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Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

Author Ariana Glaser

Some of us have spent 2020 learning to make sourdough bread from scratch, catching up on TV, or working on our post-quarantine figures. Fourteen-year-old Ariana Glaser, on the other hand, has been putting the finishing touches on her newest novel.

The Smithtown High School East freshman published her first major story three years ago, when she was just 11 years old. Now, she’s back with She Remembers, a compelling story for teen readers about life after death, second chances, and family ties. The book was released on Nov. 16.

What was your childhood like? Were you very creative?

I was always a very avid reader — my mom would say I’d read books in my crib. When I was in 2nd grade, I wrote a book that was around 15 or 20 pages. It was called Fairies, Fairies, Fairies, and each page was about a different fairy. Obviously my writing style has changed a lot since then, but my second grade teacher really inspired me by saying there was a [distinct literary] voice in my writing, and that made me think, “Hey, maybe I’m not too bad at this!” I also do a lot of drawing and theater on the side.

What kinds of books do you like to read? Which authors inspire you?

I love all genres of fiction, but I really enjoy dystopian stories. My favorite books right now are a series called The Selection by Kiera Cass. I’m also really inspired by Lois Lowry ­­— her book Number the Stars has been a favorite of mine for a very long time.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

In 4th or 5th grade, I completed my first novella, and I knew it was something I wanted to continue doing for as long as I could, to perfect my skills.

How did your family respond?

My parents and grandparents were always the first to hear about my ideas, and they were huge supporters from the beginning. And the reality is that none of this would have been possible without their support and encouragement, not just practically but emotionally, too.

When did you write your first book? How did you go about getting published?

It was called The World I Never Knew. I finished writing it at the end of 6th grade after working on it off and on for about two years. We waited about a year after it was finished, and then we found Kindle Direct Publishing (from Amazon). I wasn’t looking for it to be a best-seller or anything, but I wanted to be able to say that I published my first book when I was 12.

How did it feel seeing your name in print for the first time?

It was a weird feeling! We were waiting for the mailman to deliver my copy of [my first book], and when he came, we were there to meet him and everyone was excited. The mailman said to my dad, “Oh, did she get a book she wanted?” and he said, “No, she wrote this book.” It was surreal to hear that and to hold my book for the first time.

Did you publish this book the same way?

No. We submitted She Remembers to traditional publishers. I got a lot of rejections simply because of my age — most places won’t accept a manuscript if you’re under 18 — and I also didn’t have a literary agent. But I didn’t want to sit around and wait to turn 18 when I had good stories that were ready now. Someone on Facebook recommended Foundations Publishing, and when I sent it to them, they said the story had potential and they’d be happy to have me on their team.

Tell us a bit about She Remembers.

When I was younger, I was very into American Girl dolls, and I joined an online community for others who liked them. One of the girls I met through that community was named Bella, and she was very popular. She also had cancer and ended up passing away. That had a big impact on me, and in 2019 I started to write She Remembers, about a girl who dies of cancer. She gets a chance to live another life, and discovers that she still has memories of her old life and family.

How do you find the time to balance writing, school and your social life?

You know, time management is always something that I struggle with. I have a lot of extracurriculars that take a lot of work, so in the course of a week I can spend hours on stage, dancing or singing. And then there’s all of my homework, spending time with my friends, and trying to write in the middle of all that. But every student struggles with that, even when they’re not a writer. I try to take advantage of pockets of free time, even if it’s 20 minutes at lunch or at night.

Is there a message you want people to take away from reading this novel?

It’s all about hope — the main character, Amber, comes to realize that good things can come out of bad experiences. We might not know what happens after death, but it’s important to have hope and to keep the memories of the people we’ve lost alive.

Is there a recommended age group?

There’s a range, from 12-year-olds looking for a character they can look up to, all the way up to 18 or even older readers who just enjoy a unique, interesting story.

Do you have any upcoming events?

It’s been tough with the pandemic, but we’re talking with Barnes & Noble about having some kind of event, whether that’s a virtual meet-and-greet, something in person, or just a table with books and information about me.

What’s next for you? Are you planning to write more books?

I actually finished writing my third book during quarantine. I have so much more to say, and the good thing about writing is if one book doesn’t go over well, you can keep writing. You never know when you’re going to have a big moment. I’d love to make the New York Times Best Seller List!

She Remembers and other works by Ariana Glaser is available on Amazon.com or your favorite online bookseller. Keep up with Ariana on Instagram, Twitter and TikTok @ArianaNGlaser.

By Melissa Arnold

The holiday season is fast approaching, and it’s time to start thinking about that shopping list. But before you visit those online retailers and big box stores, consider supporting local businesses hit hard by this year’s closures and safety restrictions.

In the Three Village area, Gallery North has teamed up with their neighbors at The Jazz Loft and Three Village Historical Society for a festive holiday experience that has a little something for everyone on your list.

Each year, Gallery North celebrates local artists with Deck the Halls, a group exhibit and art sale. Now through Dec. 20, visitors can admire the work of more than 70 artists covering a variety of subjects and media. The sale includes over 100 pieces of art, with a range of prices making it easy to find a unique gift that fits any budget.

This year, Gallery North executive director Ned Puchner was eager to put together a larger, yet safe and festive event that could bring the community together again.

“Frankly, a lot of people are still understandably concerned about going out and shopping,” said Puchner. “We had a lot of success with the Farmers and Makers Markets over the summer, and one of our board members joked that while she didn’t do hot weather, she’d volunteer in a heartbeat for a winter event.”

The idea grew from there. Puchner reached out to Steve Healy, president of the Three Village Historical Society, and Tom Manuel, founder of The Jazz Loft, brainstorming ways they could collaborate.

They were inspired by the beautiful, timeless holiday markets in New York City, and decided to transform the historical society grounds into a marketplace of their own. The outdoor marketplace will open for four Saturdays after Thanksgiving, allowing local artists and vendors to set up shop in a festively decorated atmosphere.

Browse the gallery store for paintings, photography and sculptures, then shop outdoors for handcrafted pottery, jewelry, wood and metal creations, clothing, glassware, spice blends and much more.

Along the way, grab a bite to eat and some dessert or warm up with a hot drink from local food trucks.

“Throughout the pandemic we’ve been encouraging people to shop local and support local businesses as much as possible, because everyone is struggling. We can’t help everyone, but we all have ways we can chip in,” said Healy. “[The local organizations] have a great rapport, and we’re always looking for new ways that we can support one another.”

The Jazz Loft’s Equity Brass Band will perform a wide selection of New Orleans jazz standards along with jazzed-up versions of holiday classics. You’ll find them playing in their tent and parading through the grounds on market days as weather permits.

Over the summer, you may have seen the band marching through the streets on one of their Spirit Tours — musical appearances meant to uplift the community and provide cultural enrichment in a time where entertainment has been difficult, if not impossible.

“There’s been a blessing in all this — because we [musicians] are all out of work, people that normally don’t have the time to come and work with us are suddenly free. We’ve had great camaraderie develop from this experience,” Manuel said. “Jazz has always been the soundtrack of America. People have come up to us extremely moved to hear music after being cut off from art for nearly a year.”

At the core of the exhibit and holiday market is the desire to bring a little normalcy and good cheer to the season.

“It’ll give you a little taste of the holiday season while keeping people safe and socially distanced. It also supports local artists, musicians, chefs and entrepreneurs during a time that has been devastating for people who earn their livelihoods performing and creating,” Puchner said. “We want to renew our connection with the community and restore a spirit of togetherness. We’re all still here.”

The Deck the Halls exhibit is on display through Dec. 20 at Gallery North, 90 North Country Road, Setauket. The gallery is open Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. A virtual reception will be held via Zoom on Nov. 19 from 6 to 8 p.m.

Participating artists for the Deck the Halls exhibit include:

Lucia Alberti, Kelynn Alder, Andrea Baatz, Fred Badalamenti, Steve Behler, John Benevento, Joan Branca, Sheila Breck, Nancy Bueti Randall, Natalie Butkevich, Esther Marie Caponigro, Donna Carey-Zucker, Joseph Cooke, Jody Cukier, Linda Davidson-Mathues, Julie Doczi, Daniel Donato, Michael Drakopoulos, Paul Edelson, Patty Eljaiek, Lily Farah, Meagan Flaherty, Kimberly Gerber, Ray Germann, Helaine Goldberg, Holly Gordon, Larissa Grass, Jan Guarino, Anne Katz, Marceil Kazickas, Flo Kemp, Karen Kemp, Julianna Kirk, Randy Kraft, Barron Krody, Jillian Kron, Charles Lembo, LOVID, Mary Lor, Kathleen Massi, Michael McLaughlin, Meagan Meehan, Eleanor Meier, Olivia Menghini, Jim Molloy, Riley Mulligan, Annette Napolitano, Rhoda Needlman PSA, Gail Neuman, Susan Oliverio, Cynthia Parry, Mel Pekarsky, Alicia R. Peterson, Doug Reina, Brianna Sander, Oscar Santiago, Lori Scarlatos, Kate Schwarting, James Slezak, Judith Stone, Angela Stratton, Schery Markee Sullivan, Paul Thomas, Joanne Touch, Joe Ventimiglia, Mary Waka, Marlene Weinstein, Gil Yang, Patricia Yantz, Nicole Zinerco, and Stanley Zucker.

The Holiday Market will be held from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Nov. 28, Dec. 5, Dec. 12 and Dec. 19 on the grounds of the Three Village Historical Society, 93 North Country Road, Setauket and Gallery North. Please note: Masks and social distancing will be required, and there will be no public restrooms.

For questions about the market or to register as a vendor, call 631-751-2676 or visit www.gallerynorth.org/holiday-market.

 

Ava Della Pietra
Three Village teen talks Broadway experiences, new music release

By Melissa Arnold

Ava Della Pietra

Fifteen-year-old Ava Della Pietra says she started singing as soon as she could speak. She loves performing no matter what form it takes, and her talents in music and theater have already given her incredible platforms. The Three Village local has toured with national theater productions and made her Broadway debut in School of Rock in 2015. These days Ava is focusing on her own music. Her new lyric video featuring her current single, ‘Optimist’, showcases her bright spirit and catchy songwriting skills, along with natural, powerful vocals. While she’s not quite sure yet what she’ll do after high school, one thing’s for sure: Ava’s future is a bright one.

Were you interested in music from an early age?

Yes, definitely. Everyone in my family played an instrument at some point -— I play piano, violin, guitar, bass and ukulele. My mom is also very musical, and I got involved in theater when I was very young. People would come up to my parents when I was 4 years old during a community theater production and they would say, “You need to get an agent, you need to try to get on Broadway.” After hearing it a couple of times, my parents started to take it more seriously, and my mom reached out to an agent. Eventually I got my first audition when I was six, and then when I was seven I got my first professional role as Little Cosette in the national tour of Les Miserables. Things kind of skyrocketed from there.

Where did you get your start? What local groups did you perform with?

My first performance was with a local community theater company called Performing Arts Studio in Port Jefferson (PAS), and then with Productions Over the Rainbow.

Why do you enjoy performing?

I really love seeing people’s reactions in the audience. As a songwriter, I appreciate being able to interact with the audience and look straight at them. I also love meeting people after shows and hearing what they have to say about my music. It inspires me to keep writing.

Who are some of your favorite singers?

I love Ariana Grande and Ed Sheeran. Lately I’ve also been enjoying Conan Gray.

What was it like being on Broadway and touring nationally at such a young age?

It was a great experience to have early on because it gave me a big boost of confidence in my abilities and taught me you can do anything you put your mind to. One of my favorite parts of that time was that celebrities would often come to see the show, then come backstage to meet the cast. I’ve gotten to meet Barbra Streisand, Stevie Nicks, and Jack Black. They each had their own perspectives to share. On Broadway, I played a swing in School of Rock, which meant I needed to study several roles and be ready to go on with sometimes a minute’s notice, even in the middle of the show. It’s really exciting and gives you such a rush of adrenaline.

You’ve written dozens of songs. Is it an easy process for you? Do you have a songwriting routine?

Songs tend to come to me at random moments, or when I’m feeling a strong emotion. Sometimes a melody or verse will come to me while I’m out writing my bike, and finish it up when I come home.

Where do you get your ideas from?

I like to write on themes that people can relate to — friendship, self-confidence, supporting one another, positivity, looking on the bright side. A lot of pop music today is negative, and I’m looking to make the kind of music that will make people feel good, and want to get up and dance.

What inspired you to write ‘Optimist’?

I wrote “Optimist” because there are a lot of problems that face society today. Optimism is about realizing that we are one community, and together, we can have hope for a better future. With everything going on in the world, we all need a little optimism right now.

What is your favorite line from the song?

My favorite line from my song is “Every cloud has a silver lining; look up, and we will find it.” This line captures the essence of my song since it talks about how we must take action, rise above, and know that we will be alright.

What type of response is the song getting?

I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback! A bunch of radio stations are playing my song, and I’m getting notes from fans on social media or through my website talking about how much my song means to them. One guy sent me an audio recording of himself crying. He told me how my song brought him to tears because he really needed to hear some positivity. I love it when people reach out to me because songwriting is about spreading a message. Seeing how much my music impacts people’s lives makes me really happy!

How did you get to work with producers who have also worked with Ed Sheeran, Avril Lavigne, and other celebrity musicians?

Honestly, I just looked up who produced songs I really loved and reached out to them with a demo. It’s been very successful so far and I feel very fortunate to have gotten to collaborate with them.

Do you enjoy writing songs with others?

Yes, I really enjoy the collaborative process. It’s important for me to work with people who truly value my thoughts and opinions about where I want my music to go, and are willing to ask, “What do you think?” instead of changing a song into something that doesn’t fit with who I am.

How do you juggle school with your music ambitions?

It’s important to remember that it’s supposed to be fun and not get overwhelmed or stressed out about the opportunities that come. Before the pandemic, I would travel over my school breaks to where a producer was located and we would record a song over the course of a few days. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of songwriting from home by Facetiming producers and recording in my bedroom studio. The only difference is I’m not actually there with them!

What are you working on now?

My latest project has been reviewing popular songs. They are featured on a website called Teen Kid News and I also post the reviews on my socials. Also, I appear on a new cast album called “Secondhand Lions” — I sing several songs, including “You Have To See It To Believe It.”

Is music something you’d like to pursue for a career?

Music will always be a part of my life — I’m looking forward to releasing an album soon. I’m also very interested in science and medicine, so I can totally see myself being some kind of doctor or a surgeon. My hope is to continue releasing music to connect with others even if I pursue a different career.

To learn more about Ava Della Pietra, visit her website at www.avadellapietra.com. Follow her on Instagram @avadellapietra, on Facebook @avadellapietraofficial, and check out her latest videos on YouTube.

By Melissa Arnold

For decades, Carmela Kolman labored over canvas and paper to capture the world through her eyes. Painting was her greatest passion, and coupled with great talent, it carried her work to galleries across the United States.

But it wasn’t always easy. Kolman also had Marfan syndrome, a rare connective tissue disorder that can affect the entire body. In daily life, she struggled with her eyesight, and ultimately died from complications of the condition in 2018. She was 57.

In recognition of Kolman’s extensive career and her contributions to the local art community on Long Island, Gallery North in Setauket is hosting a retrospective exhibition titled Visions. The solo exhibit features 17 pieces that reflect much of Kolman’s career, from her early days as a student to the final years of her life.

Painting was Kolman’s first love from an early age, even though she was blind in one eye and her vision was severely impaired in the other. In an artist statement from Aug. 2016, she wrote: “I painted constantly, with my face pressed close to the canvas. I would have to really look and study things to make them out … I could not recognize something more than three feet from me ­­— Blue eyes? I didn’t even know what blue eyes were … My vision was blurry, and I painted what I saw.”

Despite her difficulties, Kolman pressed on. She received a bachelor’s degree in illustration from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), then attended Yale for a master’s degree in painting. Her cloudy painting style earned her high praise, even as she dealt with constant self-criticism and frustration.

It was during her time at RISD that Kolman met John Rizzo, who attended nearby Brown University. The pair wouldn’t get acquainted until much later at a party hosted by a mutual friend in Chicago, but Rizzo called the experience a work of fate. They married in 1989.

“I’m a professor and economist with zero artistic talent,” joked Rizzo, who shared 28 years of marriage with Kolman. “We were an unlikely couple, for sure. I think our friends were surprised at how we took an interest in one another. But she was an incredibly tender-hearted person, very open and empathetic.”

At 22, Kolman had cataract surgery, catapulting her vision from a cloudy haze to an overwhelming perfection she didn’t know how to process. She stopped painting for several years, only starting again while recovering from a cardiac incident. From then on, she sought to integrate the impressionistic blur of her early work with the realism that came along after her eye surgery.

Gallery North’s Executive Director Ned Puchner didn’t have the chance to meet Kolman, but worked closely with Rizzo to choose work that reflected every season of her life and artistic style.

“These paintings capture something about reality that goes deeper than what we see,” Puchner said. “[Carmela] was influenced by the impressionists and the Fauvists, and would focus on singular objects over and over again in an almost meditative way. I’m really impressed by the attention to detail. Her work is breathtaking.”

Rizzo noted that Kolman preferred still life portraits, especially of fruit and flowers. Today, one of the rooms in his Port Jefferson home has rose-themed decor, with her rose paintings hung all around.

“She liked to play with different kinds of light, shading and shadow, and still life allowed her to control those elements carefully,” he explained. “It’s hard to choose a favorite painting, but I love all of the rose portraits. How many people can say their wife left beautiful oil paintings to remember her by? They help me to feel close to her.”

After her death, Gallery North approached Rizzo with an idea: Why not establish a fellowship in Carmela’s name, allowing other artists the time to create while sharing their expertise with others?

The Carmela Kolman Fellowship in Fine Art program will award one artist per year 10 weeks of studio time at the gallery. In addition to pursuing their artistic practice, the fellows will also teach workshops, help to organize community programming, or assist with classes as needed. The first fellow, Meagan Flaherty, will exhibit her work in 2021.

Carmela Kolman: Visions will be on view at Gallery North, 90 North Country Road, Setauket from Oct. 8 to Nov. 8. Admission is free. The gallery is currently open Wednesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sunday from 3 to 5 p.m. A virtual reception will be held via Zoom on Oct. 22 from 6 to 8 p.m. For more information, call 631-751-2676 or visit www.gallerynorth.org.

Images courtesy of Gallery North

By Melissa Arnold

With cooler weather on the horizon and a bit of normalcy returning to Long Island, there’s no better time to get out and enjoy some fresh air. If you’re looking for a fun and safe outdoor activity that’s out of the ordinary, a trip to Rottkamp’s Fox Hollow Farm in Baiting Hollow is just the ticket.

This year, the farm has planted a sunflower maze for the first time. Following the success of sunflower mazes grown earlier this summer, co-owner Jeff Rottkamp has planted a new series of mazes that will bloom in the fall.

The family-owned farm has been in business for more than 50 years now, with centuries of agriculture in their blood. Fox Hollow is currently run by Jeff, his parents and brother, with help from other relatives.

In recent years, people have flocked to the farm to enjoy the season’s bounty along with hayrides and corn mazes, but this year, the Rottkamps were excited to try something new.

“I’ve been seeing sunflower mazes popping up online from places all over the country, and I liked the way they looked,” Rottkamp said. “I knew it was something we could do and I thought people would find it fun. We did a brief trial run last summer and the feedback was extremely positive, so we were happy to do it again officially.”

Photo courtesy of
Rottkamp’s Fox Hollow Farm

Setting up any kind of crop maze is a process that requires an imagination and a lot of planning in advance, Rottkamp said. First, you have to select the right field — not too large, not too small, and in just the right spot on the sprawling grounds. Planting begins two months ahead of when they want the maze to be ready.

“Sunflowers need a lot of maintenance and careful watering,” he added. “I come up with the pathways at random each time we plant a field, so it’s a new experience every time.”

There are several varieties of sunflowers in different colors and sizes. In addition to the familiar golden petals, you’ll see sunflowers in shades of pink, maroon and white. Most of the sunflowers will grow to be 4 to 6 feet tall, but there will also be scattered sunflowers around 10 feet tall.

Of course, a maze made of living things can only last so long — sunflowers are only in bloom for about two weeks. To counter this, the farm is planting three different fields of sunflowers at staggered times. When one dies out, the next will be ready to go, and each one is different from the last.

The three fields are also different sizes. In order of growth, they are 1 acre, 4 acres, and 3 acres. But don’t worry about getting lost. “It’s not that kind of maze, it’s not a puzzle. It’s more of a wandering path that you can take your time going through, to take pictures and have a little bit of fun,” Rottkamp explained. “No one will get lost, and this is appropriate for all ages to enjoy.”

Before or after your trip through the maze, be sure to stop by the farmstand and pick up fresh, seasonal produce. Autumn will bring in the last of the sweet corn and tomatoes, as well as pumpkins, winter squash and zucchini, among others.

There are treats for sale as well, including local honey, Tate’s Bake Shop cookies, and fresh pies and donuts from the Jericho Cider Mill.

The mazes will be open for wandering throughout September and into October if the crop and weather permit.

Admission to the Rottkamp’s Fox Hollow Farm sunflower maze is $5 per person. Children ages 5 and under are free. The farm is located at 2287 Sound Avenue in Baiting Hollow. For further information, please call 631-727-1786.

This article first appeared in Harvest Times 2020, a supplement from TBR News Media.

All photos by Heidi Sutton

Johnny Cuomo

Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

Johnny Cuomo has worn a lot of hats over the years. He’s a musician, storyteller, nature lover, teacher, husband, father, and each role has had a profound impact on his life. The 46-year-old Mount Sinai resident is full of stories and lessons he’s learned while working with all kinds of children.

Most recently, he’s been focused on how important it is to treat others with compassion in his new book, Katy Didn’t. When a new bug arrives at school, the other bugs won’t accept him — that is, except for Katy the katydid, whose kindness makes all the difference. The book shares a powerful message within an easy-to-grasp and vividly illustrated story. It’s also a great read for young bug lovers, who will be thrilled with the variety of insect characters.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Cuomo about his latest venture.

Did you grow up on Long Island? What was your childhood like?

Yes, I grew up in Stony Brook. Interestingly, when I was a kid I was more interested in sports, like skateboarding, wrestling, and martial arts. I was also very interested in making music, which is a major part of my life today. My artistic interests were focused mainly on singing and playing instruments.

Did you always dream of being a writer?

Not quite. I’ve been able to do a lot of traveling throughout my life, and one of my favorite things is to learn about the folk tales of different places and cultures. I also got to work closely with Native American children on a reservation in California for two summers when I was in my early twenties, and that was very formative for me. Working with those children was what led me to go back to school.

What did you choose to study?

I got my undergraduate degree in education from Dowling College, and then I went on to do a Master’s in history at Stony Brook University.

So how did you start writing?

As a songwriter, I tend to write a tune and then think about lyrics that could go with it. That process forces me to write mini stories. Many years ago, I actually wrote a short story called Moonglow, something I’m still proud of. It gave me a foray into the publishing world. I also put together a CD sharing some original folk tales that I had written, based on the stories and cultures of the people I’d lived with.

Where did the idea for ‘Katy Didn’t’ come from?

Even after I began teaching, I was still really grounded in nature. I’m an avid birdwatcher and the natural world is a daily part of my life. If you’ve ever seen or heard a katydid during the summers here on Long Island, you know they have a very rhythmic chirping. Some people even say it sounds like a repetition of, “katy-did, katy-didn’t, katy-did, katy-didn’t.” I always thought that was clever, and one day I started to wonder if I could work that into a story for kids — that Katy didn’t do something hurtful, even when everyone else was doing it. I ended up having a dream about some of the characters and storyline. I created about 95% of the framework for the story within a week of that dream.

Tell me a bit about the illustrator. How did you find one another?

A good friend of mine has a brother named Benjamin Lowery who is an artist. We became friendly about 10 years ago. I got lucky — it turned out that Ben was working on his portfolio and was looking for stories to illustrate. He heard that I was putting this new story together and asked if he could be a part of it. It was really exciting that we both found something we needed in each other and the timing was perfect. I gave him general themes, and then he sent me sketches. He had an amazing sense of knowing what we needed. When I saw the first full-color picture he created, I said, “This is fantastic — just go for it!” We’ve really enjoyed this process and looking out for each other.

How did you publish the book? Did you pursue self-publishing or find an agent?

It was a touch-and-go process. We had an agent for a while, but it didn’t work out, and we sent it to some publishers, but that didn’t work out either. They gave great feedback, but it wasn’t quite what they were looking for. Finally, we connected with Peter Pauper Press, and they said they were going to share the book at their board meeting because they had a great feeling about it. A few days later, they sent us an email that said, “Katy did it!” It was great. They’ve been a really wonderful, straightforward company to work with. The deadline was just before all the pandemic shutdowns began, so we were very fortunate to get it published when we did.

What message do you want kids to take away from reading your book?

I want kids to know that whenever they go somewhere new, there will always be a person out there ready to welcome them. You may face struggles and tough times, but there will always be at least one person willing to help you through it and support you with a positive outlook, even if everyone else is ignoring or teasing you. It’s also an encouragement to be that person for others, whether you’re visiting the park, at someone’s house or meeting someone from a different town.

Is there a recommended age group?

Kids from age 3 to age 8 will get different things from the book, whether that’s their interest in bugs, early reading, or the message about how to treat people. It’s worth noting that the bugs in the book are drawn in a cute, but scientifically correct way, so there are so many things you can teach and do with it.

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Katy Didn’t is available at many online retailers, including Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Target. For more about the book, visit www.facebook.com/katydidntbook or www.johnnycuomo.com. Teachers and librarians are welcome to contact Cuomo for information about online or in-person educational events by emailing [email protected]

Book Revue in Huntington will welcome Johnny Cuomo and Benjamin Lowery at 7 p.m. on Oct. 15 for a free, online event featuring readings, music, conversation and more. Registration is required by visiting www.bookrevue.com or by calling 631-271-1442.

By Melissa Arnold

It’s been a long year of Netflix binges and Zoom meetings for all of us, and these days, nothing feels better than getting out a little. You don’t have to go far to find interesting places to explore, either.

Most Long Island locals are probably familiar with the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum and Planetarium in Centerport, with its sprawling grounds, elaborate mansion and impressive collection of marine life. But be honest: When was your last visit? If it’s been a while — or even if it hasn’t — their 70th anniversary year is the perfect time to stop by.

“The Vanderbilt is unique, a don’t-miss slice of American history. When you take a guided tour of the mansion and its galleries, it’s a time machine trip to a remarkable era of privilege,” said Elizabeth Wayland-Morgan, executive director of the museum. “At one point in the past, there were more than 1,200 mansions on Long Island’s Gold Coast. This is one of the few that remains.”

The Vanderbilt Mansion as we know it today had relatively modest beginnings. William K. Vanderbilt II, a son of the famed Vanderbilt family, had just separated from his first wife in the early 1900s. “Willie K.,” as he’s affectionately known, was looking for a place to get a fresh start, away from the public eye. So he came to Centerport and purchased land, where he built a 7-room, English-style cottage along with some outbuildings.

The cottage, called Eagle’s Nest, was eventually expanded into a sprawling 24-room mansion in the Spanish Revival style. From 1910 to 1944, Eagle’s Nest was Vanderbilt’s summer hideaway. He and his second wife Rosamond hosted intimate gatherings of Vanderbilt family members and close friends, including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, legendary golfer Sam Snead, and the Tiffanys.

Of course, that was just the beginning. According to Killian Taylor, the museum’s curatorial associate, Vanderbilt developed a fascination with all kinds of animals, the sea and the natural world from a young age. He had the opportunity to travel the world on his father’s yachts as a child, and longed to see more as he reached adulthood.

“Later, Willie K. inherited $20 million from his late father. One of the first things he did was purchase a very large yacht and hire a team of scientists and a crew,” Taylor explained. “With them, he began to travel and collect marine life, and by 1930, he had amassed one of the world’s largest private marine collections.”

With the help of scientists and experts from the American Museum of Natural History, Vanderbilt created galleries at the Estate to showcase his collections which contains more than 13,000 different marine specimens of all kinds and sizes, from the tiniest fish to a 32-foot whale shark, the world’s largest taxidermied fish, caught off Fire Island in 1935.

After Vanderbilt died in 1944, Rosamond continued to live in their Centerport mansion until her death in 1947. The 43-acre estate and museum – which remain frozen in time, exactly as they were in the late 1940s – opened to the public on July 6, 1950, following instructions left in Vanderbilt’s will. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

The museum also features a 3,000-year-old mummy, which Vanderbilt purchased from an antique shop in Cairo, Egypt, Taylor said. The mummy even had an X-ray taken at nearby Stony Brook University Hospital, where they determined the remains are of a female around 25 years old.

“She doesn’t have a name out of respect for the fact that she was once a living woman with her own identity,” Taylor added.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought its share of difficulties to every business, and while the museum has had to temporarily close some of its facilities, including the mansion’s living quarters and planetarium, they’ve also added new opportunities for visitors.

“Like many other museums, we had to get creative virtually very quickly,” said Wayland-Morgan. “Our Education Department created the ‘Explore’ series for children — fascinating facts about the lives of birds, butterflies, reptiles, and fish, with pictures to download and color. The Planetarium astronomy educators produced 11 videos on topics including How to Use a Telescope, Imagining Alien Life, Mars, Black Holes, and Fitness in Space. We’ve received very positive responses.” The planetarium also offers online astronomy classes.

The museum is also offering new outdoor programs on the grounds, including walking tours, sunset yoga, a popular series of bird talks by an ornithologist James MacDougall and are currently hosting the third annual Gardeners Showcase through September. On Fridays and Saturdays, movie-and-picnic nights are a popular draw at the outdoor, drive-in theater.

Even without a specific event to attend, the grounds are a perfect place to wander when cabin fever strikes.

“The best reason to visit right now is to stroll the grounds and gardens and visit the open galleries. We’ve also become a very popular picnic destination with a great view of Northport Bay,” Wayland-Morgan said. “We plan to reopen the mansion living quarters and planetarium later in the fall.”

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum is located at 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport. As of Sept. 17, hours of operation are from noon to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The mansion’s living quarters and the planetarium are currently closed. Please wear a mask and practice social distancing. Admission is $8 for adults, $5 for children under 12, and $7 for students and seniors. Children under 2 are admitted free. For questions and information, including movie night passes, visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org or call 631-854-5579.

A rendering of the Dominick- Crawford Barn. Image from TVHS

By Melissa Arnold

Since 1964, the Three Village Historical Society (TVHS) has worked hard to preserve and share the community’s past with future generations. You’ve likely seen the historical society members and volunteers at local events, like the annual Spirits Tour, Culper Spy Day, Prohibition Night, or the Candlelight House Tour during the holidays.

The society is also dedicated to protecting local historic properties of all kinds. Recently, they were awarded a $350,000 grant from the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation to be used to rebuild, restore, and repurpose the Dominick-Crawford Barn, a historically significant building from circa 1847. The barn will have a new home in the field neighboring the historical society’s headquarters. The meadow is currently used to host a farmer’s market every Friday through September.

The pre-Civil War barn was originally located just inside the boundaries of Old Field. It was in poor condition, suffering from the lack of upkeep and long-term exposure to the elements. But TVHS member president Steve Hintze saw potential in the wooden structure.

“The Village of Old Field planned to demolish the barn, but we felt it was historically significant because it was one of the last of its time,” said Hintze, who served as historical society president in 2007.

The barn also serves as an example of two different eras of construction. According to Hintze, You can still see the markings of traditional hand saws, but the work of circular saws is also evident — a method that was still very new at the time. The finished structure was a blending of the old and the new.

It’s been a long road to earn the funding to support the project. Early on, Hintze reached out to Assemblyman Steve Englebright, who guided the society toward a $300,000 grant from the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York. This additional grant from the Gardiner Foundation will allow construction to move forward with a barn raising this fall.

Of course, such an old structure would need to be entirely rebuilt to meet the requirements of modern safety codes. The historical society chose to use the old timber for the exterior while shoring up the interior with stronger materials. In this way, the barn is getting the best of both worlds.

“It gives us greater structural stability while honoring the original look,” explained Steve Healy, current president of the historical society.

Acquiring the barn also has practical advantages for the society, where space has always been at a premium.

“We always seem to be short on space, and it was one of those things where we were looking for something new and the barn really fit the bill. We’re very happy about it,” said Healy.

In the recent past, the historical society could only allow groups of 25 people at a time into its exhibit space inside its headquarters at 93 Main Street in Setauket. This limit forced them to turn away larger groups, most notably schools that hoped to visit on a field trip.

Once completed, the new two-story, 35-by-50-foot space will be able to accomodate more than 200 people, Hintze said.

It will include teaching facilities, interchangeable exhibit space and archives. The center will allow the Society to supplement the archival space currently being used at the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket and provide accessible, climate-controlled storage for the society’s many historical artifacts.

“We are always being offered historical documents and artifacts from the community, so this will give us an opportunity to brush the dust off our archives and share them,” Healy explained.

And as the area recovers from the pandemic, the historical society is looking forward to hosting future large events, including auctions, summer camps, and even hoedowns at the barn.

“We’re excited to bring the community together for historical and educational opportunities of all kinds,” said Hintze. “When you start a project from just the seed of an idea and eventually see it come to fruition, it’s a great feeling.”

For more information about the Three Village Historical Society, visit www.tvhs.org.

Dr. Adam Gonzalez Photo by John Griffin/SBU

By Melissa Arnold

It’s been a rough year for all of us, that’s for sure, but no one has felt the sting of the COVID-19 pandemic more keenly than those who have contracted the virus.

As of Aug. 6, more than 43,000 Suffolk County residents have tested positive for COVID-19, and many more have faced the virus without an official diagnosis. Its symptoms can vary widely, from mild fatigue and chills to flu-like illnesses or even respiratory distress requiring hospital care.

The virus is unpredictable, and dealing with symptoms along with a quarantine, lengthy recovery and uncertain long-term effects is daunting. It’s only natural that many will experience tough emotions along the way.

Stony Brook Medicine is now offering a virtual support group for past and present COVID-19 patients. The weekly sessions will give patients a space to discuss their experiences and feelings while learning healthy coping mechanisms.

The support group is hosted by the Mind-Body Clinical Research Center at the Stony Brook Renaissance School of Medicine. Under the direction of founder Dr. Adam Gonzalez, the center focuses on the integration of mental and physical health for overall wellbeing.

“We wanted to see what we could do to support these members of the community who had COVID-19 and shared that they were feeling anxious, isolated and afraid of transmitting the virus to others,” Gonzalez explained. “Our goal is to provide a telehealth platform for patients to come together and bolster one another, exchange information, and learn skills to cope with stress brought on by their illness.”

Leading the group is Jenna Palladino, a licensed clinical psychologist and clinical assistant professor of psychiatry. Palladino is hopeful that participants will feel comfortable opening up about their struggles with COVID-19 in the company of others who know what it’s like.

“Research supports the idea that sharing your story helps you to work through the emotions related to it. And talking to others experiencing similar feelings helps to normalize the experience,” Palladino said. “It’s important for people going through COVID-19 to know that they’re not alone.”

The initial group is expected to run for 12 weeks, covering topics like coping with isolation, deep breathing, managing anxiety, muscle relaxation and mindfulness, to name a few.

Palladino is also leaving plenty of room for participants to ask questions and discuss topics that interest them, allowing the group to better meet their specific needs and concerns.

Gonzalez added that the support group will act as a pilot program for researchers seeking to understand the experiences of people living with COVID-19. They’ll collect data at the beginning and end of the program to see how patients are doing, if the support group was beneficial and how it can be improved.

While the initial group is limited to 10 patients, Palladino and her team are prepared to quickly begin additional groups if there is an interest, she said.

The virtual COVID-19 support group will be held from 6 to 7 p.m. Thursdays via the free Microsoft Teams video conferencing platform. The group is limited to 10 participants at a time. Registration is required to attend by calling 631-632-8657. For more information and resources, visit www.stonybrookmedicine.edu/COVID19support.

By Melissa Arnold

After a long, eerily quiet spring that forced the majority of public places to close, life is getting back to normal on Long Island. Slowly but surely, area libraries are opening their doors to patrons eager to browse and borrow.

“At 10 a.m. on July 6 when the first person walked through our doors and said, ‘It’s good to be back,’ I felt wonderful,” said Carol Albano, director of the Harborfields Library in Greenlawn. “One of our regular patrons walked over to our new book area and put her arms out and said, ‘I just want to hug all the books.’”

It’s a sigh of relief shared by librarians around the Island, especially given that when they closed their doors in March, there was no telling how or when they’d be able to open them again.

“Closing the building during the New York State shutdown felt surreal; it was new territory for everyone involved,” recalled Debbie Engelhardt, director of the Comsewogue Public Library in Port Jefferson Station. “The staff and I immediately set about establishing work-from-home stations so we could maintain strong services, programs, and communication with the public and with each other in our day-to-day operations.”

Throughout history, libraries have continually needed to broaden the scope of their services to keep up with the community’s habits and interests. For example, in addition to books and periodicals, libraries offer community programs, tutoring, music, movies, video games, museum passes, audiovisual equipment and much more.

During quarantine, many libraries made their first foray into the world of livestreaming and video conferencing. From read-alongs and book discussions to cooking demos, yoga hours and gardening lessons, library staff continued to bring people together in socially distant ways.

And while this technology will remain a part of the new normal — e-book borrowing numbers are higher than they’ve ever been in Suffolk County, and many events remain virtual for now — the libraries are thrilled to welcome patrons back to their brick-and-mortar homes.

Of course, things are going to look a little different, and local libraries have new rules and policies in place to keep everyone safe. Here’s a breakdown:

Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket is the oldest library in Suffolk County to provide service from its original location. Managing a collection of more than 200,000 items isn’t easy, and director Ted Gutmann said they started planning for reopening almost immediately after the shutdown.

“It was quite an interesting time,” Gutmann said. “It was all I thought about for weeks — how we were going to reopen safely and what it might look like. The state had certain parameters that all public places had to follow, so we used that as a guide as we planned.”

So far, they’ve opted for a conservative approach, allowing patrons to browse and check out materials, but limit activities that promote lingering. Patrons are asked to limit their visit to under 30 minutes. Public seating, some of the computers and all toys in the children’s library have been temporarily removed. Visitors can move throughout the aisles between the book shelves, but should follow directional arrows on the floor similar to those in use at grocery stores. Staff will offer assistance from behind plastic shields.

“Right now, we don’t want to encourage people to spend an extended time here for their own safety,” Gutmann explained. “They are welcome to browse and borrow, then bring their things home to enjoy.”

At the Comsewogue Public Library, reopening has occurred in phases with extensive planning throughout. It’s all been worth it, Engelhardt said,

“Opening the doors again felt like great progress. It was exciting, a big step toward more normalcy,” she said. “Our experience in reopening the building was overwhelmingly positive. We worked hard on our reopening plan, which met all state safety requirements and was approved by the county.”

Curbside pickup of borrowed materials will continue, as it’s a convenient, preferred option for some, but Engelhardt noted the number of in-person visitors has grown in recent weeks.

“Most come in to pick up items they’ve requested, and many are excited to once again enjoy browsing the shelves. Other popular draws are our computers, copiers, and fax services,” she explained.

Some changes: The lounge and study area furniture isn’t available right now, and clear plastic dividers are in place at service desks.

“Other than that, we have the same great circulating collections in print and online, from the traditional (think hot summer bestsellers and movies) to the more innovative (hotspots, Take and Make crafts, Borrow and Bake cake pans),” Engelhardt added.

At Harborfields Public Library, reopening plans began back in April as the staff met for regular Zoom meetings with other area libraries. “Step one was to develop a building safety plan — we met with our head of maintenance and went over each aspect of the building, from the mechanical systems to the physical layout of the furniture and library materials, to ordering personal protective equipment for the staff,” Albano said.

At this time, there is only one chair at each table, every other computer has been removed, and toys and games were temporarily taken out of the children’s area. 

You’ll also find plastic shields at the service desks, and that public restrooms have been installed with automatic faucets and automatic flushing toilets, Albano said.

“All areas of the library are open to the public, including all library materials. The only exception is the public meeting rooms are closed, because at this time we are not holding any in-house programming or meetings,” she added. “Computers are still available in the adult, teen and children’s departments, and soft seating and tables are in each department as well.”

As for borrowed materials, there’s no need to worry about catching COVID-19 from a library book, DVD or CD. Once materials are returned, they are kept quarantined for 72 hours.  Research from the global scientific organization Battelle has shown the virus is undetectable on books and similar items after just one day.

So rejoice, bookworms, and browse to your heart’s content. Your local librarians are ready to welcome you back — masked up, of course.

Individual library policies, event schedules and hours of operation vary and are subject to change — contact your local branch for the most current information. For contact information, database access, and to borrow electronic media including ebooks and audiobooks, visit www.livebrary.com. Please remember to wear a mask and practice social distancing while visiting any library.

All photos by Heidi Sutton