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11/16/14 10:00am
11/16/2014 10:00 AM


About six months ago, Phyllis Lombardi called a friend and former Suffolk Times colleague to ask for a ride to Best Buy so she could replace her broken computer.

She was nearing the end of a long battle with cancer, but Phyllis told her friend Meg Marcus that she mostly needed the new computer to continue writing her column. Even as her health deteriorated, she managed to file several pieces in advance. Only two had not yet been published when she died last week.  (more…)

09/14/14 6:00am
09/14/2014 6:00 AM
Wells Homestead Farmstand in Aquebogue. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

Wells Homestead Farmstand in Aquebogue. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

Well, here we are again. It’s September, back-to-school time on our North Fork. Teachers in many classrooms will ask youngsters to write a few paragraphs describing their summer vacations. And those youngsters will groan and then settle down, attempting to use big, important-sounding words, trying to impress their teacher.  (more…)

08/17/14 5:00am
08/17/2014 5:00 AM
Crab cakes from Orient by the Sea. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

Crab cakes from Orient by the Sea. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

It seems I’ve failed. During past weeks, I’ve spent so much time searching for something that appears not to exist. And all because of a great big sign I saw outside Modern Snack Bar on Main Road in Aquebogue.

The sign read “The Best Crabs Are Here.” Now I know our North Fork has the best of many things. From beaches to bays, to warm summer days, we are blessed. But crabs? I knew I’d have to investigate.  (more…)

04/21/12 11:00am
04/21/2012 11:00 AM

Believe me, I’m not thinking about leaving the North Fork. For a couple of very good reasons. One is simply that I love the place.

The second reason has to do with something I read in The Suffolk Times a short while back. Now I consider this newspaper pretty objective, certainly not out to create panic. But panicky is how I felt when I read one lady’s suggestions about what I’d have to do if I wanted to sell my house. The lady’s a respected North Fork realtor so her six recommendations could not be taken lightly.

First, the realtor wrote, I’d have to clean my home, clean it thoroughly. Well, my bathrooms and kitchen are really clean but she said I’d have to replace old shades and blinds. You know what? I don’t even have shades or blinds. I do have curtains on the bottoms of my windows. And I do wash those curtains. But sometime it takes a few weeks to get them back up on the windows.

Then I’d have to “spruce up the landscaping.” I guess I could blame most outdoor problems on my husband, but that wouldn’t be fair. It’s my fault there are old, discolored wooden clothespins clipped forlornly to the clothesline. And I’m responsible for the cracked clay flowerpots I left on the deck all winter.

Next, the realtor advised that I “de-clutter” the inside of my home. I’m gonna blame this problem on one of my children. He lives upstate near a pottery shop and he’s always giving me a cup or some unusual-looking piece he thinks I’ll like. Like them? Yes, but where to put them? Oh, and I have a cousin who causes a clutter problem, too. She lives in New Jersey and sends me big floral arrangements. They’re dried flowers and really quite lovely, but they do take up space. When the UPS guy comes to the door with Diana’s flowers, my first thought is, Where am I going to put them? I wonder if the realtor lady would like some for her office.

And listen to this: The realtor said I must try to “de-personalize” my home. Get rid of most of the family pictures because they are a distraction for buyers. I suppose that’s true. But wouldn’t that depend on who those family members were? Imagine if Vince Lombardi were indeed a relative (you can’t know how often I’m asked that) and I had his photo on a wall in my home. And right below the photo, a table supporting a great big trophy. Wow! Folks would be clamoring to buy my North Fork house.

Here’s more advice from the realtor. Use neutral colors when painting inside or out. As I’ve gotten older I’ve become more neutral. But I remember earlier times in another home when I painted the kitchen something the color chart called “apricot.” Somehow that house was sold. Also, the realtor’s advice is if you’ve got wallpaper on your walls, remove it. I did that years ago. I struggled to remove a wallpaper border. Even that small effort was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I’ll never remove wallpaper again. Never.

Finally, a suggestion I can comply with. Take pets out of the house when buyers tour the place. That’s easy. I don’t have a pet. Poor cat Toby died a few years ago. His little grave marker is in our garden. And I just won’t remove that.
I have to admit the realtor seems extremely helpful, but one thing she didn’t cover. What should you do with a husband when potential buyers are at the front door? Send him to King Kullen for a box of cookies? Have him putter in the garage and promise to say no more than hello and goodbye? Hoist him up on the roof, where he can pretend to be installing great new neutral-color shingles? Husbands can say things, do things, that may scare off a prospect. Like explaining the dog next door never barks at night. Just all day. Or that your hilly driveway ices up in winter and getting to the mailbox is hazardous. A really helpful realtor has gotta address the husband problem. Until then, I think most North Forkers will never consider selling their homes.

There you have it. The second reason I’ll never sell my house. It will never be thoroughly clean, de-cluttered, picture-free, painted gray inside and out and, I pray fervently, without my husband to mess things up. That’s a North Fork way of life.

Ms. Lombardi is a resident of Cutchogue.

02/04/12 12:00pm
02/04/2012 12:00 PM

Let’s see. Flowers would be good. Perhaps a few red roses. Or perfume. Lots of women enjoy sweet fragrance. Maybe even a piece of jewelry. Although that could be expensive.

The upcoming Valentine’s Day can certainly prove difficult for guys looking to delight a lady. Even clever, sensitive North Fork men may need a little help when it comes to selecting a small gift of love for the women in their lives. You know — moms, wives, daughters, sisters and so on.

If a guy is thinking candy, I have a few suggestions. First off, if choosing candy from a supermarket shelf, our man must be aware of the candy’s name. No matter how good the candy tastes, for a Valentine gift its name has gotta be romantic.

For example, a gift of Snickers or Jelly Belly hardly seems appropriate for a loving wife. And just think, guys, of the distress if your beloved were to open up a gift of Gummi Worms, Sour Patch or Jawbreakers. Milk Duds, Rocky Road or Mounds. Where’s the romance in a box of Airheads or a bag of Nerds? Men, you can’t be too careful.

So if it’s off the shelf, stick with candy bearing a Valentine name. Like Hershey’s Hugs or Kisses. But for something unique, travel the North Fork for candy shops. There are quite a few. Visit them as I did. My goal, of course, was to help you make a winning Valentine gift choice. Obviously I sampled several selections — in this case an occupational hazard.

My first sweet stop was at The Confectionery Corner in Southold. Just open the door and you’ve got romance on the menu. I saw chocolate-covered Heart Peeps, Cupid Candy (pink and red candy corn), chocolate heart lollipops, chocolate-covered cherry hearts. Somehow the chocolate nonpareils, sprinkled red and white for Valentine’s Day, appealed to me. After all, is there any woman who wouldn’t respond when told she is without equal?

Tending store for owner Dawn Powers was Dawn’s mother. From Orient, Mom (and that’s how she wants to be identified) told me Dawn is awaiting the end-of-February birth of her second child. Lucky kids. They’ve a loving, helpful grandma and a mama who owns a candy store. Ah, it’s a tough life on the North Fork!

Now say hello to Fran Liburt, who lives in Orient and travels to Greenport each day to her job at Sweet Indulgences. Fran was happy to show me so many special Valentine candy treats. And so important — these treats had romantic names, names bound to please.

We started off with Conversation Hearts, little candies imprinted with romantic sayings like “I Love You” or “Kiss Me.” If you prefer to do your own talking, the Love and Kisses Lollipops might be just the thing. Or try the Milk Chocolate Presents, little candies each individually gift-wrapped. Now that’s a labor of love. And it’s a labor that won’t be lost on your sweetheart.

There must be something romantic in the air at Love Lane Sweet Shoppe in Mattituck. But more about that in a minute.

Meantime I discovered a number of appropriate candy names at this candy heaven. There were Heartfelts, Strawberry Delights and Wings of Love. And some sweet edibles called Razzles. It’s possible that years ago I had some razzle, maybe even a little dazzle. No more. So a gift of that to a grandmotherly woman might be well received.

Now about what’s in the air. At the Sweet Shoppe I met Ashley Wilsberg, whose mom, Jackie Wilsberg, owns the store. Ashley, a Mattituck High School graduate, has been working at the store for three years.
When I heard that, I asked how she remained so slim with such delightful temptations in front of her each day. “Oh, that’s easy,” Ashley replied. “I’m on a wedding diet.”

That’s right. Ashley will marry a North Fork guy this April and they’ll be living in Laurel. As printed on the Sweet Shoppe business card — How Sweet It Is.

Well, gentlemen, I do indeed hope my sugary meanderings help you win fair lady on this Valentine’s Day. Though I realize most North Fork men, while romantic at times, are more often realistic and practical. If that’s the case, by all means get the candy. But add a little something extra. Like maybe a promissory note offering to wash the windows in the spring. It’s right around the corner.

Ms. Lombardi is a resident of Cutchogue.

01/21/12 12:07pm
01/21/2012 12:07 PM

Yes, winter’s quiet on the North Fork and it may become even more so. As you might have heard, the Long Island Rail Road has initiated a Quiet Car policy on its trains. The pilot program began a few weeks ago on the Far Rockaway branch. Perhaps Riverhead to Greenport is next.

I spoke with Aaron Donavan, a helpful young guy who is a media liaison at a Metropolitan Transportation Authority office in New York City. Aaron told me there would probably be only one Quiet Car per train. In that car no electronic devices would be permitted and any conversation would be in whispers only. Matter of fact, conductors will hand out “shh” cards to commuters who break the silence. I’m thinking those “shh” cards would be great for teachers with noisy classes or for husbands who claim their wives never stop talking. And wouldn’t you like a “shh” card if you came face to face with a presidential candidate?

I’ve an idea. Make a game of it. If a person receives five “shh” cards he goes directly to jail.

It so happens that Amtrak began its own Quiet Car policy several years ago. In my first Quiet Car experience, I accepted tickets for seats in an Amtrak “quiet, no cellphones” car traveling from Washington, D.C., to New York City. I was with a friend, Ginny, and we planned on drinking tea as we rolled north through Baltimore. Maybe read a newspaper, even take a nap.

Ginny and I settled in and began a quiet review of our D.C. days. The Museum of American History, a White House garden tour, even a Nationals game. Then came the voice, a kind of female James Earl Jones voice. “Somebody’s talkin’ in the Quiet Car.”

She, and her voice, headed to our seats. She was large, very, and stern, very. The dark-uniformed Amtrak conductor stood over me and asked for ID. This while holding that steel-cold ticket puncher up to my face. There was to be no talking in this car.

My laughter was not directed at her. Rather, at my foolishness. We knew no cellphones were allowed. We did not know quiet conversation was verboten.

Lady Amtrak didn’t crack a smile. She told me to check for seats in another car if I wished to speak even a few words during the three-hour ride. Dutifully I rose from my seat and rocked side to side up the aisle to the next car. No adjacent seats available. I tiptoed back into the Quiet Car and sat down next to Ginny.

So it was we arrived in New York City well rested. Ginny continued on to her home in Saratoga Springs while I was ready for battle on the LIRR to Riverhead, where my husband would meet me for the ride home to Cutchogue. The dusty, creaky LIRR was crowded and it was not until I changed trains at Ronkonkoma that I found a comfortable seat next to a smiling young woman and across from an equally happy-looking young couple. And then, a revelation.

I admit it. I probably started talking first. My seat companion was headed to Riverhead and we chatted about that town. Her three children graduated from Riverhead High School and remain in nearby North Fork towns. The young couple across from me? They hoped to purchase a home in Mattituck.

Naturally, I told my Amtrak story. We all laughed, loudly. And when the LIRR conductor walked toward us, I thought, “Oh no, not again.”

Bet you can guess what happened. The conductor asked, “What’s so funny?” He was not scowling nor was he waving a ticket puncher. He just stood there, waiting to hear the source of our joy.

So once again I repeated my Amtrak experience. By this time I did so in a most dramatic way. Well, the conductor laughed. Out loud. Here were five of us having a good old time. It was great to be home on the North Fork.

And about a LIRR Quiet Car on the North Fork? I’m not gonna worry about that now. There’s too much laughing to do.

Ms. Lombardi is a resident of Cutchogue.

11/19/11 3:00am
11/19/2011 3:00 AM

About this time last year I had an idea. That happens occasionally. Anyway, my idea was this: Lots of roads on the North Fork have winter/Christmas names and I was sure Santa Claus had named those roads. Like Holly Tree Lane, Antler Road and Claus Avenue.

Well, it’s Thanksgiving time now and I’ve another idea. Santa obviously didn’t name all our roads. He had help from three Massachusetts guys. That’s right. John Alden, William Bradford and Myles Standish. We’re told there were 53 Pilgrims at that first Thanksgiving feast in Plymouth in 1621 and that they dined for hours and hours. I maintain the Pilgrims ate so well and so much that a few of them decided to take a long walk after dinner and ended up, several days later, on the North Fork.

How else to explain the street names I discover as I travel the roads through towns I love? I believe the walkers began their North Fork sojourn in Laurel. They tarried for a bit in a red-gold treed area and called the spot Harvest Lane, recalling their recent bounty.

Even today, Harvest Lane is red-gold with trees. Homes line both sides of the lane and cold-defying mums brighten most front porches. Appropriately, Harvest Lane runs into Farmveu Road. Full circle.

And there’s a homeowner on his power mower. Perhaps, on Harvest Lane, cutting lawns becomes grass-harvesting. Less of a chore then, more of a blessing.

Now on to North Fork main course names. Back in Massachusetts our three travelers dined on “turkies, fowle, deere and codd.” They spelled things funny in those days but then their clothes were a bit unusual, too. At least I think so. And, oh, North Fork roads abound in Thanksgiving entrée names.

In Riverhead there’s Pheasant Court and Trout Brook Lane. I’d take a helping of each. Heading east you can pass your plate for a serving of Deer Drive in Mattituck or Goose Creek Lane in Southold. Wait a minute. Go back to Riverhead. I forgot Scallop Lane. Never, ever, pass up scallops.

Now east for Rabbit Lane and Oyster Ponds Lane. Both courses are found near Orient Harbor and I’m sure our Massachusetts men sampled the area’s menu.

Me? For a main course I choose Duck Pond Road in Cutchogue. It’s a south/north road ending right at Long Island Sound bluffs and beach. Lots of farms along the way. Truthfully, I saw no ducks, but then it was too chilly to get out of my car and go hunting. Maybe the ducks are all gone, following the Pilgrims back to Massachusetts. Or maybe the ducks went to Central Islip. That’s where the Long Island Ducks play their games. I wonder if North Fork ducks play games, too.

Some side dishes? Coming your way. Try Chestnut Road in Southold for your Thanksgiving dressing or Cranberry Street in Riverhead for savory sauce.

With all this North Fork good eating, I think we need a drink or two. I know there’s a Gin Lane and a Bourbon Lane in Southold — but were Pilgrims aware of such beverages? There’s another Bourbon Street far south, but that’s too long a walk even for a Pilgrim. So I guess we’ll go with Vineyard Way in Riverhead. We’ll drink wine on the North Fork. Besides, Vineyard Way sounds Biblical, just right for Thanksgiving.

Look at the dessert table. Huckleberry Hill Road and Plum Island Lane, both out Orient way. Meanwhile in Riverhead, take your pick. Apple Lane, Cherry Lane, Peach Street. I love walnuts so I drove down Walnut Avenue in Mattituck — a dirt/gravel road that crunched just like the cracking open of walnuts. The posted speed limit was 5 mph. Those Pilgrims knew enough to slow down and appreciate.

I do think I found exactly the spot where our Pilgrims left the North Fork for home. They probably thought it safe to return because their womenfolk had finished cleaning up. So, having named our roads, John, William and Myles started back to Massachusetts, but not before giving thanks again. From a road a bit north of what is now Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead, a road named Amen Corner, they paused and prayed. Now they were ready to face another winter.

As are we all.

Ms. Lombardi is a resident of Cutchogue.

08/21/11 2:19am
08/21/2011 2:19 AM

Anything goes on the North Fork. You just have to get the right permit. Building permits, parking permits, get-rid-of-your-garbage permits — we’ve got ’em all. And, so help me, you can get a Seasonal Guest Disposal Permit at Southold Town Hall. Even a Guest Disposal sticker. All you need is $25.

Now I know and you know said permit will allow a vacationer in Southold to use the Town of Southold Transfer Station. Fine. Let’s keep the North Fork garbage-free. But, ladies and gentlemen, just think of an alternative use for a Guest Disposal permit and sticker.

The North Fork is indeed a magnet for summer visitors. Rightly so. We’ve marvelous beaches, super farms and vineyards, great biking and hiking, fine restaurants. Who could ask for anything more?

Well, all these visitors have to shower and sleep somewhere. We certainly don’t want harried, haggard tourists wandering about from Riverhead to Orient. So it’s only logical that many of these visitors will park their cars in the driveways of North Fork relatives and friends — and stay for a week or more.

No denying North Forkers are hospitable. And yet there comes a time when even North Forkers are “guested out.” That’s when the Guest Disposal permit and sticker acquires a secondary use of primary importance. I’m suggesting a North Fork host/hostess discreetly place a Guest Disposal sticker on a guest room mirror. It seems an admirable non-confrontational way of saying “time to go home.”

Just what might drive an even-tempered North Forker to purchase a Guest Disposal permit and sticker? I’ll respond with one word. Actually it’s the word that comes immediately to mind when I look at the clothesline in my neighbor’s back yard.

That word is towels. North Fork guests mean lots of towels. Beach towels, bath towels, damp towels left on bathroom floors and on top of the washing machine. Towels abandoned at the beach or hung on the clothesline overnight only to be drenched in a hard rain. Towels used to soak up a grape juice spill or an oil spill out on a boat. And no more towels in the hall closet. That’s when exhausted North Forkers might just as well throw in the towel and display the sticker.

As for me? It’s the noise that does it. Not just noise the visitors might make, but even the noise I try not to make. If guests sleep till 10 a.m. and I’m up about 5:30, how in the world can I be quiet for more than four daylight hours? I can’t turn on the washing machine, talk on the phone, play a tape, vacuum the floors. Even cleaning a pot at the kitchen sink makes noise. Just listen sometime. All this because the visiting folks were out late the night before and they need their rest. Well, so do I. Where’s that sticker?

And you know the strange thing? Guests make plenty of noise. They run water in the tub and shower just any old time. They’re on their cell phones in the living room, the kitchen, all over the place. Grandchildren, especially, leave the television on when they leave the TV room. After all, they’ll be back in a couple of hours. Again, where’s the sticker?

It’s not towels or noise stressing Cliff and Jane Utz. This North Fork couple (both were physical education teachers at Southold and Greenport high schools) is active, hospitable, curious. Matter of fact, they spend part of every winter roaming around out West. They welcome guests, believe me. And yet, they’re occasionally ready to display Southold’s Guest Disposal sticker. All because of food.

Cliff and Jane eat well and often. But when they want steak at home, guests seem to want pizza at a spot 20 miles away. And while Cliff and Jane generally eat dinner early, guests think 8:30 p.m. is perfect. True, there’s much to keep visitors busy outdoors on North Fork summer days and Cliff and Jane are understanding people. Still, says Jane, “It’s good to get our house back again.”

I suppose we owe a thank-you to the town for putting these permits and stickers into North Fork hands. And yet … after guests have gone and left us lonely, those visitors, in our memories, evoke other responses. We forget the towels, the noise, the late meals. We recall the fun, the friends, the family. I’ll check again at Town Hall. Maybe they have a sticker reading Come Back Soon.

Ms. Lombardi is a resident of Cutchogue.