Category Archives: Life

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

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.

 

Save

Save

Child abuse, excessive caseloads, and Monroe County’s CPS

What happens when you call the CPS hotline. http://www.dorightbykids.org/.

The first part of the process when you call the CPS hotline.
http://www.dorightbykids.org/.

You know I rarely go on a public political rant, and I apologize for what I’m about to say, but I call bullshit on Monroe County’s Commissioner of Human Services, Corinda Crossdale.

Bull. Shit.

A little background: in November 2016, three-year-old Brook Stagles died from injuries suffered as a result of severe child abuse. Her injuries were so severe, according to news reports, that doctors in the emergency room at first thought she’d been hit by a car. Her father, Michael Stagles, was charged with criminally negligent homicide, and his girlfriend, Erica Bell, was charged with 2nd degree murder and 1st degree manslaughter.

The abusive situation had been reported to Monroe County Child Protective Services, but Brook’s grandfather, John Geer, believes the case slipped through the cracks due to a county department that is severely overburdened. Since Brook’s death, he has been outspoken in his criticism of the excessive caseloads CPS workers are carrying in the hopes that no other child has to suffer the same fate as his granddaughter.

Last week, local news station WHEC did a report on CPS caseloads, revealing that some caseworkers carry as many as 30 to 40 cases, far above the 12 cases recommended by experts like the Child Welfare League of America. Last night, 13WHAM did their own report, with similar findings.

The problem? While John Rabish, who sits on the board of the Federation of Social Workers, the union which represents social workers, says Monroe County’s CPS is in crisis, the Commissioner of Human Services in Monroe County disagrees.

In this 13WHAM investigation, Corinda Crossdale says: “I do not think we can make the assumption that every single case that our caseworkers work with are extraordinarily complicated.” In the WHEC story, she referred to some cases as “cases simply where the family needs help connecting to resources”.

I’m not privy to details about the inner workings of CPS. But I did work for a day care, and we were trained on what to do if we suspected any of our children were experiencing abuse or neglect. There’s a confidential number to call, which immediately begins an investigation. It’s no joke, every call is taken seriously, and even if the report turns out to be unfounded, a thorough investigation  has been set into motion.

cps-investigates-image

The process when CPS investigates a report. From the website http://www.dorightbykids.org/.

According to the county website, state law requires that an investigation “must start within 24 hours of the report, but often starts immediately.” A caseworker is sent to visit the family and talk to everyone involved – parents, extended family, mandated reporters like teachers or day care workers, whoever might have information regarding the situation. If the danger is imminent, action is taken right away. Whether the child stays in the home or not, the investigation continues. There are reports to be written, and court dates to appear at, and meetings to attend, hours and days spent investigating and evaluating and addressing the situation.

Take a moment to imagine the man hours it takes for one person to do this for 20 or 30 or 40 families simultaneously, and you realize very quickly that there are no  uncomplicated cases – “extraordinarily” or otherwise – when a child’s life and health and safety is on the line.

Or you can think about it this way. In 2010, the most recent year statistics were shared on the county website, 7,904 cases of abuse and neglect were reported in Monroe County. That was 21 new reports a day, 365 days a year. And even if a significant number of those cases were unfounded, due diligence needed to be done on each one to ensure that a child’s safety and well being are not in jeopardy.

And while Crossdale does compliment her employees as being “very resilient, very capable caseworkers”, she discounts the fact that they are also very human, and that there are only so many hours in a day for a caseworker to actually do the work, and that overwork on top of the daily exposure to abuse, neglect, and dangerous situations takes a toll on a caseworker’s own health and well being and family life.

Brook Stagles paid the ultimate price for the current situation CPS employees are facing, and kudos to John Geer for speaking out on her behalf, and on behalf of the overburdened, exhausted, defeated employees whose complaints have fallen on deaf ears. Maybe Brook’s voice, crying from the grave, will be the needed catalyst for change.

Because if Crossdale doesn’t stop trying to justify the obvious problems her department has, more children may suffer the same fate – and their blood will be on her hands.

End of rant. For the moment.

Related links:

Save

Save

Mama Mia, Don’t Break The Pasta

(This column originally appeared in the January 2016 issue of Refreshed Magazine)

(photo December 2015)

(photo December 2015)

Over the holidays I noticed a new product on my grocery store shelf: half-sized spaghetti. It’s basically plain spaghetti, but half the length of regular spaghetti and touted as the “perfect size for any pot” because there’s no need to break it in half.

At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, have we become so lazy as Americans that we can’t break our own pasta in half?

I posted that sentiment, along with a photo of the box of spaghetti, on my Facebook page. My intent was to generate discussion about the way we rely on convenience items and technology to do everyday things we really should be doing ourselves. I’m not even talking about things like relying on GPS instead of reading a map. I’m talking about using electric staplers and wearing self-tying sneakers.

The little rant made sense to me, so imagine my surprise when instead of people talking about the laziness of half-sized spaghetti, I was hit with a barrage of replies that all shared the same message: Never break the pasta.

Yes, dear readers, the fact that we’re too lazy to break our own spaghetti is a far less serious offense than the fact that anyone would dare to break spaghetti in the first place.

The debate over pasta size included comments from my friend, Bob, who regularly cooks a variety of delicious-looking Italian dishes for his family and shares the photos on social media.

“Never break the pasta,” he wrote. When I asked why, he replied, “You’re not supposed to break it.”

For the record, I don’t break the pasta; I know not to do that. But why am I not supposed to do that? I asked the question again and again, and dozens of people responded. The conversations went something like this: Continue reading

The strangest dream: the incredible, growing house

photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

One of the (few) things I like about Facebook is that it shows me things that I’ve posted on the same day over the years. It’s interesting to see old photos and status updates.

Today, though, what popped up was a link to a blog post I’d written in 2009, on an old blog, in which I chronicled a dream I’d had a few nights before. I keep a dream journal and often read through it to see if I can decipher messages I’m trying to send to myself. I’m a vivid dreamer and I’m convinced my subconscious talks to me when I sleep.

So when I read the post from seven years ago, I didn’t remember the dream at first. I apparently never wrote it in my journal. But as I read the post it came back . In detail. I could see the rooms, feel the furniture, and I remember the tone of voice people used when they talked to me.

It’s an interesting enough dream to share again. There’s a message in there somewhere, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it comes as the holiday season kicks off. A quick note: I’ve changed or eliminated the names of some people and edited out a few random comments I’d made at the time. But otherwise, here is the dream:

* * * * * * * * * * * *

For some reason, in this dream darling husband David and I had been given a huge, mansion-like house. It had a ground floor, three floors of bedrooms, and then an attic. Cassie, David and I set ourselves up on the third floor, with lovely, huge rooms, big windows, and lots of sunlight and beautiful antique furniture. Continue reading

Highland Park, paupers, and bodies in unmarked graves

marked-mt-hope-tour-prosperous-and-penniless-tour-2015-guide-sally-millick-051-2

My scheduled creative cemetery prompt today was a photo of the monument at Mt.Hope Cemetery, marking the place where several hundred graves of paupers, convicts, and the insane were re-interred after their bodies had been found in Highland Park in 1984, when bulldozers uncovered them while landscaping.

I scheduled the creative prompt photos days ago, and set them to post daily so that I don’t have to think about them. That means that my writing plan today was different than the photo – I was all set to write about a local madam. But this morning I decided I wanted to add something more to today’s photo caption, so I set out to find a quick fact – and ended up writing a draft about the institutions where these people lived.

It was a fascinating rabbit trail – and I’ll work on “Tilly’s” story tomorrow. But I thought you might like to see a bit of what I’ve uncovered today. Continue reading

Confessions of an office (and school) supply addict

photo courtesy of pixabay

photo courtesy of pixabay

(Note: This post is cross posted at Patheos.com)

I spent a half hour today sharpening pencils. I enjoy the act of standing at an old-fashioned sharpener and turning the crank, hearing the blade grind the wood and graphite to a fine point and watching the shavings build into a pile at my feet. It helps me clear my head when I’m stressed, on a column deadline, or stumped by the Sunday crossword.

I picked up the yellow No. 2 pencils while I was out running errands. I limited myself to just one box because the truth is that if I didn’t, I would have skipped the milk and bread and spent the grocery money on school supplies.

Never mind that I don’t have kids in school anymore or that I’m not in school myself. It’s “Back to School” time, which means supplies are on sale, and that’s a dangerous time of the year for me.

Because I’m an office supply addict.

I have an abnormal addiction to pens, paper, pencils, notepads, journals—you name it. I rarely walk out of a store without purchasing some sort of stationery item—paper clips, file folders or a snazzy new pen.

I have a notebook in every room in my house, one in my car and one in my purse, so when I have an idea I can write it down quickly, before I forget it. I keep a supply of pocket folders in a range of colors to suit my every mood. I have a panic attack if I can’t find my stapler.

I think my addiction is rooted in my childhood. As a kid, I loved getting ready for the new school year, the smell of autumn and new possibilities in the air, my book bag filled with folders, freshly sharpened pencils and clean, white notebook paper just begging to be filled with stories, notes and essays.

Every fall, I would vow that this would be the year I would stay organized. This year, I would put the science notes in the science folder and the English notes in the English folder. This year, I would save all of the quizzes so I could study for the cumulative final. This year, I would record every homework assignment in my pocket calendar and never again be scrambling at the last minute to complete a project.

But it always ended the same. In less than a month, I had geometry theorems mixed in with grammar notes. I would show up to science class with my Spanish textbook (“Wait,” I’d ask. “Que hora es?”) and had taken to writing homework assignments on my hands (I had the first Palm Pilot). My locker always looked like a tornado had blown through a paper factory.

It’s more than 30 years later and I’m still not organized. I’m continually digging through a towering pile of folders on my kitchen table to hunt for research notes, paper clips and pens. I have three calendars within arm’s reach, but I never know what day it is.

I know what you’re thinking: there’s an app for that. Calendars on your phone, e-books, virtual folders and documents. But I’m not interested.

It’s not just the fact that I can’t keep up with the latest technology on a writer’s budget. The truth is that I like doing things the old-fashioned way. I like putting a real pencil to actual paper and scribbling away, crossing out words, rewriting sentences, and doodling in the margins when I’m mentally blocked. I think better that way.

And science backs me up on this. Study after study has found that students who take notes longhand actually comprehend and retain information better and longer than students who take notes on a laptop. Researchers think it has to do with the cognitive process necessary to listen to someone speaking, digest the meaning in their words, and then succinctly condense the information into notes. Our brains process that differently then when we’re typing the words verbatim on a laptop.

In other words, a valid rationalization for me to buy more office supplies. Thank you, science! Pencils and notebooks are still on sale! Who needs groceries, anyway?

(A slightly different version of this appears in my book “What The Dog Said,” a collection of humor columns penned over the years. It also appeared in the October 2015 issue of Refreshed Magazine.)