Sunday, October 30, 2011

Global Weirding

Believe what you will about climate change, but nobody can deny that it has been a crazy few months in New York City. In late August we experienced both an earthquake and a hurricane in the same week. And yesterday, in October, it snowed close to three inches. Fortunately, we escaped the natural disasters with relatively minor damages. Here's some proof in pictures because I'm not sure I'll believe it myself as time goes by. I only wish that I had captured the lights swinging in our office building as the earthquake hit...not a feeling I'd like to experience again.

Tree down at Bartel Pritchard Circle

Lots of trees down in Prospect Park

Hey look! It's a new lake in Prospect Park...and the Park Slope pups love it!

Snow in October...

Monday, September 5, 2011

I'm way too lazy to go back and write reviews for all of the books I've read in the past few months, so here's a listing and quick ratings. Many of the books were book club books, so they weren't things I would normally choose to read myself. But that's generally the point of book're exposed to things you wouldn't normally be, plus you get to discuss books with lovely people. I'm still terribly behind in my goal of 36 books for 2011, so hopefully there will be more book posts soon!

Just KidsJust Kids by Patti Smith

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

War DancesWar Dances by Sherman Alexie

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed AmericaThe Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Secret Warning (Hardy Boys, #17)The Secret Warning by Franklin W. Dixon

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Memoirs of a GeishaMemoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Savage DetectivesThe Savage Detectives by Roberto BolaƱo

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Let the Great World SpinLet the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in AmericaNickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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Friday, September 2, 2011

Four Months in Review

Once again, I've let months pass by between blog posts. Here's a review of (some) May-August 2011 in pictures. New goal...take more pictures.

Bidirectional service was restored to the F Train!!!

Adam got married in Savannah!!!

Tiffany visited and we ate Manhattan?

I watched the 4th of July Fireworks on the Hudson.

I went home to SC and fed my Dad's fish

Prospect Park concerts and events returned!

I went to St. Louis to visit Katie and Ashley!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Goodreads Review - Sidewalks in the Kingdom

Sidewalks in the Kingdom: New Urbanism and the Christian Faith (The Christian Practice of Everyday Life Series)Sidewalks in the Kingdom: New Urbanism and the Christian Faith by Eric O. Jacobsen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved this book because it merged two major aspects of my life: christianity and urban planning. It really makes you think about how our cities shape our lives and how our faith should influence not only how we live but where we choose to live. It can be pretty convicting at times, noting how Americans have basically created false gods out of the notions of individualism and freedom as opposed to living among one another and loving each other as Christ loved us.

A little warning, the author is extremely anti-suburban and pretty preachy about it. His tone is sometimes distracting from the points that he's trying to make. So if you're not used to this point of view, it can be pretty shocking. You might want to start with Suburban Nation first. I definitely didn't agree with all of his arguments, but it does make you think. And, as somebody currently living in a city, it makes me think about how I should be seizing opportunities and really becoming part of the community.

On a side note, I love when books you read cite other books/authors you have recently read. On the same page, this book referenced Ray Oldenburg and Robert Putnam, and that just made me happy.

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Goodreads Review - The Choice

The ChoiceThe Choice by Nicholas Sparks

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It's what you would expect from a Nicholas Sparks book. The writing is cheesy and at times terrible and embarrassing. But it's a quick read with an addicting storyline that somehow ends up making you cry in the end. I would say it's a good beach book.

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Monday, April 18, 2011

Top of the Rock

A few weeks ago my mom came to NYC with two of her friends for a girls' weekend. They stayed in the middle of it all, right in the heart of Times Square. I enjoyed spending time with my mom and doing some of the touristy things that we honestly don't do enough of. The first night they were here we saw Mama Mia, which was really cute. And later that weekend Chris and I went to Top of the Rock with them. I can't believe we've been in NYC this long and never gone to Top of the Rock. I'd really recommend it to anybody, tourist or resident, it's an amazing view. Evidence below.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Strangers on a Train

I'm currently reading Sidewalks in the Kingdom, which discusses how faith plays a role in determining the kinds of places in which we live (mainly cities vs suburbs). The chapter I read this morning deals with markers of a city, one being that cities allow for random encounters with strangers. I thought a good bit about this, as I'm encounter hundreds if not thousands of strangers every day...what should this mean and how should I become more aware of my fellow neighbors.

The book examines several aspects of "strangers" in cities, but one is that there is an opportunity for collaboration between people from different backgrounds, with different ways of thinking and ideas and etc. Tonight on the subway I got to witness such an encounter.

As I was waiting for the F train at Jay Street Metrotech, two men were playing classical music - one on a cello and one on a violin. It was beautiful, and a small crowd had gathered round. When the train came, people dispersed and one guy, let's call him Bob, tore off the duet's contact info. Once on the train, another guy, Mark, said he really enjoyed the music and asked Bob if he could take down the information. He whipped out his iPhone and that started a conversation about how they both have the same problem with this app and that app. Pretty soon they were talking about graphic design and exchanging business cards. All because the F train is so slow :)

There's really no point to this, except that I love:
1) when what i'm reading aligns with real life; and
2) random moments with strangers on a train.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Goodreads Review - Three Men in a Boat

Three Men in a BoatThree Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this book as the inaugural book for our recently formed book club. It was a suggestion by Chris's sister, Rebekah, who is in my opinion the greatest reader of all time.

The book, written as a travel guide, relates the story of three friends on a boating trip down the Thames River. It's cleverly written, with witty comments on life, many of which still apply today (the book was first published in 1889). My favorite account was that of the hassles of packing a suitcase, and the "cursedness of the toothbrush."

The book was an enjoyable read, but I think the best part about it is the legacy it has left behind. As it is a travel book, many people have recreated the journey and apparently some of the taverns and pubs mentioned in the book are still open today. That's quite remarkable given that it's been over 120 years.

An excerpt from the toothbrush packing debacle:
"My toothbrush is a thing that haunts me when I'm traveling, and makes my life a misery. I dream that I haven't packed it, and wake up in a cold perspiration, and get out of bed and hunt for it. And, in the morning, I pack it before I have used it, and have to unpack it again to get it, and it is always the last thing I turn out of th ebag; and then I repack and forget it, and have to rush upstairs for it at the last moment and carry it to the railway station, wrapped up in my pocket handkerchief."

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Goodreads Review - The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, JR

The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Martin Luther King Jr.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In school we listened to and read some of Martin Luther King's speeches and in recent years I had read a sermon or two of his, but that was the breadth of my experience with his work. Having now read the autobiography, I think it should be required reading in high schools.

As many reviewers have mentioned, it is a little strange to call it an autobiography. However, there is so much first hand accounts that I don't really have a problem with it. I don't think that the editor, Clayborne Carson steered the book in a way unbefitting to King.

The book gives you a thorough account of King's actions and involvement in the civil rights movement, as well as insight into his personal struggles. Two things really struck me about King's character throughout the book: his willingness to sacrifice and his strong faith in God. He (and his wife) were willing to sacrifice not only their time, efforts and resources but also their security in order to fight for civil rights. It doesn't seem that many Americans these days are willing to sacrifice much of anything for anything. The second aspect that struck me, his faith in God, is well-known. However, it was remarkable to read how he was constantly questioning himself, checking his motives and his intentions and realigning himself with God's will. His faith and his actions resulting from that faith are stunningly humbling.

Another thing that I think is worth mentioning is the social power of the church. This account demonstrates how the church at one time really was a social engine in the community. Nearly all of King's civil rights movements were organized through and in the church or affiliates of the church. It's unclear to me if this would still be the case today. I think that generally, America's churches need to reconsider their missions, both in advocacy and community service.

The book ends with King's last speech "I've Been to the Mountaintop" and his last sermon "The Drum Major Instinct." You can't help but get chills reading these, as it seems that King has come to the realization that his days are numbered and has made peace with this and with God.

There are too many outstanding quotes to mention...just go read it!

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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Goodreads Review - The Audacity of Hope

The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American DreamThe Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream by Barack Obama

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Written just before his campaign for president, the Audacity of Hope is a mixture of declarations of belief and anecdotes of life in the political realm. Much like his ability to give inspiring speeches, Obama has a gift for producing well-written books that are  enjoyable to read.

Overall, it's much more political than I expected. At times the book overwhelmed me by revealing the complexity of government and the divisiveness of politics. Being a moderate that is often turned off by both political parties, I was sometimes taken aback by just how much of a Democrat Obama is. And though he calls for bipartisanship, the examples in the book show how difficult and unusual true bipartisanship really is.

The parts of this book that I enjoyed the most are those parts in which he talks about America outside of Washington; about family life, core values, and a commitment to community. He calls for Americans to find common ground and to take on personal and societal responsibilities. A good excerpt on just that issue:

"That's what empathy does - it calls us all to task, the conservative and the liberal, the powerful and the powerless, the oppressed and the oppressor. We are all shaken out of our complacency. We are all forced beyond our limited vision. No one is exempt from the call to find common ground. Of course, in the end a sense of mutual understanding isn't enough. After all, talk is cheap; like any value, empathy must be acted upon. When I was a community organizer back in the eighties, I would often challenge neighborhood leaders by asking them where they put their time, energy and money. Those are the true tests of what we value, I'd tell them, regardless of what we like to tell ourselves. If we aren't willing to pay a price for our values, if we aren't willing to make some sacrifices in order to realize them, then we should ask ourselves whether we truly believe in them at all."

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Menu Plan February 21-25

I'm doing it again, I'm making my 1014th attempt at menu planning. We'll see how long this lasts. Last week was disastrous because Chris and I both worked late almost every night. Hopefully this week is better. Anyway, here it is:

Monday: Bean Burritos (Jaynes staple)

Tuesday: Steak and Potatoes (Omaha steaks from my grandparents and a new recipe for potatoes with smoked paprika - my new favorite spice)

Wednesday: Spinach Salad with Bowtie Pasta and Vodka Sauce (although I have never had success making vodka sauce, Food network magazine had a recipe in a recent issue, so I'm going to give it another shot)

Thursday: Chickpea Chicken (recipe from epicurious that has become one of our favs)

Friday: Veggie Sandwiches (roasted veggies, lemon-garlic mayo, goat cheese)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Sweet Potato and Brie Flatbread

I have a stash of pages I have ripped out of magazines in hopes of one day whipping up the delicious recipes printed on them. Most of the time, those recipes get stashed in my cookbook and forever forgotten. So I'm trying to revive them and to test out some new recipes.

The October 2010 Real Simple magazine had this recipe for sweet potato brie flatbread that looked amazing. Chris was skeptical at first, but it turned out really well. Thyme/brie/shallot/sweet potato is a fantastic combination.

1 pound frozen pizza dough, thawed
Cornmeal, for the baking sheet
1 medium sweet potato - peeled, halved, and thinly sliced
2 shallots, thinly sliced
8 springs fresh thyme
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces Brie, sliced

1) Heat oven to 425. Dust baking sheet with cornmeal and place dough on baking sheet. (I didn't have cornmeal and used crisco and a bit of kosher salt)

2) Toss the sweet potato, shallots, thyme, 3 tablespoons of oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Scatter over the dough and top with the Brie.

3) Bake until golden brown and crisp, 20 to 25 minutes.

We'll definitely be making this again. Next time we'll look for whole wheat pizza dough.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Baby Cardigan

I learned how to crochet back in the 2nd grade when "Grandma Alice" volunteered in our classroom as part of the Operation Love Program - a program through which senior citizens came into the classroom to teach the students a new skill. I'm so thankful for that program and I've continued to crochet throughout the years. However, I've pretty much limited myself to scarfs and afghans and basic stitches.

So I decided to venture out. I found a pattern for a baby cardigan and gave it a go. It definitely took a lot more effort than a scarf and what was supposed to be a 6-month sized cardigan is probably closer to a 2T cardigan, but all in all it's pretty cute. I had fun going to the Fashion District and picking out little buttons. Hopefully I'll be able to continue down the path of more challenging projects.

GoodReads Review - Applied Economics, Thinking Beyond Stage One

Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage OneApplied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One by Thomas Sowell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I remember reading several articles/essays/excerpts from Thomas Sowell in undergrad. He has the great ability of making economics accessible though his clear writing style and simple presentation of ideas. However, in this particular book, it was just that - the simplicity - that bothered me.

The whole premise of the book is that we should "think beyond stage one" and consider long-term effects of policies and practices. Sowell describes the (usually unintended) negative effects of certain policies such as insurance, government-run health care, and anti-discrimination laws. Unarguably, there have been downsides to all of these. People abuse health care and use it differently when they are not the ones directly paying for it. As mentioned by a friend last week, instead of expanding female sports, some colleges eliminated certain male sports as a result of Title IX.

While Sowell was able to shed light on these issues, he writes from an extreme laissez-faire perspective and the one-sidedness of the arguments often seem too simple. Rarely (in this book) does he expand discussions of cost and benefits beyond monetary or time costs to include health, social capital, fulfillment, etc. Nor does he always elaborate on the full issue.

For instance, on the discussion of the effects of land use on housing prices, he mentions a very limited application of land use regulation that is often touted in the realm of planning as ineffective. I agree with Sowell in that exclusionary land use policies or residential zoning that requires half acre lots is counterproductive. However, he doesn't mention land use policies that attempt to integrate transportation with land use, create mixed-use communities, and provide certainty to developers. His aversion to open space regulations does not take into account a complete costs and benefits analysis either. While housing is limited in NYC and housing prices would drop if given more developable land, could you imagine NYC without Central Park? Privately owned public spaces have been produced in a variety of ways, through mandates and incentives. Rather than blasting all of these initiatives, why not compare? Sowell has written numerous books and articles, so perhaps he has made this comparison in other writings.

I will definitely continue to read Sowell, but I think it would be unwise to only read from this perspective.

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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Snow - January 27, 2011

What was predicted to be a 5-8" snowstorm ended up dumping 15 inches of snow on NYC, pretty much overnight. That snow piled up on top of the snow drifts that have been around since Christmas and made for a beautiful, but difficult, commute to work. Here are some shots from outside our apartment.

Goodreads Review: Everything is Illuminated

Everything Is IlluminatedEverything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The novel is told in three different manners: From the voice of a young Ukrainian, letters from the same Ukrainian to a young American, and through the American's writings for his first novel. The format made for a slow and somewhat disjointed start, but by the end of the novel I appreciated the different perspectives and writing styles.

I think that the recommendations from others lead me to expect more. I kept looking for a deeper meaning in it all, when that really wasn't the point.

Anyway, it's a good read and I would recommend it. I particularly enjoyed the whims and quirks of members of the shetl described in the sections written by the American.

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Chopped Mediterranean Salad

There have been so many times when I have ordered a meal in a restaurant that was so delicious that I wished I could make it at home. My favorite restaurant dish is Carrabba's Chicken Bryan. Years ago I tried to replicate it, but the white wine/butter/basil sauce is just a bit too much to deal with on a regular basis. Every now in then though, we are able to easily replicate meals eaten in restaurants to a satisfying quality.

This is our version of a salad that Chris had for lunch last summer.

Chopped Mediterranean Salad
1/4 cup roasted red peppers, chopped
1/4 cup kalamata olives, chopped
1 Tablespoon capers
1/4 cup red onion, chopped
1/2 cup feta cheese
1 can chickpeas
1 cup spinach, chopped

The measurements are rough estimates, so adjust according to preference. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and enjoy!

Monday, January 10, 2011

21 Books in 2010!

I have never been much of a runner or a reader. So two of my goals for 2010 were to run a 5k and read 20 books. I honestly didn't think I would be able to do it, but I'm proud to say I slashied a half marathon and read...wait for it...21 books.

Rebekah had recommended Goodreads to me a couple of years ago and it really was life-changing. It helped me to organize my list of books to read, made it fun to look for new books, and enabled me to see what my friends had read and enjoyed. I highly recommend Goodreads to anybody that wants to read more and just needs that extra push. My books (top 5 bolded) for 2010 were:

1) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, JK Rowling
2) Franny and Zooey, JD Salinger
3) The History of Love, Nicole Krauss
4) Why Do I Love These People?, Po Bronson
5) The Djinn in the Nightingales Eye, AS Byatt
6) The Man Who Was Thursday, GK Chesterton
7) The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, Mary Ann Shaffer
8) The Help, Kathryn Stockett
9) Nine Stories, JD Salinger
10) Sarah's Key, Tatiana de Rosnay
11) The Reason for God, Timothy Keller
12) The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
13) Brooklyn, Colm Toibin
14) Dandelion Wine, Ray Bradbury
15) Paula Deen: It Ain't All About the Cookin, Paula Deen
16) A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess
17) Whatever It Takes, Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America, Paul Tough
18) Hunting and Gathering, Anna Gavalda
19) UnSweetined, Jodie Sweetin
20) Lucky Man: A Memoir, Michael J Fox
21) Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Robert Putnam

For 2011 I'm going to try to read 3 a month for a grand total of 36 for the year. Recommendations are welcome and appreciated!

Master Tara!

Tara surprised our parents with a very special Christmas present. She completed her master's degree!!! They had absolutely no idea that she was planning on graduating. Dad was so thrilled that he made us call her "Master Tara" the rest of the weekend. Congrats Tara!!!

Christmas 2010

We had a great Christmas 2010 and were fortunate to spend it with family and friends...and a bit of snow too!

Our Christmas Tree 2010