Archive | October 2012

October’s perfect storm

Where did October go?

October is my favorite month. Not only because it contains my birthday and the birthday of some of my favorite people, but it’s the season itself I love to celebrate.

Not so much this October. Not since October 5.

Let’s back up a bit if you don’t know my family situation.

After living in Rochester for 13 years, after being brought here crying and screaming from my NY/NJ metro area roots, my family and I finally feel


Then came October 5. My husband, along with around 300 other workers were given the news. Their facility would be closing in Rochester. There will be some jobs that will be moved to Detroit.

Employees, not contractors, not administrative workers, were given a choice.

Sign on for a severance package and then, only then receive employment counseling for local opportunities.

Sign on a relocation agreement that says you are willing to accept a position in Detroit.

Make this decision for yourself for your family.

By October 31.

So, my friends, my family, for all I meet out and about at the JCC or in the cereal aisle at Wegmans, for the sake of me not having to repeat this story over and over, and thank you so much for all your love and support this month, that’s where it stands.

We have about two days to decide, and we’re still no closer.

So where did October go?

Instead of mulling mugs of hot apple cider, we have been mulling over different scenarios and some very hard choices.

I know, at least we have choices.

Instead of wandering through a corn maze, we have navigated the mazes of Detroit’s  and Boston’s suburbia, twisting and turning through the weight of property taxes, housing values per square foot, ratings of school districts.

No pumpkins have been carved.

No leaves have been raked.

Not a fake spider web have I stretched for the oncoming trick-or-treaters.

October hauntings?

Certainly. We’ve had plenty. Every night, the ghosts and goblins of relocation and uncertainty rattle our beds and keep us awake.

Each morning, I look in the mirror to find reflecting back at me a zombie, the go-where-you-can-make-a-living dead.

Do we live comfortably but far far away from our family? Do we sacrifice square footage and all our retirement to live still on the east coast? A vibrant city or a crumbling one that any day is supposed to have its comeback?

Sandy, you perfect storm of our lifetime, you are just the cherry on top of this perfectly imperfect month.

I already cannot wait until next October. Or, even November 2.

The Words of Serving Soldiers: The Griffin Theater’s Letters Home Visits Rochester

Here is my piece that ran in the October 28, 2012 Living section of the Democrat & Chronicle: 

For a soldier deployed in Iraq, a good day is a slow one spent on the base, learning to squeak out a tune on an old violin in the company of Iraqi and Kurdish soldiers. For a soldier deployed in Afghanistan, a horrible day is one spent in full battle, watching your commanding lieutenant dying on the ground from a gunshot wound to the gut.

It is this wide range of wartime moments, pulled from the letters written by soldiers who fought, or are still fighting, that are the building blocks of the play Letters Home. Written for the stage in 2007 by Chicago’s William Massolia, the award-winning play makes its Rochester debut at 7 p.m. Friday in the Nazareth College Arts Center.

Letters Home is a series of dramatic monologues set against a backdrop of photos and video taken directly from soldiers’ blogs and websites. It aims to shed a non-political light on the everyday life of soldiers in an 11-year war that still goes on today although few Americans feel directly affected by its impact. Massolia hopes to expose his audiences to the toll this war has taken on thousands of their fellow citizens.

“As we move on to more than a decade since the start of the war, it is becoming part of our history while still being fought in the present. I hope the play gives people with little connections to the military a better understanding of what it means to serve one’s country during wartime,” Massolia, the artistic director and founder of Chicago’s Griffin Theatre Company, said in a phone interview while his cast ran through a technical rehearsal for an Atlanta performance.

Massolia and actor Michael Bartz, 24, of Chicago, who plays several roles in the traveling production, say reception to the play varies depending on how many audience members are part of military families.

In one scene, he plays Sgt. Jeremy Lussi, who wrote that the most gratifying part of serving in the war was cheering local children with gifts as simple as a pen or a piece of candy.

In another scene, Bartz plays Sgt. Cory Mracek, who died on Jan. 27, 2004, just eight days after arriving in Iraq. In Mracek’s letters, he repeatedly asks his family why he has not heard from them. Across the stage, an actress playing Cory’s mother is wrenched with guilt, knowing her son never received the letters she sent before he died.

Bartz says he knows when there are military families in the audience. Even if he cannot see their faces in the darkness, he can hear their reactions.

“During a performance, you can hear the sobs, and it definitely gets to me while I’m up on stage,” says Bartz, who has a friend who lost both legs in Iraq. In such moments on stage, and in post-performance conversations with those who have lost loved ones in battle, “you can feel their pride and pain.”

Ryan Flynn and Claude Jordy, combat veterans in their late 20s who are now Nazareth College students, are not sure they will see the play. The material, they say, may hit too close to home.

Jordy keeps the letters he wrote in Iraq and Afghanistan in a shoebox. He does not reread them, but says it is a comfort to have them because they are a part of his history. After he graduates, the native Texan hopes to become a college history professor specializing in American military history.

During an 18-month deployment in Nazaria, Iraq, Jordy was so focused on his mission as a sergeant in the U.S. Army 1st Cavalry Division, he could almost forget “that the other side of the world still turned.” One day, he received a letter from his parents with a picture of his little sister. Her arm was in a cast. Only through that letter was he updated of little details such as a sister’s broken arm back home in Texas.

“The longer you are deployed (over there), you start forgetting the reason why you are there in the first place,” he says. “Those letters from home remind you why.”

While the veteran soldiers said they often wrote home about the long stretches of doldrums they faced, they rarely went into detail about the conditions they endured or the battles they witnessed.

“Every soldier has a different experience. Each of us had different ways of coping. I can’t speak for all soldiers, but when I wrote home, I never wanted to worry my family about the things I saw,” says Flynn, a native of Rochester who is studying information technology.

Flynn and Jordy say Letters Home is a good idea if it sheds light on what a soldier must cope with while at war. Perhaps it can also lead to an understanding of what they go through as they transition back to civilian life as students.

Nazareth College has 63 veterans enrolled as students this year. That number is expected to double next year, says Jeremy Bagley, coordinator of veteran student enrollment and support services at the school. Bagley is a vital resource to student veterans, helping them get special grants for tuition and fees and internships with vet-friendly businesses and organizations. Bagley also provides veterans who are students with assistance in areas such as figuring out complicated financial aid packages or talking about the difficulties of transitioning from the military to a classroom setting.

Now that he is a student, Flynn says he has had to “lighten up” to adjust to the college campus culture.

“It took me a year to relax and adjust to campus standards. The urgency to hand in a paper on time is just not as intense as combat urgency,” says Flynn.

Mr. Paladino moves to Panama: Transplantednorth’s first guest blogger

Sometimes, one has to make a big move, say, relocation for a job.

Here is a guest post from a man who took a chance with his wife and son to live in a new place simply because it was the place they wanted to be.

I’m off this weekend to check out the next potential chapter of my family’s life in the Detroit, Michigan area. While I’m away, I’m letting an old friend hold down the fort here at transplantednorth.

I met Chris in college at the Daily Targum, the daily student-run newspaper at Rutgers University. I wrote copy while he was either shooting photos or developing them in a darkroom. Though our paths did not cross until college, we also both grew up on Staten Island.

I haven’t seen Chris since those college days, but we’ve kept in touch thanks to the miracle of Facebook. Since our college days, Chris worked for 12 years as a fundraiser and spokesperson for the American Red Cross, being the spokesperson for major disasters such as the TWA flight 800 and other air crashes, several dozen major hurricanes, tornados and floods, the Kosovo crisis, the 1999 Turkish earthquake and many others.

 After leaving the Red Cross, Chris moved into private business in sales and business development and acquisition.  In 2010 Chris led a group of investors in the acquisition and restructuring of Chesapeake Bay Roasting Company in Crofton, Maryland, where they produce a premium coffee that is also the most sustainable coffee you can buy.  From the custom-built roaster that uses 78% less energy and packaging manufactured entirely from recyclable materials to the “H2O Initiative” which commits 2% of coffee sales (not profits) to organizations that help protect and restore the watershed, Chesapeake Bay Roasting Company coffees make a great cup while making local communities better places to live, work and play.

 Now semi-retired and living with his wife and son in Panama, Chris keeps his hands in some charitable organizations with a mission for sustainability, including raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for EarthEcho International (EEI), an organizaiton  founded by naturalists Philippe and Alexandra Cousteau. 

He and his family relocated to Panama City, Panama in the summer of 2012 to give his son an international high school experience and explore life and business opportunities in a booming Latin American culture.

Here is his story of being a transplant. What is yours? 

Three months ago my wife, 14 year son and I picked up and moved from Silver Spring, Maryland to Panama City, Panama – after just six whirlwind months from coming up with the idea to execution. We’ve always been a little impetuous, but this one was our biggest idea yet!

We actually made the move because we wanted to, not because of work or family.  The idea of “slowing down” while giving my son the chance to go through high school in an international environment was one we all thought shouldn’t be missed.

We knew we were moving to a completely new environment that operates in a language we don’t speak, but it was still a major shock once we arrived.

No matter how much you prepare yourself, stepping off the plane without a return ticket and realizing you actually live here is something you really can’t understand until you do it.

I went from feeling like a confident and successful entrepreneur to someone who struggled to set up the basics for his family.  I just wasn’t ready for how difficult it would be to get cell phones and internet service, satellite TV, and an account wit the electric company.

Even though I learned to drive in New York City, I was completely unprepared for the insanity of Panama City roads and the aggressiveness of the drivers.  Traffic signals are truly suggestions, and a road is any place you can drive your vehicle – shoulders, medians, even grassy strips.

three months into the adventure I’m starting to see the challenges as opportunities.  The Latin attitude of “mañana” is actually a great way to live if you can embrace it.  Panamanians truly “work to live,” as opposed to the American attitude of “live to work.”  I never really though that was how we were living our lives back in the States, but now that we’ve lived someplace else for a while we’ve realized just how much our American lives were defined by what we did for a living, and how much time and energy we devoted to it.

We’re really starting to have a lot of fun, from visiting the Panama Canal (how in the world did they build that thing 100 years ago?!?)

to trying to figure out what all those guys standing on the side of the road are doing (relieving themselves in the grass – why actually find a rest room?).  And there have been plenty of humorous moments as we learn Spanish. (Text messaging is huge here; for weeks I kept asking my wife, “what the hell does ‘jajaja’ mean?”  Must have read it 20 times before I pronounced it in Español – hahaha!)

We’ve also tried to find a way to make a difference in our new home country, and we’ve “adopted” a home for abused and abandoned girls. We’re leading a campaign to raise the funds to rebuild the roof, electric and plumbing.  It’s been a moving experience (you can read more about the project at

Now that we’ve been here for three months, I’m realizing most of life here isn’t better or worse – it’s just different.  Embrace the change – which was the whole reason we made the move in the first place – and life in another country can be a really fantastic experience.

In Memory of Teacher, Artist and Musician Daniel Lempert

A little over a year ago, I had the pleasure of writing a story about the father-in-law of a very good friend. At the time, Mr. Lempert, a longtime Brighton resident, was mourning the death of his beloved wife Ruth, an artist and writer in her own rite. 

Now, Daniel has also passed on and was given a burial with a full military honor. I was so honored to have written down his story in his final year on this earth. May his memory be for a blessing.

This was published last November in the Democrat & Chronicle:

It is said that a picture paints one thousand words. When Daniel Lempert completes a painting, he wants its viewers to hear music as well.

“I paint what I feel. As a musician, I feel the rhythms and chords of music,” said Lempert in his Brighton home, which is adorned with paintings he started creating in his 40’s.

Now, at 87, the retired music teacher claims to have painted hundreds of works. The paintings above his mantelpiece are filled with intersecting multicolored lines to represent the textures of a jazz improvisation. Other abstract works include pieces of sheet music or actual workings of old instruments layered on top of brightly colored shapes.

Lempert also paints local landscapes such as the lakeshores of Mendon Ponds and Lake Ontario. He does not bring his oils or canvas out to the scene, but rather paints from his mind’s eye. His works are the stuff of memory. That way, his emotions shape the outcome and look of the final painting.

His beloved wife Ruth, who passed away on Oct. 1 at 81, inspired his artistry through their 58-year marriage. “Ruth really pushed me with my art. I had teachers back in grade school that said I was no good at it. If it weren’t for my wife, I never would have painted,” he said.

When he was a music teacher in the East Rochester school district, Lempert came home from work one day quite upset that the custodial staff had left his music room a cluttered jumble of desks and chairs in efforts to empty out another classroom.

“I told this to Ruth and she said, ‘Why don’t you paint it?’” So he did. The result is one of Lempert’s earliest works: a jumble of chairs and desks in an abstract composition, and painted between the furniture is a sousaphone. It remains one of Lempert’s favorite pieces.

It was Ruth who bought her husband his first set of oil paints in 1968. The University of Rochester alumna and author of the 2008 memoir “Fish, Faith and Family,”also encouraged her husband to take art lessons at this time at the Memorial Art Gallery, where he has been taking classes since 1976.

Like his paintings, the photographs in Lempert’s home also tell stories. One is a black-and-white snapshot of Lempert as a young man with a head of thick wavy black hair playing trumpet in front of a tent.

After high school, Lempert enlisted in the U.S. Army during WWII. He finished basic training in North Carolina and was about to get shipped overseas when opportunity came knocking. The army needed a stateside trumpet player. He auditioned before a group of officers. He still remembers playing the “Carnival of Venice,” a folk song that most known as the melody for “My Hat it has Three Corners.”

The complexity of the trumpet solos won the approval of his commanders. Instead of going off to battle, Lempert stayed in North Carolina for the war’s duration playing reverie in the morning and taps each evening.

“The trumpet saved my life,” he said.

Lempert’s son David recalls how his dad had three jobs when he was growing up: He was a school music teacher, a private tutor on Saturdays, and a big band player late at night. “He would teach during the day, head to a club around 10 in the evening, come home at 3 in the morning and then get up to teach. He was tired but he loved it,” said David Lempert.

The talent for the arts runs in the Lempert family gene pool.  His late daughter Judith earned a degree in fine arts from RIT. Judith’s daughter Rebecca Zaretsky is now studying art at Wheelock College in Boston. Lempert still practices for up to two hours a day every day. The only time he stopped playing was for a brief time after Ruth passed away.

His advice to young musicians and artists: “If art and music are a part of you, you must keep practicing your craft.”

Getting to Know Daniel Lempert

Age: 87

Education:  Graduate of Fredonia Music School and Columbia University

Occupation: 37 years as music teacher in East Rochester. Retired in 1984

Hobbies:  Painting. Trumpet player in Jack Allen’s Big Band

Photo Challenge: Big

transporting a wind turbine blade. These things are big. Let’s hope we see more of these on the road as a sign of the growth of wind as an alternative energy.

Now, full disclosure here, this is not my photo.


I DID take a photo like this on a summer road trip but, thinking I would never use it, erased it from my camera, to be gone forever. The WordPress weekly photo challenge this week makes me realize, you never know when you are going to need a shot, so hang onto everything!

When you take trips on long stretches of roads like we do, every now again at a rest/truck stop, you come across a tractor trailer carrying something enormous.  Curiosity piqued, we HAD to drive closer in the dusty truck stop parking lot to check it out.

Conclusion: Wind Turbines are BIG. Let’s hope that our use of wind energy in this country only gets … bigger.

To Plant or to uproot? That is the question.

Brace yourselves, my dear blog devotees (mom, you already know)

but this blog is about to get a whole lot darker.


And that’s not even because Halloween is coming.

The universe has thrown my family a curve ball and the research facility where my husband works, the whole reason why we were plunked down in Rochester, is closing.

Once again, we are faced with the possibility of becoming


The next few days and weeks will be hard. Getting transplanted has many implications, big and small, on almost every facet of one’s life.

Take my passion for gardening, for example.

For nearly 13 years, I have continually worked in the gardens around my house. I’ve battled invasive creeping ivy; clearing it out to create a shade garden of hosta and ferns  and Solomon Seal in my back garden.

I had yews removed to create a perennial garden in one of the only truly sunny spots on our property. Over the years, I’ve planted peony, roses, lavender, and countless other varieties.

After over a decade, the garden is finally looking established.

And now, I guess I’ll have to leave it all behind.

So, faced with the very real possibility of moving. what do I do now with the crocus and tulip bulbs I bought


Before we got the news that has pulled the rug out from my family’s feet?

Do I plant bulbs this fall that I may not get to see bloom in the spring?

I know that as my family faces the monumental “ifs” of moving, the subject of some stupid bulbs may seem – stupid. But at this point of the transplanting game, it’s about all I can handle.

About 11 years ago, in another event that changed EVERYONE’s lives forever, I had similar thoughts about bulbs.

We were all still reeling from the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In October, the War on Terror had begun with strikes in Afghanistan. There were reports of anthrax being spread through the mail. Remember how everyone was stocking up on bottled water and duct tape in case of a dirty bomb? Or a bio weapon of mass destruction?

No one knew what was coming next.

That fall, I watched and listened to way too many grim reports from the media.  It left me in a serious blue funk.

So, I planted bulbs. They gave me hope, they gave me some sense of control of what I could be certain of for the following spring.

So now, in this one miniscule detail in the mountain of details one faces on the prospect of moving, I’ve got two bags of bulbs.

I can plant them for either me, if we stay here, or the new owners of my house.

Or, I can give them away to friends for them to enjoy.

If you knew you wouldn’t be around the same town to see your garden in the spring, what would you do?

wrote this back in June, but now all fears and speculations have become reality

Stacy Gittleman

“Quick, someone SOMEONE open the door to the garage!”

My daughter’s voice boomed down the staircase. I didn’t appreciate her barking orders at me.

After all, that’s my job. Why couldn’t she open the door herself?

I followed the sound of her voice and soon realize why she couldn’t open the door.

Her arms were full of a year’s worth of notes. Her entire Freshman year of high school. A tree’s worth of it, was piled in her arms and about to topple over.

“I think I killed a whole tree this year,” she said.

Fortunately, it will all be recycled, I told her.

To follow suit, my husband then got rid of his own notes. Five years of notes he took in graduate school at the University of California at Berkeley. Notes he hung on to for nearly 17 years.  They overflowed the recycle bin. A summer wind picked…

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A Woman with Roots Firmly Planted in the Good Food Movement

Sue Gardner Smith, manager of the Brighton and South Wedge farmers markets, stands with a old abandoned barn along Westfall Road in Brighton. The barn is part of a site proposed as the Brighton Farm and Farmers Market expansion and renovation project.

Sue Gardner Smith, manager of the Brighton and South Wedge farmers markets, stands with a old abandoned barn along Westfall Road in Brighton. The barn is part of a site proposed as the Brighton Farm and Farmers Market expansion and renovation project. / SHAWN DOWD//staff photographer

Perhaps it is no coincidence that a woman with a surname derived from an old French word meaning “gardener” would become a grass-roots champion of the sustainable and organic food movement in Brighton.

With humble determination, Sue Gardner Smith turned her activism into a career in managing farmers markets — first in the South Wedge neighborhood of the city and now in Brighton.

Gardner Smith was the oldest of seven children growing up on a 70-acre farm in Wayne County that had been in her family for a century. She remembers walking through its cherry orchards with her father and tending to the family garden with her mother and siblings.

Being the oldest in a large family, Gardner Smith developed the nurturing traits of a “mother hen” by cooking meals and caring for her younger siblings. In her early culinary experimentation, some dishes were tastier than others. Even into adulthood, she still gets teased by her siblings at her first attempts in the kitchen.

“When I was nine, I came up with a dish called chipped beef on toast. It was wretched. … I have to say that my cooking and tastes have improved vastly since then,” said Gardner Smith, who now prefers making dishes like ricotta cheese and onions stuffed into Swiss chard leaves she grows at her 10-foot by 10-foot plot in the Brighton community garden, a project also under her charge.

In her experiences of living in cities abroad and in the United States, nothing unites people more than food. She has shopped for fresh produce in the open-air markets and dined in the cafes in the plazas of Brussels. In London, there was the tavern and pub culture, “neutral” places where local neighbors could gather for a meal and a drink at the end of the day.

During her 15 years living in the San Francisco Bay area, she visited restaurants like Chez Panisse and markets such as the Berkeley Bowl, where the air buzzed with a sense of what she called “food energy.”

“It’s not just about eating. It’s how people gather at markets to socialize and catch up with neighbors as they shop. It’s the sounds of local musicians playing among the produce stands. I have long felt that Brighton should have this kind of gathering place, and I’m glad to watch its success,” she said.

Since 2008, the market held each Sunday in the Brighton High School parking lot from May through October is a testament of Brighton’s desire for high-quality and locally grown food. One thing Gardner Smith admits is that from a short-term perspective, eating organic and local is a bit costlier. Also, a recent Stanford University study recently concluded that organic food is no more nutritional than conventionally grown food.

However, she believes these factors will not curb the organic, locavore trend. This is because people are starting to put values on reducing their carbon footprint and the use of harmful pesticides, and developing a direct and trusting relationship between the grower and the producer at local markets.

“The study missed the point and had too narrow a focus. When you buy local and organic, you develop a sense of trust with the farmer, and you are also helping to support the local economy,” she said.

In addition to buying locally produced food, Brighton residents also expressed a desire to get their own hands dirty in avegetable garden of their own. In 2009, the creation of a community garden in Brighton seemed like the next step.

“It seemed like an obvious sister project to the market,” said Gardner Smith, who with a committee helped build a fence and a gate system around 100 10-foot by 10-foot plots on Westfall Road by the historic Groos house. Outside of a few stubborn groundhogs that managed to breach the fence, Brighton residents have enjoyed the bounty of their harvests.

Now that the shorter days and cooler nights of autumn are here, it is time for Gardner Smith and the other Brighton gardeners to put their plots to rest for the winter. But that doesn’t mean that plans for coming years will be put into hibernation.

Her ambitions for future years include using funds from a $250,000 state grant awarded to the town to preserve a farmhouse, a barn and some of the farmland on Westfall Road. The proposed project aims to create a permanent location for the farmers market and an expansion to the community garden with educational opportunities for schoolchildren to learn more about agriculture.

“Not only is my job rewarding, it’s also a lot of fun. I’ve met so many wonderful people in Brighton who are committed to this meaningful work that really has made a difference.”

Indeed, Sue Gardner Smith’s name suits her well.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Mine

First night in HIS big boy bed with all HIS animals. This photo just says “mine.”

The word mine. After mama and dada, it is probably one the first word a child learns.

Especially if he has other siblings.

This is a photo of my son way before he grew to the almost  14-year-old guitar-playin’, fedora wearin’ teen boy he is now.

Back then, a little over two years old, he was the boy who did not want to give up his crib. And would only do so unless it was absolutely guaranteed that he could sleep in his new big boy bed with ALL his friends.

So there he is, and there he was.

Mine is a very important word to a toddler. But if you ever parented a toddler, you already knew that.

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