Saturday, June 16, 2012

NYC has my heart!

Reminiscing a bit on our time spent in New York City at The Menno House.  It was a time of service, but also for rejuvenation and reconnection.  As follows is my new blog on The Bargain Hunter about what we did, accomplished, and felt after it was done.

New York City and The Menno House on my mind

When Bruce Hummel asked George and I to go on a mission trip to paint at The Menno House in New York City, I hesitated.  Can I take off work? Can we leave the kids alone for a week? All the what if’s ran through my brain.  We huddled and finally said yes – and was it ever the right choice. 

We left on a Sunday morning at 5 a.m., fresh off hours of serving/decorating at Hiland’s prom.  Bruce, Anne, George, my niece Heather, and I piled in and off we went on a wild ride to New York City.  We slept most of the way, stopped for donuts, and kept on trucking, arriving early afternoon.  I had never been to NYC and was anxious to take it all in.  When the skyline came into view and we entered into the city, it became a whole new world.  We are travelers, George and I, and have always wanted to experience the city.  It was amazing.  We snaked our way through town, finally ending up at our destination, The Menno House.  It’s a guest house, home, and thru-way for various people.  It’s a place you can rent a room, cheapest in Manhattan, a home to VS’ers, and also to people who work for non-profit organizations.  Its beautiful brick façade and four stories beckoned to us as we tumbled out ready to start our crazy week. 

The object of our stay was to complete several painting tasks in this very old building.  The kitchen, dining room, living room, and several other areas were on the agenda if we got to them.  Our other objective, Bruce had said, was to immerse ourselves and see the sights of NYC.  After attending Manhattan Mennonite Fellowship on Sunday evening, which is held in an old church owned and used by the Friends church, we came back and fell asleep – totally exhausted. Cal and Sharon joined us Sunday evening also, having flown out earlier to spend some time with their son and daughter-in-law.  Monday morning, the whirlwind began. 

After a breakfast of coffee and eggs on our own, which became the norm for the week, we gathered in the living room to take stock of our supplies and plan of attack.  George, being the consummate painter that he is, took charge.  He assigned us to our duties and off we went.  Cal and Sharon headed upstairs to tackle the lofts that are in the guest rooms. Heather and I started downstairs with the walls in the kitchen and dining room.  Bruce and Anne painted and taped wherever George told them to, and George came on behind doing all the hard trimming and hard to reach places.  We fell into a rhythm over the week, with lots of raucous laughter from George, Heather and I.  We found out quickly that the others loved to hear us laughing and singing, which of course made us even louder.  The painting got knocked out quickly.  Though, you might want to ask Cal if he ever wants to paint trim again!

We painted so quickly and thoroughly that we were also able to finish a bathroom, two hallways, all the thick, old trim in said hallways, up two stairways, and the entry doors and foyer, plus ceiling. We did all this plus living room and trim, dining room and trim, kitchen and trim, and all doors and doorways.  It helped that we were nourished by Anne’s good cooking every day at lunch.  One day, we even enjoyed an authentic El Salvadoran meal cooked by a friend from church.  Delicious.  It felt so nice to know we would work, and be served.  It was a combining of servanthood.  The Menno House manager Sara Versluis, who became a good friend and partner in some of our escapades, couldn’t believe all we had accomplished in such a short time.  We told her we were compelled to do so much so we could explore the city, and did we ever explore.   

Every day after painting, we would get ready and head out the door to find the magic – thanks to the Bruce and Anne, who simply know where and when to take us. After orienting ourselves in the Union Square Subway station, which is a whole culture unto itself and became our home base, we zoomed off to downtown.  The first night we went to Ground Zero, somehow scoring tickets to get in when tickets need to be reserved in advance.  Ground Zero was awe-inspiring and reflective.  

With the city rising up around the newly constructed memorials, it wasn’t a sight I’ll soon forget.  From here, we walked and walked around downtown, eventually ending up in Chinatown for some Chinese homemade noodles we won’t soon forget.  Xian Famous Foods became George’s favorite place as we went back later again.  The noodles were thick and spicy, though Sharon’s were a bit too hot for her taste.  She was a trooper and after Anne made her get a less spicy bowl, she was good to go.  A mere hole in the wall, this restaurant had been featured on The Food Network and been visited by Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern from the bizarre foods show.  Chinatown itself was amazing, winding in and around itself.  

The week all blurs together in my mind as I try to remember all the fabulous things we did.  The picnic at Battery Park and our Staten Island Ferry ride, how our guides timed it just right as the ferry passed by the Statue of Liberty right at sunset, and our walk through Rockefeller Plaza and Times Square.  The lights and sounds in Times Square were unbelievable.  We visited the M & M Store, FAO Schwarz, strolled down 5th Avenue, and walked through St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  Our visit to Max Brenner’s was the chocolate lover’s dream.  I will never forget the desserts we dined on there and how they served them.  Ever drink chocolate straight from a beaker?  I did, then poured it all over my cake.  Oh my. 

A big highlight of the trip was seeing a Broadway show.  Bruce told us if we worked hard and got a lot done that he would have a surprise for us later.  Surprise us he did, as we headed to Broadway Thursday night and took in the show called Mamma Mia.  We got dressed up, headed out, and sat at our first Broadway show – and we loved it.  By the end, I was singing all the songs and rocking in my seat.  It was a fabulous experience, and the theater itself was amazing.  The architecture of the city, period, was so fascinating to see.  

We visited several stores that hold a place in my heart now.  ABC Carpet and Home, housed in a vast building had so much décor to take in.  It was wildly inventive and I wanted everything in there.  Across the street sat Fish’s Eddy, one of Anne’s favorites.  It soon became one of our favorites too.  It had every cup, saucer, bowl, or flatware known to man.  Decorated so wonderfully, it made us want to live in the store! We walked around these streets, also heading into a paper store which held treasures galore. 

George, Heather, and I had Friday night to ourselves and had scored tickets in Times Square to a comedy club.  A little hesitant, but with an adventurous spirit, we went ourselves on the subway and found the club.  We had a roaring good time.  Afterwards, we stopped at a café for more coffee.  I believe we may have visited every diner and café in NYC.  These little corner places are their own subculture.  They are mostly open 24 hours and boy did we ever make use of them.  Every night we would find ourselves in one, not coming home until late.  When we did arrive home, we would upload our pictures of the day to Facebook and laugh ourselves silly until the wee hours.  Our energy seemed to never deplete itself.  

On Saturday, George, Heather, and I had the entire day to fill.  We headed to places we had always wanted to go. After I got my fix of three thrift stores in the area close to The Menno House, at which I scored three books, we headed to Union Square where we sat for a good hour in the park just enjoying the people walk by.  George needs his people watching time, so on lime green chairs we sat with coffee in hand.  A farmers market covered the square and was filled with beautiful greens, pastries, flowers, and people.  After this, we headed to the East Village.  Gray’s Papaya, a famous hot dog stand was where Heather and I wanted to go.  We scarfed down several dogs, took pictures, bought more books from a street vendor and headed down the subway.  The Brooklyn Bridge was next on our agenda and after helping an elderly lady find her way to her train (she couldn’t speak English), walking what seemed a mile in subway tunnels, getting her on the train and finally back to ours, we sped under the water to Brooklyn.  George and Heather were beat, and we needed to find a café to replenish before we trekked across the bridge.  I became the cheerleader, telling them we were going to do this walk – nothing would stop us now!  We had coffee, jell-o and felt rejuvenated enough to start the long walk across.  

Nothing prepares you for the walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.  It is expansive, architectural, and full of wonder.  There are special walkways to cross it, so we meandered slowly, taking pictures of the bridge with the NYC skyline.  It was a special walk, with the winds whipping our hair.  We stopped numerous times to sit and just stare.  After the bridge, we walked through the financial district and into Chinatown again.  We stopped at little stores here and also for more noodles.  George was enamored with the spicy lamb and noodle bowl at Xian Famous Foods.  We walked out of Chinatown and into Little Italy where we sat a good long time at an outdoor café sipping on coffee and authentic Italian pastries.  It was sublime.  As we headed home, late in the evening, we were bone tired, but so glad for our adventurous day and what we had accomplished.  

As we headed home the next morning to Ohio, our thoughts were mixed.  We had come to NYC to serve, but it turned out, NYC had served us.  From Bruce and Anne’s wonderful guiding, to the kids we came to know at The Menno House, to Sara the wonderful manager there and her infectious smile – it was a trip that had nourished our needs as well as us helping to refresh their abode.  We were so happy to get to know Bruce, Anne, Cal, and Sharon in a new way.  They were hilarious, fun, and could out-walk us any day on a city street.  Anne is legendary with her walking, and she is an inspiration.  Heather became rejuvenated in her life as did George and I.  New York City, at a glance, may seem intimidating.  But I suggest getting down to her level, walking the city and seeing the grit and beauty all in one.  Taking part of her lush city parks and tiny shops, drinking coffee at the thousands of lovely places one can do so.  She is now a part of me, and with that, one that longs to go back and meander the streets I didn’t get to see.  This trip was supposed to happen, and we are so glad it did. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

My ugly patio

Have an ugly patio story to share?  So do I.  Read my latest column from The Holmes County Bargain Hunter for the whole story.  

The History of my well-loved ugly patio

As much as I don’t enjoy gardening, I seem to have been bitten by a small bug this summer. I’ve been forming ideas in my head, and on Pinterest http://pinterest.com/, which is my favorite online idea place. It’s like a virtual bulletin board that allows you to “pin” pictures, links, etc. to different themed boards. I’m like a kid in a candy shop. Lately I’ve been getting ideas for my back patio. Bear with me as my frugal-minded brain tells you the history of my patio.

It was the summer of 2001. We had owned our house for five years at this point, and the backyard was nothing but grass. I longed for a patio to call my own. A place to put some comfortable chairs and sit to my heart’s content. We decided that we would pour a cement slab and go from there. Now remember, nothing is done easily in the Herrera household and George decided we would build the frame ourselves, order the concrete, and smooth it out – just us. Not knowing enough about concrete, I decided that it was a fine idea. It’s cheaper, right? No paid labor involved. George enlisted the help of a friend and one Saturday morning the concrete trucks arrived. His friend took one look at the size of the frame and the concrete truck and wanted to run. George is nothing if not a person who gets things done, so, undaunted, the concrete started pouring away. 

Flash forward about three hours and voila – we had a new patio. To me, it was a thing of beauty. To a professional concrete person it would have looked like a hot mess. It was a wavy-lined, unsmooth, sea of concrete – and I loved it. We smacked down an octagonal picnic table I nabbed at a local furniture store on clearance for $50, also found two wooden deck chair kits for $12 each at a Dover area store going out of business, and splurged on a green umbrella from Lowe’s. My lovely patio was complete, but not until the requisite basketball hoop was placed in the corner for one my kid’s birthdays. We spent hours out there eating suppers, talking, and paging through magazines. Over the years it’s been the place where the kids have their parties, set up DJ stations, and dance the night away on its rough surface. There have been numerous slam dunk contests on its small square footage and to this day the kids don’t want me to take away the basketball hoop. It’s been a good patio, but its shabbiness has finally gotten to me. 

I am ready for some change. The hoop STILL sits in the corner, used mostly in the summer for random bursts of basketball activity. I told the kids it’s time to take it down and they immediately started whining to save their lives. “Mom, I occasionally ball it up out there!” Hunter lamented. Ignoring him, I continue to make my plans for a splendid “adult” patio. I tell him, “You can kick the soccer ball in the new soccer goal dad’s going to build for you. Tell the hoop adios.” I’m reclaiming my beautiful uneven, pitted surface and am going to beautify to my specifications after 11 long years. 

My plan is as follows:

1) I want to get a thin layer of concrete put over the top to smooth it out. We either want to stamp it or lay exterior tile. I have found piles and piles of great-looking tile at The Habitat Restore in Canton,http://restorestark.org/ – not sure which way we’ll go yet on this. It depends on what the concrete would cost. If the concrete is too much we can always lay the tile ourselves. George has become a pro at this type of work. 

2) I want benches built into the sides. Either concrete or wood, these will be permanent additions to the surface. While we’re at it, huge concrete planters could be built as well. My initial vision for the patio was to have so many containers full of greenery it felt like a jungle. That never happened, so if I can’t get the planters built, I am going on a hunt for the biggest, cheapest planters I can find. I’m lamenting the ones I left behind at Gabriel Brothers about two months ago. They were huge, thick plastic, but looked like cement. It was the look I wanted, but I left them there with their price tag of $9.99 still haunting me. 

3) I want a patio set. I love the mismatched furniture I have now, but I really would like a set of dark wood and red cushions to lounge upon, have brunch, or drink a cocktail on. This will remain to be seen and may have to wait until outside furniture goes on sale. I might be lucky enough to nab a set at a garage sale if I keep my eyes open. Bargain Hunters Unitehttps://www.facebook.com/groups/BHUHolmes/ is a place I will also watch for one. You never know what will show up there. 

4) Lastly, I want a wooden trellis type structure built over half of it. Maybe have some grapevines growing up over it so it feels nice and cozy. George is already on top of this as he’s had ideas for so long. Having the same idea in mind and being able to mesh them together makes for an easy re-do. Here’s to a frugal and hopefully successful revamping of a great space that just needs loved back to life.