Sunday, November 1, 2009

Happy Halloween!

We had a low-key Halloween this year, spent carving pumpkins, eating candy and watching a marathon of the scariest Ghost Hunters episodes. This is the first pumpkin I've ever carved entirely by myself (Dad did most of the carving when we were little). We only had three Trick-or-Treaters come to the door so the Reese's Peanut Butter cups were plentiful...and the KitKats, and the Twix bars, and the Crunch bars. That's what happens when Arbor Boy does the candy shopping.

Arbor Boy's Jack-O-Lantern.

One last picture before going out on the stoop. They made it through the night!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sweet Afton

One of the only things missing from my neighborhood in Astoria is a good pub. There are great restaurants covering a wide range of cuisines, a multitude of cafes where the Greek and Eastern European residents spend a good portion of their time sipping frappes and smoking cigarettes, a few sports bars equipped with enough TVs to look like the electronics department at Sears and the requisite dive bars that you only frequent if you want to feel uncomfortable and slightly dirty but, oddly enough, not one good solid pub.

Until now. Astorians, meet
Sweet Afton.

Located just off 30th Ave and advertised only by a simple awning and a few lights, this is a place that knows how to do "pub" in just the right way.
Arbor Boy and I had our first of what we decided will be many visits on Friday night and found some of the best food and drinks around. The inconspicuous entrance belies a spacious, inviting interior of brick and wood beams. It is a bar first and foremost so the tables are "first come, first served", many of them large enough to be shared by more than one party. We parked ourselves in a corner bar and were immediately greeted by a perky (but not too perky) waitress. The first thing she did was ask our names and introduce herself. Now, sometimes I find the name exchange annoying but for some reason it felt natural here and, since I plan to frequent this bar, it's a good idea to be on a first name basis with the staff.

Our first task was to decide on drinks, and what a task it was. The drink list offers traditional cocktails such as The Sidecar and The Old-fashioned, specialty drinks created by the bartender/mixologist and a wonderful array of beers. There were far too many tasty sounding drinks for us to try everything that caught our eye so I chose the Sweet Lemon, tea infused vodka with lemon and mint that tasted just like iced tea. Arbor Boy started with an IPA (his favorite) and followed that with the Captain Lawrence ale. Our drinks did not disappoint. Next up was to decide what to eat. The menu is small, a collection of well prepared pub food that boasts local ingredients. We started with the fried McClure pickles. Served with a smoky dipping sauce, they are a perfect complement to drinks. For our main meal we both chose the Sweet Afton burger, mine with Gruyere and Arbor Boy's with Irish Cheddar. The burgers are not served with sides so we shared a basket of fries. The burgers were absolutely delicious, probably the best burger in Astoria as far as I'm concerned. But the real showstopper were the french fries. Oh, the french fries. I hate to use such a cliched phrase like "melt in your mouth" but that's exactly what these fries did. They tasted of fresh potato, were crisp and light and only required a drizzle of malt vinegar and a sprinkle of sea salt. I could have eaten three orders. By the end of our meal we were sated, happy and looking forward to our next visit. On our way out we spotted someone dining on the mac and cheese made with Gruyere, Irish Cheddar and Muenster served with double smoked bacon and we vowed to try it in the very near future.

Sweet Afton set out to be an Astoria local pub and they are succeeding with flying colors. We were tipped off by our waitress, Chris, that they will soon be serving brunch and my mouth waters just thinking about what that menu holds in store for us. Thanks for being one more reason why I never need to leave Astoria.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

San Gennaro, Little Italy in NYC

Last Sunday, Arbor Boy and I hopped an N train to check out the feast of San Gennaro in Little Italy. Although I've lived in NYC for almost ten years it was the first time I had ever visited the festival. It was the opening Sunday, warm and sunny, so the crowds were thick...

...but the people watching was amazing.

Look closely, her shirt says "Bada Bing".

There is no shortage of food at San Gennaro.

All the sausage and peppers you could ever hope for.

There was sangria but we opted for pina coladas served in a coconut shell. It was amazing how many people stopped us to ask where we got them.

Fried something-or-others.

These stuffed artichokes looked delicious.

More sausage and peppers.

And then there are the sweets.

I guess this lady thought I was taking a picture of her, she gave me a big smile.

Torrone. This stuff is everywhere and costs $16 a pound.

Cannolis at The Cannoli King. NOT the best cannolis in Little Italy.

Ferrara's has the best cannolis, light fluffy pastry shells and creamy filling.

We had a late lunch at Paesano's on Mulberry Street.

I had lasagna tradizionale and Arbor Boy had spaghetti carbonara along with a half carafe of the house red.

I could look at the buildings and signage for hours. Great old awnings with lots of Italian.

Stuffed with pasta and Ferrara's pastries in box for later, we caught a glimpse of the Empire State Building on our way to the subway. It was fun spending the day in a neighborhood that we rarely frequent. I look forward to visiting Little Italy again so we can dine at Angelo's and revisit Ferrara's for some pastries and espresso. Ciao.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Surfing Hurricane Bill at Long Beach, NY

Thanks to the effects of Hurricane Bill, Long Beach surfers were blessed with a weekend of big wave riding.
The waves were about six to eight feet on average...
...and they definitely had some force behind them. I knew my limits as a novice surfer and decided against paddling out.

Arbor Boy caught a few sweet waves.

The big waves brought out some of the best surfers I've seen there all summer.

Everybody wanted to surf Hurricane Bill....


This guy called in sick to work so he could keep on surfing.

Although I was bummed that I didn't get to surf today, ultimately it was probably the best choice and I think I saved myself from a good deal of wave pummeling.
But next time, I'm in. These waves were just too pretty.

Below is a clip of Arbor boy surfing

Click on photos to enlarge. Enjoy.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Trifecta

I don't know how many "near-death experiences" a person is required to have in their lifetime but, as of today, I've had three. I think I've reached my quota. Coincidentally, all of them have involved cars. It should be noted that my fiance has been my partner in all of these near-death experiences, and therefore has reached his quota as well.

Near-death experience number one involved a diminutive cab driver named Das Badal who had no business driving a cab and placed us in the middle lane of the BQE going 10 miles per hour.

Near-death experience number two found us walking down 22nd St on the east side when a black SUV, while trying to flee the cops, jumped the curb 30 feet away from us and then proceeded to speed down the sidewalk at about 40 mph in our direction.

Near-death experience number three occurred today at the intersection near our apartment. We were crossing the street carrying groceries and a Ford F350 Super Duty tow truck that was making a left turn hit us. He wasn't looking in our direction the entire time he was turning until my screaming and the sound of the Budweiser twelve pack that Arbor Boy was carrying hitting the grill alerted him to the pedestrians he was about to mow down. We screamed obsenities at him; he barely acknowledged what he did, gave a half-hearted apology and drove away. It wasn't until we calmed down and the adrenaline stopped flowing that we realized the potential seriousness of the incident.

So I think that three near-death experiences is enough for someone who is not actively placing themselves in dare devil scenarios (unlike someone on, say, Nitro Circus or Jackass).

I think this warrants cashing in a sick day.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Non Sequitur

Every time I see someone pushing an empty stroller I have the urge to tell them that they forgot their baby.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Quiet Sunday

Listening to Carole King's Tapestry on the turntable and watching Arbor Boy nap on the couch after a hard day pruning fruit trees.

New dress bought happily and impulsively, soon off to Dillinger's for burgers and beer.

It's a good summer Sunday.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Worst Week

At the moment I am in the throes of the busiest season for veterinary hospitals. My unit in particular, the Isolation Unit, is seeing a non-stop flow of new patients being admitted. It's peak season for non-vaccinated animals to pick up serious infectious diseases like parvovirus, panleukopenia, and pneumonia. These diseases can be deadly, particularly to very young puppies and kittens who may not have had the benefit of their mother's milk, rich with antibodies needed to help protect them. As a result, my job is becoming increasingly stressful both physically and emotionally. Most patients spend anywhere from a week to more than a month in my unit and it's almost impossible not to get attached, especially to the animals who come in from the adoption unit who have never had the love and care of an owner.

This was by far the worst week I have had so far in my career as the Isolation Unit LVT. The economic downturn has forced us, like so many other businesses, to curb spending which means we are understaffed and overworked. It all finally took it's toll on me on Thursday. A very tiny kitten from Adoptions, named Aristotle, had come into the unit two weeks ago practically dead, but we managed to get him up and moving again. We all agreed that, while all kittens are cute, Aristotle won the competition with his big eyes and extra fluffy fur. Tipping the scales at 12 ounces, you could hold him with one hand and he would perch right there in your palm. When he got hungry he would shove his face against the bars and meow with a voice much more powerful than one would expect such a small creature to have. Needless to say, he won my heart. Aristotle, with a myriad of health problems, had good days and not-so-good days. The beginning of the week brought on some of those not-so-good days and by Thursday he weighed only 8 ounces and his big personality had subdued a bit. After placing him back on intravenous fluids and doing a series of blood tests that showed more problems looming it was decided by his doctors that euthanasia was the most humane option for him. Because the hospital was so busy, the sad task fell on me. I was heartbroken but agreed to it as I knew I would be gentle and loving through it all. I was unable to hold back my tears and sobbed as I held him for the last time.

Two days later, another of my kittens, Felix, went into heart failure and had to be euthanized. This time I held him while the doctor performed the euthanasia and we both cried for our little patient. It was my last day of work before my weekend and I was emotionally drained. Besides these little kittens that we couldn't save, there are currently a few other patients that seem to be suffering so much it's difficult to look at them without welling up.

I went to yoga this morning as I typically do on Sundays but my mind was still preoccupied with my rough week. My yoga instructor suggested to the class that we try to take whatever was on our minds and clear it away, find a way to move past anything that we were hanging on to. I immediately thought of Aristotle and Felix and what I could do to rid myself of my sadness. I don't often think about Heaven or the afterlife, what it is or if it even exists at all but I found myself imagining those two kittens in some other place, healthy and pain-free. I started thinking about people I knew who had passed away in recent years and for some reason I thought of our family friend, Annie, who passed away from lung cancer a few years ago. Annie was a close friend of my mom's; they had worked together as nurses for many years. I imagined funny, gregarious Annie scooping up the kittens and gushing over their absolute cuteness. And I made my decision right then and there that Annie would be my guardian angel for all my animals that couldn't be saved.

I'm optimistically hoping that my weeks will begin to get better but if I have more like this week at least I will have something to focus on when the job takes it's toll. As silly as it may seem to some people, it makes me feel so much better to think that their is a good soul waiting to take care of all the animals that didn't get a chance here.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

O, beloved Beer Garden, where have you gone?

(photo credit: John Saponara)

On Friday evening we took advantage of the lovely weather, grabbed a couple of friends and headed off to the Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden. Since our move to the apartment on 30th Ave a few years ago our visits to the Beer Garden have become less frequent, and I'm truly ashamed to say that last summer we didn't make it there even once. My old studio apartment was around the corner from the Garden and Arbor Boy's old apartment was a few blocks away in the other direction so it was a natural meeting place and we spent a lot of time there. It was the best place to get a $12 pitcher of good beer, some tasty food from the grill or kitchen and just chill out with friends and a deck of cards or the backgammon board. In recent years the Beer Garden has gained a lot of popularity sparking the need for some transformations including renovations to upgrade certain features as well as an increase in prices. This is all to be expected, it's the nature of the business world.

However, our visit Friday night left me disappointed and longing for the Beer Garden I knew and loved just a few short years ago. It's no secret that Friday and Saturday nights are the busiest nights and waiting in line to gain entrance is the norm, but we decided to take our chances and made it in with no waiting and even managed to find a table (or more specifically, half a table). The pitchers are now up to $15, still a good deal for Stella Artois and Staropramen. Arbor Boy and I hadn't eaten dinner yet so we were looking forward to our favorite portabello mushroom sandwich from the grill. I encountered the first of many disheartening changes when I went to order our food. Upon arriving at the grill in the corner of the yard I was told that I should take a seat and order from my table. This was news to me since traditionally the grill was walk-up ordering and table service was only for the kitchen. But I returned to my seat and began searching the crowds for a waitress. I flagged one down only to be told that she did not take orders for the grill but would send someone our way. When no one arrived after 15 minutes I flagged a guy down who looked like he was making his way back and forth from the grill. He also could not take my order but told me my waitress could. I told him I had already been denied and he promised to send someone my way. When a server again failed to arrive I asked a bus boy who also told me to ask my waitress. We finally found a waitress who could take a grill order and happily ordered our portabello sandwiches.

By this time we had made our way through a couple of pitchers so I decided to navigate the sea of people in search of the bathrooms. I headed in the direction I knew had once had the Ladies restroom. In place of the old facilities I found the newly constructed restrooms that had been part of the recent renovation of the Beer Garden. Gone was the two stall Ladies room that tended to overflow when the crowds got heavy and soap and paper towels were a luxury rather than a basic essential. The new contruction, shiny new and well-lit, included self-flushing toilets and a bathroom attendant. A bathroom attendant. At the Beer Garden. What was going on? Where were the tiny cramped stalls that were part of the rustic charm of my Beer Garden? I made my way back to our table and relayed my tale of a new bathroom. Arbor Boy shared my shock and dismay but before we could dwell upon it our food arrived. Two mushroom sandwiches and an order of fries. Yay! I noticed right off that the sandwiches were made differently than in the past but thought little of it. The portabello was a popular grill item, a large cap thrown on the grill with a little oil and balsamic vinegar and some garlic then placed on two slices of bread that nicely soaked up the oil. These were on regular hamburger rolls with lettuce and tomato. I took a bite and immediately realized that something was terribly wrong. My whole mouth was on fire, my lips were burning. It was spicy. Really, really spicy. I thought perhaps I had gotten a very garlic-y bite but each subsequent bite added more heat to my already burning tongue. Arbor Boy finished his but I finally threw in the towel realizing that the intense spiciness would be sure to give me heartburn later.

We packed up and headed out a short time later. We all agreed that we had a good time hanging out and drinking beer but my disappointment lingered. The changes in the food, the shiny fluorescent lit bathrooms, the newness of everything. It wasn't the Beer Garden I knew and loved.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Independence Day

Watching fireflys out the kitchen window, listening to the sounds of our neighbor's BBQ and fireworks going off all over the neighborhood. I do love Astoria.

Happy 4th of July!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day

Once again, the folks are away on a camping trip on one of the "parental" holidays. So, in lieu of a phone call to dad I'll just post this picture of him and his piggy.

You're a hell of a guy, dad!

Pet Peeves

On the subway:

~ people who try to get on the train before letting everyone get off.
~ people who feel the need to have really loud conversations.
~ people who walk through the turnstile and then immediately stop dead in their tracks.
~ people who stand in front of the door like they are waiting to get off but then don't move when the doors open.


~ drivers who honk their horn a second after the light turns green.
~ drivers who talk on their goddamn cell phones while driving.
~ drivers who break when approaching an intersection even when they have the green light.
~ drivers who intentionally run red lights.
~ cops who ignore drivers who intentionally run red lights.
~ cops who intentionally run red lights.
~ drivers who drive 55mph (or slower) in the left lane.

In restaurants:

~ people who speak condescendingly to the waitstaff.
~ when solo diners talk on their cell phones the entire time.
~ diners who snap their fingers to get their server's attention.

In life:

~ people who put others down for no other reason then to make themselves feel better.
~ complainers.
~ poor grammar.
~ when people outside my immediate family call me "Kris".

Sunday, May 31, 2009

My surfboard

Arbor Boy made a trip out to the eastern end of Long Island and returned with our new surfboards in tow. He already got to try his out in a late morning surf session, and I'm envious.

7'2" x 21 1/2" x 2 7/8"

I'm trying it out next trip east even if I have to ride two foot waves.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Curtain call

I recently started taking dance classes again after an almost two year hiatus and found that, happily, my technique and ability has not entirely disappeared. However, my re-emergence into the "dance scene" has brought up some questions that I'm finding hard to answer. Although my body is still cooperating I know that there will be a point in the near future when it decides it's had enough. How do I really know when it's time to give it all up? Now to some this might not seem like much of a dilemma. "Quit when you want to quit" some might say, after all it's just an hour and a half a week. But to those dancers out there like me, you know it's just not that simple. I have literally been dancing all my life. I started ballet classes when I was three and never looked back. Like most dancers, dance is my religion. It's in my blood. I never worried about this type of thing during my hiatus because I had every intention of returning to the studio (which I did). But now I've had to start choosing between yoga classes and dance classes since my limited free time does not often allow both. Both provide exercise, strengthening and beautiful movement but dance is a punishing art that is slowly breaking down my body. In contrast, yoga is stabilizing and rejuvenating. I probably wouldn't even have made my body last this long had it not been for yoga. And now that I've started dancing again I feel guilty when I miss a class, as though my dedication were in question. I know this is all in my head. Nearly 30 years of dancing suggests that I am dedicated to the art.

The thing is, I've worked so hard all these years and it seems blasphemous to just walk away. While dance has given me many opportunities and provided a lot of joy and happiness it has also been a source of disappointment. Throughout my childhood I spent many hours at the studio in classes and rehearsals. I was one who always knew the routines, remembering changes in choreography and spacing. I may not have been the best dancer but I certainly wasn't the worst, and yet I felt I rarely got any recognition, no featured parts or solos. My high school was home to a large and well known production called Dance Theatre. I was a principal dancer for all four years, was often called on to remember choreography for 20+ dance numbers and even run rehearsals as an upperclassmen. But when all was said and done, I still felt overlooked. I was left out of routines that most of the other principal dancers were cast in, including the three other girls who, with me, were the only dancers to become principal dancers as freshmen.

I continued to dance through college and when I moved to New York City I sought out Broadway Dance Center to continue my dance training. BDC is a competitive studio that has a lot of professional dancers taking classes. I found my niche with a few specific teachers, and even performed in some studio showcases. I finally found one teacher whose style I particularly liked, who had her own dance company. For many years I took four to six classes a week with her hoping to be asked to join her group. I even expressed interest in dancing for her. I worked as hard as my body would allow and yet was never asked to perform, all the while watching other dancers become part of her company. It was frustrating and disappointing.

Now, at 32, I no longer expect to be asked to dance with her company nor do I have the burning desire to as I once did. But the competitiveness never leaves, and the yearning to perform never entirely disappears. That is why we dance, to perform. After all, it is a performing art. I have performed on stage in musicals and dance concerts but perhaps it's not enough. Perhaps I can't walk away because I feel like I will be wasting all my years of blood, sweat and tears in the studio with nothing to show for it. Perhaps I believe I will be letting myself down. Perhaps I never want to say "I was a dancer".

Sunday, May 3, 2009

First Birthday

Melvin "Fuzztastic" Motorboat has been with us for about nine months and recently had his first birthday. In honor of our little hell child, here's a look back at his year with us...

The one-year-old

He came to us as a broken kitten,

But he healed up quickly...

and made himself at home.

He found plenty of ways to get into trouble,

but he was cute so we forgave him.

He's curious

and friendly

and affectionate.

Happy Birthday, little man.