Category Archives: Life

A history of the Charlotte lighthouse

The historical marker at the Charlotte cemetery, citing its notable residents, including the first lighthouse keeper.

The historical marker at the Charlotte cemetery, citing its notable residents, including the first lighthouse keeper.

If there’s a cemetery tour happening in Rochester, you can be sure I’m there. For anyone interested in local history, there’s no better place to find unusual stories and bits of trivia, and I’m fascinated by the history buried all around us. (Plus, I’m writing a book about people buried in Rochester who changed, intrigued or just amused the world, so I’m always on the lookout for more stories.)

A few weeks ago, the City of Rochester hosted the annual Genesee River Romance weekend  celebrating the Genesee River and its surrounding trail and gorge system. In 2014, I took full advantage of the weekend of events that include tours of the old subway and aqueducts, the Rundel Library, the Falls, and cemeteries. Somehow, I missed the adverts for this year’s event, so I only had time to catch one thing: the tour of Charlotte Cemetery…

You can read the rest of the story at

Send a care package to “Any Soldier”

My care package sent through

My care package sent to a soldier through

The holidays can be difficult for anyone separated from their family, but especially for our service men and women. And even more so for those who don’t have family or friends to write letters and send care packages.

Yes, there are service men and women who don’t get a letter from home. Ever.

That’s why I wanted to just put the website on your radar. It’s a great resource if you want to support our troops. And while the deadline is looming to send packages and have them arrive by Christmas, you have until December 10 in most cases, if you’re sending it Priority Mail.

Here’s how it works: someone in a unit volunteers to be a contact person with Any Soldier. They give a brief description of what their group needs or what might be helpful in boosting morale. When you send letters and packages, they then distribute them to any soldier who might be in need of a letter of encouragement or a treat from state-side.

I’ve sent packages via the website several times. Twice I’ve heard from the contact person, so I know how important the small gesture meant. I’m not talking huge things here. Instant oatmeal, granola bars, coffee, tea, trail mix, jerky, Kool Aid, magazines, tampons, razors, butt wipes. These are important things for service men and women in miserable combat situations.

If you’re interested in sending to “any soldier”, here are a few things to keep in mind. (And I have to apologize if I’m using any incorrect terminology. I tried to use “troop” and “unit” and “service men and women” in the right context, but forgive me where I’ve screwed up.)

1) This isn’t a pen pal service, so don’t expect a reply. While every single thing you send is appreciated, these are men and women who are literally in war zones or battle. They have far more important things on their minds than sending thank you notes. (Having said that, don’t be surprised if you do get a reply. It’s a beautiful thing to hear first hand how your package filled with Pop Tarts and beef jerky made someone’s day.) Continue reading

Writing, daffodil bulbs and being a catalyst for change

I’ve been having a bit of a frenzied few months, covering Fringe Fest, traveling to Western Massachusetts to visit family, doing improv, taking classes.

What I haven’t been doing is writing.

I’m on deadline for my next book – that feels weird to even say that, “my next book”, as if my last book was some sort of literary milestone. It’s just a collection of previously published columns, with one new piece written after my dog died. It was done more for me than anything else, to put a period at the end of a difficult, depressing, and unfruitful time in my life. It let me say, “Here, I accomplished this in the midst of the turmoil, and now I’m on to bigger and better things.”

It’s a little thing. It’s nothing.

I’ve been doing a lot of research for this next book, which feels like an actual writing project that’s going to be worthy of the effort. A book I authored. But I’m rabbit trailing while searching at, and reading books and filling the pages with sticky notes to mark trivial bits of info I want to go back to. I’ve got piles of files of stories I want to include but none of the stories actually written yet.

The book is a collection of stories about people buried in Rochester who made contributions to science, society, entertainment…or just have weird and interesting stories.

Mostly the latter, because I love a good weird story, a tale of a totally random action that sets in motion something that changes the world.

Like the story in the video above, about educator Stephen Ritz, who turned his classroom in to a garden and transformed his students’ lives.

Here’s my question: who gave him the daffodil bulbs? Continue reading

A musing on the To Kill A Mockingbird read-a-thon

BN To Kill A Mockingbird Readathon roster

Pittsford, NY Barnes & Noble roster for the “To Kill A Mockingbird” read-a-thon.

This will be a quick post, informal and to the point. I hope. Often I have great ideas and because I want to be profound I put off writing and then lose the idea and never write it down.

And I don’t want to do this with what’s running through my mind.

So if it feels like maybe I’m rambling or am not making my point, or if you see typos or mistakes or places where maybe you think I haven’t thought through an idea, keep in mind that I’ve got just a few minutes between places I need to be this afternoon, and I’m writing this in between where I just was and where I’m going.

I got to take part today in Barnes & Nobles “To Kill A Mockingbird” Read-a-thon, to celebrate the release tomorrow of Harper Lee’s “Go Set A Watchman”. The readings started at 9 am this morning and end at 9 pm tonight, with guest readers taking half hour time slots to read the entire book from cover to cover. It’s a nationwide event, and I was at the Pittsford Barnes & Noble.

“To Kill A Mockingbird” is one of my favorite movies, not only because it’s so brilliantly done, but because it so brilliantly follows Lee’s book. (It’s pure joy when a movie does justice to a book, isn’t it? And it so rarely happens.) We could talk all day about characters and setting and story, but for now it’s enough to say that when I got to B&N,  I got sit and listen to chapters 17, 18 and 19, read by Judy Shomper, chair of the theater department at Brighton High School and Beth Adams, morning show host on WXXI.

BN To Kill A Mockingbird Readathon Judy Shomper

Judy Shomper, chair of the theater department at Brighton High School, reading from “To Kill A Mockingbird”.

As I came into the store, I could hear the sound of the reader echoing throughout the entire store, although I wasn’t actually listening to the words. But after I’d checked in, said hello to Beth and chatted for a minute, I settled in to listen to Judy Shomper and then Beth Adams read from the famous courtroom scene. You know what I’m talking about: Atticus is questioning Mayella Ewell about her beating and the accusation that it was at the hands of Tom Robinson, a Negro.

The word “nigger” is used throughout the text. Continue reading

50 thoughts on turning 50: #30 – Protesting and Social Media

comedians in cars trevor noah

(Click image to go to website)

My social media news feeds have been filled lately with rants and lectures and quips and tirades on myriad hot button social and political topics.

I’m all for supporting causes we believe in, but I’m often left wondering how often we hit “share” or “like” on social media and feel like we’ve done some great service to social justice, when in reality all we’ve done is hit “share” or “like” on social media.

I’ve been trying to sort through my thoughts on this when I saw this week’s episode of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee”, and was struck by something guest comedian Trevor Noah said:

“People are now able to protest in their underwear. And that almost defies what protesting should be about. The whole point of a protest is to get up out of your bed, put your clothes on, walk out in to the cold and say, ‘I stand for this. I march for this.’ And now you really don’t have to have that conviction, ‘cuz you’re on the couch, in your underwear, you’re going, ‘You know what? I don’t like it, either.’ Punch in a few characters, and you’re ‘Yeah, yeah, I fought for the cause.’ No. You didn’t.”

For years I’ve struggled with this topic when it comes to church. We talk a lot about loving our neighbor, and we give to charities, and we support missionaries. But until we stand in the streets and publicly speak our mind, or get our hands dirty doing actual work, or sit down face to face with people on the other side of issues and actually inhale each other’s words in conversation, we really can’t say we’ve taken a stand, or fought for a cause, or had a discussion.

It’s easy to hide behind 140 characters and a photoshopped profile photo, easy to take a stand and argue back online when you don’t have to look someone in the eye, hear the quiver in his voice, feel the tension in the air, and be accountable for the words leaving your lips.

The other thing that struck me about this episode was Noah talking about apartheid in South Africa, and what it means to be black, white and colored (yes, those three are all different in South Africa), and growing up with parents who were illegally married (yes, in the 1980s), and what it means to live in a country where free speech was outlawed until the mid 1990s.

Really, watch the entire episode. It’ll give you something to think about.

This post is part of my series, “50 thoughts on turning 50″. Read more here.

Writing for Rochester Subway

martha matilda harper building 082 resized

One of my goals for 2015 was to pitch a story to, my absolute favorite local website. It’s a great source for local history as well as current affairs.

I pitched it, and the site’s founder Mike Governale liked my idea! So I set off to write about a building next to where I do improv, on East Main St in the city of Rochester. The name “Martha Matilda Harper” is etched over the front door, and I thought it might have been a school. But a quick google search told me there was a much, much more interesting story to be told. You can read more about Martha Matilda Harper here!

And for National Nurses Week, I did a short piece on Ida Jane Anderson, the first registered nurse in New York State. A reader who liked the story sent me a photo from the 1920s of his aunt, who worked at the Park Avenue Hospital; I’m working on a follow up.

You can check out more at And if you’re in town, check out RocCity Transit Day flash mob!



The first true test of my new Honda Fit: hauling shrubs

Old jeep new honda 016 resized

So there’s been quite a bit of news here at the Funny Farm the last few weeks. I’ve been on the hunt for a new car, since the Jeep dogmobile was in need of repairs and it was looking like it might be a case of throwing good money after bad. To make a long story short, after much shopping around, crunching numbers and test driving cars, we traded in the dogmobile for a 2015 Honda Fit.

There was much weeping as I handed over the keys to the Jeep. Saying goodbye was also a little like saying goodbye to a period of five years in my life I’d just rather not revisit. But there are some good things; there was probably a lot of Scout’s dog hair in there. But I just kept reminding myself that I was trading 13 mpg for 35 mpg, and gaining the ability to get on the road and take a trip without having to rent a car.

I opted for the Fit because 1) it’s a Honda and it’ll last me 200,000 miles; 2) the price and terms fit our monthly budget, including the savings I’ll get in gas and insurance; and 3) it’s super fun to drive.

Old jeep new honda 021 resized

I like it. Darling husband likes it. And the dogs, who have only had a short ride in it, seem to like it. Bailey can bark out the back window more easily. Bandit seems to like his new ride in the front seat.

What I didn’t plan on was what would happen when I had to haul stuff around. Today was the first challenge.

I stopped into Wegmans and saw these amazing peony plants, along with blueberry bushes for just $5 each.We planted two blueberry bushes last year, very small plants, but with the winter cold, and probably mostly because Bandit peed on them, they didn’t make it. These blueberry plants at Wegmans were big and lovely, and would surely survive even my inability to grow anything. Since you need to have at least two varieties of blueberries to get fruit, and since they were only $5, I grabbed three varieties and one peony, just for fun.

Feeling quite pleased with myself, I headed to the car only to realize … crap, I don’t know how I’m going to get these plants into that tiny car.

0526151254 Continue reading