Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Mattress Topper Results

The results are in! I woke up this morning with a back that felt as good as it ever has. I don't even remember the last time that I woke up with my back to relaxed and flexible! One slight problem: I give the bed a thumbs up and the lady sitting next to me gives it a thumbs down. I hope she get's used to it - it would be a shame to have to cut it in half :o/

J. Riley, my body needs the topper tonight, salsa lessons were rough!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Wait, what's this? Do I miss the UES?

Topper Clocker

Foam mattress topper implemented to make my bed almost as tall as Erika. Starting the clock for the 30-day trial! First impressions (pun intended):
  • That chemical smell that I read about? Yes, it's true. I let it "air out" yesterday, but I am not willing to wait another day. 
  • My mattress pad is massive, and is plenty big enough to cover the mattress topper. 
  • Laying on the mattress pad, I felt hot. That might have to do with the fact that it feels like it's 90 degrees outside with 99.9% humidity.
  • My sheets are massive, and are still too big even with the mattress topper.
  • Laying on the sheets on the mattress pad on the mattress topper, the temperature wasn't too shabby.
  • So far, with mattress topper installed, no sign of obnoxious chemical smell.
J. Riley, off to see a screening of Ken Burns National Parks.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Another Year, Another Beer Garden

See what I did there? I love Google Reader, but I also love seeing my hit counter go up on the blog - self gratification or something like that. So now you have to click on the blog link from Reader to read it all. If I could add a link to Facebook to do the same (rather than posting the whole blog), I would do the same thing - force people to click on the link, increase my counter by one, and increment ye old counter.

Anyway, as everyone knows (thanks to Facebook), it's my birthday on Friday. Strange, I never really celebrated my birthday much during adolescence or college, but I enjoy doing something here in New York.
I think my first out-of-body/outer-borough experience was on my birthday, when I visited the (now local) Czech beer garden. I remember it well....Susannah was too cool to come on time and arrived just before we were leaving and all my friends except Melissa bailed on me just because I wanted to go dancing at some non-reputable Polish disco in dirty Greenpoint. But I'm not still bitter about that! ;o)

Well, I'll turn a new year in a few days, so I've turned a new leaf and will be going to Radegast in the hipster safe-haven of Billyburg for this year's birthday. Having a birthday that is around the day that Oktoberfest commences is a great benefit (and so is having a Name Day around the start of the summer). So all you New Yorker friends of mine, I expect to see you on Friday night next to me with a liter of German beer in one hand and a bratwurst in your other! Whether I decide to go back to the nearby Polish disco or not remains to be determined!

Just a note: how not to celebrate my birthday (yes, this is how my cube looked when I came back from lunch. This will be removed tomorrow morning):

J. Riley, my foam mattress topper arrived today (finally)!!!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Jury Selection Dereliction

So last week I got pretty much the first jury summons of my life. I think I got one a few years back when I was in California, but it was one of those bring a book, show up, get dismissed jobs that were good for providing excuses as a reason to wear jeans and not have to go to work for the whole day. In fact, that may have been one of the infamous "pool days" in the old apartment complex....

Anyway, I luckily avoided having to go to jury duty while I was bouncing around Civil War battlefields earlier in the week, but I did get called in on Thursday. I wasn't sure what to expect, so I pretty much dressed for work and ended up getting stuck in this big hall with a hundred other people until my name was called for jury selection at 3:15 (after arriving at 8:30am).

Jury selection is interesting. The lawyers are probing the attendees to find out if they speak English (a surprisingly number of them don't), if they hold any grudges against the city or the defendant, etc. etc. They told us that if we were selected, we could expect the case to go for two weeks in court. I was all into learning about this process and being and court since it seemed kind of exciting, but two weeks? Uhhh, I got things to do, people (like salsa classes) !!!

Anyway, long story short, the lawyers were always bickering and we even had some "objections!" - in the freakin' jury selection phase! Isn't this supposed to be like an hour long? It ended up going for three days with each day starting at about 11:30 (we were told to be there at 10:30am) because the lawyers kept having to go to the judge to settle their differences. Today was the pinnacle - we were told to be there at 10:00am, only to wait until noon before the lawyers finally left the judge's office to come talk to us. The second lawyer finally got to start asking us her questions and five minutes in, during a question directed at me (sine I had told them that in my experience, city employees had been lazy), we got an objection from the other lawyer and then they had to go talk to the judge. So we got a two hour lunch, came back, and we were all basically told we could go home.

What a waste of three days! Thank god I didn't have to actually attend this court case, it would've been done in a month at this rate!

J. Riley, at least I didn't miss any salsa classes...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

History Lessons

When mom asked if we could take a road trip when they were going to be here visiting, I had a couple ideas come to mind. Since I haven't really taken a road trip outside of Manhattan other than up to Cooperstown, it wasn't hard to find destinations. A fishing village in New England? Some hiking that would overlook the Hudson River valley? Long Island? Scenic lakes upstate? Washington DC? Through the process of elimination and in talking to my parents, we came up with Gettysburg and Philadelphia, PA.

Those of you that know me pretty well know that I've always been a history buff, and as a child I was particularly interested in the Civil War. Then I went through a Central and Eastern Europe phase after visiting Hungary, and recently (for some reason), I've been learning more about South American history. But the peculiar thing is that other than by reading books, I have little personal experience with early American history, other than a trip to Charleston and to DC as a 13 year-old. This trip would help me catch up and also teach Erika somethings about the United States that she was interested in.

So with Google Maps (and, thankfully, a rented GPS unit named "Miss Garmin") in hand, we took off for Pennsylvania at around 6:00am on Monday morning. The plan was simple: go to the Visitor Center and figure out what there was to do when we got there. I had heard that Gettysburg had a pretty well structured tourist route and dad confirmed it at 5:30 in the morning while we were all getting ready. We made it through Manhattan without any issues and about four hours later, we arrived in scenic Gettysburg.

At the visiter center, we found out we could take a personal tour of the battlefields with certified tour guides for the reasonable price of $50 and with tickets to the museum and the amazing and massive "Cyclorama" it came out to about $25 a person, which is not bad for a day's experience. The tour guide took the wheel of our rental car and four about three hours, we saw all the major battlefields and learned all about the three-day battle that turned the course of the Civil War. It may not sound that interesting, but I think we all agreed that it was a thrilling experience and ignited my fire to read more about the history that I loved reading about as a child.

After spending the day in Gettysburg, we hit the road again and pointed Miss Garmin in the direction of our Hotwire-acquired hotel in downtown Philadelphia. We got in pretty late and wandered around trying to find some food (this city was definitely not one that never sleeps!) and eventually came across a sports-bar that served up some pretty decent food and home-brews. We had planned on taking advantage of Restaurant Week and eating high-class for low prices, but everything was closed by 10:00pm - pretty weak in my book! But we were beat anyway and had a busy Tuesday planned, so getting to bed by midnight was definitely top of the list!

On Tuesday morning, we had some Belgian waffles and then decided that we should probably figure out what there was to do in Philadelphia, since we had no idea. We found the Tourist Center on a map and soon found out that all of the tourist stuff in town was run by the National Parks Service and was, therefore, free!! We got tours of Independence Hall, pictures with the Liberty Bell, went to Benjamin Franklin's printing press, saw the Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier, learned about some of the original documents signed in the 1700s, and took a bus tour around town for $2. And, obviously, we ate an amazing Philly Cheesesteak to make sure that our heart's cholesterol levels were higher than they were before we went on our trip.

Philadelphia as a city is, as a matter of fact, not that bad. It's definitely a city with black or white, and no shades in between. And I'm not just talking about race! It has beautiful architecture all over town, but take the wrong exit and you're in the ghetto of all ghettos. But even the ghettos look like they just need some fixin' up and you've got an amazing Victorian house on your hands. The people in Philly were generally nice and it had a big city feel without the attitude and rush that people in New York have. Nice restaurants were planted all over town and prices were pretty reasonable.

Overall, it's hard to describe the trip, but I did learn more about American History than I have since probably High School (which isn't saying much!) and I highly recommend both places as destinations for history buffs. And I further confirmed that my parents are probably the best travel companions I could ask for!

J. Riley, my library queue has grown significantly after this trip!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Gettysburger and Turkish Delight

This past weekend marked my parent's third trip out to New York to visit - but their first visit since I've lived outside of Manhattan. It was also going to be an interesting trip since they've seen the museums and the typical tourist stops and also because my mom wanted to drive through "the country" and see some landscapes, which would be the....second time I've made a trip outside of Manhattan since I arrived on these shores six years ago (slight exaggeration, but not by much).

My parents arrived Friday evening after a looong day of flying delayed - and feeling quite famished. Apparently, Delta's low-cost flights are self-subsidized by charging for the food and for "extra baggage" (i.e. everything not carried-on). We put that issue to bed by feeding them with a taste of Astoria: my famous (in my household of two) Harissa Spaghettini along with fresh, soft whole wheat pita breads and hummus - which I knew mom would love since she's a big fan of Greek food. Apparently they weren't kidding when they said they were famishes since we nearly polished off two pounds of whole wheat pasta between the four of us.

From there on out, we were non-stop for four days - although it really didn't seem too rushed. Let's break it down, bullet-point style...

New York:
  • We woke up at the Haines/Salazar household version of the "butt-crack of dawn" for a Saturday - sometime around 8:00am - in order to fit our busy schedule into the day.
  • Naturally, this started off with a mouthful of carbohydrates from the place that I consider to have the best bagel in New York - Brooklyn Bagel and Coffee Co., right here in Astoria. We were running late for the next planned event though, so we grabbed our bagelwiches and jauntied down to the subway - destination Union Square.
  • We had a game to catch! It's been eons since I've made the road trips down to the 11th Street Bar to watch a Liverpool game, and dad was pretty stoked on trying one on for size, while the girls were perfectly happy to peruse the stores in Union Square rather than cram into the jam-packed bar at 10:00am. And, being one of the most important games of the season so far, it was a good day to be among Kopites as the Everton jeers were silenced by a 4-0 pounding of Burnley. I introduced dad to the folklore of the game, the stories and biographies behind the players, and the play-by-play & strategies of the game. I think dad has been converted ;o). The girls also scored with a hat-trick of their own by identifying plenty of things that they wanted to pick up the next day during their shopping blitzkrieg.
  • We had no time to spare when we stopped for a brief grab and go lunch at Rice, because we had a Big Onion tour of NoLIta and SoHo to take. We were introduced to the cast-iron facade architecture of beautiful SoHo, the history of the buildings, and the location of 18th-century brothels before wandering over to the "other" St. Patrick's church to marvel at in NoLIta. It was a bit of a crowded tour considering the location, but it was interesting nonetheless.
  • After marveling at Manhattan's first skyscraper (the Flatiron Building) and dropping of some papers in Chelsea, we slowed down and stopped to smell the flowe...-ing sewage at a small cafe to get our caffeine and sugar fix to keep us going. We didn't have much of a schedule to work off of at this point, so we loitered around, checked out furniture and the mattresses at Macy's (including the dreamy Tempur-pedic) and then headed off to dinner in Astoria with Shane-the-bitter-blue and Susannah at Mundo.
  • Mundo is hot. This place serves crazy delicious Argentine and Turkish-influenced food that Susannah and Shane are willing to travel an hour for. The place just has a really friendly vibe and the Argentine host (his name is Willie, apparently) is an expert in all things Astoria. We dined on delicious conversation, platefuls of sultry food, and several pitchers of sangria before we decided to try a recommended night-cap at the nearby (and recently opened) Sweet Afton, which was packed at the early hour that we arrived. Willie highly recommended the Red Lemonade and he was on the money with that one. It was like lemonade, except it lit you up pretty quick - just ask my mom ;o) !
  • On Sunday, we slept in a bit and had a lazy morning, although it could have been more lazy after our second experience at hidden brunch-spot Elo. Erika and I had experience at this place with Summer and this time around wasn't much better. Last time, we waited almost an hour for the Sunday morning chef to show up before we bailed and this time wasn't much better. The food was solid, but nothing to write home about (except in a blog). Note-to-self: don't bother getting their til noon for brunch because the chef doesn't bother getting there until then either.
  • The only location that we had scheduled to visit was picturesque Fort Tryon and the Cloisters. After a long and un-fruitfull walk through the LES to buy Teany tea (closed due to a fire), dad and I decided to stop into the newly opened (!!!) Topman in SoHo. I've browsed their website, but I didn't have any idea that they would open a US location until it was spotted on our tour the day before. It's a great place for a little Fort Tryon of our own - shoes! I've been looking for some new dual-purpose shoes to replace my aging Euro-pumas and I scored a pair for my birthday - but not before dad found a pair of Euro-treaded Plimsolls of his own liking :o).
  • To wrap up the day (in Manhattan), we decided to take the train road-trip up to Fort Tryon Park for a walk despite the Cloisters being closed. With such magnificent weather, Fort Tryon was the only place to be with it's lovely views of the Hudson Valley and it's tree-shaded paths. If you've been-there-and-done-that in Manhattan, then it's worth a trip up to this corner of the city for some relaxation.
  • One of the benefits of going all the way up to Fort Tryon Park is that you can also take a vaguely interesting tour of Washington Heights and Harlem from the safety of the MTA public buses on your way home. These colorful ethnic communities aren't normally visited by visitors to the city, so it was nice to see them although gentrification is definitely taking it's toll on these out-edges of Manhattan.
  • The last stop of our day was going to be meeting Susannah at the Bohemian Beer Hall and Garden - definitely a place to stop for reasonable food and fare on a blissfully warm afternoon/evening. They have a whole hosts of beers that we partook in along with burgers, kielbasa, and bratwursts to fill our bellies.
At this point, the next stage of the journey began as my dad and I headed out to Laguardia Airport to pick up a rental car with GPS and everything. Miss Garmin was definitely a worthwhile investment for the trip, though she had some serious issues with airports. She did NOT like to go to Astoria (from Astoria) and did not like to go back to the airport in Astoria (from Astoria). Both trips took at least an hour each, even though upon further review I found that the airport was essentially right down the street from me. Luckily, everything in between was golden with this little beauty.

We didn't know much about what we were in for when we departed at 6:00am on Monday morning for a four hour drive to southern Pennsylvania, other than what dad found on the internet that morning while everyone was waking up and putting on their faces. All we and Miss Garmin knew is that we were heading for the Tourist Visitor Center: Gettysburg.

J. Riley, to be continued....

Friday, September 11, 2009

Laborious Day Weekend

Ahhh....Labor Day Weekend. It's the last weekend of the year to enjoy
true summer weather - if you live in New York and the year is 2009,
apparently. In fact, it was pretty much the only typical summer
weather that we go to experience the whole year, other than the two
weeks of swampy nastiness that we got back in August. With the weather
so nice out, it was great weekend to take advantage of outdoor
activities like the beach, collecting your vitamin D in a park next to
a river, or drinking fresh, cold brews in your local beer garden.

It turns out that it is also a great time to celebrate your Brazilian
heritage. Of which I have none, despite trying as best as I can to
pull it off. I failed at capoeira, I failed at trying to attend
Brazilian Day festivities in New York on Saturday, and I nearly failed
on finding a welcoming venue to watch the Brazil vs. Argentina (!!!)
World Cup qualifying game on Saturday night. I also fail at having
bronze skin, but that is stating the obvious.

All was not lost however, as good things come to those that wait. I
did manage to successfully wallow through the streets of New York
before enjoying a sushi feast at Sushi Samba and enjoyed overly-drinks
drinks and mildly flavorful food at the wonderfully themed and aptly
named "El Basuerero" (Spanish for "garbage") with Erika and Susannah.
We followed that up with a neighborhood search for the big game (why
does everyone insist on charging $10 to watch a mammoth football game
like this?) and after more than three strikes against us, stumbled
upon a pizza place that was showing the game free of charge. And as a
bonus, on the way home we found a Brazilian restaurant that had a
samba band playing music with amazing dancing going on (not including
yours truly!) and sweet demonstrations of capoeira *inside* the
restaurant, followed by even more samba dancing.

On Sunday, after nearly getting snuffed out by throngs of Brazilians
on 6th Avenue celebrating Brazilian Day, we made our annual road trip
to Jersey to spend the day with Andrea and Alan. We always have a good
time with them, despite the trials and tribulations of figuring out
New Jersey Transit, which frustrates me to no end and causes me to get
yelled at by my wife for cursing Jersey on more than fifteen
occasions. But, we arrived at the target location without much
incident and, again, had a great day out there. Andrea and Alan made
us a huge pile of barbecued and homemade food that led to some serious
expansion of the ever growing gut. But we did manage to properly burn
off a few inches with the help of the Wii, which I had never actually
tried before. Man, is that the best thing ever invented or what? Wii
purchases for Erika and me will be graciously accepted for either of
our name-days, birthdays, or Christmas. Or anytime, really!

Other than that, we spent Friday night in the company of some of
Erika's Peruvian friends for one of their birthdays and ate some
underwhelming Peruvian food in the village, though we did have a good
time with them. We also continue with our salsa classes (we got
unlimited lessons for a month for $125 - look out John Travolta!!!)
and look forward to my parents' arrival for five days tonight! We are
going to make only my second road-trip in the six years that I have
lived hear on Monday, hopefully it goes better than some of my other
driving experiences in Jersey when I first moved here!

J. Riley, Civil War country, here I come!

Friday, September 04, 2009

Mattresses on My Mind

So I've had a lot of problems with ye old mattress in my apartment -
despite the fact that it was fairly expensive and only one year. I've
thought about buying a new one, but it's such a waste of cash,
especially considering that I just finished paying it off yesterday
(literally - 18 months interest free!). I was thinking about getting a
nice product from Ikea, which has amazing prices for some good stuff,
but the more I thought about it, the more a foam "topper" made more
sense. It's basically like a 2" deep piece of high-density foam that
supports the bod like one of those fancy Tempur-Pedic mattresses that
cost an arm and a leg and that only wealthy people (like my sister)
can afford. Well, I wouldn't say a 2" deep foam sheet is quite the
same, but it's the same idea and I'm pretty sure that it's worthwhile.

The only problem is - which one do I buy? There's roughly 2,356,724.1
places online that sell them, and some of those places have multiple
models like synthetic material vs. organic (soy foam? really???),
multiple densities, natural latex, etc. etc. The prices range from
<$100 to several hundred dollars. There are just too many options for
me to go "yogurt shopping" about in this situation, especially when
they are not there for me to feel, touch, and smell (which I hear is
big issue for some of the synthetic ones). Does anyone have one of
these guys? Is the synthetic smell really that intoxicating?

J. Riley, hmmm...eBay has some nice prices :)