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Windsor Park Stories

Some sick people shook the very core of the American way of life. Since then, we've all been looking for ways to deal with the new world order. How do you deal with sickness? Try…

CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE AMERICAN SOUL?

By Dave Thackara

It was a Sunday night. I was through with work for the day, and came home to an empty house. My head hurt. I was hungry, thirsty, and tired. I collapsed onto the love seat and picked up the remote. The only thing on TV in January on a Sunday afternoon is NFL football. Regular season games are enough for me to completely tune in and zone out, but during the playoffs, if a friend is bleeding to death, I'll politely ask them to wait until halftime before I drive them to the hospital.

The Green Bay Packers were only losing by a touchdown to the high-octane offense of the St. Louis Rams. Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre had just thrown his third interception of the day. Pat Summerall and John Madden paused, and sent the station into a commercial break. (Though I can focus on nothing but the football game when it's on the screen, when there's a commercial playing, I need to see something else. My attention span is that of a four year old on Christmas morning. I need something else to play with!)

I paused for a second to look at what WVIA-TV had to offer. Our local PBS affiliate was running a program called Windsor Park Stories. The next few minutes of the locally-produced show were enough to hook me.

The premise is simple-beautiful stories being told in beautiful gardens by even more beautiful people.

Windsor Park Stories is the creation of Dr. Anthony Mussari. It's more than a TV show for him, it's a way of life. Along with his wife, Kathleen "Kitch" Mussari-Loftus, Dr. Mussari personally maintains Windsor Park to retain its Eden-like magnificence. It's more than just the set for their television series, it's also their home. When they invite you to sit and listen to their stories, they're also inviting you into their home.

They believe that there's more to life than sound bytes and shallow celebrity. The Mussaris see people as stories, not just as bodies in front of us in line at the grocery store. Windsor Park Stories is more than your average television program. There are no plot twists, no "who slept with whom?" storylines or season-ending cliffhangers to puzzle over for three months. Each week, Windsor Park Stories concentrates on an ordinary, average person who has in some way lived their life to extraordinary, above average heights.

The people of the United States are bombarded with hundreds of shallow images daily. Some of the content we choose to include in our various means of entertainment is so graphic, many argue that nothing is capable of shocking us anymore.

On the morning of September 11th, 2001, a few terrorists managed to find a way to shock us. People who hated America acted upon that loathing and turned ordinary, average American people into weapons, and pointed these weapons at the United States. Just like you and I did, Mussari felt a need to do something for our wounded country. His contribution took the form of 30 minutes of video; homemade, and just as delicious as mom's homemade chicken soup. The first helping is so refreshing; you can't help but ask for another bowl.

The January 20th episode of Windsor Park Stories asked the question "What is America?" Though there is no one definitive answer to this question, it still needs to be asked, especially after the events of that Tuesday morning in September that turned the free world upside-down.

If Tony Mussari wanted an answer to this question before the attacks, he could have simply gone anywhere in the country and asked someone what they thought. After 9/11/2001, the only place he could go was New York City, and the only people to ask had to be people working at Ground Zero.

There's no room for anything but the truth at Ground Zero. You can't get away with cute responses, fibs, little white lies, or misleading comments on the same ground that saw thousands lose their lives through no fault of their own. Even through the lens of Mussari's camera, a mystical aura found its way into my living room. Sitting there and listening to Mike Mazzei's gut-wrenching answers to tricky questions put a lot of things in perspective.

"Would you die for your country?"

"…I'd die to protect my kids. If I died to make sure my kids were safe, then yes. I'd die for my country."

Later, a busy intersection was transformed into a confessional. John Dennie admitted to crying daily since the attacks, whenever he read the obituaries in the newspaper or thought of how many families lost loved ones in the attacks. This wasn't staged-these were real tears from a real man over a real loss.

Past interviews with foreigners to our country drove the point of the episode home. Both Lucja Paplinska and Brendan Vaughn agreed that there is no one thing that makes the United States what it is, but all of them together. Lucja said, "I've always wanted to see how you realize your freedoms, how you realize the expression rags to riches. I want to see it."

Brendan added, "…the essence of America is its openness. Open to all sorts of races and people coming from all over the world. It's a very open, accepting society. Anybody that has talent and is prepared to work hard can go out there and make a great life for themself."

John Dennie summed up the country's attitude since the attacks in his response to Mussari's bodiless voice during the intersection interview, and he did it without even knowing it. Mr. Dennie answered a question in a normal tone, instantly went into a raw display of grief, and rebounded back to his normal form. The entire showing of his range of emotions took about ten seconds, but symbolized much more.

We, as a country, carried on with our daily lives. When a few of our brethren fell, we stopped to mourn them. But eventually, as I'm sure they wanted us to; we carried on with our lives. There's really no other alternative. To me, America is about moving forward, not back. Learning from our previous errors and using that knowledge to accomplish our next task. Sometimes, it takes a little help from our elders to do that. People who have lived through a lot and done some tremendous things are there to help us along the way.

It's nice to know that there's still a place where these people are always welcome to share their experiences with us. It's a place called Windsor Park, and its doors are open to anyone who accepts the invitation. Windsor Park Stories made me turn off NFL playoff football. I can offer no higher compliment than that.


Cape May family gives the gift of a powerful story shared

By Kris Procter
Cape May Star and Wave

Cape May ---- We are all teachers in our own right, confirmed Cape May residents Linda and Skip Loughlin, on Sunday as they talked about the death of Linda's son Ray, by his own hand, at 23.

The Loughlins, owners of The Summer Cottage Inn are the focus of "The Greatest Loss" an episode of Windsor Park Stories, a series broadcast on PBS highlighting ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

It was seen for the first time this week by a full house at Cape May City Hall.

Filmed this summer in Cape May and Pennsylvania, the Loughlins motivational story of loss and renewal is one of many personal histories told by Windsor Park Stories producers, Tony Mussari and Kitch Loftus Mussari, in the four years since the series began.

It will be viewed in Pennsylvania and New York by over 360,000 people. A message of strength, hope and faith shared by the Loughlins as they sit in the garden sunshine, it may even change lives.

It was easy to see that Linda came from sturdy stock even before she introduced her mother, a cancer survivor, and her stepfather to the crowd on Sunday.

Bounding through a charmed childhood (in Forty Fort, PA) the mother of four juggled family, home and job responsibilities nine years running while she finished college at one point sharing her desk in Biology class with a two-year old.

Weathering a divorce and remarriage, she earned her masters degree, (tought part-time at King's College) and eventually she and Skip purchased their Cap May dream home and business, meeting a goal they first set as honeymooners here.

But the Loughlins faced the unimaginable shortly after their arrival here eight year ago.

"He was my right arm," Linda told the camera describing Skip's support during the dark days after Ray's death.

"I would do anything in the world for her," said her husband.

With stunning clarity and candor the Loughlin's talked of Ray's life, the impact of his death, and the struggle to make life whole again. Linda, savoring memories and feeling his presence still, acknowledged the hard work of healing - a process not an event - some days more successfully lived than others.

Skip, emotions welling up, said the strength of their union and their deep religious faith got them through it. And it still does.

Encouraging other men who experience such a loss to feel the pain that it brings, Skip told viewers "Men and women are changing a lot. At one time it wasn't fashionable, or socially acceptable, for men to show emotion. The way I was raised, I tend to show emotion rather easily, a lot of things touch me. You need to express your feelings and show your love and understanding. Be yourself. Express your feelings and take care of the other person."

The screen filled with Ray's childhood hand prints resting now in his grandmother's garden, Tony Mussari asked Linda how she copes.

"I try to focus on the celebration of his life and not on his death and how he chose to die. You have to accept that the person is gone and that you did everything that you could for them."

She urged other parents worried about a troubled teen, to seek out professional help, not just for the child but for everyone in the delicate balance of a family system. Sharing an insight she gained in counseling. Linda described suicide as "a temporary state a person can be in but the act itself is final."

"Knowing the warning signs," she advised from the screen her son made two suicidal gestures before his death. "The best thing a parent can do if there is a suicide attempt, which is really a call for help, if you can't give it, keep searching for someone who can give help to your child."

"Keep a line of communication open," she said, detailing with remarkable composure her close relationship with Ray and the phone calls they shared on the day of his death.

"It's very necessary to keep an open mind. Don't get mad. Don't show anger. Keep open a line of communication," she cautioned parents who in frustration may give up and cut the only meaningful tie their child has. "It's very difficult being a child now," she continued. "A lot of things have changed. But don't be afraid to say no to your teenager either. Parents don't say no. They don't set limitations. With both parents working, teenagers are not getting the same quality time that we had. Have family dinners two or three time a week, seven would be better even if it's sandwiches. They have to have that grounding."

When the lights came back up in City Hall, Linda in the audience's emotional embrace was a proud daughter and a proud mother again showing off parents who traveled here for the preview, and son Patrick, a second year medical student.

A successful businesswoman, she gave credit to "very valued" Assistant Innkeeper, Thandi Hannah and thanked the Mussaris for the compassion with which they presented her story. "Now you can understand why I trusted him with my story."

"Oh, you already know all about Skip," she said, throwing down her hands, and feigning disgust. "But we're a pretty good team."

A lesson for all of us

Clinical depression is not a character flaw. It is a treatable mental disorder linked to biochemical imbalance that can affect mood, thoughts and behavior. Asking for help is a sign of strength. Learn to see the illness. If you or someone you care about has suicidal thoughts. Persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or worthlessness, experiences a change in eating habits, sleeping habits or activity level, isolates themselves, or loses interest in previously enjoyable activities, including sexual activity, contact your minister, your physician or a mental health professional and ask for advice.


A Portrait of Jesus: Fr. Joe Girzone

Father Joseph Girzone spends much of his life writing and speaking about a part of Christianity that can be overlooked: Jesus Christ.

As the author of several books, including the popular novel Joshua, Girzone says his purpose is simple. He's trying to reintroduce Jesus into the lives of all people, a task he also hopes will bring peace into their lives.

Girzone's book, Joshua, asks the question of how Jesus would be treated Fr. Joeif he were on Earth today. The book uses gospels as the format, and Joshua is portrayed as the modern day Jesus. Girzone's conclusion is that "people don't change." He says some people would embrace Jesus, while others would feel threatened, just as they did in his day.

Local viewers were given a glimpse of Girzone last Sunday on Windsor Park Stories. Girzone spoke of how some Christians and theologians become so involved with memorizing scripture and the procedures of the Church they forget Jesus is the focal point of Christianity.

He quoted a German woman he met as saying, "Father, the way I sized up Christianity is this: Catholics worship the Church, the Protestants worship the Bible and there are a damn few who ever get to know Jesus Christ."

Throughout the episode, Girzone tells stories of Jesus' life, describing Him as caring and compassionate, yet also down-to-earth and as having a sense of humor.

kids He explains how holiness during the time of Jesus meant to abide by the Jewish Laws, which contained 613 commandments, 365 prohibitions and 365 lesser prohibitions. Jesus, he says, wasn't very observant of the laws because they were created by man and were irrelevant to human life. Instead, Jesus followed two commandments given by God, "Love your father with all your heart and soul" and "Love your neighbor as yourself."

Through Windsor Park Stories, Girzone gives a witty and insightful look at Jesus' love for humanity while offering an intelligent, relaxed synopsis of how understanding and getting to know Jesus can spread messages of peace and hope.


Louise Rossetti: Carrying On

The sudden death of a loved one is often devastating for those close to the individual. Rebounding from the loss can be even harder. The story of Louise Rossetti, however, is a true-life tale of a woman who lost her youngest daughter in a brutal murder just outside of Phoenix, AZ, but then pulled herself together and carried on with her life.

In an episode of Windsor Park Stories, Rossetti recounts the day her soon to be 26-year-old daughter, Suzanne, a Scottsdale, AZ resident, disappeared while on her way to meet her parents before their flight home to Massachusetts.

Newspaper reports stated Suzanne had been raped, robbed and killed by two men who had helped her after she locked her keys in her car.

At one point, while waiting for her to show, Louise Rossetti and her husband had seen Suzanne inside her Pinto station wagon with the two men, but they were unable to keep track of the car.

"We never saw her again after that," Rosetti said. "She was just a perfect person. I knew that something serious was wrong, and I just had that sinking feeling inside me that we're never going to see Suzanne. And we never did."

Phoenix police said the two men brought Suzanne to the Superstition Mountains, outside of Phoenix, stoned her and buried her under rocks.

Suzanne's death came as a devastating blow to Rossetti, the rest of the family and to those who knew her.

Even today, Rossetti said she still misses Suzanne, who she described as generous and kind and having many friends.

"When I run I think of her, because she was also a runner," Rossetti said. "You just miss her so much. Part of my life is gone."

But in coping with Suzanne's death, Rossetti found a reason to continue on positively with her life -- for her own good and for the sake of her family.

"You have to be realistic, you have to pull yourself together," Rossetti said. "You just have to carry on because you have other family. You have to try to be strong. You cry when you're in bed by yourself at night. When you're alone you can vent your own emotions, but try to be strong to the other people around you. You just try to carry on."

Rossetti's story is a motivational guide, a story of hope and survival for those who have also been torn by the death of a loved one. It teaches us not only how to cope with death, but also how to continue on with life.


Sue Hand's Auction: An Artistic Journey

Amid the noise and commotion of a busy summer auction, local artist Sue Hand has a focus.

It's her job to paint a scene at the Back Mountain Library Auction - a job she calls her responsibility to supporters of the event. The painting is later auctioned as part of a fundraising effort.

The task doesn't come easy, as Hand is faced with anxiety over a looming deadline and distractions from the bustle of the auction.

"Many people are moving around," Hand said. "Everything seems to be whirling."

Yet, other times, she says the distractions help her with the content of the painting.

"It's one constant distraction, and yet it's all part of the painting," Hand said. "It's a special event. It's not like I'm alone in my studio or standing underneath a tree very quietly figuring out what to do. I try to put in my auction painting the action, the movement, the sound."

The latest episode of Windsor Park Stories delves into Hand's artistic journey at the auction and also brings about a deeper factor motivating her work: She says she wants nothing else than to please her family through her work and create something they can be proud of.

The devotion to her family stems from her upbringing, including the relentless encouragement she received from her mother to pursue her artistic dreams.

Sue Hand "I want my parents to be proud of me," Hand said. "I want my parents' and family's approval more than anyone else's. They don't move in or out of my life. They're there. I want what I do to honor them."

Windsor Park Stories travels with Hand as she creates the 1999 auction painting, which depicts the crowd of auction supporters. Included are clips of how Hand came about painting the scene while in a bucket truck overlooking the crowd and of the comedic auctioneer calling the bids for the completed piece. We also learn of her trips to auctions as a little girl, which fueled her dream to create a work that would someday be part of an auction.

But most importantly, we are witness to Hand's selfless commitment and love of the auction, not for her own benefit, but for the good of the community surrounding her.

"Doing the auction painting for me carries a deep sense of responsibility to the people connected to the auction in whatever endeavor," she said. "It's a responsibility each year to commemorate them and what they are doing."

Sue Hand's Auction:An Artistic Journey
Tara Reilly


Thinking With Your Heart

Tara Reilly

Thinking with your mind is a phrase Joe Peters would rather not follow. The Scranton native and son of former Scranton Mayor Gene Peters, believes thinking with your heart, combined with spirituality, brings about the awareness of humanity in the world -- an awareness that could help promote personal growth and strength.

"I think we don't think enough with our heart as we should, "Peters said. "People tell us don't think with your heart, think with your mind. I think thinking with your heart and looking at a situation and realizing there's a person underneath it all, not just an adversary and not just a friend or not just a sibling, is something that religion teaches us. In that spirituality comes strength."

Joe Peters Peters, the focus of episode three of Windsor Park Stories, discusses the aspects of his childhood, college days and public service career that helped shaped his life. He also talks about how his high profile job as President of the United States High Intensity Drug Enforcement Officer hasn't let him forget the values he learned growing up or his responsibilities to his 10-year-old son.

A King's College graduate, Peters says being the son of a mayor has had positive and negative aspects. The benefits, he says, came from learning local government at a young age and meeting politicians and other dignitaries. Sometimes, however, Peters says he was labeled as someone who received special advantages because of his name, which would cause peers or teachers to come down extra hard on him.

Looking back he says the experience helped him mature and kept him proud of his father for choosing a political lifestyle and also kept him proud of his father's efforts to help humanity by choosing a public service career. "Politics is hard on you, hard on your family. But public service is one of the greatest gifts to humanity, one of the nicest things that you can do," Peters said.

Joe Peters Peters' upbringing and early experiences left an impression so great upon him that he too set out for a life of public service.

After college, Peters went on to become a Scranton police officer, before deciding to take the law school entrance exam just a few hours before it was administered. As a lawyer, he worked in the state attorney general's office and then became a federal organized crime prosecutor in Philadelphia.

Through Peters' story, we not only see a man who set and surpassed his goals, we also see a man who latches onto values and his duty to help mankind. As he states: "People are people, no matter their station in life."

Tara Reilly is a freelance writer who lives in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Her reviews will appear periodically here on the Windsor Park Stories "Reviews" page.

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