Sunday, March 31, 2013

Civil War Sunday - Easter 1863

Many Americans will sit down today to Easter dinner.  The food on the table will differ depending on ethnic tradition and even the part of the country they live in.

But, most likely, it will not be like an Easter dinner enjoyed (if that word could be used) by the troops, either North or South.  In the army, Easter was - well, read for yourself.

Easter came on April 5, 1863.  On that date, someone wrote a letter from Camp Winder, which was located near Richmond, Virginia.  This is a long letter but will give you a taste for camp life and how a holiday might have been spent.

For the Union, there is this letter in a Scranton, PA archive, although it does not discuss Easter.

And meanwhile, the war went on, as this Special Order 77 from Charleston, South Carolina shows.

Easter Sunday. Just another day of war in The War Between the States.

So many of us today are more fortunate - at peace, and with our family or friends.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Best of AM - Musings on the Macon Cherry Blossom Festival

Binghamton, New York will not be seeing cherry blossoms for a few more weeks.  But I can't wait for spring to get here so I am going back to a post from June, 2010.  Enjoy the pictures from the Macon, Georgia Cherry Blossom festival of March, 2010.  Feel the warmth and smell the blossoms.

I still think Binghamton can do something like this festival - wouldn't it be grand?

Musings on the Macon Cherry Blossom Festival (Part 2)

It was a long way to travel to see some trees, some would say.  Yes, a long way from the Binghamton, NY area.  But where in Binghamton would you see scenery such as this?  Pink was the color of the day, and many lawns in upscale areas had pink poodle lawn decorations as a fundraiser.

(this photo was taken with permission-of the human.)

A magnificent specimen.

Three smaller specimens.

One of North Macon's beautiful neighborhoods.
And last, but not least....I would be remiss if I didn't publish some photos of downtown Macon.  Here, one of the edges of the awesome Mulberry Street Arts and Crafts Festival.  And, a final shot of downtown.  (And fear not....Sustainable Saturday will be back next Saturday.)

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Lesson of the Broken Cheeseburger

This is a story that has gone, as we say today, "viral".  It's one of those feel-good stories that has a deeper meaning.

The story involves a 25 year old woman who took her seven year old sister out to lunch at a Chili's restaurant in Midvale, Utah.  The seven year old girl, who has autism, ordered a cheeseburger.

This particular restaurant automatically cuts a cheeseburger in half for its younger clientele.  But the little girl refused to eat the cheeseburger.  She stared at it.  Her big sister explains her little sister is obsessed with hamburgers, so this was not ordinary behavior.

The little girl said it was "broken".  The older sister asked the waitress if she could bring an uncut cheeseburger, explaining about her sister's autism.  This is where there story gets interesting.

I have a brother in law with autism who loves to eat out.  Because of my interactions with him, I am well aware that people with autism do not like change.  Cheeseburgers aren't usually cut in half.  A cut in half cheeseburger isn't what the seven year old girl expected.  And I also know if that waitress had just grabbed the cheeseburger and removed it, it may well have triggered a temper tantrum. 

No, what the waitress did next is the amazing part. No, it wasn't that she brought another, uncut cheeseburger at no charge..  No, it isn't even that the waitress told the manager, who came out and apologized, too.

The thing that made this story different is that the waitress and the manager spoke directly to the little girl. 

The waitress  said she was sorry, would get her another burger and gave her some french fries to munch on while the girl waited.  In other words, this waitress treated this little girl like the human being she is.  The manager reenforced this.

The girl was so happy that she kissed her new cheeseburger.  Big sister took a picture, posted it on Facebook and the power of social media took over.

People are afraid to talk to people with disabilities.  Some of it comes from a feeling of not quite knowing what to do, of not wanting to offend  But many times it, I think, comes from an expectation that a person with disabilities isn't a whole person.

In interacting with my brother in law, I confess I've sometimes been guilty of that, too.  I'm sorry to say that is how society was when I grew up back in the 50's and 60's.  But that isn't an excuse.

These customers were lucky to get a waitress who, herself, had a family member with autism (plus a degree in psychology), recognized how the situation might play out and knew just what to do.

Good for this waitress and manager!  People who work in service fields are so unrecognized - being a waitress is a tough job.  Good for waitress Lauren Wells!  She deserves the thanks of everyone with a family member who has autism.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Mel Brooks, New Jersey, and Me

Well, not exactly Mel Brooks, New Jersey, and me.  It's more like Mel Brooks, 60,000. other people, New Jersey and me.  And something else, but I'll get to that in a minute.

Mel Brooks?  If you are a young person, you may know him as the father of Max Brooks, the famous author of various zombie oriented books, including one of my favorites, World War Z.

If you are my age, you know Mel Brooks as a comedic genius, director, actor and about half a dozen other things, and his movies, including the classic (and flatulent) Blazing Saddles

But Mel Brooks (and me) were young once.  Young enough to go to sleep away camp.  Not just any sleepaway camp (and certainly not at the same time-Mel Brooks is 86 and I'm not).  And this camp is in deep, deep trouble.

Its name is Camp Sussex and it is (well, what is left of it is), located in Vernon Township, in Sussex County, New Jersey, on the shores of Lake Glenwood.  I didn't know this as a child, but Camp Sussex has an amazing history, a history that started with a Czech boy by the name of Hugo Piesen - who made a fortune with a game called Skee ball.  Hugo Piesen took that fortune, and made good on a childhood pledge born out of pain.  He helped to create a free summer camp, a "fresh air" camp, for New York City area underprivileged youth.  Although he was Jewish, the camp would be open to both Jewish and Gentile youth.

That camp, which opened in 1924, was Camp Sussex.  About 60,000. youth, including me, and including Mel Brooks, were beneficiaries of that camp, from what I can find online.  I went to Camp Sussex for four summers - the first three years, a three week session.  In fact, I attended the first session that allowed teenagers.

And like Mel Brooks, I was always the last to be picked for any sports team.

I don't exaggerate when I say that Camp Sussex helped to make me who I am.  It gave me my first exposure to the country.  I hiked in the woods. I boated in the lake (the first time I had ever been in a rowboat.).  I loved the nature hikes, was scared by the thunderstorms. and sometimes enjoyed fresh Sussex County corn.  We sang a lot.  There was a camp show every year.  And, color wars.  I didn't enjoy all the activities, but what I did enjoy has stayed with me ever since.

Now that I am aiming to start writing a memoir during Camp NaNoWriMo, you would think I would be flooded with happy memories.  But that isn't the case, because Camp Sussex is abandoned, and in ruins.  Its last season was 2005.  Derek Jeter was briefly involved in a move to reopen the camp as some kind of sports camp but that didn't last too long.

At this point in time, it would take millions to rehabilitate the property. There are tax liens, environmental laws, and other concerns that would scare away any potential buyer.

My home neighborhood in the Bronx is a slum.  And my childhood sleep away camp is in ruins.

Figures, I guess.

Did you go to Camp Sussex or know anyone else who did?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Spring Things - Cold is Busting Out All Over

We had a nice Florida morning here in upstate New York.   No, I'm not back in Florida.  I'm here in the Binghamton, New York area where I live.

The normal low in Tampa, Florida (where I was about three weeks ago) for this date is 60 (15.5 Celsius).  So consider this:

Low in Tampa, Florida today was 43 (6 Celsius)

Low at my house today was 31 degrees. (-.5 Celsius).

Next, consider that parts of the county Tampa is located in is under a frost advisory tonight.  In many Florida farms you will find sprinklers in the fields and near fruit trees.  They aren't for irrigation.  They are for sprinkling water over plants when the temperature is expected to be near freezing.  The water freezes on the plants and protects them from frost. 

That's the theory, anyway.  And, it isn't just Florida.  A lot of the Southeast United States is under a frost or even freeze warning.  I am sure very few people in Florida or Georgia are happy over this cold wave.  People in other parts of the United States who normally have spring like weather by now, and don't, are drawing up petitions to end March early.

Meanwhile, in upstate New York, we aren't worried about frost advisories - not quite yet.  Right now, nightly freezing temperatures are still desired, to extend the maple syruping season, and nature is trying to oblige.  But, slowly but steadily, nature is telling us spring is on the way.

Crocuses in a yard on the West Side of Binghamton - in town, our snow has melted off.
My Lenten Rose (finally has flower buds, two years after we planted it)

And, some unknown plant in my back yard whose name is long forgotten.

We can hope that the normal balance is restored soon.  But at least in Binghamton, New York, spring is on the way.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

When Everything You Know about Superman is Wrong

How do we answer the Superman question?  What is the Superman question? And, is everything I know about Superman wrong?

I loved the Superman comic as a child growing up in the 50's and 60's.  He was the Man of Steel, born on the planet Krypton as the baby Kal-El.   His parents, Jor-El and Lara, put Kal-El into a rocketship, wrapped in a blanket, as the planet Krypton exploded.  The rocketship survived and eventually made it to Earth, where it was found by an elderly Iowa farm couple, Jonathan and Martha Kent of Smallville. 

Never having had children, they took baby Kal-El, renamed him Clark Kent, and raised him. And then, both adoptive parents died of old age as Clark approached adulthood and he finally left Smallville for Metropolis and his secret identify career as a newspaper reporter.

I can recite this origin story in my sleep.

If you think about it, Kal-El, because he was born on a different planet, was an alien.  He came here without papers, so he was illegal.  So, what should the United States do with him?

That question is what Pulitzer Prize author Junot Diaz calls "The Superman Question": and maybe, if you are an American, you think you know the answer.

But not so fast.  First: was Superman really born on Krypton?

I know that Superman's origin story has changed through the years.  What I didn't know is how much it has changed since I was a little girl.  Apparently, one of the origin stories mentions a "birthing matrix" set up by the Kryptonians, so Kal-El (not sure exactly how) was actually born on Earth.

What about his adoptive parents?  Well, in more modern versions, they were young when they found baby Kal-El and they live into Clark's adulthood.  So many other parts of the "Superman origin" I grew up with have been changed...again and again and again.

So, what about The Superman Question?  It's a good question, as our country struggles with the questions surrounding what some caled undocumented workers, and others call illegal aliens? And, especially, what of those who came her as children and were never told of their undocumented/illegal status, until they accidentally find out when applying for a drivers license or a college scholarship?

What lesson does Superman teach?  I think he teaches us two lessons:

First:  the lesson that sometimes things aren't what they seem.

Second:  sometimes, everything you know is wrong.  Truth can be like shifting sands - sometimes, it's just hard to find the real truth.

Do you have a cherished childhood belief or story that you've found has changed over the years?

Monday, March 25, 2013

Best of AM - Memories of Paradise

This post was first made in August of 2011- it is one of my personal favorites and I am pleased to offer it again for your enjoyment. Sadly, there is still no sign Venus Paradise coloring sets may return to the market - although I did find something that could substitute.

I sometimes have little patience for nostalgia.  Just because something is old doesn't mean it was better. I've said more than once that "the good old days weren't all they were cracked up to be." But I do miss this piece of my childhood.

Memories of you remember?

Color By Number - Memories of Paradise

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

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

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

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

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

Except I lost interest, until my son was born.

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

Venus Paradise is out of business.  (I did find a recent eBay auction for a used coloring set, and several auctions for the pencils.)

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

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

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Civil War Sunday - Robert E. Lee - Engineer

Have you ever wondered what the "main players" in the United States Civil War did before the Civil War?

Some of them were career military people.  Some of them came from unlikely walks of life.

There is also the unlikely first military assignment of General Robert E. Lee.

Not long after his graduation from West Point and the death of his beloved mother, Lee was ordered to Cockspur Island, at the mouth of the Savannah River, in the Georgia low country near Tybee Island.  His mission:  to take this marshy and low-lying island, and do what it would take for a fort to be built there.

Yes, Robert E. Lee was - a civil engineer.  He was also a talented artist.
The drawings on the right of this explanatory sign were made by Robert E. Lee during his Cockspur Island duty and sent to lady friends back in Savannah.

This is one of the engineering drawings made by Lieutenant Robert E. Lee.

And what of the Fort?  Yes, it was built.  Its name is Fort Pulaski, and it still stands today, on Cockspur Island.

This is a picture of Ft.Pulaski today.

Ft. Pulaski played several roles during the Civil War.  It was captured in April of 1862 by the Federals,and remained in their control for the rest of the war.  Towards the end of the Civil War a portion of the fort was used as a POW camp by the Union, which leads to the story of the Immortal 600.  That will be a post for another time.

A picture of the original door,still in use.

This is Cockspur Island today. Some parts of it look stark, like the picture above.  But other parts are forested - a forest created by the ecological changes produced by the military under the direction of Robert E. Lee.

I visited the fort to see a Civil War fort and came away with a whole lot more.  There were nature trails and other places to explore; it's a wonderful day to spend part of a day if you love history.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Sustainable Saturday - The Sweetness of Local Maple

It's late winter spring.  It's time to make maple syrup in upstate New York.

I'm talking maple syrup, not that stuff that passes as "pancake syrup". The latter should be banned from all tables although I realize, first, that true maple syrup is expensive, and second, that some regions of the United States prefer their own regional specialties - cane syrup, sorghum syrup, etc. But at least, cane syrup and sorghum syrup are natural products. 

To someone from New York State or New England, only maple syrup will do.  And not those thin, Grade A light amber syrups.  You want Dark Amber syrup, the syrup that has flavor.  Or even Grade B, although the heavy maple taste of Grade B makes it suitable mainly for cooking. (note, these grades are NY grades, and may differ in other maple syruping states).

Have you ever been to a sugar house?  If not, I have a sweet treat for you today.

Welcome to Nappy Farms, near Johnson City, New York.

Today is the second and last weekend of New York's Maple Weekend.   We've been out of town the last couple of years, but this time we were able to go to a producer only a few miles from our house.

Let's take you inside the building where maple syrup is made.

We were greeted by goats, who are pets and were quite friendly. Chickens were also roaming around.

I didn't want to walk into the woods (snow a bit slippery) to visit the sugar bush, but several types of maple trees can be tapped.  What you are doing, in maple syrup making, is similar to what native Americans did hundreds and even thousands of years ago.  Only the technology has changed.

When the sap starts to run in late winter, the trees are tapped.  The sap is collected and is then evaporated. What is left, after water (lots and lots of water) is boiled off, is maple syrup.  Pure sap (which I have tasted) is like water, both in consistency, and in taste.

Weather conditions must be right.  In fact, this morning, the sap was not running because it was too cold.  The ideal is above freezing during the day, and below freezing at night.

In modern day production, lines from the tapped trees bring sap into the building, and then the magic begins.

This is the evaporator.  On the right, the sap enters and there is a preheater (not run by wood) that will partially evaporate the sap.  This will allow more efficient use of the wood.  This producer goes through about a cord of wood a day, which comes from his property.

Maple syrup made with wood heat has a special taste and this is what you really want to look for. Syrup sold in supermarkets may be real but there may be no wood in its production and you will know the difference.
This is the cast iron end of the evaporator, which was manufactured in Canada.

When done, the syrup rests in a container, and is then bottled.

Part of the fun of Maple Weekend is the sampling - and we got to sample the dark syrup from a recent run, plus maple mustard (all natural ingredients), maple nuts and even maple popcorn.  Maple cotton candy was available for sale.

Once trees start to bud out, the season is over, and the taps must be removed to prevent damage to the trees.  This year, sadly, is not looking to be a good year - it has been too cold during the sap run.  Nature's clock is ticking and the trees will bud out sometime in April, "weather" or not.  Then the trees leaf out happily, and are hopefully around for next winter's syrup run.  And, at the end of their lives (Nappy uses mainly down trees), they serve as fuel for the next year's run.

On the way out, our purchase in hand, we said goodbye to the chickens - mainly Rhode Island Reds, and an unknown rooster.  Their eggs will be waiting for us when the Otsiningo Farmers Market resumes its outdoor season in April.

Does your home area have its own specialty food not made in other areas?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Death to Punxsutawney Phil?

Should a groundhog living in Pennsylvania receive the death penalty for failing to predict correctly if winter would end early?

Back on February 2, I blogged about the quaint custom in the United States of Groundhog Day. This custom involves having a groundhog come out of its burrow (or being dragged out) on February 2, with live TV coverage, and seeing or not seeing its shadow. Seeing the shadow means six more weeks of winter.  Not seeing the shadow means a early spring.

Guess what happened this February 2?  The chief groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, didn't see his shadow.  Early spring.  Everyone cheered.

But now, we in the Northeast United States are undergoing a different kind of Groundhog Day - one like the famous 1993 comedy with Bill Murray, where a weatherman lives the same day - Groundhog Day- over and over.

February 2 should be cold and snowy.  March 22 should be spring.  But winter dies hard here in the Northeast U.S., after day....we are having dreary weather with snow or snow showers.

Finally, someone in Ohio - which isn't technically in the Northeast but we can't get too technical - had enough.  He is calling for the death penalty for Punxsutawney Phil.  And now, this has gone viral.

Pictures of Punxsutawney Phil are also appearing on Facebook, "Wanted for Fraud".

Yes, we are frustrated.  But seriously - how many of us take this groundhog seriously?  Well, even websites such as EarthSky, which gets into astronomy and weather, does:  and their studies show that Phil is right only 39% of the time.

Yup.  A respected science website did a study on Phil.

So, this blogger living in upstate New York says:  Yes, I want to see the sun.  Yes, I don't want to see any more snow. Yes, I want to see the first spring bulbs blooming.  Yes, I have a sense of humor, but there seems to be a mean streak underlying this.  It's left the realm of "cute".  We have so many other things going on that should be dominating our news.  Not this.  Yet, I must ask:

Do you think Punxsutawney Phil should be executed?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Local Business It Wrote Me a Letter

Readers of my blog are aware that my neighborhood of Westover, along with many others in New York State, flooded in September of 2011 thanks to Tropical Storm Lee (preceded by Tropical Storm Irene, which caused its own share of grief).  Many people in our neighborhood lost their homes and moved (I believe at least 50 houses are still vacant, although I may be off a little on that figure).  My spouse and I were fortunate - we only had several thousand dollars of damage.

Not only did my neighborhood lose residents - it lost a major employer (1300 employees - the vacant building is pictured in my blog post of yesterday) which, fortunately, relocated a few miles down the road - at least for now.  And, it lost other businesses. 

We may be ready to lose still another business.  While I was on vacation we received a letter.  It was from a business called The Pharmacy and the letter begins:

"Dear Neighbor,
My name is _______ and I am the owner of THE PHARMACY, located at the corner of ______ here in Westover.  We all know that our neighborhood was devastated by the flood of September 2011.  Many of our neighbor's homes and businesses were damaged.  Many of our neighbors have moved out of the area, and of the businesses that were able to re-open, some have since closed or struggle to remain open.  I am writing you this letter in hopes that you will stop by and support a small, local business in our neighborhood.  We are a family owned business that has been serving and supporting our community..."  The letter was signed by hand.

And here I've been, using a pharmacy in a local supermarket.  The supermarket is a NY owned chain, and their building barely escaped flooding. Their employees came into my neighborhood to help when the store closed for nearly 2 days. But still....  I talk about buying local and I never even thought of this business, which is closer to my house than the supermarket is! 

Why?  Because the supermarket pharmacy is open 7 days a week. The Pharmacy is only open Monday-Friday and I work Monday-Friday.  At one time they were closing at just about the time I got home.  Apparently they are now open slightly later at night.

They are even a compounding pharmacy and "work with your doctor or veterinarian..."And, I've had problems from time to time with the supermarket pharmacy's auto refill program.

I remember seeing the employees of The Pharmacy hard at work as soon as the streets they border were reopened to traffic, pulling their ruined inventory out of the building and working, hour after hour, to restore their building.  If you've never had to salvage things after a flood you are a fortunate person. It is dirty, sometimes dangerous work. Some businesses near The Pharmacy were closed for two or or months.  The Pharmacy, as I recall, opened about 10 days after the flood, because their customers needed them.

So...I am going to switch at least some of my prescriptions.  For weekend emergencies, I will still have the supermarket pharmacy or a CVS down the road.  If I leave the supermarket, they won't miss me, although I will feel a pang - their pharmacists have helped me from time to time.

This small business needs me.   I'm happy they reached out to me.

Now I'm wondering:  who are the other hurting businesses in Westover?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Spring Things - Snowy Start to Spring

I wish this was a picture of our first day of spring here in upstate New York.
(Shell bouquet, Sanibel Shell Show, Sanibel Island Florida, March 2013, courtesy of RamblinwithAM)

No such luck.

Instead, it was 27 degrees this morning (-2.7 Celsius) with a thin layer of new snow added to the snow we got yesterday.   Everyone here is so tired of winter. Spring is only a date on the calendar.

At the flood-ruined, vacant, former BAE building in Westover, near Johnson City, NY (one of the largest wood frame structures in our country) the Bradford Pear trees are bare, and will be for some weeks yet.
At my house, an early daffodil stands, ready to bloom, and perhaps just a little surprised.  It should be fine.
All is not lost.  Many bulbs still aren't up, but I found this patch of blooming crocuses on Saturday.

Spring will come.  We were spoiled by last year's incredibly mild winter.  But thankfully, we won't win the Golden Snowball award.   I say, let Syracuse have it (again).  We are sick of winter.

Let spring come!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

She's a Rebel

I'm going to camp!  And once I'm there, I will be a rebel.

The camp is Camp NaNoWriMo and it only exists online, for authors and would be authors.  Camp opens April 1 for a month, and there is another session in August.

Yes, after having pounded/bled out a 50,000 plus "novel" (which most likely will never see the editor's pen, as it was more of a mental health exercise than anything else) back in November for National Novel Writing Month, I'm coming back for more punishment.

Heaven Help Me. 

But this time, I am going to be the rebel I wanted to be back in November.  For in the NaNoWriMo world, non fiction writers (including memoir writers) are considered "rebels". You're supposed to write fiction.  Indeed, a number of fiction works, including at least one that I've read, have come out of NaNoWriMo - 30 days of insanity during which you are supposed to write 50,000 words. Just pour them out.  Editing comes later.

There are certain "permitted" genres in NaNoWriMo. If you write outside the box, you are a rebel.

In contrast, Camp NaNoWriMo is a virtual camp.  You have "cabinmates" (you don't get to pick them, either, just like in regular camp, although you can invite other campers you know.  I chose not to because I didn't bother to find out if anyone I knew was participating.).  It's calm.  You get to choose the number of words you are striving towards.  I decided on 10,000.  You get support from your cabinmates. can write in any genre.  Even in the forbidden ones.

This time, I'm going to be a rebel.

I decided to write a memoir.  Not of my experiences in our area's major flood of 2011, which I used as background for the fictional memoir I wrote in NaNoWriMo 2012.  No, this time I'm planning to write a real memoir.

I grew up in the Bronx.  My neighborhood transformed from lower middle class to slum by the time I escaped. (It still is a slum).  And then, in my 30's,  I was a city gal who decided to move to rural Arkansas.  My spouse (then, and now) came along for the ride.  Ever wonder what happens when New York City collides with Arkansas?  Or maybe I'll spend most of my time in the Bronx.  I'm a "pantser" (meaning I don't do much, if any, planning) so we'll just have to see what flows out of the laptop.

I don't know that anyone would ever want to publish my memoir.  I haven't been on drugs.  I didn't grow up during a war.  I didn't fight in a war.  My parents didn't belong to a religious cult.  I didn't grow up with the Gypsies.  I've never been to Paris.  I've never battled cancer (and, may that continue). There isn't anything that special about me that would attract a publisher.

Or is there?

I really don't care.  After all, I'm a rebel!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Reminder: It's Still Winter

I got spoiled in my week in Florida, and my couple of days in Savannah.  I especially couldn't get over seeing houseplants (here in upstate New York) being used in landscaping - such as these kalanchoes in downtown Savannah, Georgia.

 I came home to cold and snow flurries, and tonight, winter decided to stop fooling around and return.
This morning, it was 17 degrees (-8 Celsius).  It hovered around the freezing point during the afternoon, and then the snow started.  Soon, it was accumulating, with everything getting that sugar-frosted look.

 Don't be fooled, though.  It may be pretty but it is unwelcome.  We are all grumbling about having to break out the ice scrapers and the boots again.  And, we are supposed to get a changeover to freezing rain sometime later tonight. 

Why couldn't this have happened while I was in Florida?

I hope it's the "last hurrah" of winter.

Florida is so far away......

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Civil War Sunday - The Irish

Today is St. Patrick's Day.  This past two weeks, many cities in the United States have celebrated their Irish heritage with St. Patrick's Day parades and parties.  Binghamton, NY (near where I live) had its parade two Saturdays ago.  Savannah, Georgia (more on them in a moment) had its huge party yesterday (anyone there awake yet?).  And then, there are the multiple stories of Irish immigrants and the Civil War.

Notre Dame's footbal team is nicknamed "The Fighting Irish". But back in the Civil War, there was another kind of Fighting Irish. There were The First Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.

There were the mostly Irish crew of the doomed Civil War confederate submarine H.L. Hunley.

There were the Irish who fought in the Civil War in the "Irish Brigade".

And, in a particularly ugly episode of the Civil War, were the New York Draft Riots of July, 1863 when members of the Irish population of New York City rioted first to oppose a Civil War draft, but then turned against black residents with some 120 deaths resulting.  I plan to blog about the draft riots of my native New York City this summer.

But now, back to Savannah for a moment.  Savannah has a rich Civil War heritage, and I will be sharing that with you at a later date.  For now, one sign of St. Patrick's Day in this city that hosts the 2nd largest St. Patrick's Day celebration after New York City:

Happy St. Patrick's Day to my readers.

Did you have Irish ancestors who fought in the Civil War?

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Sustainable Saturday - Strawberry Onions and Cigars

Last Saturday, I had my first experience visiting a Florida farmer's market.

It was located in historic Ybor City, the "Latin Quarter" of Tampa, Florida (a city I lived in many years ago for a couple of years) I found a Saturday farmer's market unlike any I had ever visited.

Most of the booths at the Ybor City Saturday market were not selling produce.  That surprised me a little bit - if you go into supermarkets in March, you will find produce shelves stocked with (excellent) Florida grown summer squash, strawberries, juice oranges (a word on that a little later)  and even corn.  This visitor from upstate New York thought the market would be chock full of local produce.  It wasn't.  Instead, there were a lot of craft booths, and a touch (well, more than a touch) of local flavor.

One surprise was something called strawberry onions.

The vendor explained that these freshly dug sweet onions were grown at the edge of strawberry fields. (Plant City, a major strawberry growing area, is in the same county as Tampa). We purchased two onions.  If we had known they would survive five days in our car (they did) and if we had a larger cooler, I would have purchased this woman's entire stock.  They are fantastic!

What would a Florida farmers market be without citrus?  Well, here's a little secret that hasn't changed in the almost 40 years since I've lived in Florida.  The best citrus gets imported outside of Florida.  But I tasted these, and they were nice and sweet.
How about avocados? Or mangoes? (Confession: I like Haas avocados better.  Sorry, Florida.)

I was enjoying some iced Cuban coffee when I spied the booth that made this farmer's market different from any other one I had ever been to.

Ybor City was founded by people in the cigar business (and annexed by Tampa a couple of years later). So, although I have my own personal opinions about tobacco use, cigars do belong in this market in the context of history.

In the next few weeks, I'd like to show you some more of Ybor City, and Tampa.

What is the most surprising thing you have found at a farmer's market?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day March 2013 - Spring Rewound

Welcome to Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, a meme brought to us on the 15th of each month by May Dream Gardens, a garden blog from Indiana.  On the 15th of each month, garden bloggers gather from all over the world to show what is blooming in their gardens, or (for those of us in cold climes), indoors.

Because I just returned from a two week vacation, I am going to bend the rules a little.  Well, a lot.  There is nothing blooming outside in my yard right now, but I just vacationed in three places where plenty of flowers were blooming.

Spouse and I traveled by car from our home in upstate NY to northern Virginia, then by Auto Train to central Florida, then by car to Sanibel Island, FL, then to the Tampa Bay area of Florida, then Savannah, Georgia, then home.  (if you are not familiar with the geography of the United States, a map might be helpful at this point.)

Florida has a hot, humid climate in the summer, but can be quite pleasant in the winter.  Many (not all) parts of Florida rarely get frosts.  Sanibel Island is a zone 10b, a winter pleasure to this zone 5a (Binghamton, NY area) gardener. In Savannah, a zone 8b clime, you can find palmettos, but also a lot of favorite flowers: azaleas, dogwoods: but with a Southern twist.

So, this is what our vacation looked like, as told by flowers as spring and summer rewound into winter:
Beach sunflowers in Sanibel, FL;

Bougainvilleas in St. Augustine, FL;
Azalea and redbud in front of Temple Mickve Israel in Savannah;
Daffodils blooming in front of the North Carolina welcome center (Southern border) on I-77 in North Carolina.
And my yard in upstate NY?  Taken this afternoon, all that is blooming is snow and sleet.

But come indoors.  Here is my "miracle" reblooming orchid, now up to five flowers!

My Christmas cactus flowers came and went while I was gone - the dried up remnants are on the plant. But my kalanchoe - just starting to bloom last month; now look at it! (this was a gift to a seriously ill neighbor, who gave it to me a couple of years ago - and it is thriving, at least until the whiteflies get to it).
And last but not least, the impatiens I made cuttings of in the fall have bloomed a couple of times, and are now loaded with buds.  These are precious plants since a terrible downy mildew is going around and striking commercial starters down - I have to think carefully about if I want to plant them outdoors come May.  Unfortunately they don't seem to do well indoors once spring comes - I'll have to see if these need to be moved outdoors.
Next month - hopefully we'll have spring here, too.

What's blooming in your garden/house?

Time (WABC #15)

(If you are here looking for my Garden Bloggers Bloom Day post, it will be forthcoming later today. I'm still on vacation today and have the luxury of TIME...)

Day 15 and the final prompt in the 15 Day Winter Author Blog Challenge asks us....
What was your biggest takeaway from participating in the Winter Author Blog Challenge? What is your plan/strategy for integrating your social media platforms? What would you recommend to a new author who’s just getting started on social media?
My response is thanks to a blog challenge that asked us to examine various forms of social media: from the well known Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, You Tube to the less commonly known Quora, Four Square and others, and analyze how we could best use them in our writing/authoring/business worlds.

My biggest takeaway is: the true meaning of social media is to give us a means to connect with other people, to share our knowledge with them, to (in turn) drink in their knowledge - and again, to connect with people.  To this end, use the social media that "calls" to you, whether it be Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or whatever.

Everything else is just a distraction.

I've treasured this 15 day challenge (although I was on vacation for almost the entire 15 days) because I was able to reconnect with bloggers from the previous Author Blog Challenge and meet up with new bloggers.  I did that mainly by commenting on their blogs, and using the WABC Facebook page.

If I was giving advice to a new author who was just getting started on social media I would say this:  Don't do what I did four years ago, which was to think about a blog and then suddenly do it spur of the moment.  All my social media efforts surrounding my blog came later, so I have a mishmash of user names and a blogging platform I am not totally happy with. (It was there, it was free, and there was a small learning curve.)

But I ended up outgrowing it and would now have a nightmare in trying to move four years of blog posts and photographs.

My plans for integrating? I could use the excuse that this is not a business for me, and I work full time at another job (plus I'm a part time caregiver for an elderly in law and my developmentally disabled brother in law) - right now I don't have the luxury of TIME.  Or, I could find the time. I could examine how I fritter and waste the time in an offhand way, to paraphrase Pink Floyd's Time (oh,how I love this song....)

My suggestion:  Take your TIME.  Before you start out, TIME is your friend.

If you are starting out: please give it more thought than I did. Take your TIME to plan. Give your blog, your Twitter name, your other account names - the same name. (Thank you, Jo Michaels, for this suggestion).  Call it "your brand", if you will. 

Read up! There are many blogs which will help you "learn how to blog/learn how to write". Besides Jo Michaels above, could I recommend Merlene Fawdry, Robert Chazz Chute (an author who has a talent for titles that will amaze you), Tia Bach, and...well, there are so many others.  I don't have the room to list all of my mentors, those people who freely share their knowledge.

Use a platform you will not outgrow right away.  (How do you learn that? Join a challenge!) and find out...)

And, finally, join a challenge.  Join more than one!  You will get into the habit of daily blogging (a must, I feel, at least when you start out) and you will read other blogs, and comment on them - something I do not do enough of.  You will quickly see what works and what doesn't.  I would also suggest a November event, NaNoWriMo, where you will write 50,000 words in 30 days. It's crazy. It's insane. And it will amaze you with the support. (I'm thinking about Camp NaNoWriMo in April because I can actually write non-fiction, but haven't decided yet.)

Do not "fritter and waste the moments in an offhand way".  Don't wait until tomorrow.  Seize today!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Author Blog Challenge - A Flock of Seagull

I am pre-writing this post as I will be on the road today, returning to my home in upstate New York from a vacation in Florida and Georgia.

I was part of a 15 Day Author Blog Challenge during this time, but didn't have time for much participation.  But, I did learn some lessons.  One didn't come from the Challenge.

Yesterday a new Pope was elected.  Before that happened, a seagull that perched on the chimney where the ballot smoke would appear became famous.  The gull was caught on "camera" - the voting-smoke cam, to be exact.

Reporters speculated on the symbolism.  Fake Twitter accounts were set up.

And then, white smoke flowed out of the chimney, and the seagull was forgotten.  Old news.

How did this relate to the Author Blog Challenge?

The 15 Day Author Blog Challenge asked us to explore types of social media most of us we are familiar with:  Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, GoodReads, Pinterest - and less well known sites - FourSquare, Quora, and Ning, among others.

It could be because most of my life took place before the Internet came into its current state of being, but I find social media to be a huge time-suck.  In other words, there are only so many hours in a day, and using social media is like falling into a hole - a hole without a bottom.  

Authors can use social media - but, if they are not careful, social media will use them.

Anyone who uses social media for business (in my opinion) needs to be strong, needs to stay focused and to ignore (literary expression) the siren call of the Internet.  Authors need to weigh carefully the time spent vs. the return in time.

Some users hit the big time:  the founders of the Huffington Post and Boing Boing, the woman who founded the blog Bakerella,  and the people whose blogs have led to book contracts and even movies.  But for too many of us, we will never hit that big time. Not that we shouldn't try, but we should be aware of the risks.

I'm still trying to analyze how to use social media but, thanks to this Challenge, I now have the experiences of different authors and others to guide me.  Thank you, all participants in the WABC!

Social media is not "bad". But, it should just be another tool in the utility belt of the author.

Otherwise, authors may end up like a certain seagull living in the Vatican - finding that the world has moved on, and wondering what the heck happened.

Have you had success with your writing or business, and use of social media?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Winter Wednesday - Filling in a Hole

In 2006, I rode the Auto Train for the first time. I traveled with my family from northern Virginia to just north of Orlando, Florida one August.  (I've made this train trip south three times now, the most recent trip being a week and a half ago.) 

I've never slept well on the Auto Train, and something happened on that first trip that has become a tradition.

I woke up from a fitful sleep to realize we were traveling through a city.  We were passing under an Interstate, and some large billboards were visible.  One billboard, lit up, advertised "The Crab Shack. Tybee Island."

I didn't have Internet access and had never heard of Tybee Island. But I researched it as soon as I could and found it was an island close to Savannah, Georgia.

The second trip, 2009.  I woke up from a fitful sleep, and as my spouse softly snored next to me, I peeked out of the window and saw - the very same sign.

It was a sign, that sign!  I was being told to eat at the Crab Shack.  We were supposed to drive through Savannah on the way home but had car trouble, and had to take the Auto Train home.  We swore we would visit Savannah and we did (two years ago) but we never got to eat at the Crab Shack.

This trip, earlier in March, we both woke up as we were traveling through Savannah, and my spouse spotted the sign even before I did.  Marveling at this huge (to our sleep-bleary eyes) sign, we decided that yes, we would go to the Crab Shack.  We would fill in this hole in our travels.

So yesterday, we filled in the hole.
From the outside, it looks like a "tourist trap".  But the food (noting I do not get compensated for this or any other review) was good.
Inside, I noticed the restaurant had open walls to the outside - with only a screen between diners and the great outdoors.  If only I could live in a place like that, said my winter-starved inner voice.
Not so fast, said reality, as I saw movement outside the screened in wall.  Can you see what I saw?

After lunch we went outside, to see some of the 78 alligators the Crab Shack owns. These are all domestic, as in "born in captivity".  The Shack does not tolerate any abuse of the gators by customers, but they were easily accessible (if someone dared) and I hope they have good lives.
Up close, they almost look fake - but they certainly were not fake.

So ends my vacation.  Today, I head back home to the Northland, the cold, and - maybe in a few days - maybe even another snowstorm.

This is my last Winter Wednesday post until next December.  Next week begins my Spring Things feature.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Exercisers Sleep Tonight

A water aerobics aqua exercise class at the local Y.  Forgot the term "water aerobics" is out.  Aqua exercise is in.

The instructor puts on music.  Usually, she uses something modern, at a low volume.  However, tonight, she puts on a CD of "oldies".  Oldies, as in do-wop and rock of the 50's and early 60's.  And, she puts it on loud enough to listen to.

She has the attention of everyone in the pool, especially the pool, as "Rock Around the Clock" echoes off the walls of the pool area.

Next comes Lloyd Price's (You've Got) Personality.

The senior start to sing the chorus.  "Personality"...."Personality", as they exercise.  Soon, even the younger exercisers are chanting "Personality....Personality...."
Tutti Frutti comes next.  Who says seniors can't rock out?

And for the grand finale,
Through the natatorium, echoes "a whim a weh, a whim a weh....." as we all join in singing "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" by The Tokens.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Good Reading on GoodReads

It is Day 11 of the 15 day Author Blog Challenge. Since I must prewrite this on day10, you will be reading my day 10 post on day 11- a day late. Confused yet?

On Day 10 of the Author Blog Challenge the prompt was:
Are you on GoodReads? It seems a pretty obvious place for authors to hang out, yet I’m not sure authors are using it to quite the maximal benefit. If you are on GoodReads, how often do you visit/use the site? How often do you update your reading list? What other kinds of things do you post? Are you finding yourself using it the way social media was intended: to create a community? If you are NOT on GoodReads, have you made a deliberate choice to skip it? What other mechanisms do you utilize for meeting other readers/writers/authors? How else could you begin to create your very own community?

I am on GoodReads.  But, I rarely update.


I like to browse around in my local library.  Most of what I read is books in the new book (new to the library, that is) shelves that catch my eye.  Sometimes I'll devour the book in a couple of sittings.  Sometimes it will sit for most of the three week period my library allows you to take books out for, and then "suddenly" I'll get an urge to read it. Sometimes, time's up and I haven't even cracked the book.  Back to the library it goes.

Other times, I read 3 or 4 books at the same time.

So, enough times, by the time I think about getting onto GoodReads, I'm done.  So, unless I have a lot of spare time, I don't update my statuses.

And then, I just don't have the normal, everyday statuses, and GoodReads doesn't have anything for me to explain my true statuses with.

For example, the books on my current profile:

Want to read:  The Bird, by Jo Michaels.  I won this in a contest Jo put on (thanks, Jo!), and last Saturday, planned to read it on the Auto Train.  But when I opened my Kindle app on my iPhone in the train station The Bird had flown! Seriously, the Kindle app had updated and the book (which I KNOW FOR A FACT WAS THERE) is now missing.  So seems to be the email where Jo sent me the file. status button for "book mysteriously disappeared from my Kindle and it isn't listed on my Kindle page on Amazon, either.  Too embarrassed to contact author because it would show what a cheapskate I am since I really should buy it from her."

Reading:  Outpost, by Ann Aguirre. It is a great book, but I had to return it before I was done, and haven't found it since.  There is no button for "I had to return it to the library before I could finish it." (same thing with another book, The Age of Miracles...which, by the way, would deserve 10 stars if I could give that many.)

Another "currently reading" book, The Help - I gave up on months ago and have no intention of ever going back to it. But, I can't figure out how to delete it.

Finally there is no status button for "I get most of my books from the library because my husband will divorce me if I bring in one more book into the house, thereby causing the house to collapse into itself due to all the weight of the 1,249,556 books I already own, including the Edgar Rice Burroughs books my Mom bought me in 1963 when I had a broken leg, that would crumble into dust if I look at them but I can't bear to get rid of those remnants of my childhood."

So...that's my GoodReads story.

What's yours?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Civil War Sunday - Led Zepplin and the Civil War

I admit....this one is offbeat. 
What does a former British rock group that formed in 1968 and disbanded many years ago have to do with the U.S. Civil War?

Two weeks ago, when I was researching my Civil War Sunday blog post, I visited a couple of newspaper and magazine websites and read some Civil War related articles.

Have you ever noticed what happens when someone writes an article about the United States Civil War (or any other subject), posts it online and allows comments on the article?

Allowing people to comment on newspaper and magazine articles online is a form of social media I could normally do without.  It's one I find distracting and not as successful as some other social media ideas.  For some reason, when people comment on articles, it very quickly degrades into a middle school type of insult/discussion with little substance.  In my opinion, who needs it?  (In rare instances, you do find clever discussions.)

When you read the comments on Civil War articles, it quickly becomes obvious that we, the American people, are still fighting the Civil War that officially ended in 1865.  Usually, within 5 or 6 coments, the posting people, North vs. South, are going at it with a ferocity that makes you wonder if this war, 152 years old in our hearts and minds, will ever end.

But this time, in one of the comment sections, there was a difference.

I don't remember how, but in the midst of Civil War cyber battle someone mentioned the former rock group Led Zepplin.  Suddenly, tone of the entire discussion changed.  Everyone propelled themselves back into the present when we live in (one would hope) a united country.  Suddenly, the contestants in the commenting battle were talking about the Kennedy Honors tribute to Led Zepplin in December of 2012.  These honors, held at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, were attended by many celebrities, including the President of the United States and his wife.

Every one of the battlers united in their love of Led Zepplin.  They were all fans of this former rock group.  They had all listened to the concert honoring them.  They commented on how the members of the group, up in the audience, got teary eyed over the performance of their music by other famous musicians.  They marveled at the President, who did everything short of getting up and dancing to one of their songs.

Eventually, the commenters returned to battling over a war that's been over on paper for 148 years.  But for a few minutes, the Civil War was forgotten.  They were united.

Do you ever read the comments under online newspaper and magazine articles? Do you think it is a practice that adds value to any article?

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Sustainable Saturday - ECHO ECHO

So many people in our world hungry...sick...what can be done to improve these lives?

Every state in our United States has an Extension Service.  To quote from the national website:

"These offices are staffed by one or more experts who provide useful, practical, and research-based information to agricultural producers, small business owners, youth, consumers, and others in rural areas and communities of all sizes."

Extension services are normally headquartered in a "land grant" college.  For example, in my native New York State, we have the Cornell Cooperative Extension Service

But what happens when you go overseas, especially into countries that are commonly called "third world nations"?  What agency acts as their extension service?

Earlier this week, while in North Ft. Myers, FL, my spouse and I visited the ECHO (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization) demonstration farms. They style themselves as being an "extension service to the world". While a Christian organization, they serve all peoples regardless of religious belief.  They bring agricultural knowledge to poor countries to help them fight hunger and disease, and work with appropriate technologies - those that can be built with native materials or other materials abundant in the area - that are both ingenious and sustainable.

ECHO trains volunteers and then the volunteers go forth (privately funded) to help the world.

While the tropical demonstration farms left me sorry I can not grow avocados and mangoes in upstate New York, it was the urban demonstration farm that especially caught my eye.

These are mustard greens.  They are being grown in raised beds, with a mulch of used carpet (hidden under the grass/hay mulch).  Note the barrels that act as part of a drip irrigation system, and also tires (in the background) being used as planters.

Don't have much ground?  No problem.  Here, bags of compost/manure are being readied as a type of "grow bag".

In this area of the demonstration "wick garden", the mustard greens are being grown with a carpet mulch covered in corn cobs.  To quote from ECHO's literature on wick gardening:

"The wick garden was developed to enable people to have exceptionally shallow bed gardens without the need to water several times each day..You are most likely to think of a candle or lantern when you think of a wick, where kerosene or melted wax are pulled by capillary action up the wick from the pool of liquid below. 
Water is likewise moved by capillary action if a cloth or fiber wick is placed in it.
The wick for the garden can be any kind of cloth.  For example the wick might be an old blanket, pieces cut from old clothing, a piece of carpet or a special fabric made for this purpose that is used in greenhouses to keep the soil in small pots moist until they are ready for sale. "

Nothing fancy, nothing expensive - but it works.

The man who led our tour was originally from the Philippines. He was a retired surgeon, and was following his passion and religious beliefs in his retirement.  His name is Vic, and I want to thank Vic for the wealth of information he gave us on our tour.

There was a lot more to ECHO than the urban garden and I will be blogging more about the other demonstration gardens at a later time.