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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.