The Address is 221B Baker Street…

and it is ruining my life. I love TV. British telly has an especially grand sitting room in my heart. My current obsession is the BBC’s modern day adaptation of Sherlock (showing stateside via PBS). The show stars high functioning sociopath Sherlock Holmes as played by Benedict Cumberbatch and the ever faithful companion John Watson played by Martin Freeman running around London solving crimes with the science of deduction. There have been many adaptations of the beloved character of Sherlock but this one is by far my favorite.

Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss are two of the co-creators and writers of this show and coincidentally are also involved in another one of my TV obsessions, Doctor Who. I love them and simultaneously hate them. I love them because they have created characters that I care about and have weaved thrilling stories together on their loom of madness.  I hate them because they push me off a cliff of a story and just leave me hanging there and then they mock me by letting on that they know how it works out but that they just haven’t gotten around to filming it yet. They relish in our suffering.

Each season consists of 3, hour and a half long episodes. So far only season 1 has been shown in the states. The UK already has season 2. The 2nd season is scheduled to air on PBS sometime in May (why the delay PBS?). Thanks to my inability to wait for anything and a little app called Tunnelbear I was able to watch it with all the other Brits via BBC’s iPlayer.  The writers refer to them as mini-films which they cite as the reason for the limited number of episodes per season. Combine that with the fact that much of the principle staff of the show is tied up with other projects and you get a huge question mark as to when the next season will be ready to watch. I have been reduced to commiserating with people on Pinterest and trying to get as many of my friends to watch it as I can. If you haven’t seen it yet, GO NOW and rent it or watch it streaming on Netflix then let’s talk about it. I am also looking for a new TV show to watch so suggestions are welcome.

Fan Girl Rant Over.

Downgrades & Dumb Phones

It has been exactly one year since I left my blackberry in a cab. I remember the bleary fumble for my phone on the bedside table and realizing it wasn’t there. It was interesting how quickly I geared into awake mode. I jumped out of bed and searched my purse, the pockets of my jacket, the laundry basket, the kitchen, the bathroom, under the bed, scouring my apartment for its whereabouts. My roommates boyfriend saw me looking and asked what was up and as cool-y as possible I said “I think my phone may have fallen out of my pocket in the cab”. I was in shambles on the inside, it felt like my whole life was on that phone. Which was precisely the problem.

I spent a lot of time that day thinking about what to do next. I love technology and gadgets so the first thought was just to upgrade to something new and snazzy. An Android perhaps or the ubiquitous iPhone. Then I remembered a dinner I had around Christmas time and the appalling smart phone behaviour displayed there. A kind but awkward girl was sharing a story of her personal struggles. She was on the verge of tears, telling it with pleading eyes that seemed to say ‘I have been hurt really badly and need to be able to share this somewhere safe’. There were three other people in the room. Two were encouraging and listening attentively, the other was paying half attention and tweeting on his iPhone. I wanted to crack the screens of every iPhone with the screams of my indignation at that moment. It was so rude, and it’s so common.

Thinking back on that memory I decided to do the thing I didn’t want to and downgrade to a simple phone. Just calls and texts. It has a camera but a really crappy one. To be honest, I hate it. I hate its stupid keyboard. I hate that it won’t let me change the menu around. I hate that I can’t tweet anymore. I hate that it takes the worst pictures and it connects to the internet in a way that makes me want to throw it across the room. I realized quickly though that the “life” that I had lost on my phone didn’t really have anything to do with living. I love that I’m not tied to email. I love that not having yelp or google maps at the ready causes me to know my city better and find places to eat with my eyes instead of by stranger’s opinions. I love that I don’t feel some sort of phantom limb syndrome when I forget my phone at home.

It would be an over statement to say losing the blackberry was one of the best things to happen in my life. I would say though that it has definitely increased the quality of it. Downgrading has helped to decrease distraction and forced me to be present in the moment. I wasn’t sure if I would last long without a smart phone and now that it’s been a year I’m not sure if I could ever go back.

A Perfect Saturday

My Happy Place taken by Twin

I tend to do a lot during the week; book events, soccer, volleyball, dinners with friends, prayer group, bible study etc. By the time Friday afternoon rolls around I’m crossing my fingers that the outlook for the weekend is a big blank on the calendar. I need a lot of time to re-charge and Saturday is my time to do that. My perfect Saturday starts with sleeping in, only opening my eyes when I’m good and ready and not when the alarm begins to blare. An hour of answering emails and messing around on Pinterest. Then a nice, full home made breakfast. This time I made a baked egg dish with sauteed spinach, a side of bacon and a cup of orange juice. My perfect Saturday always includes time spent with a good book and a good friend. This time I went with Book Twin to Lennox Coffee and dove into The Fault in Our Stars by John Green along with a latte and lovely company. After spending a few hours there chatting and reading I like to come home and relax. This time I indulged in beloved British television (Downton Abbey). I have introduced Book Twin to the wonderful world of British telly so we watched together and gasped at all the right moments. I almost choked on my water when they found out the bad thing they thought happened actually didn’t. Then again when there was a big surprise (I hate when tv is spoiled for me so I won’t give anything away in case you watch Downton). A nice home made dinner and finishing up the book I started earlier is how I like to round off the day (as I did this past one). I sometimes forget how serene it is to spend quality time with a book and a good friend. I am constantly bombarded with a non-stop onslaught of things to do, people to meet, places to go etc. that I feel endlessly harried. So when I get a Saturday to myself this is how I like to spend it.

Rings & Things

The Ring - stolen from Jr's instagram

My sister got engaged this week. It doesn’t feel real, maybe it’s because she’s clear across the country and I didn’t get a chance to be there to celebrate with her. Mostly I think it’s because I’m not sure how to get my head around the idea that my little sister is going to be a wife. I’m also afraid this is going to change everything.

I’m really close to my siblings. Growing up our parents always encouraged us to be a team. I can still hear my mom saying “Even if you don’t have anybody else in the world you’ll always have your brother and sister.” Familial relationships are of course more complicated than that but I’ve operated under this instruction for pretty much my whole life. It only occurs to me now that I might have thought it would always be like this; me, Julie and Jr against the world. Now I find myself adjusting expectations.

I’m probably wrong of course. My defensive pessimism always gets me a bit moody and acts as a little rain cloud on happy occasions.  I remember talking to Julie’s now fiance about the idea of them getting married. I specifically remember saying “Please don’t take my sister away from us” as if we would never see her again after they exchanged vows. I know that’s dumb headed.

Wade has proven himself to be a good and honest man who really loves my sister. He knows how important we are to one another. In a way he’s been trying out for our little team for quite a while.  He’s been in California for the past year or so, I think he worked it so he could finally be in the same place as Julie but also to get to know my family a little better. Last summer he accompanied us on a family trip to Maine. The whole clan stopped in New York for a few days to check out the city before we made our way north. We spent about a week together on one of our usual whirlwind vacations touring New York, Maine and Boston. It was evident to me on that trip that Wade had been spending a lot of time with my family. He was at ease with my parents and my brother in a way that I haven’t really seen in any other significant other that has been introduced into the fold. It was also evident to me how happy my sister was with him and that he was very different from the others that my sister has dated. I am the naysayer in my family (surprise, surprise) when it comes to significant others. I’m pretty vocal when I have reservations about someone. Any doubts I may have had about Wade were squashed after that trip. I knew their engagement was imminent.

Now here we are. Julie with a ring on her finger and a wedding to come. I’m genuinely happy for them both. They managed to work through some pretty major obstacles (distance, deployment, etc.) and it feels right that it has come to this. Even though I tend to be curmudgeonly, I am a sucker for a love story and a wedding. It will likely change things, but I know it’s going to be fine. I’ll still always have my sister. Now I get a new brother and another addition to our team.

2011 Recap

Photo taken at a really old library in Manchester

Wow, this year really flew by. It has also been quite a long time since I last posted, hope you didn’t miss me too much. On Christmas day I went to lunch with a few friends and we shared our highlights and low-lights of the year. My roommate says I cheated by using the same thing for both, but it’s true. My highlight and low-light of this year was the steady parade of visitors. Starting in April I had someone stay with me every month for an average of one week. Don’t get me wrong, I love when people come to visit. I experience this particular brand of joy when I get a chance to show off this city for people. My visitors are people I love and am close to, so I want to spend as much time with them as possible. The flip side for me is that I’m always exhausted; I’m either currently sleep deprived or catching up on sleep. My store of social reserves also become dangerously depleted.  I gather strength from my alone time and the lack of it reduces me to a puddle of whiny tears.  I thought about all that I said at lunch that day and realized how lucky I am that my biggest complaint of this year was that I didn’t get as much sleep because so many people that I love came out to see me and we got to have fun together in New York.

Other random highlights of the year:

-Family vacation (NY, Maine, & Boston). Eating a ludicrous amount of lobster at the Maine Lobster Festival.

-Riding the subway with Kian & Krista.

-The smug satisfaction in knowing that Jared doesn’t hate New York anymore.

-Fancy dinner with Melanie at Babbo.

-Many fun evenings filled w/ good beer and interesting conversation w/ Megan

-Book Twin adventures

-Visiting Robin in England (esp. Mumford & Sons in Hyde Park)

-Shuler time in So-Cal

-Sneaking onto the Spiderman set w/ Ivan

-Getting into the usual shenanigans w/ the Nikkei bunch

-Fun day in So-Cal w/ Ange, Ric, Meg & Rambo

-Quality time with the siblings (Jr in NY, Julie in Sac)

-Many excellent meals at supper club

-Realizing I still have plenty of love for California on my recent visit in November

-Every single moment I got to spend with my family

I’m thankful for so much and looking forward to what 2012 will bring. I hope it brings both you and me lots of opportunities to see what we’re made of. Happy New Year!

Top 5 Places I Take People to Eat

If you visit it’s likely I we will be meeting for a meal. The following is a list of places I suggest we eat because they’re usually on people’s lists and I like the food.

Momofuku:

David Chang is some sort of hot shot chef and he is the man behind the Momofuku brand. There are several locations around the city, each with its own unique twist. I’ve only been to the Noodle Bar & Milk Bar so I can only speak to those. The wait here is generally around 20 min. The Noodle Bar space is small so expect to cozy up to strangers and watch those elbows! You should definitely get an order or the pork buns. Momofuku is known for its excellent pork. You’ll have a big smile on your face and lips shiny with pork fat after scarfing one of these down. I have only had the ramen here, which I think is pretty good. When it comes to ramen, a good broth and good peices of meat are what make my bowl. The broth for me is forgettable but the pork peices are excellent. They have a special friend chicken dinner that is a tough reservation to get unless you’re dilligent in checking the reservation website for openings. Lucky for me I know one of these determined eaters and have a reservation for the first week in May, I will report back if all the hype is worth it.

The Milk Bar is a few blocks away and is mainly a dessert shop. They provide tables but you have to stand. Get the cookies! My favorite are the Compost, Blueberry Cream & Corn. The crack pie is also excellent. Their cereal milk soft serve is also a local favorite.

Joe Shanghai

You really don’t need to get anything other than the soup dumplings here. I will sometimes order scallion pancake and green beans but the soup dumplings are the feature of the meal. If you’ve never eaten these before watch the people around you carefully for instruction. The wait here can be long if you come during the dinner rush (7ish) so try to come early or snack first and have a late dinner.

Halal Cart on 53rd & 6th ave.

A cheap ($6) satisfying meal of gyro and/or chicken over rice. This is supposedly the best halal cart in the city. There are quite a few imposters in the surrounding environs but there is no mistaking the real one is always the one with the ridiculously long line. Smother that plate with some white sauce, if you’re into it add some hot sauce (very spicy I’m told) mix it up and enjoy! This is no frills (it’s street food) so find a bench nearby and eat away.

Cafe Habana

This place will always be particularly fond to me since it is where I had my very first meal in New York. Get the corn; they slather some kind of cheese & paprika spread that is delicious! The cuban sandwich is also good. The restaurant tends to have a pretty lengthy wait. If you can’t wait an hour then pop on over to the adjoining take out counter around the corner. They have pretty much the same menu but you seat yourself or sit outside.

Shake Shack

Why is the East Coast always fueding with the West Coast? Rappers, sports teams and burgers (?)! Some (crazy) people are vehement in stating that the Shake Shack burger is better than California’s beloved In & Out. Personally I don’t really care about the burgers. The thing that keeps me coming to Shake Shack is the shroom burger; a portabella mushroom with cheese all fried in a crispy ball. Pair it with some cheese fries and the concrete of the day and you’ll see why the lines are always out the door. If you must try the meat pattie get the Shack Stack, same as the shroom burger but with a meat patty thrown in for good measure.

New York – pint sized edition

This little cutie is coming to visit in May

I often wonder what it’s like to be a kid in this city. I have seen the nannies on the upper west side struggling with strollers and wandering 3 year olds, dads taking their sons to central park to play catch or explaining the cosmos after a visit to the natural history museum, the groups of mothers meeting for play dates. I’m not sure how they do it, but I can understand why they do. This city is wondrous. It provides enough fodder to ignite the imagination of any child. I am 28 and I still get awestruck when I look up at the Chrysler Building , or see the New York skyline from the Brooklyn Bridge, or pop out of the subway in the evening under the bright lights of Times Square.  I’ve been making mental notes for the day of places to go when one of my nieces, nephews or god kids come out for a visit.

American Museum of Natural History – 79th @ Central Park West

This is one of my favorite places in New York, part of the reason is the little gasps from kids walking in (I feel the same way). This museum is gigantic, you can see a diorama of a blue whale, cower under dinosaur skeletons, observe butterflies in the conservatory and then sit back and listen to Whoopi Goldberg tell you about the birth of stars. They have a lot of kid specific activities too. It can be a lot to take in if you try to see everything in one visit. My suggestion is to skip out on all the various human diorama exhibits.

Central Park Zoo

I’ve never been here, so I’m actually really excited for the chance to check it out. I wonder what they do in the winter?

Central Park (in general)

There are so many things in the park for kids to enjoy: a small carnival, a castle, a zoo, fishing, boat rides, model boat sailing and lots of open space to run around on.

Brooklyn Bridge (park & the walk across into Manhattan)

Walking seemingly precariously over traffic & water, with the wind whipping your hair and loose ends of clothing about, there is nothing like a bridge to bring a little thrill to a day. There is a beautiful park on the Brooklyn side of the bridge, perfect for a little picnic (grab a pizza from Grimaldis & sit in the grass).  South Street Seaport is close by on the Manhattan side of the bridge and offers something similar to fisherman’s wharf in San Francisco. There is also a really cool playground shaped like a boat, near the Seaport.

Serendipity

This may be more of a little girl thing, but I think Serendipity is fun. There are all kinds of restaurants like it. The food is ok but the atmosphere is whimsical, like you fell down the rabbit hole and are now in Wonderland. I think their signature offering is the frozen hot chocolate.

That’s my short list of things to do with the kiddies. I’m sure there are a ton more fun things, so if you know of anything I must take Kian to, I’m open to suggestions.

Inevitabilities

So you’re visiting New York, maybe for the first time or the first time in a long time. You have been living in the relative comfort of your California lifestyle; all sunshine, cruising with the top down, wide open spaces, relaxation. Here are a few things you should probably prepare yourself for:

Improv Everywhere - Tourist Lane

You’ve got legs, now use ’em!

You are going to walk A LOT. To minimize the pain make sure to pack comfortable shoes. Don’t make the mistake of buying new shoes for your trip, you want ones that are well broken in. If you don’t want to stick out as a tourist, try not to go right for the sneakers. Flats for girls are a good option and there are all kinds of stylish street sneakers.

Prepare yourself for a brisk walking pace. If you want to avoid the white hot rage of the New York commuter, stand aside to gawk at the tall buildings and pretty lights. If I’m with you, please let me know if I’m walking to fast (sometimes I get into a zone).

You Will Get Lost

Manhattan is set up on a pretty good grid system. It doesn’t help much though when you pop your head out from the subway and have no idea if you’re looking north or south. I still get lost sometimes, and I remember visiting and walking block after block only to realize I just walked 10 blocks in the wrong direction. If you have a phone with apps it would be a good idea to download google maps and a subway map before heading out, it will help in a pinch. The quickest way to get your bearings though is to just ask someone.

Things are Expensive

That’s a picture of a $25000 sundae, it is also served here in NY. I want to estimate that the average mark up for stuff in Manhattan is $5. Want a beer? That will be $8 a cocktail $14-17. Dinner out in California would cost me about $20-30, here in New York it’s easily $35-50. I regularly shop at Whole Foods for groceries, my monthly rent check could easily rent me a nice sized CA condo.

NY is Dirty

Towering stacks of garbage bags, dog poop smeared on the street, rats on the platform, these are average sights on my morning commute. New York is a city with lots of people who produce garbage, with dogs that also produce their own special type of garbage and rats that like to sift through said garbage. Is it gross, absolutely but what are you going to do? My suggestion plug your nose and just keep walking, carry hand sanitizer & get over it.

“New Yorker’s are Jerks!”

This isn’t actually true, most people living here are pleasant, bright people. They are also incredibly busy and therefore generally don’t have time for B.S. That being said, there are also plenty of people in New York who are just bat sh*t crazy! Most of them are harmless, so just ignore them and you should be fine. If they can’t be ignored, then record it and put it on the internet

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Get Cozy

There are over a million people living in Manhattan, this doesn’t include the tourists and commuters who come in from the boroughs to work. They are all vying for space on an island that is approximately 23 sq. miles, it’s going to get crowded. My morning commute always reminds me of worker ants on an ant farm, there are just so many people trying to get to their individual jobs. My advice is to be patient. If the train is too crowded and the idea of being pressed against a total stranger freaks you out, wait for the next train it’s coming in the next 5 minutes. Streets too crowded? Take a break, sit down, get your bearings and work up the courage to brave the wave of people again. Many of the big tourists spots (Times Square, Union Square etc.) have plenty of seating for the weary tourist.

 

These are the things i hear the most complaints about so I thought I’d get them out of the way first. There are just certain things that come along with a big city, that gets a lot of tourists. If you get over them now you’ll have a more pleasant experience when you get here.

Tourist Tutorial

My friends the Washingtons let me know that they were planning a trip out to New York in May. I was ecstatic and have been mentally planning all of the fun things I can share with them. They aren’t my usual type of visitors and have presented some unique challenges in trying to figure out what would be most enjoyable for them. They are a family of three. Kian my godson is an adorable and precocious 2 year old. Jared is one of my favorite people, a picky eater and general skeptic of New York’s mass appeal. Krista is one of my oldest and dearest friends, likes good food, a good deal and is generally up for anything. As I was making my lists of Jared approved places to eat, Kian’s places to play, & Krista’s places to shop it occurred to me that most of the information I’m going to share with them is information I share with most people that visit so why not post it on the blog. So over the next few weeks I’ll share some of the places I think visitors should check out and what to skip, things to do with the kids, practical planning tips, where to eat, where to shop, and what ever else I think of.

Spoilers!

Photo by Jonathan Grassi (from the Young Lions FB page)

I attend at least one bookish event a week. I love listening to authors read and talk about their books. I was especially excited for the event hosted by the New York Public Library on Tuesday “Karen Russel in conversation with Wells Tower”. If we’ve talked books in the past year, then you’re probably aware of my fondness for Wells but Karen was a more recent discovery. I read her last book a short story collection called St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. She was also one of the most recent writers in the New Yorker’s 20 under 40 series and has been featured in the Best American Short Stories collection. I enjoyed her stories very much and saw her on a panel of the 20 under 40 at the 92 Street Y in November, where I was pleased to find that she was a genuinely nice person. She exuded that kindergarten teacher warmth, enthusiasm and silliness. I was crossing my fingers that her second book a full novel called Swamplandia would be received well. Luckily it has been, most recently receiving glowing reviews from the New York Times, NPR and even The Economist!  I planned to buy the book at the event, since she would be on hand to sign my copy.

The event was held in a lovely ballroom at the basement. It had an ornate ceiling that made you feel like you could look out and see stars twinkling. For those book nerds who have fantasies of getting married at the library, the NYPL has you covered. Going to events like this always have me silently squealing with glee at spotting authors I greatly admire. Wells and Karen are friends, it was pretty obvious by the awkward fawning over each others work. They both attended the Columbia MFA program and were on the 20 under 40 list. The conversation was good, Wells asked very detailed questions about the characters and the setting of the book. I have no reference for the Florida everglades (where Swamplandia is set), so it was interesting to hear about a place where going on a bike ride you are likely to run into alligators lying in your path. I wanted to start reading the book right then and there. Then Wells asked Karen to read an excerpt of the book, what he thought held the real power of the book. I listened intently as Karen Russell ruined the book for me!! I have never gone to a book event where the author basically gives away the ending. I felt like she had just popped the balloon of my enthusiasm. I still want to read the book, Karen is a great writer and based on the reviews and discussion I heard this book is fantastic but it has moved far down on the reading list for me. Damn it! Even without reading it I would still recommend it based on the premise alone. Set in the Florida everglades, Ava Big-Tree a 12 year old girl that comes from a family of alligator wrestlers sets out on a journey through the swamps to find her lost sister. When you read it, tell me how you feel about the turning point in the book. I ‘ll try to live vicariously through your surprise.

Wells Tower & Karen Russell laughing at me - Photo by Jonathan Grassi (from the Young Lions FB page)