Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Day 93: The Potluck

Photo of the Day: An Intimate Gathering

Tonight is the famous annual Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, but shockingly, I decided to opt out of this iconic event. I've learned a thing or two about how crazy crowds can get here in New York, and I can still see the Christmas tree after it's lit. So I avoided the tourist trap, teeming masses, and nightmarish commute and instead attended my usual Tuesday night small group.

In lieu of the routine format, our Bible study leaders Tim and Talida decided to kick off the holiday season with a potluck at their Long Island City condominium. It was a cozy little gathering with good, fresh food like salads, pastas, and sandwiches and jazzy Christmas music piping through the speakers. I contributed my famous corn casserole. It's so easy to make and was a hit yet again this Thanksgiving in Houston, so I thought I'd give it a try in New York too to some success. It was also Tim's birthday yesterday, so we threw him a belated celebration with a white cake loaded with fresh fruit, vanilla ice cream, and Talida's delicious sweet red bean jam!

While the potluck was wonderful, it was getting there that was a royal pain. When I arrived at the subway station to head out to Long Island City, I learned there was an electrical malfunction, crippling the entire train. They instructed us to walk up several blocks and catch a bus, but each one that passed by was packed to full capacity with passengers. Not to mention I checked the route map, and the recommended bus didn't even pass by my destination. Stranded in the middle of nowhere with no lines of available transit and clutching a casserole pan, I reluctantly had to call for a ride. Thankfully, Tim graciously left his own party to come pick me up and salvaged my night, even though I temporarily got lost again on the return trip. Although I've been in New York for several months, it's nights like these that remind me I'm still very much an outsider learning the ropes.

This is the reason I did not stay for the Rockefeller tree-lighting ceremony. I left my office at around 5:30 p.m., and this was the crowd that had already gathered a block away from the actual plaza.
Talida brings out a belated birthday cake for Tim.
Singing "Happy Birthday to You" to Tim.
What a lovely couple and awesome small group leaders!
Talida cuts the cake, which they serve with vanilla ice cream and sweet red bean jam. Yum!
The leftovers of my corn casserole.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Day 92: The Beatles

 Photo of the Day: A Glowing Review

What a welcome back to New York City! After arriving back from Houston just before midnight yesterday, I barely had time to readjust before jumping right back into the daily grind. But I got a very pleasant surprise when my friend Mei Ling sent out an e-mail saying she scored free tickets to the Broadway show Rain: A Tribute to The Beatles, and would anyone like to go tonight? Yes, please! Even though I'm not a die-hard Beatles fan, I do enjoy certain songs so ingrained in our pop culture they're impossible to not love. Rain definitely did not make it to my list of personal Broadway favorites; it played out more like a concert than a true musical with a continuous set list inter-cut with video clips. It was also more geared toward ramping up nostalgia among the older crowd, which was actually alive when the band was around. The show was a very glossy, and at times trippy, production, and though I've never watched a Beatles concert, I was informed that the actors did indeed achieve spot-on imitations of the Fab Four. They frequently encouraged us to get up and dance (Twist and Shout, anyone?), and they used the stadium ploy of cutting to live feeds of the audience on the screen projectors to involve us in the action. Though not a classic Broadway experience, I had a great time just relaxing and listening to good music—for free!

As predicted, the city is literally glowing with holiday cheer now that Christmas is just around the corner, and I could immediately see the difference. They've finished stringing lights up on the trees so entire avenues are twinkling, and they have giant themed displays up along my route to the office. It's positively magical, and I haven't even begun to wander past my usual walk to work. The Rockefeller tree is being lit tomorrow, and though I am going to pass on watching it live, I can't wait to see the iconic site sparkling in its full Yuletide splendor. I love Christmas in New York City!

I got a shot of the curtain during the overture before the ushers yelled at me to put my camera away.
I snuck the camera back out during intermission to take more pictures of my friends. I got yelled at again.
In front of the Neil Simon Theatre after the show.
Giant Christmas lights!
Huge red ornaments in the fountain across the street from my office building.
How festive!
The overall effect of the vibrant red ornaments with the Christmas lights and water reflection was quite magical.
Fountain reflections.
I like balls.
Christmas tree lights are up on all the trees.
Trying a little bokeh action.
Christmas light closeup.
The lights are so neatly and uniformly wrapped all the way up the trunk and into the branches.
More Christmas lights.
This is what I see when I exit my office. I love Christmas in New York.

Day 91: The Workshops

Photo of the Day: Our Experts

Today is Day 2 of the NextGen:Charity conference, so I trekked up to Columbia University's Lerner Hall for a morning of workshops with nonprofit leaders. Some folks from Taproot and American Express were featured as presenters for one of the workshops on the topic of helping organizations to create and scale their own pro bono opportunities. I have to say, we really knocked it out of the park with fantastic information. Though not as inspiring as yesterday's short talks, the workshops were a great way to bring some practical application to the big ideas we heard the prior afternoon.

The rest of the day was a mad rush to get my affairs in order before heading to Houston for the holidays. Despite having to fly out of Newark, which requires multiple transfers on several transit lines, the commute went smoothly, and I was on a plane home with time to spare. I will be using my week off to take a brief break from this blog (which, after all, is supposed to feature New York day-to-day), but I'll be back next Monday, November 29. I will, in all likelihood, still be taking photos in Houston, so check my Facebook page for those updates. Have a very happy Thanksgiving, and I'll see you in several days!

Workshop with Jonah Halper.
Our presenters Lindsay and Meredith during a question-and-answer session.
I promise the room was fuller than this. Most people had a tendency to sit at the back of the room.
Mingling with attendees and answering questions after the workshop.
Lindsay gives a friendly smile to a workshop attendee.
The window view of Columbia University's campus.
The glass and steel walkways of Lerner Hall.
The sleek, modern architecture of Lerner Hall from the fifth floor.
Christmas decorations popping up at Penn Station.
Waiting to board New Jersey Transit to Newark Liberty Airport.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Day 90: The Innovators

Photo of the Day: Musical Interlude

One of the reasons I love my job is the amazing opportunities that it provides to network and develop professionally. For instance, today I got to attend the inaugural NextGen:Charity conference, featuring the best and brightest superstars in nonprofit innovation. It was promoted as a TED-style event with emerging top leaders of the sector presenting short six-minute talks on an array of fascinating and relevant topics. Among the fantastic lineup of speakers were luminaries such as Seth Godin, prolific author, blogger, and marketing god; Ami Dar, founder of idealist.org; Scott Belsky, CEO of Behance; Scott Harrison, founder of charity:water; Andrew Noyes, Facebook director of public policy communications; and of course, my boss, Aaron Hurst, president and CEO of Taproot Foundation. I was a little bit starstruck to be in the presence of so many great and influential minds and was thoroughly inspired by the passion, intelligence, and creativity of all the presenters. The nonprofit and philanthropy fields are undergoing radical, revolutionary shifts and require some serious reconsideration, and it was stimulating to hear the ideas and thinking that are going into shaping efforts to adapt to the fragmented and technological 21st century landscape.

Unfortunately, they didn't allow photography in the theater, so I only managed to slip in one quick picture during one of the musical interludes, which made it as Photo of the Day. The conference organizers will, however, soon be posting videos of the talks online along with photographs, and I will let you know when they become available and hopefully snag a few extra shots for the blog.

Registration was a bit of a madhouse, and of course my line moved the slowest.
Two of the Taproot ladies stand in line for registration and busily checking their cell phones.
The promotional poster for NextGen:Charity.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Day 89: The Tamales

Photo of the Day: Unwrapped

After a long, hard day at work, I don't have time to cook, and I don't have money to spend. So today it was back to the tamale lady for her dirt-cheap, super filling creations of corn, chicken and cheese. I think every city I've ever lived in has had a tamale lady, and I like it that way.

I've been arriving home late for the last week, so when I get back to the apartment, almost everyone is asleep. It was nice to get back a bit earlier today to hang out with the kiddos again.
Kayla being feisty and adorable.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Day 88: The Branches

Photo of the Day: Behind the Scaffolds

It's a sure sign the holidays are upon New York City when the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center goes up. The 74-foot Norway spruce actually was erected last Friday, but I hadn't the opportunity to stop by and take a look until today. For now, the icon remains hidden behind scaffolding, where it is getting prepped for the grand lighting ceremony on Nov. 30. I learned that the magnificent tree, which this year hails form Mahopac, NY, undergoes some cosmetic enhancement before its unveiling. Today a crew was sorting and hoisting spare branches up and down the scaffolding, where folks nailed and wired them into place. Apparently every year, they use this method to fill in bare spots and give the Christmas tree its perfectly conical shape. Then they will adorn it with 30,000 lights and top it with a glittering Swarovski crystal star. I'm still debating whether I should attend the tree-lighting; it is right next to my office, but I may also want to avoid the certain crowds.

Despite a heavy workload, today was a surprisingly short day because I excused myself from the office early and returned to Culture Espresso Bar with my laptop to complete the day's tasks. Though I was being productive, it felt much more relaxing and less stressful doing my job from the comfort of a swanky little cafe. However, I was still exhausted and wound up working pretty late, so I decided to skip my usual Tuesday night fellowship group for some much needed rest at home.

Contractors at work at the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center.
Crews sort through extra branches to find the perfect length and size.
Crews use pulleys to hoist extra "filler" branches up the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.
The Christmas tree remains hidden by scaffolding and awaits its grand unveiling in two weeks.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Day 87: The Crossword

Photo of the Day: Word Play

Why do Mondays insist on always being so miserable? Work was extremely frustrating today due to technical difficulties with my laptop. At one point I was so upset I literally had to get up and leave to avoid breaking something. It was a late night too, with my extensive to-do list and slow computer keeping me in the office until almost 9 p.m. Fortunately, right as I was leaving, I got a message from my boy, Tai, and gave him a call for some quality catching up.

As for the Photo of the Day, I didn't take many pictures today, so I decided to acknowledge my crossword addiction with this photo. I do them all the time on the subway, which make for at least an hour of crossword time daily.

This whole week is going to be long and difficult. In addition to having a lot on my plate, I also have to account for the vacation days I'm taking next week and get ahead of the work I'll be missing. One day down, four to go—then it's home sweet home for a Texas-style Thanksgiving!

Orange juice, leftovers, applesauce, and Hulu—the glamorous life of a New York bachelor.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Day 86: The Cans

Photo of the Day: One Can at a Time

Today after church, Mei Ling and Jayson invited me to visit the CANstruction in the Winter Garden at the World Financial Center. The exhibit features elaborate structures made of canned goods created by renowned architecture and engineering firms. When the competition ends, all the food is donated to City Harvest to help feed the local hungry and homeless. I was very impressed by the intricate and creative submissions and enjoyed oohing over the tiny quirky details that the designers incorporated. One of my favorites was Kan Kong, a reproduction of the famous scene of King Kong atop the Empire State Building, complete with a tiny airplane made of tuna cans and a Pez dispenser as Ann Darrow. After we finished our tour of the exhibit, we walked along the Hudson river waterfront to enjoy the chilly sunset.

Later that night, we met up with the rest of the crew at Shake Shack, one of New York's renowned burger stands. We went to the Times Square location, which was packed, but we were fortunate enough to find a table to seat our large party using a little strategic hovering. The joint's reputation lived up to the hype, even with my high expectations. The burgers were juicy and flavorful, and though small in size, they were satisfying. I think Shake Shack's real strength, however, is their dazzling selection of drinks and frozen custards, blended with high-quality ingredients into unique and gourmet flavors.

I had told myself I was going to go home right after dinner and get some errands and ongoing projects done tonight. That all went out the window with one magic word: BANG! Eunice invited us over to her dorm at Columbia University for a game night, and one of the guys in our group just so happened to have the complete Bullet set with him in the car. As the most seasoned player in a group largely composed of newcomers, teaching the complicated rules fell to me. It was very slow going at first, but once momentum picked up, everyone agreed about the sheer awesomeness of the game. It was another late night and mildly unproductive weekend but totally worth it in the end.

The beautiful Gothic-style Woolworth Building.
Reflections of the 9/11 Memorial construction across the street.
The Winter Garden at the World Financial Center.
FEASTer Islander, a unique tribute to Easter Island's monumental statues made of 2,500 cans.
Cups Can Only Spill, made of 5,180 cans of tuna in water.
The clever PhilANThropy, that actually used peanut butter and jelly jars in their sandwich and Pom juice bottles as ants!
This one was entitled downside-up: one CAN make a difference, which is designed to show how this single can is holding up an entire structure.
A-Salt on Hunger, personifying salt and pepper shakers made of cans of Hershey's cocoa and evaporated milk.
It's a Hit (to Hunger)! is a replica using 7,146 cans to create the famous Battleship game.
Tomato Tornado, made of 6,400 cans of tomato sauce. `
Can'truck'tion: Delivering a Thanksgiving Meal ironically shows cans being loaded into a truck made of cans.
How adorable is the The BabushCAN, made with 3,472 cans?
Building blocks made out of cans spelling "We Care."
The name Paint the Town 'Fed' is stretching it with the title pun, but pretty artwork!
The Kan Kong, made of 3,000 cans, was one of my favorites because of the Pez dispenser of a Disney princess that served as Ann Darrow.
A Smart Way to End Hunger, designed to look like a Smart Car, uses 6,072 cans.
This cute engine made of 3,369 can is titled I Think I 'Can' after the famous storybook train.
Building Blocks Against Hunger.
Mr. Potato Head.
When Jayson got reprimanded by the security guard for running up the escalators.
Mei Ling waits for us during a bathroom break.
The Hudson River through the World Financial Center window at sunset.
Sunset over the Jersey Shore and Ellis Island.
Sunset over the Hudson River.
NY Waterways ferry docking terminal.
A lighted sculpture along the Hudson River waterfront.
The Winter Garden as seen from the outside.
Jersey shoreline from the World Financial Center Plaza.
The North Cove Marina from the World Financial Center.
The weather forecasting machine using wireless signals, lights, and machinery.
My very first trip to the famous Shake Shack!
My delicious Shack Burger with a Fair Shake (vanilla and coffee) milkshake and cheese fries. So wonderful!
Shake Shack gets a thumbs up.