Archive for June, 2017

Letter From Claverack 06 28 2017 Too beautiful a day to waste…

June 28, 2017

Yesterday, I determined I would go down to the city to attend the Producer’s Guild Annual Meeting.  This morning, walking out of the studio after my program, I made an abrupt determination that I was not going.  It is just too beautiful a day to be in the city; when I left the studio, I knew what I wanted to do was to be sitting on my deck, a good strong mug of coffee next to me, with my fingers tapping on my laptop, which is where I am now.

The sky occasionally greys over but it is still a pleasant day, a little cooler than I would like but not by much.

The creek is clear, meandering gently to the west where it will eventually pour itself into the Hudson River.  The coffee is a rich mix of Honduran and Nicaraguan beans, freshly ground, from Tierra Farm, a local business that is at the Farmer’s Market on Saturday and from whom I buy my coffee.  Now that I know they have a retail store, I won’t need to worry about stocking up between the Summer and Winter Markets.

On Wednesday afternoons, during the summer, there is a smaller market in the park across from Proprietor’s Square.  Perhaps I’ll go down there this afternoon; I have friends who sell their flavored D’arcy butters there.

Once I made the decision not to go the city, I felt playful.  When I woke this morning, as the sun was just beginning to ascend in the eastern sky, I was thinking it would be fun.  Then I read an article about the deteriorating state of the subway system and remembered the achingly long waits for the C Train last time I was in the city but was still determined to go.

Until the moment I walked out and saw how beautiful it was and breathed in the sweet air and thought: why?  Yes, I would like to go to the Annual Meeting but was it worth a two-hour ride down and two hours back, an overnight stay, especially when my other meetings had cancelled or not confirmed?  And I decided the beauty of where I was would beat the beauty of where I was going.  I came home, threw my overnight bag onto the bed to be unpacked, made coffee and came out to the deck.

Opening my email inbox, I ruthlessly deleted anything that was not personal.  Delete, delete, delete to all the emails from all progressive causes pleading for money.  Delete, delete, delete to all emails referencing politics while savoring several teasing me with recipes I would like to make one day.

In the political chaos of our time, I have been seeking solace in the carefully laid out steps in recipes, promising a decent outcome if one follows the road map.  Out there in the real world, there is no real road map and anyone attempting to create one, is not having much success.

McConnell’s gamble on secrecy in creating the Senate version of the American Health Care Act, seems to have backfired on him, leaving him postponing debate and a vote until after the July 4th recess.  It does not go far enough for the conservatives and too far for the moderates while the Democrats are not having any of it.

The U.S. spends more than any other country on healthcare and, in at least some studies comparing it to other countries of similar economic status, comes out dead last in quality.  Just fix it, please. Go ahead, guys, get together and put together a plan that works. Republicans! Democrats! Please.  Aren’t we all Americans?  Can’t we do better?

Everywhere I wander on news sites today, I am flooded with ads for Pepper, a Soft Bank Robotics robot, that they are offering to help in retail and offices.  One package will replace your receptionist.  It’s about 4 feet high with big eyes, a wide range of movement and what looks like an iPad plastered to its chest.  They may be coming for us.

There is another ransomware attack hitting, mostly in Europe and Asia right now.  It’s called “Petya” and is derived from code hacked from the NSA.  Perhaps the next war won’t be fought with tanks, ships, planes and soldiers but by bunkered hackers working to bring their enemy to its technological knees.

Outside, it’s a beautiful day, a good moment, jazz standards are playing on my Echo and I am going to head to the Wednesday Market and see what’s for offer today instead of plying the subway lines of New York City.  Yes, that sounds like a very good idea on a beautiful day.



Letter From Claverack 06 19 2017 An Attitude of Gratitude

June 19, 2017

It is the evening of June 19th; Father’s Day is beginning to fade as is Pride Weekend in Hudson.


An on again, off again rain falls and an hour or two ago the sky was nighttime dark.  Cosseted in the cottage, a martini by my side, I watch the raindrops splatter on the Claverack Creek.

It’s interesting.  I was very sensitive over the weekend, a little raw.  When I woke Saturday, I was in an unexpectedly foul mood and at the end of the day I took myself home and had a talk with myself.

I felt raw because it was Pride weekend and I woke acutely aware that I am not part of a unit and that I haven’t been very good at dating.  The last one felt like I had entered a reality version of Sartre’s “No Exit.”

I am alone and normally it doesn’t bother me and over the weekend it did.  Hudson is a town of couples and I am not coupled, which puts me at a bit of a disadvantage. You’re the odd one at the dinner party.

And, then, Sunday, it was Father’s Day.  Always a hard day for me.  I did not have a great relationship with my father.  He was good to me the first few years and then, he wasn’t.  The last seven years of his life he had almost nothing to say to me.  The night before he died, I was being a squirrely twelve-year-old and he angrily sent me to my room.

It was the last exchange I had with him.  The next morning, he had a stroke and died.  So, I have spent my life trying to read the runes of the little time I had with him.

Okay, so it’s problematic.  Parental relationships are problematic.  Maybe mine a little more than others and mine probably a lot less than others, too.

It’s just it pops up on Father’s Day.

And I know so many good fathers; I sent text messages to them today.  My godson, Paul, among them.  He has two children, a girl, Sophia, and a boy, Noah.  I don’t know them well and know enough to know they are interesting children and that’s because they have wonderfully invested parents.

And then there is Tom Fudali, who is Paul’s father, who made me Paul’s godfather and I am eternally grateful for that because Paul is not my son and he is my godson and our relationship is something I had hoped for and didn’t think would happen and has.

And there is my friend, Robert Murray, father of five, who exchanged texts with me while watching his son, Colin, play soccer in New Windsor.  Robert reminds me of my oldest friend, Sarah’s, father, John McCormick, who had six children and made their home the place to be.  On bitter Minnesota winter nights, the neighborhood would gather and skate on the rink in John’s backyard.  They are some of my most magical childhood memories.

And then there is Kevin Malone, Sarah’s son, who has always thought of me as his uncle even though I am not actually his uncle but we have an avuncular relationship that is so effing wonderful!  He is not a father and he is wonderful and is a jewel in my life.

So, I was being self-indulgently depressed, and I need to focus in on all the wonderful things which go on in my life and all the wonderful people who are in it.

In the craziness that has been in my mind this weekend, I am so glad I wrote this as it reminds me of all the things for which I need to remind myself that I need to have an “attitude of gratitude.”

In Memoriam:

I read today that Stephen Furst had died.  He gained fame in “Animal House” as Flounder, went on to “St. Elsewhere” and “Babylon Five” and directed movies and television shows.  For a time, in the 1990’s, we were friendly.  He was a gracious, gentle soul, doing his very best in life.  RIP. I remember you fondly.

Otto Warmbier, the young student returned from North Korea in a coma, has passed away.  It is heartbreaking. At least he was at home, with family.


Letter From Claverack 06 11 2017 Returning to hygge…

June 12, 2017

It is delightfully quiet as I sit on the deck, the fierce heat of the day receding and all the noise of the city left behind.  About four o’clock, I returned to Columbia County from four days in the city, a delightful time, packed with adventures and sights and people.  And I was glad to return to the quiet of the cottage and knit it all together.

The occasion of my trip was that it was my brother and sister-in-law’s wedding anniversary.  They were married in New York four years ago and return every year to celebrate.  Last year, I was absent, selling books in Edgartown, on Martha’s Vineyard.


This year, I was present.  On Wednesday, they went for a private celebration of their anniversary while I had dinner with my wonderful godson, Paul Geffre.  We had a wonderful dinner and then went to the Parker Meridien for after dinner drinks with Joe and Deb, who had not met him.

Joe, Deb and I went, over the days of the visit, to the Intrepid, Ellis Island, the site of the deadly Triangle fire, to “Spamilton,” which Deb and I enjoyed more than Joe as we got the Broadway references.


As I type, the Tonys are being broadcast and I am not watching.  It seems more important to gather myself together after these hectic days, wonderful, full of visiting and fun and feasting and I’m sure my waist has expanded and I must handle that.

Today, after Joe and Deb had left for the airport, I brunched with old friends from California, one of whom has residences in both places and Meryl and Ray, who were in for a visit and work for Meryl.

Before I met them, I had a quick coffee with my bestest friend, Nick Stuart [Lionel, you are more than friend; we are family of choice], and we spoke of things and we talked about how I have been working on living in an “attitude of gratitude,” appreciating the good things in life and not yearning after what I don’t have and celebrating what I have, which is quite, quite wonderful.

Deb and Joe gave me a wonderful book about hygge and I laughed at getting it because I have been writing about hygge ever since I heard about it and, gosh, don’t we need it now.


At this moment, I am having a very hygge moment.  Sitting on my deck, the creek is calm, birds are chirping.  My neighbor’s dogs are romping some distance away.  Far away there is a sound of a truck traversing the road a third of a mile away and I am not caught in the cacophony of New York, which is wonderful and now wearying for me.

When I was moving to DC, I lived for a time in an apartment in Georgetown, across from Dumbarton Oaks, and thought: wow, Mathew is getting to live in some of the great cities of the world.  That has continued.  And now, in the third act of this life, I am always glad to return to the quiet and the hygge of the cottage.

At dinners and brunches, we all discussed the political madness of our time, which is, at least to me, the most serious since Watergate, and all wonder how we got here and where will we go.  The Democrats are in disarray; the Republicans fleeing or feeding the strangeness that is Trump [the kindest way I can describe this presidency].

The Clinton impeachment was a distraction, a hounding of a serial sexual player who didn’t want to admit in public what we all knew.

This is not a distraction.  It is serious.  This is Watergate level.

Theresa May in the UK, having lost [and it is almost impossible to believe she did] her gamble to get a greater majority to support her Brexit negotiations, was described tonight in some UK papers as “dead woman walking.”

Macron, in France, has seized the government in a way no one has since De Gaulle [I think] and we have a new day there.  Angela Merkel looks to be re-elected in Germany.  The political scene is exciting, if more than a bit scary.


Letter from Claverack 06 04 2017 Comforting things in touchy times…

June 5, 2017


The pearl grey of twilight is settling on the Hudson Valley and I’m playing the Joan Baez station from Amazon Prime Music in the background, wrapped in the warmth of a fleece pullover as the day has been infused with a chill closer to October than June.

We have had 4.5 inches more rain than normal this year.  Last year was a drought; this year a flood. Saturday started with rain and then became a brilliant early spring day – except it’s not quite early spring anymore.

At the Farmer’s Market, I picked up fair trade coffee and some incredible chevre from an amazing artisanal cheese maker that I discovered at the winter market.  In a way, I feel disloyal to the other cheese purveyors I frequent and her cheeses are over the top wonderful.  She is in the market, center aisle, on the east end.  Goats and Gourmets.

And all this is very hygge.  And oh, my god! Do I need hygge right now!

Donald Trump has removed us from the Paris Climate Accords.  It was not unexpected and it is disappointing.  As I watch, from my point of view, I am witnessing the President of this country diminish us with every move he makes.

It is something that saddens me every day and I know I must live with this for the rest of his term, be it four or eight years.  All this impeachment talk is not very real as it is hard, as it should be, to impeach a president.  It’s my hope that we will have only one term of this man and that the country will elect someone in 2020 who will deal with the very real problems we face.

Trump trumpeted he would spend money to restore the infrastructure of this country which is in desperate need of restoration.  His plan for that seems, to me, a little incoherent.

As is my custom, from my Catholic childhood, I light candles at church on Sunday when I come back from communion.  One candle is for me.  Call me selfish but one candle is just for me.  Another is for the people I know who are having health issues.  It includes the daughter of my friend Clark Bunting, whose daughter suffered a traumatic brain injury and the son of a former boyfriend who has a son who also suffers from that and seems to be doing well as well as all the others I know who are dealing with health issues.

And I light a candle for Donald Trump and the world in which we are living, praying we will get through this.

Then I light a candle for all the things I said I would light a candle about and have forgotten.

It is very comforting for me to do this.

One of the reasons I attend Christ Church is that I am getting older and at some point, in this getting older process, I won’t be here and I would like a community of people to mourn me.  Christ Church will.  In the last few years, I have become an integral part of that community.  My coffee hours after the 10:30 service are legendary as are the Easter brunches I have organized the last two years.

And I would like there to be a great good party on the deck of the cottage or, if that’s not possible, at the Red Dot.  I’m part of that community also.

It’s my hope it will be some long time before there will need to be a celebration but I am laying the ground work for that.  That, too, is hygge for me.

Sitting here in the cottage, I am grateful and that is so comforting, to be grateful.

Letter From Claverack June 1, 2017 And they wonder why…

June 1, 2017

Thunderstorms pummeled the Hudson Valley last night.  This morning is as sweet a morning as one might wish.

The sky is a color of blue for which I cannot find a word; sweet, clear, refreshed from the rain.  The sharp green of the trees outside my window almost glow in the sunlight cascading down in an almost magic morning.  It is not hard to imagine that across the creek woodland nymphs are gambling in delight.

A big mug of strong coffee is at my side and jazz is playing, upbeat and uplifting.

A letter has been fermenting in my mind the last few days, ever since a couple of my friends who are supporters of Donald Trump questioned me on why he has had such a vitriolic reception as President?

I found myself surprised by the question.

It surprised me they did not understand; didn’t see what I see and I need to remember we are all individuals who are interpreting current events in different ways.

We have a President who didn’t win the majority vote and is still the President of the country, an event that has happened twice in this century, brief as it has been, and that has made a lot of people angry, uncomfortable and questioning our Founding Fathers’ wisdom in setting up the Electoral College.

We have a President that doesn’t seem to know the truth.  We like our Presidents to at least sound like they’re telling the truth.

We don’t like them saying things that are verifiably not true, things that are conflations of their own imaginations.  People notice things like that. It does not breed respect.

His Inauguration speech depicted an America which inspired despair, not hope.  His picks for almost every office inspires deep concern for many people.  Scott Pruitt as head of the EPA? Rick Perry as Secretary of the Department of Energy, the department he couldn’t remember in a debate that he wanted eliminated.  Sort of a come down from people like the Ph.D.’s who were running it before.

NOTHING this President has done is very Presidential.

In his European trip, he may have handed the mantle of the leader of the Free World to Angela Merkel.

He is picking a trade fight with Germany but not addressing the real issues and potentially hurting workers in the South, where German car companies have been manufacturing.  People who elected him may be the victims of this fight.

If he repudiates the Paris Climate Accords, he will link us with Syria and Nicaragua as the only countries not agreeing and will be doing another thing that will cede leadership to China, which remains steadfast in its support.  And is capitalizing on it.  China’s Premier is in Europe right now, cozying up to Merkel.

If we are disrespectful, it is because this man has given us so little to respect – from my point of view and that is not the point of view of everyone. I acknowledge that.

My family was Republican.  The first President I remember is Dwight Eisenhower.  Wow.  Dwight Eisenhower then.  Donald Trump now.  Is it any wonder I shiver at night?

Weeks ago, I texted one of the smartest people I know, an Independent, who has voted both for Republicans and Democrats, not married to a party.  I asked him what he thought of Trump.  There was no response, until this weekend.

He said: I used to think Trump was just a jackass but he seems to be a jackass and an idiot.

Our White House is occupied by someone who seems a jackass and an idiot who is being unfaithful to the people who elected him.  Everything he has proposed is supportive of his class and destructive to the people who elected him.

He is bringing the Billionaire’s Boy’s Club to the White House.  He’s not cleaning out the swamp. He’s enlarging it.

Bucking a long-standing tradition, he hasn’t, still, released his tax returns.  His aides have “forgotten” meetings with Russian officials during the campaign.  His sons have contradicted him in terms of his financial relations with Russia.  There are all kinds of dangling Russian connections that are, at best, unseemly, and, at worst, criminal and maybe treasonous.

So, I shiver at night and tremble when he speaks.

This is all, of course, my humble opinion.

And thus, I do things that are very hygge to comfort my soul, make me feel at one with the universe, and give me a smile, such as enjoying and savoring the view out my window, like enjoying this cat on display on Main Street in Catskill, where I was doing some errands yesterday.


Or enjoying this reflection by Thomas Pesquet, a French astronaut, as he readies himself for his return to earth.  See it here.