The Road to Recovery: A Leverett Family, One Year After Adopting Two Special Needs Bulgarian Orphans

Eyes barely open, 7-year-old Anelia “Nellie” Schildbach stood at the piano the other day, listening intently as her fingers explored the keyboard. She rocked her head back and forth as her hands moved fluidly across the flat white and protruding black keys: middle C, F sharp and B flat, E and A. Notes played together and alone. Chord combinations both minor and major. Her choices appeared random, and yet somehow blended together. Occasionally, she hummed along while her mother, Kimberly Schildbach, watched.

After a while, Kim put her arms around Anelia, who is blind, and gently led her to the toy kitchen a few feet away. But as soon as she let go, Anelia crawled across the floor, back to the piano, stood up at it once more, and continued to pound the keys.

“She would play all day if we let her,” Kim said, smiling. “She’s a piano-crazy girl.”

Anelia, who is also developmentally delayed, came to the six-member Schildbach family a year ago from an orphanage in Sophia, Bulgaria. Non verbal and withdrawn, she was unable to even walk up or down stairs when she joined Kim and Nathanael and their four biological children: Lucas, 19, Gaelan, 16, Jericho, 8, and Olive Ann, 3.

Today, she has become part of the family, and with her love of music and the attention of four siblings, she has begun to emerge from her shell.

Kim noted that her love for her biological children was much stronger than her feelings for her adopted daughter at first, but that has changed. “Now it’s more even,” she said. “It took about a year.”

Rocky start

But it hasn’t been easy, even for a couple who say they love parenting and have wanted to adopt for years.

Anelia arrived in the Schildbach home with another Bulgarian orphan, Marin, now 10.

When people heard of their plans to adopt two special needs children from Bulgaria, according to Kim, they said the couple was nuts.

“We are nuts,” Nate said. “That’s why we did it.”

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It’s Tick Time: Step Up the Body Checks

Spring has sprung, baseball season’s first pitch has been thrown, April’s rains have been falling, and the ticks are back. Even if you can’t see them. Just ask Michael Noonan of Florence.

On a Thursday, a couple of weeks ago, Noonan, 62, noticed a red spot the size of a half dollar on the inside of his elbow, with a small dot in the center. The dot was a deer tick. His wife removed it with a pair of tweezers.

“It looked like a little piece of wood,” Noonan said, “except it was moving.”

His arm had been hurting all week — since cleaning up leaves in his driveway on Sunday — but Noonan figured he had a spider bite and didn’t think much of it until his wife did some online research.

After a trip to the OnCall Urgent Care Center in Northampton, he was told he would be treated for Lyme disease. Noonan was put on the antibiotic doxycycline for 11 days. Later, when he told the OnCall staff that he had probably been bitten while out raking five days before finding the tick, they upped his prescription to 24 days.

Nasty carriers

Just a few minutes in the yard these spring days is all it takes to attract a deer tick which can carry pathogens that cause Lyme or other diseases. While antibiotics cure some who contract Lyme, others suffer from chronic illness for years. Their symptoms can include headaches, heightened allergies, nausea, night sweats, joint pain, distractability and more.

These disease-carrying critters have been on the rise in the Northeast for the past decade.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, confirmed cases of Lyme disease in the United States have risen by over 10,000 in the past 12 years, from 17,029 to 27,203. The majority of these cases were reported in the Northeast and the Great Lakes regions of the country.

The latest CDC figures indicate that more than 300,000 people were infected with Lyme disease in 2014 alone, said Maria Malaguti, founder and executive director of the Northampton-based Lyme Disease Resource Center. “That figure is 10 times more than previously reported in 2013,” she said.

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Fine Art Family Time: Smith College courts the next generation of museumgoers

The exhibit “Mary Bauermeister: The New York Decade” at the Smith College Museum of Art focuses on the “lens boxes” that the German avant garde artist created in the 1960s. “Her work was shaped by experimentation and the use of found art objects,” notes the museum’s brochure. “Critics were fascinated by her glittering lens boxes, although they struggled to place the work of this unique artist within a particular movement. …”

You might expect to encounter a tweed-jacketed art history professor taking them in, or an art critic examining the works through a pair of horn-rimmed glasses.

But on a recent Friday, dozens of children were crowding around the artwork scrutinizing Bauermeister’s puzzling pieces.

Accompanied by parents, grandparents or caregivers, the children — from toddlers to teens — made their way through the first-floor room of the museum. They passed “Palette,” Bauermeister’s assemblage of glass, ink, optical lenses and painted wood created in 1966. They considered “Pictionary,” another looking box Bauermeister made that same year. They peered at “#175 The Great Society,” more glass, ink and optical lenses she made in 1969.

Then they walked out into the museum’s cavernous entryway, picked up their own jewelry-size boxes, glass pebbles and other trinkets and got busy on their own artworks.

Every second Friday of the month, in conjunction with Northampton’s Arts Night Out — an evening of open downtown galleries — the Smith College art museum offers an organized art activity like this one for children and their families. The art project is followed by Open Eyes, an informal, half-hour guided conversation that explores an aspect of one of the museum’s exhibits. The event, which runs from 4 to 8 p.m., is free.

“These nights offer a meaningful but informal experience that helps to demystify the museum a little bit,” said Gina Hall, the museum’s associate educator for school and family programs, who was helping to settle the kids with their projects that recent Friday. “We see this experience as an opportunity to spend relaxed quality time together — as a family — and the museum as a space to explore and build a lifelong love of learning.”

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The Death Cafe: Tea and cake gatherings look at death to enhance life

At a recent gathering in a second-story studio in downtown Northampton, Daniel Lombardo of Westhampton read a story about twin fetuses discussing life after birth. One thinks there will be life after delivery, related Lombardo, while the other isn’t so sure.

“Nonsense,” says the naysayer. “What kind of life would that be?”

“I don’t know, but there will be more light than here,” the other replies. “Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths.”

“That’s stupid,” the first one says. “Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion.”

“But certainly we will meet Mother,” answers the second, “and she will take care of us.”

The first laughs. “Mother? You actually believe in Mother?”

Some of the dozen people listening chuckled, others nodded.

While Lombardo’s story by Czech psychiatrist Jirina Prekop was about birth, it offered a different perspective to those who had come to the Body-Mind Zen Temple to talk about death.

“None of us are experts on death, because none of us have experienced it and returned to tell the rest of us,” said Ryumon Hilda Baldoquín Sensei, a teacher at the Buddhist center Two Streams Zen in Westhampton.

Those seated in a circle on folding chairs included several Buddhists, a practicing Episcopalian, and a few people who were raised Catholic. While one participant was in her 20s, the majority of those in the group were approaching senior citizenry. Several had worked with hospice.

They were participating in what is called a Death Cafe, based on similar gatherings occurring worldwide, where non-secular groups talk — generally over tea and cake — about the end of life. The meetings started in 2011, and have become increasingly popular both internationally and locally. There have been at least three in Hampshire County in the past year.

“Death Cafes are for those reflecting on personal loss, and for those interested in exploring how being more aware of death impacts how we live,” said Ryumon Sensei.

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The Way To Go: Marietta Pritchard’s book illuminates a gentle end through Hospice of the Fisher Home stories

Recently, on a gloriously sunny, spring-like morning, author Marietta Pritchard, stood in the kitchen of the Hospice of the Fisher Home in Amherst, fixing herself a cup of tea, talking about how she would like to die.

“I’ve become very committed to this place, and what goes on here,” she said, stirring in a dollop of honey. “A nursing home is not a place I would like to be, but this is someplace where I would. Like the title of the book.”

This winter Pritchard, who has been a volunteer at the Fisher Home since 2007, published her second book, “The Way To Go: Portraits of a Residential Hospice” (The Impress Group, 2015) about her experiences at the hospice.

A former editor at the Daily Hampshire Gazette, she once worked as an obituary writer at the newspaper as well and now writes a monthly column for Hampshire Life magazine.

“The Way To Go,” is a series of miniature portraits of several of the patients Pritchard took care of and the various staff members she encountered at the hospice. Woven throughout are excerpts from Pritchard’s journal, which she started when she began volunteering at Fisher Home, and chapters that focus on the history of the place. Each story adds to the mosaic Pritchard paints of this particular residential hospice, which in turn sheds light on the larger hospice movement.

“Hospice seeks to normalize death,” she writes. “But for many people in our culture, death is never seen as normal. It is the unspeakable.”

Pritchard’s book tackles questions most would prefer to avoid: How would we like to die? What do we consider a good death? What does a grieving family need?

The goal, she said, is to provide patients with the best death possible.

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Families Helping Families: Volunteer night at the Food Bank

As Lori Peters of Goshen packed a plastic bag with apples at The Food Bank in Hatfield on a recent Tuesday evening, she kept an eye on her son, Eldon, 7, and daughter, Desi, 3, who were filling their own bags next to her. Across the table, her husband, Joe, cradled son, Simon, not quite 1, in his left arm while holding his apple bag in his right hand.

“We have been looking for an opportunity to volunteer as a family,” Peters said as she worked. “I want my children to be less self-centered.”

The task was to sort through boxes of fruit to find non-bruised apples and fill each plastic bag with nine. The bags were then sealed tight with a tape dispenser and placed in other cardboard boxes, which were piled onto a wooden pallet in the center of the room.

“This is a great opportunity for kids,” said Alissa Shea of Northfield as she monitored the apple-packing efforts of her sons, Liam, 7, and Aidan, 6. “It helps them become activists in their community.”

The Peterses and the Sheas were among about 30 others who had come to the headquarters of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts on North Hatfield Road that evening as part of its Family Volunteer Day program. Volunteer days, held monthly through the fall, are organized by both The Food Bank and Hilltown Families, an online network for families in Western Massachusetts to promote activities, camaraderie and community involvement.

In the warm months volunteer sessions are also held at The Food Bank Farm in Hadley.

They’re “a great way for families to work side by side while supporting their neighbors in need of food assistance,” said Megan Pete, director of development at The Food Bank. During a typical volunteer session, the families are given a tour of the facility, participate in a game and then sort food — generally fresh produce — that will be distributed throughout Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire counties. More than 200,000 people count on The Food Bank’s offerings, she said.

“The kids want to keep coming because they realize that it’s fun,” said Laura Bezio of Erving, who was there with the students from the religious education class she teaches through Our Lady of Peace in Turners Falls. Last summer children from her class — who are mostly from Turners Falls, Millers Falls and Erving — pitched in at The Food Bank three times. “It’s important for them to see the bigger community,” Bezio said.

“I like knowing it all goes to a good cause,” added Bezio’s 11-year-old daughter, Catherine.

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Foot Loose: Making the case for soft shoes, or no shoes at all

With its 33 joints, the foot is as complex a mechanism as the hand, yet most of the shoes we wear keep it from functioning right.

That was the message delivered by structural therapist Derek Gardner as he stood barefoot in the Community Room at the Forbes Library in Northampton on a recent Tuesday evening.

“Our hands would start atrophying if they wore gloves as stiff as shoes,” he said.

Gardner was speaking to about a half-dozen people who turned out for his talk on the connection between footwear and health at the library. When feet can’t move properly, he told the group, muscles, tendons and joints in the leg can’t adequately react. The body is strained.

Gardner, who is also a licensed massage therapist in Northampton, practices a form of bodywork, like rolfing, that targets specific points of the anatomy experiencing musculoskeletal pain or dysfunction. If he had his way, most people would go barefoot whenever possible, and when circumstances demand shoes, the footwear would be spare.

“You don’t want your shoe to break your foot in,” he said. Shoes, boots and sneakers should allow feet to feel the surface beneath them. When feet can feel the terrain, he said, the rest of the body can adjust more easily to a hazardous change underfoot — a piece of ice, a forgotten toy, a protruding tree root — and better maintain balance.

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