The LongHouse Experience

The weekly wellness series is in partnership with James Lane Post, an East End experience.

The past year caused a chaos within ourselves likely unmatched by anything we’ve experienced prior. As a collective, we were overwhelmed by the news, isolation, death, fear — the list of pessimistic pandemic associations goes on. It left us in a wake of distress, frazzled, and in need of an emotional recovery, as much as a physical one.

Post-Pandemic Wellness

The end of Mental Health Awareness Month happens to be in alignment with America’s reopening, and thus recovery, in a post pandemic world. However, (without sounding too cliche) mental health matters more now than ever. We’ve been conditioned to stare at screens, cover our faces, and live in fear of what’s beyond our front doors. As we return to the world we’ve known, we cannot ignore the trauma of what we experienced and the toll it has taken on our overall health — maybe 2021 should be declared Mental Health Awareness Year.

As our lives return to a new normal, we will, undoubtedly, be more conscious of our overall health. Defined by the World Health Organization, “health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” So the question lies in: why do so many of us hyper-focus on physical wellness and treat social and mental health as secondary? This summer, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, my column will feature ways to stay healthy physically, socially, and mentally. 

Fortunately, there is a place to visit that addresses all three: LongHouse Reserve.

The LongHouse Experience

LongHouse Reserve is a 16-acre property and sculpture garden, located in East Hampton, centered around its art and garden installations. It’s best described as spiritual therapy, an immersive experience that excites the senses and calms the mind.

According to Holger Winenga, horticulturist, LongHouse has thousands upon thousands of flora varieties — daffodils, hellebores, hardy geraniums, sweet pepper bushes, butterfly bushes, to name a few, and the collection continues to grow. Upon first glance, the natural beauty is positively overwhelming. The areas of First Lawn and Peter’s Pond are vibrant and expansive, where open fields of East Hampton meet picturesque beauty reminiscent of Monet’s Gardens.

There’s an abundance of wildlife — bullfrogs, painted turtles, toads, box turtles, garter snakes, eastern cottontail rabbits. Overhead, watch robins, catbirds, chickadees, cardinals, and Baltimore orioles (bird, not baseball) fly into the trees. The sensation of being among the fauna provides a greater perception of self-awareness as they all move about undisturbed, as you are in their environment.

Some LongHouse sculpture installations are permanent, while others are displayed seasonally. Work highlights include pieces from Willem de Kooning, Yoko Ono, Daniel Arsham, and Buckminster Fuller. Riddled throughout the property are benches and chairs for guests to sit back and enjoy the view with loved ones, although some of them are confused for the art installations themselves (guilty).

The LongHouse experience is emotionally, mentally, and thus physically healing. Akin to a Band-aid for the soul. To simply call it a sculpture garden would underrate all the benefits it provides, beyond what the eye can see. 

LongHouse Reserve is located at 133 Hands Creek Road in East Hampton. There are timed-ticket reservations available. Each time slot is for one hour and 15 minutes, but it’s understandable to linger a little longer. Contact them at 631-329-3568 | info@longhouse.org.

East Hampton Hosts Panel Discussion on Nutrition

Photo credit: Lisa Tamburini

Left to right: Alyson Follenius, Michele Sacconaghi, Thuyen Nguyen, Charlotte LaGuardia, Dr. Gerry Curatola, Nicole Teitler

The conversation surrounding health and nutrition has been at the forefront of individual minds since the onset of the pandemic. Now, as mask regulations ease up and America reopens its doors, the question remains: how do we not only become healthy, but stay healthy? 

On Thursday, May 20, I returned to the Hamptons to moderate a panel discussion surrounding nutrition at The Hedges Inn. It was part of Wellness East Hampton, a month-long series in East Hampton hosted by Discover the Hamptons, James Lane Post, McKenna Interactive Media, Discover Long Island, and the East Hampton Chamber of Commerce. In conversation were Thuyen Nguyen of Thuyen Skincare, Dr. Gerry Curatola of Rejuvenation Health, Charlotte LaGuardia of ThriveEast Nutrition, Hamptons Wellness Coach Alyson Follenius, and Wellness Foundation President Michele Sacconaghi. Each individual added their own take and expertise to what is an ever evolving field of study.

Nutrition is typically defined as a branch of science surrounding food and nourishment for the human body. In taking a step beyond the traditional definition, the talk touched upon the ways human health is linked to our every day world— from stress, to family ties, to the very basics of what we eat.

Here are my 5 personal takeaways from the nutrition panel discussion:

  1. The “deposit” and “withdrawal” method. Each action, especially what we consume, is either adding to our nutritional value or taking away from it.
  2. No two individuals are alike. As such, we should manage our expectations and rid the word “diet” from our vocabulary. There is no one size fits all to health.
  3. It’s possible to reverse hereditary chronic illness through healthy eating habits and awareness. We have the power to change the future of our health.
  4. Move away from continental breakfasts and include more fruits and vegetables for added variety. Pack in nutrition at the start and all throughout the day.
  5. What you eat, how you sleep, how you move all influence stress. It’s a triangle of wellness where one directly impacts the other.

Watch the full video here.

The Hoboken Boathouse: Anchored in Community

Community can be hard to find, and amid a pandemic it can be nearly impossible. I moved to Hoboken in October of 2020 without a social circle in place. I arrived to the area at the tail end of outdoor events season, just in time for winter weather to set in, which meant buckling down until spring to create a community of my own. But once the iconic white trees of Hoboken began to show themselves I knew it was time I did the same. 

I combed through the Hoboken Business Alliance directory in search of local businesses I could connect with (to note, the directory is significantly outdated as many businesses have either closed or moved during COVID). That’s when I discovered the Hoboken Cove Community Boathouse (@HoboCoBo), located on Frank Sinatra Drive and Maxwell Place. I learned that the boathouse is a 501(c)(3) organization run entirely by volunteers. Which means, the activities— kayak and stand up paddle board— are completely free. Without hesitation, I reached out to become a volunteer. In the 10 days since, I’ve already joined the Meetup group three times.

My second paddle, a 7 mile round-trip

Since it began 17 years ago, the Hoboken Community Cove Boathouse’s mission is to provide free access to the local waterways through open programs to the public. Over the years, it’s grown from a handful of annual kayak days to an average of 6,000 paddlers year-round. Upon signing a waiver, visitors (and their pets) can confidently paddle in the protected cove either solo (must be 16 years or older) or in a double kayak. Volunteers are on-site to greet, assist with equipment, and provide any help in the water. There is a courtesy time limit to 20 minutes when lines form, but on quiet days guests can enjoy the water for as long as they’d like. In addition to cove paddles there are public trips, those lasting several hours and go all around the area, which are held several times a month to those 18 and over and with proper training.

The boathouse and cove in the background

Oscar Hernandez is a Hoboken Community Boathouse board member, ACA Coastal Guide, and one of the volunteer group leaders. “While walking on the waterfront I saw the boathouse,” he recalled from when he first moved to Hoboken 11 years ago. “I remember looking at the beach. It was always empty and had a lot of scary signs.” 

The beach, and the Hoboken Boathouse, have come a long way since thanks to community support. Building maintenance and utilities are covered by the City of Hoboken but donations are what keeps the boathouse afloat— public donations cover the insurance and all equipment is donated by volunteers or other boathouses in the region, including a Ke Aloha Outrigger canoe.

Ke Aloha, Hawaiian for ‘love is all around,’ is part of the Polynesian culture that is anchored into the Hoboken Boathouse. The outrigger, donated in 2016, is “considered to be a living entity” that is cared for the same as a family member would be. 

Photo courtesy of Tamara Gill. The Outrigger Canoe

“Kindness, teamwork, support for one another, and appreciation of life became a really important part of everything we do,” Oscar explained of the diverse group of aquaphiles. “I know couples that met while volunteering and now are married. Many volunteers now bike, ski, and take go on trips together to paddle in different places…We have an amazing family.”

It’s easy to get swept away by the sense of community the Hoboken Boathouse provides, and one I’m grateful to have discovered. 

On May 13, be part of the virtual #HudsonGives movement and donate to the Hoboken Boathouse or any one of these Hudson County organizations.

A Spiritual Cleanse

“But if you’re also half Italian, why do you choose to fast for Yom Kippur?” It’s a question almost as old as the Old Testament itself, and one I’m asked every year since I was a child. 

I was raised both Jewish and Catholic, with neither parent adhering to traditions of the holiest day of the year in Judaism– Yom Kippur. Yet, once I was old enough to understand that the 25 hour fasting period was about introspection, appreciation, and atonement I began to observe it on my own in my own ways.

Yom Kippur is considered to be the holiest day of the year in the Jewish faith, on the heels of Rosh Hashanah (the new year). It’s also believed to be the day in which one is closest to God, however you define it, and to the essence of ourselves. Beyond a spiritual closeness, it is a day to cleanse the soul of mistakes or wrong doings as we purify it for the year ahead.

Through my eyes, Yom Kippur is less about God and more about elevating my own awareness— a spiritual cleansing of sorts. I stay home, focus on reading or writing, and contemplate the ways my life has bettered or hindered those around me during the past year. Many people do this more often than once a year. But there’s a certain power that comes from the understanding millions of others around the world are joining in the same cognition, even if I am physically alone, on a single particular day. It’s a sensation greater than myself, even while I practice solely for myself.

Most of my days consist of waiting or planning for my next meal, so rather than fill up my stomach I feed my soul. I think back to all the moments I could have listened more or spoke less, done more or taken a step back, cut off situations or reached out, my wrongdoings. I take time to appreciate all of those who helped me through moments I needed it most and I let go of any grudge or guilt I’ve harnessed. Then, as the retrospection of days past concludes I envision my future— those I want in it, the life I aim to achieve, the kind of person I hope to be. The craving for food is replaced by hunger for betterment, for myself and all the people around me. 

As I fast, year after year, I strengthen my soul, clear my conscious, and gain a deeper appreciation for what I’ve learned and all the new adventures to come.

Yom Kippur in 2020 takes on a different tone. The global pandemic has undeniably slowed us all down and created a pathway to greater clarity. We acknowledge the tremendous loss of lives, freedoms, perhaps even security, as we become acutely aware of what truly matters in our hearts; our family, friends, health, and hope.

This day might be a Jewish tradition but it is moment for everyone. Even those who may not believe in a higher power or life after death can agree on one thing: We each exist right now and we all live in this moment together. Beyond religion, this day is an opportunity to unite in a single thought: to make our world a better place.

The original version of this post was first published in Indy East End.

Daily Fit: Keeping COVID Calm

Cue every possible reference to the 2011 film, “Contagion.” A chef in Hong Kong touches a roasted pig that was infected by a bat, before shaking hands with a woman, unknowingly spreading a viral infection that turns into a worldwide pandemic. It sounds eerily familiar because, suddenly, we’re living in it (only the movie takes a few creative liberties beyond our current reality). 

According to Dr. David Hirschwerk, an infectious disease specialist at Northwell Health, a coronavirus differs from other viruses because it begins by infecting animals before spreading among humans. Therefore, coronavirus just means a class of virus (think others like MERS and SARS) and COVID-19 is a strain that hasn’t been identified before. While everyone ensues to panic levels as the global pandemic spreads, it’s critical to take precautionary measures. 

First, learn the difference between facts and fear by always checking a credible source. Consult with websites that end in .gov, .edu, .org, rather than scrolling through Facebook. This will not only help with safety, but sanity. Additionally, it’s recommended to step away from the news to limit worry. Have a time limit in place. 

The World Health Organization urges everyone to wash their hands regularly; keep a social distance of six feet between yourself and anyone coughing or sneezing; avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth; and anyone with signs of fever, cough, or difficulty breathing should seek medical care early. 

If you’re sick at all, stay home. It’s that simple. 

For the unaffected, it’s just as important to maintain a healthy lifestyle with proper diet, sleep, and exercise. While social distancing becomes the new norm as more gyms and other health facilities close, try online workouts or go for a walk in an open space (think beach, park, or even around the block). This is a great reason to reconnect with nature and remain calm, as forming a new routine is essential to a healthy mind. 

If you’re having trouble finding a way to ease tension, tune into hobbies or things that have helped cope with stress in the past. Music, journaling, gardening, etc. My personal recommendation is to keep a gratitude journal; wake up every day and find something to be thankful for. The more we keep our minds preoccupied and active, the less we will stress about the world around us.

Or, if all else fails, I type in “Italians singing” to YouTube and I guarantee that’ll put a smile on your face. Also, listen as much as possible right now. Have conversations with children and the elderly. If someone is sick, call them and lift up their spirits. A voice can be a powerful healing tool in ridding stress. 

This article first appeared in the March 17 issue of The Independent Newspaper.