Monday, February 28, 2011

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire and Binghamton

We are coming up on the 100th anniversary of a fire that took more lives in NY City than any event until September 11, 2001.  And, this fire has echos in Binghamton, as I've blogged before- we had our own clothing factory fire in July of 1913.  31 people died in our fire.

The Triangle Shirtwaist fire, two years before, took the lives of 146 people in New York City.   Right now I'm watching a PBS documentary on this fire.

Ironically, the factory was considered a step up from the "sweatshops".  Workers aspired to work there because of the "modern" conditions.

The Binghamton fire helped to fuel (so to speak) the drive to strengthen safety codes that started with the NYC fire.  Work in a building that has open exits?  Are you protected by a minimum wage law?  You owe that privilege to the people that died on those two days.

We must never let anything like this happen again.  Think we are safe? Remember that history tends to repeat itself if people forget the lessons that history teaches us.  Right now we are still struggling with issues surrounding business, and how much government intervention there should be.  Even, yes, child labor.

There is a lot of fascinating history behind the production of shirtwaists (yes, they still exist today) and the union movement.  I can remember, in my childhood, small garment factories in buildings on White Plains Road in the Bronx.  Sometimes, on very hot days, they kept doors open and you were able to peek inside.   wonder, as an adult, about what exactly I was witnessing in those quick peeks as my mother walked me past those buildings.

Meanwhile, in Binghamton, the former site of the factory that burned on Wall Street finally got a monument-last year.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Interesting Opportunity to Have Your Say

I haven't spoken in a while about my spouse's brother, who has autism.  This from a listserv I subscribe to sounded interesting.  Family members, friends, and others, have the chance to "give testimony", they do have to give a name and email address.

I don't know anything about this agency, but it was intriguing.  Apparently the original deadline to participate in this was March 1 but it is now extended to March 4.  Here is the message:  Note, the person with a developmental disability can be any age, child or adult.

In the case of our family member, he is middle aged, and there are a number of concerns.  I don't want to get personal, but I am thinking of posting something.  Don't know if it will go down a cyber-black hole or not, and I'm a bit leery of giving my email address, but perhaps it is worth a try.

We'll see.

Dear Families, Self Advocates and Provider Networks:

Please take a few minutes and read this note and follow through on offering comments to ADD.

It is crucial that the Administration on Developmental Disabilities (ADD) hear from family members and people with disabilities about accomplishments and successes that have been possible because of the help, supports and education people have had access to. (The U.S. Administration on Developmental Disabilities (ADD) has a mission to improve and increase services to and assure that individuals with developmental disabilities have opportunities to make their own choices, contribute to society, have supports to live independently, and are free of abuse, neglect, financial and sexual exploitation and violations of their legal and human rights.)

We, the families and people who depend on this assistance, need to ensure that cuts to education, services (including Medicaid funded services) and employment supports do not put people back into institutions. As parents of children with disabilities, we learned from or heard about parents who helped pave the way for us and for our children. They had few choices and made sacrifices to make life better for people with developmental disabilities and to help other parents. Their perseverance included truly fighting for educational services we consider an entitlement. Their determination included striving for a place to live other than an understaffed institution ward and activities to enrich a person's day so they do not sit idle. These are things we consider an expectation. We need to be the ones to help pave the way for the future.

The potential for children and adults with disabilities losing services, supports and education that have helped make people successful is real.
The Administration on Developmental Disabilities invites you to share your vision of the future. Because of an overwhelming response, online comments are being accepted through Friday, March 4. Please take a few minutes and add your thoughts. Follow this link and provide testimony about community inclusion, participation, education, capital, employment, self-determination, person centered choices, self-advocacy, etc.

This is the link for submitting your testimony/story/comments:

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Nightmare

Night before last, I had a nightmare about my mother in law.

No, my mother in law is not a nightmare.  Not at all. But I've been having various nightmares in the last 6 months or so, after years of not having them at all.

I have a lot on my mind.

I believe I blogged about my mother in law, who is in her 80's, and the fact that she has fallen several times in the past few years.  She also suffered a small stroke a little over 3 years ago.  She fell last in January, and sprained her ankle, after having a dizzy spell in the bathroom.  Fortunately one of her children was in the house, and she was able to get assistance after he heard her calls.  (she had one of the medical alarm pendants, but was not wearing it.)

As far as I know, she hasn't driven since the fall because of swelling, pain, and mobility issues, combined with the condition of roads where she lives (heavier than normal snowfall, huge piles of snow blocking visibility, roads narrowed more than usual).  She's been without a car for a couple of weeks, but is supposed to be leasing a new car later this week.  Anyway, to the dream....

She was visiting up here.  We were at a local park, a park where I've spent lots of time over the years.  In the dream, we were in her car, and she wanted to show us that she could still drive.  I was in the back seat.  She started the car and almost immediately was going way too fast - before she went too far she lost control and we were off the road and on the grass, going quickly to - where?  I was terrified we were going to hit either a tree or a picnic table. (in real life, those would have been hazards, but we also could have ended up in the Chenango River.)  But after a few anxious seconds she was able to stop the car.  We didn't hit anything or anyone.

At that point I woke up, heart pounding.

I don't think I need a dream interpreter to figure out what caused this nightmare, and what I am worrying about.

We'll just have to see.  Me and so many other children and in laws in my shoes.

Friday, February 18, 2011

13th Valentines Day in Heaven

On February 13, 1998 a friend and co-worker passed on to wherever we go after this life after a 16 month battle with lung cancer.

One day, she had found a lump on her neck.  She went to her family doctor and he immediately knew something was wrong.  Her bottom line was that she had cancer all through her body, so much so that it took almost two months to trace back where the cancer had originated.  By then it was almost Christmastime, and she started treatment. From the first she knew the cancer was terminal but the hope was to prolong her life.

She was a talented craftsperson and spent her first Christmas with cancer making the homemade gifts she loved to make, including for her teenaged grandson and her co-workers:  and that Christmas we got the final homemade ornaments she made for us every year.

By that first February after her diagnosis she was no longer able to work.

Sometime that summer, she called me at work and invited me to a picnic lunch.  She drove down to her former office, picked me up, and took me to a local park, where she unpacked a lovely picnic set, complete with tiny salt and pepper shakers.  She was having a good day.  We had a lovely lunch.  She said she did not feel sorry for herself, that although she had quit smoking years ago the diagnosis did not come as a shock because of what her husband and she had loved to do-restore old homes.  During this work, she had been exposed to asbestos.

She lived in an old Victorian home in the Town of Maine, which they had restored.

At the time we picnicked, our office was literally fallling apart.  Due to mismanagement, people were leaving.  As summer passed into fall, the last three of us from before this regional manager was hired quit.

One of us got another job right away.  The other two of us, along with our former office manager (another victim of the mismanagement), decided we would visit our former co-worker and have lunch with her every week.    We did for several weeks, but she was getting weaker and weaker and we stopped-although we kept in touch with her husband.

Her second Christmas was not filled with homemade gifts.  Instead, we went to her house (it was the first time I had been there) where her husband gave us a tour. She tried to show us around but had to quit when she couldn't catch her breath.

She was under hospice care.

In January she and her husband were watching the Winter Olympics ice skating. She had fallen asleep on the couch but when he tried to wake her, she would not rouse.  He called Hospice, they came over.  She had suffered a stroke.

She never regained consciousness.

The Tuesday before she died, the three of us visited her bedside.  She lay on a bed in the living room, a radio nearby softly playing the country music she loved. A morphine pump dulled her pain.  Her husband told us that although it seemed like she was in a coma, that she did have some awareness.  If we wanted to, we could talk to her and she probably would understand, but would not be able to respond.
What do you say?  What can you say?  I spoke to her for a couple of minutes and said goodbye to her.  I squeezed her hand.

I would love to imagine that she tried to squeeze it back.

On Saturday I got "the" phone call.  My husband was at work.  My son was going to a birthday party in a couple of hours and I did not want him to know I was crying.  I vacuumed the floor, silent tears running down my face.

I still think of her every Valentine's Day.  Her husband and her loved each other deeply.  I think she always expected him to "go" first but that was not to be.  The three of us kept in some touch with her husband but finally, as these things go many times, we drifted apart.

Her grandson would be almost 30 now.  I had heard he went through some rough times after she died, and I hope he straightened out his life.

At the funeral home, photos of her family and her artwork were placed near her coffin.  At the church service, the family invited the three of us to go to the graveside with them, as if we were family.  We declined as we felt the family should be together.

In the flood of 2006, I lost almost all of the homemade ornaments she had made for me.

I still think of her when we drive through the Town of Maine.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Book Stores of Dreams

There isn't much to say except my spouse is probably grateful that there are no book fairs like this in the area.  It's enough to make me want to hop the Auto Train and get right down to Florida.

So....why can't we have something like this here?  Or at least in Ithaca?  Ithaca, an  hour from here, already has one of the largest library book sales in the country.  It has Cornell University and Ithaca College.  It has the Book Barn in Dryden, an awesome used book venue I must admit I haven't been to in several years.  Why?  Well my long suffering spouse has lived with my used book collection for years - and going into this place would be like an addict visiting a crack house.

The Book Barn is in a semi-rural area near Dryden, NY (a suburb of Ithaca).  It's....well sort of a barn.  It's stuffed with books.  It's great, but.....

I have to tell you about an even better used book store, Haslam's Book Store in St. Petersburg, FL.  I am fortunate enough to have a relative in the area, and he treated us two years ago to a visit to Haslam's. What can I say except....big time crack house!  (Haslam's is actually both a new and used book store...and it would hold its place in a major city like New York.  No doubt in my mind.  One day I may even visit their Doom Level.)  Just thinking of the old and rare books.....

I went to their website after hearing about the 30th Annual Florida Antiquarian Book Fair, and saw where Randy Wayne White (author of the Doc Ford mystery series) was visiting the store later this month.  Gaaayyyhh, now I really am going to be itching for a visit to St. Petersburg.

I'm so sick of winter.  So sick.

Now I'll spend tonight dreaming of books.  And, Sanibel Island.  Sigh....

Monday, February 14, 2011

Watson's Secret

How many of you watched the IBM super-computer Watson battle all time Jeopardy champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter on Jeopardy tonight?  It was amazing....and scary.

Online, I saw the comment that 'Watson cleaned Jenning's clock."  That person was closer to the truth than he or she may have known.  Or did the person know....the true secret of Watson?

Terminator series fans may have thought of fiction fans may have been reminded of HAL...but I bet not too many of you thought of Harlow Bundy.

Who he?

Let's turn back the, er, clock to the late 1880's when a man with the last name of Bundy developed a time recording device (the forerunner of our modern day time clock) and he and his brother ended up founding the Bundy Manufacturing Company here in the Triple Cities to manufacture the invention.

One of the brothers built a mansion on Main Street in Binghamton, which today is a museum (and well worth the visit.)  As for the Bundy Manufacturing Company, it moved to nearby Endicott in 1906 and eventually became....IBM, through a series of mergers.

So why is the computer playing on Jeopardy called Watson and not Bundy?

Because, in 1914, one Thomas Watson joined the Computer Tabulating Recording Company, which had been formed through a merger of the Bundy Manufacturing Company and several other entities.  In a long story which others can tell much better than I can, Thomas Watson renamed the company when he took control in 1924 and became the person known as the father of IBM.  Thomas Watson is still revered in the Triple Cities today.  The Endicott complex of IBM buildings stands, although much of it is no longer occupied by IBM.

When I came here in the 1980's, people aspired to work for IBM.  Today, it is way shrunken.  What remains?  A few thousand employees and a street named after Thomas Watson, ....Watson Boulevard. (which, when it enters Johnson City, changes its name to Harry L. Drive - named, of course, after one of the Johnson family that Johnson City was named after. And of course, readers of this blog know what happened to THEIR company, Endicott-Johnson.)

In the meantime, IBM has moved on...and $30 million dollars later, its computer named Watson is playing Jeopardy while we humans watch in a combination of pride....and horrified fascination.

Watson even had to pass the same test human contestants must pass to get on the show.

Tonight we got through single Jeopardy.  Tomorrow is Double Jeopardy and Final Jeopardy.  Wednesday is an entire second game.

Will Watson continue to clean up?  Or will humanity persevere and conquer?  Will Watson become the first millionaire computer?  (no, IBM will donate its earnings to charity.  But just think if they allowed the computer to keep its earnings and invest them...)

I'll be in front of the TV, watching.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Chirp Chirp Winter is Almost Over

No, the snow hasn't magically melted nor will it for a while longer.

But this morning February 13....I walked outside my door-and the birds were singing.


This is the first sign that winter is loosening its grasp on the Southern Tier of upstate NY.  The next step will be the sap rising in the trees. While traveling down Rt 17 this morning, I looked to see if that was the case but the tips of the trees along the road still were stark brown against the cloud sky.  No signs of the red glow in the treetops that signals the sap rising.

That won't come quite yet.  But it will.  March will bring the time of maple sugaring.  I just must be patient.

But one can dream.  Dream dream more ice, no more snow, no more fear of falling.  One day I'll go out and not only will the birds be singing, but the crocuses will be poking above the ground.

Still have about 8 inches of snow resting in our front yard. So no spring bulbs yet.  But soon.

Please, soon.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Them Changes

I'm trying to fool around with the best way to share a video on this blog.  I tried a couple of different ways and this one seemed to work best.  This is the Super Bowl ad created for Chrysler featuring rapper Eminem talking about the city he grew up in, to the beat of a song I love, Lose Yourself. (warning, explicit language.)

Ten years ago, if you had told me I would be praising Eminem in any context, I would have told you that you were sadly mistaken.  In those days of the early 21st century, parents of school aged children dreaded any mention of Eminem.  He was evil.  He corrupted the young with horrible, violent lyrics.

Later, as a teen, my son had his poster in his room.  I did not comment.  Wise parents pick their battles with their teens.

Then, I listened to his more recent music.  Especially "Lose Yourself".  Hmmm.....

This is one of the main lessons aging teaches us.  People change, and we change.   And, things aren't always what they seem to be.

The auto industry has had to change, just like so many of us here in America, to survive.  Detroit (which I have never visited, but I have been to Flint) has been through some very rough times, and this commercial can not disguise that their struggle has a long way to go.

You see, I live in a "burnt out industrial town", too.  Not on the scale of Detroit, but we've seem hard times here too.  Some places, especially nearby Johnson City, boast more crumbling, vacant factories than open, vibrant businesses.  If you want to see them (and trust me, you probably don't), just drive a block or two off of Main Street and there they are, in all their former glory.

Sometimes I get so frustrated that people here dwell on the glory days of Endicott-Johnson that they don't spend enough time in the present.  Detroit had to learn that the hard way with their auto industry, too.

A year or two ago, I  blogged about walking around downtown Binghamton during a First Friday (first Friday of the month "art walk") and overheard a young couple comparing Binghamton, not kindly, to Detroit.

So, in a way, I took this commercial very personally.  I can only hope that Detroit does rise from the ashes.  If it does, some Americans may be very surprised how, and also many be surprised at the ethnic groups that make it happen. But we will just have to wait and see.

There is one P.S., though:  my husband and I have only owned one American car (a Saturn) since 1976.  The other cars have been imports, ranging from Germany to Japan to Korea.  There's a reason for that.  We never found much to like in American cars.  Many of our generation felt the same way. 

But in the meantime....of the various relatives that condemned us for owning imports....well, guess what many of them own now.

Yes, times do change.

And soon, they are going to change even more.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Bad weather is a'comin.

So how would I know that?  Well, from some very bad memories.

In 1980, we lived in Wichita, KS.  A record low was set on February 10, 1980.  It snowed on April 4, 1980.  And, what followed was the summer from hell, highlighted by highs of 110 on July 10, 111 on July 11, and 112 on July 12.  All together, 20 heat records were set between June 24 and August 13, 1980, "all of which still stand", according to NOAA.  My spouse had an outdoor job.  We did not have air conditioning in our house.

We left for good the following March.

Well....this morning (February 10, 2011) Wichita hit a new record low of minus 17.  So did Fayetteville, Arkansas (also minus 17), where we lived after moving from Wichita.  This followed record snowfalls on February 9.  In Springdale, AR (where we also lived after moving from Wichita), someone measured 24 inches of snow on their porch.  Nearby Northwest Arkansas airport hit a record low of minus 20 this morning.

The low at our house for this winter, in the Triple Cities of upstate NY, on the other hand, has been minus five.  It is supposed to reach zero tonight.

I was actually seriously thinking about visiting Arkansas this spring to "celebrate" the 30th anniversary of us leaving.  Sure glad we changed our travel plans.

So, are Kansas and Arkansas the new snowbelt?  Not exactly.  While we here in Binghamton have enjoyed a winter full of single digit lows and recently icy sidewalks, Fayetteville, AR should  be in the 50's by the weekend. Good thing too, as they probably have as much snow removal equipment as they did when we lived there...which wasn't much.

Meanwhile, New York City continues to suffer with ice and snow.

Climate change?  Global warming?  Sunspots?  You decide.  For sure, the Weather Channel has it made.

There are drawbacks to getting older.  Too many memories.  Finding patterns.  Dreading another 1980.

Sure hope I'm wrong.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

7th (Snow) Fall

Falling has been on my mind a lot lately.  So has aging.

The other day, the Weather Channel talked about the 7th major snowfall set to hit the NY metropolitan area.  I was downstate about 10 days ago, helping my mother in law, who had fallen in her home two weeks before.  An unusual amount of snow has fallen, leaving massive drifts and narrower than normal roads. This kind of thing is somewhat normal for municipalities in our area (especially to the north of us) but not for NYC and the area just north.

My mother in law, injured, has been almost a prisoner in her home, due to her fall and the snowfall.   She hasn't tried to drive since the fall-and there are few public transit options in her area.  Even when she feels recovered enough to drive, I wonder how she will cope with the changed landscape.

It's not my mother in law's first fall, either.

Then, it happened to me.  Last Tuesday, I was walking in my neighborhood.  Fresh snow covered the sidewalk.  I should have known better - this particular house, I knew, doesn't take good care of their sidewalks.  I thought, though, there shouldn't be a problem.

I was wrong.  There was ice under the snow.  My feet slid from under, I fell on my butt, and hit an icebank on my right side.

I thought I wasn't hurt.  I got up, my dignity slightly damaged (someone was cleaning off their car, and I don't think even noticed), and proceeded on my way.  But by the time I got to work, I knew I had hurt myself.

Three days later I saw my massage therapist, my back hurting and pain occasionally shooting down my leg.  He worked on me for an hour.  He said nothing felt wrong, but I obviously had given myself quite a jolt.  Even now, a week later, my back still doesn't feel right.

I've fallen on the ice before trying to get to work - although I certainly don't try to make a habit of it.  I don't think I've fallen on ice in about three or four years, though. (I do have ice cleats, if it gets really bad.)  Other times I bounced back.  This time, not as fast.  I'm sure the extra weight age (and other factors) have put on me haven't helped.

The next day, one of my husband's co workers, who happens to be the brother of someone who works at my company, fell on the ice on his driveway (freezing rain having fallen) flat on his back.  He had a backpack on because his school aged daughter had asked that he bring the backpack out to his car.  No lasting damage, fortunately, because of the backpack (for one thing, it probably prevented him from hitting his head.).  His doctor told him to put heat pads on his back.  Maybe I should have done that.

Meanwhile, my balance stinks and I have to do something about it.  My local Y (where I exercise) doesn't offer Tai Chi, which I've read could be of help.  Yoga, I'm not so sure about, with my back problems.  I've heard mixed things about Pilates for those with back problems.  I need a back friendly exercise that will help with my balance.  My search will continue.  As for my mother in law.....

My mother in law-well she is in her 80's and she is not bouncing back very quickly.  I fear she will never be the same, although it could have been worse.  She said to me "I've fallen before and hurt myself more, but this time it is just not healing."

Aging stinks.  So does winter.