Saturday, October 26, 2013

A wee shuffle

Change of address on *sparklingly  |
I thought I would refresh this whole space once I left NYC, but I've gotten a little antsy and my impatience got the best of me. With the weather cooling down, changes elsewhere (more on that soon), and a general feeling of blahness with *sparklingly, I wanted to make a move sooner rather than later, even if it means a fairly subtle one, given my lack of design/HTML coding skills.

But first I had to figure out exactly what I wanted to call this new place. Since my day job involves similar queries (what space can this "brand" own? why would anyone care about it? what's its reason for being?), I employed similar strategies to figure this out—I asked a few people what they think I write about and why they like reading and there was definitely a clear thread:

J/*sparklingly = a place filled with homemaking, simple pleasures, balancing city and country, how to indulge graciously and elegantly, tweaks for a gentler life, real/whole foods and living, plus a little snark. Which to me all mostly boiled down to my favorite thing to do ever:

Feather my nest.

I love making something prettier, cozier, homier and more welcoming. Whether it's my apartment, a hotel room when I'm traveling for work, my desk when I'm working at a client site for the day or even an hour, or a little nook at a cafe nearby for a weekend coffee. My thinking is consumed by ideas of how to make my surroundings sweeter, softer, more sacred—which goes for my physical surroundings as well as my physical self.

Thus was born a feathery nest.

But of course I'm still shy and prone to anonymity, so I needed another little handle to sign off with and use on Instagram and things. I created a rationale for *sparklingly before, but it really annoys me now, so a new one had to be made. This time, though, I decided to just use a nickname I already have (General J / Gen J / il Generale) thanks to my particular, some-say-bossy, ways, plus a little finessing to make it better encapsulate me (and my puritanical, modest, hostessing ways), hence ladygenj.

Everything will switch over later today / tomorrow, but just in case my ability to understand complicated code is less stellar than I imagine it to be, I'm posting this last post here on *sparklingly with a breadcrumb trail so you can still find me after today if your feeds and things don't automatically update:




I've also switched my social media accounts over to my new handle, so if you follow me on those, you'll notice my shares under a new name.

Hope to see you on the other side!

Blogger Tricks

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Autumnal oil concoction

Autumnal oil concotion on *sparklingly  |
For the transition from Summer to Autumn, and before I need to turn completely to the spiced yumminess of my Winter Oil Concoction, how about one to ease us in to this frostier time of year?

The cool weather we're experiencing in NYC now means gloves and an easier subway ride for germophobes like me—so nice to not play the balancing game I do to avoid touching anything in the subway during the nasty, muggy hotness of the city from April to September.

I mixed up a batch of this Autumnal Oil last weekend, trying a few new blends together, and applied liberally before heading uptown to meet friends for brunch and a stroll to see one of the gal's new apartment on the Upper West Side. As we walked off our massive (and delicious) meal I kept getting a whiff of something mysterious and toasty, but I chalked it up to the lightly-spiced nip in the air. Imagine my delight when I realized it was actually me!

But before I share, I have to tell you how nice it is to rediscover something charming close to home. I always wrote the UWS of the city off, but meandering around its brick townhouses with honest-to-goodness front "yards" (okay, stoops), with gardens and harvest bounty displays, and peeking through windows to see fireplaces and chandeliers and bannisters wrapping around and around was so foreign and homey and intriguing, all at the same time. And now that I have a friend living on the top floor of one of those townhouses (complete with mahogany wood paneling, window boxes, a skylight and a view over the sidewalks where children are skipping), I'm sure I'll indulge in its neighborhoody goodness a bit more.

Autumnal oil concoction: lovely as an after-shower moisturizer, face wash, perfume, and/or massage oil
+    1 1/2 cups of coconut oil (or your favorite carrier oil)
+  20 drops vanilla for warmth, comfort and fresh-out-of-the-oven coziness
+  15 drops germ-fighting/thieves (lemon, clove, cinnamon, eucalyptus, rosemary) for spicy cleansing
+  10 drops orange for zest and freshness

Melt together and store in a glass container.

P.S. Previous oil concoctions: Winter and Lullaby
P.P.S. My essential oils are all from Plant Therapy—love their quality and value!
P.P.P.S. Why I use coconut oil and how I use it

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Autumnal things: walks and more knits

I know it's been a bit quiet over here. Everything's okay—just working through a few things. But, I haven't been too busy to enjoy my favorite season of the year. I'm practically giddy with the weather right now. Well, the theoretical weather. The leaves have changed colors and fallen a bit in some places, but the temperatures keep fluctuating between mid-50's and low 70's. No matter, though, because the air smells fall'ish and the foliage looks it, so I'm happy!

Last week R and I explored the nether regions of Prospect Park in Brooklyn, a place I'd only skirted around the edges of after brunch in Caroll Gardens. Turns out, if you wend your way deeper toward the southeastern borders, there are wooded paths, lakes and ducks and swans swimming in formation.

Like the North Woods of Central Park, the Ravine section of Prospect Park has lots of opportunities for "off roading". Meandering through woodsy paths, hopping over fallen trees, kicking through piles of fiery leaves. Nothing makes me happier than stomping through the underbrush and taking huge gulps of air in before whoooshing them out. I'm like a child with a rain puddle.
I've also been reserving pockets of time for my ever-calming knitting habit. The last few things I've finished are another Purl Soho Pebble Tank (same as this one, but more flowy/loose-fitting), a few more knit goodies for "Dante", including a matching set of mittens and booties and another hat, plus a little coffee/cell phone doily from leftover yarn. I hate to have scraps hanging about, so I used the very last bits of coral cotton from my myriad of napkins to crochet something Downton Abbey'esque (albeit much more colorful) to rest my coffee cup and saucer or phone on while typing away on my computer at the dining table.
After all that crafting for the baby and selfish knitting for myself, R finally insisted that I make something for him again. He has a whole drawer full of socks, scarves, ties, and pocket squares, but now I'm (gulp) starting a full on sweater for him with a fancy collar and stitch pattern. The biggest, (he's 6'4"), thus scariest thing I've tried so far. I've already started and re-started a few times, so you might not see any pics of it until next year.

Hopefully will be back soon with some updates for you on that, though, and things in general. Until then, get outside (if you're in the same hemisphere) and breathe in some smoky, spicy fall air! I also highly recommend crunching through a few piles of leaves—it does wonders for a stormy soul.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The international travel essential we forgot

Funny story for you. Remember that time R became an American? And then we left the country 3 weeks later? And remember how long it takes to get a passport (hint: about 6 weeks)?

Yep, we had a bit of a situation on our hands.

After a massive freak out (right on the heels of that morning's sprint), I ended up staying late at the office to see how the heck we forgot to account for this timing snafu. What happened was, we were told of the oath ceremony date 3 weeks ahead, and sometime between getting that notification and the day of the oath, we booked our St. Lucia trip. What we hadn't considered is that when you get your Certificate of Naturalization, you surrender your Green Card. Meaning that the only proof R had of his new status was a piece of paper. A piece of paper that must be handed over when you apply for your passport. And in doing so, he'd be essentially proof-less of his citizenship. That plus the fact that once you become a citizen it is illegal to leave or enter the US on any other passport (making his Italian and Swedish ones irrelevant), meant he couldn't leave the country.

But, praise be that we live in NYC. The land where everything can be head: pierogies at 2AM, a wedding dress tailored in an afternoon, and, most relevant to us, a passport applied for, processed and returned in a day (!). After some Googling and Yelping I found a government agency called the NY Passport Agency. Now when you think of filing bureaucratic paperwork (as sadly, I know all too well), you immediately think of the DMV and the rampant lack of efficiency, right? Well, if Yelp was to be believed, apparently this office (located conveniently near us!) not only processed SAME DAY passports with a smile, they also only charged the ridiculously low sum of $60 for this service.

If you Google "expedited passport service" you'll find a whole slew of shady internet companies that (1) cost upwards of $300; (2) tack on more fees for overnight shipping; and (3) aren't really even done overnight anyway.

So of course I was skeptical, but I sent R over there with a printout of our confirmed travel itinerary, his certificate of naturalization, a passport photo and the passport application. He got there at 12:30PM, took a number, waited less than 10 minutes, handed over his documentation, and was told that since his trip wasn't within the next 7 days, they'd mail him his passport (if it was for a same day flight they would turn it around immediately and for a flight within 7 days it's ready the next day). Regardless of timing it all cost $60.

He came home and two days later a little Express Mail envelope followed him with his beautiful new American passport and his returned Certificate of Naturalization.

Incredible service.

Which, likewise, rendered us incredibly grateful, especially given our non-refundable vacation and my non-moveable birthday!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The notion of home

The notion of home on *sparklingly  |
Now that we're back home after the most amazing of trips, bumpy re-entry included, I've realized I'm at the point where I'm completely sick of our apartment. I've lived in it so long that it's last refreshing was years ago, so the walls seem a bit crusty, the floors need refinishing, and the whole thing needs a good scrubbing. And everything about it now irritates me: the way the walls soak up cooking splatters and no amount of scrubbing seems to get rid of the telltale signs. Same goes for the bathroom walls and doors where dust combined with flying oils from my overzealous applications have created an impenetrable barrier.

Then there's the floor, a horrid parquet—I should say faux parquet—comprised of uneven pieces, meaning dust and wayward hair and fluff gets embedded around each splintery piece, making sweeping a futile exercise and walking barefoot painful. Not to mention the ear-splitting creaking that echoes every single step we take from March through November, thanks to the humidity. Speaking of humidity, it's impossible to keep the shower, especially the grout lines clean because of the dampness in the air (we're not quite at fall weather yet) and I'm so sick of cleaning so often only to have the whole place still feel dumpy.

And why is there an inch-long gap between the stove and the counter? Do you know how many crumbs and onion slivers and who knows what else have dropped into our own personal Grand Canyon? And have I mentioned our hyperactive smoke alarm? Anytime we barely sautée a bit of garlic in oil the damn thing goes off and we have to take our positions as door-waver, window-opener, frantic-pillow-beater and dish-coverer to disperse the hot air before the whole system starts spraying water every which way. You don't want to know the hysteria that ensues if God forbid one of us is alone and has to pull off all four with just two hands amidst the pelting whine.
The notion of home on *sparklingly  |
I just want to leave everything behind and start fresh.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Properly ushering autumn in

While some people may welcome Autumn with pagan rituals around a bonfire, I chose to wave my favorite season in with a leaf crunching walk and an afternoon's immersion into rich, opulent, amber-colored art. I convinced a friend she had to join me so we met at the northwest corner of Central Park for an autumnal afternoon. We started by tromping through the North Woods, making a few loops around dirt paths, scrambling up mini rock faces, and traipsing across bridges over wee waterfalls. There were loads of tiger-eye colored foliage on the ground which made for a pleasant crackly soundtrack as we walked, even though the temperature was more Indian Summer than October Fall.

By the time we emerged on the east side of the park at The Metropolitan Museum of Art we were a little out of breath and ready for the coolness of the museum's galleries. Every time I go I forget that there's absolutely no point checking out the exhibitions online beforehand, because no matter where you plan to go, you'll never get there. You just have to wander.

Which is how we came across a gorgeously recreated Venetian bedroom and loads of Egyptian gold. Refilling our tanks with seasonally-appropriate colored works of art? Check.
Then we made our way up to the museum's rooftop for the view and a chat in the sunshine, where another friend met us. People always rave about the Met's rooftop, but I found it to be just okay. Maybe because it became really hot up there and there was very little shade, and maybe because the current exhibition was a little underwhelming to me. The view, though, made up for it.
Around 5PM I went to meet R, who had just finished working, and we headed home together for a bit on foot before hopping on a bus. At that point I checked Moves, a new app on my phone that tracks your movement (walking, cycling, running or transport) with a really simple infographic and map. I had walked 10,971 steps, covering 5.9 miles in about three hours. No wonder my feet were hurting—and why as soon as I walked in the door I took a cool shower and poured myself a tumbler of my favorite gin with a splash of sparkling water and a squeeze of lemon. Excellent end to the day.
Sunday morning broke bright and gray and misty. Perfect strolling weather, made even more perfect because R finally had a weekend day off. We decided to go for a coffee walk through Tribeca to try a new'ish cafè—FIKA Tribeca Chocolate Factory. "Fika" means coffee break in Swedish and those Scandinavians are serious about their coffee and the sanctity of the twice-daily fika.

FIKA began in NYC with one post in Midtown and now there are five in the city, plus their products are sold at Whole Foods. Speaking of products, the Tribeca FIKA is one part cafè, one part a Willy Wonka-like chocolate factory that shares a glass wall with the dining side and a window onto the sidewalk so you get a nice view of chocolatey goodness being crafted.

It's also got that swanky, industrial vibe going on, with lots of light since they have a prime corner spot. But, all my happy feelings about the place and space evaporated when our bill came to $22 for two cappuccinos, a kanelbulle (cinnamon bun) for R and 4 teensy chocolate truffles for me.

To be fair though, it was all delicious.
I had a hankering for some more creamy, cappuccino goodness, but didn't feel like another at FIKA, so we took a walk deeper into Tribeca to Laughing Man Coffee & Tea—a teensy to-go spot with a cozy vibe, a nice manifesto at the door, and handsome pictures of Hugh Jackman on a coffee plantation tucked onto the retail shelves. He started the place—which now has three locations downtown—so it's fitting. While I did like the clean white, unbranded to-go cup, my coffee wasn't as good as at FIKA (not quite creamy and rich enough). But, it was still nice to tote along and sip while we walked home.
We had an hour at home to relax before one of R's friends picked us up and took us to the Polish section of Greenpoint in Brooklyn to join him and his daughter at Amber Steakhouse. Amber is R's man-date restaurant of choice. He and his friends meet there often for carnivorous, wine-fueled and vodka-finished extravaganzas before going for espresso and a rum baba at Fortunato Brothers—it's their little tradition, so it's quite the thing that I finally got to inhabit their manly space.

Amber had some more of that opulent (though muted), dark-wood, Eastern European autumnal tones going on, perfectly fitting into the weekend's theme. We shared a bottle of cabernet sauvignon, and I tucked into a steak tartare to start and then a bone-in rib eye with a side of broccoli and mixed mushrooms. It was so intense and delicious and I had to take a walk around the block afterwards while the men ordered another bottle of wine.
Of course I still had room for an affogato at Fortunato's with scoops of bacio and nocciola gelato.

Seems like a fitting end to the weekend, no? I thought so, too, until we were coming over the Williamsburg bridge and the sky exploded into color. The annual Diwali festival at the South Street Seaport was just wrapping up with a firework show and we literally had a front-row seat to a 20-minute spectacle. I've never seen fireworks that colorful, intense, and filled with purply-gold, peacock-feathery wonder (better even than any July 4th display I can remember!) Hand it to the vibrant-hue obsessed Indians to have the most fantastic fireworks. And to see it all against the backdrop of the East River bridges and the antique ships docked in the port? Incredible.
{ via, but lightly edited by me }
Welcome back, Fall. I've missed you.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

One year later

NYC East River Esplanade  |  One year later on *sparklingly  |
When I first decided to start writing this wee blog here, I had no intention of ever sharing it. I just wanted a little place to keep track of what I then hoped/thought would be my last year in NYC and play around with coding (I should say "coding"). I also thought it was only fair that after so many years of listening in to others share their stories, that I reciprocated, especially when it comes to people I've been following for years.

Right now, as far as I know, no one in my family (apart from R), nor people in my life here know about my corner of the Web—two friends that live far away do, as well as all the people I've "met" through the blog world, but that's it. And my reluctance to share is not because I write anything scandalous (as you know), but just because I started quietly and to be honest, after two aborted attempts previously, I didn't think it would stick around this long. So after thinking about it for a few weeks last year, I just powered up Blogger and gave it a go.

I didn't give much thought to the context or the "lens" through which I write (as you might have guessed from the somewhat flimsy name/address I post under). But now that it's lasted this long, perhaps it's time for a little dusting? A bit of updating and re-skinning? I've got some ideas, but haven't had a chance to think them through all the way, but perhaps in a few weeks (or, months) you'll find me in a new place. A place you'd be most welcome to join me.

But, I do have one teensy favor to ask of you.