Hartford HealthCare might be where we work, but when we asked you where you find fun, relaxation or deeper meaning in your lives, we were astonished at the variety of hobbies and activities 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 email@example.com.
Pandemic Hobby Provides Connection with Nature
Marketing outreach coordinator, Community Network
In my free time, a favorite pursuit is bird photography, which combines my passion for nature with my environmental science background. The results have been rewarding, deepening my appreciation for the delicate interplay between nature and storytelling.
How long have you been taking photographs?
I began my journey in photography in 2020 when the world was in lockdown, and nature provided solace amidst uncertainty. To stay active and engaged, I ventured outdoors, taking hikes and nature walks armed with my camera, capturing almost anything that caught my eye. Over time, I discovered a particular fondness for photographing birds, proud of the photos I captured.
What have been your favorite moments?
My favorites revolve around discovering the birds’ social dynamics and charming quirks. Observing them, I’ve come to appreciate the depth of their social interactions. Witnessing them gather, foraging with familiar companions and forming cohesive social circles, I notice their unique behaviors and idiosyncrasies.
Do you have any favorite bird species to photograph?
Currently it’s the blue jay. Their striking blue feathers never cease to amaze me, evoking a sense of wonder at the marvels of nature. Yet, capturing them is no easy feat; their quick and timid nature makes each encounter feel like a rare moment. While cardinals and sparrows often don’t get scared off easily, the blue jay’s appearance remains a cherished and sought-after opportunity for me.
How does this photography tie into your life?
When I capture and showcase a bird in my portfolio, I go beyond aesthetics to include the Latin name and factual information about their habitat and behavior. This allows me to connect my photography with a desire to educate and promote awareness. Each photograph becomes an opportunity to learn and share valuable insights about these fascinating creatures, fostering a deeper appreciation for their place in the natural world and inspiring others.
What do you hope people take away from your photos?
My goal is to encourage people to take a moment to observe and appreciate the often-overlooked beauty of the natural world. Birds, despite their small size, exhibit remarkable personalities, and capturing those moments allows me to showcase their unique charm. By fostering a deeper connection with nature, I hope my photography inspires viewers to learn about and appreciate the local bird species in their area.
The Flower Children of West Suffield
Marketing communications manager, East Region
Although strolling the long rows of blooming annuals at Willow View Farm might tempt you to ask if it’s heaven, Ken Harrison, marketing and communications manager for the East Region, will reply, “No, it’s West Suffield.” The flowers, smell of fresh-cut grass, butterflies, hummingbirds and honey bees, however, are a world away from the meeting rooms and writing tasks Harrison addresses daily. And his wife, Julie, while not an angel, is a self-proclaimed garden fairy according to her social media (@juliethegardenfairy on Instagram).
What do you guys have going on up here in West Suffield?
This is the third year for pick-your-own annuals at Willow View Farm, the 38-acre property Julie’s parents own. They live here, with us and our two daughters, 12-year-old Elle and 6-year-old Anna, plus cows, a horse, a goat and a few chickens.
Then there’s the 4,500 dahlias we grow each year. Don’t even ask me how long it takes to dig up all those dahlia tubers in the fall! Julie has always loved plants and flowers and has a degree in horticulture and landscape design from UConn. It’s truly a labor of love because while the blossoms are only out for a few months, the upkeep is year-round.
Tell us more about the flowers!
There are 45 varieties of dahlias and 28 different types of other flowers, many with more than one cultivar of each. For example, there are 14 cultivars of zinnias and 10 cultivars of lisianthus! To keep blooms coming all season long, we are constantly reseeding areas. We plant 700 sunflowers a week all summer.
Folks come from all over New England and New York. “They come for the experience,” Julie says. “It’s so unique. It makes everyone feel so good. People have told us after they come here, they say, ‘I had the best night’s sleep. It’s therapeutic.”
Is this a family business?
Julie is definitely the expert and boss. My primary duties are mowing between the rows and weedwhacking along the flower beds, as well as crushing Japanese beetles. I also use my professional skills to provide advice for social media and marketing as support staff. But, I love it. It’s so different from growing up in West Hartford. We’re super lucky to live here.
Garden Fairy’s Tips for a Beautiful Flower Arrangement
- Create a base with foliage, it sets the backdrop for blooms to pop and will create a grid to support flower stems (Ken’s favorite is rose geranium).
- Add filler flowers for added support and delicate color and texture (bupleurum is great for this).
- Add flowers for line or height to give the arrangement direction (snapdragons, gladiolus, stock or celosia).
- Tuck your focal point in last as the star of the arrangement. Dahlias are our absolute favorite for this!
- Enjoy your arrangement for longer by keeping it out of direct sunlight and changing the water if it starts to get cloudy.
Finding Heaven on the Farm
Director, community health
Joe Zuzel’s role at Hartford HealthCare requires him to cultivate, nurture and grow relationships with individuals and organizations throughout eastern Connecticut. As director of community health for the East Region, he and his team help connect people in the area to programs and services at Backus and Windham hospitals with the goal of improving their health and elevating their overall quality of life.
When Zuzel, affectionately called “Community Health Czar” by his colleagues, is not working to make communities in the East Region better places, he can be found working on his farm, Woodsong Hollow, in Amston, CT.
Can you describe your home environment?
Spread out over 10 acres, Woodsong Hollow offers the perfect escape for me and my family, which includes my wife Joy, daughters Maribelle, 10, and Eliza, 7, and our dog, Bojangles.
We just love the property so much. It’s so peaceful and far removed from the urban areas of downtown Norwich and Willimantic, where I spend most of my work days.
What do you have growing on the farm?
There’s a large vegetable garden full of tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, eggplant and pumpkins, and a greenhouse where we grow hot house peppers. There’s a coop that’s home to a variety of chickens and ducks. When we have an overflow of veggies and eggs, we put them at a stand by the side of the road that operates strictly on the honor system.
There’s so much more to this property, though, right?
The Raymond Brook flows through our property, giving my family and me a place to cool off and even catch some fish in the summer months. In the winter, when it freezes over, we go ice skating. I also cut walking paths through my woods for an easy, serene escape from any of life’s worries.
Who else lives on the property?
We’re lucky to have stables and a riding ring at Woodsong Hollow that are home to our horses, Arlo and Trixie, and Shetland pony, Annie. Two other horses, Blue and Panda, currently board at the farm.
It’s like a full-time job with everything we have going on here, but we love it. Every day — in heat, rain, sleet or snow — starts with taking care of the horses, chickens and ducks before heading to work. We’re very lucky to have this wonderful spot and there’s no place our family would rather be.