Standing Room Only

27 02 2017

cypress-in-1936Sometimes we don’t know the impact we have on others. Teachers may touch a student and never learn about it. A kind word or considerate action may brighten someone’s day in a significant way.

And sometimes it’s a restaurant that touches many people without even realizing it. Such is the case of the Cypress Restaurant in Middletown, Connecticut, now closing its doors after 80 years. First started by James and Rose Carta, the diner hosted celebrities such as Al Jolson, Glenn Miller, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Benny Goodman in its heyday.

Later, the restaurant was taken over by twin sons Joe and Jimmy. People came for traditional All-American dinners that included some Italian specialties, and many home-style meals such as meatloaf and open-faced sandwiches with gravy. It was a place for weddings, baby showers, and all kinds of celebrations. People met their future spouses there. Great friendships developed. I myself did a book signing there to a standing room only crowd. I hosted my daughter’s master’s celebration there. She had her baby shower there. And we attended many family and public gatherings at that site.

There were those who are regulars at the bar, a sort of Cheers-like family. They knew each other’s ups and downs. They anguished over people gone missing and mourned the passing of their members.


The staff was legendary and the average length of stay was more than 14 years. Certain people, like Helen, waitressed there forever. In recent years, they encouraged local bands, trivia night, open mic, and all sorts of just regular good fun.

It was a place that supported the Carta families for many years but Joe and Jimmy had reached the age where they deserve some time off. They found a family-oriented buyer for the Cypress. So, after 80 years, they were closing.

Yesterday was their final day and it was standing room only. Cars were parked all over nearby lawns and overflowed into the school parking lot behind the restaurant. The place was so packed, it was impossible to walk from one end of the diner to the other. Waitresses were taking orders out the front door and back in the bar door in order to reach their customers. The place was jammed, the place was hopping.

cypress-standing-room-onlyFor a while, I sat with a daughter of each of the twins. They were commenting on this person and that who walked in. So many people. Some they didn’t even know. And I realized that The Cypress was one of those places that served not only good meals but good will, heartfelt connections, and strong caring. It was a place where people could feel at home and musicians felt they were playing in someone’s living room. People who had no one could go and feel comfortable. The Cypress, its owners, and staff touch the hearts of many. And we had all come to say goodbye.

Standing room only.


Milford Point and Friendly’s

25 02 2017

24 February 2017 The weather could not be any better at the end of February! In the high sixties, sunny, light breeze, wow! Cherry and I head to the shoreline to continue our hiking for Frie…

Source: Milford Point and Friendly’s

Milford Point and Friendly’s

25 02 2017


24 February 2017

beth-and-cherry-at-milford-pointThe weather could not be any better at the end of February! In the high sixties, sunny, light breeze, wow! Cherry and I head to the shoreline to continue our hiking for Friendly’s in Milford. We drive into the coastal community that hugs the Milford Point spit. Houses, large ones, vie for space on a narrow, low isthmus that merges into the mouth of the Housatonic River. Cherry wonders if FEMA supports them after hurricanes and how these mega-mansions have been allowed here. No obvious answers except money.

But we continue to the entrance of the Connecticut Audubon Coastal Center. I haven’t been here in decades, from my Nature Conservancy days, but I notice that one of my former colleagues, Miley Bull, still works here! CAS, founded in 1898, supersedes National Audubon in establishment. Cherry and I see two red-breasted mergansers from the viewing stand looking into the marshes behind the barrier beach.

Cherry is excited about developments related to her late Uncle John, the last chaplain on Ellis Island. She has continued conversations with local researchers, who are interested in making a documentary about him, particularly in relation to current immigration issues. They’ve located footage from a CBS show covering Uncle John and perhaps some of his singing, which was legendary.

milford-point-loon-in-housatonic-riverWe head to the coastal side of Milford Point and walk a little more than a half mile to the mouth of the river below the high tide line. I talk about a lecture I’d been to the previous night given by Rabbi Daniel Cohen. He had focused on number of uplifting and inspiring ways to live. We follow a killdeer down the pebbly wrack line and bask in the sunlight. The harbor across the way (Stratford) is rimmed with condos and structures but we are reveling in sandy habitat.  As we turn the bend of the spit, a common loon is floating backwards out to the Sound on the strong current from the Housatonic. When it spots us, it turns and continues in a more dignified way.

Cherry has initiated the organization of a Sing-along at her local library in April. She lists the participating groups (youth church choir, local pianists and soloists, among others) that have come together to make this event truly a community offering (that’s the kind of thing Cherry does all the time).

We backtrack along the shore and then continue east a bit, startling a cluster of gulls, skirting around a resting mallard pair, and watching honking Canada geese in V’s incoming from various directions to gather on the shore. I spot a raft of dark birds congregated on a sand bar offshore and wish I’d remembered my binoculars. The place is abundant with bird life, as if we all are experiencing spring fever.

We return to make a quick tour of the coastal center and, by now, it’s 11:30 and time for Friendly’s. My GPS keeps sending me back on the interstate, but I want to stick with the Boston Post Road. Friendly’s is on the opposite side of the street and is by far the most difficult one to reach that we’ve yet to visit. (As an afterthought, I wonder if that’s why my directions were sending me on the highway, so I could approach the place from an accessible direction.) The restaurant is located in an old Howard Johnson’s (the attached hotel still operational). “A bit sketchy,” I say, looking around.

But once inside, we are back in familiar territory. Our waiter Stephen, a wiry man our age, seats us and brings waters. We both order the BBQ chicken again, with (healthy) applesauce. Cherry talks about attending a recent meeting with prison volunteers about an empowerment program she’d designed. She’s really pleased to see its growth since her retirement.

milford-friendlys-cherry-with-cherry-sundaeOur “friendly” waiter checks with us multiple times and eventually takes our sundae order, which comes with our meal as we are “over 29,” as he judiciously puts it. We like him even more! Cherry shares with him our hiking to Friendly’s project, which interests him as he’s also a hiker. When our Cherry Magnolia sundaes arrive (of course, we HAD to get that type, as they are Cherry’s namesake), they were full-sized, doused with hot fudge and chocolate chips! Yum!

We waddle back to the car, discussing our next options. And lo and behold, as we head north to Middletown, an adult bald eagle flies over us on the interstate.  A sure sign that our hiking to Friendly’s is appreciated!

Joy versus Pleasure

17 02 2017

hammonnasett-01-2017February 17,2017

I have been waking up with a smile on my lips and a song in my head. Seriously! Today, it was Walking in a Winter Wonderland. I attribute this to an abundance of Joy coursing through my body and heart. It caused me to wonder and contemplate the difference between Joy and Pleasure.

windsor-locks-cherry-magnolia-sundaePleasure comes from eating chocolate ice cream. The physical sensation of cold on my tongue, the absorption of chocolate into my system, and the challenge of getting every last drop all provide a deeply satisfying pleasure. Other pleasures arise from keeping-up-with-the-Jones’s accomplishments: owning an Olympic size pool, a fancy car, Stuart Weitzman shoes, or a McMansion. Materialistic items that simplify one’s life (refrigerator, blender, and lawn mower, for example) can bring one pleasure, particularly by limiting the amount of time spent on “work” and freeing one up for more time for pleasure. Pleasure comes from outside of us, bringing something to us, something that disappears over time, or something that can actually damage us (in the case of drugs or alcohol or certain types of sexual activities).

gma-and-ori-at-hammo-06-14-15By contrast, Joy is a sensation that arises from inside based on a sense of well-being, of belonging, having a mission, a purpose. Connecting with others at a non-superficial level, a feeling of aliveness. Of doing the Right Thing, not for any reward or recognition, but from an inner moral compass that knows what needs to be done. Joy is something you own, regardless of what happens to you, what others say or do. Joy may be quiet and subtle or loud and rambunctious, but it is a vibration and sensation that fills us with…well, Joy!

Joy is when you look out and see the clouds racing across the blue sky and feel expansive. It’s standing at the edge of the ocean shore and hearing the rippling of the water on the rocks and knowing that you belong. It’s the clarity that we are all connected, our lives are intertwined with every living being.

I’m not suggesting that Pleasure should be avoided. Certainly, it’s much better than experiencing pain or sorrow. But I do wonder if Pleasure attempts to satisfy the need to feel whole and happy. Usually, fulfillment from items that bring Pleasure is fleeting. We want more often and bigger ones of whatever it was. But the satisfaction that comes when we are suffused with Joy brings a deep-seated contentment and an ability to flow with life as it presents itself.

branchesTo quote one of my favorite teachers, Thich Nhat Hanh: How can you remember to smile when you wake up? You might hang a reminder—such as a branch, a leaf, a painting, or some inspiring words—in your window or from the ceiling above your bed, so that you notice it when you wake up (Peace is Every Step). To have that Joy throughout the day, with such a lovely beginning, is a true gift.

Time, Place, and Space

13 02 2017

February 13, 2017 Fellow naturalist and writer Julie Zickefoose recommended Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert as a reminder “to beat fear back in the pursuit of self-expression.” I had not…

Source: Time, Place, and Space

Time, Place, and Space

13 02 2017


February 13, 2017

Fellow naturalist and writer Julie Zickefoose recommended Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert as a reminder “to beat fear back in the pursuit of self-expression.” I had not been impressed with her Eat Pray Love. I don’t even remember how I felt when I finished Committed. I heard and then forgot that Gilbert left that chronicled and hard-fought relationship to partner with a friend now facing multiple cancers. But Julie’s words resonated at the moment. A long weekend was coming up and I had some free time and no book.

When I started Big Magic, I was hooked by the defining question: Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you? I shared this with my cousin, also writing a book; she was skeptical of Gilbert’s work and asked for more information. I kept reading and just loved her concept that an idea–a book plot, a scientific discovery, and the like–is an energetic entity that floats around, trying to find a home with someone who will implement it. After a while, this idea can get tired of waiting for a host to act and will move on to another more likely prospect. The example given by Liz Gilbert is a story line she had invested some time into researching, only to be distracted by her then partner’s deportation and the subsequent book (Committed) which described all that. When she went back to this other plot, she’d lost all the vim and vigor to write it…it was gone. Around this time, she became friends with novelist Ann Patchett. A year later, Patchett shared the premise of her work in progress, and it was almost the same plot as the one Gilbert had lost. Gilbert felt the idea had transferred to Patchett when they first met; it had found a more probable person to bring it to completion.


My cousin and I during the time she lent me A State of Wonder

OK, that’s all pretty cool, but it happened to them, not me. Then I realized I had read that book of Patchett’s, State of Wonder. Then, holy moly, it hit me! This same cousin who’d asked for more information about Big Magic had Patchett’s book with her when I last saw her, and had lent it me to read! That felt like a confirmation of this concept–that ideas float around looking for a likely host–with a link that included me.

So, I dwelt a bit on this concept. It’s about being at the right place at the right time. Ideas, people, and events all intersect with us at a particular time and place. We’ve all felt the serendipity of running into someone, or coming across an idea in one location, and then seeing it again in a second and maybe even third place. Then, whether we pick them up or are oblivious to them really is about how open we are at the moment. If we are willing to stop and listen, to provide a space for these whispers from the universe, then we can experience the richness of life. We can learn and grow and live in wonder and amazement.

Groundhog Parade

6 02 2017

joe-at-essex-parade-2017-alisa-lebovitzJanuary 29, 2017

My friend Joe, color guard for the Sailing Masters, the Essex CT fife and drum corps, told me about the Essex Groundhog Parade. The weekend before Groundhog Day, a plastic six-foot groundhog statue (“Essex Ed”) is loaded onto a truck near the cove, driven a half mile through this small town of 6,500, and followed by antique cars, the Ancient Mariners, and local groups. Wearing groundhog paraphernalia, spectators bang pots and pans. Each year, a different sponsor dresses Essex Ed in timely costume.


Looking for something silly and nonpolitical, I convinced three of my Essex colleagues who had also never been to the parade to join me. When we arrived, my friend Barbara, who knows everyone in town, led us to the staging area, where she whispered that Ed would be Edna this year for the first time. With flourishes and drum roll, along with hot chocolate and groundhog-shaped cookies, organizers opened a huge garage door to see the fruition of the Child and Family Agency’s efforts: and it’s….Edna as Princess Leia!!

Image may contain: 1 person, sky and outdoor

Somehow, we were invited to march with Child and Family Agency members and away we went, banging our pots and cowbell. The Ancient Mariners led the way, followed by a small contingency from Punxsutawney, PA, the home of Phil, the famous groundhog.  Then our group, followed by the local girls’ crew team – women predominated here this year. Some old cars, and then came Princess Leia in the back of a bright yellow Dickenson Witch Hazel truck. In no time, we reached Main Street and waved at the viewers in their silly hats who were making a racket with their spoons and pot lids. Smiles all around, with marchers greeting bystanders they recognized. Even I, an out-of-towner, saw people along the route I know.


In Connecticut, the land of steady habits, in a small town where Main Street still boasts homes primarily from 1790 to 1820, a median income of $89,000, but a history rich in rebellion, an agency whose very services are under fire chose for the first time to dress this town’s tradition as a woman, and one admired for the qualities of strength and hope, no less. To me, it was a subtle political statement, somewhat masked by the good-natured participation of those attending. But I was proud to have been able to add my noise to the celebration.


Princess Leia, shine your message of strength and hope on us as we march through the remaining weeks of winter, however many more there may be!

Additional Photo Credits: Alisa Lebovitz, Barbara Benjamin Haines

Traits of Our Parents

3 02 2017

beths-bat-mitzvah-largeFebruary 3, 2017

Several years ago, I ran into someone whose parents had been friends with mine. We chatted a few minutes and she exclaimed, smiling, “You are a perfect combination of your parents!”

I was a bit startled, as we hardly knew each other and it seemed like an intimate and surprisingly insightful observation to share. “Thanks,” I answered and we went our ways (and became Facebook friends).

I wasn’t quite sure what characteristics this acquaintance meant, but I’ve given thought to her idea, being the perfect combination of your parent’s positive traits. It came to mind again recently when a cousin on my mom’s side posted a cartoon about having no sense of direction. Another cousin (also on my mom’s side) commented that she’d be lost without her GPS. Not me. I have an amazing sense of direction, as did my dad. A former colleague used to lean back and let me drive around Little Rock on our work trips there. She knew I’d always get where we needed to be, even if I’d never been there before. But I digress.


But only slightly. I started a list of the things I admired about my dad: besides a good sense of direction, his love being on the water, willing to live with “good enough,” enjoyment of music, honesty, integrity, goofy sense of humor. And then my mom: organized, logical, interested in biology, devoted to her family, strong inner compass, love of learning, community volunteer, skill with all types of crafts ranging from painting to crocheting. Yup, it seemed true. I bet those are all traits that my friends and coworkers might say about me.


In younger years, I recall focusing on some difficult aspects of my parents and my efforts to avoid being like that. But what if instead I considered their strengths? Wouldn’t that emphasize that same part of me and draw in those qualities? Perhaps in a way similar to Ann Kubitzsky’s Look for the Good Project  or Oprah’s Gratitude Journal, the good would just rise to the top. Maybe you get what you look for. It certainly provides a softer, kinder view of both myself and my parents.

Just the thought of it made me smile and stand taller. When my daughter would say, “My mamma can do anything,” I looked behind me up the family tree and acknowledged my mother’s competence. When I would teach a novice to kayak, I remembered my father’s patience in teaching me to row (and drive a stick shift).

I encourage everyone to look for these positive traits, even if it seems impossible. The truth is that the genetic and environmental imprint of our parents is in and on us, whether we like it or not. Embrace what is there, focus on the good, and celebrate your unique results.