Sunday in New York – The Met

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There are few finer places to start a day than at a museum, especially if that museum is the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Crowds tend to be a bit lighter early in the morning allowing more time with the art and unincumbered wandering.

Pro tip: The Met is a pay-what-you-want setup, so it’s up to you to put a price on priceless works of art. (Suggested donation is $25, but they don’t scoff at you if you give less.)

After gawking at the Grand Hall and getting our tickets, we ascended the central stairs and consulted the map to devise our plan of attack. The Met is enormous–the largest in the U.S. if you’re into superlatives. We intended to spend an hour or two focusing on periods we like. Those intended two hours turned into four hours and we barely scratched the surface of their offerings. We tried to catch the free guided tour at 10:30 but were a few minutes late and not gifted with the tracking capabilities of a bloodhound. We meandered the wing devoted to Africa, Oceania, and the Americas.

We met under the clocks at 11:30 for the guided tours. What happened next was one of the best experiences I’ve had at a museum. For the next 70 minutes, a guide took us around the world for an exploration of Art and Power. Continue reading Sunday in New York – The Met

New York on foot

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I’ve never been a huge fan of New York prior to this trip. New York is a fantastic city, but it’s overwhelming. Manhattan is massive. Chicago is also large, but Manhattan is like someone took Chicago and replicated it a ton of times across a large island. There are always people on the street. There’s always a cacophony of noises. Don’t get me started on the smells. One breeze carries grilled meats from a corner food stand. The next wifts are of sour garbage.

This is the first trip to NYC where I had influence into the agenda. The first trip was when I was a kid visiting my aunt and uncle. The second was visiting a friend while she finished law school. Leann cobbled together the recommendations from friends and must-visit museums, much like she would for our other adventures. Continue reading New York on foot

A Year of Moments

I could get used to hiking here.

I couldn’t stop staring at it.

There I was, Jan. 1, 2013, 3:24 a.m., watching Goonies on the couch of a girl I’d met earlier in the evening. She was witty and cute, but I failed to ascertain her stance on tacos–a mistake I would repeat in 2013. But in the glow of her Christmas tree I noticed something I hadn’t spotted previously. There was some sort of growth on the corner of her mouth. Is that a cold sore? Why did I blackout everything from sex ed? Can I avoid kissing that side of her mouth? Will I go immediately to hell when I die?

“I should head home,” I said after the movie ended. I put my shoes back on, thanked her and gave her a hug. Then I picked up my gym bag, the very bag I stared at for at least a minute while debating whether or not to bring it with me. It functions as a sleepover party bag, replete with sexy items like flannel pajama pants, contact solution, and a toothbrush. With my bag slung over my shoulder, I headed down the stairs and into the frigid morning air.

When you start a year driving home alone at 3:30 a.m., you know you’re in store for a special year.

I’ve never been one for resolutions. Instead I opt for more ambiguous goals. The kind that aren’t specific or measurable. This year’s goal was simple: Do more of what I love, and less of what I don’t. There will always be things we don’t want to do, but have to anyway. Dishes ranks highly on this list. (Note: I will wed someone solely for their willingness to always do the dishes.) Looking back at all the food I made and ate, all the places I visited, and all the things I achieved and learned, 2013 was a fine year.

Food

Overall, there were a ton of great moments and a slew of firsts. A few days after fleeing in the early morning, I was featured in the Daily Herald not for jerk of the week, but as Cook of the Week. Naturally, I shared that on every social network ever created. Once the press requests simmered down, I returned to normalcy. But that week gave me a glimpse of what it must be like for all my friends with kids when they post a picture of their baby.

In other food news, a rep from Plated, a New York-based food delivery company, found my blog and contacted me about trying out their service. After a few emails and conversations, I got two boxes of food for my first dinner party. The menu: BBQ Chicken Burgers with zucchini fries and Shrimp & Grits. I had won a wine tasting earlier in the year and combined the two for a great night of food, wine and stories with friends.

Kale safely wins new ingredient of the year. I started buying it this summer and there was no turning back. I tried several new dishes; coq au vin may be my favorite. I also became a roux master, turning fond into phenomenal pan sauces. Thanksgiving was my responsibility this year, and short of needing salt, the smoked turkey was delicious and the mashed potatoes whipped to perfection. According to the photographic evidence, I consumed/inhaled a burrito a week.

Frolicking

I was fortunate to be able to travel to a lot of new places, and revisit some favorites. I spent my birthday running up a sand dune in Michigan, sunning myself like an iguana, and racing back to the beach to see the sun dissolve into Lake Michigan. Shortly after that, I left the U.S. for the first time! Somehow I managed to visit our incredibly friendly neighbors to the north in Canada and the welcoming folks in Mexico. I already wrote about most of these adventures, but after reflecting, some of my favorite moments were hiking in the unrivaled beauty of Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario. It was someplace I likely would never have known about or gone to, were it not for my friend Rebecca. That leg of the trip also included staying in a yurt and canoeing, both firsts. I also saw the awe-inspiring Niagara Falls. Both places reminded me of how much beauty there is in this world. No matter how much I love cities, I have always found being near water incredibly restorative.

In September, I packed my bags for another getaway, heading west with my girlfriend. We managed to cover 550 miles in one week from Napa, Calif., all the way south to Rosarito, Mexico. Thanks to a tip from a Stanford student, I witnessed the most breathtaking vista I’ve ever seen, and that includes driving through Indiana. I thought Niagara and Canada were beautiful, but this spot, high on a hill 30 minutes from Palo Alto was nirvana. Stunningly gorgeous. And we sprinted up a trail just in time to see the sun descend into the clouds and Pacific Ocean. Those are moments I hope never to forget.

Fitness

This was also a great year for physical fitness. According to RunKeeper, I logged 133 miles of physical activity–running, cycling, hiking. I entered my first race–the BigTen 5k/10k. My shins were still bothering me from my training, so I opted to walk the 5k and finished in just a tad more than 40 minutes. I ran the fastest mile of my life (7:40ish). Then I doubled over and questioned the meaning of life. Strength-wise I worked up to being able to do 10 wide-grip pull-ups, as well as adding weight in all other muscle groups. I can bench press about 70% of my weight with dumbbells. All of this is a credit to persistence and sugar-laced protein bars.

I also danced a ton, improving my lindyhop and adding balboa to my swing dance repertoire. Sadly, fitness apps don’t track dancing.

I’ve been on vacation the past few weeks and spent an intensive week doing hot yoga before Christmas. Intense seems too weak an adjective. I wish they had a scale so I would know how much water weight I left on the mat. How much does dignity weigh? All that quiet time coupled with reading articles on self-improvement enabled me to deeply reflect on some events in 2013 and in my life. Normally I avoid looking back or looking ahead. I strongly believe that all we have is now, and dwelling on what was and what could be are a waste of thought. Inevitably as the remaining days on the calendar dwindle, I cannot quiet the urge to reflect.

Feelings

There were two main learning opportunities this year, and, with time, I have become grateful for both. The first was purchasing a condo. I have been looking for a residence, be it a hovel, condo, or house, for the past three years. At long last, I found a spacious one bedroom in an area of town where I wouldn’t be shot. I was excited at the prospect of increased independence and decorating my own place (clothes and magazines everywhere). The property was bank-owned and the bank was in no rush to unload it. I grew impatient and ended up rescinding my offer. Doing so meant forfeiting a decent sum of money. I read an article in Harvard Business Review about how successful leaders view and deal with loss. Those that cut their losses and move forward, saw it not as a loss, but as a chance to capitalize on another opportunity. That’s how I chose to view my situation. Later in the summer, I saw another condo that I loved. I felt much differently about this place than the one that was “good enough.” I liked it so much, I ended up putting an offer on it twice. My first offer wasn’t accepted and the person they picked wasn’t able to secure financing. Since my life isn’t yet a movie, neither of my offers were accepted. But I learned the value of not settling. If nothing else, I discovered what it felt like to really love a place.

The second big lesson was a variation on my first, but instead of a place it involved a person. After a few months of dating and our trip to California, my girlfriend decided to see someone else. Much like the condo situation, I learned what it felt like to truly love someone. Shortly thereafter, I discovered what it felt like to be deeply disappointed with someone. I had hoped for a different future for the two of us, but we weren’t meant to be.

In most of my relationships, I have the tendency of suppressing or not expressing my needs or wants. When asked what I needed, I simply responded to either be accepted or loved. In retrospect, I skipped over the easier fundamental needs in Maslow’s hierarchy. At this stage of my life, I’m self-sufficient. I don’t need food or housing (unless you know about a condo). What I’m after are those more elusive qualities like unconditional acceptance. That takes time and isn’t as easy as cooking someone dinner.

My takeaway was more introspection and resolving to be more vocal about boundaries. Much like Harry’s line in When Harry Met Sally:

You’re the worst kind; you’re high maintenance but you think you’re low maintenance.

Often I get disappointed with friends or loved ones when they don’t do as I hoped. But the flaw in this setup is that I don’t communicate expectations. If I don’t tell someone what I expect, I shouldn’t be disappointed if they aren’t psychic. This serves as a self-defense mechanism. I can dismiss people who act counter to how I would’ve liked them to act. This leads to a false sense of superiority and empowerment. I feel in control by deeming someone not my friend or unimportant to me because they didn’t act like I would or how I would like them to act.

In 2014, I would like to improve a few things. I want to be more accepting of people; to take them as they are and not to be upset if they don’t act as I would like. Second, to share my expectations. My best friend shared the old adage, “People treat you how you allow them to.” To continue to build on this year’s goal of doing more of what I love, that includes developing existing relationships.

It’s been a year.

I declare 2014 the year of MORE. While others are looking to scale back, I will be ramping up. More dancing. More traveling. More cooking. More new experiences. And more living!

The Real Purpose of Business Cards

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They aren’t for networking events. They aren’t for making a ridiculous house of cards.

The main purpose of business cards is to fill fishbowls at restaurants for free lunch drawings.

It is known by many that my favorite food is “free.” And my favorite drink: whiskey, with a strong preference for free whiskey.

During a routine trip to Noodles & Company to pickup food for my office, I reached into my pocket, grabbed a business card and deposited it into the fishbowl full of elbow noodles. The following Monday I received a call from Noodles. I thought it was to check in on my catering order. Instead it was a man named Andrew–great name–who informed me that I’d been selected to enjoy a tasting menu with eight of my friends.

My first thought was “Do I have eight friends?”

After boasting of my good fortune on social networks, I extended an invite to coworkers who have taken me out to lunch, and to my team. All this serendipity came on the heels of Pablo Day. A sacred day where a generous and kind New Yorker (they do exist) paid for my pizza in the wee small hours, when, inebriated, I grabbed pizza and didn’t pay. Since then, I try to return the favor to someone on Pablo Day. The group was set and today we experienced a total immersion culinary adventure around the globe, one carb dish at a time.

I had no idea what to expect from their tasting lunch. All I knew is that they’d have my favorite food. Here’s what it means: They bring you one of everything on the menu. Every. Thing.

We started with salads before departing for Asia. After sampling pan noodles, pot stickers and pad thai, we worked our way west as part of some global manifest destiny. Next was the Mediterranean region: penne, pesto and problems. At this point everyone in the group started to get concerned that this was all part of an updated Hansel and Gretel situation.

How long before they started feeling our fingers for plumpness?

A few coworkers left claiming they had “work to do.” Those who remained soldiered on to get real work done–licking bowls clean and consuming more carbs than a runner the night before a marathon. The American noodle dishes were barely sampled as we all neared our breaking point.

“Do you want me to just wrap up the sandwiches?” Catherine, our tireless server asked. She saw the collective closing of eyelids and slouching in our chairs. One coworker waived his paper napkin in defeat.

They tossed in some cookies and krispie treats. The four remaining carb crushers and I waddled out the door with our large bags of leftovers.

So go ahead and order those business cards. They practically pay for themselves. Until you get diabetes or get fired for passing out at your desk. “Carb coma” isn’t recognized in the DSM-5.

I checked. Then passed out at my desk.