Wednesday, December 16, 2020

I remember this day; I remember Stephen Baltz

 My family had just moved into our new house in Chicago’s western suburbs a year earlier. I had a birthday just three days before. I turned 9. I was making new friends. I was a happy kid. Life was great, until this day 59 years ago. In some ways, that event far away changed my life.

On Dec. 16, 1960 two airplanes collided in a horrific mid-air collision over Brooklyn, New York. At that time it was the worst air traffic disaster ever experienced. 134 people died.

But the one thing that brought this incident close to home for me was that a lone survivor was a young boy, just two years older than me, who lived for a few hours before succumbing to his injuries the following day. His name was Stephen Balz. He was flying alone that day, enroute to Grandma’s house for Christmas. His mother was waiting for him at the airport.

His family lived in Wilmette, also a suburb of Chicago, but on the north side of the city. Our new house was just a few miles south of O’Hare Airport, where Stephen’s plane took off from.

Our old house was next to a set of railroad tracks. I was accustomed to the sounds, having lived my whole life there. The trains never bothered me as they rumbled down the tracks with their syncopated clickety-clack sound. But airplane noise was new to me. The engines roared and screamed. In those days, airplane noise was deafening.

After that day, I was afraid of the planes flying over the bed where I slept. I remember sleepless nights as I stood on my bed looking out my windows and watching the planes roar past our house at just above treetop heights.

Years earlier, I used to enjoy watching them. In fact, my family used to spend hours at Midway and later at O’Hare Airport watching planes take-offs and landings. It was a source of entertainment just as the jet age was beginning.

But hearing about this accident had me on edge. It so disturbed me, that I couldn’t get the image of that young boy out of my head. Accounts at the time related that as he lay in the snow he told his rescuers that when he looked out the window of the plane, he recalled that New York looked beautiful in the snow, like a fairy land.

For years, I had remembered his name. I remembered the photo of that brave, little boy just two years older than me.
Then along came the Internet

For some reason I googled the name I remembered for a lifetime.

I was completely shocked to come face-to-face with the photograph I had carried inside my head since I was just 9 years old, the picture that haunted my memory.

I am grateful to the technology that allows us such a view into our own past, our own subconscious mind, even if it is painful.

I began to read everything I could about Stephen and about the crash itself.

I’ve seen thousands of airplanes over the years. Airplanes and airports have seemingly always been a part of my life. But to be confronted with the images of a broken airliner with parts and pieces scattered among normal looking neighborhoods remains a frightening and terrifying spectacle.

The Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn was just one of two locations marking this tragedy. Another site, one on Staten Island where the other plane fell from the sky turned a field into a graveyard with parts of bodies strewn among carefully wrapped Christmas packages.

I can barely imagine the devastation this caused to so many people who just wanted to celebrate Christmas with their loved ones. The story itself breaks my heart.

Yet, some good has come out of this horrific tragedy, as it always does. It provided lessons about air traffic safety, contributing to what makes aviation one of the safest modes of transportation available.

I will always remember Stephen and the good, caring people who came to his aid. I continue to read about this tragedy and the human toll it took. Somehow I feel I owe it to Stephen to remember. I’ve carried his memory with me for 60 years. I suppose I will take it to my grave.

So on this day of remembrance, continue to rest in peace Stephen.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Shingles -- Yuck! What is going on with that?

have heard of shingles, but I never knew much about it. That all changed a few weeks ago, as an outbreak totally took me by surprise.

Around the first of the month, I had been sitting at my sewing machine more than usual, trying to finish a quilt I had in progress for years. My back was sore, but I just attributed it to activity I wasn’t used to.

A few days later, I was sitting on my couch, cooing at and playing with my cat. I craned my neck, just a little too far. I heard a sound and then an instant stiffness. So, now I was pretty much in pain from neck to back, coincidentally, along my left side. The pain migrated to my abdomen. I was pretty miserable. One more thing was bugging me. I had been outside recently and had a few chigger bites that were, oh, so itchy. Could it be any worse?

Oh yeah! The pain in my stomach was intense, so I thought I’d go to the doctor. I actually saw a nurse practitioner. I told her about the pain I was having. Then I showed her my chigger bites.

“Those don’t look like chigger bites. You have shingles,” she told me.

I had no idea what that meant. Shingles was not even on my radar screen. I knew nothing about it, except it included an ugly rash and lots of people complained about it. I was given an anti-viral to take and sent home.

I filled my prescription and took my first pill. I figured I had a mild case of this, since I just had 9 spots on my left hip. I had no idea this would be a big deal. Boy was I wrong!

I posted something about having shingles on Facebook. All my friends said they were very sorry I had this. It still didn’t register, until that night.

 I went to bed like always, propping the pillows just so, finding that perfect place between any wrinkles in the soft sheets. My skin was such that a tiny wrinkle felt like lying across the Rock of Gibraltar. I expected to curl up into a comfy nest, but the minute I got comfortable, pain shot through my back and around to my abdomen. I still had a stiff neck. I couldn’t find comfort. Then I started feeling feverish. I was a little nauseated, and had a bad headache. I tossed and turned unable to find relief. With that and many bathroom trips, the night was long and awful. I got up to sit in my recliner where I finally fell asleep for an hour or so. I felt anxiety, panicky and when I did sleep, I had nightmares. This was the worst night of my life. I couldn’t escape the pain. I tried Tylenol and Advil, but nothing helped.

I attributed all this to the anti-viral drug I was taking. I told the doctor the next day I just couldn’t take it. She suggested I take a half. I said I couldn’t handle even half of what I felt the night before, so I wasn’t going to take it again. She gave me a prescription for a pill for nerve pain.

I found that the next night was the same. The pain meds helped, but it was obvious when they wore off. This misery might not have been the anti-viral pill; it might have been the illness that had suddenly awakened. I realized this was not a mild case. The intensity reminded me of being in labor but with no new baby to look forward to.

The next night I decided to try taking ½ pill. I did. It wasn’t bad. So I went to the suggested three per day. That night was as bad as the first night. No more pills for me.

I have a problem with medications. I sometimes have a bad reaction to them, so I just don’t take them. I used to take blood pressure pills, but by changing my diet, and perhaps boosting the activities my lifestyle, I normalized my blood pressure. I no longer need to take them.

For the last two weeks, I didn’t eat, didn’t sleep, had no energy, and actually lost thirteen pounds. Though quite effective, I don’t recommend this diet to anyone.

This went on for more than two weeks.

I may have turned a corner. Last night, three weeks after the first pain, I was able to sleep in my bed the whole night for the first time. I even made myself some coffee. I hadn’t had that since this started either.

I’ve started to want to do things around the house too. Last night I did some laundry, even cleaning the kitchen rugs. I may even vacuum one of these days. All my chores have so kindly waited for me. I’m not sure I have the energy yet to jump right into it, but I do feel hopeful. At least the nerve pill and Tylenol take the pain away. Pain is just so exhausting. But, I may live!

Friday, September 4, 2020

Electing Joe Biden/Kamala Harris is our democracy’s only hope

I have tried to resist political comments in this blog. After all, this is supposed to be a personal place, where writing about the things I love gives me joy. So much of what I write about and photograph are positive, lovely moments to share with others. I enjoy taking pictures of beautiful things adorable animals, highlighting my quilting hobby. But the truth of the matter is the political situation with which we find ourselves is personal. It occupies my thoughts every single day. It even keeps me awake at night.

I’ve worked as a journalist; I’ve been involved in activism and community organizing. It seems like a lifetime ago, since I’ve been retired for the past fifteen years, but there have been lessons learned. Old habits die hard. Even today, I find myself drawn to watching public hearings in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. I watch political speeches and tend to pick up political publications long before I ever consider entertainment or other less serious publications. I can’t help myself. I have the need to know. I have a right to know. 

I’ve long believed and it is borne out every day that it is disingenuous to complain about politics when you have never been a student of it. Being genuine is important to me. Standing up for what I believe is important to me. And making a case for controversial decisions has to include factual information. Making hard decisions is never easy, but it has to be done. And, to do it, there has to be a thorough examination of as much as possible from every angle. 

A wise editor once told me, “If you think you know two sides of a story, you still don’t have the whole story.”  

He was so right. Life has taught me that. Politics is complicated. That is on purpose, a way to keep us all in the dark. It takes time and effort to understand why political decisions are made. Things are not as simple as they may seem. It is not enough to just proclaim political partisanship, or to listen to just one source. How many people who complain about ‘fake news’ and who malign the ‘main stream media’ know that news stories don’t see ink or make it to the airwaves until there are at least three credible sources? That certainly doesn’t happen on social media, which simply regurgitates somebody’s blog post or some hate group. Social media is no place to try to learn about politics. 

With all that said, I have to admit that it makes no sense to me how the upcoming presidential race can be so close. That always confuses me, but especially this year when the choices are so clear. 

I cannot understand how people I know to be good, caring people, can fall for the lies and complete fabrications of not just Donald Trump, but the Republican Party. How can anyone support a party when its leadership says one thing one day and the complete opposite the next? 

As of this writing Joe Biden leads Donald Trump by about 6-10 points in the average of a number of polls. I find that to be unthinkable. How is it possible that anyone, let alone more than thirty-percent of the country can fall for Trump’s con? 

“The true measure of a man is not how he behaves in moments of comfort and convenience but how he stands at times of controversy and challenges.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.

We have already seen the results of challenges faced by these two men. 

Joe Biden has been challenged in the most personal, horrible way possible. He lost his wife and daughter in a car accident and later lost his son to cancer. There can be no greater challenge in life. Biden handled that horror with grace and dignity. It made him a more caring, more empathetic human being. He genuinely wants to serve the American people, and to heal the pain felt by thousands of families across the country that have become ill or lost loved ones to the Corona Virus. He reaches out to people in their own time of grief and tries to console them.

In sharp contrast is Donald Trump, a man with no concern for anyone but himself, a pathological trait he exhibits in his every action. Thousands more people have died from Covid-19 because of his early inaction and failure to listen to anyone who knew better. Trump follows his own stable genius instinct, which has proven over and over again to be a failure to the American people. 

He completely bungled the response to this pandemic because he thought it would interfere in his re-election. Things were going so well for him when the stock market was skyrocketing to heights never seen before in the early part of this year. Of course it did. Trump did away with constraints on business, from environmental regulations to safety measures to workers’ rights. They all melted away under Trump, giving business carte blanche to plow through any forest, dump in any stream, and tear apart pristine land, whether public or private. There have been regulations over the years for a reason. 

The stock market is not the economy! Yet, Trump touted the fine economy, despite millions of unemployment applications and people in this country waiting in long lines to eat. He gave his pals a giant tax break that the rest of us will pay for generations. Even in a stimulus bill designed to help those hurt by the pandemic ended up in the pockets of Trump’s rich pals while hundreds of small businesses closed their doors for good. 

Trump has never apologized for his inept response to the pandemic, as he proclaimed it would simply go away. He never apologizes for anything. Instead he merely doesn’t talk about it. He creates diversions instead. He is a master at that. 

It is all about getting re-elected for Trump. I can see why. He knows when he leaves office he will likely be indicted for alleged money laundering, real estate swindling, tax fraud, the inflation of the value of his property for sales purposes and the same property deflation for tax purposes, and more during his business dealings prior to holding office. Just the things he has done while he was in office are enough to put him away for a long time. His treasonous behavior, the multitude of lies he has told, the money he has skimmed from taxpayers as he soaked the Secret Service who had to pay a premium to stay in his golf resorts, the lack of accountability when Russians put a bounty on the head of American service members in Afghanistan, no word about the brutal death of an American journalist in Saudi Arabia, and countless other foreign entanglements merely designed to enhance his business. 

Donald Trump is an accused rapist who is admittedly morally corrupt and brags about it, his misogynistic treatment of women. What kind of a man pays a porn star to sleep with him just after his wife gives birth to their child? He has no regard for anyone that isn’t white, wealthy, and subservient to him. 

He acts like a mob boss, with no scruples as he fawns over the world’s dictators. He maligns his enemies, the media, anyone that asks a question he doesn’t like. He answers only to his own ego as he lives only for his own self-aggrandizement. He lies, cheats, steals, and what is worse, he has manipulated every check and balance our government has spent years putting in place. 

And his latest scandal, calling fallen military heroes “suckers and losers,” may be the one that does him in. He is trying to talk his way out of this one, but there are just too many times he has said similar things. There are too many people who know better. Remember those three sources in news stories. There seem to be even more in this story.

So it simply makes no sense that between 30- 40-percent of this country can say they support this man for another four years. I hope when this election is over, these numbers were dead wrong and Joe Biden/Kamala Harris wins by a landslide. Only then can we bring peace, justice, and democracy back to the United States of America.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Cats and quilts go together

CHMusings: cats and qults

Pictured above is my beloved cat, Ryan napping while I attempt to quilt.

Ryan loves to make herself comfortable on my quilts. I take her adoration as an extreme compliment.

I guess she fell asleep after wearing herself out stretching, writhing, and contorting herself into odd angles, as cats often do. I realized quilting was futile, so I gave up trying. I decided it was time for a lunch break.

I love quilt making, but I adore my cat, Ryan. She is special, like none other. 

Ryan and her sisters were born 13 years ago on a hot July day on the front porch of the home I share with my husband, John. Her mother is a pretty and petite Calico cat, a stray until she decided to adopt us.  She kept hanging around the house, peeking in windows until we finally gave in and let her come into the house. She wasn’t much more than a kitten. But one day she decided indoors was not her thing. She broke out the screen of an open window and took off into the woods. She didn’t go far, and rarely was out of sight, but it was far enough apparently. One day I noticed her girth had changed. She was a little rounder in her middle. I knew immediately that she was pregnant.

Timi was pretty young to give birth, so I wasn’t sure how well things would go. I was there to help if need be. I read up on what to do before the big day so I was prepared. I had a birthing box ready for Timi, all lined with the latest edition of the local news of our town. Another box was lined with a baby afghan left over from my own kids.

One late morning I was sitting at my computer desk when Timi jumped up to the window next to me. She climbed onto the screen and was clawing in a frenzy and was meowing in a voice I hadn’t heard before. I knew it was time. I met her on the front porch, she jumped into the box and before long I saw the most adorable little gray and white kitten. Timi cleaned it, licking, licking, licking until it was dry and fluffy. She had no qualms about letting me take her kitten. That was my introduction to Ryan and it was love at first sight. I held her gently, talked to her, and kept her warm in my hands.

Timi then delivered another, and another, until there were five. I love them all, but Ryan and I have something special between us.

I was very impressed with how Timi settled into her new role of motherhood. I’m not sure what my role was, but I know it changed my life as much or more than it did hers.

I decided I couldn’t part with any of the kittens, so I kept them all. The last one born lived only 11 days. The third one—Boo—was born with a deformity and weakness on her right side. She was basically a three-legged cat. She lived to be 11 years old and was my second favorite. I still miss her every day. Then there are Kenni and Kasey. There is no shortage of kitty love around here.

This period of my life marked a huge quilting hiatus for me, but once I got back to it, I found I had partners. The girls always love snuggling in a new quilt, or an old one for that matter. Only Ryan likes to be involved in the process however. I guess it started when I did primarily hand quilting on my lap. She learned then how to compete with my favorite hobby. Taking a break from stitching to pet my favorite cat is the best of both worlds.

Life is all about finding the joy. I've found two at a time.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

I love watching the deer in my own backyard

Watching the resident deer population has been a joy for me since the first moment my husband John and I visited Arkansas back in 1997 while on vacation.

I remember our first encounters with these beautiful animals.

We were staying at a resort on Bull Shoals’ Lake. We had just finished our dinner and were sitting on the patio adjacent to our cabin enjoying the solitude.

It was dusk. Sounds in the woods behind the cabin caught our attention as it displaced the sound of quiet we had been enjoying. I admit we were a little startled since we couldn’t see anything. But we knew something was out there. We focused on where the sounds came from and glimpsed what looked like a parade of deer moving slowly from left to right amid the dense foliage. We could see a dozen or more as they stopped to graze now and then.

We lived in a small farming town and had often times seen a deer run through the fields, but nothing like this.

It turns out that trip was live-changing. When we came here for the first time, John took one look at the lakes, the rivers, the wildflowers that lined the roadways, and incredible tree-lined hills, he declared that he wanted to move here when he retired.

We had come back several times before finally moving here eight years later just as we had planned.

I remember that on one of those early trips, we were just driving aimlessly down a country road when we saw a small herd of deer. They were in somebody’s front yard, just grazing on the grass. The view was the most natural thing in the world, yet we had never seen anything like it. We stopped to watch. It was mesmerizing. We couldn’t imagine how wonderful it would be to have such visitors at your own house.

Now that we live here, we see deer all the time and it is wonderful, most of the time. In fact, sometimes I see too many of them eating my flowers or bushes. That is not so wonderful. But, I still love watching them.

One day last year, I saw a doe out of my office window. She was walking on three legs. As I looked closer, I could see that her left rear leg was injured badly. She held it up as she walked, unable to put any weight on it. I looked closer to see that it was nearly severed. I had no idea what could have happened to her. Was it an animal that bit her or did she injure herself while leaping over a fence, or was she shot?

I immediately looked on the Internet to see if there was anything I could do for her. I read that generally, deer will take care of themselves; that trying to corral an injured deer could cause them to be spooked and they could injure themselves further. It broke my heart, but I let her be.

Throughout the rest of last winter and early in the Spring I caught a glimpse of Boo. Her gait was unmistakable. She was almost always alone, just grazing in the backyard all by herself.

I named her Boo Doe, after Boo, my deer 3-legged cat that had died the year before.

Yesterday, I saw Boo again. I was so glad to know that she was OK. As she passed by my window I could see that she was limping, but was able to put some of her weight on her leg. I watched her go into the woods. When she got to just beyond the trees, I could see her meet up with a tiny fawn that began trying to nurse. The fawn was obviously a newborn and wasn’t very steady on its feet. So Boo is a Mom.

This just made my day!

I’ve had many encounters deer and in fact with lots of wildlife, since that first day on vacation many years ago. I remain as much in awe of these beautiful animals now as I did then. It is one of the reasons I love living in Arkansas. I so enjoy the peace and quiet of natural surroundings. Every encounter with every animal, even if it is just observing them through a window, is wondrous to me.

I’m sad to say I didn’t get a good picture of Boo and her fawn; I shot through the window and screen with my camera phone, but I am sure I will do better in the near future. I’m sure they will be back soon and will pose for me like so many other generations of deer I’ve enjoyed over the years.

Ever since those first encounters many years ago, I’ve enjoyed watching these magnificent animals. I never tire of gazing out into the woods. You just never know what you might see there. And every now and then, something in nature will just make your day.

Friday, May 8, 2020

There's nothing like fresh strawberries

I’ve never been successful at growing one of my favorite foods—strawberries—but I plan to keep on trying. There can be little better than plucking a ripe, red, berry and popping it into your mouth. Maybe the only thing better is to have a freezer full of them. To take a bag of berries out of the freezer around December or January might just raise the bar on the happiness quotient.

This year, as in past years, I’ve had to rely on others to raise strawberries I can purchase.
strawberry huller tool

This was the week I was able to buy a few pounds of berries.
When I set out to clean my berries, I went to my favorite gadget drawer to pull out a tool I bought last year but didn’t really use much. In fact, I had almost forgotten that I had it. I’m so glad I remembered, because this tool made preparing my berries for the freezer. This usually tedious chore was a snap with this tool. I’m not sure where I purchased it, but of course, it is available at Amazon. Pictured at right is my strawberry huller tool. It doesn’t look like much, but it is a wonder.

The tool fits comfortably between your fingers. By pushing the green button, the metal prongs open and close. To remove the hull of a strawberry, simply open the prongs, push into the berry, twist, and remove. It is that simple.
hulling strawberries

A little sugar sprinkled on to help them macerate and these beautiful berries are ready to eat. I’m just thrilled to have fresh berries at my fingertips once again.

Processing them was so easy with this tool. I highly recommend it to anyone, whether hulling one small basket of berries or a large quantity. This sturdy little tool is up for the job. 

ready to eat strawberries