas ornaments destroyed in the flood - and found that the majority of the ornaments - and all the patriotic ornaments - were made in China.

Should we have skipped the rug because it was being sold by a large national chain? (no, we bought it.)

Should we have passed on the China-made Christmas ornaments? (this one was harder but we did buy some.)

What about the local Home Depot?  National chain, blocks from our house, hit hard by the flood of September 8, 2011; reopened the day before Thanksgiving.  On Black Friday we were there at 5:05 a.m., passing under a sign saying "Welcome Back, Friends!".  The store was mobbed, and I would bet that some of those employees welcoming us had lost their homes in the flood.  They would have lost their jobs, too, if Home Depot had "hung it up".  (we still try to buy in a locally owned hardware store when possible but some of those Black Friday specials were irresistible.)

These decisions come nearly every day.  Today, I needed a new dish drainboard - and I ended up buying a made in U.S.A. product from Sterlite, in a national chain store (Target). The price was slightly higher than the Rubbermaid (made in China) but I gladly paid it.  But still, it wasn't from a small business. 

In other words, this decision - like so much in life - isn't that simple.  All I can hope is that I make the right decisions with my hard earned shopping dollars.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Where Customer Service Still Exists

Kudos to L.L. Bean - an American institution.

Last September, we vacationed in Maine, and visited Freeport and the L.L. Bean headquarters store.  There, we bought a nice looking lunchbag.  It had the features I wanted and I enjoy L.L. Bean quality, although not as much of its merchandise is made in the United States as it used to be.

Yesterday, a "blue ice" freeze pack (hard shell) I use to keep my lunch cold leaked all over said lunch and lunchbag.  I cleaned up the gel (not totally trusting it was nontoxic) and threw my vanilla Greek yogurt (made in NY) away. 

I had no idea if I could salvage the bag or not. 

I decided to email their customer service.  Surely this isn't the first time one of those blue ice packs has leaked.

Would they tell me to throw the bag away and buy a new one from them?

Or would they have a solution?

I emailed them.  They responded 5 minutes later.  In case this happens to you this is their advice.  Isn't this awesome?  Needless to say, I was impressed and I told the rep so.

You should be able to clean out the lunch box using mild soap and water.
Do not use any detergent or bleach as this could damage the lining. 
Allow the bag to air dry away from any direct heat source. 
You do not need to discard the bag unless you are not able to clean it to your 
It's nice to know some companies still believe in good customer service.

Have you had a similar great customer service experience from a company? 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Decline and Fall of the Local Newspaper Revisited

Three years ago, I wrote the below (slightly edited) post.  I'm pleased (?) to report that our local newspaper has continued to find new, creative ways of alienating their remaining audience, including continued shrinking accompanied by regular price increases.  Yes, they are proving that a declining industry can continue to do everything wrong.

Our paper's latest stunt is to send their design to a centralized site. (I'm sure they laid off the local designers but the newspaper, in  the spirit of journalism, isn't reporting that if it did happen.)  The paper is now published in creative, unreadable fonts.  Some of the contact information at the bottom of certain articles is practically microscopic.

But that is nothing new, as this blog post from July, 2009 bears witness to.

The Decline and Fall of The Local Newspaper

Much has been written about the decline of print media. Our newspaper has found new, creative ways to alienate their remaining, loyal audience. What do I mean by loyal? Well, I've subscribed to home delivery of the paper for over 21 years. If that isn't loyal, what is? So let's count the ways our local paper is using to ensure that continued loyalty.

Old Service Method: Classifieds daily, and you could find what you wanted
New Service Method: No classifieds on Monday and Tuesday. I know someone in the newspaper business so I know why they are doing this. There is a logic to this. But what about the other days?

 Last Saturday I looked fruitlessly (no pun intended) for the listing of local farms that were offering U-Pick fruit. I guess they eliminated that too. News Bulletin: people do read the classifieds for reasons other than purchasing cars.

Old Service Method: The comics were visible without a microscope
New Service Method: why has "Cathy" shrunk to a size that middle aged eyes barely can make out while "Baby Blues"has panels twice the size? Is there any logic to the big comic/small comic thing?

Old Service Method: Deliver the paper daily, usually by 5am
New Service Method: For some reason, the last few Thursdays and Fridays, the paper doesn't get delivered until after I leave for work, which....well it's way after 5am. I used to sit down with the morning paper while I ate my cereal. Now, sometimes, it doesn't get read at all. Maybe one day they won't deliver it at all. Let's see if I notice. (and yes, we tip the carrier. My spouse delivered papers as a teen and he remembers it well.)

We won't mention the Incredible Shrinking Newspaper Width (one reduction in December, one reduction this week), the Let's Play with the Fonts so People Can't Read our Paper, and the other games the paper is playing.

I have read newspapers all of my life. My young adult son, on the other hand, has barely opened a paper in my sight, ever, in his lifetime. He isn't alone. And if you keep up the not so great service, Dear Newspaper, the 50 year olds won't be reading your paper either.