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Sunday, August 27, 2006


One lovely aspect of living in New York's Hudson Valley is that it is an area ripe with opportunity. Sometimes we miss the jewels within our reach. As Dorothy said, "There's no place like home."
Rob and I like to stay close to home during the summer. There's plenty to keep us occupied, and there are never-ending opportunities to see new and interesting sights.
Daytripping is wonderful, and I hope you'll enjoy the places we visited.

KYKUIT--The Rockefeller Estate in Tarrytown, NY

I’m beginning to notice that rich and powerful men build their homes with wide, expansive views of lawns and rivers. Witness Washington at Mt. Vernon, Pinchot at Grey Towers (no river but sweeping views across the valley) and now the Rockefeller family at their estate outside Tarrytown, New York, Kykuit.

Kykuit means “lookout” or “hill” in Dutch, a fitting name describing the home of four generations of Rockefellers. From the heights of the back porch, one luxuriates in sweeping panoramic views of the Hudson River at its widest point curving along the Palisades lining the far shore. Eighty-seven of John D. Rockefeller, Sr.’s original 4,000 acres now belong to the National Trust, and the family has donated another 1,000 acres for the Rockefeller State Park Preserve. The rest of the property is used by the current Rockefellers, so when you pass through the gates of Kykuit, you are truly entering their world, not only as it was but also as it is.

You must go to Kykuit on a tour; because it really is their home, no private cars are allowed through the gates. We began at Phillipsburg Manor where all tours originate. We chose the 2 ¼ hour Kykuit House and Inner Garden Tour, one of several available. This one is recommended for first time visitors, and I recommend it to you although there is 3 hour Grand Tour, and perhaps, because there is so much to see and so many views to savor, that is the way to go. I think it’s up to your tolerance and stamina. While we waited for the tour to be called, we enjoyed a cup of coffee in the café, a nice leisurely beginning to the day. Then we were comfortably bussed from the Visitor Center to Kykuit.

The house was built by John D. Rockefeller, Sr., founder of Standard Oil and a man who saw philanthropy as a business—give money with a purpose and the object will reap the rewards of smart investing. He conceived the idea of endowments, for instance, so that an organization could have continuing income from its monetary investments. One of his early gifts was to a Baptist college holding classes in the basement of a church. The aim was to educate newly emancipated females. Rockefeller Sr. felt the college should have its own building. Eventually this college became Spelman College, named for his wife’s family who was part of the anti-slavery movement.

The original house was very modest. Rockefeller, a devout Baptist, did not entertain, dance, drink, smoke or play cards. His son, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., a little more liberal, married Abby Aldrich, much more worldly, and from her came his love of art. He collected classical art, and he oversaw the construction of the current house. The eagle at the top of the house over the main doorway represents the family’s pride in America, and the figures of the gods, Demeter and Apollo, represent the family’s love of nature and culture. Jr.’s mostly classical art collection remains, and the love of art was instilled by both father and mother in their son, Nelson, once governor of New York. He had more modern tastes, and the works he added to the home represent artists such as Picasso, Calder, Brancusi, and Jean Arp. Yet the designers he hired for the home managed to allow a flow from the old to the new, and the blend works seamlessly throughout the house. The house remains as Nelson Rockefeller left it when he died, some pieces enclosed in plexiglas because his was the first generation where children lived in the house.

The gardens are magnificent. Ironically, the gardens cost more to design and build than the house. The landscape architect, William Welles Bosworth, spent ten years working on the gardens and statuary. Breathtaking is an understatement. Everything is in place; everything creates dramatic effect. Classical sculpture appears in fountains and statuary, but so does modern art. Each piece is juxtaposed perfectly. Each creates a feeling of serenity and beauty. You MUST go yourself in order to appreciate it.

We also visited the Coach Barn with its remarkable collection of coaches, sleighs, and pony carts. The only thing missing is Cinderella’s pumpkin! There is even a surrey with the fringe on top! Attached to the ceiling is a contraption that allowed coaches and horses to be washed when they returned from their jaunts. This is the precursor, no doubt, of today’s car wash. Let’s not forget the cars. From a Ford predating the Model T right up to what I might consider a “classic,” the Coach Barn contained them all. This, as the house, is a museum although it is tough to admit I am older than some of the museum pieces. And I am sure they are better preserved!

Kykuit is one of a network of six historic sites in the Hudson Valley. Each one is unique and historically intriguing. It’s a good idea to make return trips and see them all. BTW, the Inner House and Garden Tour is wheelchair accessible.


Silver Tips Tea Room
3 North Broadway
Tarrytown, New York 10951

Nestled right on North Broadway in Tarrytown, New York, amid a plethora of ethnically diverse restaurants is the Silver Tips Tea Room, a small, simply furnished restaurant with the ability to offer an oasis of soothing comfort in the midst of a day’s hustle and bustle.

We actually entered as a group of eight women, and somehow our very accommodating hostess, Jacqueline, managed to re-arrange tables allowing us to sit together and chatter away to our hearts’ content. We were a bit too hungry for just tea and a treat, so we opted for the very tempting wraps accompanied, for some of us, by tea spritzers or, in my case, a delicious mug of iced green tea. On a hot day, this cool, refreshing drink was perfection.

I was so impressed by Jacqueline who initially arranged our seating, made sure she explained Silver Tips’ vast selection of teas as well as the variety of ways in which they are served, answered every question, laughed at the jokes, and tried in every way to make us enjoy our brief visit. She was successful in every way because we loved the Tea Room and the warmth it exudes.

Let me describe the wraps we selected from the diverse menu. I’d bet money they make your mouth water. Everyone loved the one she ordered.

Rangoon Wrap: Chicken, Shredded Cabbage, Mixed Greens, Sliced Tomatoes with a mouth-watering Peanut Sauce.
The Classic Wrap: Turkey with Shredded Cabbage, Tomatoes, grated Cheddar, with a Sour Cream spread seasoned with Olives, Cilantro & herbs.
Sorbonne Wrap: Lean Ham or Turkey, Mixed Greens, Sliced Tomatoes with a Honey Mustard Vinaigrette.

If you are a tea “aficionado,” there are 140 possibilities! Start at Silver Tips’ delightful website where you can learn all about teas, where they come from, how to brew them successfully, and sundry other information. You can even shop online.

If you are in the Tarrytown vicinity, this is a pleasant place to tarry.


I’ve got to add this site while I write of Kykuit. The Union Church of Pocantico Hills is not far from the entrance of Kykuit, just a short drive up Route 448. It is not to be missed. You can add this site to your Kykuit tour, or you can do as we did and drive up. For the $5.00 entry fee, a docent will give you the history of the church as well as an explanation of the magnificent stained glass windows.

The church, founded by John D. Rockefeller, Sr., and supported by the Rockefeller family over the years, became part of the Historic Hudson Valley network in 1984, in part to assure the preservation of the magnificent stained glass windows.

Why are the windows so important? One, The Rose Window, is the last completed work by Henri Matisse, arguably the most important French painter of the twentieth century. Matisse completed the paper cut design for the window a mere two days before he died. This window was dedicated in 1956 to Abby Aldrich Rockefeller who also founded the Museum of Modern Art. The family, in fact, called MOMA, Mother’s Museum.

The other windows are the work of Marc Chagall, the Russian-born artist who made his home in France. The large one in the rear of the church is dedicated to John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and was inspired by the parable of the Good Samaritan. The family saw that story as a reflection of his philanthropic endeavors.

Of the eight side windows created by Chagall in 1966, one is a memorial to Michael Rockefeller, Nelson’s son who died in New Guinea on an anthropological expedition.

The other six depict different prophets from the Old Testament: Joel, Ezekiel, Elijah, Daniel, Jeremiah, and Isaiah. One recognizes some familiar Chagall techniques in the blues and the birds.

The size of the windows, the close proximity to great art, and the quiet nobility and serenity of the church provoke a deep, emotional reaction. No one need ask for quiet; it is almost impossible to speak above a whisper. One cannot escape or forget the spiritual nature of the space and the art, and visiting is a deeply moving experience. Don’t miss this moment.

Monday, August 21, 2006

CHARACTERS-for a pleasant dinner

Sloatsburg, New York
845 753-5200

This is our second visit to Characters, a simple, unpretentious place in Sloatsburg, New York. It’s a place of choice: drinks, pizza, sandwiches, Irish comfort food, well-prepared, stylish entrees. Take your pick. This site has changed hands quite often in the past few years, but it appears that these owners have found a niche and will be around for a long while. We will be back often. It’s a convenient place to meet friends in Rockland County, up from New Jersey, and down from Orange County. There’s no hassle, no rush, and it’s a perfect place for good food and friendly conversation.

The first time we went to Characters, we met a great young waitress, Kerri, a student and aspiring writer. What great service we received—a table for eight where we could smooze and catch up with each other—at our pace. Music played in the background, and we did ask if the management could lower it. They did! No questions asked.

Kerri made suggestions, made sure our drinks came just as we requested, and was quick to ask if we wanted anything else. We could not have had a more professional and personable waitress.

That night we tried, among other things, Shelly’s Shepherds Pie. That’s a favorite of mine—prime Angus chopped beef, carrots, peas, and onions, all topped with wonderfully creamy potatoes. Not what I’ve had in England, but excellent. Joyce had the archetypal comfort food—chicken pot pie with a great puff pastry. These two Characters’ entrees are worth remembering.

This second time we met at Characters, we happily had Kerri as our waitress again, and lo and behold, she remembered the drinks we’d ordered before! At the same table, we made the same request about the music and received the same courteous and prompt response. Once again, Kerri gave us her opinions, and once again no one was disappointed. Her enthusiastic suggestions led to try a homemade sweet pea soup that was out of this world. Joyce and I stuck to the Shepherd’s Pie. It was that good. Ron went for the Penne alla Vodka. Rob and Iris tried the Seafood Special, and neither was disappointed. Allan opted for the Angus Strip Steak. Each of us was tempted by the Galway Bay Fish & Chips, but you can only have one entrée, can’t you! I wouldn't hesitate to try anything on the menu.

No one rushed us, and we sat and enjoyed ourselves for some time, finishing the meal with a nice cup of coffee. No room for dessert.

Located on Rt. 17 in Sloatsburg, Characters is just a hop, skip and a jump off the Thruway. It is well worth getting off and making this stop.

Saturday, August 19, 2006


You’ll notice that I have no book suggestions this month. I am reading, though, and the book is almost too real to handle. I’m reading Barbara Tuchman’s 1962 book The Guns of August about the outbreak and first month of World War I. I admit to moving very slowly through the book, at least in part because the days preceding the First World War are almost surreal. Egos, fascism, disbelief, and blunders are the keywords leading to the war, and some of it is so eerily modern that it is frightening. History is fascinating and mesmerizing; the inability of man to learn from it is mind-boggling. Next month I will share my thoughts with you.