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Vacation

Pixabay photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

I took my first trip to London with my wife and I never felt like we were far from home or from living history.

In Uber rides, the music of Justin Timberlake, the Pointer Sisters and numerous other American artists provided the soundtrack for our visit.

Walking around the city and descending into the tube, advertisements for American products such as Pepsi and movies such as “The Fall Guy” and “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” adorned the sides of hackney cars, the iconic red double-decker buses and the walls of the tube.

The cars on the tube were much narrower than I expected, as people sitting across from me tapped my feet without standing or stretching. 

For a country that drives on the left, I was mystified by the “keep right” signs. If they drive on the left, why do they walk on the right?

London has its fair share of “must visits,” such as the Tower of London, Big Ben and Parliament and the Churchill War Rooms. An imposing and impressive testament to the history of the city and the country, the Tower of London forms a small metropolis with its enormous towers and stories of prisoners. Graffiti on the walls bears the name and religious convictions of those confined to the tower and in some cases tortured or killed.

Big Ben was larger and more elaborate than I imagined. It reminded me of an earlier visit to Mount Rushmore, where I found the size and pageantry of the four former presidents magnificent and moving.

The Churchill War Rooms provided a close up view of the remarkable fortitude and foresight of the celebrated prime minister. At the age of 65, Churchill spent considerable time underground.

When he learned that the facility was vulnerable to a direct hit from a German bomb, he complained in a letter displayed on the wall of the memorial that Patrick Duff, who was permanent secretary of the Office of Works, had “sold him a pup.”

The government added concrete and, after a nearby bomb shook the bunker, Churchill lamented that the bomb didn’t strike close enough to test the reinforcements.

Veterans of the shelter, many of whom rarely saw sunlight underground, shared stories about going under sunlamps to increase their vitamin D, about Churchill’s need for quiet, and about their secret life.

The arms of one of Churchill’s chairs in the cabinet room bears the marks of his fingers digging into the wood, as he listened to testimony, prepared action plans and reacted to news.

Throughout his tenure during the war, Churchill traveled extensively, visiting everywhere from the United States, to Cairo to Moscow, rallying support for the war and visiting foreign leaders and dignitaries, sometimes for more than a month. The Prime Minister, who was almost 71 when the war ended, traveled over 100,000 miles during those tumultuous years. Observers shared parts of his routine, which included two baths a day and three meals per day.

Churchill, who was involved in everything from planning the war effort to offering advice about military technology, pointed out that the government named a tank after him “when they found out it was no damn good!”

Aside from our historical visits, we enjoyed listening to, and watching, people. Like so many other big cities, London attracts guests from around the world, as French, Spanish and German blended with Japanese, Chinese and Arabic languages.

We enjoyed the hospitality of numerous Brits. A beefeater at the Tower of London, which was hit by a few stray bombs, suggested the site wasn’t a target during World War II because it had no strategic value.

Or, perhaps, the Germans and their killer leader “liked the Tower” and didn’t want it or the crown jewels, destroyed.

On the lighter side, we experienced a range of London weather while on a short boat trip on the Thames, as sunlight gave way to dark clouds and wind turned some umbrellas inside out.

The tour guide on the boat offered one of the more unexpected linguistic differences. He described how certain buildings were converted from commercial properties into apartments.

“Wait, what did he just say?” I asked my wife, chuckling.

“What do you mean?”

“I think he’s talking about warehouses and he said, ‘Where asses.’”

Later, when he described a queen’s residence, he also suggested this was one of the queen’s favorite ‘asses.’

Yes, we had a “eck” of a time in London and would be more than “appy” to visit again.

File photos of a fire in East Setauket from the Setauket Fire Department.

After a tragic fire broke out in Noyac, the tragedy sheds light on fire safety precautions people should consider before unpacking their bags in an unfamiliar room or home and in general.

When the Noyac fire broke out, a family of five from Maryland was on vacation, renting a single-family home. The Aug. 3 fire, in the early morning hours, claimed the lives of sisters Jillian Wiener, 21, and Lindsay Weiner, 19. Their parents Lewis and Alisa and their 23-year-old brother Zachary were able to escape with non-life-threatening injuries.

Town of Huntington chief fire marshal, Terry McNally, said in an email to TBR News Media, that residents should “make sure your home conforms to the state fire code and building code, including functioning smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.”

“Each bedroom must have a smoke detector,” he added. “There must be a means of egress to get outside from each bedroom and hallway on each level, and there must be a carbon monoxide detector on each level within 15 feet of each bedroom.”

Christopher Mehrman, chief fire marshal for the Town of Brookhaven Division of Fire Prevention, agreed and said in a phone interview it’s important to ensure a rental property follows the same codes.

The marshal added it’s important to ensure there are detectors on each floor.

“You want that early warning to be able to get out if there’s a fire,” Mehrman said. 

Staying at a private home that may be included on a website such as Airbnb is different from being at a hotel and motel where they must meet stricter codes that marshals enforce, Mehrman said. He added while some municipalities might regulate Airbnbs and inspections are done, they are not as extensive as ones for corporate properties.

Mehrman said the first thing to do when vacationing anywhere is to check that there are smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and test them to see if they are working.

“If you’re in doubt, bring your own,” he said.

Many times he has conducted investigations where it’s found that the detectors aren’t working properly. He said systems that go to a central station also have a button to be able to test them.

Both fire marshals added that it’s important for people to ensure they know all the ways out of a home or building in the case of a hotel or motel. Their advice is to check for exits and for people to familiarize themselves with egress paths, including stairwells.

Mehrman added to make sure that windows do open. He said when he travels, he finds the emergency exits and counts the number of doors to the exit from his room.

“In a smoke condition in a hallway, you’re going to be down on the floor crawling to get to the exit, and that way you can count the number of doors,” Mehrman said.

When visiting hotels and motels, he also checks emergency exit doors to ensure they aren’t locked, and stairwells lead to a door outside the building.

Regarding vacationing at a private home, Mehrman said, remember not all homes are set up the same.

“Some of these houses are very large,” he said. “You don’t know what the owner has done to the house. They may have sectioned off part of it because they don’t want people in that part of the house.”

He added not to be afraid to escape from a second-floor window as the fall is not as far as it looks, especially if one dangles from the window first.

Most of all, Mehrman said always be aware that there should be a meeting spot for everyone, and people should not run back in to save anyone or pets. Fire victims also should wait until they escape the fire before calling 911.

“Evacuating everybody is the most important thing,” he said.

Pixabay photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Vacations are wonderful. That’s stating the obvious. But vacationing now, in largely post-pandemic times, brings a special kind of joy. I felt it because I have just come back from vacation with a sense of happiness and peace that I wish I could bottle. And I just happened to read an article that speaks to this very subject, the “rush of a real vacation.” 

Now you might think it’s the result of breaking out after almost a year and a half of pandemic distancing, of masking and zooming and otherwise limiting and isolating ourselves. We did that, these last 10 days, driving up the New England coast slowly and spending quality time in Maine. We certainly enjoyed the freedom of the open road, stopping where we had a notion, taking back country routes on impulse, drinking in those picturesque harbor towns, eating lobster rolls, taking pictures of lighthouses. After relative confinement, that was exhilarating. 

But there was more to the experience than that. The article I read, “There’s a Specific Kind of Joy We’ve Been Missing,” by organizational psychologist Adam Grant in the July 10 issue of The New York Times, talks of collective effervescence. This is a concept introduced in the early 20th century by the sociologist Emile Durkheim describing “the sense of energy and harmony people feel when they come together in a group around a shared purpose.” 

So if you are participating in a brainstorming session with colleagues, enjoying a baseball game or a movie with new seatmates or even chatting with a stranger on a train, there is the joy of connection. That didn’t happen during the dark days of COVID-19, although there was some of that early in NYC when people were clapping and banging pots and pans with spoons at 7 p.m. every night to honor hospital workers. And it didn’t happen on Zoom, where the common response after several meetings was fatigue.

We stopped for dinner one night on the way up the seashore in Portland, where we met with an editor who had worked at The Village Times 30 years ago. She took the ferry over from one of the offshore islands and had a lobster roll with us in DiMillo’s restaurant. That eatery used to be the Martha Jefferson, a Mississippi River paddle cruiser for sightseeing and parties on Port Jefferson harbor more than 50 years ago. The present owners bought the old boat, tidied it up, anchored it permanently at the Portland docks and have over the years turned it into a seafood palace.

We spent three days in Camden, a charming fishing village with loads of tourist stores to wander in and out of, which we didn’t do but did enjoy a sailboat ride in a 36-foot schooner that we shared with a family from Alabama. There were a number of people visiting from the Deep South whom we met and chatted with, several owning summer homes in Maine. They drove the considerable distance, like us, enjoying the liberating journey. I want to salute an especially fine restaurant there, in Rockland, called Primo, started by a woman originally from Long Island, that serves farm-to-table food in delicious fashion. Diners can also tour her lush gardens in the rear. Ask for the Russian kale salad for an unusual treat. And if it’s your thing, enjoy the Farnsworth Art Museum, with its impressive collection of three generations of Wyeths.

We loved our time in Bar Harbor (or as they say, Bah Hahbba), and especially Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island. If you go, know that you will need a ticket in advance if you wish to see a famed sunrise or a sunset from the summit of Cadillac Mountain.

I have always enjoyed chatting with strangers while waiting in lines or riding in elevators, among other conducive situations. I learn all sorts of information, usually useless but not always, this way. Friends I have been with will bear witness to this voluble habit. I hadn’t realized how much I had missed those casual conversations until this trip. I certainly agree with the theory of collective effervescence put forth by Durkheim a century ago. And we awarded the title of best lobster roll, after many samplings, to McLoons Lobster Shack of South Thomaston, in the friendly state of Maine.

Photo from Pixabay

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

If you can do it, I highly recommend getting away from your life, even if it’s just for a day or a weekend.

Despite the ongoing threat from COVID-19, we took a weekend ski trip. We called the small inn where we hoped to stay and asked if they required masks of their guests.

“When you get here, you’ll see that there’s almost no common space,” the innkeeper said. “You’ll be in a small hallway.”

That was music to our ears and, as it turned out, exactly as he described. We only saw two other guests that weekend and that was in the parking lot.

Upon check in, we called the family that ran the inn, who directed us, unseen and contactless, to our room, where an old fashioned key, not a key card, awaited us on the kitchen table.

After we emptied the luggage from our car, we raced up a foggy mountain filled with hairpin turns to the ski slope after 9 p.m. to pick up our equipment. I had read that the ski slope recommended getting the gear the night before to save time the next morning. With only two other customers at the rental center that night, we maneuvered through the process quickly.

Something about getting away from the sameness of the last year was incredibly liberating. We woke up later than usual, had a light breakfast and headed to the slopes. Assured that the three parking lots were full, my wife suggested driving to the closest lot, where a friendly parking attendant suggested we could take our chances and circle the lot. Sure enough, my wife spotted someone pulling out of a spot just as we arrived.

The only remaining obstacle between us and blazing a trail down the mountain was a lift ticket.

Clearly, we weren’t the only ones pining for an outdoor sport, as an enormous line awaited. My wife discovered that the line was for rentals and that the ticket line had only two other people.

Grateful for the time we saved procuring equipment the night before, we put on our skis and shuffled towards one of the closest lift lines.

Sitting on a lift for the first time, dangling above skiers and snow boarders who did everything from carving their way down the mountain to sliding on their backside as their skis popped off, we shed the sameness of home life, home responsibilities and home entertainment.

The first time down the mountain, we reminded ourselves to keep our weight forward. My feet and legs, which have spent far too much time tucked underneath me in a chair at home, appreciated the chance to set the pace and direction.

My ears delighted at the shushing sound and my eyes drank in the magnificence of mountains gently piercing through a blanket of clouds that changed from white and grey to orange and pink during the approaching sunset.

We had a few challenging moments. Numerous skiers went maskless until reminded by a lift attended, while some people seemed genuinely disappointed when I didn’t agree to share a lift with them. When I explained to one of them that I was being, “COVID-safe,” she said she was already vaccinated. I told her I hadn’t and was being careful.

A few errant snowboards passed perilously close to my legs before colliding into a tree, while lift lines were sometimes too crowded for comfort.

Still, the ability to get away from a life that, as my daughter describes, “remains on pause even as it moves forward,” provided a refreshing and memorable change to our routines.

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Kids are dismissed early from Port Jefferson’s middle and high schools on a previous snow day. File photo by Michael Ruiz

Slippery conditions and cold temperatures are a couple of reasons to hate snow, and now Port Jefferson kids and parents have another one: cutting into the school break.

Despite a handful of snowfalls, with the help of the heaviest of them falling on a weekend, the school district has kept closings to just two days — last Friday and Monday. But those instruction days still have to be made up at some point, so that the district stays in compliance with state education regulations regarding the minimum number of school days.

Superintendent Ken Bossert said at the Port Jefferson Board of Education meeting on Tuesday night that, as a result, the snow will dig into April. The first lost day will be made up on Friday, April 22, which was originally scheduled as a staff conference day, and the other will be made up on Monday, April 25, which was supposed to be the first day of spring break.

Delayed openings and early dismissals, which the school district also uses to ensure student safety during snow events, do not affect the count of instruction days and thus do not have to be made up elsewhere.

If there are any more storms that precipitate school closings, each instruction day missed will be redeemed during the spring break, according to Bossert, cutting deeper into that vacation time.

The superintendent explained that due to the way the school calendar was designed in the 2015-16 school year, with a late Labor Day and the way the Jewish holidays Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur fell, the calendar was “much less flexible with building in snow days.”

Next year is shaping up to be different. The school board approved a 2016-17 calendar on Tuesday night that starts a couple of days earlier than the current year and has five snow days built in from the get-go.

“And we can actually do more than that without encroaching on religious observances and things like that,” Bossert said.

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By Carolann Ryan

It’s almost that time of year again. Winter is right around the corner for those of us on Long Island, and if it is anything like the last, a fun winter getaway is definitely a necessity. Whether you crave hitting that fresh powder on the slopes or slipping down water slides at an indoor water park, there are plenty of mini-vacation destinations for you. Ditch the winter blues, jump in the car and check out some great winter weekend trips.

Greek Peak Mountain Resort — Cortland, NY
Greek Peak Mountain Resort is located in the beautiful Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, with something for every member of the family. The mountain offers 33 trails of varied terrain, for everyone from beginners to experts and every level in between. Ski and snowboarding lessons are available for all ages and levels. If the slopes are not for you, activities such as cross-country skiing and snow tubing are available. Indoor amenities include a 41,000-square-foot water park, as well as a spa. When it comes to lodging at Greek Peak, there are two luxurious options, Hope Lake Lodge and Arcadia Village properties. For more information, visit www.greekpeak.net.

Whether you plan to spend your winter shredding the slopes or slipping down a 1,000-ft water slide, there is something for everyone right in the tri-state area. So what are you waiting for? Start planning your winter getaway today.

Aquatopia Indoor Water Park at Camelback Lodge — Tannersville, PA
Aquatopia at Camelback Lodge, located in the beautiful Pocono Mountains, is a 125,000-square-foot, multilevel indoor water park that defies seasonal weather constraints with 84-degree water play year-round. Between the exciting slides and rides, seven swimming pools of varied depths and sizes and private cabanas, there is fun for every member of the family to dive into. Admittance to Aquatopia is included with your stay at Camelback Lodge and is exclusively for lodge guests. For more information, visit www.camelbackresort.com/water parks/aquatopia.

CoCo Key Water Resort — Waterbury, CT/Mt. Laurel, NJ
For those looking to escape the cold and snow this winter, it is always 84 degrees and sunny at CoCo Key Water Resort, with two locations in the tri-state area. Both resorts include more than 50,000-square-feet of indoor fun, including attractions and activities for kids, teens and adults. Whip and wind on over 1,000 feet of water slides, relax in the lazy river or melt your stress away at the spa. Stay close to home this winter and enjoy a Key West-style vacation. If you are headed to the Waterbury location, you can find accommodations at the CoCo Key Water Resort Hotel and Convention Center. For more information visit www.cocokeywaterbury.com.  The Hotel ML offers comfortable and luxurious accommodations for those visiting the Mt. Laurel location. Visit www.mtlaurelcocokey.com for reservations, pricing and further information.

Great Wolf Lodge Poconos — Scotrun, PA
Located conveniently in the famous Pocono Mountains, Great Wolf Lodge is perfect for slipping and splashing around on dozens of attractions at its gigantic indoor water park, as well as exploring some dryer indoor amenities such as glow-in-the-dark mini-golf, miniature bowling, a 4D movie theater and interactive activities, games and shows for children of all ages. It is impossible to be bored when visiting Great Wolf Lodge, with a wide variety of suite sizes and designs available. For pricing, information and reservations, visit www.greatwolf.com/poconos.

Rocking Horse Ranch Resort — Highland, NY
The winter snow park offers many classic outdoor activities, such as skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing and ice-skating. If you are an animal lover, enjoy horse-drawn sleigh rides as well as trail rides. If you want to feel like it’s an 85 degree day in January, hit up the Big Splash Indoor Water Park.  
Other indoor activities include character lunches, BB gun shooting gallery, archery range, a video arcade, Ping-Pong and pool tables, scavenger hunts, Bingo and popular board games, as well as activities directors for children, teens and adults. For further information visit www.rockinghorseranch.com.

By Nancy Burner, Esq.

Clients often ask how they can ensure the home in which they live or their vacation home can be protected against the cost of long-term care.  These assets are often worth much more to our clients than the cash value; they represent hard work to pay off the mortgage and are wrapped in memories.

Prior to the sophistication of trust law, many individuals would pass a residence to their beneficiaries by executing a deed with a life estate. For the owner, this would mean retaining the right to live in the home until death, but upon their demise, the property would be fully owned by the beneficiaries.

Because they retained a lifetime interest in the property, they would still be able to claim any exemptions with respect to the property. Moreover, when the owner died, the beneficiaries would get a “step-up” in basis, which eliminates or lessens capital gains tax due if they did sell the property.

The negative aspect to this kind of transfer is loss of control. Once the deed is transferred to the beneficiaries, they have the ownership interest. If the original owner wanted to sell the property or change who receives it upon their death, they would have to get the permission of those to whom they transferred the property. Another negative aspect is that if the individual is receiving Medicaid benefits and the house is sold, a share of the proceeds, the life estate interest, would be paid out to the individual and could put their Medicaid benefits in jeopardy.

A better option for protecting a residence is by executing an irrevocable Medicaid Qualifying Trust, which can transfer real property at death. Like the deed with a life estate, this trust grants all the tax benefits and exclusive occupancy during life, i.e., STAR exemption, veteran’s exemption, capital gains exemption.

This method is superior to the deed with a life estate because if the property is sold during your lifetime, the full amount of the proceeds are protected within the trust and will pass to your beneficiaries upon your death. The trust also gives the ability to change the beneficiaries at any time, leaving some control in the hands of the original owner of the property.

A person’s residence is their most treasured and often most monetarily valuable asset. It is important to meet with an experienced attorney to ensure protection of your home or vacation home.

Nancy Burner, Esq. has practiced elder law and estate planning for 25 years. The opinions of columnists are their own. They do not speak for the paper.