Authors Posts by Leah Dunaief

Leah Dunaief


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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Hello. Here we are again, one week later and still in the midst of COVID-19. In fact, we are in a lot deeper. I’m sure, even if we here in New York are used to being the center of everything, that it doesn’t make you a little bit happy to know we are at the epicenter of the United States pandemic. 

By the way, have you figured out how novel coronavirus morphed into  COVID-19? It was pointed out to me that the CO comes from corona, the VI from virus and the D stands for disease. The number 19 represents 2019, the year it emerged and flung itself on the unsuspecting population of the world. In fact, this new coronavirus was named by the World Health Organization.

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Robert Burns wrote that saying, and well before COVID-19. Only he said it more elegantly in “To a Mouse.” What the Scottish poet wrote was, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men/Gang aft awry.” Well, I suspect you too, like me, are feeling awry or off-balance. 

This past Sunday was to be our 44thth annual People of the Year celebration at the Three Village Inn in Stony Brook. There we would have handed out certificates and expressed appreciation to those who had worked to make our lives better during 2019. Instead all such gatherings were shut down for fear of contagion. Breakfast and luncheon appointments were cancelled, meetings were postponed indefinitely, children were home from shuttered schools and colleges, and supermarkets were swept clean of all animal protein and, would you believe, toilet paper.

This whole subject has got to be the dark comic relief of the times we are living through, as I have mentioned before. Who would have imagined that social status could be determined by how many rolls of toilet paper one possesses? Never mind Rolls Royces! Open your bathroom cabinet and let’s see how many rolls you’ve got in there. I’m happily receiving all sorts of cartoons on the subject. The latest one shows a typical family of four: — husband, wife, daughter and son, — in a subterranean room, up to their waists in rolls of the stuff, and the father asking, “Did anyone bring any food?”

There are things I have learned since this all began. I’m not talking about the big stuff, like what’s really important in life. No, more basic things. I never thought, when washing my hands, that I should also be including my wrists. I considered washing my hands to be just my hands. Now I soap up to above my wrist bone for the requisite 20 seconds, then rinse thoroughly. So if you see me and the front of my blouse is a little wet, you’ll know that I was diligent.

But you probably won’t see me, and I won’t see you because of self-isolation and social distancing. From six feet away, you won’t be able to judge the condition of my blouse. 

And by the way, how is your unsocial life going? Under the heading of learning new things, I have participated in my first Zoom session. And my second. And my third. The meetings were with the sales staff, and although we couldn’t share the cookies or pretzels usually brought by sales people to the meetings, we did get to see each others’ faces and hated the sight of our own necks.

All joking aside, I am as worried about the survival, among others, of small businesses in our villages as I am about the virus. That includes our business. It is short-term survival when revenues only trickle in and expenses continue rushing out. 

We know what we do, by delivering the latest news and vital information, is essential for the community. And in fact, so is what the other businesses do, for they make up the hearts of our villages. The government has just offered help for us to survive. We hope it arrives in time. 

Photo from METRO

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Do you feel like you are living in the “twilight zone”? Our current world would make a riveting episode for Rod Serling’s 1960s television series. Here is an example of life imitating art, with our deserted village streets, our closed schools and our shuttered shops. Only residents popping out of restaurants with takeout orders offer signs of normalcy. I keep pinching myself, but nothing changes. This is not a bad dream. This is real.

What to do besides washing our hands? Don’t know about yours, but mine are already chapped from my conscientious response.

For starters, those not in essential businesses or services are asked to stay home. What has been deemed “essential” is interesting: pharmacies, restaurants — takeout only, gas stations, banks and liquor stores. Although we are not on the list, we journalists consider ourselves committed to providing factual information for our communities during these unprecedented times, and we remain at our posts although in a somewhat reduced number to honor the new phrase “social distancing.” For more about how we are functioning, please read the adjacent editorial. We are dedicated to bringing you a regular dispassionate update on the website and of course in the newspapers.

What else?

Certainly don’t check on the value of your stocks if you own any. Better to leave your 401K and IRA out of sight for now. No need to heighten the hysteria. And how long can we bemoan lost work hours, disappearing paychecks or sales revenues that have evaporated, even as our expenses continue unabated? For whatever consolation it may offer, we are all in this together, which means rules will be adjusted. 

The federal government has made some pledges of emergency cash, perhaps within two weeks, to keep the wolf from the door. There may even be subsequent payments. The infusion of such cash should stimulate the economy albeit briefly because it would probably be immediately spent. But for most families, it won’t go that far, which is frightening. Surveys have shown that four out of 10 Americans don’t have enough cash on hand to cover an unexpected $400 emergency expense without borrowing. Since the Federal Reserve has dropped rates close to zero, it is almost painless but always dangerous to borrow. Or perhaps it is an opportunity to renegotiate a loan or mortgage?

It is easy to be afraid. Society, as we have known it, is being altered — by government officials urging us not to touch or even be near each other. We can’t send our children to school, and now child care becomes a huge headache. But perhaps it won’t be because we may not go to work either. At least we can take care of the children. We are advised to maintain in our homes the same sort of schedule as the children follow at school: study hours, physical activity, playtime. More time with our families may be a blessing in disguise. Consider that we are being isolated from each other in the age of the internet, which means access to unlimited educational and recreational sources. The idea of learning remotely and working remotely is now going to be put to the test. There could be opportunity here.

I know this is tough to hear, but being upset doesn’t help anything. If we can calm down and manage the things we do have control over while we wait for the uncontrollable to settle down, we will have a good action plan to see us through these “interesting times.” There are, after all, closets to clean, desk drawers to sort, new recipes to try, books to finally read, movies to watch — even binge on if you have a series like “The Crown,” pleasurable moments to enjoy with family and the certitude that this, too, shall pass. 

This is the time that the Earth slowed down. The frenzy of everyday life is gone. Appointments, lessons, carpools, timelines, plans are all put on hold temporarily. It is a time for us to slow down, too, take some deep breaths, perhaps permit ourselves a nap in the afternoon. The tide has gone out and we can’t pull it back. But it will return on its own and just as strong.

Of one thing we can be sure: There will be a baby boom in nine months.

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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Leave the coronavirus, Biden and Sanders behind for now and come with me to a delightful place. I will take you on my magic carpet to the largest private residence in America that is also a historic landmark: the Biltmore.

Located in Asheville, North Carolina, amid the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Biltmore is a country estate built by George Vanderbilt III in the style of a great European manor. To do so took six years of work by an army of artisans, and when the home formally opened Christmas Eve, 1895, it had four acres of floor space, 250 rooms, of which 33 were family and guest bedrooms, with 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces, three kitchens and an indoor swimming pool. In addition there were elegant furnishings, tapestries and artwork from Europe and Asia, and the home was ahead of its time with an elevator and
a refrigerator.

The mansion sat on 125,000 acres of forests, farms and a dairy, a 250-acre wooded park, five pleasure gardens and 30 miles of macadamized roadways. The architect was Richard Morris Hunt and the landscaper was Frederick Law Olmsted, known to us as the designer of New York’s Central Park. The cost to build such splendor was nearly $6 million out of Vanderbilt’s inheritance — that is about $1.6 billion today. He was then 33 years old.

Jan Aertsen van der Bilt emigrated to America in 1650 from Holland and was a farmer on Staten Island with his family. But it was Cornelius Vanderbilt ((1794-1877) who made the fabulous fortune. At 16, he borrowed $100 from his mother, or so the story goes, and started a ferry service across New York Bay. That grew into a fleet of more than 100 steamships that went as far as Central America and Europe. Appreciating the value of transportation, he eventually built a second fortune by investing in railroads, including New York Central.

He also believed in philanthropy, donating $1 million to Central University in Nashville that was renamed Vanderbilt University. Continuing with that tradition, his eldest son, William Henry Vanderbilt (1821-85), who in turn doubled the family’s assets, donating generously to the Metropolitan Opera and endowing the College of Physicians and Surgeons, the medical school of Columbia University.

And it was William Henry’s youngest son, George, born in 1862, who built the fabulous Biltmore Estate. He first visited the area in 1888 with his mother, who came to breath the healthy mountain air as a remedy for her asthma. He fell in love with its rugged beauty and decided to build his home, emulating the vast baronies of Europe, in Asheville. It was to be not only a showcase for his large art and book collections but also a retreat for entertaining and a profitable, self-supporting business. And so it is. In addition, with its thousands of original furnishings and artwork, it is an authentic picture of life during the Gilded Age. It is America’s larger version of Downton Abbey, only real.

Visitors can stay at The Inn on Biltmore Estate or other hotels on the property, and take the picturesque shuttles around the estate. There is much to see and do beyond viewing the four-story ornamental French Renaissance château-style mansion. A winery, stables offering carriage and trail rides, farms with animals, gardens, a conservatory and several restaurants and gift shops populate the acres. And flawless customer service from a large staff of some 2,300 accompanies the luxurious setting. More than 1.4 million guests visit the now downsized to 8,000 acres National Historic Landmark house, gardens, winery and village each year. And until April 7, there is an impressive exhibit of Downton Abbey, the series and movie, that further entertains. But at Biltmore, art merely imitates life.

Photo courtesy of Museum of the American Revolution

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

In this year of celebrating a century since women were granted the right to vote with the passage of the 19th Amendment, I will tell you a true tale from the dustbin of history.

Women voted for three decades after the American Revolution. They voted from 1776-1807 alongside men in, of all places, New Jersey. How do I know? Jennifer Schuessler tells me so in the Feb. 24 edition of The New York Times.

The women were only stopped from voting after “rampant fraud and corruption.” For example it seems that some men put on dresses to vote multiple times. New Jersey passed a law then, limiting voting in 1807 to white men.

Was it an early expression of gender equality or a legal loophole that enabled women — and African Americans — to vote at the dawn of our country? Or was that a myth?

The Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia located new-found poll lists that show women voted in “significant numbers” before they were denied. In August of this year the museum will open an exhibit called ironically, “When Women Lost the Vote,” featuring those documents. This is a great triumph for the museum and the tale.

While other states limited the vote to “freemen” or male inhabitants, New Jersey gave the right to vote to all “inhabitants” as long as “they” could show they had property worth 50 pounds. That ruled out most married women, whose property or income went to their husbands when they married. However, the law enfranchised many women, regardless of race, in New Jersey — or so the early story went. But where was the proof?

Then, an 1801 poll list from Montgomery Township, found in the New Jersey State Archives in Trenton, was the first real modern-day evidence of numerous women voters. The state archives had acquired the lists in 2016 “from the descendants of a long-ago county clerk.”

Now there are 18 poll lists from four New Jersey townships from 1797-1807 that have been found. Nine of them include 163 unique women’s names. The women had cast about 7.7 percent of total votes. On some lists, it was as much as 14 percent.

An interesting corollary is that the women’s names almost always appear in bunches, suggesting that women came to the polls in groups. Maybe that had something to do with the polls often being located in taverns “awash with drunkenness and guns,” according to The Times.

Philip Mead, chief historian at the Museum of the American Revolution, explained that there was difficulty in determining who met the property requirements, which contributed to the end of gender and race equality in New Jersey.

Still, Mead sees a positive message in this research for the museum’s exhibit: “In early New Jersey, we have women voting and African Americans voting. This is a story both about what we might have been, and about who we’ve become.”

It is a fitting tale to mark the end of Black History Month and the beginning of Women’s History Month.

Regina Miano and Karen Romanelli, pictured with publisher Leah S. Dunaief, accept the Reader's Choice Award on behalf of the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

As many of you know, because we have been publicizing it and because it created a bit of a buzz in town, we recently had a reception at the Three Village Inn for well over 100 guests. The purpose was to celebrate the winners of the Readers’ Choice contest in which their customers voted these select businesses the best in their business categories. It was a relaxed and fun evening where everyone seemed delighted to be there and party together and, in some cases, even to do business with each other. We had our talented videographer filming the proceedings.

What you may not know is that the video, with the winners walking the red carpet to accept their awards and to explain how they got into their respective businesses, is now up on our website for viewing. Just go to our website and you will find the window, labeled TBR Readers’ Choice 2019 Reception Videos, on the top right-hand side of the home page. When you click on that, it will open to reveal a choice. You can just watch the film in its entirety, fairly long, or by clicking on the prompts you can bring up the playlist and advance to any one of the recipients or hopscotch throughout the video. You can also pause anywhere to watch the rest later or to share.

I hope you enjoy this second look if you were there — or perhaps first look if you weren’t — at this jolly community event, which we will make an annual. It is an index of some of the best businesses in the local area and, I hope, an encouragement to shop locally.

We are now clearly in the events business. Readers’ Choice was our third theme, the other two being the longstanding reception for People of the Year, our 44th, coming up March 22 at the Three Village Inn, and Cooks, Books & Corks, our other annual event, at which we have delicious tastings from local restaurants combined with books presented for sale by local authors. “Corks,” of course, refers to the libations that accompany the meals. CB&C will again be held in September at the Bates House in Setauket.

Now you might be surprised that we have wholeheartedly embraced the events business. It certainly is a wonder to me. We started our professional life here on the North Shore of Long Island as a community newspaper. I liked to write, didn’t like to be edited up the line, as I was when I was working at Times Inc. in New York City, loved the villages and meeting residents, and felt we had something to offer that wasn’t already here. Over the past four-plus decades, we have taken pride in advancing the interests of our hometown, communicating the news, issues and entertainment offerings, and strengthening the sense of community. We have also struggled mightily to stay afloat financially so that we could do all those things.

We all know that newspapers — and other news media as well — have been totally disrupted by progress. The publishing industry has changed; retail, the backbone of newspapers, has been disrupted by the digital world, and we have had to grow and change, too. Those who resist change are left behind.

So just as we are now in the moviemaking business (“One Life to Give,” prequel to the Culper Spy story — be sure to see it when it screens next as it’s quite a story and will make you proud of where you live), and the video business, we can assert that we are in the events sector. These activities fit with our mission to inform our residents because they offer something of interest, and they enhance our sense of community. They also help us to do our main job of relaying the news and to pay our bills. Therefore, we are beginning to plan for our next event, Rising Stars, and you will be hearing and reading more about that soon. Please stay tuned.

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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

This coming Monday my husband and I would have celebrated 57 years of marriage. Except we won’t because he died 32 years ago, just shy of our 25th anniversary. This means that I have been unmarried longer than I was a wife, which makes me something of an expert-of-one on the subject of marrying or being single. It also explains my riveted reading of “They’re More than Happy Not to Get Married,” in the Sunday Styles section of this past week’s New York Times. Say, what?

First, we ought to consider how the idea and institution of marriage have incredibly changed over the last century. Indeed, we have lived through a marriage revolution. I was 22 when I became a bride, considered young today. At the time, my mother told me just before the ceremony, as she was helping me get into my gown, that “I had just missed being an old maid.” After all, she was entitled to that perspective since she married in 1925 at 17.

There was never any question that I would marry. Pretty much all of us in my class expected to marry shortly after graduation. The only question was whom we would marry, and the answer was usually whoever we had been dating — usually chastely — for the preceding couple of years. And we certainly wanted to have our children before we turned 30 and, as women, our reproductive prospects began to dim. One close friend even married before senior year ended and was already pregnant as she crossed the stage to receive her diploma from the college president.

It was the same expectation for men. My husband-to-be was in his last year of medical school. Yup, time to get married. We followed the script, set down by our respective parents and society. The one or two people we overheard saying that they didn’t want to get married or to have children were dismissed as simply being odd. Looking back on it now, it took courage to make either declaration in most of the 20th century.

Welcome to the 21st century, where marriage is considered something of a quaint option. Living together? How romantic! Been together 10 years? You must like each other. Have two children together? How nice. No one thinks to call them by a derogatory name. There is no shame in their unmarried parental state. Oh, decided to marry after these many years? Lovely. Your younger daughter can be the flower girl, your son the ring bearer.

In fact, according to the NYT article written by Hilary Sheinbaum, we’ve gone even further from the centuries’ old norm. Many women are opting out of relationships and finding they prefer to be single, is the latest word on the subject. “Instead of moping over singledom or aggressively trying to find partners with arbitrary deadlines in mind, they are declaring to be happily unmarried and proudly find solace in living solo,” she said. This is despite the many dating apps, matchmakers and sometimes astonishingly frank and graphic love advice out there in magazines, books or Google. And despite raging hormones.

“When you’re not seeking partnership, you are in a very relaxed calm inner space and generally more comfortable with who you are,” said Carla Manly, a clinical psychologist who specializes in relationships and self-awareness and was quoted in the Times. 

“A lot of times in relationships, you need to make sacrifices. You don’t have any sacrifices to make when you are on your own. You make all the decisions,” said Genesis Games, another therapist. 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as recently as 2016, 110.6 million U.S. residents at least 18 years old were unmarried. That is about one-third our population. Women made up 53.2 percent of that number. Many of them might agree with that sentiment.

So, being the self-proclaimed expert on the subject, how do I feel? Yes, being in complete control of one’s own life, at least as far as relationships go, has its satisfactions. It makes for a wonderfully selfish existence. Best of all, however, is to have a choice. 

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

This is a happy tale about a lifesaving rescue that particularly pleases me. It must also have pleased The New York Times since the paper gave it a full-page spread under the National news banner this past Monday. The hero is an unlikely 71-year-old retired computer programmer and labor economist named Carl Butz. A fourth-generation Californian, he was aware, like the some 300 other residents of Downieville in the mountainous northern countryside, that the local newspaper, the state’s oldest weekly, was folding with the retirement of its publisher. We know that newspapers across America have been dying, especially in rural areas, and this Sierra County town, like a movie set preserved from the Old West days, was about to become the latest “news desert.”

Downieville’s weekly, The Mountain Messenger, was founded in 1853 and was as constant a fixture over the years as a Thursday is in every week. Mark Twain wrote several articles for the paper that were “a few unremarkable stories,” according to the Messenger’s former publisher, Don Russell, who had run the paper for nearly 30 years and read Twain’s stories on microfilm before he sold it to Butz. “They were awful. They were just local stories, as I recall, written by a guy with a hangover.” Twain was reportedly hiding out there from the law, or so the legend goes.

Then one night Butz, a recent widower, was watching “Citizen Kane” on cable, and had an epiphany. “I can do that,” he decided. He made a deal quickly with Russell, who was a good friend, to pay in the “four figures,” plus assuming some of the paper’s debts, and he never looked at the books. Russell told him he was “a romantic idealist and a nut case,” because the paper was a losing proposition “and someone who would want it would be crazy.”

So why did he do it?

In a letter to the readers of the first edition, Butz explained. “Simply put, the horrible thought of this venerable institution folding up and vanishing after 166 years of continuous operation was simply more than I could bear.” The newspaper was “something we need in order to know ourselves.” The rest of the residents felt the same way, apparently, and the editor of an online news site in town said, “It was devastating for everybody that we were going to lose The Mountain Messenger.”

The paper’s publishing software, Butz learned, was from the mid-1990s. There was no website, no social media platform. The only other employee, Jill Tahija, has been with the paper 11 years and takes to work her small black-and-white dog, Ladybug. Tahija’s
business card reads, “She who does the work.” 

The paper relies mostly on legal notices, from the county and other government offices, which bring in about $50,000 for the bulk of its revenue, has about 700 subscribers throughout the county and a print run of 2,400. “I’m not going to lose a million dollars but I know I’m going to have to subsidize some of it,” the new owner said. “My daughter is already aware that her inheritance is shrinking.”

Butz’s first edition was filled with the usual complement of local news stories: a supervisor’s meeting, wildfire prevention, the upcoming census and a local poetry competition. Russell, meanwhile, was on vacation with his wife, driving his RV up the coast — probably his first time off in three decades.

Downieville has become a popular destination as an old Gold Rush town at a fork of the Yuba River in distant western Sierra County. It has a corner saloon, one-lane bridges over the river, and the newspaper is located in a second-story office above a beauty salon on Main Street and next to the fire department, whose sign on the door reads, “Oldest volunteer fire department west of the Mississippi.” Gold mining and sawmills were once the economic engine. Now it relies on mountain biking and fly fishing. And the paper is a repository of the county’s history, with its vast archives. 

Carl Butz has become to the The Mountain Messenger what Jeff Bezos is to the The Washington Post: A savior who cares who we were and where we are going. 

I understand him.

Image from YouTube

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

This was the week that was. And what a week of atypical news it was. Let’s start with the coronavirus and its progression toward a pandemic. The global death toll stood at 492 as of Wednesday morning, according to NBC News, and confirmed cases top 24,000 in mainland China. More than 185,000 people are currently under medical observation, Chinese health officials said. Hundreds of U.S. nationals were removed from locked-down Wuhan and have arrived in the United States, as two more rescue planes landed at Travis Air Force Base in Northern California. Passengers will be quarantined for 14 days before being released. So far, there have been 11 cases in the U.S. Trailing China with confirmed cases are Japan with 35, Singapore with 28, Thailand with 25 and South Korea with 19. But the virus has definitely spread beyond Asia and has been found in Germany, France, Britain, the United Arab Emirates, Sweden, Finland and beyond. There are even 10 passengers with the virus from a cruise ship quarantined off the coast of Japan. Another cruise ship, with 3,600 aboard, has been quarantined in Hong Kong. 

While there is talk of work on a coronavirus vaccine, health professionals agree it will take up to a year before such a vaccine would be available to the general public.

A traditional news event with an unusual twist was the president’s State of the Union address Tuesday night in the House of Representatives that had voted to impeach him. Extreme partisanship was on display at the start when President Donald Trump (R) did not shake hands with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D) — second in the line of succession to the highest office next to Vice President Mike Pence (R). Then the speaker tore up a text of the speech as the cameras were rolling immediately at the end of the president’s talk.

As residents listened for the results of the Iowa caucuses, the first indication of voter sentiment in a presidential election year, the new app relaying the results that the Iowa Democratic Party planned to use broke down, and those trying to log in or download it had no training for the task. Fortunately, there seems to be paper backup for the votes, but it takes time for the voting cards to be counted by hand. According to partial returns so far, still only 71 percent, former Vice President Joe Biden is trailing the other three leaders: Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and the youngest candidate at age 38, has a slim and unpredicted lead over Sen. Bernie Sanders followed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Even as people await the final results, the scene is now shifting to the second voting site and the first primary in the nation, that of New Hampshire.

Back in Washington, the vote in the Senate to impeach the president was another historic and unprecedented news item. The partisan wrangling in the House and Senate between the two major parties has been constantly on display throughout the impeachment hearings the past months. The drama was put forth with an eye to the coming elections and promises a hard and bitter fight from now until November.

A little bit of relief was provided by the annual football contest, the Super Bowl, this past Sunday evening. For those who watched, the fourth quarter provided much excitement and an intensity that blocked out even the loudest grim news. Three cheers for the 24-year-old quarterback, Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs, who brought his team back from defeat and became the youngest winner of both a Super Bowl and a regular season NFL (2018) MVP award.

Then there is Harvey Weinstein and the trial that, for me, is too much in the news. The constant stream of rape details that are being eagerly reported is a nauseating backdrop for the aforementioned news. There will undoubtedly be a movie.

Speaking of movies, the Academy Awards, popularly known as the Oscars, are coming this Sunday, and they should provide distraction from the heavier events. And isn’t it interesting to learn from a recent news article, that there are probably more than 10 million American nudists? See, you can find happy news if you just try. 

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Here is our first invitation for you in the new year. You are cordially invited to a lovely reception at the historic Three Village Inn in Stony Brook village next Wednesday, Feb. 5, from 6 to 8 p.m., during which time we will honor the first prizewinners of our TBR Readers’ Choice 2019 contest. Tickets are $60 a person. Last year we asked you to fill in a questionnaire telling us your favorite businesses and professionals in some 100 categories, ranging from accountant, attorney and acupuncturist through the alphabet to winery, women’s clothing, yoga studio and veterinarian.

We supplied you with an entry form, a full page in our six newspapers — and only in our newspapers rather than on our website and social media — to encourage you to pick up the newspapers and see what you have been missing if you have only been reading us online. That meant you had to mail in or bring in the completed entry forms to our office, an added task in this age of transactions routinely completed over the internet. Most of the entries were mailed in via the U.S. Postal Service, what we have come to call “snail mail.”

We didn’t know what to expect.

To our delight, we received 2,525 nominations over the course of the weeks the contest ran. After we tabulated the responses from Huntington, Greenlawn and Northport, Smithtown, Kings Park, St. James and Lake Grove, Port Jefferson and Port Jefferson Station, Sound Beach, Rocky Point and Miller Place, Yaphank and Centereach, Stony Brook and Setauket and more, we were delighted to publish the winners in a special supplement at the close of the year.

Now we are celebrating those “No. 1’s” at the aforementioned reception next Wednesday evening. In addition to the individual businesses and services, we are celebrating much more. We are proudly calling attention to the fact that retail is not dead. That newspapers are not dead. That the Post Office is not dead. That communities, of which businesses are a central part, are vibrant. And that shopping locally is an important part of our residents lives.

I think we made a point. Several points, in fact.

Now comes “Thank You.” Thank You to all who took the time to express their appreciation for their favorite businesses, business owners and managers by sending in the entries. Thank You to those business owners and professionals who faithfully serve their clientele — the winners and the many who were also nominated but perhaps lost by a vote or two. We are mentioning the latter group in this week’s issue with their own supplement. And Thank You to the fabulous staff of Times Beacon Record for the many hours they put in to tabulate the results, design and send out invitations and certificates, field calls asking for information and countless other tasks, including selling advertising in support of the effort to salute local shopping.

So consider these two supplements — the winners and those also nominated — as lists of preferred local establishments whose services come recommended. And think of others who might have been improperly overlooked but who can be voted in for the Best of 2020.

While you are thinking, come to the party. There will be music, lights, camera, action and, of course, food. A red carpet will be provided for the winners to walk on as they come to the podium for their framed certificates. They will be videoed and then shown on our website for the next couple of months, photographed and appear in subsequent editions of our newspapers and otherwise be toasted. 

Best of all, this is another chance for the community to get together and enjoy each other. We, as the publishers of the community newspapers and digital media, work to enhance the sense of community in the areas we serve. This is the first of several events we plan to offer you this year.

We hope to see you, our readers, the winners, those also nominated, the many who sent in the nominations, and other members of the neighborhood at the party. Valet parking will be provided. Go to our website,, or call us at 631-751-7744 and order tickets now. Thank You. 

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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

The impeachment trial of President Donald Trump in the Senate was not the cause of Blue Monday this week. An idea first introduced to the world in a press release in 2005, Blue Monday was named the most depressing day of the year. Typically, the third Monday of January, but it can be the second or the fourth, Blue Monday is the confluence of several downers. We can certainly guess what they are.

For starters, there is the darkness and the weather. We are in the first full month after the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. That, combined with the traditionally coldest month, makes for a lot of storms, gloom and shut-ins. Even if we are fortunate, as we have been so far this year — there haven’t been so many storms — we know they are coming.

Then there are the holiday bills. This is when credit charges begin arriving, along with their urgency to be paid. We had a wonderful time, for the most part, during the celebratory days of December. Time to pay the piper.

Right around now is also when our New Year’s resolutions begin to fade. Reality sets in with an awareness of how truly hard it is to break bad habits. Easier to slip back into the old ways, especially as a treat during the awful weather.

As we look ahead into the new year, there are no big holidays to anticipate — nothing larger than St. Valentine’s Day, a Hallmark holiday after all. And then there are the coming taxes. Property tax deadline has just passed, emptying our bank accounts but April 15 will be coming up faster than our savings might grow. Not all of us get refunds — quite the contrary.

So here are five things we can do to offset the alleged challenges of the season. They are proposed by a Buddhist monk in his book, “Love for Imperfect Things: How to Accept Yourself in a World Striving for Perfection,” and they speak to self-care. Haemin Sunim, who has taught Buddhism at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, according to a recent article in The New York Times, goes beyond the obvious advice of exercising, eating well and getting enough sleep.

First, start by taking a deep breath. As we think about our breathing, it becomes deeper, giving us a sense of calm no matter what is happening around us.

Next comes acceptance “of ourselves, our feelings and of life’s imperfections.” When we struggle to overcome difficult emotions, the struggle intensifies. But if we start by accepting those emotions, allowing them to be there, the mind quiets.

Writing is a third suggestion from the monk. This one, of course, speaks to me. Write down what is troubling or what we need to do, then leave the load on paper and get a good sleep. The list will be there and help to direct our actions in the morning. I have found this therapeutic when I wake up in the middle of the night herding a multitude of thoughts. I keep a pen and pad on the bedside table and I offload the burdens. In the morning, if I can read my writing, I can usually figure out how to proceed.

Talking is also important. How do I know what I think until I have heard what I’ve said? Somehow talking out a situation makes it clearer. There has to be a totally nonjudgmental and trustworthy friend who will listen, of course.

Last on the top 5 is walking: “When you sit around thinking about upsetting things, it will not help you. If you start walking, our physical energy changes and rather than dwelling on that story, you can pay attention to nature — a tree trunk, a rock. You begin to see things more objectively, and oftentimes that stress within your body will be released,” the monk said.

Even if we have no issues at the moment, we certainly feel better after taking a walk.