God sometimes gives us unexpected gifts. Our gift has been a grandson who enlivens our lives and makes retirement very different than the one we anticipated. He is a special joy. And that's "Casey." In 2006 we fulfilled our dream of living in Italy for a year. It was every bit as wonderful as anticipated. This blog begins in 2005 as we prepared for that experience. Since then we have explored many places together. That's the "Travel." And finally, I am a person of opinions--spiritually, politically, on just about anything and that's the "Other Stuff." Welcome to my blog.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A NYC Sunday With Friends

In Torino (or Turin) there is the ultimate foodie store--Eataly. Ken and I made a pilgrimage there in 2009 and spent time wandering the various sections with every type of gourmet food you might want plus at least 2000 types and brands of pasta. The bottom or basement floor is wines and beer--of course, all Italian. Amazingly enough, we left empty handed. Sometimes there is so much to buy that it is simpler to just look--I often feel that way in department stores here.

Anyway, the opening of a NYC branch of Eataly a few months ago gave the perfect reason for a gathering of friends. So when Sunday arrived the catalyst for the the long trip from California also arrived--the day to see what Eataly, USofA style had to offer.

But, because the other focus of these few days (and why it was possible to spend 4 days walking and still gain 2 pounds) was eating, we started the day with breakfast at the Blue Dog, a casual, neighborhood, friendly eatery with good wholesome food offerings--and, filling.

The gang at breakfast: Carol, Sheri, Kim Chris (left) Ken, Jan, Jane, Terry (right)
From the Grey Dog we walked to Eataly but first detoured to the charming, fun Chelsea Market, another food haven inside what was the old National Biscuit (think oreo, etc.) factory. If I lived anywhere neat NY, I think this would be a frequent visiting place for me. Many of the same specialty shops we saw in Greenwich had branches here plus there is a great market with many products found in ordinary grocery stores in Italy. We needed more time there but were due to meet the rest of us in Madison Park across from our proclaimed destination.

Eataly was OK but disappointing when compared with Turin--much smaller, fewer specialties, ONLY 4 flavors of gelato, merchandise pretty crowded together resulting in not much traffic flow space. There is a large selection of olive oil from the various regions of Italy--that is the section I would most frequent. I was disappointed because they did not have Casey's favorite grocery store cookies--Ringos. Bummed!

But, don't get me wrong, we did have a good time. After rambling through, we finally settled in at the bar and enjoyed a glass of very good wine--thanks, Chris and Kim. I enjoyed having the time to just sit and talk with Kim. When you are with a large number of people, it is hard to fine one-on-one time with anyone.

Leslie, Terry, Sheri
Fuzzy picture of Kim and Chris

Although I think the thought was that we would eat lunch here, because most of us had just completed an awesome breakfast at The Grey Dog, we just weren't hungry--forgetting that we had joined up with people who were probably very hungry. I do wish they had spoken up as I am quite certain I could have been coerced into eating at the fish restaurant overseen by the same chef as Esca where I had that great meal on Friday lunch. I did feel bad later when they mentioned that they had expected to eat.

I am proud to say that when we were through, we bravely tackled the subway and proved that if you keep trying, you can win. Got on at the right place, got off at the right place--all of us at the same time. Done good!

Back at the hotel we all congregated in our room and had a good time talking about I can't remember what--just girl talk--sort of like the much younger dorm-living days. It was fun and relaxing. Carol and Sheri soon left for a quick early dinner before catching their bus back to Philly. Leslie left to fly home to Georgia. And, Rosie, Vicky and I were ready for another night in NYC.

The three of us had a quick dinner at a Mexican restaurant next to the hotel and then Vicky and I headed to the theater while Rosie planned on exploring Rockefeller Center.

Vicky and I had previously purchased our tickets to see Fela at the Eugene O'Neil Theater which was just a few blocks "down and over" from our hotel--an easy walk. Both Vicky and I enjoyed this rather unusual show--not one that would appeal to everyone; it is not the typical Broadway musical; it is not a happy romance; it is not one that lifts you or that when you leave you feel rejuvenated and up beat.

In the order of some other 20th-21st century plays and musicals, Fela is a political tour de force portraying events in Nigeria during the late 20th century as much of Africa erupted and unscrupulous men became unspeakable evil dictators. Fela Anikulapo Kuti was an entertainer who became an opposition voice and as such was persecuted and destroyed. Eventually he died of complications from AIDS.

The music and dancing were awesome, frenetic, intriguing, loud and fascinating. I had no idea bodies could move like that for so long. Vicky says the dancers will pay a physical price in later years; I think she is totally right.

For Vicky and me the choice of show was a good one. I am glad we went.

And this was the end.....I had my hotel room to myself the last night--I liked the aloneness time. The next morning it was the shuttle to LaGuardia and the long flight back to California. Casey and Ken met me with smiles and hugs.

I so enjoyed the smile on the face of an observing man as Casey ran and hugged and snuggled and was happy to see gramma/mom. It was as if we had given a moment of pleasure to a stranger.

It was good to be home.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Readings Before Tuesday

Yes--I know, there is still Day 3 in NYC to do but....these writings in the NY Times opinion section are worth reading before voting--particularly by independents who are still deciding and by moderate republicans who are frightened by the tea party peoples.

Divided We Fail by Paul Krugman

The last line is where I am.

Can't Keep a Bad Idea Down by Thomas Friedman

In this one, be sure to read the last 5 paragraphs listing the US's world standing on key factors impacting a country's relevancy.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Walking Greenwich & So Much More

Saturday morning broke sunny and warm--nice for October in NYC--making me glad that my winter parka was still in the back closet at home, thanks to wise advise from friend Vicky. We people from SoCal do not acclimate well to cold--which is anything below 60ยบ. I even opted to leave my light leather coat from Florence in the hotel closet.

Sheri, Carol, Leslie and I found the subway, which I kept calling the metro, causing constant correction, which makes no sense to me as the card clearly says metro.
We correctly got on the train that was going to where we needed to be for the short jaunt to where we were to meet our guide for the Greenwich Village Food and Culture Walking Tour. At this point we were without Vicky and Rosie who still needed to get to the hotel, register and, hopefully, get the subway/metro to where we were before the tour started. I was worried about this.

Sephra--Great Guide
At the meet-up point, we met Sephra who was a pure delight. I really think she was a poorly paid comedic actor who was supplementing the pantry as a guide. She was cute, funny, knowledgeable, personable, friendly and pregnant. By the time the other members of the tour arrived, we knew the tour was going to be a fun 3 hours.

Sheri, Leslie, Carol and Me

Finally it was time to start walking but Vicky and Rosie were still on the subway/metro somewhere. Fortunately, our first food stop--Joe's Pizza--was almost on top of the exit stairs so just as Sephra began extolling the virtues of the "slice of pie" we were about to enjoy, our two women popped up and joined us--perfect timing.   
Rosie, Carol, Leslie, Me, Sheri, Vicky
The next three+ hours we walked the village, stopping every 5 minutes or so for a bite to eat at a vast variety of establishments. By the end of the time, we had consumed a whole meal--no need for lunch. Sephra shared stories and legends of the village. We learned where Lady Gaga got her start as a waitress (failed); the location of the origin of off-Broadway theater; where Tom Cruise was dining that night (unless Sephra was joshing); where speakeasies plied their trade and lots more. Next time I'm in NYC, I think I'll do another one of their tours; hopefully Sephra represents the quality of all the guides. She was a joy.

About now we were tired and full so decided to return to the hotel, kick back and prepare for what we knew was going to be an excellent Italian dinner. Things got a little complicated trying to figure out which subway line to take back and where to get off; finally after a 6 way discussion, we were pretty sure we knew. And we did--except we got off a stop too early and so extended our walk for several blocks and another meander through Times Square. OK--I thought, more exercise, more lost pounds--more on that later.

After mastering the subway/metro, we decided that we should use it again to get to dinner. How hard could it be? We just had to transfer trains at one point--not hard to do in Europe or England--but, there they have signage and boards that make sense, even when in another language. Whereas NY requires psychic powers or the wisdom to seek directions from someone in the know--which we discovered is not someone trying to read a subway map. Eventually we did get the connecting train, after searching for and finding the two block tunnel we needed to traverse to the other tracks.

So the six of us were on board a very crowded car, relieved when we studied the route map and knew we were headed the right way. When we arrived at our station, Sheri, Leslie, Rosie, Vicky and I pushed our way out the door, following the lead of real New Yorkers, relieved to be free. But.....as the train pulled out, we saw Carol, mouth agape, staring at us from the other side of the window, on the way to the next stop. Now what to do?

We five headed on to the restaurant, skittish by now so stopped 3 times in 2 blocks to get directions, hoping that Carol would find her way. After a harrowing experience at the next stop, which was virtually deserted, she arrived by taxi, a little disheveled and flustered, but nothing that a glass of wine or two couldn't repair.

Now onto Pepolino--yes! What a great meal we had--so Italian! It was almost like being in Italy except a little more crowded and noisy than restaurants there. There was such an aura of authenticity with the totally Italian staff, wines and food. And the food-----was delicious. I started with a fig and ricotta bruschetta antipasto followed by a whole, grilled branzino, which is often my choice in Italy. It was delish! Everyone raved about their meal--even Leslie after she sent her first primi back for being too salty. 

I know that there are 100's of good restaurants in NY, but, if and when I go again, it will be difficult not to return to Pepolino. We have nothing this good in San Diego--or at least as far as we have found.

After dinner, prudently, we took taxis back to the hotel--no more subways this day.

And so ended day two of our adventure. It was well worth the long travel from California. Tomorrow--breakfast with more friends, Eataly and the theater.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Flying On A Jet Plane

This is what I am doing right now.....sitting in comfort--well, sort of--in first class from LaGuardia to Lindberg (that's NYC to SD.) This is called a "through" flight which means little since we change plans in Chicago and have a two hour layover....but...the flight number stays the same. There is so much that I just don't understand about airline mentality.

Anyway, this gives me time to write a blog entry so that it won't be hanging over my head when I get home to Casey and Ken. So much, I am sure, to catch up on there. Did they get the halloween costume? Homework finished? Book read? Was everything peaceful and serene? I'll be happy if all is well and I don't need to "fix it." We shall see.

NYC was fun...a lot. All the meeting-ups happened with perfection. The hotel in some mysterious, psychic fashion knew we all belonged with one another and had our rooms together in a cute, separate, hidden wing of the hotel. As they had no clue about our connection, the serendipity of this is intriguing.

We all were very pleased with the charmingly named The Hotel @ Times Square, recommended to us by our friend Kathy Woods, who worried that we would not like it. So...Kaydee, you are in the clear.

Actually, the hotel is not on Times Square but a few easy blocks away which is good, for who would want to really be staying where half the world's humanity roams day and night? We did form one with the masses a few times when we walked through on the way to elsewhere. I haven't been there for years but can't say that it was any new or different from years past.

Friday lunch friend Leslie, from Georgia, and I "dined" at Batali's pesce (fish) restaurant Esca which was excellent!! With a bottle of excellent white wine from Le Marche, selected for us by the wine guy, accompanying my so good grilled bluefish with little dried tomato garnishes, I was happy. Oh, I did start with soft, creamy, fresh, flown in yesterday from Southerrn Italy, bufala mozzarella garnished with tiny leaves of argula. I wonder if Batali will migrate to San Diego?

By the time we meandered our way back to The Hotel @Times Square, Sheri and Carol were there so I traded Leslie in for them and we explored our way to Rockefeller Center and environs. Thought I would buy a cute little halloween candy at the Chocolatier for Casey but at $20 a lollipop, he is being deprived.

New Friend Carol, Sheri and Leslie

Sheri and Me
Dinner Friday was at the Spice Market which was good but not as spectacular as I had anticipated. On the way there, Carol, Sheri and I had a hard time flagging a taxi. One finally stopped and said he was off duty but would kindly take us there for $30; we said no. But, we were tired of hustling a ride and the time of our reservation was approaching, so we settled on $25 which would include a tip. The taxi back was $8.10

After dinner Sheryl from NYC took us on a stroll along the new New York park The Highline which runs above the street along tracks that used to run between factories. We had a good time with Sheryl who gave us many good insider tips

This is one of the five courses at the Greek Market. Very tasty!

Almost time for my next flight..I'm in Chicago. This is a good stopping point as it is the end of day one

I can upload here so will do installment two once home.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Off to the Big Apple

I am excited! Sometimes it is just good to be with women friends--no men allowed. Can't say that I have ever really done this before except for conferences or a day trip or...the time I traveled Italy by myself for 10 days. Need to do that again one of these days. I found that although I missed Ken and home, I really enjoyed the adventure and freedom of accountability to no one except me. Moving from place to place and meeting up with friends was quite liberating.

So Thursday morning I take off for 5 days in NYC with several friends coming from various places--Georgia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Florida and then me all the way from SoCal. It will be fun. Several of us are staying at the same hotel--which we hope is bedbug free. (Note: need to remember to keep luggage off the floor.) When I called to ask what they had done about bedbugs, it was as if I were from another planet--bed bugs? We don't have bed bugs. Sure hope not.

Our plans revolve a lot around food. In fact the impetus of the trip is to visit Eataly, the US mecca of the famous food emporium in Torina, Italy. You may think you have been to a foodie haven somewhere but all else pales against Eataly--particularly if you are an Italy0phile. In fact, this is sort of appeasing myself for having missed a trip to the real place in 2010, the first year I've missed Italy since 2000. I am homesick.

Opening Day at Eataly New York

Our homage to food includes:
  • Friday lunch: Esca--Mario Batali's Southern Italian Seafood Trattoria.
  • Friday Dinner: Spice Market--Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Asian inspired cuisine. I've eaten at several of his restaurants over the years and they are wonderful regardless of the focus. Can't wait.
  • Saturday Noon: A walking tour of Greenwich Village, stopping at several eateries for tastings.
  • Saturday Dinner: Italian meal, of course. Pepolino. Reviews are excellent and it sounds like it will be fun and not stuffy. A time to enjoy and laugh with friends.
  • Sunday: Breakfast at the Grey Dog, a walk through Chelsea Market and then off to Eataly where we will wander, roam and, of course, have lunch. My big question is: What will the quality of the gelato be?
And... that is the end of the food orgy, I think. Sunday night most people head home but a couple of us are staying for a night at the theater. We are going to Fela which promises to be a rip-roaring, loud, fun evening of music and dance encompassing a moving story. Can't wait.

Going to NYC and not shopping seems a travesty but, that will be another time. This is a time for fun, laughter, sharing and caring. I promise to post pictures worthy of culinary envy.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Teachers Make a Difference

I've been in a writing slump. Happens sometimes.  Not sure if it's because life suddenly becomes boring or because I miss the interesting stuff that surely happens all around me each day. Common sense tells me there are thousands of things to light a thought which in turn can trigger a muse. So...I think that I've just allowed a spell of lethargy to take over. Va bene (ok)...we need vacuums sometimes to give overworked brains a rest.

Now, I do want to share what I have been focused on this week. It is not a new thought nor earth shattering or unique to me. At the same time, it is not one that everyone shares. I hope to set that straight right now.

Mrs. Henetz 4th Grade
Teachers are important and they do make a difference in lives which means, ultimately, in changing the world. And...I am convinced that the vast majority of these changes and contributions are  positive and good. Most teachers are good at what they do. I know this from the perspective of having been a recipient of the wisdom of teachers and from having been a teacher, an observer and evaluator of teachers and, most importantly, a parent, past and present.

This past week I had reason to reflect on the teachers Casey has had in the last 7 years and realize that out of those 21 dedicated people, only 2 have been duds. This translates into two teachers who not only did not motivate him but instead squelched his enthusiasm for learning, damaged his self-confidence and  negatively impacted his performance.

His second grade teacher was such a one--for some reason she insisted that this very bright boy was "slow."  Fortunately, we were able to compensate for her by what we did at home. I have often wondered, though, what happens to children in the clutches of someone like she but who do not have compensating home environments. We lose kids this way--sometimes very early in their young lives.

Mrs. Hanna-Kinder
Then there are the ones who fall into the ranks of the truly gifted teacher--the one who magically reaches all the students, motivating performance high above the expectation. As I review Casey's school years, I am so pleased to realize that he has had at least 6 teachers who fall into this category--and there are two more candidates in his current 7th grade schedule. He has been fortunate.

Mrs. Kang-2nd Grade
One of this year's crop is his advanced algebra teacher (yes, in 7th grade--when did we/you take it?)  Last year the other of his two poor teachers was his advanced pre-algebra teacher who managed to demoralize Casey, he who at one time scored 600 out of 600 on the state math test, into doing so poorly that he was not recommended for the sequential 7th grade class--advanced algebra.

I lobbied with the vice-principal and counselor to put him into the class anyway, convincing them he deserved the chance. They struck a deal with him that if he did not have at least a B by the end of the first 6 weeks, he would need to repeat pre-algebra.

Mrs. Johnson-5th Grade
And this is where the new candidate for exceptional teacher comes into play. His algebra teacher has him turned on, excited and confident. He is currently carrying a 103.9% average for his work. She is the antithesis of his 6th grade teacher.

Yes, a teacher can make a great difference. We expect kids to have good attitudes but forget that often they will simply reflect the attitude of the adult at the front of the room.

Maestra Anna Maria and Agatha 3rd Grade Italy
And...I believe that he may well have two more such teachers in his life this year. If so, he is a very lucky boy.

The pictures on this post are of those teachers who have made a positive difference in Casey's life. I say thank you to each of you and know that your legacy lives in him.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Trying Something New.......

Blogging from the iPad has had some limitations. A major one being not able to post photos to an entry. Another was not being able to compose off-line.

Well, tonight I learned through a friend about a couple of apps that blow away these problems. Thanks, Roz. These two are so cool!

I am composing this off-line using the app Blogpress. When I am through I will have the option of saving it as a draft to be posted later or posting it immediately to my regular blogspot blog.

Because I am testing various program features, I am uploading a random picture currently in iPhotos on my iPad. Let's see if it works.

Meet Jordan and Justin beginning their terrible twos.

This has been an experiment. Hopefully, successful.

Yes! It worked!

Posted using BlogPress from my iPad