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The Life of Riley

a quest for the good life in New York City and beyond

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NYC

NYC’s Treasure Island

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Roosevelt Island Meets Manhattan

I’ve called Roosevelt Island home for the past four and a half years. It’s been named everything from Minnahanonck by the Native Americans to Hog Island by the Dutch and then Blackwell’s Island and Welfare Island before the renaming in 1971, honoring President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Perhaps a more appropriate name would be Treasure Island. A somewhat mysterious, quirky Manhattan neighborhood, nestled under the Queensboro Bridge, Roosevelt Island often times goes unnoticed and underappreciated by New Yorkers and tourists alike. I’m asked routinely if it’s strange living on the island, and my answer is always the same: yes and no. It’s rich history and checkered past includes the city’s Lunatic Asylum, riddled with patient abuse, a penitentiary, and a smallpox hospital. It’s no secret; Roosevelt Island was a mandated sentence for the discarded people of New York City.

All of that changed in the 1960s, and today more than 14,000 residents, including second and third generations, call this piece of the rock home. It mirrors New York in that it is a mixture of old and new, a metaphorical fork in the road where the past intersects with the future. Indeed a hidden treasure, the island offers some of the best views of Manhattan. You still feel the bustle of the city while being able to catch your breath and slow down a few paces. Whether you’re visiting NYC, or you live here and simply haven’t ventured over, it’s worth the trip. Here are 9 must see island spots.

The Tram

Dueling Trams ease across the East River
Dueling Trams ease across the East River

For the same price as a subway ride, swipe your metro card and board the tram. With spectacular aerial views over the East River, the tram provides you a front row seat to see the city up close and personal. At 250 feet, you literally feel as if you can reach out and touch the Queensboro Bridge as you hover over the traffic below. The Roosevelt Island Tram is one of only two commuter trams in the United States– the Portland Tram holds the other honor.

The Octagon

The Octagon dome
The Octagon Dome

New York architect Alexander Jackson Davis designed the octagon shaped building for The New York City Lunatic Asylum, which opened its doors in 1841. Perhaps the most infamous building on the island, The Octagon has endured a troubled past, including scandal, fire damage, and demolition threats. Now a National Historic Landmark, The Octagon operates as a thriving luxury apartment building with 500 green designed rentals.

The Lighthouse 

Lighthouse Park
Lighthouse Park

Constructed of stone quarried from the Island, the 50 foot lighthouse sits at its northern tip. Noted architect James Renwick, Jr. designed the lighthouse in 1872. Within the park there is a green lawn for playing frisbee or just hanging out and grills surrounded by numerous picnic benches. On the weekends you’ll spot families enjoying the laid back setting.

Meditation Steps

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As you head towards the North end, you’ll spot wooden steps carved into the island. Here you can stop, gaze out at the East River, watching the colorful tugboats ease by. Islanders use this sacred space to sit quietly, exercise, meet up with friends, and yes, meditate. Get your Zen on.

South Point Park

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You’ll need to walk through this 7-acre park in order to get to Four Freedoms. But don’t just breeze through. Geese flock to South Point Park, a wildlife oasis, and each year goslings take over as they learn to walk and fly.

The Small Pox Hospital Ruins

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Designed by James Renwick, Jr. in Gothic Revival style,  The Small Pox Hospital is the only landmark ruins in New York City. Both a reminder of the island’s dark past and rich history, the beautiful Ruins stand strong even after years of neglect.

4 Freedoms Park

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Taking 40 long years to come to fruition, Four Freedoms opened in 2012. It stands as a tribute to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his historical 1941 Four Freedoms speech. Tranquil and majestic, It’s my favorite place on the island, and one of my favorite places in the city. This southernmost tip of Roosevelt island proudly claims a spectacular view of some of the city’s most iconic buildings: The United Nations building, the Chrysler building, and the Empire State building. As you explore, 120 Littleleaf Linden trees provide shade and beauty, as well as contributing to the New York City Million Tree Campaign. The park’s most recent claim to fame was 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton delivering her official campaign launch speech to a massive and energetic crowd with a Manhattan skyline backdrop.

Cherry Blossom Trees 

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Every April, 400 cherry blossom trees burst into life, blanketing the island promenade into a pink and white paradise. The island hosts an annual Cherry Blossom Festival to pay tribute. To walk among the colorful trees feels as if you’ve been transported to a Secret Garden.

Coming Soon . . . Cornell Tech Campus

Future Cornell Tech Campus Under Construction
Future Cornell Tech Campus Under Construction

This is the future of Roosevelt Island. After the city shut down and then demolished Coler-Goldwater Specialty Hospital south campus, construction began on the new Cornell Tech campus. Although the campus isn’t set to open until 2017, amid the steady construction, you can picture how Cornell Tech will become a prominent structure on the island. More than the bridges, the subway, or the tram, the Cornell Tech campus may be the one true thing that finally connects the island with the city.

S.N.A.P.: Signs Among Us

by Barry Fidnick

Each and every day it is amazing to count the shear number of signs that we encounter with every step, on every block, in every aspect of our lives. I encountered these signs in and around Tribeca within a few short hours.  Most often the signs themselves were not remarkable, but upon a closer look, many became thought provoking.

Sign A. Burger & BathroomSome signs are so very similar, yet so extremely different.

Sign B. High & Low Some signs are hung so high they are easily missed and some signs are placed so low they are easily missed as well.

Sign C Past & PresentSome signs are a sign of the past and some signs are a sign of the times.

Sign D. Too Many Words & SignsSome signs have too many words and some places have too many signs.

Sign E. Odeon Standing NoticedSome signs can’t help but be noticed and some signs are just simply ignored.

Sign-F. Hava a nice day copySome signs need no explanation.

This photo essay originally appeared in The Tribeca Citizen, July 2010.

A League of Their Own: ZogSports Plays It Forward

“When I conceived ZogSports post 9/11 everyone was asking what they could do to give back,” says founder and CEO Robert Herzog.

The Life of Riley

During the weekends, especially spring and summer, Roosevelt Island’s Fire Fighters Field, Octagon Field and Pony Field come to life courtesy of the Zoggers. Like a rare breed of exotic bird descending the fields in their colorful sneakers and occasional old-school knee-high socks, Zoggers congregate, strategize and ultimately play ball—be it kickball, dodgeball, football, or baseball. Styling team colored tee shirts with cool names like Catchers in the Rye and Purple Reign, the Zoggers, whether on the field or in the local Bar & Grill afterwards, make their presence known. They’re loud, really loud—laughing, talking, and cheering . . . nonstop. And it makes you feel good just being around it, little snippets of laughter sneaking in through open windows or tapping you on the shoulder while walking by on a sunny day. You begin to look for your favorite player or the most engaging team, high-fivers, and talk…

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A National Book Lovers Day Homage To Didion

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We tell ourselves stories in order to live.
― Joan Didion

What unpredictable things would you feel lost without . . . tangible items that most often have little value except to those who know the stories behind them? I recently asked friends this very question about “prized possessions.” Brief but beautiful, honest descriptions filled my Facebook comment stream. And why did I ask? One, it’s for an upcoming story and two, I had been spurred by something I read or overheard, I can’t even remember now, but an idea that lingered as I considered my own list—family photos, delicate mementos of my daughter’s childhood, the first note my husband wrote me (long before he was my partner), a worry Buddha statue and books. One in particular that sits on the bookcase above my desk, sometimes dusty but never forgotten, is a signed copy of Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays.

A story that stays with you long after you’ve gobbled up those last delicious crumbs of perfect sentences, raw emotion, and haunting, flawed characters, Play It As It Lays heightens your appreciation for literature and great writing, pushing writers like me to pay more attention and to write fearlessly, even when it hurts.

Didion’s appearance at the Union Square Barnes & Noble last year ranks at the top of my best moments list. Although fragile and small, Didion grew larger than life as she talked writing, reading and loss, a topic of her two most recent memoirs. I took photos and jotted down notes, hanging on every word, trying hard to capture them all like fireflies in a jar. But then I stopped . . . I simply savored the moment and listened, comforted in the knowledge that years from now I’ll open my book and hear Didion taking over the pages, retelling the story.

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Designing A Dynasty

Mickey Conlon and John Lyle celebrate

The Season 7 premiere of Selling New York airs today at 11:00am EST and features my favorite NYC designer and dear friend, John Lyle. I’m proud to say that I helped the team and participated in this major project by shining a chair, but that’s as far as my decorating skills took me. Invited to witness the work in progress, I watched the John Lyle Design team and their dedicated colleagues transform a posh but tired midtown apartment into a vibrant, happy home–the place literally sprung to life. I hope you’ll tune in today or at least catch the replay, which I’ll add a later date. There’s really nothing quite like  a makeover, especially one created by so many talented hands.    

Riley: What can we expect on the show today?  

JLD: The usual Selling New York format, but this time with a diva . . . and Joan Collins.

Riley: How did you feel when HGTV approached you?

JLD: Thrilled. This will be my third gig on HGTV.

Riley: What was the most stressful aspect of this event?

JLD: Pleasing the other diva.

Riley: …the most fun?

JLD: I think that will happen later today. And the party was pretty swell. Really the absolute best part was meeting Mickey and Tom.

Riley: Were there any pieces you chose for the apartment that were very personal to you?

JLD: The items from my collection that I staged with were personal to me. The players who helped pull it all together are very personal to me. I am so thankful for their help and generosity.

Riley: Who were some of the other artists featured in the remodeled apartment?

JLD: My sidekick, the talented Michael Stromar worked magic all over the apartment and made curtains. Farrow and Ball donated paint and paper. Rio Hamilton from Niedermaier loaned key upholstered items. Leah from The Antique Center loaned some fabulous antiques. Ronnie Sconto from Illume New York loaned hot lampshades. The lovely Connie Lee (formerly) from Doris Lelslie Blau loaned the most exquisite carpets. My talented artist friends Gary Moran and Jae Yoon Kim loaned their great paintings. And Jawed Farooqi of ROOQ Fine Art & Custom Framing for all of the amazing frames.

All the Frills Upon It

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Since the mid 1880s, Easter in New York City brings out the most extravagant costumes and personalities, celebrating the Annual Easter Parade. Fifth Avenue from 49th to 57th streets is closed to traffic, allowing participants and spectators to take the streets to strut their Easter best.

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Let them come to New York, stand on the shore of the Hudson, look and kneel. When I see the city from my window – no, I don’t feel how small I am – but I feel that if a war came to threaten this, I would throw myself into space, over the city, and protect these buildings with my body. 
 Ayn Rand

A bold orange sun breaks through the early morning cracks as the first planes since Hurricane Sandy begin to ease in and out of the city. The Queensboro hums again. I watch from my window as commuters walk, bike and ride (three to a vehicle for now) into Manhattan.  The usual hubbub of people running to catch the subway or tram rushes past my building. I catch glimpses of small talk and kisses goodbye. All of these noises, nuances, that touch most of my days without so much as a passing glance, grab my attention. I lean back, listen to the familiar sounds and feel a sense of normalcy wash over me. It feels good.

My heart goes out to all of those who lost during this hurricane. Whether it was the loss of power, irreplaceable photos or cars and homes, I understand. Things will return to normal, although it may be a new kind of normal. Life will go on. Time will refuse to stand still. Those around you—family, friends, neighbors, and even strangers—will help. Let them. Events like this bring with them a renewed sense of community, and it’s priceless.

I’m no stranger to hurricanes or tragedy. I survived Hurricane Hugo in ’89 while living in Myrtle Beach—driving into the night because of a last minute emergency evacuation, dodging falling trees and debris. In Orlando, a succession of hurricanes with unassuming names like Charley and Frances devoured Florida. We had major leaks but no real damage, and I considered myself lucky. In Atlanta, a house fire destroyed everything. And finally a major robbery in North Carolina stole my spirit for a long time as I lost childhood memories, electronics, and everything in between. It’s hard to lose like that . . . It’s hard to lose.

But remember to pay attention to the things we gain. Just yesterday, our building provided a breakfast in the lobby for all the residents and the staff, a staff that worked tirelessly for 3 days without ever leaving the building. It was a welcomed bright way to start the day and a gesture that makes our place a home rather than just another apartment building. Our local shops, like Starbucks, Riverwalk Bar & Grill, Fuji, and Duane Reade opened early to make sure residents could stock up on supplies and grab a meal. We heard stories of staff figuring out creative ways to make it in to help. And we talked to neighbors who had lost power but not their sense of humor and gratitude.

Serge Lambert, Related

Later in the evening, tiny trick-or-treaters sputtered down the hallways, laughing and celebrating. Outside neighbors leisurely walked their dogs while dots of vibrant yellow scattered the streets as cabs resumed their major role in New York City civilization.

Yes, this morning planes are back in the air, many of the subways back on track and businesses gently reopen their doors. The sun is shining, albeit through a few clouds. The city is noisy once again. And if we look close enough we all witness New York shaking off the hurricane residue, resilient as ever. And all at once you just know, things will be okay.

The Best Travel Moments

Henley by Amy Richmond

Guest Blogger Amy Richmond

Ever since my parents took me on a plane to Disneyland when I was in the first grade–in the days when air travel was restricted primarily to businessmen in suits–I’ve been hooked. Our family took two big trips a year: one by air in the winter and a road trip in the summer. Once I got to high school (and French class), I couldn’t wait to see more.

I spent a month in Switzerland and France when I was 17. That’s when I discovered that I could branch out from the peanut butter sandwiches that were my meal staple–and that Mme. Sczarka hadn’t taught me as much as I thought she had. I couldn’t communicate past “Bonjour” and “Il fait beau.” If the sun wasn’t shining, I was in trouble. But that summer, I learned a lot about life–a good girl could get drunk and survive, an American in Brittany was a very popular entity, and communication isn’t always about words. In fact, it generally isn’t.

When I boarded the plane in Paris to go home, I had one goal. To go back.

I did.

Many, many times.

Then my international travel slowed with a career and then a gig as a stay at home mom. I packed the suitcase for my daughter and me to cross the border out of the States a few times, but it wasn’t enough. I missed my fix.

By the time my daughter was 7 or 8, my only New Year’s resolution was to leave the country at least once a year. And ever since then, I’ve fulfilled the goal quite well.

Last month work took me to Birmingham, England. We stayed at the famed Belfry and I was never more grateful for my job than when I walked the beautiful grounds. Contrary to my previous experiences in Britain, the food was delicious. What happened to turn the tide? The staff was solicitous and the people friendly. The work event was a success and then came some pure fun—A few days of girl time with a dear friend.

Kate and I hadn’t spent any concentrated time together since my daughter was 3. Her 4 children were young at the time so even though we were together for a week–and it was wonderful–I don’t know how much one on one time we actually got with 5 kids swarming about.

Kate has long lived in France–and I can take some credit for that. My broken leg from a skiing incident in the Swiss Alps maneuvered a meeting with her husband of almost 30 years. That first meeting–between 2 people whose communication was mostly nonverbal–took place on the night train from Geneva to Paris.

We were well familiar with train travel. Kate and I’d been traveling with Eurail pass in hand for almost 2 months. We hit somewhere between 10-15 countries, using the train as a frequent hotel. We made new friends, picked up additional vocabulary, and formed a life-long bond. Repeatedly sharing a miniscule sleeping compartment will do that to you.

Henley Countryside by Amy Richmond

Back on the train for a day trip in England brought back a flood of memories–and made some new. Once again we had an unlimited travel pass and we took advantage. Our first stop was Henley-in-Arden, a quaint town in Warwickshire. We had a lovely lunch in a cozy restaurant before venturing down the one main street to take it all in. We sped through the Heritage Centre after being told we’d want to be there for hours (it was tiny!), checked out the two main churches and tested out the goods at the famous ice cream shop.

And then we hopped back on the train to continue onto Stratford upon Avon. The countryside is lush and lovely. We saw cows, sheep, and lambs. My iPhone didn’t do the scenery justice, but the images are printed indelibly in my mind.

I’d been to Stratford before. We couldn’t see much this visit. By the time we arrived, most everything was shut down for the night, a surprise to this New Yorker, and even for Kate, because it wasn’t late–5 pm–but we took our cue and went back to Birmingham.

The next day we explored the city and as we navigated the streets by foot, we shared stories–current and past. We caught up on the details even though our friendship had never lagged behind. Our chance meeting with the American expat at the Town Hall nudged some talk about meeting husbands, and the long-time effects of that; the visit to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery led to a discussion about our current television viewing habits. A boat ride in the canals reminded us of our shared time in Italy. The topics wove in and out, just as our feet did the same on the cobbled streets. The one constant? A friendship we can trust. One that we appreciate.

It made me realize that these days, the best travel moments include connecting with loved friends. The location is just a bonus. But who doesn’t love a good bonus?

Amy lives in NYC–the perfect city for someone who wants to feel like they’re on vacation when they’re at home. You can follow Amy’s travels and adventures on her blog Stop Whining About Your Life. Change It.

Organic Success, The Holstee Way

The Holstee Manifesto

To be honest, I don’t remember where or how I discovered The Holstee Manifesto. What I do remember is the way it opened my eyes, awakening me from a mid-life slumber. A simple declaration scattered with life altering statements: Do what you love. Travel Often. Share your passion. Stop overanalyzing. Life is short.

Crafted on the steps of Union Square, brothers Mike and Dave Radparvar along with friend Fabian Pfortmüller wrote their definition of success. The three partners express it wasn’t a business plan, more so a life plan, but it’s metamorphosed into all of those things and more. Its organic success mirrors the principles that makeup Holstee’s environment and community. It’s obvious the moment you step through their doors. From employee bike credits to staff prepared healthy lunches, Holstee practices what it preaches—Lifestyle design with a conscience. I sat down with co-founder Mike Radparvar at the Holstee office in Dumbo, and we chatted about all things Holstee, the message, the growth, and the future.

Life of Riley: Shared more than 500,000 times, and viewed online 60 million times, and counting, The Holstee Manifesto resonates with so many. Why do you think people connect with it?

Mike Radparvar: We were really surprised to see how well it resonated. When we wrote the Manifesto it was for ourselves. We said let’s write down something that can be a definition of a successful life. Let’s write our own definition. There are so many different ways that everyone is telling you what you need to be successful or you’re not successful until you have this.

We thought, we’re starting a new company and a kind of lifestyle and a framework to play in. And so we needed our own definition of success. So we sat down in Union Square, and we all decided to write down different elements that were important to us. The things that came out of that mini brainstorm were reminders that we’re not financially driven: Be open to new ideas, travel, share what’s important, always being open about what your passionate about and pursuing that.

We recently had quit our jobs, and I think that because it came from a deep place inside of us, it was very human emotions we were thinking about. It was not specific to a certain organization or a demographic. This was just like in life, what things are important. And those things hold true no matter where you come from in life, no matter what language you speak, no matter what age you are.

Riley: Was The Manifesto’s success unexpected?

Radparvar: If anyone would have told us when we wrote it what would happen, we could never have guessed it.  It’s taken on a life of its own. We’ve been totally blown away by that.

Dave Radparvar, Fabian Pfortmüller, and Mike Radparvar

Riley: That was 2009. Do the founders still live by those original words?

Radparvar: That is something we’re trying to make a point of every day. It is the basis of how we are building our company.  It’s the basis of what we’re doing, the products we’re designing, and it’s the common thread between our products and the lifestyle they encourage.

Riley: Explain more about that idea of products encouraging a lifestyle.

Radparvar: If you were to look at our shop, there are no specific product categories on our site. It looks like a mash up of a lot of different products—we have a water bottle, a bag, a belt, a tee shirt, a poster. After someone relates to those products a little more you begin to see the thread of not so much what those products are but the type of lifestyle they encourage.

Anytime you buy anything you’re voting with your dollar and you’re sending a signal to someone somewhere all the way up the supply chain saying do more. I totally approve of this, and this is how I’m showing it. That is a very powerful way to drive change—people understanding what is the impact of how they’re spending money.

Riley: Holstee has been experiencing amazing growth. As you bring new people on board, can you tell readers how you select the ideal employee?

Radparvar: Every new hire is a big deal to us. We take it very seriously. It’s like bringing someone into your family. We want to build something long term with our employees. Every single person on the team can change the dynamic. We look for someone who is not afraid to do anything. Open-minded. Interested in creating positive impact through good design.

Riley: Speaking of family. I noticed your mom’s comment on a recent blog post, which I thought was pretty cool. Has your family been supportive in this venture?

Radparvar: At first our parents were a little cautious of our quitting our jobs.

The recession was getting worse. The company I worked for was laying off people. My mom was really happy I didn’t get laid off and the next week I was telling her I was planning on going in and quitting. But I think we flew under the radar because my sister was getting married in a couple of weeks. So all the attention was on her.

There was a little bit of ‘are you sure this is a good idea?’ We just explained how this was important to us. We had been setting aside money. And we told her this is what we’re going to do now for the next few months. When you really think about it and say what’s the worst thing that can happen to me in the next 2 to 3 months, all of a sudden you’re free to take some risks. When you’re in a position to take a calculated risk like that, a smart risk, you almost have a responsibility to do so.

Now our parents are our biggest supporters. Anytime we post anything on Facebook our mom’s the first one to like it. Her Facebook profile has been the Manifesto for the past two years.

Riley: Your site is uniquely diverse. Do you keep that in mind when you create or promote products? Or does it organically happen?

Radparvar: It kind of organically happens, now that there are so many great companies with a kick ass purpose.

Riley: I know from our last interview that you’ve been working on the product story. What exactly does that mean? And how will it impact the end user?

Radparvar: Looking forward we want to do something that helps build the story of the products you buy. The yarn came from this place and the button came from this place . . . Building a platform.

A lot of the products we have probably traveled more than most people have traveled in their lives. And they come from more places and have been touched by more hands. There’s such an incredible story of how they got to where they are. If we really knew the story, from raw material to its current state we’d have more respect for that plastic bottle.

Riley: What can we expect in the near future for Holstee?

Radparvar:  We’re looking into milling our own paper. We are letter pressing a lot of posters and cards. We’re cautious about the types of paper we’re using. We’ve built a very strong relationship with those we’re sourcing them from. If we do our own milling, then the options really open up—Paper made from tee shirt scraps, jeans. People could send in their jeans, or we could work with a large company that makes jeans and take their dead stock.

Riley: Okay, I’m just gonna ask: How does it feel to be so cool?

Radparvar: It’s kind of surreal. So many people know the Manifesto.

People come over to our place for dinner, and we have the manifesto in a frame when you first walk in. And they say, oh the Manifesto, you’ve got that too.

And we say actually wrote it. And they’re amazed. If we’d ever tried to create something with the intention of it going crazy it never would have. It’s because we wrote it for ourselves, and it came from a very real place—people connect with it. You have to just do it and do what feels right.

Fabian, Mary, Dave, and Mike

To learn more about Holstee and their eco-friendly products, visit www.Holstee.com. You can also connect with Holstee on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

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