Thursday, February 23, 2017

How Winter Used to Be

On February 24, 2014, I posted the below blog post.

That was in the good ol' days when winter was winter.

I still own this warm LL Bean coat, but I haven't had to wear it too many times this winter. 
That isn't to say that we haven't had a winter this year.  On February 12, this was the scene in our front yard - something we call "heart attack snow" as it is so heavy.

 But this is the forecast for today. Possible thunderstorms?

And what about tomorrow?

Tomorrow, February 24, 2017, it is expected to get up around 70 degrees F (21 C) here in Binghamton, New York. 
How wonderful it is to walk on sidewalks not encrusted in dirty snow along the sides.  How wonderful it is to cross the street without dodging snow piles.

Some people love winter, but I am not one of them.

We in the United States, in the midst of an unbelievable warmup, continue to wonder "is this for real?  Or will it end in a bad way?"  Well, another snowstorm is on its way.  Surprise.

So today, a reminder to us of how a normal winter used to be like, just three years ago.  And if you have a good customer service story to share, please feel free.

The L.L. Bean Coat

I occasionally  blog about customer service experiences, both good (Chobani yogurt) and not so good (a local Binghamton, NY restaurant, who acknowledged my email but only after several days and although they said they would respond, they never did.)

This experience, though, has to be a first.

There is a long time company, located in Maine, called L.L. Bean. They have been in business since 1912 and have a reputation for excellent customer service.  Their clothing can be a bit pricey, but I've been wearing one of their light fleece jackets for years and years, and I will go into mourning the day it finally falls apart.

In September of 2011 I bought a ski jacket in their flagship store in Freeport, Maine.  It was a splurge, and I don't ski, but it had some features I wanted.  It was a light ivory/white, which I wanted, so I could be visible at night if I had to go out.  It had a nice red liner, so fleecy and comfy.  I hadn't worn it enough to have to wash it until this year, when it became my go-to coat, in our extended "polar vortex" weather.

I washed it yesterday, and to my horror...well, let my email to L.L. Bean from today tell the story.

"I purchased during a visit to Freeport in 2011, a white ski jacket with red liner... I didn't wear it much the winters of 2011 and 2012 but wore it a lot this winter and got it dirty. I washed it for the first time yesterday-cold water, gentle cycle as directed. The red liner has bled all over the coat in various places and is visible from the outside in many spots on the hood and the back. It is cosmetically ruined. Is there anything that can be done? I love this coat and we are ready to go into another cold wave later this week. Thank you."

Less than 1/2 hour later (on a Sunday!!) I got this response:

"I am sorry to read the red liner on your North Ridge Sport Jacket bled.
Unfortunately, the jacket was discontinued in 2011 and is no longer available for replacement. You are welcome to return the jacket if you wish. We would issue you a gift card for the return... Simply print a return form and return shipping label[from our website]."

After a little further correspondence (which they responded to in minutes, as if someone was waiting there to get my email) I was told no rush if I need the coat until it warms up - there is no time limit on returns!  (I've read that - and now I know it is true).

And maybe, one day, it will really be spring.  Meantime, tonight, it is supposed to dip down to 10 above (-12.2 C), and by Wednesday, 3 above (-16.1 C) .  If you see someone with a blotchy white/ivory coat walking around Binghamton, you'll know who it is.

Have you had a really good customer service experience?

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Winter Wednesday - Lenten Rose

I have a Lenten Rose in my Binghamton, New York - area garden.  It's been trying to bloom for some six weeks.

Bloom where you are planted, the saying goes.  But what if you keep trying, and can't?

It gets covered by snow.  It gets uncovered.  It gets covered by snow.

Now, we are in a most unseasonable warm wave.  By "we", I mean much of the United States.  Today, we are preparing to experience possible record warmth, on this day that, years ago, would have been a Federal holiday - the birthday of George Washington. 60 (15.5 C) wouldn't be a record, but it would be close.  This is not February weather.  Except, in our new normal, it apparently is.

This weekend, the snow started to melt, and the flowers were exposed again.  This is not necessarily a good thing,as our maple syruping season may end much before it begins.  You can already see the sap flowing in some of the trees (their branch tips get a certain glow.)  Or, as happened last year, trees may bloom prematurely, and never recover.

Could spring be on its way?  Or is this another false alarm?

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Still Dreaming the Impossible Dream

Every gardener has his or her impossible dream.  Some of us try to grow a plant that the experts say just can't be grown, just to see if it could be done.

Years ago, when my spouse was in the military, we were stationed in Wichita, Kansas.   There, we met a fellow airman, Jim.  Jim had grown up in West Virginia.  He missed two things terribly:  bluegrass and azaleas.  Neither grow well in Wichita, a hot, windy climate.

Jim tried.  And he failed.  But he tried.

For me, in zone 5b upstate New York near Binghamton, the impossible dream is the camilla, a beautiful flower that is not supposed to grow here.  The climate isn't right.  It gets too cold.  I thought I saw one once in Brooklyn, although it was past the blooming season.   But Brooklyn is in hardiness zone 6b.  I've never seen one here in the Binghamton area.

So, of course, spouse and I decided we had to try.

In April of 2015, my spouse and I traveled to a camilla nursery in North Carolina where they specialize in cold hardy camillas.  We bought one, called April Rose.

After the buds already formed opened and bloomed, new buds grew.

In 2016, despite animals (we suspect squirrels), our camilla bloomed, for the first time, on upstate New York flower buds.

But, after that, buds never grew in the summer of 2016.  I suspect the plant isn't getting enough sun in our back yard, where we had to put it so it would have a chance to survive the winter.

This is what our April Rose looked like on February 18.  No buds.

It will not bloom this April.  Maybe, buds will grow or next year.

You know what?  I'm still dreaming that impossible dream, that April Rose will bloom again for me one day.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Music Monday - President's Day

Today is a Federal holiday, one that is observed in all states but in various ways.

In honor of the Presidents of the United States, here is a short musical tribute.

Abraham, Martin and John - a song sung by Dion, pays tribute to two Presidents cut down by assassins, Martin Luther King, Jr. and President Kennedy's brother, Bobby, also cut down by assassins.

Happy Days, a song that was picked up as a campaign song by the longest serving of all our Presidents, Franklin Roosevelt: was previously the subject of one of my blog posts.

In this political climate, it is instructive to travel back into the 1970's, another age of unrest and fear, to talk about another President, Richard Nixon.  "Justice Don't Be Slow", by Steppenwolf.  Nixon was the first and only President to resign.  His Vice President also had to resign.

This final song is a song from the Civil War era and happens to be, even today, the state song of the State of Maryland.  It sings indirectly about the Federal President during the Civil War (Abraham Lincoln; see above), who is described as a despot. (The history behind this song would make an interesting Civil War Sunday).  This version has the official lyrics prior to last year, when certain edits were made, 151 years after the war ended.

There are lots more songs to choose from if you are interested.  Do you have any to add?

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Civil War Sunday -Let's Have Tea

After a nearly two year hiatus, I am starting up, at least for the remainder of February, and all of March, my United States Civil War Sunday feature.   Although I am not a historian, I have always been interested in history.  After all, history is the story of all of us, past and present - not just events, but people.

And who doesn't like a good story about a great person?

I firmly believe that if we don't remember the lessons of history, we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes that past generations did.

A man by the name of Frederick Douglass died on February 20, 1895.  Our country could use him today.

On February 1, someone in high office said something that seemed to imply that Douglass was still alive.  His descendants decided to turn that into a teachable moment. 

It is my pleasure to introduce you, my reader (knowing that some of you are not from the United States) to this most remarkable man who had many ties with my native New York State.

Frederick Douglass never knew his exact birth date.  He was born into slavery in Maryland sometime during February of 1818. His original name was Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey.  He barely knew his mother, whom he was separated from at an early age (not uncommon with slaves in that area) and was raised by his grandmother. His birth mother died when Douglass was 10.

At around the age of 12, the young Douglass was hired out to a man living in Baltimore, Hugh Auld, brother of Douglass's owner Thomas Auld. Hugh Auld and his wife were not experienced slave keepers, which may explain what happened next.

Hugh Auld's wife started to teach Douglass the alphabet.  I can not emphasize here the importance of this act - slaves were not permitted literacy, and in many places, teaching a slave to read or write was a crime.  Any slave, in turn, who was literate had to hide that fact or risk heavy punishment or even death.

Imagine that your love of reading must be kept secret, as you have no right to be literate.

Soon enough, Hugh Auld convinced his wife that teaching Douglass was a mistake.  But it was too late.  In secret, Douglass taught himself to read and write, using various resources, including a school primer owned by Hugh Auld's son, and the Bible.  Later, as a teenager, he was hired out to another man and started an underground slave school for the other neighborhood slaves.  He was caught and brutally punished by being hired out to a known "slave breaker".  Almost psychologically broken, he still managed to survive the experience.

Eventually, in 1838, Douglass was able to escape to the free state of Pennsylvania and then onward to free New York City.  He married (he and his first wife were together for 44 years) and they settled in Massachusetts, another free state.

Douglass eventually took the last name of "Douglass" from a poem, The Lady of the Lake, by Walter Scott.  While still living in Massachusetts, he joined the abolitionist movement - a movement to abolish slavery.  By the early 1840's, Douglass was traveling frequently and giving the most eloquent speeches many had ever heard.

Some people didn't even believe he had ever been a slave, so Douglass decided to write the first of several autobiographies to educate the public about his origins and early life story.  This book, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave (published in 1845), is in the public domain here and in most countries.  If you look online, and it is legal, you will find PDFs of it on many websites.  It is about 108 pages.

Keep in mind that Douglass, at this point, is still an escaped slave.  It was quite possible his owner, Thomas Auld, could hire people to capture him and bring him back to slavery.  After all, he was Auld's property.  So, also in 1845, just as the Irish Potato Famine was starting, Douglass traveled to Ireland and Britain, and spent the next two years there.  There are several historical plaques in Britain and Ireland commemorating that visit.  More importantly, British supporters raised enough money  and Douglass was able to purchase his freedom from Thomas Auld.

Returning to the United States in 1845, he began his association with upstate New York, particularly the upstate New York cities of Seneca Falls and Rochester. If you are interested in learning more about Douglass, many of his other writings are online, free to read.  Or, you can watch a 44 minute "living history" depiction of Douglass produced by a Virginia TV station.

During the Civil War (1861-1865), three of Douglass's sons served in the military.  One became a First Sargent and anther a Sargent-Major.  The third was a recruiter. 

Douglass fought for many causes, including improving the lot of the nation's former slaves (they were all freed after the Civil War), education, and women's right to vote.  He used words, not violence, to advance the causes he believed in.  I must also point out that his beliefs were sometimes complicated, and contradictory.

Douglass believed in the young art of photography, and was the most photographed man, it is said, of the 19th century.

Politically, Douglass was the first African American to be nominated for Vice-President (he did not support this, and did not campaign) and the first African American man to receive a vote for President.

In addition to his work in the abolitionist movement, Douglass also did much work in the women's suffrage movement.  If you are a woman in the United States, you owe much to Frederick Douglass.

Here is another part of this amazing life story: In 1877, knowing his former owner Thomas Auld was dying, Frederick Douglass traveled to Auld's side and they reconciled.  I don't know if I could ever have done that if I had been a former slave.  Could you have?
Which brings me to these statues.

Douglass lived for about 25 years in Rochester, New York, also the home of suffragist Susan B. Anthony.  Near Anthony's home is a small park, and there, you will find this statue, called "Let's Have Tea".  Here, Anthony and Douglass's statues...well, they have tea.  A black former slave and a white school teacher having tea as equals?  That, in itself, would have been a revolutionary act.

Douglass died on February 20, 1895, in Washington, DC, shortly after visiting a meeting of the National Council of Women, and receiving the last standing ovation of his life.

Douglass is buried in Rochester, New York.  Here is his grave in Mt. Hope Cemetery.
Mural of the Douglass-Anthony Bridge, Trader Joes, Pittsford, New York
Also in Rochester is the Frederick Douglass-Susan B. Anthony Bridge.

Although our nation's leader may have incorrectly implied that Douglass was still alive, he was right in one respect.  The vision of Frederick Douglass is alive.  His courage in learning to read and escaping slavery still inspires us.  His supporting the rights of minorities and the rights of women continue to be carried forward by those who still believe in his vision. He taught that protest must always be peaceful, and that we must never give up when protesting for a just cause.

Next year will mark the 200th anniversary of Douglass's unknown birthday - and we can even hope that our President will wholeheartedly join in.

Come to think of it - yes, in a way, maybe Frederick Douglass is still alive - in all of us.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Local Saturday - One Building at a Time

I originally blogged this in 2013 and reran this in 2014.

The years have not been kind to the area of upstate New York where I live.  Nor have they been kind to many other areas of our country.  Major employers have downsized, moved operations overseas, or disappeared. (By the way, did you know that IBM and Whirlpool both got their start in Binghamton, New York?)

What follows is the story of one of many historic buildings in Binghamton, New York that still, despite urban renewal, sit in ruins.  Patiently, this building waits for its fate.  Some four years after I first published this post it still sits, empty.   Some would call it a symbol of our country.

I say this in a non partisan way:  our infrastructure badly needs to be rebuilt.  We need to concentrate on local buildings and road, and on bringing back local jobs.  The question, of course, is "how"?  And, at what cost?

Perhaps doing it one building at a time will start the journey.

Here's my post:  

"From Edward G. Robinson to Ruin".

What do Eddie Foy, Ethel and John Barrymore, Sara BernhardtGeorge M. Cohan, Teddy Roosevelt and Edward G. Robinson's first professional stage performance have in common?

Answer:  this building in downtown Binghamton, New York.
Stone Opera House in 2013
This is the Stone Opera House on Chenango Street.  It was a grand old opera house once, but its flag waving days are long over.  This 120 year old plus building, neglected and possibly close to its final days, patiently sits as passerbys walk by without a glance.  It's the shame of Binghamton.

In the 1930's it became the Riviera Theatre, and closed for good in 1973.  Now it sits, rotting and boarded up.

This is what it looked like once.

Actually, there are abandoned theaters all over this country.  Can we ever hope for someone to rescue this building and do something for it?  As of today, to the best of my knowledge - nothing has happened.

Even as crumbling buildings downtown are renovated and turned into student housing, the Stone Opera House waits.  And waits.

Sometimes, I wish I was very rich....

Friday, February 17, 2017

Skywatch Friday - Pink Skies

Only one more month until St. Patrick's Day.

I'm not about to post pictures of a green sky.  But pink, well, that's another story.

Yesterday morning, I left my house in upstate New York to commute to work. I was just in time to see the last seconds of a pink dawn sky.

After an exercise walk at the nearby shopping mall, I was greeted by a pre-sunset sky, the clouds lit up by the setting sun.
It's so nice to go home in light.

Visit Skywatch Friday for other pictures from all over the world.