Friday, June 29, 2012

Cabin in the Woods

My friends Lachlan and James send this report from their mini-vacation in the mountains of Georgia:
We rented a cute cabin tucked waaaay back in the woods which had a great trout stream running by it. Our rainbow "trout count" for the week ended up being: James 10 and Lachlan 1. We had such a blast fly fishing, hiking, rocking porch sitting, jacuzzi soaking and playing Trivial Pursuit by the glow of the fireplace late at night. We also had no idea that this cabin didn't have internet access but after the initial shock, it was a nice respite from one aspect of technology (and yeah, we still had our smart phones with us, thankgoodness!). The place surprisingly had 3 TV's so it wasn't that-rustic, haha, er yeah...

This is James fishing. It makes me feel cool and restful just looking at this photo.

This is Lachlan hiking.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Dinner with Barbara

Met Barbara for dinner at one of our favorite places -- a little Italian place called Nonna's.

The view from my seat, waiting for Barbara. This is at 85th and Coluimbus. Neither of us enjoy eating outside, but we got the table by the open front of the restaurant which, to me, is the best of both worlds. It was a very mild night, more like September than June.
I got there first as I allowed way too much time to get there, looked at the menu and saw they had a "special cocktail of the day" and I thought it looked good, but then this stupid internal voice kicks in that I can't have that -- because why? Because I don't normally order that, because it was $10, because I get cheap with myself, blah blah blah.

I think it was the Nun's Story where the student nuns (can't remember what you call them) had to do a self-evaluation, like a confession, and each would begin, "I accuse myself of..." and so I accuse myself of sometimes being too conservative when it comes to spending money, not always, but when it involves something festive -- like this special cocktail of the day.

So I ordered it. It was called Blue Sky... It was Tanqueray gin, aperol (which is an orange liquer), blood orange puree (I'm a sucker for anything made from blood oranges -- shampoo, too!) and orange juice.
Somehow I thought it would be blue, although none of the ingredients are... so it arrived looking like this:

It tasted like the best Screwdriver you could imagine. I could definitely see drinking a bunch of these and getting totally sloshed. It was really refreshing, frosty, citrus-y, icy. Then the server brought the foccacia which was delicious.

When Barbara arrived, we decided to split this salad which was wonderful -- greens with beets and gorgonzola cheese. She had pasta with white clam sauce, with little clams in the shells, and I had papardelle which is wide, flat pasta with veal and mushrooms. We did everything but lick the plates. We also ordered garlic bread -- four thick pieces of foccacia. The server, whom we liked a lot, tried to push the chocolate lava cake for desset, but neither of us were that interested. I like chocolate, but not that much. So we relaxed and finished our drinks.

Here's the view from the inside.

I had a nice driver on the way home, in a Crown Vic cab which looked brand new and I wondered if they were going to be phased out this year why you would put a new one on the road. The driver explained, and this is good news for me, is that a cab can be no more than five years old so the Crown Vic cabs will still be on the streets for five more years -- but, of course, they'll get scarcer.

Got home and sat on my front steps for a while. My neighbor arrived home and we sat and talked until her pizza arrived. I think the delivery guy was surprised to see her sitting there, ostensibly waiting fo him. So a pleasant evening was had by all. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Mary's New Project

Looks like Mary is going to take the leap on a project she's talked about for years -- she is going to screen in her side porch. I told her I want to sleep out there one night. In the old days, people had "sleeping porches" and that always sounds so lovely to me.

Funny, but I don't remember how miserable life was without air conditioning. Didn't have it until I was in college. I think of that when I'm driving -- and it's hard to remember how we did thousands of miles with the windows fully open.

Here's from today:
Mary writes: The view from my porch before screening it. It was so pleasant out there with a lovely breeze, disrupted only by bugs as the sun was going down.

Barbara's Summer Garden

The astilbes are in bloom.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Who writes these things?

I am a good reader. I have always been a good reader. I remember in grade school we would take reading comprehension tests and I'd blow through them quickly and sit there bored. I read constantly. I read for work. I read for fun. I read, read, read.

Today, I received one of those incomprehensible business letters. This one is from the management company for the building, and it reads:

We have recently been informed by NYC Department of Finance that the state changed how the STAR abatement is applied.

So far, I get it. The STAR abatement is some sort of tax abatement this building gets for having an energy efficient furnace and new windows. (I think.) What it really means that every February, I get a huge discount on my maintenance (condo fees for a co-op). And I did receive this discount this past February.

Uh-oh, I think... is the STAR abatement going away? I think "nice while it lasted."

It cannot increase by more than 2% yearly.

Ok, sounds simple, but you're beginning to lose me here with this detail.

Therefore the STAR abatement for 2011/12 which you received this past February has been reduced...

So I owe them money?

but it then entitled you...

Oh, "entitlted" -- I like that word -- is the rest of the sentence going to be "to an even bigger discount??"

to a small increase in your co-op abatement.

I interpret that to mean... a "small increase" in my "co-op abatement" is that I'll get a further discount of approximately $4.13. Just making up that figure. OK, I'll take $4.13 -- better than a kick in the head. But the letter continues...

The small additional money due

DUE?? I thought there was an increase in my abatement.

will appear as an additional charge on your July maintenance bill.

AN ADDITIONAL CHARGE? In other words, I'm "entitled" to pay more??

And of course, the ending all these idiot writers love to use:

Feel free to contact our office if you have any questions on this matter.

And we will not know what you're calling about, put you on hold, cut you off, have you leave a voice mail and you'll never hear from anyone about "this matter." When you call for the third time, you'll be told the person is really very busy, unlike you who wiles away her time getting mani/pedis and writing haiku.

Seriously, I was thinking if you set out to write a letter that was vague and misleading, this would be it.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

What's the right temp?

The very first day I looked at this apartment when I was buying it was over 100 degrees. I had been looking for an apartment to buy for about four months, and what had started out as fun, had turned into a chore. I remember that day -- a Sunday in July -- I decided that I was only going to look at one place and that was it. I called one ad -- yeah, back in the day when you read ads in an old-fashioned thing called the "classifieds" and was given this address to meet the broker.

Unbeknownst to me, he had given me the wrong address. Rather than the address of the apartment for sale, he gave me the address of an apartment (now mine) that he was living in temporarily and using as an office while he sold apartments in the neighborhood. So when I arrived, sweaty, hot and not in the mood, the broker wasn't here, but his mother was and she let me in.

My very first memory on that sweltering Sunday is how cool and dark this apartment is. It was like walking into a cave and I loved it. Because it was just his mother, who was not in the business, I was able to look around the apartment, which she did know was also for sale, with no pressure. Eventually the broker (her son) returned and the rest is history.

Of course, if I could go back, I would have negotiated the price way, way, way more than I did. This was a rental building being coverted to a co-op building and to do that, you had to sell at least 15% of the apartments which in this building amounted to two apartments, and this guy had sold one. As soon as I said yes, he would have successfully converted the building. Even knowing that at the time, I didn't use that to my advantage. He told me the asking price, and then suggested I offer $3000 less so I, like a big dummy, said OK.

Oh well.

Now, fast forward two decades or so and I have replaced those ancient air conditioners that finally gave up the ghost with modern ones where you can set to an exact temperature (with remote control no less) and therein lies my dilemma.

What exactly should the temperature be?

The forces at work... well, let's say you could make a pie chart ... 65% of the chart would say "Con Ed bill" which means that I pay from $40 to $60 a month for electricity eight months of the year. When I use a/c, my bill can jump to $200 or more. The other piece of the pie would be 25% labeled "sort of want to be green." I don't want to use more than my share of electricity.

I recycle. I use a low water use shower head -- but to be honest, I have to say that was motivated by the water pressure it produces -- think of holding your thumb over the end of a garden hose -- so I bought it for the pressure with the less water the bonus. I don't run the water when I brush my teeth. I'm getting ahead of myself. The remaining 10% of the pie would be an inability to make a decision.

Ok, so I like it at 68 degrees. It produces a nice comfortable chill. I know I'm in a/c, but it's not crazy. And yet, I think that may be too cool. At night, I turn it up to 70. I only have the a/c on in the room I'm in, and I don't ever leave my apartment with it on.

So what temperature do you all use? Is 68 degrees too cool?

PS: I also remind myself that I'm not so broke and that I can afford the summer Con Ed bills.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Milo Ignores Me

Milo has never shown any aggression to me; I get an occasional leg rub as he goes by, but basically I don't exist for him. Not Michelle. Where I struggled to get Milo to look at the camera, Michelle had no problem.

Proof herewith:

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


The local media of course was in heaven with this sudden heat wave, and this morning, early, like 7:30, I was flipping around the stations and each one of the networks had these idiotic "advice" pieces about the heat. Like "wear light clothes" and "drink water." Do people really need to be told when it's in the high 90s you should "wear light clothes"? Thought I'd take out my winter coat in case I got chilled today.

It's like the pre-snowstorm piece where the news guy automatically goes to: 1) home depot to check on shovel and salt sales; 2) the gov't snowplow garage to interview the curmudgeonly driver who says he'll do what needs to be done; 3) the local grocery to find the housewife stocking up on bread and milk and 4) the guy standing by the highway where traffic is flowing but "team coverage" demands that this guy says "Traffic may be flowing smoothly now, Kirk, but in a few hours...."

Am I leaving anything out?

Oh wait, and then there's the hurricane coverage where they show the idiot teenager surfing in storm-tossed seas; same guy goes to a different Home Depot to check on battery and generator sales; same guy goes to a different grocery store to check on milk and bread sales, vacationing white bread family packing up  the beach chairs with their vacation cut short.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What I'm Reading

A friend passed this along to me. I am not sure what to expect, but it was a best seller for a long time and I know her from her Sarah Palin days. I have not watched Saturday Night Live on any regular basis for years, but I am open to laughing.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Birthdays Are Exhausting

Here's Mary's grandniece Gwenyth at her first birthday party.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Mary's Homecoming Gift

Mary was here in NY for a few days with Barb; we had lunch on Wednesday and had some nice time together. I won't say Mary is bad luck, but it rained the entire time she was here, only to get sunny approximately the time she left.

However, she was greeted on her return home with this gardenia gift in her garden. I love the smell of gardenias. It's an old-fashioned smell to me, and so fresh.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

New-Fangled Banking

Just saw a commercial that my bank, Citibank, has started a program whereby you can photograph a check on your smartphone and make a deposit that way. I was thinking "then what do you do with the check? Do you just throw it away? How can they stop you from depositing it again or in a different bank?"

So I was thinking about of all the way life has changed in the past 50 years, banking surely is one of them. It doesn't seem like that long ago where I spent lunch hours on payday standing on line to deposit my paycheck. Or running to get to the bank by 3 pm. Nowadays to not be able to do any banking after 3 pm on weekdays and all weekend seems preposterous.

I believe Citibank was among the first to have ATMs and there were two of them originally in NY, one about 10 blocks from where I lived. What a miracle they were.

The latest change that impacted me was no more deposit slips at Citibank. I had a bunch of them -- some I actually ordered last time I ordered checks, and then I realized I could just shred them all. Now the deposited check appears on your receipt.

It makes me realize that life has gotten easier in a whole lot of ways.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Stephanie in Florida

You need a bit of patience, scrolling to see all of these. Stephanie sent me prints as she is not quite sure how to upload photos, and then my assistant Marilyn scanned them for me, so here's the best I can do. Five pictures to follow so keep scrolling! But here are the captions:

1. Stephanie welcoming us to her house in Florida.
2. Here's their first car which I assume Stephanie enjoys more than the bus and subway.
3. This is Stephanie's father who is 92 or 93 and lives with Stephanie and her husband. He can be difficult (ahem.) He lived in the same apartment in New York for something like 65 years, but has now found something which gives him pleasure. His one and only enjoyable activity is to go to Walmart and ride around on the electric chair while other shoppers notice his World War II veterans' cap and comment favorably to him.
4. From city cat to suburban poolside cat.
5.. Macho inside resting.


Monday Morning

Realized I didn't have a photo of Corinna from the weekend so Mary took this Monday morning -- Corinna and her buddy Milo (still not looking at the camera... is that too much to ask, Milo?????)

And here's Mary's water lilly from her little (and we do mean little) pond.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

My Weekend

So on Friday morning I'm headed down to Mary's not without a bit of drama at the rental car place. There was one person in front of me and the clerk I knew told me they were waiting for his car to come up. I handed her my American Express card and license and then his car came up. He left and the clerk asked me for my card and license. I gave it to you. No you didn't. Yes, I did. No you didn't. Oh wait. Oh my god, I gave it to that man.

She runs out of the place and luckily catches the guy before he drives off. Had he done that, I don't know what  choices I would have had -- couldn't take an airplane; even Amtrak asks for photo ID sometimes. So I'm glad she moved fast. I had no traffic going down -- made great time.

On Friday night, we celebrated Fran's birthday. Note birthday crown. Also in attendance were Michelle (who is also a college friend) and her friend who we also know named Corinna who were on a road trip from Austin. And, of course, we were all gathered at Mary's. We had Italian food delivered.  We had this great pasta dish with lobster and bacon, some baked ziti, four-cheese ravioli, salad and stuffed mushrooms. And for dessert...

Mary got a dozen cupcakes all decorated like ice cream -- really beautiful.

This was mine -- I chose pistachio.

Here we are -- Corinna took this -- Michelle and I seated and Mary and Fran standing.

We hung out on Saturday and then about 3 left on our mini-road trip to visit our favorite destination restaurant, Capt. Billy's, but first -- on the way there...

We re-enact John Wilkes Booth's escape. This is Maryland about a mile from the restaurant and he crossed the Potomac to get to Virginia.

,We arrive at Capt. Billy's. Mary dropped us out front to go park the car and Michelle and Corinna went inside and I waited for Mary outside. This older gentleman walked by this other woman and me. He was carrying a bunch of mail and he greeted us and wished we had a pleasant meal. I said to her light-heartedly, "I wonder if that was Captain Billy" and she said very seriously, "Oh no, he died, but he's a family member."

Mary and Michelle split a dozen crabs whose market value price was $30. Out of curiosity I asked the server the price variance, and she said the lowest they are is $28 and the highest they are is $60.

This is messy eating. All that pounding, tearing, cracking, picking.  Here are Mary's hands, all covered with Old Bay seasoning and bits of crab. I, for one, don't like working that hard for food, so I had crab stuffed shrimp which were really good.

On the way there, we'd spotted a sign that said "Early Churches" and since it was still early, I suggested we go see if we could find them. This was a few miles from the restaurant. We also saw this state park, which was quite peculiar. It was a dirt road through a corn field... we followed the road and then it entered this very dark and sort of sinister looking forest and I would have continued, but Mary and the others were spooked and it devolved into a joke that I believe Corinna started that we'd be attacked a la Deliverance by a bunch of hillbillies lying in wait. So we got out of there.

Here's the "early church" -- am not sure if there are two, or we missed one. I should have taken a photo of the b uilding, but it really didn't look that old -- more like late 19th century, but it was kind of cool to see this place in such an out of the way spot. And since Michelle grew up in Maryland, she knew Maryland history, including the name of the boat that the first Catholic settlers arrived on -- Maryland's answer to the Mayflower, but now I can't remember the name.

I became obsessed trying to get a picture of Milo looking at the camera with his eyes open, and he was totally uncooperative, bored by my efforts.

Now it's Sunday morning and Dave arrived. Dave is Meredith's husband (who is in Afghanistan) and Michelle is Dave's mother-in-law. Of course, poor Dave got immediately sent to the grocery store to get paper towels and ice. Quite dutifully, Dave was up for the challenge and returned with 20 pounds of ice in his backpack and a giant package of 8 or 10 rolls of paper towels. We were quite impressed.  Oh yes, and the plastic wrap. This is Dave, writing down his shopping list so he didn't screw up.

The brunch was Tex Mex and this is Michelle's salsa and guacamole.  Michelle also made queso.

Fresh fruit. Note the lovely slicing of the bananas (which I did).

Meredith called from Afghanistan and we all had a chance to talk with her, including Matt, Mary's nephew, who is a high school chemistry teacher and puts up with remarkable good humor with a whole lot of everything from Aunt Mary and her friends.

Corinna made two breakfast casseroles. This one and one she made with homemade chorizo that she brough with her. Both of them were wonderful.

But all good things mustg come to an end. I left about 2, and this is the first time I saw the NY City skyline, from New Jersery, where you can see the almost-finished World Trade Center which is the tallest building here.

Coming across the Hudson, via the Lincoln Tunnel, incto Manhattan.

Where I got in Tony's traffic. This was the red carpet which was along Amsterdam Avenue... In the middle, someone was interviewing these two short guys in white suits. Have no idea who they are.

And one block from home. Here is the mess of the Second Avenue subway. This is Second Avenue between 86th and 87th so if you look at the darker structure, I live down that block. I wanted Stephanie to see what the neighborhood looks like. I'm glad I'm not living in that building, being blocked by these structures.

All in all, home safe and sound and a good time was had by all, especially me.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Off to DC

Off tomorrow to DC to spend the weekend with Mary, celebrate Fran's birthday and see Michelle and Corinne who are passing through on their roadtrip. Lots of stuff when I return.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Michelle's Globe Trotting Children

Either Michelle's children will do anything to get away from her -- to the point of living in Afghanistan for a year -- or else she has created adventurous, confident offspring -- am not sure which, but here are some photos from her son Greg's European trip. I didn't think you could get that close to the Pope!

Greg writes: We flew in Friday and spent both Friday and Saturday in Milan. We didn't know the pope was going to be in town. We inadvertently 'ran' into him at the big cathedral, going to the opera and leaving the opera. Sunday morning we drove to Lake Como and mostly hung out in Bellagio. {The first photo is labeled Bellagio, and the second is obvious.}

And now, back in Afghanistan, Meredith writes: Photos from the girls madrassas visit before I went on vacation. When I was asked to go to participate, I was expecting to talk with school directors about textbooks and teacher training. Instead it turned out I was part of a 3 woman American goodwill tour addressing students and teachers…

Monday, June 4, 2012

Gross Thought to End the Day

I was never really that squeamish about the cleanliness of hotel rooms, but have become increasingly more so as the years have gone by -- plus I believe whereas a housekeeper might have spent 15 minutes in a room in years past, she now spends about 5. No more vacuuming, changing sheets, etc.

One of the reality shows I watch is "Hotel Impossible" where a hotel consultant comes in and advises a failing hotel. He is a bear about cleanliness. When he was inspecting an average room on the show tonight, he spies those shiny floewered bedspreads which we've all seen dozens of over the years.

Luckily many hotels, even budget ones, have replaced those bedspreads with an additional top sheet or very light washable spread which is changed (or so I imagine) from guest to guest.

Some people I know practically take tongs to remove those flowered bedspreads. And tonight I learned a good reason to do so. When the consultant talkedto the head of housekeeping about the bedspreads, she says they are laundered FOUR TIMES A YEAR.

He asked her if she were a guest at the hotel what she would do with the bedspread and she said "throw it on the floor."

I really don't even want to think what has accumulated on those spreads after one month, much less two, much less three.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

What I'm Reading

I'm a little slow getting to the best sellers, as this was first published in 2000. This is another pass-along from Barbara, and I am really enjoying it. A few laugh out loud moments. He writes the way he speaks so it's easy reading, and interesting too.

I think Bourdain lives in my neighborhood for three reasons: 1) On one of his shows, he featured this hole-in-the-wall place called Papaya King which is sort of an iconic NY place at 86th and Third that sells an odd combination of grilled hot dogs along with health drinks, the most popular of which is a papaya drink which has the consistency of a smoothie. They also have a pina colada (non-alcoholic) drink and a grape drink which I like. Haven't been there for a while. The hotdogs are great -- thin with a crackly skin that pops when you bite it on a very lightly toasted bun.

The second reason I think he lives in my neighborhood is that I actually saw him, with a little bag of produce, on a Sunday morning at the corner of 88th and Third waiting for the light to change. I was in a cab, going up Third Avenue, on the way to La Guardia on the way to Oshkosh. I remember thinking that I'd rather be back at the apartment waiting for Tony to return with the fresh mushrooms and shallots or whatever to make me the perfect omelet than to be on the way to Oshkosh.

And then, while reading the book today, he was talking about food safety, and he mentioned having seen a Chinese restaurant with a sign that said DISCOUNT SUSHI. And this place at the corner of 87th and First, a place, now closed, called Golden Woks  (woks plural, not one wok) had such a banner and I remember thinking gee, no thanks. What the hell is discount sushi?

I'll stick with a couple of hot dogs from Papaya King.