Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christmas Eve Romance

by Felicia Hodges

The children are nestled and dreaming of all the Christmas day goodies that will be left for them under the tree. What better time for you and your honey to enjoy a little romance - Christmas Eve style?

For Mr. and Mrs. Claus, Christmas Eve can be one of the busiest nights of the year. But, once all the wrapping is done, make the rest of the evening special and just about the two of you.

Plan Ahead
If you know there are bikes that need to be put together and tons of gift boxes to wrap, get as much done before Christmas Eve as you can so you have more time to spend with your spouse. Try to wrap up presents as soon as you buy them or do everything in one shot at a friend’s house. If you have a lot to do, make a list and ask for help if you need it.

“Maybe a friend can bring the bike to you to save the half-hour trip to get it,” suggests Janine MacLachlan, an entertaining expert who contributes to the website “Maybe even leave a note from Santa saying that he hopes the kids have fun putting a particular toy together with their mom and dad on Christmas morning. The key is to be creative about looking for other ways to get things done.”

Let Your Inner Child Out to Play
The holiday season often gets to be almost entirely about the kids. As parents, it important to let you children have fun, but too often, we get so caught up in the gift giving for them that we forget about ourselves.

“It’s a real joy to see your kids enjoy Christmas, but the kid inside of you may feel left out,” says Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., a licensed psychotherapist and author of “The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again.” After nibbling on the celery for the reindeer, give yourselves a chance to reflect on the year and remember the good times, she suggests, by sitting down with your mate and opening a special tree ornament or the surprise present you have for each other.

“It doesn’t have to be something big or extravagant, just something that the other might enjoy like a trinket, a rose or a fishing lure,” Tessina says. “It’s more emotional than money-oriented and sort of like a private gift ceremony for just the two of you.” 

Use Your Senses
To really get the romance rolling, MacLachlan suggests that you try to connect with all five senses. Remember your sense of:

     Smell - Light a few peppermint candles or simmer some spicy pine-needle potpourri to get the olfactory system raring to go.

     Hearing - Put on your favorite jazz CD instead of the same old Christmas tape that’s been playing since the day after Thanksgiving.

     Taste - Serve up some hors d’oeuvres that suggest togetherness. Avoid the hassles of a clean up by trying some finger foods of already prepared items. Have an indoor picnic on the living room floor.

     Sight - Decorate a special corner of the room for the two of you to snuggle in. Use some comfortable red and gold pillows and add to the mood with a little subtle lighting.

     Touch - Wrap up in a fuzzy afghan or accessorize with a silk scarf. Be tactile and pay attention to what your wearing and how it might feel when he rubs his hands over it.

Inda Livingston and her husband, Randy, say they often look forward to the special sensory connections the other has planned for their Christmas Eve extravaganza.

“We usually get into a pair of silk pajamas - she gets the top and I get the bottoms,” Randy says. “Next I always buy a special candle for us to light on Christmas Eve.”

“And I always whip up something Christmasy to simmer on the stove while we sip our eggnog and cuddle,” Inda adds.

Be a Bit Selfish
The holiday season is mostly about giving, but there’s nothing wrong with thinking of you and your man a little, too.

“We very much focus outwardly around the holidays, MacLachlan says. “Pull it back towards the couple and bring that focus back in. Have something really great to look forward to. Remember it is all about being together and enjoying each other.”

Article originally appeared in Family Digest Magazine.

Handling Rude Service Professionals

by Felicia Hodges

A few weeks ago, I ended up in a local but unfamiliar supermarket to pick up eggs and milk. Although I greeted my cashier with a warm “hello,” she practically threw the pen I needed to sign my check down the conveyer belt and then deliberately placed the receipt underneath my outstretched palm. “Have a nice day,” I said as I scooped up my bag. She literally grunted.

Most people have probably come in contact with a less than friendly cashier, waitress or salesclerk at one time or another. But is really rude when your server doesn’t smile, or are we expecting too much?
“For service professionals, rude behavior could be ignoring you, not giving you any eye contact, talking to someone else while helping you or what have you,” says Lydia Ramsey, business etiquette expert and author of Manners That Sell: Adding the Polish that Builds Profits. “It doesn’t matter if that person had a rough night’s sleep or fought with their boyfriend. It should never affect the level of service you receive.”

So, even if  your server just got evicted from her apartment, had difficulty with the customers in front of you and has a toothache, you should not be treated as if those difficulties are your fault. And suffer in silence you shouldn’t, either. There are plenty of things you can do to keep ugly behavior by service professionals to a minimum including:
Consider Taking Your Business Elsewhere - “The bottom line is that businesses need you just like you need them,” says Jon Van Vlack, a professional consumer advocate in Ulster County. He says that supermarkets expect to loose about one-third of their customers each year. “They also gain about one-third as well, probably from other supermarkets.”

If you are unable or unwilling to try another business (if you live in a town that has only one supermarket or your usual haunt is on your way home from work, for instance), Van Vlack suggests that you try to build an individual relationship with your store by knowing he staff and making sure they know you. If, for example, you know that one cashier is always grumpy, avoid her check out line like the plague. It won’t do anything to help with the cashier’s attitude, but it could make your shopping experience a bit more enjoyable. Also try:

Treating People Like You Wish to Be Treated - “I call it a polite nudge,” says Peggy Post, etiquette expert and author of The Etiquette Advantage in Business: Personal Skills for Professional Success. “Try to make eye contact and speak as nicely as possible. Don’t come in like ‘I’m the customer and you’re the doormat.’ Usually, that rectifies [a difficult] situation.”

“Being rude back just compounds [it],” adds Ramsey. “When someone is rude to you, it helps to be nice to them.” She also says that smiling at your salesperson may be the first step in defusing potential nastiness. Ramsey says she really turned on the charm when she encountered a particularly unfriendly flight attendant. The attendant responded with a much nicer attitude almost immediately. “But I had to really play her and it shouldn’t have been that way,” she says.

Speaking Up - Bothered by the conversation your cashier had with someone else when she was supposed to be waiting on you? The service might be the same the next time you visit unless you voice your dissatisfaction.

“I always point it out when it happens to me,” Van Vlack says. “Everyone likes to feel valued, so I let them know I’m not being made to feel that way.”

If your server was particularly nasty, speak to his or her immediate superior about it. Post suggests you contact the hostess or head waitress in a restaurant, the head cashier or store manager in a supermarket or the department manager in a general merchandise or chain store.

“You are really helping the establishment keep their standards. Any good establishment will want to know what it takes to keep customers happy,” Post adds.

Staying Calm - No one will want to communicate with you once you’ve flown off the handle. Although you may want to tear someone’s head off, it’s important to keep your cool when you complain less your concerns not be taken seriously.

“It’s harder to dismiss a person if they are cool, calm and collected,” Van Vlack says. Raising your voice, demanding to have the server fired or other- wise causing a commotion may get your complaint swiftly pushed to the back burner.

Following the Chain of Command - Shoddy service can be extremely aggravating, but you should still follow the chain of command and exhaust all other routes before phoning the company C.E.O.

“Give [the service supervisors] the opportunity to correct the situation and discipline the employee first,” Ramsey says. And if it feels like lip service, don’t be afraid to ask for the supervisor’s name and find out how the situation will be rectified.

“The customer should be told how it will be handled,” she adds. “It would be in the best interest of the business to do more than just take the complaint and say ‘We’ll handle it.’”

Taking it to the Next Level - Chain stores and other companies with nation- al affiliations will often go through hell and high water to keep you from connecting with their corporate headquarters. If you feel like your issues are not being handled effectively by the store heads, ask for the corporate 1-800 number or mailing address and follow up accordingly.

“People often complain in the wrong places,” Van Vlack says. “Think about the corporate level. The last thing the company wants to do is hand the complaint to the
home office. I’ve found that email gets almost immediate attention even when your phone messages are not returned.”
Lodging A Formal Complaint - The vast majority of companies will be willing to rectify the situation in a timely manner. But, if the one you are dealing with does not, you can file a complaint with your county agency or the state attorney general’s office.

“The bottom line is that corporations don’t exist in a vacuum. They all have somewhere to answer to,” says Van Vlack. “If you follow through, you’re gonna wear them down.”

Rewarding Good Service - When a cashier or waitress is especially friendly or goes out of her way to make you feel like you matter, make it a point to let her as well as the management know about it. Tell her how her demeanor made you feel and fill out one of those “How Was Your Service?” cards. Let the company know that the service is why you will continue to spend your ducats there. “Retailers realize that good service is good for business,” Post says. “They recognize that it pays to be nice.”

For More Information:
  • Visit your local library for a copy of The Consumer Action Handbook, which lists consumer strategies, state consumer agencies, corporate contacts and also gives sample complaint letters. Call the Federal Information Center at 1.800.688.9889  to get your free copy via mail (be patient; it takes about four to five weeks to arrive).
  • Need help sending a complaint letter to a company head? Log onto The website helps you write and send email or snail mail letters to companies using a step-by-step guide. You can also email copies to elected officials or family and friends and Planet Feedback will also help track the responses.

  • Contact Orange, Dutchess or Ulster County’s Consumer Affairs Divisions to complain about area businesses by dialing 845.340.3260 (for Ulster County Department of Consumer Affairs), 845.2912050 (for the District Attorney’s office in Orange County) or 845.486.2449 (for the Dutchess County Department of Consumer Affairs). You can also reach the state Attorney General’s Office of Consumer Frauds and Protection at 1.800.771.7755.

Newburgh: A Tale of Two Cities

by Felicia Hodges

Mention Newburgh and chances are pretty good that peaceful, idyllic settings won’t come to mind. What most people envision when Newburgh comes up in conversation are crime, poverty and abandoned buildings – urban blight in all its glory. Because of the number of female-headed households, high unemployment rate, poverty and the percentage of adult residents without a high school diploma or GED, the city was listed as one of the state’s most stressed cities in the early 1980s where it remains to this day. And according to the U.S. Census, a little over 25 percent of Newburgh’s population lived below the federal poverty line in 2000. Like many inner-city areas, Newburgh has its tribulations. But it also has its triumphs.

Nestled at the northeastern tip of Orange County, the City of Newburgh only has 3.8 square miles of land but is home to New York State’s second largest historic district and even has two sites named to the National Register of Historic Places – the Dutch Reform Church and Washington’s Headquarters. Gorgeous views of the Hudson River? Newburgh’s got that. Stunning architecture complete with a bevy of Gothic, Greek and Colonial revival-style buildings that could rival many a Brooklyn neighborhood? Yep, it’s got that too. The beauty of the area and the fact that it is only 60 miles from New York City is a huge draw for folks who may work in NYC but want to live and play a little further north.

“If you look around, it’s gorgeous,” says Barbara Ballarini, who moved to Newburgh with her husband, Edwine Seymour and their then two-year-old daughter in 2005 to open Caffé Macchiato, a restaurant that sits directly across the street from Washington’s headquarters. “For us, it was the Hudson River, definitely. That and the idea that we’d be in front of one of the most historic areas in the city.”

“Having a brownstone in any of the five boroughs [of New York City] is virtually impossible” says 25-year-old Long Island native Cherry Vick who plans on re-locating with her fiancé after their wedding later this year. “So I started looking here.”

A self-proclaimed history buff who already commutes to in New York City for work, Vick says she began looking for information about areas to the north and was impressed by the photos of old buildings and historic properties in Newburgh that she was able to find online.

“What struck me was the architecture. I feel like it’s only a matter of time before Newburgh goes through the same restoration process as the boroughs in New York City,” she says.  To get others who may be looking for a great spot to put down roots and raise a family to see the city in a more positive light, Vick began a blog last year about Newburgh’s restoration and renovation efforts by individuals and groups like Habitat for Humanity.

Days of Old
Before Newburgh was even a city, it was declared to be “a pleasant place to build a town” by Henry Hudson when he made his expedition up the river in 1609. Still the first settlement wasn’t made until 100 years later by German Lutherans who named the area the Palatine Parish by Quassic. By the middle of the century, the area was comprised mostly of folks of English and Scottish descent who changed the name to Parish of Newburgh after a place in Scotland in 1752. Newburgh was the Continental Army’s headquarters from 1782 until the army was disbanded here near the end of 1783. Not only did General George Washington sleep here, he also received the letter suggesting he become king here as well. Legend has it that to honor his vehement refusal to become a monarch, the name of the street behind the headquarters was changed from Kings Highway to Liberty Street.

Originally the county seat of Ulster County, Newburgh became part of Orange County when county lines were redrawn in 1789. Eleven years later, it was incorporated as a village and was eventually chartered as a city in 1865.

Because of its location on the Hudson between Albany and New York City, Newburgh became a transportation hot spot during the industrial boom of the 1800s and underwent an economic peak when manufacturing industries moved in. But when those same businesses began to relocate to other places in the late 1900’s and transportation activity shifted from the river to the roads, it ushered in an economic decline the city is still trying to climb out of today.

“Right now, we’re still in transition,” says mayor Nicholas Valentine. “We haven’t made it yet to where we want to be.”

Still, change is on the horizon, he says, sparked in part by grass-root development efforts, people making investments in run-down buildings that dot the landscape in some neighborhoods, a new city courthouse that opened in June on Broadway, the upcoming opening of the new SUNY Orange campus, business booms in pockets of the city and the return of the forms of transportation that encourage people to leave their cars behind – including a city-wide trolley set to be up and running in about a year and a return to the waterway.

“The [Newburgh-Beacon] ferry has been huge,” Valentine says of the vessel that re-opened in 2005 and transports commuters to and from the Metro North train station on the other side of the Hudson in Beacon. He acknowledges that the lack of public transportation has been a problem for the city but one the city intends to tackle head-on. “You can’t do what we want to do without mass transit,” he adds.

Newburgh's Renaissances
Since the economic bust the city experienced near the turn of the last century, many attempts to restore Newburgh to its former glory have made. During the political turbulence that was the 1960s, the city set the wheels in motion for a new urban renewal plan that involved demolishing the waterfront area, which had been home to shopping, restaurants, theater and other entertainment when times were better. Historic buildings that many called home were also leveled and a promise of relocating the displaced to new housing projects the city planned to build was made. But the oil embargo and the oil crisis of 1973 happened and the federal and state dollars that were to help pay for the new housing structures were no longer available. The area remained empty until the late 1990’s when a new effort by the city to bring businesses – and tax revenue – back to the waterfront came to fruition. Today, the 35-acre property has been completely redesigned and is home to some of the city’s most unique restaurants and spas, a movie theater and shops. Just try to find a parking space anywhere near Torches restaurant – which is at one end of the waterfront space – or 26 Front Street – the spot for live music, dancing and great food at the other end – between 5pm and midnight on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night.

“But there’s more to Newburgh than just the waterfront,” says Caffé Macchiato’s Ballarini. “People tell us they are happy to rediscover Newburgh. Without the culture, there was no real reason to visit the area.”

It seems like every decade or so a push to revitalize the city is made, says Leetha Berchielli, who has owned Mrs. Max, a full-service dance store housed in the Lake Street Plaza for almost 28 years. “Every time it happens, the dips are a little smaller and the peaks are a little bigger. It’s exciting.”

Berchielli, who recently opened a second location with her daughter, Holly, on Liberty Street a few doors down from Caffé Macchiato says it’s good to see the business owners on the block push forward for a bit of change from the norm. “We all so strongly believe in Newburgh on this street,” she says. “We want it to be a good happy place for people.”

A City of Firsts
As quiet as it’s kept, Newburgh has had an impressive run of historic firsts. Did you know that the first Edison power plant in the country was built here, which enabled Newburgh to be the first city in the U.S. to be electrified? It was also one of the first cities to fluoridate its water supply and, according to the Newburgh Historical Society, was one of the first cities in the country to give “routine governmental authority” to a city manager in 1915. But much more of what happens on a day-to-day in the city isn’t always noted.

“I think Newburgh falls under the radar, but the reality is that it is a hotbed of arts and culture,” says Tricia Haggerty Wenz, executive director of Safe Harbors of the Hudson, a non-profit agency housed in the restored Hotel Newburgh with a mission of transforming lives and building better communities through housing and the arts. “For me, that’s one of the highlights.”

For the cultural buzz that hums within Newburgh, Haggerty Wenz credits the emerging art galleries, schools like the Newburgh Arts Academy, local businesses on Liberty Street and in other neighborhoods as well as lower Broadway’s new venue for live performances and local art – the Ritz Theater – which has hosted several sold-out concerts and cultural events in the last year.

“They create pockets of stability. There’s been a little more pride in the city. I’m starting to see more people stroll the streets than before,” she says.

Mayor Valentine agrees. “It seems that whenever we do something cultural, it takes off. [People] will come if you do it,” he says. “We need a lot more of that. We get set backs – like the economy – but they are small steps back, not big ones. There’s a lot of new activity still going on.”

Valentine also credits the renewed pride to the reality that Newburgh isn’t really one homogenous city, but a conglomeration of very different, very unique neighborhoods. As an example, he points out that the city’s East End is very urban while the West End is “almost suburban.” Neighborhoods like Washington Heights and Colonial Terraces are as different from other sections as they are from each other.

“We have a lot of neighborhoods that make Newburgh a special place. All the communities are unique and can’t really be lumped together, which is a good thing,” he says.
The Youth Gap
One of the biggest complaints from young people in the area is often that there isn’t much for them to do. With only three area movie theaters (two of which are not actually in the city itself), no skating rink or other place for teens to hang out, Newburgh’s youth sing the same tunes.

“There’s nothing geared towards folks mid-teen to 30 or so unless you have kids,” says Holly Berchielli, who runs the new Mrs. Max boutique on Liberty Street with her mother, Leetha. “I think that’s a big deal.”

To give the young people another venue, Holly says she’s pushing to host concerts at nearby Washington’s Headquarters this summer and will also begin re-publishing Outsider Magazine, a local music, art, tattoo, car and poetry publication that has been on a two-year hiatus.

“The city’s not involved with talking to the young people. I guess it’s up to us business owners to make that happen because how successful can a city be if in the middle no one is interested?”

It is a gap that Valentine fully acknowledges. “We don’t have some cultural things – like coffee shops, places to dance, book stores – that a city needs for young people. We once had three hotels and seven theaters. That did it. We need something like that again.”

Until then, Haggerty Wenz thinks the variety that is Newburgh will eventually characterize it more than the negative images and stereotypes will.

“I don’t think the crime and blight defines us. What defines us is the diversity,” she says. “I love this city.”

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