A City Singing at Christmas concert, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, 12/18

First posted on December 13, 2013. Updated with new details.

To continue on the Christmas tradition theme, I have to tell you about a concert that’s happening this Thursday, December 18, at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It’s the 35th annual A City Singing at Christmas concert, and this year it features the St Patrick’s Cathedral  Choir, the Young People’s Chorus of New York, and the choir I sing with, the New York City Master Chorale. This is the second year since I joined the choir that we’ve been invited to sing at this concert, and I am hugely excited.

If you’ve never been to St. Patrick’s—well, I’ll save talking about it for another post. But, you should go, and this concert is a perfect time. Three choirs perform beautiful Christmas-themed sets, with sing-a-long carols interspersed, and it’s free! The most magical part is at the end of the concert, when all three choirs sing “Silent Night” together. The lights are turned off in the cathedral, the audience and the singers are given candles, and then the singers process down and back up the aisles. According to a friend of mine, one year, when as the concert came to its end the back doors were opened, she looked out on the cinematic sight of snow falling gently on the Atlas statue on Fifth Ave.
If you want to attend on Thursday, December 18, make sure to get there early. The concert starts at 7 p.m., but the line will begin a while before that. Two years ago my mom went to 5:30 mass and that helped her to secure a seat. Seating is limited this year due to construction, so it’s especially important to beat the crowd.
Music is, for me, the most important part of the season—or at least right up there with Christmas tree and lights. I’m sure it’s different for anyone—what’s your favorite sign that the holidays have arrived?
Looking for more holiday inspiration? Check out the marathon reading of A Christmas Carol at Housing Works this Saturday, December 20 (and my post about it from last year), or visit Bryant Park and go shopping and ice skating (read about it from last year here!) Or check out the NYC Master Chorale’s other holiday concert this Friday at St. Mary the Virgin, where we’ll be performing Britten’s “A Ceremony of Carols”. 

Avoiding the Rockefeller tree lighting

My BFF Kari Lin and I last year in front of the Rockefeller tree -- but NOT during the tree lighting!

My BFF Kari Lin and I last year in front of the Rockefeller tree — but NOT during the tree lighting!

First posted on December 3, 2013. Updated with current information.

The number one thing you should not do tomorrow night (Wednesday, December 3) under any circumstances? Go anywhere near Rockefeller Center.

Tomorrow is the lighting of the Rockefeller Center tree, and according to the events website, tens of thousands of people will crowd the sidewalk in an attempt to see the tree be lit and to catch some of the performances. While the lineup is impressive, even if I didn’t have a choir rehearsal I would be staying away from the tree tomorrow evening.

One year while in college I happened to be in the city on the Wednesday of the tree lighting and I decided to wander by Rockefeller Center on my way back to Grand Central. I never got close enough to even see the tree, let alone find a spot to settle in and hear some music. The sidewalks were packed with a tide of people relentlessly moving toward Rockefeller Center, where they’d stop and I’d be squished in the crowd–without even being able to see anything. I took myself out of the flow, stopped in a pizza place for a slice, and headed back to the train station.

Last year a friend told me that there are usually police barriers up on the streets, forcing people to walk single file, and they put all the spectators in pens. So while it may be possible, if obnoxious, to be near Rockefeller Center tomorrow evening, I’d still say, skip the tree lighting. Who wants to be in a pen?

But the tree—and the skating rink—at Rockefeller Center are a NYC Christmas tradition, as much as the Rockettes (of whose performance, which I saw when I was little, I remember…well, little. Mostly I remember the wand with a snow globe on its end that I got my parents to buy me). The tree is huge, covered in colored lights, and lovely, so I do recommend visiting it. The rink (which is a bit of a rip off compared to Bryant Park and even Wollman, which I refuse to call Trump Rink) is open till midnight, and the tree is usually lit till 11:30, so while it may thin out a bit later in the evenings, your best bet for having slightly fewer tourists to deal with is probably to go early in the week.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for something on Wednesday night, consider staying home and watching the tree lighting from the comfort of your own couch! And then tell me how it was, because I’ll be in rehearsal.

Any other NYC tourist spots to avoid this week and check out another time?

Happy Thanksgiving!


There may be Christmas weather headed our way today, here in NYC. I guess the weather gods got the month wrong – it’s still November, guys! I’ve seen a lot of different forecasts of how much snow the area may or may not get (and since I’m writing this Tuesday night, it all may have changed by the time this goes up), but I think we can agree we’re glad we don’t live in Buffalo. Sorry, Buffalo friends – I love snow, but last week sounded hellish.

But despite the precipitation, it’s Thanksgiving we’re celebrating this week. Just like last year, I have a lot to be thankful for – family, friends, a great job, a great apartment, good health, and a year that included both cross country and transatlantic travel. In the wider world it has often been a difficult year – this week is no exception – and it makes me that much more grateful for my own blessings.

The older I get, the faster the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s seems to go. Lots of people complain when holiday decorations start as early as the day after Halloween, but I like it. When I was a kid and in a production of A Christmas Carol for several years, our rehearsals always started right around Halloween. That was the beginning of the season for me.  Now I try to stretch it in little ways, like putting my Christmas tree up early so I get to enjoy it for longer, and playing lots of Christmas music.

When I’m home with my family this weekend, we’ll go and pick out a tree, too, and decorate it. The decorations went up at my office this week. They’re all just trappings, but in the midst of the cold and ice that is about descend here for the next several months, the lights and the greenery and the candles remind me of warmth and family and friendship. I may roll my eyes about the inflatable snowmen and Santas I’m sure to see in my family’s suburban neighborhood, but it all comes from a place of gratitude and joy.

Well, probably.

I hope wherever you are that you’re able to spend time this week with people you care about! And I hope your planes and trains and buses and cars experience perfect travel conditions and no delays.

Happy Thanksgiving, and see you in December!


The Origami Tree at the American Museum of Natural History

First posted on November 26, 2013. Revised with current information. 

When my alarm went off this morning, I awoke to Light FM playing Christmas music—Transiberian Orchestra’s “Christmas Eve in Sarajevo”, to be exact. I groaned, partly because it felt too early for Christmas music, but mostly because I didn’t want to get up yet. It’d be hypocritical of me to really be annoyed when I was excited to realize one of my favorite new holiday traditions is about to start.

A few years ago I visited the American Museum of Natural History just after New Years, and on that visit I was introduced to the Origami Tree. For the last forty years, volunteers have folded hundreds of origami objects and used them to decorate a Christmas tree within the museum. In 2012 the tree featured various groups of animals—herds, flights, even a parliament of owls. Another year the tree honored the collections of the museum and had everything from dinosaurs to space shuttles. Last year there was an ode to poisons, because of an exhibition that was on.


I’ve always loved origami, though cranes, fortune tellers, boxes, cups, and really bad water lilies are the only things I can make without instructions in front of me. The origami pieces adorning the tree are works of art. Often there will be a volunteer nearby who is happy to talk about paper folding; one told me that the rounded heads of some of the animals were created by wetting the paper. The intricate details of the different objects, the delicacy the folds, and the perfection of the final products all fascinate me, and I’m sure I’ll be going to visit the tree for years to come, just to see what these artists come up with next.

Next Monday, November 24, is the first day this year’s tree was available for viewing. It’s located in the Grand Gallery on the first floor.  This year’s theme is Origami Night at the Museum, a reference to the movie Night at the Museum, and spotlights items and people (including Teddy Roosevelt!) that play roles in the movie. I haven’t been to visit yet, but I’ll be sure to make my way up there before January 11. If you’re in the city over Thanksgiving and want to kick off the holiday season without braving the Thanksgiving Day Parade, consider a trip to the American Museum of Natural History—and say hi to the dinosaurs for me while you’re there.

Now that you’ve heard one (of many) of mine, what are your favorite NYC holiday traditions?

Come to the Cabaret… again


I went to see Cabaret again this weekend – my friend who I went with last time had an extra ticket and so I got to go again! We had the same table as last time, except on the other side of the theater. Like I said when I went last time, I thought it was a fascinating show and I was really happy I got to go.

I still feel that way, so why am I writing another entry? Because it was a very different experience, starting from when we were waiting for a friend in the lobby. I looked over and saw a man who looked a little familiar, but didn’t think anything of it. My friend leaned in and said, “Is that Liam Neeson?”


It wasn’t. But her friend quickly realized it was Ralph Fiennes, who we all knew best as Lord Voldemort. We tried not to stare too much, then or the four or five other times we passed by him over the course of the night. Okay, I did crane my neck a little to figure out where he was sitting (same row as us), but that was it.

The celebrity sightings continued at intermission. While waiting in the bathroom line I thought I spotted Gail Carson Levine, author of Ella Enchanted (not technically a celebrity, but definitely a hero to many women in their twenties whose lives were changed by that book). When I got back to the table, my companions told me that sitting in front of us, in the front section of tables, were two more movie stars: Woody Harrelson and Edward Norton. Sure enough, they took their seats right as the second act started. In one night I just about doubled the number of celebrity sightings I’ve had since moving to NYC.

The real celebrities of the night, though, were the stars of the show: Alan Cumming and newcomer Emma Stone. Emma just started last week and was the reason I was so keen to go see the show again. I saw the understudy last time, and she was good, but Emma took the part to a different place. She was funny and over-the-top and warm and heartbreaking.


She’s scheduled to perform through the beginning of February, so if you can, you should go! And Alan Cumming was as fantastic as last time – he is the show. We went to the stage door afterward and saw both of them, as well as Linda Emond as Fraulein Schneider (who was also fabulous), and got our play bills signed. They were all lovely and gracious, and totally worth waiting for in the cold!

So I said it already, but let me say it again: If you get a chance to go see Caberet, you should go!

As for me – I may go for a third time, adding Cabaret  to the short list of shows (A Christmas CarolInto the WoodsLes MisPeter and the Starcatcher, Camelot – okay, maybe not that short) I’ve seen three or more times. Because it was worth it! Tell me, what shows have you all seen an embarrassing number of times?


Freezing winter night

….not yet, I know. I’ve been wearing my winter coat, but we’re not quite there yet in New York, it’s still November and it hasn’t snowed. But walking home last night I looked up at the sky and saw the constellation Orion shining brightly above the buildings, each star clear and distinct against the black sky, and I remembered learning as a child that Orion is a winter constellation. So the night sky thinks it’s winter.

I wanted to take a picture but my camera couldn’t handle it and would’ve showed a deep black sky with no pinpricks of light marking out the great hunter’s shoulders and tunic and belt of three stars. The light pollution in New York is such that only these brightest stars are visible — the photos of Orion you’ll find on Google often show all the other stars around and in between the constellation, but in New York you can’t see most of them.

Sometimes I miss the quiet of life outside the city and the true darkness of the sky that you can never quite achieve here. In college my choir would always go on a fall retreat in the middle of nowhere for a weekend and have a bonfire under the stars. We’d sing together and eat s’mores, and I usually took a few minutes to lie on my back and look up. The stars in New York are flat against the sky but out away from the city you can start to see the depth of the universe, and you start thinking about the fact that you’re looking at the distant light of the past.

Yesterday an unmanned spacecraft landed on a comet hundreds of millions of miles away and started sending information back to Earth. There’s so much wonder out there, so much to learn, and I bet all of the scientists working on the project would say that they’re doing what they do now because one day, a long time ago, they decided to look up.

Freezing Winter Night, A Ceremony of Carols, Benjamin Britten

Getting places on time in NYC

I was late to brunch on Saturday. I’d left my apartment with plenty of time to get to my friend’s neighborhood, pick up some apple cider, and show up on her doorstep, but I wasn’t paying attention when I got on the train and only realized I’d messed up when it started going across the Manhattan Bridge. Oops!

How to handle lateness in NYC? With Patience.

How to handle lateness in NYC? With Patience.

I was only fifteen minutes late, not a huge deal when you’re meeting at someone’s apartment instead of a restaurant, but it still annoyed me. I was late a lot growing up and as an adult I try to always be on time. That’s not always easy in New York – you don’t have to drive anywhere, but the subway has its own problems. Delays and construction aside, if you’re running just a couple minutes late and miss the train, you can suddenly be ten minutes late, or even later depending on the time of day.

Fortitude works, too.

Fortitude works, too.

Sometimes it really doesn’t matter if you’re late. I had a few friends over to watch a movie a couple weeks ago and people were running late. But it was Friday night and I was home, so I just watched TV till people arrived. No problem! But other times, being late means missing the beginning of a show, or being late to a rehearsal, or getting to work later than you planned. Last month I was on my way to dinner with friends and I got off the train a stop early rather than wait on a crowded platform for the next one. Bad move – it was a long walk, and my friends were left waiting at the restaurant for a while.

The solution, of course, is to leave extra time to get anywhere, especially when you’re going someplace for the first time! But somehow it seems that the days when you need extra time – when the train’s packed and you have to let it go by, or the doors close as you’re swiping your metro card – are the ones where you’re already running late. The days where you leave early? They tend to be the ones where all your connections work out perfectly and you end up at your destination ten minutes early. And on the days you’re early? The person you’re meeting up with is probably going to be late.

Some people would say here, “Thank goodness for smart phones!” But since I am still clinging to my dumb phone, I’ll say, “Thank goodness for books!” and wait patiently for you to show up, because I’m a little early.

What’s your surefire way to get somewhere on time?

Watching the NYC marathon

First posted November 2, 2013. Updated with photos and links. 

If you live in NYC, you are almost definitely aware that the marathon is tomorrow. If you’re like me, you know at least two people personally who are running. Wikipedia tells me that the first NYC marathon was held in 1970 and has been run every year since, except for 2012, when the aftermath of superstorm Sandy led to its cancellation. My dad ran the marathon when I was a kid, long ago enough that I mostly just remember how tired he looked when we met him in Central Park at the end.

NYC Marathon 2013

NYC Marathon 2013

I’m not a runner, and I’m not sure I’ll ever be one, but there’s something about watching the marathon that makes me want to be. When I lived in Clinton Hill I spent at least an hour each marathon morning cheering as first the handcyclists, and then some of the fastest men and women in the world, sped by. And then the ordinary runners, still faster than I would ever be, ran by in masses. Two years in a row I saw a man running in a Minnie Mouse costume, possibly (hopefully?) the same guy. Sometimes there were couples or groups of friends. Sometimes I’d cheer for someone wearing a shirt from my college, or just slap hands with the people nearest to me as they passed. Last year I knew three people running and got to see one of them go by. This year I know at least two people and can’t wait to cheer them on!

NYC Marathon 2013

NYC Marathon 2013

The first time I went to watch, Time Warner was giving out bells to ring. I kept mine and brought it with me the following year because it’s very easy to get hoarse while watching the marathon. I never wanted a single person to go by feeling un-cheered-for, which was probably silly since they had 26.219 miles to run and surely there would be several times where there wasn’t cheering. But there’s something about watching people in the midst of such an amazing feat that makes me want to support them as much as possible in the only way I can.

Tomorrow, if you live near the marathon route, consider wandering over and checking it out. I guarantee you’ll be inspired by the runners, you’ll probably make friends with some cute kids who are cheering from the sidewalk, and you may lose your voice. Sorry about that last one.

If anyone wants a buddy, let me know–I’ll be out there with my bell!

Pumpkin bread

Too busy tonight to do a real post because I’ve been baking! Brownies from a box and two loaves of pumpkin bread.

I adapted this recipe, since I didn’t have a few of the items listed and I’ve found that it definitely needs more spices than the original calls for! Ingredients list below. Preheat oven to 350 F, mix dry ingredients (except spices) first, add wet, mix, add spices. Bake in a greased pan for about 40 minutes, but check on it. Makes one 9 inch round loaf (in a cake pan). I usually double it and make two, since a can of pumpkin puree comes to just shy of double what this recipe calls for.

  • 1 1/2 cups (200g) flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 cup (200 g) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 3 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 cup (240 ml) pumpkin purée*
  • 4 ounces (1 stick, 112 g) butter, melted (can sub 1/2 cup light olive oil)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 cup water

Quick, easy, and delicious! Any fall recipes you all love to make????????????????????????????????

October scary stories and Frankenstein


October is the time for scary stories. Halloween has a lot to do with it, all the way back to its roots in the celebration of Samhain by the Celts. But even without the spirits and specters associated with October 31, October would feel like a time for scary stories, at least here in the northeast.

There’s something about cold weather and stories – people gathering close to tell tall tales around a fire. But scary stories are too much for winter, when the cold and snow outside are dangerous. Better to tell stories with happy endings then, to keep everyone warm and cozy and save the scary ones for October, when the chill in the air is just enough to send a shiver down your spine but not enough to freeze you. The days are getting shorter, the nights are getting longer, and the shadows on your window might just be from the trees… or might not be.

Last night I went to see Frankenstein, the film version of the London National Theatre’s 2011 production starring Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch. It’s showing at a number of movie theaters and performance spaces in NYC this week, undoubtedly because of the holiday, and it’s showing in other places as well. My family went to see it last night, too, and my mom and I compared notes afterward. You can find more information, including venues and show times, here: http://ntlive.nationaltheatre.org.uk/productions/16546-frankenstein.

I’ve never read Frankenstein, never seen one of the movies (except Young Frankenstein, which doesn’t quite count); I only knew the basic outline of the story. I knew, for instance, that it’s not a happy story. All does not end well. Perfect, then, for October.

In this production, Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch alternated the roles of Frankenstein and his Creature each night. I saw Cumberbatch as the Creature, and it was remarkable. The popular depiction of Frankenstein’s monster is of a hulking, stuttering giant of a man, and there is stuttering, and Cumberbatch was tall and threatening. But his Creature, and apparently the Creature of the novel, can speak, by the end, as well as you or me. He stutters sometimes, but he also recites lines from Milton’s Paradise Lost and talks of his feelings of love and rage. In the end he is more monstrous and yet more human than Victor Frankenstein.

The set and the staging were stunning, the acting by both leads superb, and while some moments went on a little long and some secondary characters felt a little flat, the questions the production raised about creation and morality and love were fascinating. What is our responsibility to something — or someone — we create? What does it mean to love and be loved?

I won’t tell you more specifics, except that the final scene is heart-wrenching. While I can’t quite bring myself to go see it again this week, at some point I’d like to see the version where the roles are reversed. My friend had seen it before and felt Jonny Lee Miller’s Creature had a sweetness missing from Benedict Cumberbatch’s.

If you’re looking for a frightening but thoughtful way to celebrate Halloween and October, check if there’s a screening this week near you! If you’ve already seen it, what did you think? And if you haven’t, what’s your favorite spooky movie?