Saturday, December 31, 2016

What Word Does 2017 Need?

In 2016, I started the New Year by choosing a word - Determination.

And then I totally forgot about it.

I had said I was determined to make a difference - great or small.  I don't know if I did.  But 2017 is not going to be 2016. 

In the United States, we have an incoming administration that is scaring many of us.  Hate is on the rise.  Minorities are fearful. 
Hand of Man, Owego, New York, 2015

The angels of our world seem to be in short supply, and powerless.
from Hanukkah House museum, Binghamton, NY  2012
Snowbabies may be cute, but this is quickly becoming a time for more than cuteness.

Those of us who choose a #WOTY (Word of the Year) are making our choices.  There are so many good words to choose from - love, happiness, explore, simplicity, daring greatly, enable, gratitude, and more.  They are all good words.  When I thought of mine, this word popped up right away.

We need, for 2017..... Determination

Perhaps I chose my word a year early.  NOW is the time for determination.

DETERMINATION - not to stay silent if speaking out against hatred is needed.

DETERMINATION - to stand up against events that need standing up against.   I think about authors who have written books that have changed the world.  It is possible.  I must remember that one person CAN make a difference.  Could a blog post change the world?

DETERMINATION - to make my voice heard if the quality of life of my brother in law, who is developmentally disabled, is threatened.  

DETERMINATION - once again, that I will grow my writing, and my photography, no matter what my personal challenges are this year.  Even if it only grows a little, it will be a victory.   

Today, I link with #FridayReflections at Everyday Gyaan and  Laurel at Alphabet Salad.  
Will you join us?   Have you picked a word for 2017?

Tomorrow, I join the Ultimate Blog Challenge.  Let's see what determination can do.
To all my readers, near and far:  HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Skywatch Friday - Last of 2016

This is the last #SkywatchFriday post of the year and I will leave you with two shots.

A rare midday sunny sky in our part of upstate New York. Nothing unusual here except that the sun is shining and you can see blue sky.

Christmas sunset.

May your 2017 be merry and bright, with only beautiful skies, and the best sunrises and sunsets.

Please visit other Skywatch Friday sites, and a Happy New Year to you.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

A Broken Heart?

Can someone die from a broken heart?

Once again, 2016, the year that will not quit, has struck, taking actress, singer and humanitarian Debbie Reynolds from us late yesterday, at the age of 84.

Coming a day after her daughter Carrie Fisher died at the age of 60, we first thought the news that she had been rushed to the hospital after suffering a stroke during planning her daughter's funeral was one of the fake news pieces that clog social media and the Internet.

Alas, it was not.  The sad news came as I was preparing for bed.

So, once again, a short musical tribute.

"Good Morning", where Debbie sings and dances in the movie "Singin' in the Rain".

Tammy, from 1957, a #1 hit song recorded when Debbie was 23 years old.

And, from the 1973 movie Charlotte's Web, a song, Chin Up.

What a career she had. Movies. TV shows.  Voices in cartoons.

It doesn't surprise scientists that Debbie Reynolds may have died from extreme stress brought on by the death of her daughter.  It turns out mother and daughter were extremely close.

And, in fact, I believe this happened to my cousin's husband years ago.  His mother died from cancer, and several days later, his father died from a heart attack.

Nor does it surprise scientists that we, the public, can be so distressed by the deaths of people we don't know.

Now, Debbie Reynolds has joined her daughter.  May the Force also be with her.

Why don't we honor both of them today by telling someone important in our lives how much they mean to us?

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Winter Wonders - May the Force Be With Her

Yesterday, there was a disturbance in the Force.

Carrie Fisher, who played Princess Lea in the original Star Wars movies, died yesterday at the age of 60. 

2016 continues its streak of being fatal for performers.

Why did I like Princess Leia from the first time I saw Star Wars, on a hot Wichita, Kansas summer day in 1977?  I was a young 24 and Ms. Fisher, 19, was on her way to fame - and, sadly, extensive drug use.  Perhaps it was self-medication (she had bipolar disorder).  Perhaps it was a byproduct of her acting genius. But, I didn't know any of that then.  To me, Princess Leia and her courage and spunk made those movies.

I had been a fan of science fiction since I was around 10 and read Robert Heinlein's Have Spacesuit - Will Travel, so I became one of millions of Star Wars fans.  Never fanatic, but I enjoyed the characters of Obi-Wan, Yoda, Jabba the Hutt, Hans Solo, Luke Skywalker, Chewbacca, and, yes, even Darth Vader.

Especially Darth Vader.  But most of all, I loved my Princess, the one who was - as we would say today - a badass.  Never passive.  She was as brave as all the others, and, unlike the others, even fought once in a slave bikini.

Now, the Princess is finally at peace, one with the Force.

I can't say anything that hasn't been said before so I will, instead, talk a little bit about Star Wars music.

My husband purchased Star Wars and other Galactic Funk, a disco adaptation of the Star Wars soundtrack, when it came out in 1977.  Now, we own it as a CD.  You can enjoy it, too, courtesy of You Tube.

This past month, my spouse and I saw the first three Star Wars movies again.  I will have those memories forever.

May Princess Leia forever rest in peace, and may the Force always be with her.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Happy 2600th Post - A Hanukkah Potpourri

Today I am posting my 2,600 blog post, and I have decided to make it a delightful mix.

For the past month, we in the United States have been deluged with the music of Christmas.

But now, Christmas is over, and it is the third full day of Hanukkah. (Here is an explanation of the holiday, .)

Today, for your enjoyment, some music of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, both traditional and modern.  Some are children's songs that teach.  Others are religious in nature.

But first, a few non religious "fun" facts about Hanukkah: (here is another take):
1. One of the fun parts of Hanukkah for children, besides helping to light the Hanukkah candles, is singing songs about the holiday, and playing a game called Dreidel.  When my son was young, I used to play dreidel with him using Cheerios.
2.  Hanukkah is a time to eat fried foods, as foods should contain oil in them.  A favorite is latkes, a fried pancake commonly made with grated potatoes and onions.  More on latkes below.
3. Another favorite is jelly donuts, or sufganiyot.  One will easily set you back some 600 calories, and, nowadays, they are filled not only with jelly but with every imaginable filling.

As this is not a religious blog, I will concentrate on the secular songs, mostly contemporary. But before we get started, how about those sufganiyot?  Want to see how they are made?

And now, some music.

This first song, by Six13,  is a play on "Hamilton", an extremely popular Broadway play in our country.

Next, a traditional children's song called Dreidel, by Shir Soul.

Next, it's time to cook Latkes, as in Latke Recipe, back to the Maccabeats.

A modern song called "Candlelight" also by the Maccabeats. 

A final song, a jazz song called "Hanukkah Lovin'" by Michelle Citrin, for fans of contemporary jazz.

As a year-end bonus, here's a recipe for latkes, a favorite dish for Hanukkah, made with grated potatoes, onions, matzoh meal, and, sometimes, parsnips.  They are normally fried since one of the themes of Hanukkah is cooking with oil - i.e. frying. But I've gained too much weight this holiday season, and, when it comes time for latkes,  I am going to turn to this recipe.  Or something similar.

Another way to cut down the calorie count is to incorporate other veggies into the latke - such as zucchini.   I love them topped with my unsweetened (homemade) applesauce.

Thank you so much to you, my readers, for making this 2,600th post possible.  Without your reading support and comments, I never would have made it this far.

May your days be merry and bright.  And may all your latkes be crispy and light.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Music Monday - Last Christmas

It was Christmas night when I read the news on Facebook - singer George Michael had passed away at the age of 53. As of right now, the cause of death stands as heart failure.

I thought - when will it end?  So many singers have passed these last twelve months.  But, I had already planned a post on Hanukkah music. I decided to run it tomorrow. 

Here is a selection of hits.  First, Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, from 1984, in the Wham! years.  Get up and dance to this for your Monday morning.

Careless Whisper, from 1984, also with Wham!

Faith.  I so love the beginning of this song, from 1987, and George Michael's first solo album.

A 1991 live performance of "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me", an Elton John Song, with Sir Elton John himself.  John was one of many artists who expressed their shock at Michael's death yesterday.

In his 53 years, George Michael only released eight albums - three with a band, Wham! and five as a solo artist.

Finally, one more George Michael song (from 1984) with a title that seems somehow appropriate for this most untimely death.  "Last Christmas".

There were so many other songs I could have chosen from, but I am saddened today.  Too many artists gone this year - too many to name, and I don't even want to do a retrospective. 

This is my last Music Monday of 2016.  Let us hope that 2017 is a kinder year to the music community.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

A Christmas Visit to the Circus

 Merry Christmas to all of my readers who celebrate this holiday.

At the Tioga County Historical Society's annual Oh Tannnenbaum fundraiser this year in the small town of Owego, New York, one of the themes was the Circus.

For many of us, we have memories of attending a circus and being amazed.

It bought us Joy.

Won't we buy a virtual ticket and pay a quick visit to a Christmas Eve circus?


Old circus toys.

I only had one visit to the circus, in my late teens. (A certain relative knows what is coming).  My then-boyfriend (now my husband) was told by his Mom to take his little sister to the circus. So we went down to Manhattan (I grew up in New York City) and saw the Ringling Brothers/Barnum & Bailey Circus at Madison Square Garden.

But not for long, because my little future sister in law was a bit overwhelmed by all the noise, smells and action - and we ended up having to take her home.

I've never been to the circus since.  But at least, at Oh Tannenbaum, I was able to visit it once more, at least briefly.

I will leave you today with a song sung by Pentatonix.

Tomorrow, a post in honor of Hanukkah.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Local Saturday - On the Cusp of Two Holidays

We are on the cusp of two religious holidays here in the United States - a major one for Christians, Christmas, and a minor one for those of the Jewish faith, Hanukkah (why minor? I'll explain later in the coming week).

Blogging about an annual public caroling event in downtown Binghamton, New York, has become another holiday tradition on this blog.

On the last work day before Christmas, people working in the Security Mutual building, a historical building dating from 1904, gather in the lobby to sing Christmas songs at noontime.

Part of the beautiful lobby.  I believe the murals (which are on two sides) were added in the 1980's.

The lobby's Christmas tree.

Here is a selection of songs from Thursday's caroling.  I am not an experienced video taker, and it shows.  I also did some panning so you could see the beautiful historic Security Mutual marble lobby, something members of the public can only see at this time.

Jingle Bell Rock

O Christmas Tree

Jingle Bells

Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree.

Tomorrow, another Christmas post.
Meanwhile, Hanukah begins tonight at sundown.  Last year, in the lobby, symbols of the two holidays sat side by side.  I will blog more about Hanukah later this week.

To my readers of the Jewish faith, may we light the darkness once again, and think of the days ahead.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Skywatch Friday - Winter Solstice Edition

Today, for #SkywatchFriday, some photos taken from a highway (I was not driving) in upstate New York.

December 19 sunrise, with a plume of factory smoke.
And two photos of the same sunset, on December 20, the last fall sunset of the year.
A few minutes later.

Wishing my readers a happy holiday season.

Join with other participants in Skywatch Friday, to view the sky from all over our world.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

A Christmas Carol

Classics are classics because they are timeless.

No matter what your nationality or religion, a story written over 100 years ago still teaches us eternal truths.

"A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost-Story of Christmas" by the British author Charles Dickens, was published on December 19, 1843.  It had an autobiographical element but also combines various Christmas legends and traditions.

If you call a miserly person "Scrooge", or declare "Bah, humbug!" you are channeling Ebenezer Scrooge, the main character in this story.  The character of Tiny Tim, a minor character in the novella, lives on in our collective memories. 

In the story, Scrooge, a successful businessman lacking the most basic emotions of humanity such as love or kindness is visited by his dead business partner, Jacob Marley. Marley's ghost has a warning for his former partner - the ghost, who was a lot like Scrooge while alive, has been walking the Earth these past seven years, unable to atone for his sins.  It is too late for Marley but it isn't too late for Scrooge.  Scrooge, said Marley's ghost, would be visited by several ghosts and given his last chance to develop the best in human qualities.

Three ghosts follow Marley's ghost - the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come, to instruct Scrooge.

At the end of the experience, Scrooge is a changed man.

Here is a quote from the book:

“No space of regret can make amends for one life's opportunity misused”

The book, more commonly known as "A Christmas Carol",  was an immediate success, and has never been out of print.

This is the only (or so I read) surviving clip of an adaptation of A Christmas Carol on film, from 1901.

In this 1935 adaptation of a play based on the book and brought to film, Scrooge is played by Sir Seymour Hicks, considered a great man of the British theatre.

In these times we are entering, the story of A Christmas Carol is more important than it has been in years.  As Dickens said, so many years ago:

“They are Man's and they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance and this girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.” Some things about our world never change.
But, perhaps, like in the story, there is hope. Scrooge changed for good, and did not return to his old ways.  Rather, the book ended like this:

“And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Winter Wonders - Winter Has Arrived

Every Wednesday from now until spring begins in March, I will have a winter-related post.
Winter began today at 5:44 local time.

Today, a building in the small community of Maine, New York, with an old-fashioned commercial on its side.

For my fans in places that rarely see snow, the coming months should be a treat for you.  Not only that, but I read a news article yesterday saying that Binghamton, New York leads the eastern United States in total snowfall so far this season.

Yay, us.

Happy Winter!  Happy holiday season.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016


Determination was my word for 2016.  I chose it the last day of 2015, and then I promptly forgot I had chosen it.

Until now.

I am determined not to forget a word I chose again.  The world won't let me forget, either.  In retrospect, it was a good choice for 2016.

The world has changed in these last 12 months.  It is grimmer.  We are going into a new year with a new President who takes office on January 20, and there is both hope and fear for the future.

Living in our new world takes determination and other qualities. 

It is time for me to choose a word for 2017 (assuming I do choose one).  In the meantime, here is my post from December 31, 2015:
West side of Binghamton, New York, 2015
It's time to sparkle.

I am blowing off the dust from my blog, which hasn't been refreshed in a while.  I updated my blogging template, as my regular readers (thank you for coming!) will note.

I joined a blogging challenge for the first time in several months.  I read several older posts for inspiration.  I went to a sparkling wine tasting, and tasted, for the first time, Dom Perignon, Cristal, and even the Pol Roger Champagne served at William and Kate's wedding reception.


DETERMINATION will be my word for 2016.  (My word for 2015 - DIFFERENT - well, 2015 was different, all right).  I'm being more careful with my word for 2016.  I am:

DETERMINED that I will attain certain goals, which I will not reveal to my blog readers.  (Why?  It is said you are more likely to succeed if you don't announce them.)

DETERMINED that the essential "me" will not be swallowed up by the need to help with the needs of my elderly mother in law and my developmentally disabled brother in law.

DETERMINED that I will grow my writing, and my photography, no matter what my personal challenges are this year.  Even if it only grows a little, it will be a victory.   Even if, at some point, I decide to no longer blog daily, the fact that I have for nearly five years is a victory.

This past year, I learned once again just how precious life can be. The 39 year old son of someone I went to high school with died in a freak accident, leaving a young child and a pregnant wife.  My best friend from childhood died from cancer. A former co worker is gravely ill as I write this, and probably will not survive her illness. It would be a terrible thing to waste the opportunities I have been given.

Of course, it could be just the Champagne talking, but I don't think so.  I was buoyed by a couple of recent comments on my blog, one by a reader who said she would miss me if I stopped blogging, and another one who extended an invitation. (That second person has no idea how introverted I am in real life but...hey, one can grow in ways other than blogging, too.).

I know I have something of value to share with the world.  I am determined to make a difference, small or large.

So....please join me tomorrow as I start a new year of blogging, and a year of determination.

Will you be choosing a word for the coming year?

Monday, December 19, 2016

Music Monday - Christmas Music Written By Jews

This seasonal post has become one of my favorite features on my blog.
Tioga County, NY Historical Society "O Tannenbaum 2015"
Why do Christians in the United States dream of a White Christmas?  Why is it so important that snow is on the ground?

White Christmas (the song, as sung by Bing Crosby) is the best selling single of all time.

It may surprise you that White Christmas was written by a Jewish song writer.  It may also surprise you that Jews are responsible for many other beloved Christmas songs.

My quest to find out more started in 2010, reading a NY Times Op Ed.  There are a number of these songs, and other bloggers and writers have done the research for me:  I thank them, including the wonderful people at Mental Floss and this article. (a must read, based on extensive research).

Some may argue that these are NOT Christmas songs, but rather songs about what I would now call the "secular Christmas". True, these are not hymns.  But it is true that the American celebration of Christmas incorporates many aspects of non-religious symbolism - this ground has been covered by other writers.

I consider them Christmas songs.  I think, in particular, few would argue that "I'll be Home for Christmas" isn't one of the most heartfelt Christmas songs every written.

(Note, I have not done any of this research myself.  I am not a musician or a music expert, just someone who likes to listen to well written music.  So if I end up spreading wrong information, I apologize.  I did try more than one source, but - as you well know- you can't trust everything you read on the Internet.)

Additionally, in the past year, I have discovered a wonderful blog and - hey, great minds! - John Holton of The Sound of One Man Typing has also blogged about this very topic. I welcome you to visit John's blog and read even more - a lot more - on this topic.

Here's my list:

1.  White ChristmasIrving Berlin lived to 101, married a Catholic woman back when that type of intermarriage was extremely scandalous (to both families) and defined Christmas for entire generations of American Christians.  (Incidentally, he also wrote "Easter Parade" and "God Bless America".) The next time you wonder if you will be having a white Christmas, and if you can't figure out exactly why that should be so important, well....blame Bing Crosby and Irving Berlin.

2.  Silver Bells:  this one is another movie song, and talks about the bells of the Salvation Army "in the city". (I always assume it is New York City.)
 Another Bing Crosby classic.

 3.  Winter Wonderland: the author of this song was a Jewish man from Brooklyn.  The air must have been a lot less polluted in those days.   When I grew up in the New York City of the 1950's, a snowy day was more like a Black Crusted Snow Wasteland.

4.  The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire):

The Nat King Cole version is one of my favorite songs, ever.  This brings back so many memories of the holiday season in the late 60's in midtown Manhattan and the vendors who would sell roasted chestnuts.  The fragrance carried for blocks.  For this song, we thank the Jewish songwriter Mel Torme.

Jack Frost would certainly nip at your nose in NYC.  The climate there is so damp, it feels way colder than it really is.

5.  Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow:  the duo, both Jewish, who wrote that song, also wrote "The Christmas Waltz".

6.  I'll be Home for Christmas.

As an almost-history major in college, this song makes me think of my aunts and uncles who served during World War II.  For this, I chose a version sung by Frank Sinatra.

Finally, something I picked up in my research:  remember Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.  It would seem that Johnny Marks, the author of that song (and also "Rockin' Round the Christmas Tree" and "A Holly Jolly Christmas")  was Jewish.

Think of the themes of these songs:  Missing your home.  Childhood nostalgia.  Enjoying a season of lights and happiness. The different child (or reindeer), scorned by others, who becomes the best of all.  These are universal themes, and this is why these songs, I think, are so appealing, no matter who wrote them.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Would You Help A Neighbor?

Would you help a neighbor if the neighbor needed your help?

Let's take it a step further.  What if helping that neighbor endangered you?  What if helping could cost you your life?  Would you then help that neighbor?

I have another question for you.  Think long and hard before you answer this question: Would you help someone you didn't even know, knowing that help would put you into danger?

Answering requires a keep dive into your soul, the very essence of your beliefs. I, personally, think many of us will not know the answer unless and until it happens to us.

In our country, heroic people do walk among us.

For others, their time came during World War II.

The "Righteous Among Nations" (I will call them "Righteous") are non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during World War II - the Holocaust, or the Shoah, whatever you may call it.

At the Hanukah House museum in Binghamton, New York, this year's exhibit paid honor to the Righteous.  The material my spouse and I saw is courtesy of Yad Vashem, the memorial and institute in Israel that is one of the most comprehensive, if not the most comprehensive, collection of documentation of the Holocaust.

Here's just a sample of the heroic people who came from all walks of life to help their neighbors, their co-workers, and people they never had met before.

One of them was Princess Alice, the granddaughter of Great Britain's Queen Victoria.

Polish social worker Irena Sendler helped to smuggle Jewish children outside of the Warsaw Ghetto, and continued her efforts even after the Warsaw Ghetto was no more.

One exhibit contained a listing of the number of Righteous by country.  These numbers can not be fully trusted for various reasons but it gave me chills reading the list.

Some of the Righteous are well known, such as Hermine "Miep" Gies,  Otto Frank's secretary, who helped to hide Frank's family (including the famous diarist Anne Frank).  After they were found and arrested in 1944 (and ironic that new theories concerning these arrests are now coming to life, even as I write this blog post), Miep Gies went to the Nazi police and tried to get them released.  This heroic woman died in 2010, a month short of her 101st birthday.

It is interesting to note that many of the Righteous started out as bystanders, and risked not only their lives but the lives of their family, as the Nazis would execute entire families for the crime of helping.  They were ordinary people, like you. And me.

So, ask yourself now, even as the number of Righteous dwindle daily - "What would I have done?"

Saturday, December 17, 2016

She Won on Jeopardy

I was going to ask my readers today: what would you do if you were in a certain life situation?

There are times in life where we are given the opportunity to step up, to do something greater than ourselves, and show true courage.  Will we answer the call?

I'm still going to ask you, but not in the way I had expected to.

Cindy Stowell, a woman from Austin, Texas, was an experienced trivia player whose lifelong dream was to appear on an American game show called Jeopardy.  Jeopardy has been on the air, in its latest version, since 1984, all with the same host, Alex Trebek.

She made the show, a feat that few who apply accomplish. One of my childhood friends is a former Jeopardy champion, so I know a tiny bit about the process.  This will give you a small glimpse into Jeopardy, if you aren't familiar with it.

This week, Cindy's first show aired and she won.  Then Cindy won again. And won still again.

But there was something different about Cindy.  Her voice was hoarse, weak.  And there was something not quite...right, as much as she showed her quick thinking and competitive spirit.  I mentioned it to my spouse and he agreed.

I didn't know the rest of the story until yesterday, when I looked her up online.

Cindy Stowell competed on Jeopardy, on shows taped this summer, knowing that she was terminally ill. She had been diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer in 2015.  She had told the producers of Jeopardy, when she was called to audition, that the doctors had just told her they were running out of options - she had, perhaps, six months to live.   If they could fit her into their taping schedule, she still wanted to compete, and donate her winnings to cancer research.

They fit her in.   Cindy competed.  She was feverish, fighting a blood infection when she competed, and was on painkillers.  But she reached into herself for every ounce of strength.  Her fellow competitors didn't know of her situation, but Alex Trebek did.

Cindy Stowell died on December 5, a week before her first show aired.  She was 41.

She was able to watch her the video of first episode from her bed before she died.

In winnings, she may not be the #1 champion the show ever had.  But, in spirit, she is at the top of the champion list.  She showed us what every one of us is capable of.

As of today, she is still competing in the taped episodes.  As one columnist wrote:
"I sit in awe of a brilliant woman earning every last dollar she can for the causes dearest to her; building a sum of infinite potential in the face of her own finality. I have never rooted harder for anyone to win anything."

 Jeopardy keeps the results of shows a closely guarded secret (my friend couldn't even tell her closest family or friends) and we don't know, when the show airs again on Monday, if she will win still again.  But I will be watching.

And thinking about how I can put the lesson she is teaching into action.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Skywatch Friday - Moon at Sunrise

Sunrise, December 15, 2016.

The just-past-full-moon over Main Street near Johnson City, New York, looking west at sunrise.

Looking towards the sunrise.

Join up with other skywatchers at #SkywatchFriday.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day - Dec 2016

As the cliche goes, "What a difference a year makes!"

Last December, December 15, 2015, we had just about the most amazing fall ever. Here in upstate New York, in my zone 5b garden near Binghamton, New York,  I still had flowers outdoors.

This year, if I did, they would be under snow.  The last I knew, I had a couple of pansies blooming, and a Lenten Rose putting up buds, but those are now buried under snow.

Tonight, the low forecast is 6 F above zero (-14 C) but that sounds better than the original forecast, which was -2 (-19 C).

So, let's get to the nitty gritty.  What's blooming?

My poinsettia - the red "leaves", of course, are not flowers but a modified leaf called a bract.  The small thing in the center is the flower.

An African Violet - another one should be in bloom by week's end.

Two Thanksgiving cactuses - red
and pink.

Please visit the hostess of Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, Carol at May Dream Garden, to see what is blooming on her Indiana property and then explore the links to see what's blooming all over the world.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Fantastic Fall - The I Hate Winter Club

I hate winter.  That must be why I live on the edge of the snowbelt of upstate New York.

It's time for snow.
On the calendar, it is still fall.  But look outside and it is winter.

If there was an "I hate winter" club, I wouldn't be the only member.

Even if it looks good on rhodedendrons.

Then, tonight, the really cold weather arrives.

I am not looking forward to it.  But, at least, tomorrow is Garden Bloggers Bloom Day.  Such as it may be this month for me.

Come back tomorrow, and see what is blooming in my house.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Dreaming of Spring Already

In my world of dreams, I would love to be in a place like Americus, Georgia right now.  As I write this post, I'm listening to a weather report predicting near zero temperatures (Farenheit, not Celsius) later this week here in upstate New York.
One day, spring will return
In Americus, Georgia, I imagine that the sun is shining, a Chinese lantern flower or two is blooming, and coffee from Cafe Campesino is brewing.  It was in the high 60's (about 18 C) yesterday.

But, all is not calm.  This past week, Americus also suffered a tragedy.  Two police officers were killed by a suspect in a domestic violence dispute, who, in turn, killed himself hours later.

The officers had grown up together, and were good friends.  Living in a smallish community myself, I can mourn with the people of Americus and the couple who own the bed and breakfast where my spouse and I stayed on our one visit to Americus.

I have blogged several times about the Americus area.  It isn't that far from Andersonville, the most notorious prison in our American Civil War.  And it isn't that far from Plains, Georgia, where former President Jimmy Carter grew up.  It is where the non profit Habitat for Humanity started.  There are other stories in Americus - some inspiring, some showing more of the evil side of humankind.

Perhaps one day, we will return.  It is a fascinating place.  And the owner of this bed and breakfast takes such wonderful nature and flower photos.

In turn, here is a picture I took of our room (which has since been remodeled) in the Americus Garden Inn years ago when we stayed there. Due to circumstances, it may be a while before we stay in a bed and breakfast again.
If you are ever in the area, I hope you will visit Americus (and if you can't, do enjoy the blog written by the owners of the Americus Garden Inn.)

In the meantime, I can dream, can't I?

Monday, December 12, 2016

Music Monday - Happy Birthday Brenda Lee

Singer Brenda Lee was born on December 11, 1944.  Yesterday, she celebrated her 72nd birthday.

Born Brenda Mae Tarpley in Georgia, her parents were poor and she began to work at an early age.  She was entered into a singing contest at age three.  Singing jobs followed.  After her father was killed in an accident when she was eight, her singing skills helped the family to survive.

A local DJ changed her name to Brenda Lee.

When I think of Brenda Lee, I immediately think of one of my favorite Christmas songs - Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree.  Listen to that voice - does it sound like someone who was only 13 years old?

This song was released both in 1958 and 1959, but did not become a hit right away.  Not until 1960, that is. (My apologies if these songs aren't positioned correctly in the blog - I've been having trouble with that today).

One interesting piece of trivia about Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree, is that it was written by a Jewish songwriter by the name of Johnny Marks, who also wrote a number of other Christmas songs.  Before Christmas, I will run my annual post on Christmas songs written by Jews - there are a lot more than you might think.

Brenda Lee also covered a song first done by Bobby Helms, Jingle Bell Rock.

But Brenda Lee was far from a Christmas song singer.  In 1960, she did a song that so many teenagers of the time could identify with - I'm Sorry.

Happy belated birthday, Brenda Lee.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Ordinary Nature of Evil

Today is not a day like all other days.

I do my best to keep my blog lighthearted, to gladden the hearts of my readers with pictures of flowers, trees, and the sky.

I could wish that our world held only beauty, like this beautiful tree turning color here in upstate New York on November 12.

Or this beautiful tree from late October.

But our world has two faces - the face of beauty and the face of evil.  If you wish, you can stop reading now, and come back tomorrow.  I rarely get political.  The next few Sundays will be an exception.

But I hope you'll stay with this post, because the future of our country depends on YOU.

These last few days, we've been going back in time: to the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.  To the space program, and the passing of a 95 year old hero of that age of exploration.

There is another group of people whose population is shrinking daily.  In the next few years,  the remaining survivors of what we call the Holocaust (or the Shoah) will also be gone.

It doesn't take long for history to be forgotten or even denied.  It doesn't take long, when times seem favorable, for the purveyors of hate to come out and spread their vile messages.  It doesn't take long for attacks to take place, for people who dress differently than most of us to be targeted and beaten, or for people who have names identified with certain religions to be targeted on social media.

It has already happened in upstate New York.  It may have happened where you live, even if you don't live in the United States.

It is true that there have been other genocides both before and after the Holocaust.  But the Holocaust is personal to me because members of my family that did not immigrate to the United States may have died in the liquidation (what a word!) of a couple of cities in Europe.  It is personal to me because my childhood best friend's mother was a concentration camp survivor.

And now, before our eyes, here in our beautiful United States, it is happening once again. 

We the people have the power to make it stop.  We must use that power.  NOW.  This hate can not be permitted to grow any more.  Why?  Because history teaches us what happens when it does grow, when good people do not speak out, when good people turn a blind eye because "it's not about us".

The objects of evil can be quite ordinary.  Let me show you one.
Picture taken Hanukah House, Binghamton, New York, December 2012

Take this star, for example.  Pretty harmless looking, isn't it?

Have you ever heard of the Nuremberg Race Laws?  If you haven't, this link will teach you about them.

In the Germany of the late 1930's, Jews were forced to register with the government.  They were required to carry identity cards marked with a large "J".  They were banned from certain occupations.  Their businesses were taken from them.  They were targeted at school, at work, at home. 

This doesn't happen to sound similar to various recommendations floating around our country about what should happen to Muslim residents, does it?  The calls for hate start small.  Let's have a registry (see the George Takei link below).  Let's make them carry identification cards.

So, what happened in Europe in the late 30's and early to mid 40's?

Among other things, Jews were forced to wear badges. As the Nazis conquered country after country, the Jewish residents of this country had to wear badges, too.

Not wearing one of these badges could be punished by death.

Such a simple thing.  Again, the hate started small.  And then it got really, really big.  It eventually led to the deaths and torture of millions and millions of people, all over the world, not just in Europe, both military and civilian.  The numbers are staggering. 

Don't make the mistake of thinking it couldn't happen here, or think that I am exaggerating and should just "chill out".  Many good people of the 1930's thought that way, too.  Few could imagine what did end up happening.

The people of today have one big advantage over the people then.  We have the lesson of what happened in the 1930's and 1940's.  We even have the lesson of what happened in our country.

Our country, you ask?  George Takei, an actor from the original Star Trek TV series and an activist, was a childhood survivor of internment camps, right in the heartland of our country.

We ignore that lesson at our peril.  Not just if you are Jewish.  Not just if you are Muslim.  Most of my readers are neither Jewish nor Muslim.  It doesn't matter.  It is time to say no.  It is time to think of other solutions.  Are we a people of little imagination?

There's one more thing the purveyors of hate are prepared for - the next terrorist attack in our country, because it will come. It may well be another "lone wolf" attack - a person turned by propaganda and hate into a killer.  When it does, it may well become the excuse for "measures" to "protect our citizenry" to be put into place.  History has taught us all about those measures, time and again.

Freedom?  Or Security?  This is our hour of decision.

We must stand together and speak out against all occurrences of evil in our country.  Otherwise, to paraphrase a famous poem, there may be no one left to defend us when "they" finally come for us.

I will be interested in the comments I get. If they are thoughtful and respectful (even if they disagree) I'll happily comment back.  If they are hateful, I intend to publish them, and let them stand for all to read, because they will only prove my point.

Next Sunday, more from Hanukah House in Binghamton, New York.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Last Man

John Glenn died December 8 at the age of 95.

On Tuesday, February 20, 1962, I sat with others in a classroom in a Bronx classroom and listened to John Glenn orbiting the Earth (or so my faulty memory tells me). 

This was the first time any American had accomplished that feat.  In those days, when someone was shot into space, everyone stopped what they were doing (as much as possible) and listened to the event on radio or TV.

It was the age of heroes, men and women both.   These rockets, besides taking people into space, were also somewhat prone to blowing up.  But when they didn't, these brave men rode into destiny.  Watch, if you have the time, this six minute video of John Glenn in orbit.

I invite you to read the obituary the New York Times wrote for John Glenn (link in my first paragraph). 

His heroism didn't end with that 1962 first orbit mission.  He returned to space - when he was 77 years old.

Glenn sold his private plane when he was 90.  He and his wife couldn't make it inside anymore.

They are all gone now, the first group of seven men chosen so many years ago to take the United States into space.  Glenn was the last man standing.

What has come of our space program?  I invite you to read this post from August 25, 2012, when the first man on the moon died.

The Last Giant Leap?

 Late on July 20, 1969 I sat transfixed in my living room with my father at my side.  I was in high school so quite old enough to understand what I was seeing.  Together, we watched a grainy pictures on a black and white TV, a picture I never would have believed in m wildest drams growing up.  Such things were not possible.

A man in a bulky suit edged out of a craft, and his voice crackled on the TV.  He stepped on the ground.

"One small step for man.  One giant leap for mankind."
That man, Neil Armstrong, died today.

No, I am not talking about Lance Armstrong.  Too many jokes recently about people who confuse the two men.

As far as I know, Neil Armstrong never won a bicycle race.  Come to think of it, Lance has now won several fewer than just a few days ago.  But I digress.

 No. Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon.  Today, when we can Skpe friends halfway around the world, when we can email and Facebook instantaneously with people all over Earth - we haven't sent a woman or a man to the moon since the 1970's.

I am sad for so many reasons.  Maybe it is because I realize that many people  really don't understand what happened that day in 1969, or care.  We have lost our will and no longer look to the stars.  We now depend on the Russians, our former enemies, to get us into space.

We have technology now years and years ahead of the technology of the first Star Trek TV series, just as one example.  Many of us own smart phones that Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock would have envied. True, we don't have transporters or starships.

But we don't have much of a space program, either.

In 1969, who would have thought?

Our hero astronauts of the 1960's are aging.  One day they will be dead.

No more giant leaps.  No more small steps.  


The people must want the space program to continue.  And right now, they don't.

Times are tough.  We look inward, not outward.  Perhaps that is what happens when times are tough.  But I don't know about that.  We finished the Capital Rotunda in Washington, DC during the American Civil War.  We built the Empire State Building in New York City (so in the news after yesterday's nearby shooting) during the Great Depression.

I truly hope we have not lost our passion for discovering the unknown.  Hard times never stopped us before.

Only time will tell.

Do you remember the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programs?  Or is it just history/meaningless history to you?

Friday, December 9, 2016

Skywatch Friday - Big Ball in the Sky

In upstate New York, it is time for the lake-effect snows.

It will be snowing on and off for the next few days, accompanied by white skies and a shy sun.

But, earlier in the week, I was able to get a couple of pictures of the sun and sky for #Skywatch Friday.  When we see the sun, we say "what's that big ball in the sky?"

Welcome to Binghamton, New York.

Sunday, December 4, about 1:30 pm.
Friday, December 2 at sunset.

Visit Skywatch Friday for more pictures of the sky, of sunrises and sunset, and more, from all over the world.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Knife Edge of HIstory

Watching some of the news coverage of the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor that brought the United States into World War II, I am struck by this:

Soon, in the next few years, all the survivors of World War II, civilian and military, will be gone.  I watched those last few survivors of Pearl Harbor, many of them in wheelchairs, their bodies shrunken in age but their minds as active as ever, give their testimony.

And then, I thought of something else. 

The torch is being passed.   We, the generations that followed The Greatest Generation (the generation that fought and suffered in World War II) are sitting on the knife edge of history.

What the United States does in the coming months will affect our world for years to come.  What we do as a nation to support or oppose those efforts will impact everyone in the world.  We are all connected, whether we think so or not.

We have the chance to ease suffering, or to increase it.
Oh Tannenhaum, Tioga County Historical Society, Owego, New York
We have the chance to make beauty, if only we do it.

But first, we must look the face of history in the eye.

For the next two Sundays, I will feature exhibits from Hanukkah House in Binghamton, New York - the present one and a past one.  These posts aren't going to be my usual light hearted posts full of flowers and fall foliage.  They will show what happens when good hearted people stay silent.

This is what the last Bradford Pear looked like on December 3, still with most of its foliage. Now, it is bare.  But it is not dead.  Looks are deceiving.  All things willing, it will wake up in the spring, signalling a season of hope.  But what kind of United States will it wake up to?

That is up to us.

You are free to skip my posts on this terrible chapter of history (called the Holocaust or the Shoah) and come back on Monday for Music Mondays.

But I hope you won't.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Anniversary

In our culture, certain anniversaries of an event are special.  One of those special anniversaries is the 75th.

Today is the 75th anniversary of the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, in what is now the state of Hawaii.  We, perhaps, are a world power today (in part) because of that attack.

Every day, more members of the Greatest Generation, the generation of my late parents, pass away. 

On December 7, 2014 I wrote the  blog post below.  Since 2014, more survivors of the USS Arizona, and of Pearl Harbor, have passed away.

The USS Arizona is perhaps the most well known of all the ships and planes destroyed that day.  There were 334 survivors of the sinking of the USS Arizona.  In 2014, when I wrote this post, there were nine survivors.  Now there are five.

As survivors die, some ask to be buried with the sunken ships they served on.

With all the uncertainty in our world today, it is well for us to remember those who have come before us.  This year, some 100 survivors of Pearl Harbor were able to travel there to participate in ceremonies.  In all probability. the 75th anniversary will be the last major anniversary of this event where this will be possible.

Time passes.  Memories fade.  When the memory keepers die, then what?

Here's my post from 2014.

Civil War Sunday - The Last Nine Standing (December 7, 2014)

This December 7, there are nine of them left.  Four of them will be in Oahu today for the last official gathering of the USS Arizona Reunion Association.

Our local newspaper had pictures of each and a brief description of his memory of December 7, 1941.

The faces are lined with age.  They are in their 90's, for the most part.  In not too many more years, the last one will be gone.  Even their website is in danger of shutting down.

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, in what would later become the state of Hawaii, causing the United States to enter World War II.

Perhaps the most famous ship to have been lost, the USS Arizona lies just a few feet beneath the water, and it is now a national monument - a must see for anyone visiting Hawaii.

These nine men are the last nine survivors of the Arizona.

Without remembering our history, we would be lost.

So I was curious to find this little historical tidbit while reading about Pearl Harbor today:  Husband E. Kimmel was the  Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet on the day of the attack.  He was wounded during the attack by a stray billet.  Then, shortly after the attack, he was relieved of his command, and, to this day, there is a debate regarding whether he should have been relieved of command.

Kimmel's father was a veteran of the Confederate military.  But, on December 7, 1941, that did not matter.

It was also true that the bloodiest day in U.S. Naval history prior to Pearl Harbor was during the Civil War.

Why is it important to remember Pearl Harbor?  Many reasons - this article lists only a few (in one particular point of view. His opinions may or may not reflect mine.)

In my opinion, it is just as important to remember our Civil War, even though it was fought 150 years ago.  When I was born in 1952, only a handful of Civil War veterans were left alive, but it made an impact on me nevertheless.  We are at about the same point with the veterans of World War II.

Without these two wars, our country would be a different place to live.  Our very lives would be different.

They are part of why we are the way we are, for good and for bad.

No matter what country you live in, dear reader, please take a moment and reflect on your personal history.  And hope that, one day, our world can finally achieve peace.