As we say above, this is mainly for friends and family. Michael's blog on the Middle East can be found here. Most of our other links can be found below on the right, but be sure to keep up as well with our family website, here. We also have discussion groups for genealogy, links to genealogical information on us, and our (semi-private) Flickr and YouTube accounts for those who are invited. You can also get a quick-navigation guide here.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Yet Another Good Question

"How can eels lay eggs when they don't have butts?"

Sarah, tonight. Context? We don't need no stinkin' context. She was working on homework when she asked. Eels had come up in a story for a book report, so perhaps that was the connection. Or not. I tried to answer.


New York a Day After

The YouTube videos are up. It takes five to cover the three days (day four was the drive back and no pictures were taken). Day one is one video; days two and three are in two parts each.

In retrospect, now that the doctor has lanced my blister, it was a great trip, and I think Sarah got a lot out of it. Though when I asked her if she had told other kids about it she said 1) no one asked and 2) almost everybody in her class had already been to New York.

But I think she was much impressed. She'd been asking to go for a long time.

Monday, May 25, 2009

We're Home

We're back. Not much to post. The usual pit stops along the way for snacks, stretching legs, etc. Heavy rain from Baltimore on, necessitating a few shifts in route, but nothing major. Foot blister hurting; may see doctor tomorrow if it hasn't improved. Sarah's now got lots of homework so we're concentrating on that. I'll be uploading the videos to YouTube shortly. (No video of today: nothing of note to photograph.)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

From Tiffany to Katz's Deli in a Day

Our third day in New York City and the last in the city itself; we'll drive back to DC tomorrow.

A busy day. Everything from Tiffany and Cartier (we didn't go in but showed Sarah Fifth Avenue) to a meal at Katz's Deli on Houston Street. Sarah had a cheeseburger, unfortunately, so she didn't get to appreciate the food: I urged her to have a Kosher hot dog because she does like hot dogs. Tam and I reminded ourselves of what pastrami tastes like, as opposed to the stuff you get everywhere else except the Lower East Side.
As I said, it was a busy day.

Overall, it's been a great trip. After a couple of days of walking on sore feet I discovered a rather ugly foot blister that may need some attention when I get home, but otherwise things have gone pretty well.

We started with Hershey's store on Times Square, which Sarah has wanted to go to ever since we visited M&M world. Then we walked across 48th Street to Rockefeller Center, then stuck our heads in Saint Patrick's during Sunday Mass to give Sarah a look. Some quick hot dogs from a cart to hold us till later. Then up Fifth, past all the jewelry and fashion houses, to FAO Schwarz opposite the Plaza at the Park. Sarah loved FAO Schwarz and decided on a teddy bear — she had to have something from there, naturally, and it was just a question of what — and then we went to the Central Park Zoo. It cost us $25, once again making me appreciate Washington, where the Zoo and Smithsonian Museums are all free.

We visited the penguins and puffins — Washington's Zoo lacks penguins, so we were filling a gap — and polar bear, then went to the children's zoo, where the heat and humidity got the better of me and I sat drinking water and cooling down while Tam and Sarah did the exhibits. [As an aside if you haven't been to animated movies or watched cartoon TV lately, the penguins of Central Park Zoo are key characters in the movies Madagascar and Madagascar 2, and now have their own TV series on Nickolodeon. I think I was more attuned to the fact that Madagascar starts in the Central Park Zoo than Sarah was, since the real zoo doesn't look much like the cartoon one, and there are actually more penguins, though some of them looked like they might share personalities with their cartoon versions.]

By then we needed to cool down. After walking several blocks without finding a proper spot, we grabbed a cab to Grand Central, visited an Irish pub next door, and then showed Sarah Grand Central Station. She wasn't familiar with the term "as busy as Grand Central Station," but she immediately recognized the clock in the Grand Concourse from the movie Madagascar (See Above), where it gets destroyed. And of course, since it was Sunday, it was not like Grand Central Station at Grand Central Station. But I think the size impressed her.

Then we took the subway to the Lower East Side. Because it was drizzling a little cabs were hard to find, so we walked east on Houston to Katz's. Pastrami and hot dogs for the grownups, a cheeseburger for Sarah. A waitress there told her how lucky she was to visit the best toy store in the world and the restaurant in the same day (she had spotted the FAO Schwartz bag). I would say Katz has a good claim to be the best deli in the world, but then there are the best barbecue place, the best Chinese place, etc. etc. The world needs all of them. (I've said this before but the best chili parlor is Fred & Red's in Joplin, Missouri; the best catfish joint is Mildred's out in the middle of nowhere on a Blue Highway in northern Alabama; the best barbecue is in North Carolina but I will not alienate half the state by naming one variety over the other, but I'm pretty sure the best Western North Carolina is in Lexington and the best Eastern North Carolina in Goldsboro. For many categories, I am still searching for the best. What is recorded here, however, is not my opinion. It is demonstrable Truth.

Subway back to the Port Authority; bus back to Secaucus. Home tomorrow.

It was a long day. Tam and I tried to have a beer across from our hotel in New Jersey, but Sarah was fading fast.

I have posted some stills to the Flickr site, but the YouTube videos will need a while to process as we took a lot of video and I'm make the usual video interspersed with slideshow of stills to cover the trip.

More from home.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Day Two in New York

I was too exhausted to post much last night about our first few hours in NYC, and today was a long one: left the hotel about 10 am and got back just before 10 pm, with visits to the Empire State Building (didn't go up though, just looked at it), Fifth Avenue, Central Park, Columbus Circle, the Battery, the Staten Island Ferry, Wall Street, Trinity Church, Ground Zero, Chinatown, Little Italy, and Greenwich Village. So we're a bit tired once again. Not to mention going through the Port Authority both coming from and returning to Jersey. I'll add some tonight and more as I can. Just uploading to Flickr is taking a while so I won't try any YouTube uploads, possibly till we get home.

Anyway: For now let me summarize what I can. On Friday, May 22, we drove up from DC, arriving in Secaucus, NJ before 4 pm. There's a bus from in front of our hotel that runs in to the Port Authority and, most times of the day, only takes about 20 minutes to get there; the hotel costs a third of what one in Manhattan would. And as northern New Jersey goes, it's a pretty modern, mall area. (I know: as northern New Jersey goes, a toxic waste dump is pretty nice, but make your own jokes. This isn't bad at all.) So we decided to go into Manhattan for Sarah's first look.

Note above that I say the bus "at most times of the day, only takes about 20 minutes to get there." A little before five pm is not most times of the day, even though we were inbound rather than outbound. Every bus in the Western Hemisphere and some that must have been imported from Tokyo or other crowded cities for the occasion was lined up for the Lincoln Tunnel and again for the Port Authority terminal. We got there in less than an hour I think, but when the return trip was 20 minutes (as was the Saturday morning trip) we realized we were better located than we initially feared.

So landing at the Port Authority I simply walked Sarah east on 42nd Street, told her she was at Broadway and 42nd Street, two of the most famous streets in the world, then turned her to the left and voila, Times Square.

It's quite true that Times Square has been much cleaned up since Giuliani and Bloomberg arrived, but we also discovered, later, where the sleezy "gentlemen's clubs" had gone: mostly to Eighth Avenue. Fortunately the sheer sensory input is so great that I don't think Sarah registered what we were passing.

We got her a snow globe in a junky souvenir store, showed her the huge Times Square Toys R Us with a big ferris wheel inside (she declined to ride, thinking the cartoon characters on the gondolas were too juvenile for her, If I properly understood her objection), but then spotted "M&M World" with its "Now Open" sign. M&M World is a three story building devoted entirely to M&M products. I see from its Wikipedia page that there are actually now three of them: in Times Square, Las Vegas, and Orlando. Of course. The three most excessive places around. She loved it and bought a bunch of M&Ms: you can pick your colors, including some exclusive to M&M World colors apparently, and your plain or peanut.

Across Broadway from M&M World is a Hershey store, which we only stepped in the door of as her chocolate acquisitions were already quite adequate. She wants to go back. In fact as of this morning Sarah was content to spend her whole stay in Times Square, but after showing her a lot more of Manhattan I think she's gotten a bit more broad-minded.

Giuliani may have gotten the strip joints and peepshows out of Times Square, but it is still not what you'd call a genteel and restrained place: it's just the flashing lights and giant jumbotrons are for M&Ms and Hershey, new movies and, as always, Broadway shows, rather than sleezier stuff. The sheer sensory input is beyond what I'm accustomed to at age 61, and wore me out fast. Sarah, of course, was jumped up on adrenalin. She was already psyched for her first trip to New York, and we dropped her in the center of the maelstrom on the first afternoon.

I'll cut Friday short so as to get at least today's basics down before sleep overtakes me. Tam and Sarah are out cold already; only blogging duty drives me on.

We ate at a very elegant Italian restaurant in the theater district that was labeled in one of our "New York For Kids" books (either Frommer's or Fodor's, both of which we bought): it was kid friendly enough, but no restaurant in the theater district is cheap, but then we're in New York.

And so back to Jersey and to bed.

Today we started with what at first looked like a plan: the Empire State Building, walk up Fifth Avenue, stop at Rockefeller Center, perhaps spend some time in Central Park, and then go to the American Museum of Natural History for most of the afternoon.

This spun out of control early on. Moltke said no war plan survives contact with the enemy; I sometimes feel our travel plans don't survive contact with actually seeing what's available.

We started, as planned, with the Empire State Building. Sarah, who has decided for now that she doesn't like heights, declined to go to the top of it or any other skyscraper, so we just walked by the facade and looked up. Then we turned up Fifth Avenue intending to walk to the Park and stop at Rockefeller Center and perhaps Saint Patrick's.

But we had used the word "park," and by the time we came up to the New York Public Library, Sarah was agitating to do the park first. Tam was pushing for Rockefeller Center. I tried to compromise by jumping to the Park and then coming back, but then we had some problems with a Metrocard machine at the Bryant Park subway station, and the usual other frustrations. We finally got to the park and Sarah declared she wanted to go to the Central Park Zoo, but en route there sidetracked to rock climbing just inside the south entrance. By this time it was noon and our planned day was rapidly spinning out of control so I laid down the law: we've got to decide what we're going to do and do it. Today was a beautiful day; tomorrow is chancier on weather, so I said, instead of our prearranged plan, would you like to go on a boat ride?

We were getting hungry so we did the New York thing and walked west to Columbus circle, got hot dogs from a cart, and then took the subway from Columbus Circle to South Ferry. Tam says in her single days she always used cabs, but I learned long ago that despite its crowds and chaos, the subway gets you just about anywhere faster and cheaper.

So we next took the Staten Island Ferry. There's a new, very clean and modern terminal on the Battery end (and a mostly new one on the Staten Island end too), and the ferry, which for years cost all of a nickel, is now free. (I think it cost more to collect the nickels than to let people ride free.) It's still one of the best ways to get a great look at the harbor, that great natural seaport up there with Hong Kong and Kuwait and Singapore and San Francisco that has stunned people from Verrazano to Hendrik Hudson to the rather large number of sailors here for "Fleet Week" which is on right now. (Lots of US Navy and Marines, but also quite a few Canadian Navy as well.) And you still get a good closeup view of Lady Liberty without having to invest the time to actually go there.

After that, which ate up about an hour and a half including a snack while waiting for the return ferry, we walked from the Battery up to Wall Street. Sarah didn't know what Wall Street or the New York Stock Exchange were, so we did our best to explain (it was Saturday, but lots of tourists in Wall Street anyway). Photo above of Tam and Sarah in front of NYSE; Sarah has her head turned so it meets my blog requirement not to show her face on the open site. Then we visited Trinity Church. Sarah is a fan of the movie National Treasure (I'll come back and link to some of these references at some point: too late right now) in which the conclusion is set deep under Trinity Church where the enormous treasure of the Knights Templars has been buried (if you haven't seen it, don't think about it too much; if you have you'll know what I'm talking about). So it, unlike the NYSE, was a known quantity to her. Two observations in the Financial District: tourists in front of Federal Hall asking to have their pictures taken with the NYPD (and souvenir stores have lots of NYPD and FDNY souvenirs now), obviously a legacy of 9/11. And large numbers of tourists climbing on the famous Bull statue on lower Broadway and having their pictures taken: nostalgia for the days of Bull markets, I guess.

Tam and I were last in lower Manhattan in 1998. Before Sarah, and before 9/11. I had already had the nagging feeling from the Staten Island Ferry that it just looks wrong: although my first trip to New York in the 1960s was pre-World Trade Center, it has been a long time since I got used to seeing those twin towers in the skyline. And they're just not there anymore. I know New Yorkers have had almost eight years to get used to it, but this is my first visit to Manhattan since.

So of course we went to Ground Zero. Sarah knew all about that: it's something they learn in school. I won't try to reflect right now: too much good stuff to tell to mar it with the maudlin. Nor will I rant about the people selling souvenir picture books or hawking fake Rolexes. You'll get that wherever tourists congregate, for whatever reason. One guy selling souvenir photos approached us and Tam and I both said that we had lived through it and didn't need pictures. My mental picture is still the plume of smoke over the Pentagon. It is, however, sad that the reconstruction/memorial is still little more than a foundation, whereas the Pentagon was fully repaired before the one year anniversary. A picture of the site today at left.

We then took the subway to Chinatown to give Sarah a glimpse while we walked to where she really wanted to go, Little Italy. In so doing we passed a shelter dog rescue center where Sarah petted the dogs: we're in high dog alert as I think I've explained. Then we crossed over to Mulberry Street where a street fair and parade were under way, with a bunch of groups dedicated to Saint Anthony marching carrying statues (including one with dollar bills attached) and with a bunch of beefy guys in black suits (on a hot day) and sunglasses. A tip, fellas: if you want to avoid stereotypes about "the mob," don't dress like a cheap mafia flick. Tam and I were both reminded, though, of the Saint's Day parade in Godfather 2 when De Niro is starting out.

We then ate at a place called Da Nico on Mulberry Street. Good food, too much to finish. Maybe pricey for Little Italy but not for New York as a whole.

Then a cab to Greenwich Village. Got out at Washington Square. Break dancers, bands, many dogs to pet. Walked around the Village a bit, stopped for a beer in a combination Irish pub/Mexican restaurant (it's the Village, remember?), walked to the West Fourth Street station, subwayed back to the Port Authority, then back to our basecamp in Secaucus. Day two complete. Started out rough, ended with Sarah getting a real sampling of not just Times Square and Midtown but New York as she is lived: Chinatown, Little Italy, Greenwich Village. And Wall Street,where the money used to be; Ground Zero, for obvious reasons, and samples of other places.

Tomorrow I am determined to get us to Katz's delicatessen (Send a Salami to Your Boy in the Army; I don't think I'm going to explain the When Harry Met Sally scene to Sarah just yet); Tam and Sarah can pick everything else. I think we've tentatively decided to put the Natural History Museum off till next time: it's wonderful, but overlaps the Smithsonian in enough areas that seeing more parts of New York might be more educational at this point.

We're Here

Well, we made it to New York. I'm very tired and my feet are killing me and we've had some problems with the hotel, but we're here; Sarah has seen Times Square and gotten to know a little bit of Midtown. We'll do much more tomorrow and Sunday. Right now we need to rest.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Before We Go to New York . . .

. . . Let me catch up a bit. As I noted in my last post, we're going to take Friday plus the three-day Memorial Day weekend and make a four-day flying visit to the Big Apple, Sarah's first view of the City that Never Sleeps. I should really catch up a bit on some of the things since our last posting, back during our Winchester weekend . We came home from that trip via the Panhandle of West Virginia, stopping in Berkeley Springs and at a farmer's market. You'll find a video of the trip at our YouTube site, for those with a password.

On May 2 we went to the annual flower mart at National Cathedral, which had food, flowers, rides for kids, etc. A video is up of this, too.

On May 9 we went to the Udvar-Hazy branch of the Air and Space Museum, a big hangar where the Smithsonian keeps the big planes that won't fit in Air and Space on the Mall, including the Space Shuttle Enterprise (the first production model that never flew in space) and the Enola Gay. Sarah is clearly getting more interested in this stuff.

On May 10, Mother's Day, we did the usual Mother's Day stuff, including a brunch at a local Indian restaurant, then we examined caterpillars (the tent caterpillar season is here), and tried to go to Great Falls on the Virginia side. When that proved difficult due to a mile-long backup of other cars with the same idea, we headed out to Leesburg and showed Sarah the Civil War Battlefield at Ball's Bluff. The Mother's Day stuff took four YouTube clips to cover all of due to their 10 minute limit.

Tonight we visited Sarah's art fair and a farewell for the school's longtime principal, and Sarah sang as a member of the choir. A video of that will go up tonight. She was disappointed to not win a ribbon since her photo (the one I posted a couple of posts back) was indeed really good. But none of the photographs entered won anything. Judges must have a bias against photography. She did, however, get a check for $25 for selling the most stuff in their pre-Christmas sale last December. So she gets to take that money to New York with her (it's equivalent to her allowance for 2 weeks.)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Start Spreading the News . . .

Well, we're not leaving today, but a week from today. I know I dropped from sight almost three weeks ago, but the good news is I've been putting up videos at our YouTube site regularly to recorxd the interim. The bad news is I think only one of our relatives is signed on to see them, so I need to add some commentary here and note that if anybody among our kin are reading this, and can't see our YouTube site, ask and we'll invite again. We shifted from the Winchester Trip into a busy Mother's Day weekend, and a lot has been going on. I'll catch up, I hope, over the weekend now beginning.

Meanwhile, if the Sinatra fans couldn't figure it out from the headline, we're going to spend the Memorial Day weekend plus the previous Friday (thus a four-day weekend) to show Sarah New York, New York. I didn't see the Big Apple for the first time till I was 19 or 20, but then I wasn't growing up just 250 miles to the south. Tam loves New York more than I do — I like it, but I think it is not in my top two or three favorite places, as it clearly is for Tam. But it's unlike anyplace else in these parts, that's for sure. And neither Tam nor I have been there since some time in the mid-90s; once Sarah came along life got busy, and we haven't been traveling out of the country either so we haven't even been flying into JFK, which is at least technically New York and you can see the skyline. Speaking of which, neither of us has been there since 9/11, so it's a different skyline (though I remember the days before the World Trade Center went up, but then I'm old, as Sarah keeps pointing out).

We're still working on what to see in a limited amount of time, My nonnegotiable demand is Katz's Deli on Houston Street in the Lower East Side. The classic Kosher Deli, the "Send a Salami to Your Boy in the Army" place. (And site of a well-known scene in the film "When Harry Met Sally." It's the "I'll have what she's having" scene. Enough said.) It's been there since 1888. I'm not sure I've been there since maybe 1978, but from the looks of the website, the only thing changed is the prices.

We're going to be staying in Secaucus on the Jersey side (less than half the cost of any hotels we'd want to stay out in Manhattan, and close to trains and buses into the city). We should be able to get to Penn Station from there in a short ride, and then spread out over the city. We aren't exactly rolling in money (is anyone these days?), but we aren't going to be eating at the Waldorf, either. More like street food, Pizza, and deli. Maybe a splurge or two.

More as we get closer, and some catching up in the next day or two.