Archive for January, 2009

poem: Letter Home

I love you forever
my father’s letter tells her
for forty-nine pages,
from the troopship crossing the Atlantic
before they’d ever heard of Anzio.

He misses her, the letter says,
counting out days of boredom, seasickness,
and changing weather,
poker games played for matches
when cash and cigarettes ran out,
a Red Cross package—soap,
cards, a mystery book he traded away
for The Rubaiyyat a bunkmate didn’t want.
He stood night watch and thought
of her. Don’t forget the payment
for insurance, he says.

My mother waits at home with me,
waits for the letter he writes day by day
moving farther across the ravenous ocean.
She will get it in three months and
her fingers will smooth the Army stationery
to suede.

He will come home, stand
beside her in the photograph, leaning
on crutches, holding
me against the rough wool
of his jacket. He will sit
alone and listen to Aïda

and they will pick up their
interrupted lives. Years later,
she will show her grandchildren
a yellow envelope with
forty-nine wilted pages telling her

of shimmering sequins on the water,
the moonlight catching sudden phosphorescence,
the churned wake that stretched a silver trail.

“Letter Home” by Ellen Steinbaum, from Container Gardening. © Custom Words, 2008.


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you are responsible

Over the past year, it has become increasingly clear to me that City Government is not so much a series of decisions and actions, but an ongoing conversation between staff, elected officials, the media and our residents. One would hope it is a thoroughly informed discourse, as this dialogue certainly shapes our fortunes. Perception is 9/10’s of reality. With that said, I am reminded of the motto of the Christopher Society, “It is better to light one candle than curse the darkness.” Interestingly, the Christopher Society was founded by a Jesuit priest who worried about the power of the media to promote violence and negativity. He started a group to honor people in the worlds of books, TV and films who manage to do creative, high-quality work that’s also positive and uplifting.

We all must strive to be so inspired.

Be the flame. We deserve light.

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are you listening?


Refuse to fall down.
If you cannot refuse to fall down,
refuse to stay down.
If you cannot refuse to stay down
lift your heart toward heaven
and like a hungry beggar,
ask that it be filled,
and it will be filled.
You may be pushed down.
You may be kept from rising.
But no one can keep you from lifting
your heart toward heaven — only you.
It is in the middle of misery that
so much becomes clear.
The one who says nothing good came of this,
is not yet listening.  

– clarissa pinkola estés


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Wage peace with your breath. Breathe in firemen and rubble,
breathe out whole buildings and flocks of red wing blackbirds.

Breathe in terrorists and breathe out sleeping children and freshly mown fields.

Breathe in confusion and breathe out maple trees.

Breathe in the fallen and breathe out lifelong friendships intact.

Wage peace with your listening: hearing sirens, pray loud.

Remember your tools: flower seeds, clothes pins, clean rivers.

Make soup.

Play music, memorize the words for thank you in three languages.

Learn to knit, and make a hat.

Think of chaos as dancing raspberries, imagine grief as the outbreath of beauty 
or the gesture of fish. Swim for the other side.

Wage peace.

Never has the world seemed so fresh and precious: Have a cup of tea and rejoice.

Act as if armistice has already arrived.

Celebrate today.

– judyth hill – september 12, 2001

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The following are my thoughts regarding the zoning report generated by the self-appointed “ad hoc volunteer committee”.

The preliminary report was not prepared by a committee designated by the Common Council or by the Planning Commission as required by the City of Amsterdam Charter and General Municipal Law. This formal designation is a must for any board “appointed or elected … for the purpose of administering designated City functions or advising on matters of continuing City interest, or in assisting in the making of City governmental policy.”

The process used to arrive at the proposed amendments does not appear to have involved a formal deliberative and well-documented planning process. Nor did the process involve any public outreach and stakeholder coordination. Again, the same individuals that so eagerly wish to unilaterally take on this project had been unwavering in their efforts to locate the unpopular C&D landfill within city limits, despite public outcry by a majority of city residents.

The process did not include a thorough evaluation of what does and does not work in the current zoning law, nor did it allow for an analysis of the potential implications of the proposed changes on the rest of the zoning law. The drafted legislation has been produced in isolation of the rest of the code and this may result in unintended consequences in other sections.

This rush to piecemeal legislation together over a holiday weekend indicates that the “ad hoc committee” does not fully understand the scope of work proposed or the impact this project will have on the future of our community. We are not in need of a parlor trick – this dramatically important task requires a thoughtful, methodical approach.

Surprisingly, Mr. Going continues to voice his doubts that zoning is necessary at all, citing Houston, TX as an example of unfettered growth without zoning. Certainly we are comparing apples to oranges here, but given the opportunity to contrast our situation with Houston is interesting territory. It is important to note that Houston is known for its sprawling suburbia, as well as automobile dependence, pollution and congestion. Lest we get a skewed perception of Houston’s handling of property development, it does have land-use regulations and deed restrictions enforced by the city in lieu of zoning ordinances and there has been a significant push for zoning in that city for years.

Granted, there are lessons we may learn from Houston; we must look to pedestrian-friendly planning and a permitting process that is stream-lined, affordable and compatible with evolving residential/commercial markets.

The Saratoga Associates proposal provides for a complete revision to the zoning ordinance along with any necessary changes to the zoning map as opposed to an outline of the proposed changes presented so far. It is critical that we involve a cross section of professional planners along with architects, landscape architects, engineers and land use and zoning attorneys when revising zoning regulations to ensure the various aspects of the development regulations are addressed by appropriate professionals.

Saratoga Springs and Glens Falls didn’t evolve into the attractions they are now because of unrestricted growth; they are growing out of land use planning, ordinances and controls. Again, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We need to follow the path of success.

I am gratified to see that the volunteering individuals are finally embracing the Comprehensive Plan and are beginning to recognize the importance of a revitalized downtown, both initiatives I have been advancing since my campaign and throughout my first year of office. One wonders why these individuals did not take the opportunity to offer their expertise to our Downtown Development Committee, the Via Ponte Committee, the Waterfront Commission or the Master Plan Committee, which have been meeting over the past year. And don’t forget, we’re still looking for volunteers to the Assessment Board of Appeals.

I feel strongly that we should move forward with our efforts to revamp the zoning ordinances because I believe so fervently in the future of our city. I will canvas for additional proposals from professionals so that we may base our decision on cost comparisons, but I encourage the Council to act sooner than later to award a contract. The process will take at least six months to complete and we have waited much too long as a community to confront this problem.

To those of you wishing to read more on this fascinating topic, I recommend A Better Way to Zone: Ten Principles to Create More Livable Cities, by Donald L. Elliott. This small book is vast in history and wisdom.

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by Wendell Berry

I would not have been a poet
except that I have been in love
alive in this mortal world,
or an essayist except that I
have been bewildered and afraid,
or a storyteller had I not heard
stories passing to me through the air,
or a writer at all except
I have been wakeful at night
and words have come to me
out of their deep caves
needing to be remembered.
But on the days I am lucky
or blessed, I am silent.
I go into the one body
that two make in making marriage
that for all our trying, all
our deaf-and-dumb of speech,
has no tongue. Or I give myself
to gravity, light, and air
and am carried back
to solitary work in fields
and woods, where my hands
rest upon a world unnamed,
complete, unanswerable, and final
as our daily bread and meat.
The way of love leads all ways
to life beyond words, silent
and secret. To serve that triumph
I have done all the rest.

“VII” from the poem “1994” by Wendell Berry, from A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979–1997. © Counterpoint, 1998.

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I’ve recently added a bunch of links off of this site. It is helpful for me to remember that a cacophonous world of creative, enlightened, knowledgeable, sometimes discerning voices is readily connected to. This puts local radio chatter into perspective.

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anyone you know?

“A cynic is not merely one who reads bitter lessons from the past, he is one who is prematurely disappointed in the future.”

Sidney J. Harris

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okay, cliché

So, let’s go on the premise that every cliché that has ever been repeated is ever so true.

They are.

Time screams by faster and faster the older you get, you’re wiser and know less, no good deed goes unpunished and happiness is not getting what you want, it’s wanting what you have.

Let’s examine each opine.

The time thing… OMG! This past year flew with extraordinary velocity; a chaotic sprint from January to December. Weather and nature analogies abound… the first few months were a crushing avalanche of people desiring to wish me well (or not); to meet with me for the first time (or not); to share aspirations, information, fears or just warm the seat in front of my desk. Many were clamoring, insistent, or angry. Many more were beacons of bright hope, humor and peace. All were teachers in one way or another. Warmer months brought a storm of unexpected minutia, each larger goal slowed by a stinging rain of untended administrative tasks that had languished for years. This was coupled with an ever-present gale of misinformation, conceit or intentional opposition to my every stab at change. The whole year ended in a tornado of activity. I often felt as though I had been standing in the eye of the storm, watching the whirling world of work pass in a dizzying maelstrom. Sometimes I’d catch a glimpse of a fence post, a car bumper, a chicken, or Auntie Em. It was enough to just hang onto the desk and let it spin.

I’d smile or gripe. We’d frequently laugh, and still do.

You see, I’m older and somewhat galvanized, the gift of crusty age. Again and again, I am brought back to a place of gratitude. What surprises me is that, despite the maddening negativity that sometimes surrounds me, I am not yet without optimism. I must not be as old as I look! I still believe we can change our fortunes if we work toward a common goal. I still see the beauty of this City that graces the hills overlooking the Mohawk. And I’m more certain than ever that we will make this happen sooner than later.

This is why. No good deed goes unpunished.

I get plenty of pokes from the unhappy. If those that oppose me are doubtful, often vocal or push back, we must be moving off of square one. I mean, there are plenty of people that are awfully uncomfortable with what my team is attempting. The status quo are steadfast in their desire to see this venture fail, or flail, or me fall with my skirt up over my head. But you see, I’ve taken that fall and it wasn’t such a big deal. You fall. You stand up. Straighten the skirt. Take note of the stone that tripped you up. Pick it up and throw it away. Or keep it and build a walkway. There will be plenty of stones along the way.

And stones make me happy. They are gifts of the earth, hard and sure. They are silent, cool to the touch, laden with possibility. They are nothing and everything. They will mark our passing.

Tomorrow, when I walk into work, I will run my hand along the cool, red brick of the building and think of all that have passed before me. I will enter the threshold and start in on the new year. I will remember that I have been given what I wanted and I will want what I have. I pray that we will all truly see the gift of what we’ve been given in this City.

God bless the fossilized sea of bedrock that Amsterdam clings to and God bless this new year.

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