Columns

By Barbara Beltrami

I don’t know what the time between this writing and its publication will bring, and given recent events, I’m worried. However, my stubborn faith in our democracy and Constitution and a resolution to celebrate the Inauguration and all it stands for inspires this column bearing recipes from a few government sources. Most famous and ubiquitously published is the Navy Bean Soup served in one of the Senate restaurants. Then there’s the late Representative John Lewis’s recipe for Barbecued Chicken and White House Chef (1966-1987) Henry Haller’s popular Cooked Vegetable Salad. 

Senate Navy Bean Soup

YIELD: Makes 8 servings

INGREDIENTS: 

1 pound dried navy beans, picked over

1 pound ham, with bone

2 potatoes, peeled and quartered

Salt 

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 large onion, chopped

1 celery rib, chopped 

2 garlic cloves chopped

1/4 cup fresh chopped flat leaf parsley

Freshly ground pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS: 

Put beans in large pot with 3 times their volume in water and put in a cool place to soak overnight. Drain and transfer to a large Dutch oven; add 10 cups water and ham; bring to simmer over medium heat, then reduce heat to low and cook 1 1/2 hours, until beans are tender. Transfer ham to cutting board to cool, then remove bone, cut meat into bite-size pieces and return to pot. 

Meanwhile place potatoes in a saucepan, cover with salted water, bring to boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to simmer and cook until potatoes are fork tender, about 25 minutes; drain, mash and add to beans and ham and stir to combine thoroughly. In large skillet, melt butter over medium heat and add onion, celery, garlic and parsley; season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are translucent; add to bean mixture and cook over low heat, adding water if needed, season with salt and pepper and cook one hour. Serve hot with a crispy, crunchy salad.

Rep. John Lewis’s Barbecued Chicken

YIELD: Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS: 

2 cups ketchup

1 teaspoon prepared mustard

1 to 2 tablespoons Tabasco or other hot sauce

Pinch cayenne pepper

Pinch black pepper

1 onion, finely chopped

1 frying chicken, cut up or equivalent chicken pieces

DIRECTIONS: 

Preheat oven to 350 F. In a medium bowl, combine ketchup, mustard, hot sauce, cayenne, pepper and onion. Put chicken parts in greased 9 x 13” baking pan; spread sauce over chicken; bake for one hour, basting chicken with juices halfway through. Serve hot or warm with rice, potato salad or sweet potatoes and a green salad.

White House Chef Henry Haller’s Vegetable Salad

Chef Henry Haller

 

YIELD: Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS: 

2 cups tiny green peas, cooked, drained, cooled

2 cups diced carrots, cooked, drained, cooled

2 cups diced celery

1 cup peeled and cored diced apple

Salt and pepper to taste

3/4 cup mayonnaise

DIRECTIONS: 

In large bowl combine vegetables with celery and apple, salt and pepper. Add mayonnaise and toss lightly with a fork. Serve with soft rolls and butter.

Sleep clears toxins from the brain. METRO photo
Exercise and sleep are crucial to clearing the clutter

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

Considering the importance of our brain to our functioning, it’s startling how little we know about it. 

We do know that certain drugs, head injuries and lifestyle choices negatively impact the brain. There are also numerous disorders and diseases that affect the brain, including neurological (dementia, Parkinson’s, stroke), infectious (meningitis), rheumatologic (lupus and rheumatoid arthritis), cancer (primary and secondary tumors), psychiatric mood disorders (depression, anxiety, schizophrenia), diabetes and heart disease.

Although these diseases vary widely, they generally have three signs and symptoms in common: they either cause altered mental status, physical weakness or change in mood — or a combination of these.

Probably our greatest fear regarding the brain is a loss of cognition. Fortunately, there are several studies that show we may be able to prevent cognitive decline by altering modifiable risk factors. They involve rather simple lifestyle changes: sleep, exercise and possibly omega-3s.

Let’s look at the evidence.

Clutter slows us down as we age

The lack of control over our mental capabilities as we age frightens many of us. Those who are in their 20s seem to be much sharper and quicker. But are they really?

In a study, German researchers found that educated older people tend to have a larger mental database of words and phrases to pull from since they have been around longer and have more experience (1). When this is factored into the equation, the difference in terms of age-related cognitive decline becomes negligible.

This study involved data mining and creating simulations. It showed that mental slowing may be at least partially related to the amount of clutter or data that we accumulate over the years. The more you know, the harder it becomes to come up with a simple answer to something. We may need a reboot just like a computer. This may be possible through sleep, exercise and omega-3s.

Get enough sleep

Why should we dedicate 33 percent of our lives to sleep? There are several good reasons. One involves clearing the mind, and another involves improving our economic outlook.

For the former, a study done in mice shows that sleep may help the brain remove waste, such as those all-too-dangerous beta-amyloid plaques (2). When we have excessive plaque buildup in the brain, it may be a sign of Alzheimer’s. When mice were sleeping, the interstitial space (the space between brain gyri, or structures) increased by as much as 60 percent.

This allowed the lymphatic system, with its cerebrospinal fluid, to clear out plaques, toxins and other waste that had developed during waking hours. With the enlargement of the interstitial space during sleep, waste removal was quicker and more thorough, because cerebrospinal fluid could reach much farther into the spaces. A similar effect was seen when the mice were anesthetized.

In another study, done in Australia, results showed that sleep deprivation may have been responsible for an almost one percent decline in gross domestic product for the country (3). The reason? People are not as productive at work when they don’t get enough sleep. They tend to be more irritable, and concentration may be affected. We may be able to turn on and off sleepiness on short-term basis, depending on the environment, but we can’t do this continually.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, four percent of Americans reported having fallen asleep in the past 30 days behind the wheel of a car (4). And “drowsy driving” led to 83,000 crashes in a four-year period ending in 2009, according to The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Prioritize exercise

How can I exercise, when I can’t even get enough sleep? Well there is a study that just may inspire you.

In the study, which involved rats, those that were not allowed to exercise were found to have rewired neurons in the area of their medulla, the part of the brain involved in breathing and other involuntary activities. There was more sympathetic (excitatory) stimulus that could lead to increased risk of heart disease (5). In rats allowed to exercise regularly, there was no unusual wiring, and sympathetic stimuli remained constant. This may imply that being sedentary has negative effects on both the brain and the heart.

This is intriguing since we used to think that our brain’s plasticity, or ability to grow and connect neurons, was finite and stopped after adolescence. This study’s implication is that a lack of exercise causes unwanted new connections. Human studies should be done to confirm this impact.

Consume omega-3 fatty acids

In the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study of Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study, results showed that those postmenopausal women who were in the highest quartile of omega-3 fatty acids had significantly greater brain volume and hippocampal volume than those in the lowest quartile (6). The hippocampus is involved in memory and cognitive function.

Specifically, the researchers looked at the levels of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in red blood cell membranes. The source of the omega-3 fatty acids could either have been from fish or supplementation.

It’s never too late to improve brain function. Although we have a lot to learn about the functioning of the brain, we know that there are relatively simple ways we can positively influence it.

References:

(1) Top Cogn Sci. 2014 Jan.;6:5-42. (2) Science. 2013 Oct. 18;342:373-377. (3) Sleep. 2006 Mar.;29:299-305. (4) cdc.gov. (5) J Comp Neurol. 2014 Feb. 15;522:499-513. (6) Neurology. 2014;82:435-442.

Dr. David Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com. 

METRO photo

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

February is National Pet Dental Health month so I thought a discussion of periodontal disease is appropriate. Pets tend to suffer less from dental disease, and more from periodontal disease. 

Dental disease refers to pathology specifically related to the tooth like caries (superficial decay in the enamel), cavities (deeper decay in the enamel), and tooth fractures. Periodontal disease refers to pathology related to the structures around the tooth. These structures include the gingiva (gums), periodontal ligament (thousands of strands of microscopic strands of connective tissue that hold the tooth in the socket, or jaw), and the perialveolar bone (the bone of the jaw around the tooth).

Periodontal disease usually starts with a buildup of plaque. Plaque is a thin film of saliva, old food and bacteria that can accumulate on the surface of the tooth within 24 hours. If this plaque is not removed, it mineralizes and becomes tartar. Tartar allows a matrix where pathologic bacteria can hide. These bacteria cause chronic inflammation and this inflammation will lead to recession of the gums, breakdown of the periodontal ligament, and resorption of the perialveolar bone. This process is slow and painful because while single rooted teeth may just fall out without intervention, many teeth are multi rooted where one or two roots could be rotten and the third intact. That requires dental extractions at your veterinarian’s and I have yet to meet a pet owner that is happy to hear that. 

The key to intervening in this pathology is preventing plaque. No plaque, no tartar. No tartar, no periodontal disease. How do we prevent plaque? Let’s go through the options: 

Brushing — brushing is very effective, but also the most frustrating option in my opinion. Brushing needs to be done every day to be effective. If you have the time and your dog or cat is more patient than mine, go for it. Make sure you use pet safe toothpaste. Human toothpaste has too much sodium, fluoride, and is sweetened with saccharin.

Treats, toys, or diets — there are certain toys, treats, chewies, and even special diets to help to clean the teeth. These items will have an abrasive action similar to brushing, increase the production of saliva, and some are treated with special enzymes or compounds to help control the production of tartar. Make sure that if you look in the pet store you find the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal of approval on the packaging or ask your veterinarian which products they recommend. 

Do be careful. Many of the treats and diets tend to be calorie dense and can cause an increase in weight if overused. Also, remember you don’t want anything that’s too hard and may cause damage to the enamel or a fractured tooth. There’s a saying, “If it’s something you wouldn’t want to get hit in the knee with, it’s too hard for your pet to chew on.” 

I hope this information helps. Remember, “keep on smiling.”

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine. 

From left, Research Assistant Onur Eskiocak, CSHL Fellow Semir Beyaz and graduate student Ilgin Ergin. Photo by Gina Motisi, 2019/CSHL.

By Daniel Dunaief

It’s a catch-22: some promising scientific projects can’t get national funding without enough data, but the projects can’t get data without funding.

That’s where private efforts like The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research come in, providing coveted funding for promising high-risk, high-reward ideas. Founded and funded by Pamplona Capital Management CEO Alex Knaster in 2017, the Foundation has provided over $117 million in grants for various cancer research efforts.

Tobias Janowitz

This year, The Mark Foundation, which was named after Knaster’s father Mark who died in 2014 after contracting kidney cancer, has provided inaugural multi-million dollar grants through the Endeavor Awards, which were granted to three institutions that bring scientists with different backgrounds together to address questions in cancer research. 

In addition to teams from the University of California at San Francisco and a multi-lab effort from Columbia University, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory scientists Tobias Janowitz and Semir Beyaz received this award.

“We are absolutely delighted,” Janowitz wrote in an email. “It is a great honor and we are excited about the work.” He also indicated that the tandem has started the first set of experiments, which have produced “interesting results.”

The award provides $2.5 million for three years and, according to Janowitz, the researchers would use the funds to hire staff and to pay for their experimental work.

Having earned an MD and a PhD, Janowitz takes a whole body approach to cancer. He would like to address how the body’s response to a tumor can be used to improve treatment for patients. He explores such issues as how tumors interact with the biology of the host.

Semir Beyaz

Semir Beyaz, who explores how environmental factors like nutrients affect gene expression, metabolic programs and immune responses to cancer, was grateful for the support of the Mark Foundation.

Beyaz initially spoke with the foundation about potential funding several months before Janowitz arrived at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. When the researchers, whose labs are next door to each other, teamed up, they put together a multi-disciplinary proposal.

“If the risks [of the proposals] can be mitigated by the innovation, it may yield important resources or new paradigms that can be incorporated into research proposals that can be funded by the [National Institutes of Health] and other government agencies,” Beyaz said.

Janowitz wrote that he had a lunch together in a small group with Knaster, who highlighted the importance of “high-quality data and high-quality data analysis to advance care for patients with cancer.”

Michele Cleary, the CEO of The Mark Foundation, explained that the first year of the Endeavor program didn’t involve the typical competitive process, but, rather came from the Foundation’s knowledge of the research efforts at the award-winning institutions.

“We wanted to fund this concept of not just studying cancer at the level of the tumor or tumor cells themselves, but also studying the interaction of the host or patient and their [interactions] with cancer,” Cleary said. “We thought this was a fantastic project.”

With five people on the Scientific Advisory Committee who have PhDs at the Foundation, the group felt confident in its ability to assess the value of each scientific plan.

Scientists around the world have taken an effective reductionistic approach to cancer, exploring metabolism, neuroendocrinology and the microbiome. The appeal of the CSHL effort came from its effort to explore how having cancer changes the status of bacteria in the gut, as well as the interplay between cancer and the host that affects the course of the disease.

From left, Becky Bish, Senior Scientific Director, Ryan Schoenfeld, Chief Scientific Officer and Michele Cleary, CEO of The Mark Foundation at a workshop held at the Banbury Center at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in September 2019. Photo by Constance Brukin.

These are “reasonable concepts to pursue, [but] someone has to start somewhere,” Cleary said. “Getting funding to dive in, and launch into it, is hard to do if you can’t tell a story that’s based on a mountain of preliminary data.”

Beyaz said pulling together all the information from different fields requires coordinating with computational scientists at CSHL and other institutions to develop the necessary analytical frameworks and models. This includes Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Fellow Hannah Meyer and Associate Professor Jesse Gillis.

“This is not a simple task,” Beyaz said. The researchers will “collaborate with computational scientists to engage currently available state-of-the-art tools to perform data integration and analysis and develop models [and] come up with new ways of handling this multi-dimensional data.”

Cleary is confident Janowitz and Beyaz will develop novel and unexpected insights about the science. “We’ll allow these researchers to take what they learn in the lab and go into the human system and explore it,” she said.

The researchers will start with animal models of the disease and will progress into studies of patients with cancer. The ongoing collaboration between CSHL and Northwell Health gives the scientists access to samples from patients.

With the Endeavor award, smaller teams of scientists can graduate to become Mark Foundation Centers in the future. The goal for the research the Foundation funds is to move towards the clinic. “We are trying to join some dots between seemingly distinct, but heavily interconnected, fields,” Beyaz said.

Beyaz has research experience with several cancers, including colorectal cancer, while Janowitz has studied colorectal and pancreatic cancer. The tandem will start with those cancers, but they anticipate that they will “apply similar kinds of experimental pipelines” to other cancer types, such as renal, liver and endometrial, to define the shared mechanisms of cancer and how it reprograms and takes hostage the whole body, Beyaz said. 

“It’s important to understand what are the common denominators of cancer, so you might hopefully find the Achilles Heel of that process.”

While Cleary takes personal satisfaction at seeing some of the funding go to CSHL, where she and Mark Foundation Senior Scientific Director Becky Bish conducted their graduate research, she said she and the scientific team at the foundation were passionate to support projects that investigated the science of the patient.

“No one has tried to see what is the cross-talk between the disease and the host and how does that actually play out in looking at cancer,” said Cleary, who earned her PhD from Stony Brook University. “It’s a bonus that an institution that [she has] the utmost respect for was doing something in the same space we cared” to support.

The CSHL research will contribute to an understanding of cachexia, when people with cancer lose muscle mass, weight, and their appetite. Introducing additional nutrition to people with this condition doesn’t help them gain weight or restore their appetite.

Janowitz and Beyaz will explore what happens to the body physiologically when the patient has cachexia, which can “help us understand where we can intervene before it’s too late,” Cleary said.

The CSHL scientists will also study the interaction between the tumor and the immune system. Initially, the immune system recognizes the tumor as foreign. Over time, however, the immune system becomes exhausted.

Researchers believe there might be a “tipping point” in which the immune system transitions from being active to becoming overwhelmed, Cleary said. People “don’t understand where [the tipping point] occurs, but if we can figure it out, we can figure out where to intervene.”

Scientists interested in applying for the award for next year can find information at the web site: https://themarkfoundation.org/endeavor/. Researchers can receive up to $1 million per year for three years. The Mark Foundation is currently considering launching an Endeavor call for proposals every other year.

 

By Barbara Anne Kirshner

In this strange new world of plexiglass partitions, floor stamps marking 6 foot separations and arrows directing us down aisles, it is comforting to climb those creaky wooden steps, open that squeaky green door, enter the circa 1857 house that is the St James General Store and travel back to colonial times.

I was first introduced to this singular establishment as a little girl by my Aunt Nancy who lived in Smithtown. Upon entering the store, I was met with a delectable, sweet scent that wafted through the air. Rows of glass canisters housing assorted old-fashioned candies from licorice to malted milk balls to nonpareils to ribbon candy to fudge was enough to make any child’s eyes sparkle, especially a child with a sweet tooth as big as mine. 

We walked down the long aisle opposite the candy counter where bric-a-brac reminiscent of the Victorian era was displayed. Toward the back of that counter was a glass case containing one of a kind pieces of jewelry.

The back room of the store was a treat for any child and child at heart with displays of old fashioned toys including Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls, wooden yoyos, assorted crafts and stuffed animals. 

Opposite the toy counter was a rack of beautiful hats hinting of Victorian charm in an array of colors and decorated with ribbons, flowers or feathers. Shelves of unique scarves and gloves were arranged next to the hat rack.

We rounded the corner and headed up the rickety wooden staircase to a large room that contained a library divided into sections with books related to Long Island, children’s literature, travel and Victorian genre.

Beyond the book section, we stepped into the Christmas room where we were met with an enchanting kingdom of Christmas trees decorated with unique ornaments, stars and angels.

After my Aunt Nancy and I completed our tour, we returned to the candy counter where she invited me to choose some confection as a souvenir of our visit. I went for my favorites, the malted milk balls. As she drove us back to her house, I popped one of these delectable treats in my mouth letting it luxuriously melt away. To my delight, this tasty morsel seemed triple wrapped in rich milk chocolate; easily the best version of itself I have ever tasted and I pride myself on being a malted milk ball connoisseur.

I have returned to the St. James General Store at different stages in my life and to my delight everything has always remained the same. I have brought friends and family there, eager to see their eyes light up at every twist and turn.

I recently returned to the store for the first time since this COVID pandemic assaulted all our lives. Though the woman behind the candy counter is now separated from the public by plexiglass, I emitted a great big sigh of relief taking comfort in the familiarity from within. Everything is the same as I remember dating back to my first visit with my beloved Aunt Nancy.

If you would like a trip back to a happier, simpler time, stop into the St. James General Store where a sense of comfort will swaddle you the moment you step beyond that green door.

Miller Place resident Barbara Anne Kirshner is a freelance journalist, playwright and author of “Madison Weatherbee —The Different Dachshund.”

All photos by Barbara Anne Kirshner

President Franklin D. Roosevelt

It was during Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first inauguration address in 1933 when he uttered the famous sentence, “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

It was a call to Americans to work together to fight against dark times.

Our country has known collective terror throughout the decades, and 2020 will be remembered as the year we feared an invisible virus and people taking advantage of peaceful protests by looting stores and burning cars. That trepidation carried over into the new year as citizens watched as extremists sieged the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Nearly 90 years after Roosevelt called for Americans to fight fear, we find ourselves afraid of our fellow citizens. Since the attack on the People’s House in Washington, D.C., members of Congress are worried that their safety, as well as that of their family members, is in jeopardy. Some even believe their own colleagues will harm them if they speak out against former President Donald Trump (R). Rep. Peter Meijer (R-MI-03), a freshman congressman, told CNN he was afraid of possible threats after he voted to impeach Trump.

The fear has trickled down to our own neighborhoods as many are hesitant to speak their opinions, afraid if their views are more conservative than others they will be tied to the extremists who assaulted the Capitol.

There are those who once wouldn’t think twice about standing on a corner to protest or rally, even if people who held opposing views were right across the street. Now many are hesitant that their words might be met with foul language, assault and worse.

Many this past summer, during protests, witnessed foul language being exchanged between protesters and anti-protesters. Black Lives Matters participants in a rally in Smithtown in June took to social media alleging that they were assaulted. In September, a Massapequa man was arrested for allegedly assaulting a 64-year-old man who was rallying with the North Country Patriots, a conservative group that meets on the corner of Bennetts Road and Route 25A every Saturday morning.

Our times have become so divisive that many have forgotten the adversities Americans have gone through together — the Great Depression, the world wars, 9/11 and more. These horrific events didn’t leave us weaker, they left us stronger.

We became stronger because we live in a country where we have the right to pursue happiness, the right to gather, the right to express our opinions and so much more. And while we may not have the right to use those words and actions to cause harm to others or property, we have those rights.

Most of our fellow Americans get that. So let’s move forward together, stronger and more fearlessly than before with knowledge and empathy, embracing our freedoms and respecting that others in this country enjoy the same rights.

Pexel photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

What do we do when we meet someone new in 2021 IRL, or, to the 12 uninitiated readers, “in real life?”

Well, for starters, we can’t and shouldn’t shake hands. That ritual is probably long gone. Maybe the Japanese were right with bowing. If handshakes are out, hugs, even for those we might have been speaking to for months during the isolated pandemic, are absolutely forbidden.

If we can’t hug grandma, grandpa and other relatives we’ve known most or all of our lives, we certainly can’t hug, even casually, someone new.

Ideally, we’d stand somewhere between six and 60 feet away from them, especially if we’re inside. That could be problematic for people who can’t hear all that well and who don’t have the benefit of reading anyone’s lips anymore. 

In fact, I’m thinking of going into the business of selling those Mission Impossible voice changers. If you’ve seen the movies, you know that the Tom Cruise teams can change their voices to sound like everyone else. Most of us who have heard our own voices on voicemail would like a few moments to sound more like James Earl Jones or Scarlett Johansson. Maybe we like our own voice, but we’d prefer to have a British, Australian or New Zealand accent. We could change our accents, the way we change the navigational voice on Siri and ask people if they know where we’re pretending we were raised.

Now, what we discuss is a bit tricky in the hypersensitive, polarized world of 2021. Someone who’s walking a dog most likely would be happy to talk about their four-footed companion. 

I’ve been surprised by the type of questions and information people seek when they talk about my dog. People have asked not only how old he is, but also how much he weighs, as if dogs around his size are in some kind of modeling contest. Fortunately, my dog doesn’t seem particularly concerned about his weight, as he demonstrates regularly with a feverish appetite for everything from broccoli to french fries to cat vomit. Yes, he eats cat vomit, which means that if I cook something he won’t eat, he thinks it tastes worse than cat vomit, a notion that delights my teenage children.

Now, if you’re thinking about politics, you probably should keep that to yourself. Unless someone is wearing a MAGA hat or has some version of Dump Trump on a T-shirt, it’s tough to know where they stand on the plate tectonic sized political divide.

We can talk about sports, but we run the risk of someone telling us how irrelevant sports is in the modern world during a pandemic or how they wish they could return to the age when sports mattered.

Children seem like fair game, although we have to watch out for many age-related minefields. 

My son, for example, is a senior in high school. Some parents are happy to tell you all the colleges that accepted and rejected their children, while others are content to share what city or even what coast intrigues their progeny, as in, “yes, my son has only applied to schools on the East Coast or in states with fewer than seven letters” (there are nine states in that category, by the way).

So, where does that leave us in the strange world where we’re all putting on masks before we go into a bank (imagine taking a time machine from 1999 and seeing those entering a bank without masks getting into trouble?) Well, the weather is often safe, as are dogs, the disruption the pandemic caused and, generally speaking, children.

Male cardinal. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Three things I want to tell you about today. 

The first is of a friend who knocks on my window each day that the sun is out. At first, he annoyed me, distracting me from my keyboard or my Zoom screen. But as the social distancing and the isolating in place have continued, I changed my tune. 

When he doesn’t come, I miss him for he keeps me company. He has brought color to my winter world with his improbable crimson feathers easy to spot among the brown limbs of the naked trees and the often slate sky. By now you have probably guessed that I am referring to a cardinal, one who calls my property his home, too. 

He is not just content to share my trees, however. He wants in to my house. Well, not exactly. When the sun is shining, he sees a reflection of my surrounding bushes in my glass windows and thinks he can just continue to fly in their direction. I give him a high mark for determination because he tries over and over again. 

At the same time, I have to give him a low mark for intelligence because he doesn’t seem to learn from his abrupt crashes that the way is blocked for him. I guess the term “bird brain” would be appropriate, but I don’t want to discourage him since he reminds me that there is life outside my house, and he doesn’t seem to cause himself any damage with his efforts.

The second thing to share is that we have binged our way through the eight episodes of “Bridgerton,” a new historic series on Netflix, and I would give it a B+. It’s a little slow and talky, in the way of Jane Austen, but it has real worth for some of its subject matter. The main theme deals with the impossible position of upper class women in 19th century Europe.

The poor things had but two goals in life: to marry well and to produce heirs. This was for the good of the family and only incidentally for their own benefit, so they suffered from lots of family pressure and control. That’s old hat, though, for us 21st century viewers.

However, the series is somewhat original for populating London in the 1800s with a totally integrated cast. The Duke is black and the debutante is white, but that’s just for starters. The one theme that’s absent is any discussion of racism. There is none. You can pretty well guess how the love story ends up, but it’s fun watching the couple and their supporting cast get there.

The third subject is more serious and important to share. You know by now that our new president is making it mandatory to wear face masks in federal buildings and on planes, trains and buses that cross state lines. He is also urging the rest of us to wear masks at least for his first 100 days in office. “Observational studies have suggested that widespread mask wearing can curb infections and deaths on an impressive scale, in settings as small as hair salons and at the level of entire countries,” according to an article by Katherine J. Wu in the Science section of this past Tuesday’s The New York Times.

Now comes further advice about mask wearing. Double-masking is even better and for obvious reasons. In order for the droplets that carry the virus to get to our nose and mouth, they have to work their way through the tangle of threads in a cloth mask or the filter in a surgical one. Double the masks and we double the difficulty. The best arrangement, we are advised, would be a face-hugging cloth mask over a surgical mask. As if one weren’t miserable enough, now we are urged two.

Yes, the vaccines are here and more are coming, but it will take a while for the logistics of delivery to get ironed out. And the numbers of patients stricken with the disease keep escalating, so we have to continue to maintain our distancing, our hygiene and yes, our masks.

The women’s basketball team celebrates one of its many wins in 2020. Photo from Stony Brook Athletics

Few will shed any tears about turning the page on 2020. Yet, despite the absence of sports for more than eight months, Stony Brook Athletics had reasons to celebrate during the calendar year.

Among the highlights …

BANNER YEAR: The women’s basketball team produced a 22-game winning streak, 28-3 overall record, and its first America East regular-season and postseason titles — despite the conference tournament being called off entering the finals.

ORANGE SLICE: The women’s lacrosse team sent notice of its national title aspirations by beating fourth-ranked Syracuse, 17-16, in the Carrier Dome in the season opener. Ally Kennedy, who had four goals and three assists in that victory, now returns for a second senior season. She recently was named US Lacrosse Magazine’s national Preseason Player of the Year for the upcoming 2021 campaign.

OVER-ZEALOUS: Coach Anthony Gilardi’s first season at the helm of the men’s lacrosse team included three overtime winners from Caleb Pearson en route to a 5-2 record. Harrison Matsuoka was rewarded for the team and his individual success by becoming a first-round pick of his hometown Calgary Roughnecks.

PERFECT ENDING: Right-hander Dawn Bodrug tossed a perfect game against Cornell in Madeira Beach, Fla. — the softball program’s first since 2012, and only the fourth in the program’s Division I era.

ON TRACK: The track and field teams captured three individual titles on the final day of the America East Indoor Championships. Vann Moffett earned gold in the 3000 meters with a time of 8:12.69. Luke Coulter’s time of 2:24.56 in the 1000m gave him a first-place finish. And Amanda Stead’s career-best run in the 200m crowned her a conference champion.

FLYING COLORS: Swimmer Michal Liberman clocked in with a blazing time of 54.24 seconds in the 100-yard butterfly, lowering her own school record while claiming the America East title. The win marked the first individual title for Stony Brook since Renee Deschenes won the 100 backstroke in 2011.

MAJOR ACCOMPLISHMENT: When baseball alum Travis Jankowski made his first appearance for the Cincinnati Reds on Opening Day, it marked the 20th season a Stony Brook product appeared in a Major League Baseball game.

HIGHLIGHT PERFORMANCES: Mouhamadou Gueye already appears in the top 10 in blocks in men’s basketball program history. Gueye also set the pace for Stony Brook appearances on SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays over the past year (if you allow us to dip a few days into December 2019).  After being featured twice in the same countdown for highlight-reel plays against Virginia just before New Year’s a year ago, he earned another spot on SportsCenter’s Top 10 for a thunderous dunk at Vermont on Jan. 8.

PLAY BALL: Sports are back! When the women’s basketball team stepped onto the court on Nov. 25 to face Fordham, it marked the first Stony Brook intercollegiate sporting event since the Seawolves baseball team defeated Merrimack all the way back on March 11 — a gap of 259 days without action.

Here’s to a much more active 2021!

Ally Kennedy

The Stony Brook women’s lacrosse team has national-title aspirations in 2021.

Standout midfielder Ally Kennedy has the loftiest of expectations being placed on her as well. US Lacrosse Magazine on Dec. 28 named Kennedy its Preseason Player of the Year. It marked the first time in program history that a Stony Brook student-athlete received that honor.

Kennedy last week was named Preseason Midfielder of the Year as well as a Preseason All-American by the publication.

“I’m really excited for Ally,” coach Joe Spallina said. “I have watched her grow and put her heart and soul into being the best she could be, and it is incredible to see her be acknowledged. She plays with an unmatched intensity and passion. And while she scores a lot of goals, she does it all for us — draw controls, assists, ground balls and, most importantly to me, as one of the best captains this program has ever had.”

Kennedy ranks second in program history in draw controls (242), fourth in goals (193), fifth in points (248), fifth in ground balls (133) and 10th in assists (55) as she enters her second senior season.

She tallied 15 draw controls against Princeton last March 8, one shy of matching the program record set by former teammate Keri McCarthy in 2018. Kennedy registered seven points in that game, as well as in a season-opening win against Syracuse last season. 

She notched 22 goals, five assists, 47 draw controls, eight ground balls and three caused turnovers during the abbreviated five-game season.

A North Babylon native, Kennedy was an IWLCA first-team All-American as a junior in 2019. Inside Lacrosse recently had ranked Kennedy as the No. 3 player in college lacrosse today — man or woman.

“It’s an honor to receive this recognition, and is more motivation for this upcoming season,” Kennedy said. 

“I couldn’t be more excited to finally get back out on the field with the team and show everyone what we are capable of,” she added.