Hidden Costs

30 01 2017


January 30, 2017

I loved the movie, Hidden Figures, about the role of African American women mathematicians in the drama of NASA’s space program. A cleverly titled, extraordinary depiction of a specific era and place in history, the movie highlighted three distinct women, their families, and circumstances.

  • Katherine, brilliant in math and focused on her work, is as sweet and nerdy as they come. We cheer as this hard worker is rewarded both at work and home. She can’t help but think in math terms; I have an acquaintance who is similar with poetry. Recently, this friend found snow in her pocket, and wrote a parody, In the Early Morning Snow, on her drive to help me shovel.
  • Dorothy is the viewer of the future, the one who sees the imminent ending of her Colored Computers Department and takes the initiative to prepare for the next step by teaching herself how to program IBM computers. When she realizes her original product will be obsolete, she adapts, something I’ve often wondered about travel agents or the makers of pagers or camera film, calculators or ice boxes. It takes a certain type of vision and creativity to see what’s coming and figure out how to stay ahead of the pack.
  • Mary Jackson demonstrates individual strength to reach a dream that is out of legal reach by working the system, doing her homework, and persevering. Her mentor, a Holocaust survivor, encourages Mary to take whatever steps she must to accomplish her vision. In her efforts to get permission to take extension classes at an all-white school to become an engineer, she taps into the judge’s personal experience and human nature to become a first.

Based on participants’ recollection and tons (literally) of documents, Margot Lee Shetterly, the author of the book that inspired the movie, provides a striking reminder of the difference one individual can make. Al Harrison, director of the prestigious Space Task Group, desegregated the restrooms and coffee pot single-handedly.  He appeared as someone who, with some prodding, put goals over formality. Likewise, John Glenn is depicted as an enthusiastic, open person who recognized and valued the true source of the calculations that would determine if he returned to Earth or not.

For many years, these women’s contribution went unnoticed and, through this book and movie, we see how difficult it was for them to fully utilize their talents. I think about the hidden costs of not using people and their available strengths because of some personal bias. When we are unaware of a resource, it’s possibly excusable to waste time or money. But to intentionally bypass someone’s potential to contribute defeats us all. We are a country built on the strengths of many, from its inception to the present day. ‘Tis a good lesson to remember now, if you get my “hidden” meaning.

The River and the Lake

27 01 2017

Beth Lapin


January 27, 2017

While I am waiting for my daughter’s appointment to begin, I notice a box of Earth Magic Oracle cards (Steven D. Farmer) and begin to fiddle with the deck. I shuffle and move the cards around and, eventually, one of them flies out of the pile onto my lap. I pick it up: RIVER, movement. My daughter is called into her appointment and I head out to the local state park, where I usually go for the hour and a half that she’s busy. If I’d had any hesitations in walking on this windy, cold day, they were quashed by the fortuitous oracle card; the park covers hundreds of acres that include a scenic river.

I walk the direct route to the new boat launch, all the while singing river songs. “River, take me along” (Bill Staines), “I was born by the river” (Sam Cooke), and finally…

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The River and the Lake

27 01 2017


January 27, 2017

While I am waiting for my daughter’s appointment to begin, I notice a box of Earth Magic Oracle cards (Steven D. Farmer) and begin to fiddle with the deck. I shuffle and move the cards around and, eventually, one of them flies out of the pile onto my lap. I pick it up: RIVER, movement. My daughter is called into her appointment and I head out to the local state park, where I usually go for the hour and a half that she’s busy. If I’d had any hesitations in walking on this windy, cold day, they were quashed by the fortuitous oracle card; the park covers hundreds of acres that include a scenic river.

I walk the direct route to the new boat launch, all the while singing river songs. “River, take me along” (Bill Staines), “I was born by the river” (Sam Cooke), and finally, “Let’s go down to the river to pray,” (a traditional song popularized in O Brother, Where Art Thou). I think about the card’s text that encourages movement. I certainly have been stagnating in one section of my life and recently decided to move on. I consider the card an affirmation of that choice. But the card’s words also discourage forcing the issue. We need to flow more like the river, enjoying the scenery along the way, not letting our egos drive what is happening.


I return to pick up my daughter, who is not yet finished, so I pull out the deck once more to review the RIVER card and I notice another card sitting on the floor. When and how did that get there? I pick it up: LAKE, stillness. I can suddenly feel peace and relaxation moving through my body and I sit more centered in the chair. “No matter if the noise is from your environment or your seemingly nonstop thinking, it is critical for you to seek stillness.” Yes, I had found that on my walk. When I had arrived at the river, after the cawing of the crows, it had been quiet. And I had become still and I felt myself expanding and opening while standing on the river’s edge.


So, it’s really all about balance. Between the movement and stillness. Appearing to be opposites, but actually working together. If I begin with Stillness and get connected with my inner self and how I’m linked to the rest of the living beings in this world, then I know my purpose. When I know why I’m here, I can then take action, make Movements that support my raison d’etre, and actually help with the flow and progression of what is good and meaningful in this world.

The River and the Lake.
Movement and Stillness.
Bring them on!

Shellfishing in Southeastern Connecticut

23 01 2017

bluff-point-beachAs I drove into Bluff Point State Park to meet my hiking group, I was surprised to see that the lot was full. Last week when we came here, there were a handful of cars, while today maybe fifty. As I unpacked my bag, I noticed that people were carrying various equipment, rakes, and buckets. They appeared to be checking in with a man in a truck over near the trail head, so I walked over to see what this was all about.

It turns out that it’s shellfishing season in southeastern Connecticut, and the Town of Groton’s warden was checking people’s equipment and catch. The weathered man gave me a copy of shellfishing regulations; we are in the Poquonnock River area, with an all-year open season.

One of the participants was returning from his morning and I asked him a few questions. He showed me his rake, with knife-like tines an inch apart and a basket to gather what he’d harvested. He took about two and a half hours to reach his maximum, which is a peck (about two gallons). What a quaint use of an antiquated term! He showed me that the clams had to be retained in a two-inch ring, while the oysters were measured in a three-inch ring. He suggested wearing chest waders, and even then his feet were cold.

The harvesters used a wide range of contraptions to carry their equipment along a mile or so of sandy road to reach the waters. “How often do you come?” I asked one of them. “Oh, as often as I can.” “What do you do with your catch?” I ask another. “Do you sell them?” “Oh, no, can’t do that.” I found it fascinating that these people would spent two to three hours out in frigid conditions in the middle of January to gather a bucket full of shellfish. Hardy souls!

As I was driving out of the park, I marveled at my luck and was grateful for living here in Connecticut and having the flexibility to go on hikes and experience so many things, like shellfishing. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a Red-breasted Merganser foraging close to shore. By the time I stopped and took its photo, he was already high-tailing it for safety in deeper waters. What a sweet departing gift!

Northwest Park, Windsor and Friendly’s, Windsor Locks

20 01 2017

20 January 2017

The day promised to be sunny and in the high forties when Cherry and I head to Windsor for our hike to Friendly’s. It doesn’t get that warm, or sunny, but we arrive ready to go at Northwest Park and Nature Center, owned by the city.

We decide to take trails to the north in order to end up at Rainbow Reservoir. Cherry excitedly tells me she’s heard from a local researcher that he and a colleague might be interested in making a documentary about her uncle. Her father’s brother, John, was likely the last chaplain on Ellis Island and had led an interesting and colorful life. Cherry, still working through probate of John’s estate, has his notes and many relevant documents that could be useful. I’m familiar with the work of the two colleagues she’s mentioned and they would do justice to her uncle’s life.

We see no one else, as we walk past open fields and old tobacco barns. We enter the forest on the eastern edge of the reservoir and enjoy the leafy cover on well-maintained trails. I am surprised to see that the reservoir is frozen, with crows and logs perched atop the ice. We talk about recent events and my desire to be more in touch with my inner voice, to trust and listen to it. I ask Cherry for advice, and she encourages me to provide sufficient down time, by myself, to hear my voice. During the rest of our hike, Cherry points out when in fact I have heard and listened to my voice, during recent medical interventions and with interactions with others.

“A jewel for the town of Windsor,” Cherry decides. Before long, we loop back to the nature center, where we enjoy the use of real bathrooms and their exhibits, including Oreo, their California king snake.

And, fortunately, our Friendly’s is only a short ride away. I notice the exterior is bright white. “Easier for seniors to see,” suggests Cherry. And has a drive-thru! I don’t remember that from any of our visits.

We are served by a perky waitress named Michelle. When we aren’t quite ready to order, she quips, “I’m here until five!” When I ask about our free sundaes, Michelle questions if we are over 60, a flattering tribute to our youthful looks (we hope). While waiting, we review our list of Friendly’s and we have twelve more Connecticut options to visit. That will last us at least a year!

 I order honey BBQ chicken melt on brioche, the lunch Cherry liked last time, while she gets a fishamajig supermelt. Big portions and I am filled instantly. But, wait! There’s still a sundae coming. We both try the new Cherry Magnolia: black cherry chocolate chunk ice cream, brownie pieces, and hot fudge topped with whipped topping, a cherry, and chocolate chips. Excellent. But, boy, I am full.

And, boy, I am still full!

“Blew” Monday

17 01 2017


January 17, 2017

I recently learned that the third Monday in January is touted as the most depressing day in the Northern Hemisphere. I guess that could serve as a warning for those of us prone to such emotions. On the other hand, would that cause its development via the placebo effect—thinking about the possibility might cause it to happen?

This year (and maybe most years?), Blue Monday, as it is whimsically named, falls on the celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday. I could see where the pressing need of protecting all the human rights gained since the 1960s might cause some angst. But is there more to it? Is there something intrinsic about mid-January that gets to us?

When I did some research, I discovered that the term and the phenomenon were, in fact, a public relations firm’s concoction. Based on some fancy-looking but illogical mathematical formula that includes factors such as debt, weather, days since Christmas, and proximity to New Year’s resolutions, the firm attempted to predict when to encourage travel to increase vacation sales. If a travel agency could time its promotions to tap into people’s time of great discontent, it might hit the jackpot!


Since 2000, I’ve traveled internationally with two friends and we regularly go in January! However, this has much more to do with our schedules than with Blue Monday. One of us is a professor with its typical vacation times. I love summer at home and won’t travel then. Our third partner will do pretty much what everyone else needs. Overall, we have been to eleven countries in January and four in March. I assure you that Europe in January is not prime time for sightseeing. However, we did have a lovely time in Cardiff, Wales, home of the originator of the Blue Monday formula (Wales was in March, just sayin’).

But, back to Blue Monday. The public relations firm responsible for this moniker, according to Wikipedia, was Porter Novelli. I start to wonder about the credibility of any other of their PR campaigns. Among their clients have been the Peace Corps, National Institutes for Health (where they designed both the old and newer Food Pyramids), the FDIC, and more recently Indiana’s former governor/vice-president elect Mike Pence, who hired the firm after the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to improve Indiana’s image. Who knew that Blue Monday had political overtones? If I were more of a suspicious person, I might wonder if the revival of the Blue Monday pseudo-phenomenon was a ploy to maneuver the masses.

Well, I don’t know about you, but, for me, Blue Monday blew by and it was fine.

Baby Birds

10 01 2017


January 10,2017

A long-time friend recently gave me a copy of Julie Zickefoose’s book, Baby Birds. Her treatise is a multi-year project involving drawing and discoursing on baby birds from hatching to fledging. Julie, a former Connecticut resident, conveys the miracle of life, the importance of each and every being, and how one person can make a difference, in these seventeen life history chapters. Her drawings are exquisite and her commentary is as direct and unpretentious as she

I’ve allow myself only one chapter each night, and I am drawn into my own memories when I reach the one covering Tree Swallows. The murmuration at the mouth of the Connecticut River is described by Julie as “a little-known autumnal ritual of roosting swallow flocks [which] remains among the most impressive ornithological spectacles I’ve ever witnessed.” Since her time, this phenomenon has become “discovered” but it doesn’t make it any less magical. I’ve loved introducing people to this experience…sitting in a kayak as sunset, while being buzzed by hundreds which then become thousands of swallows flying in from hither and yon. I can imagine their conversations amidst their twitterings, “Just got back from Hammonasset,” “Where’s the South Cove group?” and so on.

beth-and-marcy-pointing-at-swallowsPhoto Credit: AA White

As we sit floating, the sun dips in the west and the grouping of birds grows larger and larger. False swoops into the reeds, followed by rising waves back into the sky. How do they keep from flying into each other? And finally, with my binoculars trained on the birds, I shout, “Here it comes!” They funnel and gather, and then, swish, they are all settled into the reeds for the night. Done. Amazing.

Some colleagues out there on the water with me have missed the climax. They were focused on their bota box, cheese, and crackers. And, honestly, it’s a lovely setting for all that, even if you miss the birds. And quite honestly it isn’t always exactly the same. Sometimes, there are several funnels and it’s less dramatic. But it’s always magical.


Ah, “California dreamin’…on a winter’s day.” Here I am thinking about Tree Swallows when we have at least eight inches of new snow. I’m grateful to be able to stay home; there’s a 30-vehicle pile-up on the nearby highway. I get a kick out of watching the gyrations of the birds using my whimsical, out-of-proportion hummingbird-lookalike feeder during even the fiercest part of this storm. Tomorrow, the sun will come out, we will all shovel out, and I’ll return to winter. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the daydreaming of summer was exactly part of all the winter stories and tales from our ancestors as they huddled in front of the fire, waiting for the return of spring. And I relish the connection with these birds, bringing me back to Julie’s approach, recognizing the importance of each one, and our connection to all living things.