Wednesday, December 22, 2010

holiday scenes in nyc

because i'm no longer in nyc, today's post will just be a collection of holiday scenes (the numbers in the picture refer to the dec. 16 post).

#7 free gift wrapping
a picture of random strangers with an fao schwartz soldier:

#10 fao schwartz soldier
the decorations suspended above fifth avenue

giant snowflake above 5th avenue

Monday, December 20, 2010

yay real kitchen!

today i got to enjoy something i've abandoned all hope of ever possessing while living in nyc: a real kitchen (and by real, i mean larger than 25 square feet).  woo hoo!  i did some more holiday baking ... decorating will follow in the next couple days.  pictures to come ...

review of the bolt bus to boston

why i love the bolt bus from nyc to boston (er... okay, love is a strong word ... swap out "love" for "occasionally tolerate"):

1. it's cheap

2. it does not involve radiation and naked 3D photographs or groping by questionable security officials

3. (some of) the seats have electrical outlets and the bus promises free wi-fi

4. at least one driver begins the voyage by asking if anyone knows the way to boston.  enjoyed him.

how the bolt bus could improve:

1. make good on that wi-fi promise (i.e., yes, technically it exists ... but if it is not possible for people to use it because there is not enough of it to go around (resulting in no one using any of it), i don't think that really counts).

2. signs.  they need more signs.  for example, a sign on the inside of the bathroom door to inform well-intentioned passengers that the floor is not the appropriate disposal receptacle for their chewing gum.  and a sign requesting that passengers treat tuna fish like the dirty little secret it is - as something to be shamefully consumed in private ... not devoured in confined public spaces, where its nasty odor can waft over into the nostrils of the innocents.  or how about a sign on 34th street that clearly distinguishes the philly bus from the boston bus?

what happens now: during the 30-60 minutes before a bus arrives, passengers begin arriving on the street corner.  they walk around confused, happening upon a line that someone has started somewhere (the line has not been started by an employee of the bolt bus - if they are even around, they will tell you that the spontaneously formed single file of passengers "is not a line because the bus is not even here yet").  the newcomers might ask around to find out if they are in the right place: "is this for boston?" "are you going to boston at" (fill in a time)?  they derive a modicum of comfort from discovering that others intend to board the same bus they do or they walk around looking for something else vaguely resembling a line.  or maybe they are confused because the bus everyone else intends to board should have left 15 minutes previously. but no one is really sure of anything.  if an employee happens to be around, some passengers might ask him/her for information, only to discover s/he doesn't really have any.  then on their way back to their place in the single file of strangers, others will ask them what they found out.  the strangers then play telephone with the message that no one knows anything.
eventually a bus pulls up to a curb.  either the uninformed employee who happened to be there with the masses or an employee who has materialized out of nowhere softly makes the announcement of a destination and a time.  the masses who do not intend to go to this destination play telephone with the announcement, passing it along down the line that is not really a line.  the people who intend to board the bus suddenly make a mad dash to throw their bags in the luggage compartment and mob the entrance to the bus (and then we learn why the line was not a line ... yet it seems to form itself again and again before each bus arrives, even though the only purpose i could see it serving would be to keep the masses from rioting in disputes regarding who had arrived first (before, of course, they realize such distinctions are futile).   then the employee recites the first few letters of the alphabet ("a! anyone for a?"), pausing while harried travelers shove through the crowd toward the door of the bus.  some flash pieces of paper in front of his/her face, while others hold up their handheld electronic devices.  sometimes the employee looks at what they are showing him/her as they file past and finally board the bus.  other times, the employee is distracted by a compelling discussion with his/her coworker. eventually, by some dark magic, everyone ends up on the bus, seated with their carry-ons stowed.

3.  related to #2, some system of keeping employees abreast of which bus is which ... or some expectation that they communicate their knowledge to their customers

4. heat.  no, i don't mean on the bus (though it was a little on the chilly side for me).  i mean a heated waiting area.  it is cold when you are standing still on the streets of nyc in mid-december waiting for a bus that no one is sure will really arrive until it actually does.  in fairness, the outdoor "terminal" situation is probably not really bolt's fault.  bolt has its own terminals at the station in boston (and boarding there is quite organized).  maybe space is at such a premium in nyc they have been unable to secure ideal space.  or maybe they do enough business they don't care about securing something resembling a terminal in nyc.  i don't know.  i just know it is cold waiting for that bus.

5. in the summer, functional air conditioning for the entire bus (not just the first half of the bus).

6. functional seats.  yes, i understand that maybe you want to advertise that (some of) your buses have leather seats because maybe this is a major selling point for many (first-time/uninitiated?) customers.  but to those who equate leather with comfortable, let me explain something.  the seats are about 2" thick (warning: that might be a slight exaggeration - maybe it is closer to 4 or 5 inches? i'll have to pay closer attention if we need to use the bus again ... but they are thin).  and the actual seat part (you know, the butt cushion) falls considerably short of at least 2 of the passengers' knee pits.  as in, constant effort is required to prevent oneself from falling out of the seat.  to their credit, i think perhaps the bolt bus engineers must have known this could be a problem.  they installed foot rests beneath the seats so that passengers in each successive row could brace themselves.  (unfortunately, the first row lacks a bracing apparatus ... but passengers riding in this row have seat belts so that they can strap themselves in to prevent themselves from falling out of their seats).

Saturday, December 18, 2010

nyc scavenger hunt, part 2

the last saturday before Christmas is quite possibly the worst day of the season to do the holiday scavenger hunt.  i guess a lot of cattle were expected to come through midtown because the police had set up barriers on every block to keep the anticipated herds on the sidewalk and off of all the streets ... fortunately, when the traffic signals indicated the appropriate time, the police did open up the gated corrals to allow people to cross the streets.  seriously, i'm no fan of weekends in midtown pretty much ever ... but this was sidewalk cholesterol at its highest level.

but we had friends visiting today (including a), so we did the scavenger hunt today anyway.  and we had fun.

we probably actively hunted scavengers for about 2.5 - 3 hours in total (we had a side expedition of finding somewhere a group of six could sit together for reasonably priced, tasty lunch).  because we ran out of time, we didn't make it to a few locations.  our scavenger hunt score was a mere 20.  we'll have to try again next year.

when the picture taking involved random strangers, we found others surprisingly happy to stop and let us take pictures of their bags or their pets.  the only damper on the whole day was the crummy bakery by the name of crumbs bake shop (on 8th street in the village).  three of our group went into the bakery to try to find a holiday cake on display.  they were promptly reprimanded for photographing the merchandise (even when they innocently pointed out they were merely on a scavenger hunt).

so ... you don't want anyone to take a picture ... are you afraid someone will try to duplicate your designs?  because:
a) as one member of our group pointed out, if someone really cared to do that, they could buy one of your little cupcakes, take it home, and really study it in order to duplicate it (were such study necessary).
b) i hate to break it to you, but in this age of cake decorating insanity, there is nothing particularly special about your designs (if we are conceding to call rolling a cupcake in sprinkles a design)
c) you post pictures of your products online ... and i'm going to tell you what i tell all the social networking teenagers i love: be careful what you put on the internet; anyone could see it.
and d) seriously?  you're concerned about someone stealing your work?  the cupcake that is currently featured most prominently on your site is black with a white swirly pattern across the top ... and it looks exactly like a hostess chocolate cupcake.

but i should be fair.  maybe hostess stole the design from you ... maybe that is why you are a little extra sensitive.  either way, you may want to rethink pairing that cupcake with the statement, "You can enjoy your favorite Crumbs treats in the comfort of your own home - just like Mom used to bake."  let's try to ignore the referent ambiguity (did Mom used to bake your home?  was she baking your comfort?).  but still, if anyone was eating those cupcakes in the comfort of their own homes, it wasn't because Mom baked them.  it was because she bought them from the "not-really-food-but-will-survive-nuclear-war-and-winter" section of the grocery store.

#31 giant Christmas lights

#3 a person riding a fish

Thursday, December 16, 2010

nyc holiday scavenger hunt

i've always liked scavenger hunts, but i've never done one in the city.  there are sites that will sell you tickets to NYC scavenger hunts (conducted entirely via your cell phone) for between $20-$60.  although it sounds kind of fun, i wonder whether it's really worth paying for a very minimal service (automatic clues sent to your phone).  so i've decided to take the advice of a clever friend (a, this is for you :), and create my own.

so here is the game: this is a NYC holiday scavenger hunt.  it will involve visiting some of the majorly touristy sites (i recommend playing on a weekday) as well as a few more idiosyncratic locations or pictures that could be taken almost anywhere in the city.  in keeping with the spirit of the depressed economy, this scavenger hunt will be entirely free.  thus, rather than collecting random trinkets, bring a camera and get a picture of each of the following*:

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

changed my mind

the whole idea of holidays in NYC was charming at first.  we visited the toy stores (on weekdays - we weren't going anywhere near them during the weekend crazy), where we blew our budgets shopping for our youngest nephews.  we elbowed our way through the crowds to see the tree at rockefeller center, enjoyed the department store windows (mostly - the windows that just had holiday scenes on flat-screen tvs were kind of lame), and escaped the midtown madness to return safely home to the village.  and that was all fine and great and lovely.  we've frequented the Christmas markets in grand central and in union square (where i played with the little stuffed donkey ornaments ("charlie! candy mountain charlie!") to the great amusement of the couple behind us).  also wonderful.  so what is the problem, you ask?  those outings were undertaken on relatively sunny days when the temperature was at least into the forties (a respectable, but not oppressive, wintry range).

today i intended to finally complete my stocking stuffer mission.  but ... a mere 3 or so miles walking to a doctor appointment, to the pharmacy, to a store to pick out wrapping paper, and a brief visit to the MoMA store did me in.  the walk involved a temperature of 22 degrees, getting hammered by the wind, and freezing my face off (oh yeah, and my heels are still missing a layer of skin - i had to supplement them with gauze and resort to wearing (actually functional) running shoes (j thinks maybe we bought the boots a half size too big and that is why my heels were slipping around a bit ... i hope he's wrong because i really don't want to break in another pair anytime soon)).

thus, since returning home today, i've now reconsidered our choice of NYC over LA.  i think maybe we should have negotiated separate winter arrangements.  i've also changed my mind about spending the holidays in the cold northeast.  dear loved ones, our holiday rendezvous point will be kauai.  to those who would like to see us for the holiday, we look forward to meeting you there.

Monday, December 13, 2010

new boots

j and i went out to find a pair of boots to replace an overly loved pair - it was well past their expiration date.   i am really loving boots lately - much more than is probably healthy, especially given that women's shoes are nothing more than glorified foot binding (i love them, but let's be honest - they are not made for walking).  nonetheless, after many weeks of searching (i guess i'm a bit picky about shoes), we finally succeeded and made a purchase last night.  but of course, you can't just buy the boots.  you also need the spray stuff to protect the boots from the elements (okay, fine, i'm willing to accept this).  and you also need the silly little stickers that make the boots almost functional.

you see, when we were checking out, the tricky little salesman pulled out stickers, demonstrated affixing them to the bottom of the soles, and asked j if he wanted those too "so she won't slip."  tricky, tricky, tricky.  the salesman didn't ask me - he asked j. because what kind of heartless jerk wants his girl slipping and falling down all over the city?  j responded that i am capable of healing myself should i fall over, so why should he pay extra for a feature that came with me?

just kidding.  he told the salesman that yes, we wanted the silly anti-slip stickers.  as i peeled them off and stuck them to the soles, we did wonder why the soles could not have been manufactured in such a way as to have tread already on them.  nonetheless, i also sprayed them and took them out for a walk today as i continued my stocking stuffer quest (which, so far today, has been wholly unsuccessful because the "city that never sleeps" actually sleeps in pretty darn late, and none of the stores i wanted to visit were open until 11.00 or even 12.00 ... so i'll have to go out again).  as further evidence that women's shoes are built to constrain, in the course of the 2 or 3 miles i walked this morning, i lost a couple patches of skin from my heels.  yet rather than return the boots and buy sensible shoes, i'll wear them a couple more times until they are broken in, and then continue traipsing about the city in completely non-functional heels.  because they are so cool.  so rather than freely walking about now that the stores are finally open, i am instead chilling in my teeny tiny apartment until j comes home for lunch, bearing gifts of neosporin and gauze.

dear little shoe salesman, i think you should start peddling moleskin "so she won't lose chunks of flesh from her heels."

Sunday, December 12, 2010


my oldest nephew came to visit about 2 months ago with my mom and sister.  at one point we all went out to eat at galanga, a thai restaurant in the village.  it never ceases to amaze me how my nephew just happily eats his vegetables - even broccoli or spinach (i'm a vegetarian, and i'm not sure i was nearly that good about it at his age).  but there he was, happily eating his veggies. and i noticed he was particularly enjoying using the brightly colored chopsticks ... and he was still holding onto them when the waitress came to clear the table.

now, these chopsticks were seriously just brightly colored plastic.  how expensive could they possibly be?  i was hoping she would just let the kid take them home with him.  but after clearing the table, she stood just staring and waiting until we figured out what she wanted (it was pretty awkward, actually).  and as silly as this probably is (they were just a pair of chopsticks), i've been feeling a little sad about it.  so i have decided that as a little compensatory side Christmas gift, this nephew really needs his own special pair of chopsticks.

thus, yesterday, j and i walked to Chinatown in search of a special pair (braving the masses of drunken santas).  we went to Yunhong Chopsticks (partly because NY Magazine promised it would be a fun gift shop, and partly because the store's website is "" so surely they would have enough happiness to compensate for the sadness of the earlier loss).  we succeeded in obtaining chopsticks with the appropriate sign of the Chinese zodiac for him.  the shop itself was fun and had quite the spectrum of chopstick options, from cheap plastic ones for kids to silver tipped pairs ... though I can't imagine ever spending several hundred dollars on a pair of chopsticks.

in any case, because i've been so frustrated by my inability to find a nice, compact list of where to buy exciting stocking stuffers in nyc, i've decided to add a page to the blog to start my own ... and am adding Yunhong Chopsticks to that list.  (most of these places have websites ... so for any non-new yorkers who need exciting ideas, this list could potentially be useful if you are willing to pay for shipping).

Saturday, December 11, 2010

the east village hates children

i spent the morning on a quest for stocking stuffers (and for the record, let me just say i found the wild and wonderful world of the internet barely more than minimally helpful in directing me to unique, quirky little places to find stocking stuffers .... i ended up just bundling up, opening the door, and walking in the directions that i intuitively sensed would have what i was looking for ... so it was more of an adventure than an exercise in efficiency, but it's all good).

my trek took me into the heart of the east village, where literally hundreds of mr. and mrs. santa clauses (and, here and there, the nonconformist reindeer or elf) were pouring into the streets or disappearing from the streets into little shops (though when i looked closer, they appeared to be disappearing into little pubs more often than little shops).  every corner i turned was speckled in red and white.  ordinarily, i would really have to argue that the west village is much cooler than the east village (because i am, of course, quite biased).  but maybe there would be less enmity between the villages if the eastern side were to share its "dress like santa claus" memos with the western side.  you know, invited us to play too.  or at least just let us know so we would have taken our cameras on our stocking stuffer expeditions.

nonetheless, should i someday become a nyc parent, i'm going to not only have to explain why santa claus looks different depending on which store my kid sees him in, or why the miracle on 34th street parade santa claus is publicly quite drunk, or how there can be multiple santa clauses at once, but also why hundreds of potentially drunken santa clauses annually flood the city.

okay ... so apparently this was not just an east village thing.  i have just discovered it is a city-wide convention - the drunken santas were still going strong at 9.00pm and had indeed more than infiltrated the west village. (and oops ... they say "every time you call santacon a bar crawl, a sugarplum fairy dies" ... i hope my above insinuation results in nothing more than maiming).

Thursday, December 9, 2010

holiday party season

the first holiday party has arrived ... and i am enjoying my new hobby way too much.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

bread and circuses

last night, j and i went out to eat in soho before braving times square to see a broadway show.  we went for thai at a hip little joint called peep.  apparently, transparency is their m.o.  the front of the restaurant is one giant window and mirrors cover the ceiling and the walls.  the kitchen is open and you can see in (or spy on the kitchen through the ceiling mirrors).  but the best (yet, for me, least functional) parts were the bathrooms.

the bathrooms were hidden behind two-way wall mirrors ... so you lock yourself inside the bathroom, and you can still see everything going on in the restaurant.  j told me about it when we were at our table.  i was a bit skeptical, slightly more than a bit disturbed, but mostly curious.  i noticed a young man enter the bathroom while we were eating, and it took every ounce of self-restraint i had to not stare straight at the mirror that hid the bathroom and make shocked or disgusted faces until he came out.

i managed to behave throughout the meal (which, by the way, was excellent).  i couldn't leave without investigating the bathroom, though.  when we finished eating, i pretended to need to use the bathroom (let's be honest, even if i had really needed to go, there is no way i would have been able to do my thing while half the restaurant was staring in my general direction - though i didn't see any miscreants deliberately making faces at me).  i don't know whose idea it was (though i guess it was the idea of the same person who decided to name the restaurant "peep"), but despite the morbid novelty attraction factor, two-way mirrors in bathrooms are horrible ideas. the psychology labs that tend to have two-way mirrors are also the labs that tend to have hidden cameras ... and sure, peep might not be a lab ... but is that a risk you are willing to take?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

next great baker

it was with great sadness that i watched cake boss: the next great baker on tlc last night.  i applied to be on the show.  i even got a call and was invited to submit a video.  and okay, sure, my video probably kind of sucked.  for some reason, i thought i would be able to defend my dissertation and celebrate on thursday, attend meetings and then drive an hour and a half on friday, and then bake, decorate, and put together a video that same weekend (while working in a kitchen that was not my own and painstakingly working around others' schedules).  needless to say (despite my valiant sacrifice of sleep), i was not selected as one of their 20 finalists.  and sure, i'm very much just an amateur ... i don't own or have access to a bakery, nor have i been "trained" in any official capacity (and i'm aware this is shockingly evident in some of my earlier creations - you'll find them on the "free time" link).  but some of the contestants seemed to be amateurs too.

hmm ... maybe it's better i didn't get cast, though.  i would like to think i'm generally a respectful person ... but i couldn't help thinking a few very acerbic thoughts when contestants received feedback from Buddy, Mary, and the big guy (no, i guess i never watched enough of cake boss to learn all of the supporting characters' names).  and i'm not sure how graciously i would have handled some of the ridiculous feedback (some of the feedback was warranted, if mean (and whatever, the mean remarks are par for the reality show course), but seriously, in what world do you award someone immunity and then when they need to use it, do you ask them if they want to give it up because their cake sucked?  wasn't that the whole point of giving the reward of immunity?  that if their cake sucked, they would use it?  and what possible incentive was there for the contestant to give up immunity and go home?  as though they were offering the contestant a real opportunity that the contestant might actually want.  it made no sense - i think it must have been the most schizophrenogenic feedback i've ever heard).  then, of course, there was the cake that was crowned with the head of a wolf carcass.  and it was chosen as one of the 3 best.  i have a feeling that had i been on the show, my commentary probably would have been edited out.

i have a sneaky suspicion that these contestants look much worse than they actually are only because of time and equipment constraints.  i'll be curious to see whether time limits for projects increase as the show goes on.  that is, if i continue to watch it.  i'm finding it to be a bittersweet experience ... i can watch the contestants 'improve" and try to learn to love them as time goes on until one of them eventually wins ... and then try to be happy for the winner as s/he goes home with the $50,000 i wish i had a chance to win.

in the meantime (as i patiently wait to find out if there can be any hope of a season 2), i'll be making a cake this week for j's lab's holiday party.  for no reward other than the happiness of knowing that, at least for the time being, i have prevented a few graduate students from starving to death.

birthday bump

j and i were out walking and enjoying some of the city's attractions on my birthday (the ones that you don't want to be anywhere near during more touristy times for risk of suffocation - like the top of the empire state building.  seriously, from the time of entering the building, it took maybe 15 minutes total to buy tickets, walk through miles of roped off sections that would have been packed with people during the summer, and take the elevator to the top (j asked if i wanted to take the stairs ... so i asked the lady ushering us into the elevator if i could take the stairs; she firmly declined permission (which, in retrospect, was not entirely surprising).  then the people in the elevator laughed at me).

in any case, while we were walking, i got hit by a van. and you know, i think the whole experience was just a bit unfair.  i may not always (usually?) be totally aware of my surroundings (because let's be honest, surroundings can sometimes be a bit impoverished compared to the mischief my mind is wont to produce when left to its own devices), but i do generally pay attention when crossing the street.  i even waited for the walk signal before stepping into the street and crossed on the crosswalk.  how was i supposed to know that the driver of a van that had already pulled out into the intersection would suddenly change his mind and accelerate backward down the one-way street at the very moment that i was crossing?

j told me i should not write that i was hit by a van in case my mother reads this (she doesn't even like the idea of me having a bike in the city).  he called the experience a "love tap" instead.  however, i maintain that the fact that i was graceful and agile enough to stabilize myself shortly after getting knocked over should not minimize the force of the blow (okay, fine, my recovery had less to do with grace and agility than it did my desire to quickly escape the humiliation and stares of strangers ... semantics).