A BRIEF AND BROKEN MINI-HISTORY OF AMERICA – MARILYN ARMSTRONG

America was born bankrupt. We won a war we shouldn’t have won and created a country without any funding or industry. That’s the good part. The rest of it, not so much.

The United States is named that because we didn’t start out as a country. We were 13 colonies, all lined up against the Atlantic Ocean. The original thirteen were  New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.


The thing we had in common was original colonization by England, The French had Maine and the Spanish had Florida. All the rest were added after we became a “single” nation. Thus the United States because, in theory, our Constitution turned us into a single nation: “E Pluribus Unum,” or one from many.

Technically, we are one country. We pay taxes to a central government. The fifty stars on the flag represent all current states. The original 13 colonies are commemorated by a stripe (thirteen stripes) on that flag.

From a cultural and historic point of view, there are huge differences between the fifty states. Texas, for example, was its own country before we took it from Mexico.

California also belonged to Mexico and many of its oldest residents are descendants from the Mexican gentry who stole the land from the Native Americans who already lived there. It’s important to remember that North America was not an uninhabited empty space waiting for Europeans to come and take over.

Nor were the original residents white or English-speaking. The language of California and Texas was Spanish, plus the dialects of Native Americans. English came later. Many languages have been spoken here and still are.

At some undetermined moment in time, pre-Americans decided that if they weren’t going to be allowed to be “real” Englishmen (and vote in Paliament), they might as well do their own thing. A lot of the bruhaha came out of Boston with the infamous tea party et al. We always were a rowdy bunch.

We tried a loose confederacy. It didn’t work. We needed a central government, an army, a navy. An economy other than importing slaves. Money that would be accepted everywhere. (Early on, each state issued its own currency.) Schools, libraries, and industry waited in the wings.

The Constitutional Convention was attended by leading figures from each colony, each of whom had his own ideas about building a country. As a group, they were intelligent, well-educated, and wealthy.

And now, enter slavery.

The North imported Black people from Africa, then sold them to Southern slave traders. Despite rumors to the contrary, there were slaves in the north. But the northern states also had a strong group of abolitionists. Although importing slaves made some people fabulously rich, it wasn’t the basis for an expanding economy. Even families who built their fortunes on slavery weren’t willing to admit it.

The south had other ideas. They had an almost entirely agrarian lifestyle. Slaves were how they managed their huge plantations. If there weren’t slaves, how could they manage to be so rich and powerful? They might have to work! They might have to pay their workers, an idea so shocking to southerners that they would not join the union if slavery was not allowed.

The battle of slavery vs. abolition began before the revolution. The south was wedded to slavery. By the years before the Revolution, the north was getting ready to move on to an industrial economy.

Then came America’s deal with the devil. We did not foresee a union that didn’t include the south, so we enabled slavery.  Which everyone knew was wrong, including the southerners. But money speaks louder than principals as we all have discovered in recent years.

Our Founding Fathers knew that ultimately, there would be a civil war. How do we know they knew it? Because they wrote about it in their diaries and letters. They talked about it and wrote down the conversations. John and Abigail Adams were strong abolitionists. For years, Abigail Adams would not live in the White House because slaves had built it.

We won the revolution but lost everything else.

Battle of Lexington and Concord revolution

A trace of our multi-colonial origins exists. State Governors have a lot of power in their domain. The government of each state is a mirror of the national government. Also, every state in the U.S. has its own little army, the State Militia. Mostly they are used to manage natural catastrophes and rioting. Sometimes we lend our troops to other states who need help. They aren’t always armed, either. They fight fires, save people from drowning, work as medics.
The Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard are national — the U.S. armed forces.

FREE WITHOUT BENEFITS


The people who were freed from slavery were supposed to get some land, a mule, and a few cows so they could build their own communities, but these attempts were sabotaged. They stayed in the south and were effectively slaves, but without the benefit of getting housed and fed. Jim Crow filled in for official slavery and when that stopped working, black people moved north in the hopes of building a better life.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Somehow, in the course of years, we also put through a Civil Rights amendment that was supposed to finally put an end to Jim Crow laws and the oppression of Black people. That didn’t quite work out either. Some things are better, many are just the same, a lot is worse.


Question: If our Founding Fathers were so smart, how come they didn’t see that slavery would come back to bite us in the ass?

Answer: They knew it was wrong and knew that it would result in a civil war. They could keep slavery and form a stronger nation, or eliminate slavery and end up with two weak countries, one slave, one free. They chose what they thought was the lesser of the two evils.


It wasn’t the lesser evil. Long term, it was the greatest evil. It has twisted and corrupted our country from day one. Until we come to terms with our deeply racist past, we will never be at peace.

The Right Thing went head-to-head with The Bottom Line. The Right Thing lost. Imagine that!

Meanwhile, back in the Blackstone Valley, the American industrial revolution was aborning. In December 1789, just as the Constitution was passed, Samuel Slater Slater’s Mill was up and running. It was the first successful water-powered cotton-factory in the United States.

Mills grew along the Blackstone from Worcester to Providence, then sprouted by the Merrimack in Lowell, and eventually, throughout New England. Wherever the rivers ran, mills and factories followed.

75-Train-NK-014a

Photo: Owen Kraus

By the early 1900s, the Blackstone River in Massachusetts was grossly polluted. In 1971, the Blackstone River was labeled “one of America’s most polluted rivers” by Audubon magazine. It was a low point for the region. We’re still cleaning up.

72-Heron_145

As for slavery, it’s illegal. But low-end employees of corporations are in no better position than slaves. They work for almost nothing and if they get laid off, their payoff is nothing.

We have a very long way to go.

CHURCH – Marilyn Armstrong

When we came to this Valley, I had no experience with churches, except for having been married in one.  Garry had enough to make up for both of us. We chose a church because a very serious Christian friend of mine loved it and I loved her.

Between our coming to the valley in 2000 and now, the Pastor who I like very much was driven out because he liked to talk about what was going on in the great big world but the elders wanted him to follow the old traditional format and leave reality at the door because reality didn’t belong in a church.


Pushing out that Pastor was a big mistake. Half the church decided to form a new church and that reduced the church congregation by at least a third.

Having ditched a smart (and often funny) Pastor, they decided the way to attract “young people” was to play modern music. Ditch the music many of us knew and loved. We hated it. It wasn’t even bad folk music. It was just bad. The guitarists and bongo drummers were even worse.

Springtime on the Commons

Meanwhile, they couldn’t find a new minister, so they brought in a retired minister to temporarily serve the church. He did so for about five years, but he was getting pretty old. He became a good friend. My friend, another Marilyn (she was Marilyn Baker and I was Marilyn Armstrong, so we were Marilyns A and B) was also getting on and her husband, who was a doctor, developed the symptoms for Gehrig’s Disease.

Their children, in the name of caring for the old folks decided they should move to where they lived.  This meant moving them out of the home they loved, the neighborhood they had both grown up in, and separating them from all their friends. I understand why kids do it, but it’s a bad idea. You uproot us from the places we love and the few remaining people for whom we care and we drift away. And often die.

Both Marilyn and John slipped away. First, Marilyn died. I was heart-broken. Then her husband died. The minister we cared for died. I had heart surgery and I didn’t want to go to church. I had gone because I loved Marilyn and every time we came, she was so happy to see us.


She was so intelligent, had traveled the world. We had intelligent conversations that lasted until wherever we had brunch was getting ready to serve supper. Now, with Marilyn gone and having been so sick, I couldn’t bear having everybody asking me “How are you” and knowing they didn’t want an answer. All they wanted was to see a bright smile and hear me say,  “I’m just fine, thank you.”

No one, at church or elsewhere — other than family and best friends — really wanted to hear how you actually are. They want you to be happy and prove that a bright smile was the same as feeling fine. It isn’t.

Then came the endless battles to find a minister who would stay long enough to get the church to settle down and the nonstop quarreling between ministers who wanted the job and those to whom we offered the job who never stayed. The other pastors who were rejected, were angry and left the church. It was exhausting.

Goodwin Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church – 1910

The Elders finally budged on whether or not the minister was allowed to say anything real. It was 10 years too late for me. Garry wouldn’t go without me, even though he is the actual Christian.

I didn’t want to go. All I could see were where my friends used to sit and how empty the pews seemed. The church congregation is gradually getting older,  I just want my friends back.

A GAZE OF RACCOONS – Marilyn Armstrong

Groups of animals have collective names that are often archaic and unique. Raccoons are a gaze.


Whales are a pod. Crows are a murder. Squirrels are a dray or a scurry. I haven’t found out what a bunch of flying squirrels are so I guess they are a dray or a scurry too since no one has a better answer.


Last night, for the first time, we had only raccoons visiting us. No flying squirrels. But last night’s raccoons were big raccoons, not the adolescent ones we’ve had earlier. I was trying to explain to Garry, who though our raccoons looked pretty big to him, were actually not big raccoons, but young ones. Not babies, but not grown up either. Short tails, incomplete masks. Nor fully furred.


These two were a lot bigger, darker in color. Longer, darker striped tails. Real masks. They show up better in the photographs too. The little guys didn’t come by because they didn’t want to be a fresh snack for the big kids. Those big masked guys might just decide to eat them.

A FLOCK OF BRIGHT YELLOW BIRDS – Marilyn Armstrong

Try not to let your shock show, but in the morning we had a flock of red House Finches, but by afternoon, an awful lot of Goldfinch had found their way home again. Between one thing and another, I managed to take a few pictures.

They came back

Flapping finch and curious watcher

More yellow day by day

Fluffy bottom feathers because this bird is molting!

Apparently the molting twice a year is unusual. I love the fluffy feathers

A lonely Goldfinch

Waiting for a space on the feeder

Coming in for a landing!

It turns out that Goldfinch are the ultimate feeder birds. Unlike other birds who will eat insects, Goldfinch only eat seeds. When it comes time to feed their babies, they are most grateful because those little ones are hungry!

OH, TO BE BACK IN OCTOBER AGAIN – Marilyn Armstrong

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Autumn Scenes


Autumn is our season, though for the past two years, it has been abruptly shortened by unusually warm weather and far too much rain. Still, we did get at least a week or two, which is better than nothing.

My favorite house in mid-October

The shed in October

The very end of October 2019 on the Blackstone River

Maple trees in late October at River Bend

Upward from the house to the road

Mid-October, on our road towards Rhode Island

THE TRAIN THROUGH WORCESTER – OWEN KRAUS

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge:
Public transportation (bus, planes, trains, etc.


One day, Owen met a guy who turned out to be a conductor on a train that runs through Worcester. It’s a very old narrow-gauge train and its maximum speed is 5 mph.

“Take pictures!” I told him. He had never taken pictures except for a few snapshots, so I wasn’t expecting much. And he still rarely takes pictures, but he could. The pictures are great.

The conductor climbs up the engine into the engine

Heading into the woods

Leaving the yard

This is our train. There are two of them and our Department of Transportation runs these trains three or four times a week to keep them functional. This is the train created to run through places where no other traffic could go.

Train in the yard

Through a meadow, passing the long stone fence

Heading into a curve as the rain begins to fall

There are no roads nor will there be. The train travels through woods, swamps, and meadows. It slowly passes long-defunct mills and factories, past sludgy canals and dark swamps. Not only is this a look at an old train, but it’s also a look at parts of the Blackstone Valley no one sees because it is inaccessible.

Passing trains

About to pass

Looking out the window into the rain

Pulling back into the yard

Welcome to the Blackstone Valley. Have a look at our history as the home of America’s industrial revolution. This is where all manufacturing industries began in the U.S. and why we are a historical corridor.

ONE MORE SUNSET #16 – Marilyn Armstrong

ONE MORE SUNSET

Yes, I know my numbers are out of order. That’s the price we pay for trying to work with material coming from the other side of the world. Posts show up late, sometimes a couple of days late and since I can’t control when they wind up in my “inbox,” I just do the best I can. Hope no one minds!

The west-facing road that passes our house and travels from route 146A all the way to Johnston, Rhode Island, a big area for antiques. I don’t go there because I’ll buy something. I don’t go to antique stores, book stores, or art galleries. These are places I find irresistible. Not only do I not have extra money to spend, but I need more antiques like I need a hole in my head.

Along this little road are at least three small towns, all located on a waterway. There is a lot of water around here and it all flows south towards the Atlantic Ocean and exits via Narragansett Bay. Which is, of course,  the outlet of the Blackstone River and almost every other river and stream in the Blackstone Valley.

On the road to Rhode Island

In case you didn’t know, the Blackstone Valley runs through two states. It begins at the head of the Worcester Hills in Massachusetts and continues through Rhode Island until it runs into the ocean. Along its route are more rivers most of which are tributaries of the Blackstone. Also interesting are the ponds, lakes, streams, and rivulets, often unnamed. Just more water.

Route 98 runs through inhabited areas. Lots of small farms and tiny groups of homes too small for maps to name them as a village, though most places have a name. A few have no names. They are simply a crossroads with a shop and a couple of houses. But of course, we have towns that look like that too.

HOMEWARD BOUND #7 – Marilyn Armstrong

HOMEWARD BOUND INTO THE SUNSET – BECKY B’S JANUARY SQUARES

It was just another day coming home from the doctor. Our house is due west from the doctor’s office. I knew this because the sun was in our eyes all the way home. I thought it would be dark when we got back, but there was absolutely no traffic and we swept home at a brisk pace.

Which meant there were a few pictures to take on the way. Not as glorious as the last ones, but still, very pretty (and entirely square) sunset pictures.

About a quarter of a mile from home, heading west

About 4:30 in the afternoon in January

This was the first time I’ve used my new Panasonic camera since I got it a couple of months ago. I’m not really used to it yet, but it does seem to do a pretty nice job especially considering it was quite dark by this time.

STAIRS AND STEPS- Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Stairs

When we bought this house — 19 years ago — I figured there were only 12 stairs from the front door: six up and six down. We were moving from a three-story triplex in Boston, so a mere 12 steps didn’t seem like much. I could not imagine a time when I wouldn’t be able to climb six steps — or in a pinch, twelve with a landing int he middle.

Wooden steps from the deck to the backyard

Who knew? I have a stairlift for the top six, from the middle landing to where we live, bu the other six? “Haul away, men. She’s on her way.”

Garry now has to haul himself up by the handrail.

Scotties on the upper six stairs

Stairway to the river by the Mumford Dam

The problem is, I guess, that this is a hilly region, There are no flat areas and what few there are, are occupied by farms. That’s where our local fresh corn comes from. And the local grapes, cucumbers, and other produce.  Mostly these days, we seem to be breeding horses — saddle horses and huge Clydesdales and Percherons. Do we have any particular use for these gigantic (and beautiful) horses? No, not really, but they are glorious animals.

Four Clydesdales hooked to a dressy rig is a great entrance for a couple getting married., The saddle horses are owned by academies. If these places have flat areas, these are used as a ring for training riders and horses. Most places bring in bulldozers to flatten sections.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

We had to bring in a bulldozer to flatten our backyard. You can ask a lot more for houses if by some quirk it happens to be on flat ground at the top of a hill so water runs down and away from it.

We are in the middle of the hill. A long slide down the driveway from the road is our personal Bunny Slope. Thus our backyard is flat, but still needs a canal of its own so the water that collects at the base of the driveway can roll down to the woods.

From the read of the back lawn, there is a precipitous drop through some impressive boulders to a flat area at the bottom, after which the land rises again. Since the entire area is networked by bodies of water — rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, and canals initially used by factories and spinning mills to move goods to the main canal or ultimately, the railroad.

The long drop from the Worcester hill into the hill-and-dale of the watershed means almost no houses can be build on flat land. Newer houses — like ours — are either split levels or Georgian-style brick buildings built into the hills. Like a split level before there were split levels.

Pretty much every house has stairs. The parks have long stairways because that’s what you can do on these rolling hills. This house is a raised ranch. The lower level has one area that is a real basement. The rest of the level includes a den with a fireplace, a big bedroom. a tiny bedroom now used as a closet, another unheated room for storage,  plus a bathroom with a shower, toilet, sink, and the washer, and dryer. What remains of the original garage is a work area.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

We find ourselves going up and down often. We store extra food on the shelves downstairs. A lot of items that come and go in the house — little table, pictures, wrapping paper, winter coats in the summer, summer clothing in the winter. The attic was never finished. It doesn’t have a complete floor and is full of loose fiberglass for insulation. We don’t go there since its pull-down wooden stairs feel dangerously creaky.

Take a walk along the banks of the Blackstone

Yet, when we moved in, I hopped up and down the stairs like they were nothing. I didn’t even mind the three-story townhouse in Boston, though I could tell a time would come when I wouldn’t be able to deal with it. By then we also had two dogs and a cat and I wanted a yard for the dogs. With a fence.

Just 12 steps, but sometimes, they feel like so many more.

MAPLE LEAVES BEFORE THE RAIN AND WIND – Marilyn Armstrong

FOTD – October 26, 2019 – Maple Leaves

We have so many autumn pictures between what I’ve taken and Garry’s collection, I haven’t even had time to fully skim them. So here are a bunch of them — mine and his — and I think we’ve taken our full quote of autumn pictures.

There’s another big storm on the way on Sunday, so I’m not counting on there being much left when it is finished.

Another picture of the first Quaker Meetinghouse, built 1770. If they could afford to install heating, the church would see a lot of use, but it is very cold in there and it’s now only used for weddings or other special events.

BETWEEN THE LINES ARE THE SEEDS OF HOPE -DAY 6 – Marilyn Armstrong

EATING SEEDS BETWEEN THE LINES – Marilyn Armstrong

The birds are slowly coming back. Slowly. I don’t know if more are going to show up. I’m particularly worried about the disappearance of the Mourning Doves. They don’t migrate. They live here year-round, but I haven’t seen one. But they are shy and it takes them a while to find their way to the seeds.

Meanwhile, there was quite a flurry of birds today. And here are some squared up pictures. Lots of lines. The entire feeder is all wire lines. The deck is also lines made from wood planks and posts.

Between the lines is lovely Lady Cardinal

But these two pictures are special because one is lovely Lady Cardinal. While Sir Cardinal is showier in his brilliant scarlet feathers, she is — in her own way — a gorgeous bird. Her colors are wonderful!

Pecking twixt the lines at the feeder, a Red-Bellied Woodpecker

And the second one is one of my all-time favorite birds, the Red-bellied Woodpecker.

THE CHANGING SEASONS – SEPTEMBER 2019 – Marilyn Armstrong

The Changing Seasons, September 2019


It’s the last day of September. In New England, that’s Autumn. It’s sort of Autumn out there, but not a lot. It may get better, but a lot has to do with rain and if it gets very warm again.

It’s been very up and down. Moreover, climate change has made our erratic weather even more erratic than it was before, so it’s very hard to figure out what happening. Or will happen.

The trees are mostly green with large patches of bright yellow and in a few places, some red and orange. But the color is very slow in coming and if the rain starts before the color shows up, fall will wash away with the rain. As it did last year and the year before.

The barn and corral and our car, tucked in the corner. happy weather watching.

The farm road. Follow it if you want to see the horses.

We have taken some nice pictures, so even if we aren’t getting that golden red fall feeling, it certainly is lovely outside.

I’d hate to lose a whole season, especially Autumn.

About The Changing Seasons

The Changing Seasons is a monthly challenge where bloggers around the world share what’s been happening in their month.

If you would like to join in, here are the guidelines:

The Changing Seasons Version One (photographic):

      • Each month, post 5-20 photos in a gallery that you feel represent your month
      • Don’t use photos from your archive. Only new shots.
      • Tag your posts with #MonthlyPhotoChallenge and #TheChangingSeasons so that others can find them

The Changing Seasons Version Two (you choose the format):

      • Each month, post a photo, recipe, painting, drawing, video, whatever that you feel says something about your month
      • Don’t use archive stuff. Only new material!
      • Tag your posts with #MonthlyPhotoChallenge and #TheChangingSeasons so others can find them.

If you do a ping-back to this post, Su-Leslie can update her post with links to all of your posts.

FLAGS AND FLOWERS BLOOMING – Marilyn Armstrong

On the 75th Anniversary of D-Day

The cemetery is in the center of the town, across from the dam and just a hundred or so yards from the river itself. It’s up on a hill, so it never floods, even when the rivers rush over their banks. The people who created that cemetery knew about the rivers. And flooding. They picked a beautiful spot. It has a perfect view of the dam and river, but it’s dry and safe for bones and memories.

An old cemetery, dating back to the early 1700s. It contains traces of many generations of those who lived and died in this town, this valley. Folks who lived along the Blackstone and its many tributaries fished in its lakes and streams. They fought in our wars and are buried here — Revolutionary War soldiers, Civil War veterans as well as those who fought in all the American wars since.

Every anniversary of the end of some war we fought, the cemetery blooms with bouquets and flags. The schools bring the children here, so they will remember too and traditions will be maintained. They bring bouquets of wildflowers or from the back garden. Lilacs and lilies, scarlet poppies … and always a miniature American flag. Even if there’s no special holiday, the cemetery always shows signs of caring, remembering.

Maybe it’s easier to remember here, with such a small population. Is that it? Or it’s just part of the air, the character, the history. Remembering is what we do in the Valley.

The cemetery is one of my favorite places. We’re newcomers after all, only living here 19 years. Our ancestors — Garry’s and mine — come from Sligo, Antigua, Minsk, Bialystok. We come from tiny villages in Ireland, England,  the West Indies, and a wide variety of shtetls in eastern and northern Europe. Our people were always on the move.

Valley people have been here longer. Many came from French Canada in the late 19th century to work in the mills. Another large group formed the dominant Dutch population. They built churches, businesses and factories, dairy and truck farms, shops, horse farms, and sawmills. Their names are prominent wherever the rivers run.

Newcomers, like us, aren’t rare anymore but also not common. We have no ancestors in the cemetery, at least none about whom we know. Anything is possible in America.

The valley is the only place I’ve lived where the majority of families have lived in the town or in nearby villages for three, four, five generations.

“We’ve always lived in the Valley,” they say, meaning they have lived here as long as anyone can remember. If gently prodded, they may recall at some point, long ago, they came from somewhere else. Some can’t remember when or if it’s true.

I point out they must have come from somewhere because unless they are Native American, they came to this place, even if it was a long time ago. They get misty-eyed trying to remember old family stories handed down when they were young.

It’s hard to remember, they tell you. “You know, that was 75 years ago … a long time.” We nod because it was a long time ago. We can’t remember a lot of things from our “old days” either. So many years have passed and so much stuff has happened.

In the ground – Photo: Garry Armstrong

How many wars have we fought — just in our lifetime? I can’t count them anymore. It’s endless. We honor our dead. I think we’d honor them more by ending the cause of their deaths which I doubt it will happen. Peace is not in us, or at least not in most of us. Certainly not in the people who run our countries.

So another year passes and little flags and flowers bloom in the old cemetery in the middle of town.

MORE BIRDS – MR. AND MRS. CARDINAL WITH COWBIRDS – Marilyn Armstrong

I thought everyone was going to get tired of birds. Honestly, I thought I would get tired of the birds, but it turns out, I  find them beautiful and love having them around.

I yell at the squirrels, but I don’t mind them having a piece of the buffet. I would just prefer they not eat all of it every single day. I have switched to cheaper feed. I really couldn’t keep up the high-class buffet with such massive eating going on!

The trouble is, our squirrels are becoming less and less afraid of me. Now I have to make loud noises or they just sit there and stare back at me and I swear they are saying, “Oh yeah? And what’re you gonna do about it?”

Truthfully, not much. Make more noise? Wave the broom at them? Or, we could train them to be better trained members of our burgeoning household.

The brightest Cardinal in our garden

Mrs. Cardinal is flirting with me

Peek-a-boo!

Cowbird and Cardinal — sharing the feeder

One more Cardinal and Cowbird. The Cowbirds are not easily frightened. Only the big woodpecker -with that long beak who pecked him in the head — that got his attention

That is a beak and a half and that is also a rather large woodpecker