Monday, March 31, 2014

A Bridge Too Far and April Challenges

I love to walk across bridges. 

In March of 2012, I tried to walk the Ravenel Bridge between Charleston, South Carolina and Mt. Pleasant.  I traveled over 800 miles to do this.  And, for the first time, I was conquered by a bridge.

I had intended to visit Charleston, South Carolina this April (no, not for the Cooper River Bridge Walk/Run) and take care of this unfinished business. Since the last attempt I have lost some 45 pounds, and I was ready to try again.

Then, in February, I had a wisdom tooth pulled, one which my oral surgeon described as being "in the worst position possible".  This, coupled with my age, made for a less than ideal pulling, and I was warned "there would be no really good outcome".   I still have what dentists call a sinus communication. In other words I have a hole in my mouth that connect directly to my sinuses.  On my last post op, the oral surgeon was not satisfied with the progress, but is going to wait a while longer before deciding if he wants to do surgery.

For a while, I had problems exercising.  As a result, I am not in the shape I would have hoped for.  But, I still intend to walk across that bridge. 

I am inspired by several people I know who are facing challenges far greater.  As a result, I am taking on a couple of other April challenges - the Ultimate Blog Challenge, beginning tomorrow, and Camp NaNoWriMo.

This, with some small edits, is my post from March, 2012 describing my first bridge walk attempt.

A Bridge Too Far

I am not a novice when it comes to walking on bridges.  I've walked the Brooklyn Bridge (between the New York City boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn), the Rainbow Bridge (between Niagara Falls, NY and Niagara Falls, Ontario and the Alexandra Bridge between Ottawa, Ontario and Hull, Quebec, among others.

But today I met my match.

My head hangs in shame.  My arthritic right knee and a steep (to my knee, that is) incline did me in.  (memo to self:  lose weight).  I had the physical fitness otherwise and the will.  And the morning was beautiful and sunny.

I did not complete the walking of the Arthur Ravenel Bridge that spans the Cooper River between Charleston, South Carolina and Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina-if you count the long approaches on both sides.
I did do about 3.2 miles (round trip) and I did a bunch of walking afterwards (on flatter paths).  But the bridge defeated me, mere days before the Cooper River Bridge Run where participants will do a lot more than the bridge.

The entire round trip, I figure, would have been about 5.4 miles.

 The approach to the bridge from the Mt. Pleasant side.

This is a very popular bridge.  On this Tuesday morning, there were a variety of walkers and bikers:  mothers with strollers, college students, senior citizens.

One of the many sights from the bridge is the U.S.S. Yorktown at Patriots Point.
After we finished our walk we still had parking time left (you have to prepay, estimating how much time you will need) so we took a walk on the 1250 ft. Mount Pleasant Pier.  Not only was there walking, fishing, and a very nice playground, but there were benches and porch type swings  Here is some detail from a swing.
Hopefully my knee will be better tomorrow, and I will be off to more adventures. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Civil War Sunday - The Storms of War

We, in the United States, are still trying to recover from a bitterly cold winter.  In my part of upstate New York, maple syrup harvesting is delayed.  Various cities have had record snowfalls.  In upstate New York, this morning, this was our forecast, and all I have to worry about is getting to work tomorrow morning.  I don't have to worry about weather and my troops.

The United States Civil War was influenced by weather, too, as are all wars.  We love to use storms as symbolism for wars, or coming wars (for example, take the ending of the classic 1939 movie, "Young Mr. Lincoln").  But weather, obviously, influences the course of war itself.  Take, for example, the Battle of Chantilly (Ox Hill) on September 1, 1862, fought during a fierce thunderstorm. Or, the so-called Mud March of January, 1863.

On top of the normal weather hassles of the soldier, some Southern soldiers, who had never experienced winter before, suddenly were introduced to snow and freezing cold temperatures as they served in war many miles north of their childhood homes.

On March 30, 1864, a North Carolina newspaper published this: "The weather continues cold, uncomfortable, and equinoctial".  (Equinoctial? That's our vocabulary word for today.)

But all was not grim.  

In fact, a soldier's biggest enemy, a lot of the time, was not battle, but another "b" - boredom.

On March 22, 1864, in Dalton, Georgia, a fall of between 3 and 5 inches of fresh new white snow could not be ignored by troops.  A great snowball fight broke out between Confederate troops from Tennessee and Mississippi and several other states.

There was strategy, taking of prisoners, charges, and lots and lots of flung snow by the time the fight was over. Civilian spectators came to enjoy the sight.

It was good that those troops got to enjoy a day of epic snow fighting and all-in-fun prisoner taking, because things were going to suddenly get a lot more grim, in a war that was already way too grim.

The storm clouds of war are gathering again....

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Sustainable Saturday-Going To the Dark Side

Today, for the second Saturday in the row, I am talking maple and a trip to the Dark Side.

Here is a Maple Weekend visit to a local maple syrup producer here in upstate New York.   Last Saturday, I wrote more about maple syrup.

We are fortunate to live in maple syrup country, because, for me, nothing else will ever touch my pancakes.  And, of all maple syrup, I think the best is that produced using wood fired evaporators.  They give a special taste that just can't be duplicated.

This producer, Bush's Syrup House, uses the wood fired method. 

Making maple syrup is an art.  There is a brief period of time at the end of winter when maple trees start to wake from their winter hibernation. Sap, clear and not very sweet at all, starts to flow.  The days must be above freezing and, preferably, sunny.  The nights must be below freezing.  These conditions produce a push-pull condition in the trees, causing the sap to flow.  Producers tap the trees, attach a bucket (involving judgement as to how many taps a tree can support) and collect the sap through tubes that lead to the processing house.

Some people drink the sap for health reasons.  I've sampled it and it isn't much different from water.  The magic comes later, after the evaporation process.  And, it's quite a process, with 40 parts of maple sap needed for 1 part of maple syrup.  That's a lot of sap, and a lot of heat source needed.  And all of that takes money and a continued investment on the part of the maple syrup producer.

The season lasts about 4-6 weeks.  When the trees start to bud, or temperatures remain above freezing, the sap turns bitter and the season is over.

At the beginning of the season, the sap produces a light syrup which is the most expensive to buy. Toward the end of the season, you get darker syrup.  In our part of upstate New York, we prefer the darker (not the darkest grade B, suitable more for cooking, but what we call Dark Amber) for our pancakes.  In maple syrup, you want to go to the dark side. It's the one product where Grade B is better than Grade A (noting the NY grade scales differ from some other states.)

Today, Bush's was producing dark syrup but it wasn't yet bottled or available for sale.

This is the barn with the evaporator.
The wood fired evaporator.
The syrup tank.

A display of maple candy molds and old fashioned taps (some dating from the 1700's).

After our look around, we walked into the sugar house to buy some syrup.  You may blanch at the $45 a gallon price Bush's was charging.  But, consider the amount of work that goes into the production of maple syrup.The only syrup available was medium amber from earlier in the season.  Knowing we were having a poor season, we bought a quart ($18), hoping we could get some dark amber syrup later in the year.

Right behind us, another couple was looking for dark amber, too.

As reported last week, our maple syrup season will not be one of the more successful, due to our extended, cold winter.  

Can you make maple syrup at home?  Yes! (if you have the right kind of trees, that is.)  I worked with someone, years ago, whose husband  made syrup and, one year, offered it to sale. He totally sold out to his wife's co workers, including me.  I've never had better syrup before or since.  Just don't try the boiling in your kitchen - you will ruin your wallpaper.

With health concerns about manufactured pancake syrup now arising (from the substance used to give it brown color), more people may, despite the cost, be searching for real maple syrup.

Is maple syrup popular in your area?

Friday, March 28, 2014

Haiku in Brooklyn

Last week at this time, my spouse and I traveled to visit an ill friend in Brooklyn, some 150 miles from where we live in upstate New York.

She was too sick to visit long with us, an indirect side effect of her treatment-a virus she couldn't fight off and became a bacterial situation.  And, in fact, she ended up in the hospital, and has been there the last week.  She was released yesterday.

The friend's husband graciously let us stay in their house, although we did have a "plan B" place to go. We had a lot of time to think, to walk, and to eat Brooklyn food.  We drank in all the good Brooklyn vibrations.  I took pictures which I hope to share with you next month (I've shared some already.)

Yesterday, on Facebook, a high school friend who also lives in Brooklyn told me about a haiku contest the New York Times was running.  

The contest runs until April 5.  This is not true Japanese haiku, just the 5-7-5 formation.  There are  six themes to choose from. You don't need to mention the actual theme, just be inspired by it.

I thought about how we walked in my friend's neighborhood while awaiting news of her condition.  It was warm, in the low 60's, with a strong wind blowing.  Trash (sadly, New York City is a city full of trash and it is everywhere) swirled around my legs, as birds sang everywhere.  Many side streets in Brooklyn are residential, and there are lots of trees.  And birds.  I loved especially the squawks of Quaker Parrots, an imported bird that can be a nuisance - but I, after all, am a visitor, not a resident.

 I chose loneliness.  Thanks to the WordCount Blogathon (a yearly month long blogging challenge) I had a little experience in writing haiku - writing haiku is one of their optional theme days.

This is my original entry, written on the spot,one of 444 (so far).   The birds (the small dots) in this photo are not Quaker parrots - I think they are starlings, another imported bird.  Alas, they weren't asking for photos, just haiku.

Lonely in Brooklyn
Wind swirls garbage around me 
Quaker parrots cry

Last Saturday beat all the rain we are getting today, here at my upstate New York home.

If you decide to enter the contest, feel free to share your haiku with me.  I have no idea what the prize is, but it would be a treat to be published in the New York Times.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Tuna Moon and Back

This past weekend, employees of several local firms and schools built structures out of cans at the Oakdale Mall in Johnson City, New York in an event called Canstruction of the Southern Tier.  The purpose of the competition is to raise money for our local CHOW food bank here in the Binghamton, New York area.  These structures are all built from stacked food cans, and it isn't as easy as you might think.

Here are some of the entries (I might post more later this week):
The name of this is logical: Tuna Moon and Back (Rockwell Collins).
Just think of stacking 4,103 cans.
My personal favorite:  I love how this actually seems to be floating in the air.

"Spiedie Fest Balloons"
New Visions Engineering Academy - "Twisting Out Hunger".

This is the entire list of entrants:

  1. BCK-IBI Group - "Sharing a Picnic"
  2. Broome-Tioga BOCES - CTE Leadership/SkillsUSA - "Warming Your Hearts for Hunger
  3. Broome-Tioga BOCES - New Visions Engineering Academy - "Twisting Out Hunger"

  4. Delta Engineers - "Checkmate on Hunger"
  5. IBM, Endicott - "A Smarter Planet Needs Smarter Food. Let's Build a Smarter Planet."

  6. Keystone Associates Architects, Engineers & Surveyors, LLC - "Spiedie Fest Balloons"

  7. Lockheed Martin - "Aligning the Stars Against Hunger"
  8. Rockwell Collins - "Tuna Moon and Back"
  9. United Health Services - "MyPlate"
10. Visions Federal Credit Union - "Packed with a Vision"

As the website for the competition says:

"At the close of the competition, all of the proceeds from Canstruction® of the Southern Tier will help support hunger-relief activities in Broome County. The Food Bank of the Southern Tier and CHOW work in partnership to leverage national, regional, and local resources to end hunger in our community. The canned food used in each structure will be distributed through CHOW to emergency food programs throughout Broome County including food pantries, soup kitchens, and other community meal programs."
There is too much hunger in this community.  We've had hard times in recent years. Major employers have left. Others, such as IBM, have downsized tremendously.  The need continues to grow for assistance.  A humbling statistic was given to us last year by a CHOW volunteer, who mentioned that 70% of their clientele were working.

How does your community fight hunger?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Slow Slog to Spring

On Wednesdays, I have a seasonal feature.  Last year, I called my Wednesday feature "Spring Things".  This year, the title may end up as"What Season Is This, Anyway?" but for now I will settle for "The Slow Slog to Spring".  If you have a better title, let me know.

My friend sent me some links to a wonderful weather site, which has beautiful shots of nature.  Here is a link to get you into the mood of, spring.

Last Saturday, in Brooklyn (one of the five boroughs of New York City), it was 63 degrees.  The grass was green.  Tree branches were glowing with flowing sap.  People worked in their small yards.  Trees may grow in Brooklyn, but today's style is topiary.

Surviving annuals from last year included flowering cabbage and kale.  Soon they will be dug up.

And then I came back home to upstate New York, near Binghamton.  Yesterday it was 13 degrees and a dusting of snow covered the ground.  This morning, it was 13 degrees.  Tomorrow morning, our forecast is for a low of 18 with snow.
Spring has returned to its hibernation, leaving us only with brown flowers from last year.

Will we ever see green again?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Singing a Song of Tuesdays

Tuesdays are Chemo Day for a woman who lives in Brooklyn.

A man who sings in two area choruses writes poetry and songs about cancer treatment. Last year, he sang about his own radiation treatment.  This year, he writes and sings about his wife's treatment.

The chemo bag hangs on a pole that can move with the patient. This is her Tuesday pole companion, and she decided to name it.  She picked an interesting name.

Yes, she spends long Tuesdays with Morrie the pole while she receives treatment.  Meanwhile, this is the song lyrics this devoted husband wrote from his wife's point of view. This song lyric and another one I'll post in the next month, are posted in the infusion room.  

(Sung to the tune of "My Favorite Things"):

Tuesdays with Morrie for hours and hours
Attitude: positive, don't bring us flowers.
Needing the bathroom at least twice today.
We're not too steady - get out of our way!

Walk past the patients, all getting infusions.
Some better, some worse-don't jump to conclusions.
They understand and don't give any lip.
We will be careful and try not to trip...

Empty bags beep, I just can't sleep, so I take a walk.
It's Morrie and me going off on a spree,
We're livin' in Brooklyn, New Yawk!

Monday, March 24, 2014

And Now, A Guest Post from Winter

Today, reluctantly, I agreed to post a guest blog post from Winter.  Forgive me.

To my many friends and fans:

Ha ha!  You thought I was gone, right?  Didn't you enjoy that 63 degree weather in Brooklyn on Saturday?  Or that nearly 50 degree weather in Binghamton?  Here's a reminder, in case you need one, of what spring looks like.
Crocuses blooming in Brooklyn 3-21-14

Wasn't that fun?  Had you going there for a minute.  Yes, it was really windy, but, it is March after all. I still bet you appreciated the sun, and the warmth.  Well, I hope you had enough of that lovely spring weather on Saturday.

Because I'M BACK!

7am today in Binghamton.  Remember the white stuff?
At Binghamton airport, it was 13 F.  The son of this blog writer says it was eight degrees F at his house.
These are the only local flowers you will be seeing anytime soon unless you go to a florist shop.
Florist Shop, downtown Binghamton, NY
You aren't rid of me that easily.  For a while, they were forecasting a major snowstorm for New York City tomorrow. I decided against that plan, but will probably hit Cape Cod hard.  I'm thinking, eight to 12 inches sounds nice.  Or, I might give New York City some snow after all.  Luckily, crocuses won't mind that.

Eventually (or so you hope) I will be gone and spring will be here. Just not yet, and not today, not if you live in the Northeast United States.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The End of Fun at the Penguin Book Sale

All good things come to an end, and I want to pay tribute to something that was a fixture in our community in upstate New York for many years: the annual Penguin Book Sale.

People came from literally hundreds of miles away to shop there, one weekend each November.

The bargains were unbelievable.

This post is from November of 2010. Sadly, our Penguin facility (now Penguin Random House) is closing. 

All the day cares, the nursery schools, the homeschooling families, the families who loved books, who used to go to this sale and buy books for the young children in their lives.  It's the end of an era, and I am sad.

Please share my memory of:

Fun at the Penguin Book Sale

Books about penguins?  No, the Penguin USA book sale - the book event "of the year".

People come from hundreds of miles in order to shop.  It is sheer madness.

Years ago, the sales used to be held right at the Penguin (in those days, Penguin-Putnam) facility off I-81 in Kirkwood (right near the Pennsylvania border), and it was for only one weekend in November:  Saturdays and Sundays.  At those sales, there were books and other items around the perimeter of the warehouse, and people fought their way to the tables to get the goods.  And were they ever the goods:  Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew hardcovers for 50 cents each, childrens books by major authors for $1.00, bestsellers hardcovers for a song.  Some of these must have been "irregulars" but no one cared.

I bet a lot of people in upstate NY, if they got books for Christmas, got them from people who shopped those sales.

I think, with the last one or two years, they also had DK Books and some Readers Digest books.  As I recall, nothing was over $3.00.

This was pre-Internet so it was pre-eBay.  Ah, the good old days.

At that time I had a young child and I dove in for the bargains.  We only went on Sundays:  the Saturdays were impossible.  Fellow shoppers revealed themselves as we shopped together: teachers, parents, librarians, grandparents, daycare workers, employees of nonprofits, homeschoolers.  One person I spoke to once had driven from Albany,almost 3 hours away.  We were so lucky to have this right in our own backyard.  A perk of living in a burnt out industrial town....oh, here I go again.

Lucky even though we lined up for an hour or more outside to get in.  There was always snow on the ground. One year they gave out really neat inflatable globes.  My son loved the toy, but did he ever grow to hate the sales.

And then the sales stopped.

Several years passed, my son grew and became a teen.  Those Eric Carle and then Hardy Boys books were a memory.  Then, the sales began again. For a couple of years the sales were held, for a week only, in a former Ames building.  Prices were higher. The sales (I felt) were junk - a lot of obsolete "Idiots Guide" books and, well, things that were mostly boring to me.  Each aisle seemed to have the exact same books.

Then, two years ago, (I think) the sales moved to a vacant warehouse in Conklin.  More room, and this time more of the good old Penguin Putnam sale flavor.  We went one Saturday, and waited two hours on line to check out.  We know the secret now:  go on Monday (when the hours are 5 to 8).  Get there right around 4:50 or so.  You won't even wait to get in.

I didn't spend this much this year but I am pleased to report there were a lot of bestsellers once more.  And some really good children's books.  A lot of Taste of Home cookbooks (which my spouse, the cook, does not favor.)  Lots of gardening stuff, Readers Digest "how to" books.

Maybe one year (just not yet, please) I will be a proud grandparent getting my grandchildren books.  Until then....well, I didn't get gifts for anyone but it was nice being there.  I did pick up something for the Angel Tree event my employer will be participating in for disadvantaged children (Salvation Army).

But when I shop for books, it won't be at this booksale.  Time, and industry, marches on.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Sustainable Saturday - Got Maple Syrup?

This weekend and next is Maple Weekend in upstate New York.  Maple syruping is a family farm industry here in upstate New York, and producers take this opportunity to show consumers all the work that it takes to make maple syrup.

These farms don't just make maple syrup.

They make maple jam, maple candy, and even maple cotton candy.

But, due to our severe winter temperatures, the syruping is being delayed.  Sap is not running.  And sap is needed, to boil down into the prized syrup.

The weather has to be perfect - above freezing days with sunshine, below freezing nights.

Last March, I wrote the below post (slightly edited) during a successful Maple Weekend. There won't be much to show this weekend. Let's hope next weekend, the second and last Maple Weekend, will be more of a success.

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.

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 21, 2014

Victory over Winter Day

Spring has won the battle against winter! (For now, anyway).

A blogger called gardeninacity has declared today as Victory over Snow Day (VS Day). Where I live near Binghamton, in upstate New York, this may be a bit premature.  Some areas 30 miles or so from Binghamton, in fact, got snow last night.  And, there is a coastal storm possibly getting ready to hit New York City next week.

Never mind that.  Today, I saw spring.
Today, crocuses bloomed in Brooklyn.

Daffodils were preparing to burst forth in flower.

Still bare trees held open house for eager birds (the "little dots") roosting at sunset.
I even suspect this was a magnolia with swollen buds.

If you think New York City is a city of skyscrapers and concrete, you are right, but you are also wrong.  In a way, Brooklyn (one of the five boroughs of New York City. once its own city) is my spiritual home - my Dad was born there, spent part of his life there, and died there.  I love plants, and so do many others in New York City.

Today, the sun was shining. Children ran, rode bicycles, and played in local playgrounds.  Shopkeepers tended their stores on commercial streets, but on side streets, birds sang their songs of welcome.
Welcome, spring.  Over the next month, I will share more of my brief visit to Brooklyn, as I visit someone whose nearly 52 year old friendship is one of the most precious things in my life.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The First Day of Spring?

Remember warm weather, flowers, outdoor activities?  I do.

Today is the first day of spring here in upstate New York, at least according to the calendar.
Forecast 3-12 - and they weren't kidding.  The winds could and did.

Will winter ever end?

It just might.  I am going to share a secret with you.

I took a walk yesterday on the West Side of Binghamton, New York.  And what did I see?
And this.

Bulbs are starting to come out of the ground.  Who knows, in a few weeks, we may actually have flowers.  Ah, spring flowers - snowdrops, crocuses. Followed by early daffodils and tulips.   Can we hope? Dare we dream?
 Spring. Just, please, no more forecasts like this.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Winter Wonders - Winter's Broken Heart

Tomorrow spring begins for us in the Northern Hemisphere, but in many parts of the United States, the spring postcard hasn't been received yet.

This will be my last Winter Wonders until December, but don't expect flowers and warmth just yet.  Here in upstate New York, we may be starting to get sunny days in the 40's, and our snow has mainly melted here in the City of Binghamton, but winter still has its grip on us.

We still have winter beauty, though.

The first couple of pictures are from my "guest photographer", who lives out in the country.  There, snow is still covering the ground.

 So much of photography, besides skill, is just a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

A year ago last March, my photographer friend saw this tangle of tree and vines that was shaped just like a heart.

This year, she returned to the scene just about a year later.

Time and nature had done their job.  The heart was broken.

That's not the only thing breaking here.  We have ice breakup, and small streams are now running.

Vestal Rail Trail, March 15
Can true spring be far behind?

I can almost imagine the little red spot in the center is a cardinal, but it is actually the berries of a sumac bush.

Winter has broken a lot of hearts in the United States this year.  Few of us will be sorry to see winter go, I suspect.

Will it be spring for you tomorrow? Or fall?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Pet Peeve Spring Cleaning

I am declaring today as the start of spring cleaning.  Now that spring is almost here, I am unloading a pile of major and minor pet peeves for your consideration. Do you share any of these with me?

1. People who don't shovel sidewalks.  Or, for that matter, municipalities who don't shovel sidewalks.
This is far from an upstate New York problem, but it's been especially sad this year to see disabled and elderly people trying to navigate icy sidewalks blocked by piles of snow put there by someone's snowplow. Or, wading through snow that hasn't been touched by the owner of the land. Or, consider people trying to get off a city bus at a stop and finding their access blocked by said snowpiles. This is serious business for a city on the edge of what we call the Snowbelt, running about 83 inches of snow in an average year.

There are laws here regarding snow removal, but apparently the county (they don't clean a property they maintain near my house very well, or consistently) and several local businesses are exempt. So we local residents, enough of whom are old, struggle on.

I hope those officials and businessowners (and yes, homeowners who are either healthy or who can afford someone to remove their snow) grow old one day, and need to walk on city sidewalks.

2.  Potholes.  The roads in this area are in emergency condition.    I know it just isn't us, but this has to be some kind of record pothole year.  Some of our major roads are ready to turn into dirt roads with holes that could swallow a truck.  Just exaggerating slightly.  Get out of your car and walk?  See #1 above.

3.  Our flood insurance is renewing.  Envelope says "Important...please make check payable to NFIP."  Bill says "To remit by check, make check payable to:  FEMA Flood Payments."  Your guess is as good as mine.  Drag out dartboard.

4.  A letter came from Sam's Club, which is a discount "membership" warehouse place here in the States. They are increasing the number of discounts they provide each year - and, oh yes, they are also increasing my annual membership.  It was enough to make me seriously consider rethinking whether I really need to spend $45 (new price) a year for the privilege of shopping there.

5.  The "Online isn't as good as our retail location" pet peeve.  Example:  last Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving here in the United States), I ordered some items online from Office Max, an ofice supply store.  It would have been nice to visit their store but they closed their store in my area years ago.  There isn't one nearby, either. Anyway, recently, they sent me a letter beginning "Dear Valued Customer".  It continued:  "....Shop one of our more than 850 locations, online or by phone...."

Here's the peeve:  they sent me two cards.  One was a $10 off my next in-store purchase of $50. or more.  Can't use that-there's no store here.  And the other card?  $30 off my next online or phone purchase of $150. or more.   Really?  Online customers aren't valued unless they spend three times as much as in the brick and mortar store? Dear Office Max, have you stopped to think some of those online customers might be shopping online because you closed their brick and mortar store?

Not feeling too valued right now.

6. A letter from my health insurer (and yes, I'm grateful to have health insurance). "We care about your health...." So much so that it recommends I discuss having a colonoscopy with my doctor.  Now, if they had bothered to check their records before sending the letter out, they would know I've had two colonoscopies already. (Thank you for paying for them, by the way.)  Think I've already had that discussion.  Save your postage....

7.  Letters from the hospital where I get my yearly mammogram telling me it's time for my next one, recommending I make an appointment.  These letters always seem to come a couple of weeks after I've made appointment for said mammogram.  Dear Hospital, I made my appointment last Monday.  Save your postage....I expect the letter any day now.

(Yup, it came, just as I thought it would).  Do they do this with all their female patients? Just think of the savings if they correlate their appointment records with their letter writing department.  Never mind, the environmental cost of unnecessary paper use.

Do you have any particular pet peeves?

Monday, March 17, 2014

St. Patricks Day and Crochet

Today, in the United States, it is St. Patrick's Day.  It seems that every year it becomes more and more popular as a holiday.  Cities dye fountains and rivers green. There are parades in Savannah, Georgia (even though it is raining) and lots of partying.

Here in Binghamton, New York, we had our parade at the very beginning of March, but a local supermarket had an employee play the bagpipes today. He was gracious enough to let me take a picture of the bagpipes. (One day I'll have to blog about my secret dream of learning to play the bagpipes. Considering that I've never had a music lesson in my life, that should be most interesting.)

Those who are close to me know why St. Patrick's Day is important to me - it is the birthday of someone in my family.  I am making this afghan for that person. I can't crochet for long periods of time any more - it hurts my wrist - but I use crocheting as a project when I travel.
Yes, it looks like camo - my loved one is into camo. I bought most of it in Arkansas during a vacation last September. The yarn is a wool blend, and feels so nice when I work with it.  It keeps my hands busy, and helps me relax.

In March of 2012, I ran the below post.  I am rerunning it today, with some edits, so you can see a couple of other examples of my St. Patrick's Day crochet.

St. Patrick's Day Crochet

I've been crocheting for some 40 years now.  I don't do as much as I used to, for various reasons, (mainly FarmVille and blogging!) but I still crochet a gift or two a year, and I also work on crochet projects when I am on the road, since my loving spouse does the driving.

I haven't really blogged much about it (well, maybe not at all) until now but crochet has been a treasured part of my life.  My Mom wanted to teach me to crochet but rheumatoid arthritis robbed her of her ability to do any needlework by the time I was old enough. Instead, a high school friend taught me, and I've never looked back.  But although she didn't teach me, I still feel a link to my Mom whenever I pick up that hook.

I wanted to share a couple of the projects so I can also get them up on Pinterest.  These are both projects I worked on 20 or more years ago.  I got the afghan pattern from a magazine that no longer exists, I believe.

I have no idea where I got the pattern for the Christmas stocking.  But there is a special reason why the stocking has shamrocks on it...I'll let you guess why.
This week, I'll share one more project I made some years ago.  It's not a holiday project but something I made for my then young son years and years ago.

Do you have a favorite time or place to crochet?  Have you found your online life interferes with your needlework hobbies?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Best of AM - Texting in the 1930's

This post is from May of 2012.  It was prompted by a conversation with a co-worker a handful of years older than my son.

Texting in the 1930's

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day March 2014-Make It Stop!

The Ides of March weren't too lucky for Julius Caeser.

It may not be too lucky for us in upstate New York, either.  We are starting out at a balmy 42 degrees F (5.5 C).  Considering it was in the single digits and blustery a couple of days ago, that isn't bad at all.

Unlike May Dream Gardens, a blogger in Central Indiana who hosts the Garden Bloggers Bloom Day meme, we have no outdoor flowers.

One more time, here in my zone 5b garden, I will have to content myself with my indoor flowers.

White African violet.
Purple African violet.

A pleasant surprise - I found a week ago, in bringing my sun-starved kalanchoe plant out on a mild day, that it had given me a flower.

Another surprise - my two phalaenopsis orchids both have flower buds. They usually bloom in March, and are actually a bit behind- the surprise is that I have now managed to bring these three year old plants to bloom-again.
My goldfish plant is blooming - it blooms on and off during the year.

We didn't get the snow many other parts of upstate New York did on Wednesday, and my yard is defrosting.  My primroses are showing through, still green, and promising bloom.

Maybe next Garden Bloggers Bloom Day I'll have outdoor blooms at last.  But, for now, we have snow in the forecast AGAIN. Make it stop!

What's blooming in your garden? Come join gardeners from all over the world at May Dreams Gardens, and see what's happening in the flower world the fifteenth of each month!