Friday, May 31, 2013

I Get Around (Big Apple Chronicles-Day 6)

Hubby Tony and I didn't have a car during our recent New York vacation.  Instead, we relied on the subway system.

The subway in New York City is one of the largest in the world, with 468 stations on 34 lines designated by a number or letter and grouped by colors.  It's extensive, but we've used transit systems in other big cities, so I was confident we could figure out this one, too.

I did a small amount of the navigating, but mostly left the job to Tony (who enjoys the task).  He did a great job of figuring out which train we needed to be on and when we should transfer to a new one. Although I dabbled with using our smartphones to plan the trips, I found it hard to see the maps on the small screen.  Tony went old school.  We got a map from the hotel front desk when we checked in.  Halfway through the week the paper was in tatters, and the second one was in the same shape when we left.

Before we could ride on the subway we needed to buy a MetroCard.  There were several options available; even though we would only be using it six days we we chose the 7-Day Unlimited card. According to a fare chart we referred to, taking 13 trips would bring the cost per ride down below the standard price of $2.50.  Our passes did end up being cost-effective, but even if we hadn't used them quite as much as we planned it was a good idea; we didn't like the idea of loading more money on the cards when we wanted to get somewhere in a hurry.

It didn't take long before I was swiping through the turnstiles like a pro.  Once we got past the turnstiles we had to figure out where to go.  Some stations had more than one platform that served different lines.  We learned to look at the overhead signs at the platform entrance and over the tracks to see which trains stopped there, and at the arriving train to see which one it was.  Of course once we were on the train we had to figure out where to get off.  Sometimes it was hard to hear the conductor when they announced the stops, but we could just look at the station walls, where the name was predominantly displayed.

Most of our trips were pretty straightforward.  They involved getting on the subway and getting off when we reached our destination.  A few involved changing trains once, but there was one elaborate excursion where we got on an express route by mistake, got off at the next stop and found the correct one, then transferred two more times to get to where we wanted to go.  Whew!  A couple of times we got the "true" subway experience when we got on a crowded car during rush hour and had to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other riders.

Highlights of Vacation Day 6:
  • Ate breakfast in room (granola, yogurt, fruit)
  • Took subway to Central Park
  • Guided bike tour of Central Park
  • Ate lunch at a diner
  • Took subway to Chelsea neighborhood
  • Did souvenir shopping at Chelsea Market 
  • Back to hotel for a nap
  • Rode subway to Prospect Park in Brooklyn
  • Listened to free music in park

Five years ago today: New thing #141--Lunch Adventure

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

What Are The Odds? (Big Apple Chronicles-Day 5)

Hubby Tony and I did a lot of pre-planning for our trip to New York City, and when we got there we planned some more.  However, a couple of the best activities weren't planned; they happened by chance.

We arrived in New York on Saturday, but Sunday was our first full day to explore.  Our exploration starting point was SoHo, but I learned you can go from one neighborhood to another in a span of blocks.  We wandered down one street checking out some shops and craft vendors; when we looked up the light pole banners indicated we were now in Little Italy. After crossing the street and walking down several blocks full of Italian shops and restaurants things changed again; the signs were now written in English and Chinese characters, a sure sign we'd entered Chinatown.  We backtracked one block, and were magically back in Little Italy.

The gift shop merchandise was touristy Italian,
 but all the shop clerks were Chinese!
One one street corner in Little Italy we saw the Italian American Museum and stopped in to see what it was all about. The woman at the counter was very friendly, and told us a guide was available to take us on a neighborhood tour. Were we interested?  Yes we were.

There were no other people in the group, so for the next 90 minutes we had a private tour, and learned much more about the area than we would have on our own.  Our guide, a woman about my age, really knew her stuff. We heard stories of the Italian immigrants struggles and gang violence.  She pointed out several buildings that had historical significance and took us in into two churches--St. Patrick's Old Cathedral (declared a basilica by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010) and Most Precious Blood Church (which now serves a Vietnamese congregation).

We ended our tour back at the museum.  After we thanked our guide and gave her a nice tip Tony and I headed off to an early Italian dinner.

The next day our explorations took us to Lower Manhattan.  After lunch we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, then found the nearest subway station and took the train back to Manhattan.  I thought our plan was to return to the Financial District to do more sightseeing, then go to dinner at a restaurant that a friend had recommended.  Tony and I were looking at a map of the subway system on the station wall when a man approached us and asked us where we wanted to go.  I was a little surprised when Tony told him the Staten Island Ferry.  (That was on our list of things to do, though, and it's good to be flexible, so I didn't say anything.)

The man pointed us in the correct direction, then started to walk that way himself.  As he passed me I made a comment about how the stereotype of rude New Yorkers wasn't true.  He smiled, then began talking with us and for the next hour became our personal escort.  We learned he'd been making the trip from Staten Island to Manhattan for decades, having retired from a civil service job before starting a second career teaching at a local college.  He shepherded us from the subway to the ferry terminal, then talked with us while we waited for the next boat.  When the ferry arrived he showed us his favorite spot to sit (on a bench outside on the back side so the boat blocks the wind), then pointed out all the sights on the half-hour trip.

View of Manhattan from the deck of the ferry

When the boat docked we walked off with him, then he said goodbye and went on his way.  Tony and I stepped ouside for a couple of minutes, then returned to the terminal to wait for the next ferry.

Highlights of Vacation Day 4:
  • Got breakfast at a bodega
  • Open-air bus tour of Uptown and Harlem
  • Ate lunch at a diner
  • Took subway to the American Museum of Natural History
  • Went back to the hotel for a nap
  • Got tickets and saw the Broadway musical Jersey Boys
  • Found a grocery store and bought granola, yogurt, and fruit for next day's breakfast
Five years ago today: New Thing #139-- Remember the Cold War?

Monday, May 27, 2013

A Memorial Day Poem

We walked among the crosses
Where our fallen soldiers lay.
And listened to the bugle
As TAPS began to play.

The Chaplin led a prayer
We stood with heads bowed low.
And I thought of fallen comrades
I had known so long ago.

They came from every city
Across this fertile land.
That we might live in freedom.
They lie here 'neath the sand.

I felt a little guilty
My sacrifice was small.
I only lost a little time
But these men lost their all.

Now the services are over
For this Memorial Day.
To the names upon these crosses
I just want to say,

Thanks for what you've given
No one could ask for more.
May you rest with God in heaven
From now through evermore

~~ C W Johnson ~~
Five years ago today: New Thing #137--Members Only

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The City That Doesn't Sleep (Big Apple Chronicles-Day 4)

Hubby Tony and I did much of our New York sightseeing during the day, but we never got back to our hotel (except for a few days when we stopped in for a short mid-afternoon nap) until long after sundown.

Jersey Boys
We saw two shows. The first, Newsical The Musical, was an Off-Broadway show that lampooned current events and pop culture headlines.  I enjoyed it, but some of the skits would have been more amusing if I knew more about the source material (I'm proud to say I have never watched Here Comes Honey Boo Boo), so those jokes really went over my head.

The second performance was classic Broadway.  Jersey Boys tells the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, and has been running since 2005.  We were going to buy same-day tickets to this show using a discount code.  Tony called the theater and found out there was a hefty service charge for phone orders.  We walked to the theater (about nine blocks) and an hour before show time got better tickets (in the eighth row) for a lower price.

Sunset in Manhattan
Another night we watched the sun set from Top of the Rock observation deck, which is located at the top of the 30 Rockefeller Plaza ("30 Rock") building.  We got our tickets, then got on a large elevator for the trip up.  There is a 3-tiered observation deck on the building's 67th, 69th, and 70th floors.  The lowest level had both floor-to-ceiling windows and an outside terrace.  The middle level was completely outdoors, with large panels of safety glass, and the top level provided a completely open air, unobstructed panorama.  The views were stunning, but it was chilly that night, and a brisk wind made it feel even  colder.  We watched the sun go down and the lights come on in the buildings, then decided it was time to leave.

Yankee Stadium
We had one evening activity planned before we left home--a baseball game, which Tony had gotten tickets for even before the season started in April.  Ironically, the National League New York Mets were going to be in St. Louis that week playing our hometown Cardinals.   However, New York also has an American League team, the Yankees, which has a long history; Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Yogi Berra were all Yankees.  On game night we took a subway north to the Bronx and Yankee Stadium for a match against the Seattle Mariners. We got to the stadium early and walked around, then found our seats (behind home plate at the very top of the stadium).  It was a chilly night, and I hadn't brought enough warm clothes; Tony was cold, too, and we ended up leaving before the game was over.

On our last night in town, we attended a free concert in Prospect Park close to the Brooklyn Bridge that had been recommended by our Central Park bike tour guide.  We got there late so we missed the dance lesson that started the evening.  The opening act was a DJ who spun dance music, followed by an Afro-Cuban band.   As we listened, we watched the sky get dark as sun slipped behind the Manhattan buildings.  It was a great way to start bringing our week to a close.

Highlights of Vacation Day 4:
  • Breakfast from a deli 
  • Subway to the Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Bought tomatoes from sidewalk produce stand to snack on
  • Lunch at Carnegie Deli
  • Back to hotel for a nap
  • Took subway to Yankees Stadium  (in the Bronx) for a baseball game
Five years ago today: New Thing #136--Rinse it Well

Saturday, May 25, 2013

New York By Day (Big Apple Chronicles-Day 3)

There's no way Hubby Tony and could have done everything in New York City vacation on our week-long vacation...but we tried to get in as many activities as we could.

Before we left we researched sightseeing discount passes.  There were several options; we ended up getting the New York City Explorer Pass, which had a lot of flexibility. We chose the five-attractions pass (they also had options for three, seven, or ten attractions) and used it at two museums, a bus tour, a bike tour, and an observation tower.

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art we joined a docent-led tour that took us to some of the museum highlights, then we explored on our own.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat--Vincent van Gogh

Later in the week we enjoyed the American Museum of Natural History. Their mammal halls featured stunning life-sized dioramas, and the Cultural Halls divided the world into sections, which featured the artifacts of the people of that area.

American Museum of Natural History
Hall of Mexico and Central America

We had a beautiful day to take a bike tour of Central Park.  Our six-mile ride gave us a good luck at every part of the park.

Strawberry Fields-Central Park
 John Lennon memorial
The weather wasn't as nice the day we took a double decker bus hop-on-hop-off bus tour of Uptown and Harlem. It was chilly, and the skies kept getting increasingly ominous. Tony and I decided to stay on the bus and complete the tour quickly. At the halfway point it started sprinkling; the bus pulled over so the tour guide could distribute yellow plastic ponchos.  Fortunately the rain stopped after a few minutes.

Open-air tour bus

Of course we had to spend some time shopping!  I enjoyed walking past the flagship stores lining Fifth Avenue, but we didn't stop in any of them.  We did browse in the boutiques in SoHo, and enjoyed talking with the street side vendors in Little Italy. Chelsea Market was a great place to get food-related souvenirs.  Later in the week we enjoyed wandering through a farmers market at Union Square.

Highlights of Vacation Day 3:
  • Got pastry and coffee at a bakery for breakfast
  • Subway to Financial District
  • Visited National September 11 Memorial
  • Got lunch from a food truck and ate in park
  • Walked across Brooklyn Bridge
  • Took ferry back to Manhattan
  • Took ferry to Staten Island and returned
  • Had New York style pizza for dinner
  • Subway to Rockefeller Center
  • Took the elevator to the Top of the Rock observation deck

Five years ago today: New Thing #135--How Rich Are You?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

I Like To Eat, Eat, Eat (Big Apple Chronicles--Day 2)

Hubby Tony and I are in agreement.  When we're on vacation we do not like to go to chain restaurants. Thankfully, for our trip to New York City it wasn't necessary.  We found a whole week's worth of good places by relying on a combination of recommendations and luck.

New York style pizza
We'd been planning our excursion for several months.  Often when we told someone about our plans they'd give us the names of their favorite restaurants.  We ended up with way too many to use (if we'd visited all of them we would have been there for more than a month), but our extensive list covered many parts of the city.  In addition to personal word of mouth, this time we also used a modern equivalent--the Urban Spoon and Yelp apps on our phones.

Middle Eastern lunch from food truck
Most of the time the apps were spot-on.  Our first (and one of the best) meal in town was at a dive-y Cuban restaurant not too far from our hotel.  Without the Yelp recommendation we would have walked right by the small storefront. However, sometimes the virtual reviews didn't pan out.  The day we were in Lower Manhattan the restaurant we chose based on the Urban Spoon endorsement ended up being a sterile-looking business lunch place.  We backtracked to the last corner we'd passed, where a man holding a large sign directed us to a food truck a few blocks away.  There we got great (and inexpensive) Middle Eastern meals, which we at a a nearby park.

Soul food-salmon croquettes, greens,
black eyed peas
We also went to a couple of New York landmarks.  At the Carnegie Deli Tony and I sat at a communal table and split a huge (about five inches tall) pastrami sandwich along with side dishes and a small bowl of dill pickles. Later in the week we traveled to Harlem to eat at Sylvia's Restaurant, where we got great soul food.

We did break our no-chain rule a couple of times, but we had a good reason.  Most hotels I've stayed in have a small coffee pot in the room or a large urn in the lobby.  Not this one; we were forced to leave the hotel for our morning caffeine.   Most mornings we ate out and ordered coffee with our meal, but a couple of times we ate breakfast in our room (granola, fruit, and yogurt kept chilled in the ice bucket) then walked to McDonald's or Starbucks.  Going to the chains also served an additional purpose, though.  Our hotel didn't offer free Wi-Fi, and they did.

Highlights of Vacation Day 2:
  • Got breakfast at a deli near to the hotel 
  • Bought transit and sightseeing passes
  • Took our first subway ride to Grand Central Station.  Walked around the station and spent some time at a train show there.
  • Bought lunch at Grand Central Station Market
  • Took the subway to SoHo and walked around the neighborhood (which segued into Little Italy, then Chinatown)
  • Treated ourselves to a foot massage in Chinatown
  • Took a Little Italy neighborhood tour
  • Had a great Italian dinner
  • Stopped by the discount ticket booth in Times Square and bought tickets to an off Broadway musical called Newsical
  • After the theater got cookies on way back to hotel for dessert
Five years ago today: New Thing #133--Garden Gratitude

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

It's A Small World After All (Big Apple Chronicles--Day 1)

Hubby Tony and I got to the airport first thing in the morning for our trip to New York City.  After we went through security we sat on a bench to put our shoes on.  When I got done I looked up and saw a woman I knew leaving the security area, followed several seconds later by her husband.  I called her name, and they came over.  They were headed to New York to visit their son, who had been in the same elementary school class as Son Brian (and several years ago worked with Son Donald).  After the young man graduated from college he went to culinary school.  His mom told us he's now a cook at a three-star restaurant-the kind that's so popular that you have to call for a reservation several months in advance.  We chatted for a few minutes, then went our separate ways.

As we boarded the plane Tony walked ahead of me.  We were almost to our row when I heard someone call his name.  There, already seated, was another couple we knew.  Their son had been in Son Tony's class in elementary school.  Even back then he had a wonderful singing voice, and I'd heard through the grapevine he'd chosen a career in musical theater.  His parents were going to see his latest play. Their seats were one row ahead of ours on the opposite side of the aisle, so over the next few hours we caught up on what their family was up to.  Shortly before the plane landed and we said our goodbyes they gave us a nice list of restaurants to try.

After the first encounter I'd texted Brian and Donald telling them who I'd seen.  After the second I texted again, this time adding Tony to the distribution list.  Then I turned off my phone.  When we arrived in New York I turned it back on and found a text from Brian suggesting that if I'd played my connections right I could have gotten dinner and a show.

St. Patrick's Cathedral
Highlights of Vacation Day 1:

  • Flight to New York
  • Took shuttle to bus terminal, then walked to hotel and checked in
  • Had lunch at a nearby Cuban restaurant
  • Explored Times Square and Rockefeller Center
  • Window shopped down Fifth Avenue to Central Park.
  • Stopped and bought some fruit from a sidewalk cart.
  • Got caught in a rainstorm on the way back to the hotel
  • Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral
  • Ate at a "white tablecloth" Chinese place for dinner

Five years ago today: New Thing #132--Mayhem in the Midwest

Monday, May 20, 2013

New York, New York (Big Apple Chronicles--Introduction)

Times Square
Last week Hubby Tony and I took time off of work and went on an adventure to the New York City area.  For seven days we played tourist in Manhattan and three other boroughs.

While we were there we visited neighborhoods, museums, and parks. Took in a baseball game and saw a couple of  shows.  Used the subways. Rode on an open-air tour bus and bikes.  Listened to music, ate lots of good food, and did a little bit of shopping.

Can't wait to tell you more about it after I finish putting away the laundry, changing out my closet for the summer season, and giving my overgrown flower beds some attention.

Five years ago today: New Thing #130--Flower Power

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Convinced By Cats

The cats have persuaded me to take a break and curl up with them...I'll be back in a few days.

Five years ago today: New Thing #124--Listen to the Music

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Ma, Mommy, Mom, Mum

Lyrics by Howard Johnson, music by Theodore Morse

M Is for the Many things she gave me,
O Means only that she’s growing Old.
T Is for the Tears she shed to save me,
H Is for her Heart of purest gold.
E Is for her Eyes with love light shining,
R Means Right and Right she’ll always be.

Put them all together, They spell MOTHER.
A word that means the world to me.

Five years ago today: New Thing #122--Waste Not Want Not

Friday, May 10, 2013

Garlic Paradise--UPDATED

If you've been reading here for a while, you'll remember that last July and again in November Hubby Tony and I dined at Saleem's West, a local restaurant where they were taping an episode of a Travel Channel show called Food Paradise.  The garlic-themed episode was entitled, appropriately enough,  "Garlic Paradise".

In early April the restaurant posted on Facebook that the episode would air on April 24. However, a couple of days before that the station changed the schedule and put another show in the slot.  Last week I got an email about a rescheduled date...this Saturday (May 11th) at 3 p.m. Central Time.

It looks like Saleem's will be sharing the spotlight with a garlic festival and restaurants in Florida, Colorado, Pennsylvania, and California.  The show is only an hour long, so I don't know how much time each location will get.  I won't be home during the initial showing, but I'll have my DVR ready to record it.  You never know; Tony and I just might show up in the background.

Update-When I was setting up the DVR this afternoon, the Program Guide showed the show airing at 1:00.  Who knows when it will actually happen?  

Five years ago today: New Thing #120--Decorate Me!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Low Tech Remedy

This morning after breakfast I noticed the window seat in the kitchen had quite an accumulation of dust and cat hair.  I grabbed a rag and started dusting. When I was done I looked at the rag, which was yellow, and realized it's oak pollen season.  I moved around the house, dusting the family, living, and dining rooms with the same results.  No WONDER I've had sinus headaches the past few days!

After I threw the pollen-laden rags in the laundry, I left for a chiropractor appointment. When the chiropractor came into the room he asked if I had any issues, and I told him about my headaches. In addition to the normal adjustment (which is computerized), he had me lay face up on an examination table and used a motorized massager on pressure points on the top of my head, between my eyebrows, and on the right and left sides of my neck. When he was done my nose was running and my sinuses already felt better.

As I gathered my things to leave he opened a drawer and took out an empty bottle of water. He told me a low-tech way to relieve headache pain was to fill the bottle with hot water and hold it at the back of my neck.  When I got home I tried it, and it did seem to help.

Five years ago today: New Thing #118--Write-Away Contest

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Cute Clothes

Working at the mall Customer Service desk is always interesting...

Shortly after I started my shift today an older man wearing a dress shirt with a Looney Tunes Taz over the pocket came up and said he had a question about women's clothes stores.  He and his wife lived out of town, and came to St. Louis a couple of times a year. Each time they visited, his wife (who was in her upper 70s and used a walker to get around) wanted to shop for clothes at the stores they didn't have back home. She wore a larger Misses size, and wasn't having any luck finding anything she liked. Could I give him some suggestions?

I asked him where they'd already looked.  He told me they had Sears, J.C. Penney’s, and Kohl’s at home. “Plus size” stores didn't excite her (so Lane Bryant was out). They’d already tried Macy’s and Dillard’s (no luck), Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Niemen Marcus (too pricy).

I gave him a couple of suggestions in the mall, then Goggled Plus Size Clothing and the mall’s ZIP code. Even though the woman wasn't really a plus size, I figured that would give me stores that had a range of sizes.

I scrolled through the first three pages of hits, giving him the results I thought were pertinent. He wrote everything down, and then asked what search term I’d used so he could recreate it at home. That impressed me;  I run into a lot of older people who can’t find their way around a computer, let alone the Internet.

When he left the desk he had a half-dozen places to share with his wife. Hopefully at least one of them will work.

Five years ago today: New Thing #117--Stir it Well

Sunday, May 5, 2013

I Could Eat Mexican Food Every Day

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Cinco de Mayo celebrates Mexico's victory over France at Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, but in the United States people use the holiday as a good excuse to eat Mexican food and drink margaritas.

This weekend I was out of town attending the biannual business meeting of an organization I belong to.  After lunch on Friday three other members arrived at my house and piled into my car for the drive to the Lake of the Ozarks where the meeting was held.  Despite the fact it rained most of the way there, the three-hour drive went quickly.

We checked into our hotel rooms and met back at the lobby to figure out where to go for dinner.  After a bit of discussion we decided to go to a Mexican restaurant several miles away.  There was no wait for a table.  As soon as we were seated the waitress brought chips and salsa to nibble on while we looked at the menu.  I decided to have chile rellenos. My plate held two large cheese-stuffed peppers, rice, and beans. It was quite tasty.

Saturday was a full day of meetings, punctuated by meal breaks.  For dinner, the representatives of the groups in my area decided to go out to eat together.  We gathered in the lobby; by time I got there a decision had been made.  We were going to a new Mexican restaurant that one of the group highly recommended.

This restaurant was a little busier, but we still didn't have to wait for a table.  Once again we started the meal with chips and salsa.  This time I wasn't very hungry, so I ordered two tamales and refried beans from the à la carte menu.  My food arrived on two small oval plates, and was just enough to fill me up.

Today's meeting session was supposed to end at noon, but it was closer to 12:30 by time it wrapped up.  We packed up the car and stopped for a quick lunch at Panera, then got on the road.  It rained sporadically (sometimes a fine mist, sometimes a downpour) during the drive.  Everyone was tired after the busy weekend and the conversation was more subdued.  I was glad when I pulled into the driveway at my house.  The other women gathered their things and left.

Hubby Tony and Son Donald had planned dinner--a special Cinco de Mayo meal of soft beef tacos with tomatillo salsa and guacamole, brown rice, and refried beans.  It was the perfect ending to the weekend.

Five years ago today: New Thing # 115--Rock the House

Thursday, May 2, 2013



Last weekend our area was cold and rainy, with lows in the 40s.  (The only reason we didn't turn the furnace back on was stubbornness.)  Starting on Monday Spring teased us with several days of nice weather, but this afternoon a front came through; the temperature dropped and the rain started.  It's supposed to last all weekend. The forecast overnight temperatures are in the 30s!

At least we didn't get snow like they did in the Upper Midwest.

Five years ago today: New Thing #112--Good Will Hunting