1998 Champagne Mazda Protégé
This morning, a bearded man with a warm smile came to my front door and took the keys to my car. I watched him cross to the curb and start scraping the registration sticker off the windshield and my eyes welled up. He laughed and said, “Go back in the house. It will all be over soon.”
I donated my car today. The car is ailing… a cylinder is going, an oxygen sensor needs to be replaced, there is a leak somewhere in the exhaust system. The car is sluggish, won't accelerate and runs roughly. It is time to move on. I’d never named my car or assigned it a gender. It was a car… my first car.
Years ago in San Francisco, I set a goal. I wanted to make it to 40 without owning a car. In San Francisco, a car can be a liability. Parking is tough, tickets are ubiquitous and renting a garage could mean paying out $500 or more a month. But in 2003, back to the burbs of NJ, I had to have a car. I found a 1998 Mazda Protégé owned by a mechanic. The car was nondescript, beige, otherwise known as champagne in car parlance. We went from 56,000 miles to 160,000 miles together. The car was reliable but with an annoying check engine light problem that always kept me guessing.
I knew nothing about cars. Everything was a mystery, almost a form of magic. The system at DMV seemed like a convoluted alchemists’ ritual, taking another man’s car and changing it into mine. The inner workings of a car… the oil changes, filter changes, tire pressure, fluids… the special vials of carburetor cleaner you can buy at Pep Boys and administer yourself, at the right time. Thankfully, with patient friends and an honest family mechanic, I eventually changed my own windshield wipers.
I’ve had a few offers for the car in the last few weeks. Desperate people on a tight budget who need a car now. They’ve offered $500, $200… But my little car would require them to spend bigger money to it back together again. I know the car still has life in it, but not without several transplants and a transfusion.
I’m proud that I chose to donate the car. I am a devoted NPR listener and giving them my car is a way of paying them back for what they give me, with a tax deduction to boot. But as I watched the nice man hook my car up to the tow truck, I felt sad… a little like I was abandoning my little rattle trap to strangers without a good bye. So this is my fond farewell to a champagne-colored Mazda Protege, my faithful companion for the last 6 years. With many thanks. May your new year be bright.
New Year’s Eve
The countdown has begun… New Year’s Eve minus three!
New Year’s Eve is a holiday of mixed blessings. On the plus side: getting dressed up, fun and frivolity with friends, free flowing champagne. It is the ultimate party, all sparkles and champagne, women in fancy frocks and handsome men proffering bubbly. It is about saluting the old year with fondness and celebrating a new year with excitement and anticipation. It is the countdown, the ball drop, the pop of champagne corks…
On the con side we have: getting dressed up, fun and frivolity with friends, free flowing champagne. Reread the description above and reflect on parties past. How many lived up to the hype? New Year’s Eve often feels forced. I WILL have a sparkling time. I WILL wear an extravagant dress and Jimmy Choo heels. I will drink champagne. I will have the time of my LIFE! New Year’s Eve – that yearly rite of passage. Another year gone. A time to assess and reassess. After the confetti lands, the New Year often sparks feelings of self-recrimination and sadness. “Another year gone and I still have not…”
All the emotional angst aside, unless your friends all live within walking distance, New Year’s Eve too often includes driving. And with all that forced gaiety and free flowing champagne, driving is not on my happy list. As much as I love the idea of a party, the idea of driving on roads with other partiers is not appealing.
What to do? Make your own party! A few folks in my neighborhood have banded together to create a moveable feast… a progressive dinner that spans a 4 block radius in our little town. Everyone is pitching in. There are 30 of us, give or take a few. We’ll all make something to offer at one of the four host houses. Our evening begins at 7:30pm with appetizers. After about an hour, a little bell will ring to move us to the house next door for our next course. When the little bell rings again, we will proceed three blocks north and one block east to the house of entrees where we will eat, drink and be merry until 11:30ish when we cross the street for dessert, coffee and our champagne toast to the New Year.
I have visions of prancing about in my holiday finery, quaffing bubbly while a light snow falls. I have the clothes. I like to trot them out now and then. But that is me. Other folks will come in jeans and warm sweaters. We can drink, or not. We can prance, or not. What we will do is enjoy good company and celebrate friendship with the countdown, the pop of corks and the flutter of confetti.
The Oil Is In!
Last evening I had an email from Paul with the shipping details and today I got a phone call from the airport telling me my shipment of olive oil has arrived! Woo hoo!
Olio Nuovo is something we rarely see here in The States. When oil is pressed, the oil is at its peak of color and flavor. By the time it is bottled and shipped to the states, it is no longer that bright green, flavorful oil. It might still be good, but its not olio nuovo. Generally, olio nuovo is enjoyed locally.
I wanted so much for my friends to have that new oil experience, to really see and taste the difference. The teacher in me takes over sometimes… soooo; I organized a series of olive oil tastings at my home. Seating was limited so we could sit comfortably and really share the experience.
I did some research and put together an 8 page pamphlet of info around the history and cultivation of olive oil, a little on the Italian oils specifically, and tips for cooking with fresh oil. Three Umbrian olive oils were on the menu… Paul’s Sagramento, my friend Stefano’s rustic oil, and Paolo Bea’s more commercial oil. (Note: Bea is not a large producer, so that oil is still boutique oil.) All were good, two were unfiltered olio nuovo, and one was older and filtered.
Each oil was presented on lightly toasted bread with a pinch of salt – Italian style. We started with the mellowest of the three, the Paolo Bea and move up to the most powerful, The Sagramento. Once we compared and contrasted the three oils, it was time to illustrate how a good oil can change a dish. I brought out a plate of steamed asparagus or a ripassato of mixed greens, lightly drizzled with The Sagramento oil. The heat of cooking can destroy the subtle flavor of a good olive oil. It is best to drizzle the oil on the food after it is off the flame. The heat of the food will “bloom” the fragrance of the oil. With that in mind, we ended with a bowl of rustic contadina pasta -- tagliatelle aglio olio with parsley. The garlic and red pepper flakes were softened in the oil; minced parsley was added to make a thick pesto-type condiment. The cooked pasta was drained, tossed with the parsley pesto and the olio nuovo. With a good grating of parmegiano reggiano was grated on top…. mmmmmm.
Fresh Umbrian olive oil is so different from what we buy locally in the supermarket. The new oil is the color of olives – a rich, bright green. And the taste… supermarket oil is pallid, yellowish and bland. Umbrian oil is very fruity and peppery, more flavorful even than most other Italian oils. But all oils mellow with time. If you are diligent about storing your olive oil properly, it can last a year. But it will never keep the flavor and power you experience in those first few weeks.
Cross your fingers that I can bring over a taste of this wonderful oil every November.
Talked to Paul W while I was in Italy. I’ve arranged to ship some of his splendid olio nuovo home! Paul’s olive oil is developing quite the reputation – maybe the best in the area -- and I have wanted very much to bring some home to share with friends. This year, its gonna happen.
Walking through the corn today, I saw a glint of jewel-like blue and found a large green darner (dragonfly) on the ground in the throes of pesticide death. His wings were stretched out and his body was curling back and forth. I have no idea what these pesticides do to the creatures that get sprayed. Do the chemicals just shut down their systems? Does it hurt?
Dragon flies are notoriously hard to catch so seeing one incapacitated is striking… and sad. These creatures are beautiful in flight, fast and fierce… flashes of turquoise blue and grass green bodies with golden cellophane wings, darting about like fairies… This one was contorted on the ground and I could not leave him there to be run over by a tractor. I eased him into a baggie to bring home for my little collection of dead bugs, an ignominious end for a dragon.
Over the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school, we were all assigned the job of gathering bugs for a collection. In junior year biology we would tackle taxonomy, the identification of insects. We were told that arriving in September without our 100 pinned insects would pretty much assure a D for the semester. There was no way to do better without bugs.
At sixteen, I was morally opposed to killing bugs (at 16 we are morally opposed to so many things) and so showed up empty handed. Mr. Worthington, our rumpled, tweedy teacher was not amused. I was assigned to a team of 2 good students who had done their assignment and would have to work for my D. It turned out, I was a crack bug identifier. I knew my Lepidoptera from my Dryoptera. I could spot an elongated thorax at 6 paces. I did so well, I turned the rule upside down and was given a B. Without having snuffed or pinned a single insect.
These days, I think of Mr. Worthington often. Finally, 30+ years later I am completing that bug collection. Every week, I find and bring home beautiful and unusual insects from the traps. I wish Mr. Worthington could see it.
When I was young, everything had feelings… the trees, the lamp, my stuffed animals. All things, quite logically in my 4-yr old brain, felt pain, fear, loneliness, affection. My stuffed animals were cosseted and tucked in every evening as a group so no one would be alone in the dark. I would pat the trees and wish them a grand day (an original tree hugger). I still apologize to the couch if I run into it. And I still believe that the things around me have feelings… they might not feel as I do, but there is something there and someday we’ll feel mightily stupid for having misunderstood for so long. (Please read this. )
When you think about it, if we anthropomorphized the things around us, animate and inanimate, maybe we’d be nicer people and easier on the land. Perhaps we’d find a bit more harmony in the world around us…
Oh, What A Beautiful Morning…
I am in awe of farmers. The life looks rugged and romantic. Working out on the land – your own man (or woman, as the case may be) – in league with nature to bring gold from the soil.
The reality is quixotic, backbreaking and sometimes heartbreaking. Every week, I watch farmers and farm workers and what I see is long days in all weather. There is no working with nature… rather it is a never ending struggle to muscle through nature. Weather, temperatures, pests… everything challenges your ability to get your crops to market and make a profit. This summer is cool and wet, so crops are ripening too slowly. Next summer could be scorchingly hot and dry, making every day an irrigation day hauling the huge reels of hoses from field to field and paying an immense water bill. And what if one of the produce trucks from down south brings up a hitchhiking infestation of some evil weevil that attacks the pepper crop? You could spend your profits in pesticides just to stay even. Every year offers something potentially dire to overcome. One man told me he has not turned a profit on his farm since 1982. Can you imagine?
The farms on my route are an interesting lot… some are organized, efficient organizations with crisply-painted red barns and well-organized tool sheds. Others seem like weedy minefields of oily machine parts and cannibalized vehicles. Some run their own farm stands and farm markets with pick your own fruits and hay rides. Others grow specific crops to sell to food conglomerates like Campbell’s Soup. Most are farming families who have gotten up at 3am to begin the day for most of their adult lives.
Listening to their concerns, even for a few minutes a week, offers a new perspective. I grew up in South Jersey; 40 years ago a mosaic of small family farms. The idea of an America without that colorful, flavorful patchwork of local farms is bleak. Why do we subsidize Archer Daniels Midland but not family farmers who have worked the same acreage for 3 or 4 generations? Why do we reward farming techniques that strip the land instead of the common sense techniques that sustain the land?
Yes, you can go into your local ShopRite/Acme/Genuardis/StopNShop/BlahBlahBlah and buy a watermelon or peaches or (god forbid) sweet corn at any month in the year (from heaven knows where). But a tomato in December is a pallid substitute for the same thing picked that morning and sold at that farm stand in July. There is no contest. Buy local, buy seasonal… support your local farm stands.
Some of the farms on my route use me as a corn scout. It’s an odd job. The purpose is to randomly sample growing corn plants to monitor the levels of pests feeding in the fields. I walk up and down the rows, stopping to examine 10 plants in 10 different spots in the field. In a really big field, I might check 200 plants. I am the farmer’s eyes, counting how many corn pests I find and charting my discovery so we know what is happening in the fields.
When corn is knee high, it’s an easy stroll through the rows. Once the corn is tall, it’s a tougher row to hoe. Walking through a tall, green maze hemmed in thickly with strappy corn leaves, I think about things like the Children of the Corn and Signs. So I stride through the rows, often in corn up to my shoulders humming “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” from Oklahoma…
There's a bright golden haze on the meadow
There's a bright golden haze on the meadow
The corn is as high as an elephant's eye
And it looks like it's climbing right up to the sky
Oh what a beautiful morning
Oh what a beautiful day
I've got a beautiful feeling
Everything's going my way
The Corn Peeper
Sounds like a moth, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, it’s me. When corn scouting, as the plant starts to bloom - develop the tassel - I have to peel back some leaves and examine the tassel for potential damage. (If the corn tassel is damaged it may not be able to pollinate the plant, so no corn. No corn, no summer. That simple.)
Peeling back the leaf whorl to expose the tassel feels…invasive, like peeping under someone’s skirt. “Excuse me, sorry,” I whisper apologetically.
The task is to count and report, but I cannot resist grooming. I peel the leaves back to expose the worm, curled into his chewed out boudoir, then pluck him out and drop him for the birds. Having had his feast, he is fat and juicy. The birds love me.
The Moth Queen
The last time I really looked at a moth I was probably eight years old. On close mid summer evenings pale moths slapped continually into the outside light until they were tattered. Occasionally one would fly into the house and we’d have to chase it around with a cup to catch and release. These were medium-sized, grayish moths with no discernable features other than their need to fly upward and into the light fixtures.
This bug wrangling project has opened up a whole new window into the variety of nocturnal flutterers. Not only are some moths beautiful, their sizes are astounding. Who knew that there were so many HUGE mother-fluttering moths out there? I’ve seen creatures that could carry a small child away…
That is an exaggeration…but I do find moths 2-3 inches across with bodies like half smoked cigars.
I monitor 3-4 pest moths. These are the subtle moths. Subtle is a nice word for nondescript. The examples? The European corn borer with its small, creamy wings and pointy little face. The Corn Earworm, larger, and cream colored with a dark spot on each wing and crazy, green pop eyes. The Fall Armyworm, a dull brownish moth with white fluttery underwings like little dancing petticoats. And, the Hawaiian Beet Webworm, a fancy brown moth with white scalloped stripes on its wings – by far the looker of the group. These moths you could see every evening and never really register.
But my traps are regularly filled with a myriad of colorful tiger moths, yellow Io moths, black and white hawk moths, and delicate brown and pink sphinx moths, some so large and lovely it’s like finding a hummingbird in the trap. These are pollinators… good bugs. I hate to see them dead or dying. On my second day at work, I opened a black light trap to find a huge Polyphemus silkworm moth with large plumose antennae. My jaw dropped. Every time I make my rounds, I find something breathtakingly beautiful.
Opportunities seem to appear like magic. A friend passed me an email from the county extension service looking for help on a summer program. My newest project is multi-legged. I’ve hooked up with a university entomologist who runs an agricultural program working with local farmers. I visit a number of local farms spread around south jersey twice a week to count bugs. Alright, it’s a little more involved. The Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program monitors and charts specific agricultural pest populations in order to help local farmers determine whether to spray or not to spray insecticides. If the bugs aren’t flying, the farmer does not need to incur the cost of spraying. And the environment gets a breather. A win-win for all involved. Because when the farmer has to spray, everything gets killed – pests and beneficials alike. It’s a whole new area for me. I am a bug wrangler.
Turn the Page
June 26th, and the sun rose as ever. But this time, I woke up self-employed. (This could be viewed as unemployed.) Exciting, frightening… eye-widening… as in, oh my, I have a lot to think about.
Do I go for another 9-5 job in the city? Do I recreate myself again? I’d like to try to build a life like what I had in Italy, a life of projects and freelancing. A bit of this, a dab of that… a chance to learn and grow in many directions. Wish me luck!
Gourmet Polish Food - An Oxymoron?
Last December, when I saw La Croix was planning a Polish Dinner Event with wine pairings, I reserved a table right away as a mother/daughter treat. My grandmother was born in Poland and my mom was raised in the Polish neighborhood at Kensington and Allegheny in Phila. Stuffed cabbage runs through our veins.
Jason Cichonski, Chef de Cuisine at La Croix, is of Polish descent and wanted to design a menu based on his grandmother's cooking. For Polish foodies, this was an opportunity not to be missed.
We arrived, and Anthony is pouring champagne. I always see a number of regulars at these wine pairing events. The staff at La Croix know their fans and make everyone feel welcome. My mom and I were the only small party, so we were seated at a corner table overlooking the square. Table settings are simple at La Croix, to better show off the main attraction - the food. Everything is white with gleaming stainless steel and sparkling glass that reflect the candle flames and showcase the colors of the food and wine. (A rich, visual treat.)
Roasted Beet & Horseradish with mustard greens
White Belly Fluke & Carrots with Vodka & Paprika
Foie Gras Golabki with Homemade Kielbasa & Tomato
Hand-rolled Pierogies with Veal Sweetbread, Caramelized Onion & Beer
Paczki (Plum-filled donut) with Honey Sabayon & Apricot Polish Spirit Sorbet
The fun of a restaurant like La Croix is how they handle the ingredients... how do you pair and present the flavors in a new and delightful way. Food should be satisfying, taste great and, if you are lucky, stimulate the mind and the senses. That is where a place like La Croix distinguished itself.
Our amuse bouche was served, not with the horseradish cream I might expected, but with a cubed horseradish tofu-y thing. It worked with the beet very well.
The appetizer was a simple white fish... but with more of a sushi presentation, served with small clear cubes of vodka jello scattered about that gave a nice bite to the cool fish.
Our next course was the kielbasa and golabki (stuffed cabbage). My family has never been in touch with its kielbasa heritage. For me, it has always been too rustic a meat... too garlicky, too chunky, too fatty. Just not a texture I enjoyed. Jason handmade a fine kielbasa, with all the strength and garlic you expect, but not the chunks and the fat. I could have eaten a bowl of it with sauerkraut and been content.
The foie gras stuffed cabbage was not my cup-o-tea. :-( It was beautifully presented, but foie gras is very rich, and the cabbage seemed a bit too wet. It was a texture problem more than anything... a bit to squishy and rich. The flavor was there but, unlike Donna Russell, I am not a foie gras girl. Now, the wine that went with was fabulous... Vale do Bomfim made by the house of Dow (port wine makers) with port wine grapes. A dry snap that cut the foie gras well. I would like case of Vale do Bomfim.
Next was Jason's take on pierogies. So good! Two small, perfectly browned pierogies stuffed with potato and cheese... light and airy... nestled in a bed of beer foam. It made me laugh and think of my Uncle Frank - an old Polish beer fan from way back. The pierogies were complemented by a savory sweetbread roll and caramelized onion. Really nice! I was so excited, I forgot to take a picture.
Dessert was Paczki (Punch-kee, as my mom says it). Sometimes, I will hit one of the bakeries on Allegheny and take her some of these filled yeast doughnuts. But they never seem to make the grade, falling short of her youthful memories. Chef Cichonski did not let an old Pole down... his Paczki reminded my mom of her childhood. The doughnuts were light and yeasty, filled with a tart plum jam and covered in granulated sugar. (Like the jelly doughnuts of my childhood, as well.) They came on a plate of Honey Sabayon with cubes of pale orange apricot sorbet. Utter contentment.
As always, the service was lovely and personal without being too formal. It was a great little event. Next up is the Lamb Dinner on April 24, and then the Spring Harvest Dinner on May 22. I'd recommend either if you love food and wine.
Truth or Dare?
Alright. A guilty truth. I watched the Bachelor this season. Got sucked in early. My opinion... the big change-o-mind was a preplanned ratings thing and Mesnick is a jerk.
Another ugly confession? I watched True Beauty. (Sigh. There goes any semblance of intellectual street cred I might have had. But hey, it was back to back with the Bachelor.) The truth about True Beauty? It was like train wreck. Soooo ugly you could not take your eyes off it. The water was so shallow, no waders needed for that pool.
A Random Thought
This evening I heard someone on the radio say that in an economy like this there are few reasons to celebrate.
I disagree. Firmly.
We may not have a lot of money to play with but there are always things to celebrate and always ways to celebrate that don't entail private jets and Renaissance costuming. In fact, when you put a group of people in the room who enjoy one another's company, merriment ensues. And merriment lifts the heart. And what more could one want in times such as these?
Case in point, Dicken's Fezziwig... and the little party below.
So - things to celebrate at any time: friends, waking up, having lunch money, groundhog day, a clean oven, your dog's brown eyes... do I need to go on?
In an economy like this, with lurking fears and anxiety, you should make a point of celebrating the things you DO have. Celebrate... with whatever means you have available with the people you love most.
Sunday 21, 2009
Pasta. Fresh pasta. Iris had this idea. Let's cook together. My Italian conversation group that meets every Sunday evening, wanted to try something new. Cooking together! An Italian dinner (what else?)
Sunday last we gathered at Iris's house, broke out the red wine and commenced to chopping and sauteing. The menu - fresh pasta. A fettuccine with sugo di pomodori (red sauce) and a semolina linguini with aglio olio (olive oil and garlic).
We started with beautiful peperone calabrese (sauteed peppers). Geneva sauteed whole baby yellow and red peppers in olive oil until they were golden. The peppers were drizzled with balsamic vinegar. Someone brought grissini (thin, crispy breadsticks) wrapped with prosciutto. Tricia came a little late but brought a gorgeous, huge loaf of olive oil bread. It was warm from the oven, and the smell was heaven. Add to that a hearty salad. Between the peppers, an artichoke and an eggplant topping, we ran through that bread.
I made Melchiorre's red sauce (onions, celery, carrots, cherry tomatoes, passato, wine, garlic e basta.) Joe made a savory aglio olio using a bit of anchovy to deepened the flavor. Yum.
The conversation was flowing... politics, the arts, the economy... lots of laughs. For dessert, we had homemade biscotti (lemon and cranberry) from Pat and a run-soaked tiramisu from Deborah. Then - to top it off - Barista Joe ran home and made us a big carafe of espresso!
Am off to another bibulous, burbling, rambunctious day with the Forking Delicious gals. Today's mission - get a game plan going for a demonstration we have to do on March 23 at the Porch Club. Easy Appetizers for Busy People! What can you keep in your pantry that will make a fast, delicious appetizer for unexpected guests? We will post the recipes on the Forking Delicious website around event day.
Slide shows. PowerPoint. These are things one should not think about on the weekend. So, we'll stipulate that I'm odd.
If you believe in lattices of coincidence (see Repo Man, Harry Dean Stanton), the universe is pointing me toward PowerPoint.
Last week I was involved in a presentation about the tidal marsh in my neighborhood -- its beauties and its challenges. Lots of PowerPoint. Quite coincidentally, I was leafing through Presentation Zen, a book that teaches you how to avoid "death by slide." The last straw -- I met a young guy at work (M. Gale, kudos) who is a pretty good PowerPoint guy. All those threads came together in a harmonic convergence sparking my current obsession playing with presentations.
Some folks spend the weekend skiing. Others curl up by the fire and read. I am experimenting with PowerPoint.
Why? I want to organize and present a message in the most powerful and memorable way possible with the everyday tools at hand. Plus, I'm a tinkerer...
Springtime, please. The doldrums are setting in, and warm breezes and sunny daffodils fill my daydreams.
I'm unraveling like an old sweater. I need my spring rebirth.
New Year, New Beginnings
Okay, so it's February and the year is not brand new... it's newish. Gabe and I split up last year and my job has been miserable. Last year was about the least happy and inspiring I can remember. Honestly, I think that I cried every day either driving in to work or driving home. There was almost nothing to enjoy there. Why stay, you ask? Oh, ennui... a belief in what it could be... stubbornness.
A fresh wind blew through the office and we have a new sheriff in town. He might be the guy to turn things around... to create a culture of innovation and collaboration. To build a place you can be proud to work at. Hope does spring eternal. What did Emily say? "Hope is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all."
Italian Lessons, cheap.
The Riverton Library is a gem. It's director is a whirlwind of energy who has put together a dedicated following who search for presentations and performers to bring people into the library. We have a tight community. Word always travels fast.
Someone gave my name as a someone who might lead a beginner Italian class. Four weeks, one hour every Sunday. Why not?
It was great fun! There were anywhere from 8 to 12 people every week. Since there is not a lot you can cover in 4 one-hour sessions, I decided we'd go for travel Italian -- transportation, food and restaurants, directions, etc. It was a little nervewracking at first... finding the right balance of exercises. The first session was painful... it was all about the rules of pronunciation. A necessary base, but not compelling.
After that, it was fun... dialogues to practice, phrases to earn, question and answer exercises with partners. My friend Paola - the italiana vera - even came one day to help us practice the sounds. We were offered a 5th week. By that session - our review session - I could see how some folks were getting more comfortable, remembering bits and pieces. I wish we could have kept the momentum.
What fun, figuring out lessons and exercises we could build upon. I've been offered another 4-5 week slot in May. Hopefully, the travelers will return!
Un Buon Natale
The Italians were here for Christmas! For all of December, actually. Poala C. stayed with me for the entire month. Melchiorre and Dana stayed with Dana's folks in PA. It was a lovely month of introducing my local friends to "l'italiana vera" and touring about.
Paola was most adventurous and intrepid, venturing into Philadelphia on the bus and heading down to DC on her own. After Christmas, we went up to NYC for a long weekend. I haven't spent that kind of time in NYC for years. We saw almost everything, from Battery Park and Wall Street to the Natural History Museum. New York was all dressed up for the holidays with lights, colors and shimmery things. Gives me chills of joy.