Friday, May 25, 2018

Small Treasures #SkywatchFriday

Some say skies without clouds make for uninteresting photos.

They may be right.

Nothing stunning here in upstate New York - just everyday "clear and so crisp you think the light will cut your eyes". Well, that and a white dot right above the trees - that is the moon.

While I am at it, how about some historic treasures of the small city where I work?
But if you want clouds, I'll give you clouds - and a dogwood next to a historic church, Christ Episcopal, in downtown Binghamton, New York (these pictures taken last week).

The church from afar.  This was designed by the same architect that designedTrinity Church in downtown New York City.  The building dates from 1858.
A historic block in downtown Binghamton, featuring the Press Building, now converted to student housing, and some buildings which are, alas, vacant.

Such as this historic building, the Strand.

Isn't it sad when treasures rot away?

Join Yogi and other bloggers who watch the sky each Friday at #SkywatchFriday.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Horse Chestnut Part 2 #ThursdayTreeLove

In upstate New York, we have a beautiful tree called the horse chestnut.  It is in bloom now, and I posted a picture of some of their flowers yesterday for Wordless Wednesday.

A couple of my readers wanted more information so here you are.

First, a picture to give you some scale.  The horse chestnut in bloom is on the right.

And a closeup of a flower (from 2015).

Unlike some spring trees, the horse chestnuts don't flower until their leaves are grown out.  Flowers can be either whitish or pink.  This is one of the white varieties.

In the fall, the tree produces inedible nuts that children love to play games with.  One game, in particular, conkers, stretches back hundreds of years.  There's an entire tradition in Great Britain built around preparing and playing with your horse chestnut nut (conker).  My spouse played a variation of this game growing up near New York City.

What a lot of history rolled into one majestic tree.

But, what are horse chestnuts, exactly?

They are not native to our country, but rather, to the Balkins.  They were introduced into Great Britain in the 1600's.

One thing they are not is edible - in fact, the entire plant, including its chestnuts (in Europe, they are called "conkers") are mildly poisonous.  

Native Americans would make a mash of the nuts and use it to stun fish. They would then have to get rid of the toxins in the fish, but it was an effective way to kill the fish.

A couple of my readers wanted to know why they were called "horse chestnuts".

The nuts are edible for horses (and deer); perhaps that is why. Their scientific name is Aesculus (with about 15 species - I don't know which one I took a picture of but I suspect it is hippocastanum).  The trees have an interesting history.

As for conkers, my spouse, growing up near New York City, would play that game.  It was a favorite game at one time in Great Britain.  Now, alas, children entertain themselves in other ways.

Perhaps the cell phone-addicted children of today will grow up, and appreciate the majestic splendor of this tree.   But enjoy them fast.

In a day or two, these flowers will be gone for another year.

Do you have horse chestnuts where you live?

Join Parul Thakur and other bloggers who love trees for #ThursdayTreeLove.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Horse Chestnut #WordlessWednesday

The horse chestnut tree is magificent.
And, right now, they are in full bloom in upstate New York.

Today I am joining Esha in #WordlessWednesday .  Hope to see you there.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Throwback Thursday - The Ugly Stepsister of Cancer

This is a repeat of a post from 2016, with a lesson as fresh as today.

A former New York State Senator from our area passed away from prostate cancer.  He was 63.  He represented our area for years and was in the news for years.  A county official, meantime, has been battling lung cancer for several years.

In mid-April of 2016 a former co worker passed away, from breast cancer.

The rest of this post  is originally from May of 2014. And if I was to update it, it would contain even more sad news.

Since I blogged this, the person whose news caused her friend to break a lunch date with me passed away, as did the friend I gave the "Ugly Stepsister of Cancer" essay link to.  The person who broke the lunch date got her own cancer diagnosis in late 2014 (continuing NEC in April of 2018). And since then, a high school and college friend has battled breast cancer.

When will it ever end?  Certainly not today, and if you want to read more about male breast cancer, check out this post that starts out with a man who makes kettlecorn.

The Ugly Stepsister of Cancer (from 2014)

While I would love to blog about spring today, there is something going on that I need to blog about.

But first, a picture for my blog readers to enjoy.  In the language of flowers, hyacinth can mean consistency.  Or, it can mean "I'm sorry, please forgive me."
Last week, I got an email from someone I had a lunch date with.  She had been in communication with a woman she knew.  That person had "a cold that wouldn't quit." Finally, the person sought medical help.

It wasn't a cold.  It was lung cancer.  And before that woman could blink twice, she was being put into hospice care.  Her family called my friend and told her the woman was asking for her.

It was, needless to say, overwhelming. What do you do when you go to the doctor and find out you have something you never expected?  Well, my friend broke her date with me (good for her!) and went to her other friend - one who is suddenly making the acquaintance of the Ugly Stepsister of Cancer.

I decided to go to the library, now that I was without a lunch date. I found a wonderful book there, written by a local (well, from Ithaca, but Ithaca is only an hour from where I live in upstate New York) breast cancer survivor, called "When Your Life is Touched by Cancer". The author is Bob Riter. 

Yes, the author is male and is a breast cancer survivor.  Yes, men get breast cancer.  And, in fact, my spouse is at risk due to his family history.

There is one cancer that Bob Riter, who has worked with cancer patients as the executive director of The Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes, calls "The Ugly Stepsister of Cancer".  It is lung cancer.

Lung cancer patients bear a burden no other cancer patients bear.  They find themselves required to explain their cancer, over and over.  "Do you smoke?"  "Did you smoke?" they are asked when they tell others of their cancer.

If no (which is the case of someone I know who has been battling lung cancer for over two years),  the patient has to explain that yes, some 15% of people who get lung cancer never smoked.

If yes - well, it's your fault.  No support for you!

Why, ever, would we EVER want to blame someone who has cancer for their cancer?  But my friend has been through this, and now my friend's friend will have go to through this, too.

Also, last Tuesday, I gave four trees to a work friend who lives out in the country to plant in honor of a late neighbor,who died while I was on vacation in April.  I can still remember the day he told me, matter of factly, that he had cancer, and how he was trying to make his peace with it.  (And no, I won't describe "his battle", because that's another thing Bob Riter talks about.)

Finally, last Tuesday, my mother in law found out that her cancerous tumor is dead, but she still needs testing to make sure the cancer didn't spread.  And, meanwhile, she has bills coming in.  She's elderly, she does not have boundless energy, and she asked us to help investigate some of the bills.  She seems to be falling through the cracks of help. Wrong cancer. Wrong place of residence.  Wrong wrong wrong.

Cancer has been on my mind a lot lately.  So what I did was....email Bob Riter.

And he emailed me back!

What a marvelous person, and the people of Ithaca, New York are so lucky to have him in their lives.

He gave me some starting points with which to help my mother in law.  And, he recommended that I give my friend with lung cancer a copy of the "Ugly Stepsister of Cancer" essay. He's generously posted it online for any of us to read. (To my friend,  I'm sending her the essay.)

If you have cancer, or have a loved one or friend with cancer, I highly recommend this book.  It is a treasure.  It covers so much, in simple language and in easy to read bites.  Bob Riter has thought of everything.  Well, everything but the line of Hallmark cards I'd REALLY like to see, but that's a blog post for another time.

And now, I hope I don't have to talk about cancer again for a long, long time. But, sadly, I know that is not going to happen.

The Nature Stories Around Us

Where I live in upstate New York, the students have left (well, most of them) for the summer.  But much remains.  In the morning, around 4:30 am, the birds start to sing and, for a half hour or so, the morning is theirs.  Their singing tells stories we humans will never know.

Then the sun rises on a walking trail called the Vestal Rail Trail that, years ago, was a railroad track.

Now, thousands of people walk, bike, roller skate or run on it.

This past Sunday, the trees were blooming,telling their own stories.

Sunday, the pink dogwoods were still in bloom.

Sadly, much of what you see blooming at this time of year are invasives, not native to this area.  Still, many of these blooms smell so nice, even as they choke out native vegetation.

Like this honeysuckle.  What story does it tell?
Or this honeysuckle.

Many enjoy the scent of the invasive Russian Olive, but I don't.  (And no, olives don't come from these trees.  One could wish, though.)

And finally, while not an invasive where I live, these black cherry trees have such sweet smelling blooms.  I understand, though, that they are now considered invasive in some parts of Europe.   I know the story this tree tells - those blooms are among my favorite.

I wonder how many people walk past these trees, intent on exercise, without stopping to smell the flowers, without pausing to learn their stories.

Stories, all around us, and too many of us are wrapped up in our own story.  Maybe that's not all a bad thing, but, on occasion, I just need to escape.  When I do, I'm thankful nature is there for me.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Remembering #MusicMovesMe

Today, on #MusicMovesMe, guest conductor John Holton of The Sound of One Hand Typing asks us to post songs of either remembering or forgetting.

Who are the Music Moves Me bloggers?  We call ourselves 4Mers and this is who we are:

The Head 4M'er (Engineer) is XmasDolly.  Her co-conductors are:  Callie of JAmerican Spice, (who right now is doing on and off visits) and ♥Stacy of Stacy Uncorked♥   Also,  Cathy from Curious as a Cathy and Michelle from Michelle's Musings and MerrimentAnd, ahem...me.  

But before I begin, I am remembering the most inspirational moment I can remember in a long time - the sermon in the royal wedding Saturday given by the Reverend Michael Curry and the rendition of Ben E. King's Stand by Me that was such an inspiration to me.  

And now, what music is moving me today?

Remember (Walking in the Sand) - the Shangri-Las from 1964.

September When I First Met You -sung by the late, soulful, Barry White, from 1978.  I so remember that soulful voice.  White died at age 58 from kidney failure, waiting for a kidney transplant.

From 1985, Don't You (Forget about Me) - Simple Minds. Many remember this from the opening and closing credits of the movie "The Breakfast Club".  It was Simple Mind's first hit, and only #1 hit in the United States.

A song by one of the guests at the royal wedding Saturday - Sir Elton John singing a rewritten "Candle in the Wind" as "Goodbye English Rose" at the funeral of Prince Harry's mother, Princess Diana, in 1967.

Another Elton John song about remembering - Crocodile Rock.

I end on an upbeat note,  September - Earth, Wind and Fire.

Today, we should all remember the power of love "the redemptive power of love", in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  "Love is the only way".

See you next week for another Monday of music.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

And Again and Again and Again

The columbines in my yard are starting to open.  Once upon a time, they were just another pretty mid-spring flower.  Now, they have another meaning - the name of a high school where one of the first modern school shootings took place.  Now, these mass shootings have become epidemic.

Now, we face a crisis in our country - continuing gun violence. Day after day, month after month, the news reports roll in.  There are so many shootings that some barely get any news coverage.

We, the American people, have taken sides, and while we yell and posture at each other, the death toll mounts.  An elementary school massacre didn't resolve us to face the issue head on.  Several church massacres didn't. A nightclub shooting didn't.  Or a country music concert in Las Vegas.  Or....or...or.

We marched in Washington and it didn't help.

We gave everyone our thoughts and prayers, and then moved on, until the next mass shooting.

I speak as a resident of one of the many communities (Binghamton, New York) which has experienced this violence.

We tap dance around it. 


Our President is right when he says his responses, and our conversations, have become routine.  Everyone's response has become so predictable on both sides. More guns! Less guns! Fewer laws! More laws!  The guns were legal.  The guns were illegal.  The shooters were mentally ill.  The shooters were sane. The shooters were students. The shooters were Muslim.  The shooters were Christian. 

But, whatever is true, the people they killed are just as dead.  Their families are just as shattered.

How many more times will this article on the 28 deadliest mass shootings (yes, the Binghamton one appears on it) be updated before we come to a national consensus?

Or, will it be like the years leading up to the Civil War? We couldn't find a resolution to slavery, and we ended up with a terrible war, a terrible post war period, and echoes that still echo into our present day.  Will we be able to, finally, have an actual conversation, and actual, true action, to what is happening to our country?

Or will something so horrible, something none of us can now imagine, have to happen first?

Yes, I realize comparing gun violence to the United States Civil War is like comparing apples to oranges, or perhaps comparing a grape to a watermelon.  So let's think of these semi monthly massacres in a different way.

It is easy to think about terrorism.  It is us vs. them.  We are civilized.  They are pure evil.

But when it is us vs. us, it isn't so easy.

Nothing worthwhile is ever easy. You may or may not see it in whatever comments this blog piece produces.  (I don't expect agreement.  I do expect civility.)  When you look at the hate that similar posts on other blogs generates, it shows you how close to the edge we are - the edge of where people who speak out are demonized, and even have death threats directed against them.

Will Santa Fe, Texas be the tipping point?  Or are we still waiting?  Is this is how we will continue to define our country?

Our future as a united nation depends on it. 

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Non-Persistance of Memory

They got out of the vehicle and walked into the chapel.  "They" being Prince Phillip, 96, and Queen Elizabeth II, his wife, 92.

They weren't assisted. They walked without canes or walkers. They had their memories, and fully participated in the events of today.

We had a wonderful time watching the royal wedding this morning, even waking up early to see it.

Later in the day, we visited my mother in law, 90, along with two relatives visiting from out of town.  My mother in law is in rehab after three hospitalizations since the beginning of April. 

She can't get out of bed by herself.  She needs assistance for many of what are called, in the United States, the "Activities of Daily Living" (dressing, continence, feeding, transferring, bathing).

Mother's Day, last Sunday, was good for her.  She had shrimp Newburg for lunch, courtesy of the rehab place, and then an Ultimate Chocolate Cake we bought for her.  She wore a wrist corsage.   Her grandson was there.  All three of her sons were there.  Her two daughter in laws were there.

Today, she didn't remember any of it.

Tomorrow she may not remember the out of town company that spent several hours with us, or the other relatives she FaceTimed with on their iPad.

Watching Prince Phillip and Queen Elizabeth II made me wonder:  is it just us?

Does dementia exist in other countries?  Are people this infirm?  Is it a function of our environment?  Our relative inactivity?  Has "modern medicine" failed us?

But my mother in law was never inactive. 

At one time she was so sharp we joked that she was sharper than either of us.

The other day she sat in the sun and asked two of her sons if it was sunny.

Yesterday, she couldn't remember where her autistic son lived. 

She steers conversations to the past, talking about her honeymoon (in 1950) as if it was yesterday.

And it's only the beginning.

One day, we know, she won't recognize us.  Already, she has forgotten that I work, and wondered (one day when I visited her on my lunchtime) where I had gone.

Without memory, do we even exist anymore?