Monday, March 27, 2017

Make Way For Memories of a Kid Lit Classic

Previously published on Windsor Locks/ East Windsor Patch 3/27/2017

In celebration of the 75th anniversary of the beloved children’s book set in Boston, Make Way for Ducklings, a spring exhibit at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts tracks the career of the book’s author and illustrator Robert McCloskey (1914–2003), with art from Make Way for Ducklings at its center.
The book has been a favorite for generations in my family. I can still see my son (who just turned thirty) in his footed pjs, begging his father to read Make Way For Ducklings - night after night. Our dog-eared copy of the story actually belonged to his dad when he was a child.
As with Dad, the character of Officer Michael fascinated my son. He'd lean closer to the page whenever they got to the part about how the man-in-uniform would plant himself in the center of a city street, raise his white-gloved hand to stop busy Boston traffic, and then direct seven ducklings safely across the road: Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, and Pack, all in a row.

The exhibit portrays the creation of the children's classic, a narrative as entrancing as the duck tale itself. McCloskey chose brown ink instead of full color, which gave the illustrations a warm and natural feel. And the reader gets a true bird's-eye view in illustrations drawn from an aerial perspective.

But the story within the 1941 story that amuses me the most is how the illustrations evolved. At first McCloskey had difficulty drawing the ducks. That is until he bought a brood and kept them in his apartment bathtub. The ducks started their day quacking away as McCloskey followed them around with a tissue in one hand and a sketchpad in the other. When he couldn't get them to sit still long enough, he actually gave them wine to drink!
Like his books, the exhibit manages to fascinate children, their parents, and their grandparents alike. The Make Way For Ducklings: The Art of Robert McCloskey exhibit runs through June 18. Click here for ticket information.
Photos credit - Laura B. Hayden

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Feasts of Saint Patrick's Day

Previously published on Windsor Locks/East Windsor Patch, March 20, 2017

When it comes to food Saint Patrick’s Day tends to be the second Thanksgiving in my circles. The feasting is fierce. Traditionally, my in-laws host a huge corned beef and cabbage dinner on the weekend closest to the actual feast day of the patron saint. They have a knack for perfection. The brisket slices as cleanly as a turkey breast. The potatoes are just-right soft and the carrots are just-right crisp, all atop a bed of cabbage that has neither lost its color nor its taste. That’s always the March meal I savor the most.

I like to try my best at the same menu usually a few days before or after their party. This year I slow-cooked my Irish boiled dinner the day before Blizzard Stella when my daughter’s family came by. The actual Saint Patrick’s feast day fell four days later – one day before the relatives’ invite. I wanted to cook something Irish, but not another brisket. So I tried something new: a lamb shepherd’s pie. I’ve made shepherd’s pie before – but only with beef. The lamb tastes different. Some call it stronger, some sweeter, and some, simply “less beefy.” But that wasn’t the only difference. The last step in preparing the mashed potatoes that would form the “crust” of the pie was to blend in a raw egg yolk. Odd, I thought as I followed the final step before spreading the potatoes over the meat and vegetable bottom layer. The result after baking: a firmer more pie-like crust than a typical mashed potato topping.

There were no complaints at the dinner table or the next morning when my son and future daughter-in-law decided that reheated lamb shepherd’s pie would make a fine breakfast. There was, after all, one egg in it.

Photo credits: Laura B. Hayden

Blizzards Past and Present

Previously published on Windsor Locks/East Windsor Patch, March 17, 2017 

I just happened to be reading a biography of Ella Grasso this week. In 1974 the voters of Connecticut elected Ella the first woman governor to secure the position in her own right. I’m especially interested in Ella because, a few years ago, I moved to her hometown — Windsor Locks.
I’ve been trying to figure out exactly where she lived for a while now. I had it narrowed down to one street of modest homes about a mile from me. Finally, Jon E Purmont’s biography of Ella pinpointed the exact address: 13 Olive Street, across the street from her parents’ house at 12 Olive Street. Both are small capes on tiny plots of land, like my own house. If I stand in my side yard and stretch both my arms out, I can touch my house and my neighbor's

Reading Ella's biography this week turned out to be appropriate not only because it is National Women's History Month. Coincidentally, Ella’s first term as governor put her in charge of the State’s response to the Blizzard of 1978, an epic storm that cast “nearly two feet of snow,” over three days, February 5 to February 7. Governor Dannel Malloy followed her example when he closed the roads Monday to Tuesday of this week in deference to Blizzard Stella.
I headed off to bed Monday night planning to read a little more about Ella. I could still see an almost full moon through my bedroom window, though the Old Man's Face appeared hazier and hazier as storm clouds rolled in. When I woke up in the middle of the night, the snow- glow through the window, so typical of a nighttime winter storm, drew me to take a peek outside. Flakes weren't falling. Not down, anyway. Sheets of whiteness fiercely flew horizontally, before my eyes.
Took a while for me to get back to sleep with that image frozen in my mind, accompanied by the howling of the night’s idiot wind. The next morning the blizzard continued in full force. I could barely see across the street. I heard a constant whistle which went on through early afternoon until about four, when visibility dropped to zero and I heard a loud, reverberating hum. But it wasn't the storm. My neighbor was plowing my driveway!

I couldn't see the dear man's face, scarved as he was, but I knew it was him — the best neighbor in the world who can stand in his side yard, reach out his arms, and touch both our houses.
His start at cleaning up my driveway gave me the incentive to put my book down, bundle up, and take on my snow-filled porch, fronts steps, back steps, and patio.
The next afternoon, still snow-weary, I picked up the Grasso biography where I had left off: the start of her second-term election year. I was reminded how nine months before the second election Ella prevailed in a Mother Nature vs. Mama Grasso blizzard showdown. The Governor took “full charge of the emergency operations." Even spent one night “catching a few hours of sleep on an office sofa” in the emergency headquarters. At the time it was a bold move for her to closed the roads for three days. There's no telling what added havoc the Blizzards of 1978, 2013 (another one Governor Malloy closed the roads for) and 2017 might have wrecked without these closures.
I've finally finished the Ella Grasso bio. Ready to start Edith Wharton's novel Summer.

Photo credits: Laura B. Hayden; Top snow image via Shutterstock

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Step this Way to Ballroom Dancing!

  Previously published in the March 2017 Sturbridge Times Magazine. Text below photo.

           Why just settle for watching the start of the new season of Dancing with the Stars on March 20? With the number of area venues that offer beginner ballroom lessons and nights out, there's no better time for you to get up from your couch, face the music, and do some dancing.  
         “Without beginners, you don’t have dancing,” says Steele Shane, Director of Dance Programs at the Longfellow Tennis and Health Club in Wayland. “It couldn’t sustain itself.” Steele delights in guiding inexperienced dancers through a West Coast Swing lesson from 8 to 9 PM, the first hour of Longfellow’s monthly WCS dance held the second Saturday of every month. This month’s dance is March 11.
            Talking with Steele, I remembered my first ballroom lesson, some fourteen years ago. Silly me, I was approaching my mid-fifties and never had a dance lesson. Yet, there I was learning to waltz with a partner who understood rhythm much better than I. He emphasized the initial step of each cluster with ease, as he triple-stepped down the school cafeteria floor: ONE – two – three, ONE - two – three. I followed his lead, stepping to the rear, attempting to do what Ginger did with Fred, every move backward and in heels. This was no time for fancy. I needed to stay on my feet. And stay on them I did. Still do.
            Newcomers who have fun with this same kind of learning experience at Longfellow’s monthly WCS dances often sign up for private, semiprivate, and group lessons afterward. Steele and his staff teach Waltz, West Coast Swing, Salsa, Cha Cha, and Two-step among other dance styles. As with the monthly dance, you do not need to attend class with a partner.
            Deborah Schur, who has danced her way from beginner to intermediate levels over the last decade or so, enjoys meeting up with friends at Longfellow’s dance nights and taking lessons from a variety of instructors. Though she calls herself “a person who just likes to dance,” her initiation came at a time when her confidence waned, after a second bout with breast cancer. “The dance floor became my safe spot,” says Deborah. A spot where she has danced with a variety of partners, young and old, including a thirteen-year-old boy from Canada who is now a Worlds champion.
            Jared Vigneault, owner of Poise Style & Motion in Worcester says a private single or couple class can be less frustrating than a group class for the inexperienced ballroom dancer. PS&M offers one free private lesson with any one of its ten instructors. From the look of their bios on the studio’s website, TV’s DWTS team has nothing over their range of expertise in traditional ballroom dances (Waltz, Foxtrot, Tango, Quickstep, Rhumba, Cha-Cha, Swing) and nontraditional ones (Hustle, Salsa). All levels from beginners to advanced dancers can attend the studio’s weekly Dance Parties on the first three Friday’s of the month. On the fourth Friday, the Party moves to S.A.G. Park, a larger venue in Shrewsbury.
            Every Saturday night the ABL DanceSport Center in West Boylston transforms its 10,000 square-foot facility to Club Ballroom, attracting singles and couples ages 18 to 80. The weekly event starts with beginner lessons from 7 to 8 PM.
            When it comes to teaching inexperienced dancers, “it’s all about customer service,” says Steele. The dance instructor’s job is to figure out solutions to the problems beginner customers encounter as they learn to trip the light fantastic.  Trip – as in the poetic expression for “dancing with quick light steps” that is. For more information about adult classes and dances call these venues or visit their websites.
Longfellow Club, 524 Boston Post Rd., Wayland, MA 01778, (508) 358-7355,

Poise Style & Motion, 97 Webster St, Worcester, MA 01603, (508) 752-4910,

ABL DanceSport Center, 184 West Boylston St. West Boylston, MA 01583, (508)925-4537,