Friday, December 2, 2016

Skywatch Friday - Almost Winter

At this time of year, back in the "old days", upstate New York used to be solidly into winter by now.  But, the last few years have been anything like normal years.

So, last Friday, which was Black Friday in the United States, I saw this amazing sight at about 1:30 pm- sunlight.  We had gotten over 24 inches of snow at our airport between November 19-22.  By November 25, it was already melting. I loved the variety of patterns here.

In contrast, by yesterday the snow was all gone, but the sunrise looked like a pretty typical first day of December sunrise.  And, this morning, I was greeted by a dusting of snow.

Come visit other blogs from all over the world for Skywatch Friday, and enjoy their sky-related pictures.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Throwback Thursday - Blue Christmas

This throwback is from December 9, 2009, the first time I wrote about "Blue Christmas".  Repeating this post has become a holiday tradition for this blog, because not everyone has a happy holiday season.

In 2015, our family (inlaws) experienced holiday death in the family again. My brother in law's mother in law passed away right after Thanksgiving.  An aunt's sister died on Thanksgiving Day (November 26) .

I was so tired, for various reasons, that I never even decorated last year.

My writing has become more polished over the years but I am not going to do any editing.  This voice from the past is speaking to me, and I hope its message will help some of my readers.

Here's the post from 2009.

Tis the Season....for Sadness

Happy Holidays!

No, that's not true.

The holidays are not happy for everyone. 

11 years ago December 25.....  Spouse and I were at my in-laws on Christmas Day.  They live about 150 miles from where we live.  We had a nice day with other family members, and settled down to watch "It's a Wonderful Life"  with my mother in law and father in law.  Then we went to bed.

My father in law never woke up.  He died during the night of a massive heart attack, his third.

Imagine my mother in law, spending the day after Christmas arranging for the funeral of her husband of nearly 50 years.    The decisions that had to be made quickly, oh so quickly.  The little things, like flowers being almost impossible to come by (flowers being a part of their culture's funeral tradition).  Or us having to borrow clothes for the funeral-most people don't visit for Christmas with black clothes in their suitcase!  Those little details, in a sea of all the major details, on a holiday weekend.

The family gathered again but this time for a much sadder occasion.  Many people came to the funeral home, and it was a great comfort.  But then everyone had to go home, including us.

And then the next Christmas rolled around.  It was not easy.  But we survived, and each year it became easier.  My mother in law has established her independence, and enjoys Christmas with family.

It never goes away but it does become easier.  Although, I have never watched "It's a Wonderful Life" again.

Years ago I worked with someone whose husband died from cancer on Thanksgiving.  In my youth I couldn't understand why Thanksgiving was so hard for her.

Now I understand.

"Blue Christmas" is more than an Elvis song.  For those who have experienced loss:  loss of a loved one, loss of a relationship, loss of a job, the holidays can be so hard to survive, even if you are not a Christian.  Wherever you go, you are surrounded by smiling Santa's, by holiday decorations, by endless carols blaring at work, at the supermarket, at the mall, by constant reminders that everyone is happy.  Except you.

But, you are not alone.  And you will get through it, although it may take a long time.

Time is your friend.  It was for me.  I hope it is for you.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Fantastic Fall - Fall is Back

The weather has been so surprising for so many.  Tragic for some, such as the residents of the southeast United States subjected to wild fires and drought.

Tornadoes in Louisiana and the tragic wildfires in the Gatlinsburg/Pigeon Forge, Tennessee area.  It's been many years since I visited that area - a lot of its beauty is now in ashes.   Over 14,000 people evacuated with scant moments to spare, as the fires appeared (according to eyewitness accounts) "out of nowhere".  It is almost impossible to imagine, but, through blogging, I know at least one person whose family was affected. The coming days will be hard for all these people.

But, here in the Southern Tier of upstate New York, our snow has melted and fall has returned.
Some of our trees still have colored leaves. One of the last is at the Broome County Courthouse in Binghamton.  This is what it looked like on November 28 on a rare sunny, somewhat mild, day.

Winter will return soon enough, and will return for good.  In the meantime, enjoy this last glimpse of fall.

Day 30 of NaBloPoMo.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Echo and the Future

Last night, I found myself pondering the purchase of an Amazon Echo Dot. I know someone whose daughter has one, and here I am pondering the purchase of one.  I could sure use a digital assistant always connected to the Internet, and ready to make my every wish come true, couldn't I?

Now that few of us could imagine a life without the Internet, it can be informative to look back and see the types of predictions that were made in the 1980's and 1990's about online life (yes, there was online life before the Internet).

Check out these predictions from 1990-1995. 

But what seems to be missing is the realization that evil hacks into what we now call The Internet of Things could change our world in an instant.  Or that technology could take us over if we weren't careful.  Imagine a homicidal Dot.  Go to Amazon's Echo Dot page and read the comments.  Interesting.

Or, read a book called 1984.

Or just think of the possibility that hackers influenced the outcome of our recent Presidential election in the United States.  At this time, all that is certain is that all our elections need to be audited, according to some experts, although at least one state has agreed to a recount.  Electronic elections are just too vulnerable not to have safeguards. But just the fact that we are having this conversation tells us something.

The future is here, whether we like it or not.  And we'd better pay close attention.


I originally blogged about Newspapers Circa 1981 - Cutting Edge! in January of 2010. Just think - newspapers trying to position themselves online. Little could they have known....and perhaps it is best that they didn't know.

Hey, it's the wave of the future! 

Too bad the reporter didn't have a crystal ball.  Or a link into the future.  If he did, he'd hear a lot of laid off newspaper people screaming to him "Don't do it!"

Watch the person dial into an online service (CompuServe?) using a rotary phone and then reading a paper online.  It only took two hours to download.

If the man in this clip is still around he may be wondering "What was I thinking?  I should have waited for 2016 and bought an Echo Dot!"

Did the late Steve Jobs know something the rest of us didn't?  You decide. 

But, as for that Echo Dot - I'll let you know.

Day 29 of NaBloPoMo.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Music Monday - Songs of Thankfulness

Everyone wants to be wanted, and I am no exception.

Yesterday, I opened my browser to find I had been nominated for something called the Versatile Blogger Award. There are various reasons why I do not accept these awards, but I am always thankful that someone has thought of me.  It made me realize that, once again, I need to thank my readers.  You could have chosen any blog to read - there are millions of them out there, after all.  But you chose me, and I thank you.

On this Music Monday following Thanksgiving in the United States, a few songs about thanking and thankfulness.

"Thank You for Being A Friend" - Andrew Gold

"What a Wonderful World" - Louis Armstrong (the video is a must-watch).

Abba - "Thank You for The Music".  A lesser known song from a beloved group.

Finally, "Someone Saved My Life Tonight". Sir Elton John's song isn't, perhaps, about the kind of thankfulness I am thinking of (he's thankful he was saved from a marriage) but I love the song and the feel of the lyrics.

So, although I did not accept the prize - I thank you, Darshana, for allowing me once again to reach out to my readers and say "Thank You for Being My Reader".

Day 28 of NaBloPoMo.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Honey Apple Cake and Other Recipes

Now that many of us in the United States wish we never lay eyes on another piece of cooked turkey (I'm not one of them - I could eat turkey nearly every day), I've decided we need to do even more cooking.

Enjoy this short list of recipes published by various bloggers this week, followed by my version of an apple honey cake I made for Thanksgiving this year.

First up, Denise from My Life in Retirement provides the main course - a special roast turkey.

If you are a vegetarian, you can do some birding instead, as narrated by Alice's Grand Adventures (no recipes, just walking and viewing).

Next, Jo from Food, Life and a Scent of Chocolate contributes A beef recipe (if you don't like turkey)

And finally, Jo provides us with a German favorite buttery "bienenstich"- Bee Sting Cake.

Which leads me to my version of an amazing apple honey cake.  The original recipe can be found here, and I assure you you don't have to be Jewish to love this cake.  Or, to enjoy my version of it.

There are several reasons why I modified the cake the way I did.  First, believe it or not, I do not like confectioner's sugar/liquid type icing.  Even as a child, I would pass up cinnamon rolls and yeast cakes because I never liked the icing drizzled on them.  I can't explain why.  I still don't.  So my version does not have icing.  If you want icing, see the link above.

Second, I've started to use coconut oil more and more as a substitute for oil in my baking   I've never made this cake with anything but coconut oil, and I love it.

Third, instead of the original Granny Smith apples, I prefer tart, local apples.  I'm fortunate to live in New York apple country and there is an abundance of cooking apples grown here.  For Thanksgiving, I made this with  local Northern Spy apples.

Sorry, metric readers, you are on your own with this.

AM's Version of Tori Avey's Apple Honey Cake

3 large eggs (this past week, I was fortunate enough to use free range brown eggs from a local farm)
3/4 cup honey (local buckwheat honey, which is quite dark, and is a good fall honey)
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 1/4 cup unrefined coconut oil melted gently in microwave (this is solid at room temperature)
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
3 cups King Arthur's White Whole Wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon, freshly ground
3/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
4 tart baking apples, peeled, cored and shredded (you will also want to use the resulting liquid)

You will bake this in a 9 inch Bundt cake pan.


Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

While oven heats, mix the wet ingredients:
In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs until frothy.
Whisk in honey, white and brown sugar, melted coconut oil, and vanilla

Then mix the dry ingredients:
In a smaller bowl, sift together flour, baking power, baking soda, spices.

Gradually add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, stir to blend.  You don't want any dry ingredients, but you also don't want to over beat.

Fold in your shredded apples and liquid from the apples.

Spray your bundt pan with cooking spray, coating the inside evenly.

Now, pour your batter into the pan.  You don't want to overfill (Tory warns you not to fill more than 3/4 full.)  Smooth the batter on the top so that it is flat and even.  You do not want any air pockets.  I press down on the filling gently with a spoonula.

Bake for approximately 75-90 minutes.  When the edges darken and pull fully away from the sides of the pan, and the cake is browned, test with a toothpick.  This is a moist cake, so you don't want to under cook.  But, you don't want to overcook it, either.

For me, this cake is a wonderful alternative to apple pie.  Do you have a favorite recipe to share?

Day 27 of NaBloPoMo.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Local Saturday - Is Local Always Best?

Small Business Saturday, the day after Black Friday in the United States, has become bigger business, I suspect, than its founders ever hoped for.

Here is a post I first wrote in December of 2011, three months after devastating floods hit portions of upstate New York, including the neighborhood where I live..  I have updated it slightly.  Sadly, the buying dilemma - local business selling imported goods vs. national business selling local goods - still continues.

For example, our local shopping mall has a seasonal business called Shop 607. (607 is our phone area code.) I've bought from them before, and was pleased by the quality of items made by local artisans.  But, this year, I found a number of items for sale by the local businesses that were not made in New York State.  In fact, one item for sale was made in San Francisco - which is about 2,800 miles (4500 km) from where the mall is located in Johnson City, New York.  (If anyone from Shop 607 wishes to contact me, I would be pleased to expand on my disappointment.)
One Display on Small Business Saturday, November 26, 2016
Hence the title of this post: Is Local Always Best?  The edited 2011 post follows:

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

But sometimes the choice is hard.

When we visited the State of Maine in September of 2011, we were impressed by the pains the people of Maine took to promote items "made in Maine".  There were a number of stores in the Portland and Brunswick, ME areas specializing in Maine-made merchandise:  everything from mustard to Poland Springs water and vodka to blankets to balsam pillows to toothpaste.  Supermarkets featured local foods and beverages in special displays.

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

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

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

Or buy American from a national chain?

Back in November of 2011, I wanted to "buy local" in light of the devastating floods that hit our part of upstate NY in September but I am finding that choice isn't so simple.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think?

Day 26 of NaBloPoMo.