Thursday, June 30, 2011

Dancing Folks

The spotlight tonight goes to Ms. Antonia Velez, ninety-something years old, of Meriden and formerly of Cartagena Columbia who danced for two hours non-stop, keeping pace with all the Center for Creative Youth kids at Pablo Mayor's Folklore Urbano free public concert on Wesleyan's campus. Lots of local people were out to enjoy the music and the beautiful summer evening.

Colombian Groove Band: Free Concert in Center for the Arts Courtyard Tonight, June 30

A post from the Center for the Arts Blog by Director Pamela Tatge.

We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day for the annual outdoor summer concert at the Center for the Arts! We hope that you will come early, bring a picnic and groove with Pablo Mayor's Folklore Urbano. The concert begins at 7pm in the CFA Courtyard.

Pablo Mayor is a composer, arranger, pianist, from Cali, Colombia, whose star has risen since he moved to New York in 1999. While a professor of jazz at the Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá, Colombia, he began his personal investigation of the native music of Colombia, and has combined this knowledge with his extensive knowledge of jazz harmonies and arranging. The Folklore Urbano Orchestra has produced three CD’s and taken the band to both national and international venues.

What you'll hear tonight is modern Colombian music redefined in fresh, lively, provocative ways. Part groove band, part dance orchestra, the powerhouse ensemble of eight musicians seamlessly fuses the danceable swing of traditional Colombian rhythms with the lush subtleties of contemporary jazz harmonies and unique arrangements. You'll feel the beat of a rhythm section deeply grounded in traditional Colombian music. Like a feisty chef, Pablo Mayor then adds explosive horns and great vocals to produce a tasty, sultry, addictive blend.

Please join us!

Pablo Mayor's Folklore Urbano
Thursday, June 30, 2011 at 7pm
CFA Courtyard
Wesleyan University
Free parking available in T, E, and G lots

From The Pencil: River Front Development

The anticipated decommissioning of the River Road sewer treatment plant opens up a spectacular portion of Middletown's riverfront for development. At the most recent Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, there was a debate between some who want to do a detailed, community inclusive, "larger study" before making any decisions, and others who want to "get something done."
An artist sent in the following commentary on the outcome of that debate.

Middletown Bookmobile Summer Schedule

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Board of Ed Approves New Principal At Woodrow Wilson Middle School

At this evening's regular Board of Ed meeting, Don Gates was introduced to the Board as the nominated Interim Principal at Woodrow Wilson Middle School. The former Principal, Charles Marqua, resigned in June for personal reasons. Gates was approved by the BOE, and has a long record of school service: 31 years as Principal of Portland High School, Interim Principal at Valley Regional High School, and additional work in East Hampton in the middle school and high school. Gates supposedly retired in 2006, but apparently hasn't been able to stay away for long: "I like a challenge and I believe there's one at Woodrow Wilson....I believe in a safe school environment and in are young people to be molded, not unfolded." Gates starts officially on Friday.

The only budget talk that happened at this meeting was a reference to Governor Malloy's "Plan B" for the state budget. "Plan B" is to be announced on Thursday, and BOE member Sally Boske urged the board to contact Middletown's representatives to ask that funding to localities not be cut (i.e. state funding to local boards of education). There was also discussion about the possibility of all the Vo-tech high schools being closed as a cost savings measure, but Superintendent Michael Frechette said that option is now off the table. In the event it's not, Middletown High School would have to absorb about 120 students if Vinal Tech closed.

In big environmental news, Middletown is getting a second hybrid school bus. This makes Middletown the only town in the state with two, and BOE Chairman Ted Raczka is thrilled that he has "one-upped" New Britain. In case you missed the news about the first bus, you can read the details here.

The results on this year's CMT (Connecticut Mastery Test) are not in yet, but Asst. Superintendent Barbara Senges did tell the board that the district would be revising its District Improvement Plan for the next three years. If Middletown meets Adaquate Yearly Progress (APY) this year, it will be off the "Needs Improvement List" for No Child Left Behind, but that doesn't mean that improvements don't still have to be made. "We've made the instructional changes we need to for the population as a whole, but we need to focus more specifically on the 'economically challenged' group to help close the achievement gap," Senges told the BOE. "We're not helping the free and reduced cost lunch population enough, and we need to work more at reaching this group of kids." This means Middletown will change the data it is collecting and it will focus on the grade level, not the school level. Senges did confirm after the BOE meeting that this will mean LESS work for teachers, not more.

Acting Police Chief Patrick McMahon spoke to the BOE about the School Resource Officer (SRO) Program at MHS, echoing the praise of Principal Robert Fontaine. Chief McMahon offered a third SRO for Woodrow Wilson Middle School, saying he'd like to be able to select an officer for training this summer so the program can start in the fall. Superintendent Michael Frechette told the Board that he'd begin a discussion with WWMS's new principal to see what could be done.

BOE member Sally Boske is not running for re-election in November, and there was some discussion about volunteers to take her place on representative boards outside the district. FYI, there are five positions on November's ballot for the Board of Ed, and rumor has it there may be more than one open spot. The deadline to declare candidacy is July 11.

Free Groove Band Concert Thursday

The CFA Courtyard is one of the best venues in the city for summer music.

Naturalization Ceremony in Middletown

Twenty men and woman from across the State took the Oath of Allegiance at the Middletown City Hall today, June 23rd at 1:00 pm and became citizens of the United States of America.  The new citizens, most accompanied by supportive friends and family, represented 16 countries on four continents. 

The ceremony was presided over by the Honorable Stefan R.Underhill, US District Court, District of CT who noted that those present were helping to make the American dream a reality. Following the administration of the Oath by Judge Underhill, all present joined in an enthusiastic reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance led by Philip Cacciola, Commander, American Legion Milardo-Wilcox Post 75, Middletown.

The Star-Spangled Banner was then sung by three young ladies representing the Middletown High School Choir.

James Spallone, Deputy Secretary of State was present to congratulate the new citizens and encourage them to let their voices be heard by registering to vote.  Most took advantage of the registrars who were present and ready to process the new voters on the spot.

Judge Underhill expressed a special ‘thank you’ to Arthur Meyers, Director of Russell Library for his contribution to the success of the day’s Ceremony.  
The solemnity of the occasion was broken by rounds of applause and congratulatory hugs as Judge Underhill presented each of the new citizens a Certificate to mark the occasion. Judge Underhill posed for photos and encouraged everyone to savor the day and create memories with photos.  The Ceremony ended in a festive atmosphere of celebration.   

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Around the Garden

One man’s meat is another man’s poison, goes the old saw. Something like that can be said for rain and gardens. My garden has never grown more vigorously than this year. I use “my garden” loosely – including the experimental American chestnut orchard that I help maintain on city property.

Many of the chestnut trees planted in May of 2010 are nearly five feet tall – started from seed.

This year’s planting went in May 1st, and several of those trees are 15 inches tall already.

So far this month, rainfall is just about double the DEP’s average prediction for all of June. Twelve out of the first 24 days produced measurable rainfall, and more is in the forecast.

While my trees planted in rocky clay have thrived, other trees are looking pretty stressed. Around Middletown streets, a group of four Honey locusts in front of It’s Only Natural (the market, not the restaurant) offer up a lesson in what can go wrong with urban trees. The two on either end are sparse, with several dead branches each. In the middle, two very full trees have bent over nearly double. I sent pictures and a description of these to the chief pathologist at the CT Agricultural Experiment Station; the tentative diagnosis was anoxia, (oxygen deprivation) caused by water-logged soil.

Sadly, many of the trees at Melilli Plaza are looking worse for wear as well. One of the two London plane trees from the original 1975 planting is dying from the top down, a typical result of root injury. None of the new London planes planted last fall appears to be healthy – possibly the result of being planted too deeply.

Hope springs eternal, however, and this past week, the Middletown Urban Forestry Commission began planting a nursery for future street trees. Approximately 150 native trees were potted up and heeled into a long trench, where they will grow for about two years. At least one more increase in pot size will be needed before these trees become large enough to survive as urban trees.

Because street trees have so many stresses – salt, limited root space, lack of water, careless drivers and thoughtless passers-by – the new trend for urban tree planting is something called “set-back planting.” These are trees planted by the municipality on residential property, rather than in what some call the “hell strip” between sidewalk and street. An agreement between the city and the homeowner states that the homeowner will make sure the tree or trees are watered and protected. In return, the city agrees to maintain the tree as needed, with the knowledge that these trees will likely have a much better future than they would if planted in the “hell strip.”

The Urban Forestry Commission received a grant in 2010 to plant a group of sugar maples to replace many maples that had been removed in recent years. With luck and favorable weather, many more will be planted in coming years.

From 1926: Middletown Raids Disclose Only Beer

The following article is from 90 years ago today, published in the Hartford Courant on June 26, 1921.
Prohibition, the 1920 to 1933 national ban on the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol, was eagerly embraced in puritanical Connecticut. It's vestiges remain, as Connecticut is one of only 3 states to ban sales of beer, wine, and spirits on Sundays.
The photo of the cartoon is the from the Wesleyan archives, which has extensive material on the Middletown efforts against alcohol. Churches, including the A.M.E. Zion church, played a very large role in promoting the temperance movement.

Neither Barber Shop Nor Saloon Is An Oasis.
The police yesterday afternoon raided two places on Main Street, one a barber shop and the other a saloon. Nothing was found in the barber shop and a small quantity of beer was found in the saloon.

The place formerly run by T. English at No. 720 Main Street, which recently changed hands, was the first to be visited by the police. Policeman Schilling, Ward, and Ghent in plain clothes search the place but found only bottles of what is supposed to be "beer". Samples were taken and the beer will be analyzed to ascertain the percentage of alcohol.The place was raided some weeks ago and nothing was found. Several complaints had been lodged against the saloon since that time.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Fourth of July: Just Another Monday?

It took me some detective work to find out that Middletown is not having fireworks or a Fourth of July celebration again this year. The usual holiday festivities were cancelled in 2010, but I had not heard anything about this year and was thinking, wishfully, that the party would be back on. The display right on the riverbank always felt like the quintessential way to mark the holiday to me. It just doesn't feel the same without the fireworks.

During my childhood, every year my family trekked out to a huge park called Oregon Ridge in Maryland where the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra played a full concert before the lengthy fireworks display got started. Families would spend all day there with picnics and games before the free concert and show. I spent one summer in Washington D.C. and watched the display from the Mall with the Washington Monument as a background. That year, there were overcast skies, but the threats of rain never materialized. There was less of a crowd because of the forecast, and I ended up with a choice viewing spot. Celebrating our nation's independence in the nation's capital is not an overrated experience in my opinion.

It's been hard to find any other Fourth of July celebrations so spectacular as the ones I experienced early in life, partly because of the true magnificence of them, but also partly because of the way that good memories can set in and leave an unbeatable impression, leaving you always searching to recreate them. Twice I have spent the Fourth of July in Norwich, where the fireworks display over the Thames river was quite spectacular. A few summers at a town park in Western Pennsylvania were unimpressive, but pleasant. I've never seen the displays in Boston or New London and I'd like to get a chance to see those some time in the future.

Some people don't feel the connection with the Fourth of July or enjoy the fireworks all that much. I've heard from people who dislike the noise, or the crowds, or just don't feel that Fourth of July is a favorite holiday. I knew one man who was a war veteran and felt that the fireworks displays are disrespectful to veterans, because for him, the sounds and flashes of lights brought on bad war memories. I have a relative who was injured badly at a backyard Fourth of July party gone awry, where the combination of alcohol consumption and firecrackers landed her in the hospital and with a life-long injury.

Back to present day, New Britain has been in the news lately for announcing the cancellation of their annual fireworks early in June, and then having donations and grants pour in, in a still ongoing effort to restore the tradition for this year. There is a nationwide trend of downsizing or canceling the displays. The typical fireworks display for a town like Middletown or New Britain costs about $50,000.

So, Eye readers, what do you think about the lack of a celebration in Middletown this year? Is this a good way to save some money in our City budget, or are we foolish to forego one of the rites of summer? What are some the best, or worst, or most memorable Fourth of July fireworks you've seen?

And if you're looking for festivities for this year, check out the Hartford Courant's interactive map and “10 Best Bets” listing here:

Anti-War Protest On Main Street Today

From David Bauer
What: Protest against War, all the Wars we are continuously waging

When: Today 6/25 @ 1 PM

Where: At the corner of Main & Washington in Middletown

Who: Vic Lancia and anyone who wants to join in....

Why: War on Hunger, War on Drugs, War on Poverty, War on Terror, War on Reality, & Real Wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Columbia, Iran, and on and on and on

Friday, June 24, 2011

First Church Honors John Hall's Ministry

This Sunday:
John Hall's Final Sermon
at First Church UCC

First Church of Christ (UCC),
190 Court Street
Middletown, CT

John Hall, pastor of First Church of Christ, Congregational (UCC) in Middletown for 21 years, will speak the final sermon of his ministry here on Sunday. John was called to serve First Church on May 13, 1990, over 21 years ago. First Church has been blessed to have John serve as our 15th minister of our congregation since it was officially chartered in 1668.

John has made many wonderful contributions throughout his ministry: His efforts in the Middletown community, his work concerning environmental issues, his work with the Jonah Center for Earth and Art, and his efforts in planning for riverfront access for canoes and kayaks have been steadfast, successful, and strong. On a personal level, John exudes good will and charm.

John's efforts to secure the names of those who are buried by number, not name, at the CVH cemetary culminated in annual memorial ceremonies at the CVH cemetery that name and bless all the forgotten ones.

Within the church: his sermons are not excessively long!; they are usually humorous, at least in part; and they can be challenging in one way or another. That is, his sermons may be controversial or "out of the box" in some way. One might not always agree with him (not speaking for myself particularly), but there's always food for thought. His presence and his ways will be greatly missed.

The service this Sunday includes, in part

Reading from Scripture: John 21:15-19 and a sermon – The Life We Have. John's final sermon as Minister of First Church will be a personal reflection on the journey that led him to this point, in order to encourage us all to ponder what brought us to this point in our lives, including things we never wanted to happen. And yet, what a blessing it is ­ -- just to be alive!

Music for the service includes

Prelude: Fugue in Eb, Johann Sebastian Bach
Anthem: Psalm 139, Allen Pote
(Senior Choir and Celebration Singers)
Offertory: Come Now Holy Spirit, Dietrich Buxtehude
Postlude: Sinfonia in D, Johann Sebastian Bach

Hymns: All Praise to Thee, for Thou, O King Divine; I Sought the Lord and Afterward I Knew Peace; Lord, Thou Hast Searched Me Tender Thought

If you haven't heard John preach, or even if you have, we invite you this Sunday to witness his final Sunday in ministry at First Church. The service begins at 10 o'clock, as usual, and a reception for John and Susan, his wife, follows in the Parish Hall. Come and see what it's all about.
Child care is provided every Sunday at First Church--just ask about it at the front door; parking is available on Court Street & in the surrounding neighborhood.

The mission of First Church is to engage and support people in worship, learning, fellowship, and service, so that all may find in our community the Spirit of the living Christ.

First Church is an Open and Affirming Congregation: All are welcome into the full life of our community regardless of their race, age, gender, nationality, marital status, economic situation, mental or physical ability, or sexual orientation. No matter where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome.

Holzberg Receives Henry J. Naruk Judiciary Award

Judge Robert Holzberg, administrative judge for the Middlesex Judicial District, received the Connecticut Bar Association’s Henry J. Naruk Judiciary Award on Thursday (June 23), at the CBA’s annual meeting. This award honors a member of the Connecticut judiciary who epitomizes long-term, dedicated and conscientious service to the community in a judicial role; demonstrates integrity; and possesses legal ability to the highest quality.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

This cartoon by Fred Carroll was inspired by some folks who spent time on the front steps of First Church on Court Street.

P&Z Commissioner Calls Chair's Riverfront Memorandum "Preposterous"

The Planning and Zoning Commission discussed a draft memorandum to update the Mayor and Common Council on their riverfront planning efforts. The memorandum, written for Chairman Quentin Phipps by Planning Director Bill Warner, drew strong objections from Commissioner Catherine Johnson.

In early March, Mayor Sebastian Giuliano asked the Commission to plan for development of the Riverfront south of Harbor Park, asking them to review previous riverfront planning efforts, and to gather information regarding the Route 9 southern interchange project, the OMO superfund toxic waste site, and to meet with other stakeholders such as the Lady Katherine Cruise Line, the Lions Club, Parks and Recreation, and the operator of the Canoe Club.

In the intervening months, the Commission heard primarily from Bill Warner about some of these issues.

Last night, Warner highlighted the "historic" Council vote to join the Mattabassett Sewer regionalization project. He told the Commissioners how much enthusiasm there was on the Council about the possibilities which would open up when Middletown's treatment plant on River Road could close. He said that the Council was now looking towards Planning and Zoning for a plan, "All of that is on your shoulders."

Johnson said the memorandum baldly misrepresented the extent of the Commission's riverfront planning, "It [the memorandum] makes me sick to my stomach." The Warner/Phipps memorandum reads, "The Commission began by reviewing previous planning efforts for the waterfront. The Commission paid specific attention to the results of a charette [sic] conducted at Long Hill Estate in May of 2000." Johnson objected to language such as this, which she claimed implied far more consideration and discussion by the Commission than had actually occurred, "We never discussed as a group what happened in May of 2000!"

Johnson also said it was premature for the memorandum to include in the last section, entitled "The Riverfront Zone", a discussion on what the Commission intended, "Below are our preliminary thoughts on the new Riverfront Zone for the study area."

Johnson said that riverfront planning should be done very carefully, "It would be nice to have a larger study."

Other Commission members defended the memorandum as a preliminary set of thoughts with nothing "set in stone". Carl Bolz said, "This document is a start."

Bill Warner urged the Commission to move forward, "You can study and study, or you can get going and get something done."

The full draft memorandum is HERE

Jazz Artist Phred Mileski Performs Tonight At Canoe Club

Trevor Davis writes:
This week we have a special treat, an international performing artist, Ms. Phred Mileski and her trio. You will love this vocalist, I promise.
We're hoping today's rain will be gone by tomorrow. And even if it's not, we can set up the band inside. So come on down for food, drinks and free jazz on the River!

The Summer Box

True Confessions: I'm lousy at holidays. And family traditions. And don't hold your breath waiting for me to remember your birthday.

But there's one tradition that I started over a decade ago, and it's actually important to me. On the last day of school, I fill a box with things that will usher in a season of fun: the Summer Box. It's supposed to be ready to greet the kids when they come home. When my kids were little, it was always full of popsicle makers, water guns and puzzle books. In the past few years, it's had more novels and boxes of brownie mix, and a few IOU's. But this year, I've been rushing around so much the past few weeks that I didn't get it together to make The Box.

Maybe I'm finally hitting mid-life, because instead of berating myself for being a lousy mom and disappointing the kids, I decided to just forgive and come up with a Plan B.


On Tuesday, when Macdonough dismissed my now-4th-grader at 1:45 pm, I took a few sidewalk photos, gathered all the siblings-in-residence and headed out for an adventure. I grew up with a Road-Tripping Mom, and there's nothing more comforting to me than a stuffed car and a destination. In this case, I decided that the kids were just going to have to help me pick out the stuff for the Summer Box themselves. There's an off-the-beaten-path toy store in Manchester that appeals to the full 10-year age range of my kids, so that's where we went.

This year's Summer Box, carried home belatedly in a few plastic bags, included some legos, a book of madlibs and a board game** called Smallworld, chosen mainly because of the evangelical urgings of a pale-skinned and well-past-his-teenage-years fellow customer in the board game aisle.

Smallword and the Summer Box have already given us a few hours of family togetherness. And that's really what this post is about. We're not perfect. In fact, sometimes I wonder how we stay out of the papers. But staking a claim for some family time, at whatever level we can make it work, is a Balm in Gilead for this distracted, city-obsessed, under-and-overachieving mom from Middletown. It's what I always get when I open the Summer Box each year. I wish the same for you and yours.

**If you haven't ventured much beyond Monopoly and Scrabble, then you've missed a whole universe of new games that take their cue from fantasy and strategy video games. I first encountered these games at ConnectiCon, the July geek convention inspired by Japanese pop culture. At the Con, they fill half a ballroom with tables full of people playing board games (the other half holds a tournament for people who take turns bashing each other with foam swords.) And here's the only tip you'll get from this post: ConnectiCon, July 8-10 at the Hartford Convention Center. So. Much. Fun. You can google it or just read my post from 2008 on the subject here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Volunteers Get Some Love

O'Rourke's Diner treats Buttonwood volunteers to special dinner!

After O'Rouke's Diner officially closed for the day, Brian O'Rourke kept going to show his support for his North End neighbor. Gracious as ever on the Summer Solstice, he laid out a beautiful dinner party for the volunteers of The Buttonwood Tree. Anne-Marie Cannata, Executive Director of North End Arts Rising / The Buttonwood Tree, returned to the kitchen to help prepare and serve the meal.

Brian made special accommodations for vegetarians on the spot, but he warned everybody that there would be no cheesecake for anyone who didn't eat their brussels sprouts. And never so tasty a tiny cabbage was there ever served up in a Middletown dining establishment. Salad was fresh with house made dressing and fresh herbs, soup was rich, and everything was delicious. It really was a special way for the Buttonwood to say thanks to the people who have, in testament to the importance of The Buttonwood, donated their time, talent, energy, and services over the years. Anne-Marie would like to thank each and every person and hopes she has remembered everyone when she says that The Buttonwood Tree IS:

Eileen Albrizio | Mike Arafeh | Francine Augeri | Reverend Ronnie Bantum | John Basinger | 
Ed Biofore | Bill Biski | Abe Bobman | Lisa Bosco | Brian Burness | J- Cherry | Breanne Coates | Tom Cushing | Matt Donahue | Brad Devlin | Kelly DiMauro & daughter Kelsey | Mike D'Amico | Matt Earls | Matthew Evangelisti | Brad Devin | Deb Flynn | Ambur Fulse | Annaita Gandhy | Bill George | Bob Gotta | Tom Hahn | John and Jen Halfinger | Colin Haskins | Joe Hoyadilla | Ty Hunter | Jim Keating | Terri Klein | Kunle Mwanga | Kay Lani | Isaac Lichter | Roy Lisker | Topher Polack | 
Ian LaForce | Suzy Lampson | Laura Lawton | Roy Lisker | 
Dr. Maryott | Ted Paulsen | Topher Polack | Abby Reynolds | Paul Rice | Cocomo Rock | Erin St. Pierre | Phill Salafia | Ann Smith | Rev. Sandra Steele | Tim Sparks | Melissa Spencer | James Stoetzle | Dave Stott | Karen Swartz | Elizabeth Thomas | Ken Villines | Ashley & Sheryl Wescott | Terri Johnson & Martha Johnson | Dottie & Barry Ten Eyck | Fred Carroll

Here Stephan and Susan Allison talk about the origins of The Buttonwood Tree (TBT), now also called NEAR. The Allisons are pleased that TBT is thriving under Anne-Marie Cannata's leadership, and were delighted to receive the new TBT mug! The Allison's talk also focused on the original goals of The Buttonwood and some history and reminiscing. It was a great opportunity for the volunteers to learn some of the stories of the people and events and changes over the years.

As always, The Buttonwood has a full slate Thursday night and throughout the weekend with lots of great music scheduled. The details can be found at

South Main Traffic Accident

From Sergeant Scott Aresco, Middletown Police Traffic Unit Supervisor

At approximately 6:00 P.M. this evening, a serious motor vehicle collision occurred on Route 17 (South Main Street) in the area Talcott Ridge Drive.

The preliminary investigation indicates that a 2006 Toyota Highlander, operated by, Ms. June Sylvester, age: 65, of Durham, was traveling in a southerly direction on South Main Street. The vehicle traveled to the right, and off the roadway making contact with a wooden utility pole.

The operator of the Toyota was transported to Hartford Hospital, and is listed in serious condition.

Witnesses to the collision are asked to contact Officer David Godwin of the Traffic Unit (860) 344-3264.

3 Days of 3 + Noah B. and Chris D. (not together this time)

It's a busy weekend at The Buttonwood Tree starting Friday night with a visit from The Electric Trains, a "roots music" trio based in Connecticut.  All their songs deal with travel, the people one meets along the way and the things that can happen.  They'll begin at 8 p.m.

Saturday, it's the "electro-acoustic improvisations" of 9:55, another Connecticut-based trio but one whose members create music "in the moment" that is to say totally improvised.  The musical adventure starts at 8 p.m.

Sunday, the "Trio" theme continues when pianist-composer-educator Noah Baerman brings his Trio to The Buttonwood for a 3 p.m. show.   Bassist Henry Lugo and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza join Mr. Baerman for a program of classy originals, fine standards and smart improvisations - the Trio has been performing the "Fulfillingness Project", the music of Stevie Wonder and, hopefully, will  treat the audience with plenty of that music as well.

For more information, call 860-347-4957 or go to

Vibraphonist/composer Chris Dingman, Wesleyan graduate and collaborator with Noah Baerman on the latter's wonderful "Know Thyself" project, has just issued his debut CD. "Waking Dreams" (self-issued) features an impressive cast of young musicians on a program of original pieces (save for Joe Chamber's "Nocturnal" ) dedicated to the composer's creative process that continues into his sleeping time.  Joined by the fine trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, pianist Fabian Almazan, saxophonist Loren Stillman, bassist Joe Sanders and drummer Justin Brown with guests Ryan Ferriera (guitar), Mark Small (bass clarinet) and West Hartford native Erica von Kleist (flute - she, too, appeared on Baerman's project.)
There certainly a dream-like quality to the opening pieces but there are also moments when the band and music takes flight. The solos are uniformly excellent and the rhythm section strong, supportive as well as catalysts for rhythmic adventure.

In the liner notes, Dingman (who has also performed and recorded with fellow Wesleyan grad Steve Lehman) gives credit to a good number of people, including the afore-mentioned Mr. Baerman and Wesleyan Professor Jay Hoggard.  At a time when jazz continues to be ignored in most of the mainstream media, it would be a crime for people who love creative music to miss this impressive music.  For more information, go to    A more comprehensive review of the CD will appear on my music blog - - in the next few weeks.

New Summer Theater Program at Oddfellows

Oddfellows Playhouse offers summer theater workshop experience for 4-7 year olds

Oddfellows Playhouse is offering a summer theater camp experience for children ages 4-7 years old featuring and focusing on the works of beloved children’s author and illustrator, Eric Carle.

There are two sessions set. Session one begins on Mon. July 11th and ends on July 22nd while the second session runs from Aug. 1-12. Sessions are from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. but before and after care is available with drop off at 8:15 p.m. and pick up at 4:00 p.m.

The day begins with an opening activity to prepare your child for the lessons they are going to learn for the day. The morning will consist of two different arts sessions and a snack break. Students will head outside to the Wesleyan University Campus for an outside activity and lunch followed by some quiet reading/rest time.

The afternoon continues with two more arts sessions and snack. All students will come together at 3:15 p.m. for a closing activity. Students will be dismissed starting at 3:30 p.m.

Children will work to create a story with their peers utilizing Eric Carle’s visual techniques under the direction of the talented teaching artists. Campers will create a storybook and live performance of their story. Family and friends are invited to join the performance at 1p.m. on the final day of each session to share the performance.

Campers will be in a group of students of the same age, and led by an artistic assistant, who will spend the day working with your child alongside the teaching artists. There will be no more than 15 students in each age group. There will be two adults with the children at all times, as well as additional Oddfellows Playhouse staff on-site.

Tuition for the class is $350 per student. Before and after care is an additional $50 for the session. Snacks are provided but students should bring their own peanut-free lunch each day.

For more information or to register call Oddfellows Playhouse at (860) 347-6143 or log onto

About Oddfellows Playhouse:
Oddfellows Playhouse is located at 128 Washington Street, Middletown. For more than 35 years Oddfellows Playhouse has been more than just a performing arts program. It aims to make a positive difference in the lives of 2,000 young people each year by using the arts as tools to build self-confidence, communication skills, a sense of responsibility, and an appreciation for the richness and diversity of the world in which we live.

Oddfellows programming is made possible through the generous support of the CT Department of Education, the CT Commission on Culture & Tourism, The Stare Fund, the Middletown Commission on the Arts, Pratt & Whitney-Middletown, the Irving Kohn Foundation and the Daphne Seybolt Culpeper Memorial Fund.

About the teaching staff:
Renee Soares (Visual Arts ) Journey through the unique and creative world of Renee S. Soares. Born in Providence, Rhode Island of African American, Cape Verdean, Native American, and West Indian descent, this artist extraordinaire creates two-dimensional masks that reflect the cultural diversity of the world in which we live. She holds a Bachelors Degree in Theatre Arts, Speech, and Dance from Brown University and presently resides in Middletown, Connecticut where she makes her living as a visual artist, fine art curator, and visual and performance art educator. Working in the medium of polymer clay with glass beads and mixed media, Soares creates original, one of a kind pieces that range in size, color, and configuration. Her work has been exhibited at fine art galleries and private showings in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey. Many of her pieces are commissioned by private collectors and can be found in public venues throughout the City of Hartford including the Office of the State Treasurer, Denise Nappier.
Kristen Palmer (Playwrighting/Storytelling) is a playwright and arts educator. She has over 15 years experience developing and teaching theatre and creative arts programs in Atlanta, New York City, rural Kansas, Seattle, Washington DC, Minneapolis, England and Virginia. From 2005–2008 she was a full-time teacher at Brooklyn Free School, developing the elementary program there and leading a writing program for all students, and before that she worked as a Teaching-Artist and Program Manager with the Creative Arts Team in NYC. As a playwright she is a member of the Women's Project Lab (NYC), received a Jerome Fellowship, been a finalist for the O'Neill Festival and her plays have been produced in New York City, LA, Washington DC, Seattle and Poughkeepsie, NY. She holds a MA from NYU where she studied Educational Theatre and a BA in Dramatic Arts from Bretton Hall College, in Yorkshire, England.

Kim West (Movement) moved to CT in 2005; since then she has directed for Hartford Children’s Theater, Portland Public Schools, America Globe Play Fest NYC and several staged readings and short plays for Temple Players, Square Wright, EastBound and the Stratford Theatre Consortium. She has taught for Hartford Stage, Hartford Children’s Theater, Oddfellows Playhouse, and the Greater Hartford Academy for the Performing Arts.

Jamie Guite (Acting) loves having the ability to work with her theatrical creativity developing a new improve troupe, and as a member of Too Many Monkeys for 6 years. She has been trained at The Circle In the Square, Southern Connecticut State University, and is a graduate of the Upright Citizens Brigade. Jamie has been seen in such roles as Normal Jean in The Colored Museum, Sandy in The Dream's On Me, and the Queen in Cymbeline. She has been teaching theatre throughout CT for the last 12 years.
Stefanie DiBacco (Site Director) is in her first summer at Oddfellows Playhouse. Stefanie is excited to join Oddfellows Playhouse. Stefanie holds her BS in Elementary Education from CCSU, and her CT State Teacher’s Certification K-6. She is certified in First Aid & CPR. Stefanie currently teaches at Macdonough Elementary School in Middletown.

From The Pencil: Please Share!

The Common Council voted unanimously on Monday night to join the Mattabasset Sewer District. Now the towns of Berlin, Cromwell, and New Britain need to agree to our membership. A local artist imagined the next steps.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Autism Teen Summer Program

Jonah Center Paddle

Ideal Weather Brings Out
Small Fleet of Paddlers

About 60 participants in canoes and kayaks of all shapes and colors enjoyed a Saturday afternoon paddle, under the Arrigoni Bridge for a stop on Wilcox Island, then up the Mattabesset into the "Floating Meadows," near the proposed site of Middletown’s kayak launch.

Most of the paddlers continued up the Coginchaug River against unusually strong current. The water level was high for this time of year due to recent rainfall.

Watch for news of another Jonah Center paddle later in the season when the wild rice of the meadows is especially glorious.

Heading upstream photo (above), Penny Dobratz.

Paddlers at the confluence photo (left), Trevor Davis.

From The Pencil: Congrats Citizens!

We received the following contribution from a local artist.

Middlesex County Fair Today

From the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce

The Middlesex County Career Fair will be held on Tuesday, June 21 from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza Cromwell Hotel.  Employers from across the region will be represented at the event.

Connecticut job seekers will not want to miss this special recruitment fair.  Unlike other fairs that are profit-driven, the main objective of the Middlesex County Career Fair is connecting highly-skilled and qualified job seekers with a wide variety of employment opportunities.

This event, sponsored by the Connecticut Department of Labor, Workforce Alliance and the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce, will have staff on hand to help with job retraining programs and services along with resume writers and critiquers.

Do not miss the opportunity to join us at the Crowne Plaza Cromwell, 100 Berlin Rd., Cromwell, and make your job search an enjoyable experience.

Participating businesses include:

TD Bank
Primerica Financial Services
Clear Channel
Post University, Inc.
The Diversified Companies
Combined Insurance
Best Cleaners
Verizon Wireless
Oakleaf Waste Management
Jafra Cosmetics, International, Inc.
TCA Consulting Group, Inc.
Beekley Corporation
First Student
MTU Aero Engines North America
PTE Energy
Brasco Technologies, LLC
B/E Aerospace Consumables Management
FedEx Ground
Connecticut Air National Guard
Cyma Systems Inc.
FJB Associates LLC
Health at Home
Johnson Controls
GK Services
Barnum Financial Group, an office of MetLife
Careco Shoreline
Bankers Life
Genuine Parts Company NAPA

For more information, call Johanna Bond at 860/347.6924 or visit

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Nation's Mayors ask Congress to Spend War Dollars at Home

Interesting article on today- at the annual conference of mayor's a drafted a resolution to be sent to congress to ask that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq be ended as soon as feasible and that money being spent on both operations be redirected domestically. According to CNN, this is the first time since the Vietnam war have mayors taken such a stand.

"As read by the parliamentarian, this is the amended resolution passed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors:

Calling on Congress to redirect military spending to domestic priorities

-- Whereas, every member of the United States Conference of Mayors and the Americans they represent support our brave men and women and their families; and

-- Whereas, the drawdown of troops should be done in a measured way that does not destabilize the region and that can accelerate the transfer of responsibility to regional authorities; and

-- Whereas, the severity of the ongoing economic crisis has created budget shortfalls at all levels of government and requires us to re-examine our national spending priorities; and

-- Whereas, the people of the United States are collectively paying approximately $126 billion per year to wage war in Iraq and Afghanistan; and

-- Whereas, 6,024 members of the U.S. armed forces have died in these wars; and at least 120,000 civilians have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since the coalition attacks began.

--Now, therefore, be it resolved, that the U.S. Conference of Mayors supports efforts to speed up the ending of these wars; and

-- Be it further resolved, that the U.S. Conference of Mayors calls on the president and the U.S. Congress to end these wars as soon as strategically possible and to bring these war dollars home to meet vital human needs, promote job creation, rebuild our infrastructure, aid municipal and state governments, and develop a new economy based upon renewable, sustainable energy."

Why am I posting this here? Well, it's an election year after all and come November we all will be deciding whom to vote for for Mayor- I hope this November Mayor Giuliano (R) and candidate Dan Drew (D) and/or who ever else decides to run addresses the issue of the current wars this country is engaged in- whatever his or her stance-it's important to be prepared to face the challenges that lie ahead and not ignore the issue just because it seems more national than local. The wars at least have to be brought to the table for discussion even if we cannot as a community reach a consensus in the end. The other issue, which cannot be disputed despite one's opinion about whether to end or continue the current wars, although the CNN writer neglected to address this, is that there will be an increasing need for local community support for returning soldiers when they do come home.
It will be interesting to see how Middletown's mayoral candidates & all other candidates running for Common Council, P & Z and B.O.E. address these issues in the fall- and who chooses to face the issue and who does not- the point of CNN's article is that for change to take place nationally, it has to start locally.
What are your suggestions for Middletown to help veterans and their families? How would you create jobs locally & fix our local share of the economy? What would you do?

Madam Nirvana
Molly Salafia

Poetry Slam Fundraiser

The Upwords Poetry and the OneWord CT Youth Team held a successful fundraising event on June 19th from 3-5 pm at Oddfellows Playhouse Youth Theater for OneWord CT -  Connecticut's Youth Slam Poetry Team.  

There was poetry, bake sales and raffles galore.


The team will travel to San Francisco, California this July for the 14th Annual Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival (

Six high school students from throughout Connecticut have competed and won positions on the OneWord CT / Youth Poetry Slam Team 2011. Approximately 75 young wordsmiths from all over Connecticut performed their original spoken word poetry in three separately judged competitions over the past two months the top six poets who make up the 2011 team need your help getting to the BRAVE NEW VOICES FESTIVAL IN SAN FRANCISCO.

Created in 1998, Brave New Voices / Youth Poetry Slam & Festival has quickly become the largest youth poetry festival in the world. This unique event brings together more than 600 youth and 100 nonprofit organizers from up to 50 different U.S. cities annually to build a broad-based national movement of youth spoken word, civic engagement and youth development programs.

Held in a different city each year, Brave New Voices presents the voices of 21st century America in all their verve and diversity. The festival focuses on arts education and performance, local program development, national movement organizing and the highlighting of a new generation of performing artists, audiences and literary opportunity.

Members of the 2011 OneWord CT team include: Evan Knoll (Lorraine D. Foster Day School, Middletown), Mikaela Adams and Ian Macdonald (Rockville High School, Vernon), Maggie Kearney (Newton High School, Sandy Hook), Trey Vaz (Windham High School, Willimantic) and Nick Zanca (New Canaan High School, New Canaan).

OneWord CT is organized by UpWords Poetry which was founded in 1998 by Elizabeth Thomas a widely published poet, performer, teacher and advocate of the arts. Ms. Thomas along with high school English teachers Lee Keylock, Newtown HS and Laura Maiocco, Sheehan HS in Wallingford, CT serve as volunteer coaches for the Connecticut team.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Around the Garden

Trouble in Paradise:

Perennial invasives are showing real vigor this year, what with the dense snow-pack and subsequent heavy rains. Vines may be the most obnoxious invasive, with truly insidious modes of survival.

Most people know (or think they do) poison ivy, but that doesn’t keep them from getting rashes. Poison ivy employs several defensive strategies, including secreting a highly irritating liquid in all its parts. Urushiol is an irritant whether you contact the plant’s roots, stem, leaves or berries. Eating this plant is almost as bad as inhaling smoke from burning poison ivy. Birds, on the other hand, can eat the berries with no problem (I’m told most birds have no taste buds.) Insects rarely eat the leaves, and I have never seen deer browse on poison ivy.

Bird dispersal is the number one way poison ivy spreads, but the plant also does a great job of burrowing under the soil and popping up anywhere and everywhere.

Of course, its ultimate goal is always to reach sunlight, so trees are a perfect vehicle toward that end. Get rid of poison ivy by pulling it out of the ground, roots and all. Plastic newspaper bags can be used, over a pair of sturdy gloves (plastic can always tear.) When you have yanked a length of poison ivy, simply turn the plastic bag inside out, and bundle the whole thing into the trash.

Be careful when poison ivy is firmly attached to a tree’s trunk – tiny root hairs embed themselves in the fissures of the tree’s bark, so do not rip the bark off the tree. A large poison ivy vine should be sliced through at intervals from the base of the tree upward. A small pruning saw works well – just be sure to wipe the blade with a paper towel before using it elsewhere.

Many people confuse Virginia creeper with poison ivy, but always count the leaves on the leaflet: Virginia creeper has five, poison ivy has three.

Virginia creeper is invasive and vigorous, but not nearly as obnoxious as poison ivy or Oriental bittersweet. Oriental bittersweet is not poisonous but that’s the only positive thing about it. It’s the worst pest in my garden, because it strangles trees and shrubs by twining tightly around their trunks, preventing the necessary expansion of the cambium. You’ve probably seen trees along highways, completely shrouded in lush green vines – that’s Oriental bittersweet. Unless you’re in Mississippi, in which case it’s kudzu.

That mass of foliage is another way Oriental bittersweet kills trees: the added weight of it makes trees top-heavy, so they are more prone to wind-throw or toppling when soil is too wet to hold onto the tree’s roots. Below is a rogue’s gallery of the plant, from its cute baby stage up to the killer vine stage.

Unlike poison ivy, bittersweet can be pulled safely with just gloved hands, and it comes out of the ground fairly easily. Take my advice: pull it whenever you see it, before it sets seed and propagates all over the place.