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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Beacon Bits -- Year's End

Resolutions are always made to be broken. So I'm not planning to write about my resolve for the coming year. I will take into consideration what I have learned about the effectiveness of goal setting rather than succumbing to the tradition of the New Year. To truly change behavior, one needs to be mindful of one's interest and motivation to do so, and then be painfully aware of the patience required to develop new habits. Breaking down the goals into measurable and attainable 'baby steps' is imperative. So is rewarding oneself sooner rather than later; delayed gratification is never effective. Modest expectations and recognizing one's progress, however slow, will be reinforcing. The "tortoise effect" is real. I believe this is somewhat true for two issues that have been important to Hudson River Valley residents who have voiced opposition to fracking in the Marcellus Shale and who are against the re-licensing of Indian Point. Within the past year, activists have gathered, emailed, protested, raised funds and awareness and reached a critical mass that has gained steady momentum over time.

I'm pleased to report that as 2011 comes to a close, some minor victories have been won:   
(1) Entergy lost an appeal with the NRC "A federal commission dismissed an appeal from the owner of Indian Point Energy Facility on Thursday, declining to hear arguments on a previous ruling requiring the company to beef up its plan to deal with major accidents" suggesting that emergency procedures related to its proximity to the Ramapo fault need to be addressed before re-licensing for 2015 can proceed; and (2) "The action of the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), to postpone its vote on natural gas drilling and hydrofracturing (“fracking”), demonstrates both the critical importance of this watershed and the political power of the natural gas industry." Both of these 'victories' have been the result of forces that want to contain reckless energy development and curtail corporate assumptions that their rights and values are more important than quality of life in the near and distant future for all residents. These are initial successes, however small, that speak to the need for continued lobbying and activism on both fronts.

Some food for thought: It would be great if there were some 'Public Service Announcements' about energy conservation to highlight the need for ongoing behavior change related to our interaction with the precious environment we live in. (Maybe this could be a theme for Beacon's Electric Windows 2012.) If we want to deter development of deleterious energy sources, we have to look at our side of the equation as well. If we require less power, we are responsible stewards of our limited natural resources. So here are the "top 10" small steps to take for daily care and concern for the use of our natural resources to keep 2012 green.

1. Turn off the computer, TV and lights when not in use. Avoid outdoor lighting unless absolutely essential for safety or visibility.
2. Stack the dishwasher to capacity; use the energy efficient cycle and run early in the AM when rates are lowest because use is down.
3. Turn off the faucet while flossing in between brushing.
4. Recycle, recycle, recycle.
5. Learn to compost.
6. Respond to email requests to sign a petition or write a letter or make a phone call to officials in support of conservation issues.
7. Plan for your next vehicle to be hybrid.
8. Join Scenic Hudson, our region's steadfast advocate for land conservation and sustainable development.
9. Follow the Rivertown Kids and learn some of their lyrics and environmental tunes
(e.g., Solartopia, It Really Isn't Garbage).
10. Pick up litter that you see when walking down Main Street in Beacon.

Make 2012 a green leap of faith with modest behavioral change that with slow and steady action that is guaranteed to truly make a difference. After all, the hare thought he could slack off and still win the race, but the tortoise stands alone as the iconic example of how slow and steady always wins the race.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Beacon Bits -- Simple Gifts

This year, more than ever, I'm convinced that the 12 days of Christmas should come before December 25; there are just too many things to do before the official festivities begin. There are guided candlelit tours of the local mansions and estates (Boscobel, Mt. Guilian, Locust Grove, Vanderbuilt); holiday concerts (Bardavon, Howland Cultural Center, The Beacon Theatre) and local shopping along the river towns from Cold Spring to Beacon, and north to Rhinebeck and Hudson. All of this plus the usual food and gift shopping, trimming of the tree, baking, wrapping, caroling and visiting family and friends. It's all about the choices we make since it is impossible to do it all. I'm reminded of the wise saying about life -- that it's more about the journey and less about the destination -- and I am trying to heed the advice.

This year's journey included an acute reminder about enjoying simple gifts of the season: the gifts of music and creativity. What a joy to go to the Beacon Sloop Club last Friday for their annual holiday sing-a-long with our local musical talent including Pete Seeger and the Rivertown Kids. Walking into the warmth and coziness of this space with an intergenerational and multicultural 100+ crowd of choristers was like stepping into a staging of a holiday TV special in the 1960's with the Smothers Brothers or Mitch Miller. No need for HDTV or 3-D glasses, just real people getting others to raise their voices in harmonious song.
Following on the heels of the revelry of the sing-in came the "ravelry" of a knit-in with a festive holiday gathering of 14 knitters who frequent an onoing group that's continued for years after the Cold Spring specialty yarn shop, known as Knittingsmith, closed its doors. Other than wonderful food prepared uniquely by each attendee, there was a grab bag of knitted gifts such as snowmen, lace baskets, mittens and snowflakes, all handmade and crafted with love for this annual tradition. Amid the 'oohs' and 'ahs' as each ornament was unwrapped was much appreciation for the generous gift of time and creative spirit within each row of knit and purl.

As if that weren't enough creativity for one weekend, the day came to a close at Hudson Beach Glass where you can blow your own holiday ornament (with help and technical assistance from one of the master glass artists/owners). It's such a popular event that you can start to sign up now for next year's month-long schedule of appointments.
Some food for thought: The traffic and crowded stores can be left behind during the pre-Christmas rush if you choose to participate in the unique offerings around the Hudson Valley. You may need to give up some of the 'have to do' things on the list for the 'will nourish my spirit' choices: an hour of listening to favorite holiday music without it serving as background for doing something else; a few hours of working on finishing a hand-made ornament, scarf, socks or hat for a special someone; experimenting with a new cookie recipe to add to the mix of one's childhood favorites; mindfully selecting each decoration that is placed around the house, day by day, rather than trying to rush and do it all in one fell swoop when tired, hungry or cranky. This frame of mind was affirmed when I became frustrated with putting the tree stand together the other night. Rather than continuing to fight, after a full 30 minutes, to line the pieces up so that the long screws could engage correctly, I just happened to turn the stand on its side and it fell into place. It served as a reminder that we can shift our perspective when we look at something in a new way, by accident or by choice. You may just want to accidentally choose to "unplug the Christmas tree" this year and focus on savoring the simple gifts of the season. It just might turn Christmas upside down for you; I don't think you'll regret it.

Simply the Best Rice Pudding
A Norwegian Tradition
Aunt Fanny's Rice Cream

1/2 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup sugar
1 qt. whole milk
1 tbs. pure vanilla extract
1 cup heavy cream
1 egg yolk

Put milk, rice, sugar and vanilla extract into a large pot (I get the milk to room temperature first and start to heat it before I add rice and sugar); heat on medium flame. You'll need to stay nearby because you'll be stirring often, otherwise the rice sticks to the bottom of the pot and the sugar burns. You'll cook this for about an hour on a medium to low flame; eventually you'll see the rice thicken -- keep stirring frequently at this point. When you get to about 70 min. of cooking (you never bring it to a boil but it could boil if you raised the heat), take pot off the stove and then add the 1 cup heavy cream and 1 egg yolk (i.e. whisk the egg yolk with some of the cream in a small bowl, add the cream to the mixture in the pot first; then slowly add egg yolk mix while stirring constantly so the egg yolk doesn't cook.) Return to heat and cook for another 10 min. - you could test if it's done by raising the heat: if it boils vigorously while stirring furiously, then it's ready. Remove from heat and pour into a bowl. After it cools down for about 10-15 minutes, cover the top with wax paper -- this keeps it from forming a skin -- and then place in refrigerator overnight. (The recipe can easily be doubled; you can top with cinnamon when serving, but the Norwegian way is to put some whipped cream on top and raspberry or red currant syrup; serve in a glass like a parfait. Or you can put fresh berries or lingonberry jam on top. I've even used warmed local maple syrup of good quality.) I never put raisins in this rice cream, but on on Christmas eve when it is served in a Norwegian home, we put a whole almond in the rice pudding -- whoever gets the almond 'wins' a marzipan pig as a prize for good luck for the coming year. It's hard to find the marzipan pig these days unless you go to a specialty import store, but I did find the raspberry syrup (“Marco Polo”) this year at Adams Fairacre Farms.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Beacon Bits -- Into the Light

We're heading into the shortest days and darkest nights before the winter solstice occurs next week (12/22), though it may be hard to tell for sure since strings of holiday lights seem to be sprouting on tree branches and bushes and decorating house trim on a daily basis. I actually saw a house or two in a Beacon neighborhood that reminded me of the famously-lit homes in Bensonhurst-Brooklyn; white, blue and various multicolored lights seem to fend off the darkness like sentinels standing guard at Fort Knox. Everyone seems to be re-enacting the primal fear of the dark as if we are still vulnerable and living in caves and forests rather than the CFL-LED-halogen lit homes in which we currently reside. Perhaps the antidote to the frantic nature of holiday shopping and merriment is to make friends with the dark and allow it to become an enveloping comforter that invites us inward to seek out the warmth of burning logs in the fireplace and flickering candlelight that dances in the night. This feeling is actually created during the season of Advent when one candle is lit each week on the four consecutive Sundays before Christmas. As you see the illumination growing from one to two to three to four candles, you have recapitulated the return of the sun and the lengthening of the days with the recollection of the hope, peace, joy and love symbolized by the successive tapers standing tall in the Advent wreath. It's a natural way to recapture the light, just like the annual appearance in mid-December of the Geminids, a meteor shower that features more than 75 meteors per hour for a spectacular display during the darkest hours before dawn at its peak, reminds us that there is much light in the dark. Each year the "shooting stars" peak on 12/13 and 12/14, but the gibbous moon this year, along with the man-made light pollution, may impede the viewing of this fantastic light show. But a good viewing location in this part of the Hudson Highlands would be on Route 9D across from Storm King Mountain where one could hope to meet some like-minded stargazers in the turnout with a thermos of hot cocoa, bundled with hat and scarf, looking above to the heavens where north-south transects east-west close to the constellation Gemini from midnight through dawn.
Some food for thought: So it might be a good idea to 'wish-on-a-star' tonight and then use this upcoming week of the darkest nights to pause, reflect and meditate on the magic of the natural seasonal gifts that aren't purchased in the malls or on Main Street. The gift of silence. The gift of deep breathing. The gift of simplicity. The gift of paying attention. The gift of anticipation. The gift of kindness. The gift of solitude. The gift of trust. The gift of knowing who you are and what you want. The gift of courage to stand alone in the dark.  The gift of your very own inner light to guide you.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Beacon Bits -- Letting Go (is a blessing)

This past Sunday, Indian summer was fully present in the Hudson Highlands, making last month's snowstorm a distant nightmare. Hikers gathered early in the morning at the foot of Mt. Beacon for a pre-Thanksgiving hike to get ready for the extra calories in the coming week. Local roads were getting congested as families made their trek to the various grocery stores and markets, including the new Wappinger location for Adams Fairacre Farms to retrieve the mandatory turkey, sweet potatoes, cranberries, bread for stuffing, winter squashes, pumpkin pie fixings, apple cider, as well as the specific seasonal delights such as, stalks of brussel sprouts, fennel, assorted mushrooms, artisanal cheeses and nuts, seedless grapes and tangerines.  Last minute shoppers made their way down to the waterfront to the Beacon Farmers Market to pick up a forgotten item or two like local maple syrup and honey or additional vegetables for yet another "side" dish.
In many communities, the pre-Thanksgiving farmer's market is the last of the season until the following spring, but not so for our local market. I was both recalling and anticipating the week that the Sunday market retreats into the Beacon Sloop Club with its intimate space and smaller group of vendors around the tree that grows through the roof of the building and the blazing fire in the stone fireplace with its welcoming hearth. I relished the idea of that setting because of the warmth and genuine hospitality I felt there last winter after a difficult transition during my move and relocation in the midst of several snowstorms. As I was taking some photos and daydreaming, I met  a woman I'd known from Common Ground Farm, Dana Devine O'Malley,
who is the new manager of the market. I shared my memories from last year and how I was looking forward to all the sensations of community around the fireplace again this year. To my surprise, she noted it was likely that the market would move this winter; that discussions were being held with Mill Street Loft to host the market at the neighboring Long Dock Beacon Park south of the ferry dock. I explained my surprise and my distaste for the proposition and she insisted I had been the only person sharing such fond memories and cozy images of the sloop club's space and that in fact, many vendors had stated they would not return this winter if it was housed there again! Falling short of becoming argumentative, as most people who have a minority opinion can become, I rallied, trying to be persuasive, and pointed out that an art gallery space, such as Mill Street Loft, seemed to be an odd, even inappropriate space for a farmer's market. I clearly was attached to my first impression of the Beacon Farmer's Market and found it difficult to imagine a new setting as its home this year. I had difficulty letting go.
After taking photos of the Beacon Sloop Club, I walked over towards the potential new home of the market as if I were trying it on for size and attempted to take in this new information without  feeling defeated. I reminded myself that a prominent theme of late November with the last of the dry leaves falling from the trees is to "let go."

Long Dock Beacon - A Scenic Hudson Park

After the shock of this news, I made the decision to attend the evening concert to be held at "The" Beacon Theatre in Beacon. I realized I hadn't blogged yet about another Beacon "attachment" of mine, the renovation of the defunct theater on Main Street, which became one of my pledged commitments, after attending the kick-off fundraiser in September 2010 with Pete Seeger and Tom Chapin, to support 4th Wall Productions ' purchase and plans to revive this historical landmark, which was home to many an entertainer on the Borscht route from New York City to the Catskills. Perhaps it was knowing that Sonja Henie, the Norwegian Olympic ice skater who briefly became a Hollywood start performed at The Beacon that made me so fond of the building. But most likely it was knowing that a caring group of grassroots people (Owners Jim Brady and Christine Vittorini, along with Development Director, Pat Manning) want to rebuild and restore rather than knock down and resdesign a local multipurpose theater that would facilitate performing arts as part of the cultural scene revival in Beacon. So through the year I've been to several fundraisers for The Beacon Theatre including the one year anniversary dance party that truly announced a 'phoenix' is rising with completed major renovations to the lobby that can now be home to comedy shows, film, children's performances and concerts. 

So to much delight, I arrived at the Robert A. McAlpine Grand Foyer  (a major benefactor/contributor and owner of the Roundhouse) to hear Red Molly as part of the Sukothai concert series. I only knew that Red Molly, a three-women band, was described as playing Americana music (bluegrass-gospel) and that they had received excellent reviews for their albums and performances at various festivals. Most of the attendees were "RedHeads" (the group's fan club) but it wasn't long before I felt myself having a conversation and began anticipating future concerts (and a yearning for henna.)

Some food for thought: Change and transition require emotional processing. It's easier to say 'let go' than to follow through and do it. But with the music of Red Molly acting like a balm to help with the unpredictability and uncertainty of adjusting to the daily hassles of life, I remembered how much melodic and uplifting music sung with soul and great lyrics can be an excellent way to cope with the all the 'small stuff' we stress over. The last song of the evening, of their last concert for this year's season, an a cappella version of "May I Suggest", was such an antidote; it was a beautiful reminder that accepting things as they are in the here and now lets you know that this is the 'best part of your life.' Flexibility and adaptability is a hallmark of good mental health. So is a thanksgiving reminder that life is good, full of blessings, changing us as we keep trying to hold on to the past. The trees know how to let go and accept the transition towards the new. We can loosen the leaves of our own expectations, assumptions and precious memories to pave the wave for new experiences and traditions, as a reminder to balance the old and the new.

Menu for Thanksgiving Dinner
Platter of assorted cheese, tangerines, grapes and nuts
Mesclun salad with pear, fennel, red onion, dried cranberries, walnuts and honey balsamic dressing
Raisin Pumpkin Bread
Cream of Butternut Squah Soup
Broiled stuffed Mushrooms with Italian Seasoning
Stuffed Turkey Breast with 3-bread/sausage/mushroom/seasoned stuffing
Sweetened yams with maple syrup, honey and butter
Roasted brussel sprouts with lemon pepper and olive oil
Creamed spinach with a touch of nutmeg
Old Fashioned Mashed Potatoes
Homemade Brown Gravy
Traditional Cranberry Relish with a New Twist of Candied Ginger
Apple Brown Betty
Dulce de Leche Ice Cream
Pumplin Chocolate Chip Cookies
Thansgiving Blessings

Friday, November 11, 2011

Beacon Bits -- Doing Good

Some people are amazing. And many amazing people do so many good things. This past weekend brought me face to face with amazing people doing good things in and around Beacon: the volunteers, organizing committee and donors for the Common Ground Farm annual harvest celebration and fundraiser auction on 11/5 and Jim Heron, who presented his last BIRE authors' talk on 11/6.

'It takes a village' to put together a well-planned event and that village included local vendors such as Homespun, Tas Kafe, Hudson Beach Glass, Beacon Pilates, Dance Beacon/Ballet Arts, Isamu, Sukothai, and Dia Beacon, The Roundhouse Beacon, Hudson Valley Shakespeare, Manitoga, Boscobel, all of whom generously donated goods, food and services for the benefit of our local CSA. The bidding wars for the silent auction occurred while patrons sipped on cider and spiced red wine and listened to Tiki Daddy play instrumental background music (jazz, Hawaiian, swing) that inspired serious auction bidders to mingle and weave in and out of hay bales and candlelit tables in time to the music to seek out special selections. The live auction, hosted by Mark Roland, was fast paced, but focused on getting the best bids for items as unique as a house and garden blessing by the priest from St. Nicholas Episcopal Church and a hand-powered lawn mower donated by Mark himself. I got involved in the fun by having a volley of bids for a glass bowl with a beautiful blond model who hails from Venezuela but now lives in Wappingers; the bowl went for $370, well over the $200 value, all for a great cause! Since I hadn't gotten to last year's auction because I got a flat tire on the way north, this year's involvement as a farm member volunteering some hours to help serve potables more than made up for last year's loss. And with a winning bid on the private Pilates lesson, I'll be inspired to get ready and be in tip-top shape for next year's event.
The highlight of the weekend, though, (as if the auction weren't enough joy) was being present for Jim Heron's last talk about his historical research, resulting in the published book, Denning's Point, A Hudson River History,  since he is now retiring for the second time after ten years of service to BIRE. Many Beaconites know of his 'discovery' that Alexander Hamilton resided on the peninsula during the Revolutionary War. But those who were present heard about his deeply moving, very personal and spiritually-healing work for the last decade; you see, Jim is an Episcopal priest who worked for a year in the morgue, blessing the remains of bodies found at Ground Zero following 9/11, during his tenure as chaplain in NYC. He retired from his work as a witness to the consequences of terrorism and walked into the caverns of museum archives, archaeological digs, and historical document searches in the Vassar stacks to find liberty, resurrection, and new life blown into the 'old bones' of Dennings Point. He told his truth about a wonderful journey of grace and healing for a wounded healer; his honest reflection was most touching. He says he is now ready for his next project, rising from the ashes and remains left behind; he knows it's time to move on with faith and continue the journey into the future.

East to Dennings Point
(Taken on board the Mystic Whaler, May 2011)
Some food for thought: I started to muse about Jim's resilience, optimism and persistence and wondered about this balm that is found in the Hudson Highlands and its affects on so many of the residents in the area who have been true beacons of hope like Jim. Those we can name, like Pete Seeger, Fanny Reese, Samuel Morse, Madame Brett, General Howland, and those who remain anonymous, like the countless volunteers serving our local communities, schools, conservation projects, social justice initiatives, all for the sake of doing good. Volunteerism and finding passion in life is not only psychologically rewarding, but it is physically invigorating as well. Health effects of volunteering have been documented. Findings suggest that older volunteers, starting at ago 60, benefit more than younger individuals, but all individuals who volunteer service to two or more organizations, or 40-100 hours per year (i.e., 1-2 hours per week), have health benefits such as personal well-being, increased social networks that buffer stress, lower rates of depression and a longer lifespan. Taking time to engage in meaningful ways and taking on a project, like working with a CSA farm or asking 'what can I do to help', like Jim heron did when he first walked into BIRE, can become part of a positive reinforcing cycle that leads down the paths where others have walked, but also where you can blaze new trails of life sustaining work. For those of us heading towards age 60, it's time to reach out in our communities and start to build our very own and new, passionate road for the future.

"One for the Road"
Spiced Red Wine
1 bottle red wine
1 cheesecloth bundle of mulling spices *
(*1 cinnamon stick, 6 whole cloves, 4 black peppercorns, 4 cardamom pods,
1 slice of orange peel, 1/3 vanilla pod, 1 piece crystallized ginger*)
Pour wine into stainless steel pot. Tie spices into cheesecloth with a string. Wet spice bag under running cold water. Place into pot with wine. Bring to simmer. Serve warm.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Beacon Bits -- Unpredictable

The snowstorm on Saturday, October 29th in the Mid-Hudson Valley, will be long remembered by anyone hoping to enjoy the last weekend of 'peak' autumn leaves, preparing for Halloween happenings, or getting caught in a scary and dangerous commute along roads that were unplowed and made impassable by downed limbs and trees. This weather event, along with Hurricane Irene, have impressed many residents in the area to be on alert and ready for natural disasters that create mundane crises. For those of us who lost power, we got to see if we had sufficient flashlights and battery-operated lighting to help us navigate our homes. For those of us with cellphones, to see whether we had an available car charger or an old-fashioned land line. For those of us with electric appliances, the value of gas cooking and a Bodum coffee press. For those of us who went to the bank, a new reason to carry some extra cash. For those of us without a stocked freezer, the relief of not worrying about wasted food. For those who are addicted to the Internet or TV, the experience of indulging in a day of reading the newspapers that were loyally delivered to our homes and the time to take out that long overdue knitting project. It was also an opportunity to take a walk and to see some of the beautiful images, unexpected and out-of-sync, for a 'normal' late October afternoon.

Some food for thought: I watched a birch tree, brought to its 'knees' by the heavy, wet snow, be nudged by caring hands to be set free and to unfold and open its branches once again to the warming sun without any damage; a true sign of resilience. I have much gratitude for a safe journey home, my haven in the Hudson Highlands and friends who called or jogged over to check in (even an email from Norway) to see how I was doing. But next year, I plan to get my snow tires onto the car by October 1st!

Juxtaposition --
Snow and ice and autumn leaves,
When two seasons meet.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Beacon Bits -- Act Now

I just read a saying on my Farmer's Almanac desk calendar, "there are always 19 fine days in October." I thought about my recent 10-day 'staycation' packed with daily outings and simple pleasures and found the statement to be humorous since all ten were good days and there are now 9 days left in the month! The saying reminded me that there's no time to waste; so out came my planner, pen in hand, checking various websites and newspaper listings, looking for special events and things to do. There's still enough time for another author's talk at the BIRE with photographer Ted Spiegel and for one of the last tours for the season of Manitoga, home of designer Russell Wright, to fold more experiences into the fabric of this autumn season.

Reflecting on all the happenings of this month makes me remember all the joys of past Octobers, my favorite month of the year. And it brings to mind that all the happiness is not only planned, but spontaneous as well. Camera in hand, camera left at home. Being alone or sharing the experience. Intended outing or accidental find. A picnic along Fishkill Creek at Madam Brett Park. A walk along Beacon's waterfront for the annual Pumpkin Festival and catching a glimpse of Pete Seeger and the Clearwater. A trip to Storm King Art Center. A ride to Innisfree Garden. A moment's grace and haiku drifting into my mind as the image along Route 9D across from Storm King Mountain makes an impression.

Storm clouds are clearing;
The break of an autumn day--
Golden boughs ahead.

I also am mindful that as the month presses on and the days grow shorter, the clock is ticking and time is running out on two important sociopolitical issues: the votes on re-licensing Indian Point nuclear power plant and rescinding the moratorium on fracking in New York state. These are two issues that affect the natural environment in the Hudson Highlands and Hudson River Valley, both directly and indirectly. The river towns from the Bear Mountain bridge to the Newburgh-Beacon bridge all fall within the 'peak fatality zone' and the watershed area on the western banks of the river with local farms and orchards could be adversely impacted by chemical wastes from unregulated hydraulic fracturing processes. I wondered how many individuals hiking Breakneck Ridge over the last few weeks in October thought about being in the crossroads of two potential environmental disasters. During leaf peeping season you can see that even without any urgency, a traffic jam at the Bear Mountain circle leading across the Bear Mountain bridge to the 'goat trail' of Route 6/202 or north on 9D or 9W or west to the Palisades Parkway may last several hours. There is clearly 'no exit' or evacuation route if a nuclear crisis occurs along the local roads as they twist and turn, follow the river,  and go up and down the mountains.

Some food for thought: Just as the leaves begin to 'blow in the wind' and questions about right action take hold and individuals voicing concerns about our societal values are more visible and prevalent, as in Occupy Wall Street, know that there's still enough time to balance the personal and the political this autumn season. It's time for action and purpose. Time for a letter to Governor Cuomo and the other politicians about conscientious decision-making about denying Entergy the renewal of licenses for plants 2 and 3 at Indian Point. Consider it another good day in October. There's time for planning a bus trip to protest fracking. It will give you a head start on all the good days in October months in years to come. People in the Hudson River Valley have always sought to protect the natural environment; protesting is second nature. While Pete Seeger visited OWS on 10/22/11, he lives and sings and sails and stands for justice in the Hudson Highlands every day of the year.

Hudson Highlands - A watercolor by Amanda Epstein

Monday, October 10, 2011

Beacon Bits -- Autumn Flow

Sunrise and sunset are spectacular in the Hudson River Valley especially during the autumn months when the skies are either crisp and clear or misty and foggy with all the clouds that have romantic names like cirrus, strato-nimbus, and alto-cumulus. Artists, past and present, captured the light around dawn and twilight for posterity, as well as for their sheer pleasure of living in the moment. Whether you gaze at a Fredric Church treasure at Olana or visit the Kingston gallery of contemporary landscape painter Jane Bloodgood-Abrams or super-realistic photographer-painter Russell Cusick in Beacon, you'll revel in the way in which hues of pink, yellow, gray, orange, purple, and red along the horizon line become luminescent beyond belief.

Color is the operative word for the season. The leaves on the trees. The sweaters people dig out from summer's storage. The farmer's markets with tables strewn with rusts and golds from the hearty harvest. The apple orchards with ample numbers of pickers. The pumpkin patches ready to be made into Jack O'Lanterns. Jars of honey gathered by local beekeepers. The placards posted alongside the road in anticipation of Election Day.

Everything seems to be moving fast forward. The squirrels scurrying across the roads as they gather nuts and seeds. The leaf peepers driving to get to the very peak of the season ahead of schedule. The football teams warming up before their homecoming games. It's a season of transition and change, full of energy and activity. Weekend events compete for attendees. There's almost too much to do. The annual Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck where sheep shearing, dog trials, yarn vendors, spinners, and dyers occupy the tents at the Dutchess county fairgrounds. The Pumpkin Festival at Riverside Park in Beacon, sponsored by the Beacon Sloop Club. The Apple Shindig for Friends of Boscobel. The numerous arts and crafts festivals, auctions to benefit local charities, 5K runs, birding and hiking events and food and wine festivals abound to get everyone outdoors for those perfect 'in the moment' moments. With all the distractions, it's hard to settle down and just 'be'. But the enjoyment of doing and living into this glorious season captures every one's heart in the Hudson Highlands. There's no other way than to keep apprised of all the events and keep moving up and down the roads that lie parallel to the river.

Some food for thought: With the passage of summer into fall, there are also melancholic moments when fleeting feelings of loss and death appear out of nowhere casting a poignant spell over the festivities.  Marked by the earthy smell of decay in the fields and the baring of trees as leaves begin to dry and crumple as they scatter in the wind, they remind us of how fleeting life can be. This week, we heard the news of Steve Jobs' death and his words spoken during the Stanford commencement in 2005 resound for their simple eloquence and honesty about life. I believe he speaks to this feeling of the autumnal blaze of glory when he says: "When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: 'If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right.' It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: 'If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?' And whenever the answer has be 'no' for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something. Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've every encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything -- all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.'

So feel the urgency and rush and hurry of getting places and doing things. The season is the epitome of having each day matter more. Make this autumn a memorable one until the last leaf falls and the last apple is picked. Winter will be here before we know it. Relish the shorter days as we move towards turning the clock back. Have no regrets and no misgivings. Be in the autumn flow.

Simply Apples
There's nothing like coming home at the end of a busy and beautiful day
to something home-cooked that's a classic taste of the season.
Peel, core, slice and dice 2 to 4 dozen apples into 1" pieces.
Place into a stainless steel pot.
Squeeze the juice from 1 lemon over the apples and add 2-3 tbs. water.
Shake or grate some spices (nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and ginger) over the apples to taste. Cook and stir for about 1/2 hr. until some apples create juice and
then add 3-4 tbs. of your favorite local honey. Cook about 15 minute more until thick.
Serve warm over ice cream, preferably Jane's French Vanilla,
or serve cold with Greek yogurt,
or mix into your morning oatmeal.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Beacon Bits -- It's All Local

I picked up a share of apples from Threshold Farm this past week as arranged by Common Ground Farm. The timing was good since the usual pick-up at the farm had been suspended as a result of storm damage form the remnants of hurricane Irene. Our crops had been damaged by extensive flooding; the planned harvest of winter squash and other ripened crops in time for the early autumn harvest was not possible secondary to soil erosion, exposure of roots and rotting after the water receded. So the downside of farming risks was felt very close to home. One CSA member said this was the first time in seven years of membership that pick-ups had been suspended. One board member stated it was clear that a 'grocery store mentality' would not be suited to this type of occurrence where nature dominates the course of events.

I happened to be present the last night of distribution because it was a shift I'd selected for some of my work hours. I was amazed to see the empathy with the farmers (Tim, Sam, et al.) and the concern about the future plans for recovery of the soil; there was  extra care with greeting each other during this sad evening. The children, adorned with colorful slickers and rain boots on yet another rainy evening, entertained us by stomping in the puddles and gleefully arching their necks to catch the cold, heavy raindrops on their face. The age and gender distribution of members of the farm was as varied as the carefully placed bins of potatoes, onions, peppers, squash and tomatoes across the tables. My fellow worker for the evening, a local minister, and I remarked how we were the 'crisis team', ready to deal with angry comments or hostility or grief because of the disappointment experienced by the members, but we were only heartened at the camaraderie, compassion and congeniality that we witnessed.

The week the distributions stopped was the same week I heard an NPR report about how the cattle business in Texas was detrimentally affected by the severe drought. Farmers were slaughtering steer at a faster rate because they didn't want to pay higher prices for hay to feed them. The predicted outcome is higher prices for beef in the future because of the diminished number of cattle in the here and now. Another NPR report addressed the high cost of infrastructure repair. They focused on highways and roads across America in dire need of major upgrades and noted that the first thing to be affected if the necessary construction projects didn't proceed would be limiting the transport of goods from state to state. It occurred to me that beef or no beef, vegetarian or not, trucking goods such as produce, dairy and meat across the county could be curtailed. It seems that the 'perfect storm' for the food industry  (i.e., random effects of Mother Nature and limited and excessive costs of transportation) is rapidly approaching and that it just may be time to adjust our thinking about how we get our food, which is exactly what the local food movement is all about. When I mentioned these thoughts to a colleague, they retorted, "that's why I get my food from Chile", oblivious to the implications of depending on global farming and its own set of problems.

Some food for thought: I am realizing more and more that inflation and the growing American economic crisis has created an opportunity to adjust our thinking about the increasing prices for food and fuel so that we can make better informed choices. Increasing prices for food make it easier to choose organic or local, usually thought to be a luxury because of additional cost, because the quality is better and support for the local community is enhanced. The time to choose local organic grass-fed beef over Texas cattle is now. The time to shop the local, year-round Beacon Farmer's Market is this coming Sunday. The time to visit the Beacon Natural Market is today. The moment to consider becoming more knowledgeable about "Slow Food" and becoming a 'locavore' has arrived. It couldn't be easier to step up to more mindful food shopping and eating practices because living in the Hudson River Valley couldn't make these choices more affordable and convenient. Along the way, it mobilizes the community to become resourceful and to depend on each other. It's time to check out the Slow Food movement in the Hudson Valley!

Spaghetti Squash Surprise
1 spaghetti squash, cooked
1/2 cup raisins (Paul Newman's organic)
1/2 cup chopped, mixed nuts (macadamia, Brazil, cashews) or 1/2 cup pine nuts
Grated organic Parmesan cheese
Melted butter (about 2 tbs.)
To prepare, spaghetti squash can be easily cooked in the microwave. Cut squash in half, seed and cook 5 to 10 minutes until tender. Use fork to scrape shell and create 'spaghetti' strands. Toss with melted butter. Mix in raisins and nuts to distribute throughout. Sprinkle generously with Parmesan cheese. Serves 2.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Beacon Bits - Second Saturday

On what would have been the night of August's Full Moon, "Second Saturday" night in Beacon was still buzzing with energy in spite of the rain that began to fall steadily as small groups of people walked along Main Street from west to east, and east to west, from gallery to gallery, from cup of wine to glass of wine, from conversation to chance meetings to the next visual feast for the eyes. This planned monthly event is part of a round robin of arts in the river towns along the Hudson (Kingston, Hudson, Rhinebeck, Poughkeepsie, Peekskll, etc.); each town rotating and hosting gallery openings and art enthusiasts on 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Saturdays respectively (

Having visited galleries in Soho and Chelsea on opening nights, the feel of excitement and anticipation for viewing innovative creations on paper and canvas in oils, pastels, watercolor, along with collage and assemblages of metal, wood, and plastic sculpture, and for absorbing the artists' accomplishments and final product was very much the same.  A recent (and somewhat controversial) article by Peter Applebome (Williamsburg on the Hudson) alludes to the Williamsburg Brooklyn effect in the Hudson River Valley with young artists moving to greener pastures in search of inspiration and pursuit of art in the river towns.

My explicit intention for this 2nd Saturday was to hear the artist Emily Shiffer speak about her black and white photographic exhibit at Fovea. There was no disappointment in this choice as the attractive, flaxen-haired young woman sporting cowboy boots and a colorful A-line dress reminiscent of the 1950's, with idealistic dreams and sufficient action to support their development, leading to her wild success of being a Fulbright scholar and recipient of other prestigious awards, spoke about her work. Her images, capturing the playfulness and resilience of children living below the poverty line on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota were testimony to her passionate engagement in pursuit of her vocation, her calling, as educator, witness, collaborator, creator, mentor and photographer, as she empowers young people to develop their identity and self-efficacy and enlarge their vision of what is possible as they compose their life goals.

Next, a visit to bau confirmed Beacon's spirit of cooperation, youthful energy and shared space as the two artists (Michael Gaydos and Catherine Welshman) supported each others work by one curating the show for the other; courageously standing together with parallel works of art that mirrored each other in figure drawings and start portraits and caricatures.
The third visit to Marion Royael Gallery climaxed in a high octane showing of diverse artists in distinct styles from abstract expressionism to videography to realism on two scales -- ordinary but iconic city streetscapes like subway entrances and a now-defunct westside diner and larger-than-life fruits, vegetables, and even ladies' brassieres. A conversation with the latter NYC artist, Kathleen Erin Lee, revealed she would continue to show her work in Beacon, having just chosen to sign a contract with the gallery for the coming year. It was rewarding to know there would be multiple opportunities to see her works-in-progress, and perhaps to imagine the possibility of a small purchase.
Some food for thought: In his NYT article, Applebome voiced concerns about the economic feasibility of the river towns. He even quotes the pessimistic outlook of the proprietor of Morphicism gallery, Jay Palefsky (a resident of Garrison), who doesn't buy into the 'hype' about NoBro (the so-called northern suburb of Brooklyn) and doesn't "grasp the optimism" for business because of the failing economy. This is interesting commentary from someone who has a "successful" business in Beacon.

I guess it all depends on how you define success. One can operationalize "success" as the income generated during an evening of gallery openings or the amount of rent that the owner of the building which houses the storefront galleries can generate and even raise higher or the profits gained at the local eateries that stay open later to accommodate the patrons of art and culture, some of whom travel 20-30 miles from neighboring towns, such as Marlborough, across the river. My preference would be to define "success" as the sum total of all the events, gathering places, and opportunities for neighbors to connect over shared interests. This type of success, that is, the product of community participation is not measurable in dollars and cents, but in the enrichment of daily community life. It is this social enterprise that will be profitable for Beacon's long-term development of bringing ideas to fruition so that community building and social networking will enhance the qualify of life for its residents and visitors. The importance of social investment surpasses the more basic capitalistic needs of short term profit. If only big corporations would rediscover this principle, the inverse relationship of exorbitant profit and CEO salaries with low employment would be reversed.

I believe activities such as Second Saturday will enhance the staying power and resilience for the pioneer entrepreneurs who are laying the groundwork for a sustainable, social environment that will survive the recession and thrive once the economy recovers. We just need to keep showing up to provide the encouragement and social support needed to endure the current challenges. It will just take some faith ....and....a keep it all going strong.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Beacon Bits - Morning Musings

Morning walks along the quiet, private roads off the beaten path of Beacon have become a routine to look forward to each day. With Mt. Beacon to the east with the rising sun at the summit, peaking behind the cell phone towers, my eyes are wide open for spotting the diverse wildlife that I encounter. To date, I've seen migrating snapping turtles, a fox and her pups, deer and their fawns, two bucks, a "convention" of goldfinches, a blue heron, and a rare sighting of a bluebird. I usually regret that I don't have my camera in hand, but relieved that I can continue walking without losing my brisk pace.
The cooler morning air, crisp after a cold front moves through, is very satisfying during the dog days of August. But the wonder of mist and fog felt particularly joyful after several intense thunderstorms over the course of several evenings. I have seen Mt. Beacon shrouded in a lace curtain, blowing gently with the southerly air current. The stillness and usual quiet that accompanies this time when most of the human wildlife is still asleep sounds even more intense to the ear of the heart. Even a doe seemed mesmerized as she listened to my voice wishing her good monring and asking her not to run. But the chance sighting of a buck in the distance on the Craig House property was the reward for this day's early outing. I had seen him once before, but this time, the antler framed by the gray fog seemed to merge in the distance with the nearby branches of a tree; his strength and venerable stance as he stood watch was softened so that he appeared to be approachable. He watched as I continued my walk;  I wondered how large his territory is and how many of the fawns I'd spotted were his.

I recalled easily how I get so upset when I see the road kill along 9D -- a fawn here, a fox pup there, a doe - always a doe. I wonder what family member went missing and whose loss it was, With a small family and everpresent or looming loss, I sense my strong connection to the natural aspects of this very small and private community. I believe the wildlife are my neighbors as well and form part of the constant companionship that I sought after in Beacon.

Some food for thought: Celtic spirituality refers to the 'thin places' where heaven and earth meet and time and space are transcended. The morning mist and encounters with Mother Nature facilitate reflections of the spiritual side of life; that aspect of the self which seeks balance and harmony is dominant during my morning journey of a thousand steps. It's a warm and wonderful feeling to appreciate that this thin place can be found so close to my front door in the Hudson Highlands, ready and able to welcome me home to myself as I begin each new day.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Beacon Bits - To the Mountaintop

I did it! I finally got to hike with the Mt. Beacon Incline Railway Restoration Society (MBIRRS) on its monthly guided "tour" of the trail up to the top of the mountain. The heat and humidity of late July didn't quite catch up with us because of the shaded trails during the ascent. But the midday sun accompanied the amazing vista at the summit -- and oh, what a view! The group of hikers were congenial, the trail leaders (Kristi, Sandy, Frank and Ali) were knowledgeable and the surprise for the day was that a New York Times reporter Amanda Petrusich and photographer  Kelly Shimoda were hiking with us to interview Mayor Steve Gold of Beacon and Mike Colarusso of MBIRRS for their article for an upcoming Travel/Metropolitan section about day trip destinations close to the city. So one could say that I'm scooping the story since it won't be published until later in August, but I'll leave the history of Mt. Beacon and the plans for the return of the railway to the competent journalists and focus on telling the story about my hike in a more personal way.

I came to the hike only partially prepared with well-worn hiking boots, long socks, sunscreen, two bottles of water, raisins, backpack, hat and sunglasses. I had the sense that I would need a walking stick but had not previously purchased one at Mountain Tops in preparation. So I had a gnawing feeling that it could be my fatal flaw, especially when I saw that everyone except the photographer and a young athletic male had one in hand; Amanda got a loaner from the Mayor and there was one gentleman impeccably outfitted as per EMS for the hike who actually had two! In the parking lot, where the group assembled, I saw a table of t-shirts, shopping bags and caps for sale and mentioned how walking sticks might be a popular item to have available; it could even be a local craftsperson's handmade product for a homegrown touch. (Perhaps an idea for a Beacon cottage industry to supply hikers for the abundant, surrounding trails.) So I settled on purchasing a cap because my sunhat seemed to be less suitable for the occasion and it felt like another way of supporting MBIRRS in addition to my annual membership. When I mentioned my concern about the absence of a walking stick, I was reassured that sometimes one could find a suitable branch in the nearby wooded area or even find one that a hiker had left by the trail head. You can imagine my relief when that was exactly what happened; a suitable size stick  just right for my height was waiting for me right before the arduous climb up the steps that connect to the actual trail, a remnant of a ski trail from the Dutchess Ski Area that occupied this mountain for a decade in the 60's and 70's.

I remembered my encounter on my one and only trip to this ski area when I was in high school and came up from Brooklyn for a day of skiing in 1970 or 1971. The chairlift whipped around so quickly and I held on so tightly because of a precarious slope leading away from the landing that my hand came out of the down mitten; the distal joint of my left thumb was dislocated and it was perpendicular to the base. It was quickly corrected by the ski  patrol who popped it back into its socket. Ouch! I still remember that awful pain and my own first aid that doctored my thumb back to its full range of motion. Here I was, back on that mountain, climbing up where I had skied down; who would have ever guessed that forty years later, this hike would bring me back to this memory. I felt relieved that my right hand, tightly grasping the walking stick, would not succomb to a similar accident; unless of course, I slipped and fell on the gravel and rocks during the last steps of the ascent or during the descent, which somehow scared me more because of recent recurrent episodes of vertigo. But these thoughts were far from my mind as I chatted with new acquaintances, spoke to the Mayor about my hopes of having Beacon become a sister city with Bergen, Norway (because of the geography and the funicular connection), experienced the awesome sights of the 'river that runs both ways' -- the Shawgunks, Storm King Mountain, the surrounding towns and counties of the Hudson Highlands -- and saw why Continental armies used the mountain for fires to signal each other from Albany to New York City during the Revolutionary War.

Some food for thought: A mountain stands still in time, but only we can traverse its paths as we reflect on the past and move into the future. After this hike, I felt assured that the future of Mt. Beacon will reach its pinnacle as the MBIRRS pursues the re-development and building of the railway with the intended amenities for hikers and travelers (a restaurant, museum, viewing platform, all built for sustainability using Platinum LEEDS standards). Some people may think it will not match Mt. Beacon's heyday of the early 1900's with its casino, hotel and other entertainments for New Yorker's who could travel to and from the city for $1.00. However, some will acknowledge that the new railway will surpass the previous one by meeting the American Disabilities Act (ADA) accommodations, which will enable individuals to overcome the handicaps and obstacles that able-bodied people can surmount by simply using a walking stick to climb to the top of this historical and majestic mountaintop, in order to experience together with other sojourners, a shared perspective  when viewing this beautiful, ageless and expansive horizon in the Hudson Valley.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Beacon Bits - Rainbows

Now living on the west shore of the Hudson, I thought my chances of seeing an early evening summer rainbow after a late afternoon thundershower was mighty slim. I was grateful to know I'd still be driving up on the west side of the river from work in the evening when it might still be possible to catch a glimpse of a multi-colored arc over the Hudson -- a wonderfully renewing and inspiring sight for one who wants to remain hopeful in the midst of life's trials and tribulations. So much to my delight, when leaving Common Ground farm, the rain mist had begun to fall while I was still cutting my share of zinnias in the u-pick field and the sky was brightening in the west with rays of sunlight streaming across the field. I held my breath and waited and slowly returned to the car because I thought I'd receive the rainbow gift I was longing for after a difficulty week of family illness, work stress and news of the massacre in Norway. No rainbow in sight, I began to drive south on 9D, all the while, looking east in anticipation of an emerging prism in the sky. As I approached the Newburgh-Beacon bridge, I began to see the refracted light slowly emerging against the dark clouds through the gentle falling rain. It began to brighten. As I turned left onto Main Street, it became translucent as I passed Poppy's and Homespun. I could see in the distance that the arc began close to the ground in the parking lot of Scenic Hudson's Mt. Beacon Park and then transversed back over the very top of Mt. Beacon itself. I was so excited, I rolled down my car window and called to some people in the street to look up towards the eastern sky. It reminded me of my reputation as the 'rainbow whisperer' when I traveled to Scotland in 2003 and would call out to my fellow Celtic sojourners that a rainbow was getting ready to appear. (See Celtic Journeys for more information about travel to England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland.)

Some food for thought: Knowing when a rainbow might appear, being totally alert to that possibility, is a Zen moment, a gift of mindfulness, a touch of grace. We all need to make the time to search the horizon for the chance to see a rainbow and to remain hopeful when our expectations are not always met. The odds are that the occasional reward of a rainbow sighting will be transformative and magical each and every time, if only we connect to the present moment.

Rainbow Ratatouille
2 small white onions
2 small summer squash (yellow, green)
2 small eggplant (white, purple)
2 small ripe tomatoes
1-1/2 cups, organic, cooked garbanzo beans
garlic, basil, parsley, oregano, salt, pepper, olive oil, balsamic vinegar
Place olive oil in a pan, add chopped vegetables and cook until translucent.  
Add beans and seasoning to taste.
When fully cooked, add several teaspoons of balsamic vinegar before a final stir.
Makes 2-1/2 to 3 cups.

Author's Note: I've sighted two more rainbows over Mt. Beacon in the last week; what wonder and delight!