Monday, January 12, 2015

Writing Without a Theme

I've been yearning to write again, but I can't seem to find a strong theme to start with as I usually do.  I often come to the blog canvas with a very specific thought in mind, ready to throw some paint down as words.  But tonight, I am flying by the seat of my pants.

One of the reasons I think I'm struggling to find a subject tonight is the fact that my mind is WAY overloaded.  It's not uncommon for me to go through waves of a packed schedule and living life with a constant sense of urgency, then to break down, run out of gas and end up needing a jump start... maybe some oil, a tune up... New tires.  Just replace my whole engine while you're at it.

It's something I have yet to master: living a productive but balanced life.  When do I stop and take a break?  How do I know that I've done enough?  Why can't I let go of control and realize that the world will keep turning if I don't do every single thing it asks of me?

Soon enough, I find myself with anxiety set off by something stressful, and before you know it, I'm digressing to a meltdown.  A reset.  A start-over moment.

Don't get me wrong: they are productive and good moments to have!  It's good to turn a new leaf over and start with a fresh page.  But gosh darn it, do I have to get to a point where I think the world's coming to an end to start over?!

No, no I don't.  My logical mind knows that.  But my anxious mind doesn't.  That, my friends, is the holy grail I am searching for: how to take a deep breath, let go of control, and have a do-over without having a the-world's-over moment.

There was an amazing devotional broadcast from my church for young adults last night, and it was all about living your life with real intent.  Watch it!  (Click here)  This talk made me stop and think: living with real intent means doing good things for the right reasons.  And for me, I am not very good at having the best intentions all the time.

Why do I say that?  Because I have to work on TRUST.  It has been one of the hardest concepts for me to grasp; from dating (nope, I'm not going there tonight) to delegation.  I just don't trust people very easily, and I'm sad to say that I forget to trust God too often.  I think I can do everything on my own because He asked me to do them.

What I forget is that EVERYTHING I do should always be a team effort with Heavenly Father and my Savior, Jesus Christ.  If I am doing anything thinking that it's all my doing, I've got the wrong idea.  Every single talent, opportunity, ability that I have comes from Heavenly Father.  I owe my all to Him.  And He most certainly should have all of my trust.

I guess I found my subject for tonight... Trust.  It will calm my anxiety and help me lean on my Heavenly Father for the peace and perspective that will prevent me from spiraling down to an anxious mindset.

From one of my favorite hymns:
Trusting my all to thy tender care,
And knowing thou lovest me,
I'll do thy will with a heart sincere,
I'll be what you want me to be.
- I'll Go Where You Want Me to Go

And a scripture I was sent from one of my best friends last night:
Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding.  In all thy ways acknowledge him, and He shall direct thy paths. - Proverbs, 3:5

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

5 Days in New York City

It's been a month and a half since I boarded a plane headed for New York City, and I think it's time I tell you about how it went.  PS.  If you click on a picture, it will let you flip through just the photos if you don't want to read the extended version of my trip. :)

This 5-day trip was full of first-time experiences, laughter, food, talent (Broadway, baby!) and unforgettable memories with one of my best friends.

I left New York feeling alive and refreshed.  It reminded me to get out of the rut of life, spend time with those you care about, do scary things, and travel more.

I get to the airport at 5am (after no sleep.  I was SO EXCITED) and flew my way over to "The City" where I met Jon.  I had that cliche "movie" moment where I embraced my friend from across the country in the JFK airport and headed off to an adventure.  It was surreal the night before to call him in Utah from my place in Florida and end the call with "I'll see you in New York!"  But hey: I'm all for the cliche moments if they make you happy.

First picture was taken in the airport!

Jon and I are friends.  If you ask about us about being "together," heaven help me... No, heaven help YOU.  Just enjoy the pictures and the stories, and know that I have an AWESOME friend who I went on an unforgettable trip with.

And actually.... I have to give Jon credit for the idea of going to New York.  We were both in a rut, just living life without any excitement earlier in the year until he came up with this crazy idea of planning a trip to New York.  It was one of the best spontaneous decisions I've ever made.  Within a few days after we agreed on doing it, we bought plane tickets and never regretted it.

Anyway, back to Monday... we meet in JFK, stare at the subway map with wide eyes, and with the help of some eavesdropping, we figured out how to get into the city.  At first, we were terrified of the subway, but we figured it out.  You had to learn real quick how to swipe your metro card, push your way onto the subway, and know whether you were going uptown or downtown.  We learned some lessons the hard way (trying to push through a turnstile that wouldn't budge, going uptown instead of downtown), but it was all part of the experience... and being NYC rookies.

See the unease in our eyes.

Long story short, we made our way to the apartment we were staying in.  Instead of a hotel in Manhattan, we got an apartment for the week, and I think it was the best decision because I felt like we really lived in the city!  I searched the place on Google Maps and eventually figured out that it was located above a bunch of stores and restaurants.  I was a tad bit hesitant about what Jon picked out, but I think we fell in love with it once we spent some time there.  The apartment had an elegant fire escape... ahem, excuse me.  Balcony.  

This is what we walked up to: that door (1810) is how we got into the apartment

 I felt better once we got into the apartment.  It was actually pretty great!

 The "balcony." I don't know why they made us climb through a window to get to it...

 Our apartment door was squished into a narrow corner.  We were lucky to not run into our neighbor

The tiny hallway out to the world.  New York doesn't waste space! 

The stair case was questionable.  I made Jon go in front of me going down in case I decided to fall.

We grabbed food at a nearby grocery store (we got really lucky having an affordable grocery store two blocks away) for the week and then hit the streets!  We weren't very far away at all from Central Park, so we spent the entire afternoon exploring and taking pictures.  Lots of pictures.  

This is what Jon looked like most of the trip

 We saw a film crew at Central Park!  Checked that one off the NYC bucket list.

 One of my favorite pictures from the trip: just two pals, happy as can be on a lovely day in NYC.

 Near the Bathesda fountain

 Such a great shot, Jon!  It's a perfect representation of Central Park.

 And there were photoshoots... 

 There was a time or two that I stole his camera and made him strike a pose.

I.  Love.  TREES.

We were tuckered out after a day of traveling (Jon flew a red-eye), so we went out to eat at a nearby restaurant and checked in for the night.  We set up a tiny movie theatre on Jon's futon in the living room by sitting on the bed with a small coffee table in between us and his iPhone resting up against a drinking glass.  That lasted for about 45 minutes before we both started falling asleep. 

Good night, New York.  See you in the morning.  

Jon got creative the next morning and made breakfast burritos including some of our leftovers from the night before.  After that, we were ready to GO.  

First stop: Manhattan LDS Temple!  I brought some of my ancestors' names to take through the temple (pause for a Mormon advertisement: don't know that the temple is or what we do in there?  Click HERE!), and I always love visiting temples where I travel.  It was beautiful inside!  

Jon had this thing about taking pictures of things on the ground with our feet.  Creative idea!

The sign for temples are typically found outside the building, but this one was just inside!  We were scared to take a picture, but the guy at the desk said it was OK.  The building was so unique: it had the temple AND church offices/meeting house inside it.

The temple was located in the corner of a larger building.  While we were looking for it, I point to the building.  Jon said "Val, that's a folk art museum."  Turns out the temple was on the other end of the building!  Once again, New York City knows how to maximize space usage.

After a great morning in the temple, we got food from a Halal cart (one of our favorite food finds!) where we got what they call "chicken over rice."  When the guy asked if we wanted white sauce and or hot sauce, I said "... yes please." not knowing what they were.  We soon found out that we LOVED white sauce.  
The next time we ordered chicken over rice, we asked for lots of white sauce.

We devoured lunch at the Lincoln Center on a beautiful lawn terrace.

As recommended by my New Yorker friend, Amy, we pigged out at Magnolia Bakery. 

Every single bit was good.  Hey... How did you end up with BOTH our cupcakes?!

We spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening venturing around the quieter part of the city taking lots of pictures and just enjoying the are.  I have to say that this is something I loved about the trip.  We had a loose agenda, so we would wander.  Jon and I loved finding the perfect city streets with large trees and beautiful buildings.  AND parks.  We loved parks.  

Before heading to Times Square area for our first show, we found the High Line!  It's an old railroad track turned into a beautiful walking trail.  Jon couldn't contain himself and bought pizza at this random pizzeria that was meant to catch tourists (Seriously.  I think it was called High Line Pizza).

Jon is to the right.  I had to try to take this panorama many times.  Oops.

Our very first Broadway show ever was Lion King!  Definitely recommend it.  Not just because I work for the Mouse. 

The first of four plays.  Orchestra aisle seats were the only way to go for this show!

On our way out of the theater

We were STARVING when we got out of the show, and we got lucky being the last people in line at Shake Shack in Grand Central Station.  So we did what we enjoy: ate and people watched.  

Our intention for this day was to wake up early and get rush tickets for two shows.  Well, we got a little lost and ended up getting to the first box office right when it opened.  Thinking we were doomed, we turn around the corner and see maybe 15 people in line.  Hallelujah.  

We grabbed tickets for A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder and ran to the Music Box theater only to find the ticket sales man waiting for someone to show up to buy tickets for Pippin.  I have to say that going to NYC in October is a GREAT idea for shows.  We got box seat for both shows, about $40 a piece.  Not bad at all!

Before the matinee, it was time to go building hunting and play in parks.  One of Jon's must-do's was to find the Flatiron Building, so we did.  And the Empire State Building.  And almost the Rockefeller Center (but I was mistaken that it was 6 blocks away from the subway station, not 1, and we had to go).  

Today, we sat in a park while eating lunch and enjoyed marveling over the local fashion.  Without meaning to sound vain, I definitely learned lessons about fashion from New York.  Most people dress nicely all the time!  And I REALLY liked it.  

Flatiron building

Empire State Building.  Instead of paying a bunch of money to wait in a million lines to get to the top, we hopped off the Subway, turned around the corner, looked up, took a picture, and peaced out. 

We made our way to the Walter Kerr Theater (which was gorgeous inside!) and watched the Tony Award winning musical, a Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder.  I was SO impressed!  The singing was incredible, and the story had us dying laughing.  

Pizza was a very important part of this trip.  I did not take lightly where I was going to eat pizza.  As a reminder, it was Jon's idea to eat pizza at the tourist trip at the High Line, NOT me (the pizza snob).  Amy (also known as my personal travel agent... and my friend from work) recommended Lombardi's Pizzeria which had close-to-real-Italian pizza.  LOOK at that pie.  Probably the best pizza sauce I've ever had.  We did not leave with a doggy bag.  It was gooone. 

We also cruised Little Italy, Chinatown, and down-downtown (govt. buildings, close to Brooklyn Bridge area).  Chinese food was eaten in Chinatown (duh) that made Jon's poor little Utah taste buds catch fire (our waitress thought it was crazy that he didn't like spicy food!).  I highly recommend pork soup dumplings.  Fun to eat, and very delicious!  

Longan (AKA dragon's eye ball) which is one of my favorite exotic fruits!  Peel it, and you've got something like a peeled grape.

I got called "Bella" many times by shmoozing Italian men wanting me to eat pasta at their restaurant.


The night ended with Pippin which was, of course, SO GOOD.  It was this night that I realized how much of a good job we did picking shows!  We had the must-sees (Lion King and Wicked), a classic (Pippin), and a new comedic musical (Gentleman's Guide).  It was the perfect line up of shows for our first trip to NYC.  

What amazed me about Pippin was the circus acts!  It was an all-around good show with great talent.  And Pippin was HOT.

This was our Proud-To-Be-An-American day: Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and Ground Zero where the 9/11 memorials are.  

So here's the thing: we did our best to steer away from the tourist traps: no bus tours (even though we were offered a million times), no paying money for sight-seeing or iconic buildings, no carriage ride in Central Park... but we did give in for the Statue Cruises for a good reason: ancestors from both sides of my family came to the United States through Ellis Island, and I wasn't about to go to New York without walking where they walked, seeing where it all began for my family in the United States.  
The lady, in all her glory

Um, excuse me?!

I do have to say that I would never do it again unless I got advanced tickets to climb up into the crown of the Statue of Liberty.  TOO MANY PEOPLE.  And it's the kind of people who come on vacation to take a billion pictures, have no sense of personal space, and act like if they're not the first on that boat to the next stop, they are doomed.  

Getting ready to climb the stairs to stand just below the statue.

I love this photo of Jon at Ellis Island with the city in the background.

One of Jon's photos

Jon liked this display of Lady Liberty used in many types of ... propaganda.  Including Levi ads.

Anyway, while I wanted to punch many people, it was worth it.  Lady Liberty is gorgeous, and Ellis Island had a very special feeling.  I imagined people coming to the states with almost nothing, ready to start a new life with freedoms that we take for granted today.  

I found my great-great-grandfather's name on one of the memorial walls on the island, and it put things into perspective.  Just a name on a piece of metal, but it was a person who traveled from Russia to this country, and he's part of the reason why I live in a blessed country with so much to be thankful for.  

Herman Schaefer.  Yes, that's my great-great-grand-daddy.

Found him!

Immediately after getting off the boat (hallelujah), we made our way to the 9/11 site where the twin towers used to stand, where the Freedom Tower is now located, and where we walked the streets around the area.  We talked about how it must have felt for the people in the towers, and the people in all the businesses and offices surrounding the area.  We couldn't even imagine how terrifying that was.  

Amid all the tourists (including myself) taking pictures and looking around, I felt a sense of reverence as I looked at the names on the memorials.  It made 9/11 more real to me.  It wasn't just a terrible story I heard about on the TV and radio while I was in middle school.  There was a moment when I stopped and touched some of the names etched on the ledge.  That was someone's father.  Someone's daughter.  Someone's spouse.  I left a changed person.

The rest of the time before Wicked was up to Jon since he was so nice to let us spend a good part of the day dealing with Statue Cruises.  We found the Trinity Church on Wall Street and rode the Staten Island Ferry as the sun went down.

Trinity church from the cemetery

He would snag photos of me without knowing (which I usually responded to with "HEY!"), but I like this one.  I was reading the headstone of one of the graves.

The doors to the church are detailed!

Where the Queen herself set foot.

Staten Island Ferry bench

Beautiful yellow ferry!

It's a no-brainer to say that Wiked blew us away that night. Orchestra seats again, but they were partial view.  The seats next to us were double the price, so we knew we had seats that were good.  And they were!!  After all these years of listening to the music, I finally got to see the show and understand the lyrics much more.  What a powerful story!

Our last night on Broadway, and our last night in New York.  

Although we checked out of the apartment in the morning, we had time to kill before going to the airport.  Since EVERYONE has dogs in New York and all we had was luggage, we decided to take them for a walk in Central Park.  

It was quite appropriate to grab one last "chicken over rice" (lots of white sauce this time) as our final meal in the city.  Come to find out that you don't buy food around Central Park.  WAY over priced since they know where all the tourists are.  It was almost twice as much as the cart we went to outside of the LDS temple!

And so we ended our trip, eating Halal, and grabbing a bag of roasted almonds.  The End.