Monday, January 18, 2016

Old table new

Last summer I stopped at a garage sale down the street and bought a couple of chairs and a little wooden table to use on my roof deck.  I spent $20 for the three items, and I figured that I'd sell them myself or take them to Goodwill once I'd replaced them with "real" furniture.

I now have "real" furniture for the roof and the old chairs are long gone.  But I held on to the table.  Turns out, it's an unusual little table with interesting lines -- and the size is perfect for my second-floor living area.  

Which means I regret having abandoned it to the elements for the past year...

But rather than throw it out and find some new replacement (which will likely be expensive or soulless, possibly both), I decided to refinish it.  I mean, I refinished the end tables that I got at the Chelsea Flea Market -- surely I could do this!

And so I did.

I walked down to my neighborhood paint store and got them to identify the wood (mahogany) and suggest a few stain colors (I went with "pecan").

The downside of testing colors right on the surface is that you then have to wash as much of them off as you can using paint thinner, and then sand down the surface until the remaining color is gone.  But given how weatherworn the table was, it needed a good sanding anyway to prepare it to receive the color.

Having learned from experience that sanding tables in the living room is not a smart idea,
I took my project to the back deck and hoped the rain would hold off long enough for me to finish.
It didn't.
The sanding, by itself, did wonders for the little table.  Already the wood looked warmer and more even.  Then I broke out the stain and started rubbing it on.

Stain is so much easier to apply than paint!  Just rub it on.  Let it soak in for a minute, then rub off the excess.

The grate was a perfect solution for holding the legs -- I just stuck the screws at the top
into the cracks and let them support themselves in the air.
But freshly-stained, not-yet-sealed mahogany is not something you want to leave on your porch in Seattle in January.  The pouring rain threatened to undo my handiwork, so I brought it all inside for the night.

Next morning, the stain had dried and it was time to apply the tung oil finish.  This treatment would seal the wood and make it more-or-less waterproof (depending on how many coats I had the patience to apply; answer: two).

I pretended that the ventilator in the range hood would prevent me from losing too many brain cells while breathing the fumes.

After two coats of tung oil and a few more hours to dry, I reassembled my table and stepped back:  voila!

Looked good to me!  The little table still had its flaws and character, but the new stain and finish brought out the richness of the wood, and nicely emphasized the detailing on the leg joints.  Now it looks better than ever in my little reading corner.

I hadn't bothered getting a nice pot for that plant because I was convinced I would kill it.
Seems to be tougher than I thought, so maybe it's time to look for a pot.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


Can you guess where we're going in March?

Needless to say, I can hardly wait.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

New York - A three-star last day

Like all good things, our trip came to a close on Saturday.  But our flights were late enough that we still had the bulk of the day to play -- and play we did!

Nicole, a good friend of mine from Kennedy Center days, recently moved from DC to New York, so we began our day by meeting up with Nicole and her boyfriend, Bruce, for breakfast in the Rubinstein Atrium at Lincoln Center.  It was good to catch up and learn about what they're doing:  Nicole is head of development at the Park Avenue Armory, which sounds like a super interesting performance venue (she told us of a show that involves sheep and blimps that may warrant a trip later in the spring).  Bruce is an economist at the World Bank and the UN, currently working in Geneva.

We parted ways -- Nicole and Bruce to make some returns at West Elm; the three of us to find Trump Hotel at Columbus Circle.

The appeal wasn't the Trump brand, but rather Jean-Georges, the three-Michelin-starred restaurant nestled at the base:  We had a reservation for lunch!

I've always been puzzled why Michelin's "stars" look more like flowers.
This was our first three-star experience, and we were very excited.  The dining room was elegant and minimal, all white and gold, with the only color coming from a stand of deep red amaryllis in the middle.  Dress code forbad jeans and sneakers; jackets were optional before 6pm.

Our server handed us menus and invited us to construct our own tasting menus from the options listed.  We each chose three items and a dessert.

Three amuse bouches: a ceviche, shredded brussels sprouts, and spicy miso soup
Sea urchin with yuzu and jalapeño on black toast
Foie gras brûlée with dried sour cherries, candied pistachios and white port gelee
Crispy confit of suckling pig with rutabaga pudding and smoked bacon marmalade
Left to right: (1) hazelnut milk chocolate millefeuille, (2) warm chocolate cake vanilla bean ice cream, and
 (3) white chocolate ice cream yuzu sorbet
Closing treats: passionfruit jellies, hazelnut macarons, assorted dark chocolate cremes
Restaurants win stars based on a number of different factors, including the taste of the food, the comfort of the experience, and the quality of the service.  In this case, it was clear the emphasis was on comfort and taste.  

The room was lofty and felt spacious (there was none of the crowding we had felt at other places) and oh, so quiet!  Even at capacity, the sound level in the room never rose above a low murmur, which meant that I could speak in my inside voice the entire time and never once needed to strain to hear what Justin or Amanda were saying.  

As for the food, it was incredible.  The portions sizes were just right, the plating gorgeous, and the textures and tastes beautifully combined.  It was a reflection on the philosophy of the restaurant that the servers, when they checked on us, never once asked "How is your meal" but always "How are you enjoying the flavors?"  It was the flavors that mattered most.  

(And of course the service was excellent; I guess I've been spoiled by restaurants that greet me by name and manage to avoid traffic jams at reception even during the peak dining hours.)

We left the restaurant with full tummies and happy hearts (as the Puerto Ricans would say) and decided to give the Met Museum another try.  Fortunately it was open and the lines weren't too long.  

We decided to prioritize two exhibits:  First, the Costume Institute's temporary exhibition showcasing the fashion of Countess Jacqueline de Ribes.  There were some exquisite pieces, and a sense that the fabulously rich and glamorous live in a different world than I.

I love the simplicity of this dress, and the detail of the train tied up at the shoulders
If I were a woman, I 
de Ribes threw insane costume parties.  This one was for an Arabian Nights themed party.
She said she expected lots of bare tummies and arms, so she went with fur to stand out.

The next focus was the modern wing.  Justin, in particular, wanted to see that section, so we made our way across the museum to soak up the Jasper Johns, Giacometti, and Chuck Close.

Chuck Close does giant portraits in a sort of impressionist/pointillist style
When viewed up close, it's a wonder he's able to get the image to emerge so clearly!

The metaphorical clock began to strike midnight, and it was time for us to leave the ball.  We hailed a cab, collected our luggage from the hotel, and hopped on the subway to the airport.  We bid Amanda farewell at the Delta terminal, and Justin and I made our way to the American gates.

As we rose into the night sky, we had a glorious view of Manhattan below.  So strange to think that such a giant, exciting world could fit on such a small island.

We're looking down from the north -- that rectangle in the middle is Central Park
Good night, Manhattan!  Until next time . . . .

Friday, January 1, 2016

New York - Towers and windows and sign language on New Year's Day

New Year's Day is typically pretty dull.  The parties from the night before are over, and although it's technically a holiday, it's one that you celebrate while knowing that you've still got a long, greyish stretch of winter before the distant summer. 
That said, if you're willing to get up early(ish), New Year's Day is a great day to go places that might otherwise be intolerably crowded.  Such as the observation deck at the new Liberty Tower, built on the site of the old World Trade Center.  
None of us had been there before, so we bought tickets for an 11am admission.  We emerged from the subway and were greeted by the imposing 1776-foot high tower.


We went inside and were directed downstairs to queue for admission to the One World Observatory.

The lines weren't bad, but the vibe was strange.  The main entry hall felt very much like the lobby of a corporate office tower (which is accurate).  But then we were ushered into a winding corridor made to look like a fake tunnel of bedrock.  It was surely meant to educate us about how skyscrapers are built, and to symbolize the "bedrock" of the American spirit -- but mostly it just felt like a cheesy Disney ride.

Fortunately, when the elevators brought us to the top of the building, there was nothing cheesy or fake about the views.  They were stunning.

West-ish to New Jersey
North-ish over Manhattan
East-ish towards Brooklyn and Queens
South-ish towards the harbor

We also could see down into the World Trade Center Memorial, where the towers once stood.

After we had made our way around the observation deck, we went down to have a closer look at the memorial.  It was somber and impressive.  And it was emotionally affecting for me in a way that no other memorial has been.  Its the first memorial I've visited that commemorates something major that I remember happening. 

The transit station, designed by Italian architect Calatrava, is a lovely and surprisingly large structure that is kind of birdlike, but also surprisingly skeletal.  I liked it a lot.

After paying our respects, we took the train up to Chelsea, where we met a friend of Justin's for lunch.  We then tried getting into the Met Museum, but discovered that it was closed on New Year's Day, and so had to settle with window shopping on Fifth Avenue -- which at this time of year is tremendous fun.

We started at Bergdorf Goodman, where we saw a sensible spelunking outfit covered in jewels . . .

. . . it appeared to come with its own be-jeweled bat.

Inspired by the jewels, we walked to Tiffany and were charmed by their miniature doll-house displays.

By this time Justin was getting cold and losing interest, but then we spied Saks Fifth Avenue and knew that we couldn't turn in quite just yet. 

These windows started with some lovely winter gowns . . .

. . . that were worn by mannequins in progressively wild situations.

When we had taken in all of the fabulous windows, we went back to hotel for a snack and a nap.  Then we met up with a couple more of Justin's friends (Todd and Jon, who I had met on our trip to Mexico back in March) for dinner at a swanky Thai restaurant in Hell's Kitchen.

And of course, after dinner came the play of the day:

Spring Awakening is based on a late 19th Century German book that makes a very critical statement about the harm that repressive social mores and parenting styles can have on children.  I saw the original production of Spring Awakening on Broadway in 2007.  It got a lot of attention but was too much of a sensational, angsty rock-opera for my taste.  This version, however, had a softer, more acoustic feel, and the characters were less angsty and more innocent -- they were more convincing as innocent kids who were hurt by a repressive society and bumbling adults. 
This version also was performed by deaf actors.  Not an obvious choice -- to have a deaf troupe perform a musical -- but a good one nonetheless.  The deaf actors signed throughout the musical, and most had hearing actors shadowing them to sing and speak the lines for those of us who couldn't read sign.  Some of the actors both signed and spoke.  The whole effect was beautiful, and I found that the expressive qualities of sign language enhanced the meaning of the spoken word and other body language.  I'd love to see more of that theatre group's work.

Happy New Year!

Ringing in the New Year in style from the Big Apple. Here's to 2016!