Pizza and Books on the Lower East Side

The only other time Mom and I have ventured to the Lower East Side was to go to the Tenement Museum (totally worthwhile). We had just arrived for our weekend and she expressed a desire for New York style pizza so I got on Yelp to look at reviews. One of the best loved was a place in the East Village so I called and at 7 p.m. we didn’t need a reservation.

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Pinch me. Am I in Italy or New York City?

Tramonti at 130 Saint Marks PlNew York City, NY 10009-5843 is charming and with all the people speaking Italian (diners, wait staff) we weren’t sure if we were in Italy or Manhattan. We ordered some wine from the region where the chef is from and an amazing Tramonti bruschetta. We could have satisfied ourselves with each our own order of bruschetta. But we came for pizza.

The pizza was not New York style and I was glad because it was delicious and not greasy.

We ended the meal with a bit of gelato and it was a little disappointing. We could have gone down the street to the shop that sells just marshmallows and hot chocolate. Before ordering a Lyft back to our hotel, we fossicked around the street a bit and wandered into a used bookstore that was wonderfully odd.  Ultimately, the day of travel caught up with us and we retired to our comfortable room at The Benjamin hotel in midtown. A great start for an exciting planned weekend.

When a Pencil Becomes a Destination

IMG_3707I love using pencils of all kinds. Pencils graded and numbered for drawing. Did you know that Henry David Thoreau created our numbering system for hardness/softness (i.e. light/dark)?  Mechanical pencils for notes at meetings. The classic No. 2 yellow pencil for nostalgia. Finding a pencil sharpener these days is as hard as finding a phone booth. But they make all these cool small sharpeners that fit in your pocket. The eraser on the end never seems to last as long as the lead. Maybe I make more mistakes than most, but it gives me an excuse to buy separate erasers.

So it may not surprise you that when I was in New York City I twisted my cousin’s arm to go with me to CW Pencil Enterprise in Chinatown. It was also meant to be a lesson in using the subway. She uses an app to find the best routes and honestly it was like watching someone who is really good at using Word or Excel show you a shortcut. It all happened so fast that I didn’t learn much except the subway seems well used and looks antique.

IMG_3709I digress. Pencils! So many in one place. A store dedicated to the humble pencil. It is a delight and seems like an “only in New York City” kind of thing. I could have fondled the pencils all afternoon. Alas, we were also going to a Broadway performance later. So I bought a lot of pencils, stickers, journals and children’s books. Oh and some erasers. The whole experience made me happy!

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Do you know what also made me happy? This video that my bff Harriet shared on Facebook. If it doesn’t make you smile then maybe you need to spend some time getting reacquainted with the humble yet mighty pencil.

Perfect Day in Central Park

Some people would say Central Park is not at its best in January. The greatness of Central Park is that it is terrific year round.

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When the tree limbs are bare and the sun is working hard to shine, you notice the statues more, and without the quacking ducks and geese you hear the horses hooves on the pavement as they pull the carriage by.

My mom and I just enjoyed a weekend in New York City. She wanted to spend time in Central Park. She is 82 years strong, although her knees give out after a third of a mile. So we walked from our hotel to Rockefeller Plaza to watch the ice skaters, then called Lyft.  Our driver dropped us right at Tavern on the Green where I made a reservation a week ago on Open Table.

We slept in because for the first time in I don’t know how long, neither of us had pets to wake us up. And then I walked around the corner to Essa Bagel to get bagels. So it hadn’t been long since breakfast. Nonetheless at 1:30 p.m. we happily dove into cobb salad (me) and crab cocktail (Mom).

 

I expected something much more humble because it had “tavern” in the name. Wow. It is really beautiful and the service is great and the food is great. And it only has 2 $$ on Open Table, which in New York City means entrees are in the $20-30 range. It was so worth it. Even my mom, who has been on Weight Watchers her whole life, said we should splurge on the apple crisp a la mode. The ice cream was incredibly rich and delicious.

When we were done we felt like walking. We set off for the lake to see where Stuart Little sailed his boat. It was iced over and quiet except for the high school kids living out their Glee fantasies. We sat on a bench unraveling a ball of yarn and watching people and dogs.

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We continued but it was very cold, thankfully without wind, so we sat on a few more benches. I realized that Mom needed to warm up. Previously I had researched a few yarn shops. It made sense to head to the closest one where she could sit and get warm and I could call Lyft.

We made it to Strings at 144 E. 74th Street. It would be a super store if the salespeople were friendly. Instead I had a sullen woman act as though my desire to buy yarn and patterns was the biggest imposition. Plus Mom had to walk up a flight of stairs and then back down. You also have to ring a buzzer to get into the stairs. It’s all kind of Upper East Side snooty. I did buy yarn though because they had some yarn I had never seen before.

We rode back to the hotel and Mom rested so we’d be ready for our musical later in the evening. I was worried that she was disappointed with how little we walked in the Park. She was thrilled. She estimated that we walked miles so I’m glad we didn’t have a fitbit to contradict her. I enjoyed our day and the cold didn’t bother us much with an extra shawl for warmth and her special scarf hat and long underwear.

Where are you going in 2018?

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All of my travel magazines have lists of the best places to see in 2018. Some of the places on their list are on mine also, making me rethink my list. (Will it be too crowded?) I don’t actually think the travel magazines has as much influence as they want their advertisers to think they do. Travel is an investment and most people have many reasons for choosing the places they go. If you are like me, these articles sometimes help with information on a location I already plan to go. They have never been the spark for wanting to go in the first place. Have you had a different experience? Did an article inspire you to go somewhere you never thought of before?

Actually, I just experienced something similar with a story on National Public Radio. I’ve never been that keen to go to Puerto Rico. Then I heard this story about one of the world’s best bioluminescent bays getting its glow back after Hurricane Maria. Suddenly I wanted to go. Plus it would have the added bonus of helping the economy.  So Vieques, Puerto Rico is on my 2018 list of possibilities.

This year I was able to go to a few places that have been on my list for years, such as Denmark and Sweden. In 2018 I hope to finally visit Detroit, Michigan. Some friends are interested in meeting up there. We have another friend who grew up there so if she can’t meet us we know we’ll get some good recommendations from her. She still visits often. I realize that going to visit friends is a huge motivational factor in my travel wish list.

I’m hankering to get back to Belfast, Northern Ireland after a decade away. And to New Zealand after just a year away. I already have my tickets for another trip to New York City with my mom for Broadway plays and the New York Times Travel Show.

Where are you going in 2018 and why? Where are you dreaming about as close out 2017?

I have been away from my blogs for a couple of months. I bought a house and moved. I traveled and had a lot of work on my plate. I also just needed to gain some perspective on blogging. Why do I do it? Shall I continue to do it?

Then I read something my daughter wrote to me in a card about how I observed more closely the beauty in the world and shared it in my blog. She appreciates that and so do I. The process of writing about the encounters with wonderful generous people, or special places does help me look at the world more generously, more kindly.

Finally, I read a post on one of my favorite blogs, Smitten Kitchen. I was reminded of all the good things about blogging. Including big ideas like freedom of expression and creativity. The Smitten Kitchen inspires ME to cook so a blog can clearly be powerful.

I hope you have wonderful lists of places and travel ideas where you may go next and heaps of photos from the places you already been. Happy New Year.

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My reason for staying home more…

 

A Colbert Experience

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We were told to arrive by 4:15 p.m. for the Late Show with Stephen Colbert taping. We arrived early, scoped out the line we were meant to stand in and then went across the street to get a Starbucks drink. We returned to the VIP line with our tickets, which my son confirmed well in advance. Our names were checked off the list and we were given wristbands. Our group was one of the first to be let in.

We were asked to wait in the lobby and allowed to use the restrooms. Go even if you don’t feel the need because the restrooms are closed once the taping starts and not reopened afterward. (We were among a dozen or so people who rushed back across the street to use Starbuck’s bathroom.)

There are several admonitions: mainly no phones, or photographs. A comedian came out and warmed up the crowd. He was very funny and I’d tell you his name but I had no way to write it down or text it to remember! He also taught us how to laugh so it would make the biggest impact on television. Several times a stage manager or Mr. Colbert came out and thanked us and mentioned how much our participation helped to keep all of the performers pumped up.

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Waiting in the lobby before the show.

Stephen Colbert came out before the taping began and answered a few questions. Then the band came out and played for us. Then the show began. We laughed spontaneously but more heartily than normal. We were a little hoarse by the end.

After Colbert’s monologue when we had booed a couple of lines about Trump, he came out and explained that he’d have to retape a section of the monologue because our booing, while understandable, stepped on his next line. He reminded us, “You cannot laugh and be afraid at the same time, and the devil cannot stand mockery.” 

It is fascinating to watch a taping of a comedy show. The guests sometimes make a different impression than they do on television. Our evening we had Andrew Dice Clay and I believe we saw how ambivalent Colbert was about Clay’s “comeback” and he seemed more positive on the television show.

I loved the puppy adoption segment because those puppies were so darn adorable. It was also fascinating to see how the team with the puppies, the set, the lighting all worked without a hitch. I’d go to another taping but I’d get my tickets by stalking the website and getting them 2 months in advance. I believe those folks get to sit on the main floor. We were in the balcony. Either way, there are no bad seats.

IMG_2343Tickets to a taping of the Stephen Colbert Show was the impetus for our trip to New York City. My son “won” them in a charity auction after making a generous donation. The prize included two VIP tickets and a night at the Benjamin Hotel on 50th and Lexington. Both were gifted to me for Mother’s Day. I wanted more time in New York and the hotel management was very cooperative in extending our reservation and getting us into one room for the stay, even though I’d upgraded for the extension. This and many other great staff moments make it easy for me to give two thumbs up to the Benjamin Hotel.

Perfect Days

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View of Auckland from the ferry to Devonport

What does the perfect day look like to you? Of course it depends on where you are. In New York City it might start with coffee and a bagel, include a visit to the zoo in Central Park and end with a Broadway play and a nightcap. I remember one day in Belfast it included taking the bus into the central business district and fossicking around the shops, enjoying a coffee, then listening to Brian Keenan read from his latest novel at the literary festival.

Today is a perfect day at home. I am free of engagements and I can do what I like. I’ve walked to the bakery and farmers’ market. Then I went through my stack of travel magazines. I am watching Poldark (season 1) and Netflix. It is a pretty day and mild weather for July. It is a good day for a bike ride or a hike. My perfect today is full of rest instead and may include a nap.  Once the kids, my brother and I were in Dublin and our perfect day included a long afternoon of drinking coffee and enjoying our own company. Then we found the perfect stew for dinner.

Auckland is someplace I have spent many of perfect day. It often includes a visit to the Auckland Museum. I just received the Spring newsletter (remember, seasons are opposite the Northern hemisphere) and there is an interesting new exhibit opening in October called “Sound.” It spotlights the history of pop music in New Zealand. I will check it out when I visit in November. Days in Auckland also include shopping in Trelise Cooper and Unity Books or taking the ferry and mooching around Devonport.

Kicky Time at Kinky Boots

The plot is fairly predictable...spiced up with cross-dressing actors who can really do a high kick!

The plot is fairly predictable…spiced up with cross-dressing actors who can really do a high kick!

Our last full day in New York City and we had one more Broadway Show. We were tired and so we took the morning easy and and then had the bellman hail a cab to Amy’s Bread in Hells Kitchen on 9th Street. This is where Cousin Carrie works and also where you can get an amazing chicken salad sandwich and a pastry. We also had our first opportunity to do a bit of shopping in the neighborhood. It was the first time I had spent so much time in New York City without the challenge of lugging shopping bags home. I was packing lots of great memories though.

We arrived at the theater in plenty of time to get our tickets from Today’s Tix and get in the lengthening line. Mom really wanted to see Kinky Boots because the music was by Cyndi Lauper and she had seen “numbers” done on television and like it. Apparently lots of groups of women who were in the City for a girls weekend or day had the same idea. The line moved quickly and we had great seats. Today Tix was able to buy them for less than originally quoted so we received a voucher towards our next purchase. It is only good for 60 days, so I passed it on to Carrie.

We were excited to see Kinky Boots at the Sunday matinee.

We were excited to see Kinky Boots at the Sunday matinee.

Mom’s review:  Of all the shows we saw (all fantastic), this one was what I would expect from a Broadway show: singing, dancing and big production numbers. All extremely well done. Lola was a delight–funny and sympathetically played.

We really enjoyed the enthusiastic performance and I am once again impressed with how open-minded my 80 year old mom is. She did not bat an eye at the unconventional plot details.

Even though our next stop at Ray and Jim’s was about three quarters of a mile, we caught a cab and went to my friends’ for a great conversation and Thai delivery.

We ended the evening with a Lyft to the hotel. Both Mom and I were completely satisfied with our theater experience and our time together in New York. We were also tired and the bed at the Hilton Garden Inn in Chelsea felt marvelous.

The next day we just had to get up, walk a half block to get an egg McMuffin and be back to meet Lincoln Limousine for our ride to Newark airport. God willing we will do it again in a few years only we will stay in the Theater District and save money on cabs.