05/08/13 10:45am


Photos © Ann Stratton

One day walking by my neighbor Ann’s house I saw a Robin sitting atop her porch roof. The bird had her deep red breast puffed out and she was looking out over the yard and the Hudson beyond, as if she was finally home. My neighbor Ann had been away at the time and I remember thinking how I had never noticed just how beautiful the Red Robin was. Cardinals are attention seekers with their bright red feathers and flared feathered heads. One can’t help notice a Cardinal and in my home when we first start seeing Cardinals there is usually an outburst of enthusiasm, “Look! The Cardinals are back! Look Mom! That’s a female and that’s a male.” But the Robin’s beauty and presence is subtle like they have no need for accolades. They are perfectly content to go about their business with humility.

_MG_4668When Ann returned a few days later, we were sitting on her porch catching up. Out of nowhere she said, “I don’t think my Robins are coming back this year.” “Why?” I said. She pointed above us, where a cascade of honey suckle had wrapped its way around a grated pillar and atop a ledge under the porch roof sat the most perfect bird’s nest; hidden, camouflaged by the yet to bloom vines of the honey-suckle. Ann went on to say, “I haven’t seen her or her husband, I’m afraid the cats scared them away this year.” My first thought was, “How does Ann know the marital status of these birds?” My second thought was of the Robin I had seen perched on her roof just a few days earlier. “I saw her or him, I saw her the other day right on top of your porch roof!” Ann looked at me somewhat doubtful but I was sure that this was the Robin she referred to, I said, “It was like she owned the place, like she had come home. I’m telling you I saw her.” “I hope you’re right” was all she said.

My neighborhood friends and I spend a good deal of time on our porches. We talk about our lives, about Newburgh, our kids, our work or lack thereof, our physical aches and pains and how we need to open a café in Newburgh. We even take power walks together. Although, when I say “we” I am mostly referring to my two friends Ann and Erica. I will get a text at eight in the morning that reads, “We’re outside ready to walk.” Convincing them and myself the night before that I would definitely be up and ready to walk by eight; I instead sheepishly walk outside in my pajamas saying, “I’m too tired.” They both laugh and I feel good that I provided them with the humor they need to endure their power walk.

robin_eggsA few days later after our Robin conversation, Ann announced to me as I walked up on her porch, “She’s back!” I wasn’t sure which “she” Ann was referring to; I’m not good with pronouns even if they seem obvious to everyone else. I often need a little help in this area. “She who?” I said. “The Robin, the Robin is back and so is her husband.” Ann then pointed to the nest and there I saw the tail feathers of Mrs. Robin or Ms. Robin depending on how liberated she is. “Last year she laid three eggs but one of the babies got thrown out of the nest and didn’t make it. “Harsh,” I thought, “maybe Newburgh is a rough place.”

1Robin_sitting_eggsEvery day since the arrival of The Robin family there has been a little step ladder sitting outside on my neighbor’s porch. When I walk my dog past their house I often say to myself, “What is that ladder doing out there? Maybe they’ve just forgotten about it. It might get stolen; it looks like a nice one I just might take it myself.” But then when I got home one day I checked my Facebook newsfeed and there I saw a picture of Ms. Robin sitting in her nest. “Ah,ha! So that’s what the step ladder was for.” I felt like Nancy Drew and was impressed by how clever I was.

1day_oldAnn, who is also a professional photographer, has since graced her Facebook page with the progress of the Robin family. My daughter and son and I were once again on her porch one afternoon and she pointed out Ms. Robin’s husband, Mr. Robin. She said, “He stays around here or across the street watching out for her. Whenever I go up the ladder to shoot pictures, he comes sweeping in and chirping like a mad man to warn her.” We all watched Mr. Robin bouncing around on the lawn of the mansion across the street and then watched him fly to our garden next door and then back on to my friend’s lawn. Mr. Robin seemed to be checking us all out to make sure we weren’t cats dressed in people’s clothes.

6days_oldThe Robin family could not have chosen a better home than my friend’s house. While my husband and I were looking at homes to buy in Newburgh, we looked at their house several times. Our nick name for their house was The Tuscany House and not simply for its street appearance but for the back yard that looks like one of the gardens of Versailles. I know I’m mixing my Italian and French metaphors, forgive me. We could only have one nick name per house, otherwise it would have gotten too confusing to keep track. We looked at about one hundred houses.

7Days_OldAnn reported in everyday on the progress of her Robin family. Ms. Robin laid three Mediterranean- blue eggs and she sat there diligently, only moving to get food. The first and second eggs hatched and I can’t say that baby birds are cute, but they are miraculous to watch. My friend’s photos of this little bird family are thoughtful, intimate and breathtaking. Unfortunately, the last egg has yet to hatch and will probably not make it, so goes the beauty and harshness of nature. But the other two little birds are getting stronger and bigger everyday and my friend will continue to climb her ladder and be fascinated and passionate about documenting their progress. I’m blessed to live in my neighborhood, surrounded by artists, creative, loving people who see that life is in the details. So yes, Newburgh is for the birds, with all its grace and wonder and I wouldn’t have it any other way.


05/01/13 10:30am

12_1This past Sunday I had the pleasure of attending a little workshop in my neighborhood about what most of us think of as a pesky weed, the dandelion. The workshop’s focus was how to make dandelion wine! Yes, wine!

I immediately had visions of prohibition and smoked filled speakeasies; throbbing music that make your joints ache. I almost wore a flapper dress and cut my hair into a short bob, but I got a hold of myself and put on jeans and a tee-shirt. After all, it wasn’t a workshop on dandelion moonshine and bootlegging. Nor was it simply a workshop about making wine with weeds, it was also about the medicinal and edible versatility of the dandelion.

01_1The workshop was the brain-child of a gardening club, The Gardens of Newburgh. The club meets often to share botanical tips and to find ways to promote the beautiful gardens in our city. You can visit Garden Newburgh on Facebook and find out more and don’t forget to “like” them, unless of course you don’t like gardens; which would be odd since you’re reading this post. Case Wyse was asked to lead the workshop. Case is a young man who is living in Newburgh volunteering for Americorps VISTA; “a national service program designed specifically to fight poverty.” His work for VISTA also brought him to The Armory Community Garden where I first him.

02_1The workshop was held just around the block from my house at the home of Michael G. As I walked up the long driveway, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of Michael’s home. It is not unlike many of the historical homes in the city. The house and its architecture were reason enough to join this gathering. On the front door of the house was a note that read, “We’re around the back.” In the back was a group of about nine adults gathered around a picnic table. If I hadn’t known better I would have sworn I had just walked into an English garden party.

06_1But then I spotted my neighbors, one of which looks like a more refined version of The Dude from The Big Lebowski, which ironically brought me back to reality. These were the same neighbors who only an hour earlier told me that they couldn’t go to the gathering. I was a bit dismayed at my tardiness because even people who couldn’t go to the meeting got there earlier than me. Case then gathered us in a circle a few feet away from the table and with a big smile on his face he reached down and grabbed a bunch of dandelions out of the ground and told us all to grab a few too.

03_1The first thing I wanted to do was press the yellow flower against my cheek and twist and turn it until my cheek was covered in beautiful yellow rouge. Instead I turned my attention to Case who was talking about dandelions being a compositae plant and that this species of plants were made up of different flowers, ray flowers and disc flowers. Case then peeled away the green layer of the plant where the flower meets the stem and showed us the underneath part of the flower. My knowledge of scientific terms for the parts of a flower are limited so feel lucky that I can name the stem, leaf and flower.


What we discovered by peeling apart the dandelion was that beneath the yellow petals was a row of thin white strands sitting on top of a row of thin green strands. The only part of the dandelion that is used to make wine is the yellow along with the white strands, without any of the greens. Apparently the greens of the dandelion will give the wine a bitter taste. Case pulled out some of the yellow petals and took a bite and said, “If you eat the yellow flower you can taste the sweetness.” We all proceeded to eat dandelion flowers. This is a testament to Case’s passion for dandelions he didn’t even have to persuade us to eat a weed from right out of the ground. I took a bite of the flower and at first I couldn’t taste the sweetness but then with my second mouthful, I tasted the mild sweet taste of the dandelion!

Newburgh DandelionCase went on to state the various medicinal qualities, one being that the roots of the dandelion are used as a liver and blood tonic. The sap of the dandelion is used to treat skin ailments such as eczema and mild acne. He also cited the many nutritional values of the dandelion including its abundance of calcium, Vitamins A, C, and E. And dandelion greens are used often in salads and can be sautéed, adding a little lemon juice helps tame any bitterness. Listening and watching Case talk about dandelions was like listening to an artist talk about his paintings. At one point Case proclaimed his love for dandelions by saying, “This is what is so impressive about dandelions and why I love them! They bloom when the sun comes out and they close when the sun goes down. They are self pollinating and survive in the direst of circumstances.”

07_1After our workshop we all gathered inside Michael’s home to eat lavender cookies and lavender cake, baked by Lily Norton a leading member of Gardens for Newburgh. The conversation drifted away from weeds and soil and eventually led to our love of this city and the ways in which we work to preserve all the good and revive what has been broken. One conversation led to a recent quote from U.S. District Court Judge Coleen McMahon who after sentencing a member of the Bloods called the city of Newburgh “the most pathetic place in New York State.” Clearly the Judge only sees a weed, while the rest of us Newburghers see wine!

To make your own dandelion wine here is one link that can get you started, http://www.wikihow.com/
Make-Dandelion-Wine. You can also visit Pantano’s in New Paltz there website is, www.pantonsbeerwine.com

Photos by Erica Shires

04/25/13 10:00am


When I arrived on the scene at The Newburgh Armory Community Garden I was amazed at the amount of people I saw with shovels and pick-axes in their hands. What was particularly inspiring was the large turnout of teenagers. It was a chilly, early, Saturday morning and students from The Newburgh Free Academy’s ROTC program were at the garden site working to excavate the land and build beds. This was no small job but these high school students appeared happy to sweat and get their hands dirty.


The ROTC leader was Colonel Seward. The Colonel was not what one may envision when picturing a military officer. For one thing he smiled and laughed a lot and he had such an easy way about him. If he hadn’t been introduced to me as The Colonel I would have definitely taken him for a philosophy professor before a soldier. But I am sure this is due to my own short-sightedness. Oddly enough it is the same short-sightedness that the main stream media has in respect to The City of Newburgh.
Armory Collage 1Too often The City of Newburgh appears in the news as a scary and dangerous place, in which all of Newburgh’s youth are gang members, shooting it out on the streets. Rarely do we hear about all the good that is happening in this unique and vibrant community. Here were teenagers, showing up on an early Saturday morning to do some hard labor and they all looked pretty happy to be there. One young man named Ivan, a sophomore at NFA had shown up to work that day with a dislocated elbow (no he did not get it in a fight or being mugged) and when I asked him why he had come he said, “Because it’s fun.” He then proceeded to have one of his friends relocate his elbow back into place.

IMG_9679The ROTC is a community service organization run by military services. However, only about 4% of the kids who participate in ROTC actually go into the military. And within that 4% most go into the National Guard or the Reserves with the sole purpose of being able to afford college. The ROTC at NFA is run by the Air Force out of The Stewart Air Force Base. Although some parents force their children to join the ROTC most join of their own volition. When I asked Sade, a sophomore at NFA why she was out here on a chilly Saturday morning she said, “Well my parents made me join the ROTC but I ended up really liking it. It’s fun to come out here and work.”

IMG_0193I woke up Saturday morning thinking, “I can’t believe I volunteered to help build this garden.” I was tired, my back hurt and I had a cold coming on. I felt like a child going to her first day at a new school and fearing that no one would sit next to me in the cafeteria. Luckily I was wrong instead I arrived and was greeted by Deirdre Glenn, the President and CEO of the Armory Unity Center, she introduced me to two other women and pointed to the fresh hot coffee, donuts, juice and water and told me to help myself. I have to say Dunkin’ Donuts’ Munchkins with hot coffee really hit the spot before and after picking up a shovel to dig. At lunch time Deirdre supplied pizza for all of the volunteers.

I was then greeted with a big smile by Case Wyse and Jarna Maniguet all of whom seemed happy to see me even though I hadn’t gotten their information exactly right for my last article. Not knowing what I was supposed to be doing, besides eating donuts, I asked Case and Jarna where I would be most needed. I was hoping they were going to say, “Eating donuts.” But instead they handed me a shovel and I joined the rest of the troops excavating the soil. I wish I could say that I rocked at digging and swinging a pick-axe but at best I was mediocre.

Armory Collage 3The earth was tough and the cinderblocks to build the bed walls were heavy, but luckily there were a lot of young people there so that people like me could take donut and coffee breaks without hindering the progress of the job. When I left at 1:30PM there were still tons of people working and new NFA students arriving for their shifts. I asked Case how long he thought he would be there at the garden and he said, “I think I will be here until 3 in the morning.” I’m hoping some of his determination and the NFA student’s stamina and passion wear off on me. I know one thing, I was inspired by all of these volunteers and I met a lot of interesting people I plan on staying in touch with. Some of whom are doing other amazing community services in Newburgh.

IMG_9583The gardens at the Lyceum at the Dutch Reformed Church, and the La Vida garden need helping hands. Spring clean up has started but there is still work to be done and they need volunteers. All three gardens will be having their opening day on May 11, 2013, starting at 12 noon to 1:00 pm at the armory, 1:30 to 2:30 at the garden at the Lyceum at the Dutch Reformed Church, and 9:00 to 11:00am at the La Vida garden. If you are anything like me and looking for inspiration in Newburgh come on down to The Armory on South Williams Street on Saturday April 27th from 9:00 am to 2:00pm and/or Sunday April 28th from 11:00 to 2:00. Even if you can’t use a shovel or a pick-axe, come out and show moral support or at least eat a donut and have some coffee.



Photos courtesy of Erica Shires

04/17/13 11:30am


When I first moved to the City of Newburgh in March of 2012, I had dreams of starting a vegetable garden in the back yard of our 176 year old house. The only problem was that I knew and still know nearly nothing about growing vegetables. I therefore kept putting off growing vegetables much in the same way I put off opening the dozens of boxes still in my basement. I’m pretty sure I will never get to those boxes but I am determined to grow vegetables.


So this year I figured it’s time for me to dig! When I saw a posting in Newburgh Restoration for the community garden at The Armory Unity Center, I suddenly had visions of fresh green lettuces and dirty fingernails. I jumped at the chance to not only learn about growing vegetables, but also at the opportunity to become an active member in the Newburgh community.


This Saturday, April 20th, The Newburgh Armory Community Garden will start the community effort by building garden beds and sowing seeds. I will be there with my work gloves on and my children in tow, ready to sweat and get dirty from 9:00am – 1:00pm. The efforts at the garden are volunteer-driven. Garden plot prices are as follows: 4 x 10 @ $20; 4 x 20 @ $25; 10 x 25 @ 40; 20 x 20 @ $50. Children’s garden plots are 4 x 8 and are free for kids in programs at the Armory or 4H, etc. Included in the price of the beds are free seeds, free garden classes, access to tools and advice from Master Gardener Jarna Maniguet. Jarna, who is doing a fellowship from The Cornell University Cooperative Extension Orange County, will oversee The Armory’s efforts in sustainable organic gardening. Along with Jarna is Case Wise who came to the garden with an environmental degree all the way from Washington State for the sole purpose of working at the garden.

The day that I visited, in preparation for April 20th, the land behind The Armory had just been leveled. The plan includes a thoughtful design that I later saw while in the office of Deirdre Glenn, who is one of the organizers of the garden, along with being the president and CEO of The Armory Unity Center. Ms. Glenn has a calm and confident demeanor along with an unassuming passion for not only the garden but for all community efforts in Newburgh. Included in the plans are two compost sights on either end of the garden, communal herb gardens and a water tank with water barrels that Pepsi donated and for which the Fire Department of The City of Newburgh will fill with water as they have done in years past when the garden was located on the side of The Armory. The land has also been tested to ensure that there were no toxins in the ground. There are a number of other community gardens in the city that have been spearheaded by The Newburgh Armory Unity Cent. Those gardens include ones at the Dutch Reformed Church; San Miguel at Lander & Farrington, and La Vida on the corner of Chambers and First.

It was impressive to see the thought, passion and community effort that has gone and continues to go into the creating this wonderful program. I’m looking forward to developing a green thumb and I hope to see a lot of you Newburghers on the 20th . If you would like to reserve your garden plot, you can do so by calling or e-mailing (845 569-0770 x14 or DGLENN@NEWBURGHARMORY.ORG

Photos © Erica Shires