Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Holiday Highlights

Finally: real American holidays, after four years of making-do abroad. Here are some of the highlights.

Halloween: Real pumpkins, decorative cupcakes, and panda costumes. Or raccoons according to our trick-or-treaters.

Andrew's 28th Birthday: A surprise party at Brooklyn Brewery with friends, beer, board games, cheesecake, and...more beer. Best moment was Andrew's look of surprise.

Thanksgiving: When in New York...go to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade! We decided not to get up at the crack of dawn and instead showed up at the start of the parade. This resulted in poor visual range and smushed toes from all the pushing. After freezing our butts off, we headed to New Jersey to have Thanksgiving dinner with Andrew's friend Andrea. Unbeknownest to us, dinner was Chinese style, which was fun but left us craving turkey, so the next day we cooked an 18 lb. turkey for our own Thanksgiving dinner. We just finished up the last of the turkey a few days ago.

Christmas: Santa brought us an early Christmas present this year: the newly married Mr. and Mrs. Feldman! It was great having some time with them away from the wedding chaos, and their arrival meant we got to do some fun touristy stuff, too. We went to Macy's and sat on Santa's lap and got to see Rockefeller Square with its giant (but slightly unimpressive) Christmas tree.

For the first time in about eight years, I spent Christmas with my family in Missouri. It was a bit hectic, leaving New York City on Friday, December 23rd at 5pm in our rental car and racing to get to Pacific in time for presents on Christmas Eve. Six states and one speeding ticket later, we arrived just before the kids (and my "adult" siblings) were about to tear the tree apart. I was especially happy with the gifts we prepared this year. Andrew and I made homemade family name signs for my mom and step-dad, Andrew's parents, and my dad and his wife. I also managed to finish a pair of fingerless mittens for my mom en route.

It was great meeting my new niece, Isabella, and spending time with my other niece and nephew. Mostly I was just happy to be home for Christmas and see my mom. I wish my Nana could have come out, but the cold usually keeps her in Southern California this time of year.

New Year's Eve: We had been anticipating NYE in NYC for a long time; indeed, it was a deciding factor in moving to New York in the first place. Unfortunately, it wasn't to be for 2012. We arrived around 3pm to Times Square to find that the streets were filled to capacity up to 53rd Street. Times Square is on 42nd St. After waiting around a bit, it was clear that if we stayed, we wouldn't be able to see or hear anything. Instead, we went home and watched the festivities on our new TV. Next year, we'll come prepared!!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Life as We Know It

Sorry for the blogging sabbatical. Things have been...well, I won't say "busy," because that really isn't true, but let's just say that there's been nothing to really brag about lately. I'm still on the job hunt, and my prospects are still as drab. After applying to a job at the American Museum of Natural History, where I volunteer, I received a call from the hiring coordinator, asking if I realized that I was extremely overqualified for the position. I refrained from telling him I couldn't get another job. And it's not like it's a bad job; it is at AMNH, afterall. Hopefully I convinced him I'm not crazy and I'll get an interview next week.

So, what have I been doing with my liberal time? First, volunteering. I work four hours a week at the American Museum of Natural History in the Children's Discovery Room. It should be a pretty fun job, and sometimes it actually is, but most of the time it's a test of how tactful and polite I can be. Not because of the kids. The kids are great! It's the other volunteers. All of them are older women who have been volunteering for years, and they seem to see their job description as "terrorize children" instead of "play with them." It's frustrating for me because I feel like one of the best resources of the museum, its hands-on room for kids, is being wasted. I spend my time there trying to engage the kids and get them interested in learning; they spend their time screaming at the kids to pick up the toys and lower their voices. It's a bit depressing, really. But the museum is pretty awesome, and I can get free tickets for people, so it's nice to have those benefits. Also, it gave me the opportunity to submit job applications in person with some priority as a volunteer.

Just last week I started volunteering at Discovery Times Square, my (so-far) favorite museum in NYC. If you remember, DTS is where we saw the Harry Potter and Pompeii exhibits. Right now they have The Dead Sea Scrolls, which is, of course, right up my alley. Since DTS is staffed by people who are there to take tickets, and thus have no background in museums or history, this makes me the resident expert in a way. Because it's a temporary, traveling exhibit, there isn't even a knowledgable curator on hand. Therefore, there's a need for docents.

In some ways I already prefer volunteering at DTS. Not only do I enjoy the exhibit, but the hours are better and I didn't realize how much I needed stimulating conversation with adults. Working with kids is super fun, but mentally draining, and not in a good way. It's really nice to be able to share my knowledge about history and archaeology with people who get it. It makes me really eager to go back to school. Then I read my Facebook feed and see how all you poor grad students are suffering and I decide differently.

The third museum I work with is the Bronx Children's Museum. Here, I can actually use the word work, because I (theoretically) get paid to do it! The museum hasn't technically opened yet (not until 2014), but they have an old school bus that they've designed to look like the Bronx River, complete with flora and fauna from the habitat. We drive this bus around to schools in the South Bronx, a notoriously impoverished and neglected area of the Bronx, and take Pre-K and K children on it to learn about the Bronx River, which is the only fresh water river in all of NYC. Now, this program is really new, and thus is still a work in progress, which leads to the best part of my new "job:" I get to have a say in how we use the bus! I've kind of offered myself to the Director as her all-around lackey, there to do whatever she wants: make name badges for the educators, email schools and schedule visits, and create materials to be used with visitors. It's really nice, because while we haven't figured out how I will be paid for this time, it gives me great museum experience and awesome leadership qualifications. Officially, I'm going to be titled "Administrative Assistant" or something like that, because I'll be handling all the emails, the mailing list, picking up supplies, and designing materials. The only downside to this job, besides working with huge groups of 3-5 year olds all day long, is that currently we only take the bus out on Fridays. This is partly due to funding and partly due to staffing. I've been kind of pushing to expand the program to other days. It pays great, and it would be awesome to get paid even for just one more day of work during the week.

So that's my museum life right now. In addition to that work, I spend most of my time cleaning, cooking, and grocery shopping. And watching tons of Law & Order: SVU on Netflix.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Growing up in Southern California, I never really witnessed a true autumn, like the ones you see advertised in nature magazines and TV shows. Two weeks ago, my friend Lilli and I drove upstate to the Poughkeepsie area, and I was stunned at the gorgeous gold and red carpeted landscape. That night, I told Andrew we had to go away. Thus, an adventure was born.

I had heard from others that renting a car in New York City was a nightmare. Prices were twice as high than if you rented from, say, White Plains instead. I lucked out, and found a good deal at Enterprise through Hotwire. For only$35/day, I was able to book a rental from the Bronx for the weekend of October 21st-23rd. After that major hurdle was surpassed, I started looking around for B-n-B's. Having never stayed in one, I figured this weekend away would be the perfect opportunity. Of course, we had to decide exactly where to go upstate first. Lilli had mentioned an orchard where you could go apple-picking in Salem, so I tried there. I was in luck! I found a B-n-B called the Bunker Hill Inn which had rooms available for a mere $53/night, including a large, home-cooked breakfast. I booked the rooms and then went in search of some friends to travel with. Unfortunately, no one was up for a weekend upstate (no idea why), and as some of them pointed out, we were going quite far upstate, almost to Vermont. I thought that couldn't be right; Lilli had said Salem was only a few hours from here. And then I realized my mistake. The apple orchard was located in New Salem, not Salem. The village of Salem, where I had booked the B-n-B, was located four hours upstate, on the border of Vermont and New York. Oops.

Not to be deterred, we decided this would be for the best, as we could see even more of New York, and possibly Vermont. And anyway, there were apple orchards near Salem, too, and much cheaper ones at that. So Friday began our lovely fall-ish adventure. I picked up our rental car, which coincidentally was a burnt orange color, making for great camouflage during the weekend.

After Andrew got out of school, we began the long journey to the little town of Salem, which was a bit difficult to find in the dark. There was only one street light in town, windy roads, and almost complete darkness at that time of night. It was a bit spooky, but when we arrived at the inn, we knew it was worth it. Our room was cozy and warm, and the owner, Laura, was very welcoming.
Our room
The bathroom

She let us choose what time we would have breakfast in the morning, and even asked for our preferences. There were handmade chocolates on the nightstand, and in the morning, we awoke to this view outside our window:

Breakfast was coffee, yogurt and fruit, and homemade waffles and crisp bacon served with fresh maple syrup from Laura's brother's sap house down the street. It was heavenly. Laura was also very helpful in giving advice about activities in the area, and she even gave us a map of the county, which was really helpful since, unlike our peers, neither of us have a smartphone. She suggested that the best place for hiking through fall foliage was across the border of Vermont.

We went to Merck Forest, where a helpful old lady gave us a map and sent us on our way to hike. It was so beautiful under the trees. We got a little lost, and a one hour hike easily turned into about three, but it was worth it. After our forest jaunt, we then went to Manchester for a late lunch, where we had the best butternut squash soup I've ever tasted. I'm going to try to replicate the recipe this week. The town of Manchester was very cute, and we spent some time walking around, browsing the shops, and buying more maple syrup than we had a right to. Finally, inclement weather forced us back into the car and across the border, where we stopped to buy some pumpkins on the side of the road.
It was nearing twilight at that point, so we figured we were up for some small-town Halloween fun. After debating between a haunted corn maze and a haunted court house, we opted for the closer, and cheaper court house. It was creepy fun!

The next morning was our last at the inn, and for breakfast we had scrambled eggs and sausage and french toast with maple cream. Then we went to the nearby Hicks Orchard for some apple picking. As the last day of the season, there were only five types of apples left: Yellow Delicious, Empire, Northern Spy, Macaun, and Red Delicious. For $15 a 1/2 bushel, we strolled among the orchard, sampling and depositing apples of different colors and sizes into a big bag. We probably picked about 100 apples. I'm excited to make them into pies, applesauce, and apple butter.

We also toured the cider brewery at the orchard and purchased a bottle of cider for Thanksgiving next month. We also ate some cider doughnuts before climbing back into the car and driving through more gorgeous scenery on our way back south, where we stopped at the town of Beacon to visit Andrew's cousin, Catherine, and her boyfriend, Brian. Beacon was very cute, and had tons of art galleries and restaurants.

Overall, our weekend upstate was an amazing experience, one I recommend everyone have if they come to New York. I don't think I've ever seen more beautiful scenery in the United States, and I say this after having grown up in the Lake Arrowhead mountains. I look forward to going back to Salem many times over the next three years.

Stop sign near Hicks Orchard, specifically for Nicole F.:

Friday, October 21, 2011

Fun in the Big Apple

Addendum: I've added more photos!

After our monumental move, Andrew and I were ready for some fun in our lives. Of course, he's been in the city since May, so he's had much more time to get to know things, but that made things more fun, because he could show me around.

As you know, our 5 year wedding anniversary was only days after I arrived in New York. Andrew and I got dressed up and first went to Times Square, where we walked around, admiring all the lights, before having a delicious sushi dinner. I have to admit, Times Square is probably my favorite place in New York City. It's busy and crowded, but I really like all the skyscrapers, flashing lights, and crazy street performers.
Times Square

That night, Andrew took me to a showing of "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," starring...Daniel Radcliffe (aka, Harry Potter)! This was our first Broadway experience, and I think we've got the bug now. Daniel wasn't super-amazing, but he was pretty good, and the sets, lighting, and music were all wonderful. Andrew had splurged and got us prime seats, so we were really close to the stage. It was such a fun experience, though pretty pricey. We're planning on seeing "Wicked" in February for my birthday.

That same weekend, we did a lot of exploring of New York City. With our trusty cart, we filled up on fresh potted herbs and goat cheese at the farmer's market in Union Square before walking all the way down to the tip of Manhattan, the South Ferry. On the way we passed the World Trade Center, Wall Street, City Hall, and Chinatown. From the South Ferry we could see the Statue of Liberty, New Jersey, and Governor's Island. We were exhausted after walking all that way!
Central Park
George Washington Bridge

The next day we spent at the Discovery Center in Times Square. It was the last weekend to see the "Harry Potter" exhibit, and the "Pompeii" exhibit. Disappointingly, the HP exhibit was the same one I saw in Chicago in 2009, with a few minor alterations to include props from the newest films. The Pompeii exhibit was amazing, though, and almost better than seeing Pompeii in person. This museum is pretty awesome, and right now they have an interactive CSI exhibit going on where you can investigate different crime scenes and try to find the killer. We're planning on going before it closes in January.
In addition to that big weekend, we've spent nearly every weekend since then exploring downtown informally while we visit friends and attend events. Andrew's parents also came to visit for a few days, and I spent those days playing tour guide (albeit a very bad one). We explored a lot of lower Manhattan, and also made our way into Little Italy, where we feasted on yummy treats from Ferrara Cafe. We also visited Mark's old Columbia haunts and Andrew's school where he teaches.
Little Italy
Columbia Campus, Teacher's College
Andrew's School

We also explored a bit more of Washington Heights at a Medieval Faire at the Cloisters Museum. We dressed up in our old Lord of the Rings costumes and spent the day eating delicious giant cupcakes, watching jousts, and avoiding the rain. The setting was pretty perfect, with the medieval cloisters, forests, and river as a backdrop. And, it was free!

One other exciting thing we did was visit Occupy Wall Street. We wanted to see what all the fuss is about. While I agree with most of the sentiments expressed there, it felt a little silly and futile to see all the protests going on. I completely understand why they are there, but I don't see what it will accomplish. Andrew says it's important to be able to voice your opinion, and to let people know how you feel about something, and I guess there's something to be said for that.

This weekend Andrew and I are escaping the city. We're renting a car and driving four hours upstate to the New York/Vermont border for some lovely foliage-watching and apple-picking. I'll be sure to post with more pictures upon our return!