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Monday, March 30, 2020

Beacon Bits -- Both Sides Now

The song "Both Sides Now" that Judy Collins made famous did not necessarily refer to the "both-and" dialectic, which is a current phrase appropriate for our times. But the song comes to mind when we think of how the pandemic and its dire consequences are occurring across the country and the globe. These are terrible times, for sure, but at the same time, the concept of resilience has been alluded to again and again.  

Think of the old bumper sticker, "Shit Happens." Everyone knew what it meant (that is, bad things happened randomly) and everyone could relate to it. But did you know that there was also a bumper sticker that was popularized in the 1990's that stated, "Grace Happens." Grace is the concept of free and unmerited goodness that is available to all. Perhaps some people relate to the concept of grace more than others. Yet, when we simultaneously think of these two bumper stickers, we can see that it is never a matter of 'either/or', but more importantly, we can see it as the 'both/and' of any situation. Bad things happen and good things happen. Simultaneously. Concurrently. Both sides now.

Thinking about this in the midst of the day-to-day hardships and challenges created by the pandemic that has caused a radical change in routines, income, predictability, control and any semblance of security and safety, we may be reminded that there is a gift being given in the midst of the pain. We can begin to entertain the world of both/and thinking.

That is what 'resilience' really is. It is not just grit and tireless motivation to overcome a difficulty when crisis or trauma occurs. Resilience is not just about returning to baseline; it is not just about bouncing back. Resilience is about become stronger or more adaptive because of new information that is integrated or learning that has occurred during the hardship. Learning is about changing behavior. It may also reflect a change in attitude or perspective that is adopted so that the capacity to be more flexible is possible.

So, this is all 'food for thought'. What is the 'grace' that you are finding in the midst of all the 'shit' that is going on in our world at this time? How are you personally being affected in negative ways and what is the positive outcome for you? What are you learning and how are you being changed? What do you want to return to and what are you ready to give up? How will you integrate this point in time in your future worldview? Have you found grace?

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Beacon Bits -- The World is Our Community Now

Lessons to Learn for Children (and Adults) @ Home 
During the Coronavirus Pandemic

For some time now, people have heard about ‘resilience’. Sometimes the term is used correctly and sometimes it is a bit expanded vis-à-vis its intended meaning; it seems to have become the fastest growing catch phrase used in our current day vernacular language.

The sense of resilience as being able to bounce back from hardship or trauma or extreme and even life-threatening events is one aspect of resilience. Think of a rubber band that can be flexible as it rebounds from the stress of being stretched beyond its limit. Contrast that with a dried-out rubber band that will just snap.  Another important and understated aspect of resilience is being able to go beyond the baseline that you hope to bounce back to and to have the events that you have endured transform you to a new level that you may not have reached before. In this case, think of the rubber band as a muscle that gains strength from being stretched repetitively; it becomes better and stronger than it was before.

Therefore, in these dire times, I propose the idea that we all need to build our ‘resilience’ muscle daily. Everyone enduring the hardships of the impact that the coronavirus is observing it from a different perspective and everyone has varying degrees of pre-existing resilience. There is no one size fits all solution to the problem of how to cope and deal with the increasing levels of stress and anxiety that have only just begun. But we can all learn new skills and build upon our existing strengths in order to persist and overcome our predicament, thereby increasing our resilience reserve.

One rule of thumb for managing stress is that predictability and control influence the perception of stress. That is, if something is predictable, it is less stressful. If someone can exert personal control, there is less stress. In the case of coronavirus, every individual is limited because there may not be an overwhelming sense of predictability or control over the matter. However, the focus of someone who is willing to use new strategies to build resilience, may indeed have a sense of predictability and control in a very personal and meaningful way. So, by focusing on becoming more resilience, you will feel less stress.

Let me give some examples about how to deal with schools being closed with the ensuing disruptions to daily living and work routines so that one could imagine the experience of this unique and overbearing related to the pandemic may lead to personal transformation and perhaps even improvement in the lives of children, parents and adults.

Old Fashioned Values and Lessons
Families will have enough time on hand to do a ‘fact check’ about existing manners and degree of etiquette that are prevalent in their attitudes and actions. Practicing tables manners and discussing various topics that are in the news about social distancing vs. social isolation and how the elderly are particularly at risk is a good starting point. Asking relevant questions (e.g., How do we respect the elderly? What makes a good neighbor?) and focusing on actual behaviors will take the discussion beyond concepts to determining how the value is demonstrated, executed and carried out. The actions that are brainstormed may lead to prosocial activities (e.g., shopping at local stores, sending text messages, making phone calls, collecting mail or walking a dog) and by practicing such behaviors, they are more likely to become internalized for future actions.

Nature’s Way
What better time than spring to note how resilient nature is as one witnesses the first bloom of crocus and daffodils, the birds building nests, and damaged bushes returning to life after the hit of winter. Create a scavenger hunt or “I Spy” game that makes being outdoors and in nature purposeful so that observation skills are honed, and hope begins to take root. Plant seeds indoors that will be ready to plant later in the spring. Re-pot house plants. Plan an outdoor community garden. Get ready for the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day on April 22 by reviewing why it started in 1970 (e.g., the impact of the classic expose written by Rachel Carson in her book Silent Spring) and how much more relevant Earth Day is in light of climate change and actions that must be taken to reverse the irreversible, both on a global and personal level. Practice composting. Review household use of carbon. Determine how the family can reduce its carbon footprint. 

The power of gratitude should never be taken lightly. Much has been written about the positive effects of regular accounting of things that are worth celebrating with gratefulness. On a daily basis, list 3 to 5 items that each person in the family feels grateful about. Post the lists on the refrigerator or keep them in a journal. Have children write ‘thank you’ cards for health care workers and first responders that can be sent by snail mail, email or posted on websites. Bolstering hope and inspiration results from the expression of gratitude and helps to build the resilience muscle because it is a reframing of what one might otherwise feel hopeless about.

“Hands-On” (clean and sanitized ones, of course)
While it used to be called ‘arts and crafts’, the ‘maker’ movement today has taken hold because of the need to balance what we do with our hands and how we create as an antidote to all the technology we use. What better time than to teach children how to write in script? Take out samples of letters or cards or find samples online and review why it may be important to read and write manuscripts written in cursive writing. If a school district has already returned to teaching the skill, do some investigative reporting on deciphering what grandparents and/or parents had written in script. If everyone knows cursive writing, learn some calligraphy and practice the strokes with uplifting messages that can be decorated with collage materials to make some folk art.

Real Life Math
Without relying on calculators, return to basic mathematical problem solving. Cooking lessons using kitchen measurement tools, budgeting activities with actual invoices and determining the relationships of miles and travel times to reach the destinations that the GPS is programmed to do. There are many readily available tasks at home. Proposing an allowance or ways to save money (e.g., put away a quarter plus one for every week of the calendar year) can be used to demonstrate delaying gratification for a purchase that can be made once the pre-determined amount of money is saved.

Staying in place and being home can lead to boredom. Introduce ‘novelty’ – the brain needs it and will seek it out, so channel the energy for doing something new in a productive way. Use Duolingo or Rosetta Stone to select a language that is new for all family members and learn it together. This could include American Sign Language.  Assign each person the task of teaching a skill to everyone after learning it for the first time using YouTube videos that are readily available (e.g., crocheting, knitting, making bread.) Change up your music listening habits. If you listen to hip hop, try an opera. If you listen to classical, try bluegrass. Opening a new door of listening choices may forever expand your options. Regarding dietary habits, you may be eating less meat incidentally with shortages at the market, so it could be time to explore vegetarian or vegan recipes, which may be good for health reasons. Purchasing local produce is a way to increase fruits and vegetable consumption and you may be ahead of the curve in supporting communication supported agriculture (CSA) initiatives in the area.

Self-Soothing Activities
Everyone can benefit from new ways of relaxing and managing stress without indulging in destructive or negative ways of avoiding stress or numbing the discomfort.  Learning deep breathing techniques and practicing it throughout the day with a special signal or buzzer to alert someone that they need to breathe, not just at times of distress, is a healthy strategy to self sooth. Deep muscle relaxation, yoga, hand or foot soaks or bubble baths, listening to classical or new age music, exploring mindfulness meditation or centering prayer are additional tools for managing stress.

Better Balance
Without the usual routines (e.g., going to school/work), places of recreation (e.g., the movie theaters, restaurants, gyms, athletic events) and community gathering space (e.g., lack of congregate worship services, libraries, cultural centers), one might begin to use the internet, explore online sources, stream entertainment, and otherwise resort to television and smart technology to a level that might actually have the rebound effect of overstimulation and information overload. Intentionally and specifically unplug at designated times. Practice quiet time. Learn to be comfortable with silence. Place signs around the house that the house is in ‘silence’ or ‘unplugged.’

Community Mindedness
Without the usual go to places, you may feel more cut off and isolated. But it may also be a time to make list of your favorite places you usually shop and then decide to support the small business in multiple ways. Decide to do take-out or buy a gift certificate from your favorite restaurant(s), make a donation (goods or money) to your favorite nonprofit, make other local purchases from stores that offer curbside pick-up or delivery rather than ordering from Amazon, and wherever possible, donate or volunteer at your local food pantry to help neighbors in need.

Food for thought: The ‘tips’ above are not all inclusive, and do not include healthy eating, exercise and good sleep, which are assumed as a basis for resilience, but they are the beginning of small steps for taking personal responsibility for one’s own capacity (or one’s family capacity) for being resilient. These tips do not include volunteering in community efforts that are assisting others. Avenues for altruism, social support and outreach are popping up each day on a local (e.g., Mutual Aid Beacon), regional (e.g., Hudson Valley Help) and countywide basis (e.g., Dutchess County’s Dutchess Responds and Medical Reserve Corps) and are important to investigate and engage in within one’s own personal constraints. ‘Doing for others what you would like done for yourself’ is a valuable mechanism for improving positivity and self-esteem, but it is an important time to remind ourselves that what one can and must do for oneself is also imperative at this time of crisis.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Beacon Bits -- Finding a 'Helper'

As Mr. Rogers tells us, when there is a crisis or emergency or when you are feeling unsafe or uncertain, just look for the 'helpers'; they are always there. This reminder serves us well. Perhaps it is something that all of us can bring to mind in coming days of the pandemic.

While that sounds like a dramatic opening to this blog entry, I can attest to the fact that during this past week of scouting out my needed groceries and recommended supplies, including a safety net of hand sanitizers and wipes, as you are shopping, you can feel the level of anxiety and stress climbing. After leaving CVS and Rite Aid empty handed when looking for rubbing alcohol having just found the recipe for making one's own hand sanitizer, I was driving away from Main Street but then gave pause as I passed the new pharmacy in town on the corner kitty-cornered to Rite Aid. Beacon Wellness Pharmacy at 333 Main Street has been open for quite a while, yet I had not gone into the store to browse what was stocked, and luckily, I haven't had the need for any prescriptions to be filled. So I hesitated a moment,  but parked anyway,  thinking I had nothing to lose and that perhaps this was the opportunity I had been looking for to stop in to check out the pharmacy.
When I entered, the well-spoken and handsome pharmacist, Enrique Reynoso, RPH, MBA,  greeted me and responded 'yes, I do' when I stated rather than ask, 'I think I know the answer to my question, but do you have any rubbing alcohol above 60%?' I was taken aback with surprise and delight and saw there were several bottles on a shelf across from the counter. I felt lucky and asked my next question, 'any alcohol wipes', thinking of small items like the iPhone to clean off; again -- 'yes' was the response. 
At this time, another customer in the store who had been listening asked 'why haven't you put a sign in the window' and the answer 'I do not want to capitalize on the situation' felt like it was the correct response and demonstrated the old-fashioned values of the store owner. The other customer had also come into the pharmacy for the first time after noting he had been to the local hardware store and had found face masks that were just delivered. I knew I would not be heading there for face masks because I had taken the advice seriously not to use them unless ill and to allow them to be available for those who may require them for work since there was such a shortage. Tough times require discernment when making choices. 
I spoke to the pharmacist as I paid for my purchases, whom I decided was deserving of my respect as well as my business,  and told him I would return, which I did indeed do within a few days to purchase some vitamin D3, notably a vitamin that can boost the immune system already part of my routine regimen. I purposely went to Beacon Wellness Pharmacy for that purchase and for a chance to chat a bit more and to explore the store. I knew I would return again for purchases in the future especially after inquiring about insurances accepted learning that the pharmacy does take my health insurance plan.

Food for thought: Finding a 'helper' in the community was not necessarily what I was looking for last week, but now I know another place to go for help when needed. I recommend a visit to the Beacon Wellness Pharmacy to explore your options knowing that bigger is not always better and chain stores that give coupons or bonus points are not the be all and end all when you can develop a personal relationship with a professional pharmacist who is also an entrepreneur who invests in the community.  I actually found the pricing to be fair at Beacon Wellness and the variety of items to be sufficiently diverse. The experience of visiting this pharmacy (albeit a bit late) called to mind that when I first moved to Beacon, there was a small, family-owned pharmacy on Main Street that I visited, which was part of my getting to know the community (i.e., the library is always #1 on the list when moving into a different community.) The disappearance of the old independent pharmacy and its replacement with a new structure is a part of the emerging Beacon that I've witnessed over the 10 years of living in this community; another sign that property on Main Street was a good investment and has paid off in the current market. The visit to Beacon Wellness Pharmacy also reminded me of my neighborhood pharmacy when I grew up in Sunset Park, Brooklyn where my mother would send me, not only to shop, but to ask the pharmacist for information, advice and direction. The pharmacist always knew the answers to important questions and would lend a helping hand for any child who appeared with a skinned knee after taking a fall when risking rollerskating on broken concrete sidewalks. So with found memories of my childhood pharmacist and knowing that a business with good values is worth supporting on Main Street, I look forward to future visits to learn more about the 'enlightened health products for body, mind and soul' that Mr. Reynoso offers in his corner of the world in Beacon! 

Friday, February 28, 2020

Beacon Bits -- Tribal Harmony

The Howland Cultural Center is now hosting a monthly program on the third Wednesday of the month called Tribal Harmony, which is organized by Evan Pritchard, a local musician and historian. The program had previously taken place at the Falcon on the other side of the river and has found its new home here in Beacon.
Sound check

I attended the event on February 19 when vocalist Joan Henry, a Cherokee woman, and her group of jazz musicians "Spirited" (Dennis Yerry, piano; Ruperto Ifil, percussion; Rich Syracuse, bass; Tom DePetri, guitar; and Gus Mancini, sax). Spirited presented native, world and jazz music at the highest level of performance. From the size of the audience and the enthusiasm of the opening acts, I would say this program will be gaining momentum and become a regular event, and hopefully, Joan and Spirited will return soon.
Musician Patrick Stanfield Jones, who will be featured at April 15th program
Joan Henry's performance and vocal range was impressive and her jazz ensemble was stellar. I was moved by the energy that "Spirited" brought to the familiar and beautiful open space within the Howland, whether it was with traditional Cherokee prayer chants or unique presentation of some classic jazz pieces. The backdrop of African-American artwork on display for Black History Month added to the ambiance of the evening.

Consistent with the the theme of Native American stories and music, past and future, Evan Pritchard played some traditional and familiar solo flute songs (think R. Carlos Nakai) and arranged for a local activist to address the audience about updates related to local tribes like the Ramapo Indians and turmoil in Canada with the indigenous tribes and the government. 
Evan Pritchard
Events are planned for the future for March and April. If they are as well-received as the February event, they will become a lifeline for indigenous issues, which are our issues for all peoples. Seeing the t-shirt slogan that Joan Henry wore with an advocacy campaign motto focused on the disappearance of Native American women in western states like Montana, (available from the grassroots advocacy group, Phenomenal Woman), one could not help thinking about Pete Seeger's spirit coming to life at the Howland once again.

Food for thought: Music lifts the soul and gives voice to the passions of the people. Exposure to diverse cultures and varied musical expression continues to evoke what has come before us and what is now at hand so that we can better prepare for the future. Tribal Harmony is a simple, yet important, way to feed the soul. Joining this ongoing community at the Howland is consistent with the spirit of social justice and activism that has come before and that is still needed, more than ever. I will continue on this journey and hope to see others join in.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Beacon Bits - Not Just Another MLK Day

This year's weather for the annual Martin Luther King Day Parade in Beacon was frigid cold but the warmth of the song, the signs and slogans touched hearts and souls and even puppy paws! I took Clara, my overnight visitor from the Puppies Behind Bars program at the local correctional facility, to the MLK Day Parade. Clara is in training to be a service dog for a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan war or for a first responder; she is exceptionally good with her commands and easy to handle, so I thought I would give it a try. 

Clara made my day even brighter than the strong mid-January sun that was shining on the diverse group of a hundred or so individuals who still know how to march for freedom, peace, social justice and sanity in these days of unrest and division with ongoing racism, sexism, ageism, and outright immorality in our contemporary society. While it is hard to believe it is over 50 years ago that MLK was killed, the issues remain, and so the marching and the singing continue.

Clara, the PBB puppy, got into the rhythm of the singing during the half hour walk amongst friends escorted by a fire truck and police car. Notwithstanding the politicians and religious leaders, the usual participants were notably present and are still going strong. Members of Beacon Sloop Club and Clearwater and Pete Seeger's daughter remain the standard bearers who are committed to this act of civil duty and responsibility to celebrate MLK's life and to increase awareness of current issues still in need of healing. The parade offers lessons of activism to the youth who were with their elders and the activity is congruent with the true spirit of volunteerism that is now widely promoted on MLK Day. 

Food for thought: Perhaps this year's MLK Day Parade felt very special because I had a furry companion by my side who represents an act of social justice that I engage in routinely since I have volunteered in what I call my prison ministry for over five years. And perhaps it was imperative to show up this year because of the impending impeachment trials in the Senate. But mostly, it is a source of pride to know that the Beacon community continues to hold the march and associated activities during the day while there are still some states that do not even honor the federal MLK holiday. Beacon stands out because of its right actions. It was and will continue to be a 'beacon' of hope and direction. May it be so!

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Beacon Bits -- Healing in Community

I recently chose to have a custom made handbag constructed from a deceased relative's unique Nepalese jacket by the women working in the local nonprofit 501c3 social enterprise, Unshattered. I had previously read about the newsworthy organization which focuses on meaningful work with purpose to prevent relapse and to aid in the recovery of women with opioid addition. I was intrigued about this nonprofit approach for recovery-related work training/apprenticeship and was quite impressed with its origins and steady progress since its inception. I was particularly pleased to see that the founder and CEO of Unshattered, Kelly Lyndgaard, was given a Women in Business award in December 2019 for creating and successfully managing this unique healing community. In addition, Unshattered was the 2019 recipient of the Innovation in Philanthropy Award from the Mid-Hudson Valley Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.  Both awards were well-earned within Dutchess County after Unshattered had previously received recognition from the White House in 2018 when increased funding for recovery initiatives was made into law.

So it was good timing for me to get more acquainted with Unshattered when making my custom design request and picking up the beautiful product right before New Year's. Despite the recent awards, it was business 'as usual' since production was ongoing and in full swing as the holidays approached; in addition, it was a perfect kick-off for another year of recovery for the women I met who designed and made my personal item of remembrance. 
Design and manufacture team, Lois (left) and Dea (right)
I love my special handbag and believe it might be the first of a very special collection I will continue to pursue! I was thoroughly touched by the attention to detail and the loving care that was placed into the finished project that I entrusted to workers who became personally known to me as they listened to why I chose to have the bag made in the first place and how pleased I was with the outcome. I sensed their overwhelming pride in their work and their appreciation for the well-deserved praise and genuine support I had made towards their recovery. It was a win-win proposition for all of us. And what women doesn't appreciate a new handbag? And who wouldn't be proud to wear the designer signature of the 'unshattered' logo on their shoulder when receiving compliments and then being able to share the back story of this amazing healing community?
One-of-a-kind messenger style handbag named "Molly" for a woman in recovery
Food for thought:  Hand-made items have always been close to my heart, both personally and professionally. I have witnessed firsthand the value of productive activity and how therapeutic goal-directed purposeful tasks work for the best interest of groups and for individuals. So the idea of Unshattered did not feel unfamiliar to me. But the scale and success and mission of this kind of work for the good of our society is the wow factor; it is not only timely, it is imperative for people to work together for personal healing and recovery. Handbags made at Unshattered are not only 'Made in America' and in step with the 'maker movement', this innovative nonprofit social enterprise is a business model of what could 'become' for so many individuals in our society that are looking for re-purposing, re-cycling, re-connecting and re-building. It is not about just about a product, it is about the process. A creative process. A process of healing in community. Unshattered points us in the right direction. 

Visit the shop in its current location at 1064 Route 82, Hopewell Junction, read more about Unshattered online and browse the handbags that can be ordered at

If you want to see Unshattered handbags carried in Beacon shops, tell them to get some in stock!

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Beacon Bits - Creating Community

For years, I have passed the Eat Paint Love Studio on Main Street; its close proximity to Rite Aid, All You Knead Bread and Yanarella Dance Studio has made it an ideal parking spot, and despite its popularity, I've successfully parallel-parked there many times! (I owe the efficient parallel-parking skills to growing up, learning how to drive and passing my driver's test in Brooklyn.) So back in September during Pride of Beacon Day, I spoke to the women who run the studio and got a better idea about how the painting parties work and I decided that I would host a painting party for some of the local volunteers who work with Puppies Behind Bars at the local correctional facilities (namely, Downstate and Fishkill, both in Beacon.) Volunteering to spend time with Labrador retrievers who are being raised in the facilities to become service dogs for veterans and first responders is so rewarding, that I have done it for five years, while some of the volunteers have taken puppies into the community on outings for over a decade. I felt that we could connect and share some time together around the holidays and proceeded with planning the event with the studio and with the help of another volunteer. I made the decision to host the party so that we could paint multiple canvases filled with puppies and gift them to the office in New York City. It felt like it would be a gift all around -- time to relax with other like-minded volunteers and something to share with the staff at the organization who value volunteers and deserve some home-made holiday gifts to show how much they are thought of and appreciated.
While the plan was for seven volunteers to meet up on Sunday, December 1st, the event was sidelined because of snow and ice that would detract from the festivity. Luckily, we were able to come up with an alternate date of Saturday, December 21st and all the original attendees were still able to fit it into their existing pre-holiday rush schedules. The event was meant to be two hours, but lasted over three hours! The time was mostly spent on painting (and not eating the brunch-like goodies that were brought along for rewards in much the same way that puppies get kibble for following commands.) With the assistance of the capable instructions given by Lorelei, our teacher for the day, who used a model painting inspired by a photo of a puppy sent to demonstrate what the subject of the paintings would be, the group of seven amateur artists produced a rendering that was recognizable as a Lab puppy with a variety of colors, distinct style and character that each person brought to the canvas. It was a delight, despite the self-criticism and lack of confidence along the way, but when the party was over, everyone felt accomplished since the difficulty of the painting was rated a '9' on a 10-point scale. 
The festive spirit in the studio led to pondering what the office staff would think of the paintings, but our hope was that it could raise spirits for them as it did for us, and if the development officer chose to, he could feel inspired to use them as a fundraiser of sorts. The paintings were packed up and brought to the office in NYC before the end of the year in keeping with the season for holiday gifting. On a 10-point scale, the reception of the paintings and overall success of the painting party was at least a '9', on average, and in my eyes, a perfect 10!

Food for thought: A group of adults with a common purpose and a pre-established connection can be brought closer together during a painting party, like the one that was organized at Eat Paint Love Studio this holiday season for the PBB volunteers. I would hope that the 'real' artists or skeptics in town would not minimize the power of creativity for those who are not talented or destined to produce valuable art. I would also hope that more people who are curious would do as I did, and stop in and talk with the women about organizing an event; they are very helpful and always available throughout the preparation for the event and right up to the pick up of the paintings  Participating in a painting party is a reminder that free form play is good for adults. Art education and exploring new skills using the arts is not just apt curriculum for children. While painting studios may be filled with birthday party celebrations or completion of scouting projects for a badge for the younger crowd, the value of bringing together diverse neighbors, or city council members who do not know each other outside of the context of work meetings could be explored. The field of 'art therapy' does not need to be limited to clinical settings. The therapeutic art process of shared time and space of parallel play with other human beings is a gift all its own. Think about what painting party you would like to host this year -- what would your subject be, what would you do with the finished products, what community do you want to build? If you can think about it, you can paint it!