Since I’m actually headed out of town this week, I decided to stay a little closer to home for this week’s installment of Tourist Tuesday.
So, we live between the neighborhoods of Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay. I love our neighborhood. It’s relatively quiet… I mean, as quiet as a New York City neighborhood gets. Our apartment is within walking distance of two train stations, the beach, grocery stores, and restaurants.
Once characterized by the New York Times as the “grumpy neighbor” of Coney Island, Brighton Beach is a small mostly Russian neighborhood (it’s also known as “Little Odessa,”) though the demographics have shifted some in recent years, with more immigrants settling from the Middle East and Asian countries.
Until 1868 the area was mostly farmland, but William A Engeman purchasable 39 lots and converted the area into a resort. By 1919 the demographics of the area had shifted such, that most in the neighborhood were first or second-generation Jewish Americans; this number only grew from the influx of Holocaust survivors that settled in the area.
In the 1980’s a new influx of immigrants began to arrive from Russia, transforming the neighborhood from a primarily Jewish neighborhood to a Russian neighborhood.
As for my visit to Brighton Beach, the beach itself is pretty quiet in the wintertime, but the scenery is no less captivating. The beach is a great place to go to escape the overcrowded city streets.
I recently read an article that designated NYC (tied with Singapore) as the most expensive city to live in… yay for winning! And seriously, a lot of things are really expensive (housing, food, fuel, tolls, parking, entertainment… I think that covers just about everything), however…, big ol’ however, there are some things you can find to do for free sometimes.
We’ve lived in NYC for almost five years (our five-year anniversary is in February) and we have never stepped foot in the Botanic Garden. Partly because time, but partly because money. It’s $18 per adult, which isn’t crazy, but I can walk to the beach for free or take the subway and visit Central Park for free… there are just a lot of free options around
People have been encouraging us to go since we got here. Well, we recently discovered that we can get “affiliate” tickets to some attractions for free with our library card through the Culture Pass. They don’t make it particularly easy, and some of them are limited to once a calendar year, but FREE! YES! And the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is one of those attractions. So you have to reserve the ticket through the library, and then you have to use that ticket to purchase a ticket from the attraction. Also, and I’m going to bold this for any of the New Yorkers that might be reading this and don’t know, the culture pass ticket will indicate that you reserve for a specific day, but you can use the tickets anytime in a 30-day period, this is a lie! You HAVE TO USE THE TICKETS ON THE SPECIFIC DAY. We learned this the hard way when we arrived and they wouldn’t honor my husband’s tickets. He had made a reservation for him and his mom on one day, and then realized we weren’t going to be able to go on that day, so when I got my ticket I booked it for the right day. So we had two tickets they wouldn’t honor and two tickets that they would. It was confusing but worked out okay in the end.
Obviously, a botanic garden is going to be more exciting in the spring and summer, and maybe the fall with the leaves changing color, but don’t let that deter you from visiting in the winter, there is still plenty of beautiful things to see in the winter (but I will for sure be back in the springtime… I want to see the cherry blossoms).
So, on a chilly, rainy Sunday morning we headed off to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Since it was raining and we had my mother-in-law with us we decided to drive rather than take the subway. Traffic wasn’t terrible and there is a paid parking lot right next door (shared with the Brooklyn museum). We paid just over $10 for around three hours. Which is super cheap parking in the city.
The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is comprised of 52 acres and officially opened in 1911 with native plants being the first display created.
The Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden is one of the first stops in the garden, the design was completed in 1915 making it one of the first public Japanese gardens in the U.S. (it’s one of the oldest outside of Japan), and it is a lovely, peaceful place to sit and enjoy being in nature. The area is wooded with evergreen trees (cedar trees, Japanese white pine, eastern white pine, Japanese red pine), and lots of maple and cherry trees.
The Cherry Esplanade was closed, and we skipped the rose garden since there aren’t any roses this time of year (seriously, I can’t wait to go back in the spring) so we walked through the Rock Garden. There were some lovely trees and lots of plants to enjoy, but I was a little disappointed in the rock portion of this garden. I love rocks, so I was hoping for a big variety, with lots of identification tags, but alas, just a few were identified, it was mostly trees and plants around some boulders.
The Herb Garden, on the other hand, was fabulous; tons of plants with descriptions along with the medicinal uses of the plants or historical origins/uses. Granted, a lot of the plants were cut down for the winter, but the identifications were still there!
At this point, it was cold and rainy and we were in need of a bathroom break, so we cut through the Water Garden to go to the Steinhardt Conservatory. The conservatory was completed in 1988 and its collections are amazing. I feel like I’m using a lot of superlatives, but really, if you enjoy outdoor spaces or plants, it’s hard not to geek out over all the things.
The conservatory is made up of six areas. The Trail of Plant Evolution is on the main level; the room is warm and brimming with plants from all over, including a baby Baobab tree from Africa. Baobab trees have a spot in my heart from my time in Malawi. They’re stunning majestic trees, and how they survive drought conditions is rather marvelous (they are a “stem-succulent” tree and they store water in their stems [trunks] https://nph.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1469-8137.2005.01618.x). Also on the main level is the Bonsai Museum. I’ve been fascinated by bonsai since I was a little kid; I still have the book my mom bought me when I was ten on how to grow bonsai, it’s a cheesy book written in the 70’s, but I love it. Across from the Bonsai Museum is the Warm Temperate Pavilion… I’m not saying it was boring, but I just saw the place a day ago and I can’t really remember what the room was like.
The downstairs pavilions include the Aquatic House and Orchid Collection, the Desert Pavillion, and the Tropical Pavilion. I could live in these rooms. There is something so special about being surrounded by so many plants. The air in each of the pavilions is conditioned specifically to support the plant life… humidity levels, air circulation, temperature, and the air just felt good, like you could breathe more deeply.
10/10 go visit the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens any time of year. I’ll probably post an update when I go in the spring or summer.
So, I am not a native New Yorker. I grew up in a relatively small city in Northern California (Chico https://chico.ca.us) and spent my teen years in a small suburb in Northeast Ohio (Cuyahoga Falls https://www.cityofcf.com). I’m not a country girl, but maybe country adjacent? Regardless, I am not a city girl at heart. I’m used to lawns and gardens, forests and wilderness. None of which are particularly plentiful in New York City.
That being said, I’m extraordinarily appreciative of the fact that NYC does it’s best to cultivate and utilize green spaces. Given my propensity for being outdoors, I’m sure a number of my Tourist Tuesday posts will feature one of the many beautiful parks or outdoor spaces around the city.
On Monday evenings (at 7:30pm) my wonderful husband broadcasts a Bible study live on YouTube (https://m.youtube.com/c/ucgnyc/live). He loves to hit the road and broadcast from outdoors. So I joined him for a trek to Brooklyn Bridge Park.
We chose to drive to the park this trip, as we can usually find parking in the colder weather months, especially in the evening. Don’t bother trying to park in the warmer months, it’s nearly impossible. You can also get to the park by subway, but be prepared for a mile or so walk once you get off the train. Also, pay attention to the hours of the different piers; some of them close earlier than others.
Brooklyn Bridge Park is 1.3 miles long encompassing 85 acres (!!) along the East River waterfront. Honestly, there is so much to do at this park: there are tennis courts, basketball courts, wooded areas, volleyball courts, soccer fields, running trails, ping pong tables, kayaking, pickleball, fishing, and over 120 different bird species for bird watching. But my favorite thing is the absolutely fabulous view of the Manhattan skyline and the Brooklyn Bridge.
Pier Three is my favorite place to visit. It’s a wooded area with secluded grassy areas and tons of benches facing the water and the city view.
The area has gone through many different iterations since the mid-1600’s. Mostly serving as a trade route, starting with small boats and ferries, moving on to steam powered ferries in the 1800’s until railroad lines were installed in the 1850’s which lead to the construction of massive warehouses along the ferry landings and piers that jutted out from the land. Once the Brooklyn Bridge opened in 1883 the ferry trade ended and the area went through a period of neglect until the 1950’s and the construction of the BQE, which revitalized the area… for a little while. By the 1970’s the area was mostly abandoned and decrepit. In 1984 the Port Authority announced plans to sell the piers for commercial development. It wasn’t until 1998 that the planning for the Brooklyn Bridge park started in earnest, with ground being broken in February of 2008. The first pier opened to the public in 2010 with additional areas or piers opening every subsequent year until 2021 (except 2016 and 2019). You can learn more about the history of this beautiful park here: https://www.bkwaterfronthistory.org.
It was my birthday this past Saturday (yay for 43); since it was the Sabbath we spent the day with brethren, which is always lovely, but we didn’t get a chance to have a proper celebration. So Sunday (November 27) Lewis and I (along with my mother-in-law, Nancy) headed to the city for some fun. I wanted to walk the High Line. The High Line is one of my favorite places to spend time so it seemed like the perfect place to start Tourist Tuesdays! Each week I’ll visit a “touristy” place around the city and post about it each Tuesday.
The history of the High Line dates back to the 1800’s when the area was a dangerous street-level train line that transported food to lower Manhattan (hundreds of people died being hit by trains each year). In 1933 the street-level train was transitioned to an elevated train line, and it existed as such until the 1970’s when calls for its demolition followed its declining use. Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s it remained unused (and a considerable eyesore). It wasn’t until 2004-2006 that zoning was approved to transform the elevated train line into a park.
The first section of the park opened in 2009, followed by the second in 2012-2014, and the third (and final) section opened in 2019.
The park is 1.45 miles of continuous greenway with over 500 species of plants. Along the park are art installations, food carts, benches, and pavilions overlooking the street.
The day started out warmish, but cloudy. but partway down the path it started pouring down rain! So we cut the walk short and exited at the Chelsea Market to get warmed up and have some lunch.
Following the lives of a whole cast of characters touched by a singular tragedy, this book is both heartbreaking and heartwarming. The night before/morning of Lolly Reid’s wedding the unthinkable happens, a gas leak causes an explosion killing the bride, groom, bride’s father, and the boyfriend of the bride’s mother. The only survivor in the family is June Reid, the mother of the bride. Who is to blame for this explosion is up for speculation, and everyone in the small town has their own theories, the favorite being June’s much younger boyfriend, Luke.
The “whodunnit” is almost a non-aspect of the story. Someone is to blame, but it doesn’t really matter, because everyone and no one is to blame.
This is a beautiful novel that explores the idea of responsibility, family, and belonging. Despite the short narrative of each character, the author was able to develop almost all of the characters into three-dimensional beings that are both flawed and relatable.
I’ve started taking daily morning walks. I live about half a mile from Brighton Beach, it’s a beautiful place to start my day.
This morning’s walk started out like a nice normal walk… it was a perfect spring day. The sun was shining. The birds were singing. The ocean was sparkling. Seriously… the perfect spring day. And Lola only tried to pick a fight with one pit bull.
As I was strolling away from the beach, back toward home, I clipped my sunnies onto my glasses and put my headphones on to listen to an audiobook. Lola was walking a little slower on the way home, having worn herself out sniffing at birds and “protecting” me from pit bulls. So we were walking at a fairly sedate pace.
I approached the crosswalk when out of nowhere something slaps onto my glasses. At first I thought a leaf had blown onto me, but shaking my head didn’t loosen the object and it was pretty much windless.
BUG! My brain shouted at me. I pulled my glasses off to try and hasten the departure of this leaf-sized bug clinging to my glasses.
It was not a bug.
Remember those singing birds? One of those sky rats… birds torpedoed a poop directly onto my glasses.
Okay… so there weren’t any bears… there weren’t even any moose, despite a hike in the snow to see one. It was our last full day in Alaska, and it was pretty much exactly what you would hope a day in Alaska would be!
We woke up to more cold air, but a glowing fireplace took off the chill as we solved the world’s problems. We had a relatively leisurely morning before heading out for a day of activities.
While we were chatting the snow began to fall so we layered ourselves up and took a walk through Earthquake Park in search of some moose and to enjoy the peace of falling snow. There’s nothing like the hushed air of a gently falling snow surrounded by towering trees, boughs bending under the weight of the fluffy flakes. Despite the distinct lack of moose, it was a pleasant trek.
After our walk we headed to downtown Anchorage to visit some tourist trap shops for some trinkets to carry home. I was a little disappointed to find so much of the “Alaskan” trinkets were made in China. I had to hunt to find locally made items.
After our perusal of the trinket shops we headed to the Alaska Fur Exchange. What a treat! The shop is great to visit even if you don’t need to buy any fur. The shopkeepers were knowledgeable and friendly and clearly love Alaska. I bought a bone hairpin. I asked what kind of bone it was and they said it was either moose or cow… I’m going to just go with moose. It’s adorable and I love my reminder of our time in Alaska.
On our way home from our excursions we happened upon a young man with his car stuck in the snow. We hurried home to get some gravel and towels to put under his tires and drove back to help push him out. There’s something immediate and gratifying about helping someone stuck in the snow. You get nothing in return, but the knowledge that you helped someone out.
Back at home I whipped up a tiramisu for dessert while the men took a sledgehammer to a five inch shelf of ice covering half the driveway. Tiramisu is a process so, while the custard was cooling, I ran outside and helped toss chunks of ice. It was hard work, but a lot of fun, and really satisfying.
Dinner consisted of wild caught Alaskan salmon, sweet potatoes, and asparagus. And later we had the tiramisu for dessert. I like fish, but it’s not my typical “go-to” protein, but wild caught Alaskan salmon is a different thing altogether… so delicious.
The next day we left for home. It was a wonderful visit, and hard to say goodbye to our dear friends.
Oh! And we finally saw a moose… on the side of the road on our drive to the airport to head home.
We woke up on Tuesday morning to a frigid Alaskan morning. We dressed in multiple layers and climbed into our host’s four-wheel-drive Toyota Highlander and set out for Seward (pronounced like sewer with a ‘d’ at the end).
The road to Seward snakes along the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet before crossing through the heart of the Kenai Peninsula surrounded by the Chugach National Forest. Every turn looks like a postcard, it was hard to decide where to look.
We arrived in Seward with plenty of time before our cruise to head to the grocery store and get some snacks to pack with us. As a side note, grocery prices are fairly commensurate with NYC prices… so expensive.
We took the Spring Wildlife Cruise around Resurrection Bay. We were hoping to see some gray whales, but alas, no luck. We did see bald eagles (fun fact: Alaska has the most paired bald eagles in the world), sea lions, otters, and seals. All of Resurrection Bay is a fjord, and we got to see several glaciers as well as icebergs in the distance.
Gliding along the waters of Resurrection Bay felt like flying; the cold air was brisk and invigorating. For the most part, the ride was smooth and peaceful, but as we crossed the opening of the Bay the waters were choppy and sent the cruise boat bouncing over the waves. I had to stay on the outdoor deck to keep from getting seasick, and it was worth every freezing second. It was such a beautiful day, I wish I could experience it over and over again.
If you get the chance to visit Seward, the Major Marine Tours was awesome!
The first real day of our trip started on Monday. Unfortunately, even though we were on vacation, I still had a days worth of work to accomplish before we were able to go see the sights. This included a 5 a.m. meeting, followed by a 6 a.m. meeting, followed by a 7 a.m. meeting. But I was glad to get my work over with early. We spent the rest of the morning meeting our hosts’ daughter and grandchildren. They were delightful and I’m so glad we got to meet people so important to those that are important to us.
In the afternoon we took off for Chugach State Park. Lewis conducts a live YouTube Bible study every Monday evening (7:30 p.m. Eastern). He loves to head outside to conduct these Bible studies. He’s done them from all over New York City, and when he travels he likes to continue the tradition. So we drove up to Chugach State Park and checked out a few spots before settling on the Upper Huffman Trailhead.
We had a great Bible study with phenomenal views of Anchorage and the surrounding mountains. Then our hosts drove us around to various historic sites around Anchorage before calling it a night a little early in anticipation of an early start the next day.
Lewis and I got to take a dream trip recently! So, let’s back up and explain how this trip was even possible. In January we flew to Seattle for Lew’s dad’s memorial (that’s a longer story and not really mine to tell), and on our way home American Airlines was offering 60,000 miles if you got their credit card, and there was no minimum purchase!
So, we got a new credit card, and bought something I already needed and got 60,000 miles. Which was enough to buy two round-trip tickets to Anchorage. And we just happen to have two dear friends that live in Alaska and they were willing to put up with us for four days.
We were excited to get on a flight that didn’t require us to get to the airport at 4 a.m. for the first time in awhile. So, 1 a.m. the night before our flight we got notification that our flight would be delayed, unfortunately this delay meant we would miss our connecting flight in Seattle. We tried to get put on an earlier flight, to no avail. So we had a six hour layover in Seattle.
Which was probably a good thing. I got terribly air sick and I needed the time to recover. Getting air sick is a new development for me. It has only happened one other time. I’m hoping it doesn’t happen again. I love flying and would hate to have to take Dramamine every time I fly.
We arrived in Alaska around 10:30pm, only 19 hours after we left home.
I’ve been experimenting with meringue cookies lately. I made a batch on a whim, and they were pretty good, but I wasn’t obsessed with them until a month or so ago.
Lewis and I decided to have lunch after our dentist appointment at a little cafe in Bay Ridge (a neighborhood in Brooklyn), and I noticed some ugly looking cookies that *might* have been meringue. So I asked our server, sure enough, it was different flavored meringue cookies. So I got one of each to try (I’d only made vanilla and chocolate swirl to that point), and I was so disappointed. The texture was terrible and the flavor was so subtle. So I decided to start experimenting, because clearly these could be done better (not that I plan on telling them that their cookies are terrible, but still… why have bad cookies when you can have great cookies?). And these are great cookies! They’re sweet with a crispy outside and a bit of a chewy center.
This is one flavor version, the base cookie recipe can be adapted pretty easily. I’ve made green tea, pistachio (still perfecting that one), and cherry almond so far.
I’m trying not to be the annoying blogger that forces you to read ten years of background on a dumb recipe. So here it is:
4 large egg whites
1 cup of cane sugar (I use Domino brand because it’s a more fine grain)
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla
1/2 teaspoon of mint extract (this will produce a very mild mint flavor, add more if you want a stronger mint flavor)
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon of cornstarch
2-4 ounces of dark chocolate chips
Melt chocolate chips and set aside to cool
Heat oven to 350°
Line a large baking tray with silicone baking mats or with parchment paper
In a stand mixer or with a hand mixer, whip egg whites for a couple of minutes until frothy
Slowly add sugar and whip until glossy and stiff (you should be able hold the whisk and the egg mixture won’t move)
Add vanilla and mint extract and whip until stiff again.
Sift the cornstarch and cream of tartar onto the egg mixture. And fold over with a rubber scraper until combined.
Drizzle the chocolate around the edges of the pastry bag with a star tip.
Fill with the pastry bag with the egg mixture
pipe cookies into a swirl pattern onto prepared baking tray
Place pan in the oven
Turn oven down to 200°
Bake for 90 minutes
Turn off the oven and allow the cookies to cool in the oven until completely cooled (oftentimes I’ll make the cookies in the evening and leave them in the oven overnight to cool)
I’m going on a trip! A work trip. I’ll be leaving the country for the first time in almost two years. I have been hugely privileged/blessed in my adult life to be able to travel. This is the longest I’ve gone without leaving the country since Lewis and I got married.
I’m excited, but I’m also extremely nervous. I’m not particularly worried about getting sick (maybe I should be, but I’m relatively healthy, I’ve been working to build my immune system over the last two years, and I’m vaccinated), but I am worried about possibly being asymptomatic and getting stuck out of the country for quarantine.
But I’m going. Our flight on Friday is at 7:30am out of JFK into Miami for the weekend. We’re staying with Chuck and Mary Smith. Chuck is the Senior Pastor of the Caribbean. He frequently travels to Jamaica, Haiti, Trinidad, Tobago, Grenada, and the Bahamas; he also pastor’s the Ft. Lauderdale congregation. He’s a busy guy. I’m not quite sure how he does it all… but I do know that Mary does a lot to keep him going. We’ll spend the Sabbath in Ft. Lauderdale.
We fly out of Miami on Sunday morning for Freeport, Grand Bahamas.
Whenever I mention to people that I’m going to the Bahamas I get a wink-wink, nudge-nudge, and a “work” in air quotes. But I am legitimately going for work.
In 2019 Hurricane Dorian plowed into the Bahamas and made herself at home for at least 24 hours. It was intense, brutal, and devastating.
I coordinate for the Good Works program. Good Works is a program that United Church of God created to address emergency or unusual circumstances for church members. What it has turned into is the outreach program of United Church of God. We provide emergency relief after natural disasters, help orphanages, international camps, international church buildings, vehicles for pastors in international areas, and education and vocational opportunities for disadvantaged communities.
In 2019, when the hurricane hit, Good Works raised nearly $100,000 for relief. We were able to get emergency supplies (water, generators, tarps, bleach, flashlights, solar radios, water pumps, plugs and wires, and canned and dried foods) within two weeks of the hurricane (it wasn’t really possible to get there sooner since the ports were closed due to damage).
We sent a second shipment about two weeks later with supplies to help people begin to rebuild.
We were able to help all of our members (some in big ways, others in small) and with the remaining funds the members of our Freeport congregation set out to find people to help.
This was three years ago now, so we thought we’d head over to check on the status of recovery. This is the first time we’ve done a check like this. We typically rely on the local leadership to provide updates, but we wanted to create a video to share with all the people that helped make the recovery possible.