The kids have this thing when we drive through small towns (which seem to be one of our favorite weekend pastimes) of calling out all the big houses we pass and “claiming” the ones they like as future houses they want to live in. It isn’t a surprise that they get curious about living in houses since all they’ve ever known is apartment living. I wonder too if we’ll ever live in a house someday, though we’re most certainly staying in the city for the foreseeable future. But it’s been on my mind more lately. I’ve admitted on more than a few occasions that I’m not cut out for home renovation, at least not in the lives that we live right now, but I also know that we won’t be living in this apartment forever. It’s a bit strange to think about where we might retire someday and I can’t believe I’m already thinking about life after the kids leave home, but it’s not *that* far away when you think about it. Maybe that’s why we like bumbling around small towns on the weekends because you know, the grass is always greener…
Two towns that stood out to us in our recent adventures coincidentally have the same name: Cold Spring. One is north of the city along the Hudson and the other on a harbor on Long Island. When I daydream about living in an old Victorian house in a charming town, these are the kinds of places that come to mind. They’re both near water and have small, walkable Main Streets full of shops and cafes. Seems idyllic and quiet, but I also know it’s because it’s a nice change coming up from the city. So the questions always remain: would I get restless in a small town like this? Would I feel isolated? When I think about the girls, I know that where we are is the right place for us. They’re both homebodies by nature; sometimes they need to be motivated out of the apartment. I fear that if we raised them in a small town they would be too isolated, but that assumption could be because it’s all we know. So we remain, city folks, with a weekend hobby of visiting old estate mansions, antique shops, and charming small towns along the water.
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Sometimes on weekend days when Mark isn’t working, we wake up with an urge to look for an adventure. This is about as spontaneous as we get these days. Like most families with school-age kids, our lives can feel over scheduled. We’re bound by school days and vacations, and boxed in by the kids’ extracurricular activities and our work lives. I know it’s just temporary since the years that we have with the kids before they turn into teenagers who’d rather do anything but hang out with their parents are running short, but for now, these impulsive weekend drives satisfy that itch (well, almost).
Locust Grove was Samuel Morse’s old estate – a summer house like so many of his fellow wealthy contemporaries used to own. The daughter of the new owners who purchased the house in 1901 set up a foundation to preserve the house and stated in her mandate that nothing was to be removed, nor anything brought in. So the walls have the original fading linen wallpapers, the cupboards are full with liquor and medicine bottles half full, and shoes were left peeking under the beds. It almost makes you feel like you’re a voyeur and it’s kind of a trip to think about how old everything is.
I’m pretty sure that when the girls grow up, they’ll remember how their crazy mother dragged them to all these old mansions along the Hudson River and Long Island. I don’t think they’re quite old enough, however, to know what it means to humor somebody, so I’m going to take their attentive attitude on these tours as genuine interest. They’re also studying American history at school so the details of this era are pretty fresh in their minds already. Me? I just like going into old houses.
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Do you know how sometimes among friends it can be hard to collectively agree on plans? Everyone throws out ideas and then you do this back and forth dance until a decision is finally made. It ends up sounding a little something like this:
So what do you guys want to do today?
Do you want to go to a museum?
Do you want to go to the street fair?
Do you want to go to the East Village? I think there’s a traveling circus performing today.
Do you want to go to Dumbo? There’s an art festival there.
I don’t want to go to Dumbo, I don’t want to go anywhere.
When your kids get older and start expressing their opinions about weekend plans, it gets much harder to motivate the family out of the house sometimes because there’s always that one person who disagrees and throws everything off when you have 4 people trying to make decisions. Sure, we can exercise our parental powers and make all the decisions – and we often do otherwise we’d be going to Coney Island every single weekend if they had their way – but we do like to give the kids a vote on how we spend our weekends sometimes. But holy hell! It can be a painful process.
When we finally got out of the house in the afternoon on Sunday after much group deliberation, Dumbo was already teeming with people. The Dumbo Arts Festival is an annual three day art event with exhibits, open studios and plenty of tables and supplies on the street to make your own little pieces of art. Despite the crowds, it was one of those weekend days that made the effort of getting out of the house quite worth it. Sometimes crowds can be draining and other times it can be energizing, and Sunday was one of those days where it felt good to be out in the city amongst other New Yorkers, looking at art, getting inspired and enjoying what is probably the last of the lingering summer weather. NY was full of energy last weekend; so many different kinds of events happening all over the city. And thank you to those who stopped by our booth at the Chile Festival on Saturday. If we appeared frazzled, I apologize. It’s always our biggest event of the year and this year proved no different. It isn’t often that I’m at these events, so it makes me really happy to hear people come back to say that the Chocolate Curry Fudgsicles were the best thing they had at the Festival or that they had never tasted this flavor combination before. And to that man who enjoyed the Massaman Curry Peanut Butter Sandwiches so much that he saved the last bite in a napkin to enjoy later because he didn’t want the cookie to end – you made my day.
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Discovering a gem like we did on Sunday makes you wonder how many other little known places remain hidden. You know how we love to visit old mansions and estates in the New York area. This one was never on our radar until we happened to casually do a last minute search on things to do within an hour’s drive of the city. Untermyer Gardens may currently be in a period of restoration, but there’s no denying that the state of ruins add to the magic and nostalgia of days gone by (the foggy weather helped too).
You know a place is really special when you turn a corner and find something unexpected that completely surprises you. I was taking my time looking at all the flowers in the walled garden when the girls excitedly called me over. I didn’t expect to see the the long vista of stairs leading down to a view of the Hudson River. We didn’t expect to come across a rocky tower capped with a lacy filigree temple either. A maze of narrow stairs, little alcoves and tunnels made of stones lead you up to a landing overlooking a curious arrangement of rocks. The graffiti reminds you that this place was neglected for some time, but it doesn’t take away from the charm at all. I think I’d even be a little sad to see all the graffiti washed away if this part of the gardens get restored.
This place is for fantasy, perfect for the girls to explore and pretend play and perfect for a short break from the city. It felt like we were the only ones there. We’re coming back when the leaves reach their peak; with only the edges of a few trees turning color, we saw just a hint of what could be.
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Our fascination with the Gold Coast Mansions of Long Island continues and we found a new one to visit last weekend at Sands Point, which is the home to the Guggenheim Estate. There are walking trails and acres of grass to set up a picnic, and access to a quiet beach which hands down sealed the deal when we were thinking of places to go on that sunny Saturday. We had space to run, think and enjoy the view; pretty much the perfect place to spend a day.
And you know what I did? Read. Not on my phone, not on the computer, but an actual book. Sadly, I can’t remember the last time I read a book uninterrupted in one sitting like that. I’ll admit that when I attempt to read at home, the temptation to answer emails that come in is too damn hard. I can’t even watch TV or a movie without multitasking on my computer. Sad, isn’t it? Or is this a new normal?
Now that I am making the moves to declutter my life on various fronts, I’m hoping I can change some habits and focus on things one at a time, just as we used to do without so many distractions.
More Gold Coast Mansions
Planting Fields at Coe Hall | Vanderbilt Mansion | Nassau County Museum of Art/Frick Estate | Old Westbury Gardens
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