Exploring Philadelphia with my Parents

My parents recently drove from South Carolina up to Philly for a week’s visit. It’s always fun to (re)explore your city with new guests, and this was no exception.

By far, our greatest new discovery is the Independence Seaport Museum. The large space houses two floors of Philadelphia maritime history, complete with displays from the Ship Model Society and in-action boat building at the Workshop on the Water. Adjacent to the museum are two historical boats to crawl around on – the cruiser Olympia (launched 1892) and the submarine Becuna (launched 1944).

If you are planning a trip to Philly, we will definitely take you there. Look how happy it makes people:

Dad on the Olympia

Dad on the Olympia

Luke on the Olympia

Luke on the Olympia

Mom on the Olympia

Mom on the Olympia

Dad and Luke on the Olympia

Dad and Luke on the Olympia

Fun!

Fun floor signs!

Another highlight was a walk through Independence Park, followed by a trip to City Tavern. This has become our go-to spot for a sightseeing break. Plus, it’s fun to try the historical beer recipes.

Dad at City Tavern

Dad at City Tavern

We had lots of great meals and wonderful conversations over the course of the week.

Family at El Vez

Family at El Vez

Finally, we took a mini-vacation to Atlantic City for a little fun at the casino. Luke was the big winner of the night (no surprise!) – turns out penny slots are entertaining and profitable!

Luke in the casino, Atlantic City

Luke in the casino, Atlantic City

It was lovely having my folks in town. We are super excited to have Luke’s parents here in May!

NYC and NYE

The work week between Christmas and New Year’s is always a tricky one. Your brain and body know that you should still be on vacation, and yet there is work to be done. By the time the following weekend rolled around, Luke and I were both ready for another escape. Luckily, our friends Tara and Alex arrived in NY from Chicago and invited us up for a visit!

We hopped in the car Saturday morning and made the much-talked-about-but-never-attempted drive up 95 to New York. The road was calm, we suspect due to the light snow that began to fall right as we were leaving. In less than two hours, we made our way through Pennsylvania and New Jersey, across the bridge to Staten Island, and across another bridge into Brooklyn.

We had a hunch that on clear days, the views of Manhattan from either bridge were pretty great. Today, however, we had to settle for drawing an imaginary cityscape in rough proximity to where we remember the famous buildings to be. Is that the top of the Chrysler building? Or a bird?

This was our first trip to Brooklyn, and we were delighted to find it even more hilly and slope-like than we’d imagined. It’s also a lot bigger than we’d expected, encouraging us to make an on-the-fly decision about which section to explore over our lunch break. While Luke kept his eyes on the road, I tracked down the one place in Brooklyn I’d always wanted to visit – Catbird.

CatbirdPhoto credit: catbirdnyc.blogspot.com

Catbird
Photo credit: catbirdnyc.blogspot.com

Catbird is a small store in Williamsburg that sells the most beautiful, delicate jewelry. The online store is my go-to spot for daydream shopping, and the in-person store is equally enjoyable. Several people gathered around the few cases of goods, and while my initial reaction was to stare them down in the hopes that they would step aside and let me ogle alone, I realized two important things: 1) Most of these people were actually intending to buy something and 2) My stare-down technique is not as menacing as I’d hoped. Nevertheless, the store is lovely.

Around the corner, we ducked into Fornino to warm ourselves inside and out with wood-fired pizzas. So many amazing specialty pizzas to choose between, Luke opted for the Patate E Salsiccia (Mozzarella, Cherry Tomato, Fennel Sausage, Fontina, Fingerling Potato, Roast Peppers) while I chose the Margherita Classica (Tomato, Mozzarella, Basil, Olive Oil, Parmigiano).

After lunch, we strolled along the neighborhood streets and made our way to waterfront. Still no real views of Manhattan, and the wind, rain, and snow made it quite brisk. Soon, we were seated in a coffee shop for another round of warming.

Finally remembered to take a picture with both of us!

See Manhattan? Nope.
Photo credit: Luke

By mid-afternoon, we returned to our car and finished the drive up and over to Long Island. Greeted by Alex’s family, we quickly found ourselves surrounded by enormous plates of pasta, eggplant parmesan, and crab salad. Delicious!

That night, a group of us took a trip into the City. Our destination – the Phish show at Madison Square Garden. The 45-minute train ride was a great combination of beer, friends, and conversation. Arriving at MSG, we stopped in the basement to enjoy $1.99 beers before heading into the show, where dancing and more dancing took place. Another train ride back, this one a little quieter as we’d all exhausted ourselves.

Sunday morning, we gathered around the kitchen island to drink coffee and continue catching up with each other. Alex and his father set up a small film projector to review several reels they’d recently found at his grandmother’s house. Around lunchtime, several of Alex’s cousins and their families arrived and a feast of sausage and peppers, pasta, pizza, and more eggplant parmesan ensued. Luke and I commented that we need to make eggplant more of a feature in our cooking – so yummy, every time.

Alex and Joe working on the projectorPhoto credit: Luke

Alex and Joe working on the projector
Photo credit: Luke

As we loaded up our car and thanked our awesome hosts for a wonderful weekend, we were given bags to pack up our favorites from among a long table of sweets – cannoli, cookies, cakes, and candies. Hugging our sweet friends good-bye, we began our drive back across the bridges, finally catching a clear view of Manhattan.

As we crossed the state line from New Jersey back into Pennsylvania, I realized that I had Tara’s drivers license in my purse (from the concert). Shoot! A few phone calls later, and Tara was hot on our trail, making it to Philly not long after we did. It was great to show her our apartment and neighborhood, and grab one more hug before she headed back to NY. All in all, it was a whirlwind, wonderful visit.

New Year’s Eve was a quiet affair – cards and champagne, and nudging each other awake until midnight. We made jokes about becoming old, while also relishing in being far removed from the chaos taking place in the streets outside.

On New Year’s Day, we woke early, filled our travel mugs with coffee, and walked over to Broad Street for the famous Mummers Parade. This is, hands down, the strangest and funniest thing we’ve done in Philly. After reading countless articles about the history of the parade, I still can’t confidently tell you what it’s about. Our experience with it was watching many groups perform song and dance numbers, all with beers in hand and wearing make-shift costumes with themes like Elvis, High Vis, and Frogs. Elaborate (and not so elaborate) floats followed behind, along with bead throwers, ribbon-clad judges, and U-Haul trucks to transport the props. It was amazing.

Mummers Parade

Mummers Parade 2013
Photo credit: Luke

Mummers Parade

Mummers Parade 2013
Photo credit: Luke

Mummers Parade 2013

Mummers Parade 2013
Photo credit: Luke

An Owl and Penguin Christmas

Luke and I spent a quiet Christmas at home this year. We’d both been working long hours with little rest or relaxation, so a four-day weekend cozied up in our pajamas came at exactly the right time.

Friday afternoon, we walked to the markets to gather supplies for our holiday feast. Eggs, cinnamon, ginger and apricots would soon start turning our apartment into a bakery of delights!

Up first, gingerbread cookies in the shapes of our three favorite things – Owls, Penguins, and Wisconsin!

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Stamping out Wisconsin cookies
Photo credit: Luke

Saturday morning, we started our annual holiday puzzle. The theme for this year was Penguins in Space. Holiday music and/or romantic comedies played in the background — When Harry Met Sally, While You Were Sleeping, Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters — but we did stop puzzling long enough to give our full attention to our favorite, It’s a Wonderful Life.

Putting penguins together while watching movies

Putting penguins together while watching movies

We opened our presents under the tree with a bottle of Prosecco on Monday night, and woke up early Tuesday morning to check our stockings. Our very own version of Hoyle’s Rules of Games meant it was time to learn something new – starting with 7 Up.

Happy face! New Sauté Pan!

Over the course of the weekend, we took full advantage of our (small) kitchen. Our yummy meals included:

Mushroom Stroganoff with Salad

Roast Chicken with Sage Cornbread Stuffing

Porterhouse steak with Potato-Leek Gratin

Poached Eggs in Spicy Tomato Sauce

and Pozole (a delicious spicy Mexican soup with a hominy base).

Luke also baked up a storm, including: Chai Cinnamon Rolls, Coconut Cupcakes (a mini version of my grandmother’s famous cake), a Roasted Butternut Squash Pie, and Julekage (which is the most delicious bread filled with apricots and cranberries soaked in brandy).

While Luke was in the kitchen, I was nearby to serve as sous chef, bartender, dj, and cleaning assistant. I tried my hand at a few new dishes and also made my go-to all-time favorite Caramelized Onion Dip to spread on everything. I do love dips!

Adding toasted coconut to the tops of our cupcakes

Adding toasted coconut to the tops of our cupcakes
Photo credit: Luke

Another indulgence – reading for fun! After a long conversation about books we love, I decided to revisit a few of my old favorites, including A Moveable Feast (liked it even MORE this time), Murder on the Orient Express (still great), and The Housekeeper and the Professor (nice, but not as satisfying as I remember the first read being).

On Christmas afternoon, we bundled up for a walk in the fresh air. We ventured over to the Schuylkill River and walked north to the boathouses, passing the famous Waterworks along the way.

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Waterworks
Photo credit: Luke

The dam, with the boathouses in the background

The dam, with the boathouses in the background
Photo credit: Luke

The weekend was a great time to reflect on the year, and to dream about possibilities for our future. Happy holidays, everyone!

Getting in the holiday spirit

This weekend we planned to drive to New Jersey, for hiking and to start the holiday season with a fresh cut Christmas tree. Saturday was a beautiful sunny day, and we headed out after coffee and rearranging our bedroom to make room for a tree.

A quick stop by the library brought us up Passyunk, and while stopped at a light next to a stand of trees we changed our mind: here’s a reasonably priced fir a few blocks from home, let’s go bowling instead!

We still got a few miles of hiking in: walking the tree back rather than strapping it onto the roof for a few blocks trip. The return to get the car: finally, some parking luck right across the street from our apartment. A walk through south Philly to Pep Bowling, only to find their few lanes fully occupied with a 12-year old’s birthday party in full swing, and a walk back to Center City to the just-fine Lucky Strike. Good cheer and two losses to my wife’s consistent bowling, a lovely outing.

Stephanie picks up the spare.

Stephanie picks up the spare.

The tree had been stretching out at home, filling the apartment with a wintry forest aroma. From our 3 ornaments a few years ago, we’ve by now picked up a fair number from friends, family, and travels, so with plenty of lights and some glass beads, decorating was set in short order. Another string of lights for the living room ambiance, and some dollar store stockings to hang from the mantle later in the week.

Let the festivities begin!

Let the festivities begin!

Finally, this morning I took the trimmed branches and made a little swag for the door, and then Stephanie and I watched The Nutcracker, which we followed with some rye bagels with chopped pickled herring salad. I’d say we’ve got the spirit in full swing now!

May your hallways smell good too.

May your hallways smell good too.

Friends in town

You know it’s going to be a good weekend when friends get off the plane bearing cheese curds and a CD of Jack White’s B-Sides. Adrienne and Derrick flew in from Wisconsin a week ago for a few days visit.

Friday afternoon we headed out to visit some of the history of Philadelphia – the City Tavern, serving beers from recipes that date back to Ben Franklin – of course!

Luke and Derrick at City Tavern

Luke and Derrick at City Tavern

Later in the weekend we visited Independence Hall, a much less pleasant experience than our first visit with an overly excited ranger tour guide. More enjoyable to walk through the parks and trying to guess the age of houses. A walk out to the river; ducking in for a cocktail to escape the rain.

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Adrienne stocking up on chocolate at Reading Terminal Market

We stopped at the Head Nut at Reading Terminal Market for staples (more coffee!) and delicious snacks (chocolate covered pomegranates). Visiting our favorite local bar, Tattooed Mom, for Victory Hop Devil and several games of pool.

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Luke and Adrienne at Tattooed Mom

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Luke and Derrick shooting pool at Tattooed Mom

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Stephanie and Adrienne at Tattooed Mom

Plenty of time to catch up, talk of future plans and trips, laughing and listening to music, but never enough time when friends must leave to catch their plane home. Envious of their return to a white winter scene, but thankful for our time spent together here in Philadelphia.

Walking along Addison St

Walking along Addison St

Braving the flu with hikes, Greek food, and movies from the 1980s

One of the unexpected challenges to living in a small apartment is the cyclical nature of colds and flus. Just when one of us starts to feel better, the other starts displaying symptoms. The bags of cough drops, boxes of Kleenex, and plastic cupfuls of Nyquil move from one nightstand to the other, and back again. It’s been a sniffling, sneezing, coughing, aching few weeks of limited rest coupled with important work deadlines.

Despite this, we’ve enjoyed a few new places in Philly worth sharing. Our neighbor recommended Kanella to us, and last Friday night we finally gave it a try. We started our meal with Bureki (fillo pastry parcels stuffed with feta and thyme, drizzled with thyme honey, and served with roasted beets) and a less memorable roasted pumpkin appetizer. The Bureki was so amazing that anything standing next to it was bound to be forgotten.

Our entrees were vegetable moussaka and a goat stew with fried okra that was “smack yo’ mama” good! Definitely a great night!

Luke enjoying the Goat Stew

We also took another afternoon hike, this time along the trails of Ridley Creek State Park.

Sunny fall day

Friendly Monsters

Last bits of changing leaves

Other than a not-very-well-organized running event, the trails were empty. This meant that we not only felt like we could happily lose ourselves in the woods, but that also we’d occasionally encounter a neon-wearing athlete looking confused and exhausted. It was fun to watch them approach from far off, and disappear equally fast over the next hill. It reminded me of the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, popping onto the scene just long enough to announce he’s late before hurriedly continuing on.

Disney’s Alice in Wonderland

As a side note, does anyone remember the 1980s TV version of “Alice in Wonderland? The cast was incredible – Carol Channing, Sammy Davis, Jr., Scott Baio, and (my favorite) Lloyd Bridges as the White Knight? Amazing. If you saw it as a kid, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. If you didn’t, there is no point watching it now. I’m sure it will just seem silly and outdated.

It’s sometimes hard to introduce something you loved as a child to your adult friends (and husband). I saw The Goonies about nine blu-gillion times growing up, and so whenever I think about it, I’m transported back to that happy place of Chester Copperpot and inhalers. Whenever I try to encourage Luke to (finally) see it with me, though, I know in the back of my mind that it won’t be as meaningful to a 30 year old as it was to a 12 year old. He won’t develop a secret crush on Sean Austin, think Martha Plimpton’s wit is so great that it requires rewinding (yes, rewinding) and repeating until you’ve got it perfectly mimicked, or be absolutely terrified of playing the wrong key on the skeleton piano before Mama Fratelli’s boys grab you.

Photo credit: Nerds at the Cool Table

I’ll still watch it, though. Especially on sick days, with my go-to blanket and a big bowl of soup. Or popcorn.

“Rocky” and the Art World

My aunt Lisa came to visit from Illinois this weekend. While the wind and cooler temperatures tried to slow us down, Philadelphia’s hometown hero inspired us to brave the weather as we made our way across the city.

And our reward…

Lisa and Rocky

Lisa and Luke after running up the “Rocky Stairs”

How lucky am I to get smiles like these? Very.

We also visited Independence Hall, where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were written and signed. Here we paid homage to Philadelphia’s other hometown hero, Benjamin Franklin, and I left with even more inspiration for my Revolutions class next semester.

That’s really George Washington’s chair up there

Lisa, Luke and I ate a lot of good food, enjoyed delicious margaritas, and spent a lovely weekend catching up with each other. We are looking forward to another visit from her in the spring.

Delicious breakfast sandwiches before Lisa’s flight home

To round out the weekend, Luke and I curled up at home with giant bowls of popcorn and documentaries about the art world.

The Art of the Steal made us hesitant to visit any of the art museums in Philadelphia:

Alternatively, Waste Land inspired us with the power of art and humanity:

We recommend both.

Hurricane Sandy and “The Language of Men”

While Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc along the East Coast yesterday, Philadelphia remarkably managed to miss all of the destruction, power outages, flooding, and (for the most part) high winds that all of our neighboring areas experienced.

Luke captured this fantastic screen shot showing the storm moving in a vortex all around us, while we stayed safely inside our little storm-free bubble.

Around 5pm, we even went for a walk – good gusts of wind every once in a while, but mostly it was a chance for us to test our outerwear for Fall/Winter and to be re-energized by the feeling of rain on our faces.

Nice and dry on the inside
Photo credit: Luke

A view of the Delaware River – and no cars – as seen through a protective Ziploc Bag
Photo credit: Luke

We hope all of our friends and family who endured greater difficulties are doing well and getting the help (and power) they need.

While the threat of the storm loomed large, I spent all day yesterday reading “The Language of Men” by Anthony D’Aries. I’ve met Anthony a few times, thanks to our wonderful mutual friend Adrienne, and always leave with memories of great conversations with him and his lovely wife, Vanessa.

Photo credit: Hudson Whitman

This book is a personal and emotional account of growing up, understanding your family, and most importantly, learning how to ask questions of yourself and those you care about. Anyone who has had book conversations with me knows I am a tough critic who is more likely to HATE something and throw it across the room in disgust than to sing its praises. Anthony’s book is so well written, so realistic and relatable, and aches of so much sincerity, that I could not put it down.

A short excerpt:

“Why do you gotta ask this shit?” my brother says across a table of empty wine bottles. We have just finished an expensive dinner for my father’s 60th birthday. I had asked my father if he was satisfied with his life. He shrugged. The question ricocheted off him and landed in front of my mother. She didn’t answer.

You can find more eloquent reviews here and here.

A walk in the woods

This semester is flying by! I cannot believe Trick-or-Treaters are out, and that it is only a month until Luke and I travel Down South for Thanksgiving with our parents. It’s all really exciting, but also a little overwhelming.

My first attempt at teaching has had a lot of ups and downs. I know this is a normal experience, but it’s not yet a comfortable one. I’m learning so much about how to prepare lectures, engage students with the material, choose reading assignments that provoke discussion, organize a class (and then reorganize it when it is not working), establish class policies and how/when to bend them. I still feel like I have a long way to go before I’m “seasoned,” and the fact that we’re already halfway through the semester is simultaneously a relief and strong motivation for ending the year on a good note.

With all of these thoughts weighing on my mind, Luke took me on a beautiful hike this morning in Fairmont Park. We meandered along the trails, climbing over logs, bouncing off of rocks, sliding on the leaves covering the ground, and breathing in the amazing smells of Fall. It was just the break I needed – a perfect mix of physical exertion, quiet calm, and clearing my head by talking and talking to my patient husband.

Last night, we danced and danced to Brown Bird and Yonder Mountain String Band at a venue just down the street from us. Taking time out of our normal routine to dance and to talk, to play outdoors and to hold hands…this weekend has reminded me how important it is to relax and to breathe before gearing up for whatever is next.

Brown Bird

Yonder Mountain String Band

 

When a friend comes to town

One of the best parts about moving to a new city is having your old friends visit you. This weekend Luke and I were lucky enough to have our first house guest – our good friend Andy. Seeing Philadelphia with fresh eyes, spotlighted by bright sunshine and brought to life with a fall breeze, gently reminded us to appreciate our picturesque neighborhood.

It was also the perfect opportunity to visit a lot of places we’d dog-eared for “some day.”

Dinner at Lemon Hill on Friday night was the perfect spot to settle in for comfort food, delicious cocktails, and long overdue catching up.

We kicked off our Saturday with $2 bloody marys at 12 Steps Down, a great local bar adjacent to the Italian Market.

Photo credit: Philly.com

After meandering through the Italian Market, sampling cheeses and daydreaming about kitchen equipment we can’t afford, we made our way to Taqueria La Veracruzana for an amazing lunch of chilaquiles, tacos de jalapeños rellenos, and burrito al pastor.

Photo credit: Dine Indie

Shopping on South Street is always an adventure, but I can’t believe it took us this long to step into Wooden Shoe Books & Records. I made a beeline for their section on Revolutions in Latin America, and will definitely be back when prepping for my class next semester.

Photo credit: Wooden Shoe Books

After dinner at Karma in Old City, we strolled across town to Rittenhouse Square and back, zigzagging between historical walking tours, frat boys on a scavenger hunt, and girls hobbled by their (too) high heels.

For a nightcap, we went into Tattooed Mom, a nearby two-story bar with pool tables (finally!) and stiff drinks.

Photo credit: Drink Philly

None of us remembered our cameras, but it was almost better that way. It was a lovely weekend of shared new experiences with lots of great conversation and being in the moment.