The Appalachian Trail

When I was a child, learning to play the piano, for many years my favorite composer was Aaron Copland. One of the first “serious” pieces of music I learned as a beginner was called “Sunday Afternoon Music“, and I played it endlessly. I loved that it was simultaneously simple and complex, that it broke the rules of traditional music but still sounded like one cohesive piece, and I loved the narrative feel of it. I remember it took some concentration for me to learn – there are some unexpected twists, especially for a young musician – but once I had it, both playing it and listening to it was so calming.

When delving further into Copland’s life and work, I, of course, came across his most famous work, “Appalachian Spring“. It feels like such a piece of Americana, like Woody Guthrie or Little House on the Prarie. It’s classic American, in that it feels like the exploration of something new, paying enough due to a root in traditional classical music, but still distinctly non-European in its sound. Discovering Appalachian Spring as an 11-year-old was the first time I had heard of the Appalachian Trail and the idea of someday listening to it while in the midst of Appalachia thrilled me. I always liked the idea of artists creating great works in their natural habitats – Louisa May Alcott writing in Orchard House with a half-eaten apple on her desk and rain pattering on the roof, Thoreau nestled against a tree beside Walden Pond, scribbling away in a notebook. Of course, I would later find out that Copland had no idea what his work would be called when he composed it (he just knew he was composing a ballet for Martha Graham), so the Appalachian Trail was hardly his muse. But still, there was (and is) something so inspiring about the idea of great works being born in simple homes.

Last weekend, I finally took a long-overdue break from hectic city life to disconnect for a few days. On Saturday, we took the Metro-North train up to the Appalachian Trail stop and got off to find that the trail crossed right over the platform.

After years of running through life in New York City, what a relief the view of those trees, water, and boardwalk were. It felt like I could catch my breath for the first time. (Honestly, being out of the city probably did mean I could breathe a bit better.)

We hiked for about 3 hours, to the Dover Oak and back. According to Google, this was an “easy” hike, but it was just right for me in terms of climbing up and down hills and trudging through muddy puddles, without losing the pleasantness and relaxation.

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When planning the trip, I thought “easy” meant we would be walking on a boardwalk the whole time, but most of the hike consisted of trudging along damp paths like these, following white markers like the ones on the trees ahead.

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The Dover Oak

After the hike, we purposely missed our train and hung around for an extra two hours to enjoy our surroundings. When we were walking, we did pause a few times to look at the landscape, but it wasn’t until we sat down to wait for the next train that we realized that this – just sitting – was both the hardest and loveliest part of the whole trip. We sat back, planned our dinner, watched the birds and insects flicker by us, tried unsuccessfully to look for fish, and tried unsuccessfully to put down our phones. I engaged in some amateur nature photography as a compromise with myself.

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Our seats. One points North, and the other points South.

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As we rode the train back, I thought about Aaron Copland and Appalachian Spring. I decided a few years ago that working towards an eventual happiness was not good enough for me – that I needed to do something professionally that would bring me happiness every day. Now, I think I need to go further than that. I need to better incorporate simplicity and peace into my daily life. I need to disconnect at night and not reconnect first thing in the morning, and I need to step away from all of it more often. As I’m writing this and reflecting on it all, I am reminded of the Shaker song “Simple Gifts“, which Copland famously used in his composition:

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
      ‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
      ‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
      To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
      Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.
-Elder Joseph

‘Tis a gift indeed.

Videos – Trying Something New

I’ve talked a few times on this blog now about how big a fan I am of Youtube. (See Sorted Food and Dulce Candy.) Well, meeting Dulce after 7 years of watching her made me realize that I had spent 7 years wishing I could do Youtube myself and being too afraid to actually do it. Like with most things in my life, I’ve had ideas that I stewed on for months or years before I finally decided this week to just put them into motion. I tried my hand at two small film projects.

The first is actually for Instagram, not Youtube. As a creative challenge to myself, I wanted to see if I could make something interesting involving dance in the span of a 15-second Instagram video. This was the result:

I’m hoping to post something like this weekly with #DanceVignettes.

The second is a (slightly) longer vlog-style video for Youtube about an afternoon Proma, Radhika, and I had in the city last week.

As you can see, I don’t even really show myself in the video, and the music I used is a standard iMovie track, but the project was more about trying my hand at editing together film clips I took in a way that’s hopefully interesting! I’m definitely more comfortable writing (in fact, it’s kind of taking all my courage to post this just now, haha), but it was fun to dip my toe into something a little different. Also, if you read my first post on this blog, “Patrick“, you’ll see that video was something I was planning on incorporating from the beginning, so it was nice to come back to it from another angle.

What new things are you trying this week? Are you a vlogger or filmmaker? Do you have any feedback on my two little projects? Let me know in the comments below!

Storm King

Saturday was perfection. I took a solo trip about an hour and a half upstate to Storm King Art Center. Storm King is a beautiful parkland and outdoor art exhibit. I love New York but I was really starting to feel cooped up in all the concrete. I’ve been itching to get out of the city for a while now, and this day-trip was just what I needed. I mentioned in my Washington Sq. Park post that I have a goal to take 3 small trips this year, and I’d heard about Storm King years ago, and finally decided to go. I don’t have a car, but luckily Storm King and Coach Short Line buses have partnered to offer a day-trip service that’s quite convenient. I’m so glad I went. The greenery, fresh air, and open landscapes were revitalizing. Even the weather was cooperating. It was probably the best day of the summer – mid-seventies to eighties, and the most glorious end-of-summer breezes. Everything felt peaceful and beautiful, and the giant sculptures were unexpected and added interest to the landscape. I think this is a visit that’s really best described in pictures, though, so here are my favorites from the day:

The hills are alive... with art and culture

The hills are alive… with art and culture

Part of Lynda Benglis's "Water Sources", silhouetted against the sky

Part of Lynda Benglis’s “Water Sources”, silhouetted against the sky

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A spiderweb forms on Chakala Booker's "A Moment in Time". Art is placed in nature, nature grows upon it.

A spiderweb forms on Chakala Booker’s “A Moment in Time”. Art is placed in nature, nature grows upon it.

A bright pop of color

Rotating circles

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"Ear" by Tomio Miki. I think it belonged to a giant.

“Ear” by Tomio Miki. I think it belonged to a giant.

My grandfather used to tell me a story about a giant who showed how fearsome he was by describing his teeth and spit and hair. I imagine that his hair looked something like this.

My grandfather used to tell me a story about a giant raakshasa who showed how fearsome he was by describing his teeth and spit and hair. I imagine that his hair looked something like this.

The giant left his marbles out

The giant left his marbles out

Glowing geometry

A different vantage point

A different vantage point

One mode of transportation around the park, although I preferred just to walk.

One mode of transportation around the park, although I preferred just to walk.

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Bridge to Nowhere

I found this earring dangling from a tree, fluttering in the wind. Clearly someone created their own art.

I found this earring dangling from a tree, fluttering in the wind. Clearly someone created their own art. 🙂

Another panel on this piece had the Italian words "Lo sai: debbo riperderti e non posso," engraved in it. That means "You know : I have to lose you again and I can not."

Another panel on this piece had the Italian words “Lo sai: debbo riperderti e non posso,” engraved in it. That means “You know : I have to lose you again and I can not.”

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Naturally artful

"City on the High Mountain" by Louise Nevelson

“City on the High Mountain” by Louise Nevelson

Part of the "Three-Legged Buddha" by Zhang Huan

Part of the “Three-Legged Buddha” by Zhang Huan

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My dream backyard

Take me home, country road

Country road

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Sometimes the juxtaposition of art and nature was a little too odd

Sometimes the juxtaposition of art and nature was a little too odd

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Amongst fields of summer

Amongst fields of summer

Chasing butterflies

Chasing butterflies

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Serenity

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The road home

The road home

The High Line

Ever since I moved to Manhattan, a little over a year ago, I’ve been hearing about the High Line. It’s become a common conversation in New York: “What did you do last weekend?” “Oh we got brunch, walked the High Line, it was really nice.” Somehow, though, I had never been. Well on Sunday, after a weekend spent indoors, I decided I was going to go and see what all the fuss was about.

A few postcards I picked up showing the High Line in its various forms – (clockwise from top) prior to opening in 2000, a map showing the entire pathway, people strolling down the boardwalk

A few postcards I picked up showing the High Line in its various forms – (clockwise from top) prior to opening in 2000, a map showing the entire pathway, people strolling down the boardwalk

The High Line is a stretch of old railroad track running along the west side of Manhattan that connects the Meatpacking District, Chelsea, and Hudson Yards. Trains ran along its tracks from 1934 to 1980, after which residents in the area (particularly Mr. Peter Obletz) fought for it not to be destroyed. After decades of work, in 2009, the organization “Friends of the High Line” opened the first section to the public. Today the High Line is a mile-and-a-half of walkway surrounded by plants, the city, and quirky pieces of artwork. It’s situated in quite a fancy part of town (ads for $20 million residences and the offices of Giorgio Armani line the walkway) but it’s an area for all New Yorkers (there are free events constantly and even a play area for children).

It was 93 degrees that afternoon in New York, so I probably could have chosen a more comfortable day to visit, but I kind of had that mentality that if I didn’t go then it was never going to happen. Surprisingly, even though it was swelteringly hot, the walkway was crowded almost the whole way through. Luckily, the creators of this little city garden have thoughtfully incorporated water fountains and sitting areas all along the path to help you cool off.

A variety of sitting areas along the High Line, each providing a moment of solace from the bustle of the main walkway.

A variety of sitting areas along the High Line, each providing a moment of solace from the bustle of the main walkway.


On a day as hot as Sunday, it was nice to be able to kick off my sandals and step in some cool, flowing water

On a day as hot as Sunday, it was nice to be able to kick off my sandals and step in some cool, flowing water! (BTW, can you tell I’ve gotten some sun this summer?)


There were a few of these funny amphitheater-like seats along the way. The show playing? Live traffic in the streets below!

There were a few of these funny amphitheater-like seats along the way. The show playing? Live traffic in the streets below!

I had expected the High Line to be another little oasis. However, unlike Washington Sq. Park, the creators of the High Line haven’t made a bubble within the city so much as they’ve made a garden that grows within and among it. As you walk through, the city leaps out at you as much as the plants and artwork do.

Construction and scaffolding are commonly seen along the High Line, but so are more scenic views of the Hudson River and the West Side Highway.

Construction and scaffolding are commonly seen along the High Line, but so are more scenic views of the Hudson River and the West Side Highway.

The High Line has been constructed the way it has very consciously. Rather than tearing the old railroad down completely to build something new, Friends of the High Line focused on an eco-friendly approach by simply repurposing what was already there to create something new. As a result, touches of the old rail system can be seen throughout the walk.

I'll admit I was a bit dismayed by the amount of construction visible surrounding the High Line, but I found scenes like this – with the shrubbery growing all over the old tracks – positively charming.

I’ll admit I was a bit dismayed by the amount of construction visible surrounding the High Line, but I found scenes like this – with the shrubbery growing all over the old tracks – positively charming.


Iron details

Iron details


The end of the line at Hudson Yards

“The End of the Line” at Hudson Yards

The art installations along the pathway incorporate the city and rail themes as well. Embedded amongst the greenery, they’re often easy to miss. Here are a few that stood out to me:

One of the first pieces you'll see are these busts painted in traffic-sign yellow and seated on dark metal shelves.

One of the first pieces you’ll see are these busts painted in traffic-sign yellow and seated in stacked, dark metal crates.


Two visitors find their home on a 3-D recreation of Manhattan

Two visitors find their neighborhood on a 3-D recreation of Manhattan


Did you think it was graffiti? They're actually sculptures made out of bent rebar by artist Damián Ortega – part of his series called "Physical Graffiti".

Did you think it was graffiti? They’re actually sculptures made out of bent rebar by artist Damián Ortega – part of his series called “Physical Graffiti”.


Some of the artwork that can be seen along the High Line isn't actually part of the High Line itself.

Some of the artwork that can be seen along the High Line isn’t actually part of the High Line itself.


A giant mural like a page out of a graphic novel covers the wall of one of the adjoining buildings. This is just one small section of it.

A giant mural like a page out of a graphic novel covers the wall of one of the adjoining buildings. This is just one small section of it.


A remnant of the railroad or an art piece? It's unclear.

A remnant of the railroad or an art piece? It’s unclear.


The Collectivity Project by Olaf Eliasson is one of the coolest installations. It's a community-generated lego-building frenzy. It's always changing, but when I went I saw intricate towers, a tribute to the Ukraine, a profession of love, and much more. Anyone can add to it, so if you come here be sure to stop by and leave your mark!

The Collectivity Project by Olaf Eliasson is one of the coolest installations. It’s a community-generated lego-building frenzy. It’s always changing, but when I went I saw intricate towers, a tribute to the Ukraine, a profession of love, and much more. Anyone can add to it, so if you come here be sure to stop by and leave your mark!


My personal favorite piece (which I think technically isn't even part of the High Line) was this sassy portrait of Einstein, continuing to solve the world's problems.

My personal favorite piece (which, again, I think technically isn’t even part of the High Line) was this sassy portrait of Einstein, continuing to solve the world’s problems.

The High Line is primarily a bit of green space in the city. Various trees, shrubs, self-seeded grasses, and flowers grow all over it. A built-in irrigation system helps the plants retain water (and helps guests cool off like in that picture of my feet above). When I visited, the plants were at the peak of summer vibrancy and already starting to sense the coming change of season.

Bright flowers soak in the sunshine

Bright flowers soak in the sunshine


Dark, berried leaves bring winter to mind

Dark, berried leaves bring winter to mind


A touch of fall has already arrived

A touch of fall has already arrived


Drying summer wild flowers

Drying summer wild flowers

My favorite part of my visit to the High Line actually came on Tuesday night when I went back to look at the night sky. I have a slight obsession with the night sky – it’s one of the things I miss the most from growing up in the suburbs – so I was thrilled to learn that the High Line hosts the Amateur Astronomers Association every Tuesday night from dusk till 11pm. The astronomers bring their telescopes and show whomever is interested what is going on in the sky that night. When I went, there were long lines already formed to see Saturn and the moon.

Crowds gathered to look through telescopes

Crowds gathered to look through telescopes


A cheap view of the night sky – this visit really made me want to get into proper nighttime photography!

A cheap view of the night sky – this visit really made me want to get into proper nighttime photography!


This astronomer – Alric (doesn't that just sound like a stargazer's name?) – preps his telescope for us to look at Saturn. I couldn't believe we could actually see the planet with it's ring around it! Alric told me that the first time he showed his dad the same thing, he was so surprised he fell off the back porch.

This astronomer – Alric (doesn’t that just sound like a stargazer’s name?) – preps his telescope for us to look at Saturn. I couldn’t believe we could actually see the planet with it’s ring around it! Alric told me that the first time he showed his dad the same thing, he was so surprised he fell off the back porch.

All in all, the High Line makes for a nice quick walk in the city. It’s not quite the oasis I thought it would be, but it definitely has lots of interesting things to look at and talk about.

Have you ever been to the High Line? What are your favorite walks in your city or town? Photographers – do any of you do night-sky photography? What equipment do you use and what are your tips and tricks? Let me know in the comments below!

Washington Square Park

I’ve wanted to travel for as long as I can remember but I haven’t yet been able to do it on my own. One of my goals for this year is to “take an epic trip for myself” (which to me means travel abroad on my own) and to take 3 smaller trips or days out with friends. So far, I’ve just taken one smaller trip with my friends to Cape Cod, and I’m in the process of planning a couple more upcoming adventures.

So what does this have to do with Washington Square Park? Well, in thinking about all these trips, the travel bug has hit me. I can’t quite jet off whenever I wish, so I’ve been looking for places in my own city to explore more thoroughly. I’ve done a bit of that this summer, exploring the sweetshops on the Upper East Side with Sorted Food, but I wanted to go beyond eateries. My friend Radhika suggested Washington Sq. Park. I was skeptical because I’d been there before, and while it’s pretty, I didn’t think there would be much I could say about it. However, last Sunday I took her advice, and found that it’s a treasure trove of interesting characters.

An entrance to quintessential New York

An entrance to quintessential New York

As I mentioned, the park is beautiful. It has plenty of green spaces for people to hang out in the shade or the sunshine. It’s a throughway for a lot of foot traffic with the West Village and Union Square within walking distance. The park is well-sculpted and made up of a variety of smaller, interesting areas.

A shopper enters the park on his way elsewhere.

Walking through the park makes for a lovely commute on a sunny day.

Park-goers lounge in the sunshine – a classic American park scene

Park-goers lounge in the sunshine – a classic American summer scene

Another classic scene – the hot dog and soda cart. There were surprisingly few of these in the park... others stationed themselves just outside on the sidewalks.

Another classic scene – the hot dog and soda cart. There were surprisingly few of these in the park… others stationed themselves just outside on the sidewalks.

Gorgeous yellow flowers greet you at one entrance. If you look closely, you can see a couple friends chatting just behind them.

Gorgeous yellow flowers greet you at one entrance. If you look closely, you can see a couple friends chatting just behind them.

One of my favorite things about the park is the beautiful trees. There are all different kinds – strong oaks and maples, mulberries, a huge sycamore, and something graceful and sweeping that I think might be a willow. (Help me out, nature-lovers!) Radhika mentioned to me that cherry blossoms bloom there in the Spring – I definitely want to come see those next year.

This knotty old tree stump seems to be a mini-tourist attraction within the park. I found myself looking at all its twists and turns for several minutes.

This knotty old tree stump seems to be a mini-tourist attraction within the park. I found myself looking at all its lumps and bumps for several minutes.

I loved that there were still flowers in bloom all around the park.

I loved that there were still flowers in bloom all around the park.

A variety of trees make a rippling pattern of green wherever you look.

A variety of trees make a rippling pattern of green wherever you look. You can nearly forget you’re in a huge city!

This picture reminded me of a scene you might find in Disney world – there's a touch of magic and a touch of romanticism, don't you think?

This picture reminded me of a scene you might find in Disney world – there’s a touch of magic and a touch of romanticism, don’t you think?

This was my favorite – a lovely sweeping tree that provided the perfect amount of shade. Does anyone know what kind it is?

This was my favorite – a lovely sweeping tree that provided the perfect amount of shade. Does anyone know what kind it is?

Amidst all this beauty, was a melting pot of people enjoying the sunshine. The park is layer after layer of subcultures, jarringly juxtaposed, but somehow fitting together, very much like the bizarre jigsaw puzzle that is New York City itself. Framing the park is the stately architecture. The most iconic piece is, of course, the grand archway. However, there is also a stunning fountain just in front of it, and several statues peppered along the walkways.

A tribute to Giuseppe Garibaldi, who fought for a unified Italy in the 1800s. Some research tells me that there is an NYU finance new students' tradition of tossing a penny at the base of the statue for good luck.

A tribute to Giuseppe Garibaldi, who fought for a unified Italy in the 1800s. Some research tells me that there is an NYU finance new students’ tradition of tossing a penny at the base of the statue for good luck.

A statue of Alexander Lyman Holley who was a 19th century engineer best known for propagating the use of Bessemer steel in the US and abroad.

A statue of Alexander Lyman Holley who was a 19th century engineer best known for propagating the use of Bessemer steel in the US and abroad.

The fountain and iconic archway.

One of the many odd juxtapositions of the park: a stately archway in the background and people cooling off barefoot by the fountain. 

Details on the arch

Details on the arch

The back of the arch has two statues of George Washington, called "Washington at War" and "Washington at Peace".

The back of the arch has two statues of George Washington, called “Washington at War” and “Washington at Peace”.

The powerful Freedom Tower can be seen through a space in the buildings if you stand just next to the archway.

The powerful Freedom Tower can be seen through a space in the buildings if you stand just next to the archway.

The park isn’t that large, so at any point you could hear two or three musical acts floating through the air towards you. They ranged from dignified classical musicians to college-aged bands to people whose story it was impossible to guess at when you looked at them.

I heard this drummer rat-a-tat out a march, fittingly just as I was looking at the statues of George Washington on the arch.

I heard this drummer rat-a-tat out a march, fittingly just as I was looking at the statues of George Washington on the arch!

Someone managed to bring this grand piano into the middle of the park. Some days there is famously another grand piano that is played under the iconic archway.

Someone managed to bring this grand piano into the middle of the park. A couple violinists stood chatting in the background, so they may have just finished their set. Some days there is famously another grand piano that is played under the iconic archway.

This four-piece band attracted the attention of many passerby.

This four-piece band attracted the attention of many passerby.

The piano had a printed sign on the front that said "Five ex-wives and piano teacher to support".

The piano had a printed sign on the front that said “Five ex-wives and piano teacher to support”. I wonder what the stories are there!

The park is also used for modern-day political and social activism. On the day I was there, Christian volunteers in bright yellow shirts were asking people for blood donations (you can see them in several of the pictures). Joggers tried to avoid (or in some cases, purposely didn’t) running across chalk drawings in support of presidential candidates. Because of the beauty and grandeur of the park, there was an air of natural rebellion or amplification to each of these statements.

Someone incredibly talented drew this picture of Hillary Clinton as Rosie the Riveter

Someone incredibly talented (Hani Shihada) drew this picture of Hillary Clinton as Rosie the Riveter. Go check out his stuff on Instagram by clicking on this picture – he has some incredible pavement art. 

Next to Mr. Shihada's work was this slightly trampled chalk-poster for Bernie Sanders. There were a couple of them in the park.

Next to Mr. Shihada’s work was this slightly trampled chalk-poster for Bernie Sanders. There were a couple of them in the park.

A web of scaffolding didn't stop this nearby church from proclaiming its message.

A web of scaffolding didn’t stop this nearby church from adamantly proclaiming its message.

Not sure who the intended audience was here, but the message is pretty clear...

Not sure who the intended audience was here, but I suppose the message is pretty clear…!

Washington Square Park doubles as a sort of academic quad for New York University. NYU buildings surround the four sides of the park, including one block that is mostly taken up by Bobst Library.

Washington Square Park doubles as an academic quad for NYU students.

Washington Square Park doubles as an academic quad for NYU students.

The entrance to NYU's prestigious law school

The entrance to NYU’s prestigious law school. A quote on the building reads, “To what purpose should our thoughts be directed to various kinds of knowledge, unless room be afforded for putting it in practice, so that public advantage may be the result.” (Sir Philip Sidney) An interesting though on the idea of knowledge for knowledge’s sake.

The sculpture outside NYU's Bobst library. (More church volunteers in the background)

The sculpture outside NYU’s Bobst library. (More church volunteers in the background)

Ironically, just outside the library was a wizened old man selling books that looked just as old. He freaked out a bit when he thought I took his picture. (To be honest, I did, but when he got upset, I deleted it.) He wasn’t the only whimsical character in the park that day, though.

A man sold paintings on a nearby sidewalk.

A man in a flower shirt and hat that reminded me of Dopey the Dwarf sold paintings on a nearby sidewalk.

A fellow photographer checks out a man selling instant poetry for $10.

A fellow photographer checks out a man selling instant poetry for $10.

A pigeon-feeder, reminiscent of the old lady in Home Alone. When I look at this picture, Mary Poppins sings in my head: "Feed the birds, tuppence a bag..."

A pigeon-feeder, reminiscent of the old lady in Home Alone. When I look at this picture, Mary Poppins sings in my head: “Feed the birds, tuppence a bag…”

Thanks to NYU, the streets that border the park are beautiful and interesting as well. It’s a quick and fascinating walk to go around just looking at the doors on all of the buildings.

My favorite doors. Walking around this area and through the West Village can really make you dream of a grand life.

My favorite doors. Walking around this area and through the West Village can really make you dream of a grand life.

This was Eleanor Roosevelt's residence from 1942 to 1949.

This was Eleanor Roosevelt’s residence from 1942 to 1949.

Finally, my favorite part of any park is seeing the little children playing. This is especially true in New York, where there is limited space for running around. Once again, though, NYC remains true to form, creating a little oasis within the metropolis, just like with its street fairs. I love that within this small park, the city has created a few different play areas geared towards kids.

A classic playground structure – the jungle gym.

A classic playground structure – the jungle gym.

They may be in a big city, but that doesn't mean these kids don't get to play in rolling hills! (Even if the grass here is fake...)

They may be in a big city, but that doesn’t mean these kids don’t get to play in rolling hills! (Even if the grass in this area is fake…)

A little girl contemplates running through the sprinkler alone.

A little girl contemplates running through the sprinkler alone.

Thus concludes my Washington Square Park adventure! NYC people – have you explored this park? What other areas of the city do you love to visit? Let me know where I should go next! Everyone – have you ever tried being a “tourist” in your own city? What was the experience like? Let me know in a comment!

The NYC Street Fair

I love that New York goes so out of its way to bring elements of rural life into its whirling metropolis. Whenever you look, especially in summer, there is a lush park, bustling farmer’s market, or vibrant street fair to be found, nestled right into those mad-dash streets. My favorite days in this city have been the ones when I stroll down the avenues, walking 50-80 blocks at a time, and just explore the things around me. I had one such excursion up Lexington Avenue this past weekend.

My journey actually started on the West Side, at Gotham West Market’s Blue Bottle Coffee, where I was meeting a friend for a drink. There, we discovered some free post-cards with a post-box and a sign with an offer to mail them for you. One of of my goals for this year is to send more snail-mail, so I really liked the idea. We each mailed a postcard, and I kept a couple more that I feel might have inspired the rest of my day.

Sometimes all you need is a simple reminder.

Sometimes all you need is a simple reminder.

I hadn’t explored Lexington Avenue in midtown too much at that point, so I decided to walk it. Right at the start of my journey, I discovered a new little Indian clothing store in Murray Hill called “Vintage India“. Most of the items were goods I would never bother buying in the US, since I can find more variety and cheaper prices in India, but the shop was colorful and fragrant and I was drawn in. (Plus it reminded me of a shop that we used to visit in college called Mexicali Blues, so there was a nostalgia factor.) I discovered a bin of $10 paayal (silver tinkling anklets) and was immediately sold.

I had a pair of these when I was younger and I love the idea of wearing them again... nostalgia is clearly highly effective on me.

I had a pair of these when I was younger and I love the idea of wearing them again… nostalgia is clearly a highly effective sales tactic on me.

From there, I kept walking up Lex, right into a street fair. I have been to several street fairs around the city, but I particularly liked this one because there was more than just food. The stalls all around me were selling jewelry, clothing, plants, and carpets – with a bit of imagination I could picture myself in a foreign marketplace, picking up things that I would have described as a child as “treasures”. I gave myself a cash budget for the day, and set off on my street fair adventure.

The first stall I came to had what seemed like hundreds of long, bronze-chained lockets hanging down from its railing.

Something about this feels magical to me... like it belongs in a dusty old antique store out of a novel.

Something about this feels magical to me… like it belongs in a dusty old antique store out of a novel.

When I looked closer, I realized they were clocks. I chose one with pretty engraving and bought it for $8. I love the look of pendants on long chains, and this piece felt timeless (no pun intended).

A little treasure

A little treasure

As I kept walking, I saw a few stalls with colorful cotton clothing. I am on the look out for comfortable, good quality but affordable harem pants, so I was intrigued. As I looked through the racks at one stall, some beautiful figurines caught my eye. I could instantly tell that they were from South Asia. I spoke to the seller, Anil, who confirmed that he was Nepali.

Anil making a sale to another customer

Anil making a sale to another customer

He showed me the various pieces he had depicting Hindu and Buddhist deities and we talked about his childhood in Darjeeling. In the end, I bought this beautiful Buddhist wall-hanging for $20.

I thought this was Shiva at first, but then Anil told me it is actually a female form of Buddha

I thought this was Shiva at first, but then Anil told me it is actually a female form of Buddha

Next, I spotted a $3 jewelry stall – how could I resist looking? I found these earrings and this locket amongst all the choices:

A locket and a sweet pair of earrings – 2/$5 and totally worth it!

A locket and a sweet pair of earrings – 2 for $5 and totally worth it!

Finally, I decided I really wanted to look for something different that I would not normally buy. I had to walk for a bit longer, but I found a man who was selling beautiful plants.

A little bonsai garden in the middle of NYC

A little bonsai garden in the middle of NYC

I asked him what was required to take care of bonsai (I definitely do not have a green thumb) and how much they cost. I assumed it would be very complicated and expensive. However, the seller explained the care process to me – just submerging the roots in water 2-3 times a week and keeping in indirect sunlight – and sold me this Chinese elm for just $18.

The elm apparently signifies balance and harmony and is supposed to be a good

The elm apparently signifies balance and harmony and is supposed to be a good “beginner’s bonsai”.

The seller was so kind that as I was packing up my purchase, he told me to wait and brought me this gorgeous orchid for free (he gave me instructions on taking care of it too, of course!):

First orchid I've ever owned... hopefully I can keep it alive!

First orchid I’ve ever owned… hopefully I can keep it alive!

Days like these make me so happy because I feel like I can have an adventure right in my own city. It makes me want to discover what else New York has to offer and to go and explore other places the same way.

What’s the best adventure you’ve had in your city? How do you like to explore new places?

The Past #Throwback Thursday

This visit is the first time in 18 years that I’ve been back to Chicago. My family lived in Buffalo Grove from when I was 3 to 7. As a result, some of my formative childhood memories were created here.

Yesterday, we came back to our old apartment complex. The apartment we lived in looks exactly the same from the outside. The school bus stop where I once got hit in the mouth with a frisbee is still there. So is the winding path, bridge, and running track where I first learned to ride a bicycle. My dad would wake me up at 5 in the morning every day to teach me to ride with my training wheels off. He never learned to ride a bike himself, but that is the typical middle class mentality isn’t it? Make sure your kids get every opportunity you didn’t have.

This is where I learned to ride a bike. If I had been here a couple days ago, I might have used this picture as my “road pic” for Photo 101.

Another memory that always makes us laugh happened in the parking lot in front of the apartment. I was probably 5 years old and there was a puddle completely covered in white flowers and feathers. To me, it just looked like a patch of ground, but my dad knew there was water underneath. He saw my little kindergartener’s mind considering and he told me repeatedly not to step in it. Of course I thought he was just pulling my leg and I stepped in it anyway – my feet were totally covered in dirty water, hah!

We walked around a bit more, taking our old routes and reminiscing about friends we had when we lived here and places we went. We visited my first elementary school. We visited some family we hadn’t seen in all these years.

My first day of kindergarten consisted of a scavenger hunt around the school which culminated with finding the gingerbread man. This is also the place where I learned how to hold scissors safely.

Perhaps my favorite moment was when my uncle spotted a tiny Indian girl with short hair and a pink jacket playing on the same swings I used to play on at that age and said, “Look! There’s Shachi.”