Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Yesterday a friend told me about the Willard Suitcase Exhibit. When nearby Willard Psychiatric Center closed in 1995 hundreds of suitcases were found in an abandoned building. Craig Williams, a curator at the New York State Museum, uncovered details of the lives of the owners of a few of the suitcases.

For example: Lawrence M was committed in 1916 at the age of 38 "because, according to his records, he had been heard 'singing, shouting, also praying, claiming to hear the voice of God and seeing the angels...' " [I am reminded of Socrates, "...a man who beholds the beauty of this world... will desire to spread his wings and fly upward, and because he gazes upward, like a bird, and cares nothing for the world below, he will be considered mad."]

But Lawrence did not fly. "... he became the gravedigger at Willard's cemetery in 1937, when he was nearly 60 years old. He dug more than 600 graves for his fellow patients over the next 14 years, and continued to work as Willard's gravedigger until his own death at age 90. He, too, was buried in Willard's cemetery, where the deceased did not have headstones, but instead were given cast-iron markers with numbers. Eventually, these markers were removed in order to make it easier to mow the cemetery."

The traveling version of the exhibit has been called "The Lives They Left Behind." Oddly, the NYS Museum calls the exhibit "Lost Cases, Recovered Lives." Recovered by whom, I wonder. Not the people who owned the cases, all of whom are apparently dead.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Maggy's Boy Friend

I have to try to write this without embarrassing Maggy ('tho that ship may have sailed with the headline.) Our holiday was enriched by her friend, Andy. I enjoyed talking with him. And I enjoyed how content and relaxed Maggy was with him around.

We like the same kind of beer. And movies. He's the kind of person who asks, when he gets up to go to the kitchen, "Can I get you anything?" But here's the clincher. I asked him to retrieve the stepladder from the garden (where weeks ago I was using it to pick pole beans) and change a bulb in the outdoor light fixture. It turns out that he probably could have reached the fixture without the ladder. But that's not the point. I noticed this morning that he had stored the ladder in the tool shed instead of leaving it right where he used it, as I undoubtedly would have.

The dreaded bus carried them safely back to New York last night.

I've liked every boy Maggy's brought home. (There haven't been that many.) But (here's where I probably embarrass Maggy) I kind of hope this one's a keeper.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sound and Spirit

One of the many pleasures public radio offers me every week is Ellen Kushner's program Sound and Spirit. Unfortunately for me, here in central New York, it is heard at 6:00 PM Sundays when I'm often busy with other things. The broadcasts are available online. But they're .pls files and apparently I don't have software that recongizes them. can anyone help me with this?

Saturday, November 24, 2007


Several evenings in the past week or two Murphy was on sentry duty in front of the kitchen door staring intently into the night. I never could see what he was looking at and I chalked it up to wishful thinking on his part. But last night it became clear. Apparently I'm being too generous with Jake's evening meal and this 'possum is cleaning up for him.

I have a kind of soft spot in my heart for opossums. They're so intently focused on finding food, they seem - well - not too bright. I'm not happy that Jake is allowing this (he's hunkered down just to the left of this photo.) When I got a look at the 'possum's teeth and claws I could understand. Jake's pretty aggressive but he's figured out that this isn't going to be his last free meal so he seems to be willing to share.

I understand that opossums have fairly tough lives, but every bowl of cat food he's eating represents one or two mice or a whole handful of slugs he's ignoring.

Opossums seem like a design by committee. They have prehensile tails, thumb-like digits on their back feet, 50 teeth (!), thirteen teats (asymmetry is unusual in vertebrates) and two vaginas (or, in the case of males, a two-prong penis.) Really! One can only speculate on the adaptive advantages of that.

I'm now trying to figure out why this article, Evolution of Marsupials, sounds so much more plausible than Marsupial Evolution and Post Flood Migration.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving Philosophy

It was, once again, a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn't be beat. Following the incredible onion soup and homemade bread, the repast featured a most wonderful Plainville turkey, accompanied by Brussels sprouts with sage, greens with champagne vinaigrette. All the regular players were there: mashed potatoes, gravy, baked squash, cranberry sauce, stuffing, apple pie, pumpkin pie.

The newest guest at our table is a friend of Maggy's and a pleasure to have around. Observant, witty and comfortably at home in the world, it didn't surprise me to hear that he had been philosophy major in college. But I got confused as he tried to describe to me his job in merchandising for the online presence of a major fashion retailer. I'm not mentioning the name cause it will drive up my hit counter in an unhelpful way. Maybe it was this employment connection that led to his interest in the morning parade sponsored by you-know-who.

Maybe I found the explanation this morning. Some random free time surfing starting with the ever favorite Blog Around the Clock and wandering through Pharyngula (I don't mind if links to them drive up my hit counter) led to The Brooks Blog and this post: Employers want philosophers. Thom Brooks says:
There has been much talk over the years of "what can I do with a philosophy degree?" ... I will never forget speaking with a former FBI Director in Connecticut who said that after lawyers and accountants, the third most in demand group for the FBI were philosophers..."because philosophers think outside the box and we need critical thinkers like this to solve cases." This view of philosophers as best able to think beyond current paradigms (coupled with general high dissatisfaction with the quality of the vast majority of business students) has also led philosophers to be heavily in demand in business management, especially marketing.

You know how I feel about philosophy - the love of wisdom. It's the silver bullet, the sine qua non. Why, oh why, don't we teach philosophy as soon as our children can speak and every single day thereafter? You can start before that, but it helps if the child can ask questions. Say what you will about the importance of religion, it's really all about philosophy.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. What could be better than taking a few minutes or an hour or a whole day to think about things for which we're thankful? There have been years in my life when illness, grief or financial struggles made it hard for me to focus on things to be thankful for. But I'm a "glass half full" person and every year I find myself more deeply serene and more eager than ever to see what's around the corner.

It's no accident that my life is filled with wonderful things. I strive to surround myself with the beauties of nature, the richness of lasting friendships and a constant effort to understand more about the world around me. I take personal responsibility for building an increasingly satisfying life for myself and my family.

Yesterday I came upon this quote from an unknown source.

Be careful of your thoughts,
they become words.

Be careful of your words,
they become actions.

Be careful of your actions,
they become habits.

Be careful of your habits,
they become character.

Be careful of your character,
it becomes your destiny...

Sunday, November 11, 2007


Local historian, Carol Kammen's article in Saturday's Ithaca Journal Today It's a Blog; Tomorrow It's a Source Document lends an interesting perspective to blogging. Kammen says:
"I regard blogs today as our new version of those old black diaries dating from the 19th century found in historical societies. The difference is that the diary writer's audience was generally him or herself while the blog opens up a conversation with family and friends, and also with general readers."
Carol comments on Simon's Living in Dryden blog:
This blog is kept faithfully and is illustrated; the writer researches his subjects, comments on local activities and has a very keen personal view, which is fun to read.
Of Five Wells she says:
This blog is kept by a woman who has a farm, a horse, cats — much about cats. She is ecologically conscious and attempts to live as independently as possible. She is also active in the community in numerous ways, all reflected in her blog. I respond to her strong, happy female voice; she cheers and inspires me.
And I'm flattered. It's not self-aggrandizement to say that's just what I wanted Five Wells to be: "a strong, happy female voice." Those Victorian diary writers knew they were not special people. They just wanted to write. I started writing three and a half years ago to brush up my writing skills, never expecting anyone to read it. One by one friends and family and others found and enjoyed my stories. My voice and style adjusted to them.

I more or less mastered the "dates of wars and treaties" version of history in high school and college. I never cared much for it and I've forgotten a lot of it. But I love the stories of how people lived and thought in other eras.

19th Century Diaries, at A Victorian Passage, describes historical "rules" for diary keeping (which might well apply to blogs as well.)
  1. "One must not attempt too much. A country school-teacher, leading a humdrum life in a little village, does not need a diary large enough to set down the doings of court and king; but she will probably find much pleasure in jotting down a brief record of her daily life."
  2. "You don't have to buy a diary. A blank book will work just fine."
  3. "Be regular at it for the first year and you should find it a habit to keep up your journal, but only if your entries are brief.
  4. "Ask yourself 'What happenings in your life are worth recording?' "

If the blogs you read regularly are losing their luster, take a look at the 2007 Weblog Awards. It's strictly a popularity contest. But you can get a good idea of what other people are reading.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Halloween in Dryden

Last night Dryden was Small Town America at it's best. I had the pleasure of judging the Costume Contest sponsored by the American Legion. It's harder than it sounds! So many kids! So little time!

In addition to the many happy, cute kids, there were some good candidates for America's Next Top Model.

The highlight of the evening was a ride on the fire truck. It seems to have a practical value, too. It's poignant to watch a parent handing his child to a firefighter. But no doubt it helps children become accustomed to help from the firefighters in the scary costumes.

I dressed in the spirit of the evening - sort of a Mary Poppins witch. Watch out, Simon and Kathy. This is my next headshot. And Maggy, I'm sure this will be your desktop wallpaper today.