Thursday, March 28, 2013

Blue Carrot Fab Sale!

It's been pretty quiet here on the blog since I returned to Ohio, after two dream-like months in New York, but that doesn't mean my life has been quiet — quite the opposite. Lots of things to prepare for, set into motion, sort through and decide upon, but in the meantime I'm doing a bit of spring cleaning in the form of another Blue Carrot Shop sale on

I've had two previous sales, but this one will be bigger and better than ever. I've included some of my best items — some things from the shop, but also a lot of treasured items from my personal collection as well as some handmade lamps and lights (made from vintage chemistry equipment, car parts, etc.).

As I go forward, I may have to close the shop down, either temporarily or longer, so this may be the last time these items are available for sale (unless you live near me, in which case there's an enormous garage sale in your future). I very much appreciate all of the support you guys have given to me and the shop in the last few years. I have some exciting adventures and changes coming in the next few months, and it might be totally tacky to say so, but any extra money I make will definitely help to make these transitions a bit smoother.

Stay tuned for more sneak peeks, and make sure to check out the sale when it goes live on Monday, April 8th!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Saying Goodbye, For Now

By the time you read this, I'll be in my dad's truck, probably somewhere in Pennsylvania, headed back to Ohio. I hesitate to call it "going home," as Ohio has never really felt like home, while New York always has — infinitely more so now that I've just spent two months living, walking and loving it. People keep asking if I'm sad to leave, and the answer is of course yes, but also no. I know I can't keep living this life of limbo — living in the city, working from Ohio, with most of my things there, while I sleep in someone else's bed here — forever, so in a way it's not hard to give up. I know that no matter what happens when I return to Ohio that I have to get through it to move ahead. Sometimes I think you need to go back, before you can continue to move forward.

It seems like yesterday that my dad dropped me off here, and in a blink of an eye he's back again. At the same time, it feels like I've been here for years, especially when I look back on what I've done in just two months. I've seen museums, parks, monuments, d-list celebrities, breathtaking skylines, walked bridges, explored neighborhoods, collected coffee cups, rode a sky tram and photographed every single moment of it all.

I'm not the same person that came here two months ago, and I'm forever changed by what I've seen and done. I've learned more about myself in this time than I ever could have living my "old" life and no matter what happens I know I'll cherish and look back fondly on this time.

I'm so incredibly grateful for my wonderful family and friends, who always prove themselves to be selfless and amazingly kind in (and out of) my times of need. I'm so very lucky to be able to do what I do, love what I love, and have experiences that have made me want to leap out of my own skin with joy.

It's impossible to sum up my time here in any amount of words, but just know that I'm not terribly sad that I have to leave, but instead grateful that I got to come at all. There's nothing in this life that has more consistently brought me so much joy, enrichment and opportunity than this city has, and it has my eternal gratitude.

Sometimes, when you don't have the words, it's best to default to someone that does, so for the second time on this blog I'll leave you with a quote from my very favorite book, The Hours:

"We live our lives, do whatever we do, and then we sleep — it's as simple and ordinary as that. A few jump out of windows or drown themselves or take pills; more die by accident; and most of us, the vast majority, are slowly devoured by some disease or, if we're very fortunate, by time itself.

There's just this for consolation: an hour here or there when our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we've ever imagined, though everyone but children (and perhaps even they) knows these hours will inevitably be followed by others, far darker and more difficult. 

Still, we cherish the city, the morning; we hope, more than anything, for more." 

I hope, more than anything, for more.

Monday, March 11, 2013

NYBG: The Orchid Show

Before we went to the backstage tour at the Met, my uncle and I traveled to the Bronx (his first time, my second) for the Orchid Show at the New York Botanical Gardens. I love flowers and plants, in part I think, because I cannot for the life of me keep them alive. We always joked that my mom had a "black thumb" and killed supposedly kill-resistant things like chia pets and cacti. I'm sorry to say that I definitely inherited that trait, although perhaps to a lesser degree. I've managed to keep a few house plants alive for a few years, and the roses and Gerbera Daisies in our yard have somehow thrived despite my neglect. I think it's because of this that I have a fascination and extreme respect for beautiful foliage.

I've been to the Brooklyn Botanic garden in the spring, as well as a week ago, but I had never been to the larger New York garden. It's in the same park as the Bronx Zoo, and fairly easy to get to. If you take the subway (B/D), it's about a six block walk to the entrance on Mosholu Parkway. Thursday was a snowy day, but always on the verge of rain, so it wasn't too frigid. We arrived at the garden a little after 10am, expecting crowds but thankfully there were only a few other people milling about. Admission to the Orchid Show also gets you into the rest of the grounds, but we were on a somewhat tight time schedule so we just stuck to the orchids.

The Enid A. Haupt conservatory is a beautiful, enormous glass enclosure and nearly every room was just bursting with orchids and other wonderful plants. They also had flowering gardenias, grapefruits, lemons, enormous ferns and a desert section with various cacti. But of course, it's the orchids that steal the spotlight whenever they can.

They have an incredible amount of variety — ones that smell like chocolate, ones that look like slippers, ones that are printed like a giraffe, big ones, small ones and ones that look like tulips. Orchids are strange creatures — some even look like aliens. I wish I could have bottled the scent of the entire show, it was so lovely. It was nice to breathe in the sweet-scented, warm, moist air on such a dreary day, and after spending a few hours with the orchids I can definitively say I'm ready for spring.
I would love to go back to the garden for their take on the flowering cherries, but alas I leave for Ohio tomorrow (eek!). I did, however, pick up a copy of Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief to reread — have you read it? If you've seen Adaptation you know that it's nearly impossible to explain without sounding dull, but believe me when I say it's anything but. Orlean is a fantastic writer, and the subject of passion, obsession and collecting is one that will always be near to my heart. It's even more interesting to revisit her words after I've seen a lot of what she describes, and she even mentions that some of the orchid varieties currently at the NYBG have been there since the late 1800s.

The show runs until April 22nd, and I highly recommend checking it out, and while you're there you can pick up a copy of the Orchid Thief, conveniently available in the gift shop.

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Metropolitan Opera

My days here in the city are dwindling fast, but by luck of scheduling my uncle is in town to share in adventures with me this week. If you've ever thought that I have a knack for packing a travel itinerary and wondered where I got it from, look no further than my Uncle Steve. I could write pages and pages about what a wonderful force he has been in my life, but I'll stick to detailing the adventures we've had.

His main love in life is the opera, so naturally he took me for my Metropolitan Opera debut on Wednesday night to see Don Carlo. We arrived a bit early so he could show me around his beloved home base — he's been coming to the Met for nearly 40 years. I'd never been to the opera before, and my only taste of Lincoln Center was Avery Fisher Hall, site of a Meryl Streep tribute in 2008. I had gotten terribly sick before that trip, but was determined to make it to the event — which included speeches from Christopher Walken, Uma Thurman, Robert Redford, Robert DeNiro and the Goddess Streep herself — where I had fourth row tickets. Thanks to my condition, I mostly remember the night from under a fog of cough-syrup, and I was excited to experience the true purpose of Lincoln Center without a purse stuffed with Kleenex.

I immediately fell in love with the amazing chandeliers that hang in the lobby, as well as the house. They were a gift from the Austrian government, in thanks for the United States' help rebuilding after WWII, and they're spectacular. The ones in the house hang low and then magically rise up to the ceiling as the performance starts. I was so awed by them, in fact, that somewhere between using the ladies room and gawking at the chandeliers, I lost my opera ticket. By that time I had already used it to get into the house, as well as noticed that my uncle had paid quite a lot of money for it — so I tried not to panic. I retraced my steps, but of course couldn't find it.

While I was cursing my carelessness (at home I'm actually notorious for finding things, not losing them), my uncle approached the house manager and informed him of our "ticket crisis." He graciously looked up my uncle's order, and issued me a handwritten ticket, which I didn't end up having to use. We were sure we were going to have to kick someone out of my seat, but thankfully no one challenged us.

The seats are surprisingly comfortable (I'm no supermodel but I am pretty tall, and always thankful for adequate leg room) and each one is outfitted with a display for subtitles, offered in a few different languages. Don Carlo was sung in Italian, so of course the subtitles helped, but sometimes it was nice to ignore them and just lose myself in the beautiful voices. It was a bit of a haul — more than four hours — but with two intermissions and interesting staging it went by quite quickly.

I'm proud to say that I not only survived (aka didn't fall asleep or emit a loud snore like the unfortunate woman in front of me) but actually enjoyed my first opera. Although it would have been hard not to catch a piece of my uncle's enthusiasm, and I'm sure it didn't hurt that we were in one of the best opera houses in the world. The next day, in fact, we went back to the Met during the day to see if we could secure a spot on their sold-out-for-months backstage tour. Once again, my uncle, doing what he does best, managed to get our names on the standby list just in time, and we were the last people admitted when the empty spots went up for sale.

The tour is a bit pricey ($20) but when the woman asked if I was a full-time student, I hesitantly replied yes and received a $10 ticket (without even having to show my ID, although I'm not sure if that's standard practice, but certainly worth a shot). It was definitely worth the price of admission, however, and I highly recommend the tour even if you know (or care) nothing of opera.

Oft-painted floor of the prop department
The Met is an enormous arts organization, and the inner workings of the building and the company are fascinating. We got to see dressing rooms, backstage, prop rooms, wig rooms, storage and rehearsal spaces. There were tons of people rushing about, moving scenery, sewing costumes, rehearsing shows and it was exciting to observe the numerous men and women behind the curtain. You weren't allowed to snap photos inside the house or backstage, but I managed to sneak a few. I would love to work in the prop department, faux wood-graining styrofoam trees, painting fake blood on costumes or gold-leafing intricate architectural details that can't possibly be seen from the audience, but are there so the singers can feel one with their characters.

Our tour guide was a cute older man named "Arthur", whom my uncle quickly labeled a "font of misinformation," but even without any of his explanation the tour would have been worth it. I recommend getting tickets in advance, of course, but even if it's sold out, there are usually at least a few spots open so it's worth a try. As much as my uncle loves opera, and loves sharing that love of opera, I'm sure this wasn't my last time at the Met. Next time, however, you can bet that my uncle will be holding onto our tickets.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Brooklyn Botanic Garden: Winter

On Saturday, after filling up on delicious food and kindness at Tom's Restaurant in Brooklyn, I headed to the Botanic Garden. It's a few blocks from Tom's and only $5 with a student ID (which I still have — shhhh). I'd been for the first time almost a year ago, at the end of April, and marveled at the blossoming cherry trees and gorgeous grounds, but I thought I'd check it out in the winter.

It might seem strange to go to a Botanic Garden on a gray, wintery day but it was actually quite lovely. It was pretty deserted and still totally beautiful, even if most of the flowers have yet to bloom.

There were many signs of the impending spring if you looked hard enough — budding trees, chirping birds, even a few blooms — and the indoor Steinhardt Conservatory offered a nice chance to warm up in tropical, temperate and desert environments.

I had somehow missed the Conservatory entirely on my last trip, mesmerized as I was by the cherry trees, but it's a real treat. There are tons of aquatic plants, strange-looking cacti and even an orange tree inside of the beautiful glass greenhouses.

I'm finding it endlessly fascinating and surprisingly rewarding to visit places that aren't generally considered winter activities, like the Botanic Garden or Flushing Meadows Park, in the winter. It's interesting to see a place in its peak, as well as in the off-season, if the lack of crowds isn't already enough of an incentive.

However, my heart aches that I won't be here for the cherry blossom season — it was one of the very best things I've ever seen in the city and I hope I'll be able to see it again soon. I happened upon the garden during peak blossom season last year, by chance, and I actually got to see them only a few days before a huge storm made the trees almost completely bare. They have a festival, but be sure to check the bloom maps before you go — if I had waited a week for the festival, I wouldn't have been nearly as blown away.

They currently have a bonsai exhibit which is definitely worth seeing — aren't bonsai trees just the strangest? They kind of creep me out, but I'm also fascinated by them, and the flowering ones are especially beautiful.

Tomorrow my uncle and I go to the New York Botanical Gardens for their famed Orchid Show. It's supposed to be rainy/snowy so we probably won't get to see much of the grounds, but I'm excited for another taste of spring. If you get the chance, visit either of the gardens in the next few months, and tell the cherry blossoms I'll see them next year.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Neue Galerie

On Friday my friend Katie and I went to the Neue Galerie, a small museum on the Upper East Side "devoted to early twentieth-century German and Austrian art and design." My uncle had taken me seven years ago, but German Expressionism is my favorite art movement (if I'm forced to pick just one) and I'd been wanting to go back for some time.

Usually admission is pretty steep — $20 general, $10 students and seniors — but on the first Friday of every month the museum is free from 6-8pm. I feel bad being so cheap, about museums especially, when I love and respect art so much, but I really wish most of them were cheaper or had more free nights. Most museums in the city have a night similar to a first Friday, where it's free or suggested donation, and the MET Museum has always been suggested donation. But there are plenty of other places that are pretty expensive, and it adds up quick. Of course, I'd rather spend my money on art and museums than going to bars or buying clothes, so I always try to pay as much as I can, but I've been trying to plan my visits lately around the discounted or free nights.

When we arrived at the Neue around 6:15 there was a line around the block, so I'm not the only one who craves a deal. Luckily, the line moved very quickly and we were inside by 6:30. The museum itself is in a landmark building, overlooking Central Park on 5th Avenue, and it was once occupied by a Vanderbilt, so you know it's spectacular. The second floor galleries with their ornate woodwork and floor-ceiling windows are as worth seeing as the art that hangs in them. There are two floors of artwork from Germany and Austria, as well as a nice collection of Decorative Arts pieces.

Some of my favorites are Egon Schiele's tortured self-portraits, Ernst Kirchner's trippy street life scenes and, surprisingly, Gustav Klimt's landscapes. Klimt's Adele Bloch-Bauer I is probably one of their most famous pieces, but I've never been a huge fan. I do appreciate that she appears to be wearing a skirt made of eyeballs, because that's just super strange, but it's a bit gaudy for me. 

They have a huge collection of sketches and woodcuts that are amazing, and they currently have a Bauhaus exhibition that I know my graphic design professors would have been proud of me for recognizing. I've heard good things about Cafe Sabarsky and it's on my list of places to try, even if I'm not able to pronounce 90% of the menu.

If you don't mind fighting a bit of a crowd to see your art, I definitely recommend trying out the Neue on the next first Friday, although if you love German and Austrian art as much as I do, it's probably worth paying the extra money to get a little more breathing space.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Tom's Restaurant

I went to Tom's Restaurant in Brooklyn on Saturday for brunch, but I can't be entirely sure that the following even happened — it was such a perfect, New York experience that I may as well have been dreaming the entire time. When I got there there was already a line out the door, and around the building. But more importantly, I also got there as soon as the free pancakes came out. I had read enough reviews to know that Tom's is famous for feeding its waiting customers, but I still don't think I was prepared.

The full-sized pancakes (with syrup!) were carried by who is surely the world's nicest older gentleman. He looked a little like my grandpa (bald) and he was wearing glasses and a pale pink tie. He was so incredibly sweet from the very beginning — he looked at me, alone and last in line, and said "last, but not least!" — and before I knew it he was back out with full cups of coffee for everyone. As we passed cream and sugar through the line, I already understood where all those five star reviews were coming from — and I hadn't even made it inside of the restaurant yet. Before that would happen, the man made his rounds once more, this time with a heaping bowl of strawberries and fresh whipped cream, and asked multiple times if I would like more coffee.

Once inside the door (and when there were still several people ahead of me), the man asked, "So, your friends are still not here?" When I replied "Nope, it's just me," he immediately said "Oh my gosh. I am so upset. You come with me," and led me (by holding my hand) to a seat at the counter. He was extremely apologetic that I had waited so long in line (you know, the one where they fed me and gave me free coffee) and told the waiter to take "extra good care of me." Somehow, I think he would have done that anyway, but he certainly did after that.

I ordered more coffee and the 2x2x2 (bacon, eggs, lemon ricotta pancakes) and it came out faster than I could have ever imagined. I'm more of a waffle girl usually, but they are famous for their pancakes, and rightly so. They were the best pancakes I've ever eaten, and my only regret is that I was too full to properly finish them.

When I was about halfway through my meal, the older man came back and insisted that he felt terrible that I had had to wait so long, and instructed my waiter to give me a chocolate egg cream, on the house. I resisted asking him to marry me, and instead thanked him profusely and waited eagerly for my (very first!) egg cream. Turns out, egg creams are as gross as they sound (really watery, slightly carbonated and chocolate milk-esque?) but I drank it all because I couldn't risk hurting the feelings of the world's sweetest and most generous man.

Sometime between pancakes and egg cream he also came around offering "fresh orange slices" and I decided then that I never wanted to leave this bizarro world of free food and extreme kindness that I had happened upon. It was also about that time that I realized that sitting right next to the coffee pots was a huge stack of my "happy to serve you" cups — you know, the ones I've been on a mad hunt for (in the wild) ever since I first came to the city. It was a variety that I hadn't found yet (I'm collecting them all!), so I of course got one to go.

My entire bill came to $11, and if you've been keeping track that was for: three cups of coffee, three pancakes, two scrambled eggs, a mound of bacon, strawberries and cream, two fresh orange slices and a huge chocolate egg cream. When the older man came back at the end of my meal and lamented that I hadn't finished my pancakes, I insisted that they were amazing, but that I was just incredibly full. He told me once again how sorry he was that I waited so long (the torture!) and when I told him he was "the nicest," he retorted, "No, you're the nicest. Unfortunately our nices just didn't cross this time," but I assured him they would, next time. Then I left a $9 tip on my $11 bill, which wasn't nearly enough but was all I could realistically afford — Tom's made me long for the day that I'm rich enough to tip absurd amounts for absurdly awesome service, but I can only hope my 82% tip accurately conveyed my appreciation.

Seriously, if you're ever anywhere near Prospect Heights in Brooklyn (or even if you're not), make a trip to Tom's. You might even see me there, since there will most definitely be a lot of "next times" for me and those lemon ricotta pancakes.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Upper West Side

Central Park, the North Woods

When I decided to come to New York for a few months, my first choice of neighborhoods was the Upper West Side. Luckily, I found the perfect place on W. 109th, which is technically in a neighborhood called "Manhattan Valley," but I don't really know anyone that calls it that, so I still refer to where I'm at as the Upper West Side. I'm a few blocks from Columbia — which is in an area called Morningside Heights, it can get confusing — Riverside Park, and one block from the northern boundary of Central Park.

I absolutely love this area, and if I move here permanently I really I hope I'll be able to stay close by. It has a real neighborhood feel to it, one that I don't get in other, more crowded areas of the city. It's pretty quiet but that doesn't mean boring. There are plenty of delis, grocery stores and restaurants close by, and the subway lines (B, C and 1) are super convenient.

Riverside Park

I think what I like most about the areas is the abundance of nature — Central, Riverside and Morningside Parks are all wonderful, beautiful and really close. I absolutely adore the architecture and feeling of history, especially on Riverside Drive. I can only imagine what some of the buildings look like on the inside, but outside they're almost all spectacular.

There's also an abundance of really large, historic cathedrals in the area, in fact, 110th Street is called Cathedral Parkway and each church is bigger, and more ornately beautiful than the next.

Riverside Church

Fountain and Column outside of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine
I'm not a church goer, but I always appreciate beautiful artwork and architecture. So far, I've been to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine as well as Riverside Church, and both are amazing to see.

It's been wonderful to be able to explore the neighborhood on my lunch break, and I've tried to go to new places almost every day. I fear I'm getting quite spoiled living here, and it's hard to imagine that I could be happier in another part of the city.

Grant's Tomb

The other day I went to Grant's Tomb, and it's almost surreal that I get to visit these amazing places (and sometimes even have them to myself!) every single day. I had never explored much of the northern part of Central Park before, but the North Woods is unlike any other part of the park. It's quite hilly and wild, and the Conservatory Garden is always a treat, in any season. There's a pond filled with ducks, bridges and waterfalls, baseball diamonds and an ice skating rink — all above 100th street.

The Reservoir

I walked through the park on Wednesday night and stopped by the reservoir just to admire the view — the city still manages to surprise me with its magical beauty at nearly every turn. Just a short walk or subway ride away there's a Whole Foods, Shake Shack, Magnolia Bakery, Momofuku Milk Bar and Trader Joe's — almost any store or restaurant you can think of has an Upper West Side location.

I read this article recently about the abundance of elderly people on the UWS, and how reluctant they are to leave because they basically never have to, everything they could ever want is right outside their door. There are many parts of the city that I love and value for their character and unique qualities, but I think I'll always be an Upper West Sider at heart, no matter where I eventually call my home.