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Between You and Me

Pixabay photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Help. I have a strange problem and to this point can’t find the solution. The man who nicely takes care of our pool said that he removed 600 dead frogs last week. That’s more than the previous week, which yielded more than the week before. The problem is worsening as I write. My neighbor’s pool, according to his estimation, had 2,000 dead frogs, and so on at other houses in the area. I suppose there is some comfort in knowing that others are having the same intrusion, but actually not much. Even as I respect and enjoy nature, I would like to have the pool water for my family and not share it with dead amphibians.

The pool guy suggested I call an exterminator, which I did. I happen to know a competent one, who confessed to me after hearing my story that in his 35 years of being in business, he had never heard of such a predicament. “Call a pool guy,” he suggested. So we are right back to square one. He did kindly offer to call an expert entomologist he knew. I was grateful for the suggestion but I haven’t heard anything back from him as of this writing. 

I tried to think of someone else who might have dealt with this situation before and finally came up with the answer man (and woman) for any questions concerning our house: the good folks at the local hardware store. Ben at Ace Hardware tried hard to think of a method for dealing with hundreds of frogs and after much thought, gave me a mesh screen to tie to the side of the pool and hang into the water. The theory goes like this. The frogs are dying because they can’t get out. Maybe they hatched in the pool, maybe they just jumped in because it has been so hot. Either way, the smooth sides don’t permit them to escape. So if we give them a way to exit, they will leave. At least, that’s the hope. We’ll try that. I like it because it’s nontoxic. 

My son and daughter-in-law looked for a clue to this unprecedented dilemma on Google. They came up with a couple of answers that we will also try. One is to spray the bricks around the pool with white vinegar. Apparently, frogs don’t like vinegar on their feet. Or maybe they don’t like the smell. In any event, we have a gallon of white vinegar and a spray bottle, and we’re going to give it a go. Google also suggested giving the frogs a way out. It even suggested a froggy ladder, which they happened to sell, and we then dutifully bought. Worth a try. 

Other suggestions, with our responses:

Turn off the pool lights. Lights attract insects, which in turn attract frogs, who eat the insects.

We don’t use pool lights. We like the insect-eating part though.

Cover the pool.

We want to use it.

Install fence.

We have a fence with posts widely enough spaced for a squadron of frogs to march through. We could, however, put wooden boards or chicken wire at the base to keep them from hopping in.

Keep lawn mowed and free of weeds and debris.

Already do that. Neighbors will bear witness.

Make own DIY frog repellent.

If vinegar doesn’t work, will try a heavy concentration of saltwater. Or a mixture of bleach and water. Maybe all three.

Sprinkle coffee grounds around the pool. Acid in the coffee can also irritate their feet.

Yuk.

Keep pool water circulating. Frogs don’t like to lay eggs in moving water.

We could do that by keeping the filter going all day and night. It’s an expensive solution, however, because it would require a lot of electricity.

Keep the pool heated.

Ditto.

Keep pool sparkling clean.

We try.

When I was a kid, I dreamt of having a swimming pool. The frogs were not in my dream. It could be worse though. Australia is presently undergoing a plague of mice.

Any help for us?

Pixabay photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Vacations are wonderful. That’s stating the obvious. But vacationing now, in largely post-pandemic times, brings a special kind of joy. I felt it because I have just come back from vacation with a sense of happiness and peace that I wish I could bottle. And I just happened to read an article that speaks to this very subject, the “rush of a real vacation.” 

Now you might think it’s the result of breaking out after almost a year and a half of pandemic distancing, of masking and zooming and otherwise limiting and isolating ourselves. We did that, these last 10 days, driving up the New England coast slowly and spending quality time in Maine. We certainly enjoyed the freedom of the open road, stopping where we had a notion, taking back country routes on impulse, drinking in those picturesque harbor towns, eating lobster rolls, taking pictures of lighthouses. After relative confinement, that was exhilarating. 

But there was more to the experience than that. The article I read, “There’s a Specific Kind of Joy We’ve Been Missing,” by organizational psychologist Adam Grant in the July 10 issue of The New York Times, talks of collective effervescence. This is a concept introduced in the early 20th century by the sociologist Emile Durkheim describing “the sense of energy and harmony people feel when they come together in a group around a shared purpose.” 

So if you are participating in a brainstorming session with colleagues, enjoying a baseball game or a movie with new seatmates or even chatting with a stranger on a train, there is the joy of connection. That didn’t happen during the dark days of COVID-19, although there was some of that early in NYC when people were clapping and banging pots and pans with spoons at 7 p.m. every night to honor hospital workers. And it didn’t happen on Zoom, where the common response after several meetings was fatigue.

We stopped for dinner one night on the way up the seashore in Portland, where we met with an editor who had worked at The Village Times 30 years ago. She took the ferry over from one of the offshore islands and had a lobster roll with us in DiMillo’s restaurant. That eatery used to be the Martha Jefferson, a Mississippi River paddle cruiser for sightseeing and parties on Port Jefferson harbor more than 50 years ago. The present owners bought the old boat, tidied it up, anchored it permanently at the Portland docks and have over the years turned it into a seafood palace.

We spent three days in Camden, a charming fishing village with loads of tourist stores to wander in and out of, which we didn’t do but did enjoy a sailboat ride in a 36-foot schooner that we shared with a family from Alabama. There were a number of people visiting from the Deep South whom we met and chatted with, several owning summer homes in Maine. They drove the considerable distance, like us, enjoying the liberating journey. I want to salute an especially fine restaurant there, in Rockland, called Primo, started by a woman originally from Long Island, that serves farm-to-table food in delicious fashion. Diners can also tour her lush gardens in the rear. Ask for the Russian kale salad for an unusual treat. And if it’s your thing, enjoy the Farnsworth Art Museum, with its impressive collection of three generations of Wyeths.

We loved our time in Bar Harbor (or as they say, Bah Hahbba), and especially Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island. If you go, know that you will need a ticket in advance if you wish to see a famed sunrise or a sunset from the summit of Cadillac Mountain.

I have always enjoyed chatting with strangers while waiting in lines or riding in elevators, among other conducive situations. I learn all sorts of information, usually useless but not always, this way. Friends I have been with will bear witness to this voluble habit. I hadn’t realized how much I had missed those casual conversations until this trip. I certainly agree with the theory of collective effervescence put forth by Durkheim a century ago. And we awarded the title of best lobster roll, after many samplings, to McLoons Lobster Shack of South Thomaston, in the friendly state of Maine.

Stock photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

A number of small local businesses applied for and received, in the course of the pandemic, money to pay their employees as their customers and revenues dwindled. Some $800 billion was made available by the federal government through the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP as it was known for short, and overseen by the Small Business Administration. The actual lenders were banks, 5,200 of them, and they made a small percentage on what they loaned.

But according to an analysis in The New York Times, that was nothing compared to what two newcomers made as they rushed to the scene. These two companies pocketed more than $3 billion in fees, and they weren’t even lenders. It was all legal. Here’s how they did it.

Since the banks were getting a percentage of what they loaned, for each set of paperwork processed, they logically favored making larger loans for their efforts. These invariably went to larger companies. The result was that the smallest companies, asking for the smallest amounts of money, who were perhaps the ones most needing the help, were overlooked. Blueacorn was founded last year to help companies get PPPs. “Tiny businesses, self-employed individuals and minority communities are left out in the cold,” explained the CEO to The NYT.

The federal government realized this discrepancy and, last December, raised the fees for small loans, later encouraging even unprofitable solo businesses to ask for help. Both Blueacorn and the second company, Womply, which already existed but in a different niche, rushed to advertise their processing services with the PPP on behalf of these tiny businesses. Their ads were on New York City subways, billboards and Facebook, according to NYT reporters Stacy Cowley and Ella Koeze, offering “free money for those who qualify.” During that time, from late February to May 31, the companies processed 2.3 million loans, with most less than $17,000, and then turned them over to banks. 

Those interested banks, now promised by the government 50% of loans valued at less than $50,000, with fees up to a maximum of $2,500, could find making small-dollar loans more profitable. At least that was the intent of Congress in December of last year when it made the change.

For Blueacorn, in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Womply, in San Francisco, finding the banks, putting them together with the borrowers and doing their paperwork in a standardized way, proved more profitable than for each of the banks to do the work themselves on behalf of the smallest businesses. Now all the lenders had to do was pass the paperwork to the government and fund the loans.

Largely as a result of these two companies, lenders made 5.8 million loans this year as opposed to 3.6 million in 2020. The average loan size dropped from over $100,000 dollars last year to $41,560 in 2021. The six most active lenders this year partnered with one or both of those companies. 

Blueacorn worked with just two lenders: Prestamos CDFI, a non-profit, and Capital Plus Financial. Just for contrast, Prestamos made 935 PPP loans last year, totaling $27 million and 494,415 loans for $7.7 billion in 2021, according to The NYT, until applications halted.

Womply used 17 lenders and processed 1.4 million loans, totaling more than $20 billion dollars, some 7% of PPP money loaned this year.

Here is the payoff for the two companies. Because Congress wanted to make smaller loans more lucrative, Prestamos made $1.3 million for its lending last year and $1.2 billion this year, but will keep “only a fraction of its earnings.” Blueacorn, because if its agreement with Prestamos, will get a “significant” portion of the $1.2 billion Prestamos is collecting. Capital One Financial, a public company and thus more transparent, earned $464 million in fees for its PPP loans during the quarter but only kept about a third or $150 million.

So Blueacorn gets some $1 billion this year and Womply anywhere from $1.7 billion to $3 billion. That dwarfs any other PPP loans or fees. Thank You, Uncle Sam! 

Pixabay photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

A three-year-old golden retriever, missing for two weeks, was pulled out of Barnegat Bay Wednesday by two blessed souls. I know how that golden feels. I was pulled out of Port Jefferson Harbor Sunday and was I ever grateful.

I’ll tell you the whole story.

My family is visiting, finally, as the pandemic fades. That includes three sons, three daughters-in-law, one granddaughter, two grandsons, (the third was working), one dog and two cats. Sunday late afternoon we noted the arrival of what sailors call “the cocktail breeze,” and to enjoy it, three of us went out in the harbor on a 16-foot Hobie Cat. The catamaran is little more than two pontoons connected by a sturdy webbing on which passengers sit. There is a mainsail and a jib, and the light craft really flies across the water. But there is no motor, only an oar in case the wind dies down, and we have to row ourselves back to shore-hardly a desirable state of affairs, as you can imagine.

So, there we were, happily zipping along, when the breeze turned into a sudden gust, caught us off guard, and lifted one pontoon out of the water. I was sitting above the other, and I saw the colorful mainsail rising up like a wall and coming toward me. The abrupt knot in the pit of my stomach confirmed that we were about to capsize. That had never before happened with this boat. I braced for a shock.

To my pleasant surprise, the water temperature, while not warm, was more comfortable than I expected for so early in the season. And while I was wearing a life vest, I had casually closed only the top couple of toggles, so the vest rode up to the level of my chin, pinning the edge of my broad-brimmed hat that had come askew in front of my eyes. While I knew I was in the water, I couldn’t see a thing.

It took us several minutes to sort ourselves out, my son, daughter-law and myself. We worked to untangle ourselves as we clung to the side of one of the overturned pontoons. Then the boat became caught in a mooring into which the wind had blown us. We hoped one of the two motor boats that came along would stop to help. They passed us by, but one slowed down to take a video of us struggling in the water.

It is hard to right a catamaran, and in the sudden heavy wind, it proved impossible.

“Maybe we should call for help,” my daughter-in-law suggested, and proceeded to do just that.

Fortunately Evelyn and Greg Haegele, in their sailboat aptly named “Necessity” heard us and slowly approached. My children were most concerned with getting me to safety and up the swim ladder that Greg had thrown over the side, my daughter-law helping me swim over to their boat. My son calling out my age with concern in his voice.

It was not easy to climb the six steps in my sopping wet clothes, but as they say at NASA, failure was not an option.

Then Greg passed his sunglasses to his wife and made a beautiful dive to swim over and help right the Hobie. Together they were successful despite the strong wind.

As my children clambered back aboard and sailed off, a police boat, followed by a fire boat dashed after them, checking to see if all was well. It seems some alert person in a waterfront home in Belle Terre, witnessed the mishap and called 911.

Meanwhile the Haegeles took me back to Port Jefferson via the launch service and then drove me home, a drenched dog.

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Most of my free time this past weekend I spent reading a little book, something of a page-turner, called “Long Island’s Gold Coast Elite and the Great War.” Doesn’t sound like a riveting read unless you like history and want to know more about what happened on the north shore of the Island from Sands Point to Port Jefferson, and its effect on the rest of the country during World War I.

Life here and in the northeast establishment was different then, epitomized by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Gold Coast. It was a time of Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, a time of JP Morgan and William Vanderbilt, a time of high society that came from prep schools and Ivy League colleges, white-shoe law firms and Wall Street financiers. It was guardedly Anglo-Saxon and Protestant, in which members married each other and lived in over 1000 high-end, architecturally distinguished country homes that boasted large swaths of land and gardens. It featured a privileged existence that ended with the Great Depression, followed by the Second World War.

This highly influential concentration of those with money and power, though not so numerous in population, played an outsized role in nudging the country into WWI, and Richard F. Welch, the author of the well-researched book, tells us how. Why did the prominent residents want the nation to enter the war, and not just enter but to do so decidedly on the side of the Allies?

Welch offers the following reasons.

The first was money. Almost immediately after the outbreak of war, in 1914, JP Morgan & Sons was designated by Britain as the United Kingdom’s official agent for procurement in the United States. That meant exporting food, drugs and especially munitions to the U.K. The fact that Britain controlled the sea lanes provided practical encouragement. It got to the point where the bank’s activities interfered with the nation’s official policy of neutrality. 

The Morgan bank also spearheaded funding for the Allied war effort that enabled purchases from the United States, despite the fact that the Wilson administration opposed loans for any of the belligerents. The bank evaded these sentiments by labeling loans as “bank credits.” And of course, the Morgan bank received commissions for these services that ultimately netted them $30 million. Wilson was stymied in his attempt at proposing a peace agreement that he calculated would bring the financially strapped Allies to the negotiating table. Only Germany’s unwitting launch of unrestricted submarine warfare on all supply ships, (some carrying passengers), which enflamed America, caused a reversal of the administration’s loans opposition.

Further, “there was an instinctive sense of class and ethnic solidarity—both inbred and learned—which affected virtually all the major players in the New York financial and business world and underlay the calculations in most government decisions,” writes Welch. Many of the men were descended from British stock, perhaps had British spouses and basically absorbed from the same syllabuses an “Eurocentric and assumed imperialism by the white western powers, domestically and internationally, as both normal and positive,” according to Welch. They socialized with each other, lived near each other, worked with each other and saw themselves as the country’s elite, strategically located at the heart of the nation’s economy. 

And they saw America’s future, aligned with that of the U.K., as a burgeoning world power. This was certainly being proselytized by Teddy Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge and those around them, “who envisioned America as the new global power—playing Rome to Britain’s Greece.” 

And that was well before the phrase “special relationship” was hatched, “the belief that shared language, basic political principles and common international objectives bind the United States and Britain together.”

It’s a fascinating scenario that Welch puts forth, and not being a credentialed historian, I cannot comment on its validity. But I can attest to the social and cultural tone of Manhattan in the 1940s through ‘60s as being faithfully portrayed. It was indeed a different world, of which even as a child, I was aware.

Pixabay photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Here we go again. I have had another encounter with a tick, but this time, to make the story more interesting, the villain is a white tick. At least it can appear white when it is engorged with blood. My blood. Just the thought of it is enough to make one’s skin crawl, right? 

Well, it’s tick season particularly now, and you don’t have to go into the woods to find them. They can be in the beautiful lawn at your house or in the bushes that you brush against when you take out the garbage. Unless you are wearing long pants that are tucked into your socks and a long sleeve shirt and hat, you could be a victim. More likely, your dog could appear to a tick as a delicious steak on four legs, and if bitten, the dog can inadvertently carry the tick into your home. I think the white tick found me as I was sitting on the cement edge of a pool and wearing just shorts and a short sleeve shirt in the recent 90-degree weather. (Chicken that I am, I found the water still too cold to jump in.)

We all know that ticks can carry Lyme disease. But there are other diseases that could potentially be transmitted through their bite. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is another, and despite its geographical designation, this malady can occur throughout the United States and yes, even on Long Island. A local  internist I know tells me he has seen several cases in the course of his practice. 

RSMF, as it is sometimes referred to, is a bacterial disease that typically begins with a fever and fierce headache. A few days later a rash develops, made up of small spots usually starting on the wrists and ankles. Other symptoms may include muscle pains and vomiting.

To my surprise, when I had routine blood work done for an annual check-up a couple of years ago, I discovered that I had indeed had RSMF from that previous tick bite but with no symptoms.

Asymptomatic versions do indeed occur, and I was one such example. Now I have again been bitten, and the question is whether I could get the disease again, if the tick carried RSMF, or if I have antibodies sufficient enough to make me immune. Then again, I cannot be sure that this recent tick did not carry Lyme disease or some other microbial agent of infection.

What to do?

It never helps to have a medical problem on a weekend. I apparently was bitten on Saturday afternoon and found the tick behind my right knee on awakening Sunday morning. My hand was drawn to it because of a severe itch. At first, because it was small and white, we thought it was a skin tab that had spontaneously appeared. But upon pulling, it came off and began crawling away. Since I had experience with a tick bite before, I knew to capture the tick in a plastic sandwich baggie and save for the physician to send for testing.

As the day progressed, I could feel a tiny lump where I had been bitten, and the area around the lump became red and warm, with the same intense itch that had originally drawn my attention. By Tuesday, I had an appointment with my physician, and I had more than only the tick to show him. The red area had increased from the size of a silver dollar to that of my palm. I am now taking doxycycline, the antibiotic of choice, as well as an antihistamine for what is probably an allergic reaction.

I share this with you as a cautionary tale to urge you to check yourselves daily for ticks that might have targeted you as a good meal. And further, don’t just assume a tick on you will be black and therefore readily spotted. Take heed from my experience. They can also be white.

Graduation(Darin Reed photo.)

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Congratulations are in order for this past weekend’s activities. First and most importantly, my youngest grandchild graduated from high school last Friday. What a lovely milestone for him, one not to be missed by us. 

We decided to drive there, the 11-hour trip notwithstanding, rather than deal with the inevitable crowds and COVID risks and restrictions at the airport. But so much more had to be factored into our plans. Why, I wondered, would a school arrange for graduation during Memorial Day weekend? This was an especially puzzling question as reports were warning of major travel activity by car and plane. Over 37 million people were expected to venture more than 50 miles away from home, a 60% increase above last year, with a big post-pandemic breakout looming.

Clearly this situation called for some careful strategizing. First we called and secured reservations at a hotel near the school. This was going to be more than a one-day trip. That was the easiest part. Then we decided to start right after work on Tuesday evening since that would probably beat the traffic leaving the Island for the weekend. We would drive as far as we could before stopping at a roadside lodging for the night, which we figured would give us a good head start on the trip for the following day.

Next we thought to pick up some sandwiches for dinner in the car on our way out of town. We ordered those in advance, as well as the much loved chocolate chip cookies from the local bakery to bring my family. And we would stop for a package that a friend, who lives near my grandson, requested we bring to her.

We followed the plan.

After five hours of night driving with blissfully no traffic, we saw a sign for a familiar hotel at the next exit and drove off the highway feeling quite ready for a good sleep. Our first problem was that, in our haze, we couldn’t immediately find the hotel. After a bit of exploring and a U-turn, we did and pulled into a parking lot that looked ominously full. When we tried the front door, it was locked.

Fortunately, as we stood there in a fatigued stupor, a worker at the hotel came along and opened the door for us. She then called to the clerk behind the front desk, who had appeared from nowhere, and who told us what we feared: no rooms available. She directed us to the next hotel down the highway.

“But wait,” the first worker said as she scooted around behind the desk, “let me look at the register.” After several minutes, she found an unfulfilled reservation for a room on the fourth floor and offered it to us. Relief!

The next day, we happily arrived at our destination by mid-afternoon. I don’t have to tell you how wonderful it was to come together with family we had not seen in over a year, to hug them and note how the children had grown, and talk with them in person for hours. Thursday, other members of the extended family arrived, everyone in a happy mood, and Friday, under a beautiful blue sky, we all went to the commencement and cheered mightily as our grandson walked on stage, shook the president’s hand and received his sheepskin. 

We, of course, celebrated the rest of the day and well into the evening. It felt a little unreal to be casually chatting together after the year of pandemic isolation, something we would otherwise, in earlier times, so taken for granted.

Now came the tricky part: when to leave for the drive home through the midst of the holiday weekend. We had decided on Saturday, hoping that was a good travel day, when most people would already have gotten to their destinations and before they would have started to return. Picking up some provisions for the car ride, we filled the gas tank and left in the morning for home. There was never any serious traffic along the route. Score one for strategy, another for luck. And another for appreciation and gratitude for all that we would have simply accepted pre-pathogen as our due.

Pixabay photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Probably because of COVID-19, there has been more discussion in the media about depression, anxiety and mental health in general. CVS, the nation’s largest retail pharmacy, and the one owned by the Melville Corporation, (the company started by local philanthropist Ward Melville by the way) is creating a new niche for its many stores. It has been hiring licensed clinical social workers for a pilot project in several cities and will offer walk-in sessions or by appointment. 

The social workers are trained in cognitive behavior therapy or CBT. I believe that is generally a form of short term therapy in which the immediate problem is discussed and treated using evidence-based techniques. According to an article in The New York Times, May 10, social workers will offer assessments, referrals and counseling. They will be available during the day and also on evenings and weekends, and also by telemedicine. They will partner with the company’s nurse practitioners and pharmacists for prescriptions when needed.  This will be yet another nonemergency health care service the chain is providing, as they have most recently offered coronavirus vaccines for the public.

Now others beside pharmacies like Rite Aid and Walgreens, who are also planning mental health care, are seeing opportunity in the health field. Albertsons, a grocery chain, offers injectable antipsychotic drugs as well as injectable medication to help treat substance abuse. And a while ago, I got my first shingles vaccine in a drug store.

What a change from the pharmacy of my childhood. I well remember walking down to the drug store five blocks away in New York City with my dad, before I was even of elementary school age, to buy ice cream. That was the only place with a freezer, and the selections were Breyer’s vanilla, or chocolate, or vanilla, chocolate and strawberry together in half gallon containers. They were in a freezer chest, like a foot locker, and when I leaned in to pick the selection, the cold took my breath away. The pharmacy also had a counter where we could sit and get sundaes and milkshakes. But most of the time, we carried the ice cream carton home, hurriedly so it wouldn’t melt, to eat together with the rest of the family.

Another recent focus in the mental health field is on food. And sadly the foods we typically turn to when we are stressed, inevitably sugar-laden and of high fat like ice cream, pastries, pizza and hamburgers, now are on the mental wellness bad list. Nutritional psychiatry is an emerging field which looks at the relationship between diet and mental health. The idea that what we eat can affect our physical health is an accepted one, and now the same concept is extended to our mental wellbeing with the following physiological specifics thanks to research. 

“A healthy diet promotes a healthy gut, which communicates with the brain through what is known as the gut-brain axis. Microbes in the gut produce neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which regulate our mood and emotions, and the gut microbiome has been implicated in mental health outcomes,” states The New York Times in a May 18 article by Anahad O’Connor.

People who eat a lot of nutrient-dense foods, like fruits and vegetables “report less depression and greater levels of happiness and mental well-being,” according to the NYT.

There is a bit of a chicken-egg conundrum here concerning which comes first? Do anxiety and depression drive people to eat unhealthy foods or are those who are happy and optimistic more likely to choose nutritious foods that further brighten their moods? Recent research has borne out that healthy foods do improve moods.

“Seafood, greens, nuts and beans — and a little dark chocolate” is the basic dietary advice of Dr. Drew Ramsey, a psychiatrist and assistant clinical professor at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. His jingle comes with the message that food can be empowering.

*This article was revised on June 1, 2021.

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Incredible as it seems to us, we are celebrating with a special section this week the 45th anniversary of our newspaper and media group now called TBR. Where did those 45 years go?

When we reconstruct the events of both the news and behind the scenes at the newspapers over those 2340 issues, we have a chronicle of the passing time between the first edition of The Village Times and today. In this week’s issue, you will find, in a highly abridged fashion, our attempt to do just that.  We hope it brings back good memories for you because, if you have lived here during any of that time, it bears witness to what was happening around you as well.

For me the section puts into tangible form the extraordinary work of so many dedicated and talented people who have worked at the paper to gather and present the news in a balanced and cogent fashion. Some of the news has been of happy events: our children’s academic and extracurricular triumphs, our neighbors’ efforts enriching our villages through their civic, political and artistic involvement, the interesting lives we have been able to highlight, our shared history, the businesses and what they had to offer in their ads. Some of what we have printed is of necessity not happy stories. But always all the individual issues defined and held together our hometown. It has been said that what marks the boundaries of a community are its school district and the local newspaper.

Newspapers and other media are more than their reporters and editors. Almost all publications, whether print or digital, have basically the same structure: five departments. Those are editorial, advertising, art and production, business and distribution. Some of the departments are supportive of others, but I can tell you emphatically that all, with their different staffers’ skills, are vitally important and must function in tandem in order to produce the final product.

Many of our staffers have gone on to larger media companies and distinguished themselves on a bigger stage. Sometimes they come back for nostalgic visits and to let us know how they are doing. We are proud of them. Hometown papers and digital platforms are often stepping stones that provide experience and hone skills in the communications industry. But I believe none of those larger arenas is more important than the local papers, where we have to meet and answer to our readers and advertisers in the supermarkets and at the ballfields. And while there are many larger media that carry the national and international news, there are only the local newspapers and websites that tell what’s happening and what’s relevant in our daily lives.

This past year with civic unrest, and with COVID-19, has been particularly difficult for readers and business people alike. It has also been difficult for our staff. With small businesses and their advertising, the main source of our revenues and business model falling by the wayside as residents remained in lockdown, we have had to innovate repeatedly in order to survive. We were forced to reduce the number of employees, and those that remain have taken on more responsibilities even as their hours have been cut. It would have been easier to close down and wait for the pandemic to pass, but we couldn’t do that. We are essential workers, keeping our readers informed of vital information about the disease and the responses of our health systems, our educators and our government. We also needed to let people know where to buy food and supplies when so much of routine commerce had shuttered.

How were people coping, what organizations needed help, where would volunteer efforts be most needed, were all critical facts to know for our combined survival, and we had to come in to work and go out amidst the virus and the protests to gather and then communicate the news. We also were able to reassure with our coverage that ordinary life was continuing, despite the hardships.

On this occasion, when we briefly shine the spotlight on ourselves, I want to salute, among all the essential workers, the brave and committed staff of TBR. THANK YOU.

Mockingbird. Photo from Unsplash

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

This is the time of year when our five senses go into overdrive. Let me enumerate. In no particular order of delight, I’ll start with sound.

The birdsong is sometimes loud enough to provide dance music at a wedding. There are all kinds of musical bars put forth: crooning, warbling, shrieking, hooting, gurgling. There is an incredible range of notes, from high soprano and countertenor to tenor and baritone, even bass. Sometimes the birds seem to be singing in a chorus, other times at counterpoint. If your bedroom window is open, they can wake you up at first light. There can be many birds in the trees or there may just be one mockingbird pretending to be an entire flock. 

The sight of the birds is as much a treat as the sounds, if you can spot them among the leaves. They can range from a nondescript small brown chick, who nonetheless utters the most melodious songs, to crimson or orange-breasted or blue-tailed or grandly multi-colored varieties of different sizes and shapes that perch briefly on the porch railing or snack on the front lawn. They can seem the model of purpose as they deliver food to the open beaks of their newly hatched offspring or of patience as they sit quietly atop the eggs and wait for the next generation to appear.

Speaking of sight, we go from the early purple of crocuses and joyful yellow of forsythia and daffodils to the lush pink of dogwood and cherry blossoms to the deep red of tulips and azaleas. All of that artwork is provided against a bright green backdrop of new leaves on the bushes and luxuriant attire for the tree limbs. Branches on either side of the road unite in the air overhead, creating sun-dappled tunnels as we drive the back-way routes.

The waves at the beaches are calm now, climbing the sand with rhythmic whispers, and the seagulls fly low, looking for a fish dinner in the clear blue water. Too soon, there will be motor boats and jet skis on the harbors and lawn mowers and leaf blowers keeping the landscape orderly — but not yet. The magic and peace of early spring are still, however briefly, with us to be treasured.

The smells at the beach of salt in the air and blossom-scent on the breezes are intoxicating harbingers of the season. Lilacs, that always know when it is Mother’s Day, perfume the neighborhood. And among us humans, there are always those early-bird few who fire up the grill and begin to barbeque on a sunny weekend afternoon. If we play our cards right, we might be invited to share in this primitive treat. The taste is so much better than anything cooked indoors.

Taste is tantalized by early fresh fruit, like locally grown strawberries, and by vegetables like baby asparagus and snow peas. Several different kinds of dark green lettuces are also ready for dining early in the spring.

As for touch, there is the sweetness of a gentle breeze, reduced on a rare spring day from a stern wind to a caress against the cheek. It carries with it the promise of a summer day and the seduction of a summer night.

Add to all of that, the temperature in spring can reach a universally perfect range. Now I know some people like it hot, really hot, even up in the 90s when they can happily sweat. And some people like it cold, even freezing, during which time they can feel energized and stimulated to ski and ice skate. But all humans feel comfortable moving about in a temperature of 75 degrees. Knowing that could be found most months in San Diego almost prompted my husband and me to move there some 50 years ago. Of course, there were other things to consider, and we ultimately moved to Long Island.

Not for a moment do I have any regrets. My five senses are glad we live here.