Thursday, June 15, 2017

The 52-week photography project: hands

The subject for week 22 of the 52-week photography project is hands.

Hands are a marvel. We use our hands to create and to nurture.
We form clay with our hands. We draw and we paint and we knit and crochet, using our hands.
We dig weeds from the ground and plant flowers. We prepare food with our hands. We use our hands to nourish ourselves and others.
We connect to one another with hugs and handshakes.
We communicate with gestures and, if we know it, with sign language.

Our hands are large and small, old and young, brown, black, tan, beige, and porcelain.
They are wondrous works of beauty.
Here are my images of hands.

Next week: Week number 23 of the 52 week photography project. Come back and take a look at next week's images.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Relay for Life and the unbelievably amazing Matthew

At Roswell Park Cancer Institute, a bell is rung when someone is in remission or is cancer free.

Matthew Eggers &
Mark Gorton, the
dynamic duo
One of Relay for Life's two honorary survivors, Matthew Eggers, will most likely hear that bell when he goes for his eighteen-month checkup next week. That is how long that the seven-year-old has been cancer-free.  Being cancer free for eighteen months is good news for Matthew. "Burkitt's lymphoma has a high recurrence rate in eighteen months," said Matthew's mom, Tracy Schmidt. 

Matthew has overcome many challenges to reach this point. His fighting spirit is an inspiration to everyone attending Grand Island's Relay for Life on June 9th.
The Pirate Ship Cupcake. Arrrgggh.
"This is our unbelievably amazing Matthew," said Mark Gorton, the other member of the dynamic duo of honorary survivors.

When Matthew was diagnosed, the cancer had "impacted his ability to breathe and to walk," Tracy said. "He was only five years old. He worked hard to fight cancer. He relearned how to walk.
Relay is a celebration of hope
He worked hard with his tutor" when he was undergoing cancer treatments and was unable to attend school.

It's about the joy of life
"We never thought that it would be us. This disease doesn't care about age, skin color, or anything else," Tracy said.

Matthew said, "I like video games, the Buffalo Sabres, and golf. I am a Stage IV Burkitt's lymphoma survivor. I knew that I was in a fight for my life. I had wonderful nurses and doctors at Children's Hospital and at Roswell Park. They made the battle easier." Matthew said that he was encouraged by the support from his family, his friends, and the community. He said that Mrs. McMann, his teacher at Huth Road Elementary School, suggested that he choose a poem to read at Relay for Life. The poem that Matthew chose was titled "Never Give Up."

Raccoon & Fox Husky
exude enthusiasm for a cure
Mark Gorton reminded everyone at Relay for Life, "Not everyone's cancer story has a happy ending." But, whether the ending is happy or heartbreaking, he let the survivors and their families know, "You're not alone. You are loved. You are cared for so, so much. Today is one of the good days. Without our doctors, many of us survivors would not be here."

People are stronger than
fire... or cancer.

"Matthew, with your youthful exuberance and joy and maturity, you are an inspiration to both little kids and big kids." 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The 52-week photography project: a soft story

The challenge for week 21 of the 52-week photography project was the word "soft." A few weeks ago, I was challenged to come up with a representation of the word "hard." I chose to use the theme of the cemetery to depict "hard." For the word "soft," I will depict images that represent the softness of newness. Here are some of those images:

The softness created by nature is the thing that makes spring my favorite season. The flowers, the baby leaves, and even the stems of the plants are soft and delicate. After the season of hard shadows on frigid snow, the season of softness comes with pastel colors and the promise of warmer, brighter days. Here are some of the images of the past week.

The softness created by humans delights little kids and it gives us a sense of security and of home. We have stuffed animals, blankets, pillows, and soft pajamas. With our softness, we can sleep a little easier and a little more comfortably, feeling secure and loved. The day is over. We have come full circle. We fall asleep, hoping, in the new day that is to come, for people to experience more of the softness of the world and less of the hard things of the jagged, painful world that some call "reality."

Next week: Come back to see the theme for week 22 of the 52-week photography project.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Exploring Grand Island's eastern shore

On Thursday, June 1st, I walked from the northernmost part of Grand Island to the south end, a distance of about thirteen miles. It was a gorgeous, sunny day, and I started walking after my Zumba class. My goal was River Lea in Beaver Island State Park, where the Grand Island Historical Society was holding its installation dinner for the new officers of the 2017-2018 season.

Along the way, I made a few stops. I spent an hour and a half weeding a garden at a house near the river. There is a pond in the back yard, filled with lily pads. It looks as if it could be the subject of a painting by Claude Monet. The pond is full of tadpoles and, once they are mature, there should be plenty of frogs hopping about. 

Gun Creek, near the former Edgewater Hotel
Not far from that house, I was invited into another house, where I was offered a glass of water and some nuts and dates to take with me on my walk. The lady who offered me the nuts and dates had done the El Camino de Santiago (the Way of Saint James) walk in Spain two years ago after having survived cancer. 

In 29 days, during the heat of the summer, she walked 500 miles. It was a spiritual journey. That walk is on my bucket list. It is an opportunity to look inward, while exploring the world at the same time.

My walk on Thursday would be much shorter, about thirteen miles. I was in no rush so I took pictures and explored the beauty of the Niagara River. I stopped at the Whitehaven Cemetery, where my dad has been for nearly five years.
There were people on machinery at the cemetery, mowing the grass. Except for the occasional car passing by and the sound of the mower, my visit to the cemetery was quiet and peaceful. Next to the cemetery is a path that leads to the river. On the other side of the cemetery is Spicer Creek, one of several tributaries of the Niagara River.

My next stop was at the Radisson, which formerly was known as Byblos. Before that, it was called the "Holiday Inn." The hotel has a fitness club with a swimming pool and a fitness room. I was just taking a restroom break.
Once I left the hotel, I continued walking until I reached Beaver Island State Park, just stopping long enough to take photographs. 

bridge to Tonawanda, New York

The Buffalo Launch Club was founded in 1903 and is the oldest power boating club in the world.

The Village Inn serves delicious soups, freshly made food, and exquisite desserts.

This is the site of the Bedell House, which is where the "ordinary people" stayed when Grand Island was mostly a vacation destination. There were a number of private clubs on Grand Island for wealthier people.

This wall is all that remains of an estate at the southern tip of Grand Island

Beaver Island State Park

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Relay for Life survivor story I: My voice is my identity

Mark Gorton (age 43) and Matthew Eggers (age 7) are the two honorary survivors for this year’s Grand Island Relay for Life, which will be held from 4 p.m. until midnight on June 9th at Veterans Park on Bedell Road. They are known as the “dynamic duo.” Mark Gorton works for the Grand Island school system as an audiovisual technician. In this interview, Mark talks about his life, career, and family before and after his cancer diagnosis.

Tell me about your life before cancer.
I went to high school in Grand Island and was a member of the class of 1991. After that, I went to Buffalo State College and graduated with a bachelor of arts in broadcasting and communication in 1995. I was very lucky; I got a job working at channel 7 as a part-time sports producer. I got into my field right away and got to work with John Murphy, who was sports director at the time. He is the voice of the Buffalo Bills. I love sports, especially football and the Bills.  I was there for about six or seven months. Then I worked at different things here and there for next eight months.

In August of 1996, I started working at a job at Empire Sports Network, which was the network that used to carry the Sabres games. I was at Empire for seven years. First I was production assistant. I did video editing and a little producing, mainly video editing and working in the studio at a tape operator. At the time, we edited highlights. Now it’s very digital. Then I became a producer of Empire Sports Report. These were half hour basically sports casts, where we do news, highlights,and sound bytes. We also did features of everything in western and central new York. It was a neat job. Every day was a new experience. You would work for eight hours for a half hour product. It took all that time to work with the anchor to get scripts written, to go through the rundown of the show with production assistants, who pieced it together. I did the research first to find out the big stories of the day, the big games of the night, and the topics to hit.

What is it like to report on sports?
Sporting events are often done in the evening. That was a big part of my life. I was working in the field that I went to school for, and I was enjoyed all the time working with co-workers. Sometimes I would meet sports celebrities and that was neat. The biggest thing of my time there was the fact that I met my wife, Debbie, and as it turned out, she graduated from Grand Island High School as well. She graduated a couple of years earlier. We got married in 1999  (September 11th). It is bittersweet for us, not a happy day in the history of our country.

Tell me about your family.
Our first daughter, Sara, is one of the youth ambassadors for Relay this year. She was born in October of 2001. She is a great kid. She goes to school here. She’s really smart. A flute player, she just performed in the SuperZeroes play (Spotlighters), her first stage show. She graduated from Leadership Niagara, the Lync program. She is amazing. She has a lot of love in her heart. Teachers adore her and her kindness. She has fantastic friends. They have a good time and they care for each other. They are nice people. We have another daughter Jenna, and she was born in September of 2006. She goes to Huth Road Elementary School (Mrs. Schauger’s class). She’s also big into music and plays oboe in the band. She’s also in the Select Chorus with Mrs. Horrigan. Sara was in both band and chorus in Huth. The teachers there are fantastic teachers.

Your kids are very musical. What about you?
I played trumpet in high school. Mr. Sherman Lyke was the band director here. That’s another great man. He was here working in the district for a long time. He comes in every now and then. An amazing trumpet player. He allowed me as a new freshman to hang out in the band room and feel welcome when I knew absolutely no one in the school. There were times when I had no one to sit with in lunch, and he said tocome to the band room and hang out there.

Tell me about the experience of being diagnosed with cancer and about the surgery and family support.

It was a shock. I was just going to the primary doctor for a routine physical. My wife and I were asking about general fatigue, thinking that our thyroid levels were a little off. So, as part of a routine checkup for thyroid, the general doctor, Dr. Leone, stood behind me and reached in my neck and started feeling around. It was at that point, he said, “Oh that’s interesting.” I had no symptoms, no problems with swelling, and I never felt sick. He said, “You might have something on your thyroid.” He told me to look in the mirror. “When you swallow, you’ll see a little bulge at the bottom of your neck and it’s not your Adam’s apple.” So that’s what starting the process of finding out that I had a cold nodule. This was back in 2004. At the time, the research said that, in men, 50 percent of the time, the cold nodule would be cancerous. I was young enough, they might as well get the thing out. And they weren’t even testing to see if it was cancerous. They would find out at the surgery.  I experienced the initial shock and the amount of testing. I consulted with the endocrinologist and the surgeon. There was the initial shock. I had no symptoms. I didn’t feel sick, didn’t understand why it was there, or what caused nodule to show up. You deal with that. I have dealt with that with my family, including Mom Sandy, step dad Tony (since passed), and my wife’s parents, Paula and John (he passed from cancer three years ago).  I had a lot of family support.

How did the surgery work out?
The surgeon who worked on me at Sisters' Hospital was Dr. Mohamed Razack. He’s written a book. He was called the thyroid king because he had performed so many surgeries and was an expert in thyroidectomies.  When I went to the first surgery, I had nerves but felt confident that he would get everything out. I’m very fortunate, and lucky and blessed in my cancer story that if you’re going to get cancer anywhere, the thyroid is probably one of the best spots because it tends to be contained in the gland itself. No biopsy was done. The doctors would find out during surgery. They did the surgery. If the cold nodule was benign, they would have just removed the left nodule. The nodule was malignant so they removed the entire thyroid. Now, I take generic synthroid once a day. I came out of it fine. Officially, they said that I did have cancer and that it was contained. They felt they contained it all so they did prescribe radiation or chemo. I was very lucky to get everything out and it seemed… don’t know if you can call it remission because I didn’t have symptoms. I had no weight loss, no hair loss. I was very lucky. I didn’t have to be treated for cancer with the exception of the surgery to take out the nodule.
As years went on, they did follow up tests. I got blood level checked twice a year, and I would get sonogram on my neck.

Were you still working at Empire while you were fighting cancer?
 Empire laid me off in August 2003. Then I worked for the Sabres for a year. I was a producer. I produced TV show and intermission updates. Then the season ended, and then I was out of work again. It was shortly after that season ended, when the diagnoses and tests came in. It was September of 2004, when I had the surgery. Shortly after surgery, recovered after two to three weeks, I started a new job at Ingram Micro. There I was a software licensing specialist. It was completely out of my field, but it was a job. It was actually a good place to work, and the people were very nice. But you worked in a cubicle all day and your interaction with the outside world was limited to phone calls from resellers, as well as placing orders. I was the main rep for the filemaker line (an apple product). The rep in California came in twice a year to meet with our pod and our team to go over products and see how everything was going. I was there full time for a little over a year and, when I started working here, I pulled a little part time there, some nights. I started working for the school district as an audiovisual technician in August 2005. I love this job, I love working with people, and the staff in my technology office is great. The teachers, the support staff, the administration, the board of education… everyone the entire time I’ve been here works together as a team and does the best that they can to educate our children, not just on the academic part but on how to be good people in general. The best part is working with the students. It’s the most rewarding piece of this job: having the ability to make a difference in their lives and to see them grow and achieve at such a high level that it really gives you hope for our future. I think that, sometimes, the younger generation gets a bad rap because all you hear is the negative that goes around in the country. When you work in a school district like Grand Island, and you see how hard the students work at learning and accomplish so much, the kids really inspire us on the staff with how kind they can be and appreciative of the efforts that everyone gives to make their lives better. The students have really taken me in through the years. Sometimes, they even call me a teacher, which I’m not but I feel honored that they think of me at that level because I think the world of the teachers here. I aspire to be as good as them and as  influential on a daily basis.

Tell me about the experience with follow up and the recurrence of cancer.

Well it came back as years of testing went on. The X rays showed suspicious lymph nodes in the area where the surgery was done. They didn’t know if it was just scar tissue or if there were any cancerous cells that were forming and hadn’t been cleaned out.

So my surgeon had retired so I couldn’t go back to have him clean everything out. Eventually, I decided to go to Roswell Park for a second opinion, and that’s where I felt most comfortable.  I announce the football and basketball games for the high school. I love doing that. Without my voice, I feel that I would lose my identity. There is always a danger that when they go into the area for a second time; there is risk that, because the thyroid gland is not there, something else could get hit in the process of cleaning out. At Roswell, it was May of 2007 that I got my second surgery. They cleaned out ten to thirteen lymph nodes and they said that one was suspicious but never anything that they felt needed radiation or chemo.

When did you get involved with Relay for Life and what does it mean for you as a survivor?

When I first joined Relay as the emcee for the kickoff, I didn’t mention that I was a survivor because I didn’t feel that I suffered enough.  I feel that I’ve been involved since about 2010. I’ve been so blessed to be involved in this Grand Island Relay for Life family through Becky and Lynn Dingey, Candy Mye and Missy Stolfi. They are fab four of the Grand Island Relay, and I know there are so many others who contribute to this cause of fighting cancer. They are the ones who brought me in and have really treated me with such love and honor. I am truly touched that they would consider me as an honorary survivor.

Note: Stay tuned for Matthew Eggers' story and for more about Relay for Life in the next few days.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The 52-week photography project: sky overlay

The theme for week twenty of the fifty-two week photography project is sky overlay. It is a photo editing project, and the purpose was to replace the sky in the photograph with a different sky. I decided to go for the dramatic approach in choosing the sky.

This was not an easy project for the Photoshop newbie. Fortunately, I was able to find an on line tutorial that was simple enough for me to understand. I downloaded a picture of a sky from that was under "creative commons licensing." Once I was able to get past the frustration of leaping far from my comfort zone, I was able to see this project as actually a fun activity.

Here is the original photograph. The sky is OK but it's not at all dramatic:

This is the photograph with the sky replaced. It is bright and very dramatic and quite colorful.  I would call it a "fun sky."

Next week: Stay tuned for the next installment of the 52-week photography project.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Teacher stories 12: Huth Road's Art Rock Star

Today’s teacher story is about Dana Allen, who teaches art at Huth Road Elementary School. Her students’ creative works add color and excitement to the school’s corridors. Occasionally, the works of the student artists can be seen at the Grand Island Memorial Library, in the conference room.
Did you have any other career dreams or did you always know that you wanted to be a teacher?
I have always been interested in art since I was a little girl. I originally went Buffalo State College to be a graphic designer. I knew that I wanted to do something in the art world. When I was younger, I used to play school with friends, and we would pretend that we were teachers. And the funny thing is that we are now teachers. So I guess that I combined teaching and the arts, and I have the best of both worlds now. 
In my junior year of college, I decided to go into art education, so I have a dual degree; a BFA in Graphic Design and BS/MS in Art Education. I traveled while studying abroad for a semester in Europe. I was gone for four months.
It was one amazing trip. I visited seventeen countries and went into every art museum imaginable. On that trip, I made the decision that I wanted to go into art education because I loved working with kids. When I was younger, I worked as a lifeguard, at playgrounds and at the Boys and Girls Club teaching Arts & Crafts. I was always working with kids.  People always said that I would make a good teacher, that I was always very thorough. I had patience for the kids. 
Where did you start your teaching career?
My career started as a Middle School/High School art teacher in Pembroke, and I taught grades five through twelve. I traveled between buildings. I really loved teaching middle school. I coached modified girls soccer. (Modified is seventh and eighth grades.) I loved the excitement and their energy.
They are at that level where they still have a love for art, and they are getting to the point where they are getting a little shy about showing off their work. By the time they get into high school, they want their art to look more realistic and life-like.

Then I got a job here in Grand Island. I started part time at the high school. I also taught a little bit of eighth grade art to a handful of students who needed art for their requirement. Then my job eventually went to full time, as we gained more classes and more students. Over the years, I have taught Photography, Introduction to Art, Studio in Art, Ceramics, Studio in Sculpture, Drawing & Painting, Creative Crafts, and Studio in Advertising. I was at the high school for eight years. It was a lot of fun. I really miss teaching photography. The quality of the work at the high school is amazing. I also shared a room with the art teachers up there. When there was a retirement in 2007, I moved to Huth Road Elementary School. I was glad to finally have my own classroom that I could decorate and arrange the way I wanted. I’ve been here ever since.
What is it like to go from teaching in high school to teaching in elementary school?
When I came to the grade school, the funniest thing was that, when I was demonstrating how to draw something, the students would say, “Wow! You’re an artist! “ I would just laugh. A couple classes actually clapped when I was done with my demonstration, and I felt that I should get up and bow. I felt like I was the “Art Rock Star” here.
I had to learn how to break my lessons down into steps so that the elementary students would understand the process. I had to figure out what they learned at Sidway, so I knew where to go. Do they know how to hold scissors and cut? Fortunately, we have great teachers in our district and they knew the art basics, so I could move onto fun lessons. One of the other things that I’ve learned teaching at grade school is to show student examples and teacher examples. So they can see multiple ways of problem solving during their project. This way they know that there’s not just one way to do it. I tell them, “If this part's hard, try it this way.” I walk around the room and give them help individually. I’m never sitting. Generally I see each class once a week. Every marking period a new group gets a second day of art on Mondays for ten weeks.
What is a typical day like for you?

Typically, my morning starts off with gathering supplies for the morning classes and setting up and preparing the materials. My first class each morning is a fifth grade group. I move from fifth grade to a fourth grade class with a continuous flow, so I need to be prepared.  My third grades come in right after the fourth grades on some days or directly after my lunch, and I end my day with second grades.  So I typically spend some of my lunch period setting up for my afternoon classes.  It is very physical in the grade school. I find that it is more exhausting teaching at the elementary level.  I need to keep my energy high for my student artists.  It is all worth it when my students come in and greet me with a hug, or a story, or a drawing they made with a huge smile on their face. 

You can usually find me staying after school, straightening my room and organizing it for the next day. Basically, you should see what it looks like at the end of the day. But a messy room shows that we are having fun learning about and creating art. I call it my organized mess. You know that there are some fun things going on when we make a mess. I am grateful for my student helpers who come in after school to help me straighten, clean and organize.
What are some of the projects your classes are working on?
My second grades are working on spring projects. They just finished their Claude Monet Japanese Bridges.  I am very proud of how nice they turned out! They moved on to flower paintings and color wheels.  One of my second grade groups is drawing butterflies, and they are studying the life cycle of a butterfly in their classroom.

My third grades are painting “ The Starry Night,” by Vincent Van Gogh.  They learned about Van Gogh and his life and style of art.  Then they created their own interpretation of The Starry Night. The third graders are studying Japan in a unit of study in their regular classroom. Their origami lesson is an interdisciplinary lesson that coincides with what they are doing in their regular classroom. We are making origami flapping birds.  I try to do interdisciplinary lessons whenever possible.

The fourth graders are starting a native American weaving with yarn and beads on colored burlap. We just finished a monochromatic painting.  They painted with one color plus black and white. I took a photograph of each fourth grader in a pose of their choice.  They painted it black to look like a silhouette and placed it on top of their monochrome painting.

One class of fifth graders is doing group research of a famous artist in the library. Each group has a different artist, where they learn about the artist’s life and the artist’s style of art. When they come back to the art room after their research, they paint on canvas board emulating their artist’s work and style. I tried to figure out how I could teach famous artists to fifth grades and I came up with this idea of incorporating technology into our research, with the help of library media specialist Ms. Orosz and technology teacher Mrs. Mancuso-Dulak. The fifth grades are also doing a one-point perspective drawing of Huth Road School. It is a great keep-sake of their time here at Huth. Most grade school art teachers steer clear of perspective, but I love teaching perspective.
What do you like to do when you’re not teaching?
When I am not teaching, I love photography, riding my bike, kayaking, skiing, and traveling. During my trip to Europe in college, I put a coin in the Trevi Fountain in Rome to ensure a return trip.  And sure enough, I went back to Italy for my honeymoon in 1999. I also enjoy spending time with my family. My husband, Winthrop, and I have a daughter, Siena, and a son, Nathan; both are in middle school. 

What are some of your favorite art media?
I like photography, and I also like to work with acrylics. I used to paint with acrylics on wood. Also, I have a published photograph in a book called “Little Towns are not Forgotten.” I recently was taking some watercolor classes, too. I was kind of self-taught, like Rousseau. I will get back into creating my own art when my children are older and I have more time.
Tell me about art club.
Art club is open to all fifth graders. We do fun projects that we don’t have time for during the school year. For instance, we paint the art stools and paint the windows in the school. We’ve done group projects, such as paper mache. In the past, we have donated our clay bowls to a group called Empty Bowls.  Empty Bowls has allowed for artists of all ages to address poverty, homelessness, and hunger issues with the bowl they design.  The bowls are sold at the Buffalo Soup-Fest and proceeds go to Friends of Night People.

I also have them learn the process of silkscreen. My high school art teacher, Bill DeGlopper, comes in to help print our art club t-shirts with the logo that is designed by a student. He explains the process of making the screens. So I’m bringing my graphic design background into the mix. Mr. DeGlopper is a Grand Island resident and retired art teacher who loves to do silk-screen. He enjoys the chance to work with the students of Grand Island.  You may have seen some of his t-shirt designs on local team and event t-shirts on the island.
What other fun projects did the art club do?
One of the art clubs did the Mondrian window painting that is on view around the corner from the office. We focused on primary colors (red, yellow, and blue).
In art club, we also did a Pysanky Ukrainian egg project, in which they used a wax resist process. Parents volunteered to come in and were so helpful. I couldn’t do it without them. We work with candles to melt the wax and dip the eggs into vibrant, really colorful dyes.
What would you tell parents about their kids as artists?
Please encourage your children to appreciate the arts. Not only is it everywhere in their daily lives, but it also helps them to become well-rounded individuals.  When the kids get older, they want things to look more realistic, and they tend to stop creating art. I would say encourage your kids to keep drawing in order to get better, just like a sport. The more you practice, the better you get. Some people tell me that they can only draw a stick figure, but if you sat down and really tried, you could do better than you think. I’m always encouraging kids to go one step further with their art. I also encourage them to love the arts and enjoy it and not to stress over little mistakes. Mistakes can be made into something else. Sometimes, they can become happy mistakes. I recently had a student who said, “ I didn’t mean to mix the colors but I really love how it looks.”
Is there anything else that you would like to say?

Students are at different levels of ability. I encourage each student to try their best. Their best might look different from the person sitting next to them, but I encourage them to try THEIR PERSONAL BEST in everything that they do.

The 52-week photography project: hands

The subject for week 22 of the 52-week photography project is hands. Hands are a marvel. We use our hands to create and to nurture. We ...