Thursday, April 28, 2011

This is Not Normal

Growing up in the Midwest, the spring "tornado season" is taken pretty much for granted. We all know there will be thunderstorms, cracks of lightning whose thunder rattles the window frames, wind that blows all the new leaves back to the ground. Maybe hail that is big enough to dent cars or sit in little ice-balls in the yard, melting slowly while some of us hide in the basements and the rest run for the video camera, hoping to catch the funnel cloud or the particular color of ash-green the sky just turned.

I, by the way, am a basement-hider. Not that 90% of you didn't know that already.

Half my heart is in the Midwest year-round, with so much of my family there.

And what's going on the Midwest and parts of the South right now, when it comes to weather?

It's not normal.

Not that there really is a "normal".

I should say, instead, that it's scary.

We are looking at at least 173 dead in the most recent set of storms to rip across the United States, a huge number of them in Alabama, a state not entirely prepared for tornadoes and no one could ever be prepared for that many of them.

The Mississippi and Ohio rivers are flooding. There are photos of people in Cairo, Illinois building sandbags to try and hold off the worst of it. Cairo? Cairo was maybe an hour from where I was living last year, in Carbondale. My friends in Cape Girardeau, Missouri have been going to the basement more often this year than I can recall any of us having to go in the past six years, when I was in southern Illinois. My friends in Carbondale, still at Southern Illinois University, are talking about tornado sirens going off while they sit in class and their teacher continuing the lecture, since there aren't a lot of places safer than whatever classroom they're in at the time.

I've done that. I've been there, sitting in class tapping my foot wishing the teacher would let me go hide in the bathroom or something, just so I couldn't hear so much of the hail smacking into the ceiling and the walls.

My family in Central Illinois is getting rain after rain, pounded by it. Planting crops is getting a hugely late start this year thanks to the rain. When it's not raining, the ground is so wet they still can't do much. There's a chance that in the next week, the sun will out enough to help, but it's only a chance, and more rain is yet to come. Farmers get irritable, commiserating over endless cups of coffee at local diners, glaring outside at the gathering gray clouds. I know that sentiment pretty well; there are always seasons where the rain starts too early and lasts too long.

But this?

This is not a normal year for weather.

Not that there is a "normal". But this is definitely unusual.

I am crossing my fingers for my friend Lynette and her husband in Alabama, for everyone in that state, for those people only beginning now to try to figure out how to rebuild the utterly demolished parts of their towns and cities. I'm crossing my fingers for our friends Stevie and Jason and their kiddo Nolan in Cape Girardeau, watching the Mississippi waters rise. Crossing my fingers for everyone dealing with the aftermath of tornadoes and these crazy storms.

And of course, I'm crossing my fingers for my dad, my grandpa, and my uncle, for them to be able to get the planting done as soon as possible. I cross my fingers for all farmers, every year.

But I'll learn how to cross my toes for this one.

Send out prayers, good vibes, whatever you can spare to the people walking around their flattened neighborhoods and trying to figure out what to do. Send out love and goodwill (and any help, if you can spare it) to those desperately building sandbags and flood barriers against the rivers.

If you don't mind, send out some hope to the people being affected by all this. Hope that things get back to "normal"... by which, hope that things calm down, that people can get back to the business of living, get on with rebuilding, and don't have to watch the skies anxiously to see if it's only going to come again.

I'll be over here, fingers and toes utterly crossed for them.

That is, if I ever figure out how to cross my toes.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Or alternately, "In Which My Post is Delayed By Absolutely Nothing".

"Belated" just seemed so much more concise.

Things I have done in the past few days: baked what Clean Eating magazine called a "Peachy Dutch Pancake", which involved eggs, vanilla, a little flour, and thawed frozen peach slices. It was delicious. We ate it all. I went to work a couple of times. Bought a few groceries. Drank coffee. Made homemade baked fishsticks and a fresh strawberry version of the dutch pancake thing, thanks to a regular customer at work who brought me a huge bag of strawberries today (recipe coming soon).

So, you see, nothing particularly time-consuming. I even had yesterday off work. Did that inspire me to write anything about Saturday in Savannah?


No it did not.

So instead, after going to work for a few hours, then coming home and cooking basically nonstop for two and a half hours, I have decided that now seemed like the best time. Not, y'know, yesterday. When I wasn't doing anything in particular.

I'm... I'm very special.

So... about Saturday. Right. Back on that.

We went to the Jepson Art Center right near the riverfront, part of the Telfair set of museums. Jepson is the modern art museum, but the reason it was picked as a place to go was because it had a whole set of rooms dedicated entirely to the kind of hands-on exploration and play that toddlers are best at... only it related everything to art.

Delainey immediately started playing with the wooden blocks, in various shapes and sizes.

Jason decided to play too, and made a sculpture on the magnetic sculpture wall.

Believe me, I don't judge him. That pile of stuff to the right? That's my sculpture... which I admittedly wasn't paying much attention to.

Jason and I are not what you would call modern art fans, but I still liked walking around and seeing everything. There is no way that a museum is a bad idea, on any vacation. In Colorado? We went to a skiing museum. Which I don't remember much about except for it being very warm when it was very cold outside. Which maybe says something about me.

In any case... I am decidedly pro-museum.

Delainey inside the adult parts of the museum was incredible. "It's a square!" She declared happily, while looking at an "optical illusion" piece of art meant to make you uneasy and force you to go over it in some detail. My brother-in-law JW decided she would be the best art student ever, absolutely pragmatic. I agree.

There was a heavily complicated, involved exhibit that had a sort of motorized chair with a video hookup. It was playing a series of lights and patterns across the walls, along with some music that seemed to change slightly as it played.

Delainey danced in rhythm with the music, changing her dance to match the colors.

Best art museum visit ever.

One last visit to the children's section to have hilarious fun with the 'writing' wall (where I discovered someone there prior to us really, really hated the Mets), and we walked down to the riverfront.

Which, by the way, is beautiful.

We went into some of the stores down there, sort of threading in and out at random. There was River Street Sweets, where they gave us free pecan praline samples as we walked in the door. There was a Life is Good store where I watched Christina calmly convince Delainey that she did not need a new stuffed horse by explaining to her that it was not "on sale".

Apparently, this works really well with young children... right up until they start pointing out when things don't have "sale stickers" on them even before they can read.

Didn't I tell y'all my niece is a genius?

And yes, Mom, I realize I said y'all. It's been showing up more and more often lately.

Delainey got a package of cotton candy, and I can't say we weren't all amused by Kiddo managing to pick out the one single kind of candy that the candystore didn't make right there themselves to be the one she absolutely needed to have.

I eyed the divinity. I thought about it. I may have made dramatic sighing sounds. But I did not buy it. I don't know why I didn't, now. Ah, such regrets have I.

At Bernie's Oyster House, we had lunch. Delainey fell asleep most of the way through her hot dog, in the awesome way babies, toddlers, and little kids have of being mid-action and just sort of... slumping... over... and then they're out.

Still... lunch!

The crowning achievement of lunch being JW buying, to split, a gigantic bucket of raw oysters. Those oysters up there?

We ate all of them, between Jason, JW, and I.

I had never shucked my own oysters before, and there's a trick to it; it took three or four tries for me to really grasp what I needed to do. Sometimes my hands shook a little from the effort at twisting out a tricky one. They're incredible when eaten raw... just by themselves with nothing at all, with horseradish, with a little hot sauce... my favorite was the oyster placed on a saltine cracker, with a little black pepper and Texas Pete.

It took us a while. But we conquered the mountain of oysters. I have pictures of the second bucket full of all the empty shells, but to be honest all of those pictures are kind of disgusting... because it turns out oysters shells that have just been shucked, but not cleaned, are sort of awful looking.

So no photos of that.

But trust me; I have records of all the oysters we ate. Records I am keeping to myself.

There was a little bit more walking, with Delainey zonked out the whole time.

At which point, when it was time to walk back up the stairs and head back towards our cars, that Jason and JW carried Delainey, in her stroller, up the stairs.

The things we do to placate napping children.

Who, the moment the two of them reached the top, immediately woke up.

Which was hilarious.

We had one more place to visit before we went back to the hotel to recharge, for Delainey to swim like a fish, and for us to eat dinner... we went to visit the ruins of Wormsloe Plantation, built in in the early-to-mid 1700's by one of the first settlers in the colony of Georgia, Noble Jones.

He built a house inside, essentially, a little fort right up against the marsh. The original house is long gone, leaving just the ruins of the fortifications, for the most part.

But entering the park, you have this:

Which is breathtaking.

Direct descendants of Noble Jones still live in a house that is off to the side of this beautiful avenue, but you're not allowed on the grounds, since they keep the house as a private residence.

Some of the ruins of the original fortifications. The neat thing to look at is how much of these walls were built with shells mixed into the mortar.

Off to the side you can go see the shell midden, where all the oyseter, mussel, and etc. shells were tossed after shucking. At some point, you realize that the midden is in fact that little hill you're standing on, and it's something like five feet of compressed shell and dirt. It's actually pretty cool.

Which goes to show you, I suppose, exactly how nerdy I really am.

The marshland just behind the ruins is absolutely gorgeous, especially on the sunny day we were having then. I wouldn't suggest trying to take a wade through it unless you're a really big fan of mosquitoes and, uh, whatever other gross things lives in swampy marshland... but still. It's pretty to look at.

And full of these gorgeous windy dead trees, lying all over the place.

After that... I don't have much in the way of photos. I can tell you this, though: the hotel has lovely air conditioning. Delainey drank orange juice from a coffee cup and thought she was supercool, just like a grownup.

At one point, in the morning, I had made some snarky comment about myself being a 'coffee snob' after working in a coffee shop.

"You're a coffee snob?" Delainey asked me. I said yes. She thought about that for a moment. "I'm not a coffee snob," She said to me. "I'm a milk snob. And a juice snob."

I thought to myself, Child, you are three years old. And died laughing.

I said goodbye to my sister and her family, since she was leavin' on a jet plane to fly back to Illinois at 8:30 Sunday morning and I wouldn't see her before they left. And there was sleep.

I slept like a log all weekend... I'm going to say that was a good sign.

There. Whew. Better late than never, I suppose.

I'm going to sit here and think about how awesome those oysters were, if you don't mind.

Or maybe eat a piece of the strawberry skillet-cake-thing I made.

Or think about eating it.

In any case, there is going to be sitting, and there is going to be thinking.

I'll get up some photos from Fort Pulaski later! I'm not going to say what day, because I might jinx myself.

Ooooh, maybe I'll go take a nap.

Also, it was my mom's birthday yesterday... so I suppose this is kind of a belated shout-out to her birthday, too!

Monday, April 25, 2011


So last Friday meant a surreal 60's-era restaurant called the Crab Shack out on Tybee Island, the very first place we went to. We met JW and Christina and Delainey there for lunch. It had live alligators out front around a little lagoon, sleepy things basking in the sunlight.

It was kitschy, and perfect. We sat next to a window and could look right out and see the water where at least some of our food likely came from. Jason and I split a huge Low Country Boil. We took this:

and made it this:

(with a little help from my brother-in-law JW)

It meant this little girl coated in sunscreen until her skin was almost pure white, running around on a beach for the first time, splashing in the ocean. It meant seeing JW and Christina out in the water with her, and telling her not to poke the jellyfish that washed up on shore.

Like that one.

It was this moment

but the best moment is still this one:

That little (but loud) voice yelling "It's the beach! It's the beach!" as she went running ahead of us.

Friday was seeing my sister and her family for the first time since Christmas, and seeing Jason see them for the first time since last July. The food was great (even the Pizza Hut pizza we ate at the hotel that night) and Delainey is so much taller than she was just at Christmas, and so very grown up.

This is only a couple of photos of Friday. I'll do Saturday and Sunday in a much bigger entry tomorrow, but I'm a bit sleepy, drinking my Sarsparilla from Maine Root. I'm still going through the 300-some photos I took over three days.

Tomorrow: raw oysters, an art museum, a pirate sword, heavy lifting.


That's something to look forward to, right?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

So this weekend

 IE, tomorrow

I am leaving with mischief in my eyes and my husband in tow, to go to Savannah, Georgia. My sister is visiting my brother-in-law (who has been living, not IN Savannah, but nearby) with my crazy-genius niece and they are enjoying all the wonderful that is there.

So tomorrow morning, I am leaving, still cranky with sleep. It's going to take a little over five hours to get there, but every single second is going to be worth it, because I am going to lay eyes on my sister and my niece for the first time since Christmas. Jason hasn't seen them since last July.

I won't see them again until this July, when I go back to Illinois to attend my cousin Melissa's wedding.

So we're going to make it count.

For now?

Well, I have a wine, cheese, and women party to attend tonight.

No, it's not that kind of party. Just a group of women drinkin' wine, eatin' cheese, bein' ladies.

You know, if any of us can actually be considered 'ladies' in any way.

And I think you know we can't.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Spring in the South

So this first spring in Upstate Carolina, so far, has meant the following:

Spring starts a month earlier here. I was startled to see leaves beginning on trees before February was over, a humid warmth start to tinge the air in March. It's midway through April and the warm days are hot indeed, everything burst out in flowers a few weeks ago.

Which leads to my next point.

Spring in the South means pollen collects. This is a photo of a rivulet of pollen on the hood of my car, but that doesn't really get across to you just how it collects. It is a thin fuzz on the table on my in-laws' screened-in sunporch. It covers our chairs outside on our patio. It blows in the wind, rains down constantly.

People take to wiping off outside chairs before every time they can sit down at them.

When we looked at how much pollen had accumulated on my car in such a short time, I looked at it for a while, then gave a sigh and said, "Well, it doesn't matter how much I want my sister to move here, she can't. Well. She could but I kind of like it when she's not so sick she can't breathe after five minutes..."

Which, by the way, is why my sister never goes in my apartments.

I will direct you to our cat, who has the unfortunate problem of being covered in skin and fur my sister is deathly allergic to.

Actually, I think my brother is allergic to cats, too...

Moving on.

Spring is an explosion of flowers, in bushes and in trees. On vines making their crawling way up the trees. Everyone plants gardens in a seeming frenzy. Jason and I aren't immune; we spent more money than we probably should have at Lowe's buying a tomato plant and two kinds of basil for this year.

Anyone needs two kinds of basil? I have a feeling we'll be drowning in it.

Although we have a third kind now.


Hope I like basil as much as I think I do.

And, of course, spring means the kudzu comes back. The Plant That Ate the South begins its surprisingly fast, inexorable crawl back up out of the remains of last year's vines and leaves. I walk past a spot in our apartment complex constantly, watching the kudzu. It occurs to me if I stood still for a few hours, I'd probably see it grow.

Every time I see a pile of new kudzu, green and rising and looking for something to cling onto and cover, I hear the Jaws theme start up in my head.

Da dum... da dum... da dum da dum da dum...

Don't leave a car for longer than you must near any growing kudzu. Give it a month? The car will be totally covered. Driving down here in spring and summer turns into an interesting version of the cloud-game. You know, when you look at clouds and try to decide what the shapes resemble?

Well, you can do that with kudzu when it takes over trees.

You'll see a whole small clearing of little humps where kudzu has eaten trees and otherwise covered the ground in a flat blanket of vibrant green.



It's spring. I am surrounded by the sudden growth of things (although today I'm mostly surrounded by rain), and flowers, and sharklike plants whose only goal is to cover the world with their greenery. I'm surrounded by people in pretty spring dresses and the reappearance of linen, white cardigans and sandals and everyone pulling out their bright colors again.

Welcome to spring in upstate South Carolina...

year one.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Installment 5: Getting Home Alive

I just wanted the title to rhyme.

So when we last left off, I had finally managed to finish Saturday. FINALLY.

So Sunday!

We ate lunch here. This is Becco, an Italian restaurant a couple of blocks from our hotel that had been reccomended by one of Monica's friends. The place seemed very small at first glance; some tables, the bar in the middle... until we were taken to our tables and realized it was much larger in the back than we had assumed.

The food was incredible; they brought us bread to eat with olive oil, pepper, a white bean dip. A little dish of olives, both fresh green only-slightly-preserved olives as well as your usual green olives... it turns out no one else at the table liked green olives, so I may have gorged myself.

Only a little.

The other three ordered a special they had where you received essentially endless serving of three kinds of pasta, chose between a caesar salad and a seafood antipasto (Hunter chose the antipasto and definitely loved it). I chose peppers stuffed with meat. I don't remember what kind of pepper, or even what kind of meat. I just know that it was so good, and I couldn't stop eating, even when I didn't need to eat anymore.

My three companions really enjoyed their pasta, too; especially a baked fusili with four kinds of cheese.

How Monica felt after our entrees were done.

Really, that's a good illustration of how we all felt.

We still decided to get a piece of cheesecake to split. Which was also delicious.

At which point we waddled out the door to prepare for that afternoon's Epic Adventure: Central Park.

You can tell you've gotten to Central Park once you start seeing more than one tree at a time in the distance. That's when you know you're headed the right way.

Central Park is huge. I mean, I knew it was big, but I honestly had no conception of just much space inside the city is devoted to this single gigantic park. It's a great idea; it's a centralized location for people to come hang out in, get a little sun and a little nature, a little less constant concrete and steel. There are food carts everywhere, an area where street performers entertain the masses, ponds, a resevoir, a carousel.

Hunter and Monica posed on top of huge rocks for us in their running clothes. I'm still impressed that Hunter managed to do some serious running that soon after lunch, because heaven knows I was still full to bursting by the time we left Central Park. All I did was walk.

It's kind of fun to stare across the huge expanses of green and see the tall buildings telling you exactly where the park ends; they butt right up to it. You literally cross a street and suddenly trees, trees everywhere.

Trees and fountains, statues and bridges and big open areas for people to gather in. That picture up there? Is technically a photo of the angel fountain, but behind it is one of the waterways, with people boating on it. There's a boathouse right there, to the far right in the photo.

Close-up of the angel fountain... also some boats.

We walked through the park (with Hunter running ahead, then circling back to tell us which way she was going, then running ahead again) until we came to the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Resevoir, a huge man-made lake of sorts. Looking it up, it covers 106 acres. That... is a lot of water.

It's also pretty breathtakingly gorgeous on a pretty New York day.

We took photos (which then had to be looked over to see how good they were), and walked in a huge circle all the way around the resevoir (Hunter, as before, would run ahead and occasionally come back to us... this time Monica got in on the game, too and they ran together). It's a little over a mile and a half to go all the way around. Although, to be honest, trying to keep track of the amount of miles I walked while in NYC was definitely the kind of game you lose... there was no telling. All I know is, multiple miles every day.

When we finished our circle, we started to head back until we were distracted by some street performers, acrobats who had gathered a crowd by the time we walked up. We stayed long enough to laugh at their jokes and watch one of them do a crazy flip over a boy from the audience, before having to head off in time to be ready for dinner and then Kelsey's Show!

By then, the sky was starting to cloud back up a little bit, although it went back and forth on whether it felt like being pretty all day.

After a sushi dinner across the street from Carnegie Hall (the shorter brown building in the foreground above), we went inside to wait for the doors to open! Actually, we all went inside, then Monica, Hunter and I decided to walk down to a nearby Starbucks, then come back a little bit closer to the opening time.

When we left, there were definitely some people standing around waiting.

When we came back, that amount had quadrupled.

Carnegie Hall is smaller than I expected it to be, but about as opulent nonetheless. The crowd was packed in, but Gena snagged us some great seats towards the front, where we would be able to see the singers pretty clearly.

Since photos and recordings were expressly forbidden and I was trying to be good, I don't have any photos of Kelsey singing, or of kids singing at all.

All I have is the piano.

We had a bit of a hilarious misunderstanding in that we didn't realize there were two different National Youth Choir groups that sang. When the first one came out, we all searched in vain for Kelsey, growing increasingly agitated and worried that we couldn't seem to find her face on the soprano side... then Monica noticed Kelsey was still sitting with some of the kids in the audience and we all breathed a huge sigh of relief.

There were two small single-school groups, as well as the two multi-school groups. We were surprised to learn later that Kelsey's school was the only one that was a private Christian school, since nearly all the music chosen was very religious in nature. Then again, some of the most beautiful and difficult music for singers that has ever been written has been religious music.

After the performances were finished, the ushers basically ran everyone out of the room as fast as they could with an absolute minimum of politeness (Gena was told she couldn't stand still long enough to take a photo of Kelsey near the stage, and essentially pushed out). We were able to get some photos of Kelsey, as well as photos of Gena and Kelsey and Gena, Monica, and Kelsey while we stood and bravely tried to fight against the push of the crowd heading for the exits.

We ended up in a diner, where I got hot chocolate with real whipped cream and there was pie, oh... oh how there was pie. And cheesecake. And spaghetti with meat sauce... of which Kelsey had two or three bites, Monica and I each ate a little, and Hunter ate about half of. Then Kelsey decided to try chicken fingers and fries, since the spaghetti hadn't worked for her. I'm pretty sure Hunter, Monica, and I helped her with quite a bit of that meal, too.

Which is awesome, since not a single one of us was remotely hungry.

but the food in New York is so good.

We dropped Kelsey off at her hotel room and went back to our own to pack our stuff up, snuggle into bed, and get ready to go home.

Except that Hunter stole my blanket during the night and I woke up with a thin white sheet, shivering. I looked over at her with my blurry no-glasses eyes and watched her snuggle harder into her perfect blanket burrito. Gena was already up and I looked over at her and just pointed at Hunter... at which point Gena helped me out by pulling the bottom of the blanket up to fix my issue. She is a very helpful lady.

There was a cab ride to the airport in which both Monica and I were carsick by the end of it thanks to the cab driver's relentless gas-brake-gas-brake-gas-brake even when it was not entirely necessary.

There was a flight home that got... bumpy, there, at the end... thanks to it being quite windy in Charlotte, North Carolina when we came in for landing.

You know you have problems with flying when, at the end of the flight, a complete stranger with sympathy in her eyes leans over, puts a hand on your arm, and asks if you're going to be okay from across the aisle.

I hate planes.

Then again, planes are the fastest and in most cases the safest way to get to a new place, to see new things, to experience different parts of the world. And the plane rides back, well...

They bring me home.

To warm air, humidity, to rolling hills and green leaves. To spring.

To South Carolina.

To home.

So that was New York. Oh how that was New York. And it's done, finally! I know this last installment went up something like two days late, but it turns out I am very lazy and only occasionally motivated...

but I'm done!


I can only thank my mother-in-law and my aunt-in-law, so to speak, Gena too... for making my whole trip possible. And I got to see the Lion King! And eat delicious foods! And see Tea and Jess!



Monday, April 11, 2011

NYC Installment 4: Chinatowntown & Little Italy

When last we met, I had met up with my friends from online and the whole group of five of us were headed off on the next grand adventure... the subway. I had never been on the subway before, at any location. I was on a train once, when I was much younger. I don't remember much about it except getting asked to leave the dining car. Honestly, my memories are so fuzzy I can't remember the exact context of said train ride either.

Subways are different, in any case. I explained to Tea and Jess and the group at large that my previous experience with subways has been seeing them in the movies, such as when the bad guy gets his head cut off in the movie Speed. I was assured that those types of things only very rarely happen in real life.

I may have been told 'never', but you know, somewhere in the world there's probably a bad guy who got his head cut off in the subway, so I suppose it's very rare, instead.

This photo is off one of the little metal birds sculptured on to a railing. The subway in NYC is full of these little touches; fun or pretty things, meant to lighten up the reality of how harshly lit the florescents are and the fact that one is underground, away from the sun. It's great to be walking and have something catch your eye and realize there's a beautiful mosaic just to your left or those little birds to your right.

We took the subway to a whole different part of New York City, and that in and of itself was pretty cool. We spent a lot of time in the eight or so blocks surrounding our hotel, and it's easy to let that sort of let you start believing New York is not as big as it really is. The subway teaches you a lesson about that, as you look at your little tourist map and realize how far you've gone.

We came up right near the site where the World Trade Center towers used to stand. The first photo above is of the little church right across the street, a teeny old thing with an old graveyard out front. The WTC site, of course, is full of cranes and rubble and construction materials as they work on building the memorial. There was a little museum for 9/11 and the memorial across the street, and we stepped in to have a look.

After that, it was a walk of a few blocks to get to Chinatown! We passed a Maserati dealership, with those shiny sports cars lovingly tended inside two huge glass windows. We may have stared a little bit. To be honest, I don't know that I've ever actually seen anyone driving a Maserati. They seem like the kind of cars you keep in your garage, wax three times a week, and whisper sweet nothings to. I mean, for the amount you pay for 'em, you sure wouldn't want to get a scratch.

Wait. I got off topic. Masterati sports cars do that to you, I suppose.

The clouds came and went, but for the most part Saturday was a beautiful day. Chinatown was full of stores, little stalls pushed slightly out into the sidewalks. People called to you constantly to try and get you to purchase this or that. One lady tried to get Monica to buy a cheap knockoff Coach purse, which was kind of hilarious since Monica was actually carrying a real Coach purse at the time.

There was a constant glut of languages, accents, and regional diction going on around us. It was pretty fantastic. Tea pointed out how easy it was to tell when you've reached Chinatown, because it's almost instant; cross one street and suddenly all the signs are bilingual. There were fishmarkets, late in the day their smell was a little bit overpowering but some of the products looked pretty good!

We wandered, staring idly at this thing or that.

Eventually, we hit the end of Chinatown and ran smack dab into Little Italy. I hadn't known they were so close together, but Little Italy makes itself very distinctly obvious.

See what I mean?

There was a display in a window about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, one of the more tragic events in American labor history, in which a huge fire broke out in the factory and 146 workers, many of them first-generation immigrant women, were killed. Many of the deaths could have been prevented if the doors to exits had not been locked to prevent the women from leaving.

One of the women killed in the fire.

On the other hand, Little Italy had this:

Which I was informed I had to take a photo of for Jason, since he was definitely appreciate it. Frankly, I think we can all appreciate a happy dinosaur talking to a cloud.

It brings us together.

I'm going to go ahead and agree with this sign, right here. That should be everyone's life goal.

Little Italy was just as full of wonder and excitement. There were the stalls, still, the little stores. There were roadside cannoli carts now, a restaurant everywhere I looked. Pizzerias, trattorias, fancy or casual, you name a kind of Italian restaurant or food and Little Italy will strive to make sure you get to enjoy it.

Tea had a place in mind for us to eat, and we walked until we got there. It looks like a little hole-in-the-wall place from the outside, a little pizzeria doing the same thing they've been doing forever, with excellence and with style.

A little place called Lombardi's.

At Lombardi's, I explained to Tea that much of my knowledge of culinary must-sees in the country and really the world came entirely from watching the Food Network or the Travel Channel. I had heard of Carnegie Deli and Lombardi's from a Travel Channel special on New York City. The Food Network has done various little travel-based shows in NYC.

This was probably a little strange.

But I was optimistic! Sure, I'm from Illinois, but I'm not from Chicago, which means pizza doesn't have to be deep-dish to feel like the "real thing" for me. Our pizzas were delicious, too: the crust had just the slightest char on the bottom, the sauce was perfect. We ate in a room tucked away through the kitchen and up some stairs. We tried not to stuff ourselves, because dessert awaited us, and not just any dessert: there is a place down in Little Italy called From Rice to Riches, a itsy little place that did one thing, and it did that one thing very well; rice pudding.

It was like the Baskin Robbins of rice pudding, with a pile of flavors to choose from as well as toppings for an extra fee. We all purchased the smallest size of our particular flavors, and even so, it was hard to finish after having eaten dinner! Valiantly, we did our best.

I had cheesecake rice pudding with chocolate crumbles and strawberries. Oh it was so good. Oh... so very, very good. I have now decided to create rice pudding for any conceivable occasion I can come up with, because it made me want to either have huge vats of it at my disposal or open up a store like this here. I feel like a rice pudding place would go over pretty well here in Greenville, bastion of sweet tea, sun porches, and red dirt.

Oh how I love the red dirt.

But I'm distracting myself again. We'll get back to that sort of thing later.

Tea and Monica both had cheesecake rice pudding, too. Monica started off with no toppings and Tea got graham cracker crumbles, at which point we all sampled each other's (Hunter had... chocolate, as i recall, and at the moment I can't remember what Gena had. I'm sure it will come to me in the middle of the night). Monica realized how good the graham cracker crumbles were, walked back into the line and had some put on hers. And all was well.

So, stuffed full to waddling (are you noticing a pattern here? I could spend whole vacations in New York just learning about the food available there) we were back out on the street in Little Italy. We were able to get ahold of Kelsey and find out her school group was eating in a nearby restaurant, and Gena, Monica, and Hunter ducked in to speak with her while Tea, Jess and I hung around outside talking. I know I was somewhat of an excited puppy dog the whole day... they are patient, patient ladies.

Tea and Jess had to get back to Queens, so we four ladies were left to navigate the subway on our own. I am proud to state that we managed quite well. We also met a group of four locals on the subway who were deeply fascinated by the southern accents of Gena, Monica, and Hunter and who were willing to show off their own Staten Island accents to us. By the end of that particular subway ride, I definitely think we had new friends. At least Gena did, heh.

We found ourselves right next to a huge Macy's, the huge Macy's, with forty-five minutes 'til close and my party's shoppin' fingers gettin' itchy.

We went inside and managed to get through to see a few of the different floors and experience the wonder and magic that is the old-timey escalator they have there, sort of wooden and creaking. A tie was bought. Fun was had by all.

The Empire State Building was actually very nearby, and going up was debated by the other three. I assured them I would deeply enjoy sitting in the lobby on the ground floor should they choose to do so; only my mother can talk me up that many stories.

After realizing the amount it would cost, the ladies decided against it and I was able to bid the Empire State Building adieu without having to face the prospect of its elevators or, heaven forbid, its view.

When I get over my fear of heights, though? Me and tall buildings, we're going to see a lot more of each other.

If I get over my fear of heights.

In any case, what happens after this is a little bit of deciding whether or not it's unacceptable to go to a city like NYC and get tired before 11 P.M. Because we were tired, indeed we were, and it was definitely not even 11 yet.

Some wandering ensues, which I have no photos of. And back to the hotel.

Tomorrow, I'll put Sunday... Central Park! Hunter running! Some more of Hunter running, this time with Monica! Water! Carnegie Hall! No photos of Kelsey singing because Carnegie Hall gets very angry if you take photos while the performance is underway! A description of Kelsey singing!

Look at all those exclamation points. You can tell I'm excited.

I'll finish up the trip tomorrow, too, and that'll be it for New York City. And there will be much rejoicing. In any case, I've got some southern spring photos I'm aching to put up sometime soon... and it's only a couple of weeks until my sister and my niece will be in Georgia visiting my brother-in-law (who has been living there for his job) and Jason and I will get to visit them, too! It'll be the first time Jason has seen Delainey since July, and I haven't seen any of my family since Christmas, so I am going to hug my sister hard enough that breathing may become a problem.

In any case, that's it for tonight. This is all the words and enthusiasm I've got for you.

Have a good night, everyone!