...and I am very happy there.

...and I am very happy there.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Peaceful Places

 In every issue of Oprah's monthly magazine are two pages she labels "Breathing Space". These are photographs of scenic places. When you look at them they make you want to fall back onto your fluffy pillows and say "Aaah..." and relax. Someone suggested long ago that she make the pages a tear-out so we could put them in an area where we would be more inclined to recline and look at them. She never took up the suggestion. Dumb mistake.

Looking up Dry Brook that ran along our property.
 In my years growing up in West Shokan, we were lucky enough to have several "breathing spaces." One was a stream running along the property. On many occasions, I would go down to the creek to play. In my later years whether I was 10, 15 or 18, I would climb down on those rocks and let my cares be washed away with the water as it ran downstream.

The foundation of the barn is barely visible in this photo.
 We lived on a old farm that had a large two-story farmhouse and three barns. The largest barn housed our cows, sheep, goats, a bull and chickens at one time or another. Eventually it started to collapse, so someone from town helped my dad take it down. We were left with the foundation of the barn and the round silo platform. When we were little, my brother, Rick, and I would play here and pretend that foundation was our home, our land, our church, or our battleground. All that was there was cement with ruts, where I guess walls had been, and troughs where the milk cans were kept in cold storage. It is amazing when I think back on what we created out of that old cement remnant and how it became a breathing space of sorts where we could practice life.

Looking down Dry Brook Road toward South Mountain
We walked roughly a quarter mile to and from the bus stop everyday during the school year and this was our view in winter. We had plenty of time to think as we walked. The first segment going to school we walked alone. Then we met up with the Molloys and Burghers and Finkens to head down to Monaco's at the end of Moonhaw. Here we would wait to catch the bus. Rarely did we get rides unless it was raining or frigid. But I do remember plenty of times having frozen feet before I made it home. Those walks were priceless times of thought.

One other space of respite you can't see here, is up on the mountain side where I would lie down on my back and watch the clouds sail by. It was there I planned my wedding, dreamed of my family, and planned for the future.

The quiet peacefulness was all around us whether we appreciated it or not. These were our own private breathing spaces. Spaces in time, space away from everyone else, spaces to think, create and dream. My hope is that the generation growing up today has their own breathing spaces, because that's where a lot of creative ideas bloom and problems are worked out. I guess I took for granted the breathing spaces I had growing up. I crave and appreciate the ones I have now even if I have to create them myself as I learned from reading the book, Simple Abundance. I recommend it!

(Photos courtesy of Shep Siegel.)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Friends from West Shokan past....

A childhood friend, Debbie Burgher, posted an old picture from the 70's (that's 1970) of her brother on Facebook. What memories were stirred as I perused the photos that were attached.

I grew up with the Burghers, my siblings even babysat some of them. As I went through the photos, I discovered some of my own family, other friends and places I had been to in my youth. It was very weird to see my memories through someone's eyes other than my own.

This picture of Mathew is a typical one. Burgher's always had dogs. One great dog they had while we were young, was a German Shepherd named 'Shep'. Shep was very protective of all of the kids, but he was especially protective of the Burgher kids. Shep's only 'flaw' was that he chased cars. That too was probably a way of protecting us.
The Burghers were an active family of five kids and Bob, the Surveyor (dad), and Rosie, the Reader (mom). Everyone loved Rosie, she was always smiling and chuckling. To say she loved to read is an understatement. Books were everywhere in their house, on their tables, the back of the couch, under her arm or in a bag. Rosie wore a path to the local library.

Debbie was their eldest daughter, Eddie their eldest son. Debbie and Eddie were older by enough years that I looked up to them and respected them when they were around, but they weren't around much because they were mostly away at college. They were instrumental in organizing our summer outings as they were our 'chauffers'. They also took on the role of protectors for all of us. I remember one particular outing to my first play. It was Fiddler on the Roof at the Woodstock Playhouse. I will always be grateful to Debbie for including me.

The siblings next in line were Patty, Mathew and Andy. Patty was a couple years older than me and had great hair and a beautiful smile. She was always fair and inclusive. She took on the role of "mom" in a good way for the group. She'd yell at her brothers when they picked on others or would run to the aid of the underdog. The Mullers always knew she would grow up to be a great mom.

Mathew, was the tease. He probably was also the closest to being the bully of the town. He just liked to control what he could -- like all the boys who were younger than him. I remember him commanding my brother, his brother, and the Molloy boys to line up and "march" in military fashion to the bus stop. Then he would line them up in the order he thought appropriate to get on the bus. Of course he always stepped in front of the line before the bus stopped so he would get on first.

I do remember in later years, one new kid that was kinda "Woodstocky" (he had long hair) who refused to follow Mathew's commands. Shep (odd coincidence he had the same name as the dog), though being the shortest of all the boys, always stood up to Mathew. Mathew seemed in a quandary as to what to do with him. Once he may have tried to "command" his army of boys to beat him up, because I do remember some chasing going on, but Shep never let himself be bullied by Mathew, that I can remember. Many times Shep walked home alone, because the other boys were too frightened to befriend him and go against Mathew. Shep was also brilliant and articulate - kind of nerdie to us country folk. I don't think the other boys quite knew what to make of him. He could often be seen with a camera in his hand, which also made him different from us. In later years all the boys seemed to become good friends. He and my brother, Rick, still maintain a friendship. (BTW, Shep's photos are posted throughout this blog.)

Another title for Mathew Burgher, was that he was the local heartthrob. I don't know any girl that didn't "love" Mathew for a part of her life. He hooked up with Sue Henderson either late in high school or after and they had three beautiful boys together. The last I saw him he still was a tease but I don't think he commands anyone anymore.

Andy, the youngest of the Burgher brood, was just a cute little kid. Very shy and to himself, he was always quietly smiling and observing.

Growing up in a small town, the kids got to know each other well. Boys and girls usually played together in the early years. Then we divided into groups of boys and girls. Upon entering High School, we all made new friends, but would come together in the summer time for special outings. We would go to the county fair, camping, tubing on the Esopus or catch a play in Woodstock. Our age differences didn't seem to matter. The older naturally watched out for the younger. Many of the families were related, but that didn't cause a problem either. It was like we were all one HUGE family. Fathers and mothers from different families had no problem correcting those that were not theirs. Most of the time everyone respected each other. Though I do remember someone calling Mrs. Maug (Maugs were stern Germans with heavy accents) "Mrs. Maugie Daugie" because she sent her husband to yell at us for having a snowball fight in front of their home and leaving the snow in the road!

Molloys were our closest year-round neighbors. West Shokan was also home to many NYC "summer people". Chris Molloy and I became friends because we were in the same Kindergarten class and that started a great friendship that went on for years. I will never forget his offer to come in and warm up after our trek from the bus stop. He had an older sister, MaryPat; and younger brothers Kevin and Terry and later, sister, Meghan, came along.
Their yard became our early playground along with Burghers' because they had so much open land. Burghers had play equipment and sheds and cabins to entertain us.

Before we had organized recreation activities and a park, we played basketball in Molloy's driveway. We always managed to pull together enough kids to play baseball behind the Molloy's chicken coop (it never had chickens in it as far as I can remember, only lots of newspapers) or we went swimming at one of the local swimming holes.

Ingrid Opsis was our unofficial lifeguard and swimming teacher. She became our official lifeguard, swim coach, and trainer once the town pool opened.

Patty & Cathy
As the years passed, West Shokan had some new families move into town. The Finkens, lived next door to the Burghers and had at least three girls. Kay, Mary and Clare. Clare and I became friends, but they must have moved in the later years of high school because I don't remember seeing them much. I ran into Mary at church in Poughkeepsie last year, she said Kay and Clare were in the New England area.

The Shields brought a bunch of girls of who we got to know -- Holly, Cathy and Patty.  Ann Roser and I had some great times at their houses (three!) in the small plot at the bottom of High Point Mountain Road.


The Hydes moved in up on Moonhaw Road. Marjorie and Jimmy. Marjorie was wild and a smoker. Jimmy was quiet and young.

The Giuliano's lived in Boiceville first and then moved to West Shokan. They were related to the Hendersons. Dino, the dad, was known for his sales pitches. Mary, Janette, Michael and Gina were great looking kids. I can only remember once getting together with a whole gang to go Trick or Treating all over West Shokan...kids today have no idea how to walk miles like we did for candy. The goal was to make it to DeSannas where a bowl of goodies awaited us on the front porch. That same year a man gave us wax bottles filled with juice and Janette was afraid it was alcohol, so she wouldn't let us younger kids drink it.

Ann Roser and her brother Chris lived down past the library. Ann and I became close friends and remained so through just about all our school years and early 20's. We try to stay in touch to this day. She, Susan and I were a pack in the elementary years. Karen Dunn occasionally joined us at Susan's. Susan was the only daughter of Bob and Jean and lived with her brothers Robert, Ricky and Jimmy. Many nights I ate dinner at their home or watched Captain Kangaroo on their t.v. on Saturday mornings. Susan's bedroom was the coolest with a closet that went through to another room. For some reason they only lived in the upstairs of their house while the basement was above ground on the first floor. That was always strange to me.

The Steens lived down the road from us too. Vanessa, Carl, Robert and Adam moved in sometime in the elementary years. One swimming hole was across the road from their house and a popular sledding hill was just behind it. We swam, skied, skated and hung out at their home in between. They had a porch too. The older homes had porches and many times we sat and talked on those porches.

So many people, I can't recall them all. People who touched my life in so many ways throughout my impressionable years. I am happy that so many had a positive impact on my life.

As we reconnect through Facebook and emails, it is astounding to me to hear from those who were just in West Shokan for a small period of time say how much they loved being there. Of course if you asked me in my teen years what we thought we would have said we couldn't wait to get out. Thirty minutes to shopping, jobs; at least 15 minutes to the high school (not stopping). And for a girl trying to get dates from boys she met in high school it was torturous, especially when they would ask "could you meet me....???" (and that was when gas was .59 a gallon!)

Local store & Post Office

Only a local store combined with the Post Office for treats, the paper or some cold cuts and ice cream was local hangout for some of us. The Town Park came later and brought outsiders in. Not that we didn't want them, but they sure diluted our friendship pool (no pun intended.)

I think most of us look back on our years in West Shokan with a passion for calmer, quieter, slower times. Many lessons were learned without electronic gadgets and even t.v. for some. Everyone watched out for each other; included each other; and no one was fearful (too much) of anything. It was a time of unlocked front doors and keys left in cars. Sure there were disagreements and hurt feelings and we had our share of social problems, but all in all we were a family inter-related through the situations we experienced together. It was a great place to grow up...not perfect, but great.

Photo Credit to Shep Siegel fo all the photos on this page.

Friday, April 15, 2011


Today I am home taking a sick day because I had a scheduled laser surgery this morning. Nothing serious. It is a neat way to take care of varicose veins, a hereditary trait passed down from my mom. Mom had serious varicose veins. I can remember how awful they looked when I was growing up. Of course mom had seven kids, so that didn't help. I can't imagine wearing those support stockings she had to wear year round. Several of my brothers and sisters have the same problem, but none as bad as mom. Mine bothered me a bit but probably no where near as mom's did her. I decided to take care of mine while I still had good health insurance.You may be wondering what's up with my insurance...or the title to my blog.

I presently work for the New York State Tobacco Control Program. I work part time in the Community Partner aspect and the other half in Tobacco Cessation. The work is interesting and rewarding, but it's more of the behind the scenes work rather than directly helping tobacco users quit.

We are a grant funded program that came out of the lawsuits between the government and the tobacco industry. They lost and NY State gained $85 million a year to help us deal with the ramifications of tobacco use and try to prevent people from taking up this deadly habit that would most likely end in addiction and ultimately, death. This particular job has its perks. Great pay, great benefits and a sense that you are doing some good in the community. Each grant has a fiscal agent to oversee it and make sure the initiatives are met and the expenses are in line with the program. Our fiscal agent is the the Health Alliance of the Hudson Valley (aka Kingston Hospital) and when you work for a hospital, you tend to get pretty good health benefits.

All that background to say, in this time of fiscal crisis of the federal, state, and local governments, not to mention skyrocketing business expenses and daily living expenses, everyone is cutting budgets. New York State has decided to cut a huge part of the Tobacco Control Program. This is the second cut in three years and both were for 30% or more!

At the moment, we have been told $17 million has been cut from the whole program and each day we wait to hear how the TCP is going to factor that cut into our budgets. As I said, I happen to work in two of those areas. Three weeks have gone by so far and still no official word has been given. Rumors are flying. 5%, 8%, 10% cuts or the shutting down of whole modalities have all been passed along. This week we were told to cancel our recognition event. That's no big deal really as it doesn't affect our payroll. A small sigh of relief, there. I have been threatened many times over the past three years that my position may have to be cut to save the other two. The sacrificial lamb so to speak?

This all would not be such a huge dilemma if my husband, Jim was working, but while he has been looking for work, applying for jobs and gone on a few interviews, nothing has panned out. I am grateful that my job pays well enough to sustain us.

While all this appears to be a gloomy prospect, I have to fall back on the promises of the God I place my life in, to provide. He ALWAYS has in the past. Sometimes in amazing ways, sometimes in delightful, surprising ways, but always just what we needed at the time.

I have a peace in knowing something will come along. I am excited about what changes lie ahead. I rest in His arms and allow Him to carry us through.

The laser surgery was just a way to repair a problem that may have only gotten worse, while I have insurance to take care of it. I thank God for his provision both now and forever.