Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Word for 2018

The last three years, I had chosen a guiding word for the year, a word that would represent my goals for the coming year.  I haven't made New Year's resolutions for years; I figured one word shouldn't be hard.

For 2016,  I chose "Determination" and then promptly forgot about the word.

For 2017, I decided perhaps I was a year too soon with that word, and chose Determination again.  In part, I said:

"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. "

And then I promptly forgot about the word. 

No focus.

So, what did 2017 hand me, and others I know?

One of my first cousins died.  At that time, I learned that he was in the early stages of Parkinson's, which contributed to the cause of his death (choking on food).
A co worker's mother died on Christmas Day.
A fall my spouse took that he may not ever heal completely from.
Someone I went to high school and college with was diagnosed with cancer. 
My family faces many challenges with future planning for my developmentally disabled brother in law.

As we age (I am officially a senior citizen now), people we know sicken, or, sometimes, die.  We will go down that last path one day ourselves, and that realization has hit me hard in the past year. That realization makes relationships more important than ever. 

We like to think of ourselves as independent.  But when my spouse fell in October, and ended up in the ER, I suddenly found myself being helped with various issues, and I am grateful for each and everyone of them.  In fact, we are all interdependent.  

I need to pay this kindness forward.

Tomorrow, I join, once again, the Ultimate Blog Challenge.  I am thinking of how I cherish some of these blogging relationships - I look forward to making cyberfriends this year through this and other challenges.

So I am not going to choose a word this year.  But I do have some goals that I need to work on.

I hope I can be a good friend to my friends, old and (hopefully) new.  I hope I can be someone who will be honest, someone who will make you laugh, someone you can trust, someone who will stand by you.  And, in my own little way, perhaps I can start to change the world with one little ripple.  

One little flap of my butterfly wings.
Courtesy of my guest photographer
Happy New Year to all my readers, near and far!  

 I look forward to interacting with some of you this January, in the Ultimate Blog Challenge #blogboost.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Stop and Smell the Flowers

Two days left to 2017.  Two more days before the beginning of 2018, and a new Ultimate Blog Challenge.

There are so many "my year in review" posts, I thought I would write one today, too.

But, at first, I went blank.

At my age (65), the years pass by like a rapidly unwinding roll of toilet paper. Days run into weeks into months.  It seems like just yesterday that I was watching the Tournament of Roses parade on New Years Day 2017. Now, I have plowed through an entire calendar again.

So, I did what many moderns would do, to recapture my memories.
I turned to my camera roll.  And, before my eyes, I saw the year I discovered Virginia wine.  Only in Virginia can a bust of Thomas Jefferson coexist with a portrait of a cat and a wreath made from cork.

February snow angel asking "why do I live here?"
We got more snow after this picture
And then came March 14....winter storm Stella. (Erie, PA, we feel your pain.)

We live between Endwell and Binghamton
April, and it was time for the first spring flowers,
April crocus
then May brought the majesty of trees in full spring bloom.

May 1 cherry blossoms
Then, summer arrived with warmth and the green you would wish would last forever.

June Korean dogwood
And then I got to mid August, and an unforgettable trip.
I never blogged about the several days my husband and I spent with our adult son, traveling in separate cars (but together) from upstate New York to Columbia, South Carolina. It was the first vacation together we had in 11 years.
A lot happened in those few days we spent together, and it could be worth an entire week of blogging.  The last time we had vacationed together, he was in full teenagerhood.  Now, we were adults and (I hope he feels this way) friends.

I'll save that story for the Ultimate Blog Challenge, which starts Monday.

But it was amazing, the flood of memories those photos brought back.  The years may move quickly, but they still have the same amount of content.

Many "year in review" blogs concentrate on the writer and how she or he persevered through many challenges, and grew as a person.

Me?  I just want to stop and smell the flowers.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Sky Highlights 2017 #SkywatchFriday

We've come to the end of the year and it's time to review some of the best skies of 2017.  I don't think I featured these exact photos in Skywatch before, but they called out to me from my camera roll.

A January sunrise in Binghamton, New York.
June 2, clouds behind trees (their leaves now a distant memory).

During the total solar eclipse (not quite at totality), Columbia, South Carolina, August 21.  It started out with clouds covering the moon from time to time, and we feared we might not be able to see the eclipse, but the clouds receded before our eyes.  The sky has a sunset like glow, but it was only early afternoon.

And a sky reflection, December, downtown Binghamton, New York.

Happy 2018 to my readers, and to my fellow #SkywatchFriday participants.

See you in the New Year!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Clouds and the Bridge #ThursdayTreeLove

What is it like, to shed your leaves and sleep, seemingly oblivious to the cold of winter?
You don't have to shovel snow, or slip on ice on the way to work, when you sleep through winter.  I thought, as a tree,  I would escape all that.

But the tree me realized I would also miss the beauty around me, such as this sweep of clouds one day in downtown Binghamton, New York.

It sure is cold, though.

Join Parul and other bloggers in the twice monthly #ThursdayTreeLove.

The next Tree Love will be January 11, when I will also be participating in the Ultimate Blog Challenge.  Will you join me in both?

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Mystery Christmas Day Photo

I originally published this post in May of 2011.  I have never had this mystery solved, so I am republishing this post just in case there is a historian out there.

And yes I could contact the Broome County historian, but what is the fun in that?

The Mystery Wartime Photo (May of 2011)

On my almost daily walks through downtown Binghamton, New York I frequently pass a number of historic buildings, among them the Security Mutual building.

Several weeks ago, scaffolding appeared around the building.  Some window work is being done. Two or three weeks ago some banners appeared, strung between the supports of the scaffolding.  One of them features a photo it says was taken of employees, right outside the front entrance, on Christmas Day 1943.

It's hard to see the photo (I had to stand in the street to take this and I tried to get the entire banner into the shot) but the photo contains mainly women.  There are only a few men, and they are old.  This tracks with the fact that this photo was taken during World War II.  The young men were fighting overseas.

How many Security Mutual employees went off to war?  Did they all return safely?  I don't know.

Were all of these women working there before the war?  Or did some take the place of the soldier employees, to disappear into the home again after the fighting was over?

Then, I had still another question.  Right now I have no answer to this question, either.

What were they doing there on Christmas Day, 1943, instead of being with their families back at home?

Did Security Mutual ask them to come in for a company sponsored Christmas dinner?  Or, because of the war effort, did they have to work?

Why the photo, to begin with?  Was it sent to soldiers overseas?  Was it done to boost morale?

I would love to know the story behind this photo.  I hope that someone knows.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Peanut Butter and Jelly for New Year's Eve #FlavoursomeTuesdays

When I was a teen, I developed a strange custom for New Years Eve.

By the time I turned age 13, it was just my father and I, living together in an apartment in a housing project in the Bronx, in New York City. Several times, in my teen years, I was invited to spend part of the Christmas/New Year's school break with relatives in Brooklyn (and I am still close to my two cousins, who are slightly younger than I am.)  But eventually, I found myself alone.  Well, for an older teen, being alone with her father can be considered being alone.

Kept company only with my father and Guy Lombardo (although not in 1946 per the above video), I came up with my own New Year's Eve custom.  It originated just after I turned 16.

The year before, my father had called his brother, my uncle, right after midnight January 1 our time.  But in the time zone my uncle lived in, it was still December 31.  I loved the idea of talking to someone living in another year.

So, why not do it with food?  Symbolically eat something from the old year just after midnight?

About all I had available and easily made was a jar of peanut butter, some bread from the store and some jelly.

So on December 31, that year I had recently turned 16, and right before midnight (and the New York City ball coming down), I made myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  And after the New Year rang in, I ate it.

I did that for the next several years, believe it or not, until I had a steady boyfriend.

I feel a little foolish admitting this custom, but why?  It isn't that ridiculous, after all.  About an hour or so from where I live, someone is going to have a family friendly New Years Eve bash, including peanut butter and jelly sliders.

I was just years ahead of my time.

Join Bellybytes at Mumbai on a High and Shilpa Gupte at Metanoia for #FlavoursomeTuesdays.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Caroling - #MusicMovesMe

Today, on #Music Moves Me, the theme is Christmas music, or anything Christmas.  It isn't too often that Music Moves Me coincides with Christmas Day.

In celebration, I'd like to show you some local holiday caroling held the last work day before Christmas at a local insurance company here in Binghamton, New York. This has become a tradition in our city, as employees line two staircases in the beautiful marble lobby of this ten story building (the third tallest in Binghamton), built in 1904.

For professional coverage, here is something from our Binghamton, New York newspaper.
The day was overcast and the lighting yellowish but the Security Mutual building was ready to hear some fine singing.

Sorry for the lighting, and the iPhone zoom isn't that great, so I apologize for the blur.

This shot shows the majesty of the lobby.  The three murals (there are also three murals on the right side of the lobby) are later additions to this historic building.

Here is a closeup.  Just imagine passing these murals every day on the way to work.

And now for a selection from the 30 minutes of caroling.

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer

What Child Is This, with a beautiful flute solo (be patient, the song didn't start on cue).

 Silent Night, again with a beautiful flute solo.

Thank you, employees of Security Mutual!

If you love music, why don't you take a few minutes out and join Xmas Dolly and the other Elves under the mistletoe this Christmas day?

The Head Elf is XmasDolly.  Her co-elves are:  Callie of JAmerican Spice, and ♥Stacy of Stacy Uncorked♥   The Rockin' elf Cathy from Curious as a Cathy !

Join us every Monday for Music Moves Me, and visit some of the other 4Mers this week!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Eggnog Riot of 1826 and Other Signs of Christmas

All over the Christian world, it is Christmas Eve.

Christmas seems to be everywhere, from a religious display at our local shopping mall....

to decorated trees at the same mall....
to a lovely tree in a mall store....

and even a bag from a store near Syracuse, New York (although I have no idea what canned corn has to do with Christmas.)

But none of these are as exciting as the Christmas Eve Eggnog Riot of 1826.  (If you have about nine minutes, you can watch the above video, although there is a long ad at the beginning - and sort of, at the last three minutes.)

Basically, after alcohol was banned from West Point (an Army military academy in upstate New York), the cadets took matters into their own hands on Christmas Eve of 1826, with somewhat predictable (to us in the future) results.

This riot story would have been so perfect for my Sunday Civil War posts I used to do between 2011 and 2015, as two men who ended up in high positions in the Confederacy less than 40 years later took part in this riot.  Just think, if they had been expelled, as some other cadets were, history may have changed.......

If you observe Christmas, have a wonderful Christmas Eve.

And here's a little coming attraction for tomorrow.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Local Saturday - Festivus For the Rest of Us

As someone who majored in cultural anthropology, I am fascinated by holidays and their origins.

Festivus may be the only holiday created by a TV show, a Seinfeld episode from 1997 called "The Strike".  I don't formally celebrate it, although I do know a couple of people who do. But this year, for some reason, it is appealing to me.

Festivus is a holiday for the "rest of us", the people burnt out by the total overchristmasization (is that a word?) of today's United States. 

For those not familiar with Festivus:

Festivus is celebrated every December 23 and has several aspects. 

First is the Festivus pole, always made of aluminum.  It is undecorated, as opposed to a Christmas tree.  But strong.  It should have a "high strength to length ratio".  No tinsel is allowed.

Then is the Festivus dinner.  At the beginning of the dinner is the Airing of Grievances.  "I've got a lot of problems with you people, and now you're going to hear about it!" is how it begins.

Each participant then tells each family member and friend how that person disappointed him/her.  However, if you extended this to other aspects of life...well, again it may just be my sour mood but I could really dump on some aspects of my daily life. The airing of grievances is a welcome change from the constant "be grateful for your life!" refrain you hear every day.

I could recite a long list but it's become obvious our society is becoming more and more mean spirited each year.  The haters gain power.  We are trying to tear ourselves apart.  We have become selfish, self-absorbed and a few other things.  We follow every detail of the Hollywood Stars lives, and musicians who don't even deserve the name, but we ignore those in our back yards who need friends more than ever.  We have lost our will to fix our problems.  (Some would argue that we are also fighting back, but this is the Airing of Grievances.)

Then is the Festivus dinner - meat loaf on a bed of lettuce, with peas.  If you drink alcohol, you must do it from a flask.

Which brings us to the last event, the Feats of Strength.  After the head of the family is pinned to the ground in a match of strength, dinner is over.

Perhaps we will wake up, one day, and find that our health care is a model for the world, that our infrastructure has been repaired, and we are once again a country not trying to tear ourselves apart.

Just think.  It would be a true Festivus miracle.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Solstice - #SkywatchFriday

Photos from Wednesday in Binghamton, in upstate New York.

Seeing the sun isn't a common occurrence in December.
Is that contrail saying "no sunny skies?"

No worries. It is snowing now.

Join bloggers from all over the world for #SkywatchFriday, where we gather to post pictures of the sky from all over our world.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Cure for Bah Humbug

If you are burnt out, and yelling "Bah Humbug!" at the world, you may want to check this video out, on this, the first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere.

If you have never read Charles Dicken's classic A Christmas Carol you can get it online at no cost. 
It's been made into movies several times, and has been performed as a play perhaps millions of times.  It is a holiday tradition in Chicago and elsewhere.

You don't need to be Christian to understand its message.

One of the most popular Christmas classics comes to life in a special way.

On this CBS Sunday morning segment, Lee Cowan met Paris Strickland, the first female Tiny Tim in a Chicago production of Dickens' miraculous "A Christmas Carol," who is something of a miracle herself - she survived a brain tumor at just four months old.  Click on the link above to see this report.

It will only take about five minutes out of your life.

It will stay with many a lot longer.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Manicotti Traditions #FlavoursomeTuesday

Yes, it's Wednesday  I'm a day late.

We never thought a tradition would end this way.

In 2015, I blogged about my in law's traditional family Christmas.  We would all travel downstate, some 190 miles (305 km) to a city near New York City, and visit my mother in law's in laws.   But in 2015, we had to move my mother in law (who is now 90) up here to be near two of her sons.  We weren't able to make the trip.

A cousin of my spouse's hosted the dinner for years.  Even during her two bouts with breast cancer, she insisted on hosting.  She made her specialty.  She told me she timed it around her bouts of tiredness and other side effects of the medication she was taking.


"I am not an accomplished cook." she told me once.  "But all you need to do is learn to make one dish, and make it well.  Make it better than anyone".  And so, she developed her specialty.

Manicotti.  The kind of manicotti that is pronounced "mon-i-gaut" (accent on the final syllable). Perish the thought anyone in my inlaw's family would ever pronounce it "man-i-cotti".

I hate the lighting in my house sometimes - gives everything a yellowish cast.
No, manicotti is not the stuff served in pasta tubes in some clueless Italian restaurants (and you know which ones they are).  No.  Manicottis start with light as air crepes, each painstakingly cooked by hand, spread out.  Then they are filled with a pillowy mixture of ricotta, mozzarella, eggs, parsley, and love. Covered in homemade tomato sauce simmered with meatballs and Italian sausage, they are a dish worthy of Christmas dinner.

In 2015, the thought of missing her manicotti hurt us almost as much as the fact that we would not see their maker or the other family.

So I begged my spouse to call, and get the recipe from her.

I didn't know if she would reveal the recipe. But she likes us.  After some hesitation, she gave the recipe to us  She emailed it to us.  But first, she cautioned that my spouse (the family cook) really had no business making it.  Perhaps she would come up and visit us, one day.

My spouse promised he would not embarrass the family.
He cooked the crepes.
He mixed the ricotta filling.

He assembled the manicotti.  On Christmas Day 2015, he served it.

Now, in 2017, due to a combination of various situations, my spouse won't be making manicottis.
Instead, he will make a standing rib roast.  I'm sure it will be delicious.

Maybe one day the homemade manicottis will be back on the menu.  But for now, we have to let go of tradition.

Welcome to #FlavoursomeTuesday.

Join Bellybytes at Mumbai on a High and Shilpa Gupte at Metanoia for #FlavoursomeTuesdays.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Random Acts of Kindness Past

I first blogged the following in 2010, with an update in 2014.  Now I want to update it still again.

This year, 2017, I want to thank co workers and fellow bloggers/relatives who have shown me support in the last few days.  It means a lot to me.   Thank you, all who have commented.

In 2014 I wrote this:
Yesterday, shopping for a card for a friend who is about to undergo surgery on Wednesday, I received a random act of kindness that was so special, that both of us ended up hugging and crying right in the middle of the store.  I don't know the name of this woman, but I am tearing up again just thinking of her.

I don't know if I will ever meet her again (I only shop in this local store, a gift shop, several times a year) but if not, I hope she finds out, somehow, how much what she did meant to me.  And, may she receive much goodness in her life. (2017 update - I have never seen her again).

In November of 2010, I also experienced a random act of kindness.  I've experienced some since but this one, in a way, also was special.  Maybe, I shouldn't say this one was special - all of them are special.  But, I wonder how the man in this story is doing.  Is he better off?  Despite what must have been hard times for him, he had such an upbeat attitude.
Here's the post from 2010:
I saw something inspiring, as we get closer to the Thanksgiving season, this afternoon.

I had gotten out of work early for a couple of appointments.  After the appointments, spouse decided we should get our Thanksgiving turkey.  We did so, and then remembered that a nearby Aldi had good sales on fresh cranberries and also celery.

I don't know if you have an Aldi's where you live.  If you do, it is an interesting concept.  Aldi is actually a huge chain in Germany, with stores in various stores on the Continent and also in Great Britain.  In the United States, for some reason, they initially came in as a "bargain" store, with (in my opinion) dirty, ill lit stores.  I would not shop there for years.  You couldn't get a shopping cart without paying a deposit. You had to bag things yourself (and if you didn't bring bags, they would gladly sell them to you.)  The employees "did it all", the same people doing store cleanup, stocking, and cash register.

When my son took German in school, his teacher came in one day with an Aldi ad from Germany.  What a difference!  Aldi in Germany is almost like a combination grocery/department store.  But meanwhile, back in upstate NY...

Due to that ad, we gave them another shot.  'They had seriously upgraded the stores in the meantime, with better lighting and edible produce. So we do shop there on and off, depending on the sales. You can't beat their prices, although I don't think I would ever buy fresh meat there.  But they do have a number of really decent store brands (they sell very little national brands, if you care about that-I don't) and when they have specials on German food....well, they are German.

At one time, their target clientele, to be blunt, was lower income people.  But now with the economy, you find a lot of middle class people in there too.  Times are hard.  I'm grateful for the Johnson City Aldi.  (they've even opened a second store just to the north of Binghamton).

Anyway, there we were getting ready to check out.  We only had three items.  The line was long, although the lines there tend to move quickly.  The person at the back of the line had an overflowing cart. "Here, go ahead of me."  The next person also let us in, and also let go ahead of him a person right behind us who had two items.  His clothes were a little dirty and he walked like he had a stiff leg, with a limp.

We struck up a conversation with the man with the limp.  He had some extra money because he had sold two cars at auction today.  He had been up since 5 am.  It was a good day for him, because he was able to buy another car to fix up and sell.  Best of all, it was his birthday.  He couldn't see why he should spend $30. at Texas Roadhouse [a steakhouse chain in the U.S.] when he could buy some frozen steaks and cook him at home (we don't know if he had a loved one waiting for him.  I hope so).  He was so glad to be spared a few extra minutes on line, so he could get home and rest.

I hope this gentleman had a wonderful rest of the day, due to this random act of kindness.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Blue Christmas - #MusicMovesMe

Blue Christmas, by Elvis Presley.

The lyrics don't really match what I want to blog about today, but in a way, the title does.

If you love music, why don't you join Xmas Dolly and the other Elves under the mistletoe?

The Head Elf is XmasDolly.  Her co-elves are:  Callie of JAmerican Spice, and ♥Stacy of Stacy Uncorked♥   The Rockin' elf Cathy from Curious as a Cathy !

This throwback is from December 9, 2009, the first time I wrote about "Blue Christmas".  Repeating this post has become a holiday tradition for this blog, because not everyone has a happy holiday season.

In 2015, our family (inlaws) experienced holiday death in the family again. My brother in law's mother in law passed away right after Thanksgiving.  An aunt's sister died on Thanksgiving Day (November 26) .

I was so tired, for various reasons, that I never even decorated that year.

This year, I wanted to share with my friends at Music Moves Me.   My mother in law, who is 90, had a hospital experience last week that has become the norm for too many of our seniors.  It would be too exhausting to write about now. So we are going through another Blue Christmas.

My writing has become more polished over the years but I am not going to do any editing.  This voice from the past is speaking to me, and I hope its message will help some of my readers.

Here's the post from 2009.

Tis the Season....for Sadness

Happy Holidays!

No, that's not true.

The holidays are not happy for everyone. 

11 years ago December 25.....  Spouse and I were at my in-laws on Christmas Day.  They live about 150 miles from where we live.  We had a nice day with other family members, and settled down to watch "It's a Wonderful Life"  with my mother in law and father in law.  Then we went to bed.

My father in law never woke up.  He died during the night of a massive heart attack, his third.

Imagine my mother in law, spending the day after Christmas arranging for the funeral of her husband of nearly 50 years.    The decisions that had to be made quickly, oh so quickly.  The little things, like flowers being almost impossible to come by (flowers being a part of their culture's funeral tradition).  Or us having to borrow clothes for the funeral-most people don't visit for Christmas with black clothes in their suitcase!  Those little details, in a sea of all the major details, on a holiday weekend.

The family gathered again but this time for a much sadder occasion.  Many people came to the funeral home, and it was a great comfort.  But then everyone had to go home, including us.

And then the next Christmas rolled around.  It was not easy.  But we survived, and each year it became easier.  My mother in law has established her independence, and enjoys Christmas with family.

It never goes away but it does become easier.  Although, I have never watched "It's a Wonderful Life" again.

Years ago I worked with someone whose husband died from cancer on Thanksgiving.  In my youth I couldn't understand why Thanksgiving was so hard for her.

Now I understand.

"Blue Christmas" is more than an Elvis song.  For those who have experienced loss:  loss of a loved one, loss of a relationship, loss of a job, the holidays can be so hard to survive, even if you are not a Christian.  Wherever you go, you are surrounded by smiling Santa's, by holiday decorations, by endless carols blaring at work, at the supermarket, at the mall, by constant reminders that everyone is happy.  Except you.

But, you are not alone.  And you will get through it, although it may take a long time.

Time is your friend.  It was for me.  I hope it is for you.

Sunday, December 17, 2017


I have a number of readers in climates where snow is nonexistant or rare.
This is my gift of the season to you.


Part of my front yard
More of my front yard.
And I actually got a poinsettia to red up although the plant itself doesn't look too happy.

It's only the start of winter (although winter doesn't start for another few days), as my flower garden sleeps. 

But more than that, it makes me realize how nothing is permanent; that many things last for only a short time.  That snow for example.  It may well be melting in the next couple of days.

I watch the decline of my mother in law and know that, one day, it may be me.

Is time running out?  Have I done all I can do in this world?

It has stirred up strong emotions in me; emotions so strong I couldn't believe some of them.

And that is part of life, too.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Local Saturday - Dysfunction

Life has a strange way of teaching lessons.

Have you ever thought that the experiences in your life were put there to lead you to something?  I am not an extremely religious person, but as I grow older, I more and more suspect this is the case.

It's a funny thing.  For some reason, people at my job seek me out to ask Medicare questions (for those outside the United States, Medicare is the health system for the majority of people over 65, and certain people, such as those with certain disabilities or kidney failure, who are under 65.  It is complex, and a blend of government and private insurers.  Why they seek me (untrained, and not familiar with health insurance or health care except from persona experience) out for advice is beyond me, but they do.

When I was about to turn 65, I went to a nonprofit here in Binghamton, New York called Action for Older Persons, .  One of their missions is to help people with the Medicare process.  The volunteer assisting me said I would make an excellent volunteer when I retire (this was after we chatted about something), and told me to swing around so I could see what she was doing on the computer.

So that brings me to this Tuesday.  My mother in law, who is nearly 90, wasn't feeling well.  Another family member took her to the doctor.  The next day (Wednesday) we got a call.  Bottom line, she ended up in the ER and a local hospital Thursday for various tests, and was released yesterday, weak and the worst for wear.  And I wish I had known then what I know now.

Long story short, I learned more about Medicare and budget cuts than I probably ever want to know.  I saw a dysfunctional system in action.  My mother in law was in that hospital two years ago and they were wonderful.  It was like a totally different place now.  My mother in law was not served well.  If family had not been there I honestly don't know what would have happened.  I ended up making some phone calls with another couple of family members, trying to get answers, after a nurse told me "there was no one to talk to, they are all in meetings".  As we say here, BS. (that is an abbreviation for what bulls leave in the field after they digest their meals).

I am exhausted and there are three other family members exhausted.  And, oh yes.  When my mother in law was released she was so weak she could barely walk.  Home health care?  Well, that seems to be a scarce thing where we live in December.

I had a talk today with one of my mother in law's friends (someone who does have health care experience), who had a friend who died a day or two ago in the same hospital.  I've heard other stories before, here and in another part of upstate New York I know people in, with horror stories.  Now I've seen it firsthand.

We know our medical system in the United States is broken, but one day you see it in action, and you really see the dysfunction firsthand.

That volunteer position is calling for me, although I am not ready to retire, because it may be one of the few ways I can learn the system.  As a caregiver, I must know and be aware.  As someone now a senior herself, I must know, and be aware.  That person in the hospital may be me someday.

Thankfully, I am not on Medicare yet.

I've vented enough.

And starting tomorrow, I may go into reruns for a while.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day December 2017 and #SkywatchFriday

Today, two memes for the price of one.

My guest photographer provides a picture of the December 6 sunset here in Binghamton, New York.  There's a story behind this photo and I hope I have time to explain it one day.  But for now, please enjoy it for #SkywatchFriday, where bloggers from all over post pictures of the sky.

It's the 15th of the month - time for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day.  Thank you to Carol at May Dream Gardens, for creating this meme, where bloggers gather on the 15th of each month to show what is blooming in their yards or houses.

I have a Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger) in my back yard, with nice white buds.  But it was also 7 above zero and I wasn't about to go out there and take a picture.  Instead, today I will show you mostly plants I've purchased recently.  For example, this African violet.
One of my many Thanksgiving cactii.
A red cyclamen on the left, which I won at a holiday party, and a red and white poinsettia on the right.  Yes, I know those red and white items aren't flowers - they are bracts, or modified leaves.
And finally, a closeup of my red poinsettia showing the actual flowers in the middle.

Happy Friday!  Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Grief and Renewal #ThursdayTreeLove

Today, December 14, is the fifth anniversary of the horrific elementary school shooting (26 dead, including 20 students) at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Residents there just call it "12/14".  It joins 9/11, 11/26, and so many other such dates from all over the world.  For anyone living in the United States, mentioning "Newtown" brings back that day.

The shock waves still ripple through that town in Connecticut.  Parents whose children were killed or wounded.  Teachers, first responders and other witnesses.  Every time there is another mass shooting, the memories come flooding back.  Some have moved.  Some just want to forget.

Some residents have found comfort in activism and working for gun control.  Others comfort the newest victims of our senseless gun violence.  Whatever your thoughts about gun control, you must respect those who lived through 12/14.

But there are also those who believe the Sandy Hook shooting never happened.  Some of them even stoop to harassing the families of those killed.  For those, I can only wish the pain still suffered by those impacted by Newtown could be lifted from their shoulders and deposited on the shoulders of those who think it's all made up.  I won't bother linking to any of those stories.

As a resident of the Binghamton, New York area (we had our own mass shooting on April 3, 2009) this resounds in so many ways.

We in Binghamton have a personal stake in the memories of Newtown/Sandy Hook, too. A resident of our area, Mary Sherlach (the Sandy Hook school psychologist) died in the 12/14/12 shooting. 

She had worked at Sandy Hook Elementary for 18 years, and died trying to protect students from the gunman.

So what else can be said?  The town avoids public memorials.  They don't want to be defined by the horror one individual brought on its residents.  The school was demolished and rebuilt nearby.

Twice a month, Parul at the blog Happiness and Food, features #ThursdayTreeLove.  My contribution on this sad day is a tree downtown Binghamton, photographed earlier this month.  In 2009, a shooter added us to the list of worst mass shootings in the United States I linked to above, but his actions did not define us. Strength can be invisible.  Appearances can be deceiving.

A tree, growing blocks from that shooting venue, bears witness to our strength.  Life is within that tree, and come next spring, the tree will spring to life, unfurl its leaves, bloom, and gather sunlight in green leaves.

May all those affected by the Newtown shootings find peace.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Fall Fancies - Hanukkah Hanukiah

Today is the first full day of Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights.

While most of us in the United States are preparing for Christmas, the Jewish people of this country have been getting ready to celebrate Hanukkah.

In Binghamton, there is a wonderful museum in a historic mansion that opens for a month every year, this year from November 15 to December 27.  Run by volunteers, Hanukkah House is free (but donations are accepted).   You can search my blog for other posts about Hanukkah House, such as this one.

One thing that Hanukkah House displays each year is a wonderful display of hanukiah.

A hanukiah is a nine-branched candelabrum lit during the eight-day holiday of Hanukkah, which commemorates a miracle that happened over 2,000 years ago.  It differs from a menorah in that the 9th candle holder is held higher than, or is aligned with, the other 8 candles. 
Haukiah and menorahs come in many sizes.  Some are beautiful works of art.  Others are homemade.
They can be deeply religious, or whimsical.
Some are oriented towards children.
The oil of the original menorah (see yesterday's post for a brief description of the holiday, and this blog post for the whole nine yards, so to speak) was only supposed to last for one day, but the menorah kept burning for the eight days it took to get a new supply.  Now, many of these use candles (some are electric) instead of oil.  This one is using beeswax candles.  The candles can be white, or of many colors.

The ninth candle, or the shamash, is used to light the other candles.  On the first day, my tradition dictates one candle plus the shamash is lit.  On the second night, two candles, and the shamash, and so forth.

The candles are lit from right to left.  By the eighth day, all eight candles are lit by the shamash and it is a beautiful sight.  While lighting the candles, two prayers (three on the first night) are recited or sung.

A festival of lights is what we need in today's world - a symbol of the victory of light over te force of darkness.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Latkes #FlavoursomeTuesday

Tonight, at sundown, the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah begins.
Hanukkah House, Binghamton, New York

Tomorrow, I will blog more about this year's visit to Hanukkah House, a museum in Binghamton, New York open one month a year, but today is a time for food memories.

Hanukkah is an eight day holiday - this year beginning at sundown tonight (December 12) and ending sundown, December 20. (Our days begin at sundown, and we follow a lunar calendar, so holidays fall on different days on our secular calendar each year.)

The holiday (briefly) commemorates a miracle where, after enemy occupation, our Temple was restored to us, and a menorah, powered by oil, was to have been lit.  But there was only enough oil for one night.  It would take eight days to get more oil (remember, transportation in the second century BCE was somewhat slow) and, the flame burned those eight days until more oil arrived.

Several types of foods are traditional for Hanukkah in my cultural tradition:
Fried foods - two examples would be jelly donuts and latkes.  There are many more.
Hanukkah gelt - chocolate coins. Ok, chocolate in the shape of coins, with foil wrappers.  Fun!
Dairy - I didn't eat these as a child, but as adults, my spouse and I enjoy a fried cheese patty which, blending in his Italian tradition, he covers with mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce and bakes in the oven. Not like the original.  His own.

But as for those latkes - I loved when my Mom made them.  (And I love when my spouse makes them in his own way.)

Mom would take out a 4 sided grater and hand-grate Russet (baking) potatoes, followed by onions.  She would squeeze any accumulated water.  To the mixture, she would then add matzoh meal (you can substitute flour), eggs, salt and pepper.  She would form into patties and fry.  Many Jewish households of the day used chicken fat for the frying but if you did that, you would not be able to eat with dairy food.

I can smell them cooking now, filling our small apartment's kitchen with the scents of Hanukkah, as I watch the candles burn.

My Mom would serve with homemade applesauce if a meat meal, or, with sour cream for a dairy meal.

This is how my spouse, the family cook, makes them nowadays.

Do you have a favorite holiday dish?

Happy Hanukkah to all of my readers who celebrate.

Join Bellybytes at Mumbai on a High and Shilpa Gupte at Metanoia for #FlavoursomeTuesdays.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Christmas Music Written by Jews #MusicMovesMe

This seasonal post has become one of my favorite features on my blog.  For the first time, I am sharing it with my friends at Music Moves Me, where our December theme is Christmas music.

But before I do, a belated 101st birthday (December 9) to Issur Danielovitch, better known as actor Kirk Douglas.  Born in upstate New York (and yes, he is Jewish), he has gone on to great acting fame.

But did you know he sometimes sang?  Here, from the movie 20,000. Leagues Under the Sea, is a song called "Whale of a Tale".

Now, since the theme for today is Christmas music and not Kirk Douglas music, onward...

Today, I pose a question: 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, after reading a NY Times Op Ed.  Many 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.

Additionally, in the several years, I have discovered a wonderful blog and - hey, great minds! - John Holton of The Sound of One Man Typing (a 4M contributor) 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: (this is a You Tube playlist; you can click on the upper left hand corner for all the songs)

1.  White ChristmasIrving Berlin lived to 101, married a Catholic woman back when that type of intermarriage was extremely scandalous (to both families) and wrote a song which defined Christmas for entire generations of American Christians.  (Incidentally, Berlin 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.

This version is sung by Johnny Mathis.

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 sold roasted chestnuts.  The fragrance carried for blocks.  For this song, we thank the Jewish songwriters Mel Torme and Robert Wells.

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".  This version is sung by Dean Martin.

6.  I'll be Home for Christmas.  Again, sung by Bing Crosby (do you get the feeling I'd rather listen to the older singers?)  As an almost-history major in college, this song makes me think of my aunts and uncles who served during World War II.  This song was originally from the soundtrack of the movie Holiday Inn - yes, the movie that the hotel chain Holiday Inn took its name from.  Two of the three writers of this song were Jewish - Walter Kent and Buck Ram.

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.

So, thank you for the people responsible for Music Moves Me:and if you love music, why don't you join Xmas Dolly and the other Elves under the mistletoe?

The Head Elf is XmasDolly.  Her co-elves are:  Callie of JAmerican Spice, and ♥Stacy of Stacy Uncorked♥  & The Rockin' elf Cathy from Curious as a Cathy !

Come join us on this musical train to Christmas!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Age Is More Than a Number

I used to work for a man, a man who served two tours of duty in Vietnam, whose favorite expression was "age is only a number".  I haven't been in touch with him in over 15 years, but I knew he had gone into business for himself - actually, less than a mile from where I live.

I went to his website the other day, and saw that he is still active in the business (he's older than I am).  The motto of his business impressed me: Loyalty/Integrity/Compassion.

Aging really is more than a number.  It is a sum of experience - good times, bad times, happiness, grief, and more.  These accumulate in you as you age, and make you the person you are, for better or worse.

Some people grow bitter as they age.  Others gain in - yes, compassion.

The other day, I read a blog post about the Beatles, growing up, and a long lost friend.

It made me think, as I sit here and watch snow starting to come down.  I'm 64 years old but not for much longer.

I love the Beatles song "When I'm Sixty-Four".  It's said that Paul McCartney wrote this song, one of his first, when he was 16 years old (but I can't verify that).  It talks of a man wanting to grow old with his love.  Unfortunately, the complete Beatles song does not seem to be on You Tube; this is a cover by a tribute band.

When I'm no longer 64, I may be thinking more about retirement, although I am not ready to retire as of right now.  My first cousin to retire is going to retire in January.  I have cousins in their late 60's who are still working.  One of my aunts was still working full time at age 77 when she died in a car accident.

And there's my long-lost friend who, if she is alive, would have turned 65 on December 7.

I have tried countless Internet and Facebook searches.   She moved from my part of New York City to another in 1964, and we lost touch just after her 16th birthday party.

Getting ready to turn 65 makes you think.

It makes you think of the people in your life who did not have the privilege of enjoying 65th birthdays.  That list includes my mother, my childhood best friend, and several co workers (including one I've blogged about a couple of times).   It makes me think of the things I would like to do while I still can. Maybe I'll be able to for years.  Maybe my cutoff will be tomorrow.

We never know, do we?

What are your thought as your age numbers creep upwards?

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Local Saturday - And Alabama Snow

Some pictures of the season where I live in upstate New York.  No snow to show you - not yet.

But we have plenty of poinsettias in stores.
And even a poinsettia tree.

I know that my readers are clammering for snow, but I have none to give them yet.  We've missed the snow that has hit so much of the east coast and the south - snow to the east of us, snow to the north of us, but here we are.

So the sister of my guest photographer had to provide the pictures, from a place where it rarely snows - Alabama.

I don't know if this is a rose or a camilla (I think it's a rose), but either way, this isn't how they are supposed to look.

And, peacefully, the snow fell in the Alabama dark.