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A virtual wedding, a 24-hour party: How Long Island families are staying connected

Amy and Steven Schombs of East Northport threw

Amy and Steven Schombs of East Northport threw a Zoom happy hour for friends, and plan to repeat it each Sunday. The theme of the first Happy Hour was Hawaii; the next one will be baseball opening day. Credit: Amy Schombs

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So, how’s your social life?

Long Islanders are practicing social distancing, but that’s not keep us from connecting with the friends and family we love. We’re keeping in touch from inside our bubbles in creative ways — online cocktail parties and game nights, a rolling neighborhood dance party, a 24-hour virtual birthday party, even a livestreamed wedding.

Prepare your drinks: Weekly online cocktail parties

LOL-ing friends on texts wasn’t cutting it anymore for Amy and Steven Schombs of East Northport. “We all were missing each other’s faces,” says Amy, 48, a teacher. So, she and her husband, 49, an IT director, who both use Zoom for work-from-home conference calls, asked their friends, “Why can’t we also have a Zoom happy hour?”

Each Sunday evening would have a theme, they decided. “It was kind of becoming purposeless to wear anything other than sweatpants,” Amy says. “The theme would force us to change our clothes.”

The first theme: Hawaii. “My husband put on a bathing suit, I had a flower in my hair. I hadn’t had earrings in in a week. We all had our fruity drinks and snacks ready. For two hours we just laughed and caught up.”

Next Sunday’s theme is baseball, in a nod to what would have been opening day ; Amy expects to see many Mets caps and beers.

Online family game night

The families of Cynthia Litman, 45, of Port Washington, and her friend Jackie Bodner, 42, also of Port Washington, concocted a virtual family game night — and Bodner was able to hook her laptop to the family’s television set as they played a card game together.

“We connected our computer to the 50-inch TV,” says Bodner, who works in digital ad sales. “It was like they were literally in our living room.” The families’ five kids, all tweens and teens, also got everyone to download a virtual game on their phones to play. “Because we were facing them, we could see each other,” Bodner says.

“It’s certainly not the same as being in the same room and giving high fives, but it’s good for now to get us through this,” says Litman, a business, legal and marketing consultant. “Thank God for technology, because it is able to keep us physically distant but socially connected. We need our connections more than ever.”

Concerts for Grandma and Grandpa

Holden Miller, 22, is home in Greenlawn from Bucknell University because spring semester classes are being held online. He’s a musician, as is his brother, Sam, 24, who just graduated from Five Towns College.

Their mom, young adult author Gae Polisner, was FaceTiming with their grandparents when it struck her that the kids could provide a little musical entertainment for the elders stuck at home. So Holden grabbed his guitar and played them an impromptu concert.

Plan B: A livestreamed wedding

Matthew Greene and Casey Naftol of Rockville Centre were supposed to get married last Sunday. Even though they had to postpone their party for 185 guests, that didn’t stop them from saying “I do” — they just livestreamed the ceremony on YouTube instead.

Family jumped in to decorate Casey’s parents’ backyard in Plainview. “We strapped a webcam to a sculpture,” says Matthew, 31, who works for a management company. Casey, 29, a middle school teacher, wore a substitute white dress that she already owned. “It definitely has not been your typical bride experience,” she says.

Grandparents were able to attend in person, sitting in chairs outdoors six feet away from everyone else. The parents and siblings were the only other live attendees. But close to 300 people watched live — colleagues and friends in other countries who wouldn’t have made it to the United States for the wedding, for instance. More than 1,200 people have watched it so far, because it is still up on Matt's YouTube channel. As for their original party, they've rescheduled it to next March 21, when they will renew their vows on their one-year anniversay.

A 24-hour birthday celebration

Brian Gilbert, 23, of Huntington, turns 24 on March 29. He’s throwing himself a 24-hour open house style birthday party on Zoom. He plans to send a link to his 1,100 Facebook friends inviting them to “stop by” to talk to him and wish him a happy birthday.

“Whoever wants to drop by and say hello can do that, even people I haven’t talked to in a while,” says Gilbert, who is currently a graduate student at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore. He’ll start at midnight. “Maybe I’ll wear headphones so someone can wake me up if they want,” he says. “Especially on a day like my birthday, when I’d like to be celebrating, this is a way to get that feeling.”

Polish your dance moves: A rolling neighborhood party

Michele Devine, 49, a financial advisor from Bethpage, hosted what she dubbed a “rolling dance party” in her neighborhood. Devine made a playlist with songs such as “Stayin’ Alive,” “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” and “Saturday Night Fever.”

Then, she put her karaoke speaker in the back of her minivan and rolled very slowly down the block, the music alerting neighbors just as if the ice cream man were coming through. Her husband, Jim, 50, a lawyer, and daughter, Kaitlyn, 9, followed behind on bicycles, and son Aidan, 13, manned the speaker.

As she came to each house, neighbors heard the music and came out onto their porches to dance, each staying on their own properties. Devine also got out to dance in the street.

“Kids came out on the front lawn, doing little TikTok moves. We waved, we blew kisses and we rolled on,” Devine says. “I needed to get out; I wanted to see my friends. I thought, ‘Let’s lift our spirits a little bit.’ It was just nice to see people happy. I’ll try to do it again, weather permitting, on Friday.”

Don’t forget the littlest ones: Virtual play dates

Melissa Weir, 42, a public relations professional, and Brittany Stigliano, 33, a dance teacher, teamed up to create a daily play date for the kids in their daughters’ class at Bayview Elementary School in West Islip.

Weir organized the Zoom meetup for each day at noon, and Stigliano plans fun activities for the kids, including playing Bingo using their spelling words from school and doing art projects. She even dressed up in a lion costume to lead some stretches and exercises. “This is just two moms with their super powers colliding,” says Weir, whose daughter, Anna, is 8. “It’s just cute for the kids to connect with each other.”

Stigliano’s daughter, Valentina, 7, says the meetups are “very fun. It’s fun because I miss my friends, seeing them at school, and now I finally have a chance to see them.”  

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