Saturday, December 30, 2006


I am so pleased. I have started hiking again, after 18 months of working on the house, putting in way too many hours on the job, and just basically hanging on, without taking care of myself as I need to. I've been spending plenty of time with my GPS and camera up in Black Rock Forest, digging into 18th century history here in the Hudson Highlands. This week, the NYS Outdoor Education Association accepted my proposal to teach a workshop on Geocaching at their 40th Annual Conference in November. Life is good!

A Christmas Story

The choir arrived early so that we could rehearse prior to the start of the Christmas pageant. While we were singing, I noticed a young mother with a little blonde girl at the altar rail. I had never seen them before, and guessed that they must be here visting grandparents for the holidays. The daughter looked to be about about four-years-old, and was wearing a red velvet Christmas dress. The mother was kneeling and they were talking, the little girl's eyes riveted to her mother's face. As we sang, I kept looking over to them, captivated by how intent and focused they were together.

An hour later, the pageant was in full swing, with various parishioners playing the parts of angels, Herod, Mary and Joseph. Suddenly, the little girl I had noticed earlier came walking up the aisle. Her mother never moved to scold or stop her, she just let her come.

The little one pushed through the angels, proceeded past the choir, and laboriously climbed the marble steps up onto the altar, where Fr. Tom was sitting in an ornate, carved chair. She marched straight up to him, and held her arms out to be picked up. He lifted her into his lap as if they had known each other all their lives. The grandfatherly priest spent the rest of the service with her nestled in his arms. Each time the ritual called for prayer, he took her hand and they climbed the steps to the altar to get the book. Then together, holding hands, they turned and faced the congregation to read.

Her little face was full of light – it was clear that she simply needed to be there. It was an emotional, unexpected manisfestation of the true spirit of Christmas. In religious terms, I would say that she was filled with the Holy Spirit, and it felt to me as though we were visited through her.

That (and the unmistakable resemblance to Cindy Lou Who) moved me to tears.

And a child shall lead them (Isaiah 11:6).

Iraq's bloggers weigh in on Hussein death sentence |

Iraq's bloggers weigh in on Hussein death sentence |

Burying the Godfather of Soul

Everything that can possibly be said has been written about the influence of this man on both contemporary music and African American self image. I have the utmost respect for his music, and can only add my personal experience working with him. He was one very strange dude, and you would best remember to address him as Mr. Brown! R.I.P.


TED KOOSER, Pulitzer Prize-winning Poet

Here's a poem for today, written by one of my favorite authors, Ted Kooser (he was also the Poet Laureate of the United States in 2004).

December 30: Two Degrees and Clear

A box of holiday pears came yesterday,
twenty tough little pears, all red and green,
neatly nested in cardboard cubicles,
their stems all pointed the same direction
like soldiers, a shine on their faces.
Five, all in a row, had been singled out
for special commendation and were wrapped
in crumbled tissue parachutes. Maybe
these were the leaders, the first to leap
from the trees, singing their battle song,
Early this morning I lifted the lid
and they were sleeping peacefully, lying
on one hard side or the other, dreaming
their leafy, breezy dreams of home.

Execution of Saddam Hussein

I am sorry. I do not believe that the State (any State) should be in the business of killing. No matter who he was, or what he did, we demean ourselves and our humanity when we kill out of vengeance and hate, calling it justice. He should have been locked in a solitary cell for life. Period.

Assessment, as 2006 comes to a close......

Over the years, my husband and I bought and renovated two 19th century houses in Cornwall, a historic Hudson Highlands village 55 miles northwest of New York. He was the handy one; I was the primary breadwinner. When we divorced after sixteen years of marriage, I rented a tiny, 3-room carriage house up on Storm King Mountain, feeling sad, vulnerable and relieved not to have a big house to care for alone.

I gave myself a year to heal and then assessed my prospects. The picture was serious - splitting our assets in half had been devastating financially. It seemed foolish to rent in a market like Cornwall, which is rapidly transitioning from rural backwater to NYC bedroom community. With college tuition and retirement looming not too far in the future, I knew I needed a real estate investment, pronto. I started to look for a “fixer-upper” that would become a profitable asset in this rapidly appreciating market, though frankly, I was a little frightened by the prospect of renovating on my own, without a “handy” partner. Though technically I had experience from our previous homes, the truth of the matter was that we bought and he renovated.

I began by searching for a 19th century house, hardwood floors, working fireplace, ample land. There were just five such properties listed in Cornwall. I called a realtor/friend, who hesitated and then said gently, “One of them is a lot like the house you used to live in.”

We walked in through the living room and opened a door onto an inviting back porch. As I took in the coppery sunset, filtered through a towering weeping willow, my teenage daughter whispered from behind me, “I call the tree!”

A fixer upper? Was I crazy? The place had been rented for years, and it was a mess. I could see that the roof was shot, the exterior paint was peeling, it still had its ancient, original windows, and the bathrooms? Well, let’s just say we gave it a ZERO rating in bathrooms. Decrepit, water damaged (“grotty,” Jules sniffed). I knew I could negotiate a low price and turn it into a jewel. But I didn’t have the skills to do the big work myself, nor the cash to hire a contractor.

Still, we loved this house. And after paying for an extensive inspection by a structural engineer, I was certain that the investment in this property, one of the last remaining “old” houses up on the mountain, would be a good one. I went back online, searching for a loan that would advance cash for the renovation.

“Have you ever applied for a HUD 203K loan?” my mortgage officer asked doubtfully. “There is a lot of paperwork.” I dug into the application, creating a work plan, getting estimates, selecting materials, hiring a contractor, creating a budget and timeline. I might not know how to install sheetrock, but this I could do!

Twenty months later, having spent virtually every weekend working our way through each room, sanding, refinishing, and painting, we are reclaiming the beauty and charm of this old house. Seven rooms down, two to go. And, now that I have proven to myself that I can do this, my next step toward financial security will be using the equity I have earned in this house to buy a fixer-upper investment property. This could become a habit!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

RIP Gerald Ford - My own tiny piece of the story

I awoke this morning to the news of the death of President Ford, and it brought back a very particular memory. It was the Fall of 1973. I was in college, and was an R.A. (Resident Assistant) in my dormitory. One of my new freshmen was Maria Shriver, whose father, Sargeant Shriver, caused quite a stir when he visited our women's dorm, accompanied by young, handsome Secret Service agents!

In those days, no one had a television in their room - there was a single television in the lounge on our floor. Spiro Agnew had just resigned the Vice Presidency in disgrace, and President Nixon was about to name the new Vice President. We all gathered in the TV Lounge, and watched as the President began a lengthy description of the strong qualifications of the as-yet-unnamed individual. All of us were listening, curious but baffled....we had no idea of whom he was describing. Maria Shriver listened to a couple of sentences and announced with certainty: "It's Gerald Ford."

And she continues to put her knowledge to good use, having remained in the family business!

This mini-memoir was published in CNN's iReport.
I-Report: Americans remember Gerald Ford -

Photo Credit: Jonathan J. Dwyer / AP file