Friday, December 30, 2011

The Holiday Aftermath! Reflections

     A wind driven rain is beating against the windows behind me here in more commonly snowy, cold Milwaukee, WI. The temperature has been above 40 degrees for almost the whole month of December. I even have some pansies blooming at my back doorstep. Never do I remember such a thing.  What's going on? Some would say, "Global warming," I guess Our meteorologists tell us it is due to the position of the jet stream which is bringing us southerly warm breezes. However, it is chilly and damp, so here I sit bundled up in my kind of ratty Pottery Barn red afghan my son gave me several years ago for Christmas, getting over the Holiday viral cold that I inevitably get from one or both of my two grandsons when we visit them. I decided to put down some holiday reflections for your perusal and contemplate how things at this time of year have changed and also how things have stayed the same.
       I have a hot cup of Newuman's Own Organic coffee in my hands, made on our new Keurig brewing machine, a gift to my husband from our coffee loving son. Do you all know what a Keurig machine is and what K-cups are?. This has to be one of the most consumer driven moves to hit coffeedom in a long time. Of course we all know about the coffee shop on every corner--  Starbucks, Caribou, Gloria Jeans etc.Of course Starbucks has become the Kleenex of coffeeshops. There is an extensive history of coffeehouses demonstrating that they originated in Turkey. In those proprietorships, the purchase of coffee provided a nice excuse to socially gather and  be entertained by music and the arts,  and to discuss topics from the latest writings to politics Wikipedia has a very nice writeup on the history of coffeehouses; google it for more info. Current coffeeshops have become Internet hotspots and the social critiques now often occur on line and not directly face to face. I think also a large clientele just stops in on the way to work or play and takes a cup of Joe to go. However, now there is a move to do everything in the comfort of your home. The home has become a luxury cocoon. You must not spend part of your carbon footprint in driving to the coffee shop for a nice cup of gourmet coffee.
       So we move to the Keurig home brewer. This is a marvelous machine. You never have to touch the coffee flakes. They are packaged in a small plastic cup which you place in a little holder that the machine opens and presents to you. You can buy any number of famous brands, flavors, strengths, even teas, chais, hot cider or hot chocolate. The machine punctures the cup surface, bottom and top, and draws pressurized, heated water from a reservoir through beverage particles, and then emits your brewed beverage into your cup, all in less than 60 seconds, usually more like 20 seconds. I am really curious how this machine does this, but have been unable to find any drawing. I guess I will have to just accept the engineering inventiveness that is behind this machine. I suppose it is a well guarded industrial secret or something. There is something in me that says my carbon footprint is decadently enlarged by using just this little individual serving of beverage mix and by brewing just a single cup of the coffee. I know this must be true. And yet I love so much the wonderful and excellent flavors that are emitted from this machine. You can even do iced beverages. Just fill your tumbler with ice and brew some tea of any flavor and Voila! refreshing iced tea. You purchase special little K-cups that are intended for brewing iced beverages. They contain a little more beverage mix to account for the melting ice. It somehow seems so decadent and lazy to refuse to even use a teaspoon to put a dollop of instant coffee into a cup and use our instant boiling water tap that we had put into our house to draw a cup of hot water onto the flaked coffee. This takes the coffee experience one huge step further. After all instant Folgers does not have the same taste as a deep rich latte just as brewed down at the corner Starbucks.
      Well, the coffee brewer was my husband's gift. My gift was a home soda maker. My son and daughter in law know that I drink a lot of soda because they can monitor how much we drink when we visit at their home. This machine has a CO2 container and it carbonates the water with any flavor that you choose, and emits a beverage over your ice cubes. I am still to explore the ways to use this machine. Interestingly, I recall first visiting my parents in law in Israel in the 1970s when my mother in law placed just such a container on the table with which one could carbonate one's orange juice, or water, or any juice or beverage you wanted. This machine is quite a bit more technologically advanced but it is the same principle. You are still using a CO2 cartridge, the preparation of which must contribute to the carbon footprint. However, you are not using all that aluminum in the cans and needing to recycle it. I got several flavor packs and two plastic bottle receptacles to receive my carbonated beverage for drinking. Wow, another gadget. Our present day world never seems to be at a loss for a new gadget.
     Our Christmas morning was great. Somehow Christmas isn't Christmas without a small child or a few of them to come downstairs bright and early to appreciate the gifts left by Santa under the Christmas tree. Our younger single son and his girlfriend wanted to see the two nephews discover this wonderland also so when the 2 year old first began to talk to his stuffed animals in his crib, we were all awakened and sat around waiting. Then my daughter-in-law went and woke the 5 year old and brought them both down. (The 5 year old would have been quite angry had the 2 year old been allowed to participate in the wonder below the tree without his older brother.) So down the stairs came the two boys to the flashes of cameras. There were presents all over the place. And now there are kits you can purchase which enable you to carry the "Santa Claus myth" to an extreme of reality. There is a flaky material you add a little water to and you arrange this material in the shape of Santa's footprints on the tile as he would have emerged from the fireplace after dropping down the chimney. To top that off there is a jingle bell on a strip of red ribbon to stick into something as though it was torn from Santa's clothing or his pack. This item was stuck onto the wire fireplace curtain. So now enters my younger unmarried childless son. He sees a funny way to get his older brother. He says to his nephew, " Sam, what are you going to do with that jingle bell? It belongs to Santa, right? Sam, why don't you keep it until next year and then put it out for Santa when he comes next year. He can pick it up then." He eyes his older brother with a mischievous smile on his face. Sam thinks that is an excellent idea. Now my older son has to put away the jingle bell in a place he will remember, pull it out again and put it out for Santa next year, because Sam will  remember. There is no doubt, he will remember. Gotcha! Something inside me sees this whole subterfuge as carrying the Santa Claus myth too far. Some older kids might rightfully be a little resentful of their parents for maintaining the lie for so long and this just adds to that lie. Of course, the commercial market will sell anything they can for this Holiday. I just wonder where they put these kits in the store. As soon as a kid can read, he will start to figure out things much quicker.
     We were quite touched by the fact that our younger son brought his relatively new girlfriend to spend Christmas with us. He had traveled for his work until 1 week before Christmas and was concerned that he would leave his girlfriend again to join us for Christmas. I think he also wanted us to meet her. Meanwhile, she had never spent Christmas away from the family to which she is very close. She had agonized over whether to do this or not. She knew how much our younger son wanted it and why. And my son understood what a sacrifice it was for her. She had somewhat of a difficult time Christmas Eve which was when her family traditionally got together. But thanks to Skyp and I hope to some of our understanding she made it through. She is a sweetheart and we were glad to have her with us. I hope that the decision she made and my son's understanding of it imply that this relationship is developing into a deeper one.
     I, the former Christian mother, but wife to a Jew tried to make sure that her husband's religion and Holiday were not forgotten, as I have often done in the past. I always said that our two sons were terribly deprived: first Chanukah and its 8 days of lights and gelt (or little daily gifts) and then Christmas at my family home with huge loads of Christmas presents. December was hugely spoiling. So this Christmas I took along a Chanukiyah and made to light the candles the nights that we were at my son's home. I sat the two grandsons down to tell them the story about Judah Maccabee and his followers, the retaking of the Jerusalem Temple from the Seleucids, and the a lighting of the olive oil lamps to sanctify the Temple. The story goes that there appeared to be only a very small amount of oil left in the reservoir, not even enough to burn for one night, but somehow that oil miraculously lasted for 8 nights,  coincidentally the time it takes to press and process some fresh olive oil. I didn't even get through the first part of the story and my grandson, Sam, spoke up, " I know that story. Mr Halpern told it to us at school" (daycare). There is certainly evidence that tolerance and education are present in our school system. We did light the candles and I think those bright lights will shine in our grandson's memories. I want them to recall that they come from the Jewish tradition as well as the Christian, and maybe even a little of the Buddhist given my Spirit Mind Body Group bent.
     Well enough reflections. Times have changed. Gifts are more technological than ever. The comforts of home are still strong but they are different than they used to be. However, that warm feeling when our family gets together is still there.That has not changed. And so I reflect on Christmases past, on this past weekend and on our future. Here's to a future where those grandkids of ours will be free to use whatever old traditions they require and to establish whatever new traditions they need to bring warmth and love into their home, no matter what it looks like in years to come.

     From our house to your house in all 123 countries that have produced readers to this blog, no matter your spiritual tradition, I wish you well at this time of year. Seasons greetings! Enjoy your own special tradition and keep it special. Thank you for showing an interest in my humble writings.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Mystery Photo 14: The Church of the Holy Sepulchre -- Some interesting history!

     Yes you are correct! This is the entrance that most tourists use to enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the old city of Jerusalem.
     This ancient church is a combination of chapels that were united under one roof over time. Originally on this site was reported to have been a Temple to Aphrodite possibly erected by the Roman Emperor Hadrian to try to blot out all commemoration of the site by Christians due to his hatred of Christianity as a religion. The first edifice built on this site for Christianity was built by Emperor Constantine in the 3rd century. It contained chapels that would mark the site of the Crucifixion (Golgotha), the site where Jesus body was taken down from the cross, where his body was prepared for burial, and also the site of the Garden Tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea. There is also a site that supposedly contained the skull of Adam as that is the legendary site of the Resurrection. The Aedicule is the internal structure that houses the Place of Burial of Jesus and therefore of his Resurrection.
     The location of all of these Holy Sites in Christianity are contested by various denominations. So whether these are the exact sites or not is uncertain, though some archaeological evidence does seem to suggest this was the tomb. Others denominations celebrate the site of Golgotha to be elsewhere. However, it is clear that the outer walls of the Old City of Jerusalem have changed several times over the centuries. The current walls are Crusader walls and probably do enclose areas that were outside the city in the 1st century AD.
      There was fire which burned portions of the Church during the 7th century. The early Muslim rulers protected the church as a Christian site, but in the 11the century the Church was ordered to be completely destroyed by the Fatimid caliph Al Hakim. Reportedly the church was hacked to bedrock, although portions were preserved by the overlying rubble. Later in that same century, Christendom sent the Crusades to rescue the Christian sites in Jerusalem and Palestine and it was rebuilt.    
     There are intricate rules for who is responsible for various sections and chapels of the Church. The largest control belongs to the Greek Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church and the Armenian Church. But also the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church and the Coptic Church retain some responsibility and right to some altars and/or chapels inside. The roof, windows and doors are regarded as common ground. But frequent disagreements arise requiring the Israeli police to come in to break up fistfights or to keep the peace between these various Christian fractions.
      In 2002, a Coptic monk who was guarding his small section on the roof, moved his chair in order to seek out some shade. The Ethiopians took offense at this action, regarding it as a hostile act and started a fight. Eleven people were admitted to the hospital as a result of this fracas. In 2004, a Franciscan left a door open and the Orthodox church regarded this as disrespectful and started a brawl over this. Similarly as recently as 2008 the Israeli police were called to break up an altercation. As a result of the hot contestation of every action in and around the Church, there remains a ladder sitting on a ledge over this main door of the Church. The windows and sill are regarded as common ground and no one has responsibility for upkeep. Likewise all fractions are afraid to set foot on this ledge over the main door for fear of how some other faction may regard such an action, so a wooden ladder has sat there at least 150 years. It is visible in this photo of the entrance and is visible on every photo taken of this area since 1853.
       Ah, the interesting history that religion creates.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Mystery Photo 14

Can you recognize this famous entrance to a famous church? I thought this is an appropriate Mystery Photo for the upcoming Christian Holiday Season. Not only is this a famous church in a famous city, but there is something about this facade that is unusual. Can you guess the unusual presence here and why it is here?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Painful Buddhist Lesson Learned! Lost Ring!

Buddhist monks at the Temple at Sarnath, India
  For the past 10 or 15 years I have been attending a weekly Spirit Mind Body Group which meets once a week for meditation and to study spirituality of all persuasions. We take turns reading or presenting something of spiritual interest or leading a discussion in the spiritual field. There is a strong Buddhist bent to this group both because several members are Buddhist and have studied Buddhist philosophy extensively and because we meet at and are often led by the local President of the Mindfulness Practice Center of Milwaukee. I have been keeping a blog of our weekly meetings of Spirit Mind Body Group. Through all of these avenues I have learned a little about Buddhist thought.  Though it is difficult if not impossible to contain Buddhist theory in a nutshell, let me at least try to give you an idea of how a recent occurrence in my life has clarified and strengthened these ideas for me. Then I will tell you about the occurrence and how I have so far survived it.
     The Four Noble Truths as put forth by the Buddha are as follows: 1) Life here on earth involves suffering. There is pain, illness, losses of things and people and finally of our own life. 2) The source of this suffering is due to clinging and attachment to things and ideas that are impermanent and are only in our lives for a short while and do not carry on into future lives. We must not become attached emotionally to impermanence. 3) There is a way to overcome and relieve this suffering. 4) The Eightfold path if practiced and perfected will enable the practitioner to learn the truth of existence and will allow the sufferer to attain nirvana and relief from the karmic cycle of existence and suffering. The Eightfold path includes the practice of wisdom described as Right View and Right Intention. It includes the practice of ethical conduct described in Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood. Thirdly the path includes direction for mental development in the Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration. In our Spirit Mind Body Group we have discussed this attachment to things and ideas as being very hard to let go of. Indeed it is human to have these attachments to things, to our lives, to our homes, to our cars, to our ideas, to our personalities, to our individual selves. These must be let go of to realize the truth of existence and to reach nirvana.

Hit Read on to find out what happened to me.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A memorable patient!

     I announced about a year ago that I would use the Caduceus to announce postings that are medically related, or that relate to my life as a physician. (Posting for Nov 10, 2010: An Obituary Tells a Story). After that posting, I went on to research the Caduceus and discovered I was way off base. The symbol that I thought represented medicine was not the Caduceus or Staff of Hermes but rather the above symbol, the Rod of Asclepius. (Posting July 7, 2011: Medical Confusions: Staff of Hermes vs Rod of Asclepius). So from here forth, I will use the above correct symbol of medicine when my posting relates to that topic.
     Read on for a story of one of my more memorable patients.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Big Turkish Shindig!

     I want to tell you about the performance/dinner party that I held in my home a couple weeks ago on Halloween eve, October 29. This turned out to be a very interesting evening, I think.
     This all started when Sky Schultz, a member of my Spirit Mind Body Group did a performance at one of our meetings of his look at Rumi poetry combined with a light and humorous presentation. Sky has a long repertoire of humorous presentations. We saw one on Rumi and a second one on the pithy writings of Mark Twain. During one of these presentations, Sky cooperated with Karen Kolberg who recites, or really acts out Hafez poetry from Persia. After many complements on these two performances at our group meeting, Sky expressed a desire to get back into his performance artistry. I decided that our home and our recent experience with a trip to Turkey could provide a very adequate venue for Sky and Karen's return to the public stage. I began to plan.
     I knew I wanted to invite past and present members of the Spirit Mind Body Group. But I also wanted to include some doctor friends with whom I used to work. Unfortunately many of the those I wished to include had other obligations for the evening, but I still managed a small group of  docs and their guests. I put together a very attractive invitation with a monochrome photo of Rumi's tomb and museum in Konya, Turkey which we had visited during our recent trip to Turkey. I wanted people to get to our home in time to see the lake in the light. We decided that we would have two performances, each about an hour long, one in the late afternoon, and one in the evening, preceded by appetizers, with dinner in between the two performances and dessert and coffee after the second performance. This would allow people great flexibility: they could come for the first performance and dinner, or dinner and the second performance, or even later for the second performance and dessert afterwards. Or they could come and stay for the whole shebang. There would be time for socialization before, between and after the performances. I wanted people to be able to sit down to eat and to sit to hear the performances so this required some shuffling of chairs back and forth between the dining table and the great room where we set Sky and Karen up to perform.

     I asked for a $15.00 to $20.00 donation to be directed entirely to the performers. I was familiar with this type of request based on several musical performance parties that we have attended. People are usually quite willing to contribute especially if they know the performer will receive it all. I donated my home and my considerable time and money to purchase, prepare and serve the food at the various times.

     I found a place on the Internet with various Turkish recipes and utilized several of them. I started making up those things I could do ahead about 2 weeks before the event. Also starting that far ahead, I had some outdoor work to do around our house to clean up some weeds and deadhead some of my perennials. A fall garden can look nice with the changing leaves and a few chrysanthemums around. But I had not done much work on my garden since the big push that occurs in June. A little tidying up went a long way to welcoming my guests as they strolled up the driveway and to the front door. As always several wanted to walk through my beds and gardens to see what was blooming and I think a couple or two even walked out to the bluff over Lake Michigan. This always happens so I knew this clean up would make my beds that much more enjoyable.
     The site on the Internet with the Turkish recipes is: Binnur's Turkish Cookbook
From this site I used the recipes for Roasted nuts, for Turkish couscous (bulgur), for chicken shish kabob, and iskender. For dessert I used the recipe for Stuffed apricot dessert.

     This party was a lot of work for me. First there was the organizing and inviting. Then the preparation of the gardens and house. And then there was the cooking! This was more cooking than I had done in a long time. I planned this so that I could do as much of the food preparations ahead of time. About 10 days before the party I roasted the nuts and put them in tins. I also made the chicken kabobs and froze them. Starting 5 days before the party, I put together the tenderloin and ground beef to make the iskendar and froze it. It turned out that the recipe in Binnur's cookbook intended the meat to be a much smaller piece than mine. It became very difficult to thinly slice the frozen tenderloin so I could saute it. That took a lot of effort that last day. I made the bulgur ahead of time and only added the fresh scallions and tomatoes that last morning. The vegetable salad had to be all cut up that morning of also. I was able to make the stuffed apricots ahead of time. That recipe called for dried apricots that you rehydrate overnight. I stuffed them with mascarpone cheese instead of clotted cream which was called for because I thought that would stand up to making ahead better, and indeed I think it did. I purchased a large fresh fruit tray, and I also purchased the baklava. My husband made the hummous the day of the party, and I had toasted the pita pieces with olive oil and za'atar a couple days ahead of time. As you can see all these dishes and condiments were planned and orchestrated in a rotating fashion starting about 10 days ahead of the party. Never have I done such a complex menu.

   Click read on for an explanation of the menu that I put out for people explaining and documenting the authentic Turkish food.

Nov 19, 2011: On Growing Old, On Being a Patient from Annals of Internal Medicine, 2002.

     I have been delinquent in writing on this post for a while. I have no excuse. No recent lengthy travel like my last gaps. We are all healthy. I was just lazy and decided to take a break. It happens.
     I decided in order to get back into the swing of regular writings, I would take it easy this time and just use what someone else has written. The source of this item is a place where many of you probably do not read: Annals of Internal Medicine, March 19, 2002, Vol 136, No. 6. 
Written by Myrtle Lundberg, Duluth, Minnesota 55805. Written for a regular feature called: On Being a Patient. Printed by permission of Annals of Internal Medicine.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Pack Rat Gene

     The pack rat gene runs in my family. My parents both had it, and I have it as well. I admit it. Recently I was visiting my mother and rampaged a little bit in her basement which is full of boxes of stuff. Some is clearly junk and needs to be discarded, but among these boxes there are treasures as well. On one stack of boxes were 3 small boxes, I brought up to see what they contained. One narrow box contained a Valentine from my father to my mother -- indeed a very fancy one that he gave or sent to her during their early marriage. Another box contained the Christmas cards my father had received the first Christmas he was in the Army in Chatanooga, Tennessee during World War II. And the third box is what I would like to reference in this post. It contained the letters sent to my mother by a British woman during the World War II years. They contain interesting insights into those times that I would like to highlight here.
     Apparently when Mom was a sophomore in high school, one of the teachers distributed some addresses of similar aged students in England that wanted penpals. Mom began writing to one Dorothy Dampier of Blackheathe, England, a little town that is really a neighborhood of London. Some of mom's friends also began to write to each other from the same town to town. These letters continued from 1932 to 1946, through several newsworthy events in addition to World War II. The early letters are typical teenage girl to teenage girl conversation. Later they center on boyfriends and work life. Then both girls marry. My father shipped out for England and was stationed outside London until July, 1944, when his 181st Engineers were sent to France and came ashore on Omaha Beach, a month after D Day. While he was near London, he traveled to see his wife's penpal Dorothy. He only had an address. He was walking up her street when a young woman stopped him in the street. It was Dorothy. She was on her way to the train to go to work. She recognized him from his pictures and of course, he was wearing a US Army uniform. Later in letters Dorothy wrote about the Blitzkrieg, and the blackouts and how hard things were during the war. Each women had child, in my mom's case, me. Mom sent ladies hosiery, cards, newspaper articles, sugar and other things that were in short supply during the wartime. Dorothy sent me (as a toddler)  a small gold toned bracelet which I still have in my jewelry box. Dorothy's letters reflect historical things such as King Edward's coronation, then King Edward's abdication to marry his commoner divorcee wife, then the coronation of his brother, Albert, who became King George VI.
      My husband and I recently saw the movie, The King's Speech. I learned that Albert, who became King George VI had a severe stuttering problem. The movie details how King George worked with a speech therapist to overcome this problem. The movie depicts Albert ("Bertie", as his therapist called him) practicing to give the speech that notifies England that they are going to war against Germany. In these letters to my mother, Dorothy remarks that she thought King George sounded very nervous during this speech. Actually as we saw in the movie, "Bertie" was working very hard to get through this speech without stuttering to badly. It was quite interesting to put our "movie" knowledge with this historical letter.
     Interestingly, I have found Dorothy on the Internet. She is still living (I think) though she is listed as living in a nursing home or group home that is designed for Alzheimer patients. I am planning on calling a phone number listed. Maybe I can leave a message for her son who is also listed as living in the same town. It is certainly amazing what can be accomplished on Internet these days. I will let you readers know if I can make some connection. That would truly be amazing.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

For Yom Kippur 2011 -- Kol Nidre

Memorial stained glass behind The Great Synagogue, Budapest
     In honor of the Jewish High Holidays:  L'Shanah Tovah and Yom Kippur, I have posted the history and several versions of Kol Nidrei (All Vows), the musical recitation that opens the prayer services on Yom Kippur eve. I certainly do not claim to have great knowledge about this topic, but I have always been tremendously moved by the musical piece. Here you can learn along with me about its origins, history and reason for survival for at least 15 centuries. Accompanying the words are my husband's photographs of The Great Synagogue or the Dohany Street Synagogue in Budapest, Hungary. This synagogue is the largest in Eurasia and second largest in the world, second only to El Emmanuel in New York City. Also view some photos of the wall of the ghetto from WWII Budapest and some monuments from the grounds and the neighborhood of The Great Synagogue. Hit read on to view and learn about all of these treasures.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Crone

      To start this post off, I would like to refer you all to a blog that is listed at the bottom of my posts. This particular writing expresses perfectly one of the stages of womanhood that I am going to describe today in this post -- the stage of motherhood.  Read this post and then read on in mine.

     The Stages of Womanhood.
This is the symbol of the Roman goddess Venus and is often used to represent the female gender.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Owney, the Railroad Mail Dog

    Philately is another one of my interests. I would like to tell you and show you how I have used that interest to help youth become more interested in stamp collecting as a hobby.  I have prepared a presentation for the youth members of the ATA (American Topical Association) Chapter 5 at a monthly meeting. Recently the US Post Office released a stamp honoring Owney, a dog who lived in the late 1800s and became a mascot of the US Rail Mail Service. He was a Scotch Terrier mix stray who wondered into the Mail Service office, began to sleep on the mail bags, and was adopted by the mail clerks there in Albany, NY. He became so comfortable with the mail bags as his bed, perhaps attracted somehow to their scent, that he began to travel all over the United States on the mail cars with the bags. A mail bag once fell off the mail wagon and Owney jumped off, and sat on the mailbag until the wagon driver came back to get it.

     At that time railway accidents were very common. There were a lot of injuries and even deaths in the US railway mail departments. It soon became obvious that the trains on which Owney took passage had no accidents. He became a sign of good luck and was well taken care of , no matter where he went. He road the rails for about 9 years, traveling all over the United States. There is documentation of two visits to Milwaukee, and one to Lancaster, Wisconsin. He also took ship on mail boats that went around the world on at least one occasion. Owney became known to postmasters and to the mailmen who sorted mail on the railroad cars. They began to attach mail tags and other metal buttons to his collar. Then someone made him a jacket and these tags were attached to that piece of apparel. Soon he had so many tags, that the mailmen had to ship them separately back to his home office in Albany, NY.
The above two photos are provided courtesy of the US Smithsonian Institute.
More information about Owney including some videos about him, can be
found at the following URL:

     Now the US Post Office is honoring Owney with his own Forever stamp. It should be available in your local post offices right now.

     The Smithsonian sells a stuffed little dog whose name is Owney patterned after the real mascot. My husband and I took the Smithsonian stuffed little dog with us to Southeast Asia last November and to Turkey and Israel in April. Similar to Flat Stanley, I forced my reluctant husband to take photos of Owney at various tourist sites, in front of post offices, on mail boxes, and with mailmen and postmasters in these locations. Then I used these photos to make cachets (special envelopes to be used with certain stamps and postal cancellations) to be used with the First Day of Issue cancellation at a special ceremony held at the Wisconsin Humane Center on July 27, 2011 in Milwaukee. The First Day of Issue cachets that I made are shown at the end of this post. At the ceremony, I was asked to read a Milwaukee Journal article from May 11, 1896 which nicely tells Owney's story. Here is that article quoted from that time:

The Milwaukee Journal - May 11, 1895, Page 6

The Globe Trotter

Railway Mail Service Animal Visits Milwaukee

-Fame of a Scotch Terrier

While in Milwaukee “Owney” was the guest of Chief Clerk Frank Smith – He Came Near Being an Elbe Victim.

A wanderer upon the face of the globe, if there ever was one, appeared in the office of Chief Clerk Frank P. Smith of the railway mail service this morning.

A veritable globe-trotter is he – one who is as persistent and constant a traveler as that restless but distinguished playwright, Mr. Bronson Howard, and one which can “do” a city in a style which discounts the swiftest accomplishments of a G. Washington Phipps. The visitor was none other than the widely talked about “Postoffice Owney.”

“Postoffice Owney” is a dog, but he is no ordinary dog. He s is the property of 7,000 railway clerks, who think a sight more of their property than they would of a pension amounting too half their salary should your Uncle Sam be disposed to be so generous with his gold dollars. Owney came to town at at 5:155 o’clock last evening, in the company with Railway Postal Clerk Dugard of the Milwaukee and Rock Island division. Last evening he was the guest of the clerk and today, previous to hiss departure for Rock Island at 12:20 o’clock, he called to pay hiss respects to the chief clerk. It was there that a reporter for thee Journal made his acquaintance.

A famous dog is Owney and one known by every postal c clerk in the railway service from St. Augustine to Seattle and from Santa Cruz to Bangor, for he has traveled ever since he s has been able to tell the difference between a porterhouse steak and a ham bone.

He travels exclusively in mail cars and always finds contentment and repose on top of a mail bag in sight of the clerks who are his constant companions. His journeys have extended across the waters, too, and he came near meeting hiss doom in the Elbe disaster, after making a trip to Germany. He a s was due to leave on the Elbe, Clerk Dugard explained today, b but did not embark, taking the next steamer.

He is a Scotch terrier, somewhat larger than the ordinary specimen of that kind of dog. He has had many a knock in his time and he looks it. One eye has ceased to serve its original purpose of discovering large, juicy bones, and the other looks as though it also would fail. A huge collar, from which dangled a half-hundred or more tags from almost every conceivable corner of the country, indicating that the possessor is entitled to almost everything from a chance in a raffle for an upright piano to a free lunch and a glass of beer, is fixed firmly about his neck. These tags collect so rapidly that it becomes necessary to remove them at times and the clerks along the line take them off and send them on to “Owney Albany, N.Y”, where they are carefully stored away in a room provided for the purpose in the Albany post office.

It was in Albany, more than a dozen years ago, that Owney went into the service of the government. He began as a tramp dog and after his first trip liked the business so well that he remained.

When Mr. Wanamaker was postmaster-general, he had a very handsome set of harness made for Owney and had his picture taken in a dozen different attitudes. Owney will go to Rock Island and then to Savannah, Ga, and away to the southwest. The clerks keep close tab upon him. He was once stolen in Toronto, Can, and was found again with great difficulty.

     Also while traveling with Owney as our mascot, I purchased postcards from the various countries, wrote on them as though Owney were describing his travels, and franked them with local stamps, of course. There is now a nice collection for the youth members. Also I put together stamps from those countries and photos we took while traveling, maps of the countries and our itineraries. All of these will be distributed to the youth members so that they can put together a nice Owney travel scrapbook. This project will also be an ongoing one. It allows stamps and Owney's example to help the children learn about other countries and cultures.

     Here are my First Day of Sale cachets, using my husbands photos, and a brief discription of our itinerary on each cachet.

     Here are also a couple of the postcards that Owney sent back to the United States. If you are at all involved in stamps or stamp collecting and wish to interest young collectors, these ideas will work very well.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Mystery Photo 13: The Pantheon, Rome

     Did anyone guess this one?
     It is one of the most famous and best preserved ancient buildings in Rome. The Pantheon. The word means "Place of all the Gods". It was built originally in 27 BC by the Roman consul Agrippa. That structure, also a round building, was destroyed by fire in 80 AD, rebuilt by Dormitian , struck by lightning and again destroyed by fire in 110 AD. The Emperor Hadrian then oversaw a reconstruction, actually the third reconstruction of the building in 126 AD. Hadrian still kept the same lettering across the pediment of the Corinthian columned porch: M. AGRIPPA L.F.COS TERTIUM FECIT which means M. (Marcus) Agrippa, son of Lucius, three times consul, made it."  Agrippa was the son in law of the Emperor Augustus. 

     Many of the surrounding Roman antiquities are just ruins, but this building seems in perfect shape and is one of  the oldest continuous use buildings in the world. The columns were are granite brought from Egypt. Behind the deep colonnaded porch, there is a cylindrical building 43 meters in diameter capped by a hemisphere the apex of which is 43 meters from its floor. If the dome were taken off and tipped upside down it would fit perfectly inside the cylindrical base. The only light enters by its only opening other than its doors, which is the oculus, a 2.3 meter open air circle in the center of the dome. Very few Roman buildings had an oculus and this is the largest known. The sun or moon light coming in this opening would circle the room showing the magnificence of the cosmos. There is some controversy about the building's purpose. It was probably built as a temple and yet it is very different than the usual Roman Temple such as the Roman Forum. Some say it was built to Mars and Venus. Its name suggests that it was built to "all the Gods". However, some ancient writers said that that word meant that the dome suggested the heavens where all Gods live.  There was no dome as big until one in Florence was built in the 15th century. 
     The Romans appreciated the weight that this huge concrete dome would present to its base. Therefore they started with arches and niches in the cylindrical building that would help support the weight. The structure of the dome cement also contains circles and arches that support weight.  They also lessened the thickness of the dome as its walls became higher. In addition they used lighter and lighter material as the walls of the dome rose. Near the base they used travertine poured concrete. Higher up they began to add tufa rock to the mix. Then it became tufa and brick, then brick alone,and finally on the higher ceiling, pumice, the most porous material was used. Probably the dome was lined with gold leaf. The oculus still has its original bronze liner. The interior has been restored many times and is lined by marble at this time. 
     In 609, the Byzantine Emperor Phocas gifted the building to Pope Boniface IV, who converted it to a Christian church, consecrated it to Sancta Maria and the Martyrs, probably saving it for until the present. It is now known as Santa Maria dei Martiri. It is still used to celebrate the mass on special Catholic Church events.
     Over the generations it has also been used as a tomb. The Renaissance painters Raphael and Annibale Carracci, the composer Arcangello Corelli and the architect Baldassare Peruzzi are buried here. Also buried here are two kings of Italy: Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I, as well as Umberto's Queen, Margherita. Italy has been a republic since 1946, volunteers members of Monarchist organizations still maintain a vigil over the royal tombs of the Pantheon . 


     The architectural structure of the building and its dome has influenced many later Western structures. The first was probably the Church: Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, Italy, completed in 1436 with a dome 41 meters high. Note the photo here above, courtesy of Wikipedia, of the Rotunda at the University of Virginia designed by Thomas Jefferson. Many such Western city halls, libraries and university buildings repeat this symmetrical and monumental design. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

An ethical dilemma? Measles vaccine or not?

     Andrew Wakefield is a former British surgeon and medical researcher who published articles which he said related Measles vaccine as a cause of a new form of inflammatory bowel disease he called autistic enterocolitis. Medically there is not such a disease recognized. He also said that the MMR (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella) vaccine may have caused autism in children who received it. There is absolutely no evidence that such is case. Multiple blinded medical studies have been done and there is no evidence of any kind of a causative relationship. Others have suggested that the mercury (thimerosol) used in some vaccines as a preservative and antiseptic could be toxic to infants and might play a role in causing autism. Again multiple studies have been done looking for such a connection. None was found. Now thimerosol is only used in tiny amounts in influenza vaccine. It is not used in an other vaccines that are given routinely to children
     Multiple lawsuits have been filed in all directions. Dr. Wakefield's article which was found to have tampered with results, unethical recruitment of study patients, invasive and harmful tests performed on study patients without approval of ethics committee among other more minor but still significant problems with the data. There was even evidence suggesting that Dr. Wakefield was paid by a legal group to produce this article, that he had applied for a patent for a single Measles vaccine which he stood to make money from should MMR become suspect and be withdrawn, and also a test kit for this supposed new form of inflammatory bowel disease.      .
     Wakefield's conclusions were broadcast in the media worldwide and resulted in fear of children's vaccines and a drop off of the vaccination rates. It is estimated that MMR vaccination rates in Britain dropped from 92% to 73% in the late 1990s after Wakefield's press conference raising the concerns about MMR which he raised in his article in Lancet, the British medical journal. The effect was less in the US but it is still estimated that as many as 125,000 children born in the late 1990s in the US also were not vaccinated due to this scare. Many children therefore got sick and some died from complications of measles. The lawsuits have subsided. Lancet retracted the article and 10 of the 12 coauthors of the original Lancet article withdrew their support for the conclusions. Wakefield left England after losing his medical license to practice there. He is still trying to do research in the US and is still claiming that his research was honest, that there was no deceitful data changes and that there is still a reason to be concerned about the MMR. He still has a small group that supports his conclusions. But the greater medical and scientific community agrees that he is a fraud and there is absolutely nothing to fear with MMR and a bowel disease or autism or any developmental behavioral problems.
     What does all this mean for society? How can one man and at best a very bad medical study, at worst a completely fraudulent publication perpetrated in order to make money have such a broad effect on medical care world over? I recall a few years ago when my grandson started daycare, my daughter in law was concerned. She knew there were some parents of children at the daycare who were not vaccinating their children because of just these fears. She then had concerns about her own infant who would be at this daycare and subjected to exposure to these children and their possible illnesses before our grandson's own vaccinations would have had a chance to take effect. It does become a personal issue when a family member might be involved. This is sort of like the Ponzi scheme of medicine. It doesn't affect people's wealth but instead may affect children's lives. It is true that every area of human endeavor has its bad people who don't care about doing harm to others, whose self interest outweighs any concern for others. However, it is particularly heinous when that person is in the field of medicine. People generally tend to trust their own doctor and by inference the medical profession at large. They would normally believe these allegations coming from a researcher and printed in a prestigious journal like Lancet. Of course, they would react with fear concerning their own children. The legal system and the medical self policing system (British Medical Council, Lancet) and the media itself have more or less shown Wakefield for what he is, but there are still concerned parents out there who don't know the whole story and still wonder. What else could we have done? We are limited in a free and just society in order to protect the rights of the innocent. But I sometimes wonder if the rights of the fraudulent and the criminal are protected too strongly in our Western democracies. What do you think? Send me some comments. Let's get this comment section going!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Mystery Photo 13

     A famous building from a famous city from our first extended tour, taken 7 years ago already. It is hard to believe that seven years with 2 extended world trips per year have passed. This country is still one of my favorite. What is this well known building that defies physics principles?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Rumi, Hafez and their poetry -- Wonderful!

     At a recent meeting of our Spirit Mind Body Group, which I attend every Thursday morning, we were treated to a wonderful surprise presentation. Our regular member, Sky and his guest Karen Kolberg, took turns to regale us with the Sufi poetry of Rumi (Sky with props) and the Hafez poetry recited and acted out by Karen Kolberg. Sky is a comic with Rumi one-liners. He uses various hard props such as his bucket of "Industrial Strength Philosophy" or "Philosopher in a Drum" to add to the humor and the depth of his presentation. Karen herself suffered a serious intracerebral bleed and lost all of her memorized Hafez poems except one. But she has relearned them all. She carries her "verse purse" with her which contains all the titles of the 360 Hafez poems she knows in it. She asks someone in her audience to draw one out and she recites it with heart and vigor. The combination of these two presenters and the words of these two poets creates a performance at once deep and yet light and airy, like heaven.

     I keep a blog for this group and did this write up for that blog. I thought it warranted placement here on this blog. I would venture to guess that many readers are not familiar with either Rumi or Hafez.

     Read on for information about who these two poets were and also view some photos of Rumi's Mausoleum in Konya, Turkey.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Memories of Medical School: University of Wisconsin, Madison 1966-1970

UW Hospitals (now replaced by a beautiful new hospital on the western campus)
The medical sciences buildings were  connected behind this hospital building. Today
many medical departments have expanded to fill this old hospital with medical science labs.
  I don't know why, but lately I have been thinking about my decision to go to medical school. Looking back, I am surprised that I made this decision. I was the only girl in my family to even go to college, let alone medical school.  I was a good student in high school, and I studied hard in college. I started out in the course work for becoming a medical technologist. I thought I wanted to do some sort of medical research since I loved science so much. But as I thought about the work of a medical technologist, I realized I would be doing what someone else told me to do; I wouldn't be doing my own research. Since the course work that was required for the first two years of medical technology was the same as premedical studies, I decided I would keep taking pre med courses and see how I did. So I piled up biology, chemistry, organic chemistry lecture and lab, quantitative chemistry, vertebrate embryology, microbiology, calculus, and genetics courses in addition to the requirements for a Bachelor of Arts degree. When senior year came, I decided to apply for medical school and see what happened. Everything I did at this stage of my life I did with serendipity. If it works, great! If not, so I tried, and I would move on in a different direction.
     I took the MCAT (medical school entrance examination), and filled out applications to Universities of Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, and Wisconsin. Well, Minnesota requested that I take the MMPI (the Minnesota Multi Personality Inventory) not once but twice. I don't know what I answered on these questions, but Minnesota turned me down right away. Iowa personally interviewed all applicants and they were so slow in calling me for interview, that I was accepted at Illinois and Wisconsin before I was ever called for the interview at Iowa.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Mystery Photo 12: Cuernos del Paine in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile, South America

     My husband took this mystery photo number 12 during a trip to South America a few years ago. This was the trip that ended up in Antarctica. But second to Antarctica and also perhaps Iguasu Falls, this national park in Chile was very impressive. We hired two young people to guide us privately rather than take the bus tour that the cruise ship offered. We just thought that we would leave earlier and perhaps be able to get back a little later as long as we caught the ship's sailing. And we thought we could define our tour of this highland country better, skip what we were not interested in and get on to the areas that did interest us. We thought that we would save time and see more by not having to all board a bus after each stop. Indeed it did work out that way for us. Read More in order to hear about this section of our South America/Antarctica trip and to see more gorgeous photos.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

New treatments for Postherpetic Neuralgia (Chronic pain after shingles)

     The photo below looks like a fried egg, doesn't it? Well, it is actually an electron micrograph of the Varicella zoster virus. This virus is the cause of chickenpox and a painful rash called shingles. Another name for this virus is Herpes zoster. It is a cousin to the Herpes simplex virus that causes cold sores. Both Herpes viruses have the tendency to hook into the DNA of nerve tissue and lie dormant for years or even for a lifetime. Then through some reduction in immunity or other stimulation that we don't understand, the virus which has been in the nerve cell since that person had chickenpox as a child, can become active and reproduce itself . When Herpes zoster does this, the virus reproduces in the nerve cell, and is transported inside the nerve cell to the skin where it then reproduces more and causes the painful rash known as shingles.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Mystery Photo 12

     Here is Mystery Photo 12 -- a natural piece of the world, this time, not manmade. As far as I can tell from my travels of the world, these peaks with their colors and intermixed rock types are unique to this National Park. I will give you a clue -- this photo was not taken in the Rocky Mountains of the United States. Any ideas?

Monday, August 8, 2011

My Prairie Path

     When we moved into our new house on Lake Michigan in 1998, I determined that I wanted two patches of native prairie plants, one on each side of the drive back to our house. I lovingly seeded these two areas with a prairie seed mixture I purchased and grey headed coneflower seeds I conned from a neighbor. I also got some plugs of split leaf coneflower and purchased a few other mature potted prairie plants. As recommended by prairie experts, I then overseeded with annual rye, in order to give time for the prairie seedlings to get going without competition from the weeds that would move in otherwise. Initially the area to the north of my drive was the better area with more prairie plant success. The patch on the south side was worse soil, with more clay and less topsoil. It took a lot longer for that side to get going. But the big tall prairie plants there did just exactly what they were supposed to do. They put down their long, long roots (up to 6 feet deep) and multiplied and spread. Now that is the best side. I have some trouble with invasion by thistles and crown vetch on the north side so I need to do some corrections.
"the North Prairie"

"the South Prairie" The drive to the street runs right down between them.
     My husband hates these "wild" areas and calls them "jungles." But he does me the favor of mowing both sides of the driveway every late fall to keep the trees and shrubs from invading. We live in too suburban an area to burn these patches which is what is recommended. I am told that whether you mow or burn determines what plants become the most common in your prairie in the end. So I will have a "mowed" prairie, I guess. I am not clear which plants are in which type of prairie. I do know that the split leaf yellow coneflower, the grey headed coneflower, cup plant, prairie dock, sweet black eyed susan, echinacea, rattlesnake master, Culver's root, Joe Pye Weed, wild bergamot, Monarda (beebalm), Canada golden rod, early golden rod, various asters, vervain, speedwell, evening primrose, yellow flag, Virginia creeper, yarrow, Virginia bluebells, , big blue stem, and little bluestem are my main inhabitants. I do also have some non natives which includes a fair amount of dames rocket. I plan to clean some of that out and have already killed the crown vetch. But it is indeed a tall grass prairie.
      Originally I had put some paths through these two patches, but after some years of neglect, the paths are totally overgrown. I determined this year to reopen those paths and try to do some of those invasive corrections I am talking about. We had a cool June and that allowed me to get into that north patch. I decided to dress up the entrance to the paths, by putting up symetrical white metal arbors, one on each side of the driveway. I had tried an arbor before and planted a trumpet vine next to it, but even that strong grower couldn't break through the clay, never bloomed and slowly succumbed. This year I just seeded some morning glories and sweet peas to climb them.
     To remake this path, I had to start right under the arbor, sat on the ground on my old pillow, and began to cut, pull, and spray growths to start to produce what would appear to be a path. I spread wood chips behind me as I slowly moved forward with my slash and spray technique. I swung the path this way and then that way to go around something of value growing there. I was slathered with sunscreen and insect repellent which as the day wore on made my eyes burn. Several more sessions were required. The hardest was getting through the 8 foot tall split leaf yellow coneflower patch. Those stems are an inch in diameter. As I found the old path ( by the ground fabric I had laid down fully 12 years ago), and followed it around the curves into a wooded area at the front corner of the patch, I found an infestation of buckthorn which I still have to clear. The last time I was back there, this shrubby border was made of native redtwig dogwood. Clearly the non native buckthorn is stronger and has killed out the dogwood. I will have to work on that shrub border. The "woods" consists of a colony of quaking aspen. But there is buckthorn to deal with in there as well. In the spring this woody area is covered with Virginia bluebells. When I created the path originally, the destination was a small cleared area in the "woods" surrounded by spring daffodils. I had put two Adirondack chairs back there and sometimes found this little area just 20 feet from the road but surrounded by the aspen colony a wonderful retreat. That small area still exists; I just couldn't have gotten there. Now I can! The clearing needs a little clean up. But there is a wonderful carpet of Virginia creeper that will turn a lovely red this fall.

My rejuvenated path with Monarda, rattlesnake master, and split leaf coneflowers behind.

     We have had that long drawn out hot spell and I was not able to work out there. I went out to check it out and take these photos yesterday. My path is surviving. The crown vetch has died. The Monarda is flourishing since I removed some of the golden rod that was choking it. As I swatted mosquitoes in yesterday's humidity, a humingbird dive bombed the Monarda and then actually perched on one of the 8 foot tall split leaf cone flowers. Wow! That's why I do these kind of things. My little piece of wildness!
     By the way, you might wonder why these photos have kind of a blurred artsy look to them. This was totally unintentional. As I was taking the photographs, it started to sprinkle. I guess the lens of the camara must have gotten a little moist. I should have really come back in and cleaned the lens and then gone back out after it stopped raining. But by this time, I was bit up by mosquitoes and I decided to use what I had for this blog. I don't know. I think the watercolor somewhat abstract effect is enchanting so I decided to mount them here. What do you think?

Echinacea, wild bergamot, Canada goldenrod, and one plant of "White Swan" Echinacea.

Echinacea, grey headed coneflower, and a single bloom of "Turkey Foot" (big blue stem protruding from the top.)

Echinacea and grey headed coneflower.
Anothere stand of split leaf yellow coneflower.

Flowering rattlesnake master in the center of these Echinacea.

Black eyed susan.

Wild bergamot and some stands of blue vervain.

Culver's Root really likes my south prairie. It is spreading all over the place.

My stand of cup plant.

Entrance to north prarie.

Monarda surrounds my bluebird house.

Entrance to my north prarie. The tree to the very left is a young walnut tree. My mother gave it to me as a seedling. Unfortunately it will eventually shade out much of this prairie planting. But that's OK, because it's a walnut. I have read that walnut trees put some chemical in the soil that prevents some plants from growing beneath it. So far I have not seen this with this young tree. Time will tell.

     I have some plans for these areas again, looking into the fall and into next spring. In addition to the continuation of the paths, and the clean up of invasives, I want to move some lupines from my beds around my house and plant them into a sandy area in the north prairie where a pile of sand was left over from our building. Also I want to add some baptisia (false blue indigo). I have one blooming plant in the south prairie and I love it. It is a beatiful blue color and forms almost a shrub appearance in the border. I want to put several in the north prairie. I have some wild columbine from another area to plant in the somewhat shaded area back near by retreat circle. Also I have red trillium and wild ginger to move to the wooded area. They are now growing on the north side of my house and could be thinned to provide stock plants. I have volunteer spiderwort and wild geranium also to seed and transplant to the north wild shady area. Considerable plans! I will let you know next year if I have managed to carry any of these out.

My favorite wet prairie plant in the center: Joe Pye Weed.