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Catching Up With..

Catching Up With...Judith Hannan

By Bob on May 11, 2012 5:26 AM

Judith Hannan is one of those Boomers with an indomitable spirit and a passion for helping people. She's an author, mother, music educator and volunteer who lives in Manhattan with a view overlooking Central Park.

Sure, it sounds great - and is - but there's a lot more to her story than life in the Big Apple. We were lucky enough to catch up with her before she headed out to her home on Martha's Vineyard. Oh, did I forget to mention that? Well, I'll let her tell you about it...

 

What are you doing these days?

What gets me out of bed in the morning is the sun or the dogs--no longer the kids since they aren't at home anymore. Once I'm up, I spend most of my time promoting my new memoir, Motherhood Exaggerated

 

Ten years ago, my daughter Nadia was successfully treated for Ewing's sarcoma (Ewing's is a rare cancer of the bone or soft tissue affecting 300-400 people in the United States annually). We had both wanted books to read in which we could recognize our experiences--hers as a patient, mine as a mother. Not finding much and daring to call myself a writer after previous careers in music education and fundraising, I wrote a book. 

 

The remainder of my time is spent on behalf of the Mt. Sinai Adolescent Health Center Advisory Board, of which I just became president, Mt. Sinai Global Health, and the Children's Museum of Manhattan where I serve on the board and also help lead creative writing sessions for homeless mothers.

 

How old was Nadia when she was diagnosed?

Nadia was eight when she was diagnosed. She turned nine halfway through treatment. Nadia's cancer was in her jaw and was discovered when she bit into a piece of Halloween candy and her jaw cracked. She has two siblings: an older sister Frannie, 23 (she was 12 during Nadia's treatment), and a twin-brother Max, 20.

 

Where do you live and what do you like about the area?

We live in Manhattan, not a place I would have chosen to live since cities are not my favorite place to be. But it is home. It is where we raised our children, where my friends are and where I have made commitments. I was worried about raising children here since I grew up in a very rural suburb and spent vast amounts of time free-ranging outside. My mother had a cowbell which she rang to call me and my sister home. But there are benefits. As the kids get older, they learn to be independent sooner because they don't have to drive to get places.

 

We are very fortunate to have a wonderful apartment overlooking the reservoir in Central Park so I get to look at water every day. Hawks often sit on our windowsill. Yesterday, I saw a raccoon in a tree. I found a little colony of Baltimore Orioles last spring when I was walking the dogs, and turtles rest on rocks on sunny days. And, so far at least, I have yet to find a tick in Central Park.

 

Manhattan is also a good place for me because I tend toward the reclusive and once you step outside in the city, you see people. If nothing else, I know I will talk to at least one dog owner each time I go out with the dogs. Now that my husband and I have more relaxed schedules, we can be much more spontaneous about going to plays or the opera. There is always something to see or hear. Because Nadia is studying modern dance, and because I studied dance as well when I was younger, I am thrilled to be returning to the dance scene as an audience member. It is the one art form that truly takes me out of myself. 

 

Perhaps someone living outside of New York City wouldn't use the word "convenience" to describe living here, but nearly everything I need is within walking distance of my home, including The Corner Bookstore which is my anchor. And if I don't feel like going out to get something (like food for dinner) there's always delivery of almost anything I could want!

 

Judith Hannan Kayaking on Martha's Vineyard

Judith on Martha's Vineyard-650.jpgWhere is your favorite vacation?
I am fortunate to be able to spend my summers on Martha's Vineyard. I don't know if that's technically a vacation because it's not as if I can put my life on hold for that long. But each day, I have vacation moments when I'm in the ocean or kayaking or sitting on my lawn at the end of the day with a cocktail and a book which I have a hard time reading because the view is so beautiful.

 

Martha's Vineyard has a magic Manhattan will never have. My husband John and I have been going there for 25 years, first as renters when we would spend the month of August there and now as homeowners. We built our home on Stonewall Beach in Chilmark around 15 years ago. I spend the whole summer there. In the past, it was with the kids and John would travel back and forth, each year finding ways to spend more and more time on the island.

 

In recent years, the kids have had other work or study commitments so they come when they can. It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be to make the transition from a "family" summer to "my" summer. In anticipation of that transition, I worked harder on my friendships there and I have developed a lovely balance between time by myself and relaxed visits with friends. I have a writing studio, an old ice house that was adapted by Lew French. It has a rustic feel and sits next to a fire pit and I feel as if I could be in any century of my choosing. I urge everyone to check out Lew's unbelievable stone work.

 

Peanut butter: Crunchy or smooth?
Definitely smooth, although it has become a guilty pleasure since my son has a potentially fatal allergy to peanuts.

Dog or Cat?
Dogs, dogs, dogs; any breed, size, color or "caste." I have two dogs now -- Zoe, a five-pound Yorkie, and Nellie, an 11-pound Coton de Tulear (think Havanese or Bichon). I'm also part-time babysitter to my daughter Frannie's dog Finn (short for Finnegan because Frannie loves James Joyce and all things Irish), a lab/pit bull mix, and we take the most amazing walks together. There's nothing like seeing a dog let loose in an open field and then come home and fall asleep.


Favorite soft drink.
I hate soda. I wasn't allowed to drink it as a child except when we went fishing, which I also hate. I used to get grape soda or Moxie and pretend that I liked it.


Favorite adult beverage.
Stolichnaya vodka from the freezer with no lemon or lime.

What are you reading now?
For my book group, I am reading Graham Greene's The Honorary Consul. I forgot how much I liked him. Good writing with well-developed characters and a plot that holds my interest. I'm not sure what I'm going to read next. I have The Fault Within our Stars by John Green but I'm interested in that more for professional reasons because it involves a girl with cancer. I'll probably start Quite Enough of Calvin Trillin because he can make me laugh and he's a great essayist.

Last concert you attended.
I saw two great concerts this week. The first was The Idan Raichel Project. Idan Raichel is an Israeli visionary dedicated to building bridges of peace through music. He brings in musicians from many different countries and their energy on stage is breathtaking. A few days later I saw The Chieftains for their 50th anniversary concert at Carnegie Hall. I would love to see the Idan Raichel Project and The Chieftains join up together. 


Favorite musician.
I'm obsessed with Mark Knopfler. In classical music, I listen to Yo-Yo Ma a lot because I love the cello. I'm trying to develop a program with my book that combines narration with music and the unaccompanied suites for cello by J.S. Bach hold particular appeal.

 

Last clothing item you purchased.
I have to admit I went a little overboard at St. John in New York the other day! I always thought their clothes were kind of stuffy but they were beautiful and fit me perfectly. But the real reason I went a little crazy was because a percentage of the proceeds that night went to the Mt. Sinai Adolescent Health Center and I would do anything for them. Anyone interested in completely accessible and confidential teen health--physical and mental--has to know about the Adolescent Health Center.

 

Last store you were in.
The Corner Bookstore. This is my neighborhood bookstore and they are amazing. It was where Nadia and I went when we were looking for books to read about kids with cancer. The staff there knows everything. I had my first public reading of Motherhood Exaggerated there. For me, it was like going to Carnegie Hall. I bought the Calvin Trillin book that day as well as The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier.

 

Coffee or Tea?
Tea. My husband John and I love tea. I have Irish Breakfast in the morning (preferably Barry's). We try to have tea together every afternoon around 4:30. In the afternoon, I have Lapsang Suchong which I love because it's smoky.

 

Conan, Letterman, Leno, Fallon or Ferguson?
None.  Aside from the fact that I have a hard time staying up after 10, I got tired of late night TV.  Everyone seemed so cynical and it was hard to laugh at the monologues. If I'm up at 11:30, I'll see who's on Charlie Rose.

 

What's the one electronic gadget you could not live without?
Is a lamp an electronic gadget? Anything that helps me read is essential--either an overhead light, the lamp next to my bed or the clip-on fixtures that attach to a book so I can read when I want to stay outside after dark.

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Image credit: Colin Erricson

Prepare your own Mexican quick fix with this Chipotle-inspired bowl. Carbs are moderated by filling the bowl with beans, extra veggies and chicken. No need for rice, since the beans count as carbs.

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If you love tomatoes, increase the quantity to 1/2 cup, but note that the carbohydrates will also increase.

If preparing this recipe for one person, cut all of the ingredients in half. Or simply prepare the full recipe up to the end of step 2 and store leftover chicken and vegetable-bean mixture in separate airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Reheat in the microwave on High for 1 to 2 minutes, or until heated through, and continue with step 3.

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