Friday, April 22, 2011

Sundae Experiment: Stasia

This one took a little longer, but I think you'll find it was well worth the extra time it took to transcribe and edit. No intro needed. This one speaks for itself. Hope you enjoy...


Mid-afternoon treat, espresso. Nice. (editor's note: contrary to popular belief, ice cream makers don't actually eat ice cream all day long.)

When I first thought of the Sundae Experiment, it was about wanting to get other people's ideas about life besides mine. Not from pros with names like Deepak or Dyer, but regular folk like you and me.

As always, the hardest part is to get rolling, so let's just start with a bit of background and see where it takes us.

Sounds good. Fire away.

Tell me a bit about what you do.

I'm a midwife in Springfield. Originally, I thought the reason I wanted to do that was to help people, but I think the real reason is I'm really nosy. I just love getting into the most intimate private spots in people's lives. That's really what drives it. And not only does that work with my patients but at a party I can just start asking women about their births and they're like, wow! And they can't wait to tell me because no ever asks them about that. So it gives me an in socially. And the women I work with are nothing, nothing like me. Some really heavy, heavy things. Had a woman whose resources were so thin, she was begging her boyfriend all night to please stop eating pizza and join her for the birth of his child. She had no one with her, just no resources. I can't say that I’m always inspired by these women, but they certainly give you a different perspective.

I knew that's was what you did, but had no idea it was like this. Wow.

The other type of midwifery, that is breaking break with women, and really being with them in the most empowering place they can be, that's great. I really don't do too much of that. The tradition of midwifery I work in is the tradition that has always served the under-served and forgotten women, and fortunately we have Medicare so I can get paid, where traditionally women have just done it for a chicken.

I assume you were trained as a nurse?

Yes, I was a nurse and worked in a pretty well to do hospital. Always knew I wanted to be a midwife, since nursing school. Didn't know I wanted to work with pretty under-served people until my first job in Chicago, that was really my first exposure I had with really poor women and what their lives are like. I found it really inspiring.

Here's where I would normally ask 'describe a person, place, book, or event that had a big influence on you'. Is it safe to say that Chicago job is that for you?

So I first started working with immigrants in Chicago. The practice itself was difficult, and I ended up leaving after 3 years to work with homeless women. That blew my mind. Just blew my mind. The change I was able to go through. The first time I went there for my interview, I was shocked. I walked in and couldn't wait to get out of the neighborhood. I was really freaked out, but I soon learned it was only rough on the outside. People were there to get help. We were there to give them help. And that was very obvious for the folks we took care of. And they weren't as crazy as they seemed from the outside. It was a really good way for me to get a good look at the underbelly of society and break bread with that a little bit.

Were these woman victims of crime?

It was a health center so the people there had to have a certain amount of self-awareness and mental competency to get themselves to their health care provider. There were plenty of health care workers who find people under the viaduct and in the shelters. I didn't do that. My services weren't needed in that capacity in that clinic. Most of the women I would see were very normal women who came on hard times. A third of them had drug and addiction issues and often a mental health component.

What's the best part of the job?

It's the connection with the people. I got it all night last night with this family I would have never known. Seeing women bond. In my current job, I see it a lot. Women really take care of each other. Unfortunately, their partner is in and out. The women, however, they rise to the occasion. And last night we had 8 or 9 women there, cousins, etc. and they were there to support the woman giving birth. I see that a lot. And I got to be part of that with those women. Last night was a little different, they weren't happy with the support and were about to start complaining until I got there. I think I get to provide a bit of a bridging of the health care system with folks that just aren't really made to feel welcome.

When you're not midwifing or being a Mom, you do Yoga. Do you feel that helps you to be more compassionate in your job?

It must. I think it helps the part of me that is able to be vulnerable with people and not feel broken and not feel like I have to protect myself from strong feelings for patients. I definitely have fallen for a majority of my patients. I think that's a strength, and I don't think I could do that if I didn't feel strongly that I don't need to protect myself from those strong feelings, that those strong feelings are who I am and they make me stronger, and they don't make me make decisions that aren't medically correct just because I love them.

Can you understand why other health practitioners don't let themselves be so vulnerable?

I think we all have our own special gifts. I think that as a Scorpio, I came into this world with the ability to feel very raw and comfortable and see other people's vulnerabilities.

I imagine it would be hard to be a nurse and not have a certain tolerance for the highs and lows of the human condition.

I agree, and nursing in the hospital for me was really good training as a midwife in the capacity I worked. If you're going to be intimate with people, you gotta do it right now. This is your only opportunity, you're meeting them for the first time, and then they're going to go out. I may bump into them on the street but otherwise this is it, this is the only time we have. And it's really important, this can change her experience and I think that a lot of nurses, although very caring and compassionate, are just not willing to go there. Whereas as a midwife, you have the chance to build up a relationship over time which is part of why they let me in the door.

Also working with very under-served women makes me look at my problems in perspective. Look at my problems, these are good problems to have! I'm always arguing with my coworkers, I will always see people, even if they're two hours late. Have you ever tried to use the Springfield bus system?! I can barely make appointments with a working car and a husband that helps.

Not to mention that many of the women I've worked with are refugees. One of the best experiences I've had in my career was there. She was a young woman with her husband and 2 kids. It took about an hour and a half, we kept waiting for the translator. Finally, we did her appointment, she was 27 weeks pregnant at the time, 2/3rds through. I noticed she was very small and thin. I asked her basic medical questions, then a week later brought her back to check her again; took her weight, and talked to her about nutrition.

In that week, she had lost a couple pounds, so I asked her, she'd been in the country 3 weeks, her WIC cards had run out, asked her what she had eaten, 'let’s do a diet recall', we do them all day long. She told me she'd been living on potatoes and potato water. In the United States. And one of the most wonderful experiences I ever had, I said 'hold the phone' and I walked out and took all my coworkers lunches and I brought them in, and then I went out and brought her lists of places she could go in the area to get free food. I told her there's a lot of messed up things about this country, but you are going to eat every day! You get to eat. I bought everybody else lunch that day. I remember I had spent 14 bucks on lunch at Starbucks, take it! There she was, not complaining, not about to complain about it. Strong, strong people.

That is a great story. You did a noble thing there, and it seemed like it was instinctual for you.

Fast forward a decade and your kids are off to college for the first time. What would be your advice for them?

That depends on which kid I'm talking to. Different advice. Luke, my oldest, is so gifted socially. My advice wouldn't reflect my personal philosophies on life, it would reflect my concerns for their success. For Luke, take time every day that is not about connecting socially with people – sitting down, doing homework, having a coffee by himself, something that reminds him every day to connect with himself.

Tyman it would be the opposite. Hopefully, it would be to a different college than Luke. We're keenly aware of this ying-yang they have together. They do fit perfectly together but opposite strengths, Tyman is very strong at taking care of himself but has a hard time connecting and being in a social place without Luke. I think I would say to Tyman, remember who you are, that you are strong.

How do you keep the balance?

Yoga, couple times a week, I should be doing it more. I feel really strongly that midwifery is probably half of my life, my kids are a 1/3rd, husband is whatever's left (laughing). If my kids were half and midwifery is ¼ of my life which it was for a while, I just don't function as well that way. I'm just not as good a full time mother, at least at this stage. I'm a much better part-time mom. I know that about myself, and I feel fine about that.

Quality over quantity.

When we do have time together, we try and get the most out of it. I would come home from work, and I'd only have 45 minutes before my son had to go to bed, and I’d just breastfeed him. I'm always amazed at how much love you can pack into 45 minutes. We're doing it, it's ok, he gets it.

I've dabbled with yoga and Qi gong and meditation. They all take time out of your day, but I think they have the power to provide stress relief and energy and focus that makes it well worth it.

I was talking with someone who was saying yoga is about how you feel afterwards, relaxed. For me, I love everything about it, including doing it. One time I heard a yoga instructor say, 'you're seeking the bliss' and yah, you end up being more flexible, but that's because if you do a lot of yoga you'll end up strong or flexible but that's not why you're doing it, you're seeking the bliss.' It's nice that you can be in touch with that. To really understand that you're not trying to hurt yourself, you're trying to explore yourself and grow and oxygenate, and that's very blissful. Bliss is nice.

Another benefit I've noticed with these practices, you feel less inclined to open a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos after a yoga class. It puts you in a healthy state of mind.

Heat is a big part of the yoga I do now, and when I leave I feel like a big sponge, and I have to be wary of that. Sometimes I go home and the kids are crazy. When I'm about to walk into that I have to think, ok, I have to wring out this sponge a little but because I’m going to be really impacted by their moods. Drink a bunch of water, think of filling up a little bit. But I have to be really careful after doing those classes. If I have a glass of wine, it just feels like it goes deeper.

I recently heard Steve Jobs use the quote, 'Live every day like it's your last because someday you'll be right. And if you're not enjoying what you're doing, change it.' Do you agree with that?

Yah, absolutely. I'm kind of shaking my head in disbelief that I work in this amazing profession and not everyone feels that way. It's such an honor to be with families in these moments. Burnout happens. You can feel joy, I don't know if it matters what you do. I know yoga teaches this - finding the Zen in waitressing and cleaning the toilet. Being able to be present and do a good job and contribute wherever and doing whatever you're doing in that moment.

I think enjoying what you do comes when what you're doing lines up with what interests you, what you're good at, and what inspires you. I got some of that from engineering, but much more from being an ice cream shop owner.

It's a party when people come in here. Very joyous place. I say this to smokers with those last 3 cigarettes, 'I want you to sit down and enjoy it. Sit there and like it, enjoy it.' that's what people do here, they enjoy themselves. That's important in life.

It may be a little harder to find joy in cleaning the toilet, but it is all around you.

If I can inspire them to come to their doctor visits more often or take their prenatal vitamins, inspire a little self-care awareness, that makes me happy. I'm not really in this to change lives. If that happens, if I'm lucky enough to inspire someone enough that's great, but I wouldn't want to be that egotistical to think that way. People have their own path. It's none of our business in many ways as to how they are going through this life. I just try to connect with them.

It's still a nice thought, although you’re right, it shouldn't be an expectation. I think you underestimate your impact.

About a year ago I realized I was in this more because I was nosy than I wanted to change people's lives. And I thought, 'wow, that's really profound!'

When all said and done, what will be the thing that best defines you?

Being able to connect with people. What I see in my son Luke. I get a lot of feedback from patients that I am definitely on their side and I love them, and they can feel it, and they're psyched.

And why wouldn't they be.

Any parting thoughts?

There's a quote that's been rattling in my head last months...

"Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found."Pema Chödrön

Thanks for sitting with me, and thanks for doing what you do.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Sundae Experiment: Patrick

This week's volunteer, Patrick Brough, is well known around Easthampton for his tireless efforts at bringing folks together and highlighting all that is good in our little hamlet. Not the least of which being the creator of Easthampton's popular Good News page on Facebook and spearheading a successful effort to bring back the fireworks. If you are one of his friends on Facebook, you may likely know what he's doing right now. He reveals a bit more about himself over a sundae. Hope you enjoy...

I recently got a little feedback that I should get more background on the interviewee before I get to the good stuff. So let me start with this, how did you end up in Easthampton?

I ended up in Easthampton because of my wife actually. She was born and raised here. We met through a mutual friend who lives in Southampton. I'm from Rockville, Connecticut. I met her in 1996; we met in the summer of ‘96 around the time of the fireworks. We had met earlier in the summer but officially started dating around the time of the fireworks. I came up here when we started dating. She had just bought a house over on Prospect Street. It just worked out. I loved the area, and as soon as we started dating we were pretty much inseparable, so here I am.

What makes Easthampton so cool to you?

Rockville, Connecticut, where I grew up, is very similar to Easthampton, an old mill town. Rockville is the same thing, or was the same thing - booming back in the heydays of manufacturing. Similar in population too. Rockville is a baby sister to Vernon, Connecticut, like Florence is to Northampton. Basically, we lived in the Rockville section of Vernon. I wasn't as active in the community when I was growing up there, but when I came here I just felt like I wanted to be involved. Let me back up for a second. I actually worked in Hartford, so I was one of those guys up and over the mountain in the morning, 6:30 am, back at 7 at night. I was really just here to sleep and to recover on the weekends.

In 2000, some things happened with work, and I really wasn't happy there anymore. I’d been there ten years. An opportunity opened up at Finck & Perras here in town, where I still work today. While working there, and I should add that F&P is really big on community involvement, the local Chamber of Commerce asked the owner Dick Perras about joining the Board, but he wasn't able to they asked if he had someone that could, and he offered the opportunity to me. That's how I started my community involvement here in Easthampton. From there, it's just grown. I just love being involved, doing for others, helping this community grow. I just really enjoy seeing this city prosper.

You're got quite a presence on Facebook. One could argue whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I’ve always felt your heart is in the right place there. You’re never in a bad mood, and you’re constantly plugging local businesses and happenings.

One of the things I have in my Facebook profile, and I can't recite it word for word, but it's something like 'I’m telling you now I like to share what I'm doing with you, and you may get tired of that, but consider yourself warned'. I enjoy letting people know what's going on, especially on the Easthampton Good News page. It makes me proud - the use of the ‘good news’ page. That started from a conversation I had with some people about being tired of hearing people talk about how horrible the town was and from what you read in the local newspapers. I knew there were good things here, through my work with the Chamber, Riverside Industries, and with the community in general. I thought it was a great opportunity, and even if I could get only a hundred people to listen to me talk about what is good about Easthampton, it would be worth it. Today we’re over 1100 people. That makes me really happy.

Your good news page is an accurate reflection of your personality. Your posts are rarely negative, unlike many you see. What's your secret?

I'm just generally a happy person. That's just who I am.

Care to share any advice with someone sitting next to you on the bus, metaphorically speaking?

I guess it's just one of those things that sounds silly, but 'don't sweat the small stuff'. I think people do, they worry about things. People say maybe I don't worry enough. But I think things really do work out. Bad things do happen, yes. I'm like everyone else, I do have bad days. It's funny, when I post something like that, everyone seems shocked and wonders what's going on. Stop and smell the roses. I don't really have a secret about what makes me tick.

Care to share an influential moment in your life?

Meeting my wife Gen was definitely the most influential event for me, moving up here, my two great kids, I couldn't be happier. I wouldn't change anything. I really wouldn't.

We live in a cool, ‘small town America’ town. It’s a tight community. It’s where burned out big city folk want to live.

I agree. The city really does welcome you, and anyone who says it doesn't isn't trying. Maybe you're not talking to the right people. If you need something, there are so many people you can go talk to, and you'd be amazed how willing people are to help you. No matter what it is.

I’ve always subscribed to the idea that you see what you want to see and what you expect to see. If you look for the good, you will see it all around you. There’s definitely plenty of good here.

Not to go back to the good news page on Facebook, but that's exactly why I put that together. I strongly believed people wanted to hear about the good things, but there was nowhere else to look. You can't open up the paper and expect to find good news all the time. The paper prints what sells, and unfortunately, it's bad news usually.

It’s amazing what you see in headlines on-line these days. Seems they’ll say anything to get you to click over to their site.

It’s as simple as the weather. A storm is coming! It’s a Nor’easter. Get your milk. Fill up your tank before it’s too late!

Anything to get you to watch the local news on TV all day long.

This tragedy or that tragedy, that's what sells. So I think when you have something like the good news page where people are posting good things and info, sharing about their trip to the park, or the kids from the high school that got to go to the State House to meet our public officials, those are the good things people don't hear about. I like to promote those things that people aren't getting a chance to see. Over a thousand people following that page, and not everyone follows everything every day, but I’d like to think they're there because they want to hear the good things that are going on.

It’s efforts like yours that make the world better. And if it makes you feel good to do it, not to get all Ayn Rand'y on you, why not, sounds like a good reason to do it to me.

It's the simple things, like the ‘Loch Nash Monster’ snow sculpture we did on the pond this winter. It was such a feel good thing that we wanted to do with the kids, so I put it out there on Facebook to see who would come out. We ended up getting a whole bunch of people. I was amazed at how much exposure we got for that, it was on the news for over a week. And for something good!

I remember when I first started Mt. Tom’s, I met a producer from a local TV news station. He really liked the shop and wanted to get me some exposure on the news somehow. He finally did, but it took a huge jump in dairy prices to have a ‘story’ to warrant a visit to the shop. Bad news still sells. I think your good news page is a great example that good news can sell too if you give it a chance. And it leaves you feeling good and not anxious and stressed. That’s a great thing you’ve got going there, hope this gets you a few more fans.

One final question, any predictions for the Red Sox?

They will not win 157 games. I think they'll do well. Like every Sox fan, I'm optimistic. 2004 taught us just because you're down doesn't mean you're out.

You really are an upbeat guy. Thanks for spending a sundae’s time with me.

You’re very welcome.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Sundae Experiment: Ali

Here's part 2 from our first 'Couples Sundae Experiment', let me introduce Ali. (rocking the Mt. Tom's hoodie I might add)...

What’s your favorite part of your day?


Wow. I’ve heard breakfast, dinner, and now lunch. Now you have to tell me why..

During the week, it's the time I'm able to get out of my work and just go for a walk, if it's nice out. It’s the one time of the day I take time just for me. I walk, read what I want to read, just relax.

So you have pretty hectic workday?

Not necessarily, I tend to make it that way. More than other people do. My work ethic is quite strong I'd say. I do web design. It’s interesting. I like it.

Will you keep working when you're a mom?

My husband spilled the beans!?



How are you feeling?

Good. A little weird though. It doesn't seem real yet, since it's been so good, so easy so far. I hear horror stories from everyone else, and I just haven't gotten any of that.

It's not real until you're throwing up repeatedly?

They say the second half of the first trimester can be the worst, so we’ll see.

Speaking of food, besides lunch, what makes you happy?

It's the little things. Like cold ice cream on a hot day. Blue skies. Being outside. Hearing the birds. I especially enjoy waking up to the sound of the birds, that's always nice. We have owls in our backyard. Hearing them go back and forth, that's pretty cool. It’s little things like that.

Have you always felt that way about simple things, or more now?

Definitely more now. As I get older, I think more simply about things. When I was younger, I lived in Holyoke and all you could hear was the traffic, so I think living in Belchertown I really enjoy quiet now. It’s peaceful.

I agree. Quiet is a simple pleasure.

With my family, when we went on vacation it was always go, go, go. There was no down time. It was always what to do, what to see, what to eat next. Now we're married, and we go camping out in the woods where there’s nowhere else to go. It’s just you and nature and a good book, it feels great.

So you're a camper.

I don't know yet. We went camping once. It was quite an interesting experience for someone who had never been before. We were in a tent, and it rained all week. We ended up going home a couple days early. We love to kayak, so when you can't do that when it's pouring the whole time, it’s not so much fun. Every time it would stop we'd try to go, then it would start right up again. It was uncanny how it happened every single time.

I can see why you might not want to ever camp again after that experience. Moving right along then, let me ask you another question. You’ve just given birth to a bouncing baby boy, or girl. If they could understand you, what advice would you give your newborn child?

To relax.

A lot of people are so focused on what other people think about them and what other people think about what they're doing. Don't worry about that, just do your own thing, go with the flow, and don't get uptight about every little thing that comes along.

That's great advice, especially for when they hit high school.

It's taken me a while to get that.

If you were a ghost at your own wake, what would people be saying about you? What would you want them to be saying about you?

Hopefully they'll be saying good things. If it happened now, ‘Oh she was so young.’

Hopefully they'll all be crying hysterically.

No, no, no. Like my husband Jassen has said, if he goes early, he doesn’t want me to cry, rather he wants me to have a big party. That's not going to happen, if you lose someone that important to you, you can't just have a party and laugh about it, but everyone hopes for that. I guess I want them to say, 'She had a good run. She did everything she wanted to do.’

She was a good Mom.


Describe a person, place, event, or time that has had a big influence on you.

I suppose as in everyone's life there are events and things that affect and shape who they are, and I'm sure I have a quite a few, but there's not one in particular that stands out to me. Obviously, getting married was a big thing for me. The first time I moved out of my parents house and lived by myself, that was a big event for me because it showed me that I didn't want to live by myself. Even though it was only three houses down from my parents’, I hated being in that apartment alone. Something tweaked me out a bit, you could say.

Did you make yourself more available after that? Sometimes that works against you, like you send out a vibe of ‘desperate’. So you just decided you didn't want to be alone, and voila, you met someone?

Yah, it did kind of happen that way.

So when did you know he was the one?

Right away. Here's the thing. We first met in kindergarten. Soon after that, he moved to a different town, then he moved back just before high school. We ended up working at the same place in high school. We were always just friends. We hung out a few times but just as friends and always with a group of people, never just the two of us. To be weird about it, whenever I went on a date with someone I never felt nervous, never had butterflies, or any of that until him. And then it was like I just knew. It happened with one of my best friends too. Every time this guy would show up she'd get all nervous, and it was the same way with him.

That indescribable feeling.

He just called me up out of the blue. I'd only seen him once the year before, since we stopped working at the same place.

Sounds like you were just meant to be together. Your husband just told me about his break-up and that Summer of Sundays he spent fishing with Dad. The timing was wrong until it was right...

That’s a great story. Thanks for sharing.