Holiday Preview

Every year, on or about July 1st, my youngest sister texts to let me know that it’s begun. Christmas music has entered her life via every streaming device in her possession — and sometimes, simply within her reach. Gloating immediately follows. She has beaten me to the chase in welcoming the holiday season yet again.

Yes, our season lasts six months. Yes, we are both fully grown adults. We believe that if you can’t have a little fun in life, you’re missing the point. Part of that fun is extending the holiday season. You may therefore be surprised to hear that we’re both late to the party this year. Aside from noting that Hallmark’s Countdown to Christmas starts during my birthday week (huzzah!), we’ve failed to advance much further. I count this among our greatest missed opportunities for 2018.

Meanwhile, the holiday season as observed by our saner compatriots draws closer by the day. In Manhattan, preparations have already begun — or so says Husband, who keeps tabs on these things for me now that my base of operations is Long Island. It feels strange that this season I won’t watch the windows come alive daily. In that sense, it’s like I’m in college again, when we’d wait until finals week to go see the city lit up with holiday cheer.

But waiting has always been my problem. I have a forward drive that cannot be stopped. Why, only last week I was struck with full holiday season readiness. By this I mean a strong appetite for cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, and the infamous, once-a-year Johnny Appleseed grace we kids grew accustomed to back home. By December, this will give way to an insatiable desire for three more things: a dusting of snow, an overabundance of brightly colored lights, and the scrawniest fir tree you can possibly find.

Alas, here we are. It’s the end of October and none of these things are to be found. Pounds of candy and what feels like a million door-bell-startled dog barks stand between me and the most wonderful time of the year. What gets me through? First, hiding or giving away ALL the candy that questionably-dressed children don’t gorge themselves on by Halloween. Then I’ll run, full tilt, toward all things resembling my preferred holidays. The trick is to give this behavior creative names so it seems like I’m well-mannered and definitely not an impatient winter shrew.

P.S. did we just find my Halloween costume? I think we did. Dibs!

The “holiday preview” meal that inspired this post is absolutely one of those immediately gratifying acts. I’m mentally skipping ahead one month. Who said we have to be bound by the calendar of socially acceptable celebration? Not me! Granted, we can’t go around doing whatever we want all the time, but I have noticed that creating opportunities for happiness, however small, goes a long way in life. That’s why, last week, Husband and I did the unthinkable. We prepared a seasonally inappropriate meal. Just one dish. Just one night. Just for the two of us. Just because. (And yeah, also because my holiday season has been here for quite awhile…).

Give the recipe a read — maybe it’s something to try when we’re all properly yule logging, caroling, and eggnogging the night away in a few short weeks!

The Eats Deets:

Recipe: Spiced Wine-Braised Short Ribs (slightly edited) from Midwest Living. I added a few more carrots than the recipe called for and threw in a pack of mushrooms for good measure.

Yield: Eight short ribs + the fixings.

Time: Half hour prep / three hour cook time.

Materials: Dutch oven, good knife, tongs. Also, if you can count it here, patience.

Pros: Your house will smell like the holidays, eliminating the need for potpourri. Also, it’s a one-pot meal that gets better the next day. And there’s wine. Need I say more?

Cons: This is not a dish for those short on time. I’d advise saving it for a weekend! Please also note that your neighbors may spontaneously show up when the scent of your A+ homemaking wafts down the street. This means your house should be clean before you start cooking. And yeah, go ahead and set out a couple more plates while you’re at it.

Would you make it again? Yes. I might wait until it’s a bit colder, but it’s a definite yes from us. We enjoyed this meal so much that silence descended upon our house from the time I plated dishes until the time Husband lovingly cleared the table. We are never silent during supper. It was just that good.

The Eats Story:

Sorry folks, I cheated and told the story first this time. But you get it. I look forward to the holidays. I sometimes eat seasonally inappropriate foods. I find joy in little things like sharing a meal with people I love. It’s not rocket science. But it matters.

And it matters for you, too. If not this recipe, this month, or this act of self care, then I hope you come to find and practice whatever makes you happy and whole, in the presence of others who support you. Get out there and find whatever makes your hearts and bellies full. I’d call that a win in any season.

The Eats Results:

As I await news from my sister that I’ve lost yet another holiday text competition, please enjoy these photos of our dinner — which could be your next meal in approximately 3.5 hours!

xoxo, 

Ryan

North by North Carolinian

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Full concept and content by Ryan Vale McGonigle

 

 

Heritage Farm & Garden

In 2016, my heart broke. The only place on Long Island where I could go to clear my head, feel at home, and know that I was ok, closed. There was no more Martin Viette and I would never be the same. When I later found out that the 42-acre sprawl was scheduled for mixed-use redevelopment, I wanted to throw up, so instead I cried, and vowed never to go back to Muttontown. I simply couldn’t stomach seeing the place I loved turned into something so wrong. If you’ve ever been to this part of Long Island, you’ll know why. If you haven’t, then I encourage you to go, so you can discover that for yourself.

Four months later, my heart broke a little differently. While the commercial plans halted (thank you, Peconic Land Trust), the memory of Martin Viette would not last long either, because another garden center opened almost immediately on this hallowed ground. Don’t get me wrong. I was glad to see the land used in the way it was intended, but I was also worried that the new place would bastardize what made its predecessor so special, that it would be commercial in other ways.

For that reason, I refused to visit Heritage Farm & Garden for almost a year. Despite my own curiosity. Despite what I knew to be beautiful land. Despite my support for local business. Despite Husband’s best efforts to convince me otherwise. I know, I am stubborn. Especially when I am hurting. But, like any other rational being, eventually I can open my mind to other ways of thinking or doing things. And I did. That’s how I found myself at Heritage nearly a year after I swore I’d never go back. That was last fall.

Truthfully, I wasn’t confident I’d made the right choice. My throat closed up and my heart pounded as we pulled up the long drive. I was looking for something, anything, that remained from what once was. I didn’t have to look far. There was the big green lawn where we’d run wild with our dog in seasons past. There was the pen for small farm animals. There was the iconic grey barn, the old truck, and the gravel parking lot across the way. It was all still there. It had different branding. It had changed. But it was there. I let a big breath out and relaxed the tension I’d been carrying around for the past year. My “home visit” was done, it would be ok, and the world would keep turning.

Another year later, elsewhere in Nassau County, I felt that old familiar ache. The air grew crisp and the leaves blazed their first gold and crimson, heralding the start of fall. This season always makes me melancholy. There are loads of emotions and memories — most of them happy, but all of which make me want to go home. Since that’s not possible of late, I longed to be near the closest thing, out in the rolling hills of Muttontown. The longing came on intensely, and as suddenly as the seasons changed, so too did my heart. I knew it was time to go back to Heritage. Not just to visit, but to be there fully, to allow myself joy in our annual pilgrimage. It meant something again.

A brief aside, if you’ll permit: names have meaning. As defined by Merriam-Webster, heritage literally means “something transmitted by or acquired from a predecessor.” That can be something literal, as in land or a dwelling or an object. It can also be something bigger and harder to contain, like a legacy. A heritage is something of importance. It is both rooted and carried forward. It is a living, breathing thing. It is not stagnant. It does not disappear, even if it changes. It is borne of us all the time.

This is the case with Heritage Farm & Garden. The history of this place — and I don’t just mean the tax parcel on which its 42 acres sit — must be preserved and respected. But it must also be allowed a new life and legacy, new memories. And actually, allowed isn’t the right word. A heritage is something to be celebrated. That’s exactly what Husband and I intended to do as we hopped in the car, dog in tow, on this sunny Saturday afternoon. We celebrated.

I’m so glad we went. This time, heart fully open, I felt joy as we drove up its gravel path. I wasn’t alone in that feeling. On our approach, Dog shot up from her back seat snooze. She knew exactly where she was. When we opened the door to let her out a few moments later, it was clearly much too late for her liking. She pulled with such force in the direction of all things good that she missed at least one critical opportunity for admiration by children who, hands and bellies full of pumpkins and cider, could only cry out “puppy!” as she jettisoned her way up the parking lot.

She never misses chances like this. That’s just the level of excitement our family embraced this afternoon. We knew, instinctively, that there would be more doting children, and parents, and employees, through the gates. We remembered, though it had been quite some time, the popcorn-dropped paths, the field-spotted farm animals, the large pots and furniture practically made for peering around, the colorful plantings and garden decor freshly curated for the season.

After endless rounds of admiration for Dog, and one small garden flag for Husband and me, we made our way to the cashier, so that we could take this little piece of home, home with us. But, too bad (wink wink), it was there where we discovered our first true surprise from Heritage Farm & Garden. We’ll let you in on the secret. Lean in … listen real good … ready?

The treats have been moved to the outdoor check-out area. Do with this information what you will, but we’re warning you now that it means your seasonal food and beverage favorites are even closer than they were before. It also means that we ultimately walked away with a flag, a decorative pumpkin, a bag of cider donuts, a half gallon of apple cider, and three very full hearts this afternoon. What can you do? Self-restraint isn’t a thing when fall favorites are around.

And I’m glad.

I’m glad there’s still a place where I can go to be at home on Long Island.

And I’m glad that place is Heritage Farm & Garden.

To many, many happy years, family.

We’ll see you soon.

xoxo,

Ryan

North by North Carolinian

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Want to find out more about Heritage? Try their website! You’ll find all sorts of information about their shop and seasonal offerings, like Fall Festival, which runs now ’til October 28th. Or perhaps you’re searching for garden advice? They’ve got that too — head over to their blog.

For an outside perspective, the Syosset Jericho Tribune did a lovely write-up about Heritage’s continued history. Adding to this narrative, with a bit more information about the family who owns it, is an article from the Long Island Press.

Like what you see so far? Give them some love on Facebook (@heritagefng), Instagram (@heritagefarmgarden), or better yet, go visit. The staff are super friendly, and they welcome kids and pets. Yes, they actually like when you bring your dog.

Cue your grammable moment in 3…2…1….

Heritage Farm & Garden

6050 Northern Boulevard

Muttontown, NY 11732

Full concept and content by Ryan Vale McGonigle

TIME’s “Special Issue on the American South”

“[…] I grew up, as we all did, on tragedy and promise, past and present, myth and music.”

Edward Felsenthal

Editor-In-Chief, TIME

From the Editor,  August 8 / August 13, 2018 Special Issue on the American South

This weekend I sat outside on our not-quite-level, not-quite-presentable, not-quite-sittable porch. Plastic patio furniture and a small outdoor rug made this possible, covering its loose paving stones and the holes between them in a setup that functions less as a disguise and more as a bandage until we can fully address the brokenness.

That the porch is falling apart isn’t a reason for us not to be there. We love it and we know it will take time to shore up its foundation. Even as we’re cursing the coffee that doesn’t sit, the chairs that can’t help but rock, the ankles that won’t do anything but roll, we find joy in this part of our home. It’s broken, but it’s ours. And that means something.

We’re aware of this all the time. But this weekend, as I sat there with my magazine, TIME’s Special Issue on the American South, I was even more tuned in to the irony of my porch enjoyment. The physical experience of sitting on our busted porch is about the closest analogy I can draw to what existing as a native Southerner up North feels like. It’s really hard. And also full of holes that subject people to destabilization, consternation, and occasionally, grief.

Go ahead, chuckle, that was intended. However, the after-effects of my busted porch and Southernness (that I’m a Southerner with a love for porches is not lost on me) can be unsettling, and it would be gauche to laugh at that reality. What reality am I speaking of? It’s complicated, but here’s the short answer.

Best case? People offer unsolicited advice about ways I can improve it (the porch, me), hide it (the porch, me), and maybe — if I’m really, really lucky — manage to convince the powers that be that it (the porch, me) never actually existed in its current state. Worst case? When I am silent, I am complicit. When I speak up, I must be complaining, ungrateful, or — my personal favorite — just not adjusted yet.

Sure, some of my views are unpopular. This is, I believe, largely because they’re uncomfortable. But Heavens to Betsy, if they are uncomfortable, that’s because they are intended to be. As uncomfortable as my opinions may seem to others who seek to silence them, I promise, it is much more uncomfortable to live the experiences that spur their development.

I wish more people would open their eyes to this reality, not so that I am pitied (please, spare us all from that), or that I’m cast aside (one person’s discomfort does not make another’s experiences less valid), but so that we can continue to dialogue and grow in our capacity for solidarity and love. Together. This is important work on the larger scale, but it cannot begin until eyes, hearts, and minds are open to doing it, even when it’s hard, even when it’s unpopular, even when “likes” and “followers” and “retweets” are on the line.

I acknowledge that this is difficult in our post-modern, teched-up, brand-obsessed, lightening-speed world, a world where you’re only as good as your last win or your competitor’s last loss. I fully see that. I too live in that world. Which is why I know it’s so hard. But I implore us, dear readers, to push past the pressures we put on ourselves, in order to do the work we’re capable of doing once we opt to actually do it. That’s part of why this blog exists, to lean in to those challenges, and to address them from a place of love. Because in the long run, love wins. Every time. Every. Damn. Time. Sometimes, it just takes awhile longer.

What keeps me going? Knowing I am not alone, however alone I sometimes feel. Friends. Family. Neighbors. Occasionally, strangers. Many of whom will go unnamed or unrecognized by the larger world, because these people are here to do the work, rather than get recognized for something that cheapens or exists by proxy of it.

You know proxy work when you see it. It’s what’s done when the right light is shining, at the right time of day, in the correct month of the opportune year, when it’s sexy and exciting and, like, so on-trend. You also know when actual work is being done, which is basically any time the former isn’t. You probably won’t read about it or hear about it. But if you look around, you’ll see it in your everyday lives. Small acts of resistance. Small acts of courage. Small acts of love.

Where can you find them? Get off the internet, first of all. Get out into the world. Form and keep loving, supportive relationships with people and places that you are willing to love and support in return. That, my friends, is one of the greatest privileges any of us will have in our short lives.

Never underestimate the power this brings you. Not just the power of social capital, but the kind of power that exists when you have real humans in your real life who really love you, through whatever ups, downs, successes, failures, opportunities, or challenges come your way. In this may you be blessed — and, of equal importance, may you also realize your blessings.

And then honestly? Sometimes you don’t find blessings, they find you. In this case, TIME’s Special Issue found me, by way of a loving and supportive husband, who knew what I needed in this season of my life. The magazine — by all accounts a national (read: Northeastern) authority, provided a surprise blessing this weekend. I was surprised to get it, sure, but the contents were just as arresting. Boasting inclusions by Jesmyn Ward, and about Stacey Abrams and 31 other incredible humans, all of whom are Southern, it rocked me to my core.

Why? This South wasn’t a South of people who traveled to it or through it, looking only for reasons to react to it for one brief moment in time, on a short assignment or for periodic gain. No, it was a South of Southerners, in all their complexities, however beautiful, turbulent, or painful. Even more importantly, it was a South of Southerners in their own words. Edited, I’m sure. But in their voices just the same.

Please, stop and contemplate the magnitude of that reality. Someone in New York City, the cultural capital of the Northeast (or, as many New Yorkers will tell you, of the world), decided that this was something worth pursuing. Which means that someone in New York City thought that New York City wasn’t the only place with opinions worth hearing, stories worth telling, histories worth teaching.

I assure you, this is radical. It’s also just. Which is exactly why, through most of my Saturday afternoon spent reading on that old, busted porch, I cried. I cried tears of relief and exhaustion. Tears of acceptance and renewal. Tears of knowing that, for one brief shining moment, someone in New York City suggested that, perhaps, the South deserves another read, and for reasons that may surprise its readers.

This is an important moment in our cultural history, America. And, contrary to what we’re taught in school, our history is not over. In fact, it is constantly unfolding, and we are the actors. We are the ones who will decide what our children and their children and their children learn. What do we want them to remember? Why? With whom? These are all questions we should be asking ourselves. Many already do, and it shows in their work, whether or not the rest of us are aware of it yet.

Meanwhile, we can do more to help this work come into focus, and garner the attention and support it deserves, in all its forms and places. That’s the other part of why this blog exists. I sincerely wish that more people knew about the forward motion already in progress — and, to clarify, this work is far from new. No single person has “the answer” to any of our most intractable problems, just as no single person can take credit for our most glorious successes. It is our responsibility to recognize good work around us, and to give credit where it’s appropriately due, especially when that work is not our own.

I’m talking about the work incredible humans have done over decades, over centuries, to elevate our understanding, further our conversations, and improve our treatment of each other. Oftentimes, this work comes from places that “mainstream” America might not have guessed. Politicians and academics, sure, but also chefs, nonprofit founders, novelists, struggling neighbors working multiple jobs to make ends meet, you name it. And again, to be perfectly clear, it’s not always White, Middle-Class Men in these roles. The people changing history are not always those in positions of power.

If you’re wondering whattttt?, then I encourage you to dig a bit deeper in whatever learning or research you may have already started. Once you do, you’ll find that the examples are too numerous to count. To reduce them to a list here would be to miss the point almost entirely.

First, I’m not in the business of ranking people. Second, I’m not in the business of prescribing explicit instructions for anyone’s journey through life. I am in the business of asking questions that could inspire journeying in the first place. Especially knowing how transformative journeying together can be.

To that end, I hope this space is not your destination, but your beginning, or perhaps your renewal. We are all here to learn, to listen, and to love greater than we did the day before. If this space takes us even one small step forward, then I will have succeeded. This is  — and I am — a work in progress.

And I know I cannot do this alone. So, I would like to issue a commendation, share a thank you, and offer a prayer that this good work continues. Not just with TIME, but with other people who find the courage to present stories that are complex (be wary of the term “real”). It must continue, but the work must also grow, it must welcome new voices, it must act in fact how it purports to believe and do elsewhere.

Make no mistake. This is difficult work. It comes with as many scuffs and bruises as it does medals and successes. But that is where the magic happens. In that uncomfortable, unruly, unpresentable growth. Not just when it’s timely, not just when it’s relevant, not just when it looks good. But now, because it’s critical, and because it always has been.

Before we go, I wish for you: a profound, abiding love for your roots, wherever and however deep they grow. May you also know love for the roots of others. May you recognize that love takes work, but may you also possess the courage it takes to practice it daily. Because that alone is a blessing worth examining, worth protecting. No matter where you call home. God Speed.

xoxo,

Ryan

North by North Carolinian

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To find this Special Issue, visit TIME’s website here.

To discover why TIME created this issue, read Edward Felsenthal’s From the Editor here. You might recognize the opening quote from this piece if you read his.

And, if you don’t know much about Mr. Felsenthal, here’s some more information from TIME’s Media Kit. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that he’s a Southerner.

Full concept and content by Ryan Vale McGonigle

Swyler’s “The Book of Speculation”

“It’s very easy for someone like you or me to get lost in an object, to accept certain ideas as fact without proper exploration.”

Mr. Churchwarry to Simon, p. 180

The Book of Speculation

Have you ever noticed how humans tend to seek the simplest, swiftest explanations for the situations we face? Look around — you’ll see that we all end up falling into this trap at one point or another (and probably repeatedly).

You may also notice that we have a strong urge to resist simple definition. Humans are funny creatures. We crave simplicity as we try to understand the world around us, but we go berserk the minute someone provides a simple explanation for something close or important to us.

Yeah, I fall into that trap too, and I try very hard to remain aware of it. One of the ways I do this is by finding opportunities to get out in the world. I go places, I meet people, I read books, I eat food, I work, I volunteer. In everything I do, I am here to listen, to learn, to fight against the trap. My hope is that, in the process, I expand my brain, elevate my understanding, and grow in my capacity for solidarity rather than fear. But it can be hard. Really hard. And sometimes isolating, because loads of people don’t share this view of the world.

I’d been looking for something that would help bridge the gap when I stumbled across Erika Swyler’s The Book of Speculation. Perhaps fittingly, the book was not what I expected. For those of you with interests in the circus, coastal life, book culture, or intergenerational stories, Swyler’s novel could be for you. Her storytelling — and her capacity to weave a story, within a story, within a story — is notable. But I’d like to pull back from that, and resist the urge to give you a standard book review.

What most impressed me about this particular novel was its sense of place. Swyler’s command of culture on Long Island dances off each page. She makes place a character worthy of discussion, something I see rarely in modern writing. We’ve become so introspective it hurts. Not the case here. Not by a longshot. Not if you know where to look.

At once a fine critic and a fierce advocate, Swyler shows all who are willing to see about a Long Island most will never choose to encounter — a Long Island that is at once beautiful and brutal, homey and alienating, historic and changing, rooted and disappearing. It’s the “and” in those phrases that matters. It’s the idea that a culture, a place, a person, or a thing can be more than the simple characterizations we create when we stop at speculation.

I have written here and elsewhere about those dangers. I speak from experience. As a North Carolinian living on Long Island, it makes my heart hurt when I hear individuals rail against what they think my home is, only to later hear these individuals’ plans for capitalizing on it. And, as a Long Islander by marriage and address, I’m becoming equally bothered by the reductivist views people have about this culture. Why? Because it’s one of my homes, it’s part of me, and no place is that simple, dammit. I feel obligated to love and protect it, for its own sake, as it is. It’s a force that cannot be stopped.

This story of home and obligation, of protection and love, is written all over Swyler’s pages. So if you missed it, go read her book again. It’s the undercurrent, the heart from which her novel beats. And, as with most things in life, if we resist the urge to over-simplify, to read only at the surface level, we might just see it, we might just find that it’s worth keeping. But certainly, don’t forget to enjoy the magic Swyler prepared along the way!

xoxo,

Ryan

North by North Carolinian

northxnc_3.13.18

Curious about speculation, or Swyler, or both? Start here, then find another circus 😉

(1) This interview Erika did for Newsday back in 2015. I was already a fan before I read this, and now I see why. She gets it. If you’re wondering what “it” is … read the interview, or better yet, read her book.

(2) This interview she did for New In Books. Wait ’til you get to the part about whac-a-mole. Then tell me you can’t conjure a great childhood memory or two afterwards.

Full concept and content by Ryan Vale McGonigle

Coe Hall

I love a good history & literature connection. I love gardens and old houses. I love guided tours. And I love a good excuse to get out of the house. So, when I saw that the Planting Fields Foundation was hosting a Great Gatsby-themed event, I called to reserve my spot without skipping a beat.

Friends, in what will probably be a rarity in this space, I’d like to brag on the event organizer for a minute. Then I promise we can talk about the tour. But I would be remiss not to mention how stellar this experience was from the very beginning.

It started with a phone call. Yes, I had to call a person to reserve my spot on this tour. Do you know how refreshing it was to use the phone feature of my phone? And, in the digital age, to hear a human’s voice on the other end? It changed the whole tenor of my day. Here’s the simple but critical reason why: the staffer actually talked (and listened) to me.

She did more than reserve my spot and take my payment. She did more than talk at me about what the organization has to offer. This staffer invested her time in learning about my interest, provided prime parking information (which was, by the way, spot on!), and offered me her direct line so I could call her again. Not her email. Not an automated answering machine maze of death. Her actual telephone number.

She did all of this without making me feel like I was on a sales or fundraising call. It was like I, you know, actually mattered. If you’re scoffing at this, thinking “yeah ok, that’s not a revolutionary thought,” then please, pick up the phone and make a cold call. Pay attention to how you’re treated. Even when you’re a pleasant and potentially-paying customer, the person on the other end of the line may not be helpful — or even pleasant.

I know this because I have worked in many customer service roles. I know excellent service. Planting Fields Foundation provides it. If I wanted to make this blog ratings-centric (hard pass), I’d give them five gold stars. They’re incredible. So much so that when I showed up for my tour, I was a little worried their “shiny finish” would wear off, simply because the bar had been set so high from the outset. I was proven wrong — and gladly so.

Over the course of a 1.5-hour tour, our friendly docent took us:

(1) Across four wings — Spanning cloisters, entertaining spaces, working quarters, and reception areas, meticulously curated rooms transported us back in time to the early 1900s. My favorite find? Somewhere along the tour (take it to find out where!), an owl and a rooster are carved into banisters as directional markers. Think about it for a minute and you’ll know why.

(2) Up and down four floors — From the basement’s coal burners (rare tour inclusion!) to the fourth floor servant’s quarters (surprisingly nice!), we climbed more stairs than I normally climb in … well, a long time. Tour AND workout session? Yes please. I didn’t even miss the gym a little bit by the time we were done.

(3) On a fascinating journeyComparing the wealth and lifestyle of the Coes to that of Fitzgerald’s fictional Gatsby, the docent let the house’s grandeur shine, while also clearing up common misconceptions about life on the Gold Coast. One of the starkest contrasts? While Gatsby lived in his mansion, families like the Coes would have vacationed to Long Island mostly on weekends in the fall and spring. How much did it cost to furnish this “quaint country house?” A cool $200 million. In 1918 dollars. Who wants to adjust that for inflation?

There were so many impressive things about this tour. Besides the cool facts you can learn — did you know the Coes had a three-room walk-in refrigerator? and that it took 7,800 pounds of ice to keep it cool? — the space itself is breathtaking. Its balance of utility and beauty, masterful.

My pictures hardly do it justice, but here are a few favorites, mostly of things people tend to forget about when they’re staring at period artwork the size of Everest. I’ve had lifelong love affairs with texture, pattern, and light, so this house was like my own personal heaven. Was I fan-girling? Absolutely and unapologetically. Don’t laugh too hard. You might be joining me in that camp sooner than you think.

The Windows:

The Ceilings & Floors:

The Woodwork: 

Tempted by what you see? Go check it out for yourself!

My ticket for this heavenly experience was only $7. Parking was $8 for the day. Yeah, I shelled out $15, but I’d rather spend my time walking here than sitting down at the movies or sitting at home staring at my own windows and ceilings (yes, I do this. yes, it’s embarrassing. no, I’m not here to be fake and hide embarrassing things from you).

With everything there is to do on-site, you can totally make a full day of this trip. Bring a small picnic and sit on the lawn — or don’t, and eat at the new restaurant at the Hay Barn. Walk around the beautiful gardens. Visit one of the museum’s other exhibits (they have Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s sculptures right now!). Get your “Music in the Garden” on or find another event that’s more your style.

Whatever you do, just go. And prepare to be impressed by the grounds, the people, the whole experience. At 100 years young, Coe Hall  and the Planting Fields Foundation will make you feel like time stands still. And if you’re anything like me, that’s a good thing, because you won’t want the experience to end.

xoxo,

Ryan

North by North Carolinian

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P.S. Want to know where you can find this Long Island gem? Here’s their address:

Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park
1395 Planting Fields Road
Oyster Bay, NY 11771

Want more information before you go? Check out their website!

Or read/watch CBS Sunday Morning’s feature, A Gilded Age Treasurehere.

Full concept and content by Ryan Vale McGonigle

Palisades Interstate Park

We — Husband, Salem, and I — love to hike. When the weather and my knees are both cooperative, it’s out the door we go, and into the great outdoors. We’ve had some great adventures through the years. Lucky for us, we haven’t had to go far to find them.

This weekend we had to go a little further. You might even say a line was crossed. Before I continue, New Yorkers, you might want to sit down. And actually, if that seat has a belt, fasten it. Then take steady, full breaths. What I’m about to tell you may be shocking.

We ok? Alright, feel free to keep reading. But for goodness sakes, keep breathing too.

On Saturday, our family went all the way to — brace yourselves — New Jersey. Miraculously, we lived to tell the tale. A tale of bravery, a tale of adventure, a tale of…yeah, none of those things, but we definitely had a good time and we might even go back.

The Palisades Interstate Park is an hour and change from where we live. Before anyone balks or uses that as a reason not to go, remember that it usually takes this long to get anywhere in the greater NYC metro area. I promise, the drive is worth it. Especially if you know which way to go.

When you travel, please ignore your GPS device, which will probably tell you to take the GW.  If you do this, you’ll just sit in standstill traffic for upwards of an hour, while simultaneously doubling your commute time and your blood pressure reading. Not something to strive for. Instead, try the Tappan Zee. Then snake your way through charming cliffside towns, which offer spectacular views of the Hudson River between people’s homes and the lush greenery that probably looks even better in the fall.

If the drive is pretty, the park itself is spectacular. Straddling New York and New Jersey with over 100,000 acres of protected land, historic landmarks, and of course hiking trails, Palisades Interstate Park offers unobstructed views of the Hudson. I knew the river was impressive, but mercy, it’s just one of those things you have to see in person to fully appreciate. At the State Line Lookout, the highest point, Husband and I took a few photos.

Just a preview of life about 500 feet in the air.

Really, go see it for yourselves! If I showed you all the best stuff, you might never go. Along with these views, you’ll find a small cafe, clean indoor public bathrooms, a free parking lot, and ample green space with picnic tables you can enjoy with friends and family before or after your hikes.

On this particular trip, we headed down the Long Path (aqua trail), so that we could reach the state line and be those cheeseballs who’re in two places at once. And we did that, but all kidding aside, this hike is called “long” and “moderate” for a reason. The first part is deceivingly easy. Then you hit the stairs. There’s a lot of them. They’re uneven. And along a super-steep grade. They should be taken seriously.

If stairs are a deal-breaker, you might enjoy taking the fork (decently marked) to loop back toward the old state highway / trailhead and cafe where you started. I was surprised and grateful to see that option available, as I have bad knees that aren’t always compatible with downhill anything. Alternatives are also nice no matter your ability or experience levels.

For those interested, Salem had no trouble along our hike, but we kept her on a tight leash so her exuberance for life didn’t send her off a cliff. Yes, this was a very real fear of ours mine. Pictured below: walking/hiking with our curious, triumphant pup.

Another insider tip? If you go early in the day, you will avoid the crowds (this place is pop-u-lar) and stay cool, however brisk your walk. Admittedly, for us “brisk” is relative, because Salem stops to “boingle” every five seconds. This means she puts her nose to the ground and refuses to budge until maximum sniff has been achieved. We have yet to figure out what her measurement or evaluation systems entail. It’s a work in progress. Meanwhile, we’re just glad for the time with her, and with each other, in places we might not ordinarily be. Yes, that includes New Jersey. Yes, we highly recommend it. And yes, we challenge you to call it anything other than beautiful when you’re there.

xoxo, 

Ryan

North by North Carolinian

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Full concept and content by Ryan Vale McGonigle

Walt Whitman’s Birthplace

Yesterday, we hit a beautiful 80 degrees on Long Island.

Unfortunately, days like this won’t last long. As we round the corner from spring to summer, time outside will be limited to beach-faring and BBQing, when it’s too hot to even think about doing much else. With that in mind, I decided to get out and do something fun.

I’ve known about The Walt Whitman Birthplace and Interpretive Center for about a decade. A college professor shared news of this under-the-radar gem in a literature course, but until now I haven’t lived close enough to easily go visit.

Looking back on my short trip, I’m so glad I finally went! The grounds boast a museum, charming outdoor space, oodles of period details (like a desk from Whitman’s time as a teacher), and a first edition of Leaves of Grass (poetry fans out there, you’ve gotta see this!).

The only catch? It’s definitely well-nestled in its surroundings. So well-nestled, in fact, that I almost missed the turn into the small parking lot, which accommodates about a dozen cars at once.

Historic site signs help guide your journey from major highways, but local street signs are small and hard to read. Add that to the fact that the address says Huntington Station, but locals call it West Hills, and woof. But never fret, if you get lost, the site is minutes away from the Walt Whitman Mall. (Un)fortunately, you can’t miss that landmark. And remember, finding a new place is half the fun of going!

Once you’ve arrived, I’d recommend investing in the guided tour, as that is what allows you to go in the house. Tickets are only $6, and the docents are highly knowledgeable and great with kids. That alone is worth the ticket price. Of course there were also fun things to see, try and learn along the way.

For instance, did you know that the Whitmans had a private water well a couple dozen yards from their front door? This would have been a luxury in their time. It was actually operational until the mid-20th century, when rapid development in the area shifted the water table so dramatically that it completely dried up. I won’t go on the environmental rant I’m super tempted to start right now, but suffice it to say that there are opportunities to reexamine our footprints on this earth all the time. And they’re closer to home (wherever you live) than you might expect.

Another added bonus? Because my tour group was small, we had more time to ask fun (annoying?) questions of our docent. Ask about the Prussian Blue paint or why the closets on either side of the fireplace are such a big deal, if and when you go. They both get interesting answers!

Guided tours not your thing? Check out their additional programming, which ranges from the artistic to the academic. Did you know they have poetry readings and research-quality libraries? Yeah, you might have guessed that. Ok, what about art shows? Or writers-in-residence? Or meeting spaces? Pretty cool, huh? More than a few reasons to make the drive! Here’s the address in case you’re ready to ask Google, Siri, Cortana or Alexa for directions:

The Walt Whitman Birthplace and Interpretive Center

246 Old Walt Whitman Road

Huntington Station, NY 11746

Still on the fence? Check out their website!

Want some additional reading? Try this article from the Long Island Press (2013), or this one from the New York Times (1992), about Whitman’s Long Island roots. Needless to say, there’s room for more voices in this conversation. Who’s up for the challenge?

Ready …. go.

xoxo,

Ryan

North by North Carolinian

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P.S. Extra credit for anyone who knows what Paumanok means!

Full concept and content by Ryan Vale McGonigle

 

Santopolo’s “the light we lost”

“There was so much beauty in our life together.

Maybe that’s where I should start.”

Lucy  Carter, Prologue

the light we lost

I didn’t go to Columbia. For undergrad, I went elsewhere in New York, and although I got in to Columbia for my master’s, I headed north to Boston instead.

In this sense, I’m dissimilar to Jill Santopolo, author of the light we lost.

I also wasn’t in NYC on 9/11. I remember exactly what I was doing that morning. I was taking a middle-school American history test in North Carolina.

In that sense, I’m also not like Santopolo’s main character, Lucy, who was in college at Columbia on that fateful day.

But I found myself, in ways that weren’t always comfortable, while reading the light we lost.

I have experienced love. I have experienced loss. I have struggled to understand how the universe moves, and whether or not we have any real say in what happens in our lives. I have moved, I have changed direction, and at times I’ve dug my heels in when I should have changed or moved but didn’t. I’ve also dealt with the blessings and consequences of these decisions. These are the ways I found myself in Santopolo’s work.

I should mention that I don’t read romance novels. Not normally. My life has — for better and for worse — enough real drama to last a lifetime. But I knew I had to read this one. So I went to the store, purchased it, and prepared to cry. And then I did.

I cried for Lucy and Darren and Gabe. I cried for their families and friends. I cried for New York. And yeah, I cried for me, too. I cried tears that I’d probably been needing to cry for years. And that was the best gift I could have given myself. The permission to feel big, scary feelings, about big, scary things.

A book that elicits that level of feeling, and builds a world where that feels both safe and real, transcends genre categorization. It is, quite simply, a great book. And because it is a great book, I’m here saying: go ahead, meet love and grief between the covers of the light we lost. Realize that the beauty of Santopolo’s work is in how she’s captured raw and complex things in a way that makes us less afraid to look them dead-on. Maybe even agree that her work defies the reductive label “romance novel.” And then try not to act surprised when you hear that she transcends literary categorization in other, surprising ways.

xoxo,

Ryan

North by North Carolinian

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If you’re interested in Santopolo’s thoughts on the light we lost, I’d start with:

This blog post, by Santopolo, for Penguin Random House Audio.

This interview for Entertainment Weekly.

This interview for Washington Independent Review of Books.

Full concept and content by Ryan Vale McGonigle

We’re All a Little North by North Carolinian

Born into a family who worked really hard to put down stable roots in North Carolina, I suppose I should have stayed there. Instead, I went to college far from home, met the New Yorker who would become my husband, and now live in a small, suburban community on Long Island.

Husband and I are very lucky. In addition to each other, we each gained a new home (and friends and family) through our union. I gained New York, he gained North Carolina, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. But this doesn’t mean life is perfect. I have to acknowledge that, from time to time, it can be hard to live as a Southerner in the elite club of generations-long Long Islanders. I miss the voices of the South, the foods, the sounds, the smells, the entire way of life — one which, through the process of assimilation, I must often hide if not outright deny in order to be taken seriously.

I have an incredibly supportive spouse. And his family and friends have been welcoming since the earliest days of our courtship, but unfortunately I cannot be around these loving souls all the time. Outside of this support system, the process of assimilation can be lonely and terrifying. In this environment, it’s hard to find other people like me, or at least other people who’re open to knowing people like me.

I started to grapple honestly with this predicament about a year ago — with trusted friends, with family, in church, at work, in other writing projects, basically everywhere the topic nagged at me. Since we carry our identities with us everywhere, and since the world around me isn’t always welcoming, that nagging happened a lot. And then it started to happen even more, and grew even stronger, to the point where I knew I had to do something about it. I knew that I could no longer hide in silence. Especially because, through earlier work and conversations, I knew I wasn’t the only person out there experiencing this struggle — and it wasn’t just happening in New York. Stories like ours are about the struggle to build a loving home, a way of life, in any place that, quite frankly, would rather we weren’t there at all.

There are several ways to build a life in these scenarios:

(1) Deny everything about yourself, and learn very quickly how to do life in a completely different way, in completely different words and meals and jobs and goals and expectations, and then prepare to find out that sometimes, even when you play by every rule, those around you won’t see past the person they want you to be.

(2) Build community with others like you, if you can find them, to celebrate and protect your heritage. Society may rail against everything about you, but you can build collective agency, and at least have others to cry or laugh with about the social experiment your lives have become.

(3) Grow an insanely thick skin and resist the actors that seek to silence you, but do this because of and through love. Love takes a helluva lot more strength than hate. But it also has the greatest capacity to affect change, so it’s worthwhile if you can master it.

Spoiler alert: I’ve tried 1 and 2 before. Both helped, but were more reactive than I’d prefer. I’m onto the third attempt now, and that attempt is this space, North by North Carolinian. Rather than deny or simply expose the factors that have the potential for harm (and many do), this space will take up the yoke of building more open-mindedness, trust and love for others who aren’t always like us. This space is dedicated to celebrating the good in different, if not altogether divergent, cultures.

At a time when I desperately miss home, I feel compelled to collect the stories, recipes, music, art, and culture that speak to who I am, rather than being made to forget what they mean to me, a North Carolinian up North.

At the same time, I feel compelled to lift up and celebrate what makes life up North lovely and full. There are so many stories, recipes, and pieces of culture that matter and help me create meaning here, as I make my life and my home in the great state of New York.

Each of these places, each of these cultures, are wildly beautiful. Each of them matter. And so do their people. With this in mind, I hope North by North Carolinian accomplishes something positive, however simple it may seem on the surface. I hope it opens minds and hearts. I hope it elevates conversations. I hope it highlights and preserves heritages rather than destroying or minimizing them over fear of difference. And as one, small act of love and resistance, I hope it amplifies the light from many people, places and things who seek to remind us that we all matter, all of the time.

Join me in the process of building a life between and as part of two cultures. May we all be brave enough to honestly examine and own ourselves, and in the process may we come to see that we are all needed, exactly as we are, exactly where we are, for as long as we choose to be there.

We’re all a little North by North Carolinian. 

xoxo,

Ryan

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Full concept and content by Ryan Vale McGonigle