Sunday, September 14, 2014

Little Berries, thoughts of traveling, and the beautiful Palatine Church...

The week has been busy with sorting elderberries  baking and getting ready for our little berry event.  In my heart however, I wanted to be on the road visiting my favorite places for fall travel...The one love the most is the old Palatine Church on the historic Mohawk trail to Albany near Nelliston.  I take people to it whenever we are driving by.... it is probably the most notable German Palatine structure in upstate New York.

Rising off the highway it stands on a hill near a spot that was once the settlement of Fox’s Mills. The limestone church dates to 1770 when it was erected by the subscription and the labor of a number of families in the area. The Garoga Creek, which flowed near by, provided waterpower for a number of mills and businesses in the small community, now gone which is today called Palatine Church.

Most notable among the families of the area was that of Hendrick Nellis who not only donated the land it stands on, but helped build the church with other community members.

Nellis and his grandson however remained loyal to the Crown at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War and had to flee to Canada. Other members of the family remained so typical of the division of loyalties at that time.

History has it recorded that in October of 1780, when the Tory forces under Sir John Johnson dropped down from Canada with the allied Native Americans to burn the farms and harvest of the valley, the church was saved by a British Officer who stopped it saying he had promised Nellis.

The site is also a historic marker site as it was the camp of the American Army under General Van Rensselaer after winning the Battle of Clock’s Field retreated to this site to make camp. Van Rensselaer refused to pursue the Tory forces, an act for which he was later tried for treason.

Today the church has been restored including its famous raised pulpit with sounding board and has had its organ rebuilt by noted organ builder Robert S. Rowland. Rowland built it in the style of old colonial organs. The inside has many historic artifacts on display as well as a rare 13 star American Flag that was found during the renovation.

Visitors from all over the world come to what is today call “The Shrine of Lutheranism in the Mohawk Valley”, and all passing it on Route 5 still admire its Colonial beauty! I love it!
For more history and videos visit my website at

Sunday, September 7, 2014

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, Lead Belly, Blues, Folk Music and Goodnight Irene!

With all of the Ice Bucket Challenges for ALS on line and on TV this past month, I got to thinking about a gentleman by the name of Huddie Ledbetter… better know to us Folk music aficionados as Lead Belly!

Lead Belly was a black man born in the late 1880’s on a Louisiana plantation who ended up in jail for murder and attempted murder and yet managed to leave that part of his life behind…using the experiences for learning… gaining the respect of not only the “Blues” community but also of many of the Folk music world.

I myself loved his renditions of Down in the Valley, House of the Rising Sun, Good Night Irene , Rock Island Line, Midnight Special, and marveled at the man who actually brought the 12-string guitar into the world of my era of folksingers.  He was also proficient at the accordion, mandolin, piano or just about any instrument he picked up.  It was said that he got out of a Texas jail by writing a song appealing to the warden after performing for the inmates and the warden’s friends for a number of years... and his name…well there are many theories or how he adopted it… but Lead Belly stuck.

In prison John Lomax who was doing folk music recordings for preservation as well as a written history of the genre, discovered Leadbetter who eventually toured with him as he lectured at colleges and universities.  Lead Belly’s drinking however, caused trouble and the two eventually parted.  Later in his life he picked up a relationship with Lomax’s son Alan and toured with him.

Over the years he wrote, arranged, and sang hundreds of folk, blues and spiritual standards… that have been adopted by musicians from Folk to rock…but for those of us my age and for me it will always be the popular “Good Night Irene that we remember.  I remember it the most for being my brother’s favorite song when he was a little kid; he made my poor Uncle Lou play it over and over and over when we visited his house..

Lead Belly’s great voice and 12 string eventually brought him from blues to a new set of “folk admirers”, as well as albums and gigs with legends like Woodie Gunthrie, and Josh White. In the end however, the man with iron hands and booming voice, and a figure larger than history, fell victim ALS.  Before he was unable to play or sing he did a much-remembered concert in Texas ending with singing “Spirituals” with his wife.  Another “Legend” felled by ALS!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Labor Day, my Mother & Father, Coca-Cola & Me!

Mother & Father's wedding picture
Today is Labor Day but few think about it as more than a Holiday.  My Mother and Father like so many others got married on Labor Day, as it was an extra day off.  They started in the hard times of the 1930’s and we tend to forget how much unemployment and poverty existed in America at that time.

For myself, I never got much better at making a wage as retail workers made the lowest wage possible in my city.  $30 per week was really not enough to live on in 1964.  They said then it was a starting position…humorously; …the biggest wage increases were only 10 or 15 cents a year.  The “old maids” in my department lived in horrible one-room apartments on the down side of town.

So today I thought about labor unions and the fact that as sales people we could not organize…and that was in the late 1960’s.  We would have lost our jobs.  All we wanted was a more living wage…and so when I came across a pamphlet put out in 1974 I was reminded of those “Good Old Days” of retailing…however the article was on Labor Unions trying to be formed by Farm Workers.

It stated, “Child labor was outlawed in the industry in 1938…but it still thrives on the farms.  800,000 children under 16 still work in the fields, 5 % stop their education at the fifth grade, and that a 13 state study found that at least 90 children a year were killed in tractor accidents.”  Then it went on to give a wonderful story on responsible management via the Coca-Cola Company. 

The story started when the company acquired Minute Maid citrus groves in Florida.  10 years later the president of Coca Cola at the time, J. Paul Austin, told a Senate subcommittee on Migratory Labor about the horrible conditions of the 1,300 pickers associated with Coke.

Austin had sent a Mr. Smith to check on the workers in his groves in Florida and gave the committee  the report Smith gave him.  He said that Mr. Smith was so upset by what he saw that he flew to Atlanta in person to talk to him.  Smith reported that he was appalled by the condition of the worker in those fields.  He said,  "they cannot be tolerated by Coca-Cola",  so the company set out to invest 2 million dollars to change this.

From the report, “We (Coke) soon realized that merely to provide housing and transportation without facing up to the basic human problems involved, would to little more that temporarily ease the hardship of the migratory worker”. 

So instead Coca-Cola decided to attack what it called “a culture of despair and poverty, vested by generations of neglect.”  To help, Coca-Cola also signed a contract with the United Farm Workers of America.

What Americans today fail to realize is that this culture of despair and poverty still exists in many of the big companies that make millions of dollars off of the public.  The pamphlet also said something I agree with… "they will never stop the culture of corporate greed in America unless “THE PEOPLE” step up and stop buy from them...only Money talks!"  

I heartily agree! Don’t shop anywhere that does not give its employees a living wage and does not allow them to start a Union or grievance committee.

Stop bitching about people who work or worked for businesses that did not pay a decent wage who are on Food Stamps…remember but for the “Grace of God and how you were born…it could be YOU!”

Sunday, August 31, 2014

A grumpy hostess, school problems, tax revenue and the future of wind power and rural areas!

Wood House
We had the final dinner party for the museum group this past week…sometimes we invent reasons for them…but this time it was real birthdays.  As usual the locals turned out and the talk was fun and lighthearted except for the hostess who was in a bad mood (as always).  This ended up by winding down to an important issue facing the MECS district. 

The study on combining the two existing schools into one….and the reality is it would be at a ridiculous cost…and the study came to the same conclusion that I gave a full talk on at another dinner party.  It does not take a rocket scientist to know that you can’t put small children in a big child facility.

The cost of building an addition would be outrageous for a town of 5 thousand people and that selling the old building wouldn’t cover the bills of the old building. So why do we pay for these ridiculous studies?

Then the talk spread to the big problem of some lawsuit that is going to cause a tax reduction on wind farms assessment that is going to hurt the school tax income…well that would be a problem!  But where is the information on this?  Why don’t we know about this?  Who has this information?

I went on line and sure enough there are articles but none that give a clear answer. 

The existing problem is that we have no real tax base in this rural area.  “Agribusiness” is not the same as storefronts, sales tax revenue (food is exempt from sales tax) and no industry that pays a living wage and has benefits.  (I bet a good 50% work for government or schools that draw off more tax dollars)

We do have houses being sold for taxes in large numbers because people cannot pay their taxes and these are sold to people who cannot fix them up because they are poor… or to landlords who turn them into rentals. 

Rentals lower the tax value of the houses around them in the majority of cases…they also cause a fluctuation in the number of children who attend the schools…some years many more…some years many less.

The need is for single-family houses that are in good condition that raise the tax base and not for rentals that appeal to occupants that are prone… in a rural area… to be poor and draw on government subsidies, and yes that becomes a tax burden on the county tax payers.

So what is the answer???

The answer is a sustainable economy made up of the correct percentages of industry, agriculture, retail and residential…something we have ignored in this county for years…a county...I might add..that gives people working for it insurance for life after only ten run by supervisors on a flawed weighted vote who are not particularly capable of spending enough time and energy on problem solving for the future… reactive rather than proactive.

Oh well...

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Yes folks.. it is the end of summer...Labor Day... and Elderberry time! Whoo Hoo!

Well folks it is that time of year again...yes "Elderberry Time".  A time when full grown older women wander roadsides and hills looking for and picking bushes with Elderberries on them.

Went over to Pat Utter's porch with Cathy Nagle the other dayand there was Pat sitting in a chair with the largest bowl I have ever seen on her lap... picking the little stems off of what seemed like a million Elderberries.

For those who do not know what they look like they are miniature berries attached to a stalk with miniature stems that you have to pull off....time consuming...Oh Yeah!

My friends Nellie and Pauline would go picking and then spend hours with TWEEZERS picking the little stems off of them...hours and hours of work.  They were also so possesive of their patch of bushes you had to be "in" to know where they were, and of who got the berries from those bushes.

One year we all went Elderberrying (as I called it) and it was a banner year.  They totted home bags and bags of the tiny fruit... and so did I.  I also put together the Labor Day picnic out in my side yard and all the neighbors gathered for the last big hurrah of the summer... with yes... fresh elderberry pie as dessert.

During the festivities a friend Marlene stopped and seeing the elderberry pie exclaimed that her mother was just talking about them...too bad she could no longer get around...and Marlene wished she could get her and her mom could do their tradition of cleaning and baking a pie. So I gave her my bag that they could clean together and bake with...  This gesture was not welcomed by my unison "Why my nerve giving away elderberries from "their" patch!"  I was shocked.

So not wanting to offend I climbed Lebanon Hill and went to where I was told there was a stash and picked two bags full and brought them to then as a peace offering...where as tradition had it, Pauline sat for hours pulling the little stems with covetous glee....

I am sure that everywhere in this rural area there are home freezers filled with berries that will never be used...but that seem like the thing to have stored...

Pat said, "And they are FREE!"  Hmmmm $3.89 a gallon for gas to run around in your car to get them, hours cleaning and storing, electricity to freeze them...but free for the picking...AND OF COURSE....TRADITION!

Here is a link to my other article and below a poem....

Elderberry Time

As August’s sun heats the hills,
And balmy breezes fill the air,

We set about in bright green color, 

Searching for the fruit of summer there.

Up steep hills, across the pasture, 
Down against the forest’s wall, 
We seek a tiny little prize: 
The smallest berry of them all.

Then about a tattered building,
In a patch thick and tall,

We spot the booty we were seeking 

And try quite quick to pick them all.

The gleaming dark purple color 
Gives a clue to what they’ll be: 
For in a pie or in a bottle, 
The fruit is the “Elderberry”. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The "Super Moon", Sacagawea, Lewis & Clark and Me!

Last night as the moon peeked from behind the clouds and trees… my whole house was bathed in silver, almost like a spotlight was on it.  I managed to make it out to the porch in the dark and sat gazing at the moon through the summer foliage on the trees.  What a sight…a surreal image that could have been from any of the two hundred years history of the house.

The scene made me think about the book I had just finished on the Lewis & Clark Expedition, the book is “Undaunted Courage” by Stephen E. Ambrose.  The book takes you on the trip across the then Louisiana Purchase and is a multi-year odyssey that looks for a water route to the Pacific Ocean.  We wander over the Great Divide, up raging rivers, and across untouched plains.

For any person who has been west to Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks it is way to relive seeing the Great Continental Divide and the high peaks, the Bitterroot Valley and the hot springs… but it makes you sad in a way that you are not there now enjoying the wilderness without electronics, TV, and the news.

It also points out what the west has lost with its vast herds of wildlife and its fast flowing rivers that have now been tamed in spots.  We can see the meadows filled with thousands of elk and bison, they… the beaver and his furry friends… were much the objects the hunt… not for food but for their hides…and of course for the money it brought.  Yes money it brought! Seems we have been a wasteful nation that has used its resources poorly for many years.

And there is Sacagawea, having just had a baby...tying it on her back in a baby-board and carrying it in wild canoe rides, on horseback across the mountains, through the prairies… to find her homeland of the Shoshone. Then acting as a translator (why they hired her husband) and female slave (in part) since it was she that would look for roots, put up and take down a teepee made of skin and…  she who goes unmentioned in her accomplishment on this trip until the end when Lewis wrote a letter to Charbonneau, Sacagawea’s husband saying, “Your woman who accompanied you that long dangerous and fatiguing route to the Pacific Ocean and back, deserved a greater reward for her attention and services on that route than we had in our power to give her!”  I guess nothing has changed for women huh!

Still in looking at that super moon last night, as I felt my wanderlust rising with the moon… I wished that I could have been there.  I wish I could go back to the dark of a time before lights and wandered it but for a day… in the scenes of yesteryear… before man tamed the land and pushed the poor Native Americans off and claimed it for his wealth.

**Today I understand... in places you can see and hear the gas and oil derricks & compressors, as well as view some oil spills on the way!  After money again!