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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Beacon Bits - Community Support

The Beacon community is replete with opportunities for being a good neighbor or ‘friend’ to the variety of not-for-profit groups that create an atmosphere of familiarity with others who share interests in the arts, concerns about the environment and knowledge about the historical aspects of the region. They all create a venue for socialization, volunteership and common purpose. Several groups worth knowing more about in order to consider how you want to support them include The Howland Cultural Center, the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries, the Beacon Sloop Club and the Mt. Beacon Incline Railway Restoration Society. There are so many others (note to self: more information for future blogs), including The Dia, Boscobel and Scenic Hudson whose scope lies beyond the city limits, yet all of them have an impact on the choices and prospects for involvement for a local Beaconite.

The Howland Cultural Center ( is a true community gathering place where poetry, folk music, gospel, art exhibits, bridge, open mic, kids’ events and film take place in a beautiful Norwegian-style building designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt and built in 1872. The building has great acoustics, intricate woodwork, remnants of the library bookshelves that are reminders of the original purpose of the building, and a grand antique grandfather clock frozen in time. While the clock stands transfixed, unique events presented at the various venues are at the cutting edge of our current times (e.g., an anti-fracking fundraiser with Pete Seeger and film director of Gasland, Josh Fox, ( in May 2011 and classical-world-jazz rhythm and melody performance by duoJalal (,  a viola and percussive powerhouse, in June 2011.) The building was placed on the National Historic Registry in 1972. It is the current home to the Howland Chamber Music Circle ( and the Beacon Historical Society ( Join the legacy of civil war general and shipping magnate, Joseph Howland, the original benefactor; individual membership is $30 and family membership is $50.

The Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries ( is a prestigious academic center for " scientific and technological innovation that advances research, education, and public policy regarding rivers and estuaries"  making Beacon the center of 21st century environmentalism.  The BIRE, located on Dennings Point (, offers environmental programs to the public in the Center for Environmental Innovation and Education (CEIE) and River and Estuary Observatory Network (REON) and has its bookshop/gallery at 199 Main Street. General support of the organization starts with a $25 donation.

The Beacon Sloop Club (BSC) is anchored in the movement to clean up the Hudson River,  which was spearheaded by Pete Seeger, and marked by the arrival of the sloop Clearwater in Beacon in 1969. Now home to the replica of an 18th-19th century Dutch ferry sloop, the Woodie Guthrie, the BSC offers 1st Friday night potlucks with a sing-along of traditional American folk songs, including those reminiscent of the 1960's protest movements and new themes for a new generation. The BSC organizes community-wide fundraising with a Strawberry Festival every June, a Corn Festival in August (8-14-11) and a Pumpkin Festival in October (10-16-11) for the upkeep and maintenance of the Woodie Guthrie, which is available for free sailing trips by reservation. This riverside clubhouse with a tree growing through the roof is also home to the Beacon Farmers Market ( during the winter months with its welcoming and roaring fire in the stone fireplace. Membership for the BSC is $25, a true bargain for all the camaraderie, song, sailing and history on the Beacon waterfront. in Beacon in 1969.
The Mt. Beacon Incline Railway Restoration Society ( has as its mission to “restore, operate and maintain the Incline Railway on North Beacon Mountain”, a funicular which rose 1540 feet above sea level up 2200 feet of track on the mountainside from 1902 to 1978, and destroyed by fire in 1983. Built by Otis Elevator company, it brought passengers to the amazing vista and glorious natural beauty of the Hudson River Valley. While I never rode the Mt. Beacon funicular, and I have yet to hike in this Scenic Hudson park ( , I can only imagine the sight from the top of the mountain from my own funicular journeys in Bergen, Norway ( (This peculiar coincidence of the mountains and “fjord” makes me ponder the possibility of Beacon becoming a sister city with Bergen.....but that is definitely another blog.) If you believe that the railway can be built by 2013 (the target date to coincide with Beacon’s 100th anniversary as a city) then it’s time to get aboard; individual membership is $20 and family membership is $40 annually.
Some food for thought: I read that a grande latte purchased on a daily basis for $3.63 would total $1,334.95 per year. Imagine how much of an investment that would translate into if you gave that much to local development projects? Even if you use 10% of that total amount ($133.49), you could be a benefactor to a selection of the various groups described, as well as others, and know that you are supporting the future of Beacon and its surrounding area. It’s a matter of how you choose to use your discretionary funds. In this economy, we may all need to cut back. But the groups that serve us will sustain cutbacks in grants and government support; our 10% will help to sustain them through this difficult time. The opportunity for belonging to these community groups is priceless; giving up lattes for 36.5 days of the year may not be such a sacrifice when you consider what you will get in return.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Beacon Bits - Neighbor-to-Neighbor

Last week, my new neighbors moved in to their home. I knew what day they were coming and decided to be “old-fashioned” by greeting them at their door with a bag of goodies (cheese, crackers, grapes, two-bite brownies, cold beer and bottled water) while the movers were finishing up with the last few boxes. It felt like a neighborly thing to do and it seemed to make them feel as good as it made me feel. It made me think about the concept of “neighborship” that I had been focusing on over the last year because of experiences I’ve had in relationship to ‘being a good neighbor.’

Hubris aside, I thought I had come up with a new word, “neighborship”. However, since I made assumptions when I started this blog last month without first checking if any existing blogs had been named “Beacon Bits” (only to discover that there were other people who like to play on words), I realized I should at least google the word to see if it was original or not. I found that “neighborship” was defined as ‘the state of being neighbors” (noun) in Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary and that there was also a social networking website that facilitates ‘neighborship’ ( The simple definition offered in Webster’s focused primarily on propinquity, the state of living close by and having an attraction because of one’s proximity to a neighbor. This seemed to be a passive act and not what I had been thinking about when I previously thought I coined the phrase, “neighborship.”  So while the word isn’t original, my definitions for neighborship seemed to be focused on active engagement and the quality of relating to neighbors, as follows.

Neighborship (verb): (1) the act of building (giving and receiving) social support in everyday contact with individuals within one’s own neighborhood; (2) a state of kindness, generosity and extension of emotional or instrumental social support with one’s neighbors; (3) practicing the Golden Rule amongst neighbors; (4) the art of crafting relationships with one’s neighbors when friends and family are not available (physically or emotionally); (5) the state of friendship or kinship with a neighbor without the implied intimacy or shared personal history.

My act of kindness or implementation of the Golden Rule with my new neighbors felt right to me because it intuitively made sense that offering food in the midst of moving was comforting, welcoming and simply met some basic needs during a stressful time of transition and hectic activity. It was an initial act of neighborship.

In my google search, I also found a transcript of the NPR show recently aired on July 4, 2011 on All Things Considered: The Key to Disaster Survival? Friends and Neighbors. A researcher, Daniel Aldrich of Purdue University, has been studying how neighbors are frequently the first responders as they reach out to help one another during crises such as Hurricane Katrina, the 2004 tsunami and the earthquake in Kobe. People handing out blankets and water or directing others to get assistance were engaged in neighborly acts; those individuals with the larger social networks were frequently the most protected during disasters. The strength of the relationships and previous involvement within the community appeared to be an inoculation against the immediate effects of the disaster for specific individuals.

This made sense in light of my definition of neighborship; the common theme of social support and reciprocity were from the psychology literature. The occurrence of individual researchers or academics coming to similar conclusions without having contact or communication with each other is common when evidence from systematic observation builds across a variety of contexts. My phenomenological thoughts on neighborship appear to be grounded and validated by Professor Aldrich’s field research.
Originally, I was not thinking of neighborship in terms of a being saved in a disaster, but rather, how the daily interactions and social support with one’s neighbors decreases stress, enhances quality of life and overall physical and emotional health, and builds resilience. In this overwhelming global state of affairs, we may all need a bit of local comfort. So why not really reach out to our neighbors? Furthermore, here’s some food for thought for Beaconites: practicing neighborship may be bolstered by the reality that we are in the peak fatality zone of Indian Point. While advocating to close it down (;Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition, 1-888-474-8848), it just might be in our best interest to start building trust with our neighbors and to begin crafting supportive relationships with those who just may become the best and only evacuation plan being offered in case of a nuclear disaster in the Hudson River Valley. Falling short of such a disaster, the practice of neighborship will only bring our community closer together.
Beacon Falls on Fishkill Creek

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Beacon Bits - Tasty Morsels

I sense that my blogs are starting to be a potpourri, or mélange, or collage of how I am getting acquainted with Beacon and all of its tastings. I think the medley, mixture and assemblage of local businesses and creative entrepreneurs can be summed up in three of the stores that are worth frequenting: Paper Presence, The Beacon Bagel and Zora Dora.

If you need a special greeting card or wrapping paper, or if you are old fashioned enough to still write personal notes, and if you like to find art notebooks and small gifts on impulse that are too difficult to resist, or if you want to special order invitations then Paper Presence (; is a shop you’ll want to visit. Expect to receive a helping hand from the owner, Lydia, who persists with a visual search as she unearths items that seem to match your exact request, even if you have gone onto thinking about your next requested purchase. She’s a great conversationalist and has a good sense of the Beacon community and will indulge your desire to chat as you spend some time browsing, even if you are a modest customer. The cards are quite unique; many of them are made with recycled materials. A friend from Rockland County mentioned finding the perfect card for someone they know who usually requires a lot of special attention. I’m sure Lydia worked her magic to locate the greeting that matched the occasion. Benedictines like their patron saint’s quote, “Listen with the ear of the heart.” I think that is just the kind of ear that Lydia when she listens to her customers at Paper Presence.

Zora Dora ( is a seasonal shop featuring micro-batch ice cream, which offers Mexican-style popsicles known as paletas, in two varieties, either sorbet or milk-based. My first Zora Dora treat last summer was a sorbet tomato, lime, cracked pepper, sea salt combination that was cool, sweet and refreshing and much better than a vine-ripened August tomato. My first treat this summer was a lavender and orange blossom milk-based popsicle that made me buzz as if I were a bee finding its nectar. I’m ready to head on over to get the hybrid chai latte or any of the other palatable combinations that sound odd because they are so different, but the sensibility of the taste buds know better as does the fine art of Steve's, the owner, craftsmanship honed at the Culinary Institute. While the popsicles are featured at the Dia Museum ( and on the Walkway Over the Hudson ( ), a visit to this specialty shop with its simple décor and earth-friendly conservation of electrical lights could easily become a weekly destination. With twelve weeks of summer and over twenty flavors, one could sample them all and then start all over again before the store closes for winter.
The Beacon Bagel ( ) is the dream find for anyone born and raised in Brooklyn or for any of the former Brooklynites moving into town. The bagels are the right size, not too big or not too small; the right texture and they have the right taste with all of the standard offerings (sesame, salt, poppy, egg, pumpernickel, etc.) supplemented with some surprise flavors (cranberry walnut.) I bought a couple of dozen to bring to work with several of the spreads and everyone, including some with much bagel expertise, was quite pleased. Art, the owner, says the spreads are made with Philadelphia cream cheese; I was fooled by the freshness to believe they were made by local organic dairies. The olive spread was particularly flavorful at room temperature. I cannot even begin to describe the variety of bagel sandwiches and the impromptu creations of new varieties named after local folk that are also available in the shop.  While waiting for your bagels, you are surrounded with a gallery of artwork by local artists; not something at all I remember at the bagel shops in Brooklyn, but a signature style of the Beacon community spirit that supports the arts.
Some food for thought: When you have this type of variety of stores, who needs a ‘big box’ venue? When you can have a conversation with the store owners and not feel intrusive and know that they care as much about the town’s success as every newcomer to Beacon does, why would you choose anonymity and the large corporate façade? When you can support local entrepreneurship, why would you spend your money at the strip mall? Why not stop by and see what Lydia, Steve and Art are up to in Beacon? They'll be happy that you did. And so will you.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Beacon Bits - Kitchen Fireworks

It’s the 4th of July along the Hudson River where we remember that the heart of the action took place here during the Revolutionary War. Somehow, between the mists and clouds of the early morning, it seemed easy to step into the not-so-distant past of American history. Cannons and artillery echoing from West Point past Storm King Mountain on the eve of Independence Day appealed to this historical sensibility that this very place is where battles were fought and won with the British navy as the chains across the Hudson River stopped the forces from moving forward. Wouldn’t it be appropriate for the President of the United States to celebrate in the Hudson River valley at West Point rather than on the lawn of the White House watching fireworks over the Capitol? Has anyone ever extended an invitation to the President in office, I wonder. Maybe next year some of the politicians could make this gesture?

Thinking about the past yet standing in the present reminded me that vegetables were sitting in the refrigerator that were picked up in the last two weeks at Common Ground Farm ( Since my fifth pick-up is scheduled for tomorrow and without a barbecue or picnic planned for the day, I decided it was a ‘good thing’ to spend some time in the kitchen cooking up the ‘greens’. Two hours later and very satisfied with myself, I ponder the simple wonders of fresh vegetables. Some food for thought: With the variety of cooked and stored vegetable delights, it seems easy enough to get those five to six recommended servings per day in the next week.  This kitchen duty has to be the game plan going forward since I hear that the deceivingly meager pick-ups at the farm (until you see what you have accumulated in the refrigerator bins) begin to accelerate as crops mature and are harvested in the height of the summer. Two hours per week for 6 servings of vegetables per day is merely minutes per serving. It all sounds more do-able.

For several of the recipes, the basic method is stir fry in a nonstick pan so the oil is minimal (only 1 – 2 tbs.); the amounts of vegetables are approximate so the ingredients can be adjusted according to taste and exact amount being cooked. Cooking time is about 10 minutes for each dish; it’s the preparation of the washing, chopping, and that adds up. The dishes can be done in succession or simultaneously if you like to multi-task. Tastings between the pan and storage container is the reward to keep cooking and imagining what other combinations and seasonings will be just right.

Bok Choi Asian Style: 3 heads of bok choi, a bunch of scallions, a finger of ginger, canola oil and low sodium soy sauce – start with scallions, ginger in the oil on high heat, add bok choi, stir and when wilted add soy sauce and lower heat until cooked through.
Turnip Greens and Kale Crisp: ½-1 pound chopped/mixed greens, 10-20 sprigs basil, 1-2 garlic scapes, canola and olive oil – start with canola oil, scapes and greens on high heat to crisp, then add basil until all leaves are crisp, add a little olive oil and toss; then still on high heat add some water to further wilt the greens until all liquid is absorbed. White wine would be a good substitute for the water if a bottle is open.
Snap Peas and Garlic Beans: a handful of each type of bean, 1-2 garlic scapes, lemon pepper, olive oil – start with oil and scapes, then add beans (remember to take the string off the snap peas), toss on high heat, sprinkle with lemon pepper, add some water to make tender and cook until liquid is absorbed.
Sweetened Hakurei Turnips and Onions: 12 young Hakurei turnips and 3-4 heads of white onions, butter, honey – boil together the turnips (peeled/quartered) and onions until tender; drain and add back into pot with 1-2 tbs. butter to coat the vegetables, add 1 tbs. of local honey. If you have any cognac or cointreau open, add about 1 tsp. for extra flavor.
Have-On-Hand Vegetable Broth:  For all the odds and ends of greens and whatever ends of vegetables have been used over a few weeks and stored in the freezer – wash and place all in a large pot, cover with water and bring to boil, add salt and simmer for one hour – you’ll have a good vegetable stock to use now or to freeze for those soups that will be good to have on the stove. This pot of broth had bok choi, spinach, asparagus, brussel sprouts, carrots, dill, basil, cilantro, turnip greens, scallions, white onions – the combinations are endless. Just keep storing new vegetable scraps in the freezer for the next pot. I think leftover milk containers and juice cartons would be the perfect storage to freeze the stock for future use. Another good way to recycle at home.

Not bad for an afternoon’s activities while waiting for the fireworks at West Point tonight!
Haiku for the 4th
Nature’s fireworks --
Booming and flashing above;
Rain is on the way.