Thursday, May 19, 2016

Springtime at the New York Botanical Garden

In the midst of some truly awful New England springtime weather systems and some truly wonderful travel opportunities to exotic tropical locations, J and I managed to find an entire day that was a.) a Saturday b.) warm and sunny and c.) one in which we were both free and in town. And while J had visions of curling up on the couch and doing nothing all afternoon, I was all nope! Look at this glorious day! It's a day made for doing things! And we're gonna do those things! And then I pressed pause on the music I had swelling underneath my proclamation and we headed straight for the New York Botanical Garden.

I'm a sucker for a good garden walk, and this one did not disappoint (but with over 250 acres and home to the largest botanical library in the Americas, I was not expecting someone's backyard garden). I lost myself in a sea of azaleas and tulips, and while walking one of the many trails, we were able to have a few moments where we didn't see any other people or hear anything but birdcalls above us - a rarity for New York City.

If you find yourself at the garden, I highly recommend taking the tram tour. It's a (roughly) half-hour narrated, hop-on-hop-off tour that's not just a good way to get from one corner of the park to the other, but is also surprisingly interesting and informative. I for one know so little about plants and trees and anything else that grows naturally from the ground (oo look a pink flower! a tree with leaves!) that I was able to learn a good amount of flower and tree types and the history of the surrounding Bronx area on the tour.

We lasted a good three hours before our allergies got the best of us, but we felt the benefits of being amongst nature and out in the fresh air long after we returned home.

If you go:
*Getting to the New York Botanical Garden is a hike - if you're inclined to take public transportation, it's a 20-minute walk from the nearest subway or a ride on the Metro-North. If you can, take a car - although with tolls and a $15 parking fee, you could easily find yourself spending over twenty dollars before you even get inside the garden.
* An All-Garden Pass (which includes entrance to the Conservatory and the Tram Tour) is $25 for adults on the weekends ($20 on weekdays), but if you just want to walk the grounds and not see any special exhibits a $13 Grounds Only ticket is available. The Garden has two Ground Only Free Days - Wednesdays (all day) and Saturdays from 9a - 10a.
*So is it worth it? Possibly - we used a corporate discount and got our entire entrance fee waived, so our expenses were simply tolls and parking. I might be singing a different song if we had spent $50 to walk around the gardens when I knew that a similar (although not as good) "nature walk" could be had for free in the much more accessible Central Park. Find a coupon or discount code if you can, or take advantage of the Gardens-Only options if you're looking to save some pennies.
*Hours, directions, and a whole lot more info can be found here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Sunrise, Sunset

I keep a lot of lists. Like, a ton of them. I have New Year's Resolutions that I make a good effort to keep, I make obsessive daily to-do lists, I keep an eye on the larger week-long and month-long goals, and just for fun, I often break my larger lists into smaller, more attainable lists that are project and/or task specific. But then there's my other list, the one that I go weeks, even months without ever thinking about or making progress on - it's cliché to say and almost passé to have, but I have a bucket list. Or rather, a Things To Do Before I Die list. I'm currently on Version #4 of this list - I made the first version in the basement of my childhood home when I was 13 after reading an entry by John Goddard in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book (don't judge - it was the 90's), and I pretty much copied his list but changed the nouns to suit my teenage taste.

Over the years I allowed myself to delete, add, and adapt some of the entries, and my current version has 101 items. By design, some of the goals are achievable with effort ("learn to juggle"), some I just need to get around to doing ("send a message in a bottle"), and others I know I may never accomplish but will nevertheless enjoy trying ("write an article for National Geographic"). Often times, I seek out experiences or actions that will allow me to cross something off this list - #12 is "see the Parthenon" and while I certainly didn't structure my entire honeymoon around my bucket list, it's not entirely accidental that one of our stops on our cruise will be to Athens. But there are other instances where I realize I accomplished something only after the fact, like the time the photographer got sick and I was the one to take all the publicity photos that got published in the New York Times ("#41 - have a photograph printed somewhere").

Serendipity graced me with her presence last week when I unknowingly checked off #96 - "see the sunrise and the sunset from the same spot on the same day". I was working an event in Cabo, Mexico that was in the middle of the gorgeous Baja dessert, but since I was on the clock, it was never a guarantee that I'd be able to catch even a glimpse of the sunset. As luck would have it though, the schedule was in my favor - my first major task of the evening wrapped up well before the sun started to set, and I was able to spend golden hour at dinner. After eating, it was time to check in back at the production tent (which coincidentally provided a pretty great view of the sunset that was starting to bloom), where I learned that my next task would be to deal with a dozen mini digital film projectors (long story). There's not much you can do with a projector while it's still light out, so I was able to soak in the entirety of the stunning sunset. I smiled, I snapped a couple of photos, and then I made for those projectors like it was my job (because it actually was).

By the end of the evening, I was feeling pretty good. The projectors had behaved exactly as I needed them to, and my boss let me have a celebratory cocktail during the last half hour of the event. But before I got too comfortable, I was reminded of our call time the next morning - we needed to be back on the property at 6am. Which wouldn't have been so terrible, except that it was nearing 1am by the time we were ready to go back to our hotel that was 20 minutes away from the event space.

A quick, three-hour nap later, we were back in the van and driving through the pitch-blackness of Mexican dessert roads. The good people at the entrance gate let our bleary-eyed selves in, and I found myself back at that stupid production tent (please note: I don't hate the production tent. I love the production tent. I was just reaaallllyyy tired). But then I noticed that things were changing. Specifically, it was getting lighter out - which I eventually realized is what happens WHEN THE SUN RISES!!! You have to understand something: I don't see a lot of sunrises in my day-to-day. I work in theater and production, and especially in the wintertime, I don't even leave for work until it's already dark out. But there I was, standing in the exact same spot I was in just 12 hours beforehand, watching the sun rise over the mountains. So I snapped a few more pictures, thanked the sun gods and goddesses, and got straight to work on packing up the mini projectors because the faster I finished strike the faster I could go back to bed.

Please note: I realize that my original entry in my List of Things to do Before I Die said "photograph the sunrise and the sunset from the same place on the same day" and that technically, my sunrise and sunset were from two different days. But whatever. I saw consecutive sun movements and since I'm the only one who actually cares about my list, I'm calling it a goal accomplished.   :)

Thursday, May 12, 2016

status update

Thanks to a recently diagnosed tree nut allergy, I've been starting my mornings with an egg as opposed to my usual bowl of allergens vanilla almond cereal. I'm uncomplicated when it comes to my eggs - one egg scrambled and fried on a piece of toast, sprinkle some shredded cheese during the last five seconds of cooking, maybe a swipe of avocado if I'm feeling fancy. It's quick, easy, and foolproof, and I've been making my eggs like this for quite some time now (and even more so now that I have to remove my beloved cereal routine). Except that this morning I completely screwed it up. I don't know if I added too much milk or didn't use enough heat or maybe I scrambled the uncooked egg too vigorously? Whatever errors I made, the egg was bubbly and oversized and entirely too runny and took over the toast like a b-movie blob. I still ate it, though. Runny or not, it was still an edible breakfast, and anything can be tasty if you cover it in enough cheese.

*Speaking of breakfast, it's 8am somewhere
*And speaking of cheese...
*Nail biters anonymous
*There's more than one way to write a recipe
*An old friend and her new endeavor
*This is everything I love about everything (did I mention I love this?)

Thursday, May 5, 2016

book report #8

*The Story of a New Name (Elena Ferrante) I was hooked by book no. 1, and now with this second Neapolitan Novel, I have become fully addicted to all things Ferrante. It's a little like the first-year psychology student discovering that he has all the issues he's studying, but I found so much of myself, my teenage years, and my current feelings toward life-long friendships in this book that it was almost as if I was reading my parallel universe. I'm at the mercy of the Queens Public Library to decide when I get to read the third book, but if it takes much longer I may just buy the series myself.

*Among the Ten Thousand Things (Julia Pierpont) a slightly disjointed narrative that annoyed me at first, but then I got used to it. I can't say I ever got fully onboard with this book, but the storyline was interesting, if not the tiniest bit tired (husband cheats on wife, their entire family derails). A quick read that does well on airplanes and subways.

*I Will Teach You To Be Rich (Ramit Sethi) I haven't proselytized a book in quite some time, but I cannot shut up about this book. Seriously, ask my friends. I've talked about the financial lessons I gained in this wonderfully comprehensive and plainly stated how-to book over dinner with friends, in bed with my fiancee, to my parents around the breakfast table, on the subway, at work, and even while driving a golf cart in Hawaii - because it's just that good and easy to understand. By breaking down money management to its' most elementary terms and practices, Sethi makes having and keeping money entirely possible. I read this book off a suggestion of a fellow blogger and wish I'd read it five years ago. But there is NO time like the present to get started on making smart financial decisions that will benefit you for the rest of your life.

*The House of the Spirits (Isabel Allende) it took me a REALLY long time to get into this book. It's not a nice story - set in pre-revolutionary Chile, the men are mean, the women are persecuted, the rapes are rampant, and there was such a graphic abortion scene that I had to skim over a few pages. However, once we met the mother of this multi-generational saga, the harshness of the characters' lives eased up (slightly) and things got good. Above everything else, it's a beautiful tale of love, life, and revolution in an era and country I know so little about. Also, it counts as the second of ten translated works I'm hoping to read this year.

*The Vacationers (Emma Straub) A light, quick, and breezy read (which I really appreciated after the heaviness of the aforementioned Allende), but nonetheless surprisingly poignant and delicately written. The setting (a two-week vacation in Mallorca) didn't hurt either, nor did the dime-store descriptions of the sexy Spanish tutor. The perfect beach book.

*A Little Life (Hanya Yanagihara) Devastating, depressing, and over 800 pages long, yet somehow also easy to read and impossible to put down. By the last 100 pages, I was crying so hard that I could barely read the words on the page, and this book was ultimately the catalyst for not one, but two evenings of actual weeping. This was my pick for my book club (I know, good job, Mar) and everyone who finished the book had equal-if-not-worse visceral reactions to any one of the horribly violent and sadistic rape scenes. One member had such bad nightmares that she threw in the towel at page 400 and didn't even finish the book. So it it worth a read? Well, the ensuing discussion at book club was one of the longest and deepest we've ever had - so many themes and questions emerged from the reading that we couldn't stop talking about it. If you're looking for a meaty but upsetting tome to sink your teeth into, this book is for you. Just be warned that it is not a nice story.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Quality Meats

I was recently on a flight (MCO - LGA) where I was trying with all my might to ignore the screaming children seated behind me. They were old enough to know better, and even if they didn't know better, their grandmother, seated in the aisle seat (the children were in the middle and window seats, respectively), most certainly should have been proactive in keeping them quiet. She, unfortunately, fell into a deep sleep before we even got off the runway in Orlando and remained in said sleep until we landed two hours and twenty three minutes later in New York.

I know all this about the family behind me because the children started screaming as soon as they sat down. Both I and my next-seat neighbor (me, window seat; he, middle) startled forward at the first of hundreds of kicks to the back of our seats, and I, already tired and annoyed at having to get up well before my usual wake-up time to make a 10am flight, grumbled something under my breath about how these kids will NOT scream through this entire flight if I have anything to say about it.

"I'll hold you to it!" said the man.

"Pshyeah!" I stammered, not realizing that I actually said my inside thoughts aloud.

Then an announcement came over the loudspeakers, the man closed his eyes and laid his head back, and I stuffed my earphones into my ears and tried to let the cool tones of Hoda and Kathie Lee lull me into oblivion (thanks, JetBlue!) as I mindlessly paged through a magazine.

The kids would not stop. At one point I was driven from mere passive-aggressive thinking to actual communication when, after sustaining yet another kick to the back of my seat, I lurched over my chair and said to the boy, "hey buddy, when you kick the back of my seat I feel it, ok?" He nodded blankly and to my surprise, ceased all extraneous movement.

For about 20 minutes, that is. Halfway through the flight, the child in the middle seat let loose a kick so hard I was surprised the captain didn't ask everyone to brace themselves for turbulence. The man next to me flew forward in his seat, glanced sideways at me, and said "I thought you were going to keep them quiet."

I shook my head. "I tried! And I failed miserably!"

He laughed. "Ah well. Looks like I'm not getting my nap in this morning."

"And I guess I'm not reading this magazine today," I sighed as I silenced Kathie Lee.

"I'm Mark," he said as he extended his hand. "What brings you to New York?"

And with that, we began as all pleasant airplane conversations begin. I told him how I was between gigs and had seized an opportunity to spend a few days in Florida at a friend's parent's house (free food! In-ground pool!!), and he told me how he used to travel from his home in Connecticut to New York on business all the time, but that he's retired now and has permanently relocated to Florida. We talked about jobs and politics and the weather and the Queensboro Bridge and how I'm an only child and he has two kids and six grandchildren, all girls. Eventually, I got around to inquiring why he was on his way to New York.

"Well," he said, matter-of-factly, "I'm going to have dinner with an old buddy of mine. One of my closest friends, in fact. We met on the golf course forty years ago, and we were foes when we started out because we were always trying to beat each other's score. But eventually we realized that we liked hanging out more than we liked playing golf, so we gave up the game and started being friends. People used to call us TooTall and TooSmall (he was very tall, you see, and while you can't see it because I'm sitting down, I'm actually very short!), and they'd see us coming and say, 'Oh look, there's TooTall and TooSmall, together again!' We even went into business together for a while, and even though we're both retired now, we talk on the phone two, maybe three times a week. But he just got diagnosed with stage-four cancer and was given only a few months to live, so I'm going to New York for the evening to have one last dinner with him. We're going to Quality Meats for steak and then we're going to find a nice quiet bar and have a couple cocktails and reminisce about the old days. This'll probably be the last time I see him."

I was very quiet for a while. "I am so sorry to hear that. That's the saddest thing I've heard in quite some time. I hope you have a good time tonight...?"

"Oh we will! It'll be good to see him again. And don't be too sad, he's lived a good long life and we've been lucky to have been friends for so long. I'm just grateful that I get to do this. But this is the important thing: live your life so that one day, you too can buy a last-minute plane ticket to say goodbye to your friend. Not everyone has the means or the freedom to do something like this, but I do, and I'm grateful for it."

We began our descent into New York not long after that. The plane came to a full and complete stop, the seatbelt sign went off, and we stood for the never ending process that is disembarking a plane, taking the opportunity to glare at the oblivious children and grandmother behind us (I noticed, with more than a little satisfaction, that I was not the only passenger in the vicinity shooting angry looks at the family). But secretly, I was the tiniest bit thankful for those obnoxious kids and their headphone-less iPads. How often do we actually talk to the stranger seated next to us on an airplane?

I'm not suggesting that every flight is going to be accompanied by moving and thought-provoking dialogue. People are often at their worst during times of travel (I know I am), and the last thing I want to do is be stuck next to some bloviating armchair politician while speeding through the air in a flying tin can 20,000 feet above the earth.

But sometimes you have to throw caution to the wind (and throw out all hopes of rest or magazine-reading) and talk to the person sharing your recycled air, because you just might be granted the gift of a beautiful story.