Taking Chances Pays Off for Musician Jen Allen

Guest Post by Jen Allen

As a woman in jazz I often struggled to find my voice and place. Feeling the tension of being a stay at home mom and wanting a career was so uncomfortable. Many years went by and I existed in this tension but I never let myself really go after what I wanted for one reason or another. 

I didn’t even think what I wanted was still possible for me. I’m too old, I'm too far behind, I'm not good enough, and I missed my chance were just a few of the negative phrases I told myself often. 

In the last few years I began to realize that I was trapped in a bad cycle by this way of thinking. I started to slowly take chances. I tried new things here and there but still held on to the cautious way of living. Good things would happen but I still felt stuck. 

Then after my mom passed away last July, I decided that life was too short to care what others thought about me. I let go of the negative self-talk and I began believing that my desires in life were really important. I decided to step out and make the things that I wanted to happen - happen! 

I let go of the negative self-talk and I began believing that my desires in life were really important.

This year I started a house concert series to encourage community and the arts. I also applied for and was accepted to a prestigious composer’s collective, the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop. I have also taken my first gig as a leader at a club in NYC - just to name a few! 

 Jazz musician Jen Allen, delightful and badass as ever.

Jazz musician Jen Allen, delightful and badass as ever.

All three of these steps were scary but have produced amazing results. The house concerts have been a success, the BMI workshop has had me making new connections and I was chosen one of 9 (from the 40 who were accepted into the program) to have my composition premiered next week, and my single gig in NYC has led to a whole week for my band at Dizzy’s Coca Cola Club at Jazz at Lincoln Center in September!

Being a good mom, friend, wife, AND musician is possible with a little vision, will to persevere, good friends to encourage, and a whole lot of faith!

The ups and downs (but mostly ups) of 61

By Teri L. Michaud

What is good about being my age? Lots! I have two games that I play with my grandchildren or students.  One, if they say a word, any word, I try to think of a song I know, and I start to sing.  Most of these children think I can sing well, because I belt out only a few bars.  The second game is the Dictionary Game.  I have the kids vs. me, and I give teams names, like The Rutabagas, and I will be The Turnip.  Same/same, so what?  They can open the dictionary to any page and ask me any word that isn't a proper noun, and I tell them its meaning.  I know a little bit of Latin and Greek roots, but the rest is basically recall and brain search and please-God some sort of connection.  Then I do the same and ask them words.  I win, usually, but they do too, because they are exposed to kayak, cardiovascular, and tandem. 

The other things that I like about being my age (61) is that I have these two fantastic daughters: Shawna and Ashley.  Then they had the good sense to marry Dave and Jeff.  Brilliantly, they then produced five amazing children: Edie, Colette, Emmeline, Julien and Miles. I've been married to Gary for nearly 40 years, and we still make each other laugh, not swoon, but laugh. Add to that, we have a little dog that will tear your face off if you mess with any of us.

 Whether viewing a derelict flip house or hosting a swanky dinner party, our mom Teri is always put-together, practical, and looking on the bright side.

Whether viewing a derelict flip house or hosting a swanky dinner party, our mom Teri is always put-together, practical, and looking on the bright side.

I've got brothers and sisters who I know would give me a kidney.  Or a kick in the ass.  We get together every Christmas and St. Patrick's Day.  Randomly, we get together on other holidays, and depending on ability, hike, ski, golf, camp and bike.  They all also have kids/in-laws and out-laws who come to our celebrations. Once we had an engagement party for niece Michelle. We fashioned it after The Amazing Race, with teams of four, wearing matching bandanas.  The contests included shooting a beebee gun, sinking small boats in a kiddie pool, swimming to a dock in a relay, and wearing a prom gown on a scooter racing down a hill.  Yup, they all did it--including Jan, who was on an early date with my brother. Ten years later, and they are planning their wedding.

I live on "The Hill": a row of three houses--with one interloper home in between.  There's Teri and Gary, Jim and Mary-Ellen, and Kitty and Steve. Kitty, my sister, I've known all my life; Jim came next, when we were in third grade--friend of above-mentioned brother; Steve, grade six, another friend of above-mentioned brother, and boyfriend of Kitty; Mary-Ellen, Beach Weekend at Misquamicut in Rhode Island, girlfriend of Jim; Gary my grade 8 CRUSH--not yet a friend of said brother. We celebrate everything together--marriages, football, snow storms.

Lucky me, I also have friends who love theater, the arts, nature, NYC, food, coffee, books, running, walking and wine.

The down side of 61?  My mom is gone, and I miss her.  I have bunions, and that’s such an old-lady word, but I used to wear great shoes.

The down side of 61?  My mom is gone, and I miss her.  I have bunions, and that's such an old-lady word, but I used to wear great shoes. My knees and hips hurt whether I run or not.  I suck at technology.  My glasses are a permanent fixture on my face.  When I go into the attic, I bring my phone in case I fall down the stairs.  Not gonna do a climbing wall or jump out of a plane again.  And, although, I am a competitive runner, my “placing" days are numbered, even in my age bracket.  Those whippersnappers are gonna dust me pretty soon.

Looking to Our Parents for Inspiration

 Ashley with our mom Teri and dad Gary, who demonstrate a hunger to sweat, laugh, cry, celebrate, seek new experiences alone and together that keep them young at heart.

Ashley with our mom Teri and dad Gary, who demonstrate a hunger to sweat, laugh, cry, celebrate, seek new experiences alone and together that keep them young at heart.

By Ashley Rigby

Age fascinates me and the meaning one derives from their age and the age of others, fascinates me even more. I am in awe by the ownership and pride my kids express over their age, I’m bummed when people say they are “too old” to do something, and really love when I beat younger ladies in road races. Whenever I meet someone or discover an article on someone who owns their age, yet defies if at the same time, I am hungry to know more. How? Why? What else? What next? May I join your club?

Luckily, I don’t have to look too far for inspiration. Friends and acquaintances, who have met my parents, often comment on how young they are. They had my sister and me in their mid-twenties, which was the national average for the early eighties, albeit steadily trending toward early and mid thirties. So yes, my parents were and are statistically-speaking young parents and grandparents. But typically the remarks on how young they are come after meeting them, but before their age is known.

My Mom and Dad are athletes. They downhill ski, cross-country ski, slalom water ski, run competitively, mountain bike, golf, road bike, motorcycle and hike. Honestly, if someone has the gear and extends an invitation, they are game. But consider yourself warned, they will probably kick your ass at your own sport. Also, consider yourself warned again, as my Dad cheats when he fears a loss, which I chalk up to his competitive charm.

They will laugh, dance, shut down the party and walk away holding sweaty hands in one and a drink in the other. They celebrate everything and nothing.

My Mom and Dad are physically hard workers. My Dad is a contractor and my Mom is a middle school reading specialist. On weekends, weeknights and school breaks they work together to fix up their home, rental properties, flip houses, and a small lake cottage. If my Mom isn’t mowing a lawn or painting a trim, she’s about to. If my Dad isn’t at Home Depot, replacing kitchen cabinets, or installing a window, he will be tomorrow.

My Mom and Dad are partiers. They are the ultimate wedding guests. They will befriend random party guests, they will take full advantage of your open bar and four-piece band. They will laugh, dance, shut down the party and walk away holding sweaty hands in one and a drink in the other. They celebrate everything and nothing. Here are a few reasons they might have a party; it’s a Monday night, impending snow day announcement, they have leftover booze and food from a previous party, someone died, a baby was born, someone might be born someday.

I know people who are my age who don’t do half the shit that my parents do. They don’t do it now, and they probably won’t do it when they are 60 either. Age is not the factor. It’s the hunger to sweat, laugh, cry, celebrate, seek new experiences alone and together.

As I write this I realize perhaps I am already in the club. There are no dues, permission slips, or meetings. Don’t worry about your age. If your parents are like mine, follow their lead. If not, follow the example set by your children…just go find a party, a playmate, a play date and say yes to adventure.

30s are the new 20s

 Jem jams and so do I. Also, Jem isn't creaky.

Jem jams and so do I. Also, Jem isn't creaky.

By Shawna Kitzman

I’m happy I’m still in my 30s. Some of my friends and my husband are 40. I don’t know why I’m happy to have a few more years in this age bracket. What difference does it make?

I remember packages of black napkins at a party store in West Hartford Center called Bennett’s. They were black with white writing: Over the Hill! I learned in design school that historically, black packaging was associated with death. Those black napkins inferred the inherent doom and gloom that comes with turning 40. I don’t think it’s all downhill from 40. When people lived to 60, sure, 40 was old. But now people live to 80 and up, so 40 is no big deal.

Recently I felt creaky after not working out for a few months. I woke up with sore a back and hips, from my lack of physical activity. It was unacceptable. I’m too young to feel creaky. I started running again, three days a week. And I’m not creaky anymore. I know it’ll happen eventually but not yet. Not today, friends!

One of the freedoms of being 37 is confidence in who I am. I can say with certainty that I don’t like fantasy as a genre, I have no idea how the game of football works, I loathe shorts, and if I had to live on one food for the rest of my life, it’d be cheese, no question. I’m glad I don’t have to feign interest in shit to impress a date or people I want to be friends with. I can say I like this or that, or I stand for this and against that. I know who I am, but I’m open to trying new things.

The moment I close my mind to other ways of thinking or reject feedback…that’s when I’ll turn to a crusty old bird.

It’s refreshing to know myself in a way that wasn’t possible when I was younger.

A Mom's Interview: Being Six

 Colette turned six, like half a year ago.

Colette turned six, like half a year ago.

How old are you? 
I am six and a half years old.

What is the best thing about being 6 years old?
The best thing about being 6 years old is that I don’t have to wear a diaper, that I got my ears pierced and that I get to write a lot in school. That’s it for now, maybe in a year, I’ll have something else to say.

What is the worst thing about being 6 years old?
That I have homework.

What would you like to accomplish as a 6 year old?
By the end of the year I want to have at least 20 rocks.

How does it feel to be 6?
Good. But I lost 4 teeth and have a wart on my finger.

The World of Hamilton

By Edie Kitzman (age 7)

I have a CD in the car called “Hamilton”. Hamilton was a founding father. The CD has different songs about his life, and that’s how I know about him. The story of Hamilton makes me feel happy at the part where him and his friends get along. And it makes me feel sad when he got shot by an enemy. What also makes me feel sad about him is his son got shot, too, in the same place as Hamilton.

 A kid's chapter book about Hamilton.

A kid's chapter book about Hamilton.

 If Hamilton could be a hero, then we all could be heroes, too.

If Hamilton could be a hero, then we all could be heroes, too.

I wrote a book about Hamilton, and there are about seventeen chapters. I wrote it because Hamilton is real, and there are not enough books about him (that I know), and I feel like Hamilton should be honored, because of how he made things happen and why he made things happen. Also, in my life I feel that Hamilton was something more than just a founding father. And I think Hamilton would be great in our world today (if he was alive).

Listening to the music makes me want to see the play, which is exciting to me. Because I love Hamilton.  If Hamilton could be a hero, then we could be heroes, too.

Mapping a life in movie memories

How and why do some movies affect our lives for years? This one was just funny. And it turned into a love story/morality tale: money doesn’t make you happy, people do.

By Teri Michaud

We were flying home from Ireland, spread all over the plane. We were settling in, minding our own business(es), when they announced the on-board movie, Overboard. Our four heads popped up all over the plane looking for each other. Psyched! This was one of our favorite family movies of all time. Goldie Hawn, that nut-job, was perfect as the rich yachting woman who wore thong bikinis and stupid red sunglasses and insulted all of her employees, the hick town in which they were stuck, and even her doting husband. Kurt Russell, who I’ve had a slight crush on since he was about ten years old and starring in some chimp movie, had grown up! Uh-huh, dimples, muscles, hair. He was the adorable but simple carpenter called in to fix her closet while stuck in port. Our heads strained over our seats as we mouthed the next lines to each other, laughing collectively, and annoying our seat neighbors. How and why do some movies affect our lives for years? This one was just funny. And it turned into a love story/morality tale: money doesn’t make you happy, people do.  

Ashley bought this DVD for us one year and Gary and I watch it every summer at the lake. I still laugh every June! What other movies have affected me this way….move me/teach me/ make me laugh or cry or envision my response when a hero/lover/stunt woman is needed?

The first movie I remember seeing on t.v. was King Kong. It was scary, and I crawled up on the back of the “divan”. We were at my Uncle Walt and Aunt Annamae’s new “recreation room”, with a bunch of siblings and cousins sitting on a linoleum floor. The parents were drinking at the pressed-board bar.

A little later on, the only option was watching black and white classics with my mom, Saturday nights at 9:00. She would get so pissed when we laughed at the cheesy dialog or boring love songs, and she would swat at us to leave the room. What?! And give up the half can of soda I got to share with Kitty? Or, if I were lucky, I could beat Kevin to the couch and catch The Big Three Theater at noon on Saturday. I got my first glimpse of Beach Blanket Bingo then. I didn’t know they covered Annette Funicello up because she was old and pregnant.

Oh, I could also watch any junk I wanted if I stayed home sick. But that was too scary, because I’d be home alone, so I’d haul myself off to school. No t.v. was allowed during the week. Ever.

Goldie Hawn_Butterflies are Free.jpg

We grew up in Elmwood. One movie theater was in walking distance, and nobody drove us around then. If we wanted to go to West Hartford Center, good luck. I saw The Sound of Music. We sneaked in the back door and let other kids in, crept up into the balcony, under the velvet rope, kicked the seats, threw popcorn, and bummed Jujubees. I could give a crap about Maria or Leisel or Rolf. I had no idea that they were escaping Nazis. That damn movie played for two years! But up next was Billy Jack, that peace-loving badass, and The CowboysGo, Cimarron, you Hispanic hottie! Once we got driving, we went to—get this! East Hartford—to see Jesus Christ, Superstar, or (sob, snot, sob!) Ryan and Ali McGraw in Love Story. Rip out my heart! Oh my God, don’t ever let me forget Butterflies Are Free… Wait a minute! Didn’t Goldie Hawn star in that?

"Are you going to bring me my lemon or do I have to squeeze it from my hat?"

By Ashley and Colette Rigby

There are handful of movies, that stick with you for your entire life. They aren’t necessarily the “good” ones, either. They aren’t the ones studied in film school, nor have won any awards, hey don’t have a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (I can hear Jeff now, as he scoffs),...but it doesn’t matter. You love them. You’ll smirk every time you hear someone quote it and watch it until the final scene when you stumble upon it mid-way through, in random places like airports or your grandparents’ or parents’ community center.

 If the tasseled shoulders didn't give it away, Ashley channels her inner Joanna Stayton. 

If the tasseled shoulders didn't give it away, Ashley channels her inner Joanna Stayton. 

For me, this movie is Overboard with Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell. I love this movie. Always have and always will. I don’t remember when I first watched it, but I can still hear my Mom’s laugh when Annie Proffitt tried to make her new-found family dinner by boiling a whole chicken, feet, talons and all, in a pot of water. I remember, my whole family laughing out loud while watching it in sync on a flight to Ireland, summer before my junior year of college. I bet we were laughing about her bagged-ass dresses that Dean found for her or her tool-boat of a husband, Grant Stayton, flirting with his mistresses while his wife was away. I remember dressing up as Joanna, and Jeff as Grant for Halloween circa 2008 and throwing a great party.

I asked Colette to share with me her favorite movies and somehow Overboard made it onto the list. I’m unsure of how, because we’ve never watched it together. She said she watched it with Meme. I’ll have to fact check this, but for now, I’m leaving it on the list and I hope it stays there forever. I hope when she’s 35 she still remembers the sound of my laugh when Annie squishes candy into the boys’ sandwiches and tosses them loose into a lunch bag, which is what I want to do most of the time.

I hope when she’s 35 she still remembers the sound of my laugh when Annie squishes candy into the boys’ sandwiches and tosses them loose into a lunch bag, which is what I want to do most of the time.

Colette’s List of Favorite Movies:

  1. Ninjago
  2. Overboard
  3. E.T.
  4. The Good Dinosaur
  5. Zootopia
  6. Kubo and the Two Strings
  7. Trollz
  8. Paddington
  9. Inside Out
  10. Coco
  11. Toy Story

If you want to see the remake with me, let me know and we’ll plan a date for April!

Get in the lifeboat, kids!

by Shawna Kitzman

I heard the movie Titanic was playing in theaters this year to commemorate 20 years since its release.

I was a senior in high school when it landed, then parked comfortably for a year, appealing to all types of 1998 audiences. But I immediately associate the movie with graduating, so my first reaction was, Damn, I’ve been out of high school 20 years.  

I saw it in the theaters a few times, and I definitely had tears rolling down my face. C’mon: Leonardo DiCaprio at that ripe young age, and me at the ripe young age, and that story. Beyond the fictional courtship of Rose and Jack, the story of Titanic is fascinating.

But it’s been close to 20 years since I’ve given it much thought. This Christmas, while home with my mother in law Cookie, I decided to watch it on Netflix. It was Cookie’s maiden voyage. I didn’t realize Titanic virgins still existed.

We watched it intently. My kids popped in and lingered for a bit. They begged to see the ship hitting the iceberg, but I shuffled them off to bed with promise of iceberg in the morning.

I shuffled them off to bed with promise of iceberg in the morning.

Cookie and I sat fixed to the tv. She held my hand towards the end, as the drama increases. When an Irish mom tucks her kids into bed as the water rises, I was glad I’d already tucked mine in. They were safe and warm upstairs. I’d forgotten these sad details. The Titanic’s story – one of hubris and hope, then doom – is nothing short of amazing, but it’s sobering to imagine the specifics of that night.

iceberg.jpg

After the movie ended and Cookie went to bed, I stayed up by the light of my phone, researching the Unsinkable Molly Brown (a philanthropist who helped others board life boats, to the chagrin of well-heeled survivors), the oldest living passenger (none anymore), and famous people who met their fate on the ship (the first owners of Macy’s, among others). It was then that I remembered my childhood fascination with the story. 

The next day, I showed my girls the iceberg scene, but not much more. I didn’t want to explain the tragic parts. The collision impressed them. Later, I showed them a YouTube recreation of how the ship sank, which researchers and artists knit together. When we visited the library, they each got two books about the Titanic.

When we came home from the library, the cleaning lady was here. We stayed out of her way on the third floor, now unoccupied by visitors.

The tall guest bed was a ship that hits an iceberg in the night. The laundry baskets were their lifeboats. Their dad, the playful captain who throws them over his shoulder. Then, when we got hungry, we turned out the light and went downstairs for something to eat.