Archive for December, 2016

Letter From Claverack 12 24 2016 Ho Ho Ho…

December 25, 2016

Tonight is Christmas Eve.  The floodlights illuminate the creek in front of me; my trees are lit and Christmas carols are playing on my Echo.  Shortly I will leave to attend Christmas Eve festivities at the Red Dot, closed this evening to the public and home to the party Alana, the owner, has prepared.

Every year the Dot is decorated to the nines.  This year is in honor to Wendy Frost, the artist who helped Alana every year create magic and who passed away during the summer, not long after moving to Florida.

When I was a wee boy, Christmas Eve was Christmas.  It was the night we celebrated and opened presents.  My Juettner cousins would come and we would all frolic in the basement or play games in the living room until it was time for the Christmas Eve feast and then we would rip into our packages.

When they had gone home, we opened our own family presents, then sleepy I would head off to bed while my older siblings and parents attended Midnight Mass.

As things do, the traditions changed and the Juettners ceased coming and things toned down a bit.  My older siblings departed, my brother to medical school, my sister to the convent.  The next Christmases were quiet.

After my father’s passing, it seemed Christmases picked up again after a while.  My brother returned to Minneapolis, post internship, a year in Honduras giving medical care to children and a couple of years in the Air Force.

In college, it was fun to leave where I was living and return to my old bedroom, sometimes with an out of town roommate in tow.

For me, tonight is Christmas.

Christmas Day always seemed a bit anti-climactic.  The big presents had been given and Christmas exhaustion had set in.

Tonight, this Christmas of 2016, I wish all of you who celebrate the holiday, the merriest of Christmases.

It is also the beginning of Hanukkah, which rarely coincides with Christmas but it does this year.  So Merry Christmas!  Happy Hanukkah!

I am off to a party, with two quiches and some gag gifts, as Alana requested.


May this day be very merry, safe and happy for all of us.

Letter From Claverack 12 19 2016 What we need is a little Christmas…

December 20, 2016

A few hours ago, I asked Alexa to play the Holiday Station from Amazon Prime and Christmas carols have been floating through the house since then.  The lights are illuminating the creek and I have sat down, at last, to write a letter.  The last one was nine days ago, which is unusual for me.  Normally, I write every two or three days.

The frenzy of prepping for Christmas has given me ample excuses to not think about the world…

Two Christmas trees grace the cottage; one small real one, bedecked with as many ornaments as it bear and an artificial white tree, which has been my tradition for years now.

The first Christmas after my partner left, I went to the lot where we had purchased our trees and found myself paralyzed, not wanting to get out of the car and so I didn’t.  Decorating our trees had always been a big thing and I couldn’t imagine how to get through that Christmas.

So I did the unthinkable; I went to Walmart and bought a pre-lit white Christmas tree which was the silliest thing I could think of doing and it made my Christmas.  It was so silly, I laughed, which was what I needed to do that year.  And a personal tradition was born…

A white Christmas tree adorned with all the ornaments that matter.  There are a few from my mother, one White House ornament given to me by Buddy, who helped decorate the actual White House Christmas tree.  He is gone, lost to AIDS before anything could be done and I have the ornament he gave me and it has a place of pride every year.

There are the wonderful crystal ornaments Lionel and Pierre have given me the last few years, two Christopher Radko ornaments from when I was on the Board of Governors for the TV Academy, ornaments I purchased the first year I was working at Discovery – that was an animal themed Christmas.


In the last twenty-four hours, I have made 16 quiches.  It has been my tradition for the last some years to bake quiches for my friends and neighbors and there are still a few more to be made but I have made most of them and will spend some of tomorrow delivering them.

My kitchen is not quite a catastrophe…

All of this is part of my life and a welcome distraction.

Today, Donald Trump’s election to the Presidency was ratified by the Electoral College, a fact I am still having a hard time getting my head around, which is why I seem to especially devoted to the Food Section of the New York Times.

At least twelve are dead as a result of lorry crashing into a Christmas market in Berlin.

The Russian Ambassador to Turkey was shot dead today in Ankara.

Aleppo is a catastrophe we grieve but seem to have no way to respond to and I still wonder about the boy in the photograph from months ago.  He will haunt me to the day I die.  Is he safe?

It seems I may never rest until I know and I may never know but I keep seeing that photo…

And as Christmas approaches, I am so grateful to be here, in the cottage, decorated as best I could for this most wonderful holiday, listening to Christmas music…

The world is always in trouble and it will continue to be that way.  And I will work to find ways to feel like I am helping the world not be in as much trouble as it is.  Maybe I will succeed, a little bit…




Letter From Claverack 12 10 2016 The rollercoaster has left the station…

December 11, 2016

Here I am at the cottage; the floodlights are lighting the creek and I have been putting together my Christmas presents so I can ship them out on Monday.  My skills at wrapping are negligible and have been forever so the invention of gift bags has been a Godsend.  Right now, I am at a dead stop as I have used up all the bags I purchased yesterday and still have presents to go.  So, tomorrow morning I will be up and out early to get more.

It’s complicated this year as the people with whom I traditionally have shared Christmas are scattered and my living room is now littered with segregated piles.  This gets shipped to New Mexico, this goes to Boston, this goes to New York, this goes to Minneapolis…

Monday morning, I need to show up when the UPS Store opens to get this all off and I will get it done.

And in the midst of all of that, I seem to have been abandoned by young Nick, who has been my partner in crime since he was fifteen.  I am not sure what I have done but he has decided to jettison me from his life.  Speculation is useless and I now need to accept he no longer finds me a person of consequence.

I am on my own.  Today, I went out and started to make my Christmas come together.  Not quite sure how it will all be but it will be.

Just as it will be that Donald Trump is going to be President of these United States.

When I am looking at the New York Times I find myself gravitating to the Food Section, obsessively saving recipes.  My solace is in cooking these days, thinking of meals I will serve, planning table settings, decorating.

It is all diversion.  We will see how all of this plays out.  As I have said to many people: the next four years are going to be experiential.  He will be a different kind of President.

We will see how that plays out.

And now it is Christmas and I am sitting listening to Christmas Carols and, I must admit, sipping what I think is a much-deserved martini.

As I sit here, I am looking around my little cottage and am so grateful I am here, able to look out at the creek, illuminated by floodlights, and to listen to Christmas Carols on my Echo, sit wrapped in the warmth of my home and know that I will be engaged over the next four years as part of the loyal opposition.

We’re in for a wild ride.  The rollercoaster has left the station.  Hang on and let’s see what happens…


Letter From Dulles Airport 12 05 2016 Remembering my moral compass…

December 6, 2016

It is a quiet Monday evening and I am sitting in a waiting area at Dulles Airport; in a couple of hours I will board a flight to Albany, retrieve my car and drive the hour it takes to get down to the cottage.

The flight from Charlottesville was very short, about twenty minutes.  I closed my eyes and let my mind wander.

To anyone who reads me on a regular basis, it is apparent I did not support Donald Trump.  It occurred to me that many think I am now a disappointed Democrat.  Long ago, I became an Independent.

My upbringing was staunchly Republican.  My first vote for a President was for a Republican.  In the in-between, I have voted for worthy Republicans for various offices.

My parents were Republicans as was my Uncle Joe, who lived next door to us in the double bungalow we inhabited in south Minneapolis.  He and my father and mother had lived in duplexes and then the double bungalow forever as my father and my uncle shared responsibility for their mother, who was gone before I had cognizance of the world.

On a brutally cold morning in a February, my father awoke, complained of the worst headache he’d ever had and was dead before the ambulance could arrive.

Uncle Joe did not attempt to take his place but allowed me space to be in his life.  We took to watching television together on his huge color television set, sitting quietly, occasionally commenting on the acts on television variety shows.  He delighted in the Osmond Family and the Jackson Five.  He read paperback westerns and drove Lincoln Continentals.  His well-tailored wardrobe filled the closets.

Not well educated, he rose to be the Senior Vice President and General Manager for seven states for American Bakeries Company [Taystee Bread], then the second largest commercial baking company in the world.  He became a member of their Board of Directors.

At seventeen, it was determined by me and most everyone else, including family, counselors and my psychiatrist, that the healthiest thing I could do would be to leave home.  Relations between my mother and I had become unbearable, probably for both of us.

Uncle Joe took me to dinner and offered to help me.  I needed, in return, to maintain a B average in college and to have dinner with him at least once a month.

We grew closer.  At one of those dinners, at a restaurant looking down over downtown Minneapolis, snow swirling in the winter night, I asked him what was the thing he was proudest of in his life.  Uncharacteristically, he hesitated.

He told me that in 1932, he stood in his office building in what was then the tallest building in St. Paul and looked down at the bread lines weaving around the blocks.  He made a promise then that none of the people who worked for him, who counted in the hundreds, if not the thousands, would ever stand in a bread line.

He kept that promise.  He made sure that those who worked for him, even if they weren’t working full time, would have enough to feed their families and keep a roof over their heads.

I had not known; I was born long after the Great Depression, a child of the baby boom generation.

When I began to question the Viet Nam War, we had conversations.  He told me he no longer knew the right or wrong of Viet Nam; I must make my own decision and whatever it was, he would support me.

While he had never married, he had a great friend, Rose.  They breakfasted every Sunday morning after he’d been to church.  When she died, I suggested perhaps he might want to have breakfast with me, which began a tradition that grew to include sometimes two dozen members of the family.

It was apparent to me that Nixon’s goose was cooked when the medal Uncle Joe had received from the Committee to Re-elect the President {C.R.E.E.P.] disappeared from his desk where it had sat proudly.  If Nixon had lost Uncle Joe, he had lost it all.

He was and has remained my moral compass.  He was a humble man, not without flaws or he wouldn’t have been human, but a careful, considered, considerate man.

The last time weekend I saw him, he angered me with a comment.  Everyone told me to let it go but I marched over to his side of the house, started to speak and he held up his hand.  He told me he was sorry; he had spoken unwisely and out of turn.

It became a two-hour conversation that, when he died two months later, allowed me to feel I had had closure with the man who I now recognize as my greatest moral compass.

He was not my father but he fathered me.

On the short flight from Charlottesville, in a semi-slumber, I realized much of my hostility to the nomination of Donald Trump was because I am convinced Uncle Joe would have found his campaign deplorable and would be wounded that a man who has spoken as Donald Trump has about minorities and women would be the President Elect of these United States from the party he held so dear.

But Trump is.

I accept that and it does not mean I will not be watchful and will not civilly disagree when I feel it is appropriate and necessary for the good of this country to civilly disagree.

It is my belief that is what Uncle Joe would expect of me.




Letter from Charlottesville, where I am now… learning how to civilly disagree!

December 3, 2016

It is a Friday evening.

At this moment, I am at the Omni Hotel in Charlottesville, Virginia, home of the University of Virginia, conceived by Thomas Jefferson, a lush place graced by The Rotunda, a building designed by Jefferson that has just undergone a year-long renovation, sitting magnificently on the road into the University grounds.

It is also home to The Miller Center, a unit of the University devoted to the study of the Presidency.

It was there I spent my day, moving from one meeting to the next, having conversations with staff about the mission of The Miller Center and the part played in it by “American Forum,” a program they produce which is aired on PBS Stations.

What struck me today was that the mission of The Miller Center, along with its exegesis of Presidencies, is its mission to foster civil dialogue between people of differing opinions.

And this is a time when we need to learn how to disagree civilly with each other.  Disagreement, and disagreeable discord, is the heart and soul of democracy, has been so since democracy first raised its head back in ancient Greece.

Today I came away respecting this small redoubt that is working to increase the civility of disagreement, of modeling ways that opposing views can be examined without violence.

This is a hard time for everyone in this country, I think.

Tom van der Voort, who is a Communications Director at The Miller Center, focused me on the fact it is fine we disagree and it is important HOW we disagree.

He pointed out to me that the 2nd Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms, not guns.  Nuclear weapons are arms.  Should everyone have a right to their own nuke?  That is the extension of the Second Amendment which the Founding Fathers could never have imagined.  We all have right to nuclear arms?

Even the most ardent supporters of gun rights would not agree that we should allow everyone their own nukes but the wording of the Constitution makes it perhaps possible.

We need to think.

We need to talk.  Civilly.

In a meeting with a very smart young man who is a senior figure in television it was suggested by him we have moved into a “new civilizational phase.”

For good or not, the election of Donald Trump as our President means we are moving into uncharted territory.  He is a wild card in our lives, in our life as a democratic society, which is, I think, why he was elected.

The country has decided to roll the dice and see what the unexpected will bring to us.

And in this time, it has never been more important to learn how to disagree civilly.