Best of 2010

It’s already December 31, 2010. Where does the time go? 2010 was a turbulent year for the world, marred by a recession and an oil spill. But for me, 2010 was a downright banner year. Here’s my personal “best of” list.

Best Night Out:   July 22

Dishes shattering in the driveway.    German beer on tap and bratwurst on the grill.    Kaulsdorf’s best band playing under the stars. My friend Ellen’s pre-wedding polterabend was the best night out of 2010.   Described to me as a tradition when dishes are broken for good luck, the polterabend turned out to be one hell of a party.   Instead of separate bachelor and bachelorette parties, everyone united for a casual backyard barbecue, German-style.   But with Ellen marrying the mayor’s son, the polterabend was no small affair.  We broke dishes, we drank beer, we danced in the rain with a hundred new friends.

polterabend1

Best Day Off:  April 13

If I had written a 2009 review, it would have been filled with highlights of the Yankees’ championship season.   On April 13, 2010, I made the season’s first pilgrimage to Yankee Stadium to see the team receive their World Series rings.   The loudest applause was reserved for a visiting player.   Hideki Matsui, the World Series MVP who had signed with the Angels in the offseason, received his ring last.   When his teammates surrounded him in an impromptu mob hug, I doubt there was a dry eye in the House That George Built.

Matsui Mob

Best Career Achievement:   January 26

On January 26, I walked into 30 Rockefeller Center, signed in with NBC security, and auditioned for 30 Rock.   It was an audition that I had secured all by myself, by catching the eye of the director while working on set the month before.    It was one of those moments when I had to marvel at how far I’d come from a boring marketing job in a windowless room in Queens.  I auditioned for 30 Rock.   Me.   That’s right.   And I’ll be back.

NBC Casting sign

Best Example of Right Place, Right Time:   October 2

I rose long before the sun that day to help my friend Karen with an event in Central Park.   Handing out flyers wasn’t glamorous, but hey, I got paid in cash, saw my friend, and enjoyed a beautiful autumn day.  Then I recognized a former colleague who said his company could use freelance help.    So that’s how a few hours of fun grunt work turned into a month-long stint at Newsweek.

Best Use of $80:    November 9

Eager to learn some new skills and add some lines to my resume, I signed up for a beginner’s HTML and CSS class with Girl Develop It. Eighty dollars bought me entry into four two-hour classes where I learned that HTML isn’t as daunting as it seems.  Next up: Javascript.

Best New Obsession:  July 11

When I first began dating my boyfriend, he told me he’d be out of commission during the World Cup.  Since I wouldn’t be able to pry him from a TV during those four weeks, I joined him and gained a new sporting obsession.   Even though Spain was ranked number one at the start of the tournament, John was pessimistic after years of disappointment by his native team.  But La Furia Roja (literally, “The Red Fury”) just kept winning games.  He told me was excited as I had been for the Yankees last year, except more so, because in all his life, Spain had never made it far in the World Cup.    If they won, he wouldn’t know what to do with that level of joy.  On July 11, we watched nervously as Spain defeated the Netherlands in the final minutes of regulation.    I still don’t think John has processed that Spain actually won the World Cup.

Best Tribute:  April 10

Grandpa

This year, my family lost our patriarch.  My grandfather was one of the last surviving veterans of World War II.  He fought in North Africa and Europe, including the Anzio beach landing.   He raised six children and guided five grandchildren.   He found true love the second time around, marrying the love of his life at age 55 and staying by her side until he was 92.   On April 10, with an Army bugler playing Taps and a Champagne toast, we bade farewell to this great man.

Those are just some of the highlights of an amazing year.   I can only hope that 2011 will bring you as much prosperity and happiness.


Quidditch World Cup in New York

99 Problems, But a Snitch Ain’t One

quidditch shirts photo

Living in New York has taught me one thing above all else. When it’s sixty degrees in November, SEIZE THE DAY. Go outside and enjoy that warm sunshine, because this day could be last balmy day for five months. This Sunday was one such day, too warm to spend inside. Sandwiched on NewYorkology.com between walking tours and string quartets, one listing stood out: free Quidditch World Cup.

Dude, I am so there.

Despite having read (and re-read) all of the Harry Potter books, I didn’t know quite what to expect from live quidditch. Two blocks away, I heard cheering.   Though the atmosphere was jovial, I quickly realized that these quidditch players weren’t joking around. Even though they ran around on brooms and often in capes, these players want to win as much as any other athletes.

Emerson quidditch team photo

Quidditch could best be described as a cross between soccer, dodge ball, and basketball. With three referees, one snitch runner, seven balls and fourteen players running around on brooms, quidditch is organized chaos. On each team, three chasers take the quaffle and score ten points by throwing it through the opposing team’s hoops. Two beaters throw bludgers (dodge balls) at opposing players, who must retreat to their end of the field when hit. Each team has a keeper defending the hoops. Players wear colored bandannas to denote their positions, as only the seeker can chase the snitch.

But how to replicate the snitch? In Harry Potter’s world, the snitch was a flying ball with a mind of its own. In the world of muggles, the snitch is a quick, agile runner dressed in gold, with a ball dangling from the back of his waistband. One “snatches the snitch” for thirty points by taking the ball away from the snitch. Easier said than done.

the snitch runner photo

The snitch can fight back without being called for a foul. I witnessed snitches running out of the park, running through other matches, and generally taunting their seekers. One particularly entertaining snitch–the first snitch, ever–repeatedly took down seekers who were a foot taller and forty pounds heavier. According to the Savannah Quidditch League, an ideal snitch is a “cross country running ex-wrestler who loves quidditch.” Bonus points if they’ve taken clown classes.

Quidditch is a surprisingly brutal sport. Chasers with quaffles in hand were frequently tackled. These tackles were not the flag-football variety, but full-contact tackles where someone ate astroturf. All teams were co-ed, and women tackled and were tackled just as roughly as men. No player ever stopped running.

Unlike the fictional version, live quidditch matches usually only last about twenty minutes. Teams line up in front of their hoops. The announcer commands to the teams, “heads down, eyes closed.” The snitch runs and hides, to appear later in the game. At “brooms up,” the teams are off and running. Each quaffle goal is worth ten points, and snatching the snitch is worth thirty points and ends the game. If the teams are tied after the snitch is caught, a three-minute overtime decides the winner. The game moves quickly, and could change in an instant.

I’m hooked. As a spectator, that is. I’d get run over on that field.

Quidditch World Cup poster photoLeave it to a generation that grew up with Harry Potter to bring this game to life. Never did I think I would see quidditch played live, outside of some show at the Harry Potter amusement park. To quote the poster of the Quidditch World Cup, “We hold no illusions about magic, yet consider that anything is possible.”

Congratulations to Middlebury College, the 2010 Quidditch World Cup champions. I’m already looking forward to 2011.

Middlebury College 2010 Quidditch World Cup champions photo

Here are the rest of my photos from the 2010 Quidditch World Cup Final.

Twitter for Skeptics

5 Ways You Can Use Twitter. Yes, you.

“Oh, I don’t tweet.” I’ve heard it more times than I can count. Whether they are skeptics, Facebook-loyalists, or just plain late adopters, people who aren’t on twitter don’t know what they’re missing. Twitter is changing the internet. Will you be left behind?

People who have never used twitter commonly think of it as another version of Facebook. “The last thing I need is another social network where people post every mundane detail of their day.” While there are some twitter users who tweet whenever they pick up coffee (please don’t), twitter is not just a collection of status updates from friends. Facebook and twitter are very different and can be used for distinct purposes.

Twitter is all about who you follow. Unlike Facebook, twitter relationships aren’t mutual, meaning that you can “follow” someone even if they aren’t following you. Fan of Lady Gaga? John McCain? BBC News? 30 Rock? Condé Nast Careers? Follow them on twitter. Your twitter feed will become a real-time news source that is tailored to your specific interests.

That’s when the fun starts. Stay on top of your personalized feed, and you’ll learn about events and giveaways that might not be posted anywhere else. I’m a huge fan of the New York Yankees, so I follow the players, fellow fans and all the sports writers who cover the team. On a day when I had tickets to a game, the beat writers wrote that three of the Yankees pitchers would be greeting fans who arrived at 4:00 p.m. Thank you twitter, for my picture with Yankees pitcher Phil Hughes.

“Oh, that’s nice,” says the skeptic.

“But wait, there’s more!”

You can build your own community by tweeting interesting links, articles and comments on others’ posts. John built a following by regularly posting his beautiful photos of New York City. Soon enough, his fans were clamoring to buy prints of his pictures. Voila, a business was born.

Twitter grants the average person access to people they otherwise may not be able to communicate with. You can send a message to someone, even if they aren’t following you. Just include the @ symbol in front of their user name. Your favorite actor/reporter/athlete just may see your tweet and write back to you, or start following you back.

When my friend’s stepdaughter went missing, I sent messages to several high-profile tweeters, hoping they would re-post it. New York City anchor Pat Kiernan replied that he would check in the news room for updates. To my surprise, actress Alyssa Milano wrote back immediately and asked for more concrete information that she could repost to her one million followers.

By adding a hashtag to my Yankees-related tweets (“Let’s go #Yankees!”), I found other passionate fans from around the country. Their tweets added another dimension to games. In real time, I could see their cheers and learn stats I might otherwise have missed. Two of the Yankees beat writers started following me back, and invited me to drop by the press box before a game. How else would I have gotten to do that?

Here are some recommendations to get you started.

For news headlines: @NYTimes, @CNN, @nprnews, @WSJ.

For a laugh: @capricecrane, @gordonshumway, @shitmydadsays, @thesulk.

Celebrity tweeters: @aplusk (Ashton Kutcher), @mrskutcher (Demi Moore), @rainnwilson, @sethmeyers21, @donniewahlberg, @mindykaling.

For interesting links from around the world: @ebertchicago, @patkiernan, @legalnomads @HAWTaction.

As for me, I’m @Julie_Stone.

If you’re already a twitter user, how do you use the site? Who are your favorite people to follow? What benefits have you had from using twitter?

A Bronx Night to Remember

Since 2002, I have attended forty or so Yankee home games. Dad and I were there for game 2 of the World Series in 2003, when Andy Pettitte nearly pitched a complete game shutout and the crowd serenaded Bernie Williams, whose days in pinstripes were numbered. In 2007, I attended not one, but two games when Alex Rodriguez’s home run count sat at 499, and saw Joba Chamberlain hit 100mph as a reliever. This August, my parents and I witnessed a fifteen-inning marathon victory against the Red Sox. On September 9, my friend Laura and I cheered as Derek Jeter tied Lou Gehrig for the Yankees all-time hit record.

Those games all paled in comparison to last night. Game two of the 2009 of the American League Division Series was the best game I’ve ever seen.

That is why I am here, writing a new post for the first time in months. I want to remember this one. I want to remember what it was like to watch from the left-field bleachers on that surprisingly pleasant October night.

ALDSGame2

Anything can happen in these short division series, so there was a palpable sense of unease in the stands as Twins’ pitcher Nick Blackburn took a no-hitter into the fifth inning. A.J. Burnett pitched well for the Yankees, but lived on the edge, hitting two batters and walking five more. The Minnesota Twins got on the board in the sixth, but Alex Rodriguez tied it up with a single in the next inning. But when the Twins took a 3-1 lead in the eighth, the new stadium became deathly quiet. The Yankees would lose this one, ending their 8-0 winning streak against the Twins and 15-0 run when tied after seven innings.

Or would they?

In every sport, there are an infinite number of subplots, backstories surrounding every player. Tonight, two of those subplots took surprising new turns.

Since 2004, Alex Rodriguez developed a reputation as a high-priced player who couldn’t hit in the playoffs. Coming in to the bottom of the ninth inning, he had already hit 3 RBI singles in the 2009 ALDS. Mark Teixeira, an expensive acquisition, was 0 for 6 in the ALDS until he singled to get on base in the ninth. Then A-Rod came to the plate, waited for his pitch, and sent it flying into the Yankees’ bullpen.

bleacher pic

And the crowd roared. The bleachers shook. My friend Lenny and I high-fived each other and any stranger in striking distance. I felt like I’d had a heart attack. We were all stunned, delirious with disbelief. The game had been over, done, the series tied at one. Suddenly, the game was not over. Suddenly, A-Rod was the most clutch hitter in playoff baseball.

The game continued to go back and forth for two innings. Both teams put men on base and failed to score. An umpire blew a call, but the Twins loaded the bases anyway. David Robertson, in his postseason debut, escaped the bases-loaded no-out jam. We chanted, “Let’s Go Yankees,” clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, until my hands hurt from all the clapping.

The game was still tied in the bottom of the eleventh, with Teixeira, A-Rod, and Hideki Matsui due up for the Yankees. If the Yankees were going to win, it would be in walk-off fashion. Everybody was betting on Rodriguez, the newly anointed Mr. October. I turned to my new best friends and bet on Teixeira, who, along with Derek Jeter, had not received a whipped cream pie to celebrate one of the Yankees 15 walk-off wins in the regular season. I bet on Teixeira, who risked becoming the new playoff struggler with his 1 for 7 start.

Mark Teixeira’s home run flew so quickly that we didn’t know what happened. The ball landed just to the left of us, in left field seats. Was it foul? Was it fair? It was gone! Another heart attack for me. Another walk-off win for the 2009 Yankees.

All 50,006 people in the crowd stood and applauded for a good five minutes. We screamed, we yelled, we high-fived, we hugged, we tried to fathom that yes, that actually did happen. We chanted “MVP” for Teixeira, even though Minnesota’s Joe Mauer has that prize sealed. We all stood in our seats and sang along to Sinatra. “I want to wake up, in a city, that never sleeps….” Do you know what it’s like, to hear 50,000 people ecstatically sing that song at the top of their lungs? It’s a little bit of heaven.

I’d never seen any of that before in my forty games at either Yankee Stadium. Never had I seen a crowd that was so united at the end of the game, that just didn’t want to leave. You won’t read about that in any of the official recaps. But I was there, at the House that George Built. It was spectacular.

Quite Possibly the Best Ad Ever

2009-07-60

Yes, Rafa. It must be love. Love for your incredibly chiseled arms. Oh, what, I was supposed to be talking about how effective this ad was. Sorry, I got a little distracted.

A few days ago I stepped off the subway and like any good New Yorker, I made a beeline for the exit. Then I saw this ad for the U.S. Open and stopped in my tracks. Suddenly I remembered that I had not yet bought my tickets, a must-do even though my budget is severely limited these days.

Advertising has two main goals: either to increase awareness of the brand, or to directly increase sales. For an ad to work, people have to notice it, and they have to remember it. (There is an advertising adage that people have to see something six times before they’ll remember it, hence why you can be bombarded by ads for the same product.) If the goal is to increase sales, people have to be impacted by the ad enough to then complete the purchase.

Rafael Nadal’s ad for the U.S. Open worked on all levels. I noticed it so much that I actually stopped in my tracks and turned around to go back and stare at it. I loved it so much that I took a picture of it. It’s only a matter of time before I click the check-out button on the tournament’s website. Rafa, it’s all your fault.

Beauty in Bedford-Stuyvesant

Years ago, I was asked who my first love was. “New York City,” I said. It was love at first sight for me and New York, from the time I jumped in my first cab and gave the address of the Times Square hotel where Mom and I would be bunking down. That was 1998, and I moved to the city in 2003. While the crowds and costs may wear on me at times, I have never fallen out of love with New York.

One of the many reasons I love New York is because there is beauty at every turn. Like this.

2009-07-13 06.29.29

These stained glass windows line the above-ground passage at the Franklin Avenue subway stop in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Bed-Stuy is a neighborhood that is still a little rough around the edges, where I didn’t expect to see art in the subway. But as I walked through the corridor at dawn on a summer morning, the sun was hitting these stained glass windows, designed by Eric Pryor, just right. And I found beauty in the most unexpected place.

2009-07-33

My City in Pictures

Since returning to New York in October, I have tried to retain the traveling spirit I had while I was on the road. When I can, I carry my camera and attempt to capture the wonder that is New York City. Here are a few of my favorite photos from the last few months. Click on the images to see larger versions.

Worshippers at the Mahayana Temple celebrating the Lunar New Year

Worshippers at the Mahayana Temple celebrating the Lunar New Year

My street after a snow storm

My street after a snowstorm

Cocktails at Apotheke

Cocktails at Apotheke

Vintage subway car at the Transit Museum

Vintage subway car at the Transit Museum

At Obama's New York campaign headquarters

At Obama's New York campaign headquarters

Saturday afternoon in Chinatown

Saturday afternoon in Chinatown

Falling For Cafe Enduro

I like my Prospect-Lefferts Gardens neighborhood. Really, I do, or at least that’s what I tell myself. PLG is right by Prospect Park, the zoo and the botanic garden. Authentic Jamaican beef patties, Trinidadian roti and oxtail soup are available just outside my door. Aside from those exotic options and the local pizza joint, I lament the lack of restaurants in my area. Do I really have to go all the way to Park Slope—or even worse, the East Village—just to have a nice brunch?

I’d walked by Cafe Enduro at least twice a day, every day, since moving to Brooklyn in October, yet I’d never been in. I wish I’d stopped in sooner, because the moment I walked in, I stopped merely tolerating my neighborhood and fell in love with it.

enduro

Cafe Enduro is a cozy little spot, one that makes you feel like you’ve left New York City for the day. Old-school rainbow Christmas lights and decorative wood beams add character to this Mexican joint. I was there at 1:30 p.m. on a Sunday for brunch and got a table right away, a feat that would have been impossible in the Slope or the Village. The prices also reflected that we weren’t in Park Slope anymore. The average price for a brunch entree, not including coffee, was $9.

I tucked into a generous portion of the fluffiest French toast I’ve sampled in ages. The basic serving is $7; adding strawberries and bananas to mine raised the price to $9.50. I don’t know how they managed to make the French toast so soft, fluffy, and almost gooey at the same time, but I didn’t ask questions, I just ate.

Cafe Enduro has a breakfast hash on the menu, not something you see every day. My friend tried the turkey version on a recommendation from our waitress, who said it was “well-spiced.” The hash came topped with an egg and, like my French toast, quickly disappeared.

Next time I’m there for brunch, I’ll try the eggs benedict with chipotle hollandaise. (Eggs benedict are the true measure of a brunch place.) By night Cafe Enduro is a Mexican cantina, so I look forward to sampling their margaritas, enchiladas, and banana fritters with mango cream for dessert.

Note to all my NYC friends: I’ve been coming to your neighborhoods, but now you have a good reason to meet me in my neck of the woods!

Cafe Enduro // 51 Lincoln Road, Brooklyn, 11225 // (718) 282-7097 // Q, B, or S to Prospect Park

2008 Year in Review

Is it too late to look back on 2008, although we’re already seven days into 2009? I hope not.

2008 was an unforgettable year for me. I jumped out of a perfectly good plane, dined with the chief of a Fijian village and appeared on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

I danced the samba during carnival in Brazil, hiked on a glacier in New Zealand and parasailed in Argentina. I met people from all over the world. I crossed the international date line twice and the equator five times.

skydiving
I cheered for Botafogo at Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. I drank aguardiente, Fernet, caiprinhas and kava. I learned how drive on the left side of the road and where to find the Southern Cross in the Southern sky. I got paid to bake cookies and became a Lost Girl. I learned that a visa isn’t a credit card, it’s a major hassle. I got hooked on Vegemite, alfajores and ceviche. I read books by Leo Tolstoy, Jules Verne, Joseph Heller, Isabel Allende and Bill Bryson.

I found paradise. I waddled with penguins, fed kangaroos, held a koala and played with monkeys. I danced the tango, made empanadas from scratch and spoke Spanish with a distinctly Argentine accent. I waded into the Indian Ocean. I found myself in the middle of a major Islamic city at sundown while the faithful broke their Ramadan fast.

fijilunch
I declared my independence and leaned on my wonderful, amazing friends. I started running. I channeled Cameron Diaz for Halloween and filmed a vignette for the WE network. I dialed Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Nevada for Obama and helped win an election. I met a band named “God or Julie,” I was quoted in New York Magazine, and I was sketched on my way home to Brooklyn. I got a column and started a new blog. I turned thirty.

obama

2009 may not be filled with as many exotic destinations, but I hope it’s just as exciting. I hope that when I look back on 2009, my list includes, “I found a job I love.” Maybe I’ll throw some trapeze lessons in for good measure.

Happy new year, everyone. May it be a happy one indeed.

Brooklyn Sting: Say ‘Da’ to Sputnik

The following post originally appeared on Neighborbee on January 6, 2008.

One of the things that I like about being the Brooklyn Stinger is that it gives me the perfect excuse to explore parts of Brooklyn that I otherwise might not visit. I’ve been spending entirely too much time near my workplace in Park Slope, so when it was time to meet my friend Mark for a drink, I headed over to Clinton Hill. If you have to ask where the hell Clinton Hill is, you’re not the only one. Apparently it’s nestled between Fort Greene (home to Target and the Atlantic Terminal) and Bedford-Stuyvesant (home to the Notorious B.I.G.).

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