Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Never Let Us Go

A book I read several months ago haunts me.

I don't make it a habit to write book reviews.  In fact, Goodread's nagging me to write reviews has caused me to (almost) abandon the site.  But today, I want to blog about a book that will never let me go.

This book is a book some call science fiction, and some dystopian.  It was written by a  mainstream author, Kazuo Ishiguro.  It's called Never Let Me Go.  (You may know Ishiguro better for another book, The Remains of the Day.)
Never Let Me Go was made into a movie in 2010, and this is the trailer.  The late Roger Ebert gave it four stars and a big "thumbs up", but his review definitely deserves a Spoiler Alert. (Full disclosure: I have not yet seen the movie. I actually took it out of the library last week, but didn't have the time to see it. So back it went.)

The plot:  students at a mysterious English boarding school in an "alternate" England find out the reason why they are so special.  (And now, the spoiler alert. If you want to read this book and haven't, read no further.)  If you are still with me:

They are clones, created for the sole purpose of being organ donors.  They won't live that long into adulthood, as they will be harvested for their organs and eventually "complete", or suffer brain death.

But before they become donors, the young adult clones must become carers - nurses for the clones older than them, clones who are already in the organ donor system. The system is this:  First you are a carer.  Then you receive your letter (from the government?) and must report to become a donor.  You live in a donation center for the rest of your life.

The donor doesn't die right away, depending on the organ taken.  Some die after the first donation.  Some die after the second.  More die after the third.

But none of them survive the fourth donation.  No later than the fourth donation, they complete.  And whether that is really the end of their suffering, or if there is some consciousness that remains during  what comes after, none of the clones know.

Meanwhile, the carer clones see the entire process close up- the pain the donation surgeries cause, the crippling, the mental and physical agony. They see the suffering of their patients as they recover from each donation surgery.  The carers must care for the donors until they themselves are called to end their careers as carers and begin donating.  Sooner or later every clone is called to donate.  There is no escape - but is there a way to delay the inevitable?

There is a rumor among the clones that you can be "deferred" (have your donation time deferred) if you fall really, and truly, in love.  But is it true, or only a terrible myth?

The book is partially about three clones who grow up together at the mysterious boarding school, and become friends, finally seeking out one of their former teachers to find out if the rumor of deferral is really true.  (I won't reveal that end, sorry.)

And the most horrifying part is:  no one fights the system.  No one tries to escape.  The clones suffer, but they show up for their donations in the end.  And then they donate, and they finally complete.

The end.

I am in my early 60's and a caregiver for an inlaw in her mid 80's.  And all through this book, I kept thinking about the parallels between carers and caregivers.

Carers. and Caregivers, in our world, go hand in hand.  Caregivers first watch as their parents and in laws age and eventually die at the end.  We know that one day, it will be our turn, as we are cared for in turn.

We have no choice. We must age.  We eventually lose our health. We become frail, no matter how much we exercise, or eat right, or take care of ourselves.

And then we complete.  Some in our 70's, some in our 80's, some in our 90's, and the rest of us in our 100's.  Every one of us.  No exceptions.

Our coping with this fact is a function of religion, or spirituality, or philosophy.  But, whatever your beliefs, we can not escape.  There is no deferral.

I found this a book that speaks to me.  It speaks to me again, and again.

I love books like that.

Do you have a book that has spoken to you in a special way?

Monday, September 1, 2014

Would You Walk a Mile for a Camel Meatball?

During a recent vacation, my spouse and I came across this display in a supermarket in upstate New York.

Yes, we were looking at ground camel and ground kangaroo.

In the United States, these are still considered exotic meats, but it would seem that in Australia, kangaroo meat is gaining in popularity.  In fact, I was able to find an online kangaroo cookbook on an Australian website.

As for camel, that was a bit harder but I found some recipes online.

After some thought (and checking with Facebook friends), we decided not to buy these items.  But we did purchase some chicken sausage in the same store.

I thought back to my college days, when I was a cultural anthropology major, and remembered just how culturally influenced our eating habits are.

While we in the United States may reject camel and kangaroo, many of us love fried fish.  The small village where we were vacationing has a very popular fried fish restaurant, in fact.  And it sells other items, such as lobster rolls.

Yet, there are cultures who will not eat fish, and cultures who will not eat lobster. I have friends who follow a vegan lifestyle for various reasons.  And, there are groups of people who follow extensive rules, religious or otherwise, concerning which foods can be eaten, and which can not be.

Why do we eat certain foods and not others? And, why have certain customs grown up around certain foods? 

Would you have bought the camel or kangaroo meat?  Would you have accepted that challenge?

Speaking of challenges - today starts the Ultra Blog Challenge, a brand new challenge hosted by a woman who had previously helped with the Ultimate Blog Challenge.  She's experienced, and I look forward to participating.  Come join us - it will be fun, it will be exciting, and you will get a lot out of it. Discipline.  Inspiration.  And fellowship.  What do you have to lose? Nothing.  What do you have to gain?

Join the Challenge, and see.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Civil War Sunday - Every Great Dream Begins with a Dreamer

Harriet Tubman, who was known in her childhood as "Araminta" or "Minty", should never have achieved greatness.  She was hired out as a nursemaid and later a human beast of burden by her slave master, starting at age six.  When she was 12, she was hit in the head by an object thrown by an overseer trying to prevent the escape of another slave. After being nursed back to health, she developed epilepsy and, later, narcolepsy.  Her seizures made her, in the eyes of her master, almost worthless.

She married a free black man, John Tubman, who threatened to tell her master if she tried to escape to freedom.

A slave marrying a free black was not uncommon where she grew up in Maryland. In fact, a fair number of the blacks in that area of Eastern Maryland were free.   Some free spouses would do whatever they could to free their slave spouses, but John Tubman was not one of these men.

Harriet escaped anyway, to the free North, in 1849.  She used the skills taught her by her father - how to live in the woods, how to find her way by using the North Star.  During her seizures, or "fall outs" as they were called back, she would sometimes have religious visions.  Tubman was deeply religious.

Being free was not enough for Tubman.  She returned to Maryland, again and again, a total of 19 times between 1852 and 1857, to lead other slaves to freedom.   She led some 300 slaves to freedom using her woodcraft skills, and never lost one.  She was a "conductor" on the Underground Railroad, a system of trails and safe houses where escaped slaves could find shelter in the night, and be passed off from "station" to "station" until they had reached Canada.

Tubman settled in Auburn, New York in 1857, a small town where many abolitionists (people who opposed slavery, although they did not necessarily believe blacks were equal to whites) lived.  She lived just down the street (South Street, ironically) from a friend, William Seward, who became Abraham Lincoln's Secretary of State.  Seward's home was itself a "station" on the Underground Railroad.

Tubman didn't spend a lot of time at home - there were funds to be raised and speeches to be made, while she continued her work to abolish slavery.

When war broke out in 1861, she served in the Civil War, on the Northern side, as a nurse and later a scout.  Later in life, Tubman had to fight to get a small military pension. She always lived on the edge of poverty.

Tubman remarried after the war. Her husband, Nelson Davis, was a former slave and Civil War veteran.  He died some 19 years into the marriage.  They lived in this house in Auburn, New York, which is now being restored.

Harriet Tubman's barn.

In later life, Tubman cared for the elderly, so much a mission for her that she purchased adjoining land and built what became a home for the aged near her home.  Previous to this, she had cared for her aging parents, whom she had also rescued from slavery.

Fort Hill Cemetery, Auburn, New York
Harriet Tubman died of pneumonia on March 10, 1913. She was in her 90's (the exact date of her birth is unknown, but a date in 1820 is what is most accepted. Tubman herself thought she was 95 at the time just before her death.)  Her gravestone is simple.

Harriet Tubman once said "Every great dream begins with a dreamer."  Hers was a wonderful philosophy.

Many people have gone to Auburn to visit the home of William Seward, especially after the award winning movie Lincoln was released.   I highly recommend that tour, too, but no one should leave Auburn without visiting the Tubman homestead.  Now owned by an AME church, tours are available of the property (not the house or barn). Our tour guide was most informative (and was working the tours totally by herself) and made me want to learn more about this remarkable woman.

Tough times.  A remarkable woman.  An enduring legacy.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Sustainable Saturday - Strawberry Fields Forever

Don't these strawberries look luscious?

They aren't just any strawberries.  These are cutting edge strawberries, grown in a special way that may become more mainstream one day.

We picked those on Wednesday - fresh, at a farm in upstate New York about 30 miles from Syracuse, New York, where (for "normal" strawberries, the season would have been over in late June).

These strawberries are not your normal strawberries.  They were grown, outdoors, hydroponically, on a U Pick farm near Skaneateles, New York called Strawberry Fields.
These are grown in vertical towers.  They are everbearing strawberries, which bloom throughout the season.  The berries we saw had both flowers, small berries, and ripe berries, all on the same plant.

The berries are not officially organic, but are grown as naturally as possible.

Each tower has a number of pockets, each of which contains a strawberry plant planted in a non-soil planting medium.  The ground around the plants is covered so you are never walking in mud.  Even someone with a back problem, such as me, can pick these with no problem.
Each visitor to Strawberry Fields is given a basket, lined with a plastic bag, with a pair of scissors at the bottom.  You snip the stem and gently place each berry in the basket.

You pick as many as you want, and pay by the pound.

How you use the berries are up to you. I eat them plain (no sugar, no cream - even before Weight Watchers, I loved my berries in the natural way) but you are welcome to use them in recipes.

These berries are grown as annuals, since, basically, they are grown in containers, and probably wouldn't overwinter in our northern climate.

And the best part?  The "small world" factor.  We visited this farm twice on a recent visit to Skaneateles.  The first time, we were helped by a young lady.  The second time, we were helped by her mother, and found that the young lady of the day before goes to college where we live, and lives just a couple of miles from us.

That's why I love travel.  Even if you don't travel far (and this was less than 100 miles from where we live), you can experience something brand new.

Have you ever eaten hydroponically grown fruit?

Friday, August 29, 2014

Laughing Back at Life

This has been an interesting week in many ways.  

This post is dedicated to a friend  and a fan of this blog, and she knows who she is. 

If you will excuse the expression, she is in the midst of kicking a$$ and taking names (an "urban" expression here in the States).  And she's doing that today, so she doesn't want to hear any of my whining about life in general.

For that, I am grateful.  This will not be a whining post. (or a wine post, although I should do one soon.)

I am grateful, daily, for the fact that she has been my friend for 51 years.  Yes, someone has put up with me all that time.  That's important for someone like me who is an only child.

And now, she will have to put up with me some more.  I'm confident that she will be putting up with me for years to come.  Despite that foe that begins with the letter "C".

What this week has shown me, as life has shown me so many times, is that life is not a straight line.  No, it is a crooked line, meandering here and there.  As you age, you have to understand that if you can make plans all you want, but sometimes life laughs at those plans.

Mannequin Lamp, MacKenzie Childs, Aurora, NY
So we have to laugh back at life.

I thought this lamp (yes, it is a lamp) I saw at one of my stops on Wednesday was "you", dear friend.  That's because you, like this lamp, are one of a kind.

You have style.

You have class.

And you're a little strange, but in a good way.  Just like this lamp.

I guess we deserve each other, because I'm strange, too.  As long as you will have me, and the post office doesn't lose my cards to you, I want to dance through life with you with a lampshade on my head.

So there.

Thank you for being my friend.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Another Revisit to The Twilight Zone - with Gratitude

I am traveling back in time, once again, to October of 2009, when I first wrote this post, and an update in September of 2011, after a devastating flood hit my neighborhood, and others in the Binghamton, New York area.

We are coming up on the 3rd anniversary of that flood.  There has been recovery, but there is still a lot of pain.

There is a lot to be grateful for - that we surived, that there hasn't been a flood since despite flood producing rains going all around us.  But, still there is the anxiety, always in the back of our mind:  how long will our luck hold out?

It might have made a good episode for The Twilight Zone. I wonder what Rod Serling might have thought, if he was alive and still living in Binghamton in 2014.

Enjoy the double post from 2011 and then 2009.

Did you know that Rod Serling of Twilight Zone fame grew up in Binghamton, NY?  Did you know that The Twilight Zone TV show, seen by my generation as a new show, and generations since as reruns, aired 52 years ago this past October?

I am honored by the fact that I do much of my exercise walking in Rod Serling's boyhood neighborhood; that in a manner of speaking I walk in his footsteps.

Now that Binghamton (and surrounding villages and town) is in a fight to recover from the devastating floods of last month, I sometimes find myself in a personal Twilight Zone. Just a handful of miles from Rod's boyhood home, I can walk through my neighborhood, and pass from a zone where people just had some water (or a lot of water) in their basements, to a zone where water touched and then receded, to a zone where everything is closed, abandoned, or just plain dark (some still covered in layers of mud) with active rebuilding. I can pinch myself and ask "Did this really happen?  Or was it just a figment of imagination?  And what will it take for us to recover?"

Let us take a lesson from Binghamton's native son.  All things are possible in The Twilight Zone.  We will rise again.

So now, submitted for your approval, a post from 2009.

The Writer Once Without Honor in His Hometown

 Rod Serling.  The Twilight Zone.  The writer and the show are so much a part of our culture that several catchphrases and its theme music immediately bring this show to mind even to my 19 year old son.  Yet it is 50 years (and one day) after its first episode aired on October 2, 1959.  It has never left television once in all of those 50 years.

Happily, the paraphrase above of a quote from Jesus in the New Testament Book of Mark  ("A prophet without honor in his hometown...") may have been true at one time, but no longer is.   Rod Serling, a very talented...and tormented... man, who wrote amazing TV scripts in the era of the Red Menace with messages so timeless they resonate today, has come home.  It is ironic, in a way, that one of his most famous scripts showed a man trying to revisit his childhood in vain.

Rod Serling has now been honored in his hometown.  The hometown of which Rod Serling once said this:

"Everybody has to have a hometown, Binghamton's mine. In the strangely brittle, terribly sensitive make-up of a human being, there is a need for a place to hang a hat or a kind of geographical womb to crawl back into, or maybe just a place that's familiar because that's where you grew up.
  "When I dig back through memory cells, I get one particularly distinctive feelingand that's one of warmth, comfort and well-being. For whatever else I may have had, or lost, or will findI've still got a hometown. This, nobody's gonna take away from me."

We think we know the man in black and white, smoking a cigarette, who intoned the following every week on the TV sets of the baby boomer generation and their parents:

"There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition...."

But what of the child who grew up in Binghamton?  Thanks in part to a conversation I had today with a man from California who upkeeps the Rod Serling Foundation website, I was able to walk in those footsteps.  It was humbling in a way to speak to a man who thinks so highly of a man that he has traveled four times to Binghamton to be here.  The same Binghamton that I am in five days a week, and take for granted.

During my journey, I also met people from Seneca Falls, NY and Cherry Hill, NJ who also came out to share the experience.  To so many, Binghamton is a "burnt out industrial town" but one of these people closed her eyes in delight in Rod's childhood neighborhood and exclaimed her happiness in seeing it.

So here is my tribute to Rod Serling.  I'm not even going to say "submitted for your approval". 

First, here is the home where Rod Serling grew up.  I've passed it doing my exercise walks (disclosure:  I do not live in this neighborhood but I love walking in it) and never knew its history.  As the address and a photo of this home exist on a Rod Serling website, I feel comfortable in posting a picture but will not give the address-it is privately owned.

This is the junior high (now West Middle School) where Rod Serling first met Helen Foley, the English teacher who influenced the boy who became the writer.  I took two pictures to highlight some of the Art Deco architectural details both in the windows above the entrance doors.

The next stop was Recreation Park, just a few
blocks from where Serling grew up, home to a bandstand where Serling carved his initials as a boy.
I didn't take a picture of the bandstand, but I did of the building housing the historic carousel.

Binghamton is known as the "Carousel Capital" and myself and my son took many rides on the same carousel. The carousel, which normally doesn't run after Labor Day, was running today to celebrate.  (Sorry, the picture isn't very good.)  They were showing the episode inside the carousel building on a couple of TV's and, although it has been years, I immediately recognized it because I've had such emotional responses when I've seen it.

A live recreation of this episode will air on our local PBS station tonight.

It will be an emotional experience for us who know the true story.  Which I do now.  I was told that even, after Rod Serling was famous beyond imagination, he would come back to his childhood neighborhood on Binghamton's west side and walk those streets.  Trying to find....something.

For what it is worth, the "Walking Distance" episode was not filmed in Binghamton (nor were any other Twilight Zones, although Serling came back to Binghamton many times) and the carousel in the episode was not this carousel.  It was filmed in Hollywood, according to the Serling expert I spoke to.

This is Binghamton High School (then known as Binghamton Central High School before Binghamton lost so much of its population in the 80's and 90's)

 Next, is a Rod Serling portrait inside of Binghamton High School.

I skipped the Serling star in the Binghamton Walk of Fame downtown, as I pass it so many times that it is an ordinary object to me.  Perhaps that's why prophets are without honor in their hometowns.  We know the famous celebrity as an ordinary person.  One who carved his initials into a city bandstand as a child.

Or even...the thought I had as I passed the boys room in Binghamton High...oh, never mind.

Thank you to Broome County Transit whose special hybrid shuttle bus transported us to some of these sights.

So, what was the rest of the story?

This child of Binghamton grew up.  After Rod Serling graduated Binghamton Central in 1943 he served in the Pacific Theatre during World War II as a paratrooper.   The combat service (including, it is said, seeing his best friend die in front of him) created permanent trauma that haunted Serling for the rest of his too short life.  A driven individual and a heavy smoker, Rod Serling died at age 50 with an unbelievable legacy few of us could ever aspire to.

Some episodes haunted me for years after I saw them.  "It's a Good Life".  "The Midnight Sun".  "The Hitchhiker". "Nick of Time".

Others were morality plays that still resonate today although as a child I did not know their true meanings.   "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street"  "The Eye of the Beholder". "The Obsolete Man".

And, of course, "Walking Distance".

Rod Serling said, at the end of the "Walking Distance" episode of the protagonist Martin Sloane, the man who found out he could not go home:

Martin Sloan, age thirty-six, vice-president in charge of media. Successful in most things but not in the one effort that all men try at some time in their lives—trying to go home again. And also like all men perhaps there'll be an occasion, maybe a summer night sometime, when he'll look up from what he's doing and listen to the distant music of a calliope, and hear the voices and the laughter of the people and the places of his past. And perhaps across his mind there'll flit a little errant wish, that a man might not have to become old, never outgrow the parks and the merry-go-rounds of his youth. And he'll smile then too because he'll know it is just an errant wish, some wisp of memory not too important really, some laughing ghosts that cross a man's mind, that are a part of the Twilight Zone.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Summer Ramblings - The Beauty of Produce

I love the beauty of produce.  Arranging produce can be an art - as seen in these photos I took at two different farmers' markets recently.

We humans can decorate - but nature provides the palette   And what a palette it is.
Peppers, turnips, cylindrical beets (yes, round isn't the only beet shape) and Lacinto kale.  This table (and the one directly underneath) is from a booth run by Laughing Crow Farm in Maine, NY

 I've known them for years.  I smile when I see their booth at the Vestal, New York farmers market.  I have other favorite farmers, too, and I should feature some of the results of their hard work.
Green beans, round beets, carrots.
Cukes, icebox watermelon, potatoes and still more potatoes, and onions.

And best of all - sweet, sweet corn.

One more picture- hydroponic strawberries from Skaneateles, New York, which I will blog about another time.

Late August in upstate New York is so beautiful.

Do you have the opportunity to shop at a farmer's market where you live?