Chatfield Hollow State Park, Killingworth, CT

I unloaded my mother’s walker from the back of my car and set it up by the  passenger side door. Gingerly, my mother grabbed hold of its sides and climbed out of my car. We ambled carefully on the gravel to reach the boardwalk– an 825-foot path through a red maple swamp in Chatfield Hollow State Park.

As long as can I remember, I  have been coming to this park, just over a mile from my childhood home in Killingworth, CT. I rode my bike through the park on a “date” in fourth grade; I’ve taken swimming lessons in the lake; I’ve hiked the many trails that crisscross glacial ridges, stony cliffs, a covered bridge, a waterwheel and caves where Native American artifacts have been found.

My family is lake lovers—we’re fair-skinned and shun the sun at the beach—and when I traveled with my parents and siblings, and later with my three children, we always searched for fresh water swimming.

Originally a grist mill operated by three brothers, named Chatfield, who emigrated from England around 1639, the area became a park in 1933 when the Civilian Conservation Corps built an earth and stone dam across the brook and created a seven -acre swimming beach, planted pine trees, cleared hiking trails and picnic areas.  It was designated a state park in 1949 and remains under state management.
The wetland boardwalk was built and has been upgraded with informational signs, describing the flora and fauna of the swamp.

I’ve often taken my mother for walks here and we enjoy experiencing the seasons from the boardwalk. Since her stroke and her recovery, we’ve mostly walked on the paved road. It’s been the perfect place for her to get some exercise and fresh air.   This time I suggested we try the boardwalk and appreciated how it made nature accessible to her.

 

 

 

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Posted in aging, environment, Family, Nature, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

New Orleans: Chef Byron Bradley

I took a short trip to New Orleans this week for a board meeting of Son of a Saint.  I’ve been on the board a year and have witnessed the growth of the board and the staff. At present, 100 fatherless boys, ages 10-18, are being mentored and tutored, and are participating in a range of volunteer, recreational, and travel experiences. The organization has sent several young men to college.

I stayed with my friend Lauren, who has a cool new job as Executive Director of MiNO—Made in New Orleans.  It’s a nonprofit dedicated to assisting chefs—particularly women and minorities—in their educations and promoting the diverse foods of New Orleans.

She has a five-year-old son; so going out on a weeknight presents babysitting issues, so she offered to ask one of the chefs she works with to cook for us at her house.

When I arrived after a SOAS cocktail reception, the aromas greeted me outside. Chef Byron Bradley was already working hard, cooking up the menu.   A Louisiana native, Bradley served in the US Navy Special Forces in Panama. After his term ended, he said he wanted to follow his passion, which was cooking, partly inspired by growing up in a huge extended family. Food was always central to all family gatherings.

He blends Creole and Cajun cuisines, even when cooking for the Ursuline Academy, serving lunch to 700 kindergarten to 12th graders.

Here’s what he made for us:

Warm Mirliton Soup with Creole Shrimp, Chopped Scallions, and Crispy Shallots  (Mirlitons are a type of squash, popular in New Orleans)

Poulet Bradley: Herb Crusted Chicken Breasts with Tomato Fondue, Beer Braised Cabbage with Potatoes, Roasted Corn

And dessert:  Banana Berry Foster with Glazed Pecans served with Vanilla Ice Cream (another New Orleans creation)

All was delicious. I can’t wait to return for another in –home chef treat!

 

 

 

 

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Three Books & A Movie

Some recent reads worth checking out:

Joyce Carol Oates: The Falls

I enjoyed this fast-paced novel. I’ve been reading and listening to a few of Oates’ books this summer.  She’s a pro at taking a current issue, in this case, the Love Canal corporate environmental poisoning, and weaving it into the elements of a great novel. This one takes place in the 1950’s near Niagara Falls, NY, when awareness about the effects of corporate pollutants were just beginning to attract attention.

Colson Whitehead: The Nickel Boys.

This slim novel packs a punch with a surprise twist at the end. Based on the true story about the Dozier School in Florida where skeletons of African American boys were unearthed in 2011, remnants of the Jim Crow South at a horrific reform school, Whitehead tells the story through two characters who become friends. This book surpasses Whitehead’s Underground Railroad, which I didn’t like as much. An important read as our nation continues to grapple with its racist past… and present.

Elizabeth Letts: Finding Dorothy

I listened to 95% of this in the car and then got the book from my library to finish. Any Wizard of Oz fans would love this charming, historical fiction novel about L. Frank Baum, his wife Maud, her mother, the suffragist Matilda Joslyn Gage, and how the classic Wonderful Wizard of Oz came to fruition. The story alternates between the late 1800’s upstate New York, the Dakota territories, and Chicago, to 1938 Hollywood on the set as the movie was being filmed. Maud Baum, 77 years old and 19 years after her husband’s death, befriends the young Judy Garland. I read a biography of lyricist Yip Harburg years ago, and found myself humming songs from the movie while reading.

We watched Max and Helen  Based on a novel by Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal, the film is a romantic revenge story. You can’t go wrong.

Posted in Books, commentary, Movies & TV, Reading, reviews, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Poet Lee Bennett Hopkins

The world of children’s literature lost a champion this week with the death of Lee Bennett Hopkins, poet and anthologist. I had the good fortune to meet and interview Hopkins when I was working as a graduate assistant to Dr. M Jerry Weiss  at New Jersey City University in his children’s and young adult literature course.

My interview was published in the Winter 1996 issue of the SIGNAL Journal, (Special Interest Group – a Network on Adolescent Literature, a publication of the International Reading Association). I remember Hopkins’ passion for poetry and used many of his books in my teaching.

He said:

“Surround children with quality literature. Let poetry flow freely in children’s lives. Let children know there is poetry for all times, about every single thing, through and throughout their lives…”

“.. Poems can mesh throughout the curriculum from math to social studies to physical education. There are poems about happy times, sad times, fire flies, fire hydrants, meteorites, black holes, mothers, fathers, dinosaurs, and dreams.”

He urged educators to serve children “a banquet of quality literature.”

A former teacher, Hopkins won many awards and created more than 100 poetry anthologies on many subjects.

Check out his books!

 

 

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Newtown, CT: My Town, Your Town, Our Town

via Newtown, CT: My Town, Your Town, Our Town

I wrote this post 6 years ago. Count all the lives lost to gun violence since then.

Unless we vote like our lives depend on it; nothing will ever change.

 

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Mom’s Stroke: A Year Later: Knitting Life Lessons

I just ordered an extra ball of lime green chunky weight yarn  for my 89-year-old mother so she could finish a hat. A year ago, I couldn’t imagine I’d be doing that. A year ago, my mother suffered a stroke. It didn’t seem likely knitting was something she’d ever do again.

My husband and I were visiting friends in Orson, PA, having biked there. In the midst of a dinner party birthday celebration, I got the call from one of my sisters.

I rushed home, changed clothes, and drove to Yale New Haven Hospital. My mother recognized me, but had trouble saying my name and those of my three siblings. She didn’t remember who my father was and that they’d been married for 64 years.

What followed were many batteries of tests, a transfer to a hospital in New London for three weeks of rehab, then to another rehab facility in Guilford, then finally home with a series of visitors: physical, speech, and occupational therapists. For months and months.

At home, I showed her a blanket she had knit, that was nearly finished before her stroke. Not knowing when she’d return home and what her skills might be, I completed it while she was away. When we showed it to her, she didn’t remember that she’d knit it. We put her knitting in her hands—and while she could mimic what to do with the needles, she couldn’t knit, nor showed any desire to attempt a lifelong passion.

With time she went from being non- verbal, immobile and unable to take care of herself, to speaking, walking with assistance and assuming her self-care. With time, she began showing interest in knitting. She accepts now that she made the blanket and that I finished it; and we found a simple ribbed hat pattern and yarn leftover from the afghan. She has a bright green jacket the hat will match perfectly.

Her progress, while slow yet steady, reminds me of how she taught me to knit decades ago when I was 7.  By teaching me how to knit, she taught me how to live. What she exemplifies in knitting – patience, perseverance, and pride– transfers to daily living and to her recovery.

She knew she had to be patient. We had to be too. She persevered through all those therapy sessions, relearning to speak, walk, eat, write, and more. We helped her along, cheering her progress. She’s proud of where she’s come—though she doesn’t remember what happened to her, she knows she was ill.

It’s been both an incredible honor to witness her recovery and gut-wrenching too. Her memory isn’t what it was. She’s experiencing mild dementia, creating confusion.

We can’t have the in-depth conversations about art, literature and politics we once had. Yet there are sparks now and then when she reappears. She can understand if we’re patient, talk a little louder and slowly. She can show tremendous empathy. We try to find joy in everyday.

And when she picks up her knitting needles, she loves feeling the yarn, seeing the colors and patterns, and creating from nothing, something.

Like a lime green, ribbed hat.

Posted in aging, Family, health, Knitting, women | Tagged , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Two Plays & Some Books

Summer… and I’m trying to read and see some plays.

While on the platform, awaiting my train to New York City, my phone rang. I answered and talked to my father for about 10 minutes. After, I noticed my phone wasn’t even half- charged; I guess I hadn’t plugged it in properly the night before. Knowing I had a full day out and would need the phone later, I succumbed to the fact that I should buy an extra charger. I was meeting my friend Yvonne for lunch and a matinee; then had dinner and theater in the evening with my husband.

Walking to the restaurant, I didn’t see any places to buy a charger. Of course, if I didn’t need one, I would have found plenty of electronic stores. I asked the maitre ‘d at the restaurant if he could charge my phone and he was able to do so. This isn’t an unusual request.

The first play, Octet, by Dave Malloy, takes place in church basement. The entire theater space became that site, complete with free coffee, the daily list of hymns, and other ephemera. Eight chairs were set in the middle of the stage, and the audience watched from three sides. Actors came in slowly, one at a time, taking a seat. The story emulates a recovery step program, and is mostly told through the octet singing a cappella. The participants are trying to overcome addictions to the gamut of social media: excessive phone use, all-night gaming, pornography, chat rooms, debates, dating and more.

The irony that I’d worried about losing power on my phone, and that as soon as the play ended everyone would be turning their phones back on, wasn’t lost on us.

In the evening, we saw Heidi Schreck’s What the Constitution Means to Me. It’s her personal story of how beginning at the age of 15, she won several contests sponsored by the American Legion in her small Washington state hometown, on the subject. The contest money covered her college tuition. She regales the audience with her family history, focusing primarily on the many injustices generations of women endured including domestic violence, rape, lack of health care, and no police protection. She cites passages in the US Constitution describing laws that should have protected her ancestors, her, and others and the gaps that fail to provide legal rights for anyone other than white men.

Sean Strub, the Mayor of Milford, PA where our lake house is, wrote Body Counts: A Memoir of Politics, Sex, Aids, and Survival.  An activist and HIV survivor, his story reminds readers of the struggle to bring attention to the AIDS epidemic and the many lives lost to the disease. His own journey is fascinating and Milford, PA is lucky to have him.

I half-listened and half –read Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud & the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep. For To Kill A Mockingbird /Harper Lee fans, it’s a compelling true story about a murder in Alabama of an African American minister who had murdered five people to collect insurance money. Life in the South in the 1970’s is rendered in detail- social, political and economic. Lee became fascinated with the trial and had started but never finished a book based on it. Intriguing.

I  haven’t read all of Joyce Carol Oates’ 70 plus novels but pick one up now and then. Two recent reads brought me right in.  I listened to Hazards of Time Travel, a novel that begins in 2039 in a dystopian world where punishment for irregular thoughts could cause one to be sent back in time. Such is the case for 17-year-old Adriane Strohl, who is sent to college in a Wisconsin small town in 1959. She finds life and manners quite backward—manual typewriters, phones in the hallway, girls wearing skirts and hose, and the concept of dating.  She misses her family. Will she ever return? The story moves fast; great for car rides.

I read My Life as a Rat. Violet Rue Kerrigan overhears her brothers discuss a crime— the killing of an African American boy- and how they buried the weapon. One of her brothers pushes her down icy stairs, and she tells on them. She’s sent away to live with a distant relative and has no contact with her family. The story then follows her challenges: molestation by a teacher, drugs, nefarious friendships and her ultimate journey to college. The novel brings  the dilemma between doing what’s right versus protecting loved ones front and center.

What’s on your summer list? Happy for suggestions!

Posted in Books, commentary, New York City, politics, Reading, reviews, Technology, teenagers, Theater, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments