It's not much of a post, I'll admit.  But I'm one short of my goal of writing at least ten posts per month, and this month ends in three minutes.  See previous post for why I'm writing at this hour.  No, I'm not a slave to that goal, but if I can do it, why not?  It's the perfect excuse to offer one of my favorite poems, by John Masefield

Laugh and Be Merry

Laugh and be merry, remember, better the world with a song,
Better the world with a blow in the teeth of a wrong.
Laugh, for the time is brief, a thread the length of a span.
Laugh and be proud to belong to the old proud pageant of man.

Laugh and be merry:  remember, in olden time,
God made Heaven and Earth for joy He took in a rime,
Made them, and filled them full with the strong red wine of His mirth,
The splendid joy of the stars:  the joy of the earth.

So we must laugh and drink from the deep blue cup of the sky,
Join the jubilant song of the great stars sweeping by,
Laugh, and battle, and work, and drink of the wine outpoured
In the dear green earth, the sign of the joy of the Lord.

Laugh and be merry together, like brothers akin,
Guesting awhile in the rooms of a beautiful inn,
Glad till the dancing stops, and the lilt of the music ends.
Laugh till the game is played; and be you merry, my friends.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, August 31, 2015 at 11:57 pm | Edit
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We didn't come nearly as far south as usual on our trip home from Connecticut, because we enjoyed a wonderful visit with my cousin, her husband, and other family members.  We hadn't seen each other since my Dad's memorial service in 2002, and only just scratched the surface of reminiscing and catching up.  We could have lingered longer over breakfast, but we needed to get going, and anyway, our hosts were dealing with a clogged kitchen sink.  It was a great visit, but it meant we were still nearly 850 miles from home.  We were thinking of stopping around Savannah, but ... things happened.

The trip began uneventfully, unless you count the good event—the trip from Washington, DC to Richmond has never been so easy.  Probably that's because we're usually hitting that stretch in the late afternoon, and this was morning.  No traffic problems at all!  But we made a gas stop in good old Walterboro, SC, and as we drove away the car door locks began randomly and repeatedly cycling:  lock, unlock; lock, unlock.  We tried this, we tried that.  We searched the Internet, where what we found most useful was learning that other people have had the same problem, though there was no consensus as to a solution.  I whined on Facebook, and received some replies that cheered us up, but no practical suggestions.  Our own mechanic had gone home for the day.

So we just kept going.  Instead of stopping in Savannah, we decided to go straight home, not knowing what might happen if we stopped the car and left it overnight.  There were some promising breaks in the lock cycling, but it would come back again.  And again.  Until finally it didn't.

Although we no longer had our Personal Percussion accompaniment, the I-4 stretch had enough to keep the driver awake:  a long construction zone, with no street lights and no lane markers, in the pitch dark and pouring rain.  At least the other folks on the road had the sense not to be driving the posted 70 mph speed limit.  But we made it to the grocery store, where the car locks behaved normally, for a few staples and some sushi for dinner—as I said, we hadn't wanted to stop the car while far from home.

And then we were home!  All seemed well, and we walked over to the neighbors' to pick up our mail.  There we discovered that both of them were sick in bed.  This is relevant to my tale because of what happened next:  Porter went to turn the water to the house back on, and discovered the valve was leaking—and who knows how long it had been.  He had the material needed to repack the valve, so instead of enjoying our sushi, he went to work.  Normal procedure would have been to borrow from our neighbor both his assistance and the tool needed to turn the water off at the street.  But ... (see above).  Not without difficulty, Porter managed to make do with me as an assistant and wrenches plus a lot of effort to turn the water off, then on again, then off again when we realized things were still leaking, then on again when the repair was finally complete.  Well, almost—we have water, and we've left the finishing touches for a time when, we hope, the "sun comes out and dries up all the rain."  So the day that began with plumbing, ended with plumbing.

Oh, and we also replaced the battery in one of our smoke detectors, which was beeping so insistently I could hear it from outside the house.

We may be getting to bed a lot later than we had hoped, but we're home, we're thankful for a wonderful vacation and a safe return, and we trust that daylight will reveal no further problems—our neighbors keep a good eye on things while we are gone—and we finally had a chance to enjoy our sushi.  Soon we will be off to bed, after I write one more post....

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, August 31, 2015 at 11:44 pm | Edit
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After spending two weeks with our this-side-of-the-Atlantic grandchildren, I find myself puzzled.  I've researched the genealogies of both sides of the family pretty far back, and have yet to discover where the mountain goat line comes in.

I've written about this before, when a park maintenance man berated us for allowing a 14-month-old to climb freely over the playground equipment.  Now that toddler is four-and-a-half, and correspondingly even more sure of foot.  Nor are her siblings any less coordinated.

One of our favorite Maggie P. activities (besides eating M&M's) is to walk to the Outer Light.  This includes traversing a half-mile-long stone breakwater, which of course is the most fun part of the trip for the kids.  Most of the huge granite rocks are flat enough for easy hiking, but there are good-sized gaps, and some tricky spots, particularly where unfortunate ships have shoved the rocks askew.


On this particular day, the five oldest children—Jonathan (11.75), Noah (9), Faith (nearly 7), Joy (4.5) and Jeremiah (2.5)—made the trek, along with Grandma (old enough) and Dad-o (ditto).  The three oldest had no intention of walking sedately and carefully across the rocks.  Oh, they were careful enough—but at a running pace.  I walked with Joy, while Porter and Jeremiah brought up the rear.  Jonathan had time to run out, back, and out again well before the four of us arrived at the lighthouse, but it was only short legs that held us back.  Or so I thought, until the trip back.  Jeremiah kept a grip on Porter's hand, but leapt over foot-wide fissures with ease and confidence.  Joy was completely reliable, and I only reminded her a couple of times (probably unnecessarily) that the danger was not in the rocks, nor the speed, but in not paying attention to where her feet were landing.

As we neared the lighthouse itself, Faith, who had waited there for us, informed Joy that the final stretch was a bit difficult (true).  Joy drew herself up to her full height and proclaimed "I'm four!  Last year I was only three!"—with all the indignation of a teenager's, "But Mom, I'm almost an adult!"  And proceeded to climb all over the area of jagged, randomly placed and spaced stones—with a lot more agility than her grandmother, I can assure you.  Even Jeremiah insisted on going wherever his siblings went, dragging Dad-o with him.

On the return trip, only Jeremiah consented to stay with an adult, and his slower pace was due more to his two-year-old desire to stop and examine everything (Porter steered him deftly around the dead and decaying cormorant) than to his size.  Joy threw off all fetters and flew (safely) across the rocks, behind but no less carefree than her siblings.  I thought I might catch up with her at one of the tricky spots, but she maneuvered through them with no hesitation.

I confess that I was relieved to have everyone's feet back on solid sand, but it was a great trip, and I was humbled by the exuberant courage of the young, who know that a challenge is what turns a simple walk into an adventure.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, August 31, 2015 at 3:00 pm | Edit
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Frankly, he didn't look like the kind of man I'd bother to speak to at a gas station just off I-95 in Virginia.  Grizzled, rather the worse for wear, probably living a hardscrabble life—at least judging by appearances.  But there was a Confederate flag in his truck's front license plate holder, and it made me smile.

I'm a Northerner by birth and upbringing, and even though I've lived almost half my life in Florida—well, from Central Florida you actually have to travel north to get to the South.  So I have my full share of prejudices, and there are days when encountering such a man might have scared me.  But today, as we passed together through the convenience store doors, I remarked, "I've never been a fan of the Confederate flag, but I've always been a fan of the underdog, and today your truck made me smile.  Thank you." The man gave me a gentle smile of his own, and a kindly (maybe even relieved) twinkle touched his eyes as he responded simply, "thank you."

I may not live in the True South, but multicultural Central Florida has helped me lose at least a little bit of my uneducated and frankly self-righteous and snooty attitude towards its people.  And to appreciate that neither side in the Civil War had a monopoly on righteousness, self-sacrifice, and courage; that atrocities are carried out under the flags of many nations and many causes; that thinking you have the right to deride someone for his ancestors only means you haven't looked closely enough at your own; and that attempting to erase history is the mark of a totalitarian state.

The brouhaha that has erupted over Confederate flags and monuments to Confederate soldiers made me realize that our country is not as far from the iconoclasm of Daesh (a.k.a. ISIS) as we'd like to think.  It makes me grateful for one man and his truck, refusing to bow to the forces that would obliterate his past.  One does not learn from history by forgetting it.

And so, bizarre as it might seem, the Confederate flag brought me a little closer to another human being today, one who I would otherwise have treated as beyond the pale.  And so I salute that old Virginian, and sing with Robert Burns,

Then let us pray that come it may,
As come it will for a' that,
That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth
Shall bear the gree an' a' that.
For a' that, an' a' that,
It's comin yet for a' that,
That Man to Man the warld o'er
Shall brithers be for a' that.

Side note:  Immersion in the works of George MacDonald has been of great assistance in understanding and appreciating Burns.

Here's the whole poem, and a translation.

And for your listening and viewing pleasure, the whole song, with pictures of Scotland. 

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, August 31, 2015 at 11:37 am | Edit
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The one good thing about living so far from our grandchildren is that their growth between visits is often dramatic, and easier to see than when one's data points are closer together.  But Nathaniel, six months old, certainly made the most of our two weeks together.  When he arrived, he was a good crawler (commando-style), but had just begun to take some wobbly creeping (hands-and-knees) steps.

Before the second week was out, he had a good, solid, cross-pattern creep, i.e. was able to get across the room and into trouble in no time at all.  And never one to rest on his laurels, Nathaniel wants to cruise!

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, August 31, 2015 at 9:12 am | Edit
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First background story:  Many years ago, Lay's Potato Chips had an ad that claimed, "Nobody can eat just one."  Porter, determined to prove them wrong, ate one Lay's potato chip and no more, I believe for several years—until once when he was eating chips from a bowl at a party and discovered that they were actually Lay's.  From then on he considered himself released from his self-imposed vow.

Second background story:  When our family gets together at the Maggie P. in the summer, long-standing tradition has it that the M&M jar must be continually refilled.  It stands within easy reach of all but the youngest.  And nobody eats just one M&M.  It is so easy to devour great quantities of the candy, and we do.  We almost never eat M&M's at any other time, but probably consume a year's worth anyway.

My story:  This year I decided I would not take that first M&M from the jar.  That was surprisingly easy to do, because I never stinted myself in any other way, and there are always many special treats at the Maggie P.  And not eating any M&M's was much, much easier than eating only a reasonable amount.

Then came the day when our son-in-law baked brownies, and put a pattern of M&M's on the top.  I was served a lovely, delicious brownie, with a large M&M prominent in the center of its top.  I briefly considered removing the candy and giving it to someone else, then decided not to risk insulting the baker.  After all, eating just one M&M is really more of an accomplishment than eating none.

And that is what I did.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, August 29, 2015 at 9:28 pm | Edit
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My 95 by 65 Goal #58 is "Start and keep up with other daily Bible reading plan(s)" (after completing the Chronological Plan on YouVersion).  Yesterday I finished their 30-day Gospels Plan.  Of course it was good to read through the Gospels, but that particular plan I don't plan to use again.  Each day it had me reading one chapter from each of Matthew, Luke, and John, adding in Mark after John finished.  If it had been coordinated in such a way that I read on the same day each Gospel's version of the same events, I think I would have loved it.  But as it was, the jumping around damaged the flow of the narratives.

Today I began the 89-day Cell Rule of Optina Plan, which covers the entire New Testament.  This, too, is broken up, each day reading one chapter from a Gospel and two from the rest of the New Testament, but at least the two sections are each done in order.  I'm hoping that the fact that they're different types of books will make the reading seem less disjointed.  But I still wonder why I can't find a simple, straight-through-the-New-Testament sequence on YouVersion, not embellished with commentary or stretched out over too many months.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, August 29, 2015 at 7:20 am | Edit
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It was the perfect day for a sail—clear, sunny, and with a good wind—and my grandson invited me out with him on his Sunfish.  We live on a little cove of the river, just perfect for a novice like Noah to gain experience.  The strong east wind gave us a great ride as we tacked back and forth.

Knowing that he had capsized the other day—righting the boat and continuing his sale with no trouble—I joked that I'd rather not capsize this trip, but that I would forgive him if we did.  We sailed on.  It really was a lovely sail, even including the part where I got whacked on the head by the boom before learning just how low you have to duck when you come about.  (Getting hit by a Sunfish's boom is much less of a problem than whacking your head on an open cupboard door.)

We were wearing life jackets, of course, and I had my Croakies to keep my glasses on.  Except for us, all the loose parts of the boat were tied down.  At that point I realized that the one thing I had forgotten to do was to remove my wedding ring before sailing—more than one ring has been lost in that water—so I actually had my left hand clenched when about 30 seconds later a particularly strong gust flipped us into the water.

The act of going overboard turned out to be rather fun: I had been envisioning getting hit by part of the boat, or entangled in a sheet, but it was more like a carnival ride than anything unpleasant.  (I empathize with our two-year-old grandson, who after being cleaned up from a more-than-usually impressive fall, chirped this cheery request:  "Me fall 'gain?")  The only difficulty was from the next lesson I learned:  it's important to have your life jacket straps snug.  Mine were a bit loose and I hadn't bothered to tighten them, so the first thing the jacket did upon hitting the water was ride up to my neck, and I had to cinch them while floating.  Even so, it rode annoyingly high—Jonathan later told me they all tend to do that, unless you have a child's life jacket with a crotch strap.

Captain Noah asked me to swim to where I could watch him right the boat, and I did.   This time he had more difficulty, probably because of the wind and the chop, but with the addition of my own considerable weight on the centerboard, the job was done and Noah climbed back into the boat.  In hindsight, that was the point at which I should have started swimming to shore and left him to sail the boat in.

But we were both planning to continue the sail, so I tried to climb back in myself.  Next lesson learned:  a more experienced hand later told me I should have climbed in over the stern instead of over the side.  Not only is it easier, but Noah wouldn't have had to make it harder for me to climb in by leaning back to keep the boat from flipping over again.  On my last try I almost made it, and would have if there had been anything I could have grabbed onto.  But at that point it was clear that I haven't been taking my pull-up exercises seriously enough, and I decided to make the swim instead.

Unfortunately, the delay had caused us to be pushed by the wind too near the causeway, and with that wind in his face, Noah was not able to resume sailing in time to get clear.  So I started swimming the other way, toward him.  A couple of very nice people, who had been either fishing or jogging on the causeway—both activities are common there—climbed down to help him fend the boat off the rocks.  At that point, we could have both climbed out, but there was no need.

We had not been sailing alone in the cove:  my son-in-law was in the other, bigger boat, and came to our rescue.  I forget the reason why, but Jon's boat had also taken on a considerable amount of water, which he had been in the process of bailing when we capsized, so his progress toward us was more difficult than it otherwise would have been and he did not have the control he would have liked for working so near the causeway.  But he managed to get Noah and the Sunfish off the rocks, and my job was to hang onto its painter and keep swimming, gradually pulling it away from the causeway, while Jon got his sail back up and Noah transferred to the other boat so that he could bail out enough water to make it sail better.

One kind person in a motorboat came by, asking if we wanted help, and Jon reassured him that we we were fine.  I am, by the way, enormously proud of our grandson.  He never panicked, remaining calm and doing what needed to be done.

It took a few tries, but I was finally able to throw the painter to where Jon could catch it, and the boats were on their way, with me getting a free ride, hanging onto the bow of the Sunfish.  (Next lesson learned:  a stern rope would have been really nice to have.)  This, too, was fun—for a while.  As I exulted at the time, "I've never sailed on the underside of a boat before!"  But they couldn't sail straight to shore, having to tack back and forth, and on the northbound tack the chop was much greater, not to mention the fact that they'd gotten enough water out of the boat that she was sailing at a good speed.  As I tried to shift my grip to hold myself higher out of the water, I slipped—so I waved them on as I called, "I'm swimming in."

After that, it was easy.  Well, almost.  The water was still very choppy, and the wind was still in my face, and swimming was made more difficult by both the life jacket and making sure my wedding ring didn't fall off.  But I was making progress, and I had all the time in the world, or at least six hours:  the tide was turning in my favor.  Besides, I knew we were being watched by the family on both sides of the cove, who, since they could see through their binoculars that we were safe, would be finding all this highly amusing.

Indeed, they decided to send a welcoming committee.  The sailors were by that time back on shore, but my brother-in-law grabbed a kayak and my husband the rowboat, and they set off to meet me.  The kayak won, because one of the oarlocks had chosen that moment to break, forcing Porter to improvise with the rowboat, leading to even more amusement on the part of the onlookers.  I accepted Jay's offer of a tow, and he pointed out what I had not noticed:  the flashing lights of the police cars and the ambulance, waiting to receive me when I reached shore.  "For Pete's sake!" is the strongest expletive I actually uttered, but I was furious by the time we reached the rowboat, transferring my grip to its stern.

I'm very grateful to the two people who helped Noah on the causeway, and to the countless others who stopped long enough to see that their help wasn't needed.  I'm grateful to the guy in the motorboat who came by to ask if we wanted help.  That's what good neighbors do.  But to the person who called 911:  What were you thinking?  I'm sure you meant well, and I thank you for that, but if you had bothered to observe what was going on you would have realized there was no reason to push the panic button and distract emergency responders from those who really needed their help.

My father was a fireman.  A good friend's son is a policeman.  In our family we now have three EMT's, one full-fledged fireman and one apprentice, and one planning to join the police force.  So I have a great deal of respect for emergency responders, and I know their jobs are necessary and often difficult.  But I'm also personally aware of the negative side:  close family and friends who were minding their own business, completely innocent and not in the least threatening, who have been bullied and abused by the police.  So I was not in the least in the mood to be tolerant when a boat full of four firemen pulled up to me and announced, "Ma'am, we're under orders to take you in."

I am a master of esprit d'escalier.  What I should have said was, "Do you have a warrant?"  Instead, I was so incensed that I fled to the other side of the boat and yelled, "Oh, no—you're not touching me!"  They insisted.  I successfully resisted threatening a sexual harassment lawsuit if they did touch me, but simply let go of the rowboat, stood up, and proceeded to walk toward shore, finally remembering my manners enough to thank them for their concern before reiterating that I neither needed nor wanted their help.

There were policemen on the deck and an ambulance waiting to receive me on shore.  No way was I going to set foot on land until they were gone!  They'd have poked me and prodded me, there would have been paperwork to fill out, and somebody would have no doubt received a bill, all for no reason at all.  Jon, being an EMT himself, said that the ambulance probably wouldn't leave until they saw me standing on dry land.  "They can wait all they want," I replied, as I continued to swim in the shallow water with the grandkids.  I did go so far as to let them observe me carrying the four-year-old over a mucky part, and I guess that was good enough for them, because finally it was safe to get out of the water.  (Cue reverse Jaws theme.)

What they would have thought if they'd seen me crawling up the plank to the deck, I don't know.  But it's not a wide plank, and discretion is the better part of valor.  I feared what we call snorkeling syndrome:  after exertion in the water, when you first climb back onto the boat the weight of gravity suddenly makes you realize you are tired and not as strong as you thought.  I really didn't want to end the adventure by slipping off the plank into the creek.  But once I reached the deck and stood up, I was fine.

I had been afraid that all that show of power from the authorities would have scared the younger grandkids, but I guess it just added to the excitement.  I truly hope it was a slow day in the town, and that no one in actual need was deprived by their unnecessary attempts to interfere with our adventure.  Don't get me wrong; had it been needed I would have been very grateful, and I realize that when 911 is called they must respond—and they can't tell immediately when their help is not needed.  But where's the common sense?  First of all, they didn't offer their help until I was in water shallow enough to stand up in.  Second, they didn't offer, they ordered.  Since when is it a crime to fall out of a boat, or to swim across a cove, even with a life jacket on?

It wasn't until this morning that I realized what I really would like to have said to them.  But it's just as well:  I couldn't have expected to find a Swallows and Amazons fan among them.  But for those who love The Picts and the Martyrs as much as I do, I was identifying a great deal with Great Aunt Maria at that moment:

Tin trumpets, Tommy!

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, August 21, 2015 at 10:04 am | Edit
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altThe Mind's Eye  by Oliver Sacks (Alfred A. Knopf, 2010)

Books like this are why I need goal #63 (Read 26 existing but as yet unread books from my bookshelves) on my 95 by 65 list:  I'm always finding reasons to get a new book out of the library.  In this case, I was to visit a friend, who, like me, has discovered that she is face-blind.  The Mind's Eye has a chapter on face-blindness, and I wanted to be more prepared for our discussion.

I had discovered my own face-blindness quite recently, while watching a 60 Minutes report.  You can see part 1 of that report here, and part 2 here.  The show also provided a test for face-blindness, which I failed spectacularly, though in reality the test is all but useless for people not well-versed in pop culture.  Nonetheless, seeing my own life experiences reflected in the report was more than enough to put a name to my own disability.

Were it not so awkward, perhaps one should say, "face-visually-impaired," because the ability to recognize faces actually lies more on a bell curve, with about ten percent of the population with significant impairment—about the same percentage as of those with dyslexia.

Dr. Sacks himself has severe prosopagnosia, the technical term for face-blindness, along with another trait that is often linked with it:  inability to recognize places.

The meeting of two people with prosopagnosia...can be very challenging.  A few years ago, I wrote to one of my colleagues to tell him that I admired his new book.  His assistant then phoned Kate [Sacks' assistant] to arrange a meeting, and they settled on a weekend dinner at a restaurant in my neighborhood.

"There may be a problem," Kate said.  "Dr. Sacks cannot recognize anyone."

"It's the same with Dr. W," his assistant replied.

"And another thing," Kate added.  "Dr. Sacks cannot find restaurants or other places; he gets lost very easily—he can't even recognize his own building sometimes."

"Yes, it's the same with Dr. W.," his assistant said.

Somehow, we did manage to meet and enjoyed dinner together.  But I still have no idea what Dr. W. looks like, and he probably would not recognize me, either.

In neither trait am I anywhere near as badly off as Dr. Sacks, but this probably explains why my husband quickly developed a mental map of the city of Basel, Switzerland our first time there, whereas it took me several visits and—what was most efficacious—the opportunity to explore on my own, retracing my steps, memorizing landmarks, and such, before I became comfortable in the city at all.

The remaining six chapters of The Mind's Eye cover other aspects of the mental component of our visual experience, based on Sacks' research, the lives of his patients, and surprisingly often, his own health problems.  The other subject that intrigued me the most was on stereo vision, which for people with normal eyesight also turns out to be more of a continuum than either/or.  This chapter confirmed for me what I had noticed a while back:  I can see stereoscopically with no problem, but I don't always do it.  I find it entertaining to take the time, while looking at a scene, to think about stereo vision, and watch the landscape come alive.  When I'm in a hurry, or thinking about something else—as I almost always am—I take in scenery as I gulp words from the page of a book:  some details may be lost.  My daughter reads more slowly, but creates a rich visualization of what she reads; I wonder if she is more aware of the three-dimensionality of the world?

Oliver Sacks has written many more books, most of which, I'm sure, are as interesting as this one.  But I have #63 to work on....

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, August 16, 2015 at 8:54 am | Edit
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Sylvester Scovil left home when his son was a baby and never returned or communicated with his family.

Sylvester Scovil’s life appears to have begun normally enough.  He was born November 20, 1821, into an old and respected New England family.  His father, Sylvester Scovil Sr., was a descendant of John Scovell, who had arrived in the New World, almost certainly from England, sometime before his marriage in 1666.  In 1686 the family was settled in Haddam, Connecticut.  Sylvester’s mother, Phoebe Burr, was from an equally old and established family.

Sylvester was the middle child of seven, three boys and four girls.  All of his siblings remained near home all their lives, the most adventuresome having only strayed as far as nearby Middletown.  The records indicate that Sylvester was on a similarly respectable path:  He was a farmer, a teacher, and a captain in the state militia.  He also held several public offices, including justice of the peace and delegate to the state Democratic convention, while he was still in his twenties.

Two of Sylvester’s first cousins, Daniel and Hezekiah Scovil, founded the D & H Scovil Manufacturing Company, famous for its hoes and other metal work, and a pillar of the Haddam area.

I became interested in Sylvester Scovil while researching the story of Phoebe’s Quilt.  Phoebe L. Scovil, the owner of the quilt, was Sylvester’s sister.  Two other sisters, and their mother, were signers of the quilt, as was Sylvester’s wife, three of her sisters, and her mother.

On June 7, 1854, Sylvester married Frances Louisa Bonfoey, the daughter of Benanuel Bonfoey and Eliza Burr.  He was 32 years old, and she 23.  Seventeen months later, on November 12, 1855, their only child, Sylvester Eugene Scovil, was born.  A few months after that, Sylvester disappeared.

We know nothing of why, nor how, other than the above quotation from Homer Worthington Brainard’s A Survey of the Scovils or Scovills in England and America : Seven Hundred Years of History and Genealogy.  The implication is that his departure was intentional, though Brainard offers no evidence that he did not meet with an unknown accident or foul play.

Becoming a parent changes people.  Most, thankfully, take a leap forward in maturity.  Some, however, cannot handle their new responsibilities.  Was Sylvester one of them?  Did he begin to manifest the mental illness that apparently plagued him later in life?  He might even have been a homosexual who could no longer face pretending to live a normal life.  Or maybe he was just plain mean and selfish.  If there was another woman involved, no evidence of that has yet surfaced.

Sylvester’s family—his wife, his son, his widowed mother and his three living siblings—never knew what happened to him.  He was there, and then he was not.  Was he dead?  Was he alive, a villain who had deserted his family when they needed him most?  Or had he been, perhaps, the victim of an attack that left him with amnesia?  Such things have happened.

His mother lived another 30 years not knowing her son’s fate.  Frances never remarried, remaining in the shelter of her own extended family to raise her son.  She died on January 12, 1897, and on her gravestone she is memorialized as “Frances L. Bonfoey, wife of Sylvester Scovil.”  Fatherless Sylvester Eugene grew up in the shelter of his mother’s family, then married Eva Luella Burr and had four children.  They moved to Bridgeport, but when he died age of 76 he was buried back home in Haddam.



As difficult as it must have been to be left with so many unanswered questions, was this family better off not knowing what I learned about the remainder of Sylvester’s life?

It’s almost 1400 miles between Haddam, Connecticut and Grasshopper Falls, Kansas (now called Valley Falls), where Sylvester Scovil next appears.  He shows up in 1856, as recorded in the Kansas territorial census, and is still there in the 1860 Federal census, listed as a farmer. (I will spare you the details of how I sorted him out from all the other Sylvester Scovilsand Scovills, Scovels, Scovilles, Schovilles, etc.)

The next 15 years are still a mystery, as I found nothing more until 1876, when he showed up almost 1600 miles further on, in Walla Walla, Washington.  He seems to have evaded the 1870 census, which is not surprising considering he would have been crossing through territories that would not achieve statehood for several more years.

What was Sylvester doing in Washington?  Did he lead a normal life before breaking into the headlines?

From the Walla Walla Weekly Statesman of May 27, 1876:

Crazy Man.—Some months since we had occasion to notice the mysterious conduct of a man who imagined he seen [sic] spirits, and entered private houses for the purpose of interviewing these messengers from the unknown regions.  At that time he occasioned considerable alarm, and the propriety of sending him to the insane asylum was seriously discussed.  His insanity, for such it undoubtedly is, quieted down, and for several months he passed along our streets moody, but apparently harmless.  Yesterday morning, however, he seemed to have a new attack of his complaint, and entering O’Brien’s Hotel, he rushed up stairs, and without ceremony entering the rooms, occasioned serious alarm.  Many of the ladies were awakened from their slumbers to confront a wild, crazy man, and the shrieks that followed can better be imagined than described.  The poor unfortunate was at once placed under arrest, and as soon as the necessary hearing can be had before Judge Guichard, he will be sent to the insane asylum.

From the following issue, June 3, 1876:

A Monomaniac.—We made notice in the last issue of the Statesman, that a man, whose name has been ascertained to be Sylvester Scoville, had been arrested for mysterious conduct, supposed to be insanity.  Last Saturday this man was brought before the Probate Court for examination as to his isanity [sic].  Doctors Bingham and Burch were called in to conduct the medical examination, and pronounced Scoville a monomaniac on the subject of spiritualism.  He is otherwise quite rational.  The unfortunate man was born in Connecticut, and is about 54 years old.  The Probate Court, upon the written certificate of the physicians, adjudged him insane and dangerous to be at large, and placed him in the custody of Sheriff Thomas, to be by him conveyed to the asylum for the insane at Steilacoom.

Census records show that Sylvester remained in the asylum, now called Western State Hospital, from 1876 until his death on March 10, 1888.  He is buried in an unmarked grave in the Western State Hospital Memorial Cemetery, near Tacoma.

Two more articles from the Walla Walla Weekly Statesman indicate that Sylvester’s mental instability was not the worst of his problems:

May 27, 1876:

Insane Asylum.—Dr. Sparling, of Seattle, has been appointed superintendent of the insane asylum.  We are not acquainted with the new superintendent, but if he is not an improvement upon the late incumbent, Hill Harmon, then he is a worthless cuss.  For years the insane asylum has been a disgrace to the territory, and we can only hope that under the new management it may be something more than a slaughter-pen for the unfortunates who are bereft of reason.

July 14, 1877

Walla Walla Insane.—Dr. Willard, physician in charge, reports the following persons sent from Walla Walla county as now under treatment at the Insane Asylum:  Noah Isham, Elizabeth Pitcher, Matt W. McDermott, James Atcherson, Mary Dougherty, John Crow, Sylvester Scoville.  Strangely enough when Dr. Willard took charge of the hospital he found these patients, but no record of their previous history or any information in regard to the peculiarities of each particular case.  Such carelessness in the management of a public institution amounts to a crime, and shows that Hill Harmon was kicked out of the hospital none too soon.

We can hope that conditions improved under the new management during Sylvester's stay, but at best it would have further broken the hearts of his family back in Connecticut.  It's worth noting, however, that despite whatever sins were committed by or against him, despite the difficulties of pioneer life, despite illness and probable abuse, Sylvester outlived all but one of his six siblings.  Phoebe, the quilt owner, survived him by 24 years.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, August 13, 2015 at 7:17 am | Edit
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Yesterday I completed my 95 by 65 Goal #57:  Finish chronological Bible reading plan.  Ever since I read a review copy of The Chronological Guide to the Bible (five years ago), I've wanted to read the Bible through in the approximate order of the events.  There isn't complete agreement among scholars on the details of the order, but "approximate" is good enough for me.  I've made various stabs at the project over the years, and even put the information from the Guide onto a bookmark—actually a set of bookmarks—to help me jump from place to place in my Bible correctly.  It shouldn't have been that hard, but flipping back and forth and keeping track of where I was and where I was going next was just enough of a pain that my efforts kept petering out.  Pitiful, I know, but the point of this post is not to talk about my failures, but my success at last.

What turned the tide was the YouVersion Bible app on my phone.  They have a gazillion reading plans, most of which are not interesting to me, but one of them is set up to lead the reader through the entire Bible, chronologically, in one year.  I owe a lot of thanks to our friend Christina S., who first introduced me to YouVersion, because I found this plan to be great!

The plan does all the work—except, of course, for the reading itself.  Every day they send a notification to your phone:  click on the notification and it takes you right to the plan.  Click on the next day's reading and boom, there you are, at the right place in the Bible of your choice (they have lots to choose from).  The end of one reading takes you directly to the next, until you've completed all the chapters for that day.  You get a nice little congratulatory note, then close the app.  Repeat every day for a year.  Or, if you fall behind at any point, there's a catch-up function that shifts the plan dates for you.  I took advantage of that once, in the beginning, but once I got the habit established, I found it easy to keep up.  Really, the app makes it simple—easy enough that even in especially busy times I managed to squeeze the reading in.  Because, as I said, it was right there, waiting for me.  The folks at YouVersion, though I doubt they've ever heard of Glenn Doman, remind me of his saying that one of the secrets of the success of his educational and therapeutic programs is, "we arrange for the child to win."  The YouVersion app arranged for me to win, and I did.

I loved the chronological path through the Bible, especially seeing how various events fit together, and reading one after the other the passages that are parallel but not identical.  I came through the process with a much stronger feeling of the integrity of the Bible as the record of real people living their lives in the context of real history and culture, and of God revealed:  gradually and progressively, though still imperfectly, through that record.  Perhaps the feeling was stronger because of the contrast I experienced while reading through the Qur'an at the same time.

The chronological plan was so enjoyable that I'm sure I'll do it again, but at the moment I feel it's better to mix things up a bit.  I'm sticking with the YouVersion app and their plans, however.  Today I started a 30-day reading of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), one that covers every word but weaves together the events from the different books.  As I said, I'm not interested in most of the YouVersion plans—many of them are "devotional," with more to read than just the Bible.  Scholarly commentary I would be interested in, but just some random person's thoughts?  Not so much.  Yet there are still some plans with straight Scripture to try out, and the chronological plan to return to.  I'm thrilled that the YouVersion people have arranged for this child to win.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, July 30, 2015 at 11:06 pm | Edit
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On a radio interview the other day, I heard a woman say an extraordinary thing:  I don't believe in sin.

Her statement was received as casually as it was tossed out, but I have been thinking about it ever since.  It reminds me of the billboard that used to greet me as I entered the highway near here:  God is not angry.  That message was sponsored by a church, and I understand where they're coming from.  When your parents are mad, do you like to spend time with them, or do you prefer to lie low?  My first reaction, however, was that if God isn't angry about some of the things his creatures are doing to each other, he has no business being God.

Oh, if only declaring that we don't believe in sin would make it go away!  I wanted to grab the woman by the scruff of the neck and force her to face the victims of child abuse, human trafficking, Mexican drug lords, Joseph Kony, Stalin, ISIS ... and tell me again that she doesn't believe in sin.  If there is no sin, would she even be right to feel aggrieved that I had grabbed her by the scruff of the neck?

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, July 22, 2015 at 7:26 pm | Edit
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The Penderwicks:  A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy; The Penderwicks on Gardam Street; The Penderwicks at Point Mouette; and The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2005, 2008, 2011, and 2015)

Many thanks to our daughter, who knows what her mother likes, for recommending this series to me.  She called it a cross between Swallows and Amazons and The Saturdays, and that's a reasonable characterization.

Even as a child I preferred books written before my own time, and it's only gotten worse.  I've read some good, recent children's books, but many are downright awful and few if any measure up to those from the past that have survived the filter of history.  The Penderwicks series, I'm happy to say, is a wonderful exception.

My primary objection to modern books—my defnition of modern reaches back into the 1960's, at least—is that they want to be, well, modern.  Like many miserable church youth groups, they attempt to be relevant by embracing the worst of the world rather than providing hope and a better vision.

The Penderwick world is a modern one, and hardly free of modern troubles:  death, divorce, desertion, and depression all touch the lives of this family, as well as other troubles not beginning with "d."  But none of these overwhelms the story, being swallowed up by family strength and loyalty, loving and reliable parents who are in turn loved and depended upon, and siblings who appreciate and care for one another.  By hope and a vision of what family life can and should be.

Another thing I value in these books is that the children have serious interests—from writing to sports to music to science—that are appreciated and supported.  That's a rare trait, and one way in which they remind me of The Saturdays.

There are things in the books I personally don't care for, e.g. children in daycare, and too much romance for my taste—though the latter is handled well, I'll admit.  But overall, these are good books.  And fun, too.  Heather knew well the things that I would especially enjoy, such as certain book references, and the music teacher who enjoins, "you must choose a teacher who won't make you do that awful belting everyone is being taught these days."

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, July 20, 2015 at 5:04 pm | Edit
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altWeathermakers to the World:  The Story of a Company.  The Standard of an Industry  by Eric B. Schultz (Carrier, 2012)

When my daughter's family gave this book to me last Christmas, my son-in-law included this explanation:  Because everyone should have a complete Eric Schultz collection.  Two years earlier they had given me King Philip's War, Eric's first book.  (Which I apparently have not yet reviewed, or that link would be mine, instead of Amazon's.)  Do you think I should tell them about his latest, Food Foolish?1

I finished reading Weathermakers to the World last night, just in time to review it for today, the 113th anniversary of Willis Carrier's great invention2  (You can read several excerpts from the book by following that link.)  Air conditioning, it turns out, is about a lot more than helping one through a July heat wave—though it does that admirably, for which I'm grateful.

On July 17, 1902, a young research engineer initialed a set of mechanical drawings designed to solve a production problem at the Sackett & Wilhelms Lithography and Printing Company in Brooklyn, New York. ... This new design was different—so novel, in fact, that it would not only help to solve a problem that had long plagued printers, but would one day launch a company and create an entire industry essential to global productivity and personal comfort.

Weathermakers to the World was written for Carrier, the corporation, and doesn't pretend to be unbiased.  You won't find here the complaints of disgruntled employees, or any suggestion that Carrier's work is anything other than an unmitigated blessing.   What you will find is an advanced coffee table book crafted by a historian with a true love for his subject.  Actually, it's not so much a book as a portable museum exhibit.  If I occasionally wished for a higher word to picture ratio, well, I do that in museums, too.  But I love museums, and am usually as attracted to the design of the exhibit as to its content.

I grew up an air conditioning snob.  I lived in the northeast, and there A/C was for wimps.  Rich wimps.  The two weeks out of the year where it didn't cool down enough to make the day bearable?  They build character!  My thoughts on that subject are for another post, but I'll just say that what Florida didn't teach me about the value of climate control, Weathermakers to the World did.

Air conditioning wasn't invented to make people comfortable, but to control humidity in a printing plant, thereby greatly increasing quality and productivity.  That increase is the real story of Carrier and his invention.  (Or rather inventions, plural, because the history of the company is also a history of adaptation and improvement.)  I vaguely knew that air conditioning made possible the growth of the American South, but I had no idea what a difference climate control made to the economy everywhere.  How it changed everything from movie theaters to chocolate making to deep mining to precision manufacturing.  How during World War II large stores such as Macy's and Sears donated their air conditioning systems to companies producing necessary war materials, boosting both the quantity and the quality of their output, quite possibly shortening the length of the war.  That "clean" was at first as much a feature of air conditioned systems as "cool":  the first train cars to benefit from A/C were dining cars, and passengers were delighted not only by the comfort but that flecks of soot no longer decorated their food.  That Carrier's invention revolutionized museums, allowing them to conserve art and artifacts while keeping them accessible to the public.  That hospital patients would benefit almost as much from a more comfortable environment as from their treatment.

Even in hospitals, however, the personal benefits of air conditioning were surprisingly slow to come.  Three quarters of a century after Willis Carrier initialed those drawings, the hospital where I worked still lacked climate control in many of its wings.  The only reason we had the benefit of A/C—and that from inadequate and persnickety units—was that our computers would not work without it.  Carrier himself realized the comfort potential early on, but how slow businesses were to realize that people, as well as machines, are more productive under comfortable working conditions!  Not that I can fault them:  it took me a long time to shed my own A/C snobbery.

Finally, too, I understand why The Occasional CEO (the author's personal blog) occasionally complains about people who think innovation is coming up with a new iPhone app.  Willis Carrier was an inventor, an innovator, an entrepreneur who created a product useful in almost every human endeavor, and built a still-successful company and an entire industry around it.  Now that's the kind of innovation we need more of.  And lest our daughters, in their faithful and sometimes frustrating careers at home, miss the importance of their work in nurturing such innovation, here's what Willis Carrier had to say (thanks, Eric, for including this story):

"One day my mother started to question me regarding fractions, which we were then taking up and working according to rule.  She found that my idea of fractions was one number written over another, with a line between.  In other words, I had no perception of the concrete significance of the fraction; in fact, I have seen college men who didn't have it either.  She then proceeded at once, and with much skill, as I now realize, to demonstrate the principles of fractions with an apple, divided in various ways.  As a result, my whole idea of numbers was illuminated and fractions became a very interesting game or puzzle."

This lesson, Carrier would later say, was "the most important thing that ever happened to me."  It taught him that solving problems by rules and rote contributed little to genuine understanding. ... In later years, when asked how he had solved problems that had stumped so many others, Dr. Carrier was apt to smile and say, "I just reduce them to a pot of apples."

Reading Weathermakers to the World is like taking a leisurely walk through a museum of technology.  My kind of museum, that is:  one with an eye-catching design, and more words than push-buttons.  If you can't read the book yourself, you can see some good excerpts, as well as a short video, at

And I note that The Occasional CEO has published a post in honor of this day.  I forced myself to write this review before reading it, but you can find some additional interesting links there.


1Update:  No need!  Food Foolish is being supplied from another generous source, and I'm looking forward to reading it.

*The timing was entirely coincidental.  If I'd known, I'd have finished the book earlier, to give myself more time to write the review.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, July 17, 2015 at 3:45 pm | Edit
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altTremendous Trifles  by G. K. Chesterton (Sheed and Ward, 1909)

This was a Christmas gift back in 2013.  (Thanks, DSTB!)  Despite my love of Chesterton's writings, it fell into the black hole that is my over-stuffed bookshelf, the bookshelf that takes up most of the back wall of my office, the bookshelf that inspired 95 by 65 goal #63, "Read 26 existing but as yet unread books from my bookshelves."  Thanks to that goal, Tremendous Trifles re-emerged.

This series of essays from the very early years of the 20th century were the result of Chesterton's brilliant mind looking in unusual, sometimes bizarre, ways at things and events that most people would ignore—if they noticed them at all.  The writings are somewhat dated, but I notice it primarily in missing out on some of the jokes; the ideas are still fresh, fascinating, and yes, sometimes bizarre.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this real, physical, odor-of-old-libraries book, but if you wish, you can read Tremendous Trifles for free, at Project Gutenberg.  (Most of Chesterton's works are now in the public domain.)  Here are a few quotations to whet your appetite. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, July 12, 2015 at 4:27 pm | Edit
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