Thoughts in Transit

Monday, February 13, 2012

Make Walking Count

This week the New Milford Visiting Nurse Association and the town’s Health Department will kick off a 10,000 steps challenge: A Step in the Right Direction, a nine-week program to get people employed by the town and with the VNA walking for a healthy heart.

It will start on Valentine’s Day for town employees and the following day for the VNA.
We all, of course, walk our way through our everyday lives, but is it enough? The American Heart Association recommends 10,000 steps as a good goal. Busy moms might think they don’t have time to even think about this, but they probably are well on their way and just don’t know it. Those who sit behind a desk most of the day might want to duck, thinking it’s just not possible, but a look at a pedometer might just persuade them otherwise. How else to start counting?
Finding one is easy enough—just check out your local pharmacy or discount store. Finding where to put it on your person might be more of a challenge, because it should be someplace that stays with you all or most of the day. Clip it on a pocket maybe?
My daughter, who works in a public health position, gave me a pedometer in the fall. I didn’t wear it every day—and slacked off when the winter hit and I found myself under the weather. But the steps were adding up, just not consistently.
Working in downtown New Milford, I know several loops, or routes, to keep walking interesting. The first one, in fact, is the parking lot behind the railroad station. It’s a long oval, not a straightaway as traffic racing through might make it first seem. And, to keep things from being boring, my daughter said, there’s always walking backward or a sideways “grapevine” stride! That I did try, much to the amusement of a local police officer in a parked car in the lot I hadn’t noticed until he waved!
Geri Rodda, RN, the town’s community health nurse, pointed out that the participants in the nine-week program will be getting some “fun facts.” All numbers, of course. The smaller ones might seem more encouraging: the fact that the length of Bank Street, where I work, is about 60 steps; the Green, from Bank of America to Tivoli Restaurant is about 100; from the front entrance of the town hall to the Health Department, about 60 steps.
As your own numbers add up, know that if you’ve walked 2,000 to 2,500 steps you’ve probably gone a mile. And if you’ve walked the 1,860 steps from the ground level of the Empire State Building to the 102nd floor you’ve almost walked that far. It was also pointed out that you can achieve approximately the same number by walking the length of Harrybrooke Park.
The program takes a gradual approach, encouraging participants to increase their steps by 500 to 1,000 as the weeks go by. But not the first week. That’s the week you should aim to find out about yourself, your habits, and think how to make walking a more deliberate part of your life. According to the program, participants should walk for 10 minutes five days a week, with a two-minute warm up before and after setting out.
Now that’s something to build on, isn’t it?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Tree Time

When I was growing up, we were a family that chose a Christmas tree from a stand sponsored by a good cause or at a local farm, also a good cause to be supported. Then, the first year I was married, my tall husband dragged an even taller tree home to our apartment, maneuvering it up the narrow stairwell and into our living room. That year, flush with the maximum of heart, I made every one of the red ornaments that hung on it and then wrapped each separately and boxed them all for another year.
That year, alas, never came—for the ornaments, that is. By our second Christmas, we were living abroad in Ireland and lean of pocket, just as the national economy there was, so there was no tree. Instead, we walked over to the American embassy one cold winter’s night (no snow, not in Dublin) and looked through the windows at the huge, beautifully decorated tree in the foyer. “Next year …, we said.

A year’s planned sojourn, working and studying, turned into a nearly 12-year, rich experience, several spent in Dublin and even more in London, with small trees and then somewhat bigger ones dragged along capital streets to our home in the ensuing years. The decorations were less vivid but still personal, especially the “officer of the guard” articulated paper figure my son, then 2 or 3, made in pre-school and still gets walked out for the holidays. We celebrated by exchanging flowering cyclamen plants and a toast with closest friends—as well as enjoyed great meals made all the better for the company.

Back stateside, we wanted a “real tree”—big, fragrant and bushy—and year after year, our family of four would go out and tag one early in the season, if we remembered, until a superbly choice tree became the gift my brother gave to us—delivered right to our doorstep.
But all those red ornaments were gone forever, lost in the move or, as I would like to think, now home on someone else’s tree.
For the last few years, now that our son and daughter are married and throw themselves into their own Christmas tree experiences, my husband has said, “Let’s not … .” And so we haven’t.
But I’ve got enough memories to cherish for a lifetime: the year he and one of his brothers “trimmed” the base of excess branches and then my father-in-law drilled holes to reinsert them in the trunk so the tree would have a pleasing, balanced shape; the year the tree was so big that it dominated the dining room but was so difficult to keep erect, let alone straight, that they wrapped fish line around the top branches and tacked the ends to the sides of the room; and the year the tree toppled on top of us (daughter and I) as we were holding it so the bottom could be stabilized in the base.
No wonder my husband continues to say each year, “Let’s not …”—unless, of course, he is remembering that I always wanted the tree to be left up until, well, Valentine’s Day, if still holding its needles, when he wanted it down right after New Year’s.
I’m still remembering what it was like to lie on the couch in a dark room with only the Christmas tree lights for illumination.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Dangerous Run

Oh deer. And pardon the pun. This is not an oh-dear-me tale, but deer play a significant part in it.

There are few sights more stirring than a deer dashing out of its woodland hideaway and bounding across open space—unless, that is, the open space is the roadway on which we are traveling. That's when grace and danger converge, and unless we can respond quickly to the potential threat to our and the animal's safety, a collision is inevitable.

I’ve written this in editorials over the many years I’ve been traveling to and from work on heavily wooded roadways through several towns. Just over a week ago, the truth meter reached the extreme limit, when not one but two deer bolted out of a stand of trees and broadsided my car on the passenger side as I was heading home. (A Honda Civic’s frame is not an immovable object.)

Over the years, I’ve shared with our readers the following defensive driving tips, courtesy of the Institute for Insurance Information, to avoid hitting a deer.

·  Drive cautiously during early evening and early morning hours when deer are particularly active, and pay particular note to where they usually run.
(In my case, it was early evening, around 7:30, when they decided to cross Route 67 in New Milford as I was heading east, downhill toward Dorwin Hill Road. I’ve never seen deer in this stretch, though I know where they are likely to be spotted farther along and well into Bridgewater and Roxbury.)

·  Use high-beam headlights, which reflect the deer's eyes, to see an animal in the roadway, especially at dusk and in the early evening.

·  Slow down and blow your horn with one long blast to frighten the deer away.

·  Look for other deer after one has crossed the road. Deer seldom run alone. They have also been known to cross over and then back again.

·  Brake firmly when you notice a deer in or near your path. Do not swerve, which can confuse the deer as to where to run and can also cause you to lose control of your vehicle.

· If you cannot avoid hitting the deer, it is better to hit it head-on. Brake until just before the point of impact, then raise the hood to prevent the animal from flying onto the windshield.

·  If you hit a deer, don't touch it. If it is alive, it could be dangerous. Call state or local police immediately.
(The NMPD officer who responded to the scene and I went looking for my two “assailants” after the incident, but we couldn’t find them. He told me that deer are a lot stronger and sturdier than their graceful form would suggest and that they probably ran off after being stunned by the impact of butting the car.)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Table for One, Please

Preach not to others what they should eat, but eat as becomes you, and be silent.
The above quote by a Greek sage and philosopher of the first century AD, remembered throughout recorded history as espousing that fate determines external events but individuals are responsible for their own actions, drew my interest not for his “thou shall not preach” admonishment but “eat as becomes you, and be silent.”
Eating as becomes one’s self is, of course, easiest when alone—and that’s where the “be silent” holds true, too.
But although I found myself on the way home from work last Thursday night turning into the driveway of an area restaurant I wanted to visit, I don’t necessarily want to keep quiet about it.
It’s easy to go out to eat alone for breakfast, brunch or lunch—with a book or newspaper for company in this aloneness if preoccupation with food or one’s thoughts is not enough for comfort. Dinner is another story altogether. Parties—of two, three, four, six, eight, you know…—dine out. 
A party of one becomes a matter of me, myself and I.
Well, I did a rough check of the parking lot at a New Preston eatery and it seemed to me there was room for one more car, so I aimed to give myself a treat.
“Can you seat one?” I asked the maitre d’, as the dining areas seemed quite full, even shortly after 6 o’clock.
“Of course. This is the Community table,” he said, referring to one of Litchfield County newest eating establishments, Community table at 223 Litchfield Turnpike.
And he proceeded to seat me at the spot with the selfsame name—in the center of a long table crafted from a 300-year-old black walnut tree that had grown on the property.
Two couples had dug into their appetizers, and conversation, at my left, and a party of four was poring over the menu at my right as I was seated dead center, with an empty chair in front of me.
Well, I had a book with me (and had turned off my cell phone before entering). …
As it turned out, I didn’t miss using either of them.
It took me less time to absorb the ambience—stylishly spare, bright and airy—than to peruse the purposefully pared-down menu.
“So, what did I have?” I asked my husband when I got home later that evening.  “Beets and fish,” he figured, guessing correctly, but as dessert never interests him, he quit after mulling the appetizer and entrée selections.
Beets & Berries set the tone of the meal from the outset. Beets, raspberries, blackberries, currants, candied pecans, fennel, blue cheese, blueberry citrus vinaigrette. Yum yum yum. Like having “afters” before the main course.
Locally sourced ingredients, and even though it would be tempting to attempt to replicate the appetizer in one’s own kitchen, that would be a presumption, so masterfully it was executed under the guidance of executive chef Joel Viehland.
Stonington seared scallops next, as much because I love seafood as the fact that I wanted to sample the greens: fennel puree, kale, seaweed pressed kohlrabi—with lamb pancetta and a drizzle of vinaigrette.
You know, it was actually enough sustenance—and enough of a culinary experience—to stop there, but when the waitress came by with dessert choices (only two), I told her to pick one for me. She decided on the gooseberry fool rather than the blackberry crumb cake. Did I already say “Yum!”?
This solo diner did not dine altogether alone, however. Conversation with the couples began with “What did you order?” And when two diners were squeezed into the one spot opposite me—all chairs scooted over to give them room—and proceeded to order one Beets & Berries to share as a starter, all of us other 9 diners looked up. Soon enough, someone said, “You’ll be sorry. You should have ordered two!”
The food was the star, the camaraderie the garnish (as I expect it always is at Community table,


Saturday, July 16, 2011


I’ve been prompted to think about the strong pull of family connection lately, with ever-increasing focus.
Coming back from a short vacation in Ireland in March, I exchanged small pleasantries with a seatmate, a businessman.  I told him I used to live in his home town of Dublin for several years, attending graduate school and working in book publishing there. He mentioned that there had been a break  of some years between his first starting college and his going on to complete a bachelor’s degree and to earn a master’s. After our sharing that the “traditional” college timeline is not so rigorously scripted anymore, I chanced a personal comment, saying, “Your mother must be so proud.”
After a long pause, he told me, “Well, yes.” And then, “I was adopted twice.”
As it turned out, he had been adopted as an infant by a couple, and when his new father died not long afterward, his new mother gave him up for re-adoption.  He was warmly received into a foster home as he awaited the prospect of new parents. About a year later, he was adopted by a childless couple who had been eager to have a family. They went on to adopt a little girl sometime later.
Fast forward many years, the daughter wanted to find her biological parents. She discovered the identity of her birth mother, who, as it turned out, did not want to meet her daughter. The businessman did not feel the same need to delve into the past, saying he has had a very happy life with the parents who raised him.
They thought, however, that he might want to research his parentage someday, suggesting that it might be easier sooner rather than later. His own family agreed and started to find the trail back to his birth.
What they discovered: not his birth father but the name, profession and even a picture of his birth mother; some communications that suggested she had been reluctant to place him up for adoption; and the location of her grave, as she had died about 20 years earlier.
There is an annual tradition in Ireland called “Cemetery Sunday,” when people visit family graves and a local clergyman offers a blessing.
Having discovered his birth mother’s identity, the businessman and his family paid a visit to her grave on Cemetery Sunday.  He told me that as he was standing there, an elderly woman approached him, saying, “You’re her son, you look just like her.” I cried at his telling of it.
The second prompt was when Brookfield resident Jan Howard, who writes a regular blog for our newspapers called “Mirrored Images,” shared her story in her most recent entry, “The Never-Ending Story.” (Visit our homepage, and it is just a click away.)
As she starts her story, “I have always loved history, so it should not come as a surprise to anyone that I eventually became interested in a different type of history than that taught in school. It is the history of my family.
“Someone once said that only a genealogist regards a step back as progress. It seems as though I was always interested in knowing more about my family. I always wanted to know the “who and they why” of family dynamics. Mostly, I wanted to know about my birth father, who had left my mother and me when I was only 2 years old.”
The third prompt was equally unexpected. When I was recently interviewing Nicholas Ortiz, the valedictorian of New Milford High School’s Class of 2011, I was surprised to learn that he planned to take a year off (a gap year) before heading to Harvard, to major in cognitive neuropsychology.
 “I’m interested in human experience and the brain—how the mind interacts,” he said. “I do like to identify myself and why I do things. From my childhood I have had questions about why people do things.”
Unlike the above, Nicholas has had no reason to wonder about his parents. He lives with his in New Milford. But one of the main goals he has set for himself in the upcoming year is “to find long-lost family.” He plans to go to Puerto Rico to find any members of his distant family (his paternal grandparents were born there; his mother’s family is of Italian descent).  (You can read more about him, too, online—in our archives.)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Four-Legged Feelings

At home, I’ve been trying to be very tuned in to the slightest changes in manner and movement of our beloved Abbey, a 14-1/2 lb, 15-1/2-year-old llasa-schnauzer mix. She has been losing her sight and hearing, and her gait is a bit cross-footed and wobbly at times.

Indoors, she sleeps a lot, preferring the confines of her old carrying case for a deep, dark silence or a plump sheepskin pillow right underneath the TV in the living room, which is hardly a quiet spot.

The only time we hear from her, not that she was ever a noisy pet, is a mew-like sound when she wants water or food or does her business on a puppy pad.
Outdoors, she has more oomph, for want of a better word. On a long lead toward the front of the house, she wanders round and about, never seeming to tire enough to sit or lie down, though my husband has seen her do so. And a week ago, at a local dog park that has a “quiet area”—what a blessing!—she went round and about on the loose, never touching the fence on all sides or resting.

In the car, she rides in a plump, ribbed cat bed, which does more that cushion her ride—it also enables us to roll her up like a hotdog and transport her comfortably in and out of the car.

Left alone, but not quite alone, she gets by as she just gets on in age.

I have Abbey on my mind a lot—but not on a recent vacation, when somebody else’s pet made me pay attention and I learned a thing or two. A friend’s family had two 11-year-old boxers, and the week before I arrived, the “sister” died. The “brother” always has soulful eyes, but let us know through his moping around that he felt adrift.

Open the car door, however, and he was quick to move—into the front passenger seat. There’s little moving a fit 85-lb boxer that has no intention to oblige a human parent and no moving the creature for a visitor. Not until the last ride we took together, that is, when I whooshed him with a constant stream of admonishments and nudges to go between the seats and into the back.
So, I thought afterward, we’ve sort of become friends. I later learned what that really meant. When I was zipping up my wheeled duffle bag to head to the airport for a return flight home, the bag seemed to be a bit lighter than before. Star watched as I puzzled my way through its contents, content on an oriental carpet. Then in the corner of my eye I caught a flash of pink. Cushy indeed was his resting spot—on my anorak, suit jacket and two cashmere sweaters (the rest he left behind).

So, what did I learn from Abbey and Star? Do things on their terms.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Continuing Lessons

There are many reasons for the vacations we take—the kinds and the places. For me, the constants are a good place to sleep and lots of fresh air, in an inspiring landscape. My kids promise that I’ll find that when we take a family vacation at the Cape this summer, and I can’t wait for those aspects and everything else that our time together (all eight of us, spouses and grandkids included) will bring.

In the meantime, however, I took a shorter break but farther away—in Ireland, where I used to live.
I booked a room with a view north of Dublin—looking out to the Irish Sea, with Howth Head (memorably visited in James Joyce’s “Ulysses”) off to one side and the islands known as Ireland’s Eye and Lambay, farther north, straight ahead, all just beyond the broad, dune-bordered five-mile strand (Portmarnock beach) edging the water.

Decades ago, when my husband and I lived in Dublin, I loved this stretch of seacoast, which was the site of some early aviation experiences (including the touch-off point for the first solo east to west crossing of the Atlantic Ocean, in 1932, by James Mollison), and its appeal still holds. Easy access to the beach is from the grounds of the old Jameson (of whiskey fame) estate—house and grounds are now the core of the Portmarnock Hotel and Country Club, voted in 2009 the top course in the country.
My dad, who was an avid golfer, taught me many things in life, including how to play golf, but I only got hooked on the long walks, not the game itself. “So why stay at a golf course?” my son asked me upon my return. It’s got “everything else,” I told him.
I didn’t even unpack before heading out along the dunes and onto the strand. I set out under the mid-afternoon sun and swept by wind and shower, and when the clouds burst I knew there would be a rainbow.

Over the next few days, I headed north, to Carlingford, just shy of the border of Northern Ireland—for oysters, which are farmed in Carlingford Lough (above). It’s what the town is known for, other than its three castles (one below). I’m a recent convert to the slippery mollusks, and The Carlingford Oyster Company says to chew them, rather than just swallow them whole—how else would you know what they taste like!

Another time I crossed the Boyne Bridge over the Boyne River (above) and into the Boyne Valley (with a long-distance a nod to New Milford’s new police chief, Shawn Boyne) to see again what is said to be Ireland’s most important prehistoric site—Newgrange, a Neolithic era megalithic passage grave that is older than the pyramids of Egypt and the Stonehenge circle in England. When we were living in Ireland, my mother paid us a visit—“to see how you’re living”—and I took her there, expecting her to be impressed. “That’s a tomb, isn’t it?” she said, and refused to go in. A UNESCO world heritage site, it was surely worth a return visit, and the pelting rain (notice the raindrops dripping from the fence post) was a boon, seeming to deter hordes of visitors and to blur the distraction of an appealing landscape.
Afterward, thanks to an obliging driver, I headed south to another site of some historical significance—the County Kildare farm where 18th-century patriot Wolfe Tone was said to have lived, hiding out from the country’s British oppressors. Once his uncle’s place, it now belongs to friends of mine, who cherish the land.
As I do, cherishing both dear friends gone and present and the country that is theirs. I have to inhale it—anywhere, but most especially in the west, and the wilder spot the better.
I originally went to Ireland, drawn by its literature, to pursue a postgraduate degree in Anglo-Irish studies (a nine-month plan that ended up being a nearly four-year sojourn, with further postgrad studies and also getting a toehold in the book publishing industry). The country soon became a bigger university, making me see things afresh, or differently, and bring the lessons back home.
The weekend before I went on vacation, I interviewed David Monagan, an American author (most recently, of “Ireland Unhinged: Encounters with a Wildly Changing Country”), who moved with his family from the Northwest Corner here in Connecticut and laid new roots in the south of Ireland. As it turns out, we had been kicking around Dublin at the same time as students.
As we got to talking, we shared the experience that once bitten by “whatever” is Ireland, never forgotten, which does not mean caught up in some nostalgic attachment. The reality is more essential.
The country arose out of a historically straitened economy to a decade and a half of a seemingly miraculous boom period beginning in the early 1990s, and then the bubble burst.
“Unhinged it is,” said Mr. Monagan, adding that “the greedy—banks, developers, private and business investors—like petulant children ruined anything they put their hands on.”
“The country has known depression and real hardship before,” he said, and when the miracle of its prosperity arrived, its traditional values quickly became adrift.
Now, “it can’t afford much of anything,” as he said in the March 11 story that appeared in The Litchfield County Times (also online at and “But there is a sense of human and song of life still here,” he said, speaking long-distance from Cork. “I may find that I live out the rest of my life here, and I know it won’t be easy but it will still be rewarding in many ways.”
Mr. Monagan went forward, as I do, to meet Ireland on its own terms. And how I do agree with him, as he said in the last words of his new book: “What one loves about Ireland is that it talks as readily as it breathes.”
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Location: New Milford, Connecticut, United States

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