Sunday, June 18, 2017

Happy Juneteenth!

Tomorrow is June 19th, or "Juneteenth", the oldest celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.

This weekend, many cities, including Albany, NY, held Juneteenth celebrations with food, music, entertainment, and other family-friendly events.

The story behind this celebration goes back to 1865.  It was on June 19th that Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas, with news that the war had ended and that all former slaves were now free.

Want to know more? It just so happens that a close relative of mine wrote a book about General Granger back in 2013. Check it out on Amazon, here.  If you are a history buff, especially if you are interested in Civil War history, you should take a look. 

Happy Juneteenth!

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Garden news around these parts: Tours and sales and hummingbirds in my own backyard (edited)

Overcast! Oh, yes it is, again! So cool and gray this spring has been. Very like English weather. At least in our yard, this has thrown off bloom times. Until yesterday, I had not seen any returning hummingbirds, where as in most years, they would have been here and happily darting about from blossom to blossom by now.

But last evening, I did spot a couple, zooming around in the near-dusk. They seemed frantic, even by hummingbird standards, going to places in our garden where, normally, plants would be in bloom: clematis, trumpet vine, peonies. But although there are buds on those plants, the hummingbirds were finding little to sip there.

I quickly boiled up some sugar water (see how to do that, here) cooled down the nectar, then rinsed out the feeder and filled it up. I hung it out last night, just before 8:00 PM, hoping the hummingbirds would find it in the morning. 

And they have.  Even bleary-eyed as I was making coffee, I quickly noticed their comings and goings at dawn this morning. It took them no time at all to find the feeder. I guess they were hungry. (Sorry, no actual hummer photos: They are too quick and my camera is too humble.) Later edit: Despite my lack of sophisticated camera gear, I was later able to get the somewhat blurry photo, above, of one of my hummingbird visitors this afternoon.

If you have never fed hummingbirds before, please do a little reading before you start. Usually, I only feed them in the spring, as it can be a challenge to keep the nectar from becoming rancid once the weather becomes very hot. But my theory is, now is when they really need the help. By midsummer, there is much more nectar available from natural sources and they don't need the feeder then.

Yeah, about that weather forecast.

Today was supposed to be sunny. Looks cold and gray to me. (Sigh.) Eat up, little hummers, and keep warm as best you can.
 Alas, the wet spring has been a challenge for sellers of plants this year. But you can take advantage of resulting special deals, such as at Fiddlehead Creek Native Plant Nursery, one of my favorite plant sources in this region. These next two Fridays and Saturdays, they are having a huge sale - all stock is buy one, get one free. The nursery will be open for retail sales for only four more days this spring, starting June 2 and 3, and then June 9 and 10. Their hours are 9-5 all four days. After that, the nursery is open by appointment only.  Find Fiddlehead Creek nursery in beautiful Washington County. Their address is 7381 State Route 40, Hartford, NY 12838.

It is getting to be the season for garden tours. There are two good ones coming up that you can buy tickets for right now. Check out Historic Albany's 2017 House and Garden Tour

Center Square Association, Hudson/Park Neighborhood Association and Historic Albany Foundation are proud to present the annual Hidden City House & Garden Tour on Thursday, June 22 from 5:00 - 8:00 p.m. Every year, this tour brings the neighborhood to life as homeowners open their doors and gardens to the public. Guests are able to tour, at their leisure, the beautiful and historic homes and hidden gardens that make up the Center Square & Hudson/Park neighborhoods. This year we'll also feature Pine Hills.

The link for tickets is here: 

And another favorite, the 23rd annual Secret Gardens Tour presented by Soroptimist International of Saratoga County, is coming up on Sunday, July 9, from 11 AM to 5 PM. From their promotional information:

This year, we are featuring an eclectic mix of 11 private gardens in and around Saratoga Springs. From homes on North Broadway, to a cluster of in-city yards, to a handful of suburban secrets, the gardens are a mix of styles and sizes, in both sun and shade, sure to inspire garden lovers of every level.

One cautionary note from me: Garden tours of private homes and spaces may have accessibility issues. You should be aware that there may be stairs, slippery places, narrow and uneven footpaths, lots of walking. Before you set off with your aged aunt or strollers full of wee bairns, you might want to call ahead for advice and details. (Trust me on this.) And please, do NOT bring your dogs.



Saturday, May 27, 2017

A Thousand to One

A thousand to one. That's my ratio for this week of encounters with jerks versus good people. Or maybe I have stated that backwards, because it is the good people who came out on top. They were the "thousand", while there was only one real jerk.

Let me explain. I am a lady of a certain age, complete with gray hair. I am not accustomed to being on the receiving end of aggressive behavior. Most people don't yell at grandmother types. They just don't. But earlier this week, a neighbor up the road was verbally aggressive and it made my adrenaline bubble and surge for over an hour. During this period of high adrenaline, I was feeling decidedly un-Christian toward him and began to understand why people sometimes long to move into the Canadian north woods, far from their fellow man.

Although I eventually simmered down, I was a little ashamed of how long it took me to do so. Why did I let one person's bad behavior live in my head that long?  

But any lingering feelings of ill will toward others have been wiped clean by later events this week. On Thursday, I attended a volunteer appreciation reception put on by CAPTAIN Youth and Family Services in Clifton Park, in southern Saratoga County. When I opened the program, I read that in the past year, 482 fellow CAPTAIN volunteers had provided over 19,000 hours of service to families and children in need in our communities. That's a lot of caring and loving from a lot of people. Already, the ratio of good people to jerks I was encountering this week was tipping heavily toward the good.

Then, this Saturday morning, quite early, I joined some of my fellow Malta Sunrise Rotarians at the Saratoga National Cemetery. We were there to help place flags on the graves of veterans, to honor them on Memorial Day.  

We weren't alone. Hundreds of people came, at 7:30 AM, on a Saturday morning of a holiday weekend. Hundreds. 

People came alone, in groups, with service clubs, with families. They brought young children. None misbehaved. No one did anything inappropriate for the place or occasion. There was not a single jerk in attendance. 

As with many an effort that uses volunteers, there was a little confusion at first. But people rallied, helped each other, showed what to do and how to do it, and the job got done. Before the morning was over, every single veteran's grave (18,000 of them) had been visited, a flag placed, their names read aloud, and each deceased serviceman and each deceased servicewoman was saluted. 

This week has been a lesson to me. Yes, I had one unpleasant encounter with one man. But I also rubbed shoulders with at least a thousand volunteers this week, people who gave their time and their energy to do good in their community. And those are pretty good odds. 

Please note: Volunteers will also be needed at the Gerald B. H. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery on Tuesday, May 30th, to respectfully re-gather the flags that were placed and bundle them for storage. You can just show up there between 8:30 and 9:00 AM. Folks will be there to show you what to do. Find the cemetery at 200 Duell Road, Schuylerville, NY.  And if you spot a grandmotherly-looking woman wearing a Malta Sunrise Rotary Club shirt there, please say hello.

If you or your group would like to help with the Flag Project next year, please email:  They also accept donations for flags. 

If you would like to learn more about CAPTAIN Youth and Family Services in Clifton Park, please check out their website, here:


Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Dutch Twins live on

Earlier this month, my older sister Mary and I took a jaunt to Florida to visit some of our far-flung family members.  Our last stop was on the west coast of Florida, where our cousin Katie graciously put us up for two nights.

In one of Katie's guest rooms, I found some old friends: The Dutch Twins, along with a half dozen of their companion "Twins" books, all by Lucy Fitch Perkins. Mary and I were both thrilled to see these familiar books again. They have done some travelling, these books, back and forth between our families, as each successive batch of early readers grew into them.

My mother's maiden name is the first one in this book: Henrietta B. Holmes. I note that she wrote her name in pretty decent cursive for a second grader. I estimate she would have been in second grade around 1925-26.

My maiden name, Barbara Coombs, is stamped in the upper right. There is no date there, but I think I read this same book around 1957. And my cousin Tad Kinsley, the youngest of our generation, seems to have stamped the book in 1972.

I know that The Dutch Twins was the first of the series that I read and that I loved it dearly. I can't really tell you why. I knew even then that it was a bit dated, but it charmed me. I read all of the other Twin books that I could get my hands on, but none equaled my first love, even though many were enjoyable.

Oddly enough for a children's book series, these were not all light reading. I remember finding The Belgian Twins deeply disturbing. It quite literally gave me nightmares. Now, thanks to the internet, I know why it was so terrifying: it was based on the actual stories of real children during World War I. In this book, the Belgian twins become homeless refugees, separated from their parents, hiding and fleeing ahead of the invading German army. It had lots of convincing details, I remember, such as the children's struggle to find food. Hmmm, maybe this book should be reissued for all of us adults to read now.

One book that had originally been part of our families' "Twins"collection has, quite understandably, disappeared from the group. I think my mother must have tossed it out before she passed the books back to her sister Jane for the Kinsley cousins to read, once I had outgrown them. I hesitate to even name it, for these days, it would be seen as outrageously racist. In fact, I think I will not name it here. If you are curious, you can google Lucy Fitch Perkins. I don't think you will have a hard time figuring out which book of the series I am referring to. But I don't think Ms. Perkins was at all racist. In fact, she wanted children to know and understand different cultures. But the view of these things was different in the 1920s and 1930s.

In my family, we now have a set of real life "twins" of our own, sweet grandchildren, a boy and a girl, just as in each of these books. Our twin grandchildren are only two years old now, but when they are older, would I have them read these books? Maybe. Certainly The Dutch Twins. They had a very wise and loving grandparent:

"I think I'll be a sea captain when I'm big," said Kit.
"So will I," said Kat.
"Girls can't," said Kit.
But Grandfather shook his head and said:
"You can't tell what a girl may be by the time she's four feet and a half high and is called Katrina. There's no telling what girls will do anyway. 

                                                  ~The Dutch Twins, originally published 1911.


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Eye of the Beholder

Ugh. This is not the time of year when the Northeast looks its best. It is grumpy season here, when winter has held on just a little too long, when mud is the dominant feature of our backyard.

And yet, this morning, when I looked out the back door, there it was, that yellowing up of the forsythia bark, especially noticeable against the still-gray woods. I ventured out with my camera and sure enough, there are fat green forsythia buds just waiting for a warm spell.

The small dogwood tree near the house has plumped up buds, too. Like a good gardener, I continue my inspection. While a casual observer may see only mud and mess, I know where to look for signs of promise and to me, beauty.

A hydrangea shrub still has a few flowers clinging on from last fall. Delicate chestnut-colored shad-bush buds are lengthening. The soundtrack for my walk around the yard was birdsong and babbling brook.

Under the shelter of a limbed-up spruce tree, the rhododendron is also sporting thickening flower buds.

Around in front, the bark of red-twig dogwoods is aglow. There are still some red blossoms left from the winter's bloom of the witch hazel. In a sunny spot, early daffodils are inching up.

Now is the time of year when I appreciate evergreen shrubs and hardy lavenders. I have made a mental note to plant more.  We need more plants for winter interest, I often think in March. But flibbertigibbet that I am, I lose that thought come May and June, when iris and peonies and such are filling up the spaces that look so empty now.

We recently had two ailing Norway maples cut down. I was glad to have that taken care of before birds could start building nests there. We have lived in this house for eleven years now, and for all of that time, two weathered soccer balls have been stuck in the top branches of one of those maples. They were artifacts left from the three boys who lived here before us. When the tree guys took that maple down, the balls were finally freed, and the young men in the work crew began kicking the soccer balls around to each other. It was a funny moment.

After the crew left, I found the soccer balls set neatly at the edge of the garden. I can't quite bring myself to throw them away just yet.


Saturday, February 18, 2017

Glorious February Saturday morning

Today is the start of both the Presidents' Day three-day holiday weekend and of the mid-winter school break in our neck of the woods. The city of Saratoga Springs gets happily busy during holidays and today was no exception.  

I got out and about with greater alacrity than usual this morning and headed to the indoor farmers' market at the Lincoln Baths in Saratoga Spa State Park. Into my shopping bag went some honey crisp apples and the makings for an easy dinner for tonight: fresh crab cakes, local sweet potatoes, a rustic loaf of whole wheat bread, and in honor of  George Washington, a small cherry pie. 

I had planned to go for a walk while I was already in the park, so I stowed my purchases and set off on my favorite two-mile loop.

I love a winter day like this one. The sun was shining brightly on still-clean snow. The temperature was climbing above freezing and there were no frigid wind gusts. Lots of people were already out, walking dogs, jogging, pushing strollers, cross country skiing. Although I had only intended to walk, the pavement on the path was mostly clear of snow so I thought, why not jog a bit? And off I trotted. 

I wasn't really dressed right for a run, but I managed to jog nearly the whole two miles. I did slow down to pick my way across occasional icy patches, but I still made pretty good time (for an out-of-practice lady approaching 67, that is.) After a too sedentary January, to be outdoors, breathing in good clean air, rediscovering  the joy of running all over again felt wonderful. It's time to get back on a regular fitness schedule, for certain.

There are also many indoor pleasures in February. I am knitting a second pink "resist" hat at the request of a friend. Dreamily, I look at plant catalogs and think about what I'd like to change in my garden this spring. I have the pot of lilies of the valley that I bought recently from White Flower Farm to inspire me. From tiny pips, the plants have shot up and the blossoms are giving off that lovely Muguet de Bois scent. 

I've just finished reading Purity, by Jonathan Franzen, an author I usually enjoy. Didn't like this one so much. 500-plus pages of a slightly creepy dysfunctional cast of characters. Deciding I needed to cleanse my literary palate, so to speak, I've picked up a collection of Marilynne Robinson essays to read next: When I Was a Child I Read Books. And also on the night table is Convictions, by Marcus Borg. This last one I am reading along with the "theology book group" at the Presbyterian New England Congregational Church in Saratoga Springs. Ridiculously long name but an active, stimulating church that is involved in a lot of good stuff. This weekend, for example, they are hosting a public forum: Uniting Communities Against the Politics of Hate.  It will take place on Sunday, February 19, from 4pm-6pm. Check out the calender on their web page here for more information.

Enjoy this lovely winter weekend!


Thursday, February 2, 2017

Respite or interlude, call it what you will

Goodwin Creek Gray Lavender
Barbara Pierson with a rosemary plant.
Streptocarpus "Grape Ice"
Rosemary Prostratus
Convallaria (Lily-of-the-Valley) pips
Convallaria pip, close up

Convallaria pips after five days

I am a tad late in writing this post about last weekend, but there you are.

I don't know about you, but I was badly in need of a break, a respite, an interlude. From what? From the contentious internet, from the string of worrying news, from being indoors too much.  I had read about a workshop to be held last Saturday at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and thought that might be just the antidote I needed.

The two-hour program, "Growing Fragrant Plants Indoors" was offered by Barbara Pierson of White Flower Farm and it didn't disappoint. I confess, I already know a fair amount about growing plants, so I didn't have to go, but there are always things to learn anew, to be reminded about.

Barbara Pierson turned out to be a charming instructor, chatting about growing jasmine, citrus, lavender, culinary herbs, and forced bulbs indoors in winter. She shared her expertise for keeping these plants looking their best from fertilization and winter care to pest control and trade secrets for keeping plants healthy. She also brought along a selection of specimen plants and offered some for purchase from White Flower Farm.

I sat among eighteen or so folks of a very similar demographic and enjoyed the talk. At the end, I bought a reasonably priced pot of Lily-of-the-Valley (Convallaria) pips, nicely pre-chilled by White Flower Farm. The pot looked dry and unpromising but I knew it wouldn't disappoint. The last photo above shows the plants' progress after only five days and one watering. It won't be long before we will have blossoms and a lovely scent to enjoy before "real" spring arrives.

And, quelle surprise, this turned out to be my lucky day. Guess who won the door prize? Why, c'est moi! And a rather nice one, it was: a $50 gift certificate from White Flower Farm. What fun.

After the talk, I zipped down Interstate 90 to Schenectady for their Second Annual Soup Stroll and by pre-arrangement, met my Handsome Husband there. We enjoyed sampling some delicious soups and ended up in Schenectady's Little Italy neighborhood. Continuing my lucky streak, I was able to nab the very last loaf of bread for sale at Perreca's. Gotta love that old world bread. Just four ingredients and absolute heaven. Unfortunately, it went home in the HH's car and you can see what was left of it after his drive home. Well, I did get my share in the end.

Now, I could insert a heart-felt diatribe here about how the legacy of humble immigrants greatly enriches life here in America. I mean, that wonderful Perreca's bread! The amazing lemony lentil soup we had at the Indian place!

Oh, dear. So much for the respite from politics. It's a good thing that Saratoga's Chowderfest is coming up this weekend. I feel the need for another midwinter antidote.

Saratoga Chowderfest runs from 11 to 4, this Saturday, February 4,  throughout Saratoga Springs with a few stops on the outskirts.