“A Change… would do you good”

Why does a “change of scenery” often do us good?

My husband rearranges the apartment furniture every six to nine months. Sometimes, in the past (pre-COVID), if he were working from home a particular day, when I wasn’t, or if I had a yoga class or teacher training one weekend, I might come home to a completely different living room or bedroom set-up. (I often joked that the only place we haven’t moved our bedroom is in the kitchen or the bathroom, and I’m waiting for the day I come home to one of those scenarios).

But why we often do that to our living spaces, or to our lives (our hair, our faces, etc)?

“I got restless”; “I got bored”;
“I got tired of seeing it the same way for so long”

That last one… that one hits home to me in many ways.

We recently sat down and watched a movie – typical comedy with a poignant message (no, it wasn’t on Hallmark) where one leading character is being told by their friends to “wake up,” start being honest with themselves and appreciate what they have, and we all see it coming… the tragedy that snaps them “back to reality.”

“Maybe that needed to happen”;
“I’ve learned not to take life for granted”;
“I’ll treasure what I have from now on”

Roll credits.

Sound familiar?

But as we were watching this play out, I realize that way too often a tragedy is what snaps us back to reality. We can be going along, living our lives, thinking we’re living to our fullest… then a family member dies. Or we lose a furry friend. Or we get sick, or an accident of some magnitude befalls us.

And we suddenly think “Oh, yeah. I need to pay more attention to what I have.”

I don’t want to harp on the old adage of “We never know what we had until we’ve lost it,” although I’m sure that’s mostly true.

I remember the next morning, on our daily walk, telling my husband that I want to make sure that we give our senior dogs more focused attention – I don’t want to feel, when they pass away, that I didn’t spend enough time with them, or took them for granted.

But it’s not all about tragedy. Because I wonder if that sense of wanting to “be aware” of what we have is why we sometimes make changes, too. We feel stuck, we can’t “see” where we are, or don’t feel present or awake in our own lives. So we change something.

Come to think of it, I was feeling stuck about our apartment recently, myself. Not the furniture, just the sense of having a home and making sure I appreciated it. The walls we painted, the beautiful 12-foot pre-war tin ceiling in our living room. And so, I was thinking the exact same way about our apartment lately, and we decided to decorate early for the holidays. And you know what? Suddenly our apartment feels new again. I feel like I can really pay better attention to it – and it feels refreshing!

I’m curious about how we can have that feeling, that alertness, that “being awake” to what we have feeling, without tragedy striking, or without having to make a massive overhaul of our lives – those can be necessary, but shouldn’t be the only way we feel alive!

I think this is what “mindfulness” is all about.

Being mindful is all about being as present as possible – being aware of what you are seeing, what you are hearing, what you are sensing – at all times. Feeling your feet on the ground beneath you. Your eyes as they take in this information (the weight of your glasses on the bridge of your nose and on your ears – if you wear them). The weight of your arms on your lap or on your desk or table – the feel of the mouse under your hand or fingers. The light overhead. The light outside the window. The tree you pass on your daily walk. The warmth of the sun. The warmth of your coffee.

What are you doing right now? How do you feel? Where do you feel expansion when you inhale? Where do you sense your exhale the most? The chest? The belly? The nostrils?

What color are your walls? Your floor? Are you sitting comfortably? If not, where do you feel discomfort? What are you doing today to interact with your home, or to move your body?

Sometimes change is the easiest way to recognize what we’ve had all along. Sometimes it’s negative change… sometimes it’s not. But maybe we can work toward keeping ourselves awake to what we have, and to the present moment, more often. Maybe then, we won’t carry so many regrets with us if tragedy ever does strike.

“Stay Tuned”

Have you ever started a project and gotten so overwhelmed you never finished it?

Have you ever had an idea that you thought was fantastic, but turned out in some way to be unsustainable?

Or maybe it just felt unsustainable?

Have you, like so many, had high aspirations for your time “sheltered indoors” during a global pandemic, assuming you’d have more time to “better” yourself – learn a language, a musical instrument, read through that stack of books, or finally write that short story, novel, or collection of poetry?

I assume I’m not alone. But I’ve learned that the first step in no longer kicking myself over what I haven’t accomplished… is to stop kicking myself.

You are where you are. You are in no other place. The only air you are breathing is the air in front of you. Allow yourself to be where you are, without judgment. And breathe.

We’ll get through this – and what you end up taking with you alone will be accomplishment, enough. And every breath can be a celebration.

Where is Mannahatta?

Where did Manhattan island get its name? 

(Psst… scroll down for a virtual tour of Manhattan in the year 1609!)

Before we can start our “walk,” I want to introduce you to Mannahatta.

Back in 2014, when my husband and I still lived in Oklahoma City, I was lucky enough to direct a new play during the Native American Playwright Festival, Mary Kathryn Nagle’s Manahatta. (It has since been produced all over the country!)

Here’s a beautiful description of the play from the Public Theatre, which produced the play in NYC for the first time in 2014 (the page appears to be gone, but the quote was borrowed from Tanis Parenteau’s blog post relating her experience in the production, playing the double role of Jane Snake and Le-Le-Wa-You):

“A gripping journey from the fur trade of the 1600s to the stock trade of today, Mary Kathryn Nagle’s MANAHATTA tells the story of Jane Snake, a brilliant young Native American woman with a Stanford MBA. Jane reconnects with her ancestral homeland, known as Manahatta, when she moves from her home with the Delaware Nation in Anadarko, Oklahoma to New York for a job at a major investment bank just before the financial crisis of 2008. Jane’s struggle to reconcile her new life with the expectations and traditions of the family she left behind is powerfully interwoven with the heartbreaking history of how the Lenape were forced from their land. Both old and new Manahatta converge in a brutal lesson about the dangers of living in a society where there’s no such thing as enough. Written in the Public Theater’s Emerging Writers Group, Mary Kathryn Nagle’s MANAHATTA is a stunning new play about the discovery that the only thing you can truly own is who you are and where you come from.”

The word “Mannahatta” comes from the Lenni Lenape, or “The People,” that lived here well before the Dutch colonizers arrived in the 1600s. Mannahatta means

“Island of Many Hills”

While much of lower Manhattan seems very flat, where the further you go uptown, the hillier it gets! (Also, it’s worth noting that a lot of dynamite shaped the terrain of New York City into what we see today).

The Spring I directed Nagle’s play, Sam and I visited NYC, in part to plan our future move, that year, and in part to research much of the play’s historical representation of those first encounters, and what the island was like, then.

For instance, did you know Pearl Street in the Financial District was so named because of the pearls that the Dutch found on the path that lined the Southeastern shore of the island – leftover from the oysters that were harvested there?

Or that Broadway, one of the only main streets in Manhattan that runs “crooked,” follows The Broad Way, an old trading path that the Lenape used?

Or that Wall Street is named for the Wall that was built by the Dutch settlers, in part to keep Native people out of New Amsterdam?

(And I bet you can guess what used to be where Canal Street is, now!)

All in all, New York City looked much, much different in the past, before Henry Hudson first arrived, and there is one incredible source I’ve turned to again and again – and still do, just to marvel at what New York City once was.

The Welikia Project!

Cover of Mannahatta book, by Dr. Eric Sanderson

Created in part by the author of an incredible book, Mannahatta by Dr. Eric Sanderson, the Welikia Project has painstakingly researched what each area in Manhattan might very well have looked like in 1609, and created digital representations! Have a look! If you know someone or something’s address, type it in and find out what it looked like.

Having established the big picture of the island – and my fascination with it – I’d like to start our “walk” (via my blog!) where Sam and I spent most of our time exploring, back in 2014. It’s where we always begin our annual island walks, and it boasts the most “untouched” area of the entire island…

Check back soon for our first stop, here on my blog…

Inwood Hill Park!

(cover photo courtesy of Welikia Project)

Walk the length of Manhattan… from home!

Every 4th of July, for the past 5 years, my husband and I would take ourselves (and any friends who wanted to join) on the 13 mile trek along the length of Manhattan.

Why?

Honestly, I’ve no idea. The first year we did it, we were a bit boozed up from some Bloody Marys at Harlem Tavern, decided to walk over to Riverside Park and down along the Hudson… and then just kept going!

This year, we had planned to be away for the 4th for the first time (though we doubt that’s even an option… thanks, Covid-19), and were sad that we weren’t going to be able to take anyone on the walk with us.

But then I realized… why not take everybody with us?

One of my favorite parts of the walk is taking in new sights, researching historic areas and buildings, and sharing my passion for the city with others. These are all things I can do from home – and you can join me!

Are you ready to get started and see parts of NYC you might have never seen, or get to see?

A museum built like a medieval monastery?
The oldest wooden homes still standing in Manhattan?
The 6th largest cathedral in the world?
The largest mausoleum in the United States?
(And that’s all still North of Central Park!)

I’ll be sure to add in places in each area that could provide you with one full day’s experience, should you get a chance to visit after the shutdown is lifted (or if you live nearby and have a face mask)!

So, yes, I expect this to be quite a long series – and I may sprinkle in some other “stuff” just to break it up… but we’ve got plenty of time right??? (… thanks, Covid-19!)

So, stay tuned!!

A New Year’s Meditation

Happy New Year!

Today marks not only the first day of 2019, the birth of a new year, but the rebirth of countless people around the world who strive to keep “New Year’s Resolutions.”

Funny – Humans have been making resolutions in some form or another for at least 4,000 years, writes one contributor to the History channel.

Back then, the Babylonians (whose year began in what we’d consider mid-March, when crops were planted) made promises to the gods, expecting good fortune if their promises were kept throughout the year.

The Romans adopted this idea, as well, and the very month of January is named after the Roman god Janus, the two-faced god who faces both into the past and into the future, perhaps symbolizing both the reflection on the past year and the hope and promise of what the next year might bring.

Janus, god of beginnings and passages

The 1700s found Christianity adopting the practice of keeping night vigils of prayer and reflection, lasting all night into the morning on New Year’s Day – A practice that is still found in many communities, today.

We’re hardwired, it seems, to see beginnings of any kind – such as the start of a new calendar year – with mixtures of awe, hope, apprehension, and reflection. And, though now a secular tradition, we still strive to make promises to ourselves. Only about 8% of people keep their resolutions, apparently, but it’s striking that after all this time, we’re still making them, even if we know many will fall by the wayside.

The marked passage of time must affect us on a deep level, to spark the desire to make such promises.

This brings me to a poem by a favorite poet of mine, Billy Collins. In his brilliant way, he captures the universal with the mundane, and questions this new year’s day, and what it means to us all.

Is it a second birthday? Is it a day to dread, or to look forward to?

To me, it’s a time I know I can meditate on and re-dedicate myself to living wildly, blooming where I’m planted, showing gratitude and love to the Universe and to those around me, and keeping fresh and new the love I share with my husband.

What about you?

May you have the happiest of years, starting today. Happy New Year!

New Year’s Day by Billy Collins
Everyone has two birthdays
according to the English essayist Charles Lamb,
the day you were born and New Year’s Day—

a droll observation to mull over
as I wait for the tea water to boil in a kitchen
that is being transformed by the morning light
into one of those brilliant rooms of Matisse.

“No one ever regarded the First of January
with indifference,” writes Lamb,
for unlike Groundhog Day or the feast of the Annunciation,

New Year’s marks nothing but the pure passage of time,
I realized, as I lowered a tin diving bell
of tea leaves into a little ocean of roiling water.

I like to regard my own birthday
as the joyous anniversary of my existence,
probably because I was, and remain
to this day in late December, an only child.

And as an only child—
a tea-sipping, toast-nibbling only child
in a bright, colorful room—
I would welcome an extra birthday,
one more opportunity to stop what we are doing
for a moment and celebrate my presence here on earth.

And would it not also be a small consolation
to us all for having to face a death-day, too,
an X drawn through a number
in a square on some kitchen calendar of the future,

the day when each of us is thrown off the train of time
by a burly, heartless conductor
as it roars through the months and years,

party hats, candles, confetti, and horoscopes
billowing up in the turbulent storm of its wake.

from the book, “Ballistics,” © Random House 2008

3 – 2 – 1 … Write!

I learned a new word a couple months ago.

Agnosiophobia

Heard of it? I hadn’t.

Agnosiophobia is the fear of not knowing.

To me, this means not knowing enough – not knowing the best way to proceed – not knowing how to do things correctly, so that you don’t look or sound or seem like a complete fool.

It might also be the reason I obsessively learned German before visiting Austria for the first time (a little bit different than learning Gaelic for fun before visiting Ireland, ha ha…). I just did not want to look foolish or be caught like a deer in headlights simply because I didn’t know what to do or what to say.

If you don’t know enough German, here’s a word that encapsulates what I’m talking about:

Entschuldigung (ent-shul-di-gung)

What does it mean?

Literally, it’s closest to saying “Excuse me,” or “Sorry.”

Of course, I found I didn’t need to excuse myself as much as I had expected I would – partly because more people at least understand English than expected (though it’s best not to have the highest of expectations in this regard), and partly because, well, things are always so much easier than expected when you’re in the thick of it… and if they’re not easy, then you at least know that those excruciating bits have an ending point, and you always end up learning something to make your next experience less awful.

Like two nights ago when a cashier’s register broke down and she couldn’t see how much I owed her, and I didn’t know how to tell her the numbers, in German, to help her. So I went back to the apartment where we’re staying and memorized the patterns of German numbers… my husband caught me counting feverishly to one hundred under my breath before getting out of bed the next morning.

😅

… Did I mention the fear of not knowing?

Honestly, the fear of not knowing is the reason it took so long for me to finally write another blog entry, earlier today. I was afraid of not knowing how to start again. Afraid of not knowing what to write about. Surely I’d look foolish if I simply picked up where I left off, right?

But I’ve learned a few things since I last wrote here. Things that helped me shut that voice up – the one that tells me not to bother, since I’m so afraid.

Firstly, the following quote from Carrie Fisher comes to mind:

Be afraid. But “do it anyway.”

But… there is more to it, right? I mean, those of us who battle depression or anxiety know that it isn’t just as simple as “do it anyway.” And I know Carrie Fisher would probably agree, that this little soundbyte isn’t enough to jump start our minds when they’re frozen in fear.

Enter Mel Robbins:

Knowing what to do will never be enough.

It’s not as simple as “Just do it.” If it were that simple, we would all have everything we want. There’s something really foundational that has to happen before we can take action, and that is that we must learn to conquer our own feelings.

Wow. This really hits the nail on the head, right? Mel Robbins created the 5 Second Rule for this exact reason – pushing yourself to do something, with a simple action that can actually make it possible.

When you feel yourself hesitate before doing something that you know you should do, count 5-4-3-2-1-GO and move towards action.

There is a wealth of information about this rule, which you can find here, but suffice to say this really, truly works! It’s all about acting on the few seconds before an idea turns into inaction, and the physical actual countdown kicks your mind and body into gear!

Today, I left my journal behind before a 2 and a half hour train ride. I thought, “Well, now I can’t write. Sad face.” But then, I remembered my blog, and my fear of picking it back up… and that fear reminded me of Carrie Fisher’s words, and thanks to Mel Robbins, I knew what to do.

And I’ve applied it to my German-speaking experiences, too, here in Austria. I might not know what to say, or whether or not they speak English, but I just take a deep breath and…

5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 – GO!

Where I Am: (Somewhere between Vienna and New Year’s)

I started this blog last year, around Thanksgiving, I believe, with the notion that Thanksgiving Day should truly be the day to start “New Year’s Resolutions,” starting from a spirit of gratitude and thanks.

One of my favorite voices, when it comes to giving and receiving gratitude, is Louise Hay:

“The Universe always gives us what we believe we deserve.

For quite a while now, I’ve been accepting every compliment and every present with: ‘I accept with joy and pleasure and gratitude.’ I’ve learned that the Universe loves this expression, and I constantly get the most wonderful presents!

Let’s affirm: I am a willing receiver of all the good the Universe wants to bring me.

Louise Hay

But, clearly, my Thanksgiving/New Year resolution of keeping a blog didn’t quite realize itself in 2018. Life happens, and one thing I’ve learned from yoga (and years of pushing through self-doubt and regret) is that you can only ever meet yourself where you are, and you shouldn’t spend time wallowing in regret, or the “should’ve-could’ve-would’ves.” So, here I am, a year later, with at least the uncanny ability to look back on the year, take stock, and push forward.

So… Why start again, now?

Honestly, it’s frightening. I’m actually terrified of writing a blog. Of writing, in general. Of doing things and following through, in general. Of… well, I’m sure you get the picture, and I’m sure I’m not alone.

But… today, I’m on a train. To Salzburg. Yes, that Salzburg. From Vienna (yes, that Vienna). Myself, my husband, and my sister are finishing off a whirlwind 2 week Holiday adventure that began in Ireland – our 4th annual trek to the Emerald Isle – and finished in the land of Schnapps and Wiener Schnitzel, the Sacher Torte, and Mozartkugeln (oh, that’s a real thing, and they’re delicious).

Schlöss Schönbrunn with Christmas Market

Vienna’s City Hall at Night, as viewed from the Rathausplatz

Today is our last day overseas before returning to New York tomorrow, so we opted for a day trip to the City of Mozart.

And, this morning, I almost brought my journal along… but then… I didn’t. “Oh, I won’t need this in Salzburg. We’ll be too busy sightseeing.”

Cue the 2 hour and 22 minute train ride.

Whoops.

But then I heard a voice in my head. I always hear them, but one spoke louder, this time, than the others. The One that says, “don’t think. Just do.”

Don’t Think. Just Do.

And I decided that I didn’t have to wait for the perfect, well-written, well-thought-out post to develop in my head before I wrote something here. I didn’t have to plan some sort of come-back post encapsulating the year, or even go back and add entries for moments this past year, retroactively dating them to make my blog appear “lived in.”

I can meet myself where I am.

And where I am is on a train, to Salzburg, itching to write.

A Wilder London, Day 1

“What will this day be like?
I wonder…
What could that building be?”

Okay, so that’s not quite how the song goes in Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s Sound of Music, but walking along the Thames River (which isn’t far from our AirBnB stay), wrapped up in a quiet morning fog… and with so many beautiful buildings and fascinating architecture, the day held so much potential and wonder! And, of course, we had confidence!

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Lorenzo Quinn’s “Love” in the Riverside Walk Gardens near Vauxhall Bridge

Our morning of show tune references actually began with a chorus of “Dite Moi” from South Pacific (another R & H!), after seeing the all-too-familiar Pret a Manger chain restaurant as we crossed the Vauxhall bridge into Pimlico (and pestering my sister for the proper French pronunciation — it’s “pret-a-mahn-zhay”).

We walked along the Thames (“not Th-ames?” my sister asks, prompting a reflection on British pronunciation — it’s pronounced “Tems”), until we reached Westminster, stopping to admire the architecture of the Houses of Parliament and the Abbey. Lots of construction is going on around the clock tower, which houses Big Ben, and was almost completely shrouded in scaffolding. Apparently, this year began Big Ben’s 4 years of silence during renovation.

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Westminster in the Morning (Dec 17, 2017)

Sam and I took us on the walk we remembered from our trip here two years ago, passing the WWII memorials, the Whitehall Palace/Banqueting House, and Downing Street (no PM spottings, either visit), until wandering the streets around Trifalgar Square and St. Martin’s-on-the-green, settling for breakfast at Caffé Concerto, a chain where we’d eaten on our last visit, in a spot around the corner from Picadilly Circus. For those you fellow tourists, I just listed off a bunch of London highlights. We ate “full English breakfasts” (I’ve wondered if the Full English Breakfast was just a tourist-y thing, but it apparently has a longstanding tradition). We talked about our day and what we planned to do, and the only plans we had aside from eating, was to take an early tea at the Orangery at Kensington Palace.

We meandered through Picadilly Circus, and tried shopping at a mass souvenir shop – we didn’t stay long, as I think Sam and I have become extra self-conscious about appearing like tourists we see in NYC!

We wandered down to the Mall, in St. James’ Park, which leads to Buckingham Palace. Walking down the steps beneath the monument to the Duke of York, I was struck that this is the very spot Sam and I had discovered two years before, where I had actually sat while having my picture taken while on a field trip to London when I was in high school! It’s a shame I can’t find that original picture.

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The tragedy that struck London during WWII was great. Many memorials are set up around the city (Dec 17, 2017)

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The Monument to the Duke of York, off the Mall approaching Buckingham Palace (Dec 17, 2017)

Let it be known, that it is cold in London. It was hovering just a bit above freezing, and so we were stopping to get our hands on hot cups of tea every chance we got just to keep our hands warm while we walked. Walking through a park with a nice hot cuppa is also just a wonderful experience, in and of itself!

(Note to self: Always wear hat and gloves. Always wear hat and gloves. Hat and gloves. Hat and gloves)

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The London Eye from St. James Park (Dec 17, 2017)

After dodging kamikaze pigeons (honestly, we all noticed, they were the fattest pigeons we’d ever seen!), we made our way back to the Mall and approached Buckingham Palace, just in time for the changing of the guard – it was quite crowded!

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Making way for The Changing of the Guard (Dec 17, 2017)

My sister later informed us why the guards were now dressed in grey, as opposed to the more commonly seen red tunics.

We ended up walking up through the Wellington Arch, into Hyde Park, where London’s “Winter Wonderland” is taking place – but honestly, it looks more like a state fair, and less appealing than we had imagined, so I think we’ll end up skipping it on our stay, here (and the lines to get in were astronomical!).

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The Wellington Arch. Also known as a gathering place for tourists armed with cameras (Dec 17, 2017)

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A single rose holds on in the rose garden of Hyde Park (Dec 17, 2017)

But we did see the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, which we hadn’t seen before. A quiet spot, just off the water, the artist writes that the course of the water running in the circular fountain is supposed to be emblematic of Princess Diana’s life. Regardless of its symbolism, its quiet surroundings and serene beauty offered the perfect setting for quiet contemplation to the sound of bubbling brooks.

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A portion of the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain (Dec 17, 2017)

Passing under a bridge, we arrived in Kensington Gardens, and made our way up to the Palace – no, we didn’t run into any of the royal family! But, it was starting to rain, so we hurried up to the Palace and set out immediately for the nearby Orangery, for our early tea (an hour and a half earlier than we’d planned, but I suspect we were walking faster due to the cold!)

We chose a “Royal Afternoon Tea” for £38.50/person, which included a personal pot of tea (we each tried something different), two towers of food with three pieces of everything (4 or 5 finger sandwiches, 2 kinds of scone, w/ clotted cream and jam), and a smaller assortment of sweets. It was impossible to get to the sweets, as we got so full with everything else! To top it off, we each received a glass of merlot rosé spumante!

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I felt so hyped up already on the several cups of tea today, I felt positively jittery, and kept giggling.

It was just fun – Just to sit and take in the moment – just knowing where we were and what we were allowing ourselves to do, the way we all kept laughing at the slightest provocation, high on caffeine, sugar, alcohol, and the dizzying experience of sitting down and enjoying a piece of the city that we had planned to accomplish!

After tea, I kept saying, “but seriously… what do we do next?” as we hadn’t really planned out the rest of our day. We did spend some time in the shop in Kensington Palace (my sister bought a commemorative Princess Di plate), and then walked into the Kensington neighborhood and spent way too much time at a bookstore! Or, rather, we spent the perfect amount of time at a bookstore!

I bought two books, Dan Jones’ The Plantagenets, an absolutely riveting account of the Plantagenet line of Kings, from William the Conqueror to Richard II, and Trevor Royle’s Civil War: The Wars of the Three Kingdoms, that involves the events surrounding Oliver Cromwell… to whom I hate to admit that I am very distantly related. Yikes.

We stopped at a grocery on the way back to our AirBnB stay to get some light nibbles for the evening, so that we could retire early and dine “in,” and just relax after our first day. Getting used to jet lag is pretty intense, and they say it takes a day for every time zone you passed through, just to get on an even keel. So, we’ll all be okay by the end of the week?

For now, I’ll bring this entry – and this day – to a close. Sam is working on his needlepoint, and my sister is looking up information on the Palace and the changing of the guard (see her comment above on the grey dress of the guards). It’s nice to just be here, and relax.

Relaxing “at home” is, I feel, just as important as going out and experience some of the nightlife – and sometimes even more important. We often say “We need to spend ALL day and ALL night out and get the most out of this or that place,” forgetting that to get the most of our somewhere, we need to make sure we’re getting the most out of ourselves. How much to we enjoy whirlwind vacations, when we don’t give ourselves time to breathe and just be?

A wonderful, quiet end to the day, looking forward to the next.

Cheers!

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A Wilder Vacation: Arrival!

I’ll admit, one of the primary reasons I began this blog, aside from having the chance to share my philosophy and menu surrounding our Wilder Thanksgiving, was to have the chance to store stories, memories, and photos from the Christmas Holiday vacation I knew we were going to be taking this December.

Where are we?

We’re in London!

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The Eye of London, from a bridge in St. James’ Park (Dec 17, 2017)

Myself, my husband, and my sister (who hasn’t ever been “across the pond”) are traveling in the UK and across Ireland, spending the actual Christmas weekend in a cottage on the Ring of Kerry (without Wi-Fi for three nights!!), and exploring the West coast of the Emerald Isle before returning on the 29th, before NYE in NYC.

We arrived in London yesterday, and it was a rough journey. We left Harlem three hours before our flight, planning to take an E train into Queens and arrive at JFK airport with two hours to spare. Due to a “sick passenger,” somewhere on the line, E trains were not going to Queens, so we decided to brave a taxi.

But… it was snowing in NYC.

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The haunting sky near Central Park during a snowstorm

Beautiful? Yes. But we should have known it would have hampered any vehicles ability to get anywhere in any decent amount of time.

Two and a half hours later, we arrive at the airport, fifteen minutes before our flight is supposed to leave. The attendants at the ticket counter assured us the crew hadn’t even arrived, yet, so we decided to brave security to get to our gate.

Lo and behold, we made it!

Aer Lingus was comfortable enough, and everyone was incredibly kind. I will say the plane we were flying on was a bit out-of-date. Before we even left the gate, we found that one of our seats was broken, and someone got stuck in the lavatory when the door malfunctioned!

And then our plane needed to wait two hours before leaving, to be de-iced…

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My favorite part of the flight – my sister on dramamine and a sleeping aid, whispering to me “My face is melting.” I took a sleeping pill, too, so I have no idea where we were when this photo was taken!

Needless to say, we arrived at Shannon Airport, in Ireland, two hours later than scheduled, but had given ourselves plenty of cushion time to continue our journey.

Taking a taxi from the airport to Limerick, we were headed for a train to get to Dublin, but our driver convinced us that a bus would actually be faster – there was an express bus straight to the Dublin airport. We arrived early enough in Limerick to enjoy our first full Irish breakfast and pick up a new friend to travel with us. He really enjoyed the views of King John’s Castle from the bus stop!

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Meet Seamus, the Sheep, enjoying a view of King John’s Castle, in Limerick!

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King John – yes, of “Prince John” of Robin Hood fame, and King during the writing of the Magna Carta, truly made his mark on Ireland – literally!

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For the uninitiated, a Full Irish Breakfast consists of fried eggs, rashers (bacon), bangers (sausage), roasted tomato, sautéed mushrooms, black & white pudding, potatoes, and baked beans. It is incredibly filling, and paired well with Irish breakfast tea!

And then we were on our way, to the last leg of our journey – the flight from Dublin Airport to London, UK!

 

Our stay is a wonderful AirBnB in Vauxhall, just a five minute walk from the Underground station, and the River Thames!

My goal is to split our trip up into several parts to post online, both to share and just to have a record of our experience. Sitting down and putting pen to paper, or typing letters onto the white screen – the blank canvas of my computer – with a cup of tea beside me… it’s the perfect way both to start a morning and to end the day. I look forward to writing more, and experiencing more in the moment.

(And of course, I plan on splitting up the days or experiences, just to make each post more reader friendly!)

For now, good night, good friends!

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Yes, the side table is an engine! I’m ready to write down everything we experience. Bring it on, London!

Walking in a Princeton Wonderland

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A tree in Central Park during the snowstorm (Dec 8th, 2017)

This past weekend, and right on the heels on my post about Autumn, much of New York City evolved into a truly wonderful Winter Wonderland. Snow flurries didn’t settle on the road, but everything they touched aside from the busy streets turned white, and it was difficult to see long distances (luckily the view below, across the Central Park Reservoir, is the only long distance view that probably exists in NYC).

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Central Park Reservoir, during a snowstorm (Dec 8, 2017)

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As you can see… a decent amount of snow! (Central Park, Dec 8, 2017)

That day, I was returned from an audition for Gilbert & Sullivan’s Yeomen of the Guard, with the Blue Hill Troupe, and had decided to take a walk through the park from the Upper East Side to the Upper West Side, instead of taking public transportation. Because… who would want to miss seeing all that snow in the park? Being able to just walk through a Park like that almost every day is one of the many things that makes life in NYC so special.

Staycation!

We’ve certainly taken advantage of what the city offers on a daily basis; parks, museums, historic sites and monuments, brunches and happy hours, skylines and greenways are all fantastic ways to vacation on a weekend or an afternoon and “get away” while staying where we are. Most people call this a “staycation,” and I’m actually surprised I haven’t used this word, yet, after having an entire blog post already (with more on the way) about my own “staycation” trips around the city! Exploring where you live is what “blooming where you’re planted” is all about!

When people talk about “staycations,” they’re usually spoken about in the context of hanging around one’s own city, taking the day to relax and vacation in one’s own neighborhood.

Merriam-Webster defines staycation in this way:

\ ˈstā-ˈkā-shən \ A vacation spent at home or nearby

But, also living in New York City, we realized there is ample opportunity for day trips to so many places nearby, outside of the city… and that a “staycation” in New York City could mean almost anything.

Like Princeton, New Jersey!

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Princeton University campus (Dec 10, 2017). No idea what building this is, but it’s beautiful!

On Sunday, a good friend of ours treated us to a trip to see a fantastic production of A Christmas Carol at the unparalleled McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, NJ. The McCarter won a Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre in 1994, and more recently was recognized as the original producer of the eventual Tony Award-winning play, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, by Christopher Durang.

A Winter Wonderland

Our trip began with a train ride from NYC’s Penn Station across the white fields of New Jersey (well, after getting past all the cities!), nearly an hour and a half in all. My husband kept nudging me, because transportation makes me sleepy!

2-course-sunday-brunch-menuAfter strolling through the campus and the college town’s quaint streets of shops, restaurants, and cafés, we had brunch at the elegant Peacock Inn. The meal was unparalleled, a prix fixe menu of two courses – completed of course, with complimentary pastries from the pastry chef, and the Bloody Marys we ordered. (What is brunch without at least one Bloody Mary?) I ordered some potato cakes with homemade applesauce and sour cream, while my companions both ordered a deconstructed gravlax! The second courses were equally delicious. Check out their menu!

 

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Who says non-selfie pictures are a thing of the past? Check out my giant scarf!                        (Photo courtesy of the valet guy!)

When asked for dessert in Princeton, I was taught to just say “No, I’m going to The Bent Spoon for ice cream.” I was told by our host that he said that to a server at a restaurant once, and the server replied, “Oh, that’s understandable.”

Sure enough, our brunch server said the same thing! And rightfully so, because their ice cream is quite epic. We visited the Bent Spoon not once but twice in the 9 hour span of time we were in Princeton. The first time, I had a sorbet they simply called “Autumn,” which was akin to a cranberry-apple cider, topped with a scoop of Mascarpone flavored ice cream. It was like eating a crustless pie!

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We posed in front of the store here, too. But you don’t need to see what my hair was doing in this picture…

Before we left, after I was absolutely stuffed from all the food we’d had over the course of the day, we got ice cream again. This time I went for the exotic Anise Seed flavored ice cream – not as potent and much more delicious than you might imagine – as well as another sorbet, a Cranberry Pear!

A Christmas Carol

The highlight of the trip, and the reason we were in Princeton in the first place, was to see McCarter’s production of A Christmas Carol. Suffice to say, there was no disappointment, whatsoever. Upon first entering the theatre and seeing the production’s “community ensemble” dressed in Dickensian garb – they led everyone in an older English carol before the show, and performed a hand bell choir in the entr’acte – I knew the production would be exciting and immersive!

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Had to document our experience in classic photo-op fashion! We then stood there for five minutes taking other people’s pictures…

Suffice it to say, this production has a lot of incredible people behind it, as well as on stage. David Thompson, who wrote the adaptation, is responsible for writing the new book for the 1996 revival of Chicago, as well as other works, such as Steel Pier, and the recent Prince of Broadway. Michael Friedman, of Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson fame, composed original music for the production, and the special effects were designed by Jeremy Chernik, who, among other things, will be bringing us the special effects for Frozen on Broadway, soon!

Following the production, we took a short walk down to visit (read: gawk at) Albert Einstein’s New Jersey home – notice that it is not a museum. I think they stress that quite well, don’t you?

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There are literally three signs that say “No Trespassing” before you even reach the front door. Think they’ve had a problem with people hoping this house is also a museum?

We satisfied our appetites with a visit to a favorite haunt of our friend’s, Winberie’s, before visiting the Bent Spoon yet again (seriously, it’s that good) and heading back to the train… where I promptly fell asleep.

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Winberie’s, per our friends tradition for after meal victuals!

All in all, a fantastic trip, with fantastic company – just extra proof that day trips from the city are within our grasp, and bring a myriad of experiences and surprises. I highly recommend each of the places into which we stumbled – and the beauty of the campus in winter is a wonderful sight! I can’t wait for future trips elsewhere (or back to Princeton!) and look forward to our annual vacation coming up for Christmas, this year!