Blizzard! The Storm That Changed America

Blizzard!

Having grown up in Upstate NY and now living in Western NY, snow is no big deal. Winters here sometimes last six months. Unless you are a skier, you get sick of snow soon after Christmas, but you learn to cope with it.P1040252

Only a handful of times can I remember experiencing a true blizzard, the kind that closes shopping malls, grocery stores, work, and schools. In this riveting book, Blizzard! Jim Murphy tells of the infamous blizzard of 1888, where not only towns came to a standstill, but also more than six hundred people died. Some people died in their own backyards. This storm was a monster, and he describes it with vivid details and historic accuracy. To give you and idea of how bad the storm was, check out this part where a boy sets off for school anticipating the storm to be a daring adventure.

At first, Sam liked the experience of being outside in a wild storm, fighting his way through belt-high snow and fending off the wind. His aunt and uncle had instilled in him a strong sense of self-reliance and duty. He had been told to go to the store and then to school, so he was going to do both, no matter what the consequences. Several blocks later, Sam came face-to-face with the violence of the blizzard. As he was crossing an intersection, the wind was on him like a wild animal. It picked him up and tossed him into a deep snowdrift. Sam struggled and clawed to get free of the snow, but he was in over his head. The more he moved, the more snow fell on top of him. He shrieked for help, but no one heard him above the wind’s mighty roar. His boyish romp had turned into a frightening trap in just seconds. 

P1110928This was one of the most incredible disasters in our nations history. I read with fascination and literally gripped the book as if the storm was in my living room. Thankfully with our modern day snow cleanup crews and weather satellites, we can prepare for snowstorms and stay safe. If you can’t get enough of the snow this is  a good book to read while safely tucked inside your warm houses with a toasty fire and a cup of hot tea.

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The Hardest Part of Addiction Medicine

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I just heard the news a client I met ten days ago has died. I am stunned and saddened.  I see so many patients in an average work day that I have a tendency to blur names and faces.  But not this girl.

I remembered her so alive, happy to be in recovery, looking forward to the future. She smiled as she told me she was thankful for second chances. She had almost died not too long ago from a complication of her heroin addiction.  But she survived. Her glance into death’s eyes changed her.

She vowed to get clean. To make amends.

To live.

Not everyone gets a second chance. She died in her sleep. There was no way she could have used in her tightly supervised setting.  She said goodnight and…..died.

Heroin addiction is a horrifying thing and has snuffed out another beautiful light.  The practitioner in me knows the disease of addiction, the organic complications and expects morbidity and mortality in this patient population that I work with.  Yet my heart trumps my knowledge and clinical experience.  My heart hurts.

I close my eyes and shake my head baffled.

The last time, this time, the next time, it will always be sad.

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Mark Twain’s Top 10 Rules for Writing

If Mark Twain was a tweeter I would be his follower.  He had strong opinions and a gnarly wit. I imagine if he were to write a top 10 list for aspiring writers, it would go something like this. His words are bold.

  • Read. All great writers must first be great readers. Read everything. Different genres, styles, poetry, classics, and as many works of the greatest authors of all time. The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.
  •  Write what you know, or otherwise do your research. Get your facts first, and then you can distort ’em as much as you please.
  •  With style and substance, get to the point. Anybody can have ideas–the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph.Don’t be verbose: use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English -Stick to it; don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in.
  • Use adjectives sparingly. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them – then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart.
  • Show, don’t tell.
    Show, Don't Tell
    Show, Don’t Tell

    Don’t say the lady screamed, bring her on and let her scream!

  • Revise. Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words. God only exhibits his thunder and lightning at intervals, and so they always command attention. These are God’s adjectives. You thunder and lightning too much; the reader ceases to get under the bed, by and by.
  • Create characters the readers can relate to. tom sawyerMake the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his take and in their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones.
  • Strive for the right word. The difference between the almost right word and the right word is … the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning. Don’t use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do.
  • Don’t use subjunctive form. The subjunctive is not a tense –  it is a mood that reflects how the writer feels about the action, It is potential, uncertain, reflects predictions, and desires. Damn the subjunctive.  It brings all our writers to shame.
  •  Be truthful, and write with conviction. If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything.

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Book Review: Gruesome But True Brain Science

Phineas Gage

Phineas Gage, a 19th century railroad construction foreman, survived an accident that blew a thirteen pound 3 foot by 7 inch iron rod through his cheek and out the top of his skull. He should have been dead, but he got up walked and talked.

Jack freaking outMeanwhile, everyone else freaked.

His recovery was not unremarkable. Infection, delirium, pain. He may have survived a catastrophic injury but poor Phineas would never be the same.

From the book:

Phineas has a huge scar on his forehead and a small scar under his cheekbone, but otherwise he is physically healed. Yet Dr. Harlow has private doubts about Phineas’s mental state. Phineas is just not his old self. The new Phineas is unreliable, and, at times, downright nasty. He insults old workmates and friends. He spouts vulgar language in the presence of women. He changes his mind and his orders from minute to minute. The railroad contractors let him go.

This book is so fascinating I read it in one sitting. It being only eighty pages with numerous illustrations and photographs had nothing to do with it. And, it wasn’t all that gruesome. Rather, only a few stomach turning sections and the rest – fascinating.

Phineas Gage

Top 5 Coffee Tips for the Perfect Cup

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I grew up with the smell of Folgers or Maxwell House brewing in a stove top percolator. My parents liked their coffee dark with milk and plenty of sugar. The sugar was a necessity to balance the yucky taste of the store shelf brands of the 70’s.  I must have been six when I took my first sip of their morning joe. I spit it out.  Next to fried liver, it was the grossest thing I had ever tasted.  It wasn’t until I met my husband twenty years later that I gave coffee a second chance. That sip was good. It took a few more years of coffee drinking for me to realize I had become coffee enlightened. Are you like me? Then you know what it’s like when your friends can’t understand your appreciation of a perfectly brewed cup of coffee.  They think you spend too much money on fresh roasted beans and why do you grind them right before you brew?

maskJust as in any area of culture involving cookery, there are frauds. These upstarts are not sages, but snobs.  They don’t have a love for the bean.  Acidic, single origin, blend, citrusy, earthy, Arabica, Robusta, mean nothing to them. These are the insolents who meet each other at Starbucks and order coffee polluted with ingredients such as soy milk, half white mocha, vanilla, caramel drizzle, hazelnut, whipped cream, quad shots, two pumps, six pumps, ten pumps! Ugh! What about the coffee? I like Starbucks. I have a gold card which I am proud of.  My order is simple:

americanoTall Americano with room. Please.

My free refill is the dark brew of the day. I sit in the corner (if I can find a seat) with my husband, or by myself.  Yes with my MacBook Air.  I sip my coffee as my mind wanders off to appreciate the journey of the bean. On a lush, warm hillside my ripe red cherry beans are hand picked. They are separated, soaked, rinsed, tasted, and roasted until the caffeol emerges from the seeds. If you are as fortunate as I, you have a local roaster and can get fresh roasted coffee.  Not fresh brewed.  Fresh roasted.  The smell of the roasting coffee beans is truly magnificent.

Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.com

A sage knows the journey of the bean as an arduous, sacred one.  He does not defile his coffee with superfluous additives, and most likely you will not see the sage at trendy coffee shops.  No, he prefers to brew his coffee at home.  He sips it in the quiet birth of the morning, grateful for the blessing of coffee.

coffee types5 Tips for great tasting coffee:

  1. Buy freshly roasted beans if you can.
  2. Grind the beans right before you brew. Burr grinder is the bomb!
  3. Use good tasting non distilled water. Bad water=Bad coffee.
  4. Make only what you need.  Coffee loses it’s magic within an hour of the brew.
  5. Keep your coffee maker/brewer/press clean.

 

 

I Once Believed in Magic

I one believed in magicI once believed in magic. Not traditional fairy tale magic, or even Disney’s the world-is-a-perfect-place magic, but in the magic of the unknown. As a child, I wondered why you couldn’t divide by zero. Can I see a zombie movie? When can I be an astronaut? Why is the sky blue? When can I drive a car? Why did grandma die?

It didn’t matter who I asked. I always heard….

You’ll understand when you’re older

My curiosity turned to patience. I stopped asking questions that couldn’t be answered. I forced myself to be content with not knowing. I had faith that someday I would understand. I waited expectantly.  Any day, any minute I would be blown away with answers to these mysteries.

I expected to learn the reason you could not divide by zero would be universe-shatteringly powerful, with logic so astounding it would literally propel me from my feet and slam me against the wall. I would sit there stunned, but happy I had my answer and was now eligible to join the ranks of the greatest and the wisest.

einstein

On my fourteenth birthday I was old enough to watch a zombie movie. I had anticipated this moment forever. I waited till long after sunset. Alone in my darkened basement, the zombie staggered onto my giant screen TV.

creepy hollowI prepared to spend the next two hours transcended to a whole new level of consciousness. What a let down. What I had hoped would be a life-changing thrill-ride was just any other movie, only with squirting blood and profanity.

glumWith glazed eyes I watched the credits roll.This moment I yearned ten years for turned out to be a huge disappointment.

 

 

 

Time passed and more of my burning questions were finally answered. Yet I felt nothing. I was enlightened, but there was no magic. No magic? To acknowledge magic did not exist would crush my childhood dreams.

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I couldn’t do it. I had convinced myself this magic existed, and I was desperate to find it. Where was it?

I am now seventeen. I have a driver’s license. I will never be an astronaut. I’ve memorized the calculus proof for why you can’t divide by zero. I understand why my grandma died.

I’m a different person. My unrealistic expectations that the adults around me didn’t know about or have the heart to destroy have injured me. I’m muted. it is difficult for me to feel sadness or joy. I have a sobering outlook on the universe and have even doubted the meaning of life. It has left irremovable stains on my values.

I no longer have blind faith in a friend or a religion. My trust in others is but miserable tatters of what it was before. Sometimes, I wish the magic I believed in as a child, the magic of the unknown, was real.

curious george

A lifetime ago I believed in magic, but I learned from growing up that new experiences and new people I meet will never meet my expectations. But maybe, I’ll meet theirs?

a new lifeGuest writer: my son Garrison: freshman college student ready to change the world.

Nun Offends Student Nurse

Photo: Migrant Mother, Dorothea Lange, 1936

Don’t criticize what you can’t understand. Bob Dylan

The student teacher introduced the guest speaker, Sister Grace to the afternoon nursing class. The sister didn’t wear traditional garb, but black slacks and a faded denim jacket with “guardian angel” stitched on the back. Though an older woman with knobby fingers and calloused hands, her way of dress, pink cheeks, and shoulder length blonde hair made her seem younger. She spoke candidly about her years of working with the destitute; those who lived among us in cardboard shelters and ate from dumpster pantries. Her presentation jarred some students, the plight of the homeless and her details of their situations didn’t go well with the afternoon cups of chai. Whoops. Sister Grace took out her bible and read from Matthew’s gospel:

Truly I say to you, inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these my brothers, you have done it to me…Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive Mercy. 

Offensive.  Didn’t she realize you don’t just waltz in, pull out your bible and start shoving bible passages at unsuspecting college students? Nervy. A couple of students schooled her on such unacceptable, impertinent behavior before they stormed out.

Oh well, you win some, lose some. After nearly three decades of battling bureaucracy and setbacks, a couple of college students were but a minor nuisance to Sister Grace. Her unconventional ways has earned her a few enemies. I don’t think she cares. Love or hate her overzealous ways, she’s doing what she does with what she has to keep who she can off the streets.

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Jon Foreman and Robert Frost Celebrate Spring with Me

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A Prayer in Spring by Robert Frost

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day;

And give us not to think so far away

As the uncertain harvest; keep us here

All simply in the springing of the year.

spring is hereOh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,

Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;

And make us happy in the happy bees,

The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.

white flowers

 

And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.

purplesFor this is love and nothing else is love,

The which it is reserved for God above

To sanctify to what far ends He will,

But which it only needs that we fulfill.

I walked outside this morning, the day before Easter and saw these amazingly beautiful flowers surrounding my walkway.  The skies were blue and I felt happy. I felt God.  I grabbed my camera and took these pictures so I could share the beauty with you. My pictures don’t do Frost’s Spring poem justice-the only thing that could would be for you to walk through a blooming orchard or sit in a garden and reflect on the poem’s words, and enjoy the moment. Take a second and listen to Your Love is Strong – it’s moving, earthy, rich. Just Like God, Just like spring. Happy Easter….Kathy

Your Love is Strong by Jon Foreman

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Homeschooling? Oh, I Could Never Do That!

“Why aren’t you in school?” Strangers will ask my children when we visit the library or store during traditional school hours.

“We are. We’re homeschooled.”

A pause, and a response. Oh

I can tell exactly what that person is thinking by the sound of the Oh.

If it is drawn out with a slight high pitch at the end Oh, isolated, with no companion words then it means, “Oh-You are one of THEM”. We are sized up as right wing conservatives, backward fundamentalists intent on brainwashing our kids while sequestering them from the real world. Oh the stranger repeats, her smile fades as she walks away.

Then there’s the Oh- said with a tone of shock.

This person is thinking: “Oh, I’ve heard about homeschooling.  You do that?  What about socialization? How will your kids ever adjust in society if they are not allowed the opportunity to interact thirty-five hours a week with their peers and are never introduced to objective, educated, professional teachers. Don’t you agree they are more qualified than you to teach your children?“ She shakes her head and clicks her tongue as she disappears into the crowd.

If the Oh is light and followed by a sigh, then the thought is, “Oh, I wish I could do that.  I would love to homeschool my kids, but I can’t.  I have to work, and honestly, I just don’t have the patience. My kid and I would butt heads.” Good luck is added before she walks away.

Then there is the Oh I long for, but rarely hear. The Oh! is said with excitement and recognition. This time, words are spoken.

Oh, I should have realized you were home-schoolers. I home-schooled my three children.  My eldest is in his first year of med school, my middle one a sophomore at Harvard majoring in political science, and my youngest just got accepted to the Culinary Institute of America. They are well adjusted, flexible, creative adults. I’m so glad I chose to homeschool, they are too!

My hero gives me a hug, wishes us well and waves goodbye.

Imagine that. I can tell what people are thinking by the sound of a simple two-letter word.

 

 

Hey-thanks for reading. I’m Kathy, wife to Gary, and mom to three teenage sons. I’ve been a family nurse practitioner since 1991 and currently practice in addiction medicine. I also negotiate clinical placements for APN grad students. We’re home schoolers with a dash of un-schooling. My most memorable celebrity patient: the Munchkin Coroner from the Wizard of Oz.