The Big Apple

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a big Broadway musicals fan, and I instantly fell in love with “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” when I discovered the movie back in 2010 or so. So when it was rumored that year that it would be coming to Broadway, and later when it was confirmed (and with Neil Patrick Harris in the role), I was so excited and simply had to find a way to go. Enter my rockin’ friend Serenity, fellow Broadway lover who happens to have an uncle who lives in Manhattan who is willing to let us crash there, which takes out quite a bit of the cost for a trip to New York City. Emails were exchanged, airline tickets were secured, and tickets were bought. Serenity and I had first tackled NYC together back in December 2010, but this time we’d be returning to the city at the opposite time of year and had two primary things in mind: musicals and food! Our first NYC adventure kept us to the main touristy areas (on purpose, as it was my first visit ever), but this time we wanted to venture a little more away from the typical tourist path in some regards, and I think we accomplished that. It was an amazing weekend that left us both with very fond memories.

Here is a rough summary of our weekend, brought to you by bullet points:
* I was heading up on Thursday (June 19), and my flight out was pretty early (6:20 a.m.). No issues on the way up there. We landed a little before 8:30 a.m., then I found my shuttle that would take me to Grand Central Terminal. The shuttle was time-consuming because we had to stop at every other terminal at LGA, but it was worth saving the money and not feeling like I was going to die in a cab (as was the case last time).
* I got to Grand Central probably around 10:15 a.m. or so, and walked the 2 1/2 blocks to my company’s office, as I was going to meet the New York colleagues that I work with every day but hadn’t ever met in person. I was pretty nervous to be going to the office because I wanted to make a good impression, but I sucked it up and powered through. Everyone was really nice, mostly sticking to small talk of my trip up there and asking what I was going to be doing. They had their usual midmorning budget meeting, which I sat in on, then another co-worker took me around to a little more of the office and made some more introductions. They were very busy that day, especially with my absence (I had at least four people threaten to put me to work while I was there, and they really would have let me if I’d agreed…which I did not!), so I left around 11 so I could escape doing work!* I walked back down to Grand Central and went inside to use the bathroom and change clothes (I’d traveled in nice clothes so I’d look nice at the office but didn’t want to play tourist in those clothes), and I also picked up a few postcards to send to my family. Serenity wasn’t quite in town yet, but she was expecting to be at her uncle’s apartment in Gramercy Park relatively soon, so I started making my way downtown to meet her. I found a bagel store around 30th St. that I stopped at and got a bagel and wrote out my postcards before continuing to the apartment. I figured we’d end up arriving around the same time, and sure enough, I was about half a block away when I got a text that she was there.* We freshened up briefly, then got to the business at hand: FOOD! Lunch that day was at Umami Burger, scoped out specifically because they had a truffle burger and truffle fries. We had maybe a 15-minute wait for a table, but the place was relatively small so I wasn’t too surprised, even though it was on the later side for lunch.

* Weather that day was not really hot, but it was VERY humid, and I’d had some sprinkles on my walk downtown. (I didn’t have an umbrella with me, but I did end up putting on my hat to keep it off my face, at least.) When we left the restaurant, it was raining a little more, so instead of wandering to the Freedom Tower area like we thought we might do, we decided to head back to the apartment and wait for the rain to go away. On the way back, we ran across Strand Book Store, so I said I wanted to go in there, so we spent maybe half an hour or 45 minutes in there before returning to the apartment and hanging out for a bit.

* Around 4:30 p.m. or so, we headed back uptown to go to Times Square so we’d be near our show that night. The plan was to meet Serenity’s uncle and one of his friends for drinks at 7 before the 8 p.m. show. We originally hadn’t planned to eat dinner since we ate a late lunch, but we went to the drinks place and decided just to go ahead and eat a lighter dinner. Dinner/drinks were at Heartland Brewery Burger, and I had a southwest chicken salad, and we each had what they billed as “the world’s smallest ice cream sundae,” which was just the perfect amount in a little shot glass.

* Went over to the bar area to finish up drinks, then we went over to the Belasco Theater for Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Our seats were first row balcony, though we did have to lean forward a little to see over the balcony rail if there was anything going on at the front of the stage. I was a little afraid I’d built this show up too much in my mind and I was going to be disappointed, but I was not disappointed at ALL. It was all that I wanted it to be — and more. And definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I loved leaving there knowing I’d seen a musical, but with my ears feeling like I’d been at a concert. And Neil Patrick Harris rocked the role. I’m going to be high on seeing that show for quite a while! Anyway, after the show, we got on the subway and went back to the apartment and went to bed pretty soon after since I’d been up since like 4 a.m.

* On Friday, we got up around 7:30 a.m., got ready, then went to get bagels at the bagel place around the corner that I like. After that, we walked south to the South Street Seaport, where one of the TKTS ticket booths is. It was a long-ass walk — much longer than I anticipated. But hey, that’s how you see the city, right? We got there about 20 minutes before they opened at 11, then had to wait maybe 20 or 30 minutes to get through the line, if that, and we got tickets for Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill for that night, which was our first choice. Seventh row orchestra, though in fairness, it was a small theater (and seats on three sides of the stage), so there wasn’t really a bad seat in the place. After getting tickets, we walked over to the Financial District and went by the Freedom Tower, then made the hike across the Brooklyn Bridge, which is well over a mile long each way. We had a GORGEOUS day out that day — the humidity from the day before had disappeared, and it was sunny and low 70s, what I consider perfect weather.

* The trek across the bridge took about an hour, mostly because there was a lot of foot traffic, and also accounting for stopping for pictures and just to enjoy the views. I’d say more than half of the people stopped and turned around about a third of the way on the bridge, with a small percentage of people making the whole trip over the Brooklyn, going by the fact that it was a lot less crowded after that point. We chose Grimaldi’s pizza for lunch, and there was a small wait for a table, but since we were just a party of two, we were able to keep it at a ten-minute wait. After all that walking, we were definitely hungry, and we ordered the basic pizza with basil and fresh mozzarella. We stuck to a small to share, and even that was pretty big. Mind you, we did finish it, but it was a lot of food! And it was so good! With stuffed bellies, we proceeded to the waterfront area of Brooklyn for some pictures and wandering. We went to a cookie shop that sold whoopie pies, which we bought with the intention of eating later, but they were small, and of course would have been smooshed in our bags, so we had to eat them then!

* We knew we’d have quite a hike back to Manhattan, so we went ahead and crossed the bridge again, then walked up to Canal Street and caught the subway up to Penn Station, then walked the rest of the way to Times Square to scope out our options for dinner that night. (Always thinking about food, remember?) We ended up at a pub called Emmett O’Lunney’s on 50th Street near our theater for that night. I got a chicken balsamic sandwich and fries, and it was sooo good! After dinner, we still had some time to kill before the show, so we found Junior’s and got slices of cheesecake and plopped on the sidewalk in a little courtyard area to enjoy that. The show was at 8 p.m., and it was terrific. I’d seen the show in college at the Actor’s Guild in our town, and I was hoping I hadn’t oversold Serenity on it, but it was so good. You can definitely see why Audra McDonald has won so many Tonys, including for this! After the show, we went to a restaurant called Bobby Van’s to meet Serenity’s uncle for drinks.

* On Saturday, we slept in a little, then went to get our usual bagels around the corner. We did a little shopping, then took the subway from Union Station up to the Bronx so we could meet a couple of girls from my parenting board for lunch. One girl picked us up at the train station, and conversation flowed instantly, which is great when you’ve not actually met someone in person before. She drove us to the restaurant, Zero Otto Nove, which is located on Arthur Avenue, generally referred to as the REAL Little Italy of New York City. I’m very glad we ventured off the usual tourist path to go there…my pasta dish was very good! We met the other girl outside the restaurant (and we all clicked with her too) and went inside to get a table. I’m not sure I could have asked for a better lunch — conversation was just great, covering a wide range of topics, both serious and funny, and nothing seemed awkward or forced.

* After lunch, I said that I wanted to go to one of the Italian bakeries for cannoli, so we went to a place a couple doors down. Again, we bought a whole box of mini-goodies, with the intention of taking some with us, but we sat there long enough (probably another hour or more) that we ate all of them again. Oops. We ended up leaving there around 4 p.m., with one of the girls taking us back to a train station (this time in Harlem), though we got extra time in the car with her because we accidentally got stuck in traffic when a Yankees game let out.

* We took the subway from Harlem down to a stop near the south part of Central Park, walking through the park some on the way down to the Times Square TKTS booth. We had about a 20-minute wait in the TKTS line, and they had it fairly well organized (especially considering how chaotic Times Square itself can be). Got tickets to see Phantom of the Opera that night, again our top choice of the ones being offered.

* We went to a place called Playwright Celtic Pub on 8th Avenue where I had a cajun southwest chicken salad that was pretty good. We searched for some local ice cream, but it’s not all that abundant in the Times Square area, it turns out. Lots of bakeries, yes, but we were after ice cream. So we had to settle for going to Rockefeller Center and getting ice cream at a Ben and Jerry’s (which, in fairness, we don’t have their stores here, just the pints in the grocery stores). After ice cream and a phone-recharging break, we went back to 44th Street for Phantom (1st row mezzanine on the left), which we enjoyed, but I was mildly disappointed that we got the understudy that night, especially since I was really hoping to see this Sierra Boggess in the role. After the show, we braved Times Square again (which is madness on a Saturday night after theaters have let out) and went to the Disney store to collect souvenirs for our kids, then we walked back to the apartment, and had a couple glasses of wine with Serenity’s uncle, staying up until about 1 a.m. talking.

* By this point, I had a pretty bad blister on my left pinky toe, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as the blisters I had last trip, and I was able to bandage it fine and it wasn’t an issue (until after I got home and it was healing). I’m not sure how I could have prevented it, though — I wore my best walking shoes all around town, and just wore my black sandals right before a show (so, no walking for blocks and blocks in those). We just did an insane amount of walking. Miles and miles and miles.


* On Sunday, we decided to do brunch. First we went to the bagel place and got half a dozen to go, since that’s what I was taking The Husband back. We then stopped at a coffee shop for Serenity to get some coffee, and I ended up getting a homemade strawberry poptart there. (Yes, on the WAY to brunch. LOL) It was tasty!

* We walked a couple miles to the Village and picked Jane for our brunch location, which had about a half-hour wait. I had a farmhouse popover, which was a popover and on the inside it had scrambled eggs mixed with cheese, caramelized onion, and ham, and it was delicious! After brunch, we went up to the meatpacking district and walked the High Line, an old rail track that has been converted to a nice, raised urban walk. By the time we got over there, it was pretty crowded, but I’m glad we did it. We walked on that up to 30th Street, then took the subway from 30th up to 72nd Street so we could go to Central Park again and spend some more time there.

* It was again a very nice day weather-wise, so we found some green space in the park and plopped down, enjoying the day and relaxing some. After that, we went on another search for some local, unique ice cream, and we pretty much had given up, which I’ll admit disappointed me a little. But then we happened upon a street that was closed for a street fair, so we cut across through there, drawn to the music. And what did we find there but a food truck selling artisan ice cream! Exactly the kind of thing I was looking for! I got candied ginger and lavender honey, both really good and unique.

* My blister was kind of hurting, but we decided to walk from 72nd street down to the apartment (between 19th and 20th) because it was going to be my last time making my way through the city, and again, that’s how you experience things! We stopped briefly at an antique shop that caught my eye (and I’m not even an antiques person, but this store was neat), then went back to the apartment to finish packing up, which I’d mostly done before we left that morning, so that didn’t take long.

* Serenity’s uncle took us to dinner at one of his favorite nearby places, L’Express, where I had a delicious burger and fries, which sort of bookended the trip since I’d started the trip with that truffle burger. We went back to the apartment to get our suitcases a little after 6 p.m., and Serenity drove me to the airport on her way out of town. We boarded around 8:15 p.m., but we didn’t end up taking off (finally) until midnight. On the first attempt, we started taxiing, but we didn’t actually make it to the runway because they said we had to return to the gate for maintenance. After a long process, they got that fixed (supposedly), and we went back to taxiing and got to the runway this time. Lined up for takeoff, got about a third of the way down the runway for takeoff, but instead of lifting up, we came to a quick stop and aborted the takeoff. I’ll tell you, I’m not personally a nervous flyer, but there is something disconcerting about an aborted takeoff — it kind of rattles you! So we went back to the gate AGAIN for maintenance. Finally after getting that fixed, getting a new flight plan, etc., we took off right at midnight (having been on the plane for almost 4 hours by this point). I dozed for most of the flight, though it wasn’t a very restful sleep.

* We touched down right at 1:40 a.m., then I was home by about 2:15 a.m. by the time I got off the plane and walked to my car and paid for parking. I was so incredibly tired when I got home, and finally managed to get to sleep by 3 a.m. — and had a 5:30 a.m. alarm set for work the next day! Getting through Monday was very difficult, which I expected it would be (my original flight was going to arrive around 10:45 p.m.), but it was a lot more than I expected. I managed to go to bed by about 8:45 p.m. that night, and clearly I needed it, because I slept perfectly that night.

All in all, it was an awesome trip. Once again we fit in so much, but this time we veered a little from the typical tourist activities, and ate our way through three boroughs. I wouldn’t call it a relaxing trip by any means, but it was a good trip to allow myself some grown-up time and recharge those batteries. Already can’t wait until the next trip, whenever that may be. I still haven’t done any museums there, so maybe we do a museums trip next time. (Who am I kidding? I’d still want to see a couple shows, at least.) And we largely stuck to American/pub foods this time (plus some Italian, I guess), so I said maybe next time I’ll be brave and branch out to some more ethnic types of foods (even though that’s not usually my preferred cuisine).



Tuesday, June 10, 2014
We started out going to a small, sole-proprietor daycare with The Big Sis back in April 2007, then The Little Sis started going there when she began daycare in October 2011. Once The Big Sis was in school and needed after-school and summer care, we moved her to a daycare two blocks from our house that has both a daycare and an after-school/summer camp program. (Our original daycare does not offer programs for school-age kids, so keeping her there was not an option.) Ever since The Big Sis started at the new place, I’ve mulled over whether we should switch The Little Sis there too, as it would be incredibly convenient to have them both at the same place. But while there were some annoyances at the original daycare, it was not enough to make me want to uproot The Little Sis and cut our ties there — we had gotten to know the people at this daycare incredibly well, and we knew they liked us quite a bit too.

But ever since The Big Sis’s preschool teacher left, there has been a great amount of turnover in the preschool room at the original daycare, and I really wanted The Little Sis to have a good preschool environment so she gets as much as she can from those years, as she’ll be starting kindergarten as a newly turned 5-year-old and at a slight age disadvantage in that regard.

I kept thinking about it and finally decided to see if we could get a spot at The Big Sis’s daycare, as moving now would give The Little Sis two full years there, and hopefully give her some time to make some good friends there before going to kindergarten in 2016.

We had to wait a couple months, but we were told we would be able to get in once school was out, with The Little Sis’s first day on June 9. Telling our old daycare was hard, but we kept our withdrawal notice positive and didn’t want to leave on a bad note. We couldn’t tell The Little Sis too far in advance about switching, as she’s still only 2 and wouldn’t fully understand, so we finally starting talking about it more this past weekend.

Yesterday, our first day, was difficult. Very hard. She was scared and clingy and frowny and had silent tears in her eyes, poor girl. I knew she’d be fine, but I still emailed the director an hour into my work day asking her to check on The Little Sis. Not surprisingly, she said The Little Sis was doing fine, and she even emailed me an hour later and told me she’d gone in there again, and once again she was doing great, which was certainly a relief. We’ve never really had hard drop-offs with The Little Sis, so it was heartbreaking to see her so sad yesterday. We talked about her day last night, and talked about how she’d get to be brave again this morning. Last night, she was talking about going there just fine, but this morning her tune changed and she said she didn’t want to go there, and she didn’t want to make new friends. She was still sad and clingy and frowny at drop-off this morning, but it wasn’t quite as hard for me today because I knew she’d be fine once she got settled.

I know this is the best decision for us in many ways, but the transition part of it is challenging for sure. Give it a week or a month, and I’m sure she’ll be fine. So far I like the two teachers I’ve met (she has a third one too that I haven’t met). One teacher is one class away from her master’s in early education, and the other one does have her master’s. Between the two of them, I’m pretty sure they’ve exceeded the advanced education of all of the old daycare teachers combined. I think that was the problem with having so much turnover at the old place — I think the old daycare drew teachers that, while good with kids and with childcare experience, didn’t necessarily go into it as a career but more as a job, whereas my understanding is that the new place requires more education of their teachers (and I suspect they are compensated accordingly, helping keep turnover lower). Already she came home having learned a new song and a new way to count, so I look forward to seeing how things go over the next couple of years.