Category Archives: (story)time

beach reads

Here are the books I’m packing for the beach. They are wrapped in the thin paper bag that they were slipped into just after I purchased them. We still have sunscreen to purchase, and a rental car to book, and a few dozen other things to do before we leave. But the books are ready, so I’m ready.

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I’ve been reading so much non-fiction lately, on tough, tough subjects, that I really wanted (needed) a good reading vacation. So I’m excited. I’ve used my library card more this year to date than I can remember doing in a long time. I still love to buy books, and I like to take my own books to the beach (and pass them on to my parents when I’m done), but it’s also nice to stop at the branch library near my house every couple of weeks and pick up the reserved copies they are holding for me. I used to write down book titles on post-it notes after hearing author discussions or book reviews on NPR. Now I just put them directly on my reserve list. It’s lovely.

I promise a good post (or two) on what I have been reading soon. Always, always happy to hear your reading list as well.

(story)time: nyc books and sights, day five

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So, day four in New York might not have been the easiest of days, but there were a lot of fun moments throughout it. I might have focused a little too much on some of the smaller frustrations, but I can’t overstate how much I enjoyed walking around in so many different neighborhoods – both in Brooklyn and in Manhattan. So Peter Sis’ Madlenka is the perfect way to round out this literary and visual tour of our trip.

Madlenka, Madlenka, Madlenka… I love this book so much. In fact, we read it again tonight. Madlenka lives on a planet, in a city, in a neighborhood, on a block, in a building… and her tooth is loose! She heads out for a trip around her block – around the whole world! – to spread this big news. She really does adventure around the world, greeting her neighbors from places around the globe. Peter Sis’ drawings are so detailed, so intricate, so gorgeously rendered in ink and tiny spots of color. We just checked on F a few minutes ago, and she was fast asleep with this book propped open across her chest. It’s hard to stop studying the book once you’ve opened it.

This is what I love about New York. Forget the crowds, or at least try to steer slightly clear of them, and get lost in the various neighborhoods. If we did one thing well as a family this trip – we branched out to lots and lots of them, and hung out and spent some time in them.

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Day five was another beautiful day, a little cooler than the previous days, but it started out sunny and bright. We headed over to downtown Brooklyn, and had breakfast at Pure Bistro on 5th Avenue. There are lots of great shops around this area – we spent a lot of time here a few years ago when we visited – so it was kind of hard to leave, but we had some fun things in store for the day. We headed up to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum for the morning.2016-03-26_1459014092This spot was high on M’s list, but the rest of us for up for going. I was really surprised by how cool it was – particularly exploring in the submarine. Again, we had no wait to get into the place since we had purchased our tickets in route. We waited for a few moments to actually enter the submarine, but it was worth it because it felt like we had the place to ourselves.

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No square inch was left untouched – you can be as nosy as you want, checking out how they squeezed so many men and functions into such a tight space.

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Also cool to see the Enterprise in person, although F was ready to chill out on the floor with me for a bit by this point.

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Back out in daylight, we waited at the bus stop for awhile before the bus arrived. We were really good at just missing things! The buses aren’t as frequent as the trains, but man, oh, man are they clean. Plus you can see things while you are on them! Like sunshine and fresh air!

We rode the bus for a few stops, and then got out near Chelsea Market. Mid-afternoon on a Saturday is just a tad bit busy at the market, but the crowds sort of ebbed and flowed. We were all hungry, but were planning to have a big Saturday night dinner, so we split up and picked up a few things to eat. I stood in line for artisanal donuts because that seemed like a reasonable lunch. Rosemary Road donuts, anyone??

We shopped a little bit – I picked up a few souvenirs for myself, including this market bag,

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which I’m telling myself is not nearly as dorky as buying a souvenir t-shirt! And then we hung out at Posman Books for awhile. Great bookstore, and I stacked up quite the pile there. F really dug the quiet spots for reading. She’s got a knack for finding them.

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Next up – exploring the High Line. I’ve featured The Curious Garden in (story)time before, but it’s the perfect book to wrap up this trip. Inspired by the early inspiration for this elevated urban park constructed on an abandoned train track, The Curious Garden celebrates the way nature can exist in the most unlikely places.

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There wasn’t a whole lot in bloom yet, but the weather was still decent (although breezier and definitely cooler), so the park was full but not overcrowded. As the sun went down, the temperatures started to fall, and we started walking to dinner nearby at Co. Pizza.

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We pretended like it was an early birthday dinner, and feasted like it was one. 2016-03-27_1459052724I tried not to photograph every single thing I ate in NY, but this dinner was phenomenal. (We got the recommendation from DALS – I mean, look at the panel, people.) M and I couldn’t decide, so we compromised on two different pies and shared them (the best was the Popeye, just as described in the dining guide). The girls devoured the Pea and Prosciutto – go figure – and everything, from salad to drinks to dessert, was delicious. (Um, there were donuts in my dessert as well. And some ridiculously delicious ice cream thing that you dive bombed into an espresso drink. Crazy good.) It was the most expensive meal of the week, but the prices weren’t really that high. We just ate a lot, and there were six of us – although my in-laws eat half of what we eat!

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And there you have it – the next day, day six, was a mellow Easter morning. The owners of the house we rented bought us Easter baskets to put out for the girls, and we tucked in gifts we had hidden in our suitcases.

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We ate Easter brunch at an old school Brooklyn diner in Bay Ridge, walked off the hashbrowns for awhile in the neighborhood, and then headed off to LaGuardia for the trip home.

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Hopefully you enjoyed the mini-tour of our trip and our big-city bookshelf. I’m happy to share any more details if you are planning a trip to the Big Apple in the near future – just drop me a line.

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Find these titles at your favorite local independent bookstore. Happy reading!

(story)time: nyc books and sights, day four

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For this post, I’m revisiting the beautiful book This is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration by Jacqueline Woodson. It’s a family story that travels through generations, as a family moves from South Carolina to New York City, and then from apartment to brownstone, neighborhood to neighborhood.

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The third generation in the story resides in a Brooklyn neighborhood, and the illustrations remind me of the myriad of housing styles we saw as we walked around. I love this book so much, with all it’s rich paintings and the story of this beloved rope and its story.

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I’m going to admit – day four wasn’t the easiest of days. Our group split up that day – M and his dad went to the auto show at the Javits Center, while the girls headed out to explore Brooklyn a little more. In my head (and my notes) I had about a dozen places that I wanted to visit, but after being in Brooklyn for a few days, I realized that it’s really, really big. So all of these little “stops” I thought might be fun, were really going to require a ton of public transportation to pull off. So I shelved those ideas for another trip.

I figured by the fourth day, the little one might be anxious for something targeted more at her age. Looking back on the whole trip now, I realized that our formula had really worked just fine until this point, so we should have just stuck with that. Picking just a couple of places to visit, really taking our time there, making sure we visited playgrounds and snack spots along the way – those were the things that helped a six-year-old keep pace. Oh well.

To be quite honest, I don’t really relish the role of trip planner. It’s not that anyone officially bestowed that title on me – it’s just that I knew I’d have to have a plan anyway, because if we just woke up in the morning and walked out the door, everyone was going to turn to me anyway and say “so, what’s the plan?” But it’s also a lot of pressure too, which can get a little exhausting. As much time and research as I put into everything, there’s just no real way to know how long it’s going to take to get somewhere and how engaging it’s going to be once we’re there. Thursday ended up being a really long day, and I felt pretty bad about that.

We headed over to the Brooklyn Children’s Museum in Crown Heights. When we first emerged from the subway station, we were right across from the Jewish Children’s Museum, and I sort of wish we had just gone there. There was nothing really wrong with the BCM, it was just a combination of little things. We were really hungry and they only served extremely overpriced snacks, plus the building systems hadn’t been switched over to cooling, and it was a warm week, so the place was really stuffy. And have you been to the Magic House here in St. Louis? Or to City Museum? Or the dozens of other amazing children-focused attractions? Well now I know why all these places are consistently ranked as some of the best in the country – they are just way better. We have so many fabulous institutions right here at home, that visiting mediocre ones in other cities isn’t all that exciting. I thought it would give F an opportunity to call the shots for a couple of hours, but she never really engaged in anything, and it just wasn’t that fun. (And I was warned about this, but still insisted we try it.) Oh well.

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There was also some serious indecision in the gift shop, and so I just bought a train and we left. She was in tears about it until I made the decision – then she was all smiles.

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We walked, and walked, and walked, and whined, a lot. I was decent at navigating, but again – it’s hard to get a real sense of how far you have to walk, plus I’m not familiar with the area, and so it’s also hard to get a sense of where you really want to be walking. I’m sensitive to this as well – I mean, we live in the heart of the city and we frequent many, many areas of our own city that many outsiders might consider “sketchy”. We usually scoff at that, or just ignore it. “Sketchy” can quite easily be code for other classifications. I’m not uncomfortable being in areas where I don’t look like anyone else, but I also don’t love to look like the out-of-place tourist who has no real clue where she’s going. Oh, and add to that an obstinate first grader who just stops walking about every third of a block. It was just a wee bit tiring.

We did manage to find kind of a cool place to eat just off Franklin Street, called Berg’n – it’s a big, open warehouse space that houses several permanent booths for local food truck favorites in a big beer hall. So we all got something to eat and took advantage of the super clean bathrooms.

Then we headed to Prospect Park where the playground was buzzing – it was Good Friday, after all, so it really looked like everyone was out of school and off work. Park Slope is lovely, and so was the afternoon, although this still from one of my swinging videos makes it look really gray.

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We didn’t make it to Dizzy’s for a real meal, but we did stop in for a bathroom break and also a chocolate milkshake break. And a rocking dinosaur ride too.

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By this point it was nearing five o’clock, and our plan had been to meet up with the guys at MoMA that evening. Friday nights are free family nights, which seemed like a great time to visit. But sitting down on a park bench for an hour made me realize just how tired I was – and now we were going to head into Midtown Manhattan, during Friday’s rush hour, Friday’s Holiday Rush Hour, so yeah, I wasn’t feeling so great about my planning abilities again. The problem was, we couldn’t really communicate with the guys because they had really terrible cell phone service at the convention center, and trying to communicate while on underground transit doesn’t work either. We had a plan, and we sort of had to stick to it. We took a deep breath, said goodbye to Brooklyn’s least sketchy neighborhood ($$$) and jumped on the train.

Young Frank Architect is the perfect book for this part of our trip – this is a great book for budding designers, and it’s also a humorous look at generational views on modern design. When Young Frank and Old Frank (his grandfather) end up out of sorts one afternoon after disagreeing on various design principles, they decided to visit MoMA for some inspiration. (Our favorite part is when, after reading several exhibit labels, Young Frank asks Old Frank if all architects are named “Frank”!)

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So let’s just take a moment to look at this lovely streetscape outside of MoMA.

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And then let’s just imagine that the line to get in wraps completely around the whole NYC block and one view through the building looks like this:

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It was a madhouse. And hot and stuffy as well. I think that was the theme of our Thursday. F was finished. Done. I didn’t really blame her. It was so crowded that she couldn’t explore anything on her own, and she was pretty sick of staring at the backs of other people trying to push their way through the exhibit halls. We finally found a square of a bench to sit down on and waited for the guys to show up. We weren’t sure they’d even get in, but we lucked out.

I simply adore the book The Iridescence of Birds, A Book About Henri Matisse, by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Hadley Hooper. We have lots and lots of art and artist related books, but this one is my favorite. It gives the reader a glimpse into the childhood life of Matisse, and frames the colors and his observations and his relationship with his mother in a way that asks the question “Is it any wonder that he painted in this way?” This book is a calming read, which is just what I needed about this time…

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…because I may have gotten lucky to get this uninterrupted shot…

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…but this is a far more accurate depiction of our evening spent at MoMA.

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In the end, I think it was worth it – at least for Ella. She did a really in depth study on Van Gogh in elementary school, and she’s always loved A Starry Night. She braved the crowds with my camera, patiently waiting a turn for a view.

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We left the museum, and everyone was really tired. I tried to rally and enjoy the sights – and for the most part I did. But I was really ready to let someone else take the lead for awhile. We strolled around for a few blocks, saw the famous lions at the entrance to the New York Public Library – and we reminded the girls of our favorite Library Lion (this book by Michelle Knudsen is an endearing tale of an occasion where it’s okay to break the rules in the library).

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We strolled around Bryant Park, walked into Grand Central Station, and sat down for a late night dinner of Shake Shack burgers and fries and shakes.

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Most everyone rallied after the shakes, and we headed back to the house for a well deserved rest. I tucked all the ideas I had for the day that didn’t come to fruition away for another day, another trip. And I resolved not to worry so much about whether everyone else was enjoying everything – as M reminded me again that night – everyone’s allowed to throw in their own two cents if they aren’t. (And the little one’s going to throw in a dollar every chance she gets!)

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And now I’m exhausted just reliving this, are you? Takeaways from day four? Find out the quietest hours at a museum and pay whatever they ask you to pay to visit then. Leave the day long neighborhood wanderings for the adult only trips. Skip the sort of places you already frequent at home, and search out places where you can actually learn something new. And milkshakes make everything better.

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Find these titles at your favorite local independent bookstore. Happy reading!