Big Knockers, Fringe Festival, and Local Characters

When my friends Abby DeVuyst and Kerry Young first told me about their show “Big Knockers: Debunking The Fox Sisters”, which would be performed at the 2017 Rochester Fringe Festival, I did a little dance of joy.

The show is a spoof on the Fox Sisters, often credited with founding the American Spiritualist movement thanks to their claims that they could communicate with the spirit world via a system of rappings or knockings.

If you read my blog or follow me on social media, you know that for the last couple of years I’ve been researching and writing a book about…well, it started as a book about Mt. Hope Cemetery, but it’s now rabbit trailed all over the place as I’ve encountered fascinating stories about Rochester’s history and the unknown residents who lay buried, often in unmarked graves, not only in Mt. Hope but other local cemeteries.

I’ve got piles of research notes, chapter drafts, and half-written blog posts on everyone from Wild West showman Buffalo Bill Cody to American aviatrix Blanche Stuart Scott, from clairvoyant physician Mrs. Dr. Jennie C Dutton to murder victim Emma Moore.

So when I offered to provide Kerry and Abby with some research that might help them put the Fox sisters in context with local history, they told me to send along anything I wanted. I went through my files and then inundated them with stories about local inventors, mediums, and clairvoyant physicians. I sent newspaper clippings and wrote rambling paragraphs outlining crazy stories that have fascinated me for years. I spouted facts and dates. I sent links to stories I’d already written.

And then I apologized a hundred times for overloading them with information.

And then they thanked me, and told me that they used what I’d sent them to help form the characters and stories in the show.

By that time, I’d already auditioned for and gotten a part in “Big Knockers”, so I was over the moon that these people who have lived for years in my head and in file folders would have their stories heard. But even better? I got to bring one of my favorite women to life: I play a notorious local madam named Matilda Dean.

While the “Big Knockers” writers obviously had to take liberties with dates and story lines in order to make it all work for the show (and add the humor), the characters actually are based on real people, and much of details they share about themselves are true. [update: here’s the review in City Newspaper] So for those of you want to know more, here is the “Big Knockers” backstory. Keep in mind that these are just small snippets of information; much more lies in folders piled up on my desk, waiting to find a home in blog posts and book chapters. Or who knows? Maybe on another stage?

* * * * * * * * * * * * Continue reading

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The Trouble With Technology

The state of the art fridge has a camera that lets you see what’s going inside the fridge, without opening the door.

Dear readers,

Last week, our clothes dryer died and, while shopping for a new one, the salesman, after enduring my constant exclamations of “For god’s sake, I just need it to dry my clothes, not cure cancer”, gleefully took me to the refrigerator section to show me a model that not only connects to WiFi so you can surf the internet (from your refrigerator door), but also has a camera that allows you to see the inside of your fridge without opening the door. That way, while you’re standing in the middle of Wegmans thinking “Do we really need milk?”, you can just use your smart phone to look inside your fridge and get the answer. With a price tag of $3185, I think you’d have to avoid purchasing a lot of extra milk before that fridge paid for itself. But as my friend Tammy says, some people have too much money.

The fridge of the future, complete with a WiFi connection.

Anyway, apparently our refrigerator saw the dryer go out the front door last week and, not wanting to miss out on whatever fun it imagined the outside world holds for aging appliances, yesterday decided it was also time to retire. I spent an entire day shopping for a replacement that would fit not only our budget but the weirdly shaped kitchen in our 90 year old house.

Needless to say, we won’t be getting the $3185 model the salesman demonstrated for us last week. I just want a refrigerator that keeps milk cold and ice cream frozen; if it has a working light inside? Bonus. (True story: I actually forgot that refrigerators have lights inside, so I was pretty jazzed about that feature. The salesman, recognizing the depth of my technology ignorance, added, “And it’s LED, so you don’t have to worry about buying those expensive light bulbs.” Wait. You can buy replacement refrigerator light bulbs?)

These recent appliance adventures reminded me of a column I wrote a few years ago called “The Trouble With Technology,” so I thought I’d share it again. It’s a bit dated…or is it prophetic? You decide. I just got an email reminding me that my car is due for its annual inspection.

oxoxo
Joanne

PS: “The Trouble With Technology” appears in my book, “What the Dog Said“, .the royalties of which will pay for a half-gallon of milk to store in my new refrigerator.

Continue reading

Dance of the Jingling Multitasker

This is NOT what I looked like belly dancing. (Image courtesy of Pixabay.)

I’m trying to make a pie crust, which isn’t easy to do when you’re also trying to write a column. It’s not that I’m a terrible baker or a terrible writer. I’m pretty good at both tasks (although my presentation of words is much prettier than my presentation of pie).

No, my problem is that I’m a terrible multitasker.

When I was a kid, the running joke was that I couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time. I probably couldn’t run and tell a joke at the same time either, but we’ll never know. When I was in kindergarten, I got run over by a classmate doing laps in the gym. That pretty much put me off running for the rest of my life.

I used to feel inadequate because of my lack of multitasking abilities, until I learned that multitasking isn’t the ability to do two things at the same time. It’s the ability to quickly switch back and forth between two tasks. That’s a little better, but not much help when the tasks you’re doing need to appear as if they’re simultaneous.

Like when you’re belly dancing. Continue reading

Musings on newspapers, news, and neighbors

From the Rochester Union and Advertiser, 12 June 1860

One of the things that I love about doing research is that old newspapers offer not only unique stories and old advertisements, but a look into how publications viewed their job as purveyors of the news.

This clipping, from the Rochester Union and Advertiser, 12 June 1860, caught my eye. I’d posted it on my Facebook page last year, but came across it again today and have been musing on it all morning.

It appears that a rival newspaper had printed a story about two young people planning to elope, who in the end gave up their plan and returned home without incident. The Rochester Union and Advertiser noted that while they had the story several days earlier (before the Democrat *), the Rochester Union and Advertiser chose not to run it, in order to avoid embarrassment to the parties involved – who appear to be young. Their reason? Continue reading

The dangers of leaving your dog in the car – it’s hotter than you think

My dogs Scout and Bandit, who loved to ride in the car. But it’s important not to leave your dogs in the car while you’re running errand – it’s hotter than you think! Photo (c ) 2010 Joanne Brokaw

This post was originally published at Patheos.com in May 2014. But I thought it was worth republishing again here.

Here in Western NY, the weather has finally warmed up and it looks like the s-n-o-w is gone until winter. That means it’s time for a reminder about leaving your dog in a hot car.

In July 2011, I wrote a post for my blog in which I explained how heat affects your dog, and then did some experiments measuring the temperature in the car compared with the temperature outside the car. It’s worth reposting here, since it’s such an important issue – and because I think we have a moral responsibility to put our pets’ needs before our own desires. Sure, it’s fun to take the dog with you while you run errands. But it’s not always what’s best for Fido.

As you watch the temperatures rise inside the Jeep in the following photos, remember that the heat affects your dogs the same way whether they’re inside a car or outside in the heat. So keep that in mind when you’re thinking about taking the dog for a walk in the heat, or with you when you jog, or even for just a round of catch in the park. And it doesn’t have to be summer; it’s the temperature that’s important, and it can reach dangerous levels even in the spring, fall or winter.

First, let’s look at how a dog stays cool.

Dogs can’t sweat to cool themselves down, the way humans can. The only way they can cool off is to sweat through their paws or to pant. As the website Weather.com explains:

“Air moves through the nasal passages, which picks up excess heat from the body. As it is expelled through the mouth, the extra heat leaves along with it. Although this is a very efficient way to control body heat, it is severely limited in areas of high humidity or when the animal is in close quarters.”

In close quarters like a car (or even a kennel), a dog can overheat very, very quickly and in minutes can suffer brain damage or death.

But panting means taking in air as well as breathing it out. So for a dog like a pug – or other breed with a genetically shortened snout – the inability to breathe seriously hampers their abilty to cool themselves down. (That wheezing sound a pug makes is actually the dog desperately trying to breathe. It’s not cute; it’s dangerous.)

In their book, “Dogs: A New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior and Evolution“, Lorna and Raymond Coppinger talk at great length about the science of how dogs regulate their body temperature. They draw a couple of conclusions worth mentioning:

1) Dogs are great at storing heat but not so great at getting rid of it. The balance point between storing and getting rid of heat for a dog is 60 degrees Fahrenheit for a smooth-coated sled dog. (That balance is 70 degrees for a human, who also has the ability to sweat to cool, something dogs can’t do.) Coppinger, who races sled dogs, says, “I wouldn’t train if the ambient temperature was over 60 degrees because the dogs would be at risk.”

2) As their weight rises to over forty-five pounds, dogs have increasing problems getting rid of heat. And that’s when the dog is at rest.

3) “Since dogs don’t have sweaty, bare skins to radiate heat [the way humans do when they sweat], evaporative cooling is not an option for them. Panting hard cools the lungs and brain, but the only place a dog sweats is through the pads of its feet. The pads just don’t have enough surface area to make them effective radiators.” Add to that the fact that their bodies are covered in fur, and you’ll understand why heat effects dogs much differently than humans.

And you can see why it’s not easy for a human to determine how hot a dog really is.

So here’s the experiment. Continue reading

Life lessons from a Border Collie

This post was originally published at Patheos.com in June 2011.

Scout after an afternoon playing in the sprinkler and rolling in the dirt. (photo © 2011 Joanne Brokaw)

I was sitting on the floor in the lobby of the veterinarian’s office, blowing soap bubbles for my five-year-old Border Collie, Scout, while we waited for our medications after our consultation with a holistic veterinarian.

A woman sitting near us was watching as Scout happily pounced on the bubbles and then stared intently into my eyes as he waited for the next wave of the bubble wand. Chasing soap bubbles is one of Scout’s favorite things to do in life. (In fact, I just typed the word and he must have read it, because he popped up from his nap and he’s staring at me, waiting to see if we’re headed outside.) Continue reading

Musings on wind storms, RGE, and the luxury of power on demand

The wind storm left a gorgeous sky Wednesday afternoon, even without any snow or rain or ice.

For the last three days, we’ve been without power here at Casa de Brokaw, thanks to hurricane force winds on Wednesday that blew with fierce, damaging force far into the night. At least one town was under a state of emergency and a travel ban was imposed in the county to allow emergency and repair vehicles to get around. By morning, more than 150,000 people were without power.

In our little corner of the world, we lost power Wednesday afternoon, and a few hours later had the luxury of a generator that ran our fridge, a space heater, and a power strip to power the internet router and charge mobile devices. I also had a propane camp stove to cook on. A bluetooth speaker and some Canine Calm CDs downloaded to my tablet (and a tranquilizer or two to combat the wind noise, work crews, generators, and chain saws) helped keep the pups mellow.

A neighbor’s pine tree dropped an enormous limb and it missed our chicken coop and garage (but unfortunately got the neighbor’s garage).  I used my battery powered devices sparingly, just in case, so we were able to keep up with news, and while we were never toasty we kept the cold at bay. It was stressful at times, but it was survivable. We were able to borrow a generator to get my mom’s house survivable as well.

The neighbor’s pine tree dropped a giant limb. It just missed our garage and chicken coop. The neighbor’s garage wasn’t so lucky.

And just when we finally figured out how to deal with the dark, we got some more wind, a little snow, and frigid temperatures. Bitter, biting, blustery cold.

Everyone waited to see when the lights would come on.

Bandit and I curled up under a giant pile of blankets and kept each other warm.

The local power company explained the process on Thursday on local radio, starting with making the downed wires safe to work on, and then assessing the damage; assigning priority to places like hospitals, nursing homes, and first responder facilities; and then working to get 90% of people back online by Sunday night. Trucks from power companies from around the region were headed to Monroe County to help.

That seemed reasonable to me. This was a fierce windstorm that many people compared to “the ice storm”, which you’ve been around Rochester long enough know refers to the ice storm of 1991 that shut the city down for a week and caused massive widespread damage.

The winds were so fierce that the chickens, who don’t normally get along, were frightened enough to make peace long enough to cram themselves under their nesting boxes.

The comparison might have been deceiving. When the winds hit this past Wednesday, temperatures were in the 50s. There was no snow or rain or ice. If you had power, you had no idea how bad things were for those without. In 1991, everyone knew we’d suffered a massive weather event because the next day you could see the ice and snow and devastation. But Thursday morning? Just another day – unless you were without power.

We were told we’d have power by Sunday night. But this afternoon around 3 pm, the lights came on. If you consider that the storm was still happening through the night on Wednesday, that means RGE got us back online in two days.

The lights suddenly came on at about 2 o’clock this afternoon, a day ahead of the expected restoration day on the RGE website.

When the power came back on, I cranked up the heat to try and raise the temperature past the 49 degrees we’d endured the last day.

Our area went from 150,000 plus people without power to about 40,000, with most of the rest expected to be back up and running by tomorrow.

I think that’s pretty good. But today, I learned RGE was taking a beating from New York Governor Cuomo for not responding more quickly. He’s calling for an investigation into the way RGE handled the event.

Which surprised me, and made me a little angry.

Personally, I’d like to thank RGE for getting us up and running (a day earlier than predicted) in what was truly a major emergency situation, and for doing it with the safety of not only the customers but their employees in mind. And thanks to the other companies from out of the area who responded. Is everyone up and running? Nope. My mom is expected to be offline until Monday, but she’s got a generator and all the things she needs to be comfortable. (And her house is definitely warmer than ours was!)

When the weather turned bitter, bitter cold on Friday, crews worked through the night. When people who know nothing about the way power gets from point A to point B criticized it for not happening fast enough, the crews just kept working.

Me? I spent a lot of time this week musing on needs vs. wants, on how conveniences actually disconnect us from each other, and how life was like “in the good old days”, as well switching up my routine (never a bad thing). Musings I’ll share another day.

For now, I have this thought:

It’s easy to complain when we don’t have luxuries on demand, but we forget that every other day we flip a switch and lights come on. We turn up the thermostat and get heat. We turn on a faucet and hot water runs out. We run our cell phones dead and plug them in to charge. Never underestimate the luxury of power on demand, or the people who bring it to you.

UPDATE 3/12/2017: You can read RGE’s statement in response to Gov Cuomo here.

 

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