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Resolutions Take Somber Tone

Connecticut Tragedy Has Some Looking Beyond Traditional Promises

  • Sandi Anderson, 61, of Woodstock, said her New Year’s resolutions include getting to know more wonderful people, listening to their stories, and making “lots more art!” (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Sandi Anderson, 61, of Woodstock, said her New Year’s resolutions include getting to know more wonderful people, listening to their stories, and making “lots more art!” (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • John Johnson Jr., 78 of Hartford, said his resolution for the new year is “to live through it.” (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    John Johnson Jr., 78 of Hartford, said his resolution for the new year is “to live through it.” (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Edwin A. “Eddie” English, 68, of Woodstock, said he hopes to “go to church every Sunday, see more people and hand out my cards. ...” He may get a new cat, too. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Edwin A. “Eddie” English, 68, of Woodstock, said he hopes to “go to church every Sunday, see more people and hand out my cards. ...” He may get a new cat, too. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • “My resolution is to live in the present, enjoying the moment instead of worrying about the next thing to be done,” said Deanna Jones, 36, of North Pomfret.  (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    “My resolution is to live in the present, enjoying the moment instead of worrying about the next thing to be done,” said Deanna Jones, 36, of North Pomfret. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Sandi Anderson, 61, of Woodstock, said her New Year’s resolutions include getting to know more wonderful people, listening to their stories, and making “lots more art!” (Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • John Johnson Jr., 78 of Hartford, said his resolution for the new year is “to live through it.” (Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Edwin A. “Eddie” English, 68, of Woodstock, said he hopes to “go to church every Sunday, see more people and hand out my cards. ...” He may get a new cat, too. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • “My resolution is to live in the present, enjoying the moment instead of worrying about the next thing to be done,” said Deanna Jones, 36, of North Pomfret.  (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, the old standbys are still in play. Plenty of Upper Valley residents say this is the year they’ll shed those extra pounds or break a bad habit. But just two weeks after the Newtown, Conn., shootings that left 20 children and eight adults dead, at least a few Upper Valley residents say they also plan to approach life somewhat differently this year.

The day after Christmas found Jaclyn Pageau, of West Lebanon, reading a textbook in a Hanover coffee shop. The Lebanon High School student was preparing for an upcoming Advanced Placement exam in government. But another deadline was approaching even more quickly. In 2013, Pageau plans to give up soda.

“I drink too much of it,” the 17-year-old said. “I should probably drink more water.”

Her last hurrah will be something to wash down snacks on New Year’s Eve, likely a root beer. She’s quit before, Pageau said with a smile, but “it came back.”

Being in school every day, Pageau said, she couldn’t help but be affected by the Newtown tragedy.

“It makes you think about how short life is,” said Pageau, whose second resolution is to “enjoy every moment of it.”

Psychologists say tragedies often prompt people to reassess their lives.

“All of the sudden all the noise falls away and people realize what’s really important is really not the stuff (they are) focusing on every day,” such as minutiae and negativity, said Dr. Jan Scheiner, a Dartmouth psychology professor and licensed clinical psychologist.

Terrible events like the school shooting bring out the best in people, she said. They come together, offer support and love for one another. The challenge, she added, is “how can we keep people in that space of feeling blessed and giving without it having to be in response to a really awful tragedy?”

Deanna Jones, of North Pomfret, is the executive director of Thompson Senior Center and a mother of two sons, ages 6 and 8. Together, she and a friend who also has young children, came up with a resolution: to live in the present.

“Being where I am, enjoying where I am” appeals to her, she said, “instead of … pushing myself to get to the next thing I have to get done.”

Jones, 36, said the vow was prompted by the Newtown shootings, which she thinks of with terrible sadness “every time you see some precious thing your child does.”

Don Stapelfeld, a father of four, said the shootings have made him want to spend more time with his family. This year, the Canaan resident also plans to get in shape. Stapelfeld, 42, is physically active: He takes care of the buildings and grounds at a Wilder business and spends his free time hunting and fishing. Even so, he said, he needs to keep moving.

“I have to get rid of this spare tire,” Stapelfeld said with a smile, patting his stomach.

Rich Synnott, executive director of the Upper Valley Aquatic Center, said that when it comes to meeting fitness goals, two ingredients are vital: involving other people and having fun.

Health clubs typically sell about 40 percent of their memberships between January and March, Synnott said.

But more than half of those resolutions to work out, either in gyms or at home, wither soon after they are made.

“Pretty much two months later, the equipment they bought is under the bed,” he said, and the workout garb is hanging in the closet. But 80 or 90 percent of those who use a personal trainer or take part in group exercise stick with it.

“It becomes a social thing as well as a physical one,” he said. “If you don’t come, it sort of disappoints them as well, so there’s a little extra motivation.”

For motivation, little is better than setting a fun, long-term goal, whether it’s climbing Mount Washington, playing tennis with the grandchildren or riding in the Prouty, he said. “I think people have to be more in tune with what’s the purpose of losing this weight or getting in shape?”

When it comes to dropping the 12 or so pounds he’s put on since summer, Synnott has a built-in motivator. Every spring, he and a group of friends meet somewhere in North America to go mountain climbing. With a group of people counting on him, he said, “I have to stay fit.”

Eddie English, 68, tries to make a resolution every year. This year, he has two.

In 2010, English retired from the Woodstock Inn, where he had worked for 46 years. He stays active, volunteering at the Thompson Senior Center and working part time. He hopes to live in his one-story home for “another 15 years,” English said, but nothing in life is guaranteed. That’s why he’s planning to clean out his place this year — in case he needs to go into assisted living or dies.

“He might come tonight, for all I know,” English said wryly. “We all go through that gate.”

His second resolution is to go to the Congregational Church more often. “I started out good last year,” he said, but lately his attendance had fallen off.

Scheiner, the Dartmouth psychology professor, said it’s important to set goals that are achievable using small, systematic steps. “Where people make a mistake is they expect wholesale change,” she said. Changing a behavior takes time, Scheiner said, and it’s not unusual to fall back into old habits, even as we try to break them.

Instead of beating themselves up for slipping, those who are most successful in meeting their goals focus on the positive and “celebrate all the times they didn’t do the wrong thing.”

Sandi Anderson, a retired Waldorf kindergarten teacher and mother of four, was having lunch with Jones and English at the Thompson Senior Center last week. The Connecticut shooting “awakened me to my desire to help humanity, to dig into why these things happen,” she said.

This year, she wants to create as much harmony as possible in her family as they enter the next chapter of their lives, she said, and lately she’s been asking herself, “What’s living unresolved in me that I could work on this year?”

A singer-songwriter who plays guitar in a duo, Anderson, 61, also has another, more measurable goal. She plans to record the four dozen songs she’s written since she was 15.

The recordings don’t need to be perfect, “just honest,” she said. “We make honest mistakes.”

But not everyone has a to-do list for 2013.

John Johnson, owner of Pleasant View Motel in White River Junction, is 78 years old. He has never made a New Year’s resolution, Johnson said, preferring to take life one day at a time.

As for 2013, he said, he hopes “to live through it.”

Aimee Caruso can be reached at acaruso@vnews.com or 603-727-3210.