It’s live and official

Well, it’s official now.  On the feast of St. Francis de Sales, patron of writers, my website went live.  I finished some last touches this morning, but now it’s up for all to see.

Announcing… joanmwatson.com

I won’t tell you how long it’s been a work in progress, because I didn’t work on it like I should have, and it just took longer than it looks like it did.  It’s nothing special, but it’s there, and hopefully it’ll be updated fairly regularly.  The purpose of joanmwatson.com is to promote my writing and speaking on a more professional level.  When I go around the region to speak, people ask if I have a website/blog, and now I’ll have something slightly more edifying to give them.  I don’t think they’re particularly interested in my culinary adventures.

Don’t fear- I will still be blogging here about things as marvelous as birthdays and restaurants and other things that are on my mind.   In all honesty, since it’s easier to blog about random things like food and music, I’ll probably be around these parts more frequently than over there.  

Here goes nothing!

P.S. Don’t forget the “m” … I’m not Canadian and I don’t play the horn.

P.P.S. For better or for worse, it’s almost impossible to google around for the site, thanks to Lucy Liu. C’est la vie.

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Remember me to-

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(Part One Part TwoPart Three, and Part Four)

I’m not kidding when I say that my whole birthday was one giant song and dance for me.  Ask the girls how often I broke out into “Give My Regards to Broadway.”  Frequently, given the fact that we walked several miles up and down Broadway, walked through Herald Square at least twice, and visited my friend on 42nd Street.  “…that I will soon be there…”

Ahem.

When we had last spoken about my magical birthday, we were about halfway done with our day and were heading up Broadway.  We enjoyed the snow and the several hundred Santas who passed us, and we took in the shop windows and the crowds.  When we arrived in Herald Square, we paused to see the Macy’s windows – and I most likely sang some George M. Cohen.

Since we weren’t sure what lines might await us once we got to the theatre, we decided to keep walking and come back to Macy’s later.  I had convinced myself I wasn’t going to run into Mr. Gailey or Maureen O’Hara, but I still wanted to see the biggest store in the world.  (Funny story — when we wanted to go back to Macy’s, I said out loud, “What street is it on?” trying to figure out how far south we had to walk.  Oh. Right.  34th Street.)

One of the items on my bucket list is was to see a Broadway show.  While planning the trip I went back and forth about what show to see, but I decided to stick with an oldie-but-goodie… Phantom of the Opera. I’ve been singing Phantom songs for as long as I can remember, both in the car and in show choir.  I highly recommend the book (although I haven’t read it since high school, and I suppose I could be remembering everything incorrectly) and highly don’t recommend the 2004 movie.  If you want to see a good version, watch the 25th Anniversary Edition from Royal Albert Hall.  

While I had seen the show live before, I had never seen it on Broadway.

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We had decided to go to a matinee, and I was pretty surprised that the house was packed.  This show has been running for 25 years, and a matinee on a snowy Saturday afternoon was packed.  Pretty impressive.

The theatre was beautiful, and it was incredible to simply experience the place.  (A few weeks later I heard on a little “on this day…” segment on the radio that the Majestic was the first theatre to have female ushers – and I said out loud in my car, “I’ve been there!”)  The show was stunning, of course, although our Phantom was a third understudy and seemed a little nervous.  That was the only drawback to knowing the show so well… I think I knew a few of his cues better than he did.  But Christine was incredible, and really, when you think about it, Christine is the star.  She’s in almost every scene, and if she fell apart, the show would be pretty unbearable.

If I had the ability to have everything I wanted on my birthday, I would have cast Ramin Karimloo as Phantom, Hadley Fraser as Raoul, and Sierra Boggess as Christine.  But I’m still quite content with what we got. : )  (and now that my birthday is over, Ramin comes to Broadway in Les Mis.  Oh well.)

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photo courtesy of Trena

It was pretty exciting to cross that off my bucket list.  And it gave my head some new songs other than George M. Cohen.

It was also nice to take off our coats and snuggle into a warm theatre for two hours.  When we emerged, the streets were more crowded and the snow was still falling.  We had a good amount of time until our dinner reservations, so we were faced with something I hadn’t considered: free time.

We decided to walk over to Bryant Park to see the Christmas village that we had seen from John’s office windows. That meant crossing through Times Square again, which meant walking by several large Elmos- who scared us far more than the plethora of tipsy Santas that seemed to be multiplying.

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photo courtesy of Trena

Did I mention it was still snowing?

As we rounded the corner to head to Bryant Park, the Empire State Building was peeking out through the snow-laden air, and at that moment I was just speechless with its beauty.  I stopped in my tracks to just take in the moment.  Magical.

I asked Trena to take a picture, although fully knowing that a photo would never do it justice.  I post it here almost reluctantly, because the sight was ten times more beautiful than this.  But I wanted to remember that moment — the snow, the wind, the fact that we were together in New York having fun.

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photo courtesy of Trena

As we stood in cold Bryant Park, the snow gathering on our shoulders and in the crevices of our purses and scarves, Trena’s feet sopping wet, our noses numb… Bing Crosby began to sing “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentleman.”  We stood and watched the ice skaters skate, we let ourselves be serenaded by Bing, and I knew my birthday wish had come true.  It was a magical day with friends.  Exactly what I had wanted.  We just stood there, in silence, taking it all in.  And it was perfect.

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photo courtesy of Trena

I almost didn’t post that picture, because that neon man kind of ruined it, but I think it kind of summarizes the day. I’m standing there, completely content, covered in snow, oblivious to the parts of New York I don’t want to think about, and just taking in the moment.   My memory of that moment in Bryant Park is pure Christmas spirit -not random men in neon green coats.

Oh, and I had no idea she took that until I was looking at her pictures a few days later.

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photo courtesy of Trena

No matter how magical the moment was, we couldn’t stand in Bryant Park for the next two hours while we waited to go to dinner.   Christmas spirit doesn’t keep you that warm.  Nor does it keep your feet dry — Trena needed some dry socks.

Guess who sells socks?  The largest department store in the world.  We decided to go check out Macy’s.

I don’t have many of pictures of Macy’s, mostly because inside it just looks like a ginormous department store.  I’ve never seen so many women’s shoes in my entire life.  Goodness gracious.  You could probably clothe an entire nation with the merchandise in that store.

I did take a picture of the escalator, because they were the original wooden ones:

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I think we killed about an hour in Macy’s — the only drawback was that there was no place to sit our weary bodies down.  (there were a few people sitting on the beds in the linen section, but that seemed a bit tacky to us…)  Trena bought socks and we used the restroom and I thought bad thoughts about materialistic America.  We went up to the top floor to see Santa, but just like in Philly, you had to stand in line and go into another room to see Santa.  We had the time, but we weren’t sure if we had the patience to stand with two hundred children at the end of a long day (both ours and theirs), so we passed on sitting on his lap.

The strangest thing, though, was the size of their women’s sock section.  No joke — they had fewer socks than your average Macy’s.  Remember, this store is eight stories tall and stretches an entire city block.  Don’t you think their sock department should at least be more than three racks?  It was quite bizarre.  A few floors down was the men’s sock department, and they had more kinds of athletic socks than I could count.  I guess it means New York women don’t wear socks.  How odd.

After killing time in Macy’s (I’m sure we could have found a more exciting way to kill time, but give us a break, we were a teensy bit cold and tired), it was time to cap our day with dinner.  So we headed back into the night… which had turned quite windy.

And did I mention it was snowing?

 

How’d he do it? You’ll soon know.

It’s the question that has been burning in the mind of every Sherlock fan for the last two years.  Yes, two years.  And the answer is only a day away.

For those who don’t watch Sherlock, I’m not sure how to explain what the show does to you.  Is it perfect?  No.  One episode in particular made me quite uncomfortable, and as a result I don’t recommend it wholesale to everyone I meet.  I haven’t been impressed by every episode and every storyline – in fact, I was pretty disappointed by the Hounds of the Baskerville episode.

But somehow that doesn’t matter.  The show has gotten under my skin and I can honestly say I love it.  Perhaps more accurately — the characters have gotten under my skin.  And I love them.

Perhaps fans of Sherlock could quench their anticipation by watching Elementary on CBS. But we all soon found ourselves just thirstier for Sherlock.  The characters of Elementary may bear the same names or occupations of their precursors on the pages of Arthur Conan Doyle (with some slight revisions), but they are just shadows.  In contrast, the way Sherlock is written transforms Cumberbatch and Freeman into Sherlock and Watson in such a way that if I believed in reincarnation (and if we were talking about reality here, not fiction), I would present them as exhibit A.

The brilliant winks and nods to the stories, often overlooked by anyone who is less than obsessed with the original stories, complete the artistry of the show.  It reminds me of those careful details on top of the skyscrapers of New York — designed and executed for the art of it, for the pleasure of the artist, even if no one ever notices them.

Perhaps those used to shows like Foyle’s War or stories from Agatha Christie where every little detail is connected, every character woven together to come to a brilliant conclusion, will be disappointed by some of the strange twists and solutions Sherlock seems to stumble upon rather than unweave. But if you read the original Sherlock Holmes , you’ll find the show just takes its cue from the books.

One episode dragged on and on, getting more obscure and unbelievable.  A Chinese circus?  What the heck?  But the randomness and drawn-out nature is not too unlike Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet, which takes the reader to America and follows a seemingly random storyline with Mormons before connecting all the dots.

All of this to say… I couldn’t come on the blog and urge everyone to watch Sherlock tomorrow night like I want to — if you haven’t become involved up until now, the episode’s brilliance will be lost on you. But for those of you who have been waiting for two years, under the spell of Cumberbatch and Freeman, you will be justly rewarded.

I’ve already seen all three episodes, partly due to my impatience but most of all due to my hatred for spoilers.  I’ve waited and wondered for two years how Sherlock Holmes survives his fall; I wasn’t about to find out accidentally thanks to the internet.   I can honestly say this season is my favorite.  Yes, this episode completely panders to those of us who have fallen in love with the show — especially pandering to those obsessed with the show.  But the character development is fantastic, and I finally began to see the another side of Sherlock Holmes – one I questioned in a previous blog post — the more likable side.  Is he still eccentric, rude, and seemingly unaware of human nature?  Yes… but in a much more likable way, more similar to the figure I’ve grown to love in the pages of Arthur Conan Doyle.

So for those of you who already watch the show… enjoy tomorrow night.  We’ve earned this.

If that music makes you excited… yeah, I know how you feel.

I now interrupt this usually-frivolous blog to post something actually worth thinking, talking, and writing about.

I’m in the middle of reading an intriguing and provocative article by Robert Oscar Lopez, a conservative who was raised by lesbian parents and has been courageous enough to speak the truth about his experience.  It goes without saying that he has been persecuted, labeled, ridiculed, and dismissed for what he says.  But it seems to me he has a perspective on this issue that deserves to be heard.

As I read the article, I couldn’t help but think about Pope Francis’ recent off-the-cuff remarks about children growing up with two moms or two dads.  As a catechetical leader who forms catechists, his reminder was an important one.  Who is that child sitting in front of us?  Do we know who we are teaching?  Do we know where they are coming from- their presuppositions, their experiences, their feelings?  If we don’t, we will never be true teachers.

I highly recommend Lopez’ article: Same-Sex Parenting: Child Abuse?

As you read it, the folly of those people who jumped on Francis’ remark to be an approval of same-sex parenting will become starkly evident.  Pope Francis never approved it; he reminded us that it is an issue that requires our attention, especially as it becomes more accepted.

Read Lopez, then read the National Catholic Register’s outline of what Pope Francis was actually saying.  And then pray for those of us who teach.

Live a Life Less Ordinary

I interrupt this birthday adventure story to wish everyone a happy first day of Ordinary Time.  My nativity scene is still up (and will be until February 2), but yesterday was the last day I’ll listen to Christmas music until December, and today at Mass Father was back to wearing green.

Just remember – Ordinary Time is where saints are made.  In the trials, in the monotony, in the everyday.  But no time is really ordinary because every moment is God’s.  What is He asking you to do today?

 

Mangia!

(Part One Part Two, and Part Three)

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There’s  a magical place in the Flat Iron district, just a stone’s throw from the building that gives the district its name.  Part grocery store, part cooking school, part coffee bar, part restaurant, total foodie experience.  I don’t remember the first time I heard about Eataly — it may have been on an episode of The Chew, although I feel like I’d heard of it earlier.  Regardless, it had gone immediately on my bucket list.

Eataly is 40,000+ square feet of an Italian food lover’s dream.  2 caffes,  7 restaurants, fresh produce, and imported Italian goods – surprises around every corner.  When our taxi deposited us outside its doors on 5th Avenue, we decided to explore  the place before sitting down to eat an early-ish lunch.  We wandered around the imported candies and cookies, reminiscing, oohing and ahhing.  Then we realized we still had about 30,000 square feet to see.

It is an open layout, for the most part, with the restaurants lacking walls and flowing freely into the market areas that supply their ingredients.  Fresh bread was baking and ready to be eaten as panini.  Beautiful cheese displayed in cases; salami ready to be cut; pasta being rolled out before our very eyes.

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photo courtesy of Trena

I hadn’t really researched the place, so it was a pleasant surprise to find out that the restaurants were specialized  …  Panini was the sandwich-to-go counter, La Pizza & La Pasta served- you guessed it – Il Pesce had a seafood-dominant menu, etc.

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The pizza/pasta restaurant was pretty full, and I was pretty hungry.  The girls told me it was my choice — but how could one choose?  Everything looked so good.  Could I come to Eataly and not eat pasta?

Yes.  We decided on Le Verdure. A restaurant specializing in vegetables.  I could get pasta elsewhere.  But a menu starring vegetables?

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There was gnocchi and salads and cannelloni and farro… bruschetta and soup and risotto…  Our waitress brought warm fresh bread wrapped in a cute little paper bundle and we drooled over the menu.  I finally decided on the wild hive polenta with parsnips, garlic, parmigiano reggiano and butter.

IMG_6646The perfect meal on a snowy day.  Everyone’s meals looked beautiful and delicious.

IMG_6641Don’t pay attention to the blurriness of the picture.  Just pay attention to Trena’s adorable hat.

After lunch we browsed a little more — it seemed the place would never end.  Fresh flowers, strange vegetables we had never seen before, cookbooks, and craft beer.  Our minds were swimming.

We all wanted coffee– how could we not?  Not only were we in an Italian market, we had been up since dawn.  I had originally wanted gelato (surprise surprise), but I was pretty full from lunch and coffee seemed a better choice.  There were two caffe- we opted for the one that served only straight-forward espresso, partly because there was no line.  There was something beautifully simple about the little espresso bar that only served single espresso, double espresso, or macchiato — which (contrary to our odd American Starbucks ways) means “spotted” — espresso with a touch of milk.

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IMG_6648Warm me up before we hit the road!

With a glance to our watches, we decided to start our hike up Broadway.  We figured we’d stretch our legs a little, walk north for awhile, and if necessary, hail a cab.  A mile later, we were still walking; the snow in our faces, the crowd thickening.

Nine hours down.  Our wonderful day wasn’t even half over.

Part Tres

(Part One and Part Two)

My friend works on Madison Avenue.

Doesn’t that make me sound important?  Yeah, I agree.  It doesn’t make me important at all, but in my romanticized-movie-mindset of NYC, working on Madison Avenue seems important, ergo me knowing someone who works there must make me important.

John and I are on a committee together that meets twice a year, so back in September I told him I was thinking about coming to NYC for my birthday.  I figured the more people I told, the more likely I would actually go through with the plan.  John was awesome — when we saw each other at our meeting, he had a metro map for me and tried to explain the New York transit system.  It was after a long day of meetings and I had a Bay Breeze sitting in front of me (not exactly the usual cocktail you would order in September in Baltimore, but I was a girl among men and needed to drink something pink), so I may or may not remember anything he told me… but I still have the map.  John also sent me a ton of pamphlets in November — so many things to do I would need a week or two in the city. Sadly, that was around the time when I realized we could only spend a day in the city.

John didn’t just give me information — he went one step further.  He came into the city, on a Saturday, at 10 am, to show us some highlights.  It was early, inconvenient, and snowing, but he came anyway.  How awesome is that?  I have the best friends.

We met him in the lobby of his building, where he was going to take us up to show us a nice view of the city.  That meant going through security, which was hilarious… It took about twenty minutes for the security guys to print out little guest passes with our names and pictures, and they didn’t even get my name right.  Or Trena’s name.  Or our destination.  Or Marisa’s picture.  (Marisa and Trena both had the same picture on their pass…)  I can see the importance of security post-911, but it seems like no security would be better than the comedy routine we had to go through.  All I could think of what a hey day Neal Caffrey would be having with these guys.  But I digress.

John took us up to the 34 floor of their building, and normally you would be able to see the Hudson River, the World Trade Center Memorial, etc.  He was quite distressed that the snow meant we could see none of these things.  Our conversation the night before went something like this:

Joannie: “Are we going to get stranded in the City!?  Are the trains going to run?! Are we going to get snowed in!?”
John: “I hope it doesn’t snow.  We won’t have a good view of the City from my building.”

For this small-town girl, the view was awesome.  John took time to point out everything we could see and made sure we noticed all the detail on the older buildings.  It’s incredible to see the detail and design that the architects incorporated into the tops of buildings that no one would ever see from the street.  He also pointed out that the older buildings were much thinner because you needed to have a cross breeze before the days of air conditioning.

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photo courtesy of Trena

Empire State Building… in the clouds

It was interesting to see how our perspective was so skewed — the Empire State building looked tall, but not that much taller than where we were … haha.  We were only about a third of the way up the Empire State building.  Incredible.

IMG_6607Grand Central Terminal

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“You’re gonna scrub these floors ’til they shine like the top of the Chrysler Building!”
Really, the day was all quotes and songs to me.

I have few regrets from the day … one of them is that the four of us gals never got a picture together, and another is that I didn’t get a picture with John.

It probably sounds really strange, but meeting up with John and looking out the windows of his office was definitely a highlight of the day.  It was great to see him, it was touching that he was willing to come into the city for me, and it was neat to have an inside glimpse of a New York office building.  Cubicles and skyscraper offices are not glamorous by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s so entirely different from my day-to-day life, it’s intriguing to get a glimpse of what life is like in there.

After we left his building, John took us over to Grand Central Terminal, ready to share fun New York trivia with us.  The first piece I’ve already gotten wrong — in the last post, I mistakenly called it Grand Central Station.  But it’s not – it’s Grand Central Terminal, because it’s the terminus of the trains, not simply just a station on a line.  He told us the story of Track 61, the secret platform that exists under the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, supposedly enabling FDR to arrive in New York and get into a private elevator while in his armored limousine and arrive at the hotel without anyone seeing him in his wheelchair.  Andy Warhol hosted a party on the abandoned track once.

He had all sorts of fun facts about the ceiling — like the fact that the signs of the zodiac are backwards.  They are supposedly intentionally backwards, showing us God’s perspective rather than man’s.

When they cleaned the ceiling of the terminal, they left one brick uncleaned — impressively black — to show what the ceiling looked like before cleaning.

And my favorite — at the beginning of the space race, the government decided that they would display a rocket in Grand Central to calm fears that we were falling behind the Russians.  Unfortunately, someone forgot to measure the rocket they were going to display… and it pierced the ceiling.  The hole remains.

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Photo courtesy of Trena, arrow courtesy of me

We had noticed a few people dressed up as Santa Claus when we were in the building earlier, but now we couldn’t miss them.  It turned out that we were in the middle of NYC’s SantaCon, a day when people invade the city dressed like Santa Clause and go bar hopping.  It was pretty funny to see so many Santa Clauses throughout the day — hordes of them at time — and it was just one more thing to make the day cheery, albeit in a quite unusual, unexpected way.

IMG_6628See them in the left-hand corner?  That was only the beginning.

John took us over to the City Library, which was a gorgeous building and impossible to capture in film.  From the huge stone lions out front (with Christmas wreathes around their neck- and covered with snow, of course) to the beautiful Christmas tree in the front lobby, to the wood-carved reading rooms, it was a book-lovers paradise.

IMG_0213The library

IMG_0220One of the reading rooms.  Gorgeous.

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After the library, it was time to say goodbye to John and head south for a culinary adventure.  John hailed us a cab (like the pro he is) and with hugs all around, sent us on our way.  It was the best birthday present he could have given me — his time and his love for his City, on a snowy Saturday morning.

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photo courtesy of Trena
The closest thing I have to a picture with John