This is the one time of year where getting stuck up a tree might be kinda good. Or at least very pretty. These sugar maple trees turn the best colors of all the trees. Scarlet and orange, they are the absolutely prettiest trees in New England. We don’t have many on our property because the oaks are so tall, they shade the maples and keep them from growing. But where they have the light, the are magnificent.
When I first saw my bright orange Cardinal, I was sure I had seen something absolutely unique. Cardinals are red. That’s their thing. Their redness is their thing. Then I discovered that other clusters of orange cardinals have been found, a bunch down in North Carolina. Now they are tracking them to see if this is change is an actual genetic change. I can tell them it is and it’s inherited. These orange Cardinals have had at least two sets of babies. One set of them are almost grey with shafts of orange in their tails and huge orange beaks. The next set is orange, but has a variety of other colors mixed in. This photo picked up the variety of colors very well. But I’m going to add a few other pictures so you can see the differences.
Some of these differences may be because these birds all have the same father. Cardinals are very possessive. They like to collect lady Cardinals and will fight any other male who flies into their territory. I suspect that most Cardinals are probably inbred, given the possessiveness of the males.
There may have been three nestings this season. It’s hard to tell. I think the mother of the most recent fledglings was part of the first batch of baby orange Cardinals. But we definitely have a cluster!
I love the edges and reflections in the house and the angles. I love the little things. Books and clocks and dolls and toys.
Today is the ten-year anniversary of my breast cancer surgery. I would love to announce that “I’m cured,” but with cancer, you are never cured. You can be in remission — sometimes for decades — but it takes just take one cell to restart it. Moreover, having had cancer once or twice doesn’t mean you can’t get it again. The same or an entirely different kind. My mother had breast cancer twice, but died of lung cancer. My brother died of pancreatic cancer as did both of my maternal grandparents. It runs in the family. These days, it seems to run in everybody’s family.
In the course of cancer survival, I have come to thoroughly dislike pink, especially the toddler pink they use to raise money for breast cancer. It was never my favorite color. Too girly. Unless it’s a “hot” pink, it’s also not a color that looks good on me. Rosebud pink is almost as bad as beige. It makes me look completely washed out. Nonetheless, having had breast cancer I am besieged by pink and not just the color, but a distinctly pinkish attitude.
I lost both breasts and got two nice fake breasts. Implants are not real breasts. They are vastly better than nothing, but they aren’t the right kind of skin. They have far less sensation than the originals. I wonder if they will ever stop feeling like alien invaders attached to my chest. Also, there are no nipples. The implants look fine under clothing but they aren’t me. I was going to do the whole thing including replacement fake nipples, but to get those fake nipple it mean two more surgeries followed by healing and then followed by tattoos because the new nipples aren’t pink. They are just skin-colored. For a while, i considered just getting interesting tattoos without the nipple adaptations, but finally, I realized i didn’t want anything. I’m not doing any nude photographs or going topless to the beach.
I have a bad attitude towards cancer. I’m supposed to celebrate my survival as if it is a miracle of miracles. It was top-quality surgery, but it wasn’t a miracle. i was just lucky that i had a slow-growing type of breast cancer. Even though it wasn’t discovered until it had been around for a while, it was still a relatively small tumor that had not spread into my lymph nodes. It was considered very non-aggressive. Actually, both tumors, were slow-growing, but one was much bigger than the other. My theory was and is that one breast had had cancer for quite a while and the other on showed up late in the process. I can’t prove it, but the odds of having two completely different tumors — one per breast — is unimaginably minute. I think by the time they found one and eventually the other, they were simultaneous, but didn’t start out that way.
Many of my friends have had breast cancer. It has become very common. Maybe it always was, but we didn’t know how to check for it. It is Especially common among younger Black women and any age Ashkenazi Jewish woman. But truth be told, breast cancer is common for all women. Any race. Any age. I’m told there’s a new test out that can detect it earlier without the painful mammogram. Nice, though it wouldn’t have helped me much because I went for six years between mammograms. The doctor forget to remind me and I forgot to remember. I had other issues at the time which were trying to kill me and other potential but non-lethal medical events got lost in the frenzy. If it had been a more aggressive form of cancer, I’d have been in more serious trouble, but lucky (?) for me, I had time to get it fixed. Three-and-a-half years later, I had to have major heart surgery. I considered that extremely unfair. The double mastectomy was bad enough and I was just pulling myself together when it was time for the next round of “life or death, then toss the dice and hope for the best.”
Women who haven’t had cancer point out that if I were better at smiling and telling everyone that I’m FINE, I’d be FINER.
I have stopped going places where people ask me how I’m doing and don’t want to hear the answer. Of being told my attitude is the problem rather than the disease. Many women want me to be upbeat. If I’m happy, it makes them feel safe. These women do not want to hear that sometimes — years later — I am still overcome by feelings of sadness and loss. I miss my breasts. We grow up believing with our breasts are a major signifier of upcoming womanhood. Having both of them removed tends to make you feel less womanly, especially when you are older and past the age of childbearing. It’s a major hit to your femininity. Regardless of whether you feel that this is a very anti-feminist attitude, it doesn’t change how you feel about having breasts.
I no longer like having them touched. They aren’t sexy. They aren’t me.
I’m supposed to celebrate “being cancer-free” except no one who has had cancer ever feels cancer-free. When your breasts are gone, replacements don’t feel like the ones you had before. Those are gone. I have a lot of trouble wondering why so many women have breast surgery to “improve” them. It’s not minor surgery. It’s painful and there’s a surprisingly long recuperation following surgery. No matter how well the surgery is performed, it continues to hurt. Not a lot, but the areas where muscles and ligaments were cut are always sore. Ten years later, they still hurt.
The point of being bright-eyed and bushy-tailed about having a bilateral mastectomy is to make other women feel less threatened. If you tell them how great you feel, they don’t have to worry. Or at least, not worry as much. I grant you that gloom and doom might not be a great choice, but neither is pasting a fake smile on your face and telling everyone how happy you are when you aren’t. We should be allowed to feel how we feel — even if it’s not great. We’ve had to deal with a major physical loss. Being repeatedly told we aren’t allowed to feel unhappy and should stay positive is unkind and frustrating. It ought to be okay to be upset, to mourn our losses, to wonder “why me?” People moan and complain about their bosses, their love life, their cars, traffic and the weather, but if I complain I had cancer … that’s not okay? Really?
I come from a family where cancer has taken a lot of lives. Getting it wasn’t exactly a bolt out of the blue. The last words my mother said to me the day before she died was “Get regular checkups.” There are many genetic links for breast cancer, especially for young Black women and anyone with a family link to Ashkenazi Jewishness. Two known (and testable) genetic links have been found (so far) for me, but insurance only pays for one — the more common marker. What good does all the research do if we can’t afford to use it?
On top of all of this is the “pink” culture. Why pink? Why not turquoise or burnt orange? Along with “pink think” comes a kind of glorifying breast cancer as if it were a kind of gift that helps you “understand” yourself better. Oh please! Breast cancer isn’t a “test” which, if we pass, makes us heroines. What it usually means is (1) we found it early enough to get it fixed and (2) we had quality insurance. Moreover, I am entitled to be pissed off about it. Someone thinks it’s a gift, but I’ve never met someone who actually had it who felt that way. This is a country that seems to believe that denial really improves your health.
It doesn’t. I’ve had enough health issues that I can’t afford denial. Right now, we are seeing an entire nation in which at least 1/3 of our citizens are in a dangerous state of denial.. No one with a serious illness (or potentially a candidate for such an illness) can afford denial. Cancer, heart disease — and COVID-19 — is not an attitude problem.
Absolutely no evidence of any kind exists to confirm the widespread belief that a positive attitude results in a better survival rate for ANY disease. Being in a persistent state of gloom is a bummer, but it won’t change the outcome of your illness.
On top of everything else, the sappy postings on Facebook that urge everyone to pray for all the people suffering from cancer. Prayer seems to be the only answer. Personally, I think sending money would be more useful. Sick people have expenses. Children. Mortgages. Car loans. We have not abjured things that cost money. More accurately, we usually don’t HAVE any money. If we had any, by the time we are done with treatment, we have a lot less than we used to have. Personally, I’d be delighted to get an infusion of money. I’d love to have someone come weekly to clean my house. Paying the credit cards, improving our 1973 kitchen, and repaving the driveway are high on my list of things I’d really love to do. Having enough money to fix my broken tooth would be nice too — and enough money to get new eyeglasses would also be a nice touch.
So if you are wondering what to do with your spare money (does anyone actually have spare money?), feel free to send cash, personal checks, and money orders. I’m sure we will do something useful with it, If you need information on how to make a direct transfer into our account, I’m sure we can work it out. Unlike standard charities, I can invite you over and show you exactly where the money was spent and how it improved our lives. Isn’t that better than giving to some giant charity where most of your money goes to pay the CEO?
Cancer is typically a financial disaster for families. Everything — including the quality of the care you receive — depends on your insurance as well as the facilities available where you live. Major diseases — all of them — deplete your resources and can leave you with nothing.
No one wants to complain all the time. It’s humiliating, boring to listen to, and even more boring to explain. A real rundown of one’s health is a lot more complicated than plastering a big smile on your face and saying: “I’m FINE!” It’s bad enough to be sick and having parts removed. When you’re also dead broke and can’t see any way to get out from under the debt, it’s so much worse.
I remind myself that we are all here on a temporary permit. No one gets out of this world alive. Anyone can be felled by a speeding car or hit by a meteor. We are born without a warranty. We don’t even get a cheesy 90-day guarantee for medical treatments. If it doesn’t work, oh well. They don’t do it over for free or even at half-price.
Everyone wants to be fine. We plan to be fine. We base our lives on being fine. Sooner or later, you won’t be fine. That’s called “being human.”
A positive attitude will not alter the course of a disease.
Pretending to be positive makes others less afraid. It will make your family and friends feel better. To some degree, we do it because what’s the point of spreading gloom? The “acquaintances” and other people who impose the obligation to smile regardless of your real feelings are not concerned with your welfare. Most of them could care less how you feel. They just don’t want to deal with your pain or the threat you represent to their peace of mind. They want you to be okay so they can feel okay. The culture of positivity that has developed around a painful experience is phony and embarrassing. Forcing women to smile when they want to scream is an old, old story. We’ve been doing it for centuries.
I understand people think they are doing the right thing by telling you how lucky you are to have “caught it in time.” Lucky to be alive.
Not dying isn’t lucky. If I were lucky, I would still have breasts. Not getting cancer would be lucky.
Friends don’t tell friends how to feel.
So it has been ten years. It doesn’t feel that long. It feels like yesterday. All of the bad stuff somehow feels like yesterday. Weird, isn’t it?
Arthur Poisson, who has worked for us before, does beautiful work. When he is done with a job, it looks finished. He says his goal is when he’s done, it should look like it has always been that way … and it does. There’s not a scrap of garbage around and everything is absolutely perfect. The quality of the doors he put up in the kitchen are so much better than anything I could have afforded and the man said it will never rot, never need painting. And it perfectly matches the front door, probably because he bought it at the same place we bought the front door. He probably checked the records. We have … gasp … matching doors! And the back door has a lock and keys and everything. Like a real door is supposed to have.
He got the whole thing done in a day and Duke helped. Garry things the Duke needs a special sweater that says “supervisor” on it. Both men had dogs of their own, so they didn’t find anything odd about chatting with the dog while they worked. I would have taken more pictures, but it’s a really bad angle from the dark kitchen out into the bright porch and everything is off in a corner. I’ll take a few more pictures in the morning. It was very exciting. This contractor cost about 10% more than the other contractors and boy, is he worth every penny!
As we were finishing up this job, I started to add in my head the work we’ve had done on the house over the past three years. This is NOT counting all the work we had done before then … but it added up to a staggering number and suddenly, I realized why we are broke. Garry pointed out that at least we had something to show for it. It wasn’t like we spent it all eating out or buying fancy clothing. True, but I think by now we’ve bought the house at least twice. We aren’t finished because next, we have to do something with the kitchen — like buy cabinets. Also, we need to replace the deck. And paint and fix the floor. We won’t get it all done but at least the things that were worrying me are done — for now. The house is 50 years old which for a house of this type is quite old enough.
I realize that this may not be your most exciting moment, but it’s exciting for us. The door we’ve had came with the house. A 50-year old dark brown dutch door. I loved the old dutch door, but it couldn’t be repaired anymore. And it leaked like a sieve all winter. So finally, I saved the money from the last government grant and it paid for the doors. It looks great and it matches our front door. It also lightens up the kitchen. I didn’t think it would make such a big difference.
And one last one from the kitchen. As you can see, we are a bit tight on space.
Kind of square with feathers. A red-bellied woodpecker taking a break from debugging a tree for a yummy seed snack. The bugs must have had a really serious “go” at the trees this year because they have been very busy stripping the bark off various trees.
This is a mama red squirrel. I can tell because she has teats full of milk, so I guess these cute red squirrels are also breeding. They don’t come out as often as the big gray ones, but they do come when they are hungry. She’s a very pretty one!
My favorite place in Jerusalem was the Western Wall, sometimes incorrectly called the “Wailing Wall.” In Hebrew, it’s Kotel — it rhymes with motel. I used to go to the Kotel to pray and leave messages for God.
I loved the approach to the Temple mount. I would stand for a while, looking down at it from the approaching steps, trying to form an image of what it must have looked like when it was the hill where God talked to Isaac, where God said that He would never again ask for another human sacrifice. So what was with all the war and massacre and death? Doesn’t that count?
Then I would walk down the stone steps to the wall and get as close as I could get, so my nose grazed the Wall. I would lay my cheek and the palms of my hands flat against it and feel the humming of power in those ancient stones.
From close up, you see the messages, tens of thousands of messages rolled tightly into tiny scrolls tucked in the crevices between the rocks. Every kind of prayer, every kind of message, all on tiny folded pieces of paper, cradled by giant stones.
Tucked between the stones were all the prayers, hopes, fears, and gratitude of people who came to this special place to leave a messages for God.
The Wall talks to you and says “You can leave your message here. God always checks his messages and He will get back to you.”
I always brought a message and tucked it into the stones. I knew God would read my message and get back to me. As surely as I knew Jerusalem is the center of the universe and closer to Heaven than any place on earth, I knew I lived down the street from his message center. If every prayer is heard, prayers left at this address got to Him sooner.
There were groups of rabbis who spent their lives praying at the Wall. For a small fee, they would pray for you. If you believe there is a special potency to the prayers of pious men, the rabbis of the Kotel were worth a donation. They didn’t ask for much – whatever you could afford and for your money, you got a prayer specialist to put the word in for you.
I probably went to the Kotel more than a hundred times over the years, but I most remember one day above all others. I went that day because my mother was dying. I wanted to ask God to give my mother and I some time together.
It seemed pointless to pray for her cancer to be cured. It had spread too far, had invaded too much. I knew it was her time. I accepted death, even my mother’s, but time didn’t seem too much to ask. I bought prayers from the rabbis, then went to the Wall and left my message among the stones.
Almost 40 years have passed, but I bet my message is still there, exactly where I left it. With all the other messages left for God in the Western Wall at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
It didn’t last long, but at least it was there, however briefly. I didn’t think I took a lot of autumnal pictures, but between August and September, Garry and I too more than 3000 pictures, so I guess we were busier than we thought. I sometimes take a couple of hundred bird pictures in the morning, before coffee! In between the cooking yesterday, I got some great pictures of the last set of orange-billed Cardinals. Each set of fledglings look different than the others. The DNA in these birds is working overtime.
And I still have bunches of River Bend pictures from both me and Garry. So we’ll just celebrate fall a little while longer. It’s still “fallish” outside and the oak leaves are still green.
I’m glad you did the math on this one. I got lost somewhere in the squaring of numbers but numbers aren’t really my world. Actually, I’m not sure this IS my world. I watched the debate tonight and I’m not sure anything happened. We were hoping Kamala would tear out Pence’s throat, but sadly, that didn’t happen.
I don’t do blog awards. I remember when I got the first one and I was so excited! An award! Garry wanted to know if it came with hardware (that’s how he refers to statues, things that hang on walls or stand on shelves and have your name engraved on it) and I said “no.” He said if it didn’t come with hardware, it didn’t count. The only ones I do are challenges — mostly using photographs. They can be interesting especially if you have a big archive.
I think the awards are a nice touch to NEW bloggers who don’t have much of an audience. Until you realize it’s completely meaningless and most people think they’re sorta dumb, it’s nice to get any kind of recognition. I got lucky and got a surprisingly large amount of recognition pretty quickly as did you, but most people don’t have that experience. I think we both also rode the wave of political craziness when we began. I started right before Obama’s second run for office and you with the hysteria of Trumpty Dumpty.
Of course, we never imagined an EIGHT MONTH QUARANTINE — EIGHT FREAKING MONTHS SO FAR — or having a blithering idiot running the country. Is that blithering or blathering? I keep forgetting. Maybe it’s both? Our blithering, blathering idiot. Yeah. That says it.
So as for me, give me liberty or death, but not long lists of questions. Also, if people keep sending me these awards, I’m going to drive all of you crazy by actually sending you a nomination and demanding repeatedly that you send these out to 14 or 18 or 22 people … and make sure you send me a list so I know who got the nominations so I can badger them, too.
How do I feel about blog awards? The same way I feel about chain letters and Ponzi schemes. At my best, annoyed. At my worst, really annoyed.
Meanwhile, they keep telling us to get flu shots, but they don’t have the super flu shots Garry and I need because there’s a national shortage of the super senior flu shots … so please shut up about it already. They don’t HAVE THE SHOT. I’ll get one when they have one to give me. Sheesh.
I had a nice set of posts planned for this evening until the wind came up and the lights went out. We got a lot of wind which, apparently brought down some trees and although it is usually dark here at night, it was even darker than usual. A few minutes ago the lights came back. We really do need to get a generator. We don’t need one that will run everything in the house, but it needs to run the well pump, the boiler, the hot-water heater, two refrigerators and a small freezer, and a few lights or maybe the television, though the odds are that if the power is out, the cable is also out.
This was going to be a cooking post. I got myself into kitchen “go mode.” I made soft pretzels and potato soup that is close to vichyssoise, but somewhat less delicate and more toothsome.
It all started because we inherited a 5-pound bag of small potatoes. There are not many things I hate doing in the kitchen, but peeling potatoes is one of them. I’d rather wash the floor. It’s that bad. So, in the end, we moved the potatoes to a new home, bought a few big potatoes and I made potato soup.
- Peel and cut-up into little bite-size pieces about 5 cups of potatoes. IF you are going to cream the soup completely, you don’t have to worry about making all the pieces the same size. If you like chunky soup, you can have process the potatoes and put the rest in as pieces. Or, you can leave it all as pieces. I like creaming the whole thing, but sometimes it depends on what I put into it and how much I want to chew. Also, depending on the size of the spud, you’ll need between three and five large Idaho potatoes. We needed three. The remaining two are going to become potato salad to go with dinner tonight.
- Chop a medium size ( about 1 cup) of onion
- Chop up one bright pepper. I went with yellow, but red or orange would have been fine too. Anything but green. They are bit acidy for this soup.
- 3 cups broth (we used lamb broth because we had some frozen, but you can buy broth in the grocery. Get the low-salt variety. It’s easy to add salt, but hard to make it go away.
- 1 cup water
- 2 teaspoons chicken base (powdered chicken stuff)
- 1/2 pound finely diced bacon. Owen sprung for the expensive stuff that’s more meat than fat. I actually had to add some olive oil because there was very little fat coming off the bacon
- 1/2 cup half & half or heavy cream or sour cream
- half a stick of butter
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
IN A 3 TO 4 QUART SOUP POT:
- Fry the chopped up bacon. When the bacon is cooked and nearly crisp, add chopped onions and pepper. Cook until soft.
- Add the broth, water, and soup base. Bring to a boil.
- Add the potatoes. Lower heat and simmer from 10 to 15 minutes or until the potatoes are soft to a fork. Try not to overcook the potatoes. Leave a little life in them.
Set up your food processor — you know, the one in the closet you never use? You might want to let the soup cool a bit. It can be rather lava-like. Pour half the soup into the food processor and crank it up. Pour pureed soup into a big bowl. Add the rest of the soup to the food processor plus the cream or half-and-half or sour cream. Some people use cream cheese. That sounded too sweet for me. Pour it all back into the pot. In theory it needs to be thickened, but it’s already very thick. Nothing liquidy about it, so I didn’t thicken it at all. Any thicker and I could have used it to lay bricks. I turned on the cooker (induction cooker) to very low (simmer is at 2 usually) to keep it warm. It was served with fresh chopped dill and my fresh, soft and salty pretzels. Perfect this time.
Generally you can serve this soup as is. You can also add other spices. I threw in some rosemary for the smell more than the taste and some Za’atar. Salt and pepper are up to each eater. None of us needed any. I chopped the chives to put on top of the soup for decoration. Other toppings include sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese, crumbled bacon, scallions (green onions) or some pretty chopped peppers. You can use whatever you want. We just had it with the chives and forgot about the cheese and sour cream. Oops. We did NOT forget the pretzels.
You can serve this soup chilled or at room temperature. Hot one day, cold the next. This recipe is for one night, four people and it’s really a meal. Very filling. Do NOT serve it before the roast turkey. You’ll wind up with an awful lot of leftover turkey.
I’ve modified the recipe a bit. They are softer and a bit stickier. Perfect. The egg “wash” at the end makes the pretzels crisper or softer. I used a lot of egg (and I still had a lot left over). I think ONE egg would be more than enough. The recipe calls for two, but it’s the egg of overkill.
- 1-1/2 cup of warm (tepid) water
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 packet active dry yeast (2-1/2 teaspoons dry yeast)
- 4 cups of white flour (down from 4-1/2)
- 4 tablespoons of olive oil (up from 3). Use 2 in the dough and save the other two to put on top of the dough while it rises
Add the dry yeast (1 packet or 2-1/2 teaspoons) to the warm water, salt, and sugar. Let stand for five minutes until it is frothy. Add everything else into your (I hope KitchenAid) mixer with the dough hook attached. Mix 4 or five minutes on low. It will form a dough and you don’t have to knead it. Leave it in the mixing bowl (why get another bowl dirty?). Use the remaining two tablespoons of oil on top of the dough, then cover with plastic wrap. Leave in a warm place (note that SOME recipes refrigerate the dough which makes it much crispier. I don’t. If you’ve been to Philadelphia, these are classic Philly soft pretzels. Add your own favorite mustard or cheese or (ta-da!) soup!
Go sit for a few minutes. Your ankles are probably swollen by now.
- 1 beaten egg for washing the pretzels before adding salt and baking. More eggs means softer pretzels. If you want a little crisp, leave off the egg wash
- Coarse (Kosher) salt
- Large pot of boiling (rolling boil) water
- 2/3 cup baking soda mixed into the water. I have no idea what the baking soda does but I assume it does something.
About an hour after you leave the dough to rise, dump it out of the mixing bowl onto a flat surface, knead a few times (you might need to add a little bit of extra flour) and cut it into 8 pieces. Pretend it’s play dough and roll it into ropes. If you feel creative, you can try to make them look like “real” pretzels. Personally, I gave up and just twist them a bit for decorative purposes. It’s easier to get the twisty ropes onto a big tray. When the water and baking soda are boiling, boil each pretzel into the boiling water for 30 seconds, then lay each piece on the try. When you’re done, paint with the beaten egg and add a lot of coarse (Kosher) salt. We like them very salty, but if you don’t, use less salt. Some people put sugar and cinnamon on them, but if you do that, add a little extra sugar into the dough — at which point you have dessert.
- 450 F (230 C) (Preheat your oven if it requires preheating) for about 15 minutes. I had to turn the tray so the pretzels browned evenly. I use a countertop oven that run a big cooler than the big oven, so it needs the fifteen minutes. In the big oven, closer to 10 or 12 minutes.
- Bake for 10-15 minutes. Mine need 14 or 15. I also turn the tray around so they come out evenly browned all around.
I made the pretzels first because they needed more time for the dough to rise and also, if I turn on the induction cooker and the countertop over at the same time, the lights go out. Who knew the lights were going out anyway? Dinner was great and we have leftovers, but not a lot. This recipe is for 4 people and can be doubled or tripled. It’s filling — the essence of comfort food.
It’s kind of musical around here. I have my guitar, ukulele, two penny whistles, a small xylophone and a tiny electric piano. I had a very different idea of what to do with today’s pictures, but the lights were out for hours.
If the wind had calmed down, we’d have had a little more time to write. Sadly, we also got a very small amount of rain … just another dribble.