New York City like I’ve never seen her

Snow days.

Let me state unequivocally that I love snow days, despite the stress they cause my friends who are parents, despite the fact that work-from-home technology has robbed them of their magic. I still love them.

They are for cuddling, comfy pants, sledding, and hot toddies. They are for stews and soups and binge-watching, for slippers and afghans and the rush of blood to cold cheeks once you come inside.

But there’s one key to all of this that I’d never considered before this past weekend. For snow days to work as I laid out above, there’s a requirement.

You have to be at home. If not yours, then someone else’s, but you need to be in a residence of some kind. One with afghans, a soup pot, and preferably a dog or two, if you get my meaning.

Thanks to a rabid and ridiculous media engine, everyone in the entire US knew that there was a big snowstorm hitting the East Coast this weekend. As is typical, they couldn’t say just HOW big, but it was predicted to be big enough to send most folks below the Mason Dixon line scuttling to the store for bread, eggs, chili-fixings, and liquor.

Us hearty Bostonians shrugged a collective meh, since 1) it appeared we’d miss the brunt of it, and 2) we’d seen worse.

But me, I was bound for NYC, for a long-planned theater weekend with a friend I hadn’t seen in two years. Everyone kept telling me to “be safe!” as if I was heading into grave danger, but I, intrepid New Englander that I now am, wasn’t worried. Because surely, the snow wouldn’t be that bad, I had good boots, and Manhattan really can be a winter wonderland when it wants to be. I figured it’d be an adventure and we’d slog through a foot of the white stuff to get where we needed to go.

But Mama Nature and the Mayor of NY had other ideas. The former dumped nearly 30 inches of snow on the city, and the latter decided to shut down the entire transit system in the city on Saturday. So EVERYTHING was closed. And I mean everything. Broadway, Uber, subways, movie theaters, most restaurants, museums, shops…pretty much everywhere that a visiting tourist would go to pass the time during a blizzard.

So my friend and I found ourselves doing the snow day thing on the 36th floor of a Times Square hotel with a bottle of rum and some cable TV. We were cheerful and made the best of it, but I was bummed. This was NOT the way to spend a day in NY, and it was also not the way to spend a snow day.

Around 6pm, I decided we needed to leave the hotel. Really, I just wanted to do something other than ogle homes on HGTV. And considering we’d sustained ourselves on liquor and potato chips for the afternoon, some real food seemed in order.

So we struck out in hopes of finding an open restaurant. Instead, we found a Times Square that few have seen.

Now, I know that most New York locals hate Times Square. I am not much of a fan myself, once I’ve had my fix (an hour or so of marveling at its sheer…well…brightness). But that night, it was transformed.

There were no cars, save the odd police cruiser. No bike messengers. No horns blaring, no cabs dodging pedestrians.

But there were people. Hundreds of people, like us, who had taken to the street. Hordes of winter-gear-clad folks stumbling around aimlessly in knee-deep slush, with nowhere to go or be, looking at first glance like a scene out of The Day After Tomorrow or The Walking Dead. Snowballs flew. Snowmen sprouted up to gaze up at the red stairs of the TKTS booth. Kids scrambled to the top of giant snow piles, then tumbled down in glee. Snowy selfies abounded. Happy chatter, in several languages, was punctuated by the occasional squeal of delight. Snowflakes swirled all around us, changing colors as the billboards, that never-ceasing silent light show, cast their glow over the scene.

It was magical. It was peaceful. It was like nothing I’d ever seen. I wondered if anyone out on the street actually lived in New York, or if we were all visitors, usually neatly herded by schedules and agendas into the various dens of entertainment of the city, but now claiming this place as our own for a few childish minutes.

I hoped there were a few locals in the mix. Because it was a really beautiful moment in this city that never sleeps.

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And PS: We eventually found dinner.

5 steps to surviving a wedding while single

Berlin or bust (64 of 21)

It’s no great mystery. Weddings, when single, are tough. It doesn’t matter how much you love the bride/groom, how glad you are to be there for their big day. They are just tough.

We singles will always be the ones that screw up the seating arrangement, or if we happen to be “cute enough”, will be accosted by drunken divorcees while dancing to Living on a Prayer (this has never happened to me, but others tell me it happens). We have already become experts at smiling in fake joy as all the couples join the newly-marrieds for that first dance. We know how to chat up every elderly relative in the room to pass the time. We have learned that drinking all the wine may seem fun at the time, but in fact, it multiplies the next morning’s “oh my god I am doomed to a life of eternal loneliness” effect by a factor of ten.

These are just a few of our tried and true coping strategies, and we singles are very good at them. But these can only get us so far. Because, after all, weddings are meant to celebrate coupledom, and when you’re not a couple…yeah, you get it.

However! I am happy to report that I, on my recent Berlin adventures, found a miraculous 5-step way to actually have a good time at a wedding. I know, right? After all these years. Who knew it was this easy?

  1. Make sure all the weddings you attend are in a foreign country, because then you, and most of your fellow guests, can all experience cultural awkwardness together. You’ll all be outsiders, which makes the rituals of the typical American wedding (the dance circle, the clinking of glasses for kisses, etc) strangely comforting to you (and probably bizarre to the natives). You will also know that everyone in the room really wants to be there, and there will be fun touristy things to do the next day. Plus, it’s more fun to try to find your way home afterward when the street signs are in another language.
  2. Make sure all the wedding ceremonies you attend are German, because they will be, if my recent experience is any indication, refreshingly matter-of-fact and unsentimental. You will basically watch the bride and groom sign their marriage papers, you’ll understand about 50% of the ceremony, and then you’ll have a party. No professions of love before God and family, none of that stuff that always makes you feel vaguely like you’re sinning by being single. And bonus! – the ceremonies are short. I think they could be livened up, though, if the bride/groom traded caps, like college football signing day.
  3. Bring your own camera, even though it’s a pain to haul it through airports, because you can use it to keep your hands busy, you can silently, with Nat-Geo style narration in your head, stalk the wedding photographer and steal their shots, and you can take pictures of flowers on the tables when you hit an inevitable lull in your wine buzz.
  4. Make sure you have least 3 other non-marrieds with you. This is key. This is everything. First because other non-marrieds will get how hard it is to watch all the love and companionship swirling around, and second, safety in numbers. After all, if there are just two of you, you endure they “are they now-or-will-they-be-a couple?” speculation (regardless of sex and sexual orientation), and we all know that 3 is a crowd. 4 is perfect. Enough personalities to keep the conversation interesting, enough bodies to have enough physical presence to confidently take over corners of the room, and even if 2 of your peeps leave the dance floor, you’re not left alone, gyrating to 80’s music in your uncomfortable shoes.
  5. And finally, speaking of shoes – wear comfortable ones. Remember that bit about finding your way home via unfamiliar street signs? That involves walking. And seriously, who the heck are you trying to impress with those 4-inch stilettos? It’s a pretty safe bet that you’re NOT going to meet the love of your life at a foreign wedding, and it’s not like you must be wearing fabulous heels when you meet said love of your life, anyway.

You might be thinking I’m cynical after reading this. You might think I’m just a bitter single who’s jealous of those who have found love. You’d be wrong. I want to love weddings. I want very much to leave them with hope for my future, and a belief in the power of love. And to be completely honest, all joking aside, this particular wedding was one of my favorites, due mostly to the coolness of the bride and how carefully and thoughtfully she planned the day. With her own mix of American/German efficiency, she took great care of us out-of-towners.

So, henceforth, all my weddings will be German and I will bring a posse of non-marrieds with me. And we will wear comfy shoes and take lots of pictures. Sounds easy enough to me.

Berlin or bust (63 of 21)

 

 

 

How being clumsy teaches lessons for the New Year

So, it was the last day of 2015. I was determined to get outside in the (relative) warmth of a 40 degree day, and give Sadie a long, long walk to make up for all the hours I’d kept the poor pooch in the dreaded, hated car getting back from Norfolk.

I also wanted to end the year on a strong note, so I had fired up my Map My Hike ap, which makes a map of where I walk and how long it takes, and how many miles, etc. I sort of love the idea of marking my path, despite the creepiness of knowing satellites are tracking me.

I also wanted to take some pictures for my #niftyfiftyfriday photo challenge, plus, it was the last day of 2015, so it seemed apt to mark the occasion with a few nice captures. AND, it had sort of snowed, and I hadn’t yet tackled snow with my new camera .

And we needed dog food. Our plan was to stop at the store after the walk was over.

So with all these agendas in mind, Sadie and I tramped down the stairs. I had my camera slung across my body, my wallet in my pocket, my hat and gloves on, my shoes laced, dog bags in my other pocket, phone in hand.

We reached the bottom of our little walkway to our stairs, and Sadie strained to get to the grass. I pulled off a glove and was trying to activate my tracking ap, when out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a couple rounding the corner at a fast running clip. She was tall and blond and gorgeous, he was dark and cute, and they were moving well, heading our way.

In the space of a few parsecs, I realized that, because I’d stopped to play with my phone, Sadie and I were completely blocking the sidewalk, so I tugged on her leash and backed up a few steps to get out of the way. Unfortunately, backing up meant I backed in to the little landing just below the stairs.

It all happened in that Hollywood slo-mo…

I felt the cement on my ankles and thought “oh crap. I’m gonna fall. Maybe I can stop myself? Um…nope. Ok, don’t drop your phone or let go of Sadie’s leash. Oh geez, hope I don’t bang the camera…man…this is gonna be embarrassing in front of these super-graceful and attractive people.”

I heard the blond say “uh, oh…oh, oh, oh…” as she watched me go down. I’m pretty sure windmilling arms were involved, but I can’t say for sure.

I hit the ground on my butt, which is – happily in this case – quite well padded, rocked back a little bit, and then came to rest, legs stretch out in front of me like a little kid, looking up at the runners, who had slowed down enough to check on me.

“Are you ok?” the pretty blond asked me, seemingly genuinely dismayed. I searched for a hint of laughter in her face, and didn’t find it. I couldn’t bring myself to look at the guy.

I gave them my sunniest, “gee-what-a-clutz-I-am” smile, a self-deprecating laugh, and said, “Absolutely, I am just fine,” and clamored awkwardly to my feet. They went on their way, and I stood up, set my phone, put my gloves back on, checked my camera, and we went on our way. Other than a slight ache in my posterior region, it was like it never happened. Except for the laughter I’m sure the attractive running couple was enjoying.

We even remembered to get dog food.

It seemed clear that the universe was humbling me with this little incident. I couldn’t decide which life lesson it was teaching me:

  1. You are not as good at multi-tasking as you think you are
  2. Our smart phones really will be the death of us all
  3. There are times when having some extra pounds can be a plus
  4. The most important skill in life is the ability to laugh at yourself

What do you think? Happy 2016, everyone. May your falls be well cushioned in the New Year.

 

 

 

 

On the eve of 2016, she wrote a blog post. What happened next will blow your mind.

Astute readers may have noticed that I stopped blogging in the middle of my Berlin adventures. This is because, well, I was having those adventures, and decided to have them rather than write about them. I fully intended to write about them when I got back, but other things happened – it’s amazing how chasing/watching a toddler all day can basically wipe out all other thoughts and conversation. So I will get to Berlin, but for now, I wanted to do a little reflection on 2015. Because I gave up last year on proclaiming all the new things I would achieve in the New Year. That’s just setting oneself up for failure. So, let’s reflect.

2015, was, for me, a remarkable year. I got a new camera. I remembered how much I love hiking. I got to see so many of my wonderful friends all over the world. I did some more aunting of my incredible niece, Claire. I spent time with my family. And Boston – I feel like I actually live here now! So many great times in my awesome home.

Yet at the same time, the larger world seems to be crumbling under the weight of some pretty terrible stuff.

I had some “dance-like-no-one-is-watching” good times, and some moments when I broke down and bawled like a 3 year old, with no one but myself to make the tears stop. Indeed, pretty much every big theme in my life has both a super-wonderful side, and another side that means I have to work a little harder to see the light. Here they are, those themes, in no particular order.

Journeys

IMG_8057About 5 years ago, I caught the travel bug, big time, and since then…wow. I have gone on some wonderful adventures. This year, I got to see some cool new places: Cape Cod, the Grand Canyon, Virginia Beach, Reykjavik, and Berlin. I also got to revisit some old places: The White Mountains, Arkansas, Madison, Norfolk.

So what’s the tension here? Well, it’s a little selfish, and it has to do with money. See, traveling costs money. And when I travel to the same places, like Madison for board meetings, and to the family haunts to visit family, well, that’s money I can’t spend on my next grand adventure to wherever.

My baser instinct wants to resent the travel to the same old places. But here’s the thing – my more enlightened side acknowledges that I want both. I need both, in order to fill my soul with both the new and the familiar. So, this tension won’t go away, and I don’t think I want it to. And boy, believe me when I say I know I am lucky to be able to roam as I do.

Body

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This past year, I did all kinds of cool things with my body. I walked hundreds of miles through cities throughout the world, ran 5ks, hiked mountains, played volleyball, swam a little, and even occasionally did some stretching. I went to a German Spa, and those who get what that entailed will know that wasn’t an easy thing to accomplish within this body. My body and I rocked the year, in my opinion.

And yet, I also added pounds to it, which just makes me so upset. Most of the tears (not all) of this year, sprang from this particular tension. It doesn’t seem fair that I can do so much with this bag of bones and muscle and fat, and still be just another statistic, another cog in the overweight train.

This tension is summed up pretty well in one thought – when I am alone, with no one to judge but me, and I look in the mirror on the back of the door in my apartment, I like how I look. I like my body, and where it has taken me, and what it represents. Apply any other measure to it, external or whatnot, and I hate it and all it represents. I want this tension to go away, but I don’t think it will.

Solo-ing

IMG_7677Like most years, I spent quite a bit of time pondering what it means to live alone in today’s world. I had a date or two, but they went nowhere. I had some experiences that gave me a taste of NOT navigating the world solo, and I was a little shocked at how much those impacted me. Our world is really built for those who have partners. It really, really is. I had to work pretty damn hard to get back to my mantra of “I’m not a failure because I’m single.”

As I write this, I’m reminded of one of the biggest parts of Outward Bound, that experience I had way back in 1992. Back then (I don’t know if they still do it), every Outward Bound trip involved a “solo” – 3 or 4 days where each Outward Bounder was entirely alone in the wilderness. At the time, it seemed crazy and scary and radical.

Today, when I think of how much time I spend solo, I have to laugh at my 16-year-old self. Don’t get me wrong, it is a big deal to learn how to survive alone. It’s just not as radical as I thought it was back in 1992.

Politics

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If only you knew how many “political” blog posts I wrote this year, and then didn’t publish. There’s no tension in this theme – it’s all awful. I hate the election cycle, the vapid and divisive media coverage, the willingness of otherwise smart people of all political persuasions to buy in to biased crap that feeds their own belief systems, and the total mockery that politics makes of the REAL problems that my fellow Americans face. Notice that I don’t include myself in the company of those with real problems. I am white, comfortable, and safe, and sure, I’d like to pay less in taxes and see more funding for the arts, but I don’t need politicians to worry much about me. We are becoming – or have already become – a nation of have and have nots, and it’s only going to get worse. This makes me just, well, sad.

I was just in Germany, y’all. A place where “building walls” actually happened, where making a country “great again” led to the extermination of millions of humans. I’m having a hard time seeing the light at the end of this particular political tunnel.

But I still want to believe in this idea, this place, this dream that is America. And I know there are good things happening all around that are too trite to talk about. I’m not talking about government-funded propaganda at NFL games, or corporations using social issues to sell Cheerios. I’m talking about the real work of governing and helping that good people do. It’s out there. We have to find it.

Dogs

I mean, really. How can things be bad when Sadie and her nose are roaming around bringing smiles to all?

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Looking ahead

So, what will happen next? I want to tell you that 2016 will blow your mind. That, when I write this post next year, I’ll be skinny, well-traveled, enjoying a robust dating life, and the politics will have solved themselves through some combination of unicorns and rainbows. But we all know that’s just foolish talk. Things don’t change because the calendar flips over. They change because we change them, and sometimes, they don’t change at all. So all we can really do is keep doing the work, keep making the small choices that make a difference.

And posting more dog pictures.

Much love to you all, my dear readers. I wish you joy, peace, and maybe a little change, if you want it, in the New Year.

Berlin or Bust – Day 2

So, here I sit at the end of Day 3, which involved nothing more than eating, hanging out with girl friends, and experiencing a German spa day, which, while definitely interesting, challenging, and very, very different from my normal comfort zone, isn’t something I want to discuss much on this blog, since, well, my parents and colleagues read it. :) I did have Schnitzl at dinner.  It was amazing. So, check that one off the list.  Gluhwein has yet to be consumed.

So let’s go back to yesterday and the safer ground of being a tourist in Berlin. Sarah and I decided to take a 4-hour excursion via Original Berlin Walks, which I highly recommend. Our tour guide, Torben, was native German, but grew up in Long Island, and was full of facts and opinions about Berlin’s history. He took us all over the center part of the city, mostly on the Eastern side, dizzying us with the changes of regimes, and chancellors, and ministers, etc. We saw Museum Island, the Reichstag, the Branderberg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie (now a joke of a tourist trap), a glimpse of the Wall, and lots of palaces and grand buildings, most of them under construction.

In fact, it felt like the whole city is under construction. It’s hard to fathom how much change has been wrought here…through wars and revolutions…and I found myself marveling at the fact that, despite everything being in flux, this city is still pretty vibrant and interesting. Our tour guide put it best when he said that (paraphrasing) each generation negotiates it’s history. With every tale of a grand building that was built, bombed, restored, razed, and built again, I wondered at how hard it must be to define what it means to be German today. We Americans and our foolish national identity issues need to get over ourselves.

I was also struck at how there is probably nothing of the Berlin I visited back in 1997 left…at least not in the tourist sections. They’ve replaced the “American Sector” sign with a replica…I suspect I didn’t even see the real thing then. I remembered nothing…even the Brandenberg  Gate seemed different.

The most moving places were Neue Washe, one of the saddest memorials I’ve ever seen, dedicated to the victims of “War and Tyranny.” (It’s had many names and this seems to be the latest one.)  And then, Babelplatz, the site of a 1933 burning of 20,000 books by students inspired by Third Reich fervor. This one struck me particularly hard, mostly because of the understated nature of the memorial (empty bookshelves buried underneath the grand plaza) and because I can feel the pressure of those, even now in my country, who are just a few steps away from such insanity.

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But the moment where I felt a ghostly shiver up my spine came when we stood in the Brandenberg Tor subway station, and our tour guide told us the tale of how trains from the West would come through these stations, which had been sealed off to prevent East Berliners from escaping to the West, slowly and carefully chugging through, not stopping, while the occasional guard patrolled or empty platforms slid eerily by.

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It’s hard to fathom the lengths that the East German government and the Soviets employed to keep this sector of the city walled off.  In retrospect, it seems like a colossal waste of time and energy, and a completely false and unnecessary division perpetuated by pride and foolishness. But it was very real. It did very real things to the people of Germany. I guess I just felt like we shouldn’t bandy talk about “building walls” too casually when this history isn’t even a century old.

Enough with the soapbox…let’s talk food! Sarah and I had a lovely Chinese/asian late lunch/early dinner at Chi Chi Kan – Berlin is pretty cheap, such a nice change from Boston! Tip for those traveling here – the unwritten “rules” are that you have to ask for your check before you will get it, you should tip about 10% if the service is good, and you will need to tell the server how much you want them to take from you, rather than wait for them to bring you change and the make up the tip from the change.

Anyway, later on in the evening we met up with Jenn for snacks and wine at another cute/cozy (seriously, Europe has that combination down, no question) restaurant, and I marveled again at how the freshness and gorgeous presentation of food here can make even tiny little bits of food seem substantial. We actually sent our bread basket back, and I wasn’t too sad about it. That’s big for a carb-o-holic like me.

Tomorrow, we’ll be back out being tourists and I’m sure I’ll have more pictures to share. Thanks for coming along to Berlin with me.