Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Tree Out of Synch with the Universe

Fran found this tree that marches (if it had legs) to its own drum. As every other tree in the Northeast is in the final shedding-of-leaves stage, this cherry tree is blooming as if it's May.

Fran writes: This DC tree did not get the e-mail about the change of seasons. Image of this cherry tree in bloom taken Nov 30 at dusk on Fessenden St (near Reno Rd.). Go figure.

I admire the ability of this tree to deny reality. There's something hopeful about that -- I don't care, it seems to be saying, if it's the last day of November and it's getting dark by 4 pm... I'm going to pretend it's spring and screw you!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sunday Evening at Maz Mescal

Tonight it was supper at a favorite neighborhood Mexican restaurant, named Maz Mezcal. It's where Stephanie and I always go. It's just one street over, and I have this shortcut through a parking garage that has two entrances, one on my street (87th) and one on the next street over (86th Street.) In New York, most streets are one way. Odd numbered streets (like mine -- 87th -- run east to west) and even numbered streets run west to east.

However 86th Street is what's called a crosstown street, so it's a bigger street with two way traffic, hence restaurants, shops, etc. including Maz Mescal, right next to another neighborhood favorite, a Japanese restaurant called Tokubei. You might have heard the expression from that Simon & Garfunkel song which says, "You can take the crosstown bus if it's raining or it's cold..." and you can take the 86th Street crosstown bus too. It goes all the way from the East River, cross town, across Central Park to the West side and the Hudson River.

We always start our meal with a frozen Margarita -- this is more like Margarita snow -- it's more of a solid than a liquid and it's wonderful. If you put the lime deep in the glass, it gets frozen. Neither of us take it with salt. I hate when I've ordered a frozen margarita elsewhere and gotten a margarita with ice cubes in it. Anyway, here's Stephanie about to enjoy her frozen Margarita.

Fran's Autumn Photos

Compliments of Fran, here are two photos from her walk. In this first one, Fran says, "Ever notice how leaves make an imprint on concrete after a rain? Kinda like Grauman's Chinese Theatre. Something charming about how they leave a mark of their existence. Taken with phone today on Connecticut Avenue."

Another image: All the flamboyant DC trees have succumbed to winter's call. Mounds of dried leaves everywhere...
To which Mary added: It's amazing to see the vacuum truck suck the leaves up - first workers with rakes pull them all into the street. They don't want us to put them in the street because they'll clog up the storm drains.

I had forgotten about Grauman's Chinese Theater -- reminded me, though, of an I Love Lucy episode when the Ricardos and the Mertzes were in Hollywood and Lucy and Ethel try to pry out some star's footprints. I don't know if there's still room for current stars, but here is how it looks:

Saturday, November 27, 2010

What I'm Reading

Most people are familiar with Mutiny on the Bounty, and this book is about the present-day descendants of some of the mutineers and their Tahitian companions who settled on a then-incorrectly charted Pitcairn Island where they've lived in near total isolation for the past 200 years.

Even today the island is only accessible by boat, and it's a multi-day boat ride to get there from the nearest island. Over the years, the population of Pitcairn has been romanticized as these utopian people leading an idyllic life.

Well, about a dozen years ago, reports of child sexual abuse came up and eventually trials were held that involved nearly every male inhabitant. The argument was whether this was a societal/cultural issue (the "Polynesian way") or a crime.

The book was written by a British journalist, based in Australia. It's a fascinating account, and even more so, a glimpse into an almost unimaginable life where everything you use must be imported... there isn't even fresh water on the island; their water needs are all met via rain, even though they now have WiFi and satellite phones. It makes me think about if I could live that way -- although she has frequently used the word "claustrophobic."

Have only read about 100 pages, but I am enjoying it. One little factoid that surprised me is that, at the time of the mutiny, Captain Bligh was 33 years old! I thought he was an old man -- I guess based on movie portrayals.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Day

I took part in a Thanksgiving tradition -- my Thanksgiving tradition which is to go to Stancie and Mac's yacht club in Connecticut for dinner.

I take the train out of Grand Central Station (below)

and I had allowed way too much time for an 11:10 train to Greenwich as I had to go to an ATM at my corner, get a cab, get to Grand Central, buy my ticket -- and didn't want to be rushed. Well, I was at the Station, ticket in hand at 10:20 so I took an earlier train and thought I'd just sit and read my book in Greenwich. Here's the train, having arrived -- I don't know these people...

Then it was off to Indian Harbor Yacht Club, and here is the view of Long Island Sound from my seat at the table:

You were given a choice of a handful of appetizers and a handful of entrees. I had shrimp cocktail, and I, along with everyone else at the table, went traditional with turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce. Then we had side dishes that were served family style of mashed potatoes, glazed carrots, acorn squash, and those really skinny green beans with almonds. The shrimp were wonderful with very horseradishy cocktail sauce, and the meal was just delicious.
Here's Stancie and Karen after dinner:

Dessert was a buffet of pies, cakes and ice cream and I had a sliver (really) of coconut custard pie and one scoop of vanilla ice cream with hot fudge sauce. Then it was time to head back to the train station -- here's our way out in the parking lot:

Got on the train, took a cab home -- and it was already dark -- a fairly mild night but rain on my block...

Hope all of you had a restful and tummy-full of good stuff (and stuffing) Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Hiking in New Mexico

No, not me. My friend Angela and her husband who live in Albuquerque sent me these photos from their weekend hike. About this first photo, she writes:

These pics are from the Mars Court Trail in the Cibola National Forest (pronounced See-bow-lah) just a few miles southeast of Albuquerque. Hard to imagine that just to the West on the other side of the ridge lies such a huge expanse of desert...
This is the actual Mars Court Trail at 7400 feet:

Angela identified this as an Abert's Squirrel, which I've never heard of... but now I know why. I just knew garden-variety Central Park squirrels, or as we call them, rats with bushy tails. Wikipedia says: Abert's squirrel (or tassel-eared squirrel) (Sciurus aberti) is a tree squirrel in the genus Sciurus endemic to the Rocky Mountains from United States to Mexico, with concentrations found in Arizona, The Grand Canyon, New Mexico, and southwestern Colorado. So this squirrel was in the right place -- weird little ears, though!

And finally the required sunset photo which Angela calls
NM sunset - Hwy 337.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Outdated Simile

Last night I was thinking how fast I ate dinner -- it was too fast, but it was shrimp, baked potato and peas and I was really hungry and it was really good. My mind was sort of wandering, glad I didn't have a camera on me while I ate and I said to myself, "You were eating as if..." and what popped into my mind was something I hadn't thought of in years, decades maybe.

And that was what a friend's father said to her when I was at her house one day way back when -- "back in the day" as the saying goes. Her father, commenting on her too rapid eating chided, "You're eating as if the Russians are on the Triborough Bridge."

Meaning the Russians were invading Long Island so you better eat now and you better eat fast.

Funny how we grew up fearing the Russians. As an aside, a few months back, I caught a movie from the 60s called "The Russians are coming; the Russians are coming" and it really had not lost its charm. It's about a Russian submarine that runs aground off the New England coast, and at first the townspeople are up in arms, but they find out they actually like the Russians and eventually help them escape. Try it on Netflix for something different. Plus Jonathan Winters is in it!

But back to my story. The Russian threat is not the only thing that has changed though. The Triborough Bridge was renamed a couple years back to the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, but I have never heard anyone ever call it that. We're sticking with Triborough.

Same thing with Sixth Avenue. I didn't know why that name was changed to Avenue of the Americas, but no one uses that name either. It's still Sixth Avenue.

Here's the history from Wikipedia (in case you ever go on Jeopardy and the category is "Street Names.")

The avenue's official name was changed to Avenue of the Americas in September 1945 by the City Council, at the behest of Mayor Fiorello La Guardia. It was felt at the time that the name would provide greater grandeur to a shabby street,and to promote trade with the Western Hemisphere.

After the name change, round street signs were attached to streetlights on the avenue, showing the national seals of all the nations in the Western Hemisphere.

Demolition of the el resulted in accelerated commercial development of the avenue in Midtown. Beginning in the 1960s, the avenue was entirely rebuilt above 42nd Street as an all-but-uninterrupted avenue of corporate headquarters housed in glass slab towers of International Modernist style. Among the buildings constructed was the CBS Building at 52nd Street, by Eero Saarinen (1965), dubbed "Black Rock" from its dark granite piers that run from base to crown with a break; this designated landmark is Saarinen's only skyscraper.

In the mid-1970s, the city "spruced up" the street, including the addition of patterned brick crosswalks, repainting of streetlamps, and new pedestrian plazas. Special lighting, which is rare through most of the city, was also installed.

New Yorkers seldom used the avenue's new name, and the street was signed as both "Avenue of the Americas" and "Sixth Avenue" in recent years. Most of the old round signs with country emblems were gone by the late 1990s, and the ones remaining were showing signs of age.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday with Fran

This is labeled "Friday Sunset from King Street Metro Station" -- from Fran. That's in Arlington, Virginia. It was sent from her iPhone at 5:23 - that's how dark it is already this time of year.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Best Part of Thursdays

I am lucky enough to have a cleaning woman come weekly, on Thursdays, at which time I vacate the premises, grab some magazines or a book, and go out and have a leisurely lunch. It's my big lunch out for the week.

As I walk back home, and here's how my block looked today around 2:30 this afternoon...

I start thinking about how lovely it is to come home to a clean apartment. About 15 feet away from my front door, I smell this wonderful clean, soapy smell. I open the front door and the floors gleam, but the best part is the smell. Not a fake pine scent or rasberry potpourri, but just an old-fashioned clean smell.

Sadly, it's like new car smell and dissipates quickly, but I do enjoy that moment. So here's my living room all clean:

And here's my kitchen. Yes, it's that small. I always laugh when I watch House Hunters, for example, on HGTV and the people stand in a kitchen bigger than my living room and pronounce the kitchen as "sort of small."

You want to know small? Come to New York where a status symbol is having a kitchen with a window in it. Maybe in my next life...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Photos from Fran

Fran calls this "Autumn Splendor" and it's Harrison Street NW in DC. I have to say that, still at my online jigsaw puzzles, that's what I see here. Wouldn't this make a great jigsaw puzzle?

Fran explains this photo: Scene: Mary's back porch. This little guy worked himself into, and I do mean into, the winged creatures' food supply for the winter. Hey, Rocky the Squirrel, these seeds were for the birds, the birds I tell you, NOT furry rodents! Please excuse the blurred image -- had to battle the quick movements of the little darlin' plus reflection in window.

And Mary says she's pressing charges against the squirrel for breaking and entering.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

High Tech/Low Tech

Returning from lunch with Barbara yesterday, I passed a new playground opposite the Metropolitan Museum of Art which is supposed to be the state of the art playground. What I noticed is that the swings are actually tires. No disguise. It struck me as ironic that the best swing in 2010 is something kids have had for 100 years. Of course, the kids were hanging all over the swinging tires.
Inside the cab, things are more high tech. Just about every cab now has a credit card swiper, GPS and a television screen. Can't say I use any of it. I'm still of an [old-fashioned] mind that one pays cash for cab rides. Don't really need the GPS, and I typically turn off the TV for the ride as my pitiful protest for being a captive audience.

Mary's Christmas Cactus Rushes the Season

I have this theory that every so often, mostly by accident, plants (whether indoors or out) find the perfect spot for themselves. This is Mary's Christmas Cactus, and not to take anything away from Mary's green thumb, but I do not think she followed the often complex directions for having a cactus rebloom, but it is beautiful.

I've heard on the news yesterday that this year retailers are not waiting for so-called Black Friday/Cyber Monday for Christmas sales and are trying to get people to buy NOW so Mary's cactus is right there with this early trend.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Stupid Mistake

I think of myself as fairly savvy when it comes to falling for internet scams, but today I made a mistake. I had mailed some packages on Tuesday, and today I get an email from the post office that there was a problem with one of the addresses and an attachment showed the problem label.

Of course, I addressed these in a rush so it didn't take much for me to believe this email and download the "label." When I did, the file was empty, or appeared to be, and then it struck me that something was wrong and I realized (and a big DUH! to me) that the post office doesn't have my email address.

So then I notice that my virus scan said it was "assessing a risk" or something and that was the end of it. I did a scan of the whole computer, and all it found were cookies.

The only other time I almost got caught is when I ordered a set of drinking glasses from Wal-Mart -- it was the first time I've ever bought from Wal-Mart and a few days after the glasses arrived, I get an email from Wal-Mart asking me to take a survey. I assumed it was because of my first time buying. I went to take the survey and it was badly constructed which I thought was odd from a retail giant like Wal-Mart and then it asked for my credit card number or something when I realized it was a scam.

Thinking back on today's episode, the people who promulgate these viruses and scams are experts at it. I'm trying to quickly go through 120 emails, I had mailed packages a few days ago and my brain is going in 10 different directions. Hopefully there is no damage to my computer, but it's another reminder to be totally cautious.

Safety Reminder

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Shout Out to Sprint

For every 100 horrible customer service stories, there has to be one good one, but rarely does that one good one happen to me.

I have literally cried in frustration to some guy in India, begged someone on my 13th phone call to please just listen to me, worked my way through a forest of phone trees only to be told by a disembodied voice that I can't press 7. Click.

Now I have had customer service so good that I hardly believe it happened.

I have a mobile WiFi card from Sprint that inserts in a USB port. It worked fine Sunday night. It didn't work Monday morning. I fiddled and fussed with it for 45 minutes to get on line and then gave up and called Sprint.

I was thinking later that we will do anything the tech rep tells us to do... "Miss Luebke, stick a carrot in your ear while repeatedly pressing shift, control ###." Sure, I'd do that.

I went through all the exercises and it still wasn't working. I knew what was coming next: a trip to the Sprint store.

When she asked, "Is this a laptop?" I knew I'd be heading out.

So when she told me I'd have to go to the Sprint store, ALL I said was "Oh gee, that's not convenient for me." I had been totally neutral throughout our conversation, hadn't particularly bonded with her, but I had been pleasant. She says she has to talk to her supervisor.

To me "not convenient" means I can do it, but I wish I didn't have to.

She comes back on the phone a few times, always apologizing for having me on hold, and finally says that Sprint will send me a new device.


In fact, I'll cut to the chase and say they overnighted one to me (and I have to say I did NOT believe it would arrive). This morning, as promised, I got an email with a tracking number and sure enough my little package was on the truck out for delivery. (I was using dial up to get my email.)

The only thing I have to do is send Sprint back the old one, but she said there would be a postage-paid return envelope in the package for that purpose and there was.

I later got an email about this situation, and then read something like "we've outlined the costs you will be charged below..." and I didn't really care if they charged me something, would actually have gladly paid for the UPS Overnight, but each line had $0.00 in it.

When I installed the stick, everything seemed to work, but then I kept getting an error message.

I called Sprint and the nice woman (in the Phillipines it turns out) had to enter my "DSN Number" or some such 14-digit number on the back of the device to activate it or something. She did that, and I asked her to wait to make sure it worked. It did. I asked her to wait for me to sign off and sign on again. She did and even suggested I go to a few websites to be sure.

I am still in a state of shock that life can sometimes be this easy. So here's to Sprint! Of course, your experience with them may vary, as mine might next month or next year, but, man, is it nice to be treated like your business matters.

And, just from a marketing perspective, this event will keep me loyal to Sprint for a long time.

Monday, November 8, 2010


In case you've missed the trend, Zumba is a combination dance and exercise program that features Latin and international music.

This is Fran's Zumba group (Fran is the pensive one in the gray t-shirt, third from right.)

This photo was taken at DC Dance Collective studio, halfway through a one-hour session. Fran writes, "Elena Menshutkina is the cheerful Zumba instructor. She's in center rear, blonde wearing bandana and pink sleeveless T shirt."

When I said to Fran that this photo reminds me of a Dove commerical with "real women, real bodies," (or whatever that tagline was), she responded, "Re all shapes, sizes: that's what I love about this class as well as all other classes at the school. In general, clientele is 'jus plain folks' and not spa types who wear designer sweats and dance gear (but never sweat through their heavy makeup."

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sunday Night

I met Stephanie for an early dinner tonight which was the day of the New York Marathon. First Avenue is on the route of the Marathon, and today at 4:30, with the event long over, there were still some stragglers walking up First Avenue. There was a small group of people determined to cheer them on. I would imagine they needed it. I give them credit for not quitting.

At dinner, there were two couples at the table next to us who had all run in the Marathon and had their medals with them -- well, three of them did; one woman didn't bring hers. They asked us to take a photo of them with their camera. I have to say it does not compute in my head that you could run a marathon and then do anything less than head for (read: be carried to) an emergency room, much less go out and have a festive Mexican food dinner.

On our way out, we were talking to Maria, the owner of the restaurant, and mentioned the four people next to us. She said that they have a policy that anyone running in the Marathon gets their first drink for free. So of course Stephanie and I then claimed that we had run that day, but Maria asked to see our medals. She somehow didn't believe that we, too, had left them at home.

On the way home, I was struck by this sign that says SMOKED FISH -- actually it reads APPETIZING SMOKED FISH -- so this is my artsy rendition of "Sign on East 86th Street." You can make out SMOKED FISH right below the oval.

New York Subway Moment

My friend Phil sent me this photo which his son took on the subway. I don't know anything more about it than that. Could be it was Halloween, but could be that it was just a normal day in New York where you sit next to a giant rabbit on your way to work.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Books vs Kindle et al

I'm not totally anti-Kindle, but I still love the touch and smell of books. I love holding them in my hand, and using bookmarks. Here's a new book -- Bound to Last -- in praise of the physical book with 30 writers talking about their favorite book.

The other day I was actually considering buying a Kindle. I get it. I really do. I understand how convenient it is, how portable, how easy, how much cheaper.

And yet, I feel sorry for all the kids and kids to come who will never know the sheer pleasure of browsing the shelves in a library and the almost-unbelievable great fortune that the library lets you take books home for free.

Along the lines of reading, I've written here about how my friend Barbara insists (and I finally agree) that I am an ex-smoker, not a non-smoker. At lunch last week, we were talking about the joy of reading and I said that if I had 24 hours to live, I would want to spend at least part of it on the sofa with a great page-turner book.

She added,laughing, "And a carton of cigarets!"

She meant it for herself as well as for me and it took me a moment to realize -- hey, if you're gonna die tomorrow, let's light up! That idea so appealed to me. I can say that I am in zero danger of ever lighting up a cigaret -- only because I know that two puffs would get me hooked, but I still long for the day of smoking.

Beyond health issues, at least here in NYC, I am way too cheap to spend $11 and $12 for a pack! Whenever I go into a magazine/newsstand type store, I am still incredulous at the cost of a single pack of cigarettes.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Bullying is a hot topic these days and I had heard something on tv about adults being bullied in the workplace. I thought I was long past the age, and long past the temperament of being bullied -- that is until last week.

I had called a company whose website I was having difficulty with. The person I talked to was curt -- and told me that my AOL email said a lot about my difficulty (meaning AOL users are stupid) and said AOL brands me as a "rank amateur." Really? Unfortunately I was acting on behalf of a client so I couldn't tell the guy to go eff himself.

I have to say that even though his words were preposterous, it still stung. He sort of backed off by the end of the conversation as I didn't rise to his bait and he told me that I am "probably a nice lady."

And I thought later that this guy is a bully. Had never thought of it that way before.

Now, today, I wrote an email to someone I don't know and got the nastiest email in response, as if I were some scam artist. Really aggressive. So I responded, opening my email with Wow! and then re-explaining why I was contacting him in a calm way. This is someone in the aviation industry who didn't know me. After my explanation, he replied in an equally calm way and so I dropped it.

Another bully is our midst. I can't imagine going from zero to 60 in one second like these guys did. I am not some delicate flower, but I am not used to be talked to/written to in succh a nasty way.

I don't really have a point to all this, other than now knowing that bullying is not just something that happens on the playground.