Wednesday, March 09, 2016

New and Different - February 2016

I'm always looking to try things that are new or different, and this year I vowed to document everything, even the mundane. There's nothing pioneering in what I'm doing--I haven't found any uncharted lands or developed my own dance technique or done anything that hasn't been done before--but if it's new for me, I want to document it and be able to read it again later.

So here's what was new and different for me in February:

Visiting the Famous Ziegfeld Theater
I had a chance to visit the renowned Ziegfeld Theater in New York City. The Ziegfeld, a single-screen theater that opened in 1969, has been described as a "luxe" space where for more than 40 years Hollywood film premieres were shown in red carpet glory, including the 1977 premiere of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. (Close Encounters is a memorable movie for me, because my late aunt took me to see it at the Roxy in Northampton, PA.)

A lit concession stand in the darkened lobby of the Zeigfeld.
This Ziegfeld on West 54th Street in Manhattan was named in honor of the original, even more famous Ziegfeld Theater built on 54th and Broadway by Florenz Ziegfeld with financial backing from William Randolph Hearst in 1927. The building was torn down under public protest in 1966. One of the original theater's most notable shows included Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh in an Antony and Cleopatra revival in 1951, performed with Caesar and Cleopatra on alternate nights. Quite a feat. It was also home to the Ziegfeld Follies, an elaborate theatrical series that eventually became a Depression-era radio show. Ziegfeld Follies included performances from classics in entertainment, such as W.C. Fields, Josephine Baker, Will Rogers, Bob Hope, and Ray Bolger, and included the talents of a bevy of gorgeous chorus girls known as the Ziegfeld girls. Remnants of those halcyon days--including promotional posters, lavish costumes, and bedazzled dancing shoes--were still exhibited throughout the theater when I visited.

Ziegfeld crystal chandelier.
Sadly, the theater closed right around this time to be used as an "event space" for corporate meetings such as the one I attended. As far as I could tell, the space will continue to look very much as the theater always has, with its gorgeous crystal chandeliers, wall-to-wall carpeting, and paneled walls suggesting a golden bygone era. Plus, in a nod to its 40-plus years as a movie house, concession stands are still intact, from which event participants receive single-serving bags of popcorn and cups of soft drinks before relaxing in cushioned theater seats to hear "state of the union" style corporate addresses.

It was a treat to visit this historic landmark.

Jewelry Making
I've heard it said that the oldest profession isn't prostitution, it's jewelry making, and it's something I've been interested in since high school but never had a chance to learn. So when my local community college offered some "adult learning" jewelry-making classes, I signed up to make a bracelet of chainmaille. (Chainmaille is a style that uses metallic hoops somewhat similar to the chain mail used in military armor in the past.) It looked pretty easy; and, in fact, it was so easy that the 3-hour class took me and the other students (half of them newbies like me) only an hour to complete.

I could see myself doing more of this.

Chainmaille bracelet.
Then I plied my darling friend Fern with some brunch so she could teach me how to make earrings. It was fun buying the tools and "findings," and I could feel a kind of primitive hoarding instinct kick in when I saw the cutest charms in the bead shops in both PA and NY. I bought tiny Swarovski crystals, meditative Buddha heads, mini clay tiles, and fish hook clasps. Fern taught me to have lots of basic silver beads on hand, as they are classic elements in any good earring project. One of my first projects was a basic peace-themed set of earrings for my teenage nieces.

Yes, I could see myself doing more of this.
Earrings for my nieces.

Lunching at the Russian Tea Room
Every winter and summer, New York City hosts Restaurant Week. It's a bit of misnomer, because Restaurant Week is nearly a month long, but that's a good thing because it's plenty of time to eat at top-shelf restaurants in an affordable way. I previously enjoyed Restaurant Week meals at Charlie Palmer Steak, 21 Club, and elsewhere, but going to the Russian Tea Room was a double whammy because my dear friend Diane treated me to lunch there. It's a place we'd both always wanted to try.

Russian Tea Room blinchik
Here's the deal with Restaurant Week: For a fixed price (fancy people call it prix fixe, and for this lunch it was $25; for dinner it is $38), we get a 3-course meal that includes an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert. There are usually 3 choices for each course, something for every palate. At the Russian Tea Room for lunch, the 3 appetizer choices were a Goat Cheese and Wild Mushroom Blinchik, Traditional Tea Room Red Borscht, and the Tea Room Salad. I chose the blinchik, a mini crepe filled with mixed mushrooms, goat cheese, and melted onions served with lingonberry sauce. I had never had lingonberries, so it was a natural choice for me, and it was delicious. For the entree I had Chicken a la Czar, and to end the meal I had a deliciously smooth chocolate mousse cake that contained a chocolaty hazelnut center. Everything tasted wonderful.

I'm not a fan of caviar, but the caviar is a big draw for many people. The Petrossian is another high-end caviar restaurant that participates in Restaurant Week.

Grilled octopus at Limani
The staff was warm and inviting, despite knowing we were not patricians but plebes trying to sample greatness while it was affordable to do so. On the way out, I spied the nested Matryoshka dolls and other Russian-themed items for sale in a display case.

To push myself a bit further, I tried octopus for the first time at Limani, a posh and modern Mediterranean-themed restaurant in Rockefeller Center. The food was good, with the highlight for me being the excellent hummus and mousse-like tzatziki that my friend Deb had as an appetizer.

I doubt I'll have octopus again--the idea of eating suction-cupped tentacles is a little offputting--but I give myself points for at least trying it.

Raising an Adult
I didn't expect to be as emotional as I was for my son's 18th birthday, yet I don't know why I'd think I'd be straight-faced about it, either. After all, raising a child is a pretty big deal for someone who wasn't sure she'd ever be "mother material." Even though the beginning was a little bumpy (sick through pregnancy, followed by a premature delivery), my experience as a mother has been pretty darn amazing. Even if there were a Pulitzer for my job and I won it, there's still nothing more important that I'll ever do than be a mother. It's that important because it's the future. And during this presidential election year, the future can look pretty bleak.

Eighteen years of goofing around with my son.
I won't go into a long essay about the triumphs and challenges of motherhood--at least not here--but my son's 18th birthday was particularly poignant for me because he's decided to enlist in the military. I'm not "just" sending my kidlet off to a college where he'll drink too much beer and be hazed by a fraternity (my son really isn't a frat kind of guy anyway). Instead, he'll drink too much beer after being hazed by a drill sergeant who will likely call him a maggot, all in preparation for putting himself in harm's way. As a mom, I have my fears about the world, but not about my child. The best thing I ever did for him was to marry his dad, the most amazing man I've ever known (along with my maternal grandfather, who served as a role model for the kind of man I wanted as a partner). We share similar views in all the things that matter, and we're pleasingly different in other ways that have had a well-rounding effect on our boy.

I know that my role as a mother has not magically been completed now that our son is a legal adult, but his birthday did feel a bit as a full-circle event. I'm punting out into the world a young man who impresses me with his depth and sensitivity, sense of humor, and commitment to his own values that I admire.

The best thing about my boy's 18th birthday party was celebrating it with friends and family, but it also gave me an opportunity to surprise him and set us both up for something very new and different that we did together in March.

Until then, thanks for reading.

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