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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An afternoon at the Whitney Museum on a weekend when there are sketching tours and open studios for kids on their calendar is a great way to spend a Saturday in the city. Admittedly, the girls usually groan when I announce that we’re going to an art museum, but they always declare it a fun day after the fact. Give them an activity booklet and a pencil and they make it their mission to fill out all the pages and find the relevant artwork to each activity. They’re tireless, and their love for crafting is tireless too. You all know by now that I’m not a crafter, but I admit I may have been picked up a piece of yarn and a pipe cleaner or two that afternoon (though the other day at my friend’s house I absentmindedly starting playing around with these striped pipe cleaners while we talked and made something of a sculptural piece with them. But I wouldn’t call that crafting either. I was fidgeting, and there is a difference).
I love how so many museums in the city organize activities and special tours for kids to get them engaged in the art. Kids under 18 have free admission too which makes it easier for a family to spend the day at the museum. As funding gets cut in NYC publics, art education is sadly one of the first things to go unless you have a PTA that has the fund-raising skills and resources to reinstate those enrichment classes, but unfortunately not every school is able to do this. I’d love to think that we benefit from having world class museums in the city that we live in, and as parents we can help supplement arts education for our kids, but the reality is that we probably don’t get to museums enough.
Now, the girls are old enough that we are paying subway fare for the 10 year old, though oddly enough paying for subway fare is determined by height and not by age which kind of sucks for families with tall kids. We’ve been getting away with the girls ducking under the turnstiles for a long time and bus drivers will still let the kids go on for free, but Mia is just too tall to be doing the ducking thing. This means that at some point it will cost us 20 dollars at the current fare for a family of 4 to take a round trip ride on the subway, and $30 if we need to make an additional stop and ride the train 3 times in a day. I love public transportation, but wow, I never considered the soon-to-be costs of these outings. I hate to say it but driving will become far cheaper and after our train experience last Saturday, definitely more pleasant. Not sure if it’s because the weather was so nice and there were more riders and tourists in general, but the subways were crowded, like rush hour levels crowded. The kind of crowded where you’re packed in like sardines and you wonder to yourself, even though you are totally pro-public transportation all the way, if the destination is worth the hassle of getting there. The girls were getting squished, especially because adults can’t see them at their eye level when they’re trying to push their way in. All they can see is an empty space thinking there’s more room when in fact it’s being occupied by children. So much fun, so much stress, trying to prevent your kids from getting trampled on a crowded train while you become that obnoxious person on the train who yells, “hey, we can’t move further in because there are kids down here!”.
I admit that I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder when it comes to subway fare because as self employed people in NYC, we have to pay the MTA a commuter transportation mobility tax because…who knows why? It’s the stupidest tax created for the self employed on the planet. Let’s penalize freelancers who don’t even commute by making them pay hundreds of dollars to the MTA every year! So yes, even though we only ride the subway a handful of times a month if that, Mark and I both pay more tax to the MTA than we spend on subway fare every year. It makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? (said no self employed person ever). So whenever I think about the MTA tax, I shove Mia under the turnstiles at the subway stations despite her protests of wanting to pay, explaining to her that I’ve already paid for her, in taxes!
Oh, New York. Sometimes we put up with your bullshit to get to the good stuff.
Posted by Jenna | 7 Comments
It was mid-winter break last week. Seemed like everyone we knew was either skiing or in Mexico, but the girls and I didn’t do much. I pushed through deadlines while they played at home. Fifty something glorious degrees on the weekend made the snow melt in the city, but the snow was too much in the surrounding areas to make much of a dent.
We visited a farm on Long Island Saturday, family owned and operated by a couple and their adult children since they bought it in the late 70s. There was one thing that the father said when he was answering questions about life on a farm that stood out for me. Someone asked if raising chickens was hard work. He said, no it wasn’t hard work, but you had to be 100% committed. I thought it was interesting that he made a point to differentiate between the two. It made me think about our business – our “family farm” – and really any business out there. The work itself isn’t necessarily hard, but you have to be 100% committed. Those words never rung more true.
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A few weekends ago, the girls and I stumbled upon this exhibit, “The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter” at the New York Public Library. We were in the neighborhood and on a whim decided to take a look inside since they had never been. Although the exhibit has been open since summer, it was a fantastic, unexpected find. Well curated and beautifully designed, the rooms brought some of the most beloved children’s books to life including a life-size replica of the green room in “Goodnight Moon”.
As we made our way from room to room, we spotted well-loved characters around every corner like Alice, Harold and his Purple Crayon, Max from “Where the Wild Things Are”, and one of Max’s monsters recreated as a cutout entryway covered with fur on one side of the wall and gilded with gold around the edges. When you step back and look at the entire wall, you discover that the monster is a cutout from a wall that is in the shape of Max’s crown.
Books to pull out and read can be found throughout the exhibit and if your kids are like mine, they’ll take every opportunity to sit down and read. One of my favorite little details was an ivy covered wall from The Secret Garden which had a carved out ledge for sitting. On either side, almost hidden by the ivy, were 2 slots in the wall wide enough to hold a single book.
Leonard S. Marcus, a children’s book historian who is the curator of the exhibit, draws together 250 artifacts from the library’s archives including original artwork, manuscripts and letters. On display is a rare illustrated edition of Aesop’s Fables, the original stuffed bear and tiger that inspired the characters in “Winnie-the-Pooh”, and original watercolors from “Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm”.
The exhibit runs through March 23 and is free to the public. Make sure you visit the library gift shop too. Can’t remember the last time I bought a book for myself (the kids buy books all the time), but the gift shop is stocked with some great books and we walked out with a few.
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