30 October 2019

Something Different

Thought I'd share a few images from my recent trip to California, in no particular order.

For as long as I can remember I'd had people encouraging me to go to California - usually to either San Francisco or San Diego.  I knew it had to be a worthwhile trip, despite the earthquakes, wildfires, need of a car, and other things that set my anxiety to astronomic levels.  I did want to go.  But when I had only a couple of vacation weeks I didn't want to 'waste' my time, not to mention my tiny travel budget.  Plus, I'm a bit obsessed with London, if you haven't noticed, and try to get there as often as possible. I knew a few people who lived in different parts of California, and would love to see them, but again, limited time and money.  When my friend Cathy (Bathy) moved to San Diego earlier this year, though, I had a feeling I'd find my way to the West Coast.

Bathy and I had intended to go back to London in September, but our plans didn't seem to work.  Too many little obstacles.  But I'd had the week off scheduled, and realized this was an opportunity I couldn't pass up.  

Thankfully, California met my expectations, and sometimes exceeded them.  San Diego surprised me in that it was much more walkable than expected.  Plus, add good weather, happy dogs everywhere (and two friendly neighborhood cats), and a proliferation of Little Free Libraries, and I could probably live there.  But no rush.

Outside the Blackmarket Bakery, where I had breakfast (and tea) a few times. You're nearly always guaranteed outside seating weather.

La Jolla Cove - some of their best residents.

Pacific Surfrider - the best way to get to LA!

Pitchoun! near The Last Bookstore.  Excellent break.

I mean, at least one duckie! (Balboa Park)

Hotel Del Coronado.  Legendary.

29 October 2019

Don't You Fly to California to Shop For Books?

I made it to California at last! 

Honestly, I never thought it was going to happen.  It's not like I didn't want to see the West Coast, and I've heard good things about San Diego for years (and San Francisco;  but perhaps another time.)  So it's been on my travel "bucket" list, but I am the reigning queen of travel procrastination.  However, when my friend Bathy moved to San Diego, and opportunity presented itself that was too good to pass up: the chance to take a nice trip and visit someone I've missed quite a lot!

Now, even this staunch New Yorker/indoor girl had some fun in the sunshine, and I'll be sure to share some of those experiences.  However, true to character, I had to see some of the more bookish offerings, and Bathy loves a good bookshop roam, so we fitted in time to do just that.

Verbatim Books was a beautiful place in the North Park neighborhood.  One side of the shop is shelves and shelves of reasonably priced books in all genres - I spotted tons of Doctor Who books, but didn't get any this time...

The other side looked like this:

Imagine the events! I'd love to attend a reading here.  Or sing some Phantom of the Opera music.  That chandelier!

I've never had a strong desire to visit Los Angeles, but the train ride up the coast makes it worthwhile in itself.  Of course we had to go to The Last Bookstore.

It was everything I'd dreamed it would be and more!  Endless shelves of books, and like Verbatim, quite good discounts.  The building was a large one, so there were rooms with galleries and shops, a guy walking around playing guitar, that kind of thing.  Books arranged into tunnels (the most crowded part, of course, because it's Instaworthy, and there were records for sale, and did I mention books?  Just a joy.

I would have liked one or both of these shops to have a cat and/or a cafe, thus satisfying the Catherine Trifecta, but really they were complete in and of themselves.

If you're in Southern California, go!  These places need to be supported.

25 June 2019

An Ideal Day: Park Slopeish, May 2019

Not every day is a bad day, but we must carve out better ones for ourselves from time to time. Sometimes we find the ideal far away from home, but this doesn't have the be the case.  It helps when the weather works out, though.

Honestly, a day at home with the cats, tea, my books, and maybe a favorite TV show is what I usually prescribe for myself.  But if the temperature is mild, and my health is looking up, I feel almost forced to take a walk.  I get bored at times with Astoria, so if I know I have some free time coming up, I'll plan something slightly farther away.

When spring hit its peak pleasantness (so rare), I planned a day before a long, crowded weekend event (an event that I look forward to but still entertain some misgivings because of my intense anxiety around crowds) to prance around Brooklyn for the afternoon.  This gave me a chance to have a quiet morning while still having enough time to get around.

I don't get out to Park Slope very often.  I think I only blogged about the area once, when I went to a long-departed Tea Lounge on Seventh Avenue.  That was 2006.  Of course I've been nearby - the Brooklyn Museum, the Botanical Gardens, and the Way Station are all places I'm happy to return to - but I needed to look slightly...south?  I think south.

I have a few different kinds of solo-outing themes, and I usually lean toward finding The Perfect Tea Spot, but this time I decided to go for Quintessential New York Diner/Coffee Shop for lunch.  I chose Purity Diner, which was your standard, though thankfully not too crowded, cozy lunch spot.  My only gripe is they didn't leave the tomatoes out of my cheeseburger deluxe.  I need to go around wearing a pin that says "NO TOMATOES!".  Everyone was so pleasant that I didn't make a fuss - not that I'm one for making a fuss at restaurants.  Not unless something really gets my goat....like a few tea rooms I'm still on the outs with...

Now, I've not officially set out to do this, but if it happens I'd be happy to have accomplished it: I would love to visit every bookshop in New York City.  Maybe not if they are super specialized, like religious books, snobby by-appointment rare booksellers, or a shop selling only owner's manuals, but as many shops as I can would be nice.  Let me just say, I've come mighty close, particularly in Manhattan and Queens.  A bookshop with a resident cat is top on my list, so obviously I had to go to Community Bookstore.  I (of course) follow their kitty, Tiny the Usurper, on Instagram, but I wasn't sure if he would be friendly.  When I saw him napping behind the counter I said hi, and he immediately roused himself and came meowing up to me for head scratches. Glad it turned out that way.


The selection of the bookshop was quite decent, and there's a little outdoor seating area that wasn't open when I was there, but I didn't care as I had park plans.  I ended up getting the latest copy of Poetry Magazine, and having a good sniff around.  Good neighborhood bookshop.  

Park Slope is colorful!
I picked up an iced tea and banana bread from nearby Muse Cafe.  It looked like a nice place to sit for a while, but I didn't want to stay indoors on a fine spring day, so off I went.  

Like the bookshops of New York City, I'd love to spend time at every park I can reach, but at the very least I need to hit the big ones.  Now I've been on the outer bits of the park, but never dived in the way I do with Central Park.  I found a quiet, but not too isolated, spot by a tree close to a pond and was able to read, scribble, and take my tea in peace.  I can't overemphasize the importance of having some quiet outdoor time, especially surrounded by grass.  I didn't get a chance to visit the waterfowl, but I can do that on another occasion.  All I know is I need to return, as there is so much more of this park to explore!  Finding the time to do so is another matter.

I can never pull off a "relaxed" look...it's more like "indigestion face"...

The rest of the day was a little iffy, as I went to a used bookshop in Prospect Heights that made me feel anxious, and then dealt with a gum snapper on the subway.  I did get to hop over to the Strand for a short time, and later rewarded myself for doing 'nothing' with pizza.  I found myself in reasonable shape early the next morning, so I think I did well with most of my itinerary.

There really is no perfect day this side of the timeline, but it was still close to ideal for me.  Please, if you're feeling overwhelmed and can budget even an afternoon, take the time and do your version of this day.  It's not selfish, it's necessary, if you're going to be in any shape to do anything.

14 June 2019

The Cameras Got Smaller: Adventures in Booktubing

When, after years of school and paid internships I was working my first proper full-time job, I found myself in a somewhat comfortable situation.  Nothing luxurious - the job didn't pay that well.  However, I was living at home and had few expenses, and I actually had some disposable income for the first time in my life.  Travel was discounted because of said job, I didn't drive and I didn't need a car.  Should I have been saving money?  Sure, but who said I was practical?  While I didn't go crazy spending, I did buy the one thing I'd always wanted: a camcorder.  It was a JVC VHS, and much smaller than the 80s camcorders. I loved this thing.  My friend Marie and I spent hours making videos for our amusement, and I learned that while I am socially awkward, I wasn't necessarily camera shy.  I can say with certainty that I dissolved into fits of giggles far fewer times than Jimmy Fallon, who arrived on SNL around the same time.

Marie had a 'makeup tutorial' that, while satirical, anticipated the future by close to a decade.  I had a thing called 'Taking Tea With Catherine', surprise surprise, which was basically about tea, but with the persona of an exaggerated prim and proper lady most of the time. None of this went beyond friends and family, because none of it could.  If we wanted to show someone our videos, they would have to watch it with us (because I wasn't about to lend my tapes to anyone!  Overtaping was a dreaded reality).

My camcorder never broke down, though the tape door became loose and had to be secured with rubber bands.  In a short time DVD camcorders were more popular, followed by digital.  I mean to digitize all those tapes, mainly because I'd like to see the recordings of my Dad and the old cats, and the time when I met Brian May and didn't take any photos.

Within a year of starting this blog (it is getting to be vintage at this point) I was made aware of the fascinating rabbit hole that is YouTube.  One of my first thoughts was that I was glad it didn't exist in the days when I was making videos, because what kind of silliness would I have shared with the masses?  Occasionally I ended up posting a video, mostly badly lit videos of my cats, and looking back it was nice to see Moofer in action once again (well, basically just being a cuddle smoosh, but who's complaining?)  I rarely subscribed to any YouTube channels, up until a year or so ago, when I started following a couple of language channels, a fountain pen expert, and of course a few cats.  

One day, I was seriously missing my walks in London, particularly to the different bookshops, and I found posts of booktubers going around to some of the same shops as well as some I wasn't familiar with.  This stoked my curiosity, so I began lurking on these booktubers' channels and eventually following quite a few.  At first it was mainly channels from the UK, and then some from the US and Canada, and perhaps one from India?  Of course I was drawn to those who read books that I liked or was interested in - some of the others that I'd started with were mainly into YA (young adult), which I rarely read.

Sometimes when you read a lot, you feel moved to write your own material.  I started feeling that way about Booktube, but I hesitated.  I don't have any professional equipment, let alone editing software.  I have this blog and only update it once or twice a month: why commit to something else?  Who has time for this nonsense?  Who would watch it?  I'm older than most of the booktubers out there: won't I seem out of touch or something?

Then I realized something, and that was: who cares?  I'm going to make a few videos, and have fun with it.  I'll talk about the things I like to talk about, and what's more, I'm going to keep it in the theme of my blog.  I'll look into editing at some point, but only if I enjoy making videos.  So I made the leap, and here are the first two posts:

An unhaul, because catharsis

A haul, because Catherine

What I've learned so far from the experience is that editing would help.  I have to run straight through without breaking at this point.  Angling is important, because the chins that disappeared from my daily life find their way back on camera. Also, I knew this already, but it's even more obvious: I cannot sit still.  If there was a drinking game that revolved around how many times I pushed my glasses up, folks would be blaming me for their morning hangover! 

I may keep this going, at least for the different themes I have in mind.  I'd welcome any advice, especially regarding the technicalities.  

08 May 2019


Warning: rant ahead

I have Instagram, and quite a few other social networking/media accounts, and spend more time looking through these than I care to admit.  So I'm not here to denounce the entire idea of it all, but to whine a bit about some of the more irritating side effects.

Let me get a related rant out of the way first.  I don't drive, but I know there's laws in place for people who text and drive, or basically for anyone who is distracted by their phones instead of concentrating on the road.  This is good, but what about pedestrian hazards? It's rude to walk while writing on and scrolling through your phone.  We all do it to a point, and it'd be impossible to police everyone doing so.  But while crossing a street it is downright dangerous. I have to dodge bikes (and sometimes cars) that blow through red lights, only to find someone in the zebra crossing too engrossed in whatever's on their screen to care about who is in their path.  This is all bad enough, but I don't take it personally - not until it interferes with my tea enjoyment!

This brings us to a situation that occurred recently.  It was an unseasonably warm weekend day, and I found myself near the Flatiron District.  I've always liked that area, because it's busy enough without being Midtown crazy (usually).  I decided to go to Cha Cha Matcha, as I've been trying to get there for a while.  I was worried I might not find a seat once inside, but surprisingly one became quickly available.  I'd planned to try their Matcha Latte, but as it was warm and I'd seen someone sitting with ice cream, I decided to go for that (matcha banana swirl, very good.) I took a quick and not very quality picture of my ice cream for the Instagrams, and dug in.  Because, like I said, I'm not against sharing some of my minutia.
Bad lighting, good ice cream!


There were two girls sitting to my right, who both had beverages that looked amazing, and otherwise weren't dressed up (t-shirts, jeans, maybe more makeup than necessary but no let's not judge), who spent the entire time there taking pictures of each other and their drinks using their phones.  If they had expensive camera equipment I would theorize that they were doing an important photo shoot, though that didn't make much sense on a busy Saturday.  All I know is that they barely said a word to each other, just posed and posed.  I would not have cared - I see that sort of thing in Central Park all the time - but one of the girls had her back to me and kept leaning back until her hair nearly touched my ice cream.  

Can't I catch a break in these places already?

Otherwise, aside from the loud music, I liked Cha Cha Matcha, as I think most people would.  It's festive with its pinks and greens, and if the ice cream was any indication, the latte is probably good too.  I would like to go back, so this is no criticism of the place itself.  I simply don't understand the need to document everything in such a way that any actual appreciation is ignored in favor of "likes".  The girls were probably, at least in their estimation, "influencers".  Now I know some people build entire careers around the ability to recommend products and look attractive doing so.  Fine, if there's a market for it.  But I cannot see what exactly came out of taking a billion pictures of some beverages...and that's me talking!

If anything, please try to strike a balance.  I go to tea rooms and bookshops (the main things I like to write about), and while I'm there I often take a few notes and pictures in plans to blog later.  Then, I get on with the business of living a little.  If I'm with someone else, I try to use my limited attention span to be present with that person, because we all need flesh and blood connection.  Some people go to tourist sites merely to buy souvenirs from the gift shop.  Others visit the gift shop on the way out to buy gifts for others and a memento for themselves to solidify what they've seen.  I prefer to be the latter.

01 May 2019

Taking Floral Teas

Just in time for May, it's time to talk about something near and dear to my heart, in which love I am certainly not alone: flowers!  And not just flowers, but the kind you infuse either alone or with its good friend, tea.

Not everyone likes floral scented or infused tea.  That's okay, the world is full of differing opinions and tastes.  Honestly, if made too strong, it can be a bit like drinking perfume heated and served in a pretty cup.  Done just right, which for me means subtly, it can be a treat to smell and taste. Today  I will go through the floral teas I like, and then the ones I don't like as much.

Rose: An old favorite in some black tea, and a good complement to other flowers and herbs.  As flowers go, they're not my favorite; probably because I associate them with funerals. but sprinkled in tea, I am far from mourning.

Violet: I'm one of those people who like those violet candies, and I like violet just as much in black tea.  I'd had it before, but after having a cup with my Victoria sponge cake in Lovecrumbs, Edinburgh, I had renewed appreciation for its delicate beauty.  Now I'm rarely without some in my tea cupboard.  I also have a Violet Rose tea from Simpson and Vail, and it's tastygorgeous!

Lavender: This features more in my herbal tea collection.  I love lavender: the smell, the taste, its clean, calming qualities; and if you're about to comment on its "old lady" associations, there's the door!  I have a Lavender Lime tea from Celestial Seasonings which is an odd but good pairing!  And there is nothing quite like a London Fog Latte when they remember the lavender.

Jasmine: And I......., will always love yoooouuuuu...Seriously, I don't crave this every day, but it is a classic, and it may be a good way to coax someone into drinking green tea. For some reason I find it gets me more jittery than other ways of drinking green tea (matcha lattes are a close second), so I limit my intake.

Hibiscus: Very nice hot, full of healthy properties, and a pleasure iced.  A good alternative to Sweet Tea in the (American) South.  It can be kind of tart, so use care in how strong you make it!

Chamomile: I don't drink this for pleasure, but as a calming infusion, and an aid to digestion.  Love the tiny daisy look of the flower, dislike the scent.  Well mixed with other herbs, as it is in Sleepytime (hello again, Celestial Seasonings!), and I'm sold.

Lilac: I have a pouch of lilac black tea from Simpson and Vail, and it's my least favorite of their floral teas.  I don't hate it,  but, meh.

I found a place in the East Village that shares my love for all things tea and flowers: JQK Floral Tea.  It features hot and iced teas and lattes with most of the above flowers, and additionally Osmanthus and Chrysanthemum.  I'm pretty sure I've had chrysanthemums in my tea at some point, but not enough to make a commentary.  So adventures awaits!  It's a nice space, not huge but not hole in the wall tiny.  I had a Rose Hojicha iced tea when I stopped by, and based on this I will return.  Maybe on one of my Flower Fridays!

What are your favorite floral teas? 

26 April 2019

The Magic of Bookshops

If you love to read, and love physical books, you know the feeling of walking into a great bookshop.  It's home, it's a treat, it's heavenly...it's magical.  I make it a point to get to as many as I can, and to go back to the old favorites. It never gets old - and on a theoretical date, I'd much prefer a bookshop over a loud venue.

Not every bookshop is my favorite, though I don't believe I've ever hated any bookshop.  There are a few shops in Queens (a very few, but these are appreciated). but of these only Astoria Bookshop has my heart so far.  The rest are good - I refuse to be negative about any bookshop in Queens, unless of course the walls were bleeding or something - but Astoria has added coziness - it rarely feels crowded, but it's not empty either, and it's not that big, but I could spend time there comfortably. 

Brooklyn boasts a few more offerings - and two whole Barnes and Noble shops to boot - but I had grown quite fond of Book Court, and thought it tragic when they closed down.  I'd read that its sort-of natural successor, Books Are Magic, had appeared in Cobble Hill, but when do I get down there?  Apparently sometimes, because I found myself browsing its shelves contentedly of an afternoon or two recently.

Let me first get one thing out of the way: it is Instagrammable.   I intend to devote a whole post ranting about Instagrammability, but I too have Instagram, and I update it regularly, and can see the appeal of the outside mural and the gorgeous shelves and the friendly but not overwrought children's section for one's instaposts.  (A micro-rant: some bookshops I've been to have children's sections that were nice...but certainly not big enough for a proper children's event.  I found this out by stopping by in the midst of a children's event, and it was impossible to have a good browse, or even a quick shop.  It's hard, because you don't want to begrudge a bookish experience for the kids, but you don't want to scare people away, either.  I think Books Are Magic could pull of kids' events, though I'm not about to find out any time soon.)

Anyway, back to raving.  A weekday afternoon may not be the perfect gauge, but I found the shop not crowded.  No tumbleweeds, just the feeling that I could look around without bumping into anyone.  Plus, I didn't feel exposed.  Some places I've visited have a setup where I feel like the employees/owners are watching me - even if they're not.  It's a design flaw that I sense, but would not know how to correct.  Books Are Magic doesn't feel that way.  Had the whole space been littered with cameras I'd still feel the privacy that I don't elsewhere. 

There's sections for everything, though nothing particularly specialized from what I can tell.  But wait! there's a whole set of shelving devoted to New York Review Books.  I could have spent hours just browsing that area; that is, if I had the hours.  Woe is me!  In the end, I selected How Poetry Can Change Your Heart, which I can't wait to delve into (and so appropriate for Poetry Month!)  It's as pink as Peggy Porschen, so now I have a hankering for cake.  

Which reminds me: I passed quite a few bakeries and cafes on the way to Books Are Magic, and if I get that elusive chunk of time, would love to come back and explore places to curl up with new bookish acquisitions.

Subway Directions: F/G to Bergen Street.  You could take the 2/3/4/5 to Borough Hall or the R to Court Street if you don't mind a walk: and let's face it, on a beautiful day, an extra walk to a bookshop can be a delight.

Tomorrow is Independent Bookstore Day, so it might be a good time to pass by if you're around - or to visit any independent bookshop you have nearby.  The world would be an even darker place without them.

It just pulls you in...

Browse away!

Feel like hanging out yet?
For the kiddies, or anyone who could sit on a bean bag and still be able to stand up again...

28 February 2019

The Movies

I don't think I've ever been identified as a cinephile.  Sure, if I like a film I will talk about it, and possibly analyze it, but it's not a deep passion, not the way books and certain TV shows are for me.  Still, as a child, going to the movies was one of life's greatest pleasures.  We had a theater just two blocks away, so it wasn't a hassle to get there, and when I was a little older and IMAX type, stadium seating developed, it meant a fun trip to the city or maybe Forest Hills, each of which was a little different, and really it didn't take much to get excited about even the most mediocre movie.

In the past decade I rarely go to the movie theater.  I didn't suddenly fall out of love with the experience, but I find there's so many reasons to stay away, and wait for its release on the streaming sites.  That actually leads to the first reason:

Shorter wait: When Titanic came out at the end of 1997 I saw it four times in the theater.  I never do that anymore.  It played in the theater for months, and then it came out on VHS in September of 1998.  I remember this specifically because I held on the receipt for sentimental reasons: I purchased the video in the Borders located in the World Trade Center.  I'll never let go of that receipt!  The point is that if I didn't see the movie in the theaters, I would have had to wait 9 months to see it, and if I hadn't bought it, I would have probably have had to wait til I could get it at Blockbuster, which could take forever.  The only film I saw last year in the theater was Bohemian Rhapsody.  It was available digitally less than three months after its theater release date.  Hence, I normally just wait.

But what about spoilers? you may ask.  Yes, what about them?  When the last Avengers movie came out, it was released first in the UK.  I was checking a group I follow on Facebook, one that has nothing to do with movies, and before I realized what I was reading, some lovely person had posted all the spoilers for that movie.  Now I didn't want to bother spending the money.  That brings us to point 2:

Is It Worth It? The price of a ticket locally is $16.40.  Ouch.  What if I didn't like the movie?  There's no refund.  And that's not counting snacks or dinner afterward.  As a single person that's enough of an expense, but imagine paying for a family?  I know that box office earnings influence marketing and future film making, but I can't fork over cash to help a statistic.  If I wait a few months, the movie, whether I like it or not, will likely be available on one of the streaming sites I subscribe to...

Stream Away: I subscribe to a number of services that offer enough movies, new and old, to satisfy my viewing needs.  It's too much, and I know I spend enough time watching stuff, but it's still a better value.

Crowds!!!  I admit that sometimes, watching a superhero movie with an audience, and hearing their reaction along with my own, can be fun.  Overall, though, I don't care for sitting in crowds, and prefer to sit on an aisle, which is normally not the best angle, and not guaranteed in a popular movie.  When I saw Bohemian Rhapsody I picked a theater that had reserved seating, which is a good idea, until you find that someone is sitting in your seat.  Somehow I had the courage (foolhardiness?) to ask the guy to move, but even that action took away some of the enjoyment.  Then there's the other noises that are unwelcome - like conversation, chewing, babies crying, that as I get older bring out the crabby in me to a higher degree.  It's a shame.  

Leaving the house: This can work for and against going to the movies.  On a rainy day off, it's nice to make a pillow fort and catch up on some Netflix, rather than sitting a soggy self on a carpeted chair, placing umbrella on a sticky floor.  BUT it can also be fun to use the movies as an excuse to get out of the house.  This depends on one's current mood.

Ah!  But what about the 'surround sound', the huge screens, the special effects and 3D?  Yes, it's cool, but I also think these can be overwhelming.  Again, that's me.  I have sensory issues. I'm still not sure if the migraine I got the day after seeing Avatar in 3D came from the movie or the cheap champagne I tried later on.  I don't care for 3D because it costs extra, and I don't like putting glasses on top of my glasses.  No, I don't want to put on contact lenses so I can look cute in the dark!

To bring this around to my central theme of tea - it's terribly awkward to take tea in a theater.  There's also the matter of not being able to pause for the inevitable bathroom break.  We need intermissions, like they have in Bollywood films.  

I'm obviously not anti-theater, but I prefer to limit my visits to absolute must-sees (or a free ticket, but sometimes not even then if I'm not in the mood.)  I can compare my preferences to going to the beach.  I like it, but once or twice a year is more than enough for me.

Viewing is better when there's a cat atop oneself.

26 February 2019

Taking Coffee With Catherine: Anxiety Woman Goes to Bird & Branch

I must have expressed on this blog, at least once, my disdain for Times Square.  I didn't mind it so much when I was younger, but it gets all the more irritating to pass as I live on.  I cannot control myself from saying "Nope,", and "I don't want to be here", when I find myself passing the area.    It's an artificially lit outdoor crowded circus: what's to like?  And I mean the clown kind of circus, not the Piccadilly kind, though I've gone off Piccadilly Circus nowadays as well.  IF I'm seeing a Broadway show, I must go there as a necessary evil, but even then I'd rather not linger outdoors.

There are a few side streets off Times Square that I can tolerate, because side streets in general are usually by nature quieter, even with theatergoer spillage.  So, to find a cafe right in "Hell's Kitchen" that is not (yet) a chain, and had welcoming space to sit and relax and have my cheat coffee, was a life bonus.  Welcome to Bird & Branch!

I think I've mentioned my cheat coffee days before.  Though I love tea, sometimes I crave coffee, but it rarely agrees with me.  I try to have a latte of some sort once a month, so the craving is settled, but my health isn't destroyed.  On this occasion, I was suffering from the remains of another cold - the gross kind where dairy is out of the question.  So I chose a Blackbird, a signature drink of theirs that contains macadamia milk and blackberry syrup.  It was gorgeous, though I will say you have to be in the mood for that blackberry flavor.

Just me, a fox. and a bird living in harmony.

When I arrived, there were a few people on one side of the shop, and an empty table that could sit four people comfortably.  As always, I prefer to sit in a less populated spot, and with my need to blow my nose grossly, I thought a slight quarantine would be best.

I felt as if I were far removed from the busiest part of Midtown.  Got some writing done, felt like I was on a mini-vacation...until a man and his daughter? came and sat down at my table without asking.  Why do people do this?  There was at least one other table open, but they had to just plop down during non-rush hour and spoil my peace.  Without asking.

Do I expect too much?  Possibly, but it just took me out of my happy mood.  I just don't get why people can't even ask.  It's making my efforts to find nice cafes in New York nearly impossible.  How do they know I'm not contagious?  (I might have been, the cold was a few days old at that point.)  Also, what if I'm meeting someone?  I just don't understand the lack of courtesy.  I never will.

I do want to return, to try their pastries which looked amazing, and their tea because I must.  I'll just have to get one of the smaller tables or learn how to give Zenobia-like looks of death (not that that deters Freddie, so never mind.)

If you're not a complete neurotic like me, or even if you are, do visit Bird & Branch if you're in the area.  The name itself makes it worth it, as does its menu.

Love planty plants in my cafes.

Pretty and pristine at once.


07 February 2019


As y'all now by now, my sister Bonnie lives in Texas.  Surprisingly (to me, anyway) there are many, many coffee destinations, which also tends to translate to tea destinations.  That's because these places likely carry decent brands of tea, so although they may focus on the coffee, you can be like me and get a nice herbal blend, or even a decent Breakfast blend, and a pastry, and curl up with a book to pass the time. 

My sister knows how much I love this, and even more so, she knows how much I love places that aren't overwhelming.  So when she texted me about a new spot she visited, she said "they have a good tea selection too and some real cozy nooks", I nearly booked a ticket right then and there.

She's not the only one who knows how to lure me.  My good friend in Florida shared a picture from Instagram of a cafe with walls full of books.    That and being tired of the winter sorely tempted me to check my miles (which are much lower than they should be.)

I'm not really in the mood for travel at the moment, though.  I've had some changes at work recently, which I haven't come to terms with mentally.  Did I mention I don't like change?  The cats at home are still not best friends, so I don't want anyone else to have to deal with them yet.  My finances are pretty sad, and though a No-Spend month/year has proven difficult to carry out, I've cut down on quite a lot of unnecessary shopping.  Food and cat items are enough to knock my budget senseless!  Even so, I'm desperate for warm, cozy, snug, relaxed moments, and though I get a few of these at home when the kitties are both napping, I find a decided lack outdoors.

I get that I live in one of the busiest cities in the world.  It doesn't make for easy locating of snug hole-in-the-wall cafes.  I keep looking.  Note I said snug, not smug.  That I can find in spades.

Madame Sou Sou is not a bad choice.  It's a little pastry cafe two blocks from the Astoria Bookshop, but each time I've stopped by, despite it nearly always being the weekend, I manage to find a nice table in the corner.  Even when there are plenty of people there, it doesn't feel oppressive.  And so far I've liked everything I ordered from there.  I'm afraid to devote a whole post on this cafe, because if it catches on too much it'll become...the dreaded word...packed.

So I'll whine on.

Some people love a bustling cafe.  Lots of chatter, people to and fro, and caffeine!  For me, this is the recipe for a panic attack.  I hate loud voices, chewing noises, and blaring music.  I firmly dislike being brushed against as I'm trying to read or write.  It's bad enough I have to deal with this on my commute.  The problem is that this is almost inescapable in New York.  If you've found a quiet table, someone will want to share the table with you.  If you're reading, the guy at the next table will want to talk about what you're reading.  Though I can't say I've never initiated a conversation out of doors, it's often not what I'm after when I'm on my own.

Of course, some of this problem is down to real estate, because what else is new?  It is difficult to open and maintain a business profitably because most businesses rent, and rent in New York is ridiculously high, both for residences and shops.  So a cafe, for example, can't always offer the luxury of opening a place full of tables with their own elbow space, and cozy enclaves.  I get that.  I don't like it, but I get it.  Recently I tried out Ateaz in the Upper East Side.  Its widest appeal for me was that it had a decent amount of stretching room, and tables by the window where you could both people watch and be away from actual people.  I visited in the evening, which means it may be more populated at different times, but this at least was a plus for them.  I didn't care for their spinach pie, but I'm from Astoria, so the bar is set high for me (spanakopita!)

This is not something affecting my daily quality of life, but it would be just fantastic if I could map out more tea/coffee spots that are friendly to my senses.  Bonnie has done this for me in San Antonio - everything is bigger in Texas, but in spacing things out you end up finding privacy - but the struggle continues in New York.   It's not always easy in London, either, and I wouldn't mind having ample opportunity to find some real cozy nooks there!  Alas, the budget.

Suggestions are welcome.

The big advantage of San Antonio is bigness.

10 January 2019

Freddie Purrcury

When I envision an ideal living situation, it's usually in a cute cottage surrounded by a manageable garden and some wildflower space. The cottage has a baking-friendly kitchen,  is stuffed with books and cozy reading nooks (at least one window seat), and there's at least three cats in residence.

I have the books in my railroad apartment in Astoria,  plants that tend to die, and have had up to three cats at once in the past. I also have mild allergies and a budget. So I've been down to Zenobia for five years now.

It wasn't a bad arrangement. Zenobia is friendly (to me), and playful for her age.  I'm sure she would be fine with keeping it just the two of us.  But lately I was drawn to the idea of having another kitty, preferably a boy,  but not a kitten.  I'd also never had the chance to adopt a cat from a shelter. So I took to the internet, and found a local spot that didn't make you give blood in order to adopt.

There are always adoptable dogs and cats in shelters, but a match is not always easy to find.  For instance, on my first visit there were some bonded pairs, which basically means you have to adopt them together.  I think that's wonderful, but I'm not up to having three cats at the moment.  It was okay with Bubuck and Moofer back in the day, but that's because Zenobia was young and she'd already met them both.  I didn't want to overwhelm her (or my above-mentioned allergies and budget). 

I didn't find my match on my first visit, but I didn't give up.  On my second try, upon entering the cat room, the first kitty I spotted was not in one of the cages, but a little room near the kitten area.  As soon as I saw the big ginger lounging behind the glass, I asked about him.  The volunteer said 'that's Frederico', and I had to know more.  So she took me inside.

'Frederico' shared the room with two other kitties names Sylvester and Tweety.  Neither of them seemed interested in me, but Frederico approached straightaway.  And sparks flew. No, literally.  It was cold out, and I gave the poor guy a little shock as he went to sniff my finger.  But he was obviously social, and I fell in love.  The volunteer read his history: he was an owner surrender, which was all I knew about his previous life.  That and he had ingested dental floss a few years ago and had to have it surgically removed.  And he was seven years old.  That was a little older than I'd expected, but I figured he'd be much calmer than a kitten, and Zenobia would appreciate that.  He also had a slightly scrunched left ear, but there weren't any health issues related to that.   I wanted to hear his voice, but all he managed were the little rrrrp and mrrr sound effects, which probably sealed the deal.  Any cat who simultaneously reminded me of Cinnamon and Moofer was okay by me.

The adoption process takes time, so I had to return the next day.  I arrived at opening time with my carrying case, and after some consultation and paperwork, we were off!  I took him on the bus, which I thought would be an easy ride as it was midday.  I was wrong, but I was also impressed by how quiet he was.  Zenobia would have been in an uproar! (not that I'm comparing...)

I'd hoped to get him into the front rooms without any fuss, and keep the two cats separated for a few days, but before I could take my coat off, Zenobia was at the carrying case sniffing, then hissing, then wheezing dramatically. I spirited him off to the front rooms, shut the doors, and let him sniff around. 

The first day and night I had a quiet boy who hid under the bed and had a normal appetite, and was cuddly when I came to visit him.  I still spent as much time as possible with Zenobia, as I wanted her to feel like I hadn't forgotten her in favor of a younger model. I was starting to regret my new name for him: Freddie Purrcury.  I thought it would be an easy change from Frederico, and a chance to finally name someone after my favorite singer.  With the ear and the ginger fur he could have been Vincent Van Gogh, but that didn't roll off my tongue.

By the second day Freddie had found his voice. And he used it!  He was no longer satisfied with two rooms (bigger than quite a few New York apartments, but after all, his namesake had lived in a mansion in Kensington.  Now, I like the sound of little kitty mews, and the occasional howl, but I also suffer from a mild but nagging case of misophonia, and persistent yowling and door scratching was interrupting my beauty sleep.  So I did what has always worked when faced (or eared?) with a snoring roommate: kept the TV on full blast.  It's loud, but it's my choice, and I was able to rest somewhat.

After a couple of days, I brought the kitties together.  Zenobia's first response was a repeat performance of wheeze-fest.  Then the hissing commenced.  This was not a love match.  In fact, it was a crisis.  She stopped eating for a couple of days, lost weight, and found herself back at the vet.  She will be okay (for now), but I reminded her she was a century too late to protest for women's votes, and got her all her favorite canned food.  And I let her tell me where she wants to eat.  Yes, she's spoiled, but she's earned it - and at last she has the evil sound effects to complement her resting death glare.  

As soon as Freddie had a chance to explore the whole apartment, I learned that he truly is a combination of many of the boy cats I've known:  he has the high jump of Cinnamon (and the sudden poofy tail), the little grunts and love bites of Moofer, the ability to find and tear through any package of cat food, cat nip, or treats that is not put away under lock and key, like Moofer and Bubuck, and the weird face licking of Chubby (my fur "nephew" of old).  Maybe girl cats do these thing too, but not the ones I've known.  Zenobia scratches furniture (and Freddie scratches the furniture Zenobia doesn't bother with, like my swivel chairs), but she's never been terribly curious about every space in existence.  She's not even a window cat.  Freddie is, which I wouldn't mind, except he nearly ended the household by turning one of the stove knobs on his way to a kitchen window.  It's a good thing I have a sensitive nose!  So I'm on my toes.

Freddie has been part of the family for nearly a month now. Aside from learning to deal with his active nature  and morning caterwauling, and Zenobia's demonic noises (they get more and more creative), I've loved having another kitty at home.  Now I just need the cottage.

The closest she'll get to him

Get off the counter!!!!

Long boy