Monday, September 29, 2008

A Small Step and a Green Glow

Last week while playing Beat the Delivery Boy I decided to whip up some pancakes and eggs for dinner. The recipe I use for pancakes makes too many for Columbia and I to eat in one meal, so he gets a stack for breakfast as well. I was having an internal debate over what to do with the hot flapjacks as I was making more in a skillet:

I'm not turning the oven on and wasting the electricity... if I tent them like my sister always does I'll be wasting aluminum foil... Wait! I can tent them with foil and then use the same piece of foil to cover Columbia's stack for breakfast! The foil will be able to be recycled in the morning!

I was so proud of myself! I found a way to reduce waste and electricity, reuse a resource and then recycle while still making a quick and tasty dinner. While it's not the biggest step, it's something and every little bit helps make our planet a better place. And with that "green" glow about me from being a little more environmentally conscious, we barely needed to turn on the lights that evening. ;)

Posted picture used under creative commons license from Flikr user playbeasy.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Open House NY - Locations listed (and filling up!)

We're so excited to be in the city this year for the 2008 Open House NY. In a nutshell, Open House NY is an event held one weekend each year where off-limits architectural gems are open to the public through small tours. The locations were just released on Friday, and some are already booked! Some spots I'd love to see:

  • The Arsenal (UES)
  • The High Line (Greenwich Village)
  • Lilac - a 1933 Steam ship (26th Street and Hudson River)
  • Schermerhorn Row* (Front St / Fulton St)
  • Channel 13 / WNET (Midtown West)
Okay, I'm mainly interested in Schermerhorn Row because you have to sign a liability waver(!??!). Xtreme Architectural Visit for the win!!

When you get to the page, you can select the borough in which you're interested, and download a PDF of all of the events. If reservations are required, act FAST.

Site: Open House NY Weekend 2008

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Vintage photos from the American Museum of Natural History

The American Museum of Natural History is a great place to see history come to life (well, not "Night at the Museum" alive, the more abstract sense of the expression). We've been taking pumpkin there since she was just about 3 months old. She now loves watching the kids as much as anything else. JC and I love going there and just spending a few hours strolling around.

I'm also a sucker for anything that includes historical New York as a supporting character. From Catcher in the Rye to Coming to America, I'm in love with reading/seeing the changes this great city goes through. Every few years major changes happen -- construction, gentrification of neighborhoods, etc -- that will disorient you if you've been away for a while.

When I saw this link of Historical AMNH, I went all weak in the knees. The shots are beautiful and it's great to see another side of an old favorite. It's like looking at your parents' wedding pictures. That right there was one handsome musuem.

The picture above of the bathysphere is from the "exhibitions" set of photos. A bi-plane and whale skeletons pave the way for the whale that currently dominates the space in the Hall of Ocean Life. This picture is from June of 1935, long before even my pop roamed these halls as a kid.

Picturing the Museum [via Curious Expedition]

Friday, September 26, 2008

Free Museum Admission This Saturday

LifeHacker alerted us to Museum Day sponsored by Smithsonian Magazine- an annual event where many museums across the nation are free for the day. You don't have to subscribe to the magazine to participate, simply fill out this form then print your pass. Below is a list of the museums offering free general admission in NYC this Saturday. The Children's Museum of Manhattan is on the list, so if Pumpkin is finally over her first cold we might take her there. It's nearby and... well... free. I can see Columbia wanting to go to Cooper-Hewitt. Hooray for Museum Day!

Manhattan American Folk Art Museum
Asia Society and Museum
Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine
Children's Museum of Manhattan
Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution
Mount Vernon Hotel Museum & Garden
Museum of American Illustration at the Society of Illustrators
Museum of the City of New York
New York City Fire Museum
Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, the George Gustav Heye Center
South Street Seaport Museum
The Center for Book Arts
The Drawing Center
The Jewish Museum
The Museum at FIT
The Skyscraper Museum
The Studio Museum in Harlem
The Ukrainian Museum

Bronx Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum

Queens Flushing Town Hall
Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning

Staten Island Historic Richmond Town
Snug Harbor Cultural Center
Staten Island Museum
The Noble Maritime Collection

Brooklyn New York Transit Museum

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Tonight: Donate to a Make-A-Wish AND Get Free Ice Cream

It's feeling a lot like autumn in New York today but it's not too cold for free ice cream. Cold Stone Creamery is giving away free ice cream today from 5-8 when you make a donation to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. You can get 3 ounces of one of their new yummy treats: Jack's Creation (Marshmallow ice cream with OREO® Cookies, Chocolate Chips and Fudge) or Emily's Creation (Nutter Butter® ice cream with White Chocolate Chips, Kit Kat® and Yellow Cake). All of the Cold Stone Creameries in Manhattan are participating (their addresses are below). To find out about other locations you can go here. Makes a girl wish she weren't allergic to milk.

162 W. 72nd Street
New York, NY 10023
Kosher Certified

1651 Second Avenue
Manhattan, NY 10028
Kosher Certified

750 9th Avenue
Manhattan, NY 10019

253 W. 42nd Street
New York, NY 10036

2 Astor Place
Manhattan, NY 10003
Kosher Certified

We were first tipped off to this by Heather - Freebies4Mom rocks!

Rethinking the Unlimited Metrocard

As one who has questioned the economical choice of buying an unlimited vs. pay-per-ride Metrocard, I recently had a revelation. I usually go pay-per-ride in the summer (as I have summers off from school and don't travel nearly as often) and buy an unlimited during work. This year I'm at two schools and one is 20 blocks away. I thought I'd walk some days, and wanted to figure out if it was worth it to go unlimited.

Unlimited metrocards currently cost $81 and are valid for 30 consecutive days.
Pay per rides are $2 per ride, with a $15% bonus when you spend $10 or more.

I knew I had Pumpkin and JC to come home to, and probably wouldn't be doing too much post-work travel, so I guessed that I'd be taking 2 rides each weekday (let's average 22 workdays in a month), so about 44 rides in a month.

$81 / 44 = $1.84 a ride. Not too bad. Cheaper than the $2 fare.

44 rides at $2 each would cost me $88 on a pay-per-ride. Until I remembered the 15% discount. If I spent $80, I'd get 40 rides + 6 free rides. $1.74/ride for pay-per-ride vs. $1.84/ride with UL. If I walk to my nearby school at all, I'm saving even more.

Now if you look at September, there's Labor Day and Rosh Hashanah, so school workdays total 20. If I bought an unlimited metrocard in September, the per-trip cost goes up to $2/ride.

If you're a commuter who will travel once more per day, or if you know you like to ride public on the weekends, unlimited is definitely the way to go. But if you're a daily commuter who is looking to really cut costs, look to see if a PPR might be the way to go.

If your company offers transitchek, make sure you sign up for it. I have the TransitChek Card which puts pre-tax money onto an ATM card that can only be used at metrocard vending machines. If I want a 1-day card for my folks when they come into town, I buy it. If I want a 30 day I get it, or I can just refill my PPR. It's good stuff.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Beating the Delivery Boy (and other ways to avoid ordering in)

Does the clinkity-click of bicycle locks outside your window make your heart race and your mouth water? When you hear it, do you instinctively say, "Food's here!" even though you didn't order from anywhere? Does your cutlery drawer have more plastic than metal silverware? If you've answered yes to any of the above, you might be a candidate for delivery detox. Believe me when I say that ordering delivery in this house had all the textbook signs of addiction.

Here's how we're just keeping our local dealers at bay:

1 - Set a limit

If you're going to order in (and enjoy a break from cooking), set a limit and stick to it. Once a week, twice a week - whatever you're comfortable with.

2 - Make a Plan
...and follow through. (ed. That's what Brian Boitanno would do). The weeks that we plan a menu are the weeks that we don't order in. Just knowing what you're going to have for dinner strikes out that dreaded phase: "I don't know? What do you want for dinner." The opposite is also true - weeks without menus are typically dotted with delivery dinners.

3 - Buy Ahead
Having good food in the house helps avoid menu temptation. Make sure the items are in your house the day before you need them. That way if you don't make it to the store you don't run into the the problem from #2.

4 - Destroy the Evidence
In what might be the boldest move, we've trashed those menus! That's right, pitched the whole collection. Ditch your favorites and even the one for that Thai place that closed years ago. (What, it's closed??) If you have the restaurants on speed dial or programmed into your cell phone (it's handy to call when you get out of the train then you can meet the delivery man at the door, right?) - time to delete them. After all, should the Chirpin' Chicken really get priority over your mom?

5 - Beat the Delivery Boy (um, "beat" as in "be faster than"...)
We've had a few times when we've had to wait nearly an hour for the delivery boy. What was supposed to be a quick solution to hunger turns us into zombies at about the 30 minute mark. Don't be afraid to do easy -- grilled cheese sandwiches and a can of tomato soup, Eggs and toast and jam, or a freezer dinner. It's amazing how quickly you can get some sort of dinner on the table when you make the decision to cook.

6 - Have a Contingency Plan
One of the last home dinners where we didn't cook was picking up a rotisserie chicken and some roasted veggies at Fairway. It wasn't free but it was cheaper than ordering from just about anywhere. It was also nice to know roughly what was in our food. If you know you're not going to be able to cook anything, it might be worth checking out the hot food options at your local supermarket.

Photo by Columbia (during the long days and sleepless nights after Pumpkin's homecoming)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Waste not, Want not... well, at least waste not

"The average U.S. houehold throws out nearly a quarter of the fruits and vegetables they buy" states an AP article on cnn. The statistic is staggering. There are so many reasons to be disgusted, and yet we are partly to blame. New York is filled with stores and carts flaunting their fresh produce on the sidewalk making it impossible not to ogle and drool. Our beloved Fairway Market is one of the best... worst?

One of the ways Columbia and I are stretching our bucks is to make a list before shopping and buy only what's on the list. This is tough, but it's worse to find yourself throwing out moldy strawberries. It's money wasted and we could have eaten it. Occasionally we end up eating odd combinations (doesn't everybody eat chili and butternut squash together?) but the pride in using up our purchases makes it go down easier.

[photo used under the CC license. photo links to photographer]

Magic? Maybe, but definately worth free.

One of the ways I have been stretching those bucks is by requesting free items online. Thanks to several helpful bloggers and the true magic of autofill for web forms , I can complete the forms relatively quickly while Pumpkin is napping. What good is one free sample? Well, a cereal sample often becomes a snack. Last week I got a roll of tp, one less to buy. I want to believe it all helps a little. It also lets me try out new items without paying for them.

That was the case today. I tried out the the Magic Eraser by Mr. Clean. I found out about the sample during a Freebie Friday at the The Motherload and thought it a good opportunity to try it out. With Columbia home today and Pumpkin happily playing in her Jumperoo, I attacked the kitchen wall. The box cautioned against using on high-gloss paint, so I hoped it would work on the semi-gloss of the kitchen, and the matte in the hallway that is our kitchen extension. It did a really good job on getting off coffee stains, bangs from the gazelle that was previously been stowed there (who else but New Yorkers would keep a gazelle folded up in their kitchen?) and a myriad of other messes that somehow appeared there in the last 3 years. With relatively little scrubbing, they all came off.

Then Columbia pointed out we had clean spots on the wall. What? Yeah. The Magic Eraser did such a good job that it cleaned the marks off of the wall and left the rest of the area showing 3 years of wear. I attacked the bottom half with the eraser and Columbia (bless his soul) got the top half with a damp towel. We had destroyed the magic eraser in the process, but the wall became surprisingly clean.

I did try to clean an area by the stove with a damp towel afterward. That worked, too, but it did seem to take a bit more elbow grease and my arm was already sore for the day.

Would I use the Magic Eraser again? Yes... if I got another freebie or a really good deal. I searched Freebies 4 Mom and found out about another Magic Eraser freebie. The Mr. Clean site was being especially cranky today but I did register for there site and write a blip about using the eraser today. Once their site was cooperating it took only a few minutes. I got this interesting message after I posted:

Thank you! You have successfully submitted your story for this product. Please note that it may take up to 72 hours for your story to appear. All submissions will be reviewed by the sponsor. Those deemed inappropriate, or not in accordance with product usage instructions, will not be posted and the registrant will not receive a free mini Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. If your story is accepted you will receive your free mini magic eraser in approximately 8-10 weeks.

*While supplies last*
Wow. I now feel like I'm waiting to get accepted for college. I guess the wait time and their caution is for the best, as we all know what happens to a website left un-moderated. I'll be happy to get another magic eraser, but I think I'll stick to the simple freebie request forms for now.

Monday, September 22, 2008

News from the Street Fair

We had a great time Sunday at the Columbus Avenue Festival. I was excited to meet Helen Rosenthal, a chairperson for community board 7. Hopefully that will lead to more local info here. I asked if there was a community calendar to speak of, but she said not right now. If that changes I'll find a way to post it here.

We did well with spending too, spending $9.25 of our $10 budget. That's three shiny quarters that will inevitably go to feeding our washing machine's endless appetite.

I'm certain that when I hold up the camera, half the street runs on to the sidewalk. This doesn't really let you feel how packed it can get.

Ummm, hello? It's no longer your little secret. I mean, c'mon guys -- you really blew that one.

Ohhhh corn meal and mozzarella never tasted so good. I had to pass this time though -- those things'll kill ya.

We did get our $6 quart of half-sour pickles from the good doctor. I really thought he was mister pickles, but I guess he went back to school since last year. Good for him, really. JC and I will not deny that education is important.

...Pumpkin sums up the afternoon better than I ever could.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Luckiest Girl in the World

I thought I'd share with you a little bit about how Pumpkin came to be part of our family.

There we were in the operating room of Lenox Hill Hospital, looking back on the exciting morning of realizing "it's time!", finding a cab to take us to Lenox Hill, the epidural wearing off... and not taking again, then something was wrong with our daughter's heart rate. She wasn't recovering from the contractions as well as our doctor wanted (he really is the best doctor in the world) we were quickly going into the operating room. There wasn't time to call anyone. It was just Columbia and I, hoping Pumpkin would be okay.

She was. Turns out our DD had inherited the gracefulness of her parents and gotten the cord wrapped around her thigh. After we heard her cry and a quick clean up, she was handed to Columbia. He sat there beside my head, holding our daughter and smiling his real smile, not the one he usually has in pictures. Then he grabbed my hand, held it steady as I was shaking from the drugs in my system, and helped me caress her head. Swaddled in the striped blanket, she was beautiful, delicate, perfect, ours. It was no longer just the 2 of us, we were a family.

4 days later we brought Pumpkin home. In a cab. To the UWS. It's not much. It's not even ours. But we live here together.

Pumpkin and I spend our days playing, reading books, wandering around this neighborhood we love and making faces at each other. Around 5, the door magically opens and in walks the man who makes us beam. He gives us both a kiss, takes my hand and makes me realize that I am the luckiest girl in the world.

Surviving Street Fairs

I noticed that our block had barricades at the end of it this morning, and that meant one thing to me. Riot. Street fair.

We've missed most of the streetfairs this summer, and I'm sure this is near to the last of them. I used to love people watching and enjoying a mozzerepa... oh, heavenly corny goodness. But today, as we take Pumpkin to her first street fair, here's how we're planning to beat the $5 lemonades and !!**CHEAP SOCKS**!!.

Columbia and JC's Three Step Plan to Financially Surviving Street Fairs

1. Eat before we leave
Heck, drink first too. Today on the menu is BLTs on JC's homemade bread, and some leftover "let this cold go away" soup.

2. Plan your attack
Street fairs usually don't surprise folks who have gone before. I know we don't need a Shammy Mop, we don't need a 1lb container of sage, and... well, I might need !!**CHEAP SOCKS**!!, but that can wait. We know we want Mr. Pickle's briney goodness, and hopefully the farmer's market is there too for a couple of squashes. Other than that, it's a no-buy zone. ...wait, are those the sweet sounds of Raggaeton filling my ear cavities??? No, Columbia -- stay sharp.

3. Make a budget
We're allotting $10. In our days of frugal living, blowing $10 seems a little wasteful, as I think those pickles are about $6. But if we go with a $$ amount in mind, we're less likely to walk home with a ficus and a persian rug, both of which will be eaten by our terrorist cats. Bring only what you want if that's helpful to you.

That's it. We're off. ... oh, I did NOT plan on there being zeppolis and Italian sausage...

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Getting our ducks in a row (planning ahead to live on one income)

Columbia and I have always thought we would want me to stay at home when we had children. When we started planning for Pumpkin (we apparently are not very spontaneous) we made some preparations for how I might be able to stay at home.

1 - Maxxing that Salary Columbia went back to school a year ago to reach the highest pay possible for his years in the Dept of Ed. To finish by this fall he took 18 credits over the summer. Was it hard? On all of us? Yes, but this was the simplest way to bring in more money continually, even if it meant paying out some in the immediate.

2 - Nesting We built our nest egg. Columbia laughed when I used that term recently, but it's what we have saved. At it's most, it was nearly 6 months of basic expenses. It has dwindled now, but mostly because of Number 1 above.

3 - It Pays to be Healthy I didn't take any sick days last year. Instead I saved them and was able to use them after Pumpkin was born. This was a huge help during our adjustment phase to single income living. Until school started this year we had only had 2 months of single income life. This was due to planning... and Pumpkins timing. =)

4 - Deducting the Kid... and the Wife Columbia and I had both been losing a huge chunk of our paychecks to taxes. I knew that we should change Columbia's W-4, but I wasn't sure to what. Thankfully the IRS's W-4 form has basic directions on it (who've thunk it?). By using an online withholding calculator we were able to see what the change would look like in take home pay. We'll get less back in April but we'll have it now when we need it.

5 - It's All Mental Mentally preparing ourselves for this adjustment made it much easier. We both grew up with frugal parents and were relatively frugal in our lifestyles. We knew that adjustments would need to be made and that we would be sacrificing some (many?) of our creature comforts. It's worth it to us. We may not be able to live on one income forever. We may not be able to live in Manhattan forever, but we are committed to raising Pumpkin here for as long as we can. For the next year, at least, we'll give her the best life we can in our home in the city.

Picture by Columbia at the CP Model Boat Pond.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Visit the Island... Governor's Island that is

This former military base is being revitalized as public space and you can visit on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays until October 12th. There are free ferries to take you there (and bring you back ;) leaving near the Staten Island Ferry Terminal at Battery Park. Another bonus is that you can see the waterfalls exhibit from the island and on the ferry, like in the photo above.

Governor's Island has a site full of information and historical facts. You can also find out the schedule of events. Here is what's going on this weekend:

Friday, September 19th – Sunday, September 21st: Free Bike and Kite Weekend

All weekend, visitors can borrow a bike for up to one hour entirely for free. Free Bike Weekend, like the Free Bike Fridays program on Governors Island, is sponsored by Transportation Alternatives. Bikes are limited and are available on a first come, first served basis. Also, the first 250 visitors each day will be given a kite to fly on the Island’s Parade Ground.

While Pumpkin is too small to fly a kite, she'd love to chew on it!

[photo used under the CC license. photo links to photographer]

A Blog Re-Purposed, A New Look and an Adventurous Year Ahead

Changes, Changes, Changes, but all for the best, and all to share our experiment.  JC is taking the year off work to raise Pumpkin.  That means Columbia will be the sole bread winner.  How is this even possible in New York City, let alone Manhattan?  We're not sure... but we're willing to try.  For a year anyway.  

As we chronicle this time, we'll share the ups and downs, the deals we find, our love for the city and the cuteness that is Pumpkin.  The banner's changing, the theme has been tweaked, but our lives and our ramblings will forever be about a home in the city.