Friday, May 31, 2013

Doughnut Plant's Disco Bathroom

I visited the Doughnut Plant in late April, partly because I was yet again craving another of their fine, fine products and partly because I wanted to see the bathroom.

I didn't necessarily want to use it, but I did want to see it.

As I noted when I wrote about the Doughnut Plant in Chelsea earlier this year, the single stall bathroom is completely covered in tiny mirrors. So while Paul was waiting on our order, Edith and I got buzzed into the bathroom. Purely so I could take photos.

When I was finished, we took our doughnuts (including one of the Sunday specials: a chocolate chip cookie doughnut) to Madison Square Park. Mission accomplished.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Edith vs. Me: Six Month Edition

Way back in college I got a cheapo scanner at one of those office supply stores, and in the following months I scanned dozens of old photos and items. I scanned a bit of my favorite striped scarf. I scanned a sticker from The Shed (there's a reference for all of you northwest Ohioans). I scanned buttons that were in German. I scanned everything.

But I also have some great random photos from when I was younger. One each from trips to Disney World in 1984, 1986 and 1995. Photos from my eighth grade graduation and my high school graduation. And several photos from when I was just barely toddling around.

It's those latter photos that I'm especially interesting in looking at now as Edith grows older and bigger. As Edith hits the corresponding age as I was in some of these photos of yore, I'll be posting them on my blog. They'll be few and far between -- I didn't scan that many photos! -- but I hope you enjoy.

The first in the series was posted shortly after Edith was born (scroll to the bottom at this link). And now, Edith and me at six months:

Edith at Six Months

Me at Six Months

Monday, May 27, 2013

On This Memorial Day

Washington Monument, Washington, D.C.
April 2010

I hope you're having a wonderful holiday weekend while remembering the reason for the day off. Pay a Visit will return on Wednesday!

Friday, May 24, 2013

My First Vegan Dessert

I tried my first vegan cookie.

To make a short story long:

Our local library branch has story time every Wednesday morning, and more often than not I meet up there with a group of Bay Ridge moms and their babies. Afterward we sometimes grab a bite to eat. So it's 30 minutes of songs and stories for the kiddies, followed by an hour of socializing for the mamas. Seems fair to me.

A few weeks ago, we took over Little Cupcake, my very favorite bakery in Bay Ridge. But what to get? I'd prefer a piece of cake of course, but my stomach would regret it. The frosting is delectably rich, and I almost always split a piece with Paul. Ironically, I'm not a huge fan of the cupcakes. I saw a row of vegan cookies and was intrigued. I'd long meant to try a vegan dessert, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.



I tried a vegan double chocolate cookie. I figured you can't go wrong with chocolate, even if it is the vegan kind. And for the most part I was right. It was perfectly sweet, but rather dry. It was OK. Nothing special.

Today's lessons: (1) If you're getting a dessert and you're not vegan, go for the fattiest, butteriest cookie available. (2) I like butter way too much. This came home to me last week when I made a chocolate chip butter cake that called not only for two whole sticks of butter but a slab of cream cheese besides. If you're going to have dessert, HAVE DESSERT.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Six Months of Edith

Edith turned six months old yesterday. It's a milestone. She's in her own room. She had her first solid food on Saturday. A year ago -- even six months ago! -- this day seemed so far away.

It's flown by, and that's even more apparent as I browse through the photos I've taken on the 21st of each month since Edith was born.

The Day Edith Was Born

Paul took this photo minutes after her birth. Revisiting the photo over the last six months, I've so concentrated on her face that I only noticed as I was writing this blog post that Paul's finger was in the photo, too!

One Month Old

Edith was still pretty wobbly at this point, so the best photos on this date featured her swing. Smiles were few and far between -- and probably by accident. This was the best I could do!

Two Months Old

We were driving back from Ohio on this day. I had planned to take the two-month photos when we were back in Brooklyn, but we got stuck in a three-hour traffic jam in Pennsylvania in blizzard-like conditions. Since we were stopped anyway, I wrote "2 Months" on the back of what I believe was a gas receipt, propped it up next to her car seat and snapped away.

Three Months Old

Looking more and more like the girl I know now. I didn't realize until afterward exactly how long she was -- the sleeves on that three-month outfit she's wearing are already too short! Let's call them three-quarter length sleeves. Then she's fashionable.

Four Months Old

This is one of my favorite pictures of Edith so far. She's not stingy with her smiles, but they can turn into screams in about six seconds. Luckily the opposite is true as well.

Five Months Old

On this day we were driving back from Ohio yet again. We arrived in Brooklyn past her bedtime, but I had to sneak in a few photos before she was down for the night. That meant pictures in her comfy sleep sack, and fewer than normal attempts to get her to smile. At this point I was just glad she didn't look too annoyed.

Six Months Old

Edith just recently started raising her arms whenever Paul or I draw near: "PLEASE pick me up!" she always seems to be pleading. It was practically impossible for me to get her to lower her arms as I hovered above her with a camera. In fact, her toes seemed to reach for the camera almost as often as her fingers. I'm probably lucky I got a photo of her face and not just her hands and feet!

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Art of Riding the NYC Subway

There's a rhythm to the madness of riding the New York City subway.

Like many others who live here, I know exactly which car of the train to board to be nearest the stairwell when I get off at my home subway station. Not only that, but I know the exact door of the car where I should exit. Same went for when I was commuting to work.

But that's the easy part. Slightly trickier questions include:

  • Should I bother sitting if I'm only going a couple of stops?
  • Just how close dare I sit to that stinky guy? How much stank can I stand?
  • If I'm sitting next to someone and a whole slew of people get off, should I move to a seat where no one is sitting? Will that offend the person I'm sitting next to -- or will it annoy her if I don't? 

I'm certainly not the only one with my own personal subway schemes. A draft report by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority shows "a transit landscape of convenience, game theory and occasional altruism, where often every movement is executed with purpose," according to an April article in the New York Times.

Unsurprisingly, both subway sitters and standers prefer spots by the door. Even less surprising was that standing riders much prefer grabbing onto vertical poles rather than overhead bars. (A not-so-secret trick to getting yourself more space as a stander is to make your way to the middle of the car and use an overhead bar. Standers congregate next to the poles, and it's very crowded. But it's a trade-off: Using the bars is quite uncomfortable.)

Here's my preferences if I'm alone:

  1. Sitting next to no one.
  2. Sitting next to a pleasant-looking, clean person.
  3. Standing next to the door -- you can lean against the door or an adjacent partition.
  4. Standing next to a vertical pole. (Note that Nos. 3 and 4 may be switched in an extremely full car. If you stand next to the door, you may have to get off the train for a few seconds to let people off the car. Annoying.)
  5. Standing in the middle of the car, using an overhead bar.
  6. NEVER: Sitting or standing next to a smelly person. AWFUL. Move to the other end of the car, or to an entirely new car at the next stop.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Exploring Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery

It's strange to call a cemetery pleasant, but Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery truly is.

I'm no stranger to cemeteries as tourist attractions -- those in New Orleans and Buenos Aires come to mind. And while Green-Wood Cemetery isn't nearly as well known as those other resting places, it's a lovely place to spend an afternoon.

Green-Wood Cemetery does have a few famous residents among the 560,000+ buried there: Boss Tweed, Leonard Bernstein and Horace Greeley to name just three. But Paul, Edith and I weren't there for the names, but rather the views.

The cemetery sits about three miles north of our apartment, but the elevation is much higher than where we live. It's an actual workout to stride up and down the cemetery's many hills, especially when you have a stroller in tow. But the reward is worth it: terrific views of Lower Manhattan and Midtown, as well as a rolling landscape filled with intriguing tombstones.

Midtown, beyond the cemetery and buildings

Statue of Liberty as a speck below one of the branches

Lower Manhattan, including One Freedom Tower

Lower Manhattan again

We easily whiled away an hour or two meandering through the cemetery's 478 acres of twists and turns. Although the roads and paths are labelled like any subdivision, it's easy to get lost. The cemetery offers free maps, which we failed to pick up. I had to use the map function on my phone to lead us back to our car.

The wide berths and occasional "secret" pathways made me think of another New York attraction: Central Park. Except you share Central Park with hundreds, if not thousands of others fighting for greenspace. Green-Wood Cemetery -- with visitors that seemed to number only in the dozens -- was much, much sparser. At least when it came to the living.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Guide to Using Your Baby as a Party Prop

Babies are inconvenient. Except when they aren't.

As expected, having an infant excludes you from many activities. Late nights in bars are out. Fancy restaurants are out. Broadway shows are out.

But the secret truth is that a baby is always a good excuse to excuse yourself from anything for any reason. If you don't want to go to that party or get-together, there's always baby's early bedtime or mama's multiple nighttime wake-up calls to point to as a reason to decline.

Mostly these are real "excuses." But as Edith gets older, we're finding which rules and routines we can stretch. Just last Friday we stayed at a neighborhood barbecue until nearly midnight -- Edith slept on me in the baby carrier for a couple of hours and in the stroller on the way home. It would have been easy to stay home on account of her bedtime, but we experimented. Now we know it can be done.

If you decide not to use your infant as an excuse to stay home, baby comes with another perk: She's an instant conversation starter. People you've never met before will ask about all her vital stats. A baby is the ultimate small-talk conversation starter. And bonus: If everyone is otherwise occupied, I can always talk to Edith. As someone who tends to feel awkward around new people, this is a pretty big perk.

I don't recommend having a baby purely for these reasons, but there's no denying it: A baby is the ultimate party prop.

Monday, May 13, 2013

My Mother, and Being a Mother

Mom with Edith when she was 1 month old

Edith gave me a pretty good gift for Mother's Day: A three-hour nap in her stroller while Paul and I ate a nice lunch at one of my favorite neighborhood burger joints, followed by a piece of Brooklyn Blackout Cake at Little Cupcake.

But the best gift a new mother could get, I got almost 31 years ago: A great mother myself. Of course I never realized for all of those years that Mom was teaching me how to be a mom. Maybe she didn't realize it herself.

Long before Paul and I decided to have a kid, I wasn't sure how I would be as a mother. I'm impatient and exacting; I just want things my way. I'm still not sure how I'll be. After all, the proof is in the pudding, and Miss Pudding isn't even six months old yet.

But I'm trying my best, and I hope Edith feels even half as secure as I did as a kid that her mom always has her best interests at heart, even if we don't always see eye to eye.

So as my first Mother's Day has come to a close and I contemplate the type of mother I want to be, I want to thank my own mother for being the perfect example. I have big shoes to fill. I love you, Mom.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Eating Our Way Through Philadelphia

Philadelphia is known for a lot of food -- soft pretzels, Tastykakes and cheesesteaks, among many others. But we were in Philadelphia for only two meals, so we had some choices to make.

First, breakfast. Philadelphia isn't particularly known for its donuts, but Federal Donuts does get raves. We started our morning at the downtown location, where specialty "fancy" cake donuts in flavors like cookies and cream and strawberry lemonade are $2 apiece and those covered in flavored sugars are $1.25.

We got a half dozen of the sugared variety ($6) in three flavors, cooked to order so that they're still warm when you first sink your teeth into one. I don't recall the exact flavors, except one was cinnamon sugar. In reality, they all tasted like cinnamon sugar to us. No complaints. Just delicious.

Reading Terminal Market was the site of our lunch. Good choice. It's home to dozens of food stalls, bakeries and grocers -- an even more upscale North Market, to use a familiar Columbus site as a comparison.

My lunch entree was no Philadelphia staple. I'd feel bad about that except that my slab of rosemary-and-onion focaccia was so delicious.

From what I've read, the dessert I chose from Flying Monkey Bakery does have Philadelphia roots: butter cake. My piece of chocolate chip butter cake was so rich and delectable that I spent a good half hour this week unsuccessfully trying to find a recipe to recreate it. This seemed to have a brownie-type base (recipes I found did not) and an ooey, gooey buttery top. I found myself daydreaming about it on Monday.

Paul and I planned to get a cheesesteak from one of Philadelphia's well-known institutions on the way home, but traffic and parking was horrendous when we drove south of downtown. We opted to go home instead. Luckily Paul ordered a cheesesteak at the market -- no photo since I thought I'd get one later. But you probably know what meat on a hoagie bun looks like. Just picture it with Cheez Whiz on top!

Not a cheesesteak and probably not a Philadelphia staple:
Chocolate-covered onions at Reading Terminal Market's
Chocolate by Mueller

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Day Trip to Philadelphia

Philadelphia is the closest of the cities that Paul and I have wanted to visit since moving to New York six years ago, so of course it's one of the last to get marked off the list.

At less than two hours away, Philadelphia is an easy distance from Brooklyn. That's why we kept putting it off -- we can go anytime, we thought. We just didn't.

Actually, I did. I visited Philadelphia for a weekend last summer in a reunion with two of my college roommates. But not only was it about a million degrees, but I was 4 1/2 months pregnant. We didn't do much wandering around or sightseeing, instead blessedly sticking to air-conditioned buildings and buses. I had also been to the city 13 years ago with my family, but only for a single afternoon.

I was barely in Philadelphia longer this time around -- 13 hours, including the car ride there and back. And since this past Sunday was Paul's first visit there, we concentrated on his interests. Namely, history.

One of the top spots on Paul's list was a trip to Independence Hall. According to the National Park Service:

It was in the Assembly Room of this building that George Washington was appointed commander in chief of the Continental Army in 1775 and the Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 4, 1776. In the same room the design of the American flag was agreed upon in 1777, the Articles of Confederation were adopted in 1781, and the U. S. Constitution was drafted in 1787. 

Visitors need free timed tickets to visit, and my friend Sarah who lives in Philadelphia (and the same friend I visited there last year), was kind enough to pick them up for us that morning. The tour was both thorough and interesting ... according to Paul. As one of the rangers joked to me as I took a fussy Edith out of the Assembly Room, Edith just doesn't care for history yet.

Independence Hall

Copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are in an adjacent building. we walked right in-- no wait. The stop was worth it if only for this anecdote told by the ranger on duty:

Only about two dozen copies of the Declaration of Independence are known to exist. One of the most recent to be found was actually at a Pennsylvania flea market. A buyer there didn't care for a portrait he saw but liked the frame. He purchased it for $4. He removed the portrait, and I'm sure you can guess what was underneath. He later sold his copy of the Declaration for $2.5 million.

I should go to more flea markets.

The next stop was half a block away: the Liberty Bell. Then, a few blocks away, the Betsy Ross House, where Sarah took a nice family portrait, though we didn't go inside.

Liberty Bell, with Independence Hall in the background

After lunch at Reading Terminal Market (more about the food of Philadelphia on Friday), we said goodbye to Sarah. Paul, Edith and I then walked to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. We didn't want to go inside -- it was late in the afternoon and besides, I had already visited last summer -- but Paul wanted to see the Rocky statue.

Edith and me outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art

And besides, it was a pleasant stroll. We couldn't have asked for better weather. Just warm enough for long sleeves or a light jacket, but not both. Nary a cloud in the sky. I had seen Philadelphia's weather forecast early the week before, and that's when Paul and I decided to visit. We planned the trip in about four days.

We parked midway between the art museum and the historic district, underneath JFK Plaza, probably better known as the home of the Love sculpture. Or as I think of it, the Love thingy that used to be on a stamp. I had taken photos of it that morning before meeting Sarah.

The trip was certainly a whirlwind, but we had a great time seeing the sights, visiting with Sarah and proving to ourselves that maybe it's not too difficult taking a baby on a vacation -- or at least a mini one. And if I know Paul at all, I know it won't be too long before he tries his hardest to interest Edith in all of those historic sites, too.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Filming "A Walk Among the Tombstones" in Bay Ridge

I didn't see Liam Neeson, but I may have pissed him off.

Here's the story:

On Friday, a crew was in Bay Ridge filming "A Walk Among the Tombstones," starring Neeson and Dan Stevens (of "Downton Abbey" fame). The set was only a couple of blocks from home, so after Edith and I dropped off a load at the Laundromat, we walked by to see what we could see.

Which wasn't much. They filmed a scene or two in the 27 minutes before I had to put the clothes in the dryer (OK, I was a little late getting back!). We didn't see any stars; the most interesting thing was watching my grocery store being turned into a movie set.

My grocery store as a filming location.

I didn't know the NYPD had special cars for movie and TV sets!
(See the label at the back of the car.)

Gawkers like me lined the street across from the set.

Later in the afternoon I took a walk around Bay Ridge with two other neighborhood moms and their young sons. We found ourselves at the set again, this time a block away from where it had been earlier.

We parked our strollers in front of the Middle Eastern bakery where they were shooting and waited for something to happen.

A few minutes later a production assistant came up and asked us to move. Liam Neeson said we were distracting him!

Did Neeson really say it? Who knows? But doesn't it make a much better story to think that he had?

We moved down the street and had a laugh. A lady who also had her eyes on the set did say she saw Neeson back there, but we didn't catch a glimpse. I wonder if the crew will return -- the movie is based on the book of the same name, and it seems that it is at least partly set in Bay Ridge.

And who knows -- maybe when the movie comes out you'll see Edith's stroller reflecting in that bakery's windows.

Trucks and trailers lined the side streets.

Friday, May 3, 2013

"Red, Yellow and Blue" Rope at Madison Square Park

File this under "You Never Know What You'll Come Across in New York":

Giant rope sculptures in a major New York City park.

Madison Square Park sits in the shadow of the Flatiron Building and is the home of Shake Shack, an extremely popular outdoor restaurant. And through September 8, it's also home to tall, waving walls of colorful nautical rope.

The installation, entitled "Red, Yellow and Blue," was to open yesterday. We saw it on Sunday, so I suspect it wasn't quite complete. Pictures and descriptions on the park's website of what it was to look like when it was completed suggest that visitors will be able to walk within these rope walls. They were closed off when we were there.

That didn't stop the crowded park's visitors from snapping photos, and a squirrel or two climbed on and over the ropes, even if we mere mortals could not.

According to the website, the work used 1.4 million feet of rope and 3,000 gallons of paint, and it weighs more than 100,000 pounds.

Last weekend the installation prevented us from spreading out our blanket on a soft piece of the Madison Square Park's lawn, but I can only imagine what the games of hide and go seek are going to be like this weekend.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

5 Things Birthing Classes Should Teach But Don't

I get that nominally, at least, birthing classes should be about -- duh -- birth. But in addition to practicing all of those breathing exercises, ours at least did review a few post-birth items. In addition to the (in)famous video of a birth, we did put a diaper on a doll, for example.

But now that it's been more than five months since Edith was born, I can look back with confidence on five things I wish I would have known that would've made the early days, weeks and months much easier.

1. Parenting Books Aren't Always Right.

They can't be, because they contradict each other. And I should know. I've read plenty.

Do this, not that. Do that, not this. And whatever you do, don't even think about whatever you were planning to do until a second ago.

Don't get me wrong -- the books are useful. No matter how well-meaning friends and family are, there are new thoughts and ideas that I would at least like to consider.

On the other hand, there are few things more useful than advice from those who have come before. Just don't get upset if I don't always use your advice. Admit it -- when you were a new parent, you didn't use it all either.

Each parenting book is usually good for a few gold nuggets, or at least something to think over. And while most of my reading came before Edith was born, I'm still borrowing parenting books periodically from the library. In fact, I recently pointed out to Paul the irony in my reading a book called "Simplicity Parenting."

2. Clothing Sizes Can Be Waaaaaaaaaay Off.

Just like with adult clothing, the same size can be vastly different according to the brand. But even sizes within the same brand can vary! Edith got two 6-9 month onesies as gifts -- same brand -- and she had already outgrown one and could just fit into another when I tried them on her at about 4 months old.

And not only that, but the sizes themselves are wonky. Some are labelled with a range: 0-3 months, 3-6 months, etc. Others just say, for example, 3 months or 6 months. Often the tag will give a weight and height range, but they are of little use when you have a daughter who's of average weight but in the 99th percentile in height.

3. Changing a Diaper Isn't Intuitive.

So much so that I wrote a whole blog post about what new parents should know about changing diapers.

Even five months into this whole parenting thing, I'm still not that fast at changing diapers. But at least I can do it now without mentally checking off each step.

4. Stocking Up Is Useless (and Probably a Waste of Money).

Yes, buying diapers in bulk makes them individually cheaper, but it's a waste of time and money when those diapers get too small, cause blowouts that you're constantly washing from onesies and need to be replaced with the next size up stat.

By diaper size 2 I'd finally learned my lesson. Buy in mega-bulk only in the beginning, when baby's not on the border of a new size.

Pre-buying many (if any) baby clothes is also ill-advised. Especially newborn outfits. Edith received some she didn't even wear.

You don't know how fast your baby will grow or what season it will be when he or she reaches any one certain size. Best to buy outfits as you need them, if you need them. With baby shower gifts, postpartum presents and doting grandparents, I've purchased very few clothes.

Besides, in a pinch she can generally wear the next size up if all the best-fitting clothes are dirty before laundry day.

5. There's Rarely One Right Way for Anything.

Every parent seems to swear by something. Something that will surely help baby sleep. Something you should definitely give baby to eat. Something that you absolutely, positively don't want to be without.

I'll swear by something, too. But I'll try to keep it to myself unless you ask.

Because if I've learned anything in five months, it's this: No one's right and everyone's right. And me too.


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