This is Us

Hartford HealthCare might be where we work, but when we asked you about where you find fun, relaxation or deeper meaning in your lives, we were astonished at the variety of hobbies and avocations you pursue in your spare time. Here are a few of those stories, and we’ll have more in upcoming issues of Moments. To share your hobby, email Susan McDonald.

Email Susan McDonald

Escaping to serenity on the trails

Jonathan Coler, Patient Administrative Associate, Hartford Hospital Emergency Department

How long have you been hiking and what inspired you to start?
I’ve been hiking for more than 30 years and started when I was a college student in New York City. My attraction to hiking and the outdoors is a love for nature and the enjoyment of escaping the city life for the solitude and tranquility the trail affords.

What is your favorite hike?
I especially enjoy hiking different sections of the Appalachian Trail in Connecticut and Massachusetts but I haven’t hiked the complete trail yet. That’s a dream for retirement.

How do you prepare for your hikes?
For longer hikes like the Appalachian, it’s challenging to prepare for the strenuous demands of being on the trail. Most hikers would say just “get out there and hike” and eventually you develop what is colloquially referred to as “trail legs.”

What is your favorite part of being on the trail?
I’m inspired by the solitude and tranquility and experiencing the oneness with nature. Being alone on the trail in the middle of the woods is serene despite the challenges presented by the terrain, finding water sources and staying safe from the changing elements.

What was one of your most challenging experiences?
One very challenging situation during one of my hikes was sustaining an injury to my right ankle. I tried to negotiate a six-foot drop and my ankle twisted. The nearest road was six tenths of a mile and I was unable to weight-bear on my ankle so it took me three hours to make it to the road. I then hitchhiked to the nearest hospital where I was diagnosed with a third-degree sprain. That was the end of my hiking activities for the season.

What advice would you give others interested in hiking the Appalachian Trail?
Despite risks, I encourage others to get out there and hike. Gear is expensive but worth every cent as being well equipped and outfitted opens a door to an immense world of natural beauty.

—Tim Lebouthillier

Photo: Jonathan Coler poses on October Mountain in Massachusetts, part of the Appalachian Trail.

This girl is on fire

Amber Monson, Nurse navigator/case coordinator, Hartford HealthCare Bone & Joint Institute

Photo: Amber Monson has trained for years to safely dazzle audiences with her tricks.

By day, Amber Monson MSN, RN, CNL, helps patients smoothly make their way through treatment. In her free time, she is a professional fire performer and co-owner of Ravenbane’s Fire Craft, a troupe that performs throughout the Northeast.

How long have you been involved in this hobby?
I have been “fire spinning” for almost 10 years and performing professionally for eight years.

How did you get started?
I had a friend who introduced me to the fire spinning community and events that teach flow arts — juggling, object manipulation and fire spinning.

What preparations are taken for performances?
Fire performing is dangerous. We practice our choreography, skills and safety protocols regularly.

Have you ever had a close call?
I have had some minor injuries. We train and drill our safety practices regularly. We take a risk every time we practice or perform and take it very seriously.

Are there any parallels you can draw between your job and your hobby?
Being a performer and a nurse are both part of who I am. Being comfortable in front of a crowd has helped me be more confident and comfortable when presenting at meetings or education classes.

What excites you about this hobby?
I love connecting with the audience when I’m performing. It’s a great feeling to see the look of awe and wonder in people’s faces when they watch our shows. Also, I get to dress up like a pirate, mermaid or fairy on a semi-regular basis!

Any advice for someone considering this hobby?
Please do not try to learn from YouTube or other online videos. There is a lot of dangerous and incorrect information on the internet. If someone is interested, I’m happy to provide some resources.

—Brenda Kestenbaum

Hanging out with her city chicks

Melissa DePasqua, Case manager, Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network

Last summer, Melissa DePasqua and her husband added a touch of country living to their home in downtown New Britain when they decided to start raising three chickens in their backyard. DePasqua said she got the idea from her husband’s friend who had chickens at his home. She was inspired to try and adopt a “live off the land” lifestyle despite her urban setting. After planting some fruit trees and berry bushes, she and her husband added a chicken coop they dubbed “The Fluffy Butt Hut.”

What is the best part of having chickens?
We have had so much fun raising these chickens. It’s a lot of work feeding them, keeping their coop clean and collecting the eggs, but we have really enjoyed it. They are a combination of White Rock egg-laying females and Rhodesian Red males that produce large brown eggs which are absolutely delicious! We have been donating eggs to people in the neighborhood since they are hard to find in stores right now. It’s great to be able to help people in a small way.

How is it going so far?
It’s been wonderful! They have become like members of the family. They are very friendly, love to be held and have their own unique personalities. Even our dog has learned to love them and lays near their coop to watch over them. One did escape the enclosure when we were bringing them home and was loose in the car, but other than that it has been great.

Did you name them?
Yes! Their names are Agnes, Blanche and Gertrude. We gave them old-fashioned names after patients that I have cared for and had special connections with. The names are also fitting because they look a little prehistoric.

Do you have advice for people looking to raise chickens?
Only that I would highly recommend it! We have had a lot of fun and are even thinking of adding to our little inner city farm.

—Ken Harrison

Photo by Rusty Kimball: Melissa and Christopher DePasqua pose with a few of their girls