Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Good times in low country

Last week I had some touristing in my own city, but this week I went a little farther afield. A friend's parents live on a beautiful barrier island near Charleston, South Carolina, and she invited me down with her for a weekend visit. It was a short trip, but so relaxing down there, that I feel quite refreshed. The tiny island where they live seems like one of the calmest places. It's totally quiet at night except for the birds and insects. Deer roam up to the house and dolphins swim by the marsh right by their dock (full disclosure: I didn't actually see any dolphins myself, but I was told about them in great detail). No one locks their doors and when we biked to the beach or the grocery store (both only 10 minutes away!) we just left them unlocked as well. It's a different world and definitely a different pace than Astoria.

At any rate, here's a few pictures from my trip: 
This was taken in their front yard. I like the ambiance of the Spanish moss and the palms. There were also beautiful azaleas and wisteria blooming everywhere (sadly not pictured). 

First day we arrived was absolutely gorgeous and perfect beach weather! This photo may be documenting the process of me getting a weird sunburn on the part of my left thigh that I somehow missed when applying sunblock, but it was worth it. 

We ate dinner the first night by the marina on the island. Unfortunately the place we were going to go was too crowded, so we ended up getting food from a place that wasn't so great. Well my food was good, but apparently nobody else's. At least we could all enjoy the lovely sunset. 

This is the view from her parent's deck during high tide. It was lovely to sit on the deck or down on the dock with a cup of coffee in the morning.

Beautiful egrets on the water! Just capturing some of the fauna of low country on our bike ride to the grocery store. 

We went into Charleston proper for a day. I didn't get that many pictures of  the beautiful old houses because we mostly drove past them, and it didn't seem worth it to photograph. Suffice is to say, Charleston is a very old and charming city though. And also contained this picturesque graveyard.

The oldest Unitarian Church in the South. Or so said the sign. We were told the ceiling inside was magnificent, but alas, it was closed. 

The Angel Oak. A beautiful old tree that is estimated to be somewhere between 400 and 1,400 years old. I guess they won't know for sure until it dies and they can count the rings, but hopefully that doesn't happen for a while. 
Charleston is definitely a very interesting city, and I'd love to spend more time there sometime. There certainly seem to be a lot of good restaurants, and we only had time to sample a couple. Those of my readers who enjoy house tours (and I know there are at least two of you) would also enjoy that aspect of it. So that's a short summary of my weekend jaunt. It was a lovely time, but I'm also happy to be back to Sam and Dinah who Sam claims did make a show of missing me in my absence.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Uptown touristing

This Saturday, in celebration of the fact that spring is finally here (sort of) and because we were invited, Sam and I headed to far uptown Manhattan to do a little tourism. We were invited by a friend in Washington Heights to try a brunch place in her neighborhood that was apparently recently highly reviewed by the New York Times. I'm wary of such things because usually no good can come from your neighborhood being "discovered" other than longer lines for brunch and higher rents. But then she owns her place and there was no wait to speak of, so I guess my concerns as an Astorian are different.

At any rate, after a lovely brunch in what clearly deserves to be highly reviewed for their steakhouse bacon alone, we decided to walk off a bit of brunch by heading through Fort Tyron Park and checking out the Cloisters.

A little bit of Spring in Fort Tyron Park. 
Hope and change.

The Cloisters are a part of the Met that contains Medieval Art in a fittingly designed castle-like building in Washington Heights. I'd been there a few times, and it always amazes me how far you can feel from the city while still on Manhattan. 

Not your typical Midtown architecture.

Me at the Cloisters. Touristing.

Some sort of saint killing Satan. 
After a short jaunt about the Cloisters, we all journeyed downtown a bit to St. John the Divine. Now this is one place I had never been, which always surprised Sam. When in Europe, I hit up the major cathedrals, but it never occurred to me to check any out in my own city. St. John the Divine is apparently the fourth largest Christian church in the world. So it's kind of amazing I never stumbled on it. It's situated near the Columbia campus in Harlem. Unlike many places in Harlem, they also have a number of peacocks roaming the grounds.

St. John the Divine. The fountain in the foreground was supposed to symbolize peace, but it had a number of giraffes depicted on it who seemed to be battling one another. 
One of the reasons for the trip to the cathedral (other than the fact that I had never been) was to see the giant phoneixes (if that's the correct plural of phoenix) on exhibit. Made of the trash from demolished buildings in Beijing and somehow transported from China to Massachusetts and then again to New York (during a January snowstorm no less), these 12 ton, 100 foot long birds, now hang from the cathedral ceiling.
Here's a close up, to get a sense of the incredible detail.
And one last look at the head.
After the church, we went to the Hungarian bakery across the street for some coffee and strudel. I felt very much like I was on vacation rather than than just spending a Saturday in the city where I've lived for almost six years. I guess that's one of the wonderful things about New York. You never do run out of things you haven't done.  

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A respite in Texas

This past weekend and the first bit of this week (hence the late posting) was spent visiting friends and family in Texas. We flew into Houston Thursday night, drove to Austin for the weekend, and then back to Houston to spend a couple of days before flying back to New York last night. It was something of a whirlwind trip, but a fun one. And one you can now re-live with me in photos!

Sam didn't believe in pulling over to the side of the freeway to take pictures of bluebonnets (it's "dangerous") so this is my best attempt at capturing the beauty of spring in Washington County. I call it "Spring in Washington County as seen at 70 miles per hour." 

These bluebonnets were not captured from a moving vehicle and were actually not in Washington County at all. These flower were growing at the arboretum in (well, near) Houston. I broke chronology and put this photo here though so that you can appreciate how much nicer bluebonnets look close up.

This photo is evidence that Sam was doing all of the picture taking on this trip. He loves graphic art. This was taken in Austin. 

Another one of Sam's shots from Austin. It's like you were there!

Two of the lovely ladies I went to Austin to see. We walked around this outdoor graffiti park and it was a lovely day for it. We probably would have walked around a little more but there was poison ivy and none of us were wearing proper footwear (not pictured).
Now to jump to Houston! (The road trip back was uneventful). My parents took us to Perry's for their famous pork chops. Alas in this photo, the pork does not appear as ridiculously massive as it does in real life. 

We went to the arboretum where the above bluebonnet photo was captured. In addition to lovely flowers, they also have very photogenic turtles.

Not surprisingly, Sam took this one as well. I think it came out very well. That said, it looks like I'm wearing some kind of all black funeral garb, so I would just like to clarify that I'm wearing a striped maxi skirt (with not enough contrast, I guess), and a dark denim jacket. It looks less goth in person. 
That about sums up the trip. It was a great deal of eating, so now I'm going to need to slowly integrate vegetables and non-fried things back into my diet. That and making 1,400 bookmarks are basically the project for this week.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Beer and tea

This was a pretty busy weekend, and one that started with a book club on Friday. Sam's niece was staying with us that night, so I made some cookie dough for the two of them to bake while I was gone. I was thinking it was just for their sake because I'm nice, but really it's also pretty awesome to return to fresh-baked cookies.

The reason Sam's niece was staying with us was because her parents were running a half marathon in Queens on Saturday morning. Naturally, we woke up, bummed around, and made blueberry pancakes. Basically the antitheses of running 13.1 miles. We did make it out to Corona Park and the finish line in time to see them cross it though. We were hanging out at the finish line for about a half hour, and it really is fun to cheer on strangers, and to see the different reactions on people's faces when they finally make it.

They held hands crossing the finish line, which was cute.  
That night, we went with a friend to see a Czech band at the Czech Consulate. I must say, since my Czech friend has moved to the city, I definitely do a lot more Czech events. I'd been to one other event at the Czech Consulate before (a suitably depressing documentary about Stalin's gulags); however, Saturday's event was a free concert by an alternative rock band called Please the Trees. When we got there, we were surprised to find the audience was roughly the same demographic as for the gulag movie: mostly people over 60. It was not your typical rock concert audience, but all I knew about the band was that the poster my friend sent me had a naked woman on it, so maybe they had a greater reach? There was no chairs as generally befits a rock concert, but after enough people agitated for them chairs were brought.

The band eventually took the stage to a smattering of applause. Then they actually started to play. I'm not exaggerating when I say that within 30 seconds of their starting to play, about ten people got up and left. I think a lot of the audience were just people who come to all the events at the Czech Consulate  out of habit, and they hadn't actually investigated what this on was. In their defense, the band was not "a less exposed Arcade Fire" as advertised. They were interesting. We all agreed their covers were excellent, and their own songs a little less so. The lead singer actually had a pretty cool voice, and I think part of the problem was the equipment they were working with, but they also seemed to be rehearsing new dance moves or something. Something about their stage presence didn't quite gel. They do get points for a good band name though.

At one point the singer put down his guitar and put on a creepy wicker mask. Again, they could probably work on their staging a bit. 
After the concert (we stayed for the whole thing because we felt bad about their audience hemorrhaging so early), we went to the excellent beer hall below the Czech Consulate which serves a number of traditional pilsners. Now that was worth the trip.

On Sunday, I met at friend at the Coffee and Tea Festival which is my new favorite festival. It was in an armory pretty close to my office, but I've somehow never noticed this huge building. You could smell the hot beverage goodness wafting out of it before you even walked in the door. Inside there were tons of booths with different tea sellers, many of whom I'd never heard of. I would say it was 70% tea and 30% coffee, which was fine with me because while I drink a fair amount of coffee, I'm not much of a connoisseur, but tea I can get behind.

The land of tea and coffee!
We tried some interesting blends including one that was a tea but actually has espresso in it as well. I came away with enough samples to get me through the rest of the tea season (I don't really do ice tea, so once it gets hot here, I quit drinking the stuff). I actually only bought one box of tea at the expo, and that was less because of the tea (although it was good), and more because of the packaging. A mother and her two daughters run the tea company that grows all of their tea in Kenya. The packaging is all unique pictures of African life made out of banana leaves by local women who are paid a living wage. I'm not going to open it until I finish all my tea samples, so if I don't get to it by the time it gets warm here, I might make a gift of it, if any of my reader's are interested. The tea itself is a rooibos.
You can kind of see the cute packaging in this photo. 

Anyway, that about sums up my weekend. It's supposed to snow again this week, which doesn't really seem possible. But hey, at least I have tea.

Monday, March 17, 2014

And whistle goes on...

Happy St. Patrick's Day, readers! I realized today that for the past two years, I've honored this occasion with some enjoyable (well, for me anyway) jigs and reels on the tin whistle. Unfortunately, I've mostly stopped playing the tin whistle. The trouble began when my original teacher moved on from the Irish Arts Center, and I wasn't a fan of the new teacher. Even as I decided not to continue taking classes, I vowed to myself I would continue practicing. I even bought a 3-ring binder to organize all of my sheet music in. Fast forward a year (and a couple of months...) and the 3-ring binder with all my music crammed in it (not in the holes mind you, just stuck inside in no particular order) is under my bed gathering dust and cat hair. My tin whistle itself has somehow found its home at the bottom of my underwear drawer like some dirty secret I'm hiding from my non-existent maid.

Dinah was never displeased by my tin whistle drop-out status. 
Seeing as it is St. Patrick's Day though, and seeing as I have no other St. Patrick's Day related plans, I decided to dust off the ole binder and see if I couldn't still play a tune. Since the tin whistle is one of the easier instruments out there, it wasn't hard to get back up to speed...or maybe not up to speed, but at least a slow plod. I even decided to make a video this year, so as not to falter tradition. Unfortunately, the only song I could still remember (reading sheet music feels like a cheat somehow) is a simple polka "Maggie in the Woods." And I use "remember" pretty loosely.

Here's this year's video. You may note the pained expression on my face and think this is perhaps not a celebratory St. Patty's video at all, but trust that that is merely my frantically-trying-to-remember-the-next-note face, and not indicative of any repressed holiday hatred. Also, I did mess up a number of times, but I have a conference call in a bit, so I can't do a second take. Another reason to not do another take is that Dinah seems less than pleased that the tin whistle has found its resurgence.  All that naysaying aside, if you still want to check it out, feel
free! If anything I think it can serve as a cautionary tale: stay in (tin whistle) school, kids. You'll only embarrass yourself later.

As further St. Patrick's Day cheer and a precursor to Macaron Day later in the week (who could forget Macaron Day?), I might attempt to make some green macarons later in the day. Also because I made ice cream over the weekend and have a ton of egg whites to get rid of. If this does, in fact, happen, I'll make sure to post about it tomorrow. In the mean time, enjoy your St. Patrick's Day plans, whatever they may be!

Monday, March 10, 2014

And on Saturdays, we climb ice walls

This weekend, Sam and I went up to the Catskills for a lovely day of ice climbing. When booking the trip a couple of weeks ago, I was a little wary of the weather because it's been a pretty harsh winter, and the ice climbing trip guide explained we would be outside for 6 to 7 hours and to dress accordingly. As a non-skier or winter hiker, I didn't have adequate outer wear but fearful statements on the trip guide like "cotton kills" at least scared me enough to make an attempt to buy snow pants the day before. Turns out everyone is out of ski attire by March. As luck would have it though, this past Saturday was mild and sunny. I didn't even break out all of my layers (although I was at any given time still wearing about four of them).

A beautiful March day in the Catskills. 
After a couple of hours of driving from the city, we arrived at a small parking lot and met up with the rest of our mountain guides.  They outfitted us with helmets, crampons, ice axes, and mountaineering boots--really all the ingredients of a successful day of not falling off of mountains. The hike up to the ice fall that we would be climbing was a bit more treacherous than I would have thought. There was no trail, so we were basically just walking up a steep mountainside through a few feet of snow. The crampons helped for the most part to make me feel less like I was about to careen over the edge, but on some of the softer snow, my feet definitely sank down a ways. I guess this is where snow pants would have come in handy.
We didn't climb this, but isn't it beautiful? 
After about a half hour hike, we reached the day's ice climbing spot. One of the guides had run ahead and already anchored one of the ropes, and while they demonstrated how to ice climb, another guide was able to hang a few more. So by the time they'd gone over the basics, there were a number of courses all ready to climb.

Climbing an icy cliff, like a pro. Probably because this was one of the pros. 
This was my first time ice climbing, and I have to say, it's very different from rock climbing. I'm not sure if it's harder or not, but I will say being good at rock climbing doesn't really help you. When I rock climb, I tend to move faster as I get tired just to get through it. I also will jump for things and grab at holds I can't actually manage for every long. In ice climbing every step has to be deliberate, and you can't move on until you've firmly planted each limb. You anchor both axes (harder than the guides made it look!) and then you carefully move each foot up a little bit at a time and kick into the ice with the crampons.
This is me. Probably resting
The main thing that I found tiring about ice climbing, other than the forearm workout, was the grip strength. By the end of a climb, it was difficult to hold onto the axes, and I kept feeling like I was going to drop one. On the plus side, the climbs themselves did get slightly easier throughout the day because you could see where other climbers had made indentions in the ice and use those to plant your axes. Still not easy, but a little better.

While I was having issues with the technical aspects of ice climbing, Sam had the added bonus of facing his fear of heights. I'm lucky that he always is willing to go along on these little adventures, and luckier still that he doesn't have interests like caving that would exploit my own fears (claustrophobia).

You'd never know he's not a fan of heights.
Overall, it was a lovely day, and we both had a lot of fun. It's always nice to get out of the city, and the fact that we were gifted fine weather made it that much nicer. I'm not sure ice climbing will become a regular hobby for either of us (if for not other reason than because it's cost prohibitive), but it's always nice to try something new.
There's at least five layers in this photos. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Bard's Cards

I do believe everyone who reads this thing will already be familiar with this new venture through some form of social media or direct email, but I did promise a post about it. Today was the official launch date of the Shakespeare greeting card line The Bard's Cards that Sam and I have been working on for the past few months.

We're every excited to share them with people, and while I realize I send out a few more greeting cards than I receive, I know there are fellow card senders out there still. I'm hoping they find our site and am doing some social media advertising to try to encourage them to. If anyone reading this knows anyone who might benefit from such a product make sure to send them here: The Bards Cards.

While we're new to the business side of things and don't have nearly as much fun entering tax data and estimating shipping costs as we do with the creative part, Sam and I have been having a good time working together on this. Naturally, he manages all of the art and design, and I just bumble my way through the works of William Shakespeare and try to think of cute animals. Equally difficult and fun jobs, both. We may not get rich doing this, but we're excited to see where this goes.

And now I promise to keep all further spamming/advertising/what-have-you off this blog and save it for  the Bard's Card's blog. Have a wonderful weekend, readers!