Sunday, January 31, 2016

End of a Challenge and Weekly Blogging Roundup #3

Today is the last day of the Ultimate Blog Challenge. After having avoided blog challenges for part of 2015, I had a good time with this challenge.   I've discovered some brand new blogs and become reacquainted with others I haven't read for a while.

Now, it is time for bloggers of the world to unite.  It's time to pay the love forward and list, on your blog, some blog posts you've enjoyed this past week.

To get you started, here are some blog posts I enjoyed this past week.

First, Holly blogs about "bad attitude blogging" and teaches us an important lesson.  Yes, there is a good side of having many blogs out there in the blogosphere.  Discover what it is.

Manzanita, a blogger who grew up during the Depression, blogs about...well, you'll just have to read it.  It's a profound lesson.

An ode to decluttering - and more - from K Lee in Maine.

Martha blogs about an important fact:  you are never too old to learn.

You'll never look at color in the same way after reading this post from Sue McPeak, a Texas blogger I "met" on last year's A to Z Challenge.

Laurel in Canada and her weekly blog post on Zentangle - lovely work, as always.

Can you imagine taking part in a cattle drive?  I can't, but this blogger did. 

And finally, I do not engage that much in politics, but I enjoyed this tribute to a politician who died in 2012 at the age of 90.  The philosophy of this late senator was hard won in battle and in life, and, even if you do not share his politics, you will agree with some of his philosophies.

Now: go, and pay the blog love forward.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Local Saturday - Goodbye to An Average Superwoman

Farewell, Sandi Tuttle, an Average Superwoman.  You were anything but average.

I cybermet you at the very first Author Blog Challenge in June of 2012 (along with several other awesome writers who also became my Facebook friends).  I won a prize from you - a T Shirt that said "If I have wings, why can't I fly?" (For those not of a certain age, that refers to, umm, certain flaps that develop under your arms.  Don't smirk.  You'll see.)

You gave me my 30 minutes of fame.

You interviewed me for your Internet radio show, where you talked with me about one of my passions, community gardening.  I thank you for the opportunity to get the word out about community gardening and local food growing.

Meanwhile, you were doing so much more in your community.  You fought the good fight against bullying and battled against the fashion industry tears down women's self image.  You made wraps for people with breast cancer.  You declared your intentions to one day write a book.  You called yourself an Average Superwoman.

Through your blog and Facebook, I felt that I knew you, even though we never met.

And then, you were diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. 

At one point you blogged about a tenacious leaf you looked at, outside your chemo room, and how it clung on despite everything the winter weather could throw its way.  Another time, you blogged about losing your mojo.  When the infrequent Author Blog Challenge started up this past September, you tried to participate - this was your last post.

I learned about your death earlier this week the way so many of us do nowadays - through Facebook.

Today, we mourn you, Sandi Tuttle, a way Above Average Superwoman.

Cancer sucks.

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Sand Painting

The Dalai Lama is at the world renowned Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, for treatment of a prostate condition.

He is expected to make a full recovery but will take about a month off after his treatment in the United States.

Why is everyone so excited?

The Dalai Lama is not the name of a person.  Rather, it is a title given to the spiritual leader of Tibet. But, since 1959, he has had to live in exile.  He has become world renowned for his philosophy, and for his efforts to promote peace and understanding while in exile.

This man (his given name is Tenzin Gyatso) is the 14th Dalai Lama, and is revered in many parts of the world.

In 2007, he visited Ithaca, New York, about an hour from where I live.  I wasn't able to see him in person, but crowds of upward of 5,000 people attended talks he gave.  In one talk, he said, according to the Syracuse, New York newspaper:

"Living, sentient beings -- animals, birds, insects, human beings -- all have the right to survive and carry on their life," the Dalai Lama told a sold-out audience at Cornell University's Barton hall. "All have a right to peace."

Which brings me to my memory of the sacred sand painting.

I, among many others, were honored to be able to see a beautiful work of art constructed in his honor at the Herbert Johnson Museum of Art on the Cornell campus.  Two mandelas, temporary, sacred sand paintings used as an aid to meditation and for healing purposes, were constructed by local monks.  

My spouse, then-teenaged son, and I arrived hours before the work was to be completed, and were able to see the monks work on them.  I don't have pictures, possibly because photography may not have been allowed.

There is something about sand paintings that is so fascinating, because they are meant to be temporary.  They are a sacred art form.  Their building starts with an opening ceremony. They are worked on with great patience and prayer. 

The Dalai Lama, during his visit to see the mandelas, blessed them.

They were destroyed days after the visit, as nothing in this world is permanent. A parade was held in a type of closing ceremony to carry the sand to a local river. There, the sand was deposited. The healing properties were meant to disperse into the river and bring healing to the world.

Peace. Healing. Such a simple concept.  But so difficult to obtain.

Will our world ever attain it?

Have you ever seen a sand painting built?

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Throwback Thursday - Challenger

On Friday, January 28, 2011, I wrote the blog post "Another 25 Years Ago Moment".

Now, five years later, it is the 30th anniversary of the defining moment for an entire generation.  For me, who grew up with the space program, it is a sad anniversary in so many ways.

On January 28, 1986 the U.S. space shuttle Challenger exploded, on live TV, 73 seconds after its launch.  All seven crew members, including a civilian teacher, were killed.  Tragically, the explosion was caused by an O Ring failure - something so small caused something so big.

Today, for NASA, it is a Day of Remembrance - a day when NASA remembers all those who gave their lives for the cause of the exploration of space.  A special website has been put up.

At one time, the space race was an extension of what we called the Cold War between the United States and the then-Soviet Union.

Now, the United States pays Russia to transport our astronauts to the International Space Station.

But some of the students of the civilian teacher who died in the Challenger disaster now are teachers themselves. 

Would they have gone into teaching if they hadn't seen their teacher die, live on TV?  I wonder.

And I wonder if our space program will ever truly take off again, as so many of us thought it would all those years ago.

As I said below, time flies when you are having fun (or not).

Here's my post from 2011.

Another 25 years ago Moment - Challenger

There are two events linked together in my mind and heart.

January 21, 1986:  the death of my father.  And, a week later, the explosion of the Challenger.

I wasn't a member of the generation which had this event as their "defining moment" but I can still remember exactly where I was.  I was in an office in Fayetteville, Arkansas, that Tuesday, just having returned from burying my father out on Long Island.  I was at work, when one of my co workers announced he had just spoken to one of our customers, and he relayed the news to us.

It was the first time I had felt anything in a week.  Simply, I had been numb since getting that phone call that my father had passed away in a Brooklyn emergency room.  This was the first thing I felt since that phone call.

The space program had meant so much to me growing up.  I became a big fan of science fiction - for some years, in fact, it was all I read.  So the shock penetrated through the numbness.  Now I was really surrounded by death.

It is so hard to imagine that 25 years have passed since that day, and here we are, with the manned space program soon to end.  25 years later, and an astronaut by the name of Mark Kelly ponders whether he will fly in that last mission, because his wife lies in a rehab center, survivor of an attempted assassination.

Two 25 year commemorations in a week.  And to think I was a teenager when we had the 25th anniversary of the end of World War II.  Time flies when you are having fun (or not).

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Winter Wonders -The Phone Call with Oprah

Today, I have a question for you:

Would you buy a product, or use a service, just because a celebrity endorsed it?

Here in the United States, the involvement of one particular celebrity can make the fortunes of a book.  Or a company. 

So, for many people, the answer is "yes".

What is my answer?  Let me tell you a story.

Since November of 2012, I have been a member of Weight Watchers, a diet program that is a lot more than that.  I was overweight, on the verge of obesity, and suffering from a number of weight related issues when I signed up. 

I have a lot to thank Weight Watchers for.  Their program taught me how to eat, the basics of portion control, and the need to journal your weight journey.  I learned I was a good person and deserved good health.   It is a lifetime commitment when you have a weight issue, I learned.  Their weekly meetings gave me encouragement.  If I slipped up, I knew I could get back on track.  And, when the at-work meeting I went to was discontinued, I continued to lose weight using the website and app.  It took a year, but I met my goal. 

Weight Watchers has had it issues.  A lot of issues. At the beginning, I had to use their customer service several times, and was way less than impressed.

It also costs money. For that payment, you get support - as much as you need.  Meetings (which, if you have a good group leader, are wonderful).  Weekly (private) weigh ins at a Weight Watchers center.  Apps.  Websites.  Tools.  In my case, once my at work program ceased to exist (not enough participation) I continued to subscribe to the website and iPhone app, and met my weight goal.

This past October, billionaire entertainer, businesswoman and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey took a 10% stake in Weight Watchers, joined the Board of Directors and became a consultant.  If you have heard of Oprah, you know she has struggled with weight a lot of her life - gaining, losing, gaining, losing, with her public watching intently.  I give her a lot of credit for making her weight journey public.

Right after that, Weight Watchers had one of their periodic reboots.  Every several years, they change their program.  Existing members must decide if they want to continue what has worked for them, or embraced the new program.  For me and others I've read, the rollout was uneven. Features of the website were suddenly missing. The app was glitchy, many reported, and, for my older smart phone not on the current iOS, there was no more app, period.  But there was - Oprah.  She was losing weight on the program.  Everything was going to be all right.

But, as for me, I would be more impressed if Oprah had lost the weight on Weight Watchers - and then kept it off.  For several years.  And THEN became their spokesperson.

It can be done.  There are meeting leaders who have both talked the talk and walked the walk. I met one who was a lifetime member for over 20 years. These leaders have my admiration.  But, I'm sorry to say that Oprah has not yet walked this keeping it off walk.

It may be a lot of people were unhappy because last week I got the following email from Weight Watchers: (I am sharing this because the existence of the phone call is on the public part of their website. I've removed contact information.  In fact, the website is using the call as a recruitment tool.  To participate you have to become a member.

Becoming a part of the Weight Watchers family has been an awakening experience and I believe that together, we're just getting started. As we connect and share our stories, this special energy is only going to grow. ...

This is why I'm so excited to invite you to our special members-only LIVE call this Wednesday night, January 27..... Come join me. I'll be answering questions from members all over the country.

Send your question to me at (an email address) .... I can't wait for us to check in with each other...

Now, this implies Oprah herself is reading those emails. Maybe. Maybe not.  I doubt it; if anything she has assistants sorting out the emails for her and giving her a report of the major issues uncovered. That's what a smart businessperson would do - delegate.   And, Oprah is smart.

Now we will have to see if Oprah can do more than make emotional commercials.

You see, losing the weight is only part of the struggle.  In some ways, it's the easiest (and it isn't easy, so what does that tell you?) So...I'm sorry, but I'm not impressed.  I will not be at the phone call tonight.  I hope I can find out the results, but I won't through the website.

I quit Weight Watchers over the weekend.  Not what I've used to take off the weight and keep it off.  But the paid program. I will seek support elsewhere, where celebrities don't get involved.

Do you pay attention to celebrity endorsements?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Searching for Snow in All the Wrong Places

For those of my blog readers who heard of the great blizzard that hit parts of the eastern coast of the United States this weekend, you are probably thinking "Oh, AM lives in Upstate New York.  She should be entertaining us with beautiful shots of snow".

You would be wrong, because we are way below our normal snowfall total.

Not only that, we have barely any snow on the ground. But my readers want pictures of snow for tomorrow's Winter Wonders feature.  So, not wanting to disappoint my faithful readers, my spouse and I embarked, Sunday, on a quest to find snow.
Near Waverly, New York
My readers know how much I hate snow.  This January has been a dream come true - for me.  Not for several million other people, but I am sure our turn will come before spring.

First, we headed west.  Hardly any snow on the ground.  So we turned, and we started north. 

Here, the Catherine Valley trail crosses Rt 14 between Horseheads and Watkins Glen.  "One day" spouse and I will walk some of it.  Now, look carefully on the left.  You'll see green grass.

We must continue North, I said to spouse.

On the way north, we decided to visit some of New York's many excellent wineries.  No sacrifice is too much for my faithful readers.
Glenora Winery, the oldest winery on Seneca Lake, near Dundee, NY
Several sacrifices later, snow started to appear.  Encouraged, we continued north.

Finally, near Weedsport (named after the two merchants who helped to found the village, not the stuff you smoke) the sun set over snow. We were in the official New York snow belt.  It was about time. Finally, my quest was completed.

Now, I have to get ready for my phone call with Oprah (more on that tomorrow, maybe).  Yeah, that Oprah. Me and several million people, but that's a story for tomorrow.  A true Winter Wonder.

What was your weekend like?

Monday, January 25, 2016

Music Monday - The Dark Side of RA

Please forgive me for a bad wordplay on an album title, because it has been another hard week for the music industry, with the death of two more musicians, both dead at the age of 67.

One of those deaths, Glenn Frey, I want to talk about some more before I pay tribute to him.

Glenn Frey had rheumathoid arthritis, something that always draws my attention, because my mother also had RA.  She was diagnosed at a time when there was little medicine could do for it. It caused her tremendous suffering.  She died relatively young.

Now there are drugs for RA, but they can have nasty, very nasty, side effects because of the way they must work within the body.  Heart failure. Nervous system problems.  Infections. Susceptibility to tuberculosis.  Even cancer.

One of my neighbors died from a cancer that may have been a side effect of one of those drugs.  He was only in his early 60's. He told me he did not regret the drug he took because it made a positive difference in his life for about four years (until he was diagnosed with brain cancer.) Meanwhile, Frey died from pneumonia and colitis, in addition to the toll RA took on his body, according to his manager.

Those with RA will have to keep on fighting, every day. 

I will now remember Glenn Frey, co-founder of the Eagles?  There are so many songs to choose from.  I am picking three of my favorites.

My personal favorite, Hotel California.

You Belong to the City.

A Don Henley song, here performed by the Eagles - Dirty Laundry.

This week, we also lost Dale "Buffin" Griffin, drummer for the English rock band Mott the Hoople, dead from Alzheimer's.  While they did more than this one song, it's a song I love.  All the Young Dudes. It was ironically written by the late David Bowie, who died at 69 earlier this month.

I never thought my "Music Monday" feature would end up as an almost weekly RIP to artists of my youth and young adulthood that we have lost.  Next week, I will try to blog a tribute before that artist dies.  And after that?  We'll see.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Weekly Blog Roundup #2

Today, welcome to my 2nd Weekly Blog Roundup (organic, I promise) of some other bloggers I enjoyed in the past week.  I will try to maintain this at least through the rest of January, and February.

Before I launch into the roundup, I want to blog a bit more about all the people in big cities and small on the east coast of the United States, like Philadelphia and New York, who endured a blizzard yesterday.  At least 14 dead, thousands stranded, thousands more without power.

But, at the same time, everything shut down - mass transit, restaurants - and what did many these people do?  They embraced joy.  To quote a old and tired expression one more time, they took the lemons handed to them and made lemonade.

Today, I am determined, in my own life, to do the same.

Too often we pay attention to our own blogs and don't thank those bloggers who inspire us, give us ideas, entertain us, make us think, or introduce us to worlds different than our own.

Today, I link to several blog posts I enjoyed this past week.

Roy Ackerman, one of the most intelligent people I have met in the blogosphere, notes the passing of a man with a special lesson to teach us.

Alice blogs about a wonderful online crochet group she's belonged to for years and the "comfortghans" they make for group members going through a rough patch.  
(Have I mentioned I've been a crocheter for some 45 years?  Not recently?  Well.....)

Carol Cassara blogs about people who go off the grid.  In a big (and ice cold) way.

K. Lee Banks, a blogger from Maine, blogs about the rules of happiness - this is a series; I suggest you read them all.

Emma from the United Kingdom blogs about a trip she wants to make - for most people it would be an easy one - for her, harder in ways many of us wouldn't think of. 

Do you love to read?  Would this list brought to us by Indian blogger Parul surprise you?

What were some of your favorite blog posts of this week?

What are your favorite topics of blog posts?

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Local Saturday-When Location is Everything

Today, a lot of the coastal Northeast United States is under blizzard conditions.  Winter has kicked in, and in a big way.  Our nations capital is shut down, and may have their highest snow total ever.

It all depends where you are.  Coastal areas are experiencing flooding.  But, elsewhere, a party atmosphere holds, as people come out and play.
These are the "Rocky Steps" in Philadelphia, famous as the 72 stone steps in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art that film character Rocky Balboa runs up in several Rocky movies.  Today, children and college students sled down them.

About 90 miles away, in New York City, tourists and residents walk and cross country ski in Times Square. (This is a live picture taken at 3:15 pm by our Weather Channel, and I did not photoshop in the gloom from the heavy snow in progress.)
Meanwhile, where I live, inland, in upstate New York, we missed the storm all together.

All we have is a coating of snow on the ground and on a frozen creek.
In my back yard, frozen Lenten Rose flowers add some winter interest.

I even have some parsley left in my back yard.

I know that the next storm may hit us, and miss the coast.  That's how winter works around here.

But, in the meantime, I'm happy we missed this storm.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Don't Rummage Through Your Purse in Public

Another 15 seconds of fame for your blogger, AM.

This time, I appeared (three times in one night) on a local news program...rummaging through my purse.

Said rummaging was during a class on decluttering, downsizing and reorganizing.  I didn't know I was being videoed until the next day, when my co workers gleefully told me about my candid appearance in the video.  Oops.

Exhibit one for decluttering and downsizing:  my purse.  I think I was rummaging for a pen to take notes.

Anyway, our local Office for Aging sponsored this class on decluttering and downsizing.  It was more a sharing of common experience, along with a couple of hand outs.  I was one of the few caregivers there but there were a lot of middle aged and older people there to find out how to take control of their lives back from clutter.

I'll bet many of my readers struggle with this.

So do many bloggers.

The name of Marie Kondo even came up.  Yes, we do have a lot to learn from this decluttering expert from Japan, but if I bought her book, it would join the other thousands hundreds of books in my house.  Along with unread magazines.  And nostalgic knicknacks.  Clothes I don't fit into.  Shoes. Stuff from my grown son's childhood and things I am storing for my mother in law. Paperwork.  Ah, all that paperwork.

I even found out there is a clutter support group that meets once a month in our area.  On a weekday, of course, when I work.  But I did learn a lot in the class, and I am ready to tackle the clutter.  Not like Marie Kondo would.  But I will find my own way.  I have to.

One small step at a time.  I (and my belongings) will be happier for it.

Do you have a problem with clutter?

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Throwback Thursday - Who Among Us Is Worthy?

Thirty years ago today, my father passed away.

What can I say to pay tribute to the man who raised me after my mother died when I was 12?

I can remember January 21, 1986 so well.  I lived in Arkansas and worked in Fayetteville, their third biggest city.  It was a mild winter day.  I sat outside at lunch and wrote a letter - a letter! - to an aunt living in Iowa.  Went home, took care of my chickens, had supper, and then got the phone call from my aunt who lived in New York City.

He died at a VA Hospital in Brooklyn.  My father had served in World War II and had suffered a head injury (traumatic brain injury) that left him suffering from seizures and with some other issues.  Like many disabled vets, he faced prejudice and a medical system that did not always work for him.  He also built a life, marrying, and fathering a baby girl-me.

He never stopped loving his country, and never stopped trusting the VA.  And, to me, he was a good father.

In a way, having a father with a disability prepared me for being the sister in law of a man, my spouse's youngest brother, who is developmentally disabled with a condition called autism.

Thinking about that made me think about a post from my blog, written in 2012.

Was my father less worthy as a person because he had epilepsy?  Is my brother in law less worthy because he has autism?

Who Among Us is Worthy?

As the sister in law of a 50ish year old man with autism, I have to say something about a recent event.  A little background first.

I know someone who, when a boy, was helped tremendously by Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).  He had an illness that stumped doctors in this area.  His health failing, he was brought to CHOP and they were able to diagnose his illness.  He received treatment.  He recovered.

He was worthy.  Our medical system worked for him.  He is an adult today.

And then, there is the case of little Amelia Rivera, who was recently refused a kidney transplant by CHOP because...well, she suffered from Wolf-Hirschhorn Syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes many difficulties for those with it, including intellectual disability.  Finding a donor was not a problem (as it is in too many cases of kidney transplant.)  CHOP refused to do the transplant because she was, quoting what her parents said the doctor said:  "Mentally retarded".

After the mother went public on a support site, the story went viral.  In all fairness, we probably do not know the whole story.  But, in reading some articles, and comments, and lurking around on CHOP's Facebook page, it would appear that this kind of medical decision is not an isolated instance.  From what I can tell, CHOP is rethinking their processes, and are continuing dialog with little Mia's family.

Not that long ago I blogged about nostalgia not being all it's cracked up to be.  My father had epilepsy due to a brain injury he suffered in his service during World War II.  There was little nostalgia associated with the prejudice he suffered when he came back home.  In fact, in some states, I would not have been born because he might have been subject to involuntary sterilization. our modern day and age people with disabilities are still being denied medical care. Their lives just aren't as valuable as yours or mine.

So what will happen when my brother in law needs medical treatment? Thank heavens that day has not yet come. But will he be deemed worthy?  Until recently, insurance discrimination against people with autism was very much a problem, and it is only slowly being addressed by state laws prohibiting such discrimination.  Do we need legislation to prevent medical discrimination in care, too?

Some have written a lot more elegantly than me on the issue of the worthiness of Amelia to get this transplant. 

If we say we value life, it has to be all life-not just the lives of the smart, the lives of the wealthy, the lives of the beautiful.  Our medical system is broken, for this and other reasons.  We all have stories to tell from our own experience. Medical bills we can't afford, insurance that won't pay, not having insurance and suffering the consequences.  And now....we'd better not be disabled, either.

We must fix it, for many reasons, including the most selfish reason of all.  One day that person being denied care may be - you.  Or me.

2016 postscript: Amelia's case had a good resolution, incidentally- she finally received the kidney transplant.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Winter Wonders - The Night Shift

A winter's day, in a deep and dark...January (with apologies to Paul Simon).
The sun set, framed in a door window at our local shopping mall here in Johnson City, New York.

For many, the work day had ended at 5pm.  But for many more, the work day had just begun, framed by the setting sun.

It was time for the Night Shift.

Like the Verizon customer service representatives we had to speak to (more on that later in the week, hopefully) for over two hours. (If I did not acknowledge your comment on yesterday's blog post, that is why).

And, the man who answered my spouse's phone call at 10:30 pm, when spouse discovered that our furnace had stopped working.  It was a cold night, below freezing, and it was not a good time to not have heat.

The man my spouse talked to was at another person's house.  He tried to diagnose the problem codes (ah, computerized heating systems) and finally, my spouse asked him to come out.  With the cold, we couldn't wait until the next day.  So, as good as his word, he was there as soon as he finished his other job.

As the repairman works on our heating system, I blogged, and shivered just a little.

Without that man on the Night Shift, we would have had a cold, cold night.

Someone still needs to fix the actual problem, but he got the heating system running again.

Thank you.  You are a winter wonder.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

When Water is Toxic

None of us can live without water.

When we turn on our tap, here in the First World, we expect the water coming out of it to be potable.  We depend on our government to provide a good drinking water that will not poison us.

What happens when the water you drink is toxic?

I want to thank Denise, a blogger in Michigan, for inspiring me to write this post.

Back in the late 1970's, my spouse and I drove through Flint, Michigan on the way to somewhere else.  We passed auto plant after auto plant.  But, with the decline of the auto industry, Flint declined, too.   The decline was so serious that a movie about Flint (Roger and Me) in 1989 became a hit - a controversal hit, but a hit nevertheless.

Now, Flint is in the news again, for the worst reason - children are involved.

In 2014, Flint, which was drawing water from the nearby major city of Detroit (about a 45 minute drive away) decided instead to draw water from the Flint River to "save money". Immediately, there were complaints about the taste of the water, which were disregarded. In the fall of 2015, it was discovered that this was a tragic mistake - the proportion of children with above average levels of lead had doubled.  In October, Flint reversed this decision, but it was too late.

Now, the water in some parts of Flint is testing at some of the highest levels of lead researchers have ever found in a municipal water supply-enough to meet a government definition of toxic waste.  Now, the National Guard has been called out to distribute drinking water to the affected residents.

How toxic is toxic?

I can remember when lead was used in household paint.  Then, they found that children would chew flaking paint, and the lead caused all kinds of damage - to quote the Washington Post, problems caused by lead "can include high blood pressure and other cardiovascular problems, kidney damage and memory and neurological problems."  Lead was banned from paint.  Later, lead was banned from gasoline.

The terrible effects of lead, in other words, have been known for years.

Yes, just imagine - endangering the future of children to save some money.  Water that goes into baby formula, water that goes into schools, water that goes into daycare centers...water, the staff of life.

Until it isn't.

I rarely get political on my blog, but this defies belief.  Our President has declared a Federal emergency in Flint. 

Hundreds of children have tested with too-high levels of lead in their blood.

The natural urge of many of us is to reach out and contribute money for relief/supplies. But, if you do, please be very careful. Scammers love to take advantage of these situations.  Please be careful, and investigate any organization you want to give money to.

 One TV network has posted this information, which I have not investigated, or endorsed.

What will be the end result of this tragedy?  I shudder to think that we are only seeing the beginning.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Music Monday - A Bad Beginning

Today, in the United States, it is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, where we pay tribute to one of the most influential men in our country from the 20th century.

On this Music Monday, I pay tribute with a song by Dion, a native, like me, of the Bronx (a borough of New York City) - Abraham, Martin and John.

His loss is still felt, almost 50 years after his death. 

Loss is one of the few constants in our lives. If you want to get philosophical, check out this blog post on loss.

This week, we have other losses in our world to mourn.  For the creative community, this has been a rough 10 days.

A number of deaths this week hit the creative world.  Some were of the singing world, some of the acting world, some were of both worlds.

First, David Bowie, dead of cancer at 69.  Just about everything that can be said about him has been said, so I will simply post his Space Oddity video, made in 1969. (Not the hit version; see which you like better.)

Alan Rickman, dead of cancer at 69.  (Here, his famous encounter with helium.)
 Dan Haggerty, "Grizzly Adams" dead of cancer at 74. (This is a thirteen minute interview, but even a couple of minutes will show you what kind of man he was).

Celine Dion, the renowned singer - this past week both her husband and one of her brothers died - both from cancer.  Here she performs her hit "I'm Alive".
 And finally, Noreen Corcoran,  famous for her role on the TV show Bachelor Father.  I can't resist but post two of her songs from the 1960's.  Here is Dreamin' of You.

Love Kitten - so catchy and toe-tapping.

May the rest of 2016 be better.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Weekly Blog Roundup #1

Today, I am going to start a new Sunday feature, a Weekly Blog Roundup (organic, I promise) of some other bloggers I enjoyed in the past week.  I will try to maintain this at least through the rest of January, and February.

Too often we pay attention to our own blogs and don't thank those bloggers who inspire us, give us ideas, entertain us, make us think, or introduce us to worlds different than our own.

Today, I want to link to several blog posts I enjoyed this past week.  There were more, but I wanted to keep this somewhat short.

Holly Jahangiri introduced me to the concept of Slow Blogging.  Guess I was even slower than she was in discovering it.

Roy Ackerman - ever wonder about your privacy and auto insurance?  You'll be sorry you asked.

Alice's Grand Adventures - Lentil Soup.  Doesn't her post make you want some?

Emma Crees, a Writer in a Wheelchair with some parody songs.

Having Coffee with Peppy: a blogger in Idaho - not your typical blogger, and I'm glad.  Her coffee is always on.

and finally, Marian Allen visiting a monastery in Kentucky - her observation "probably not Han Solo" made my entire week.

I hope you visit one or more of these blogs, and find something that appeals to you.  Happy blog visiting!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Local Saturday - Walmart and Whoopie (Pies)

No more "urban offense and rural defense".

Walmart is ending an experiment begun in 2011, with small "express" stores.  Some 10,000 people in the United States, and another 6,000 outside our country, will lose their jobs.

Walmart had hoped that lower income shoppers (who will shop several times a week, as they accumulate enough money to shop)  would embrace the concept of a smaller, 10,000. sq foot type store, larger than a convenience store but smaller than a mega-big box superstore.

All the more reason why you should support your local grower and shop (if there is one) at your local farmer's market.  Big corporations are not there for their customers.  Obviously, all sellers sell to make profits (otherwise, why be in business?), but for small sellers, the customer and his/her needs is always a main focus.

Why?  Because they've met you.  They know you personally.  You are a person to them, not a dollar amount of profits.

Today, a visit to the twice a month indoor winters farmers market in downtown Binghamton, New York illustrated that.

A farmer we've bought from many times invited us to come up to his farm.  "It will be more relaxed there.  We can visit, and we have more items than we can take to the market."  As he spoke, a young woman helping him out smiled and interacted with another customer's young son.  I can just imagine the pleasant memories this young boy will have when he is older.

Niechelle Wade, a woman who farms (Sunny Hill Farms) near Whitney Point, New York, greeted me from her booth.  She had chocolate and gingerbread whoopie pies for sale.  I couldn't resist.   These are hand made, with love.

You can get whoopie pies at Walmart, too.  But you can't talk to the baker.

Another bakery person, the owner of Boer Bakery at Downward Slope Farms, chatted with me about her out of this world crackers.  She explained that I could call her before Wednesday and she would have the baked goods I wanted at the Saturday market.  That included her crackers, which are so labor intensive she only makes them by special order now (and not during the summer heat).  She also said if I wanted something not in her selection of breads and baked goods, to suggest them.

Do Walmart executives go out and talk to their customers at their stores?  I wonder.

Perhaps it isn't fair to compare a huge Walmart with small local growers and producers.  But, as far as I am concerned, that's exactly why I like to shop at farmer's markets - because it is more than a trip to buy food and make someone far away that much wealthier.

It's social contact, money that stays in the community and is respent, and food for the soul.

Will you or someone you know be affected by the Walmart layoffs?

Friday, January 15, 2016

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day January 2016 - Snow at Last

Welcome to Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, a monthly meme hosted by May Dream Gardens, a blogger in Indiana, where gardeners and flower lovers gather from all over the world to show what is blooming in their yards (or houses).

Last month, for the first time ever, I was able to show flowers blooming outside my zone 5b upstate New York house.   The key word here is "outside".

In fact, if Garden Bloggers Bloom Day had been just a couple of weeks before, I could have featured a blooming white hellebore.

 Alas, snow now covers the ground, my white hellebore's flowers have frozen dead and the action has moved indoors.  But what action it is.
My Thanksgiving cactuses are still blooming.  Here is a pink bloomer.
A red and white bloomer.

The African violet I featured last month is still blooming.

I got some (I think) Plectranthus cuttings when attending an Ithaca, New York event in October.  They are still blooming nicely (and finally growing roots) in water.

Soon to join it is something I did not expect. Last Mother's Day (May, here in the United States) I bought my mother in law a phalaenopsis.  I liked the cachepot so much that I treated myself to one, too.  I don't have the best track record with orchids.  Earlier this year, in fact, I managed to kill the only one that ever rebloomed twice for me.
I bought these plants at our local Wegmans (a supermarket chain) and have been so pleased.  My plant has been thriving.

I was watering the plant yesterday and this is what I saw.  Buds!  In January, no less.

These preexisting plants have been joined by a plant I bought about three weeks ago, a primrose.

And, speaking of supermarkets, I was shopping at our local Aldi and saw this hyacinth, forced in water, for sale on Wednesday.  It was small, but the price was right.  This is a store where, if they feature plants, you have to get them the same day they arrive because no one takes care of them.  Hopefully, the rest of them sell to good homes.

Now please stop and smell the roses - and other flowers.  Head on over to May Dream Gardens and see what else is blooming this 15th day of January.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

What Would You Do with a Billion Dollars?

The 1.6 billion dollar jackpot multi-state Powerball lottery I blogged about yesterday sold three winning tickets: one in California, one in Tennessee, and one in Florida.  

So the lives of at least three people (maybe more) will be changed forever, and we can only hope it is for the better.

So, what would you have done with your winnings?  

After I wrote my post yesterday on the American mega-lottery Powerball and its 1.5 billion dollar prize in last night's drawing, I got an email from my guest photographer.

I had said "I'll take obscurity, and happiness, over the misery of winning the lottery."  In turn, she replied:
"Such wonderful words! A distant cousin of mine won $1 million and ended up bankrupt. here have to also be people out there who bettered their lives and other's lives and who gave a lot to charity after winning. But I think you need an attorney and a mindset to just keep on living your true life and not give it over to spending money.
That said, I would get a new car, pay off everything, and turn Project Paw [a local no-kill cat shelter] into the Crystal Cathedral---no more cages. All glass and screened-in balconies for all. Then I'd pay off (name of a good friend of her's) mortgage. Fix (a name of a disabled vet she helps out from time to time) roof. The list goes on and on. So, just in case, get your wish list started!"
One of my blog readers commented:

" My sister and mom bought a powerball ticket. If they win, they will share the money with the rest of the family. I will buy a house near the river and I will buy up some of the wetlands around here and have a conservation easement put on that land. I will also have nature trails put through the wetlands so people can enjoy nature."

So, I got to thinking.  My wish list would include one of these (once I had an attorney and a financial advisor in place to make the lives of my immediate family more secure):

-promoting community gardening where I live, near the small city of Binghamton, New York.
-starting a "matching funds" drive to get some of our many eyesore buildings torn down. and replaced with housing to benefit senior citizens.  Our community has so many seniors and so few housing options for them.
-promoting our local farmers market and, at the same time, finding ways to make the downtown Binghamton market thrive AND its offerings more affordable to the many impoverished people living in Binghamton.
-starting a drive to find an early test for pancreatic cancer, a cancer that has impacted both sides of my family.

Naive and overambitious, perhaps?  Well, obviously, I didn't win.

How about you, dear readers?  What would be your wish list if you won a billion dollars?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Winter Wonders - Powerball

Yesterday, we got the first snow accumulation of the winter.  Given I live in an area that can get upwards of 120 inches of snow (in the metric system, that translates to "lots of snow"), that shows what a different winter we have had.
It isn't just us (and if you want to see our totals, check out the stats for "Binghamton".)

When I moved to this part of upstate New York in the mid 1980's this was a normal sight by October.

But snow, or climate change, isn't what we are talking about in the United States today.  No, what we are talking about is a true Winter Wonder, never before seen in our country.

In the United States, Powerball is a multi-state lottery.  Residents of 44 states, plus the District of Columbia (our capital is not in a state) and a couple of other American entities such as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, participate in Powerball.  Every Wednesday and Saturday night, a series of numbers is drawn.  If you purchase the winning ticket...well, you've won a lot of money.

Maybe, because of taxes, it isn't as much as you think.  And the odds of winning are not great.  Since sometime in November, there has not been a winner.  So the jackpot has grown, and now is around 1.5 billion dollars U.S..  As in "billion".

1.5 billion U.S. dollars translates into a lot of money.  Just think.  Designer clothes.  A fancy car.  A fancier house.  Gourmet food.  Servants.  World travel.  The end of your problems.    Doesn't it sound nice?  (By the way, if you are reading this outside of the United States - yes, you can buy a ticket.  Although, I'm not suggesting it.  Why?  Keep reading.)

So, at work yesterday, the topic was "have you purchased a Powerball ticket?"

My answer:  no.

Years ago- to be exact, over 30 years ago- I knew someone, on a professional basis, who won the New York State lottery.  I'll spare you the details, but it did not end well for him, or his girlfriend. They ended up in court, suing each other over who purchased the ticket, and if the other party had been promised half the winnings and...I have a feeling, by the time it was over, that he wished it had never happened.

He is not alone in wishing he (or she) had never won, if you believe a major New York City newspaper.  Bankruptcy rates approaching 70%..drug overdoses...even winners being murdered.

I speculate the disasters following a lottery win are due to a combination of factors - not knowing what to do when you receive a large sum of money, greed, and losing judgement.  We all say "oh, it won't change our lives; we'll be the same person."  Or "I'll give most of it away".  Wrong.

Still, I don't envy (that much) the people who will win tonight - if there is a winner.

I decided I would rather spend the money on a high quality dark chocolate bar, although a losing Powerball ticket, I figure, has fewer calories.  I'll take obscurity, and happiness, over the misery of winning the lottery.

What about you?  If you live in a place with Powerball, did you buy a ticket for tonight's drawing? Do you have a plan for if you win?  If you don't play lottery games, why not?

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Abandoned Skates and the Lonely Christmas Tree

Today, we should be getting our first "more than a dusting" snow accumulations.  Perhaps, tomorrow, I'll have an actual winter post to offer for my Wednesday Winter Wednesday feature.

So today, let's mourn (or celebrate) the end of our snowless streak.

This Sunday, spouse and I took a walk on the Vestal Rail Trail near Binghamton, New York.  As I've blogged about so much, we had an unusually mild winter until last week.  After a few days of seasonal cold, it started to warm up again.

Sunday was showery and in the 50's (high of 11.6 C). When we started to walk, showers threatened, but I wanted to see what sights awaited us.

Before I do, though, I wanted to show you something special.  About halfway through our walk, the sky opened and we were drenched.  We decided to turn around, as the rain beat down on us and our one small umbrella. 

But then, the rain stopped, and nature apologized with a sight we usually don't see in January.

Stranger sights awaited.
Scatterings of green leaves here and there.  This is not a normal January sight in upstate New York.

Shortly after we began our walk, we passed these abandoned skates lying near a bench on still-green grass.  Green grass-another never before seen sight in upstate New York.

The skates were still there when we came back. Oh, if we only knew their story.
Or the story of this living Christmas tree, ornaments dancing in the wind.

What was your weekend like?

Monday, January 11, 2016

Music Monday - Is It a Small World After All?


The other day I read an Internet article on "what has been the most frequently played song?"

It turns out the winner, according to the article, is a song called "It's a Small World". This song has been part of a theme park ride for over 50 years.  It's been played over 50 million times.

This ride now operates at various Disney properties throughout the world, and all those repetitions of that song add up.

I've been on two of those rides.  One was at Disney World near Orlando, Florida.

But my earliest memory of this ride was not at a Disney property at all but, rather, at the 1964 New York World's Fair.  I rode it several times with my family and once on a school field trip (I grew up in New York City).  My spouse also rode it twice.

Would you like a glimpse at what the original look of this ride was like?  This video is of high quality.  It's a bit long but you will get the point quickly.  I would say "not bad at all for 1964!"  Some say the content is stereotyped; others say it is sweet and innocent.  You can decide for yourself.

Just don't listen with the speakers on, unless you want to develop an earworm.

Rides come and rides go but this one has staying power.

Have you ever ridden it?

Let's see how much of a small world this is.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Sunday Turkey and Greens Soup

On a cold winter's day, what is better than a steaming bowl of soup?

When our local supermarket had some reduced price turkey wings (we've never had a problem with their reduced meat) my spouse bought a couple of packages.  Soup is an excellent food - it hydrates you, and (the way my spouse makes it), it is suitable for those watching their weight.  Also, the sodium content can be adjusted according to taste.

First, he made the soup base.

Take the turkey wings and add them to a large pot with water to cover.  Add a couple of bay leaves and several cloves of garlic, smashed with the flat part of a large knife to release the flavor.

Simmer for about one and a half hours.

In the meantime, spouse prepared the meatballs with the following:
Ground beef/veal/turkey mixture about 1/2 pound (about a quarter of a kilogram)
chopped parsley
chopped garlic, cloves first smashed with flat part of knife
chopped green onions (some call them scallions)

He mixed all ingredients together with his hands, formed little meatballs, and cooked one quickly in the microwave to taste.  Satisfied, he dropped them into the soup, raw. 

The meatballs, added.
After another 30 minutes,, he took out the now-cooked turkey wings out and defatted the broth.  
(By now, the meat will fall right off the bones)

You want to have the meatballs cook in there before the defatting so that some of their fat is taken out at the same time.

Then, he added veggies that take a few minutes to cook - baby carrots, celery - and cook another 20 minutes or so.  Finally, he added the tender greens - escarole (what we use) or spinach, plus some precooked pasta.

If you wish, you can add canned beans, tomatoes, or corn, to this soup, also.  The beauty of this soup is its versatility.  There is no right way to make it.  Use what is on hand.

Delicious - just perfect for a day like today.


Do you like soup?  What is your favorite?
I don't publish many recipes on my blog, but if you want to see more, let me know.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Local Saturday - Winter Arrives In Upstate New York

One upon a time, we never thought winter would come. Oh sure, the calendar said "December".  But the weather screamed "October".  Some people spent Christmas Eve (December 24) entertaining people on their patios, enjoying weather in the 60's.
And at night, some houses sparkled.

We thought it would last forever.

It didn't.  Mother Nature (pictured above, at the Rose Bowl parade on January 1) woke up, and realized she hadn't given us winter yet.  So she did.
Morning of January 5, 2016
These Fahrenheit temperatures translate to -15C with a wind chill of -21C, in case you are a reader outside the United States.  Here, it translated to "brrr".  Quickly, the cordoroy pants, heavy sweaters, boots, and wool socks were dug out of the closet.

 I'll add that these temperatures are not unusual for a typical January morning.  But, without much snow on the ground, I fear for plants, not given a chance to adjust to winter after a prolonged fall.
January 4, after sunset
Sure, nature tried to apologize.  With cold, clear, weather, the sunsets got pretty.  We came out of our local shopping mall (the glare on top is from a street light) to find these beautifully lit clouds.
Oakdale Mall, Johnson City, New York

The next night, the post-sunset was even nicer.

But, the true price of our extended fall will only be known when spring finally arrives.

In the meantime, I am determined to find the beauty in winter. After all, here in upstate New York, we usually have enough of it.

Just, oh please, not too much snow.

Friday, January 8, 2016

What A Difference Two Years Make

Sometimes you have a chance to revisit something that happened years ago .  My 15 seconds of fame occurred in early January of 2014 - just two years ago.

It seems like a million years ago since I was interviewed for a TV segment on a controversial subject.

Since I wrote the below blog post, so much has changed.  The substance in question has been legalized in several more states for both medicinal and recreational use, and is now legal, in some forms (not the smokeable form) in my home state of New York.  In fact, one of the 20 statewide (at least at first) dispensaries for said now-legal substance is going to open a mile or so from where I live.

I never would have dreamed of that legalization in my 1950's/1960's childhood.

But the dispensary  was supposed to open today in Johnson City, New York, and didn't.  

Why am I not surprised?  Things never seem to work in a timely manner where I live.

Said substance is still illegal in many parts of the United States, and under Federal law, but we all know what it is.  I'm still not going to link to the interview, but it is out there if you look hard enough.

The former occupant of the space where the Johnson City dispensary is moving into was last occupied by a restaurant called the Grub House.

How much this opening will benefit our local, hurting economy (and sick people who can benefit from what will be sold there) waits to be seen.  

Now for my original post. What a difference two years makes.

My 15 Seconds (Or Less) of Fame

Think fast!  You just never know when your moment will come.

In my 61st year, I finally achieved a moment of local fame, at least with people I know.

Tuesday, I was interviewed for a local TV "person on the street" feature.  It happened like this:

Our temperature peaked, at midnight, at 48 degrees.  By noontime, it was touching freezing, with the wind whipping, and I knew it wouldn't end until we went below zero. (For those not using the F temperature system, zero is really, really cold.)

I hadn't seen my walking partner in perhaps a month or so, where I work in downtown Binghamton, New York. I was pleased but surprised when she messaged me and asked if I wanted to walk with her to her bank.  Well, I did want to get out, and out we went, fighting the wind. 

On a street corner, there was a young woman standing in that cold wind, next to a camera on a tripod.  On the sidewalk underneath the camera was a microphone.  She looked lonely.

We quickly walked past her, fighting the wind, and she watched us, not saying anything.

On the way back, about 10 minutes later, my walking partner (who is a very sociable person, unlike the shy yours truly) went up to the woman, and sympathized with her needing to stand there.  At that point, she asked us if we wanted to be interviewed. "Only if it's quick!" my companion replied.

She talked to both of us and asked me to go first.  She told me to stand in an exact place and look at an exact place.  And, during all this, my mind is churning away.  I did have an opinion on the topic but I wanted to say something smart, or at least coherent.  (I'm not providing a link because the topic might not be considered appropriate to a blog challenge I'm participating in).

The topic is one being discussed widely here in upstate New York because we may be following some other states' paths in legalizing something (for medical use) that has been illegal throughout the United States for a long time. 

It turned out the reporter is originally from a state that has gone all the way in legalizing this thing. We chatted briefly.  Then came the magic moment.  My 15 (or 10?) seconds of fame had arrived.  Would I be up to the challenge?

I think I did quite well. I seem poised and yes, I was coherent. 

So I saw myself on TV for one of the few times in my life, and I'm told the interview was repeated three times that evening.

And all I could think of, looking at myself, was:

"Gee!  My new glasses look pretty nice on me, don't they?"

Have you ever had a chance to be interviewed, unexpectedly?  How did you do?