friends

When a Face Tells a Story

by Shawna Kitzman

I manage public engagement for my job, which takes me to places all over the northeast. I speak with stakeholders about projects or plans that will affect their community, to better understand their concerns, to educate them, and to answer questions.

Today I worked an event in my town, my hometown. We met with seniors at a housing fair to get the word out about a project.

I tabled with a representative from the town, Cathy, who wanted me to meet her friend.

The woman introduced herself as Eva Espinosa, the former Zoning Enforcement Officer for the Town of West Hartford. She was cute – petite and zippy. She had cropped grey hair and red glasses. I started my spiel, when she leaned in and said, “I don’t give a shit about this project,” with a bit of a laugh. Her spunk matched her look.

Three generations of Leonards (and our noses). Taken at my grandma’s retirement party in late 90s or early 2000s.

Three generations of Leonards (and our noses). Taken at my grandma’s retirement party in late 90s or early 2000s.

I interrupted her. It wasn’t because of her negative feedback (I’m used to it), but did she say her name is Eva? My grandma Rita was a town employee for many years, and the name rang a bell. “I’m sorry, but did you happen to know my grandma, Rita Leonard?”

Hard stop. She stared at me. “Yes! Rita was my friend! We white-water rafted the Grand Canyon together!” She looked at me fondly, searching my face, and asked which one of Rita’s six kids I belonged to.

“Teri,” I told her.

“The school teacher! Oh yes, I see it now. You have that Leonard face”. She touched her arm, “You’re giving me goosebumps, just thinking of her”.

I could see her looking at my nose; it is such a trait of my mom’s family. And one that I’ve been analyzing profusely lately. I don’t love my nose, but it’s true to my roots. My mom, my aunts, and uncles - we all have her nose.

My grandma died in 2007 from cancer. Eva motioned to her face, “I still get a tear when I drive past Exeter Street.” Exeter was my grandma’s stomping grounds, where many memories - good and bad - were made.

I remembered that Eva was one of her close friends, her colleague when my grandma was the town’s Sidewalk Inspector. They went on adventures together, they traveled. Rita worked with engineers, planners, and public works staff, much like I do now. If on a job site, Rita wore a hard hat. I do too.

Me meeting Eva. The look on her face….

Me meeting Eva. The look on her face….

We said goodbye. It was clear we both loved and admired this woman. Rita had that way about her - she had an intense personality, and she made her mark on those who knew her.

Later, I walked over to Eva, now sitting with her friend drinking coffee. I handed her a Jam Program card and invited her to join our tribe of ladies. “We’d love to have you”, I said, and I meant it.

The wit. The blunt honesty. The love. That was so much like my grandma.

“Thank you, dear. Now go away, you’re going to make me cry!” I knew my face was a trigger. I said, “I have her nose, don’t I?”

The wit, the blunt honesty, the love. That was so much like my grandma.

What a treat for Eva - and Rita - to pop into my day.

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.