Archive for November, 2014

Letter From New York Sunday, November 30, 2014

November 30, 2014

The sun has set and Patroon Street is dark; it is the end of the Thanksgiving weekend and I am already talking with friends about Christmas Day – where will we be? What will we be doing? I’ve offered my dining room table for Christmas Day for friends. We’ll see how it works out.

But what it means is that is now the full blown Holiday season. I found today the Christmas present for my friends Nick and Lisa – always a challenge but, today, I walked into one of my favorite stores and saw something that immediately screamed their names and I bought if for them.

For several years I spent Christmas with the McCormick family but we are scattered this year. Eighteen months ago, Joe, the oldest son of the Eros family, died in a freak hiking accident in Alaska. His mother was a McCormick. And the tradition of our holidays ended with his life while his parents sought some sense of things with their surviving child, Michael.

They had already lost one child, Margaret. While very young she underwent a kidney transplant in the days before there was test for AIDS and she was transfused with tainted blood and died.

I was at her wedding. I was at her funeral.

My sense of tragedy remains. When I arrived for her wedding Margaret catapulted herself across the living room of her parent’s home to welcome me to the festivities with a hug so grand I remember it to this day.

One day I walked with Joe and asked him what kind of way he wanted to describe our relationship and he asked me to be avuncular with him, a role I played with his cousin Kevin.

I never felt I did the best job of doing that that I could. I tried but I’m not sure I succeeded. He was so smart and yet seemed so remote when you reached for him. I loved him but am never sure he understood that. I work, since his passing, to make sure those who I love KNOW that I love them.

Our lives are rendered so easily.

Letter From New York Saturday, November 29, 2014

November 29, 2014

It is mid-afternoon yet the light is already fading here in Claverack; a pearl grey sky dominates the horizon. With the surfeit of snow, the view looks almost like a black and white photo. Branches, weighted down with snow, curl toward the earth all around me.

It is the Saturday following Thanksgiving, that long and lovely weekend of feasting and shopping. At least I heard no reports this year of crowds trampling each other into the linoleum. It has been mostly peaceful on the shopping front I think. There is nothing that says “Happy Holidays” more than a riot at Walmart. They opened Thanksgiving afternoon in an effort to let some steam out of the system so as to avoid the unpleasantness of previous years.

Today I passed their parking lot and it wasn’t full. I’m hoping that it was impossible to find a parking spot on Warren Street down in Hudson. It’s Small Business Saturday and Warren Street is crammed with small businesses. I will go there during the week this week to do some shopping.

I’m afraid I have no great need to plunge into the ritual of Black Friday or the counter movement of Small Business Saturday. I avoid all of those things. However, I am not immune to Cyber Monday. Amazon started its Cyber Monday Sale yesterday, or the day before or perhaps it has always been going on…

I confess that today I ventured online and ordered something for young Alicia, the three-year-old daughter of young Nick who works with me keeping the cottage running smoothly. She is enamored [as are so many] with FROZEN so I got her one of the hundreds of FROZEN items for sale on Amazon. So convenient. For a small fee, it will arrive wrapped. Because I am an Amazon Prime member it will come in two days, ready for the Christmas tree, which glows in the other room.

This is, perhaps my favorite weekend of the year, partly because I don’t push myself into the shopping frenzy at Walmart or Warren Street or the Cross Gate Mall up in Albany. I cozy up in the cottage and recover from my tryptophan hangover and concentrate on decorating for Christmas.

It is four o’clock as I write this and a family of deer has just crossed my yard; they seem to do so about this time every day. It causes me, in these quiet moments, to feel centered, in some kind of harmony with the larger world, aware that nature still runs wild in places and one of those places is my cottage by Claverack Creek.

From my desk, I look out the window to nothing but snow covered trees as far as I can see. My road is quiet and it seems a gentle world, far from the strum und drang of the city.

Twilight arrives. I got to prepare dinner for friends. I rejoice in the peace.

Letter From New York November 28, 2014 The Day after Thanksgiving

November 28, 2014

It is the day after Thanksgiving and the Hudson Valley is still covered in snow, still mostly pristine. In the background, Christmas carols are playing and I have just finished, with the help of Nick Dier, who helps me keep my life organized, trimming this year’s Christmas tree.

It has become an annual tradition that Thanksgiving weekend is the moment when Christmas is ushered into the consciousness of Claverack Cottage. The tree is up and trimmed, the crèche sits on top of the television cabinet, where it traditionally sits, the big red wreath hangs on the red door, hopefully welcoming all who come to the cottage.

It fills me with a childlike kind of joy to do it. It is happening: Christmas.

Tonight I will consult my list and begin to organize the presents I have not already bought – some have already arrived and are sitting silently awaiting Christmas Eve. Some I will put under the tree tomorrow as they are already wrapped. Thank you, Amazon.

It is a special time of year, this magic movement toward Christmas. It is a time of beautiful waiting in the Christian liturgical season. It is a time when many seem to be of better spirits than they are the other eleven months of the year. It is a time when the faces of children come alight in a special way.

And outside my windows, it looks a lot like Christmas – a perfect day for decorating a tree and for putting up the wreath. On the tree we put as many old ornaments as we could find buried in the boxes that held them. Some date back decades and were from my mother’s house. Others I have collected in my wanderings around the country; many had been forgotten and brought smiles of delight to my mouth when they were uncovered. Ah, yes, the red velvet heart that hung on my mother’s Christmas tree, sent to me one year by my sister along with other ornaments that mother had hung annually from her tree. Oh and the little cable car picked up on a trip to San Francisco and the little tin plane picked up…somewhere.

It was fun and fulfilling to re-discover so many treasures, all of this inspired by my friend Mary Dickey, who gave me an ornament for my birthday. In red glitter it proclaims: True merriment requires wine and extravagant amounts of tinsel.

So I have worked to put true merriment into my tree and will toast it tonight with a good glass of a favorite Sauvignon Blanc and more Christmas carols.

A favorite time of year has arrived. I am going to do all I can to savor it.

May you, too, have a chance to savor the season and wrap yourself in the warmth of Christmas.

Letter From New York November 27, 2014: Thanksgiving

November 27, 2014

Outside, huge clumps of snow fall at regular intervals, heavy snow slipping off the bending tree boughs; it is a winter wonderland outside, a magic kingdom of pure white, peaceful, calm and lovely.

It is Thanksgiving and I am recently returned from an Interfaith Thanksgiving Service hosted by Christ Church Episcopal. Christian, Jew and Muslim gathered together to celebrate the most American of Holidays, Thanksgiving, offering prayers of thanksgiving for this day, each from their own tradition, praising God and praying in thanks for the gifts we have and offering hope that the turmoil that roils the world will calm.

It was sparsely attended and I was glad I was there. It felt right to be giving thanks in a holy space today and the prayers from the different traditions gladdened me. A young man, Sharif Khan, represented Islam from the local mosque and offered a beautiful prayer of healing from his tradition. Mother Eileen, Rector of Christ Church, gave a stirring homily on the good religion does even while many curse religion for the men who commit gruesome crimes in its name – a fact we live with every day. She named the fear we have: that a 9/11 kind of event could happen here again, despite all our efforts.

Clever men who use the name of God to damn us do hate us and conspire to bring us evil. War rages in the lands that gave birth to Judaism, Christianity and Islam with Islam riven by the kind of discord that ripped Christianity a half a millennium ago.

I never felt persecuted because I was Catholic – in fact, I never even gave it a thought until I was in college and spoke with a friend who grew up in the south. He told me he would not have been allowed to know me because I was a “dirty Catholic.” In liberal, accommodating Minneapolis, I had not experienced that.

But it’s out there, most evidenced by the guns flaring in the Mideast and in Africa, where young girls are now hiding bombs under their hijabs and blowing themselves up in crowds in the name of God.

Perhaps one reason some parts of Islam consider us in the West decadent is that we cannot seem to rouse ourselves to suicide anymore over God. It seems that got out of our system during the Reformation. And I am thankful for that today. I am glad my college friend was my friend and that he had leapt beyond his childhood prejudices.

I am sadly grateful that the violence in Ferguson, MO was not even worse and that we did not see a repeat of 1967. But there is still so much distrust between the black and white communities and I will say a prayer of hope today that trust grows and bitterness fades.

And I will say a prayer of hope that some reason can be found to stomp out the fires of hatred from some Muslims toward the West and from some of those in the West to Muslims. May we someday find the rapprochement that Protestants and Catholics seem to have found since the last century.

As I sit and look out upon this winter wonderland, I am thankful for many things, including this moment, when all is white and pure and peaceful in my world. I am grateful that I am headed to friends to share the annual Thanksgiving feast and am grateful for the tradition we have had of spending Thanksgivings together.

There is much to be thankful for and I am allowing myself to be in a state of gratitude for all in my life – and there is so much for me to be grateful about.

May all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving and find a centering gratitude today. If the world is dark, may a slice of light shine into your world and may you be a sliver of light to someone else.

Letter From New York November 26, 2014

November 26, 2014

There is a song that goes something like:

Outside the weather is quite frightful

Inside, it’s quite delightful…

And that’s the way it is today, November 26, 2014 in Claverack, NY. Outside, there is a traditional Nor’easter happening; snow is falling relentlessly, several inches having accumulated with more promised.

I just got a promotional email from a restaurant in New York appealing to folks who might have had their travel plans changed today because of the weather. My friends Nick and Lisa got up at oh dark thirty this morning so they could beat the weather to Massachusetts so they wouldn’t miss the annual Thanksgiving at Lisa’s mothers house.

Prayers have been said for all my friends who are flying somewhere today; some flights were cancelled already last night in anticipation of the storm.

It is undeniably beautiful outside – my little woods are all white and pristine. I scurried out early this morning just as the snow was beginning to fall to buy groceries as I am cooking dinner tonight for my friends, Lionel and Pierre.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I will be celebrating it with Lionel and other friends at Larry Divney and Alicia Vergara’s house up in Stuyvesant. I’ve spent at least ten of the last dozen Thanksgivings with them, either at my house or theirs. It’s become something of a tradition.

And while I am being traditional tomorrow, while most of America is being traditional, across the world, OPEC is gathering to determine if it is going to cut production to support oil prices that have been falling. Why gas is close to three dollars a gallon here in New York and we’re on the high side of the country. Apparently, this drop in demand is squeezing countries like Venezuela pretty hard, used to petrodollars to support itself. I’m sure that it’s squeezing Putin’s Russia pretty severely, too, even though they are not an OPEC country.

This is something important that is going to happening while we are feasting and I doubt many of us will give it much thought – unless, of course, like me, you have signed up for breaking alerts from CNN and the BBC. They’ll ping my phone the moment there is any news.

I took a test today to score my knowledge of the international scene. I did okay; apparently I did better than 92% of my fellow Americans. I missed a couple of questions that I should have gotten. It annoyed me that I missed them. Pew is the organization behind the quiz. Apparently it is trying to find out how smart – or dumb – we are. I’m sure they will issue a study once the quiz has provided enough information. I like Pew for that – they keep us informed about where we stand on social issues as well as political ones.

On this snowy Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I can feel the world slowing down. We’re going into a long weekend; many places being closed Friday as well as Thursday. Many folks I know, if they are working today, are only working half days. The trains coming north last night were packed with folks getting out of Dodge ahead of the storm.

And with flights being cancelled I am sure the trains are a zoo today.

I’m thankful to be here, cozy in the cottage, a fire burning in the Franklin Stove, getting ready to celebrate the most American of holidays, Thanksgiving. I’ve much to be thankful for this year. It’s not perfect but I’m not in Mosul or any other “hot” zone. I’ll be curled up with friends, raising toasts to each other and to the magical moment that is Thanksgiving.

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all! Eat, drink and be merry. Have fun. Don’t drink and drive. Try to be kind to those crazy relatives! Be thankful!

Letter From New York November 24, 2014

November 24, 2014

The days are slipping away as we hurtle toward Thanksgiving and the Holidays. The leaves are virtually gone from the trees here in the Hudson Valley; ragged winds the last few nights have finished them off. One more time I will have to have the gutters emptied and then we should be good until spring.

Today, it is nearly seventy degrees and I am just freshly in from a walk around my circle, stopping to chat with a couple of neighbors – one, like me, out for a walk and the others battening down the hatches getting their antique car ready for winter. It is cocooned in tarps all winter and then comes out gleaming in the spring, fresh and ready for another summer.

They’re the ones who told me that there is talk of a nor’easter come Turkey Day. My pie man, David, alerted me this morning he wants to come on Wednesday to make his delivery as he is concerned about what it will be like on Thanksgiving itself. Sounds like a storm acomin’.

And it’s hard to think of a winter bluster bearing down on us when it is too warm to even wear a sweater on a walk around the circle today.

Last night I went to a charity event down in Rhinebeck at The Rhinecliff Hotel, a money raiser for a group of teens who go from the local high school down to Nicaragua to build classrooms in a village called La Cieba. They’ve been doing it for six or seven years. My friend Robert’s daughter is going on this year’s trip and so he invited me down.

I was touched by the camaraderie and bonhomie between the students, young and fresh and ready to do good things. Cue the applause for them. They had shiny, well scrubbed faces and oozed of optimism.

They made me smile. And I felt better for knowing they were around. I was impressed with how comfortable they seemed in their skins and personhoods. They laughed and touched while signaling their peacefulness with their presence in the world. They weren’t sullen. And they were going home from working the event to do their math for the next day.

It was heart warming.

What’s not so heart warming are all the other things going on in the world so far from the place inhabited by those optimistic teens of yesterday. There was a suicide bombing in Afghanistan; ISIS may behead another hostage. There is a staccato beat of bad news that has infiltrated the very soul of the world, which was why it was so refreshing to meet those young people last night – alive with their hopes and dreams and aspirations and seemingly feeling empowered to be able to create change.

Letter From New York November 23, 2014

November 23, 2014

It is morning in Claverack; the sun sifts through a pearl grey sky. A slight wind disturbs the few leaves left on the tree. All is quiet.

The morning’s first cup of coffee tastes delectable, good, strong Nicaraguan.

It is Sunday morning and I have my Sunday morning rituals to complete – strong coffee followed by a perusal of the New York Times on my iPad or iPhone complete with a careful reading of the Weddings sections. It was called for a long time “Weddings and Celebrations” to accommodate gay couples who couldn’t marry but honored their commitment to a partner through a public celebration. Now that gays can marry in New York I have noticed that it has gone back to just being “Weddings.”

I will sort through my emails and perhaps even go to Church today; I am one of those in the country who considers themselves “spiritual but not religious” even though I occasionally miss the fellowship of church and go down to Christ Church Episcopal for the experience of the ritual without the guilt I associate with my Catholic Church of origin.

Like many, I have felt friendlier toward it under the current Pope but am still not quite comfortable there. God and I wrestle with that a bit.

I work to pray everyday. I am a lucky man; my life is magical compared with a huge percentage of the world. Reading the news, I am aware I am lucky not to be living in a war zone, an Ebola zone, any “zone” at all – I live in a little island of calm in the country where looking out I see trees and land and my creek and if I hear a distant gunshot, it is not war but men hunting deer.

So everyday I try to remember to offer a thought of gratitude to God for the luck of my life, to have been born in America, never been called to war, to have had an interesting career, to find my life surrounded by friends and relatives – a reality brought home by the good wishes that surrounded my birthday.

Ah, the sun has come out and flickers golden off the fallen leaves. It has been chill; perhaps the day will be warmer than the last few that have called for fires and nestling with comforters. These pre-Thanksgiving days are predicted to be rather gentle of the season.

The trains coming north out of New York City were packed on Friday, I was told, full of people beginning their Thanksgiving Holiday, crowding the train with bodies and luggage.

The Holiday Season began a week ago with the celebration of my birthday and I am going to carry that celebration spirit through until the New Year has come and gone. It feels like a year to celebrate the golden goodness of the time I am having.

Letter From New York November 22, 2014

November 23, 2014

It is Saturday night and I am just back from a dinner party. Old, good friends were there and much of me relished being there.

It’s an interesting night. I’ve had a few glasses of wine and yet I am focused.

My inbox is being inundated with new messages from the Democrats – its become grim out there now that Obama has declared he will use an Executive Order to reform Immigration. Republicans seem to be declaring war. According to the emails I am receiving there is talk of impeachment and prison for Obama.

Yikes! Really?

The Emancipation Proclamation was an Executive Order!

I’m tired of it. As I think are most Americans – tired of the partisanship and rhetoric and stupidity. I am tired of the gridlock. I am tired of the whole thing.

Here I sit in my lovely cottage, seemingly safely away from all the silliness. But I’m not, really. None of us are, if we live in an engaged America. But so few of us do. 36% of eligible voters actually voted in the last election.

That’s pitiable. PITIABLE.

36%. Really!

Letter From New York November 21, 2014

November 21, 2014

It is growing dark out; light is fading across the Hudson Valley, a pinkish glow emanates from the west. What’s the old adage? Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.

I am expecting a good day tomorrow then, based on the color of tonight’s sunset.

All day I have curled up in the cottage, snuggled against the cold outside, not Minnesota cold but chill enough. And certainly we’ve had none of the roof breaking snow that has buried Buffalo. It is relatively mild here compared with those places but still, a good day to stay huddled by the fire, doing conference calls and writing thank you notes for gifts from my spectacular birthday.

I have been assimilating the richness of my birthday for the last couple of days. Our train gang gathered to celebrate my birthday with a wonderful party at my house where there was a the great, good camaraderie that is the keynote for that group.

My brother and sister-in-law flew in from Minnesota to celebrate with me; we went to Radio City Music Hall for the Christmas Spectacular, which was both spectacular and a hoot! It was everything I had been told it would be – Rockettes kicking and dancing, a 3D film clip, Santa Claus, and adventure to the North Pole, a Nativity scene with live sheep and camels. Everything Christmas except the Grinch!

A long day was spent at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where I, at long last, renewed my membership before touring the magnificent “From Assyria to Iberia” exhibit, linking the ancient art of the Middle East with its spread across the Great Sea to Iberia. It was breathtaking.

Moving on, we had a grand dinner at Café du Soleil with our friends Nick and Lisa. On Tuesday, my actual birthday, we went to visit the Main Library at 42nd Street and then dined at the Oyster Bar at Grand Central where I indulged in my favorite, their clam chowder soup, followed by a lemon sole, followed by a Frangelico in the bar of the Hotel Roosevelt.


CBS Unveils Big Digital Initiatives With Sony, News, And Possibly Showtime

November 6, 2014

CBS moves aggressively to be a digital player. Will it be able to succeed?