Thursday, March 24, 2016

NYC Trip 2016 - Day Three

Meezy and I spent the last day in NYC on our own because the rest of our group had already departed. We signed up for a guided tour that began at St. Paul's Chapel. The guide had owned an office down the street from the WTC plaza and gave us his first-hand account of what it was like in the city on September 11th. We learned about the roles that area buildings played during the aftermath, serving as staging grounds or command posts or sleeping quarters. We stopped by St. Peter's Church before making our way to the World Trade Center plaza.

Inside the footprint of where WTC1 and WTC2 used to be now stands two memorial pools. They are breathtaking. Pictures have a hard time capturing the magnitude of their size or their meaning.

At ground level, there are cascading waterfalls around the entire square structure. The water makes a second drop even further below ground level and then recirculates back around for another trip down the waterfall. The panels around the entire perimeter of both pools include the names of the victims from the 1993 WTC bombing and the September 11th attacks.

I only took one picture inside the 9/11 Memorial Museum because the experience was so solemn and I just wanted to show due reverence. I remember vividly what I was doing and what thoughts I had when I started watching the news coverage on that fateful day. I've heard the details over and over again and certainly seen my fair share of documentaries and news stories about it, but being in the museum made me really see everything, for what felt like the first time. I was an 18-year old college student when 9/11 happened and my worldview was different from what it is today. Now, as a wife and mother of 2, the hurt stings in different ways. I don't really want to explain what all the exhibits were like or all the feelings I had as I walked through them. I think you just need to see it for yourself. Please, make the trip.

The observatory at the top of WTC1 has amazing views of the city, so Meezy and I headed up there to grab lunch and take it all in.

On our way back to the hotel, we stopped by a Century 21 department store. I read they had good deals and a huge selection, so I figured it was worth a shot. Oh my gosh, the place was packed! Granted, it was a Saturday, but I still felt overwhelmed. We had a little bit of time before our dinner reservations, so we relaxed back at our hotel. We relied on cabs more this day than we had the previous two days, but that's because the weather was colder and our bodies were tired! For dinner, we ate at Lincoln Square Steak. It had good reviews online, so we figured it was worth a shot. As part of your meal, they provide a small complimentary appetizer and dessert, so that was nice. Our main courses were fine, but I think if we had had a better waiter, we would have left with a better impression of the place. He couldn't give any details to Meezy on what the special was and never asked him if he wanted a second beer. It also took forever for him to bring us our check. With as many restaurants as there are in NYC, I think it's safe to say we would try someplace else the next time we visit.

The grand total for Saturday, according to my Apple watch, was 11,602 steps covering 5.25 miles. Not bad! That concluded our NYC vacation. We caught an early flight the next morning and came back home to hug our sweet boys. I'm very lucky that my mom is able to babysit for us so we can take such meaningful, memorable trips.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

NYC Trip 2016 - Day Two

Our second day in NYC was one I had been looking forward to for quite a long time. First on the agenda was a visit to the Statue of Liberty, followed by the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. Our group of 6 took the subway to Battery Park, where we boarded a ferry to Liberty Island. The weather was perfect and the views were breathtaking and I was lucky enough to be able to capture it in a few photos.

When we got to Liberty Island, we picked up an audio tour to learn a little more about the statue's history. We had tickets for pedestal access, which means we got to climb up to the area right below where the statue actually starts.

After we finished our tour of Lady Liberty, it was time to hop back on the ferry and make our way to Ellis Island.

This is the moment I had been waiting for! My grandparents immigrated to America in 1955 with their 3 sons (one of them being my dad). They packed everything they could manage in a few suitcases and took an 11-day journey on a ship from Rotterdam, Holland to the Port of New York. They left their friends and family members and home behind and started their American dream. While they didn't actually pass through Ellis Island because it closed in 1954, this was the closest I could get to learning what their journey was like, what processes they encountered when they got here, and what they saw when they disembarked their ship. It was surreal.

I had already previously obtained the ship manifest from my family's journey, so I brought it with me to compare to what was on display at Ellis Island. It was similar to what was shown there and made me feel that much closer to my grandparents and uncles. Of the 5 family members shown on the manifest (lines 7 through 11), only my father is still living.

If you're a regular reader of my blog, you're probably tired of hearing about my Dutch heritage. I get it. But, try to imagine what it was like for these 5 people to be willing to leave their lives behind and start over in a foreign country. They knew so few people here, and were used to a different culture and language, but they took the leap. I've never gotten the chance to meet any of the relatives on my dad's side who still live in Holland. That family name is nearly nonexistent in America now, and the lineage (by name) will only continue here through my dad's nephews. You can see why it's so important to me to retain the memories and identity of my ancestors, because the name will soon be forgotten.

After finishing our visit to Ellis Island, we ate dinner at a pizzeria near Times Square called Bella Vita. It's a small restaurant with limited seating, especially for a large group, but they fit us in and we had a great meal. The pizzas were huge and fresh and hit the spot. Although we were quite tired from our busy day, we stopped by Grand Central Terminal because a few in our group hadn't seen it before. We checked out the shops and perused Grand Central Market. The food at the market looked so delicious and I knew I would be a regular there if I lived in that part of NYC.  On the way back to our hotel, I got the urge to visit Shake Shack. It had been recommended by a friend and I didn't think there would be another opportunity to partake in it before we left NYC. The line was pretty long, but luckily they had a "cold only" line that had no one in it. We got a couple concretes and were quickly on our way. After spending a couple hours in our hotel relaxing, playing games, and catching up on March Madness, we decided to make a late night visit to The Counter. We got our snacks to-go and were surprised that the place was still very busy at 11pm. New York really has no curfew!

Normally I'd feel bad about all the food I consumed in that day, but my watch informed me that I had indeed earned it after walking 18,332 steps and covering 8.69 miles. Whew!

Monday, March 21, 2016

NYC Trip 2016 - Day One

Meezy and I were lucky enough to be able to take a trip to NYC recently while my mom took care of our kiddos. The main purpose of the trip was to see Aladdin on Broadway, and we tried to make it a trip where all of his siblings and their spouses could come. Unfortunately, Meezy's oldest sister wasn't able to join us. There were three couples total, and we staggered our arrivals to and exits from NYC based on our individual availability. We made sure to all be there on the night of the Aladdin show, though.

Meezy and I arrived on Thursday afternoon and checked into the City Club Hotel near Times Square. The location was very convenient for a lot of the activities we had planned. Because this was a nice kids-free getaway for us, we opted for an upgraded room. That was definitely a good decision, as the room was awesome! When you walked in on the main floor, there was a living room, a half bathroom, an additional seating area near the windows and then a walk-out balcony. A spiral staircase led you up to the bedroom and huge full bathroom.

 View from master bedroom into huge bathroom 

View from downstairs toward upstairs and the gorgeous ceiling

View from balcony

Huge flag hanging near our balcony

The unfortunate reminder we got every time we walked onto our balcony!

We decided to eat dinner before our show and selected Glass House Tavern. It was conveniently located nearby and had space to accommodate us. Meezy's dad covered our dinner, which was a wonderful treat! 

After our meal, we were all pretty excited about heading to the show. I honestly didn't expect to like Aladdin as much as I did. I've certainly seen the movie numerous times and figured the Broadway production would be a little cheesy. Much to my surprise, it was quite entertaining. The costumes were fantastic, the visual effects were done well, and I laughed fairly often. I wish we were allowed to take pictures during the show because there were so many amazing things to look at. I had to settle for sneaking a picture of the curtain before the show started.

After the show was over, they made an announcement about their partnership with the charitable organization Broadway Cares. They were asking for donations and would give memorabilia in exchange for them, like aprons, cups, posters, etc. I thought, sure, I can spare some money to do some good and get the added benefit of going home with a tangible memory of the show. The last item they offered in exchange for a donation was the opportunity to take a backstage tour and meet the actor who played the Genie. Whhhhaaaaattt? Of course I wanted to do that! Seriously, how often would you get an opportunity like that? I signed up our group immediately and we waited around while the theater cleared. There were about 10 other guests who jumped at the chance too, so we were all treated to a guided, behind-the-scenes tour of what backstage is like at a Broadway musical. We learned some intriguing information, but of course the coolest part was seeing all the props they use in the show. The backstage area is so small that they really have to utilize every single inch of space they have available. That means lots of things have to be hoisted up and stored above your head. 

Here's a quick video giving you a more complete view:

After the tour was over, we got to walk out onto the stage and see what it felt like from that vantage point. It was quite humbling! We also got to see all the trap doors on the stage and how small they really are. Pretty amazing that the actors can fit through them.

Last but not least, we were introduced to James Monroe Iglehart who plays Genie. 

What an amazing first day we had in NYC! My Apple watch calculated my steps at 10,096, covering a distance of 5 miles. Not bad considering we were only there for half a day. We had so many more incredible things in store for the trip, that I knew this was only the beginning.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Dutch Turns Four

My first born turned 4 last month and we marked the occasion with a party at Kids Zone at Globe Life Park. I had never been there before, but it looked fun from the pictures online and I wanted to try a different venue than the parties we've been to recently. They have various packages that include a tour of the ballpark, but I knew 4 year olds only cared about playing! So, we rented out just the Kids Zone for a couple hours. We brought in all the food and drinks, but there were enough areas for the kids to play so that we didn't have to worry about the entertainment. There is a large slide that looks like a baseball bat, a rock climbing wall, a video game area for older kids, and a huge multi-level play structure where kids get to explore and climb and play with a lot of foam balls that shoot out of cannons or drop down from above.

We did a SpiderMan theme this year, so my friend Rachel once again supplied the amazing cake balls.

We had a great time celebrating our big kid and the venue was the perfect choice. I definitely wouldn't mind having another event there in the future. I use Dutch's birthday parties as the opportunity to share some of the silly or interesting things he has said over the past year. This year provided some pretty memorable quotes!  

My favorites were: 

- "Do we buy babies?"
- "Can I touch this floor that I'm already touching?"
- "I don't like what grown ups eat."
- "You know what's raspberry? Strawberry."
- "Sometimes my mind just thinks all the great things."
- "Man, my daddy is just wearing me out." 

My little Dutch boy may be four going on fourteen sometimes, but he makes me laugh literally every day. His smile melts my heart and his constant quest for knowledge may be tiring, but it's refreshing to see. Love you so much, Dutchie.