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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Travelling The Underground Railroad

The John Hossack House

The John Hossack House

When we think about the history of slavery in the United States we often think of the Underground Railroad and attempts made by Abolitionists and others to help slaves escape from the South to the free states of the North and Canada. What we don’t realize is that despite the near mythic role popular history has ascribed to it, the Underground Railroad was in its heyday (1850-1860) the route to freedom for fewer than 30,000 slaves by most estimates – out of a slave population of 4.5 million.

There are many places throughout the Northeast and parts of the Midwest where the Underground Railroad’s stations and safe houses can still be seen.

The Bialystoker Synagogue

The Bialystoker Synagogue on New York's Lower East Side

The Bialystoker Synagogue on New York’s Lower East Side

The Bialystoker Synagogue located in New York City, it was built as the Willett Street Methodist Episcopal Church in 1826. The building contains one of the railroad’s rest stops in a small attic above its balcony.

The Appoquinimink Friends Meeting House

The Appoquinimink Friends Meeting House

The Appoquinimink Friends Meeting House

The Appoquinimink Friends Meeting House, Odessa, DE: It is said that Harriet Tubman once hid in this still-functioning meeting house built in 1785.

The Erastus Farnham House

The Erastus Farnham House

The Erastus Farnham House

The Erastus Farnham House, Fremont, IN: Located just south of Indiana’s border with Michigan, this was an Underground Railroad stop. Indiana was a slave state, but Michigan was not.

The Octagon House

The Octagon House in Fond-du-Lac, WI

The Octagon House in Fond-du-Lac, WI

The Octagon House, Fond-du-Lac, WI: One of the many hidden passages in this 1856 house was used to shelter slaves heading to freedom.

Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

Painting of runaway slaves who lived in the Great Dismal Swamp

Painting of runaway slaves who lived in the Great Dismal Swamp

Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, VA and NC: Runaway slaves did not only find refuge in brick and mortar safe houses, many hid in the swamp to escape detection until they could safely make their way to freedom. One of Harriet Tubman’s novels, Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp, is about the Maroon’s who lived here.

John Hossack House

The John Hossack House

The John Hossack House

John Hossack House, Ottawa, IL:  Abolitionist John Hossack sheltered fugitive slaves in this house. In 1860 he was convicted in Federal Court of violating the Fugitive Slave Law.

Reverend George B. Hitchcock House

Hitchcock House

Hitchcock House

Reverend George B. Hitchcock House, Lewis, IA: Hitchcock was an Abolitionist who hid slaves here in the 1850s.

Mount Zion A.M.E. Church

Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church

Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church

Mount Zion A.M.E. Church, Woolwich Township, NJ: This historic 1799 church was an important stop on the Underground Railroad.

How Much Water Do You Need Every Day?

Water covers nearly three quarters of our planet’s surface, falls on us as rain and snow, sustains all life, and is as misunderstood as it is taken for granted.  We drink it, wash with it, play in it, grow our food with it, and use it to carry away our waste, but most of us never give it a great deal of thought.

You don’t need to be a specialist to understand water’s health benefits, however, so you may want to consider these essential facts.

Weight control: Anybody who has successfully lost weight and kept it off will tell you that drinking water — which is calorie free — before every meal and throughout the day will make you feel more full. Eating foods with high water content, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, creates the same satiating effect while adding only minimal calories to your diet.

Fluid balance: Each one of us is about 60 percent water. Water drives digestion, absorption of nutrients, and circulation, while maintaining the body’s internal temperature. When you’re thirsty, your body is telling you it needs to replenish its fluids, and you ignore those signals at your peril. Of course, you can drink any liquid — any liquid except booze, that is. Although alcohol is a liquid, it actually dehydrates you and depletes your body’s fluids.

Good for your muscles: Fluid is essential to the health of every cell in your body, and if those cells don’t get enough fluid they will literally dry up and die. If you’re exercising or exerting yourself physically in some way, you’ll need even more fluid to stay healthy.

A good hair day and a good skin day: Your skin and hair are made up of those same water-hungry cells. Drinking enough water won’t reverse the aging process, but your skin will certainly look more dry and wrinkled if you don’t drink enough.

Getting rid of waste and toxins: Our cells remove wastes and toxins by excreting urine and solid matter, and all of that waste removal also requires water. Without enough water, your urine will become dark and smelly, and you’ll be constipated because your intestines will be forced to draw water from your solid waste. And if that’s not enough to convince you, highly concentrated urine can lead to kidney stones, which are really, really painful.

So how much water do you need? Not so long ago, the conventional wisdom urged everyone to consume 64 ounces of water a day – or eight 8-ounce glasses — but today experts say we need even more than that. Many variables dictate the amount of water that each one of us needs, including your weight and activity level, whether you live at a high altitude or in a hot climate, and your overall health. In general, you should drink between half an ounce and an ounce of water for every pound of weight – that’s between 75 and 150 ounces, or roughly three to five quarts, for someone who weighs 150 pounds. Symptoms of illness such as fever, vomiting, and diarrhea will mean you’ll need still more fluid to replenish what you’ve lost.

Too much water? Hyponatremia is a rare condition that occurs when your kidneys can’t get rid of excess water. The minerals (electrolytes) in your blood become too diluted and cause your blood sodium to drop to dangerously low levels. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, memory loss, confusion, and lethargy. But hyponatremia generally has an underlying medical cause (kidney disease, congestive heart failure, liver failure among them) , and isn’t caused by simply drinking too much.

Photo: Wikipedia

Some Dental Treatments May Be Unnecessary

You’re not alone if you cringe at the mere thought of going to the dentist, but go you must — lest you learn the adage ‘be true to your teeth or they’ll be false to you’ from personal experience.

Regular, twice-yearly visits are generally recommended, but how do you know if your dentist is recommending something that’s not necessary? You won’t, unless you become an educated dental consumer.

In October, Mother Jones reported on a jaw-dropping op-ed from ADA News — the official publication of the American Dental Association — in which a pediatric dentist described “a disturbing trend he called ‘creative diagnosis’ — the peddling of unnecessary treatments.” In response, another dentist wrote in, describing patients who come to him for second opinions after a first dentist recommends several thousand dollars worth of treatment, only to discover that nothing actually needs to be done.

Upon investigation Mother Jones found all manner of so-called practice builder seminars, sites, and publications that instruct dentists on how to “maximize revenue.” Although up-selling is not a new phenomenon in any area of business, including dentistry, many things are contributing to its increase (including high tuition, student loans, low insurance reimbursements, and the general state of the economy.)

What should you look out for during your next trip to the dentist? Here is what Mother Jones recommends:

First, beware of specials: That laser dentistry and whitening package may be a ploy to get you in the door so the practice can up sell you on more-profitable procedures. Use caution if your dentist insists on replacing all your old fillings or always recommends crowns instead of fillings. And look out for excessive X-rays: The ADA says healthy patients need a full set (14 to 22) every two years at the most. If your dentist recommends a special “cone-beam” X-ray, get a second opinion, since, along with a 3-D picture of your mouth, it delivers a dose of radiation up to 18 times that of a traditional dental X-ray. Finally, when it comes to children’s dentists, make sure to find a board-certified pediatric specialist, since not all dentists that cater to children have special training.

Just be sure you do your research before that throbbing in your mouth gets too painful.

Photo: Matt Lemmon via Flickr

Obesity Causes Silent Heart Damage

You’re probably aware that carrying too much weight can damage your health. But you may not know that a lot of the damage — including diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure — can develop without your even feeling it, and can lead to heart disease, disability ,or death.

According to a study conducted at the Johns Hopkins Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease and published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology: Heart Failure, “obesity is a well-known accomplice in the development of heart disease.” The study’s lead investigator, Dr. Chiadi Ndumele, adds that “our findings suggest it may be a solo player that drives heart failure independently of other risk factors that are often found among those with excess weight.”

More than 9,500 participants between the ages of 53 and 75 from Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, and North Carolina were followed for 12 years. None of the participants had heart disease at the start of the study. During the timeframe of the study, 869 developed heart failure, an inability to properly pump blood throughout the body.

The study showed that severely obese people developed heart failure at twice the rate of those with normal weight. Obesity was determined to be an independent risk for heart damage and heart failure, often without any outward symptoms.

“The direct relationship we found between obesity and subclinical heart damage is quite potent and truly concerning from a public health standpoint given the growing number of obese people in the United States and worldwide,” Dr. Ndumele said in a news release.

Dr. Roger Blumenthal, director of the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease, added: “these results are a wake-up call that obesity may further fuel the growing rate of heart failure, and clinicians who care for obese people should not be lulled into a false sense of security by the absence of traditional risk factors, such as high cholesterol, diabetes and hypertension.”

“Obese people, even when free of cardiovascular symptoms, should be monitored for the earliest signs of heart failure and counseled on ways to improve their lifestyle habits,” he said.

Chocolate: Beyond The Hype, A Bit Of Tasty Advice

Among the favorite indulgences of the holiday season is chocolate in all its many forms, from peppermint-studded bark and tinsel-wrapped kisses to white chocolate coffee drinks, with a thousand varieties of bonbons, candies, cookies, and cakes besides. Who’s going to pass up a thick, creamy cup of hot chocolate when the weather turns frigid? And those treats now seem even more enticing because science suggests that cacao, the tropical bean from which chocolate is made, contains beneficial phytonutrients whose effects may enhance cardiovascular health, reduce insulin resistance, improve cognitive function, and even make weight loss easier, according to various reports.

But science also clearly warns us, with even more certainty, that many people annually gain weight between Halloween and the New Year — and that most forms of chocolate also contain sugar and lots of calories. So the question is how to enjoy this remarkable confection — whose genus name Theobroma means “food of the gods” — and its potential benefits, without damaging your health or expanding your waistline.

As with so many substances that we consume, the bane —  or the boon — is in the dose.

You don’t have to look far to find media hype about the health benefits of chocolate, especially the darkest varieties. Yet while it’s true that certain natural chemicals in cacao — namely flavanols, flavonoids, and antioxidants — offer health benefits, nobody recommends switching to an all-chocolate diet.

Researchers believe antioxidants help protect against the damage caused by normal bodily functions such as breathing, and against contaminants like cigarette smoke. Without adequate antioxidants, oxidation occurs and can result in increased LDL cholesterol – the bad kind that causes arterial plaque.

Flavonoids are found in any number of foods besides chocolate, such as fruits and vegetables. Foods high in these chemicals boost antioxidants.

Flavanols also possess antioxidant properties and may be beneficial to the cardio-vascular system by contributing to lower blood pressure, improving blood flow to the heart and brain, and decreasing the sticky characteristics of blood platelets that cause them to form clots. But keep in mind that cranberries, apples, peanuts, onions, tea, and red wine are also high in flavanols.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, it’s important to understand that not all forms of chocolate contain levels of the beneficial chemicals high enough to do you any good.  Before natural cocoa becomes the candy, drink, or flavor we love to eat, it goes through lots of processing – the more processing, the fewer beneficial chemicals. (If you’ve ever tasted natural cocoa, unsweetened, you already know that it’s very strong and bitter, and not suitable for dessert.)

“Although it was once believed that dark chocolate contained the highest levels flavanols, recent research indicates that, depending on how the dark chocolate was processed, this may not be true. The good news is that most major chocolate manufacturers are looking for ways to keep the flavanols in their processed chocolates.”

A study published in  Nature Neuroscience showed that cocoa’s flavanols may increase blood flow to the brain and thus improve some memory functions. But even if this proves to be true, it seems unlikely that cocoa alone will be used to treat Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. Such conditions are highly complex and their negative effects probably can’t be attributed to a single cause. Instead, the hope is that studies of cacao will lead to treatments for common age-related memory loss.

So what’s the healthiest choice for your holiday chocolate fix?  Skip the chocolate cake and ice cream and opt for dark chocolate — in particular, bars with more than 60 percent cacao, which contain proportionately less sugar and fat. Delicious as milk chocolate is, it also contains much more fat and sugar than the dark varieties. You’ll find that a small bite of really high quality dark chocolate, eaten slowly and deliberately, can be very satisfying — and virtually guilt-free.

Photo: Wikipedia

Top 7 Vaccines: Essential For Adults — And Vital To Public Health

If you think immunization shots are just for kids, think again.  The protection you receive against some childhood illnesses can wear off over time, and your age, job, lifestyle, and underlying health problems can put you at risk for other diseases that can be prevented or ameliorated with a vaccine. In addition, adults need to be immunized so they don’t spread some very serious diseases.

It should go without saying that you must discuss any and all of your health needs with your own doctor, but we have compiled a list of adult-vaccine guidelines as a reminder.  It’s also a good idea to keep a record of your immunizations in one central place – luckily, there are many, many apps for that.

Let’s get one notion out of the way first: There is absolutely no scientific evidence that vaccines cause chronic illnesses. On the contrary, in places where vaccination rates have been falling recently, preventable diseases once under control thanks to immunization are now on the increase.   Immunizations save lives and have been proven safe and effective for generations.

All Adults

The flu (influenza) is not just a bad cold, but a virus that can stop you in your tracks in its mild forms, and kill you in its most virulent. Now that winter–  and flu season — are here, it’s important to get vaccinated. And yes, you need to do that every year – each year’s flu strains are different, and the previous year’s immunization will not offer maximum protection for the current year. This vaccine is especially important for adults over 60, people with chronic health conditions, and pregnant women.

It’s likely that you received a DTP vaccine as a child. This vaccine protects you against two diseases we don’t hear much about in the developed world (tetanus and diphtheria), and one, whooping cough (pertussis) which is making a comeback because some people have gotten lax about vaccinating their children. In addition, every adult should be getting a DT (diphtheria and tetanus) booster every ten years, as the protective effects wear off.

Which Flu Vaccine?

There are different types of flu shots, and one vaccine that’s not a shot at all, but although they all protect against the flu, they’re not all the same.

The standard flu vaccine is made of dead virus. Although it can’t give you a case of the flu, some people may react with some minor flu-like symptoms.  There’s also an enhanced vaccine for people with weakened immune systems, and those over the age of 65.

FluMist, an alternative vaccine made from live virus, is sprayed into your nostrils just like any other nasal spray. But this option is not for everyone and is recommended only for otherwise healthy children and adults between the ages of 2 and 49. It is  not recommended for pregnant women.

Young Adults 19 – 26

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus that is spread through sexual contact, and for the most part you won’t know that you have it or that you have been exposed because it has no symptoms. HPV is a nasty group of about 40 bugs that can cause cervical cancer in women, and anal cancers and genital warts in both sexes. The HPV vaccine, given in three doses, prevents the most common cervical cancers and genital warts. You should get vaccinated if you are a woman up to the age of 26, a man up to the age of 21, and a man between the ages of 22 and 26 if you have anal sex with other men.

Adults Over 60

As we age we become more susceptible to any number of health problems, partially because our immune systems weaken as we get older.

One of those problems is a condition known as shingles, resulting from exactly the same virus (herpes zoster) that causes chicken pox in children. If you had chicken pox as a child — and plenty of baby boomers did — you’re at risk for shingles because the virus never leaves your body and merely stays dormant. So if you’re over 60, talk to your doctor. Even if you do get shingles, chances are it will be a milder case if you’ve had the vaccine.

Older adults also need Pneumococcal vaccines, which protect against pneumococcal disease, including infections in the lungs and bloodstream. They’re also recommended for adults younger than 65 years who have certain chronic health conditions.

 Vaccines If You Have An Underlying Health Condition

According to the Centers for Disease Control CDC), anyone with the following conditions should speak to their doctor about appropriate vaccinations.

Pregnant Women

Women who are pregnant should get a Tdap vaccine once between the 27th and 36th week of each pregnancy. They should also get the seasonal flu vaccine.  Your doctor will tell you if you need other vaccines, but a good set of guidelines can be found at Vaccines for Pregnant Women.

Healthcare Workers

Those who work in health care find themselves exposed to very serious and sometimes deadly diseases. The good news is that there are vaccinations to prevent you from getting some of them.

In addition to the flu and Tdap vaccines, healthcare workers should also be vaccinated against

  • Hepatitis B
  • Measles
  • Mumps
  • Rubella
  • Chicken Pox
  • Meningitis

International Travelers

Those of us who live in the United States can sometimes forget that we are relatively free of some of the most deadly diseases that plague other parts of the world, especially less developed and tropical countries. The CDC provides standard guidelines about immunizations you may need when you travel, as does the International Society of Travel Medicine and the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. If you’re going to places where Yellow Fever is present, the CDC has guidelines for protecting against that illness too.

Photo: St. Louis Today

An Electronic Blood Sensor Becomes Reality

If you’ve been waiting for all the tech gadgets used in the various Star Trek TV shows and movies to hit the  market, you know we’ve gotten closer over the years. Touch-tablets for reading, two-way visual conversations over long distances, and talking computers have all become a reality — but that amazing Tricorder is still on the horizon.  Or is it?

A new sensor device called the Reusable Handheld Electrolyte and Lab Technology for Humans (rHealth X), manufactured by the DNA Medical Institute (DMI) in Massachusetts, uses lasers and minuscule test strips to scan a single drop of blood and detect a whole range of diseases, from the flu to Ebola. The blood mixes with the nano-strips and determines things like number of platelets, blood glucose, or thyroid function. It’s capable of performing 22 different tests.

The rHealth X also comes with a wearable gadget that will monitor your heart rate and breathing, and transmit the info to your smart phone. Sending all of your vitals directly to your doctor in this way might be the Holy Grail: Remote diagnosis. And who doesn’t want to save a trip to the doctor?

The DMI team that is developing the rHealth X has just been awarded the $525,000 Nokia Sensing X Challenge prize. It will use the money to further perfect the device, which will eventually come in consumer and health care professional models.

The transporter will have to wait, though.

Photo: Bobbie Johnson via Flickr

Watch Out For Kissing Bug Disease

It seems like only yesterday that we were all in a panic about Ebola, and now there’s something else to worry about – Chagas disease.

The official name for Chagas disease is American trypanosomiasis.  It’s an infection caused by a parasite, which results in skin inflammation and can lead to inflammation of the heart and the intestines. That’s not good. It’s transmitted by the “kissing bug,” a blood-sucking insect in the Triatominae family of creepy things.

Why should we worry about this?  The “kissing bug” and Chagas disease were once thought to be confined to Mexico, Central, and South America, but researchers are finding that they’re spreading, especially in the southern and southwestern United States, according to an article on

“The CDC, however, still believes most people with the disease in the United States were infected in Mexico, Central and South America,” the website notes.

The bugs are found throughout the southern half of the country, and feed on animals and people at night. In a pilot study at Baylor University in Texas, some 17 study participants tested positive for the parasite that causes Chagas disease. And in addition to the bite of the “kissing bug,” Chagas can also be transmitted through the blood of an infected human.

Photo: Wikipedia

Are You A Registered Organ Donor?

Are you an organ donor?  Nobody wants to think about the circumstances under which that would become an option, but upsetting as it is, it’s something that all of us should consider.

The United States has a serious shortage of organ donors. According to an article in The Atlantic, 21 people die each day in the United States for want of a donated organ, and in New York alone there are over 10,000 people on the transplant waiting list.

Organ donor registration varies by state, but the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network tells us that 45 percent of American adults were registered as of 2012.

The big question is, why are relatively few people registered?

“It’s a touchy question, something non-donors aren’t necessarily keen to answer,” write The Atlantic’s Tiffanie Wen. “But experts say there is a large disparity between the number of people who say that they support organ donation in theory and the number of people who actually register.”

What accounts for the disparity? In a nutshell, it comes down to a question of trust.

A study by the University of Geneva (Switzerland) “cites mistrust in the medical field and lack of understanding about brain death as major barriers to donation.”  The study showed that many people would not donate the organs of a loved one even if he or she were declared brain dead.

Mistrust of the medical profession is also a factor. If you’ve ever stood watch at the bedside of a dying relativet, for example, you may think the hospital staff is not quite as attentive as they should or could be, and that would make it less likely that you would consent.  And there are plenty of people out there who believe that if your doctor or a hospital knows you’re an organ donor, they’ll be less likely to do everything they can to save your life.

Those are huge hurdles to overcome.

Photo: Wikipedia


In Search Of Indie Bookstores – Southern Edition

The southern United States is a world unto itself. In fact it’s more than just a set of geographical locations; it’s a way of life with its own food, music, accents, and history. Literature is also a big part of that life and history, and nowhere is it better represented than in the south’s independent bookstores. Regardless of which southern state you visit, there’s no shortage of them.

We can’t do justice to each and every bookstore, but we’ll point out some of the best. You can plan your own trip around these homages to the written word and southern culture by looking at the list at the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance or at New Pages.

1. This tour starts in Baltimore, MD and the Ivy Bookshop. This locally-owned literary gem stocks a wide range of titles and focuses on promoting the local community.

2. It’s no wonder that a city with perhaps more wonks and wonk wannabes per square inch than any other place in the country has some formidable bookstores, and I would be hard pressed to choose the best. But for the quintessential Washington, DC experience you have to make at least one visit to Kramer Books. It’s a literary and a social institution.

3. In Richmond, VA the cozy Fountain Bookstore pays special attention to local and regional authors and has a good calendar of author events. It’s obvious that this shop is a labor of love so you can count on the staff to be helpful and friendly too.

4. Emoke B’Racz, an immigrant from Hungary, founded Malaprop’s Bookstore Cafe in 1982 when Asheville, NC‘s downtown was a wasteland. More than 30 years later, Malaprop’s and Asheville are thriving (Huffington Post named it the “Hippie capital of the south”). With its well-regarded calendar of events and assiduous promotion of literary diversity, this is a place where you’ll want to linger.

5. When you visit the Hub City Bookshop in Spartanburg, SC you’ll see just the most visible piece of what the Hub City Writers Project – a brilliant, grass-roots literary enterprise – has accomplished in less than 20 years. This four-year-old shop is a must-stop on any author tour and is an integral part of a community that demonstrates its love of writing and those who create it in myriad ways.

6. From its name you would think A Cappella Books in Atlanta, GA is a shop dedicated to music. But although that section is one of its specialties, you’ll find all manner of new and used books here, a great section of progressive titles, and a well-curated program of author events.

7. You’re in for a treat when you visit the Books & Books flagship store in the Coral Gables section of Miami, FL. Founder Mitchell Kaplan is one of the eminences grises of the indie bookstore (dare I call it a) movement and a co-founder of the Miami Book Fair International. Today Books & Books has three shops in Florida, one in Grand Cayman, and one in tony Westhampton Beach on Long Island. Their author events are superb for both author and audience, and their selection and service is friendly, knowledgeable, and professional.

8. Back in the pre-internet, pre-Amazon, pre-chain bookstore days if you wanted a copy of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee and Walker Evans you could go to the library. And if it wasn’t available you could request it from inter-library loan. Or you could travel all the way to Oxford, MS to Square Books. Since 1979 this bastion of southern literature has been a centerpiece of life for the University of Mississippi, but it’s also one of the best indie stores in the country with a huge local, national, and international selection. It’s another must-stop for authors on tour and with good reason.

9. Leave it to a novelist to buck a trend. It was for want of a local bookstore that Ann Patchett founded Parnassus Books in Nashville, TN in 2011. Since then it has become an oasis for book lovers with its selections of all things literary, and its extensive stock of work by local authors.

10. We’re going to end our tour in New Orleans where Octavia Books specializes in the bountiful literature of their hometown. This is the place to go to hear local authors talk about their work and to see a side of the city you won’t find on the well-worn map of tourist sites.

Watch for the next edition of The National Memo‘s In Search of Indie Bookstores.


Historic Mansions And Houses Of New York’s Hudson River Valley


Eleanor Roosevelt's Cottage at Val-Kill, Hyde Park, NY


New York is so much more than its southernmost metropolis. Just a short trip from New York City, you can spend one or more days visiting some seriously gorgeous historic homes belonging to some of the country’s movers and shakers.

In addition to elegant, often regal interiors the grounds and gardens of the sites are not to be missed. Some include spectacular views of the Hudson River and its surrounding hills.

These are all four-season attractions so whether you take in the fall colors, or wait for blankets of white snow, or plan ahead for lush spring and summer floral blooms, you can’t go wrong.


The Ebony Library At Glenview

The Ebony Library At Glenview

Glenview, just north of the city in Yonkers, is part of the Hudson River Museum. Much of the 1877 mansion is still being restored, but a number of rooms are open to visitors.

Photo: Hudson River Museum


Boscobel, Garrison, NY

Boscobel, Garrison, NY

If you’re a fan of the Federal period and roses, Boscobel is the place for you. The grounds are filled with numerous rose varieties and the house is a showcase of Federal art and antiques.



Clermont State Historic Site, Germantown, NY

Clermont State Historic Site, Germantown, NY

Home to the family of Robert Livingston, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, the house was burned by British troops in 1775. The mansion was restored in the 1920s and boasts an impressive collection of sculptures and portraits.

Photo: Clermont Historic Site


The Rose Garden At Kykuit, Tarrytown, NY

The Rose Garden At Kykuit, Tarrytown, NY

Kykuit (pronounced kyke it), is one of the Rockefeller family’s many estates. The Georgian mansion and the Beaux Arts grounds house the late Governor Nelson Rockefeller’s collection of 20th century sculpture including many by Calder, Picasso, and Noguchi. There is also a collection of antique cars and horse-drawn carriages.



Author Washington Irving's Home, Sunnyside, Tarrytown, NY

Author Washington Irving’s Home, Sunnyside, Tarrytown, NY

Washington Irving’s home, where he created some of his wonderfully evocative tales of the Hudson Valley in the 18th and early 19th centuries is replete with Romantic-style gardens.



Springwood, President Franklin Roosevelt's Home, Hyde Park, NY

Springwood, President Franklin Roosevelt’s Home, Hyde Park, NY

The Roosevelt mansion at Hyde Park, is the birthplace of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd President. He spent much of his life here and today the house retains the rooms in which he and his family lived as well as his Presidential library. Both the President and Mrs. Roosevelt are buried on the grounds.



Eleanor Roosevelt's Cottage at Val-Kill, Hyde Park, NY

Eleanor Roosevelt’s Cottage at Val-Kill, Hyde Park, NY

Val-Kill is a part of the Roosevelt estate, and it’s where Eleanor Roosevelt had a cottage from 1926 until her death in 1962.

Photo: Wikipedia

Van Cortlandt Manor

The Gardens of the Van Cortlandt Mansion, Hyde Park, NY

The Gardens of Van Cortlandt Manor, Croton-on-Hudson, NY

John D. Rockefeller purchased this estate in the 1940s and saw to it that it was preserved. Today it stands as a stunning example of how the one percent lived in the earliest days of the United States.


Vanderbilt Mansion

The Vanderbilt Mansion Living Room, Hyde Park, NY

The Vanderbilt Mansion Living Room, Hyde Park, NY

The Vanderbilt mansion is a study in excess that rivals that of even some of today’s billionaires.



Wilderstein, Rhinebeck, NY

Wilderstein, Rhinebeck, NY

This longtime home of the Suckley family was the residence of Margaret (Daisy) Suckley, FDR’s distant cousin and his longtime friend and confidant.

Photo: Wikipedia

There’s No Such Thing As A Free Lunch Or A Free Trip

Money-making and free offer scams are nothing new, but the web sure has aided their proliferation. And why do they continue? Because otherwise sane, intelligent people keep falling for them, and probably always will.

Conde Nast Travelers consumer advocate has yet another example: the old ‘you’ve won a free cruise’ gambit.

Let me cut to the chase – the free cruise really is not free.

But here’s how this scam and others like it work.

You receive a large, glitzy, colorful piece of mail or a seductive email telling you that you’ve won a free cruise, or trip, and all you have to do to claim your prize is call a phone number.  Calling the phone number will connect you to a well-trained salesperson who will invite you to a presentation of some sort, usually for a time-share.

But let’s say you resist the phone sales pitch. “Even if you don’t fall for the pitch, redeeming the “free” cruise will be tricky, because the company will add fees and restrictions to the point where you’ll pay more for the “free” vacation than if you’d just booked it through your favorite travel agent.”

Such scamming is against the law, but scammers are sly and resourceful, so when one company is forced to close up shop, another pops up under another corporate name.  It’s not difficult to do.

When offers for free anything come in the mail, or into your email box throw them in the trash or hit delete, it’ll be great exercise.

Photo: Roger Wollstadt via Flickr

Women Often Dismiss Signs of Heart Disease

Nobody wants to find out they have heart disease, but according to a new study women are more likely than men to ignore the danger signs and delay essential care. And the later treatment is started, the fewer the options.

The findings, published in a press release from the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress in Vancouver found men who developed symptoms such as angina (a type of chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart) sought treatment sooner, rather than ignoring or denying them or dismissing them as unimportant. Women on the other hand were more likely to assume that the symptoms would go away or get better on their own.

In addition to dismissing obvious warning signs such as chest pain, pain in the arm, or shortness of breath, both men and women may not be aware that there are many atypical signs of heart disease such as nausea, sweating, jaw pain, or any pain that is unusual. But women may experience and describe pain differently than men.

The press release also referred to earlier studies that show women were more concerned about the economic impact being out of commission would cause, and less concerned about the most effective treatments.

Photo: James Palinsad via Flickr

Richmond, VA Is For History Lovers

Jeffersosn Davis, the Museum of the Confederacy

Jefferson Davis, the Museum of the Confederacy

For American history buffs, and especially for Civil War devotees, a trip to Richmond, VA provides a window into a past that few other destinations offer. But it would be a mistake to peg Richmond as just a collection of American history sites because the city has plenty to offer in the way of great food, shopping, sports, fine art, and quaint neighborhoods to go along with its 400 years as a hub of history and politics.

Once the land of the native American Powhatans, the construction of Fort Charles in 1607 turned the area into a busy and prosperous trading center for fur, hides, and of course tobacco. The state capital was moved here from Williamsburg in 1780, and in 1782 Richmond became a city and the official capital of Virginia.

The Valentine Richmond History Center

The Valentine Richmond History Center

The Valentine Richmond History Center

Located in the heart of historic downtown, the Valentine has been collecting, preserving and interpreting Richmond’s 400-year history for over a century.

Agecroft Hall


Agecroft Hall

Agecroft Hall: An actual Tudor estate, Agecroft Hall was built in Lancashire, England in the late 15th century.  In 1925 it was purchased by Richmonder Thomas Williams, Jr, and transported piece by piece and reassembled on the banks of the James River.

Monument Avenue

Stonewall Jackson Statue at Monument Avenue

Stonewall Jackson Statue at Monument Avenue

Divided by a grassy mall, Monument Avenue is lined with some of Richmond’s most beautiful homes. Its statues depict some of the heroes of the Confederacy, such as Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis, but in 1995, amid a great deal of controversy, a monument to tennis star and native Richmonder Arthur Ashe was approved.

Edgar Allen Poe Museum

Edgar Allan Poe Museum

Edgar Allan Poe Museum

Edgar Allan Poe Museum:  Poe lived and worked in 19th century Richmond, and the museum house an extensive collection of his manuscripts, letters, first editions, and personal belongings.

Richmond’s Capitol Building

Richmond's Capitol Building

Richmond’s Capitol Building

The Virginia Capitol and Executive Mansion: Designed by Thomas Jefferson, this is the oldest state legislative assembly in the United States. The Executive Mansion next door has been continuously occupied since 1813.

Museum and White House of the Confederacy

Jeffersosn Davis, the Museum of the Confederacy

Jeffersosn Davis, the Museum of the Confederacy

Museum and White House of the Confederacy: A treasure trove of artifacts and personal items related to the Confederacy, many of which were donated by the soldiers who fought and their families.

The American Civil War Center

The American Civil War Center

The American Civil War Center

The American Civil War Center: The Civil War as seen through Union, Confederate, and African-American eyes housed in the last remaining building of the Tredgear Iron Works, the South’s main producer of armaments.

Chickahominy Bluff

Chickahominy Bluff, Richmond National Battlefied

Chickahominy Bluff, Richmond National Battlefied

Chickahominy Bluff: On June 26, 1862, General Robert E. Lee and 20,000 Confederate troops gathered here prior to the offensive known as the Seven Day Battles.

The John Marshall House

The John Marshall House

The John Marshall House

The John Marshall House:  The home of the fourth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of United States from 1790 until his death in 1835. He served as Chief Justice from 1801 to 1835 under President John Adams and is known to history as the Definer of the Constitution.

St. John’s Episcopal Church

St. John's Episcopal Church

St. John’s Episcopal Church

Located in picturesque Church Hill, Richmond’s oldest existing neighborhood, St. John’s Episcopal Church was where Patrick Henry gave his “Give me liberty, or give me death” speech in March 1775.

Hollywood Cemetery

The Confederate Monument in Hollywood Cemetery

The Confederate Monument in Hollywood Cemetery

Hollywood Cemetery dates back to 1847 and is the final resting place of U.S. Presidents James Monroe and John Tyler, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Civil War figures of every rank, and Virginia statesmen.

Great News! Chocolate Is Good For Your Brain

If you’re always looking for an excuse for your daily or hourly chocolate fix, now you’ve got one – and it’s actually good for you.

A new study headed by neurology professor Scott Small of the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, and published in the October 26 issue of Nature Neuroscience, showed that some of the natural chemicals in cocoa increase blood flow in some parts of the brain – the effect of which was an improvement in the recognition abilities in the study participants.

The chemicals, called cocoa flavanols, have been the subject of previous memory studies that have shown some correlation between them and some memory functions, but this was the first study to attempt to show cause and effect.

Whether or not studies of the effect of such chemicals can lead to treatments for Alzheimers disease or other forms of dementia is somewhat doubtful as those conditions are highly complex and the negative effects cannot be attributed to one simple cause and effect. Instead, the hope is that the studies will lead to treatment for common age-related memory loss.

But before you make a chocolate run to your local supermarket, be aware that you’ll need to consume over two-dozen chocolate bars every day to get the amount of flavanols you need. That will make you very fat and probably cause you to develop diabetes, which will create all sorts of other problems. There is currently no commercially available supplement that will provide you with the daily 900 milligrams of flavanols that might be effective, but if large-scale studies end up proving cause and effect, you can bet Big Pharma will find a way to turn a profit.

Photo: Wikipedia

Yes, Leprosy Is Still A Thing

Believe it or not, Leprosy, a disease that’s been documented since Biblical times, still exists in the United States today. But in case you feel an Ebola-like freak out coming on, take a deep breath – it’s really, really, really rare.  And nobody gets sent off to a leper colony anymore either, these days Leprosy (aka Hansen’s disease) gets successfully treated and cured with antibiotics.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) some 100 new cases each year are reported here.  Compare those stats with the worldwide ones, there were 250,000 cases around the world in 2008.

Caused by two bacteria Mycobacterium leprae and Mycobacterium lepromatosis, the exact method of transmission is not really known, but it is believe to be spread via nasal droplets. In addition, studies have shown it can be spread to humans who consume or handle armadillos, which is why most infections in the U.S. occur in Texas and Louisiana, the armadillo’s stopping grounds. But don’t blame the armadillo, they’re just convenient vectors; they’re native to north and south America so it’s likely they caught it from European explorers and settlers as far back as the 15th century. Prior to that Leprosy was unknown in the New World.

About 20 – 40 cases a year are diagnosed in those born in the United States, but most of the U.S. cases are in people born abroad who became infected before they came here. Leprosy rates are high in the developing world, but even there they on the decline.

Photo: Wikipedia

Non-Stop versus Direct Flights: Do You Know The Difference?

Sometimes looking at all that flight information can get confusing. So before you hit the purchase button, take a few minutes to review exactly what you’re buying, lest you get stuck with flights you don’t want.

A frequent mistake made by travelers is not realizing the difference between a non-stop flight and a direct flight, and that can make the difference between a relatively hassle-free trip, and one that’s far longer than you anticipated.

A non-stop flight is exactly what it says it is – you get on a plane at one airport and you get off at your destination airport. But the term direct flight can be confusing because it sounds as if you’re going directly from one point to your destination — you are, but you’re going to be making one or more stops in between without changing planes. To add to the confusion, direct flights have the same flight number from point of origin to destination.

And of course there’s the connecting flight – you get on one plane at one airport, get off at another airport, change planes and often terminals, get on another plane, and then land at your final destination, maybe.

Photo: Wikipedia