Thursday, November 23, 2017

5 Things I'm Thankful For In 2017

Happy Thanksgiving!

This year has been incredible, filled with a lot of really great ups that I'm excited to celebrate.  As per tradition here on my blog, I've created a list of things that I'm grateful for this year.

1. Community of Peace.  I got my first job this year and formally started with students in August.  Technically, at the time this post is published, I'm in the middle of week 14 with students.  Working at this school, out of all the schools I applied for, has been the greatest gift to me.  I'm grateful that I work at a school that generously gives first-time teachers a chance to learn and grow in their craft.  I'm grateful for an infinitely supportive staff that's more like a great big family.  I'm grateful for the kids I work with and how they make me smile every single day and keep me on my toes in a way that no other job has enabled me to do.  They show me my strengths and they show me where I need to grow so I can do better by them.  I'm not even scratching the surface on how amazing this place is and how wonderful it is to be part of this team.

2. My Husband.  We celebrated our first year of marriage this year and soon it'll be nine whole years of being together.  I am grateful to have my Jack by my side no matter where we go, grateful to have adventures with him, I'm grateful for his infinite understanding and how he helps me become a better person.

3. The Means to Travel.  I'm grateful that while we aren't swimming in oceans of cash, surfing on the waves of extra time, that we're still able to make time to travel and explore and are able to set aside enough to make adventures happen.  I'm thankful for that flexibility and that freedom.

4. The Company of Smart People.  I'm grateful for experienced individuals I have had the privilege of speaking to and growing with because I've had the opportunity to have conversations about hard-hitting issues with them.  When I write this, I'm thinking of the book club I was with briefly, but this happens for me in so many contexts, so I appreciate being in contact with people like this.

5. Experiences That Inspire Me To Grow.  Not everything this year has been all sunshine and rainbows.  But even the experiences that caused me the most stress, made me cry, and were just plain hard, have helped to make me a better person.  They've helped me figure out the ways I need to grow and have made me a stronger person in many ways.  As hard as things like substitute teaching were, I wouldn't take those back.  So instead of being resentful of the kids that were absolute jerks and the staff people who were unsupportive and every other negative thing, I want to be thankful that they happened.  As one door closes, another one opens somewhere.  That's what I like to think.

There's still a month and a half left in 2017, but so far, this has been a great year with a lot of growing moments and a lot of times to be grateful for.  Thank you for being part of it for me.


Monday, October 23, 2017

A Review of 'Eating Animals' by Jonathan Safran Foer

Related image"Jonathan Safran Foer spent much of his teenage and college years oscillating between omnivore and vegetarian.  But on the brink of fatherhood-- facing the prospect of having to make dietary choices on a child's behalf-- his casual questioning took on an urgency.  His quest for answers ultimately required him to visit factory farms in the middle of the night, dissect the emotional ingredients of meals from his childhood, and probe some of his most primal instincts about right and wrong.  Brilliantly synthesizing philosophy, literature, science, memoir, and his own detective work, Eating Animals explores the many fictions we use to justify our eating habits-- from folklore to pop culture to family traditions and national myth-- and how such tales can lull us into a brutal forgetting.  Marked by Foer's profound moral ferocity and unvarying generosity, as well as the vibrant style and creativity that made his previous books Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, widely loved, Eating Animals is a celebration and a reckoning, a story about the stories we've told-- and the stories we now need to tell."

I'll admit, this book took a while for me to sift through, but I sincerely believe that this is a book that needs to be digested at a pace you're comfortable with (pun intended, I guess).

Vegetarianism is something I have considered for years, but it's something I've recently taken more concrete steps to act on.  I would not consider myself vegetarian now, but there are a couple of months where I have had a vegetarian diet just to see if I was capable of it.  I was hung up on foods that I would miss eating and other things that made me uncomfortable about the thought of going completely vegetarian.  After interviewing some individuals and now after reading this book, I realized you have to adopt a different mindset about eating only vegetarian.

This book goes into the health benefits of being vegetarian, but a big chunk of the book delves into the humanitarian reasons we should adopt a vegetarian diet.  That was both hard to read and also very enlightening.  I think some of the most worthy causes to work towards are the most difficult for us to accomplish in some ways.

I'll keep this review short.  It's so worth the read even if it takes you a while to sift through the whole things.  It's valuable to identify why you do the things you do even if you don't end up changing your ways.  This is a great book because it's very fact-based and yet Jonathan Safran Foer poses just the right philosophical questions to make you consider and reconsider your dietary choices.

I give 'Eating Animals':
Thanks for Reading!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

A Review of 'No House To Call My Home: Love, Family, and Other Transgressions' by Ryan Berg

Image result for no house to call my home ryan berg"Underemployed and directionless, Ryan Berg took a job in a group home for disowned and homeless LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning) teenagers.  His job was to help these teens discover their self-worth, get them back on their feet, earn high school degrees, and find jobs.  But he had no idea how difficult it would be, and the complexities that were involved with coaxing them away from dangerous sex work and cycles of drug and alcohol abuse, and helping them heal from years of abandonment and abuse.

In No House to Call My Home, Ryan Berg tells profoundly moving, intimate, and raw stories from the frontlines of LGBTQ homelessness and foster care.  In the United States, 43% of homeless youth were forced out by their parents because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.  Berg faced young people who have battled extreme poverty, experienced unbalanced opportunities, structural racism, and homophobia.  He found himself ill-equipped to help, in part because they are working within a system that paints in broad strokes, focused on warehousing young people, rather than helping them build healthy relationships with adults that could lead to a successful life once they age out of foster care.

By digging deep and asking the hard questions, and by haltingly opening himself up to his charges, Berg gained their trust.  Focusing on a handful of memorable characters and their entourage, he illustrates the key issues and recurring patterns in the suffering, psychology, and recovery of these neglected teens.

No House to Call My Home will provoke readers into thinking in new ways about how we define privilege, identity, love, and family.  Because beyond the tears and abuse, the bluster and bravado, what emerges here is a love song to that irrepressible life force of youth: hope."

Over the summer, I got a couple of friends together and we started a book club so we could talk about books together!  This was one of the first books we read.  One of the women in my group happens to know the author of this book (and I think was roommates with him at one point) and so we got a little bit of an extra insight into this book.

I think in this day and age, and especially if you live in the part of the world I do or others like it, it's easy to feel complacent about LGBTQ+ issues.  Things are looking up for many people in the community as they gain more rights and are becoming more widely accepted by more families.  But the work is far from done, especially if you're a transgender individual and especially if you're in one of those families that just can't accept you for who you are and/or who you love.  So even though this is set in New York at a slightly different time, it still serves as a good illustration that we shouldn't be complacent and that there are still hundreds of thousands of individuals in need of support and change.

One of the women in my group graduated with a degree in social work, so it was really interesting to speak with her about this book.  One thing we both noticed is that Ryan Berg generally left out his experience from this story.  He mentioned that he was a gay white man who came from a family who accepted this part of him and that's where it ended.  He told us where he positioned himself but this book is very much about the people he served.  Upon further discussion of this book, we figured out that it was because (and I'm very much paraphrasing here) Ryan Berg has a voice.  He has the ability to meet his day to day needs and focus time and energy to write and talk about his own story.  The youth he served (and I believe continues to serve, although not in New York, but Minneapolis) don't have that luxury.  If your focus is on surviving and meeting your day-to-day needs... even if writing down your story is helpful and a good healing exercise, it's not necessarily going to be your first priority.  Not only that, but if you experienced trauma around this part of your life, if you haven't unpacked what happened to you, that's very difficult to ask someone to share their whole story without having some kind of a support network to help them process what happened to them in a healthy way and work toward recovery.  So Ryan choosing to remain quiet about his thoughts on the youth he served was strategic because he could give them a voice, even if they couldn't talk about their experiences on their own just yet.

This was a hard read, but it's another important one that everyone should take time to read-- LGBTQ+ allies and those who struggle to muster support.

I give 'No House to Call My Home':
Thanks for Reading!


Saturday, October 21, 2017

A Review of 'The Hate U Give' by Angie Thomas

Image result for the hate u give angie thomas"Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends.  The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer.  Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline.  Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and gangbanger.  Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil's name.  Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family.  What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night?  And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community.  It could also endanger her life."

I read this book over the summer when reading lists from the library for teens and other young readers are out.  I saw this book on those lists for several weeks and then I started hearing the great reviews and I knew I had to read this book for myself, especially in the light of the court decision of former Officer Yanez and Philando Castille.  There's so much around this decision that is confusing and angering.  This book was published in February 2017 and it couldn't have come at a better time as we're all trying to understand and sort out what exactly is going on in our criminal justice system (or perhaps more accurately: how to fix it, because I think the problem is quite clear).

I've been trying to read more books about race and police brutality and all of the nonfiction texts I've tried reading (I'm still trying to work my way through them) just don't have a certain power that fiction possesses.  Even though Starr is not a real person and her childhood friend Khalil is not a real person who was actually killed, fiction has a way of letting us see what exactly it's like in a situation where you fear for your life because of someone in power with a deadly weapon and because of the color of skin you happen to have been born with.  You're put in the middle of a situation where you can begin to understand what it's like to be affected by trauma such as this and you can see how a community genuinely feels and handles a situation like this.  At the very least, fiction gives you experiences that you might not have otherwise.  Experience brings a certain level of understanding and certainly empathy if nothing else.

As well as giving the reader the experience they might be lacking in a real situation like this, this book also gives you an insight into how POC code switch in different areas of their lives.  One of the most fascinating college courses I ever took was a class called "Language as Power" which is just another way we can wield privilege over others.  Due to the fact that I speak and write in more or less "proper" grammar (at least the more accepted way of speaking), I am more likely to be taken seriously by others in official situations, I am more likely to be accepted when I apply for housing and for a job than other people who don't speak the way I do.  Therefore, for those who don't speak the way I do at home, codeswitching is a necessary evil.  Starr talks about how there are almost two of her: the Starr she presents at her majority white school and the Starr that she is at home.  She not only speaks differently, but she acts differently in some ways too.  I think it really puts this in focus of just how we tend to stifle people of color (not just those who identify as black or African American, but all POC) in our society.

I could go on and on about this book, but for the sake of clarity, I will pause things here.  If anyone is interested in continuing this conversation, we can talk about this in the comments below (or in person if you already know me).  This is such an important read.  Now that I'm a teacher, I made sure I got two copies for my students.  They need more characters like Starr speaking to their experience or the experiences of their communities.  Do whatever you need to do to get your hands on this book.

I give 'The Hate U Give':
Thanks for Reading!


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A Review of 'We Were Liars' by E. Lockhart

Image result for we were liars
NOTE: This blog post contains spoilers.  If you want to keep this book a surprise (and I highly recommend that you do the first time you read it), please return to this post after you finish reading it for yourself.  Thank you!

"A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends-- the Liars-- whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution.  An accident.  A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from New York Times bestselling author, National Book Award finalist, and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart.

Read it.

And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE."

Please note that even though the description for the book says "Just Lie" about the ending, this will be an honest review that will contain spoilers.  You have been warned.

I finished this book on my flight home from New York.  I was shocked by how the book ends and I was drawn in the entire time I was reading.  At first, I didn't get what was going on.  Cadence suffers a traumatic brain injury of some kind, but the doctors can't really figure out where the trauma originated.  There really aren't any marks or anything to indicate that she hit her head.  She doesn't seem to remember what happened and no one is telling her what happened.  She can just tell that everything is different somehow.

After some time away from the family property where she spends her summers, she returns after hitting her head.  She sees her friends and cousins once again but feels this pull between the people her age in the family and the older people in her family (grandfather, mother, aunts).  Cadence spends a lot of time in the house furthest away from the main house with her cousins and friends, but everyone wants to keep her away from the house.

This is a story about a huge mistake.  Not a story like, "Oops, I screwed up, but it's okay, I can fix it."  No, instead, this mistake is one you make that changes the lives of everyone you know (and then some) and there's no taking it back.

Towards the end of the story, we find out that Cadence and her cousins and friends were caught in the middle of family drama over money that was really putting the grandfather in power, his daughters in a flurry of desperation, and their kids were being used as pawns in this whole game.  And they were sick of it.  So they decided to do something about it.  It's amazing how even in a situation that doesn't entirely involve them, these kids can have such a strong and visceral reaction.

Reading the ending where Cadence and her cousins go and burn down one of the houses was both exhilarating to read and then it quickly turned horrifying.  It was like I was watching what was happening in the house as a movie, right before my eyes.  I think that's a sign of a really great read.

I don't want to go into too much detail because a big part of this book is that you get that initial reaction and you try and piece together the story.  So I'll leave this here.

Overall, I give We Were Liars:
Thanks for Reading!


Sunday, October 8, 2017

I Traveled To New York! (Part 2)

If you're just joining us and you missed Part 1, click HERE!

My third day in New York was much calmer.  It was nice to not have to be anywhere at any particular time like I needed to be the day before.  So I started off with a slow morning and then hopped on the subway and headed out to Brooklyn.  My mission was simple: pick up a rainbow bagel.

It's likely that you've seen these bagels whilst perusing Facebook idly one day.  They definitely caught my eye and from that day forward, I told myself that the first time I go to New York, I would get one of these bagels and eat it.  And so I did.  They're really quite amazing to see for yourself.

I got my bagel the way The Bagel Store intended with cream cheese that included cake batter and sprinkles of all things.  It was a struggle to claim this as my breakfast because it was so sweet.  It was quite tasty and I munched on it throughout the day, but yeah... not something to be consumed on a daily basis.  But it was worth it just to say that I have eaten a rainbow bagel.
I brought my bagel back into Manhattan and returned to Battery Park, where I picked up the ferry to the Statue of Liberty the day before.  It was nice to find that space because it was so quiet and it was nice to be near water and just kind of forget for a while where I was and just be.  10/10 would recommend eating bagels in Battery Park and incorporating downtime into your future adventures when possible.

But I couldn't stay in Battery Park all day, as nice as it was to be there.  I had more I wanted to do this day.

I started walking in the direction of the 9/11 memorial.  That was my next big stop.  On my walk there, I ran into a protest.  At the time, the latest news to come out of the White House was that we were dropping out of the Paris Agreement on climate change.  I thought it was interesting to run into a march against Trump in the state he calls home.  It was odd though because the police didn't know anything about it.  They didn't even know where the marchers were headed.  I thought they were supposed to be informed of these things, but I guess they don't have to be in the know on everything.

Anyway, I continued my walk until I reached the gigantic fountain that stands on where the foot of one of the World Trade Centers once stood.  The other building has been built up again and is now a museum.  I believe it is also the World Trade Center, redone.

Just being outside by the fountain, even before figuring out where I needed to go and going inside, I was drawn in by how small I felt surrounded by all of those people who had come to this same place to pay respect or to marvel at the great impact of this tragedy or both.  I felt small standing next to the former footing of the old World Trade Center tower 2.  For me, I was in second grade when 9/11 happened, so it was hard for me to conceive what this tragedy could have looked like as I was standing outside the new building, looking around at the other buildings in the area.

Going inside, I went through security yet again and then I was at the top of a long bank of escalators and staircases.  I got on an escalator going down and the further down I went, the darker it got.  I went from a bright white, window-filled room to a dark, windowless space.  You can see the original foundation and steel beams that are twisted and rusting, jutting out of the wall, left where they stood at the time the towers collapsed.  For a while, you're just doused in tragedy with not a ton of information.  You see the mangled corpse of a firetruck where the entire crew perished while coming to the rescue and put out fires.  But then, you go through a set of doors and you're specifically asked not to take pictures (which, to my frustration, a saw quite a few people taking pictures which was utterly disrespectful of them).  So you'll have to rely on me recounting what I saw for this part.

Walking into this exhibit behind a set of doors, I didn't realize that I was entering a timeline of 9/11, twenty-four hours starting right before the first plane hit.  It's eerie to see pictures of the day of, but before anything happened.  It was a peaceful day... just a normal New York day.  Meetings were scheduled, people were coming into work, just like every other day.  What was interesting to see was a video that was capturing the New York skyline live (at the time) as an art installation to show that things never change and life will always go on.  They captured the first explosion completely by accident.

From then on, there was a breakdown of what happened in New York, minute by minute.  It took about 15 minutes for all of New York's emergency personnel to be called to the sight and for news stations to start covering what was happening and I believe for President Bush to be informed and start flying in from Florida where he was due to speak at the time.  My heart was pounding as I was reading it and I couldn't help but be impressed by how little time, in the scheme of things, it took for this tragedy to happen and for first responders to arrive on the scene.

This is such a haunting exhibit.  I don't remember what I expected before this, but I was still surprised just watching the videos captured of the explosions and of people jumping out of high windows, recordings of phone calls between passengers and their loved ones, flight attendants and the airport... one of the most interesting things for me to see was footage of the terrorists as they were going through security (much less of an invasive process as it is now, as many older than me know and have experienced) and head to their gate.  How did they feel knowing what they were about to do?  Calm?  Scared?  What does an evil person do before they do something truly and irreversibly evil?

One thing that I wish had been done differently was the part where they talk about Islamic terrorism.  I think that part of the exhibit was decent for someone who knows a little bit about terrorism and about Islam, but if this is your first exposure to thinking about this, I think it can be quite problematic.  I wish they had separated this terrorist group from the rest of Islam because it's not a violent religion.  It's the people who are violent.  I wish they had taken a more general stance on terrorism, showing that terrorists can come from any religion and that those who choose to commit such crimes do not represent the rest of the religion.  Islam is NOT synonymous with terrorism.  As it is, I don't think individuals would walk away from this exhibit with their views on who can be a terrorist challenged.  That's such a shame because if there was a place to have this conversation, I think this place would have been a good place to start.

It was a lot to take in and I'd be surprised if you could process and take in everything after just one visit.  I'll have to return someday, perhaps when I have someone I can process this place with right away.

From the 9/ll exhibit, I went to Starbucks, charged my phone for a bit and sipped a Chai Latte, and then hopped on the subway to go to Central Park.  Looking back at the journaling I did on my trip, I wrote, "I don't think I was expecting this place to be as beautiful as it was."  Just walking around the park, it felt like I was in a totally different place than New York.  New York's green spaces have a way of immersing you, however small they are, and making you forget that you in this huge, busy and bustling city.

What I loved about Central Park is that there were so many unexpected adventures to be had.  I had a map and I was finding my way around that way, so I ran into some expected places.  I ran into Belvedere Castle, which is a small castle situated on a pond that was largely used for bird watching if I remember correctly.  While there, I ran into a French school group who were babbling excitedly in French to each other.  I stuck around them for a while because I missed hearing French.  I had to laugh to myself as they were getting excited over seeing squirrels in the park and turtles resting on logs by the pond.  I remembered my own French family who was so excited when they visited Minnesota and saw the sheer number of squirrels in the park.  After a while though, I was sick of running into this big group, so I purposely tried to get lost in the park, thinking that I would be taken away from that group at least for a little while.  And I did manage to get away.

I found a great pond where friends and couples were rowing in rowboats, trying not to run ashore.  I kept walking and ran into another pond where children and parents were playing with remote control boats, which I saw in the Stuart Little movie, so I was pretty excited that this was an actual place (albeit not as big as the movie depicted... movie magic!).  I ran into the John Lennon "Imagine" memorial (along with a hundred other people it seemed).

One of my favorite things I found was a group of people learning to tango in a public square and I just sat admiring them and watching them for a while.  I continued walking and found statues of Alice in Wonderland, Balto, and Hans Christian Anderson and thought these things added magical elements to the park.  Before leaving the area, I went and had dinner at a comfort food Thai restaurant and ate delicious Pad Thai on a stool looking out the window at the street so I could people-watch the whole time.  I hadn't eaten on my own at a restaurant, I think, since I was in Italy for my 21st birthday.  It was a good experience having again, taking myself to dinner.  I think this is something everyone should try, even if they're romantically attached to someone.

After that, I headed home, because the next day was going to be a busy day-- BookCon!

I arrived at BookCon at what I thought was on time, but it actually took a while of standing in line before I could actually get into the conference.  Still, my anticipation was high-- so many exciting things could happen today!

Once they actually started letting people in, I went right to the lecture hall so I could hear Bill Nye the Science Guy speak!  He had co-written a series called Jack and the Geniuses that I hadn't heard about, but I was excited to see Bill Nye, straight out of my middle school science classes.  I think my favorite panel to see and listen to was about writing children's literature with Kwame Alexander (new author to me, his newest book is called Solo which I preordered, now have, and can't wait to read!), Mary Pope Osborne (Magic Tree House), Jeff Kinney (Diary of a Wimpy Kid), and Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket, author of A Series of Unfortunate Events).  Ms. Osborn is so sweet and thoughtful, that she balanced out each of the gentlemen on this panel, even though she held back more than they did.  I loved Kwame Alexander because of his fresh perspective.  Of the panelists, I believe it was he and Jeff Kinney who were the newest to the literary scene.  My favorite of them all was Daniel Handler though.  I admire people who can be hilarious and yet take it all down a notch and be extremely thoughtful without really trying.

It was wonderful just to wander around the exhibits visiting different publishers, seeing what books were new to the scene.  I bought a number of books, but I was also determined to find some ARC books (Advanced Readers Copies, which means they were not yet published and open to the public).  I did manage to snag one!  Even though it's not my usual genre, I was still excited to receive it.  One of my favorite memories was visiting a small publisher (finding them completely on accident) and I must have spent 30-45 minutes with them just talking about writing and publishing.  It's still my desire to someday publish a book, but I have been having an issue creating a draft that I like even a little bit.  So I was talking with them about creating a writing practice and getting back into crafting stories.  She definitely inspired me.  I have since written a letter to the publishers thanking them for talking to me for so long and for encouraging me to keep writing even when things are hard.  I really appreciated it.

And so concluded my last full day in New York!  The next morning, I rose early and embarked on the hour or so train journey from upper Manhattan to JFK airport.  It was a really great trip and already, I can't wait to go back someday!  But for now, there are other places to visit and explore.

Thanks for Reading!


Sunday, September 24, 2017

I Traveled To New York! (Part 1)

At the beginning of June, about one week after my husband and I returned from California and Arizona, I turned right back around and went to the airport where I flew to New York.  As much as a few members of my family hated this, I traveled alone to the Big Apple.  Maybe I should have been more afraid to go to this big city on my own that I had never visited before, but I wasn't.  My last time traveling alone was two years ago when I was studying abroad in the Netherlands.  I traveled to completely different countries where I didn't know anyone on my own and I loved the freedom of it.  I loved being able to wake up in the morning and figuring out where I wanted to go instead of having to push for what I wanted.  I wanted that experience with travel again.  And so, with the excuse that I was going to Book Con (I really did, I didn't lie to anyone), I flew to New York!

The flight there was easy.  Getting through JFK airport though was all sorts of crazy.  There weren't a lot of places marked, so it took a while to figure out where I needed to go and what exactly I needed to do in order to get the heck out of this airport and get to my AirBnB.  This was my first introduction to, at least what I consider to be, rude New York behavior.  I think it felt rude to me because a lot of the people I spoke to trying to figure things out were very curt, seemingly on a schedule, and if you stopped that, it felt like an inconvenience to them.  From January to May, I worked as a substitute teacher, so this wasn't the first time (nor the last time) I've dealt with incorrigible behavior and rude humans, so I had a surprising amount of patience built up and largely wasn't phased by this.  In some ways, I adapted and was as direct as possible in my interactions with people.  That being said, I'm not used to being short with people, so even a little bit of friendliness seemed to go a long way and was greatly appreciated.  It's no fun to be awful to other people even if it gets you what you want quicker.

Anyway, I took the subway from the airport to upper Manhattan in the Harlem area.  New York has this weird way of feeling really big and really small at the same time.  So this journey took about an hour to achieve.  Once I got into my AirBnB and put my stuff down, I went right back to the subway station and was off to meet someone.  My Nani runs a daycare and at one point, she looked after a little girl whose mother works in the fashion industry.  They moved to New Jersey because the mother got a job in New York City and have been there ever since.  It was really nice to have her as a connection and just someone to check in with.

She works in the Garment district, which is really close to Time Square, so she was really kind to take me to lunch and then walk me to Time Square in the hope of finding a ticket for a Broadway show.

Time Square is quite an overwhelming place.  Aside from my Airbnb, this was the first place I took the subway.  I was already getting used to using this way of getting around, but nothing could prepare me for the onslaught of light, color, and sound when I left the grimy depths of the subway and emerged into Time Square.  There were so many places to look and yet I didn't have enough senses to take in everything that I wanted to.  But I did manage to work through that and snag a ticket to see Chicago that night.  Suddenly, I had a limited number of hours to explore and that time wasn't long enough to consider going back to upper Manhattan to where I was staying.  The lady I had lunch with who was helping me out suggested I try a hop-on/hop-off bus just to see a lot of the city and get to know my surroundings, especially since my trip was so short.  So that's just what I did.

To me, it was a little sketchy going up to someone with the hop-on/hop-off bus logo on their shirt and buying a ticket that way.  Especially because they didn't have the bus right there necessarily.  But it ended up really being worth it.  I bought my ticket and holy cow, the sheer number of coupons that the guy I bought my ticket from generated for me... I almost could have ridden the tourist bus all weekend long.  But I didn't want to.

Riding a hop-on/hop-off bus is not something I usually do when I travel to a big city like New York.  I prefer to explore on foot/subway and just see what I see.  But I was actually really glad that I did this.  It was a nice way to figure out where I needed to go for things I already planned to do and then see things, however briefly, that I knew I wouldn't get a chance to see on this particular trip.

After spending a few hours riding around the city on the hop-on/hop-off bus on my first day in New York, I headed back to Time Square and started walking to the theater where Chicago was being performed.  In the months leading up to my arrival in New York, I had been looking for Broadway tickets, but they were just so expensive... we're talking over $100 for one ticket to a show... and not necessarily a very popular show like Phantom of the Opera and Wicked (both of which I had seen in Minneapolis, so I didn't really want to see them again, even on Broadway).  But when I had the opportunity to buy them in person, I had taken on a "when in Rome" attitude and so this was definitely my splurge of the trip.

The Ambassador Theater wasn't as big as I pictured it might be for a Broadway venue.  I think I had very grandiose ideas of what Broadway was like.  Nevertheless, I was happy to be in this place.  I was very excited to see one of my favorite musicals performed live and it was a show I hadn't seen before (other than the movie of course).  I thought most of the performers were wonderful-- great stage presence, powerful voices, and they easily drew me in with their storytelling... what was a little disappointing was that I didn't get quite this same experience with the lead actors.  The women playing Roxy and Velma were much quieter than the rest.  I don't know if the actors were miked up or not.
The show ended around 10pm and I walked out of the theater.  It's weird because even though I knew the sun had long gone down and I knew it was late if I didn't know these things, I would have thought it was the middle of the day.  There were still so many people out and about and the lights of Times Square made nighttime nonexistent.  I didn't need to worry about heading home after the show so late.  It was basically broad daylight when I left.

The next day, I was off to Battery park because I was due to catch the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.  It was the first time I tried to use the subway as a commute where I had to be at a certain place at a certain time.  Let's just say it's a good thing I wasn't actually headed to work or somewhere where people were counting on my presence.  There was some maintenance or a train broke down or something where a train didn't come to my subway station for about 20 minutes or so (when usually they arrive every 5 minutes and sometimes even sooner).  Correction, about four trains passed by but they flew right past my station anyway.  Once a train did stop though, I was genuinely surprised by just how many people could cram themselves onto a single subway car.  We would make stops and the door would open and I'd think, "Surely they'll see how full the car is and just wait for the next one."  Oh no.  If there was even an inch of breathing room, you could apparently fit about 2-3 more people onto that car.  I didn't really have to hang on to a railing in order to stay up while in the train.

Once that fresh hell had passed, I ran around Battery Park in search of where I was supposed to catch the ferry.  I did eventually find it and, miracle of miracles, I got there just in time.  

When you get a ticket to the Statue of Liberty, the price of your ticket also includes admission to Ellis Island.  So I was on my way to both.  But the first stop is the Statue of Liberty, so I got off there and started roaming the island, finding my way to the base of Lady Liberty.

Here's the other thing I learned this day: one of the themes of my trip was to be metal detectors and being searched before entering almost anything.  This might be a post-9/11 New York thing, but I can't tell you the number of times I have had to remove my belt, go through a metal detector, and get my stuff scanned before I could visit a national monument or a museum.  I just thought this was interesting.  The security guards were nice enough and I wanted to see the Statue of Liberty, so I didn't mind the minor inconvenience.  It's just something that I noticed was very ubiquitous on this trip.

My visit to the Statue of Liberty was a special one.  In the winter, I bought my ticket to the Statue of Liberty and I had the option of just going to the island to stand and behold Lady Liberty, or to do that but also go up to the crown.  I figured I didn't know when I would be back in New York again, so I decided to splurge and go up to the crown (and really, I was surprised by how inexpensive this option was).

After yet another metal detector scan and after leaving my bag locked in a locker in the gift shop tent, I began my assent.  I climbed up to the pedestal using normal stairs.  Being up on the pedestal was pretty sweet.  It was definitely a different perspective than how I've traditionally seen Lady Liberty.  But I still had higher to climb.

This was the moment I realized why they said I could not bring a bag with all of my things.  From the pedestal to the crown is one big spiral staircase tube.  There are some places you can pull off to the side and rest, but those spaces are quite small.  The staircase itself is steep and narrow and carrying your bag with you is just another burden to take with you that also takes up quite a bit of space.

I expected my assent to be a long one.  When I travel, I have a history of climbing up tall things just to say I've been up that tall thing.  So I've been to the top of the Eiffel Tower (via the stairs), I've been up to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, I've been to the top of St. Paul's Cathedral, and to the top of a sinking church in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands... I like to see a greater view of the places I visit.  Each of these climbs was quite lengthy, in my opinion, so when I reached the top, I was surprised that it didn't take me too long to reach the top!

Reaching the top meant seeing the Statue of Liberty completely differently than I had before.  In the exhibit area, there was a huge emphasis on how she was constructed.  Each part had to be molded and pounded out to hold its shape and put back together.  She had to be well-supported from the inside with a series of struts and beams.  It was the weirdest thing to see her face but from the inside.   I spent a little time at the top and after being scolded for reading my camera out one of the windows of the crown (sorry, my bad, the window was open and I had a firm grasp on my camera strap), I began my descent.  There were still more adventures to be had.

I had to remind myself one I reached ground level again and as I looked back at the State of Liberty, that this was the first thing that newcomers would see upon their arrival in New York.  People who had been traveling for maybe weeks who just wanted to get to this new place they intended to call home.  Maybe they were the first of their family to arrive in the U.S. and they had the pressure of paving the way for the rest of their family to arrive in the next few months or years.  But seeing this statue might remind them that even though there were difficult times ahead that they would have to rise to meet, this was the reason they were coming here.  Not because they wanted to take "our" jobs or cause us harm, but so they could build a better life for themselves and their families.  Because they wanted better than what they could get in their home countries.  That was the hope, anyway.

 I climbed back down a short flight of stairs and once again I had basically free range of Liberty Island.  I grabbed a soft pretzel for lunch and then waited once more for the ferry so I could head out to Ellis Island.

Ellis Island was one of the places I was most excited to see on this trip.  It's a place I have been hearing about for years, all through school and I had kind of built it up in my mind as a sort of prison or place of horrors.  So this was good for me to see it with my own eyes and readjust this vision of this place I had built up in my mind.

I think it's neat that the only way to get to Ellis Island is if you take a ferry.  I think this is a good way to experience something close to what our ancestors might have experienced when they first arrived at Ellis Island.

The focus of Ellis Island is the number of inspections that every person had to go through before setting foot in New York.  When you enter the building, you enter the hall where you leave your luggage.  Upstairs, you enter the arrivals hall where your quick inspections occur.  Usually, inspectors spent no more than 6 seconds on a health inspection, unless of course something was obviously wrong with someone.  Then your inspection became longer and you saw a much more qualified doctor.  You'd have a mental health exam, a legal exam, and one or two other examinations before you were allowed to get on another ferry and head to New York.  If all had gone well, you might spend a few hours at Ellis Island and then be on your way.

The other main part of the museum was talking about the past and present of immigration in the United States.  Given who we have elected as POTUS and how he has attacked immigration since before he was elected President, I thought it was especially important that I was able to see this.  Now that DACA is in the process of being repealed, it's even more important than ever that we understand how immigration works and why people choose to come here (or really, anywhere).  People were coming here from other countries because they weren't finding the prosperity they hoped to find back home.  They came because they had family here.  They came because they were being oppressed in their home countries and were seeking amnesty.  They came from all corners of the world and in a variety of ways.  It was a very humbling experience that I get to live in this country and I don't have to experience the traumas that brought others here and I don't have to live in fear of being discovered like so many others do, and the only thing that's different between me and so many others is that I was born here and they were born somewhere else.

 The two things that really helped drive home this part of the exhibit for me were the area where you could look up family members and a booth where you could take a truncated citizenship test to see if you would be able to become an American citizen if you weren't a citizen already.  I found out that I would be able to become a citizen because I got 8/10 on the quiz.  I think the minimum was 6 or 7 out of 10.  So I just barely made the cut.

I made a call to my Nani and sent a message off to my mom for names I could look up.  I couldn't find one family member, but I might have found one family member from my mom's Irish side.  It was really cool, because once you found someone in your family, you could see where they departed from, what ship they were on, and then if they passed inspection, where they were headed and who they were headed to once they passed through Ellis Island.  I thought that was just the coolest thing.

 This was an amazing experience, but both the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are things that can take the majority of the day.  It's not a strenuous trip by any means, but it's a lot to take in all at once.  I'd say if you were going to do this (and you absolutely should!), make sure you give yourself the day.  These places take time to get through your brain, so allow yourself that time.  You'll be glad you did.

Upon my arrival back in Battery Park, I decided just to enjoy the day a little bit longer before heading home.  I ran into this interesting carousel and was just watching young children and their parents spinning around on the great plastic fish.  It was wonderful to watch from the outside.  When I saw two women who were older than me were heading into the carousel after buying tickets to ride, I decided to take a spin as well.  Riding the carousel myself was even more magical than simply watching someone else enjoy it.  It was colorful, the music was peaceful and not too loud... it was a glorious experience.

I will leave this blog post here.  I've only covered two days of this short trip, but they were two packed days.  I'll write part 2 as soon as I am able.

Thanks for Reading!