morning light

10.22.18 ~ morning light ~ Chapel Hill, North Carolina

As a scientist I am indeed only an ant, insufficient and anonymous, but I am stronger than I look and part of something that is much bigger than I am. Together we are building something that will fill our grandchildren’s grandchildren with awe, and while building we consult daily the crude instructions provided by our grandfathers’ grandfathers. As a tiny, living part of the scientific collective, I’ve sat alone countless nights in the dark, burning my metal candle and watching a foreign world with an aching heart. Like anyone else who harbors precious secrets wrought from years of searching, I have longed for someone to tell.
~ Hope Jahren
(Lab Girl)

Reading Lab Girl by Hope Jahren was eye-opening for me. My father was a scientist and, like many children, I didn’t have much of a grasp on what he did all day. I knew he was researching chicken viruses in a lab at the university. Sometimes he would take my sister and me to work and I noticed all sorts of lab equipment, especially a special light he used to examine chicken embryos in their shells. I knew every couple of years he would be stressing about whether he would get funding for another couple of years. (He always did.) Once I tried to read his PhD thesis, but it was like trying to read a foreign language.

In this book Jahren, who studies plants, introduced me to the concept of curiosity-driven research. The scientist sets up and runs experiments to investigate whatever she happens to be wondering about. Any “real-world” applications of the results are not immediately apparent or sought. Collecting data is pure joy for her. She adds to the volume of scientific knowledge and leaves information for future scientists to make use of in their own research.

Now I get what my father was doing all those years! He may not have made any dazzling discoveries but he was an important ‘part of something that is much bigger than he was.’ Hope Jahren gives a very enlightening look into the everyday world of scientists, in words all of us will understand.

rainy night and toad

10.16.18 ~ Katherine with toad ~ photo by Dima

So, I’ve been in North Carolina for almost two weeks now, spending lots of time with Katherine and helping out her parents as best I can. Tim, too, but he left very early this morning and made it all the way home to Connecticut this evening! He’ll be back, though, after taking care of a few obligations.

Larisa has been pretty miserable but now that the shingles is improving she’s feeling a little better. This morning she remembered that my friend, an interpreter, told us that in Spanish pregnancy is called “la dulce espera,” the sweet wait. I hope these last couple of weeks will be sweeter now.

On the day tropical storm Michael arrived here, Katherine observed her Grandpa frequently tracking the storm on his weather app. She happened to be outside when the first raindrops fell so she rushed inside, so excited, and exclaimed, “Tell Grandpa the storm is here!” And so it was. We listened to the torrential rain and from her bedroom window watched the ferocious wind pelt the lower roof with twigs and branches.

We lost power late in the afternoon, 45 minutes before the pot roast was done. We ate it anyway, and it was delicious. We each had a flashlight to navigate in the dark. When it stopped raining we took our flashlights and went out for a walk in the dark. Katherine had colorful flashing lights on her rain boots which made it easy to keep track of her. Dima’s flight was diverted to Atlanta so he didn’t make it home until the next day. Our power came back around noon the next day, too.

Our niece and her husband learned that their house, of newer and more hurricane-resistant construction, was spared. They returned to help their neighbors and search for missing persons. They even had a story written about their efforts in The New York Times!

Katherine still loves to take her nature walks, even in the dark. One night her father spotted a toad and took the picture above. So much wonder in the world!

And the sweet wait continues…

Hurricane Michael

NASA-NOAA’s Suomi NPP satellite provided this visible image of Hurricane Michael after it made landfall in the Florida panhandle on Oct. 10. Credit: NASA Worldview, Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS)/ NOAA

If we were still in Connecticut this major hurricane would not be affecting us. But since we are in North Carolina we have what is now Tropical Storm Michael raging outside today.

The storm first became very interesting to us because our niece, who just got married last month, lives in Panama City Beach, Florida, with her new husband. They evacuated, of course, with their three kitties, and fled to North Carolina to stay with her parents (Tim’s brother and sister-in-law). So the four of them came up here to Larisa’s for dinner last night, and we sat around the table for hours looking at the pictures people had shared online of the devastation in their area. Presumably taken after the tempest had passed. Several buildings near their home were severely damaged and a brick and mortar middle school was a pile of rubble. No pictures of what might be left of their home as of last night. They are very close to where the eye made landfall.

We’re waiting for more news…

Tim & I are down here helping Larisa while Dima is on a business trip. Larisa is in a lot of pain but is putting on a brave front. We all hope this baby decides to come sooner than later! Since Katherine wanted me to play with her this morning it fell on Tim to follow my recipe and start a pot roast in the slow cooker. Hope we don’t lose power! Dima should be home tonight unless the storm interferes with his flight…

throwing away all of your possessions once a year

“Autumn in New England” by Maurice Prendergast

If you rake fallen leaves into a pile and then examine them, you will see that each one shows a consummately clean break at the same place near the base of the stem. The fall of leaves is highly choreographed: First the green pigments are pulled back behind the narrow row of cells marking the border between stem and branch. Then, on the mysteriously appointed day, this row of cells is dehydrated and becomes weak and brittle. The weight of the leaf is now sufficient to bend and snap it from the branch. It takes a tree only a week to discard its entire year’s work, cast off like a dress barely worn but too unfashionable for further use. Can you imagine throwing away all of your possessions once a year because you are secure in your expectation that you will be able to replace them in a matter of weeks? These brave trees lay all of their earthly treasures on the soil, where moth and rust doth immediately corrupt. They know better than all the saints and martyrs put together exactly how to store next year’s treasure in Heaven, where the heart shall be also.
~ Hope Jahren
(Lab Girl)

varicella zoster virus

electron micrograph of a varicella virus ~ Public Health Image Library, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention

When our daughter Larisa was seven weeks old her two older brothers, ages 3 and 5, came down with chicken pox. This was before a vaccine for the disease was available. Not to worry, said their pediatrician. Because I was breast-feeding her my own immunity would protect her. But, a couple of days later, a few poxes appeared on her tiny little body.

The pediatrician examined her and scratched his head. He had never seen a case like this before. He said he couldn’t know for sure if this mild case of chicken pox would offer her immunity in the future. Years later, when Larisa was pregnant with Katherine, she was tested and did have chicken pox antibodies, removing any lingering uncertainty about her immunity.

But the story wasn’t over! Yesterday we got a phone call from Larisa who had just been to the doctor and had been diagnosed with shingles! Of all things! As far as I knew most people who get shingles are over 60 but she’s still in her 30s. And almost 8 months pregnant. But the doctor assures her that shingles poses no danger to the baby, even though chicken pox and shingles are caused by the same virus. (Chicken pox would have been dangerous.) Which tells me that they must have seen cases like hers before.

I haven’t posted in a while because first, I was very cranky about the relentless heat and humidity waves, and then, we were very busy with preparing for and traveling to Kentucky for our niece’s wedding and the family reunion immediately following. And now we’re getting ready to go down to North Carolina to help out. But I do have much to write about and hope to do so soon.

The good news is that autumn weather has finally arrived here and my mood is much improved!!! 🙂

Katherine’s Children

Katherine Fusiak (1887-1943) and three of her eight children: Augusta Jean Chomiak (1913-1986), Theodore William Chomiak (1922-2013), and Lillian Elizabeth Chomiak (1915-2016).

It’s simply amazing what comes into the light when cousins start exploring family history, too. Several weeks ago I shared a picture one of my maternal cousins discovered and today I’m sharing a portrait found by one of my paternal cousins.

The woman is my grandmother, Katherine, who died long before I was born. I’ve always been curious about her because she is the one grandparent I never knew.

Катерина Фюшяк (Kateryna Fusiak ~ my Aunt Lil showed me how to write her name in Ukrainian) was born on 19 November 1887 in Luzok Horishni, Ukraine, when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. She died on 22 October 1943 at New London, Connecticut.

Katherine’s parents were land-owning farmers. When her husband William, the son of peasants, left for America, she was pregnant with her second child and they already had a small daughter, Mary. According to my aunt Mary, who grew up with her grandparents in Ukraine, Katherine’s father, Konrad, who did not approve of his daughter’s marriage, was furious about not hearing from William, and with great resentment sold a cow to buy passage to America for Katherine and her new nursing baby boy, Jon. At the tender age of 22, on 19 February 1910, Katherine and 5-month-old baby Jon sailed to America on the SS Finland from Antwerp, arriving in New York City on 4 March 1910. She had no ticket, but was in possession of $19 which she used to pay passage for herself and her son. She was 4’11” tall with a fair complexion. She was identified as a “Ruthenian” on the passenger arrival record, a term used to refer to a group of Ukrainians living in Ruthenia and eastern Czechoslovakia.

Mary stayed behind with her grandparents and so Katherine did not see her firstborn daughter again until Mary was 18, when she finally joined her family in America after World War I. By then, Katherine and William were living on a farm in Montville, Connecticut.

Katherine was a devoted mother who admonished her eight children to stick together no matter what, as she believed that family was all they would have in this difficult world. Her grandchildren called her “Baba.” Katherine died of a strangulated hernia at the age of 55. She lies buried with her husband in Comstock Cemetery in Uncasville, Connecticut.

Three of her children did not survive into adulthood. Jon Stephen died when he was 9 years old, of appendicitis. Augustine was about two when he got into some pills or something that poisoned him. Olga, a toddler, met her death by scalding when she pulled a pot of boiling water off the stove, a horrific accident that my aunt Lil was old enough to remember first hand.

In the portrait above, daughter Mary is missing because she was still living in Ukraine. Jon had already died. My Aunt Jean is on the left, my father is the little boy, and my Aunt Lil is on the right. My Aunt Em was not born yet.

Katherine had a very hard life as a farmer’s wife who made it through the Great Depression living off the land. Her husband was a harsh, bitter man, who regretted leaving Ukraine and apparently hated this country. I admire her courage and fortitude.

My father always spoke of his mother with great fondness and missed her dearly. Even during his last illness he asked for her. He had enlisted in the army during World War II on 4 February 1943. Sadly, only eight months later, on 22 October 1943, his mother died. Only 22 years old, he came home on leave for her funeral and then returned to duty. I am struck with a little synchronicity here because Katherine was 22 when she saw her mother for the last time, and my father was 22 when he saw his own mother for the last time.

My father often credited his mother with raising him to respect women and appreciate their strengths. As an example, he often told the story of her ability to drive a hard bargain. A butcher came down from Norwich to the farm in Montville three times trying to buy a calf for less than the price Katherine wanted to sell it for! But she got her original asking price, impressing her son, and the sale was finally made!

last full moon of summer

8.26.18 ~ full sturgeon moon, Eastern Point

The fourth heat wave of the season begins today. It’s expected to last three days.

So far in 2018, there have been 3 heat waves: the first lasted 7 days… June 29th – July 5th; the second one was only 3 days… July 15th to the 17th; the third one was 5 days in duration… August 5th to the 9th.

Also, a record has been set for longest stretch of consecutive days 80 or higher, for the Hartford Area. The prior record of 36 days from 1939 was well surpassed, with 44 days in a row, from June 28th to August 10th of this year!

~ Mike Cameron
(Eyewitness News, Channel 3 website)

The end of this brutal summer cannot come soon enough for me!

8.26.18 ~ smart laughing gulls return to Eastern Point Beach

Last night we went down to the beach to see the full moon. Even the sea breeze was humid! But on the bright side we saw a few laughing gulls, who have learned to ignore the gull repellent system, hanging out in the parking lot!!!

learning is spiral

8.21.18 ~ garden flowers from our local farmers market

For many, learning is spiral, where important themes are visited again and again throughout life, each time at a deeper, more penetrating level.
~ Jerold W. Aps
(Teaching from the Heart)

For much of this summer I’ve been down in the dumps, cursing the oppressive humidity and climate change. After reading my complaining post on August 9, my kind neighbor invited me out to happy hour at Harbour House Restaurant & Bar in Mystic. I was apprehensive because bars often terrify me ~ too much noise and too many people. But I decided to go and give it a try.

We went at 3:30, before the crowds, and chose to sit outside on the deck, under the dappled shade of a gorgeous birch tree. The restaurant sits high on a hill overlooking “the best ocean view in Mystic.” There was a lovely sea breeze which made the humidity surprisingly bearable. I had a frozen lemonade and some chicken wings and celery. Delicious! It really hit the spot.

And then we were treated to a breathtaking sight. An eagle flew directly overhead with a large fish in his talons. We had a nice conversation with the young couple at the next table. I’m so glad I went ~ thank you, Susan! It was an afternoon I won’t soon forget. Sometimes the squeaky wheel does get the grease.

For me, learning is a spiral. Last summer I decided that leaving any one kind of food out of one’s diet was too extreme. After a year of eating meat, grains and legumes — everything and anything gluten-free — I was getting terrible stomach aches more and more often. Finally one night I had one that lasted for twelve hours, after a meal of gluten-free pasta, beans, goat cheese and veggies. My body was trying to tell me something. I decided to pay attention.

Over the years I’ve tried most of the diets from paleo to vegan and the one that made me feel the best was paleo. So, in the middle of July, after another flurry of research, I decided to listen to my body and go back to the paleo, eliminating beans and grains, even gluten-free grains. An “important theme” that I needed to “visit again.” It’s been about a month and I am feeling better. No more heartburn. My stomach has settled down and one of the things I remembered from the last time eating paleo has returned: I can go much longer between meals without my blood sugar dropping.

Now that Tim is retired it’s been fun trying new recipes with him, going to farmers markets and shopping together. We’re eating lots more vegetables. Tonight I went 5 hours between lunch and supper, and felt hungry but not desperate. What a blessing!

It turns out Larisa & Dima and Katherine will be moving back to North Carolina in September, which means we won’t be going to Ireland for the arrival of our new grandson. Our frequent trips to North Carolina will begin again. 🙂

little fellow identified

Albert E. Weekes (1907-1991)

My cousin sent me a little puzzle I enjoyed solving. He is also going through boxes from the grandparents! Along with the front and back of this postcard he sent a question, “My middle name is Weekes and I saw this post card from Weekes to Swift… may be of interest to you and also I don’t know who the kid is on the photograph, might you?” It took me a couple of hours, going over my data stored away at Ancestry, to find someone who fit.

So finally I could write back:

My best guess for the identity of the little fellow in the picture would be Albert E. Weekes (1907-1991). He is our 2nd cousin, 3 times removed. The postcard was sent in July 1911, when he was 3 years 9 months old, and the message says the picture was taken when he was 2 years 9 months old, which Albert was in July of 1910. He was 10 years younger than his next older sibling, his sister Bertha.

The post card is from his parents, Mr. & Mrs. G. A. Weekes, George Albert Weekes (1849-1917) & Mary J. (Hilliard) Weekes (1867-1952).

The post card was sent to George’s first cousin, Mrs. Edward E. Swift, Susan Flora (Freeman) Swift (1864-1963). She is our 3rd-great-aunt, Aunt Flora, of Woods Hole.

Our ancestors in common are my 4th-great-grandparents, Isaac Weekes (1780-1841) & Elisabeth (Allen) Weekes, profiled here. The cousins, Mr. Weekes and Mrs. Swift, were their grandchildren. They have many descendants and I haven’t found all of them yet, I’m sure!