A Day in the Life: We’re Having a Baby!

First off, HAPPY NEW YEAR!

For a blog about our travels and Days in the Life, 2020 has been a real bust. We made it to San Diego in February 2020 and then life fell off a cliff. Our travel plans, our concert plans, our life experience plans, all upended the same as everyone else’s. We did venture out while cases were low. We went to Maine, to the Adirondacks, and to random campsites in Vermont and Connecticut. But the trips were few and far between and other life experiences outside of the spiraling abyss that is the internet were nil.

In the midst of the doldrums, dull depression and desolation, we got incredible, wonderful, life-altering news: WERE PREGNANT! By the time June’s hints of summer grace us once again, so will our baby girl! We’re excited, beside ourselves, and anxious as hell.

Confession: one of my early thoughts has been how COVID stole our last year to travel just us. We can’t wait to bring our little girl with us wherever the wind takes us, but we will sorely miss the spontaneity, romance and effortlessness of the last 20 years we’ve had to travel together. Twenty years is a lot and we are so thankful and grateful for it. But like everyone else, COVID took things from us and this is one we’re particularly sad about!

With my first parental guilt confession out of the way, I am so looking forward to raising a little traveler. I know she will get experiences so much earlier than her parents did! I’m collecting traveling tips for parents with young kids already. If you have a favorite blog I should follow, please leave me a comment!

I asked Neal to take a pic of my baby bump last night–18.5 weeks–and he accidentally took a vid 🤣 so I grabbed a screenshot.

We're having a baby!

I hope everyone else is finding a reason to celebrate the New Year, despite the giant hole the lack of travel in 2020 has left. We will see new places and get new experiences in 2021! Cheers!

Hiking the Adirondacks: Scrambling up Cascade Mountain

Over July 4th weekend, we decided to go to the Adirondacks for some much needed outdoor time. We drove past Lake George to settle further north into the High Peaks region. For our first hike of the mini-vacation, we wanted an easy/introductory hike. We googled a bit and found several sites calling Cascade Mountain an “easy” 5 mile in-and-out hike to a beautiful vista. We put on our hiking boots and set out!

Getting there

Anyone who knows us, knows we like to get an early start. Unfortunately, our camp site was about an hour from the trail head, so while we got up and left early, we still didn’t make it there until about 8:30. The trail head is off Rt 73, halfway between Lake Placid and Keene. Parking is all street parking either on pull offs or on the side of the road. We parked down the street a bit from the entrance on a pull off because the five spots in front of it were taken. After signing the hiker log, we were ready for our easy hike.

The way up

It’s not too far into this hike that you realize “easy” by Adirondacks’ standards is a bit above other regions’ ratings (like the Hudson Valley or the Fingerlakes). The hike is a semi-steep 2.4 mile trek up the mountain. As you hike, you climb over huge boulders, or hop logs/rocks to avoid mud, or step between sprawling roots covering the trail. The trail is well-maintained, and for those who cannot or do not want to scramble up rocks, there are plenty of off-shoots providing an easier roundabout way.

About three quarters of the way up, we were dying. Every corner we turned presented more steep incline. But it’s canopied and cool. When you catch your breath (or if you actually conditioned in any way…), the surrounding woods are gorgeous. And you do get a reprieve. There’s an initial vista where you can stop and have a snack or drink some water.

It’s a great view and you may think you’re done, BUT KEEP GOING. The real prize isn’t too much further. Once you’re finally at the top, you know it–there are no more trees. You are scaling a rock face until if flattens out and you get that 360 view you’ve been waiting for. There’s a small ladder/set of stairs at one point, or you can climb the rocks to the top. At the top, we shared a beer and relaxed. The view is worth taking in for 20-30 minutes. You worked hard for it after all! The weather rolls in and out around the mountaintop and truly centers you.

The way down

The way down is a much faster jaunt down the mountainside. We had to be careful because, well, we’re clumsy! There’s a lot of wet rock, roots and other obstacles just waiting to trip you up. All-in-all, we were on this trail for about 3 hours. It was a lovely introduction to the Adirondacks, but I wouldn’t call this “easy.” We really enjoyed it though and would 100% do it again.

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Exploring Manhattan: The Financial District’s sites and history

The Financial District in Manhattan, despite having several touristy spots, is one of my favorite places in the city. You walk on cobble stone streets, through narrow alleys and past historic sites like One World Trade, Trinity Church and the famous bull. Because of the narrow streets with towering buildings, it can be really dark in this area with patches of bright light flooding down the street on a sunny day. Check out what you can see here!

One World Trade

Of course, at the top of my list is visiting Ground Zero. I had never visited this part of NYC before 9/11, so I can’t speak to what it was like before the towers fell. I came in around 2004, when you could still peer into the holes of debris where the towers had been. When the churches were filled with patches from firemen, police officers and first responders from across the state and country who came to help that day and the months that followed.

As harrowing as it was then, it is an impressive feat of architecture today. Where those holes had been, they remain, but now a forever flow of water streams down seemingly to the middle of Earth. Names of the dead line the outline of where the buildings stood. Not far, the new, fabulously tall One World Trade replaces the buildings. A winged structure reminiscent of a bald eagle sits atop the subway stop and colorful art litters the street. It is a place of reflection, a place to say hello to someone you lost, a place to rest your feet and buy an ice cream cone. The mundane always abuts the tragedy of every day life.

We ventured to the top of One World Trade one sunny day. You have to get tickets in advance, and they’re expensive (roughly $30/pp). The elevator takes you up 100 stories and on the way it takes you through a digital rendition of the building up of NYC. It’s surreal and very cool as you feel immersed in the history. At the top, you can look south to the Statue of Libery, west to NJ, north across the island, east to Brooklyn, Staten Island, and Queens. It’s a great place to get above the city. And it’s quiet.

Trinity Church

As you wander away from the One World Trade, south through the winding narrow streets, you come across Trinity Church. Everyone can remember Trinity Church from Hamilton–who, along with Angelica Schuyler, is buried here. I might be listening to it right now. (Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?)

Charging Bull

The Charging Bull is not too far from Trinity Church. It’s a large bronze bull looking ferocious in front of Bowling Green. People line up to rub the bull gold (including its underparts). It’s kind of jarring image meant to encapsulate the energy of a bull market. As we have recently ended the longest bull market in history, the bull stood strong in FiDi without so much as flinching. I suppose that’s unbridled optimism for ya. It’s best to see this guy early in the morning before you have to wait and watch hundreds of people take selfies with the immobile tyrant.

Fearless Girl

In 2017, the Fearless Girl statue was erected in front of the bull. It was striking as the young girl in a flowing skirt, fists balled at her hips like Superman stared down the bull. I never truly got to enjoy this statue back then. It drew so many people that, while I viewed her bravery in the face of the bull, the crowds kept me back. The irony of this statue was that it was commissioned by an asset management company. Granted, it is one that promotes investment in companies run by women, but any revolutionary feelings quickly subside when I remember who bought it.

In 2018, the statue was moved and placed in front of the New York Stock Exchange. The imagery is not as stark–what is even happening here? She looks like she’s aspiring to be on the exchange rather than revolutionize it. And she almost disappears into the pavement like so many other small statues scattered throughout NYC streets. It is a fun image, though, when you remember to notice her. The struggle continues.

Staten Island Ferry

While you’re in FiDi, why not get a beer aboard the Staten Island Ferry and ride past another famous female statue–the Statue of Liberty? It’s a free ride at sunset past all her glory. The only pitfall here is that you do have to get off the boat. Not much to do in Staten Island but get back on the boat and ride back to Manhattan. But who doesn’t like a boat ride especially with this view?

View from Staten Island Ferry

MTA Ferry

Speaking of ferries, Wall Street is a great place to get on MTA’s ferry to have an enjoyable ride to Brooklyn, Queens, or north up to mid-town Manhattan for just $2.75 one-way. You can get a drink/snacks on board and ride right under the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges.

There is so much to do in NYC and on a nice afternoon, and exploring the tip of Manhattan makes for a great day! If you’re looking for other ideas in NYC, check here!

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Our Top 10 Favorite Vegetarian Places in NYC

NYC has what feels like millions of eateries. There are uber expensive steakhouses, super fancy sushi/fish restaurants, and a million other well-known, meat-heavy restaurants that get all the fuss. But there are some EXTREMELY delicious vegetarian places for us veggies out there that I have come to really appreciate as a New Yorker. So for anyone who has lived here for a while resigning yourself to another salad-at-a-steakhouse dinner with friends or if you’re visiting and want to make sure you eat good food while in the Big Apple, here’s our list of our favorite vegetarian places.

1. Nix

Nix is a lovely, fancy vegetarian restaurant in the East Village. It is one of our go-to anniversary spots. The food is to be shared–so you pick several dishes from each category and then everyone digs in. Nix changes the menu every season (if not more often), so it’s nice to go there and not eat the same food every time. I love the dips and they have great alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages!

2. Champs Diner

Champs Diner is in East Williamsburg/Williamsburg, Brooklyn area. We always sort of stumble upon it somehow. Unlike Nix, Champs is vegan. They have incredibly delicious milkshakes, burgers, mac and cheese and a ton of other vegan offerings in a diner-style restaurant. It’s often packed even very late at night and for good reason! Those smores milkshakes…mm…. Anyway, it’s a little hard to get to, so it’s more of a neighborhood-y spot, unless you’re like me and willing to walk to your food.

3. By Chloe

By Chloe is one of my fav grab-and-go vegetarian places. There are a few locations, but I typically go to the one in the West Village. On their menu is several burgers, salads, fries, etc. It’s all quite tasty and a little pricey. Usually, it’s hard to get a seat in the Village. The one I went to in Brooklyn was empty! This is a great place to grab a quick bite, though.

4. Modern Love

Another excellent vegetarian place in Williamsburg is Modern Love. Compared to Champs, this place is easy to get to! It’s a moderately-priced (less than Nix) vegetarian place with a great atmosphere and yummy yummy food. They like to take traditionally meat dishes and put a veggie twist on it. In this picture, I had Hen of the Woods Piccata, a mushroom dish with potatoes and lima beans. Modern Love doesn’t change their menu as often as some restaurants, but the staples are really good. With a name like that, we like to come here for Valentine’s Day.

5. Avant Garden

Avant Garden – another gem in the East Village – has solid upscale vegetarian fare. It’s a small, adorable place. The chefs obviously care about presentation and do a great job making the food look too pretty to eat. This place is vegan, so no worries about what broth they might be using or if there’s dairy somewhere hidden in an ingredient.

6. Honey Bee’s

Finally, a BBQ joint! HoneyBee’s is a very cool place in the East Village. Like way too cool for me. It’s kind of hidden up a gross set of stairs. When you get to the top, all of a sudden you’re in a fancy lounge bar. The drinks are fantastic! The food is classic BBQ but all vegan. I got the pulled pork, which was mushrooms. It was so good! Neal got the burnt ends and swears that they are better than any actual burnt ends he’s eaten (he is not vegetarian). We were so impressed by the food here.

7. Dirt Candy

Dirty Candy is not too far from HoneyBee’s, also in the East Village, but near Little Italy/Chinatown. It’s a VERY fancy tasting menu-style restaurant. It’s relatively expensive, too–$99 for 9 courses (2 are dessert). A wine pairing adds $70. But the food is inventive and interesting and most importantly, tasty. When we went, they had some fancy veggie caviar, some beets on a cooker, a cauliflower cake dessert…a lot of interesting courses and a lot of big bursts of flavor. Their menu changes all the time based on the season, except for a few signature dishes.

8. abcV

abcV is a design-forward vegetarian place in Union Square. I’ve actually only been here for brunch, but loved it! The food is clean and pretty, just like the decor. The cool thing about it, too, is that you can finish your meal and then head to their decor store! They have beautiful home goods, bowls, trunks, blankets, etc. to peruse to help burn off the breakfast. I’m a big fan and have to get here for dinner!

9. Cinnamon Snail

Okay, Cinnamon Snail had to make this list for me. They’re located in the Pennsy next to Penn Station. Every time I am anywhere near there, I have to go. They have these awesome veggie burgers that are packed full of flavor and have crazy toppings like mac and cheese and coconut bacon. It’s all vegan, but the prices aren’t bad. They have tots! You can smoother them in cashew cheese. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. They also have some Korean-inspired dishes that are to die for.

10. Superiority Burger

Superiority Burger is another East Village hot spot that is about as big as a $600,000 studio in Manhattan–which is to say SMALL. REAL SMALL. It’s basically got a few seats along the side of the room and then enough room for other people to order. It’s tiny, and so are the burgers. Small and mighty! They’re delicious. I’m a big fan, though this place is a bit out of the way.

As an honorable mention, next on my list would be JaJaJa Plantas Mexicana. I also want to mention that there are a lot of veggie-friendly places in NYC with inventive, flavorful veggie options. But if I can get Neal to one of these 100% veggie places, I will every time 🙂

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2019 Roundup: Books We Read

My goal this year was to read 10 books and I managed 16! Neal read 23 books this year, including 4 presidential biographies. Here’s a list of the 34 total books we read this year organized according to must-reads regardless of personal genre preferences, and then other great books we read that you may like if you like specific genres.

Books to Add to Your Must-Read List

Other Great Books We Read This Year

If you like: Horror

If you like: SciFi/Fantasy

If you like: Anthropological/Cultural Non-Fiction

If you like: Short stories

  • Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami
  • The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror by Mallory Ortberg

If you like: History/Biographies

If you like: Music inspired

  • Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back): A Memoir of Recording and Discording with Wilco, Etc. by Jeff Tweedy (musical memoirs/Wilco fans)
  • Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

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A Weekend in Austin, TX

Western fun, great food, bats, what else could you want in a city weekend trip? I visited Austin, TX for the first time last weekend and saw its potential. We weren’t there for a festival and the students were out of town, so I feel like we got to see Austin raw. What Austin really has to offer when you strip away all the out of towners. Here’s what we did, saw and ate in Austin, TX.

What We Did

I was in Austin with a girlfriend who is getting married in February. We wanted to take a girls trip with the caveat that these won’t be ending once she gets married 🙂 But she’s currently stressed and needed a little R&R. So we had envisioned bachelorette-type adventures and a ton of exploring the city. We ended up exploring Zilker park, South Congress, Rainey Street, the state capitol, and waiting for those pesky bats to fly out from underneath Congress Avenue Bridge.

Zilker Botanical Gardens/Park

List after list insisted Zilker Park was a must-see in Austin. We grabbed an Uber and headed to the Botanical Gardens there first. These grounds were pretty and felt very new, but apparently were founded in 1955. I have to say, winter is not its season. They charged us like it was any other time of the year, but much of the grounds were not in viewing shape. It was still nice to walk around the rose garden, the Japanese garden and the prehistoric sections. And the funny bug motels!

We didn’t see any butterflies or wildflowers, though. And, like most of Austin this time of year, we didn’t see any other people there either.

We had to go out to the main street to exit the Botanical Gardens and enter the park. The park looked quite large and there were a lot of people with dogs hanging out. This time of year, there is a Trail of Lights, a giant Christmas tree and carnival rides. We were there in the daytime, though, and none of it was running. We decided to keep going through the park to walk the path around Lady Bird Lake. Now THIS is where the people were. A lot of runners, bikers, walkers, etc. filled the path that goes 10 miles along the lake. It was nice, but crowded.

View along Lady Bird Lake Trail

South Congress

South Congress is a neighborhood south of downtown Austin. There are a lot of nice houses and a main drag with shops, hotels, restaurants and food trucks. We took our time walking through and exploring the shops. There’s a mix of flea market-type stores full of junk and trinkets, boot shops, expensive clothing with brands I’ve never heard of, and souvenir shops. I was expecting a bit more music-focused stores, but really didn’t see any.

South Congress also has a bunch of restaurants with rooftop bars and food trucks lining the street. There are several of the instagram-worthy street art mural walls on and around South Congress as well.

Overall, we thought it was fun to explore, but didn’t buy anything and didn’t end up eating on this street (there is a Torchy’s though!).

Rainey Street

Rainey Street is one of the most well-known streets in Austin. We stayed on Rainey in an attempt to be where the action was. It turned out to be a street about 2-3 blocks long with pre-1930s houses converted into bars/restaurants.

We went to several of these bars and restaurants on Rainey. There’s a great selection of craft beers at many of them, with some boasting 50 taps of local Texas beer and another with over 50 taps of a mix of TX and other beers (but mostly TX beer). Other bars felt a bit trashier with the basic domestics on tap. They had one thing in common at this time of year: they were all empty! I don’t mean literally, but we were surprised at just how few people were in the bars on Thursday, Friday and Saturday night.

We really enjoyed Rainey Street, but it was a bit odd. Huge hotels and apartment buildings abut the street, with downtown skyscrapers only a block or two north. Directly across from Rainey is an IHOP and a major highway. Cool street, but it felt like a relic they’re trying to preserve. When I looked into the history of Rainey Street, I discovered that it was only in the 2010s that they converted these houses into restaurants/bars. Very strange as it really feels like you’re walking into an area that’s been there forever.

The State Capitol Building

Austin is, of course, Texas’s capital city. The capitol building sits in the heart of downtown Austin. It was raining, so we thought, why not take a tour? They’re free! A woman greeted us in the lobby and took us through the building. In the center of the building is an open rotunda that sits below the building’s dome. The tour guide told us that the Statue of Liberty could fit beneath the dome. On the walls are pictures of each governor of Texas through the years. You see Rick Perry and George W. Bush, as well as the two lady governors Texas has elected.

When you go upstairs, to the left is where the state senate conducts business and to the right is where the house does its thing. Being Christmas time and all, these rooms contained large Christmas Trees with dozens of presents on display. The rooms are quite gorgeous, and the senate’s seats are apparently the original seats that have been in there for over 100 years. One fun fact is that pictures of all the elected officials hang on the walls of the state capitol from term-to-term and in the middle are pictures of their kids. Apparently a few have gone on to become senators/house members and have gotten to put their grown up pictures in the frames.

Heading to the basement, there is a portion of the capitol that is the extension building which has offices and space to hold archives. You can get an incredible view of the dome through ceiling windows in the extension. It was raining, so we really didn’t get the view, but I could tell it would be stunning if we did. This is what it looks like from just above the extension portion.

Congress Avenue Bridge Bats

Another wildly popular event in Austin happens at dusk. Congress Avenue Bridge is home to 1.5 million bats, who take to the skies as the sun sets to hunt for food. Bats do not like rain, so we didn’t even try to see them on Friday night while it continued to drizzle. But Saturday was clear and sunny and promised a great sunset. We set off on scooters to get from Rainey Street to the Bridge just as the sun began to set. And we waited. And waited.

Who knew, other than anyone who actually looked it up, that bats migrate? Even from sunny, warm Austin? Over 95% of the 1.5 million bats head south by December. That left us with some 70,000 bats to try to catch a glimpse of. We could hear them squeaking away as the sky grew darker and darker. Finally, nearly an hour after the sun began to set, 3-4 bats flew above our heads. Watch for the bat guano! At least we saw some 🙂 And we got to take in the beautiful sunset while we were at.

What We Saw

Aesthetically speaking, I can’t say Austin is a great looking city (other than the views from Lady Bird Lake). The type of trees that line the streets are typically Southern Live Oak trees. Their leaves are close together and their branches look haphazardly placed all around. They look naturally unkempt somehow. There also is a ton of construction happening all over Austin, so there is trash, tractors, and equipment seemingly everywhere. I could tell the houses in residential areas had a style – a lot of craftsman and bungalow style homes. Exhibit A of Austin’s general aesthetic…

The food trucks add character to the otherwise somewhat bland style of Austin. On Rainey Street, for instance, there are two enclaves of food trucks. They all sit around a common area filled with picnic tables. In other parts of the city, they’re sitting on lots like a normal store would or creating huge parks like food truck cafeterias. They’re sitting in permanent spots. I liked the concept and the aesthetic of it all.

Austin also has some street art that it is clearly trying to use to lure instagram lovers and influencers. While we certainly found some with heart, they’re mostly hey! You’re in Austin!-type works, like the ones on South Congress. They’re well done and fun to see, so no judgment, but nothing like NYC 🙂

The most NYC-style street art we could find was locked behind a chain link fence topped with barbed wire. Called “HOPE outdoor gallery,” it’s a small hillside with what appeared to be the remnants of a building. Every square inch is graffitied and muraled. It looked beautiful…if we could get in. Apparently the whole project is moving. Okay, that’s fine, but the art itself isn’t, so why close it to the public? It was beyond us, but we took it in as much as we could behind the fence.

What We Ate

Breakfast Tacos/Tacos in General

According to one of our Lyft drivers, Austin is known for its breakfast tacos. He gave us three recommendations: Tacodeli, Veracruz and Torchy’s. We checked out Tacodeli and Veracruz, neither of which disappointed. Tacodeli is a traditional counter pick up taco joint. They had several vegetarian options and I got one filled with delicious cheese and one with equally delicious butternut squash. We were very pleased!

Veracruz is a food truck. I think there are a few locations, but we walked out to the one in East Austin. It was a cool walk because we got to see a residential area that had some really nice looking Victorian-style houses. For breakfast, I got a taco filled with spicy eggs and avocado and yummmm. I also ordered a taco with egg, cheese and potato. They were both really good! It was worth the trek.

Other Great Food


The food, to me, was one of the highlights of Austin. On Rainey Street, our favorites were Banger’s Sausage House and Beer Garden, and Emmer & Rye. Yes, a vegetarian just said Banger’s Sausage House was her favorite. That’s because they had three different types of veggie sausages!! One was beet-based, one was cheese-based, and one was kale-based. I had the cheese-based one (of course), and it was fantastic. We also had a pretzel there that was different, but delicious.

Emmer & Rye is a fancier place with kind of a cool model. They hand you a menu when you sit down that has 10-15 dishes on it. You’re supposed to pick a few tapas-style. They said 4 was good for 2 people. We picked 4 and thought we would be satisfied.

The dishes come out slowly and, as you’re waiting for what you actually ordered, someone comes around with a cart full of other small dishes that you can buy. The first cart had an avocado toast dish, with each ‘slice’ (they’re truly small) being $4. We got one each and Amanda also got a clam. Another cart had a hunk of bread with several different things to spread on the bread. The bread was $5 and the spreads were $6 (or the other way around). Taken with this whole concept, we got the bread, too. By the time the last cart came around, which had a salad and some other dishes, we were really too full. We declined that cart. This style definitely increased our bill, but even with wine, we were still around $150. The wine was fantastic by the way!

We also checked out Gus’s Fried Chicken, which was recommended to us by a bartender. It turned out they didn’t have any veggie options other than mac & cheese. The mac & cheese was okay – they basically filled a styrofoam cup with velveta mac & cheese. The fried pickles were fabulous, though, and Amanda liked the chicken a lot.


For dessert, we tried Tiny Pies and Amy’s Ice Cream. Tiny Pies has a couple locations; we went to the one on Lamar after strolling along Lady Bird Lake. Apparently this place usually has long lines, but we didn’t have any wait. I got a cherry pie, Amanda got a coconut cream and we both got a savory veggie bean pie. Though the ingredients were quite simple (mine had what tasted like canned cherry pie filling), they were really yummy. Amy’s was good too – it’s convenient on South Congress, but I can’t say it was anything special. We also checked out the well-known Hey Cupcake cupcake truck, but were too full to eat them!

Two other fantastic places we found — and yes, we ate a lot in Austin — were Paper Route Bakery and Forthright. We found Paper Route Bakery on our way to Veracruz. The scones are AMAZING. Not to mention the cookies…which they gave us for free… If I lived in Austin, I would have to live near this place. The scones were crisp and flaky and so delicious. Forthright was a little place we found on our way out of Austin. I had some really great yogurt and granola, not to mention the French press coffee and the pumpkin bread! All around, so satisfied by the food in Austin.

That’s pretty much everything we did in Austin! The city was odd so empty. I kind of want to come back when there’s a festival or in the summer when there is more to do outdoors.

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Our Christmas Travel-Related Tradition

Sitting around a table intently searching for outside pieces, for the cursive O that will complete the cafe’s sign, for the bear’s nose, for the Matterhorn’s tip. Laughing, drinking hot chocolate, cataloging our memories from the year. Every Christmas, Neal and I scour the internet to find a puzzle that perfectly reflects the traveling we did throughout the year. It’s become our way of closing out the year and cementing our memories.

When I was a kid, my family always did puzzles at Christmas time. It was the same sort of joy – talking for hours as we complete the entire sky or finally finish the lake. We experimented with new types of puzzles, including glow-in-the-dark and 3D. It was always a new challenge for us to figure out together.

As my siblings and I got older, as my parents divorced, we came together less and less. We all moved away and we all know how difficult it is to make time for each other. Neal and I started bringing a puzzle to my mom’s house for Christmas (or Thanksgiving if we knew we wouldn’t be home for Xmas), to try to keep the tradition alive. It worked, and my mom, sister and I did a lot of puzzles over the years.

Jasper National Park (visited 2015)

Some years ago, Neal and I decided to make it our own tradition. One year, we found this beautiful puzzle of Jasper National Park. We had just been to Jasper earlier that year! It was so much fun putting the pieces together and reminiscing about our time there. This sparked our idea of doing puzzles related to our travel from then on. No random puzzles of the moon or Santa or a random fall scene for us! Now, every time we’re on vacation we say things like, “oh! I hope there’s a puzzle with this scene!” It’s so fun and such great family time to reflect on our travel.

Shenandoah National Park (visited 2018)

This year, we’re doing a winter scene of the Matterhorn in honor of our trip this past summer to Switzerland. I can’t wait to talk all about going to the top of Mt. Pilatus, eating cheese and chocolate, losing my camera, walking through flower fields, visiting the oldest town in Switzerland, biking around Bodensee (and almost dying), and every other amazing memory we made in Switzerland.

I hope everyone has a great holiday, however you spend it!

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Exploring Manhattan: The Met Cloisters, Fort Tryon Park, and the GW Bridge

Sometimes New Yorkers think of Manhattan as whatever is below 125th. I’ve even heard anything below 60th! But of course Manhattan is a loooong island that reaches up into the 200s. If you go far enough, you get to Inwood/Washington Heights and the George Washington Bridge area. That’s what we did this past weekend and we got to visit the Met Cloisters, the beautiful Fort Tryon Park, and walk across the George Washington Bridge. All in all a great local OR tourist adventure!

Getting There

It’s quite easy to get up to the Met Cloisters. You take the A train straight to Dyckman Street. It’s around a half hour from Times Square. The Met Cloisters are just south of the subway station. Their typical hours of operation are from March–October: 10 am–5 pm and November–February: 10 am–4:30 pm.

You also can check out Dyckman Farmhouse before heading to the Cloisters if you’re into old houses/furniture. It definitely stands out from the 6-7 floor apartment buildings that are everywhere in this area. We checked out the grounds, but weren’t too interested in going in.

Dyckman Farmhouse

The Met Cloisters

What they are and how they got to NYC

The Met Cloisters is a museum that’s a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. It has a ton of medieval-era art and artifacts. It contains four cloisters that were dismantled in Europe and brought on over to their new home in Manhattan. The whole concept of picking something like this up and dropping it in Manhattan is a little extravagant to say the least. But extravagant is exactly the word I would use to describe the man that later acquired them for the museum: John D. Rockefeller. It’s literally a slice of Europe in the United States, and feels like it.

The Architecture

The Cloisters have gardens and areas to sit in their center. They’re gorgeous even in late November as the plants all wilt. One cloister had gardens with food growing in them, another had potted plants. One looked overgrown, but there was something sort of right about an old cloister having some natural overgrowth. Columns line the cloisters, giving you an open-air walkway around the center. Many of these columns were very interesting, too. Different colors, designs, etc. They provided both archways and windows to the gardens and a glimpse of the people walking along the other side.

The Artifacts

The artifacts here are mostly from the 1300s. There were a lot of a tapestries, pieces of furniture, jewelry, vases and books. I love seeing old books. Some really look more like art than books you’re supposed to read, with images over or all around the words. But they’re very cool and come in every size imaginable. I supposed that’s still true today, but there’s something about a tiny ancient book that makes you wonder why? Tiny pockets? Trying to get more use out of that magnifying glass?

They also have the famous unicorn tapestries here, which was kind of exciting to see because Neal and I did a puzzle last year of the Unicorn in Captivity tapestry!

There also are a lot of tombs in the chapel and some absolutely stunning stained glass.

The Ambiance

This place seems like a bastion for creativity and inspiration. When you walk in, there are numerous chairs with sketchbooks and utensils to help get you started creating something. We saw people in several rooms taking the opportunity to sketch what they saw. A young kid did a stellar depiction of a Romanesque statue. I was so impressed! Some people were using pastels, some pencils, some pens. I loved the communal feel of creating something together.

This museum is pay-what-you-want for New Yorkers and we got our $10 worth.

Fort Tryon Park

We left The Met Cloisters and ventured south through Fort Tryon Park. The park is multi-layered and has really nice easy walkways throughout it. It’s teeming with black and grey squirrels. There are quite a few stone bridges that look beautiful with the fall leaves all around them, and huge boulders that people definitely climb on (despite the no climbing signs).

We were surprised at how nice this park was without looking manicured. Gantry Park in Long Island City is a beautiful park, but is so manufactured. This park is much more unassuming and gives sprawling views of the Hudson and the George Washington Bridge. It is so adorable that I wonder if a lot of people get married here. We have Rockefeller to thank for this one, too. He opened it for public use in the 1930s. This place truly felt like stepping back in time to a place where you’re surrounded by cobblestone and archways.

What to eat in the area

We got out of the park around 190th St. We were in search of food and decided on Uptown Garrison on 181st. This place was lovely and still serving brunch at 2:30. I got a mushroom omelette sandwich and Neal got the chicken and waffles. The portions to price ratio was a bit off the charts and I was honestly surprised for the area. I guess I don’t actually know a lot about this area — maybe there’s a rich community. Anyway, it was quite yummy. Neal got a cocktail that was cold brew coffee, bourbon and sweet cream. It didn’t have enough coffee in it, but man it was tasty!

George Washington Bridge

How to get across the GW

When we came out of the restaurant, we realized we were extremely close to the George Washington Bridge. We actually had not set out in the morning thinking we would cross it. But we thought, when will we be back up here? I googled it and discovered it was only a 20 minute walk across the bridge. Let’s do it!

We had to walk to the south side of the bridge to get on the ramp as the north side appeared to be closed. The path was somewhat narrow at first and you share it with bikers. They were all extremely courteous though, I must say!

What to expect

As we began crossing it, we saw the highways below lined with trees in past peak fall colors. There are also several tennis courts here that gave it a sort of resort feel. In the distance, you can see the skyscrapers that have come to symbolize NYC.

This bridge is high, real high. But it’s covered by netting all above you. The concrete does appear to be crumbling in certain places, but I felt pretty stable. Neal was worried as the bridge shook, but that is every suspension bridge! Night was falling as we reached the other side.

At the other end of the bridge–on the NJ side–is Fort Lee. We explored only as much as to use the facilities and view NYC from NJ. We want to go back, though, because it looked pretty nice.

As it was getting darker, we decided we really needed to head back. Besides, we’d already put 20k steps on our fitbits for the day and our dogs were barkin’.

We managed to cross back to Manhattan and find the subway home. It was a lovely way to spend the day! We just couldn’t let the high 40s go to waste in November. Never stop exploring!

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Book Review: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

By Susan Cain

Introverted? Extroverted? Sensitive? Self-conscious? Think fast? Think slow? Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking takes the reader through loads and loads of research on personality traits. She ties these traits to the broader categories of introversion and extroversion. As an introvert, and as the name of the book suggests, she is in constant defense thereof. For me, it was an exploration of my introverted side and insight into friends, family members and colleagues that tend to exhibit far more introverted traits.

I picked this book up because it was the book of choice for my day job’s women lawyers book club. It provided a lot of fodder for us to discuss. There’s a bit of confirmation bias when reading this book–we all seemed to accept the premises that pinpointed our own personality traits and painted them in a positive light. And of course, Susan Cain is not neutrally telling the story of introversion; she’s making the case for it. I think we all walked out identifying more strongly as introverts than when we walked in.

Cain makes an interesting distinction between shyness and introversion.

Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating. Shyness is inherently painful; introversion is not.

I am definitely shy–and maybe it’s because of the fear she describes–or maybe it’s because I know I’m in a situation that calls for extroversion and I don’t really want to put on the show. What Cain does over and over in this book is cite research as fact despite how meandering and all over the place (and in some case old) much of that research is. I would have liked a bit more discussion of Free Trait Theory. Also, I find the transient nature of personality to fit certain situations super interesting. Is there some innate bottomline personality that’s our “true” “authentic” self? I don’t know and I kind of wonder how much utility we get out of researching the answer.

My personal takeaway is that people should not take too much stock into any of it. If you find yourself exhausted by “putting it on” all day, then perhaps you’re in a job that’s not the right fit for you. You probably shouldn’t feel exhausted just by existing in that environment. But if it’s working for you, I wouldn’t worry too much about whether you’re being your authentic self.

Everyone shines, given the right lighting.

I think this book is particularly good for parents who aren’t natural personality fits with their kids. Cain talks about extroverted parents facing teacher reports of introversion. These folks throw their kids into every social context in an attempt to fix them, even though there is nothing wrong with them. So I 100% recommend it to those types of parents. Everyone else should read only psychology happens to be in your zone of interests.

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