It may be the middle of summer, but one Newtown High School student is already thinking about pumpkins. Rising Newtown High School sophomore Mackenzie Page is planning to issue her yearly challenge to Newtown again this fall, in the hopes that the Great Pumpkin Challenge will enhance the tradition of celebrating Halloween on Main Street. This will mark the third year Mackenzie has challenged residents to carve a pumpkin, drop it off for display at her home on Main Street, and offer a donation. All donations received this year will be forwarded to Paul Newman's Hole in the Wall Gang Camp.
In 1996, the Gathering of the Vibes was originally conceived as a one-off tribute concert to memorialize fallen Grateful Dead co-founder Jerry Garcia. But much like the members of that seminal American rock and roll outfit, the Vibes has continued, growing into a destination festival that for the past few years, has taken up residence in Bridgeport’s beautiful Seaside Park. And while the songs and spirit of the Dead were never far off the radar for the musicians, vendors and attendees, this year was also a big year for Mick Jagger, who turned 70 last weekend and was the subject of numerous musical tributes by the many bands that graced the festival’s three stages at any point during the July 25-28 presentation. Another influential rocker, J.J. Cale, was also on the minds of many musicians as news of his passing on July 26 spread throughout the vibes community.
Audiences have a chance to enjoy a splendid production of the show at Goodspeed, as part of the Opera House’s 50th anniversary celebration. As usual, this small house with the huge vision has pulled out all the stops: Adrian W. Jones’ great visual scenic design, Wade Laboissoniere’s wonderful costuming, and Kelli Barclay’s choreography are all typical of the technical perfectionism Goodspeed is known for. Add to that some terrific acting in both the principal and ensemble roles and you have a clear winner.
For five days last week, 19 Newtown teenagers worked through 100-degree Oklahoma heat, dodged powerful thunderstorms, avoided rattlesnakes, scorpions and other creatures foreign to most New Englanders, and endured cold showers and ad hoc sleeping arrangements. They did this all in the attempt to provide help to people and towns ravaged by the tornadoes that swept through Oklahoma over 12 days in May. The July 21-26 trip, sponsored by Ben’s Lighthouse and funded by generous donations from people within and outside of Newtown, brought these teens and five chaperones together with about 80 others from youth groups from Michigan, Florida, Idaho, Arizona, Illinois and Colorado to engage in physically demanding and emotionally draining work. The participants were assigned to crews and tasked with jobs that included clearing fallen trees, debris removal, roof repair, demolition, construction framing, and drywall installation. In many cases, the residents being helped were living in tents or in damaged homes while waiting for repairs to be done.
Master teaching artist Bob Bloom, who leads interactive programs with an array of drums and world percussion instruments, was the musical guest for the July 24 Summer Jam Concert at Dickinson Park. Shows are suitable for all ages, and Mr Bloom continued the new program’s custom of audience participation. The next concert in the series will be Wednesday, July 31, featuring Robert The Guitar Guy. The season finalé will be August 7, with Zak Morgan. Concerts begin at 12:30 at Dickinson Park, 50 Elm Drive, and are free of charge. Picnics are welcome, and attendees should bring blankets or low chairs for seating.
A paint-spattered drop cloth clung to furniture and covered part of the floor in Southbury artist David Merrill’s living room. Stepping indoors from a sticky heat, he and Newtown resident Laurie McCollum looked at four-foot-high wooden panels, several of which will complete a 12- by 12-foot veterans mural for Newtown. He hopes to assemble and hang the finished work in October or November in the main hallway of Newtown Municipal Center. The work, which Mr Merrill began in April 2012, will contain the names of Newtown’s men and women who have served in the Armed Forces since 1971 when it is completed. Iconic military and patriotic images cover spaces between the intricate sea of names. Creating a theme for the mural, other wording includes “honor,” “courage,” “commitment.”
“A Glimpse Of The Garden” is a seasonal miniseries focusing on the heart of a gardener’s work — a special spot, an extraordinary plant, a place of respite, or a place that evokes a heartfelt memory. Chris Lincoln, who set out to create a little piece of tranquility three summers ago, feels some bit of pride in knowing that her gardens are the works of her own hands.
My vegetable garden is struggling this year. Peas and lettuce were late and now are bolting in the heat. The beans leapt out of the soil and have continued and wrapping tendrils around the nearby tomatoes, instead of the poles provided. The tomatoes are unhappy with the cold and rainy start to the season, and the wet conditions that have followed. Zucchinis… well, there are blossoms. However, nature has provided me with a bountiful harvest of blackberries this year. Where grass segues into brush and then into woods, blackberry bushes trim our backyard. Randomly admiring the view one day last week, I was stunned to realize that the bushes were heavy with ripe fruit. In just minutes, a pint container was brimming over, my finger tips were purple, and only one bramble was embedded in my thumb.
Efforts to share stories about inspiring teachers in the early stages of planning Saturday’s Great Newtown Reunion reunited one former Newtown student with a teacher who had deeply impacted her life. In the wake of 12/14, Kandice (Cohen) Castellino, a Head O’ Meadow, Newtown Middle School and Newtown High School alumnus, realized how vital it was to acknowledge the amazing educators she learned from throughout her time in the Newtown school system. One teacher in particular stuck out in her memory. “Mrs Koonce was exuberant,” Ms Castellino said of her seventh grade general science teacher at NMS. She remembers the 1995-96 school year with Nancy Koonce fondly, recalling enlightening discussions instead of cookie cutter lectures, her teacher’s vast knowledge of all sciences, from geology and biology to physics, and their class’s awe at National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) initial hope to colonize the moon by 2007.
On a blazingly hot and humid July 19, midway through the first session of the non-profit Jessica’s Camp horse training scholarship program, a half-dozen 6- and 7-year-old girls who are learning about things equine gathered near a corral at Kings Bridge Farm. Members of the New Jersey Pinto Horse Association opened a large horse trailer there and began giving the young girls a variety of horse-related items intended to equip them as they work toward becoming equestrians. The girls were the first participants in the Jessica’s Camp scholarship program, which provides equine training for children in need. The program is an outgrowth of The Jessica Rekos Memorial Fund.