Thoughts of a Humid Summer Night

Don’t you feel you want to start over sometimes? Turn back time to a few months ago? Go back in the past and make things right?
I feel like this occasionally. Today was one of the days. I was weaving through pictures from winter and spring. What hopeful visions I had then: of warmer weather, a better summer, more interaction with other people, and generally more action in my life.

Now it is already the end of July. Summer is over in a month. Unlike last year and the year before, I do not feel I have accomplished a whole lot this time around. It might have been the unusual working hours I’ve had to endure lately (more to come later) or in general being busy for a full 9 hours a day as opposed to the 8-hour-shifts I had at other jobs. Or maybe the friends who were less responsive this time then they were before. Perhaps I had also busied myself more in 2011 by actively seeking out more events and fun stuff to do. Either way, time has passed by so suddenly, it makes me gulp very hard. In order not to panic I have started writing lists over lists over lists of interesting stuff to do. Hopefully I will be able to accomplish at least half of these before the season is over.

And alas, this time I am not going home for three weeks, so September technically still belongs to my New York summer. Despite these advantages my breath shortens and my palms become sweaty. What if it’s over too soon? What if I miss out on too much? Manhattanhenge, for example, the twice-in-a-year sunset between New York skyscrapers. What beautiful shots the natural wonder would have provided for. In May, after the first chance to see it, I vowed to myself not to miss out on the second opportunity in mid-July. July 11 has long-since passed already and I am still mad at simply forgetting. And for a malfunctioning iPhone alarm.

Maybe I have also become more and more scared of the evitable change lurking in the depths of my life. It is decision-making time in many categories once again. My thoughts linger back to when I first came here and the motives that drove me. I was fresh out of college (three months post-graduation), I had no intentions in pursuing a master’s degree right away. I desperately needed a change to my life and New York brought this change upon me. But my role in bringing this change upon myself has of course been the active one. It truly is about the decisions we make in our lives that bring us to the spot we are in now. And perhaps this is what I am a little bit afraid of. Making the wrong decision, going down a wrong path.

Sometimes a slight depression overcomes me of not having accomplished enough with the resources I have at my hand. After all, I do live in New York, the city of unlimited opportunities. I am repulsed when I see locals here who’ve lived in the City for so long and take everything for granted. It might just be my foreign view of things. But I hope I will never take anything for granted in the Big Apple, will never unsee the beauty of this city.

Perhaps, lately, I have surrounded myself with too many people who have not been creative. A surprising amount of folks have a simple life here. I have never been attracted to them, I have only come to respect them. It is the artists I have started to admire, the people with an open head and dreams yet to pursue if not already in the process of pursuing. It is for these reasons I hope to stay a little while longer, in the right company, keeping my focus straight.

On Research Studies, PET Scans and Opiniated Contributors

New York is definitely a city in which you can accomplish the imaginable. It is also a city in which you can do many scientific things which broaden research and can be mentioned in text books.

Just two days ago Christina from Cornell University contacted me to do a follow-up evaluation of a research study I had been a part of two years ago. Way back then, as it happened to be, I had some free time on my hands, after quitting my full-time job at the awful bar and starting my first office employment in fall. So I decided to make the most use of my time here in Nueva York and scanned through an array of craigslist postings. From the usual “earn money by being a foot fetish model” to “nude pictures taken by sleezy aspiring photographer for less than 50 dollars” you could pretty much find every useless thing on craigslist. Craigslist is a site here in the US that offers many things starting from job/gigs over housing and dating to items on sale – you can find a ton of worthless extraordinary ads on here. But beware of the risks, as 70 percent of these bulletins could mean scam (see NYC Craigslist Ads and Other Scam Stories).

Of course craigslist can also offer some really interesting and challenging stuff, you just have to dig hard enough or be lucky. So it went with a research study I took part in August of 2010. After applying to a rather general ad in with participants were needed for neurological research, I received a rather detailed response back. I was invited to join the Neurological Institute of Columbia University on a Wednesday afternoon.

After making my way up to 168th Street and checking in, I was led down to the basement facilities of the school. Christina and her team greeted me and introduced themselves as students from Cornell University (a renowned college in upstate New York) who were working on their Master thesis. The focus of this study was emotions and stress, a very general but also inspiring topic, I find, with many nips and dashes to everyday usefulness. Being a former psychology student myself, I was immediately taken in by how these studies really work. Since I never had the chance to be a research participant when I had actually gone to school, I was honored to play a significant part in a study that involved such extensive measures as a pre-evaluation, a PET-scan, and a post-evaluation. Wohaa, this is what I had read about in my text books but now I was a proud piece of it all!

Altogether the study took 3 hours and it was paid $30 per participant (which is a good average for psychology studies). The evaluations both did not take much of my time and were fairly easy to conduct (computer and paper measures).

The PET scan, however, was an entire story by itself! A guy called Andrew explained to me what exactly I had to do once they shoved my entire body (feet dangling out) into it. I missed half of it because I was too nervous eyeing this suspicious-looking machine and imagining how it must feel to be stuck in there. Once he actually pushed me in, my phobia worsened. After only five minutes of flashing images and pushing buttons, I had to request to be taken out again. He did his very best in explaining how most people felt very uncomfortable in this environment and that I shouldn’t think about where I am but focus on the images.

A PET scan is a very narrow tube that restricts your body to stay in this one tight location while the doctors/researchers are taking MRI images of your brain. The device emphasizes positron emission of your body or rather head, meaning it makes it easy for neurologists to detect which parts of your brain are active during certain tasks. A great measure in this case, since stress was measured in relation to certain images flashed.

After overcoming or rather ignoring my initial fears, I managed to push buttons and see the pictures for a total of 45 minutes. I am not sure if this time frame is average for these types of studies but I do know that I wouldn’t wish anyone to stay in here for such an extended period of time. I was never entirely comfortable and I would still be anxious to be pushed into one nowadays. I did, however, have to congratulate myself for staying inside for such a long time – a feat never imagined!

After two years the same researcher contacted me again to have yet another post-evaluation taken (paid once again), this time by clicking on a link she provided. It seems that her project is getting somewhere and I wish her the very best for her future as a neuropsychologist and in finishing up her master studies.

Through the same web site, I had once been part of a criminal justice psych study. To date I am unsure as to what they were exactly looking for, but it involved getting into groups with other participants and discussing a fictitious case. The case described how a man had been shot after exiting a gas station up in Washington Heights and how eye witnesses had described the potential shooter. These research studies reimburse their partakers in a descent way. I cashed in another 25 dollars just for being filmed for voicing my opinion on this scenario and only spending one hour of my time at yet another university.

Then, of course, there was the study hosted by a Web organization. They asked me to come in for 15 minutes (15 dollars for this) to try out their Web site and give feedback. The homepage was a new design for shoppers and sellers (think EBay style, only more upscale). It seemed to be in its very raw stages and not much had been implemented except for some large buttons to push, at which one was directed to a total of ten different pages. The web design students were eager to get my opinion once I started my crude criticism and jotted down almost every word I said about how it could look more appealing. I am not sure how their other participants managed to take this study serious but I believe every opinion is helpful in this case.

And so the experiment cycle here in New York goes. Be aware of ads that require you to try out a new means of birth control. I once inquired on this one and received a call back from a nurse who wanted me to try out birth control based on injections. I was required to have sex on a regular basis and to not take any other means of contraception (condoms included). If I were to become pregnant despite taking this dubious means of contraception, then that meant it would have failed. They sorta lost my interest after uttering these last words and I made a point in asking them to delete my e-mail address.

Be also aware of ads that are only luring you into egg donation. And be especially aware of ads that want you to try out free anti-depressant medication after “extensive” evaluation of one day. Oh craigslist, how I love you sometimes!

Where to Buy and Rent Photography Equipment in New York

After completing my first photo course at the FIT (read more here), I have been in and out the photography stores of New York. I thought it would be a good time to share for other passionate (amateur) photographers visiting this city where to get the best stuff at a good price.

B&H, located on 34th St and 9th Avenue:

B&H

The store started out as a photo and video shop in the Lower East Side, where it was owned by a Hasidic Jew called Herman Schreiber. I am mentioning his religious orientation for two reasons: 1) I don’t want visitors from other countries to be freaked out by the Hasidic dress code and hair style dominating the store 2) due to Jewish Sabbath the store closes at 1 PM every Friday and remains closed until Sunday morning. If you are planning on shopping here on a Saturday, you will find yourself in front of locked doors.

The store in Midtown has developed from being solely a photography shop to offering many other products of the technologized world. Aside from camera and video gear, you can buy computers and other accessories here. In fact, when my laptop crashed in 2011 this store was my first option to go to.

Most recent additions of camera equipment purchased at B&H

I also happened to buy my first DSLR camera here less than a year back and am still flabbergasted at the low price I spent and the quality of images I am getting. I highly recommend their used/refurbished corner if you are looking to gain some experience in the photography industry and are still unsure on how many times you will use your gear. I have so far bought a few camera bags and also aforementioned camera here and have had no reason to return the items.

Over in the “new” section, the lens collection is extensive and there is always a helpful employee next to your side as soon as he sees the desperate look in your eyes. If you want to try out a few lenses before buying them, just stand in line for the lens section and have your camera ready. In case you don’t have a camera yet or forgot it, you can borrow one of theirs and shoot a few snapshots. I really like this feature of the store: You have so many options to try out different cameras, different equipment, but you can still exit the store without having to buy a single thing. B&H is a bustling hub at times and its fun just to walk from product to product without the slightest intention of purchasing anything. It offers a great array of point-and-shoots, so don’t feel obliged to become a DSLR addict.

Another great feature of B&H is that they offer free photography workshops throughout the week. Unfortunately, these have coincided with my working hours, but for tourists people who are more flexible these lectures and showings are a great way to take an extra step into the field.

Adorama, located on 18th Street between 6th and 5th Avenue

Adorama

It opened up in 1979, just 6 years after B&H, and is more focused on photography and video than anything else. As a heads up, it is owned by Orthodox Jews, so it would also be closed during Sabbath and Jewish Holidays. While I prefer buying my actual equipment at B&H I greatly appreciate the rental option Adorama offers. Last weekend I rented out a 100mm macrolens from Canon from Thursday evening to early Monday morning for as little as 25 dollars (tax included). Now if this is a not a deal for a lens that usually runs around a 1000 dollars, then I don’t know what is.

The only possible downside is that you need the equivalent of the lens’ worth on your bank account because it will be deducted for the time your lens is being rented. Since I heard the money can be put on a hold for up to 4 weeks, depending on which bank you have, I just gave them a cashier’s check for those three days I had the lens. If you pay with credit or debit card, be aware of the charge that may be taken out of it but if nothing goes wrong, you will certainly have it back.

Customer service varies in this store. I so far had only charming experiences except for one time when I was served by a rather saucy girl who didn’t want to deal with my questions on how to use the lens. I guess it’s not a good time to ask them in times of stress but I still prefer the B&H way of going about.

A 100mm macro lens from Canon I tried out over the past weekend…
… and shot this picture with!

Both stores have proven to be excellent sources for photography-interested crowds and I highly recommend checking them out when you are in the City and have some free time on your hands!

[For more pictures on macro photography go to:

A Picture Every Day: Save My Little Cupcake!

A Picture Every Day: Botanical Garden in Brooklyn: The Shakespeare Garden

A Picture Every Day: Botanical Garden in Brooklyn: Life on the Pond ]

The Euro 2012: New York in the Front Rows!

Jubilant crowds of people jumping up and down, making the bar shake and the waiters despair. Five different tricots watching a game of two teams. Many versions of why the winning team was on top but in the end the fun factor determined how great the game had been.

It’s been a month and I still haven’t had the chance to blog about it. The Euro Cup from June 8 to 30 was a wonderful time for New York to demonstrate how embracing this city is towards European soccer. The bars were eager to show how willing they are to accommodate a large mass of viewers. Many fellow citizens couldn’t wait for their favorite team to win, or at least try to win. All throughout the month of June there was a total of 31 matches being carried out on large screens here in the entire city.

Two years ago the World Cup had already channeled a great interest throughout the New York, with more and more bars showing the games on their screens the more they saw how interested the drinking masses were throughout the four weeks of the tournament. Back then I was still working in a bar, so I had the perfect view on every other event and was able to follow every tedious move of the teams. I had a great time watching the rest of the games in the German Loreley in the Lower East Side or the Austrian Blaue Gans in Tribeca. While the German spot was at times way too overcrowded for us to move more than a few inches and was horded by a moody bouncer who wanted to kick me out for smuggling in a bottle of water (Hello? Dehydration?), the Austrian place was depressingly calm during the final match despite a humorous bartender from Düsseldorf. Yes, the World Cup had definitely been an event the first time around and the Euro was soon to follow in the footsteps of its big brother.

Bars were in it again this time. But surprisingly I was able to find even small joints, such as Bark Hotdogs or other “fast-food” places showing the games on a wide-screen set in their spot. More and more people were participating and this year the American team was not even part of the tourney. Not that it mattered much; most American viewers tend to be on the side of any other country but their own. Italy and Spain always being a favorite, it seems. But also Germany was among the top of the notch when it came to jubilant screams and cheering from the American side. With glowing eyes they witnessed how Deutschland won against Denmark. But with angry and sad faces they saw the same team depart when it came to the Germany losing against Italy in the all-or-nothing match right before the finals.

Viewing at Barks Hotdogs

I had the chance to see a total of 7 games throughout the entire season. Of course some German games had been amiss, especially the beginning ones. Work did not grant me off, unfortunately. The entry game I indeed watched at Bark’s Hotdogs. I remember it well, as I was just recovering from my first summer flu and walked into the joint, wondering what all the noise was about. A veggie burger and soccer – a great way to start viewing the Euro Cup, I find.

Other viewings soon followed. Most were indeed just around the corner from where I live, in Fort Greene and our now favorite sports bar called Mullanes. The American-Irish pub miraculously always had two seats open for my friend and me. After a brunch, which usually consisted of a choice between (veggie) burger and fries or egg dishes, we went ahead and enjoyed what little was left of the game. Sometimes the bartender was entertaining enough, especially in the beginning, but of course towards the end of the season the bar got more and more packed, leaving less room to swing over some well-mixed Bloody’s. Yes, we had a fun time in this bar and I can only recommend it to other sports freaks as the screens are of great quality and dispersed throughout the pub.

Which I cannot say of the Blarney Rock Pub around Penn Station, to which I had snuck out on a typical work day (lunch, of course!). During the losing match between Germany and Italy I had been switching from screen to screen, in a desperate attempt to find a TV without a grainy or a shaking picture. Finally, I found a niche filled with other Germans in the last five minutes (including) overtime and was able to witness the single goal Deutschland managed to shoot to defend their position throughout the game. Yes, it was quite depressing, this day, but perhaps not as depressing as Italy must have felt a few days later in the final game. dirty-laugh

The best experience I had (aside from some Mullanes’ viewings) must have been in the humongous Radegast Hall & Biergarten over in Williamsburg. I was with a huge group of German people and already too drunk to say more than “meh.” Their screen was good, the viewers fair, and altogether this memorable Sunday afternoon made out for a great day which ended hopelessly drunk in the streets of the Burg (Note to self: Do not drink superstrong Bloody’s at Juliette’s before going out for the Euro Cup!).

Viewing at the Radegast

So yes, the Euro in New York: It has been a wide success. And if you’re thinking the average crowd consisted of Europeans mixed with a few Americans, you are mighty wrong in this assumption. I would say the average crowd consisted of 75 percent of Americans and the rest was a mix of South and Central Americans and Europeans. I had Americans explain the term “offsides” to me in a more comprehensive way than any German guy has ever managed to blurb out so my respect for this type of crowd has grown over the past two years. And while Europe is known for its Public Viewing and games under the sparkly blue sky, this approach would simply not be feasible in New York. Thanks to the heat wave and summer (and New York bar laws) it was all shoved in a cool room inside.

Brazil is hosting the World Cup in 2014 and I am already looking forward to it. If I am not here anymore and cannot be in Rio either, I know I will find a good game pretty much anywhere!

The final viewing at Mullanes

The Never-Ending Food Crisis in New York

It’s an issue I have been dealing with ever since I moved here and started buying my own groceries. The first three months were among the most frustrating as I started to realize that this issue would most likely not resolve itself in the way I had intended it to. Because, unfortunately, the human body relies on good nutrition and tasty food. We cannot just live off of crappy 1-Dollar burgers and 2-Dollar-milkshakes and expect our bodies not to collapse after such a mistreatment. High cholesterol, weight gain, heart problems, yes, even obesity – all outcomes of malnutrition. Easy enough, isn’t it? Should be common knowledge by now, anyhow. So why is it that the US of A still has not figured out how to lower their prices when it comes to edible and healthy food? Why is it that whenever I enter a Whole Foods I almost get a heart attack not from the food itself but from the horrifying prices that glare at me as soon as I want to purchase a goodie?

At first I was inclined to just brush it off and see the entire situation as a challenge. I had to either

a) get a job that pays enough to not make grocery shopping my main expense anymore,
b) find a store with less expensive prices or
c) eat unhealthy for a while.

Since a) did not come along until one and a half years later, and c) did not sound appealing to 22-year-old me (after all, we aren’t teenagers anymore, we can take responsibility for our actions), it was up to b) to make out the challenge of the day. And boy, did I grow frustrated in those first three months here. I still am sometimes, but not nearly as much as I was back then. One thing you will never get used to in your life is when the quality of food goes down (rather than up). And this is pretty much what I have been going through for the past 2 years and more.

This tasty selection of cheese costs you three times as much here than it does in Europe

My former roommate suggested Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s as a way out. So while my German friend had solved the food issue with simply going to New Jersey’s Pathmark week after week (and not telling anyone about it anymore, since people considered it the “low” end of the food chain), I dove into the challenge of finding out where good produce can be bought. For the sake of body and mind.

Whole Foods is a great store when it comes to discovering the unthinkable (imported steaks from Australia, hello?) and finding overpriced organic food. I once saw Babybels in the organic section and thought it funny if people bought it simply for this reason. Then I actually saw rich, uneducated Americans buy the brand because they thought it was organic and I wanted to boycott the store. Not enough that people only pretend they care what good food is about but they also seem to lack the knowledge of what to look out for when it comes to splurging your income spending your money on something as valuable as nutrition. After all, we are what we eat, isn’t that so?

Trader Joe’s is slightly better. They don’t solely offer organic food and their breakfast selection does not seem as overpriced as Whole Food’s. But you know why that is so? Because it was taken over by a German in 1979 (the owner of Aldi, indeed) and this influence must have carried over to this time. Trader Joe’s can be roughly translated into Händler Johann but it still does not come anywhere close to the prices a typical Aldi or Lidle or even Rewe would offer in Deutschland.

On the same token, I was deeply de-motivated to pursue any shopping activities with Union Market, an overcharged food market here in the Slope. My friend even joked about their prices when he said he had once gone to the store, bought four items, and paid 100 Dollars total. While he was slightly exaggerating, their costs are nowhere close to a bargain and have made me turn red of anger and disappointment many, many times. I now only use them if I want a piece of overpriced cheese (at least their selection is good) and salad bowl basics such as tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers.

Then, finally, after moving in with the Belarusians, a small break came along in the year-long frustration I had endured. They proposed to check out Brighton Beach Market in order to find nutritional basics that are not completely overpriced and still ok. The first winter I was here I went there a couple of times. Since I was on the F, I had to switch trains at some point in time and scurry over the platform to catch the Q going in the other direction. You can imagine that this is less than ideal when you carry two full bags of groceries with you and just want get home immediately. Their food selection was pretty good, though. It made me come back a couple of times just to try out some Russian imports and to get yelled at the cashier’s for not speaking their language. The produce was at a reasonable price (even lower than the Pioneer in Flatbush, where I had been living), so I thought the trip worthwhile. That was before I discovered Greenpoint and the convenience of living on the G train.

You will need all of your pennies to go shopping for food here!

And then the lack of fresh, green markets. The only ones I have been able to stumble upon are the one at Union Square (every other day starting Monday) and the one around Grand Army Plaza (every Saturday). Two green markets a few times a week in this big, big city? You have to be kidding me! In Europe it is a proud tradition to have one twice a week in even the smallest town buried in the deepest woods of rural areas. So what is up with only offering ten tiny stands here in Manhattan and even less in Brooklyn?

Yes, New York offers great restaurants and it’s supposed to have one of the healthiest food choices in the entire USA. I saw this when I visited other cities and was shocked at California’s even higher prices, Chicago’s so-so healthy food options, and Boston’s fattening fast-food markets.

Still, I wanted to cry every time I walked into a grocery store that had a good name and looked at the price tag. 5 dollars and for a small piece of mediocre cheese imported from Europe? No wonder they can charge 40 bucks a pound for the really good stuff! Do people here really do not know how low the production costs are overseas? It seems that not only nutrition is being discussed enough but also other parts of the food circus.

And then what is the deal with not being able to scrape together a single piece of decent bread? Which does not cost more than 5 dollars for a meager loaf? I was finally able to find a good place in Greenpoint. A conservative Polish bakery happens to make breads and bakery goods fresh every single day, hurray! With 2 dollars for a huge piece of loaf, my appetite had been stilled thanks to Syrena.

But my disappointment into the American food market has equally jotted up a notch. I might be lucky to live in such a multicultural city as New York where the options to discover something healthy at a normal price are higher than anywhere else. But what about the rest of America? Will they ever understand how important it is to feed ourselves well?

What I learned after a Week of Deleting Facebook

So I deleted my Facebook account one week ago. One day I woke up and I didn’t want to deal with the people on there anymore. Not that it was anything personal against those so-called friends who practically only exist in the social media world. No, I enjoyed reading stories on how heartbroken my friend back home was. And her desperate posts on how she could get back with her ex who happened to be far, far away in Timbuktu at that time. Not to mention another friend who was constantly posting picture messages in intervals of 5 minutes to get some sort of attention out of other Facebook nerds. And have you ever noticed how depressing it can be when you update your status or picture and none of your followers actually hits the like button? In your mind you are begging everyone to leave a comment, which in turn provokes another round of forlorn posts, initializing yet another vicious cycle. You don’t care who notices that you went to the beach today. As long as someone does! Yes, even that loser you went to high school with and who is still part of your very intimate online life.

Boy, was I fed up with this online world at that point in time. So one day I decided to put an end to the pathetic existence of sharing my entire private world with 228 others. 228 people who I was seldom in touch with anymore and whose pictures didn’t evoke a feeling of happiness but rather repulse after seeing kitschy dog photos or hideous foodie experiments making out the rest of their days.

While at some point in time I had ferociously sucked up the latest news and was curious to see how other people’s lives had turned out (possibly worse than mine), I got exhausted by being everyone’s nice girl and leaving a comment on things I deeply could care less about. Not that Facebook ever imposed a feeling of peer pressure or loss of identity on me, don’t get me wrong here. But it did somehow compose an overkill for secrets and friendships.

All of a sudden my German buddies did not see it a necessity to write me lengthy e-mails anymore. After all, they’ve seen the picture album of me touring the Grand Canyon with my former roommate and read my status update on how I had moved for the quazillionst amount of time. And as soon as a feeling of sadness overcame me and I was talking about how weak this world can be, people I had not heard of in two years thought it would be a great idea to express their rightful and happy opinions on my own personal wall. Smack, right there, one of the highest intrusions into someone’s life, quite unthinkable.

I know of people who only have this site to be a part of the hype. Who never post a dime except for Christmas and their birthday. Whose 3 annual picture updates compose an uproar among their other 500 friends and an outpouring of “where are yous”. But I am just not that type of person. When I do something, I do it full-heartedly. Same with social media. No update can be left uncommented, no thought unscrutinized – at least when I am around.

So after this animated discussion I had during one of those New York Magazine Launch Parties in the TriBeCa Grand Hotel (hey, we all love to brag, don’t we?), I was inclined to put some reason and thought into this topic. The opponents were talking about how Facebook will soon be gone (soon as in a time frame of 4 years). The younger generation was vehemently shaking their heads and neglecting the fact that other networking sites had slowly departed the picture. True, FB had outlasted the kinky MySpace, which in the end had only been a means of socialization for failing musicians and wanna-be-pornstar teenagers( see half-nude profile pictures all over the Web). And had digressed to a dating site for one-night-stands in the conversational Europe and it’s 30-something-year-old inhabitants. But overall, Facebook has lasted quite a bit, hasn’t it? And it’s come a long way from being the Facemash of Harvard’s finest to the best tool of advertisement for a teenage Japanese singer, no?

The first 24 hours or so were hard. What am I talking about? For two full days my thumb had automatically pressed the Facebook button on my smart phone, just to be re-directed to a de-activated site. And what’s the sense in disturbing the sleeping whale when I am so much better off without? Strangely enough, I adjusted to the circumstances. It didn’t even take me more than half a week. And puff, towards the weekend all my social media anxiety was gone. I had more success in staying in touch with my German friends over Whatsapp and E-mail than I ever had been the previous months over Facebook. And after consulting with the lives of others and sharing some experiences, I wasn’t missing out on too much after all. As it turns out, even my blog stats have not been affected in the least tidbit as far as referrers go.

No, in the end I figured that everyone who wants to stay in touch with me either has my e-mail address or possesses my cell phone number. And it still rings very true that my closest circle of German friends never actually started an account with this Social Media Giant. Since they refuse to read this blog, I guess I really do have to stay in touch with them over the hard-earned way of a personal E-mail.

The only thing I might be missing? These small wisdoms a day my particular friend kept posting every 5 minutes or so… If she had only kept it to once a day, oh boy, maybe I had left the account open!

Not that I am not nourishing the idea of opening up a different Facebook… Perhaps one only dedicated to my musings and photography. But in this case it would be less personal and more public. Oh, and what about twitter? Is anyone an avid tweeter among you?

Exploring Brooklyn: Quaint Little Bay Ridge

Cute little bars, bakeries, and butcher shops right next to the Hudson River. Italian stores paired with Arabian signs when bypassing Russian pedestrians. One of the cheapest movie theaters in town right next to a typical New Yorker bagel shop…

One of the neighborhoods that are highly underestimated carries the name of Bay Ridge. Bay Ridge is found on the last stops of the R-train at the Southwest tip of Brooklyn. It is reachable by train, bus, and car. But since it is so far off from everything else most people seldom take a trip down there (unless they live there, that is).

I had a friend who used to rent an apartment over here with her husband. The very first time I made my trip out to Bay Ridge was indeed about a year ago, in the Summer of ’11 when I was visiting the couple. The Wonderful Elena and her husband had somehow ended up here because of the affordable living expenses and recommendations from his work. While another friend had already told me about how great this area is and how she lived here for over two years of her New York time, it certainly was not on the top of my priority list to visit.

Bay Ridge’s Century 21

There was the exciting Williamsburg first to see, of course. Then Cobble Hills and Carroll Gardens followed. Brighton Beach and Coney Island made it on my sightseeing list way before this, too. Not to forget the culture of Park Slope (before I moved here, that is). So all together, this little part of Brooklyn had been ignorantly neglected by me for a good one and a half years. When I finally had enough reason and courage to take the R out to 95th St, I was pleasantly surprised. I had imagined a boring neighborhood with not much going on. Maybe a few people strolling the streets, but perhaps not too safe after all.

But as soon as I stepped off the subway, and walked down to 3rd avenue, I already spotted the first few bars and some traditional food shops along the way. From Bake Ridge to the small Greek place around the corner – everything was more chill, relaxed, and old-school Brooklyn than I had seen anywhere else in this borough. My first evening here was a time filled with many aahs and oohs and I swore I would come back more often than this.

I helped that the Wonderful Elena told me about this great Italian cake shop where we managed to stop by and even taken in lunch right before she left for Russia. The prices were really good for the amount of food we ordered. I bought the tasty Alaskan cheesecake here once. This was after she had given it to me as a gift before so I had the chance to try it out. A creamy, white cheesecake topped with an abundance of fresh fruits and more – I was convinced after the first bite! And all of this for a mere 18 dollars – a bargain compared to bakeries in rest of this City. Paneantico delights are a must-try for all of the food-lovers in Brooklyn!

Only a few visits out to this area won me over that this little part of New York is a true goldmine. Not only do you find everything worth living here but you have a diversity of different cultures door to door. Of course the last stop on the R is the end of it all. Going towards 70th St, I was transported into different areas every 5th Street or so. Starting out with the well-known Schnitzelhaus around 74th Street. This place is supposed to offer “authentic German Cuisine” in this area of Brooklyn. While I haven’t had the chance to try out their food yet, I have had the chance to weed through their beer list and can confirm that they have a great deal of drafts and bottles on there. The servers are not German, unfortunately, taking a bit away from their highly claimed “authenticity.”

Then past Arab bridal shops on my way to the Alpine Cinemas. This is really a great movie theater they have: The seats are comfortable, the movies are up-to-date and you pay only $9 for a screening ($12 in 3D), which is more than a three-dollar difference to the 13.50 I paid last week in the Union Square Regal. Alpine Cinema also has a summer special going on, check out their Web site to see more details about it.

The bar culture is found all along 5th Avenue. Which Irish pubs, Italian restaurants and other American joints. I have not checked out any of these yet, for lack of friends who want to join. But something I have been able to discover by my own is Century 21 – the Brooklyn equivalent to the one found in the Financial District. Bay Ridge’s Century 21 is more relaxed with fewer hordes of tourist and rude employees than you find in Manhattan. You also find more Russians here than in the City. I have spent a better time browsing the shelves of this outlet-oriented store than anywhere else. Shopping is definitely more fun when you are not shoved out of the way by Italian visitors or barked at by stressed-out employees.

View towards the Verrazano Bridge

And the view you have close to the Verrazano bridge! A panorama flat out towards the river and New Jersey. This view is seldom revealed as openly in Brooklyn as it is in this one little spot of the borough. There is a small park around the bridge, with some traditional elements of American history (canons, anyone?). Just a walk around the area had me transported to a very different place I had been only an hour earlier.

At some point around 60th Street Bay Ridge flows over into Sunset Park. A neighborhood of Brooklyn I have not yet been able to experience as well. And there is still so much to see in the Ridge area. The 69th Street Pier, for example, which is a long boardwalk reaching out into the river, offering a promenade and great view towards Manhattan. Supposedly, fishermen competitions are being carried out here.

This neighborhood will always be worth another visit, and if it’s only to snag another pastry from Paneantico on the last stop of the R!

Published Interview on InterNations!

Liz from Belovelive happened to be featured in an interview conducted by InterNations just a few weeks back. And last week Monday it was my turn. I received a comment from Simona from the aforementioned organization telling me how she would like to recommend my Web site as a Top New York Expat Blog. What great news!

I submitted my interview to her on late Friday evening and, after a fast-turn-around, this Monday morning it was already published on their homepage!

So far this has been my second writing featured on an expat blog (see a copy of my first one here). My interest in these organizations has increased over the past few months and I am happy to be a part of their featured articles every once-so-often.

InterNations makes the appearance of being a serious go-to-site for expatriates as they are represented in 300 different cities world-wide. To sign up for them you first have to be approved by their staff, in the form of a personal invitation by one of them. For me, the wait has only been one business day and I am sure someone is checking every application thoroughly before given an approval.

The online expatriate community presents guides for different forums and areas, such as living and working abroad, intercultural communication and culture shock. These are all topics I personally find entertaining and also very helpful. I am sure I won’t be the only one weeding through these write-ups in the following days, as many fellow expats will surely be able appreciate the one or other piece of advice featured in these articles.

Check out my interview on the InterNations homepage to see some tips and tricks on life in New York. Find my favorite blog posts and some anecdotes on my German friend and on daily life in general.
To look into more recommended reads on the Big Apple, click here for 2 very different and also very insightful blogs.

I hope you enjoy this little excursion into expat life (something we can hopefully all call ourselves at some point in life)! I wish InterNations much success in building up an even greater readership and in gaining more interesting writers for their articles yet to be published!

Sample Sales Mania in this City!

We have a store right around the corner from where I work. Whenever I walk past during my lunch break, I see two long queues of women standing in front of it. It’s a Sample Sale store, one of the many here in the City. I believe Sample Sales are to date a phenomenon of New York. Certain stores here offer a discount on clothes from high-end designers. You can buy Jimmy Choo, J. Crew and other designers for a fraction of the price you would anywhere else. The idea is similar to that of an outlet: The clothes might have a flaw or are not up-to-date and can be purchased at a very good price. The merchandise might be left over or some of it was over-ordered, so that they have a high quantity left to sell at a low price.

Compared to Century 21 and other outlet stores, they offer real bargains but then also their return policy is usually non-existent. Sample sale stores can be found throughout entire Manhattan, from 8th over to 5th Avenue. Since you cannot bring back the purchases, be sure that what you buy is what your heart truly desires.

I once walked into a Sample Sale right off of 7th Avenue. My coworker had found the cutest skirts, dresses, and tops for altogether probably less than 20 dollars. It was summer, so I found it just the right time to spice up my wardrobe. However, while she had done her shopping the week before, the store now offered itchy woolen sweaters and fall fashion. Not exactly what I had been looking for. These stores change their products very fast, as they tend to sell out fast and then have new items delivered to them. Be sure to get what you want instantaneously once you see it, otherwise it might be gone the next day (this is a rule of thumb for almost every store in New York, by the way).

Sample Sales are owned by the funkiest and most diverse people you can imagine. From Jewish over African to unknown designers – you have quite an array to choose from and even more aspects to look out for. For example when my Polish friend wanted to try on a coat one fall afternoon. She has a very thick accent and was recognized as foreign instantaneously. The African seller tried to offer her a price much higher than she had the two American girls before us. What a fail! Of course this is not only refined to Sample Sale stores, so be careful of being ripped off all over New York.

And that one specific Sample Sale I still walk by almost every other day? Well, one spring afternoon I wanted to see what it is all about. They weren’t so strict about taking my purse in, so I enjoyed walking from stand to stand. From Rebecca Minkoff shoes and handbags to silk fleece tank tops – they had a nice collection of designers who usually cost a few hundred dollars. Young women were all over the place, touching the fine leather merchandise and squeezing their toes into patent high heels. The prizes were a bargain, with only 40 dollars and up for a handbag – not bad for an average of $300 to $700 the brand usually wants for these high-end purses.

Other sample sales stores offer an even better price but then their shoes or dessous are only a specific size. Usually not the size the average person I have. My coworker, who is very much into fashion, came across a store which offered Miu Miu products for a true “bargain”: Instead of a few thousand dollars, their shoes were “only” two hundred and their accessoires even ran cheaper than 100 bucks. She likes to spend money on fancy things (where she takes the money from is still a mystery to me as her paycheck definitely does not cover her exquisite expenses).

Sample Sales are truly great for those fashion addicts under you who can appreciate a real deal from high-end designers and who don’t mind standing in a line that can take a few hours until you are let into the store. They are also great for just browsing through the expensive merchandise and not being the only customer in the store. Just another amenity New York offers in abundance. If you are a female and into good looks you might feel obliged to drop into one of these stores on your visit to New York!

Life Is Alive in Summer

Yes, you guessed right! Only one more post to go to fulfill the annual four-seasons- series. So far I’ve talked about the months from October to May. What else could be amiss then what is going on right now?

While spring and fall only last a few weeks if even a month, it’s up to summer and winter to make out the extreme and long-lasting times of the year. I have never experienced such a long summer as I have here (and the same can be said about winter, of course, but let’s not go there). Beach time from mid-May to September. Hot temperatures from June on. Even though most people seem to loathe the heat and cannot see the beauty of the so-called Dog Days from July on, I almost embrace them. After so many disappointing summers in Germany, the heat has been a welcoming change. Instead of windy and rainy weeks, which usually never turned into what I wanted them to, New York has given me just the right amount of sunshine I could possibly ever want. My desperate tries to catch a tan at one of Deutschland’s man-made lakes have been exchanged by long beach days at the Atlantic Ocean. No need to carry a jacket with you in the evening as the heat still lingers between skyscrapers all day and night long. The last two summers I have even made it through the humidity and sweat without an air conditioner. This year I gave up and crawled to Target to have one set up.
And even though this sounds like an incredibly hot season to bear, it really is not too bad. I’ve had worse down in Florida, where you truly have to hop from building to car, from car to building in order to avoid major sun burns. I believe the Northeast has found a great balance in being very hot but not hazardously burning during this time of year.

Of course there are also aspects that annoy me when it comes to summer. The way strands of my hair stick out to all sides once humidity reaches the dreaded 80 percent. But I carry my sun bleached strands with pride. They are a proof of many successful beach days and hours in the park. I have been able to dip them into salty cool water and have them washed out by sun and sea water. Accomplishing this without even going to an exotic location such as Spain or Italy – what a great feeling this is indeed!
And then the heat in the subway once you enter the underground. Boy, how all your efforts of looking good can be destroyed by a mere 5 minutes of standing in this boiling part underneath the City. Of course there is not much you can do about it other than sucking it up and trying to force a smile on your lips when your make-up is smeared by sweat and heat and your hair style has been effortlessly destroyed. Not to mention the cranked up air conditioners in the stores and offices. But you also have these during the winter, so I am not going to pin this one solely on summer!

New York offers an incredible array of things to do during this season. While spring has already kicked off a few events, summer is truly when this city comes to a full awakening. Band Shell music in Prospect Park from June to July. Further Open-air-concerts at the Summer Stage. Shakespearean plays in Central Park. Free movies screened outdoors beneath the Brooklyn Bridge and in Bryant Park. Operas shown at the Lincoln center and, and, and… And the best part about all of these outdoor events: They are for free! They cost zero. Nada! Null!

The Big Apple’s cultural list of things to do during the warm months is about to explode. And if you ever find yourself bored with any of these, you still have events at a low-cost to attend. Such as the Bi-annual Jazz fest on Governors Island. Or a boat tour on the Hudson River. Or you can simply take the train to one of Long islands fancy beaches ( Long beach, Fire Island, the Hamptons – the list goes on). Not that you really have to. You can go surfing right here, at Far Rockaway in Queens (and get badly burned if you don’t watch it).

Beergarden outdoors. Brunches outside. The Eurocup, Fourth of July, and Labor Day! Yes, summer is simply amazing in the city of 8 million!

Surfing at Far Rockaway/Queens!

WordPress Mysteries I Possibly Will Never Understand

Recently I’ve been noticing a few things on WordPress which I just cannot ignore. Things that have puzzled as well as bothered me and I want an explanation. Right now! Or at least a feedback on how they work for others.

It appears that this blogging site has undergone some changes throughout the last year I have started blogging with them. Some of which I really adore, such as the new designs they’ve come up with. Or the handy layout which makes it much easier to sap through categories and tags on the overall WordPress.

But somehow these changes have also affected other parts.

1) How can you like a post on WordPress without even looking at it?

I’ve noticed this phenomenon especially with my other blog, A Picture Every Day. On this blog I never post in words but only in pictures. Hence people tend to like the posts more rather than commenting on them. But since February I’ve seen 10 people like a random post as soon as it published and the site stats were still at 0. At the end of the day I might have had 5 stats for this post while more people had liked it then clicked on the actual page.
How is that possible? Can you hit the like-button when you search a certain tag and not even click on the blogger’s page? I really do not have any other explanation other than this and I would be grateful for anyone who could enlighten me in the process of finding out the potential problem areas.

2) How can you change the layout of your blog so that you can get rid of the “scroll down” button?

It used to be so easy! You just hit older posts or newer posts to rewind or fast-forward through a blog. But now WordPress makes it so much harder for your browser. Instead of one window bearing only 5 posts (or 10 or 15, whatever you set it to) at once, they are expecting it to carry 20 or 30 or an indefinite number of posts. Depending on how often you click that scroll down button. Needless to say, this will eventually make your browser crash. Since you are not only posting in words but also in pictures and not everyone formats these in thumbnail size.

So these two things are the two main points that have bothered me in the past half a year.

Others are just subjective parts of my daily frustration attempt of dealing with more traffic on my site. Since May 2012 it seems that an average of 50 to 52 clicks has leveled out. The all-time high was in May when I had a monthly turn-around of 1574 clicks. Wohaaa! Thanks to friends sharing my Street Art post (read more here) and the Lotus Hom Review (read more here), I’ve been grateful to have more clicks than ever imagined. And the average high of 142 came around just a few weeks after this, on June 2.

But other than that, it appears that people are just randomly finding my blog through dubious google search term such as “naked girl in Germany” or other sleezies. So I’ve been wondering how other bloggers do it! Do you have a great following? I currently have 69 people subscribed to my blog. As I can tell, not everyone clicks on my site as soon as a post publishes, otherwise I would have an average of 69 clicks. Which is absolutely fine. Take a mere 50 percent out of that, and I am happy as a clam.

Do you promote your blog on Facebook? I’ve been seeing some writers have their own profile on a Facebook page and have though about opening up my very own. But does it really help to increase traffic or is this just a simpler tool for socializing? Does more blogging show results? I used to post 4 times a week. It has gone down to an average of 2 times a week. But thanks to the Photo A Day Challenge I’ve jacked up my writings to the 4-a-week again. Well, let’s see how it goes this month. So to everyone who posts almost every day: Does it really help to increase traffic?

All of these issues are fairly confusing to me former Internet ignorant. Maybe you have some answers to:
How many clicks to you get each day? And how big is your following? Has it increased over time or stayed the same from the beginning? Questions over questions, gimme some feedback!

WordPress has so far been my number one choice in blogging. I looked at tumblr, blogspot and other species but just couldn’t seem comfortable with adjusting to those sites. The one thing WordPress has that others do not: The Freshly Pressed Site. Updated daily and giving greenhorns but also experienced writers a great platform to share their thoughts. Not to forget the other possibilities that make it so much easier to connect to other bloggers. I’ve been playing around with the “publish later” feature and other goodies and have come to adore them. Hey, pressing a post while you are still sound asleep? How convenient is that! But after 165 166 posts and almost 14 months of blogging I am still left hanging when it comes to the issues above…