Tuesday, March 28, 2017

New York is for Nerds

As much as I love planning a vacation, I love being on vacation even more. Brian and I celebrated being married for 20 years by taking a trip to New York City last week. Our anniversary was back in November, but we planned this trip to coincide with Chubbuck, Idaho's Spring Break for obvious reasons (my parents came and stayed with our children). I have been fine tuning our itinerary for MONTHS and most of my reading for the last few months has been New York related. Here's what we did...

Tuesday, March 21

We left our home just before 7am after kissing the kids and having some last minute briefing with my brave parents. Brian drove into the wrong parking lot at the airport and we snuck into the correct one through an exit because we were LATE. Coming up the stairs to the security check we were directed to the back of a very long line. We were certain that we weren't going to catch our plane after seeing that. A guy kept telling us they were getting "the dog" set up and then the line would go quickly. What was that a euphemism for? It wasn't! A real dog showed up and sniffed everyone's bags instead of having a human open them up and dig through everything. We were through security lickety-split.

When we arrived at JFK, we took a taxi to my cousin Allison's place on the Upper West Side. She and her family (husband Noah and two impossibly cute girls, Scout and Fern) live in a small apartment near Central Park, several great restaurants and subway stations. They had said goodbye to their previous house guests earlier that day, I think. So, extremely generous people and very knowledgeable about the city. Perfect hosts. We talked so much that Brian and I decided not to risk trying to find a place to eat near their apartment and we immediately took a subway going the opposite direction from our show on Broadway. Ah! We hurried and got off at the next stop and got on the correct one. I tried to memorize our surroundings when we emerged from an unmarked doorway on 42nd and Broadway and walked to 44th for Hello Dolly!
Since it was a Tuesday night, we got into Guy Fieri's restaurant right across the street from the theater. The line to get into the theater went all the way around the block and down another street. This was our first show on Broadway, so we figured this was normal, but people in line told us it was not. We were on the tippety top of the balcony, so we had to lean forward when the action was in front of the orchestra. Still! It was BETTE MIDLER as Dolly! She rolled onto the stage on a "trolley" and had to pause for a full minute while the audience cheered. She owned the stage. Owned. It. Hello Dolly! is my family's musical. My Dad played Cornelius Hackle in college and again when we lived in Oakley, Idaho. I know all the words to all the songs. It was THRILLING to watch an actual production of it! And it was the best anyone could do, too. When "Put On Your Sunday Clothes" started, I had to fight tears. Bette Midler got a standing ovation when she appeared at the top of the stairs at the Harmonia Gardens. She's 71 years old, you guys! Remarkable.

Brian and I walked right by our subway station coming back (of course) and ended up on an express that took us to a stop 11 blocks from Allison and Noah's when we did find it. I had packed a skirt and tall boots for our theater nights. Like a dummy. I was whimpering in pain by the time we made it to Allison and Noah's. Never have a bunion and be too short for flats walking all over New York City.

Wednesday, March 22

Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island! Allison fed us delicious oatmeal first thing in the morning before we got back on the subway and headed south for Battery Park. We had tickets for a Statue Cruise and had to run for it after getting out of the subway. Security is tight when you go to the Statue of Liberty! We went through one security check to get on the boat and another one when we got off at the island. I had tickets to walk up into the pedestal, but not the crown. I thought that would make me sad, but it was COLD and WINDY and not going to the top was fine with us. The museum just under the pedestal was great - they had examples of Lady Liberty's face without the patina on the copper, stories and amazing photos of the process of getting the statue put back together once it was in the United States. One of my favorites was an example of the copper "skin" on the statue. It's something like 3/8" of an inch thick and they pound it out over the statue.
Then we walked up the steps inside the pedestal. Lots and lots of steps. We walked out a door and the wind took my breath away. My hair was ridiculous.
We shopped a little at the gift shop and found the most beautiful snow globe for Bridget (she collects them). It was exactly what I had in mind to get her - the Statue of Liberty with a cityscape behind her in gold. It contains more than six ounces of liquid, for those of you who like foreshadowing.

Next we caught the boat to Ellis Island. What an amazing place! I've been reading City of Dreams by Tyler Anbinder and there is a lot about what the travel was like for emigrants on the boats and getting checked out by doctors once they arrived. To be in the very place where they had been and to see that incredible museum was emotional. There were so many different reasons people left their homelands to come to America not knowing what was here, but counting on it being better than where they lived. We have it so easy!
We spent probably more than two hours at Ellis Island and it was absolutely not enough. We were getting hungry and I wanted to see Federal Hall before it closed, so we got back on the boat.
Brian borrowed a scarf from Noah (because Noah insisted) and he never would have survived without it, but also he is pulling. it. off. It was my favorite part of the trip being on a week-long date with Brian.
We did stop at Castle Clinton, the place where our ancestors would have stopped first. (Ellis Island didn't exist before 1892.) I went to get our National Park Passport stamped and someone had stolen the Castle Clinton stamp. (Who does these things?) One of the rangers had to find the back up stamp for us. From there we walked to Federal Hall where George Washington was sworn in as the first President of the United States.
I've read Ron Chernow's Washington and I'm about halfway through Alexander Hamilton so this was a stop I was really looking forward to. The very place where our nation began!
The first thing I did was stamp the passport, then I noticed the date was October 39, 2017. Come on, field trip kids! Oh well. It's by all the other stamps with the correct date. Also, the bible Washington used for his inauguration wasn't there because the free masons of New York City (or something) were using it. For what?! Couldn't they find another copy somewhere?! The bible belongs to the free masons, so they have dibs, but that was quite lame. We walked a few blocks to a restaurant called Frounces, which is supposed to be the very spot where George Washington said goodbye to his troops after the Revolutionary War.
Between Federal Hall and Frounces we saw The Bull and The Fearless Girl on Wall Street. Kind of. Pesky tourists.
By the time we got back to Allison and Noah's that evening we were spent. Allison suggested a few places we could go for dessert, but then we just kept sitting on the couch instead.

Thursday, March 23

My plan was to go see Teddy Roosevelt's Birthplace at 9:00am, then head to our Brooklyn Food Tour that started on Cornelia Street. Allison and Fern offered to come with us to Roosevelt's and if they hadn't, Brian and I would probably still be wandering the subway right now. Ah! :)
Emil says I have Mickey Mouse ears in this photo. Ha! They didn't give tours until 10:00, so we couldn't go upstairs. So sad! We were in the house! The rangers turned on a movie for us. Meh. It was all stuff I knew from reading Mornings on Horseback by David McCullough. I got a stamp in the passport and a children's book about Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir. I guess the male ranger felt bad for us (and we were the only people there) because he finally said he'd take us on a quick tour of the upstairs. Yay! We stood in the room where Teddy Roosevelt was born! It made my nerd heart burst with joy.
My favorite thing that I learned about Roosevelt at the museum was that he had a standing appointment to play with his children at 4:00 every day. Sometimes dignitaries were invited to join him, because it was happening.

Allison led us to Cornelia Street (which we NEVER would have found) and our bus for our food tour of Brooklyn. We had a small group, more than half of which were Asian students with their teachers from Boston. Our tour guide, Rick, had us introduce ourselves and that's when he discovered that one of the guys in the tour was the librarian at his high school in San Francisco in the late 1960s, early 1970s. "Mr. Rogers?!" Ha! Small world.

Our first food stop was The Meatball Shop in North Williamsburg. Each of us got a meatball in a little bowl. They had a meatball leftover and I claimed it. Yum! Next we went around the corner to a Middle Eastern place called Oasis for a veggie ball with a name I can't remember and a hummus-y sauce.
It turns out I really like Middle Eastern food. The flavors and spices and especially the hummus speak to me. We got back on the bus and went to a Polish place called Krowlewskie Jadlo (King's Feast, I think).
At this place we sat down and had lots of different stuff - Kielbasa Sausage, Pierogies, carrot and beet salad with horseradish. Brian and I were the last ones to file into the restaurant and they had a long table set up for our group. We had to sit across from each other and he ended up between two of the Asian students. Hee! Funny because he looked so out of place.

Our next stop was farther away and we had more time in the bus with Rick telling us about hipsters and underground clubs where famous bands got their start and finding bodies in the canal and... zzzzz. I fell asleep. That's what I do on public transportation. When I woke up we were at Table 87 in Brooklyn Heights for coal-fired Margarita Pizza. I've been craving it ever since. So simple, but so good! Then it was off to Monteleone Bakery for a cannoli. Delicious.
Our last stop was chocolates at Jacques Torres. Brian and I were the only ones in the group who were going to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to get back to Manhattan. It was cold and windy all day and we were a little nervous about our plan. We both ordered hot chocolate at Jacques Torres, then got back on the bus. Rick led us right to the steps to the Brooklyn Bridge, probably so Brian could give him a tip discreetly. (A subject for another time is tipping. Why is 20% considered standard now? Who gets tips? Why aren't people paid enough to not need to ask for more? Shouldn't it be a matter of pride and honor like in Japan and Denmark to just pay the price listed on the menu at a restaurant? Discuss.)

Once we were on the Brooklyn Bridge promenade, the sun was shining and the wind had calmed. Of course I'd read The Great Bridge by David McCullough and it was surreal to be there. I even asked Rick before we were dropped off where Washington Roebling's house was because I knew that he watched the progress of the bridge from his window. (Rick pointed out where the building used to be, by the way.) Brian and I took our time and soaked in the view. It was one of my favorite things we did on our trip.
We met Allison and a sleeping Scout near City Hall and they led us to the 9/11 Memorial. We went into the building above all the subway stations right there. It looks like a very clean dinosaur skeleton.
Outside on the plaza is the actual memorial with the names of all the victims surrounding infinity pools. When I saw it I was surprised to feel exactly what I should feel even though I couldn't describe it. What a beautiful tribute.
Remarkably, Brian and I were hungry enough to eat dinner and Brian wanted to try a restaurant Allison had pointed out that morning called Beecher's. We walked there and they were slammed, so we decided to get on the subway and go to The Meatball Shop near Allison and Noah's place. I beat my previous step record (which I made on Memorial Day last year when I did a 10K with Makenzie) by 8000 steps on Thursday. My heels hurt! I was wearing good shoes, but I probably should have been wearing running shoes.

Friday, March 24

We slept in a little and took our time getting ready Friday morning. Brian didn't think he'd ever need to eat again, but we went to Maison Pickle for brunch anyway. Biscuit French Toast with strawberries and homemade syrup! Duh. That's happening. After brunch we walked across Central Park to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Secretly we could have spent 12 hours a day for a week at that museum and still not see everything. Amazing!
We spent the bulk of our time in the American Wing since it was kind of the theme of our trip. :)
This is inside the Met - one of the entrances to the American Wing. We walked through a gallery with a baseball card collection. Adorable.

After the Met it was time to go to our hotel, Library Hotel, on Madison and 41st near the New York City Library and our second Broadway show of the trip, Anastasia.
We are in our 40s, y'all. It was time for a nap. And it was a glorious nap. We found some greasy pizza for dinner, then walked to 44th and Broadway for Anastasia.
We had great seats this time (I bought the tickets as soon as they were available last October). The musical has three songs from the movie and the story line followed the movie in most ways. There was no Rasputin - the bad guy was the son of one of the officers who killed the rest of the Romanov family. The singing, dancing, and costumes were incredible - top notch. There was a bit too much of the reaching out longingly during a song and the actor playing Anastasia/Anya was trying really hard. If we hadn't seen Bette Midler's confidence a few nights before, I would've thought Anastasia was the best show in the world. The ending is very different from the movie as well. The woman playing Lily, Carolyn O'Connor (the dowager's last lady-in-waiting) was our favorite part of the show. There's a fantastic scene in a Russian night club in Paris where she dances and sings and it's just the best.

Saturday, March 25

We slept in FOR REAL Saturday morning. AAAHHHH! Then we walked to the Library and Brian found the perfect gift for Colin. (I bought Emil's gift at the Met.)
Then it was back to the subway for our journey north to Harlem to see Hamilton Grange, Alexander Hamilton's "country" home.
One of the few times Brian sat on the subway. He is a gentleman. And a germaphobe.
The museum in the basement was pretty cool (except there were spoilers I didn't know about because I haven't finished listening to the book), but I thought they could have tried harder with the exterior of the building. The tour of the main floor rooms was self-guided, which was also a little disappointing. Still, very cool to see where one of the Founding Fathers lived. (Emil has become interested in American history and he talks about Washington and Lincoln more often than a normal six year-old. One time he asked me who the Founding Mothers are. Love.)
The dining room at Hamilton Grange.
The parlor - there was a card game set up on a table in there. :)

There were a couple of other memorials on the north end of town, but we could only get there by walking and it would have taken way too long to do that, so we headed back to Manhattan. Brian wanted to get the kids Yankees hats, so we went to Times Square to a store we'd passed going to and from the Broadway shows. Guys. If I never see Times Square again it will be too soon. It's an assault on every sense! My eyes! My nose! My ears! Bleh. A guy advertising a comedy show stopped Brian to compliment him on his "girl." Fist bump for the "silver fox." Brian laughed and told him I'm older. Then we found a Japanese Ramen place for lunch.
I'd seen an episode of Chef's Table on Netflix about Japanese Ramen restaurants, then I got the lowdown from my nephew, Taylor (he served his mission in Japan). The moment we walked into this little place I was completely disarmed. It was a U-shaped bar with 11 people sitting down slurping ramen. I've never experienced anything like that at a restaurant - it was a cultural eye-opener. So cool.

From there we took the subway to the Tenement Museum. My Aunt Julie (Allison's Mom) told us about the Tenement Museum a few weeks ago and then every single person on our food tour told us we SHOULD NOT miss it. They are all correct. We went to the Irish Outsiders tour with a genuine Irish Catholic tour guide. The tour started in the basement with the replicated bathroom facilities - wooden outhouses that were for all the residents of the tenement and the customers at the bar on the street level. Never. They took us up the stairs to a room that looks exactly as it did when people lived there. It took my breath away. So small and dark! What would it have been like to try to take care of babies in that place! We learned about the people who actually lived in the apartment we were standing in. Just an amazing museum. 

We arranged to meet Allison and Noah at Cheeky's, which was a short walk from the Tenement Museum according to the address they gave us. Brian and I got there and stood in front of a door and window covered in pencil drawings on paper. I called Allison because I assumed we'd walked right by the place or we were on the wrong street or something. She said, "I can see you!" Yikes! And, Hahahahahaha! We opened the door and there they were. We ate fried chicken on biscuits and beignets while Fern danced on the table and Scout slept in the stroller. (That sweet little girl slept in the noisiest, brightest places!) Then we all rode the subway together, Brian and I getting off many stops before Allison and Noah. They are the best! It's a good thing we're related because I'm positive I'm not cool enough to hang out with them. :)

Brian and I went right to Grand Central Station to get some cheesecake from Juniors to enjoy while I listened to Women's Conference at the hotel. Juniors is no longer in Grand Central Station. It's gone. We got cupcakes instead.

Bridget's Statue of Liberty snowglobe cost me $25 more and three trips through the same security line at JFK. Then I left my cell phone in the bathroom at the Salt Lake Airport and we had to go back and find a kind person who would be good enough to find it for me. Anniversary miracle, that. The kids were alive and well when we picked them up and it was all worth it. I'm so glad we did this trip! What an amazing time of life and what a gift that my parents could handle our household so well for almost a week! I'm feeling the love. :)

Thursday, March 2, 2017

February 2017 Book Reports

1. Old MacDonald Had A Truck by Steve Goetz, illustrated by Eda Kaban

Emil, Colin and I sang this book instead of reading it. Old MacDonald has all kinds of heavy equipment on his farm in this book. They're building something, but what could it be? When we reached the last page Emil was so delighted that he declared, "The is the best book EVER!" It truly combined every single thing Emil loves the most. We recommend it to anyone who likes to sing or who likes heavy equipment and big tires.

2. Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast by Josh Funk, illustrated by Brendan Kearney

This is the story of a pancake and a piece of French toast racing to get the last drop of maple syrup in the well-stocked, talkative fridge. I think I liked this more than the boys because I was the one reading out loud and there was rhyming in addition to all the fun interpretations of what kind of personalities the foods had. My favorite was the surprise ending - hint; what else needs syrup?

3. Boot & Shoe by Marla Frazee

Boot and Shoe are dogs who were born on the same day (like Emil and Colin). They like to eat at the same time (like Emil and Colin), go to sleep in the same place (like Emil and Colin), and pee on the same tree (hopefully not like Emil and Colin). Boot and Shoe DO NOT like to sit all day in the same place, though. One likes the front porch and the other likes the back porch.

One day a squirrel disrupts the dogs' lives and they end up chasing the squirrel ALL OVER the place. The squirrel walks away after all that chasing, but the dogs are on the wrong porches and are worried about the other. That would TOTALLY happen to Emil and Colin! Ha! Very fun book to read out loud.

4. Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

This was a too-long book for Battle of the Books that Bridget and I read together. It takes place during Medieval Times when there are all kinds of rules about what princesses were supposed to do. Princess Cimorene (Bridget and I did not agree on how to pronounce her name, but I deferred to Bridget since she is more of a princess expert than I am) breaks the mold, of course. She wants to know how to sword fight! She wants to learn Latin! She wants to learn magic! Every time her father catches Cimorene learning anything that isn't "proper" for a princess, he puts a stop to it.

Cimorene is betrothed to Prince Therandil and after meeting him and seeing what a dum dum he is, Cimorene runs away and becomes the princess of the dragon, Kazul. I guess in this world dragons have princesses who work for them as a status symbol. (Eye roll.) Cimorene and Kazul get along well. Cimorene can make cherries jubilee! And she can organize the many books in the dragon library and catalog all the treasures. Cimorene is also really great at foreshadowing, if by great I mean obvious. Bridget and I always knew what was going to happen next.

There were some interesting elements in the book - how dragons live, their politics and all that. One of my beefs with the book was all the superfluous filler. Too many words that didn't advance the plot or reveal anything about the character. And, of, course all the predictability.

5. Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

Trevor Noah is the host of The Daily Show. I've enjoyed what I've seen of him, which is mostly clips and an episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee with Jerry Seinfeld. Noah was born in South Africa during Apartheid when it was literally a crime to be an interracial couple. Noah's mother couldn't be seen with him in public as his mother - she had to pretend to be his nurse.

This book has a lot of swears, but I still recommend it because I learned so much. I've never thought for a moment about what it might be like to grow up in South Africa, let alone to be a colored (mixed race) person growing up in South Africa. Trevor Noah is not a victim - he doesn't want pity and he speaks in a strong, insightful voice (I listened to him read the book). His words about race and language blew my mind!

“Language, even more than color, defines who you are to people.”

Most of the stories Noah tells from his childhood are kind of unbelievable, but yet they had to be true. Who would make that stuff up? :) One of the most fascinating to me was the one about Trevor and his friends deejaying for an interfaith conference. He and his buddies were representing hip-hop culture and the mostly-Jewish audience was loving their performance until Noah asked them to welcome their principal dancer, a kid named Hitler. At the time, Trevor thought they got kicked out of the venue because of the provocative dancing. South African kids had not been taught about Adolf Hitler the way some parts of the world had learned about him. They were taught that he was a dictator and a bad guy, but Noah points out that there have been many millions of Africans murdered because of their race. Their names weren't recorded as the Jews' were during the Holocaust. Whoa.  Genocide being part of life is beyond my comprehension.

There were many times during the book that I thought about things I've never thought about before. Trevor Noah is brilliant in a strange and exciting way.  One more quote:

“I don’t regret anything I’ve ever done in life, any choice that I’ve made. But I’m consumed with regret for the things I didn’t do, the choices I didn’t make, the things I didn’t say. We spend so much time being afraid of failure, afraid of rejection. But regret is the thing we should fear most. Failure is an answer. Rejection is an answer. Regret is an eternal question you will never have the answer to. “What if…” “If only…” “I wonder what would have…” You will never, never know, and it will haunt you for the rest of your days.”

6. The Bassoon King: My Life in Art, Faith, and Idiocy by Rainn Wilson

I was binge-ing on The Office during February and Rainn Wilson's performance as Dwight Shrute makes me so happy, I thought I'd enjoy his book. Meh, not so much. Wilson is a very talented actor - I could watch him all day (maybe only as Dwight). I could not read him all day, though.

Wilson's childhood is pretty unusual (not growing up in South Africa-unusual, but still) because his parents were members of the Baha-i faith and he lived in Nicaragua when he was a toddler. Other than that, it felt like he was attaching too much meaning and drama to a situation (parents getting a divorce, Dad getting a new job, moving to a new state) that is mostly normal for a lot of people.

When he was in high school, Wilson moved to Chicago where he had a chance to re-invent himself. I remember this part of my life, except my re-invention as a new kid in 8th grade was several steps down from the status I enjoyed in my previous junior high. Suddenly I was getting threatened by a "rocker" in my Home Economics class. In Rainn Wilson's case, he could act like he was a super-cool, funky drama guy. Hard pass on that personality. He sounded disproportionately proud of this part of his life.

There was a lot of odd and not delightful stuff leading up to his time on The Office. I loved hearing that they often couldn't get through a scene because they were laughing so hard. Wilson said the very worst instance of that was a scene where he and John Krasinski (Jim Halpert) are the party planning committee and they've forgotten Kelly's birthday. Dwight makes a sign that says, "It is your birthday." He also barely blows up black and brown balloons to decorate the room. Both men are totally out of their element, sweating and fighting like two 11 year old boys. It is one of the funniest things on that whole series. I really liked that they thought it was as funny as I did.

Then it was back to boring ol' Rainn Wilson thanking every person he loves by name. I absolutely agree with his philosophy on how to love and show love to another person. I'm happy for him that he found a religion and philosophy that brings him happiness. I was left wishing that he had a weird cousin named Mose who would come run alongside my car if I visited his house.


February We Hardly Knew Ye

February went by pretty fast. I did a lot of stories for the Lehi Free Press because I wanted more foldin' money for our trip to New York. I got to go to Roots Tech for free this year because I was covering it. Once again, I was inspired and energized by the speakers, the classes, and the amazing concert Brian and I went to at the Conference Center.
I shot this from the balcony above the Exhibit Hall.
This is a CAKE, you guys!
They had free cake after the keynote speakers. Yaaassss!
Emil and Colin had a ski lesson on the Family Discovery Day, so Bridget and I went to the Salt Palace on the train to go, just the two of us. We heard President and Sister Nelson speak, looked at the unbelievable cakes in the cake contest, listened to Sister Sheri Dew and two former Philadelphia Eagles, Vi Sikahema and Reno Mahe (Mahe lives in Lehi and his wife was Bridget's volleyball coach a few years ago). The food and the music spoke to me this year. :) I'm on board with my callings now (church calling and self-imposed family historian calling). Git 'er done.

Then there was Valentine's Day. The boys picked out Valentines during one of our Field Trip Fridays, so they were set. Bridget procrastinated like crazy and I ended up at JoAnn's the day before getting stuff to make a box as well as Valentines to hand out. 
 The boys signing their Valentines. They both remarked at how hard this project was. Sigh.
Bridget was so excited to take her Chewbacca Valentine box to school! I totally STOLE the idea from a friend who posted her son's Chewbacca box on Instagram. Stealing feels good.

Brian took the kids to Grandma and Grandpa's house, picked up some wings from Wing Shack in American Fork, and came home to watch a terrible movie (Jack Reacher 2) with me for our Valentine's date. :) Later that week we learned how to country swing at a ward party, then we did some Victorian dancing at Brian's cousin's fundraiser ball the very next night. It was kind of exhausting doing all that stuff, now that I'm remembering it. We had something every night that week! 

Probably the biggest event in February, though, was Cousin Janessa getting home on the 28th. She's been in Peru for 18 months serving a mission. Bridget and Colin had shy attacks at seeing her again, but Emil was cool. She's been in our prayers for so long and she's been gone for almost a third of Colin and Emil's lives, so I kind of get it. We're so happy she's home safe and so proud of how brave and awesome she is.
Darin, Dena, Janessa holding Brighton, Jake, Kelsey holding Olivia, Jed together again!
I'm putting this here because Janessa's missionary tag was filthy and it makes me Olympic cry to see that.
Olivia met Janessa for the first time when Janessa got off the plane. Now we know Olivia understands Spanish! Good to know. :)