Wander: Rainy (or any) Day New York Museum Guide

The other day while walking hand in hand with Soren through the Met I was overcome by how a rainy day at this incredible institution is just a regular aspect of growing up in New York. My favorite, Whitney, spiraling Guggenheim and MoMA are the indoor playgrounds here where we regularly roam and marvel.

But this city is filled with every type of collection – from dinosaurs to sex – so there’s plenty of off-beat or out of the way places worth a visit. My wish is to tour every museum, which would require me to do things like actually explore the Neue Galerie beyond just the cafe (in my defense: the cafe is totally charming).

But we’ve been making a dent in the long list of collections. And if visiting New York  the following museums might not be on your radar, but they should be. More experience than museum, The Tenement Museum walks you through the immigrant stories that shaped New York, and The Cloisters recreates medieval Europe in upper Manhattan.  Exhibit depending, The Brooklyn Museum, Asia Society Museum and Museum of the City of New York are all worth an afternoon stroll. 

 The Park Avenue Armory is transformed several times a year by large-scale or just plain ambitious installations like Ernesto Neto’s anthropodino. Shows aren’t up for long though, so don’t save something you want to see until later because it will be gone.

The tranquil Noguchi Musuem in Queens houses a retrospective of Isamu Noguchi’s work in a converted industrial building and garden across the street from where the sculptor worked for a chunk of his career.

Years later, others followed the pioneering Noguchi to Queens. Including the Fisher Landau Center for Art (pictured left) and MoMA  PS1 (pictured right). Emily Fisher Landau is a keen collector of contemporary art with pieces remarkable enough to deserve a 25,000 square foot museum in a former parachute factory.  MoMa PS1, featuring emerging artists and hosting funky summer dance parties, is a good adventure too.

And for those who want to amble beyond walls and outside of city limits, spend a day at the  Storm King Art Center where the landscape is transformed by hulking, undulating and all around magnificent sculptures.

Wander: Tradition

I first met my husband’s family over a Memorial Day weekend at the cottage that his great-grandfather built on a bright, clear interior lake in Michigan northeast of Traverse City. With the assistance of a handyman, Daniel J. Beeby, a Chicago Public School Superintendent, floated lumber across Lake Bellaire to his land in a thicket of pine and birch, and over the course of the summer of 1913 constructed, by hand, the house now known as Chez Nous.

We had only been dating a few months, so introducing me to his parents, brother and grandmother was a risky move. Chancier still was that this place elicited his most exposed, relaxed, vulnerable and unguarded self. No more game face or peacock strut.

This was also the weekend that the family held a memorial for their deceased childhood pup which his grandmother requested I photograph. An odd thing to be tasked with, but how do you say no to grandma? The family stood, arms linked and sniffling, beneath the feathery pines trimming the shoreline eulogizing their cherished pet. I balanced precariously on the sloped beach trying to capture this event as unobtrusively as possible. All was cracked open for me to see, no holding back. It was here, over this weekend where I really started to fall in love.

Todd and I have been in each other’s orbit for 12 years now. There have been moves, a  break-up, funerals, weddings, more moves and new life. But this house remains, largely  as it has for five generations.

Sure, there have been dramatic changes in the family and on the lake itself, but so much remains comfortingly constant. The deep William Morris chair with imposing lion head arms has always been the coveted reading spot; the creaky porch glider continues to lull family members into mid-day slumber; the dining room table still supports heaviness and joy under which lesser pieces would have cracked; and family lore and rivalry continue to play out on the root tangled croquet course.

Just like his father, our son now builds castles on that crescent of sandy shore, he swings a croquet mallet, pulls book after dusty book from the sagging shelves and his height is charted each summer adding to the climbing hash marks on the wall of every grand and great grand kid before him.

And every summer I’m reminded that love is something into which you can just keep falling.

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Wander: Cuttyhunk, MA

The last two summers our family has loaded groceries, baby gear and adult beverages onto a chugging ferry bound for a small island off the coast of Cape Cod called Cuttyhunk. The absence of bars, fancy restaurants and flashy resorts makes this the ultimate getaway for blissfully unplugging from our otherwise over-wired and hyper-connected life. I know that I should probably hold this well-kept secret tight, but I did go ahead and write about it for The New York Times and Bon Appétit. Perhaps a few more curious travelers will explore the island, but the no-frills atmosphere certainly isn’t for everyone. Which is precisely the allure for locals, long-time visitors and even those starting new summer traditions like us.

2011: Soft landings for our new walker on the lawn of the Cuttyhunk Fishing Club.

Hydrangea bloom in abundance all over the island.

A float in the Fourth of July parade. Locals festoon their golf carts in streamers or flags––there was even one trimmed in PBR cans––for the annual procession.

2012: Our two-year-old explorers.

Favorite leafy window for spying on boats.

Wander: Off-Hours

Birthday lunch for my husband, who prefers a quieter scene.

Some of the best dining experiences I’ve had lately have been during the very unfashionable time slot of lunch. In a town where it can take six weeks to snag a coveted 8:00 reservation, my friend, Jane, tipped me off to the blow-out lunch as an option to the 10:30 p.m. dinner. It’s not a new idea, after all, this is how the Italians have dined for generations.

On our trip to London this year we booked a lunch reservation for the day we arrived at a place we had no chance of getting a table for dinner.  Nothing like wine upon landing to even out a time difference and distract from jet-lag wooziness. And when playing tour guide in town, we’ve found the giant lunch at an of-the-moment-spot is an excellent way to entertain guests––plus it frees up the evening for other adventures.

So, if you’ve been curious to try THE place that was just written up, but aren’t patient enough to wait months for dinner, book a table off hours.

Wander: Keep At It

Japanese flourishes at the Berkshires Shirakaba.

 

My dad, a successful salesman, left me with three very sound words of advice: Persistence Pays Off. I never had the patience to adopt this mantra. Nor did I understand (or think I had what it took) to truly keep my head down, ignore linear time, abandon the need for instant gratification and just keep at something. Until now.

Five years ago, while sharing a cheeseburger at Diner my husband and I stopped our wrestling with the what-ifs and decided to move to New York. It’s that convincing of a  burger. Plus, I was motivated by an inkling to make a career change. A change which is happening now, still very slowly, but there has been an evolution of sorts.

It’s hard to know when to consider a path complete folly or worth continuing down, especially when you’re defining things for yourself. In veering off my other career path, I’ve found that this new one isn’t guided by promotions, an office with a window, performance reviews or raises that signal progress.

So I’ve established my own benchmarks. And the one I set, the one that meant ‘Ok, you’re really doing it now, keep going’ was rather lofty for a no-name cold-calling writer: a story in The New York Times Travel section. For every year that I continued to send proposals (some were answered, others were not) I would return to my dad saying “Laur, persistence pays off.” I just kept hoping he was right.

Well, he was. I did eventually have a pitch accepted and was assigned a story. I think the most real moment of being published occurred the week after the piece ran when I snagged the section from a pile of papers plunked down on the curb left out for recycling day.

I was thrilled to write the piece which balanced my fascination of Japanese culture, love of an off-beat adventure and need to travel a little closer to home as a parent. And people were immensely supportive of my little moment in print. Being published, or more importantly realizing all that persistence-pays-off business is true, also marks that I’ve arrived at a place where I better understand my dad’s wisdom. It goes without saying that I wish he could have been here to see the story in print, if only for me to be able to tell him that he was right.

Wander: Madison, WI

Five years ago we set out in a wobbly caravan from Chicago of one car stuffed with people and plants, a borrowed pick-up truck and and a crammed U-Haul truck to move my best pal, Lauren, to Madison, Wisconsin. She was accepted into a prestigious PhD program for Education and her new location offered a very good reason to visit Madison. Plus several other incentives for returning––cheese curds, small batch brewed beer, lake views and most importantly, the excellent people that came to shape Lauren’s world there.

Last month Lauren graduated with incredible honors and something rarer still––a teaching position at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. It was truly bittersweet for me to leave Lauren’s remarkable community of friends and Madison itself following graduation, so with that, here is a little love letter for my best friend (a PhD!) in the form of a travel guide which I wrote for New York Magazine.

Looking forward to exploring Lincoln, NE next. But, until then, On Wisconsin!

Wander: London

Todd and I went on vacation last month to London and Berlin. Without the baby. Aside from one overnight, one parent has always been with Soren. Traveling just the two of us again, is something we’ve longed to do. So before we (ok, me) had time to back out we asked my mom to come stay (she was thrilled) and booked tickets. We were off.

Cue the roiling waves of deep gratitude for those who made it possible; guilt for leaving the work to others; moments of home sickness; uncertainty about what to do with all the free time and mental space; and more guilt still for not missing our son every single second. Soren, it turns out, was having such a good time he was largely unaware of our absence.

It was decadent. And it probably won’t happen again for another 10 years. I felt fortunate to have the experience at all. So here are snapshots of Part One of what my husband termed ‘The Seven Day Date’

Yes, we went to the Tate Modern, but our friend Adam also suggested the off-beat Soane Museum. This former residence is crammed (borderline hoarder antiquities style) with the personal collection of architect Sir John Soane. The art itself wasn’t of great interest to me. But a peek into the world of an eccentric collector and stroll around a tony neighborhood (picture above) made for an odd-ball afternoon.

Paella, French pate, fresh mozzarella, stinky grilled cheese sandwiches, lamb burgers, ostrich farmers, fish mongers, bakers, spice vendors, florists and even a classic barber shop can be found in the abundant  Borough Market. A classic old-world market of the highest order.

We strolled Brick Lane not for the Indian food (which I’m sure is fantastic), but for the graffiti. The crane is by ROA, anyone know about the yelling guys?We wound our way through Soho and ended up at a very no-frills 12 seat restaurant in Chinatown for filling won-ton soup and steamed pork buns. Kinda perfect on a dreary London day.

The permanent feeling pop-up restaurant from the chef collective the Young Turks above the Ten Bells pub (lore claims it was a Jack the Ripper, er, pick-up spot) was a total surprise. It was certainly our favorite meal in London and on our Top Ten Ever list. The seven course menu of deftly handled seasonal and local ingredients mixed high––combos like pigeon, duck egg and watercress or the suckling kid, grilled onion and ramson savory finale––and low brow––more fried mutton breast sticks with mint sauce please. The whole experience felt more like a relaxed dinner party than stuffy dining experience. The chef even popped down with several more desserts as if he was just goofing around upstairs in the kitchen and needed to run a few things by us at 11:00. It was outrageously good. They’ve threatened to cook in Brooklyn this fall for a few nights. I hope to catch up with the Young Turks when in town.

And, of course, the main attraction, our dear friend Elinor. An excellent guide and generous, relaxed hostess. She and her beau Adrian made for such a warm start to the trip. We’ll be back.

 

 

Wander: Rio, Family Style

Last month we embarked on our first international family adventure to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Yes, the beach destination best known for barely-there swimwear, steamy Carnival festivities and dance-until-dawn-nightlife scene. Probably not top of mind for a family vacation. However, the upcoming host of both the World Cup 2014 and Olympics 2016 has been building up infrastructure, working to drop crime rates and generally ensure that the city is safer for all visitors.

I was less concerned about crime and more wrapped up in the logistics: visas, passports, making copies of our son’s birth certificate, and checking with our pediatrician about additional vaccines (none required since we weren’t venturing into the jungle). And, while the 10-hour plus flight felt imposing with a toddler (could I possibly pack enough snacks?), the time change (two hours ahead) was reasonable, making this destination seem possible for our experiment in family travel.

This possibility became a reality when we checked in for our TAM Airlines flight, and passed through the looking glass into the magical realm of Brazilian hospitality towards families. As the priority boarding announcement for passengers with disabilities and families was made we listened passively. These announcements seem perfunctory on domestic flights, and go largely ignored. The Brazilians however take this stuff seriously, and all but pushed us to the front of the line. The flight attendants cooed and fawned over our son. And during our trip a flight attendant was bouncing a toddler up and down the aisles as if it were just a routine part of his job.

The Brazilians, it turns out, are crazy for kids. There are priority lines for families at sightseeing spots and airports. And people stopped to engage our son, everywhere––from a doorman frantically waving to get Soren’s attention to the cab driver who reached back to play with him at every single stoplight. It wasn’t just us. I spoke with a friend who was in Rio with his three children recently, and he too was absolutely blown away by the consideration his family received.

I’m not someone who expects preferential treatment just because I have a child, but it was an incredible thing to witness a society that acknowledges even its smallest citizens. It made me realize how the focus in the US is largely on the “productive members”, whereas the Brazilians seem to regard people of all ages. It makes for a huge cultural difference.This open-arm welcome at restaurants, in stores and pretty much everywhere we went made relaxing and enjoying that much easier. Of course, as with any solid adventure, there were the low points: the camera broke on the first day so we documented with the iPhone; save for one afternoon, the beach was closed for swimming  (raw sewage in the water!); and our son can only sit for about 15 minutes at any restaurant.

But, none of this detracted from the adventure.  We did it. We navigated long flights, language barriers, mystery dining experiences and our own fears about venturing outside of our comfort zones as parents. Which, as I’m finding, is at the heart of this parenting thing, a realization I will happily blame on Rio.

 

 

 

 

Wander: Meg Curtis of Stonewall Farm

 


We’re kicking off a new Innkeeper Q&A Series today with Meg Curtis, Innkeeper Extraordinaire of Stonewall Farm Bed and Breakfast in Hillsborough, New Hampshire. I am fortunate enough to be friends with the Curtis family (a perk of marriage), and luckier still to have been a guest several times at this comfortable, welcoming, historic home (complete with barn, sheep, chickens, and lots of good campfire stories).

Many people talk about heading to the country and opening a B&B, but you and your husband, Skip, actually did it. What events led you to make this dream a reality? Skip and I had been casually looking for B&B properties for 15 years during weekend travels up and down Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine. In 1996, with our three kids launched, we moved from Massachusetts to our summer home in New Hampshire.  We realized we needed something a little bigger, and again started looking. We were drawn to antique homes, but had put the idea of a B&B on the back burner.

That was until our real estate agent took us to look at an old farm house that had been established as a two room B&B. As we drove around the corner, I spotted a beautiful 1785, hip roofed farmhouse located on a slight knoll at the bend of the country road. I said, “Oh my, is this it?”  It was love at first sight. We walked through the carriage house, a hobby room (that would eventually become our family room and living quarters) and into the dining room. It was a cold, damp, November day. There was no fire in the fireplace. However, the room wrapped me in warmth, and I told my husband that this was the house. He exclaimed, “Don’t you even want to see the bedrooms?” Actually, no, but I continued with the tour of the five bedrooms, all with great possibilities. Yes, this was it.

Can you offer a brief history of Stonewall Farm? It was built in 1785 by David Goodall and resold in 1835 to a newly married couple, James and Elizabeth Bickford. There are too many stories to tell, but I am fortunate enough to have pictures of them and lots of memorabilia from their lives. It remained in their family until the 1920s or 30s. It was a home that had a lot of activity for the 1800s.

What are changes and additions that your family has made to enrich this place? New granite counters, cupboards, and appliances. After all, the country kitchen with the Glenwood stove is indeed the heart of the house. A parking lot needed to be established, a new and expanded outdoor deck and more bathrooms installed, so that each room would have their own private bath. My passion is wingback chairs and I have bought them at auction and had them reupholstered to provide a warm and comfortable setting in all areas, as well as the guest rooms. Our son has tackled a lot of the landscaping projects, and last year the barn renovation. When you own a historic home, the work and projects will never be done…that is a given.

I love the breakfasts and local goat milk soaps. What other amenities do guests appreciate? Yes, everyone seems to enjoy the full, homemade breakfast. We have our own supply on this property of apples, peaches, pears, raspberries, blueberries and grapes (for homemade grape juice). We also have a large herb garden beside the kitchen, and we grow all of our own vegetables in the summer. Nothing is ever sprayed here. We have now ventured into raising our own chickens, so we have farm fresh eggs too. We purchase New Hampshire made maple syrup and also offer it for sale, along with the goat milk soaps. I don’t know if you would consider it an amenity, but the star gazing that we have in the evening is a real gift. There is also a fire pit where the guests can enjoy a bonfire in the evening.

 What have been some of the biggest surprises about becoming an innkeeper? Being an innkeeper is a surprise each and every day. You never know who you will be hosting on any given day, and all rooms have to be ready to go at a moments notice. On laundry: it generally takes at least eight hours to wash, dry and fold all room laundry after a full house. Of course, I love the smell of sheets dried out on the line, and that takes a little extra time in the good weather. We also found that earlier rising to prepare breakfast did not mean we would go to bed early. We would often stay up late for someone arriving from a long trip. This is not a job for folks that think they can “retire”. You have to love people and love what you do to continue a business like this.

 Do you have return guests that seem more like friends now? In general, we love our guests and we remain in contact with a great many of them. As I say: there is never a stranger in our home. We have had guests from all over the world, and every guest brings something new to this B&B. It is always a learning opportunity, and after 15 years in the business, I don’t intend to stop any time soon. As long as I am physically able I will continue meeting, greeting and making sure everyone has the best B&B experience possible!

Visit Meg and Stonewall Farm; 235 Windsor Road; Hillsborough, New Hampshire; 603.478.1947; stonewallfarm@gmail.com

 

Wander: Off-Season


I know that right about now I should be booking a trip to Mexico like most reasonable people in northern climates, but I’d prefer a blustery walk on a nearly-vacant beach in, say, Maine. I’m not opposed to sunny, tropical spots, but the off-season is one of my favorite times to explore a place. Sure, you need a few more layers, but the perks include expanded vistas through bare trees, prime tables at restaurants (the ones that stay open anyway), and, usually, good deals on lodging.

We visited Nantucket just before Thanksgiving where we had our pick of seats on the ferry ride over. We were able to snag coveted stools at the island’s outstanding brewery/distillery/winery, Cisco Brewers, otherwise mobbed in summer.We shopped (crowd-free) for the fresh Nantucket bay scallops at Sayle’s Seafood and local greens at Bartlett’s Farm market for dinner one night. And there was zero wait for lunch by the fire at The Brotherhood of Thieves. We even got in on a local happening––the Nantucket Whalers vs. Martha Vineyard Vineyarders homecoming football game. And really, who couldn’t use more whale themed floats and parades in their life?