Sunday, March 23, 2014

Deep in the heart of Texas, cont.

Clay gets a lesson from Mr. Charles.
On day seven of our trip, it was off to the Institute of Texan Cultures. Based on my research, this place seemed like a perfect fit for little man. There are tons of displays on all the different cultural groups that have settled in Texas (American Indian, French, Greek, Dutch, Italian, Swiss, even an exhibit on the Lebanese!). Plus, visitors can enjoy a moving multimedia show projected on the facility's dome show theatre ceiling. Then, in the "Back 40," outside the museum, you can go inside an adobe house, a fort, a one-room school house, a barn and a log house. Kids can pick up/touch all the furnishings and get an idea of what life was like for settlers in Texas.

But the very best part? Because it was spring break, the museum had trained, costumed volunteers throughout the facility to help kids with hands-on activities, answer questions and tell them about Texas history. Mrs. Frances let Clay spin wool into thread so he could make a bracelet. Two cowboys at the chuck wagon taught him how to climb into a saddle. Mr. Charles out in the school house showed him how to keep the stove stocked with wood to heat the building and fetch water in a pail from the pump so kids could have a drink. In the barn, Clay ground hard corn kernels into meal. 

This raccoon was from Montana.
Our favorite was the frontier man, dressed all in skins over at the log cabin. He and Clay made fire. I kid you not. Coolest. Thing. EVER. Clay was completely dazzled. (Plus, when the frontier man saw Clay's coon skin cap, he pulled two REAL coon skin caps out of his pack. Clay got to touch them, feel how soft they were and guess where the raccoons had lived based on the thickness of their fur.)

After a morning of fun, we were ready for lunch. A kind lady at the museum's entrance suggested we walk over to Bill Miller BBQ for a fast, filling meal that was easy on the pocketbook. We had to cross a few very busy streets, but there were crosswalks. We went through the line and bellied up to brisket, fries, green beans and a big slice of apple pie. Yum! Food was delicious, service was super-quick and the tables were packed at this casual spot.

Then, it was off to Boerne for an activity I'd arranged in advance - a one-hour trail ride! Clay had ridden a tethered horse around in a circle before, but he'd never been on a real trail ride. I found Stricker Trail Rides, only about 30 minutes north of San Antonio, on TripAdvisor. Initially, we'd planned to spend a half day at a dude ranch in Bandera. But because it was spring break, they were only offering full day bookings. I worried that a full day (plus an hour's drive out, and another hour's drive back) might be a bit much for little man, so I investigated other opportunities. 
He cowboyed up!

I'm so glad I did. Mr. Willie Stricker himself led our ride, and the horses were gorgeous. Clay got the smallest horse, Anna (and a bike helmet, because you can never be too safe). Brian and I both got big, beautiful horses. Mine was named Spirit, and Brian's was named Prize. There were other folks on the ride, too, and our entire party was around 10 people. Mr. Willie saddled up, and we enjoyed a little over an hour on horseback, following a trail through the Texas hills. Yellow wildflowers dotted the hillsides, and the breeze blew my hair back off my face. We even got to trot in a few level spots! It had been a while since I'd ridden a horse, and I forgot how wonderful it was! As soon as the ride was over, Clay wanted to go again. Now that we're back home, I'll be looking for some close places he can ride here!

On our way back to San Antonio, we figured we'd find some dinner. Our guidebook recommended a place called Bin 555 for Mediterranean tapas and wine. We typed the address into our GPS and hit the road. But when we arrived, we didn't see the spot. When I asked, a local told us that a few weeks before, the owners had completely reinvented the restaurant, redesigning the menu to reflect an Asian fusion sensibility and renaming the place Umai Mi. We decided to give it a try!
The scenery was gorgeous.

I am soooo glad we did. We ordered several small plates - the tom kha soup, the combination fried rice, the shrimp rolls, the "expensive" mushrooms (on special at $6) - plus one larger plate of lemongrass chicken. The food was amazing. The soup was a rich, flavorful broth dotted with cilantro oil. The fried rice was full of delicious goodies, and the shrimp rolls were hot and crispy without being greasy. The good-sized portion of tender lemongrass chicken came with a bowl of steamed rice. Clay happily munched on fried rice while we watched the kung fu movie being projected on a nearby wall. (There wasn't any sound, so we got to make up everyone's lines! It was a very interesting plot, to say the least!) On the way out, Clay got his boogie on in the restaurant's shaded deck. (Umai Mi plays an unexpected mix of hip hop and R&B over its sound system while you eat. Clay can't resist a beat!)

Stained windows at St. Joseph's
Saturday was our last day in San Antonio. We decided to try a late breakfast at Schilo's, which was only a few blocks from our hotel. It was a quick, yummy trip! The German deli is something of a historic landmark in downtown San Antonio, and it's housed in a former mercantile building. I chose the apple struessel with a side of bacon and a big cup of coffee, and hubs and Clay both had pancakes. The struessel was HUGE and delicious! (The pancakes weren't bad, either. I might have poached a couple of bites!) Schilo's was packed with young families and retirees, probably all drawn by the fun atmosphere, good food, quick service and low prices. 

After breakfast, Clay and I peeped into St. Joseph's Downtown Church. Out boat tour guide had pointed it out to us, and it was open, beautiful and free. We took a minute to admire the stained glass windows.

From there, we moseyed on over to RiverCenter Mall. We'd passed by it a few times, but hadn't checked it out yet. Of course, we found a Disney store inside. And a small kids' play area. After hitting both of those and buying a couple of souvenirs for hubs, we stumbled across a movie theatre. The sky was threatening rain outside, so we bought a couple of tickets for Mr. Peabody and headed in.

A few notes: 
  • The kiosk where you buy the movie tickets may not be the place where the movie is actually being shown. We bought tickets down at what I now know is the IMAX theatre, but the movie we were seeing was upstairs in the traditional theatre. Because our time was so close, we had to race upstairs! Luckily, we got there just as the previews were ending.
  • When I bought my tickets at the kiosk, I had to choose assigned seating for us. I thought that was pretty weird. Because the show was imminent, there weren't many choices left. I had to pick two seats on the second row. I worried we'd get cricks in our necks from craning to look up at the screen.
  • I had no reason to worry. When we got to the theatre, we sat in huge leather home theatre chairs with big cup holders. Not only that, a button on the arm rest literally reclined the chair almost fully back. You could practically LIE DOWN and watch your movie. Clay thought it was a HOOT, and so did I. 
The view from our balcony. Sigh.
After the movie, I dropped Clay back at the hotel with Brian so I could take a last walk around town. Finally feeling hungry again after our giant breakfast, I made my way to Zinc Bistro and Bar. A friend had recommended it, and she wasn't wrong. I chose a refreshing glass of sangria and the spicy spinach artichoke gratin. Mmmmmmmm. Feeling satisfied, I strolled through the La Villita area, poking my nose into shops and finding a few treasures to take home: some stained glass, some copper, a pale green pottery vase. It was St. Patrick's Day weekend, and there were tons of booths and other preparations going on. I people-watched, read the signs about this historic area and took my time. 

Hubs telephoned to say they were dinnering at Whataburger, so I was on my own. Online reviewers seems to agree that Biga on the Banks was amazing, so I decided to pop in for my last dinner in San Antonio. I was just in time for their Winter Fare prix fixe menu. I had a lovely salad, a nice piece of fish with sides and their famous sticky toffee pudding for dessert. Washed down with a glass of red and a cup of decaf with cream, it was the perfect ending to a glorious trip!

Then, it was pack, pack, pack for our VERY early flight the next morning. What a fun town! San Antonio is a big city, but it's very navigable. We loved our visit!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Deep in the heart of Texas, cont.

A curtain/drape formation at Natural Bridge Caverns
On day five, our big plans were tickets for the Hidden Passages tour at the Natural Bridge Caverns! After breakfast, we loaded up in the car and drove about 30 minutes north of San Antonio to the attraction. We got there *just in time* for our timed tour!

Our guides led us to a small pavilion, explained that we'd be climbing down 180 steps into a series of caverns, and then climbing those same 180 steps back UP, to see the rock formations growing below the surface.

The caves really are amazing. We saw stalactites and stalagmites, really unique formations (like the pincushion), a gorgeous formation called the Diamond River (with tons of sparkling little crystals) and beautiful, almost liquid-looking drapes of rock. Clay oohed and ahhed and asked tons of questions. ("Are there vampire bats in here?" he piped up during one noticeable silence.) When we got to the very bottom of the caves, we sat down on some benches. Then, our guides turned out the lights (completely) and asked us to listen. We could hear tiny drips of water everywhere, but we couldn't even see our hands in front of our faces. Really, really cool.
Diamond River formation - sparkly!

After that, we began the ascent up, back to light and air. When we finished our cave tour, we walked around the rest of the attraction. They have a big central entry point, where they sell tickets and operate a gift shop and cafe, and they also have some new storefronts. One building sells geologic souvenirs, there's a sweet shop and they also have a gorgeous Canopy Challenge - a ropes course with zip lines. Clay really, REALLY wanted to do the ropes course (and so did I, because the thing looks AMAZING), but he wasn't tall enough. Luckily for us, the attraction also offered the Amazen' Ranch Roundup, a maze course. Clay, Brian and I all did it, navigating our way through until we punched our cards at certain checkpoints and found the exit. It was a hoot! (Although, at moments, I thought I might die in there.) After a quick stop for a souvenir, we loaded back in the car.

HemisFair Park was built in the late 60s for the World's Fair.
Next up for our hungry crew was lunch in the city. We directed our GPS to Azuca, a nuevo latino place that turned out to be one of the best finds of our trip! We started with the fireballs as an appetizer, yummy corn fritters with different sauces to taste. I had the lunch catch, a fresh large serving of tilapia with sauteed vegetables and mashed potatoes. It came with a red salsa and a creamy adobo sauce, one on each side of the plate. Oh. Em. Geeeee!! This was soooo good. For dessert, we all split the tres leches cake, which was creamy and soft and sweet. Everything was fresh and tasty, prices were more than reasonable, and service was sweet, friendly and quick! We loved this place!

Our traditional "nerdy selfie at the top of a building"
After lunch, we visited HemisFair Park. We walked over from the hotel, taking the long avenue from La Villita that leads visitors directly to the Tower of the Americas. The park and the tower were both built in the late 60s when San Antonio hosted the World's Fair. (If you enter the park by this route, you'll walk by several vacant historic homes that sit within the park's perimeter. They are in bad shape and sad to see, but don't despair! The city has announced a revitalization of the park, which you can learn more about online.) It was a pretty day, so we enjoyed the park and the playing fountains a bit before buying our tickets for Tower of the Americas.

Then, we took the elevator way, way up to the top of the tower. When we got there, we had fun matching city landmarks in the skyline with indoor photos before going out onto the open-air observatory. What a rush! The winds were really, really high! It reminded me of when hubs and I went to Hawaii and stopped at Oahu's Pali Lookout! My purse was literally flapping above my shoulder, and my hair whipped around my head something fierce! Exhilarating! We stayed at the top of the tower for a while, alternating between admiring the skyline from indoors and going out to the observation deck for more windy fun. Finally, hunger drove us to leave, so off we went in search of dinner.

The wind was terrific at the top of the Tower of Americas!
We ended up back at Zocca. This time, I tried the clam linguine! YUM! After dinner and a glass of wine, we strolled very slowly back to the hotel and gratefully sank into bed.

By day six, I was ready for a bit of alone time. (Too much togetherness can spell doom for a family vacation.) Hubs and Clay decided they were going to try out the hotel pool again, and I headed out for a morning at the McNay Art Museum. What a good idea!

I got there just as it was opening, and the very helpful woman at the front desk walked me through a map of the facility. I hung a left, enjoying the museum's collections in modernism, post-impressionism, impressionism and sculpture before rapturously arriving at the theatre arts rooms.

Jacob Epstein's Helene bronze
Now, many museums don't even nod to the theatre arts. And it can be a difficult medium to capture and display. But the McNay has a stunning collection of marquettes from wonderful productions: Into the Woods, Sunday in the Park with George, Richard III. Accompanying information puts the designs into context and gives you an idea of the overall production effort. Screen projections show you the art in action. It's just really, really well done. And the adjacent room is all about the technical values of the Fiddler on the Roof revival!! Woot! Drawings, sketches, models, even notes scribbled on the odd piece of notebook paper. Wonderful, just wonderful.

After spending significant time in the theatre arts rooms, I made my way to the southwest and medieval rooms. From there, you can step out on the glorious second-floor balcony, overlooking the museum's main center courtyard. You can take in the air, survey the beauty and feel what it might have been like to be Mrs. Marion McNay. A small staircase will lead you down to the courtyard, where you can watch the fountains play, sit on a bench, admire the flowers and then head back in to see the rest of the facility. (I peeped into the "Works on Paper" gallery. I remembered that when the greeter was talking me through the facility map, she'd specifically pointed this room out to me, noting, "You'll really enjoy that room," with a gleam in her eye. You know what was in there? Drawings of male nudes! They called the exhibit "The Full Monty!" Sly old girl!) At the end of my tour, I enjoyed a large temporary exhibit of Robert Indiana's work. Bright, colorful, opinionated.
One of Indiana's famous LOVE installations

By this time, I was hungry. I telephoned my partners-in-crime and asked if I could pick them up for lunch. I drove to get them, then came back out on Broadway to treat them to lunch at Chappy's. I had a juicy steak frites, and hubs and Clay both had burgers. The food here is so, so good. Prices are a bit spendy, but you get the distinct feeling that you're dining with more locals than tourists. Service was impeccable. There's a lot of construction on Broadway right now, but the restaurant has off-the-street parking.

After lunch, we decided to visit the San Antonio Botanical Garden. We were already on that side of town, and it was a sunny, pleasant day. After parking and paying our entry fee, we strolled through Gertie's Garden and ducked under a wisteria arbor. The Japanese Garden was closed for renovation, but we enjoyed the sensory garden, full of fragrant and tactile plants like rosemary and lamb's ear. Next, we headed for the Lucille Hall Conservatory. These pavilions were so enjoyable and beautiful. The tropical plants were lush and colorful, and we loved the desert environments with all their prickly denizens. Clay got a HUGE kick out of the "food" garden, which featured a coffee bean plant, a chocolate plant, a vanilla vine and many other recognizable edibles. We walked under the waterfall in the fern room, and then we climbed up, up, up through the palm and cycad pavilion! From there, we cut across to the children's vegetable garden, a very large plot full of all kinds of goodies. (Their children must be MUCH more hard-working than mine! Ha!)
Palm and cycad pavilion

Then, we wandered trails that reflected different Texas environments: the south Texas arid climate (with a cleverly concealed bird watching blind), the east Texas pineywoods (with a big lake, ducks you can feed and a log cabin to play in) and the hill country. We ambled back through the formal and display gardens before heading for a break in the hotel.

We weren't too hungry for dinner that night after such a hefty lunch. We popped out to Bella on the River, near our hotel, for cocktails and a few nibbles. I had a Bella Blush, hubs got a couple of bottles of beer and we split the antipasto platter. Clay had pasta marinara. We talked and laughed with the other diners seated al fresco as we watched the boats go by. It was a fun, relaxing ending to a fantastic day.

More to come . . .

Deep in the heart of Texas, cont.

Clay and I at the Alamo
Monday was cloudy but a bit warmer, so we decided to visit one of the major attractions on our must list - the Alamo. Contrary to what you might expect, the Alamo is located right in the middle of downtown San Antonio, as the city has grown up around it over the years.

First, we admired the Alamo cenotaph, a giant monument that memorializes some of those who died during the historic siege. Then, we made our way through the quiet gardens and the wall of history (which explains and interprets 300 years of significant events at the site). Lastly, we strolled through the building itself, exploring the galleries in the long barracks building afterwards. (It's worth noting that no photographs are allowed inside any of the structures at the Alamo. We took plenty of photos outside and in the gardens, though.)

The Alamo cenotaph
A few things particularly struck me about the Alamo. The exhibits referred frequently to a collection of letters from Alamo commander William Travis. Travis wrote the missives on the eve of the siege (and some as it began), and you can almost hear the desperation in his voice as you read them. He obviously knew that, unless help arrived soon, he and his men would die. Reading his words all of these years later - you could tell he knew what was at stake. It was so human. I also loved standing in the sacristy rooms, which sheltered women and children during the siege. You can feel a whisper of the weight those survivors must have felt. It's both terrible and moving.

On our way out, we stopped in the gift shop. Clay picked out a (fake) coon skin cap, which he wore often during the remainder of our trip. (Every day, Clay would ask, "Is it cold out? 'Cause I might need my hat." So cute!)

Pretty Market Square!
We decided to stroll back to our hotel through the Riverwalk and hunt up some lunch. We passed Las Canarias, which our guidebook said was worth a stop. I chose a delicious redfish sandwich, hubs had a burger and Clay scarfed down an artisan PB&J. As we ate, it started to rain outside. We dodged the drops on our way back to the hotel, where we hit the pool for some relaxation. By dinnertime, the rain had abated, and we popped out to Zocca on the Riverwalk for delicious pasta and pizza. I had a lemony, creamy pappardelle strewn liberally with crab and asparagus. Brian had a meaty rigatoni, and Clay nibbled on the pepperoni pizza. We loved this place. It was close to the hotel, the food was delicious, the service was fast/friendly and the prices weren't outrageous. Winner!

The next morning, it was gloriously warm and bright. After two and a half days of spotty rain, I was ready to feel the sun on my face! After breakfast, we started with another walk through Market Square. With good weather on our side, we took our time, perusing the shops, going into the big warehouse where all the booths are and selecting a few souvenirs.

The walled garden at the Spanish Governor's Palace
On the way back to the hotel, we popped into the Spanish Governor's Palace. It's one of the oldest buildings in San Antonio, originally built as residence and office of the commanding Spanish Captain of the Presidio, who was charged with protecting the area's missions. The building has had many lives (including bar, clothing store and produce shop), but a portion of the existing structure still remains. In the 1930s, it underwent an extensive (and editorial, not historical) renovation to turn it into a tourist attraction. What you basically learn as you walk through the charming structure is that what you are seeing is probably something much nicer and larger than what the Captain of the Presidio actually had to work with. No worries, though. It's a fun, quick, educational stop, and admission is cheap. We loved the walled garden, the kitchen and the children's room.

Mission San Jose cathedral dome and missionary ruins
Then, we got our car out of the garage to grab some lunch at Le Frite. I'd heard good things about this place online, and I couldn't wait to try it! It's a cozy little bistro at the far end of downtown, near HemisFair Park. We pulled into one of the designated parking spaces and tumbled in. First of all, we had a GREAT waiter. Even though Le Frite doesn't have a kids' menu, he fixed Clay right up with some pasta marinara. I chose the mussels with fries, and hubs had the croque monsieur. My order of mussels was GIANT and delicious! I had plenty of fries to share, too! Prices were reasonable, and I WILL go back to this place the next time I'm in  San Antonio. We paid our tab, then hopped back into the car to check out Mission San Jose.


Cathedral entrance stone work and carved door
Out of all the San Antonio missions, Mission San Jose seemed to be the largest and most well-restored, so it got my vote for a visit while we were in town. On a cloudless day, the stone of the cathedral and the missionaries' quarters stood out in sharp relief against the blue sky. After a brief tour through the on-site museum (They offer maps that guide you through the site.), we entered through a gate in the wall that used to encircle the settlement. All along the edges of the walls are small apartments that functioned as housing for those the missionaries had converted. You could even go into one or two of them. Wells were placed here and there near the apartments for convenient access. Then, we explored the ruins of the missionary quarters and approached the cathedral from the side. It's a beautiful space, with elaborate stone work (including an intricate rose window, said to be carved by an artisan in honor of a lost love) and ornate doors. Lastly, we walked back to the grist mill and through the granary, where a really interesting narrated model of the site explained what life might have been like for the missionaries and those they'd converted.

Riverwalk at night
By this time, we were pooped! We headed back to the hotel for a quick rest before dinner. After cooling our heels a bit, we strolled the Riverwalk to Saltgrass Steakhouse. It's Texas chain offering really good steaks at a very attractive price point. I was still full from lunch, so I opted for a glass of sangria and a crab cake appetizer. Hubs had a big ol' steak, and Clay got a hamburger. Food was served quickly, it was yummy, and it wasn't very expensive. Service was friendly, too!

After dinner, Clay and I decided we'd go on a special date, just the two of us. First, we went up to the 15th-floor terrace to watch the sun sink. (He mentioned to me that if he were Spiderman, he could sling a web onto one of the adjoining tall buildings and swing off into mid-air.) Afterwards, the two of us trooped down to the Riverwalk and strolled a bit. We decided it was high time for us to take a boat ride, so we bought our tickets and got in line.

What fun! We puttered through the whole Riverwalk, and our sweet guide told us all kinds of interesting things about the area, the buildings we passed and the history of San Antonio. If you're planning on visiting the Riverwalk area, this is a must-do!

After our ride, little man and I headed back to the hotel room and snuggled up for a bit before bed.

More to come . . .

Deep in the heart of Texas


Lobby at the Drury Plaza Hotel Riverwalk
Once little man officially started school last year, we quickly learned the wisdom of planning family vacations during school holidays. (Otherwise, you take the schedule hit twice - once when you vacation, and again when school is closed.) The problem with this strategy is that lots of popular family vacation destinations are absolutely mobbed during the weeks that schools are traditionally out. So, with spring break 2014 looming ahead of us, hubs and I knew we had to make a plan.

San Antonio had been on my let's-go-visit list for a while. I'd seen it included in several round up articles as a good family destination. Though their spring break was the same week as ours here in Mississippi, I figured that San Antonio wouldn't be swamped with college kids. (They'd head to the beach, right?) While we guessed that San Antonio would probably be a regional destination, we felt comfortable enough about crowd levels to book a week there. Right after Christmas, we reserved our plane tickets, and we were well on our way to Team Bradshaw's Amazing San Antonio Adventure.

Mi Tierra's colorful decor
None of us had ever been to San Antonio, but I knew I wanted to stay on the Riverwalk. After some online research, we settled on the Drury Plaza Hotel Riverwalk. What a find! The hotel is in the old Alamo National Bank Building, and much of what you'll see inside the lobby is original to the structure. A beautiful stained glass window, gold leaf moldings, original brass/bronze fixtures and gorgeous marble have either been painstakingly restored or recovered. The vault is even still in the basement! (You can learn more about the restoration process here.) Not only that, tons of extras are included in the (very reasonable) room price: free hot breakfast buffet, free snacks and drinks each evening, and free sodas/popcorn each afternoon. We splurged a bit on a king suite with a balcony and a gorgeous city view. Our room was spacious, with two televisions, a king bed, a fold-out couch, and a mini-fridge/extra sink. (And the staff was soooo friendly and went out of their way at every opportunity to help us. I've rarely felt more welcome in a property. Two HUGE thumbs up for this hotel.) Once we checked in a freshened up, it was off for adventures!

San Fernando Cathedral at dusk
We'd heard from several people that we should work in a visit to Mi Tierra during our trip. It's touristy, but it's so totally worth a stop that I have to recommend it. We walked through colorful Market Square to find it. Bands were playing, kids were dancing, and chubby little birds were feasting off the odd piece of carelessly dropped street food. After putting our name on the list, we found there was a 30-minute wait. Stomachs grumbling, we headed to the bar area for drinks and munchies. What luck! We immediately got a prime table up in the little loft area. Great views of the vibrant scene and a quick waitress found us happily enjoying strawberry margaritas (lemonade for little man) and the botana platter (miniature flautitas de pollo, cheese quesadillas and chalupitas de picadillo) within minutes. By the time we'd finished with our appetizers, our table was ready. I helped myself to the michoacan, a plate of tender pork tips with all the fixings. While we ate, musicians serenaded us, and Clay and I picked out matching images on the colorful cut-out paper banners strung from the ceiling.

Japanese Tea Garden
Later that day, we decided to check out the San Fernando Cathedral, which we could see from our hotel balcony. We slipped over just after mass ended to admire the interior. The original church, which sits on the geographic center of San Antonio, was built sometime in the mid-1700s and was host to the wedding of Jim Bowie in 1831. In addition to beautiful architecture, the cathedral is where Santa Ana hoisted his flag of no mercy and also holds what are said to be the remains of some of the Alamo defenders. We loved the ornate retablos and the stained glass windows. Tired from a full day, we turned in early that night.

Feeling super at the Witte Museum!
The next morning dawned cloudy and cool. We decided to visit the Witte Museum, but it doesn't open until noon on Sundays. After enjoying a late breakfast at the hotel, we decided to poke around Brackenridge Park. We took a train ride (fun, but chilly!) and stepped into the sweet little gift shop (had to add to our Lego collection) before crossing the street to see the Japanese Tea Garden. Even though the trees were just beginning to leaf out, the garden was enjoyable. We walked over sweet little bridges, watched the koi, ambled down some of the paths and took in the views before popping into the Jingu House (which is on-site in the garden) for hot tea and cookies.

By this time, the Witte Museum had opened. Off we went! After checking out the dinosaur gallery, we hit the rotating exhibit - Alien Worlds and Androids. Clay and Brian both loved this. There were life-sized replicas of the Iron Man costume, C3PO, the alien from the movie Alien and more. You could also learn more about the scientific possibility of life on other planets and trace the journey of the Mars rover. Fascinating stuff. After that, we checked out the Texas Wild exhibit, learning all about the animals and climate of Texas. A trip upstairs found us face to face with mummies and a really cool exhibit on the evolution of screen projectors. Then, it was outside to poke around in log cabins. Lastly, we went into the gorgeous, two-story South Texas Heritage Center, where Clay tried out a saddle, admired all kinds of cowboy gear and got kinda creeped out by the talking mannequin near the entrance.

Chocolate cake at La Fonda on Main
After all of that running around, we were starving! We'd heard that a nearby restaurant, La Fonda on Main, was a winner, so we pointed our GPS in that direction. We arrived after the lunch rush but well before dinner, so we were immediately seated. I ordered the decadent Sunday Breakfast, which included eggs, Mexican French toast with a caramel sauce and all kinds of deliciousness. Clay had a soft chicken taco with a fruit cup, which he gobbled up in short order. Then, you know we had to try dessert. The chocolate cake was huge and the stuff of a little boy's wildest dreams. It was served with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream, and we made quick work of it.

Feeling a little weary, we headed back to the hotel for a nap. When we awoke, it was raining, so we checked out the hotel's indoor pool. While Clay splashed around with some of the other kids, I soaked in the hot tub and realized it had been far too long since I'd taken a vacation.

A couple of free drinks for us (and a free hot dog for Clay) at the evening kick back, and we were set for the day.

More to come . . .

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Falling apart at six years old!

Oh, little man has had a time of it lately! Just after Christmas, he was sounding kinda croupy. Hubs took a day off work and got him to the doctor. The pediatrician said he sounded like he had a lot of congestion in his lungs, so he put him on an antibiotic and prescribed the use of a nebulizer three times a day.

Now, we'd never used a nebulizer before. It's basically a steam machine that attaches to a mask worn over the nose and mouth. The machine converts a liquid medicine into vapor, which can then be inhaled to better treat sinus infections. Clay didn't love it, and he hated the steam that rose from the mask, complaining that it got into his eyes. Sooooo, we put his swim goggles on him. He looked a little bit like a junior Darth Vader in training.

Around that same time, he lost a filling in one of his back teeth. I took a half day off to take him to the dentist, but between his coughing and his refusal to let her treat him, we didn't get the filling replaced. So that was a wash. We've rescheduled for early February. 

Then, a couple of weeks ago, the child woke up with pink eye. I heaved a sigh, canceled my 11 a.m.-1 p.m. meeting, and drove him back to the doctor's office. A quick check revealed that it was, indeed, pink eye, and Dr. Joe prescribed two drops of medicine in each eye, three times a day. When we got back home, we had perhaps the biggest throw down we've ever had to get the drops in his eyes. It was much like wrestling a cat in a lake. 

Once we got the pink eye under control, he came home from school with red, chapped hands. (Someone wasn't wearing his gloves on the playground, choosing instead to plunge his hands into the ice-cold rock and fine dirt mixture that covers the ground there. Lovely.) So, we started lubing his hands up in the morning and at night, sending a plea to his teacher via text to keep his gloves on him when we has out on the playground. 

A couple of nights ago, as I finished putting lotion on his hands, he said, "Mom, my butt hole hurts." 

I took a long look at him and told him he was going to have to heal himself. I just cannot deal with another disease-ridden part of him right now. It's been one thing after another for weeks now, and dad is just going to have to take this one. I am officially tapping out. 

Lawd, have mercy! 

Monday, January 06, 2014

Goings on

Mississippi Museum of Natural Science
During Christmas break, little man and I had the chance to visit some of our favorite local attractions!

First up: Nature-Made Christmas at the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science. Clay LOVES this place, and I've been taking him there since he was an infant. (When I just HAD to get out of the house, we'd make a trip there. I'd park him in front of the big aquariums, and he'd be completely mesmerized for an hour or so. When he got a little older, he played in the toddler playroom. Since then, we love all the exhibits, and the kid runs wild on the trails out back!)

Santacizing at the Mississippi Children's Museum!
During Nature-Made Christmas, he made ornaments out of pine cones, leaves, recycled paper, and more. We hung all the ornaments on our tree when we got home. He was so proud!

We also got to enjoy the reptiles exhibit, which we hadn't seen since the preview party several months ago. And, because we have *special* friends at the museum, we got a behind-the-scenes experience - a chance to feed some persimmon to a BIG tortoise named Pete! (Clay is still talking about it!)

We also visited the Mississippi Children's Museum for their annual Santa Institute. Several scientists gathered and took questions from the kids about how Santa gets around the whole world in one night, how he knows if you're bad or good, and how he stays in shape for his demanding work. It was fun and sweet to watch their little minds come up with stumpers! To get their little bodies up and moving around, we Santacized at the end. Adorable!

Lego Jackson is sooooo detailed!
Lego Jackson was once again on view in the Mississippi Arts Center, and it was even bigger than last year! Little man thought this was awesome and thanked me several times for taking him. (Plus, it's FREE! What's not to love?!) A local man puts together THOUSANDS of Lego bricks to create this exhibit. You can see the Standard Life Building, Bailey Magnet School, City Hall, and other recognizable Jackson landmarks, as well as some fun additions! They provide a "hunt list" for guests, and we enjoyed peering extra-close to try and find the characters listed on it.

The Bethlehem Tree at the Mississippi Museum of Art
And on the same day we visited Lego Jackson, we couldn't resist stopping by the Mississippi Museum of Art to take in the Bethlehem Tree. I love this display, and it has become part of my holiday tradition. At least once during the Christmas season, either on my lunch break, on a weekend, or in the evening, I HAVE to go by and see it. While we were there, we also took a quick trip through the current exhibit - A Trip to Italy with Wyatt Waters and Robert St. John. This is a sienna, sun-soaked collection of water colors that will have you booking your plane tickets across the pond in no time. It made me miss, miss, MISS Rome! (Oddly enough, no paintings of the cases in pastry shops, filled with goodies. I WILL have to send Wyatt an email . . . )


Christmas!

Beautiful light patterns . . . 
Once Thanksgiving is over, it's officially Christmas season at the Bradshaw house. Hubs, Clay and I decorated our little nest with all kinds of garland, lights and ornaments.

I finally caved and bought two items from Gardener's Supply that I pinned last year: an adorable felted wool mistletoe (I loved catching my boys underneath it during the holiday season!) and a gorgeous clear star prism, which we placed in a sunny kitchen window for maximum rainbow cast. These were both great, inexpensive purchases, and I got a lot out of both of them. (We'd spin the prism around in front of the window, and little man would play at catching rainbows! So fun!)

As has become my custom, I made a glorious 9-pound rib roast for our holiday feast, which we enjoyed in my sister's newly decorated den and dining room. (She's re-done the space in cool aqua. Gorgeous!) We also brought a rosemary wreath studded with fresh mozzarella, grape tomatoes, and a variety of olives as an appetizer. So easy, festive and healthy!

For the first time this year, we got Christmas crackers, and they were like their own little party game! I had tons of them, and we loved opening them all, sporting our paper crowns, and checking out the favors (and
Feeling the Christmas!!
cheesy jokes) inside. Ryan also got Grace a couple of boxes of Bertie Bott's Every-Flavour Beans as part of a Harry Potter gift set. We tried all the flavors - dirt, earwax (actually not that bad), vomit. I think both of these activities should become Christmas traditions, because they were a HOOT!

Our Christmas goings-on also included a trip out to Winners' Circle Park to admire their always-gorgeous holiday light display and a few turns around the rink (and a few adrenaline-soaked trips down the slide) at Christmas on Ice in Madison! Woo hoo!

During Christmas break, we also threw a reveal shower for my sweet little sister, Grace, at the Mississippi Children's Museum. We chose this venue because most of the shower attendees have older children, who
A night on the ice
ran wild in the play areas (with hubbies) while we enjoyed a quick little party.

And I'm thrilled to announce that my sister will welcome (drum roll, please) a BABY BOY in the spring! I am completely stoked and can't wait!!

Last weekend, we finished up with a Christmas celebration at my sweet in-laws' house! It was extra special, with the whole family there. We met for brunch in the morning (homemade biscuits!), lazed around all day, playing games and watching movies, and then finished up with a big, gorgeous dinner.

My in-laws also took this opportunity to make an announcement. They are planning a move to Vancouver, Canada! They will be planting a new church there. I am sick to see them go, but I am excited about this adventure for them. I admire their courage, and I told them I couldn't wait to VISIT! I've never been to Vancouver, and I know nothing about it, but I'm POSITIVE I will LOVE it!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Nibbles

I've been to a few "new to me" places recently that I thought I'd share about.

1.) Iron Horse Grill. No, you read that right. Back in the late 90s, I used to eat at Iron Horse Grill quite a bit. But then it burned down. Twice. Recently, it's been completely renovated and reopened. The renovation is AWESOME. The inside space is gorgeous and funky and full of character. They host lots of live music, and it's very atmospheric. I recommend it for drinks (Margaritas are fantastic.), appetizers and entertainment. (I ordered the pork chop, medium rare, for dinner. It came very decidedly well done. FYI.)

2.) Fondren Public. I actually first went here a good while back, but I'm only now getting around to posting about it. Located next to the Fondren Cups and the Rainbow Co-op, you could almost miss this place if you didn't know it was there. The storefront is tiny, but the pub is in the corner of the development and opens up to a huge corner lot out back. The beer list is impressive (I recommend the Mississippi Mule, a beer cocktail.), and I've tried nearly everything on the pub grub menu. (Seriously yum. And affordable.) Plus, in the back, they have a covered porch with TVs and games. Not only THAT, but a cute group of Southern boys cards nearly everyone walking in. (I think they should have a "card cam" so we can all see the droves of women so flattered and delighted to be asked for their ID!) So fun!

3.) The Manship. A new upscale dining spot in the recently constructed Belhaven Building. This is directly across the street from Baptist Hospital on State Street, on the ground floor. Free parking (for now, at least) is available in the parking garage directly behind the building. I've had two lunches and one party here so far, and everything I've eaten has been fantastic. The redfish burger - divine. The mac and cheese with pancetta? Indulgent. Say, "Yes, please," to the fire-roasted broccolini, as well.

4.) Miso. This is Grant Nooe's new restaurant in Fondren, now that Pan Asia (in Ridgeland) is closed. (Boo hoo!) I went to a dinner they catered, and the food was soooo good! I NEED to go back there for lunch soon. It's a need. I've heard their $8 lunches are delish, and they've recently introduced a citrusy salad for those who are watching their calories.

5.) Ely's. This place has been open in Ridgeland forever, but I'd never been there until over the Christmas holidays. Yum! I found out it's owned/managed by Richard Shapley, who went to Clinton High School with me *coughcough* years ago. I had a gorgeous plate of Redfish Blanc, and hubs had a steak. Both were absolutely delicious and filling, and I washed mine down with a nice glass of red. Now, normally, I wouldn't bring little man to eat dinner at a restaurant at this price point. (I would hate for him to act out and ruin a beautiful evening for other diners.) BUT it was early, so we chanced it. Get this - they actually have a kid's menu! Woo-hoo! Clay had some pretty upscale chicken tenders and a pile of fries. (It made me think of that time we all ate in the Palace Cafe in New Orleans.) Our server was absolutely charming with him, and we all enjoyed our evening immensely.

6.) Le Bakery. Ok, this place isn't in Jackson. Or even in central Mississippi. It's on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, in Biloxi. So, why am I telling you about it? Because it's just that awesome. After our weekend on the coast a while back, I stayed on for a conference. On the way out of town, I stopped by this bakery to get a few treats to take back home. I got a whole box of gorgeous pastries - turnovers, danishes, croissants, etc., and I literally had to FIGHT MY OWN FAMILY to get to eat any of them once I brought them home. It was like Lord of the Flies up in here. Do not, I repeat DO NOT, visit Biloxi without looking this place up.

Catching up

Evil minions . . . 

A quick catch-up post. Yikes! So much has been going on!

October was a busy, busy month! After returning from NYC and enjoying some down time in Pelahatchie, Halloween was practically upon us! Every year, the whole Bradshaw clan dresses up for trick or treating. Clay usually picks what he wants to be first, then hubs and I coordinate around him.

After a few years as superheroes, he was a policeman last year. This year, though, he went old school. He wanted to be a vampire. That left lots of options for us! I chose to be a witch. (Not much of a stretch, eh? I wore my green-striped tights to work on Halloween, and no one batted an eye. Should I be worried?) Hubs picked out an awesome werewolf costume!

Yikes! Scary!
We had bad weather Halloween week, but luckily, our neighborhood is pretty organized. We shifted our trick or treat night, and it worked out beautifully! The neighborhood was out in full force! I'm thinking of perhaps using our neighborhood message board to do something even BIGGER for next year's Halloween. Maybe coordinate somehow? Have some houses open for games, warming up, bobbing for apples, cider, etc? Any ideas, guys?

Near the end of October, Clay was student of the week! We had tons of fun making up stories that incorporated his favorite things, sending letters and family photo albums to class, and popping in to lunch with he and his friends. (Wow, school lunch has come a ways since I was in grade school. This stuff was actually good!) When you're student of the week, you get to choose a few friends to have lunch with outside, at a picnic table. This is apparently a big deal. Clay picked four little dudes, and off we went. I had THE BEST time eating with them. I got to see Clay in his little social environment, hear what they talk about, learn about the things they think are funny. It was just completely refreshing, and I'm going to make time to do it again in the future. It made my whole day!

PRAM Fall Social at Hal and Mal's
That, and a very positive parent-teacher conference (The word "genius" was used, folks, and not by me.) made October GREAT!!

During November, I pitched in with a lot of events. We had our PRAM Central Fall Social at Hal and Mal's (Fun!), and I chaired the hospitality committee for one of Millsaps' Arts and Lecture events, a fascinating discussion about Jackson's past and future with Malcolm White, Leland Speed and Charles Evers. I also had the opportunity to enjoy a trolley tour of downtown development with Ben Allen of Downtown Jackson Partners. Lots to see!

Before I knew it, it was Thanksgiving! We all gathered and mom and dad's house for our annual feast. I made my traditional turkey with white wine shallot gravy and toted along the customary homemade cranberry sauce. We ate, we laughed, we ate some more! (I don't know why we still make dessert. We never get to it anymore!)

More to come . . .

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Unplugging

Our sweet little cabin!
 After one takes a trip to New York City, one can use some down time. Luckily, I'd booked us for a family weekend at Jellystone Park in Pelahatchie months before. I'd been wanting to take little man over there to check it out for a few years, and fall is a great time to be outdoors in Mississippi.
If you've never been to a Jellystone Park camping ground, you're in for a treat! It's a nice family camp, with cabins, RV hookups, and places where you can pitch your own tent! Because my crew isn't much for roughing it, we booked a fully-stocked cabin on the lake. Since we had extra beds, we invited my sister and her two sweet boys to join us. 

View from the back deck
We loved our little cabin! It was small but snug, with a full kitchen and a wonderful little back deck on the water. We checked in on Friday night, enjoyed the lake view, and pored over Saturday's activities sheet. Because it was mid-October, the camp was in full Halloween mode, with tons of themed events. 

On Saturday morning, we made a big breakfast and headed out for some fun. We started at the playground next to the Ranger Station, where the boys climbed and slid and had a grand time before deciding to try out the (free) putt putt golf course. After whacking the ball a bit, it was Pledge with a Bear at the flagpole, where we met Boo-Boo the Bear. 
Hey, Boo-Boo!

Then, we headed to the Activities Center to board the Hey-Hey Ride. A tractor pulls the trailer all around the park, and you sing songs and wave (Hey-hey. Get it?) to all of the other campers.

Our stomachs growling for lunch, we headed back to the cabin and cooked up baked chicken, macaroni and cheese and green beans. Fortified, it was back to the Activities Center, where we decorated (and ate) cookies, painted ceramics, tie-dyed our own T-shirt and watched The Great Pumpkin on the big TV!

We went back to the cabin to get a fire started. While hubs tended it and prepped for an outdoor supper, we scooted back out to the kids' version of the Trail of Terror, a small indoor blacklight trail with candy at the end. (There is a much scarier walking version of this activity for the older kids. You walk through the pitch-black woods, and costumed monsters jump out at you. I opted for the "no nightmares" offering.) Then, it was off to roast hot dogs and make S'mores under the stars. We'd brought some bags of candy with us, so we also welcomed other campers who came trick or treating. So fun!

Professional tie-dyer
Brian and I spent most of the evening, though, with our feet propped up in front of the fire. We put Clay to bed, I poured myself a glass of wine, and we stayed out there, talking and laughing, until the fire burned out. As it got colder, and I wrapped a fleece blanket around my shoulders, I thought to myself that I don't sit in front of a wood fire enough. There's something relaxing and mesmerizing about watching the flames lick the wood away. (When I got home, I dragged our fire pit out of storage. I've already built a fire or two in it since, and I hope to build more.)

The next morning, after a quick stop at the Rangers' Station so Clay could get a souvenir, we packed up and headed home, other adventures in our future. We so enjoyed our trip to Jellystone. I can't wait to return in the summer, when we can hit the splash pad and rent a boat for fishing! 



Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire,
I hold with those who favor fire.


My kind of town, cont.

The 9/11 Memorial
The next morning, we were up and at 'em. We had timed tickets for entrance into the 9/11 Memorial, and we were going to sample breakfast at Kitchenette first. We hopped the subway to the financial district and made our way to the restaurant.

Kitchenette is the cutest little place! The cafe is decorated in pastel, weathered tones, with old doors and polka dots galore. We were immediately seated, and I ordered a hot cup of tea to start. Before long, we were tucking into big plates piled high with breakfast deliciousness - eggs, french toast, sausage, biscuits and more. The meal was incredibly filling, and service was fast and friendly. We were in and out of there in plenty of time to make our timed entry into the 9/11 Memorial, which was only a few blocks away.

If you choose to visit the 9/11 Memorial while you're in New York City, keep a couple of things in mind to optimize your experience. First of all, realize that the memorial is still very much a work in progress. We reserved timed (free) tickets online, stood in several lines, and went through security to visit what will some day be an open-air plaza. The accompanying museum is still being constructed, and the completed Visitors Center is really just a small shop selling books, films and other related merchandise. Secondly, arrive slightly before your ticketed time. There are a few lines you'll have to get through before you can access the plaza, and that will take some time.

St. Paul's Chapel
That said, it was powerful to observe the tower stretching heavenward and touch the engraved names surrounding the two great fountains of absence in the plaza. It's a beautiful, solemn place, and there's something wonderful about going there to remember.

To further enhance your visit, I also recommend stopping by some of the other nearby landmarks that have 9/11 significance. We spent nearly an hour at St. Paul's Chapel, which is directly across the street from the memorial site. The church survived the 9/11 blasts and quickly became a relief center for emergency responders. The structure itself is historic (It was built in 1776.), but the exhibits inside about how the church served the recovery effort will make you weep. Photos, quotes, uniforms from the first responders, it's an amazing display of the humanity evoked by the 9/11 tragedy. Not to be missed. I loved this place. It gave so much meaning to my visit.

Grand Central Station
We stopped for a quick lunch in the dining concourse of Grand Central Station. (Tri Tip Grill. Yummmm!!) Then, we decided to do some shopping! It was off to the original Macy's in Herald Square. What fun! We rode up and down the old wooden escalators and shopped for shoes and bags. The place was packed, but we found a few treasures to take home! Beat, we walked back to our hotel slowly, taking time to relax in Bryant Park for a while. I loved the fountain and the old carousel there! So charming! (And the bathroom is seriously one of the nicest public bathrooms you will ever see. Ever. There are fresh flowers in there. No lie.)

Macy's!
After a break at the hotel, we began nosing around for dinner. We opted for a quick meal of convenience at The Perfect Pint, a nearby Irish bar. Forgettable, but serviceable.

We spent the next morning and the early afternoon at a conference (with a working lunch a Pershing Square - mussels in a flavorful broth - mmmmmm). After lunch, though, I'd booked us a 2:30 p.m. tour of Radio City Music Hall. On my previous trip, I'd only admired the famous theatre from the outside. On this visit, I was determined to get an insider's look at the historic performance space.

This was a really fun tour, and because we visited in October, we got to see the crews preparing the theatre for Radio City's annual Christmas Spectacular! Our guide was very knowledgeable and friendly, and I loved the art deco details and behind-the-scenes secrets he shared with us. We got to peek into all of the nooks and crannies (including Roxy's private apartment and the Rockettes' costume shop!), and we finished up by visiting with a costumed Rockette. Such fun!

After our tour, we headed for Uncle Nick's on 9th Avenue. What can I say? I loved this place last time, and I loved it again this time. Affordable, with great food, and friendly, speedy service, it's a great option for
The gorgeous, gorgeous stage at Radio City Music Hall
pre-theatre dining. I didn't have anything fancy, just a big Greek salad with hummus and pita, washed down with a nice Greek red wine. It completely hit the spot, though, and I had a curtain time to make.

I had paid full-price in advance to go see Kinky Boots at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. What a show! I'd seen the film years before and loved it. And then, after it danced off with a boatload of Tonys, it rose to the top of my must list.

No wonder everyone loves it. It's funny, it's got heart, and the cast is amazing. Plus, who can match the visual spectacle of 8 be-ribboned, be-sequined, 6-foot-tall drag queens, singing and dancing and playing their roles for all they are worth?! I decided as I watched that a Broadway stage truly is the natural habitat of a drag queen. Just magnificent. Performances were unbelievable.

The Rockettes' costume shop! What fun!
Feeling a bit parched after the show, we headed for the Campbell Apartment. (I'm linking to another blog post, not the official site for the Campbell Apartment, because the official site isn't very good. And this blog post is soooo much better and gives you an idea of the history of the space.) Aside from being incredibly convenient for us (as it's located right next to the Grand Hyatt, where we were staying), it was such an atmospheric spot. It was packed and felt like the center of New York City that night. We ordered two gorgeous (and expensive) cocktails, sipped, and reveled in the evening. Highly recommended.

We spent all of the next day in conference and working. By the time we took a break, it was past dinner, but nearing curtain time. What to do? We decided to ignore our hunger and see what we could find on Broadway. We lucked out with two mezzanine tickets for Pippin at the Music Box Theatre. I was so glad the theatre gods had smiled on us! First of all, Patina Miller deserved her Tony. Not only was she a brilliant singer and actress as the Lead Player, every move she made during the dance numbers was so controlled, so precise. Not a movement was wasted. Inspiring to watch.

Beautiful cocktails at the Campbell Apartment
Matthew James Thomas was excellent as Pippin, and Rachel Bay Jones broke hearts in the role of Catherine. Terrence Mann as Charles delivered plenty of laughs, and Tovah Feldshuh as Berthe had the whole audience in her palm during "No Time at All."

Well-pleased with the evening's entertainments, we decided to hunt up a late dinner. An ad in the Playbill pointed our feet towards Pigalle, a nearby brasserie. I had the grilled lamb with mashed potatoes and wilted spinach with a nice glass of red. At that hour, the restaurant wasn't crowded, so we took our time and lingered, opting for the profiteroles for dessert. What a golden, delicious evening.

It was our last night in New York City, so we ambled slowly back to the hotel, walking through the theatre district and Times Square one last time, enjoying the lights and the bustle of people and the whole human parade of the place.

The next morning, it was pack-breakfast-taxi-airport-home. Can't wait for my next trip to New York!




Thursday, November 28, 2013

My kind of town

Our room at the Grand Hyatt

In mid-October, I got the chance to visit New York City. I hadn't been since hubs and I traveled there back in 2009, so I was excited to see more of the city and catch a few things I missed the first time around.

My flight arrived in the early afternoon, so I caught a quick cab to our hotel - the Grand Hyatt New York City. The hotel couldn't be more conveniently located. It's directly next door to Grand Central Station, in the middle of everything. The lobby is very modern (with some eerie white statues of giant heads), and the rooms are quiet and comfortable. We had a double room, and I was relieved that there was plenty of space for all of our luggage and toiletries.

After settling in a bit, I was off to Rockefeller Center. When I'd come before, the ice skating rink hadn't been opened for the season yet, but this time, skaters were twirling all over the ice. I enjoyed the ambiance for a bit and also ducked into the Lego store to get little man a souvenir.

Rockefeller Center
I poked my head into St. Patrick's Cathedral, but, sadly, a massive restoration effort moves this attraction off my must list for now. Scaffolding is everywhere, both inside and out, making it difficult to appreciate the structure or its history. I was glad I'd been able to enjoy it on my previous visit.

I couldn't linger for too long, anyway, because I had reservations for Top of the Rock at 5 p.m. I'd pre-purchased my ticket online, so I was able to get right in line for the elevator. Along the way, you stop for some educational information (including a fun little film) about Rockefeller Center and its impact on New York City. (I was really surprised to see most visitors barreling past this type of information to get to the top of the building. I thought knowing more about Rockefeller Center and its construction added much to my visit.)

Amazing views from Top of the Rock
When you do get on the elevator that takes you to the 69th/70th floors (where the observation decks are), you can look up to see a lights show whizzing past during your ascent. At the top, views are simply amazing. There are both indoor and outdoor observation decks. and you get wonderful views of Central Park and the Empire State Building (which isn't in any of our observation shots from the last trip, of course, because we were standing atop it at the time).

I so loved this attraction, especially the very top, open-air deck. I watched the sun slip below the skyline and breathed in. Once you're at the top, you can stay as long as you like, so savor it.

After my trip to the top of the world, I stopped by Del Frisco's Grille in Rockefeller Center for dinner. At my waitress' suggestion, I had the chicken schnitzel - a chicken breast pounded thin, breaded, and sauteed, served over a heaping pile of of noodles drenched in a lemon butter sauce. Washed down with a glass of red, it made for an excellent end to my first night in the city.

Beat from traveling and my wanderings, I headed back to the hotel to turn in.

Lemon ricotta pancakes at Sarabeth's!
I rose early the next morning with big breakfast plans. I'd heard wonderful things about Sarabeth's, so I scurried over to their Central Park South location to check it out. Delicious! I chose the lemon and ricotta pancakes with berries. With a big coffee, they made for a perfect breakfast al fresco - fluffy, filling and sweet. I lingered there, sipping from my warmed cup, watching the passersby and the horse-drawn carriages.

After breakfast, I decided to explore Central Park a bit. In my previous trip, I'd strolled through the middle part of the park, but not the south end. I surveyed Grand Army Plaza before walking around the pond, stopping to admire the bust of Thomas More. I photographed the statues of Martin and Marti at the Avenue of the Americas. I sat on the Gapstow Bridge for a bit, enjoying the sunshine on the water. There was a tai chi class on top of Umpire Rock that morning, and games were being played on the ball fields. I couldn't resist taking a few pics of the historic carousel, and I also stuck my head into the Chess and Checkers House. After a quick visit with Balto, I met up with a friend for my next adventure.

The pond at Central Park!
Having skipped breakfast, she was hungry. A quick search on Urbanspoon revealed that the Atlantic Grill was a mere hop and a skip, so off we went. We were in luck! For Sunday brunch, the restaurant offers one free bellini for diners! For my entree, I chose the scrambled eggs popover, a rich, creamy concoction of smoked salmon, boursin cheese and chives. Paired with a free drink and a big glass of water, it made for a wonderful meal.

I loved the historic carousel in Central Park. 
On my previous trip to NYC, I'd missed visiting the Frick Collection, an oversight I intended to rectify on this trip. If you've ever wondered what it might have been like to be a titan of industry at the end of the 1800s, this is the place to find out. Henry Clay Frick was a giant in the coke and steel industries. The Frick Collection is housed in his former home, with all of his gorgeous furniture and personal art on display. You can walk airily through the rooms (which, incidentally, border on Central Park), pretending that you own all you survey, to get an idea of how good life really was for this ruthless businessman.

What I loved about the Frick Collection was that it was completely do-able in an afternoon. The home is large and the collection extensive, but it's nothing like visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art and feeling as though you'd need to spend a week there to even scratch the surface. After walking through all of the gorgeous rooms (except for the Oval Room, which was closed in anticipation of an installation of Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring - we just missed it!!), we sat daintily on a bench in the garden court, the fountains playing and the light filtering in from above.

What a great show!
Afterwards, we walked down towards the TKTS booth in Times Square. It was Columbus Day, and we caught a parade as we went, marching along and enjoying the color and music. When we got to the booth, the line was crazy! We decided to try dinner first, so off to Nizza we went. I'd dined here during my previous trip, and I enjoyed returning to an old favorite. We bellied up to the bar. I had a heaping bowl of linguine with clams, washed down with a glass of wine. Heaven.

After dinner, we tried the TKTS booth again. So close to curtain, there was absolutely no line. We grabbed two cut-rate tickets to Chicago and made it to the theatre just in time! What a fun show! I'd seen Chicago live before, but not on Broadway. Amra-Faye Wright was wonderful as Velma (and I recognized her from her appearance on the Tonys), and Dylis Croman did a fabulous job as Roxie Hart. I thought Jason Patrick Sands had absolutely THE perfect voice to play Billy Flynn, and Mary Sunshine's reveal was hilarious! Roz Ryan played Mama Morton, and her rendition of "Class" with Velma (one of my fave songs in the whole show) was understated but so, so solid. A great production, all around. (Even Ryan Worsing as the jury was a hoot!)
Ah, Junior's. How I love thee . . . 

After the show, we still had a little life left in us. Off we went to Junior's for the customary post-theatre slice of cheesecake. The waiter thought our thick Southern accents were charming, and we thought the cheesecake was revolutionary. We both tried the strawberry cheesecake. I had a big cup of decaf with mine, but I honestly couldn't finish either the cheesecake or the coffee! I did enjoy giving it my best effort, though.

By this time, we were beat. We tumbled into bed, with another big day ahead of us.

More to come . . .