Five for the Fourth

Five great books to put the fireworks in your Fourth of July celebration:

1. 1776 by David McCullough

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So good I’ve read it twice! 1776 is an exciting and thorough survey of that most seminal year in our country’s history. If you are only going to read one book about the founding of the United States of America, this might be it. Once you experience McCullough’s genial mastery of America’s history, however, you will probably want to move along straightaway and read the very fine…

2. John Adams by David McCullough

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You could, of course, hedge and watch the also very fine HBO adaptation of McCullough’s book, but after seeing it, you’ll want to read the book anyway. It is that good! Adams did not cut the most fascinating figure, but his thoughtfulness and commitment to the republic was unwavering. His contributions as a statesman and diplomat are writ large in our early history. “The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty.” – John Adams

3. Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow

Winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for biography, Chernow’s splendid book will leave you in awe of George Washington, his wisdom, selflessness and the sacrifices he made again and again to set the course of our country.  For me, this book ignited an interest in American history.

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4. Miracle At Philadelphia: The Story of the Constitutional Convention May – September 1787 by Catherine Drinker Bowen

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The title is not exactly a firecracker, but I find myself recommending this book over and over as an articulate and absorbing narrative of the passionate and often contentious debates that ultimately birthed our nation’s Constitution.

5. The National Parks: America’s Best Idea by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns

This book is a companion to the Emmy-award-winning PBS documentary series and, while I have not read it, I hope to, given that reviewers claim it will actually give you goose bumps! What better way to spend the Fourth of July than browsing through these pages!

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Here’s to the red, white and blue! Happy Fourth!

One chicken that won't be on the barbecue today! (image from Backyard Poultry magazine)

One chicken that won’t be on the barbecue today! (image from Backyard Poultry magazine)

Posted in History, Holidays, Music/Art/Literature/Culture | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Fashion Fourth-ward: Starred and Spangled

It’s been an interesting week for flags.  The Stars & Bars have been relegated to the dustbin; rainbows are flying high. Next week, though, belongs to the Stars & Stripes and there is still time to get your red, white and blue:

Are you a traditionalist? Lots of options on etsy.com

Infinity scarf sold by LePetitMonkey on Etsy priced at $29.99

Infinity scarf sold by LePetitMonkey on Etsy priced at $29.99

Deconstructed Flag Tank, $20.95, sold on Etsy by GoodieTees

Deconstructed Flag Tank, $20.95, sold on Etsy by GoodieTees

Forever 21 has flag scarves priced as low as $9:

American Flag scarf at Forever 21 is just $8.90

American Flag scarf at Forever 21 is just $8.90

At The Gap, you can go either red or blue for $29.95

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Ralph Lauren has always known his way around the American flag, and these platform pumps are on sale for a mere $254

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Lots of scarf options at Nordstrom:

Not into stars and stripes? You can still be red, white and blue for $28 at Nordstrom.

Not into stars and stripes? You can still be red, white and blue for $28 at Nordstrom.

Summer Stripes scarf at Nordstrom for $32

Summer Stripes scarf at Nordstrom for $32

Celebs are starstruck for the Wildfox Seeing Stars Lennon Sweater which retails for $198 at Revolveclothing.com

Alessandra Ambrosio is one of many celebs who have been spotted in the Wildfox sweater, which also comes in navy.

Alessandra Ambrosio is one of many celebs who have been spotted in the Wildfox sweater, which also comes in navy.

More subtly celebratory is Diane von Furstenberg’s Eaden Love scarf available at Shopbop for $168:

Diane von Furstenberg's Eaden Love scarf

Diane von Furstenberg’s Eaden Love scarf

Whatever you wear, Zoya wants to make sure you nail it:

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And don’t forget to fly the flag of freedom – long may it wave!

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Missing Manhattan

Surely a month in NYC would cure me, I thought. Ease the constant tug I feel toward the place, where right now I would be looking down on Central Park watching people taking their dogs for an early morning walk in the park.

In February, the trees were bare but by the next visit in May, the Park had leafed out nicely.

In February, the trees were bare but by the next visit in May, the Park had leafed out nicely.

Not that I mind being here in California, of course. The house finches began their chorus at 5 a.m. this morning, the fog forgot to roll in last night, and thanks to a miraculous recent rain, everything here looks like a park. Not complaining. I just need to figure out a way to be in two places at once.

California also has its charms - our whole neighborhood is like a park.

California also has its charms – our whole neighborhood is like a park.

This trip, all was forgiven from the February visit. The puffer coat was banished to a back closet along with the tangle of winter scarves and gloves. One night, we emerged from Lincoln Center after the ballet and the air was so seductively balmy that we couldn’t resist stopping for a late open-air dinner at P.J. Clarke’s where we chatted until after well after midnight. I thought I caught a glance of approval from Dante, whose statue gazed down at us from his tiny patch of park across the street.

Dante Park, with its statue of the great poet and philosopher, is one of my favorite landmarks in NYC.

Dante Park, with its statue of the great poet and philosopher, is one of my favorite landmarks in NYC.

I experienced the city solo for a week while the CE was off braving the river rapids in Montana. Spring was tenderly unfolding everywhere – such a great time to be in Manhattan!

Hydrangeas in a planter outside The Plaza on Central Park South.

Hydrangeas in a planter outside The Plaza on Central Park South.

I love this view of the lake in Central Park from CPS.

I love this view of the lake in Central Park from CPS.

Flowers everywhere to celebrate spring.

Flowers everywhere to celebrate spring.

There were so many memorable moments with family and friends. Taylor was off roaming Europe but I spent a lovely Mothers Day with Daniel, Angie and her boys and friend, Nicole.

On our way to see Matilda on Broadway for Mothers Day.

On our way to see Matilda on Broadway for Mothers Day.

James is such a great present-giver!

James is such a great present-giver!

James and Daniel. So nice to spend Mothers Day with my

James and Daniel. So nice to spend Mothers Day with my “baby”.

And oh, these gorgeous flowers from Tina!

And oh, these gorgeous flowers from Tina!

This was the trip when I finally got to meet Chris’ mom – and his dogs!

Chris, Marie and Daniel

Chris, Marie and Daniel

Daniel and Chris with Logan and Calvin

Daniel and Chris with Logan and Calvin

My dear friend, Rosanne, stopped for a whirlwind visit on her way to Boston:

Rosanne, my heroine:

Rosanne, my heroine: “Open heart surgery was really no big deal compared to cancer.”

After the CE showed up, our friend, Teri, invited us for a “take the old people to work” day:

We had an amazing time with Teri at Google NYC!

We had an amazing time with Teri at Google NYC!

And the CE spent a happy afternoon in Bronxville:

Selfie with Grandpa and James

Selfie with Grandpa and James

Thomas is known for making the winning hit of the game.

Thomas is known for making the winning hit of the game.

We celebrated my birthday in the city this year with dinner at Balthazar. Daniel was away riding elephants in Thailand, but Chris was kind enough to stand in for him and Taylor had returned bearing gifts from his travels to Switzerland, Germany and Austria.

The CE, Taylor and Chris after a birthday dinner at Balthazar.

The CE, Taylor and Chris after a birthday dinner at Balthazar.

Even with our side trip to Gettysburg, we managed to enjoy an abundance of entertainment during our time in the city. Friends Lori, Lauren and Dan joined me for the spectacular An American in Paris, and the CE and I saw The King and I and Skylight – Bill Nighy is my new crush! May and June are ballet season in NYC and I was lucky to see the NYCB’s celebration of Jerome Robbins with Georgina Pazcoguin stealing the show as Anita in a soaring West Side Story tribute.

New York City Ballet's West Side Story Suite (timesunion image)

New York City Ballet’s West Side Story Suite (timesunion image)

We also saw the ABT’s productions of Giselle and Sleeping Beauty, which featured a Puss in Boots dancer who looked suspiciously like someone we know. Guess that meant it was time to head home to California…

Puss in Boots was one of more than 100 characters in ABT's lavish production of Sleeping Beauty.

Puss in Boots was one of more than 100 characters in ABT’s lavish production of Sleeping Beauty. (image from ink361.com)

“Who needs NYC when you have me right here at home?” said Dodger.

So home we came, and SoCal is a great place to be, but some days I just wake up in a New York state of mind. On our last evening in the city, we had dinner at Robert above the Museum of Art and Design overlooking Columbus Circle. Great view, great city. I guess a month there wasn’t quite enough; I still get a little homesick for Manhattan…

Looking good, Columbus Circle.

Looking good, Columbus Circle.

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Retracing History: The Gettysburg Battlefield

“This is a human story and that is what continues to draw people here today”, said our guide, Larry Korczyk, as we began our tour of the Gettysburg battlefield. We stood on Seminary Ridge, looking out toward McPherson’s farm, where heavy fighting broke out between Confederate infantry and Union calvary on the morning of July 1, 1863. Union Major General John F. Reynolds was killed near here that morning, the first of three days of the costliest battle of the American Civil War. Reynolds was one of the earliest of 50,000 casualties of this bloodiest clash and turning point of the war.

This monument in Herbst Woods marks the place where Union General John F. Reynolds was killed on the first day of fighting at Gettysburg.

This monument in Herbst Woods marks the place where Union General John F. Reynolds was killed on the first day of fighting at Gettysburg.

Generals Reynolds and Buford are depicted on the first day of battle at Gettysburg, shortly before Reynolds was shot from his horse and instantly killed. (image from explorepahistory.com)

Generals Reynolds and Buford are depicted on the first day of battle at Gettysburg, shortly before Reynolds was shot from his horse and instantly killed. (image from explorepahistory.com)

Korczyk led us chronologically and geographically through the three days of fighting during our day-and-a-half tour. The sprawling battlefield comprises 25 square miles and endless human stories of courage and sacrifice. It is truly hallowed ground.

On the first day of fighting, the Confederates drove the Union troops back into the town of Gettysburg, where combat spilled out onto Baltimore Street.

On the first day of fighting, the Confederates drove the Union troops back into the town of Gettysburg, where combat spilled out onto Baltimore Street.

In retrospect, we barely scratched the surface of the stratagems and complexities of the Battle of Gettysburg. But you have to start somewhere, and, for me, it was transformative to see Devil’s Den and the Wheatfield and The Peach Orchard.

Devil's Den, described by historian Stephen Sears as

Devil’s Den, described by historian Stephen Sears as “one of the wildest fiercest struggles of the war”.

View of Devil's Den from Little Round Top

View of Devil’s Den from Little Round Top

The Bloody Wheatfield, where it was said that the

The Bloody Wheatfield, where it was said that the “wheat was tinged red” from the more than 6,000 casualties.

Part of the National Park's Service commitment to restoring the battlefield to its original state included re-planting peach trees in The Peach Orchard, where the Confederates collapsed the Union line on the second day of battle at Gettysburg.

Part of the National Park’s Service commitment to restoring the battlefield to its original state included re-planting peach trees in The Peach Orchard, where the Confederates collapsed the Union line on the second day of battle at Gettysburg.

A visit to Little Round Top is a pilgrimage for any student of the Civil War. We were surprised to learn that the assault of Colonel Joshua Chamberlain’s position there came from the rear rather than the front. Chamberlain was ordered to hold his position “at all costs!”  Short on men and ammunition, Chamberlain elected to fix bayonets and charge down the hill, catching the 15th and 47th Alabama regiments off-guard and effectively saving the Union’s far left flank.

A view of Little Round Top

A view of Little Round Top

The wooded back side of Little Round Top where Chamberlain led his charge.

The wooded back side of Little Round Top where Chamberlain led his charge.

This monument marks the center of the line held by Chamberlain's 20th Maine regiment during the defense of Little Round Top on July 2, 1863.

This monument marks the center of the line held by Chamberlain’s 20th Maine regiment during the defense of Little Round Top on July 2, 1863.

Joshua Chamberlain (Library of Congress photo)

Joshua Chamberlain (Library of Congress photo)

The fighting on Day Three sealed the hard-won Union victory at Gettysburg. It was especially meaningful to view the “The Angle”,  which is remembered as the “high water mark” where Confederate troops suffered a crushing defeat during the ill-fated Pickett’s Charge.

“The Bloody Angle” where the Confederate Army was decisively defeated at Gettysburg.

No visit to the battlefield is complete without paying respects at the Gettysburg National Cemetery.

No visit to the battlefield is complete without paying respects at the Gettysburg National Cemetery.

Markers commemorate unknown soldiers who fell at Gettysburg.

Markers commemorate unknown soldiers who fell at Gettysburg.

As we toured the battlefield at Gettysburg, it almost seemed that the hundred and fifty intervening years between the Civil War and today somehow dissolved. It was truly an opportunity to re-live, and learn from, the history of “The Lost Cause”. On our last evening, we sat in Lincoln Square and watched flocks of swallows dart overhead, just as they did after the great battle. “Toward evening, writes Freeman Cleaves of the aftermath of the battle in Meade of Gettysburg, “swallows in search of food flew low over the ground – a harbinger of rain – and songbirds seemed to be hunting their shattered nests.”

If anything, I am further from understanding the nature of war after this visit, but a bit closer to understanding the Battle of Gettysburg. In addition to the books we read before our visit, I’ll pass along these suggestions we were given for further reading:

Gettysburg: The First Day by Harry W. Pfanz (496 pages)

Confrontation at Gettysburg: A Nation Saved, a Cause Lost by John David Hoptak (283 pages)

Twilight at Little Round Top: July 2, 1863 – The Tide Turns at Gettysburg by Glenn W. La Fantasie (336 pages)

Pale Horse at Plum Run: The First Minnesota at Gettysburg by Brian Leehan (264 pages) recommended as an add-on to Last Full Measure: The Life and Death of the First Minnesota Volunteers by Richard Moe (367 pages)

Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart’s Controversial Ride to Gettysburg by Eric J. Wittenberg (456 pages)

The CE pays respects at the monument to the  fearless First Minnesota regiment at Gettysburg

The CE pays respects at the monument to the fearless First Minnesota regiment at Gettysburg

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Battle Plan: Four Things to Know Before Visiting Gettysburg

A brief but fierce thunderstorm broke overhead as we neared Gettysburg, bringing to mind the sound of cannon fire and cataclysm. This was a long-envisioned visit for me and the CE, both of us having fallen a little ways down the rabbit hole of learning about the American Civil War.

Gettysburg National Cemetery (polloplayer photo)

Gettysburg National Cemetery (polloplayer photo)

A few years back, I delved into a lengthy book about the Battle of Fredericksburg and was gripped by a desire, no, an ineluctable need, to go there and see the Sunken Road where so many Union soldiers perished in December of 1862. There is something electrifying about stepping into history that way, and we agreed over dinner overlooking the Rappahannock River our last night in Fredericksburg that Gettysburg had to be the next stop on our quest to re-trace the tragic war between the states.

It took longer than we would have liked to get there. Life happens. We elected not brave the crowds during the 150th anniversary year in 2013, and then 2014 somehow slipped away from us. We finally blocked off a few days this past late May for a visit, and drove into the lovely town of Gettysburg, freshly bathed from the rainstorm, with sunny skies overhead and American flags waving proudly from every nook and cranny of the Civil War-era buildings around Lincoln Square. flags gettysburg

If you are contemplating such a visit yourself, here are a few things to consider:

1. Read all about it! More than 50,000 books have been written about the American Civil War, and some estimate that nearly half of those focus on Gettysburg alone. The Killer Angels (355 pages), the fictional but historically scrupulous account by Michael Shaara, is an inspiring place to start. I haven’t seen it yet, but the film Gettysburg, adapted from Shaara’s novel, is a favorite for pre-visit preparation. Stephen W. Sears’ Gettysburg (640 pages) is considered by some to be the quintessential book on the subject. For a briefer, succinct and elegant overview of the battle, Bruce Catton’s Gettysburg: The Final Fury is a fast read at 128 pages. Studying a good map before your visit will also be helpful. The Civil War Trust offers an ingenious animated map that covers all three days of the battle.

If you can spare the time, this is a worthy pre-visit read. (amazon photo)

If you can spare the time, this is a worthy pre-visit read. (amazon photo)

2. How long to allot? Where to stay? If your interest level is tepid or you have a car full of squirrely kids who just want to run across the field with a flag and re-enact Pickett’s Charge, then a brief visit might be sufficient. But if you have a scholarly or passionate interest in this battle that was the critical turning point of the war, you will want to immerse yourself for a day or even two. Heck, some people just pull up stakes and move to the lovely town Gettysburg in order to sate their passion for this most poignant moment in American history.

The Gettysburg Hotel on Lincoln Square (polloplayer photo)

The Gettysburg Hotel on Lincoln Square (polloplayer photo)

We planned a two-night visit, and then began to research lodging. There are manifold options; on the advice of a friend we ultimately chose The Gettysburg Hotel. It is not perfect but it is more than adequate and it has a stellar location on Lincoln Square. Some people choose to bunk closer to the battlefield, but since some of the fighting on the first day of the battle took place right on Baltimore Street, our in-town location permitted a history lesson as we walked to dinner.

The Dobbin House Tavern in Gettysburg.

The Dobbin House Tavern in Gettysburg.

3. Where to eat? The historic Dobbin House Tavern may be as close to fine dining as you will get in Gettysburg. I ordered a glass of a house drink labeled “shrub” – a colonial concoction of sparkling wine flavored with an infusion of fruit juice and vinegar! It sounds odd, but it was very refreshing.

A glass of sparking wine with

A glass of sparking wine with “shrub” at The Dobbin House Tavern.

We lunched one day at Cafe Saint-Amand on Baltimore Street. There is no Starbucks in the town center, so Cafe Saint-Amand is your best (and possibly only) bet for a morning latte. We also dined at  The Pub & Restaurant across from our hotel on Lincoln Square and enjoyed very friendly service from our waiter, Nick, for dinner on our second night at One Lincoln.

Chili Bread Bowl at The Pub & Restaurant, Gettysburg

Chili Bread Bowl at The Pub & Restaurant, Gettysburg

And while dessert is not an approved menu item for me, we couldn’t resist a visit (okay, two visits) to Mr. G’s Ice Cream Parlor on Baltimore Street, a gathering place for locals and tourists alike.

You can get homemade ice cream and sarsaparilla at Mr. G's.

You can get homemade ice cream and sarsaparilla at Mr. G’s.

4. Consult the experts. I tend to glaze over at the thought of guided tours. Too much commitment. I get antsy. But visiting Gettysburg without a tour guide would be like asking Dante to navigate the Inferno without Virgil. Whatever you think you know about the Battle of Gettysburg is a speck in a gnat’s eye compared to the cornucopia of knowledge a Licensed Battlefield Guide has in his pinky finger.

I’d read that you can swing by the Visitors Center and engage a guide on the fly, but our hotel desk clerk advised that we would need to arrive promptly at 8 a.m. to guarantee guide availability. I’m all for getting an early start, but wasn’t sure I would be properly caffeinated by 8 a.m. Fortuitously, on the evening of our arrival in Gettysburg, we happened into local bookstore For the Historian, where knowledgeable proprietor Larry Weindorf  gave us a card for battlefield guide Larry Korczyk.

Not-to-be-missed bookstore at 42 York Street in Gettysburg.

Not-to-be-missed bookstore at 42 York Street in Gettysburg.

Guide Larry Korczyk and the CE at Spangler's Meadow on the Gettysburg battlefield.

Guide Larry Korczyk and the CE at Spangler’s Meadow on the Gettysburg battlefield.

Korczyk assured us that any number of licensed guides could provide the same level of expertise and enthusiasm as he did, but we can’t imagine a more lively-narrated or comprehensive tour than he provided. He tailored the tour to our interests and provided an unforgettable survey of the epic Battle of Gettysburg.

History lifted off the page over the day and a half of our tour. A visit to Gettysburg instilled for us a new appreciation of what it cost to hold our nation together and assure that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

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Next up: highlights of our battlefield tour

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Road Trip: Valley Forge

A funny thing happened on our way to Gettysburg – we ventured off the beaten path and somehow slipped back another century in time.

We set off from the city on a fine spring morning. As happens every time I cross the Hudson, I found myself humming Simon and Garfunkel’s America at the first sight of a New Jersey Turnpike sign.

…counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike,

we’ve all gone to look for America…

“We’ve all gone to look for America” (image from mlive.com)

And, indeed, I guess that is what we were doing; looking for America, teasing away its layers of history, one road trip at a time. This trip, we were headed for Gettysburg, with a vague intention of a scenic drive through Pennsylvania’s Amish country. Heading a bit southward instead of due west, we saw signs for Valley Forge and decided to take a detour and wind backwards in time from the Civil War to the Revolutionary War.

“The March to Valley Forge” (image from mountvernon.org)

A few years back, I read Ron Chernow’s fine biography Washington: A Life and it spurred a nascent interest in American history that had somehow failed to sputter to life during those droning fifth period high school classes taught by the wood shop instructor. The clock ticked ever so slowly back then.

Excellent read! (image from lifehack.com)

Excellent read! (image from lifehack.com)

David McCullough’s John Adams was another book that brought the American Revolution to life for me, as did David Hackett Fischer’s Paul Revere’s Ride. The clincher might have have been the dully named but quite readable Miracle At Philadelphia: The Story of the Constitutional Convention May – September 1787 by Catherine Drinker Bowen. The rusty wheels of my brain slowly clicked and whirred and I belatedly came to realize the dire risks and grim sacrifices that were made to wrest the colonies away from the tea-taxing British and into a country dedicated to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Remaining mindful, of course, of Benjamin Franklin’s quip:

“Well, Doctor”, Franklin was queried, “what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?”

Ben famously replied:

“A Republic, if you can keep it.”

The getting of that republic was no easy task. As Thomas Paine wrote in his tract, Common Sense, “…these are times that try men’s souls”. As the hardbitten winter of 1777 wrapped its grip around the northeast, it was a time that tried men’s bodies and spirits, as well.

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The Continental Army, under the leadership of General George Washington, was shabby, ill-equipped, ill-fed and rife with typhoid, smallpox and pneumonia. It is said that two out of three men had no shoes. When they stumbled into Valley Forge in December, 1777, there were no guarantees that this ragtag army would one day be victorious over the British.

You can step inside a hut just like the ones built by the Continental Army at Valley Forge. (polloplayer photo)

You can step inside a hut just like the ones built by the Continental Army at Valley Forge. (polloplayer photo)

Washington was revered by his men in part for his insistence on remaining with them through all trials, including this harsh winter encampment chosen for its strategic location near British-occupied Philadelphia. Twenty miles to the northwest, Valley Forge was near enough to remind the British of the Continental Army’s presence and far enough to prevent a surprise attack by the redcoats.

Washington's headquarters at Valley Forge.

Washington’s headquarters at Valley Forge.


gw sleeping quarters valley forge

Washington’s sleeping quarters at Valley Forge. (chicken emperor photo)

During that winter, the Continental Army was solidified as a fighting force through disciplined training and through Washington’s ultimately successful attempts to persuade Congress to provide adequate supplies for his troops. By February, it was learned that France would lend much-needed support to the colonists and in June, 1778, the renewed army marched out of Valley Forge and re-took Philadelphia.

George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette at Valley Forge (wikipedia image)

George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette at Valley Forge (wikipedia image)

A visit to Valley Forge is a great opportunity to brush up on history, but it is also a lovely destination for hiking and fishing. The park boasts thirty miles of hiking trails, scenic picnic areas and trout-fishing streams.

A Revolutionary War cannon overlooks a meadow of the 3,500-acre park.

A Revolutionary War cannon overlooks a meadow of the 3,500-acre park.

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It was well worth our detour to visit Valley Forge. If you go, stop first at the Visitor Center where you’ll find a very informative mini-museum and helpful staff who will give you a map marked for a driving tour. All told, we spent maybe an hour and a half there, but you could easily spend twice that amount of time, especially if you bring a picnic lunch. As mentioned above, the park is a hiker’s paradise, and, best of all – dog-friendly!

The National Memorial Arch at Valley Forge

The National Memorial Arch at Valley Forge


The CE poses with Revolutionary War-era soldiers. He deeply desires a tricorne hat!

The CE poses with Revolutionary War-era soldiers. He deeply desires a tricorne hat!

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Table For One: Dining Solo in NYC

Ten days alone in Manhattan! I wasn’t sure whether to rejoice or hire a bodyguard. I mean, I’ve spent enough time in the city to know uptown from downtown (despite my propensity to exit the subway and head the wrong direction), but I’ve never been a one-woman act here before. And perhaps it did not bode well that the day after I arrived, some madman was wielding hammers at unsuspecting women in Union Square and thugs were mugging people in Central Park.

Should I just stay in and let the pizza boxes stack up until the CE arrives?

Cooking, by the way, was out of the question. We made a vow the day we closed escrow on our little apartment that our minuscule kitchen would function as a mud room and a storage facility, but cooking? Never! For us, food preparation describes popping the plastic lid off of a container of trail mix, and that’s about it. Dinner is served!

But woman does not live by trail mix alone (if I did, maybe I could whittle down a dress size or two, though…) and at noon on my first day in the city, I sauntered up Broadway to a sure bet for solo diners – my neighborhood Pain Quotidien (60 W. 65th Street at Broadway). A hallmark of each of the chain’s 30+ eateries in the city is the communal table, where you can enjoy your solitary meal amidst the similarly spurned or perennially anti-social diners.

A typical communal table at Le Pain Quotidien (image from lepainquotidien.com)

A typical communal table at Le Pain Quotidien (image from lepainquotidien.com)

Speaking of spurned, the reason I was alone in the city was because my beloved CE got a better offer: his sister invited him on a river-rafting trip in Montana, so instead of making restaurant reservations in New York City, he was trying to avoid hypothermia on the Smith River. Two solid days of pouring rain, and, just when it couldn’t get worse, it snowed!

Gail and the CE dodging raindrops in Montana

Gail and the CE dodging raindrops in Montana

Blissfully unaware that he was courting frostbite in Montana, I enjoyed a bowl of chicken soup at  Pain Quotidien. And a cafe au lait for good measure. You won’t get a fancy meal here, but you’ll always get a seat, and never a pitying look from a fellow diner, because many of them are also flying solo.

Buoyed by this success, I upped the ante and went in search of a meal after church on Sunday, alone, smack dab in the middle of the UWS brunch scene.  Surely I would be publicly humiliated and that would give me something to write about, yes? But no. I was swept along with the crowd entering Nice Matin (201 W. 79th St. at Amsterdam) and greeted cheerfully by the hostess. I was sure she would laugh and point at me when I requested a table for one, but instead I was politely led to a premier two-top, no questions asked. The service was excellent, and so was the Mediterranean Lamb salad with cucumbers, tomatoes and feta cheese. Perfect place to dine alone!

At Nice Matin, you can also dine outside. (image from boomerang-dining.com)

At Nice Matin, you can also dine outside. (image from boomerang-dining.com)

For the next few days, my solitude was assuaged by meals with friends and family, but by Tuesday evening I was flying solo again. It was a balmy spring evening and I walked up Columbus Avenue to peruse the options. I stopped in at Ella Kitchen & Bar (249 Columbus Avenue at 72nd St.),  a casual eatery I hadn’t noticed before, but then, the last time I was in the city was during zero-degree-wind-chill February and we weren’t really looking for outdoor cafes.

With plastic lawn chairs and a menu boasting tapas and small plates, this looked like a sure bet for a lonely diner, and so it was.  The service was friendly and the food was healthy and fresh. It’s a nice addition to the UWS.

Tomato salad at Ella Kitchen & Bar

Tomato salad at Ella Kitchen & Bar

Hummus at Ella Kitchen & Bar

Hummus at Ella Kitchen & Bar

The next day I had appointments in Midtown and stopped by the busy Brasserie Ruhlmann (45 Rockefeller Plaza at W. 50th St. between 5th and 6th Avenues). I expected to be shunned to a seat on the side terrace, but I was promptly seated at a prime table and enjoyed my favorite item on their menu; the Grilled Branzino with couscous, fennel, chickpeas and lemon vinaigrette.

Brasserie Ruhlmann's Grilled Branzino (image from opentable.com)

Brasserie Ruhlmann’s Grilled Branzino (image from opentable.com)

You’ll notice I had thus far skirted the concept of fine dining, choosing restaurants where the unescorted diner is not a total anomaly. But one evening, I had a ticket for the ballet at Lincoln Center, and was so tempted by the ease of dining on site at Lincoln Ristorante that I presented myself alone there, certain I’d be frowned at and consigned to a table in their version of Siberia. Wrong again. I was seated with a lovely view of the Milstein Pool and promptly served my favorite drink on their menu: the Tramonto Sud, which translates to “beautiful sunset”, I was told. Made with bourbon, Campari, Nonino Amaro and lemon, it is a lovely way to greet the evening.

The meal progression was a bit less lovely. The food was excellent, but somehow, the waiter lost track of me. I will never know whether it had anything to do with my being a solo diner – more likely some sort of cosmic glitch, I think. The dishes were slow to arrive, and, while I did not care that the prix fixe dessert course never materialized, I did become concerned fifteen minutes before curtain when I was still unable to find someone interested in presenting my check.

First course was this lovely salad.

First course was this lovely salad: greens, peas, lava beans, baby turnips, radishes, snap peas and fresh dill in a hummus-inspired dressing.

Ravioli with peas and morels was the second course and it was divine.

Ravioli with peas and morels was the second course and it was divine.

I finally left my table and spoke to the manager at the desk, who was horrified by the misstep and promptly comped my dinner. We have eaten at this restaurant before without incident, so I will give them another chance – who needs dessert, anyway?

A few days later I ventured downtown for lunch at The Standard Grill, which has become the place I go to mourn the loss of my beloved Pastis. The terrace at The Standard, however, is a better than good stand-in. First come, first served, it does not discriminate against the friendless diner, and I enjoyed their Grilled Chicken Salad before heading up the The High Line to walk off the calories.

The Standard Grill's chicken salad with owner Andre Balazs' favorite vinaigrette.

The Standard Grill’s chicken salad with owner Andre Balazs’ favorite vinaigrette.

These adorable salt and pepper shakers kept me company during my solo lunch at The Standard Grill.

These adorable salt and pepper shakers kept me company during my solo lunch at The Standard Grill.

For my next lunch, I stayed closer to home, where Bouchon Bakery in the Time-Warner Center is a slam-dunk for those of us dining without companions. Once again, I was amazed to be seated at a premier table with a lovely view of Columbus Circle.

The Cobb Salad at Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery & Cafe at the Time-Warner Center.

The Cobb Salad at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery & Cafe at the Time-Warner Center.

Surely there was somewhere I could go to eat where I would be scoffed at and treated like a leper! Aha, I thought – I will go to dinner at the busy Cafe Luxembourg. Surely they will have the French sensibility there to make me feel inferior, non? No, non. Apparently they are French in name, only, because I was given a banquette seat right by the window and served ever so sweetly and attentively. What is wrong with these people?

luxembourg

It goes on and on. I was given a lovely quiet booth at Landmarc  (Time-Warner Center, 10 Columbus Circle) for one dinner, and a window table over at Beyoglu (1431 Third Avenue at 81st) on the UES for lunch. At this point, I was desperate to be mistreated, and went alone to the Center Bar (Time-Warner Center, 4th floor) to drown my sorrows, thinking surely, here, in a chic cocktail lounge high above Columbus Circle, someone would see that I was an outcast. It was not to be. They served me a glass of rose and the requisite bowl of cocktail kibble without blinking. Shocking!

I can only conclude that the horror stories I’ve heard about eating alone in NYC are the stuff of urban legend. You may not be able to get an 8 p.m. table in the dining room at Gramercy Tavern (although I believe seating in the front tavern room is first come, first served) but you will most definitely not starve on the streets of Manhattan.

All that said, I was pretty happy to see my mountain man arrive safe and mostly sound after his adventure in Montana. Seating for one is fine, thank you, but a table for two is sublime.

Me and the CE, happy to be together in the city!

Me and the CE, happy to be together in the city!

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