Eats: You call that Jewish deli? Oy vey.

Heaven, also know as Ben's Deli, Boca Raton, FL.

Heaven, also know as Ben’s Deli, Boca Raton, FL.

As much as us traditional Jewish deli (i.e., old) fans want things to stay the same, time marches on.

We once thought any deviations from plain or marble bagels or potato or kasha knishes were an abomination. Still are, in my book.

Now I see a spinoff of one of my favorite places, Russ & Daughters on NY’s Lower East Side, is offering halvah ice cream with salted caramel.

I only take my halvah whole, and chocolate-covered. A Planet Lippstone tradition that goes back to Daddy Lippstone. But guess I shouldn’t knock it until I’ve tried it.

So here are some cool-sounding places to try the latest in Jewish deli, if you can stomach it. And as the famous saying goes, You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy.

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Let’s Paws 2: Clearly not cut out to be a service dog

Like every doggie mom, I confess: I look at noble and selfless service dogs like Liz and sometimes wonder: Why can’t my pet be like that? Even a little?

Ginger bed

It’s clearly not in our dachshund Ginger’s genes. Oh, she’s a service dog, all right. She’s the one being waited on.

Regular dog food? Maybe one bite, and then the snout turns up and she saunters away. Feh. Believe me, we’ve tried everything short of chewing it for her.

And I’d like to say it’s because she’s so old and finicky. But truth is, she’s always been this way.

I’ve written about her a lot. The short version: Found out I-95 in North Carolina as a pup. Doesn’t play well with other dogs, to say the least. Doesn’t like everyone. We don’t know if she was abandoned or bolted, but either one is feasible, given her temperament.

Now that she’s almost 17 and has advancing kidney disease (I thought she was older, but was wrong), she’s mellowed a lot — but still is the neighborhood loudmouth. Which, as one of our awfully nice neighbors recently said, is good. All that barking shows she’s still kickin’.

We do what we can. Because of her kidneys, she has to go out constantly. (Mitch has the night shift; lucky guy.)

Hand-feed her sliced turkey. Give her fortune cookies, her fave snack.

Ginger fortune cookies

The good folks at our local Chinese restaurant are now used to me coming in and asking for a ton at a time. I’ve explained to them that theirs are better — the ones you buy in the supermarket are too hard for her to chew. (Her stuffed toys have more teeth at this point.)

Ginger IV

And because she runs the risk of dehydration from her kidney disease, we give her fluids under the skin twice a week. Actually, Mitch does it because I’m too squeamish, so I’m there to hold her in place.

She also gets Pepcid twice a day for her constantly gurgling stomach. And meds for high blood pressure.

gingy-belly

We’re happy to wait on our lady of leisure. What we get in return are kisses, snuggles and (what appear to be) looks of contentment. Like she can’t believe her good fortune with us, her fourth family.

And that’s enough for us.

 

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Let’s Paws: A dog’s devotion on Memorial Day, and every day

A young man with his whole life ahead of him. Then, Iraq.

He’s left with a broken mind and body, as well as a broken marriage. His law degree is of no use because he can’t use that part of his head.

At 33, he has to move back in with his parents, who help him pull through — and also help him with his daily round of 21 pills he says he needs to survive.

Feeling useless and depressed, he meets Liz, who only has eyes for him, and makes him feel like a whole person again.

Read on.

 

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Bacteria on a plane. This is no movie.

Airplanes are full of germs. Now there’s a surprise. Pack scads of humans into a bus with wings, and what would you expect?

We already know airplane bathrooms are the worst. Do you wipe down the sink and counter as a “courtesy to the next passenger”, as the friendly signs often suggest? I don’t.

And by the end of a long flight, with overflowing trash receptacles and slimy sink, I can’t wait to get in and get out. I’m not about to start cleaning; let’s face it, it wouldn’t matter anyway.

But this story goes into a lot more specific detail about what could be lurking around your seat. A little MRSA with your inflight magazine? How about a dash of E. coli with the pretzels and that Coca-Cola Classic?

We also know how thorough the “cleaning” is between flights. When there are delays, as is often the case, who’s got time to really do anything?

Not the best way to go through life.

Not the best way to go through life.

I’ve been traveling longer than some airlines have been in business, and I’m happy to say I’ve never gotten sick from a flight.

I do realize the scary thing about germs now is that they’ve evolved to super-nasty status, and MRSA is fairly common and nothing to laugh about.

The risk on a plane, in my mind? About the same as everywhere else. Don’t lick the tray table or the armrest. Hose yourself down with body wash, if it’ll make you feel better. Keep your hands away from your face.

You could always wear gloves all the time. And not leave the house.

Seriously, as with everything else in life, use some common sense, try not to worry, and enjoy yourself.

 

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My only bad experience with lodging giant Airbnb

Ever since I was a minnow growing up at the Jersey Shore in Springsteen’s old stomping grounds, I fantasized about living on a boat.

When I worked in TV news in L.A. and lived in a box of a studio apartment next to a marina, I adored my living quarters, tiny as they were. But I envied the folks living on boats just across the way.  Looked a little draconian, but how divine to be living in waterworld 24/7.

The dream continued with stints aboard a floating house in a DC marina, a yacht across the street from the L.A. marina and a river houseboat in Paris.

The last two were courtesy of Airbnb, the company I use exclusively around the world.  You may have heard of them. They’ve been in scrapes with cities like San Francisco and NYC because of their business model.

Airbnb members can choose to rent out everything from a treehouse to a boat to a camper to a private room to an entire house. At often a fraction of the cost of a hotel. I love the idea. It’s a chance to stay in real homes in real neighborhoods with real people.

It saves money, and in the case of renters, can be a lifesaver for them, too. I’ve had hosts tell me if it weren’t for Airbnb income, they’d be out on the street. A win-win, as far as I’m concerned.

But in some places, it’s more than frowned upon. For instance, folks who are merely renting themselves aren’t supposed to be renting out their space without their landlords’ permission.

It’s also a no-no in co-ops and many condo communities where “strangers” are not allowed.

But everywhere else apparently is fine. Things work on a review system, and renters and guests alike really strive for good reviews. Reputation is everything on Airbnb, and participants place a lot of stock on those reviews.

I’d had nothing but good luck. Until recently.

I was looking for something on Airbnb at the last minute, since I decided to go back to St. Petersburg, Florida, to check out something in the latest installment of my search for a condo to call my own – CondoQuest — I call it.

Hours before my flight, I found a yacht for rent. At $60 a night. It had one good review (believe me, that’s better than nothing) and the price was right. I only needed something for two nights. It looked OK, at least from the pictures.

I emailed the owner, and he seemed very agreeable and eager to accommodate me at the last minute.

Had no problem with me arriving late at night. Said the boat’s Internet worked great, which was important because I need reliable Internet for my journalism job, which I planned on doing per usual while I was there.

(I’m fortunate enough to have a job that I can do anywhere in the world — and have — as long as there’s working Internet.)

Since my trip was going to be short (I was only going to check out one property) I didn’t rent a car this time.

The taxi driver dropped me off and gave me his card in case I needed his services again.

The boat was deserted. The owner had emailed me later that night that he wouldn’t be there, and hid the key somewhere in the stern. (I confess all the times I’ve been sailing, I only had a vague idea what the stern was.)

It was a little disconcerting getting onto the boat with suitcase in the dark, but this klutzy landlubber managed.

There was a fan running, but the air seemed to be barely moving.

No matter. Top priority was a working Internet. I called the boat owner for instructions because I couldn’t waste time. It was almost 11 pm, and work was only hours away.

In the course of the conversation, I noticed the fan wasn’t making a dent in the air. (I later noticed that the listing said the place was air-conditioned, but that ship had apparently sailed, so to speak.)

It’s a bit hot in here, I said. Open up the hatches, he said. Still no Internet; the password wasn’t working. He’d get back to me.

Again, severely challenged in all things nautical, I wasn’t sure where the hatches were, let alone how to open them. I was thrilled that I managed to hoist them open. A screen fell off one in the process. I wasn’t going to hunt for it in the dark.

I was hoping things would cool down. Nope. Air was still soup. Meanwhile, what looked like a cockroach the size of a cat was strutting its stuff on a counter in the bedroom. It ran away before I could clobber it. Ewww. I closed the bedroom door, never to return.

bedroom

Trying to keep my cool, I started texting the owner furiously.

There’s a bug here, I texted. Message back: There are no bugs there. It must have flown in. Put the hatch screens in.

(Even if I could have done that properly, I noticed part of the roof was already open to the elements and there was no way to cover it up.)

Then a smell like ammonia. Part of being on a boat, I guessed. I traced it far as the bathroom. Big mistake opening the door.

bathroom

Inside: Looked nice, but reeking of the smell of a thousand cats letting loose in a litter box. Wouldn’t be using that room either.

No Internet; buggy boat; bathroom from hell. I called the taxi driver. He said to call back in 20 minutes.

That gave me some time to reason with my panicked self. I had nowhere to go and it was close to midnight.

I called the owner. Told him I didn’t want to to leave, but I’d have to because I needed working Internet, for starters. He was very nice, said being on the boat was a bit like camping. (What?)

He was sorry, he wasn’t even in town, and he would refund the money I’d shelled out for two nights. In the course of the conversation, we got the Internet working.

That made me relent a bit. Rather than trying to score another place, I resolved to make do, since I was on a tight budget and it was so late. Like camping, I reminded myself.

What is that smell? I asked politely. I have allergies (borderline asthma), and they’re acting up. (I take allergy medicine but didn’t think to bring an inhaler because didn’t think I’d need it.)

He said something about a problem with some kind of pump and said yeah, this boat’s not the best place if you’ve got allergies. He also advised me not to use the bathroom and use the common bathrooms and showers at the marina dock. Not the best at this late date, but …

couch better

Like camping. I fell asleep on the couch (which I’d covered with a towel — blech), the fan almost on top of me.

boat daybreak

Next morning, things looked a little nicer in the daylight. At first.

Until I felt the smarting welts of a couple mosquitoes who’d laid claim to me. I fended off another trying to dive-bomb. Squish. Blood. Eek.

Dead mozzie, as they'd say in Australia.

Dead mozzie, as they’d say in Australia.

Like camping.

I texted the owner; still trying to be cooperative. Told him about the mosquitoes. Asked if he had any insect repellent. (Wish I’d thought to pack leftovers from a round-the-world trip to some heavy-duty tropics that weren’t nearly this bad.)

There are no mosquitoes in the marina, he said. No word about the insect repellent. Told him I had proof there were.

sink

The kitchen sink was another delight. Something else to avoid.

fridge yoo hoo

As was the fridge, which leaked when I opened it. Got no response when I told the owner about that.

At the same time, I was noticeably more congested from the stench.

Like camping.

boat office

I had written to Airbnb in a panic the night before, after their emergency number for real emergencies, like if you’re in immediate danger, was tied up. They got back to me and apologized profusely.

I told them that I’d told the owner I would stick out the next night, figuring I’d be away all day, and I could just sleep there again. But they said I didn’t have to put myself through that and they would refund my money if I wanted to find another place.

I finished up my work and cleared out in a flash.

marina

Shame, because the marina actually looked very nice. Double shame because another boat owner there told me there was no excuse for the deplorable conditions on the boat. Even if I wasn’t paying top dollar.

I did find something else, on dry land.

bathroom nicerWith the coupon Airbnb graciously gave me, the second place cost $10. And it was so civilized. As Airbnb lodging usually is.

I take it Airbnb gave the boat owner a dressing down, because I noticed in his listing he now recommends bypassing his digs if you’ve got allergies. And still tells prospective guests it’s like camping …

Believe me, while Airbnb is reasonably priced, it’s never supposed to be like camping.

Why he won’t just get rid of the smell is something I don’t know. And I don’t care.

 

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Sometimes, best view is right in your yard

rainbowMushy, but true — as real mushy moments — the kind you don’t experience all that often — usually are.

Somewhere over the rainbow in Pennsylvania. 4.22.14.

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Let’s Paws: Doggone great encounters

What’s travel without meeting new faces — preferably of the canine kind?

Some dogs I’ve had the recent pleasure of meeting:

raleigh dogs

Starbucks drive-thru, Raleigh, NC.

seattle downtown dachshundDowntown Seattle.

seattle starbucks dogPike Place Market, Seattle.

Seattle -- Henry dogDitto.

seattle-ballard dogsBallard neighborhood, Seattle.

seattle alki dogAlki Beach Park, Seattle.

Seattle Gas Works dogGas Works Park, Seattle

St. Pete me and lucky dogsThe lucky dogs of St. Petersburg, Florida — another very dog-friendly city.

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This is exactly why I talk to people on planes

Untitled

Shows why talking to fellow passengers on planes, trains, street corners (within reason), whatever, can be a real trip.

And what you can learn about yourself — and where you’re at in the bigger sense —  in the process. And all that jazz.

Don’t mean to get all mushy. But it’s nice.

 

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12 reasons to love Seattle (besides the Seahawks)

Think Seattle and you think: Seahawks. Space Needle. Microsoft. Awful weather.

Done.

That’s what I thought. Then I discovered the Pacific Northwest’s “Emerald City” has loads of sparkle.

Just back from visiting and entertaining the idea of buying a little place to call my own there, I realize I never could. For one, the gloomy weather.

Before you start arguing with me, that climate assessment comes from a friend who’s lived there for years and loves the place but hates the steady drizzle and having to turn her headlights on at 3 in the afternoon in the winter because while it’s not Siberia, it’s pretty far north.

She, by the way, is looking to move back to southern California because she can’t take it anymore.

(I was fortunate to have her chauffeur me around and offer her very thoughtful commentary in the bargain.)

For another, the lofty prices (this is, after all, the home of said Microsoft and Amazon).

But it had so much going for it, I was almost tempted to try for a toy-size houseboat. For a nanosecond, I thought I could be like those Seattleites, as they’re called, who shrug off all that wet with all that cool outdoor gear. I could be hardy too. Actually, no, I couldn’t.

At any rate, I always love bopping around there, and here’s why you should, too:

1. Combo of LA, New York and Alaska. Seattle is so far northwest, it’s an easy drive to Vancouver, Canada. And it’s an air and ferry gateway to Alaska.

seattle-vancouver better

Like some of Alaska, it started out in part as a timber town wedged between the Puget Sound  – an inlet of the Pacific Ocean — several lakes, and distant mountains.

seattle alaska

Now, it’s a string of eclectic neighborhoods that make one big, cosmopolitan city. Big enough to attract superstars Adele and Bruno Mars. At a fraction of the entertainment cost of NYC or LA, says my friend. And much easier to get to. No LA-magnitude traffic jams.

Seattle wideshot

A typical day could start with a meal more akin to the American South — homemade biscuit and eggs, a la trendy, in happening Capitol Hill

seattle eggs

 … and then browsing at the nearby Elliot Bay Book Company, a popular hangout.

Elliott Bay blur

From there, take in the arts scene in funky Georgetown (situated around the old Rainier Beer brewery).

Rainier

And then watch boats navigate through the Ballard Locks connecting the Puget Sound with Lake Union. (There’s also a salmon hatchery nearby.)

Seattle locks

2. Still, it’s its own place. Though it’s hilly and looks like San Francisco in spots with ahhh views of the sound, it’s its own place. Several locals all told me it’s not as international as Vancouver, nor as small as that other Pacific Northwest city: Portland.

3. Home of the original Starbucks. Yep, it all started here, in the iconic Pike Place Market on the sound, which Seahawks’ star Richard Sherman told me in an email is one of his favorite places. (Pike Place, not Starbucks.)

starbucks There’s really not much to the place. Trust me, it’s a lot smaller than the one in your neighborhood. And crawling with tourists (guilty as charged), so you won’t want to linger long.

4. A haven for coffee lovers in general.  You can get a caffeine and pastry fix on almost every corner. Locals all have their favorites, and there are so many, Starbucks is just a drop in the coffeepot.

roys coffee

And what’s with Seattle and coffee, anyway? The obvious: It’s nice to cozy up to something toasty when it’s dreary and you feel like you just emerged from the shower much of the time. (I was lucky, I’m told, to have experienced two sunny days in a row. That’s why there are blue skies in all my pix.)

My friend also pointed out that the coffeehouses offer a sense of community – a warm hug on a raw day.

5. Great food scene.

I shouldn’t have been surprised that there’s a lot more to the Seattle food scene than seafood and java. Move over, all you other culinary capitals. Seattle’s got just about everything. And does it pretty well.

Extra points, too, for fairly decent Philly cheesesteaks. There’s actually a couple of contenders. I tried one at Tat’s Deli, started by a guy from the Philly area. One gulp of Cheez Whiz, that sinfully great, and so awful for you cheese sauce, and I was transported back to my college town.

philly cheesesteak

6. glassybaby. When my friend wanted to buy me a souvenir, this was where we ended up — and lucky me! This candle company that counts Seattlite and Amazon chief Jeff Bezos as a fan was started by a lung cancer survivor.

Her husband had taken glass-blowing classes and made her a glass cup. She put a tiny candle in it, and the creation became her serenity.

glassybaby

Today her company makes many shades of that original cup, with glassblowers right on site at the main store in the Madrona neighborhood.

7. Great parks – and a real beach. There are many, including Gas Works Park, which offers a particularly nice view. This former site of a gas plant sits on Lake Union, where the floating house in the film Sleepless in Seattle still sits.

gas works park

Alki Beach park is on Puget Sound. It’s got an L.A. feel to it, complete with a couple of palm trees — a surreal sight this far north — along with joggers and rollerbladers.

alki beach

8. Volunteer Park Conservatory. Step into this giant greenhouse filled with exotic plants and feel like you’re back in Victorian London. That’s the idea: It’s modeled after a famed London exhibition hall.

seattle conservatory

9. The Fremont Troll. The Fremont Troll, as the name indicates, is in the, um, Fremont section. A folk tale was the catalyst for the sculpture.

troll

10. The Gum Wall. This monstrosity just may be the most disgusting attraction you’ll never want to rub elbows with. This giant wad of chewing gum has been evolving for decades.

gum wall

11. Seattle Underground Tour. Very touristy, but interesting if you’ve never been. It’s an eerie trek around what were once the main streets and first-floor storefronts of old downtown Seattle.

Seattle  underground

12. Ferries. With all that water, make sure you take time — like I couldn’t — to hop on one of the ferries linking the city to surrounding islands. Others go as far as Canada. North of the city, you can catch a ferry to Alaska.

View of Puget Sound from Pike Place Market.

View of Puget Sound from Pike Place Market.

13. Good transit system. OK, I’m making it a baker’s dozen with a nod to the city’s transit system. And besides, I wanted to include this cool mural in one of the downtown stations.

seattle mural

 

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An experience more addictive than crack

Not that I would know. In my case, more addictive than triple-dipped chocolate malted milk balls or vintage (yep, let’s face it; it’s that old now) Sex and the City reruns.

I’m ashamed to admit it’s consumed every waking minute away from work. Kept me from this blog and off the elliptical machine. Heck, it was all I could do to get my income tax done. How pitiful is that?

I’ve been on a nutzoid ride …

seattle restaurantfrom Seattle

Sarasota Beach1

to Sarasota

Miami

Miami

New Orleans beignet

New Orleans

nyc

NYC

Tampa Columbia

Tampa

St. Pete blow up doll

St. Pete

Raleighchick2

and Raleigh.

Not to mention all the places I’ve traipsed in cyberspace. DC, Annapolis, Costa Rica, Spain.

All in search of the perfect condo.

I’ve been doing this on and off for months now. But my search has intensified in the last month because I’d really like to get something to call my own before prices balloon even more than they already have. So I’ve been a zombie on a nonstop marathon. Fixated. Driven. And, realizing as I’m emptying out my head, totally devoid of humor.

How did this happen? Sheer panic.  Embarrassed to say at this advanced age, I’ve never owned any property. Chickened out a few times, due to money. Which actually cost me much more in the long run.

Now that prices are leaping, I’m trying to keep up and grab something while I still can. Gottafinditgottafinditgottafindit.

Call it Fear and Loathing on the Real Estate Front. I could write a book — or at least a substantive story. And I intend to.

The short version: I now know the difference between a condo and a co-op; what Redfin is (hint, it’s not a fish); what you can and can’t do in a 55+ (oh, the horror) community; why Florida is another galaxy; the crucial difference between a V and an X flood plain (why not knowing could spell real disaster); the intricacies of masonry and drywall; “comps”; and how to ace DocuSign.

I can sniff out the caliber of a real estate agent real quick. And I offer this nugget: A real estate agent is not your bud — no matter how much time you spend together.

I’m not done yet. Not by a long shot, I’m sorry to say. But I am inching ever closer to making the actual purchase. Not quick enough, I know, for those who still care despite my lunacy; and you know who you are.

The addictive part is looking at the myriad of properties online. The pathetic part is looking just for sport. And the really hard part is actually making the effort to move toward an actual deal.

That’s where the gripping fear comes in for me. Can’t make a wrong decision! Even though I know intellectually that I can always sell it. But … but.. what if it ended up like one of those dogs that lingers on Trulia for 180+ days! The ultimate nightmare.

I realize this is strictly a First World problem. And I’m lucky to have such a dilemma.

carry-on better

But trying to grab onto a speck of the American Dream means a lot to somebody like me who’s always been on the go and can stuff almost all her worldly possessions into a carry-on.

(If you’ve gone through all this, you know exactly what I’m blabbing about.)

If you’ll excuse me, there’s 140 new listings on Zillow. And an update from a realtor.

Listen, someone that I think is very together confessed it took her four years to find her place. So I don’t feel so bad …

Thanks for letting me latch on to some perspective. Feels so good to get back to the blog. Wouldn’t dream of staying away this long ever again.

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