Category Archives: Uncategorized

Karme Choling Meditation Center Barnert, Vermont

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m using the extra time at home to catch up on blog posts.  I’m sure all of you are finding equally creative ways to use your time.  Yesterday, my  22 year old daughter said she was actually looking forward to cleaning out the pantry – Ah the simple joys of social distancing and sheltering in place.

Today’s blog post  is about meditation, which is an adventure you can have without leaving  the comfort of your own living room. I’ve had a daily meditation practice for over a decade.  My wife Diane also has a longstanding practice. In recent years, I’ve made time for a week or two of  silent retreat each year.  It’s a wonderful gift to yourself and it really does help you cope with the stress of daily life.

My most recent retreat was in January, when I traveled to Vermont for a week long silent/solitary retreat.   Karme Choling is a place that seduces – 800 pristine acres in Vermont’s Northern Kingdom.    In winter, there is snow, ice and silence. It was the perfect venue to celebrate the arrive of  a New Year – in a remote cabin heated by a wood stove, without electricity or running water.  I spent most of the day in meditation, with a long walk in the afternoon.

There are lots of great resources online to learn mediation.  If desired, I’m happy to send you a list of some that I have found particularly helpful.  Wishing you the very best in these uncertain times.  Stay safe.

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24 Hours in Brooklyn

With so many things to do in Manhattan, I don’t get to Brooklyn as often as I would like.  So when my son Gavin suggested a guy’s night out exploring the hipster heaven of  Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I jumped at the chance. So did Kyle, who is 21, home from college and excited to use his legal ID.

We began our adventure by meeting my old friend and former boss, Stephen Roberson, for lunch at Junior’s Restaurant, a Brooklyn institution, world famous for their New York Style cheesecake, which you can order online .  It was great catching up with Stephen, who has been working as a community organizer in New York and beyond for over 45 years, with  so many accomplishments, including the construction of almost 5,000 Nehemiah Homes.

After lunch we spent a few hours at the Brooklyn Museum, enjoying their fine collection, before heading to Williamsburg for  the real stars of our visit – the food and music.

Our night began with drinks and and early show at Pete’s Candy Store , a free venue that books mostly unknown and unsigned bands 7 days a week, many of which have gone on to greater recognition, including: Nora Jones, Sufjan Stevens, Sara Jarosz and Sharon Van Etten, to name a few.  The place has a great vib and is worth a visit.

Dinner followed at Beco , a Brazilian bar and eatery  that takes its inspiration from the traditional botecos of Sao Paulo – local neighborhood bars known for friendly atmosphere, lively music and light fare.  I enjoyed Freijoda , a black bean stew with beef or pork, that is considered the national dish in Brazil.  We washed it down with a pitcher of Caipirinha , and our evening was off to a good start.

Our first stop after dinner was the Knitting Factory , a venue that has showcased new and established bands since the the late 1980s, with performances every night of the week.   We saw several bands, from heavy metal to an Allman Brothers style jam band,  with new bands performing every hour as part of the Knitting Factory’s  8th annual winter festival that was taking place Saturday night.

But when you are in Williamsburg, you must keep moving.  There are just too many places to see and our next stop was Skinny Dennis , one of Gavin’s favorite bars.

Skinny Dennis is a divvy, honky tonk offering live music 7 days a week.  Eugene Chrysler and his band played long into the night, pumping out rockabilly classics  mixed with songs from his 2017 album, Hillbilly Fun Park.   The signature drink at Skinny Dennis is  a coffee slushie mixed with whiskey and named Willie’s Frozen Coffee in honor of Willy Nelson, who would undoubtedly approve. It’s a really good drink that sneaks up on you.

Thankfully,  we had made arrangements to stay at the nearby Hotel Le Jolie , so no driving was involved.  We really enjoyed our stay at the Le Jolie. The rooms are nice, the staff is friendly and free parking and free breakfast make this place a great deal.

Thankfully, I was just fine the next morning.  No hangover at all.  We ended our 24 hours in Brooklyn with a walk to East River State Park , enjoying the river views followed by shopping along Bedford Street, with a lots of creative energy and independent shops.  Of course, no visit to Brooklyn would be complete without a reading of Walt Whitman’s classic, Crossing Brooklyn Ferry which I did over breakfast.

So if you planning a night out in Williamsburg, don’t wait.  There  are hundreds of place to go.  Here  are some web sites to help you plan your visit: Free Williamsburg ,   Visiting Brooklyn and Shop Brooklyn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pottsville, Pennsylvania

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Pottsville is a city of 15,000 in rural Pennsylvania, situated along the banks of the Schuylkill River which flows southeast to Philadelphia, 100 miles away. It’s known for exactly two things – coal and Yeungling beer. Since I was nearby on Saturday, attending the dedication of the new Geisinger St. Luke’s Hospital in Orwigsburg,  I decided to stop-in for a tour of America’s oldest brewery.

Yeungling beer has a growing cult following. Several years ago I had an opportunity to meet the owner, Dick Yeungling, briefly during a cocktail party at ArtsQuest in Bethlehem. I remember shaking his hand with enthusiasm, telling him how much fun my friends and I have had drinking his beer. He grinned ear-to-ear and we  shared a good laugh.

The  Yeungling tour lasts about an hour, and our knowledgeable tour guide made our visit to this historic 1831 building fun and enjoyable.  We learned how a batch of Yeungling is produced over a 28-day period, from brew to bottle, seeing the massive brew tanks, the high-tech bottling equipment and the cases of beer that will soon be on their way to thirsty fans across the East coast and beyond. We ended the tour with a visit to the tasting room where they give you free samples – “Hip, Hip, Hooray” for Yeungling – for making good beer and for staying in Pottsville.

During my visit, I also learned a little bit more about coal production and the history of this quintessential Pennsylvania small town whose residents want what we all want – a good job, friendly neighbors and a safe place to raise their children and grow old close to people they care about and people who care about them.

Unfortunately, king coal has fallen on hard times and evidence of that decline is on full display in cities like Pottsville, with their attractive main streets filled with architecturally significant buildings – many of which are neglected, in disrepair or abandoned.

It’s sad to see this decline, and even harder to see the expressions of defeat on the faces of so many people.  Addiction has taken hold, especially among the young, who feel they will never enjoy the prosperity of those who proceeded them.

This economic decline is nothing new.  Pottsville and Schuylkill County have been hemorrhaging jobs for 70 years.  There are no quick fixes to this decline, and while some may blame the Democrats or the Republicans, the real culprit is a ruthlessly efficient economic system where jobs and capital flow without respect to borders – moving from country to country- seeking places where costs are low and profits can be maximized.  This movement of capital and jobs is not personal; it’s not political; it’s business.

This area of Pennsylvania is now Trump country, and many hope he will lead Pottsville back to greatness, away from the perceived evils of  big government, environmental regulation and worker safeguards that many feel have caused job loss. I feel differently, but respect their dreams for a better future.

I’ve heard it said that Pennsylvania is Pittsburgh in the west and Philadelphia in the east and Kentucky in between.   As someone who grew up in West Virginia, but has  spent most of his adult life in urban areas,  I think Philadelphia needs to spend more time talking to Kentucky.

Can you imagine what good things might happen if we put aside our smug judgments and actually discussed the dreams that unite us rather than yelling at each other from our social media strongholds which continually reinforce the narratives that separate us into smaller and smaller factions.  After all,  what are these stories but self-justifying interpretations of experience? By design, are they not reflective of the perspectives and biases of the teller, filled with truths and half-truths designed to influence, convince and inflame?

At this juncture in our national dialogue, perhaps the most helpful thing we can all do is acknowledge the inconvenient fact that truth is almost always located in the middle of conflicting stories.  If we can take this brave step, perhaps we can also acknowledge our county may not be as  divided as it seems and accept an invitation to set aside our simple, one-sided narratives, stop the name calling and labeling and sit down together with an ice cold Yeungling and work things out.

 

 

 

 

Washington, DC

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Washington, DC is one of our favorite cities, so when I had an opportunity to attend a conference, with Diane joining me for the weekend, it was a no-brainer. Visiting is always fun, but with the World Series in town, now tied at two games each, spirits were running high, with fans out late, rooting for the Nationals.

The conference was held at the Marriot Wardman in the Woodley Park neighborhood, close to the zoo. Poet Langston Hughes worked here briefly as a busboy in 1924 when a chance encounter with established poet Vachel Lindsay helped jumpstart his career.

I read some of Langston’s poems this morning; they still resonate today, as our county continues to grapple with its long and complex history of racism, inequality and the imperfect narrative of equal opportunity for all.

If your curious, check out “Let America Be America Again” with its plaintive opening and call to authentic vs. sentimental patriotism: “O, let America be America again—/The land that never has been yet—/And yet must be—the land where every man is free…”.  Here is a link to his ten most famous poems, including my favorite, ” A Negro Speaks of Rivers.”

One very positive attempt to advance the conversation on racism in America has been the opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture , which stands in the shadow of the Washington Monument. We visited yesterday, taking in this massive place, trying to absorb the 400-year history of slavery in the America’s and the forces that created it –unchecked greed and economic exploitation, evils that are alive and well today,  just as they have been throughout history.

We also had time to visit the National Portrait Gallery  and the Michael Sherrill retrospective at the Renwick Gallery of Art , both are highly recommend. One of the featured exhibits at the National Gallery was the Outwin Portraiture Competition , which is described on the web site: “Every three years, artists living and working in the United States are invited by the museum to submit one of their recent portraits to a panel of experts. The selected artworks reflect the compelling and diverse approaches contemporary artists are using to tell the American story through portraiture. Our visit concluded at Kehinde Wiley’s portrait of President Obama; it’s stunning.

No trip is complete without food, and we thoroughly enjoyed the Washington food scene. Lunch on Saturday was low-end, from the food trucks parked on the Mall, followed later in the day by drinks at Penn Social and dinner at the upscale Indian restaurant Punjab Grill .  On Sunday, we had brunch at the memorable Bindass celebrating Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights – good’s triumph over evil, light conquering darkness.

The best meal of the trip, by far, happened before Diane arrived, when I was invited to be a guest at the ultra- high end Fiola Mare in Georgetown. The food, service, wine and overall ambiance were exceptional. So was the price! I am so glad I was not paying for the bottles of Mayacamus Cabernet, the seafood towers and the glass of 18-year old McCallan I enjoyed at the end of a three plus hour dinner.

 

 

 

Craigsmoor: A hamlet in New York’s Shwangunk Mountains

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Craigsmoor  was an unexpected find,  a wonderful place to explore on a Fall afternoon. Located two hours from New York City, it sits high above the surrounding countryside atop the Shawangunk Ridge.   The hamlet was founded in the late 1880s by artists from the second generation of the Hudson River School. My favorite being Charles Curran, Jr and his wonderful paintings. They built fine summer homes, painted, gardened and hosted memorable parties.   The also left some interesting buildings to admire, including:

The Craigsmoor Free Library – a postage stamp of building with an exquisite interior  that includes chestnut columns and a massive stone fire place  donated by Mrs. George Innes, Jr. in honor of her husband, the painter George Inness, Jr.

Another worthy site to visit is the The Craigsmoor Stone Church –  with its commanding view of the valley below.

Both of these structures were designed by a person I would have very much liked to meet – explorer, artist and map maker Frederick Samuel Dellenbaugh.  In 1871,  at the tender age of 17, Dellenbaugh was hired by John Wesley Powell to accompany him on his second expedition of the Colorado River.   He wrote about this adventure and many others in books that can be downloaded for free via Project Guttenberg.  Click   Frederick Samuel Dellenbaugh  to view a collection of his photos and drawings housed at the Yale Library.  Here is a link to an interesting article if you would like to learn more about the facilitating history of artists’ colonies in the Hudson Valley

If you do visit the area, we also recommend a visit to the Darmakaya Center for Well-Being, a very special place that opened in 2017. We attended a Dharma Ocean  retreat here led by the amazing Tina LaGreca and hope to return.

 

An Unexpected Pleasure

img_1753I’ve always liked the distinctiveness of Lucinda Williams voice and the poetry of her songs – her music often described as genre-defying,  at the intersection of rock, folk and country.  We learned she was playing in Princeton last night and called the McCarter to  score last minute tickets to the sold-out show.  Fortune was with us, and we landed 2 tickets in the 7th row center, some of the best seats in the house, and arranged a fine dinner at the lovely Eno Terra  before the show.

Lucinda and the band gave a great performance,  playing Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, in its entirety, as part of the 20th anniversary celebration of the album’s release. During the show, she talked about her father, the poet Miller Williams – who was a good friend of Flannery O’Connor.  According to the Poetry Foundation her dad was “the son of a Methodist clergyman and civil rights activist whose work is known for its gritty realism as much as for its musicality……… Williams wrote poems grounded in the material of American life, frequently using dialogue and dramatic monologue to capture the pitch and tone of American voices.”

Lucinda carries on the family tradition, crafting memorable songs that are deeply evocative of place and time – Louisiana, the South and the relationships that define.  She introduced The Ghosts of Highway 20   explaining how all the major events or her life occurred along this ribbon of highway that runs across the deep south.  Thanks, Lucinda.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Beach at Long Branch, NJ

Sorry, Belmar.  We’re cheating on you.  We’ve discovered Long Branch.  Think “Brooklyn meets the Jersey Shore”, but in a good way, with upscale restaurants, imported palm trees and an outdoor Tiki Bar.  Our last visit here was in in the early 1990s, when we stayed at the Ocean Place Resort right after it opened.  To be honest, Long Branch was a bit scary back then.  Amazing what 25 years of redevelopment will do.  We’ll be back.

Some history: From the 1860s to the early 1900s, Long Branch was a destination for the  wealthy and powerful.  Ulysses  Grant had his summer White House here.  All told, seven US Presidents vacationed here.  James Garfield  died here, after traveling  from Washington following an assassination attempt that left a bullet in his gut, hoping the sea air would aid his recovery.  If your interested in the history of this resort town, check out A Seaside Gem Sparkles Again.

We hung out at the Laird Street Beach and had dinner at Sirena Restaurant. Ironically, I was reading Nick Laird’s wonderful poem Feel Free   as I was sitting on Laird’s Beach.  Check it out.  Its a great read.

Leonard J. Buck Gardens

 

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Buck Gardens in  Far Hills is a hidden gem.  We’ve been here before and its always a great way to pass a Sunday afternoon.

According to  Wikipedia ” the garden began in the 1930s when geologist Leonard J. Buck, a trustee of the New York Botanical Garden, met landscape architect Zenon Schreiber. The two created varying exposures and microclimates. The garden is sculpted from a glacial stream valley known as Moggy Hollow Natural Area, where waterfalls once cascaded, leaving behind rock faces, outcroppings, ponds and a stream. They worked by eye and proportion, with never a drawing on paper. Mr. Schreiber designed the plantings and Mr. Buck worked the rock. Their vision was to produce a woodland garden, composed of many individual gardens. After Mr. Buck’s death in 1974, the garden was donated by Mrs. Buck to the Somerset County Park Commission. It opened up to the public in 1977.”

 

 

 

 

 

Hiking in the White Mountains

A mountain has no need for people, but people do need mountains. We go to them for their beauty, for the exhilaration of standing closer to mysterious skies, for the feeling of triumph that comes from having labored to reach a summit.” – Earl Hamner, Jr.

I’ve always loved mountains and for the last 4 years I’ve been making annual trips to New Hampshire, hiking the Presidential Traverse and visiting other nearby peaks.

Last weekend, I met my long time friend and hiking partner Chris Petrini and his dog Biko for  three days of hiking.  We rented a small house in Jackson, NH called Birch Hollow as our base of operations.  Lovely place, which you can find on VBRO with an Irish pub and live music across the street.

Chris is close to summiting all of New Hampshire’s 48 peaks  above 4,000 feet. We reached the summit of three 4,000 foot peaks during our trip, climbing  Oseola, East Oseola and Cabot.  We also did a nice hike in Crawford Notch, climbing to the top of Arethusa Falls and the Frankenstein Cliffs.

I also visited the Wiley House , which was the site of a huge landslide in 1826 which swept all five members of the Wiley family to their death.  One of my co-workers is Deb Wiley, whose family is from New Hampshire and related to those who perished long ago.  I hope to  return for some more hiking again this winter.

A Visit to Duke Farms

What a wonderful place to spend a leisurely Sunday afternoon- 1,000 acres of unspoiled beauty in the heart of central New Jersey, including 18 miles of walking trails, 12 miles of bike trails and gardens. We had a great time exploring on our bikes. The orchid green houses were especially beautiful and we loved the the interpretive center, which has a lovely cafe.

Upon her death in 1993, Dorris Duke bequeathed the entire property to charity, with instructions that Duke Farms be a leader in environmental stewardship and inspire visitors to become informed stewards of the land.

We were inspired – by her generosity, the spirit of the place and it’s practical demonstration of environmental stewardship and sustainability.

Duke Farms is a place of education, enjoyment and research that enhances the environmental health of the region.

With the exception of the orchids and selected ornamentals, all invasive species have been removed, a solar grid now supplies clean power and the nearby Raritan River is protected from runoff through a series of practical, cost effective storm water mitigation system.

Kudos to Dorris Duke and the trustees for a job well-done. We’ll be back!

Duke Farms Website