Top 10 Things to Do in NYC


New York City is amazing in that it is home to millions, and yet each person who lives or visits has a unique experience. My connection to the city consists of: ten days in the Marriott Marquis for Model United Nations in college, the spring break with my family in high school where my sister and I stayed with cousins in their tiny apartment and we saw the entire American Museum of Natural History in about two hours (the secret is to jog down the halls until you find every exhibit featured in A Night in the Museum), and recently a short trip with Spencer. Spencer hadn’t been to NYC before, and this was the last time we expect to be on the East Coast for a while, so we crammed the most touristy things possible into two days and loved every minute of it.

1. National September 11 Memorial & Museum

National September 11 Memorial Museum

Skip the lines and buy your tickets online in advance. At first we were pretty underwhelmed with the museum. It took us a good hour of reading through material on the structure of the building to find the entrance to the main exhibit of the museum. You have to go through a little revolving door with a sign that says adults accompanying younger visitors should exercise discretion. Like the Flight 93 Memorial, the most emotional part of the museum were the sections where you could hear recordings from people stuck on various floors, radio communications between first responders, and people’s memories from the day. Almost all the Flight 93 information was also in this museum, but got a little lost between everything that happened in NYC and DC. While incredibly sad, the museum does a good job of highlighting the good side of humanity–all the first responders and selfless volunteers. I also left extremely impressed with the head of Morgan Stanley who was a former US Army officer. After the first of the twin towers had been hit, someone told everyone in the second building to stay at their desks over the intercom. The Morgan Stanley official ignored the intercom and systematically evacuated 2,500+ of his employees out of the building. Once all of his employees were out of the building, he went back in to help lead other people out and was last seen on the 10th floor.

Twin Towers Memorial

 

2. See a Broadway

Wicked

Since this was Spencer’s first Broadway, we went with Wicked as a solid introduction. The cast was fantastic, and this was the perfect way to end the day after a sobering 9/11 Museum visit. Although now that I have Hamilton on repeat, I almost wish we’d waited in line for lottery tickets/woken up early to get to a kiosk for day of tickets. Besides the kiosk in Time Square for same day tickets, this site is another great way to find affordable tickets. As students you can also get $25 standing room only tickets, but half way through your legs will hate you. Trust me. Off broadway, I’ve also heard that there are often professional level, free, concerts at Julliard.

3. Staton Island Ferry

Staton Island Ferry

It’s free. (So don’t talk to any hecklers trying to sell you on another ferry). The ferry is huge, so even if the line looks long there will be plenty of space, and there is no need to rush with the crowd. Also, head to the top deck right away–that’s where you’ll get the best view and can snag seats outside. Most people didn’t figure this out until the return trip, so the top was a lot more crowded on the way back. You don’t get to stop on the Ellis Island, but you do get a great view of the Statue of Liberty which is the main point. Also, I like to think that you still get the first view of the U.S. and the Statue of Liberty that immigrants got as they headed into the harbor towards Ellis Island.

 

New York Skyline

4. Airbnb

This was our first experience using Airbnb and we can’t wait to use it again for our next adventure in June. Our host was fantastic, and we got our own tiny apartment with fridge and kitchen included which made me feel a little more like we were getting a glimpse into NYC living. More importantly, we could stay in the middle of Manhattan Island for a fraction of the cost at any decent hotel, maximizing our time to explore instead of commuting into the city. Airbnb is currently offering $20 off your first visit (and Spencer and I also get $20 if you use the link).

5. Brooklyn Bridge 

Brooklyn Bridge

Classic. They say the best “New York Style” pizza place is just off the bridge on the Brooklyn side, but we were running late, so we stopped to admire the boats, and then headed to Little Italy.

6. Little Italy and Chinatown

Pizza. Cannolis. Need I say more? Spencer discovered cannolis when he was interviewing in Boston, and this trip we went back to the same cannoli vendor both nights in Little Italy because there were so many delicious flavors. Also, Chinatown. Spencer and I popped into Chinatown for a brief lunch, but this is where my roommate, Merella, and I probably ate the most for our Model UN trip. We’d just spent the summer in China, so we’d really missed Chinese food.

Chinatown, NYC

7.  Falafel Food Trucks 

This one might seem a little weird, and really I should just list food in general because there is so much to try in NYC, but as soon we stepped off the metro the first night, a deep craving for falafel washed over me. Something about the smell of the city immediately took me back to late nights during Model UN with Merella and our Tongan TA Elsie. The previous year Elsie had found the best falafel food truck and it was in the same place, two blocks north of Times Square, our year. I tried to find it again this year with no luck, but the truck we ended up stopping at was just as good.

8. Metropolitan Museum of Art

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Another basically free museum. The museum asks for a donation when you get your tickets, but you can choose how much to give. And look! There’s “Bird in Space” by Brancusi which was the subject of Spencer’s last college paper.

9. United Nations Headquarters 

United Nation Headquarters NY

Spencer and I didn’t make it here this trip, but this building holds a special place in my heart and everyone should tour it at least once in their lives. Oh and watch “The Interpreter” before you go.

10. Walk around Times Square at Night.

Times Square at night

When I came to NYC for Model UN, my team stayed in the Marriott on Times Square for ten days. It was so fun to step from the calm of the hotel into the buzz of the city and immediately be in the middle of everything. One day during Model UN, an entrance to the Marriott was blocked off for the filming of Captain America. This time around, Spencer and I watched the filming of a random TV show for a few minutes. Times Square is cool during the day, but shines in its full glory at night.

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Spring in Austin

Austin BluebonnetBlue bonnet austinSpring is in full swing here in Austin! The past three weeks bluebonnets have been dotting the highways and pretty much anywhere with a spot of grass. We’ve seen loads of mini vans pulled over on the highway and families getting their pictures taken on the surrounding hills. I’ve been told that the locals have pictures with bluebonnets from every year of their lives.
spring in texasI was a little sad about missing all the snow on the East Coast this past year, but it is hard to be too disappointed in the perfect weather we’ve had since moving to Texas in January. I didn’t think Austin could get any prettier and then the bluebonnets showed up. Spencer and I stumbled on this meadow just as the sun was setting one Sunday evening. Fingers crossed that the flowers and weather last all year:)

Bluebonnet Texas

 

9/11 Part 1: Flight 93 National Memorial

Flight 93 Memorial

Visiting the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, PA wasn’t originally part of the plan, but while in Pittsburgh we saw it on Olivia and Brian’s date idea list on their fridge and realized it wasn’t too far out of our way. We were originally planning to hop out of the car for 15 minutes, but ended up spending about two hours at the site. Although small, the memorial is well presented, free (unlike the Museum in NYC), and has just barely opened after a few years in construction. We visited the NYC 9/11 memorial and museum a few days later and I couldn’t help but reflect back on our time in Shanksville. The NYC museum covers almost everything that the Shanksville memorial does, but Flight 93 and subsequent investigation get lost (or at least you are already desensitized by the time you get to it) in the NYC museum.  It’s too bad that thousands, or even millions of people will visit the 9/11 memorials in Washington, DC and NYC, but significantly fewer people will make it out to Shanksville because it is in the middle of nowhere. But then again, that is what makes Shanksville so powerful. The actions of the passengers and crew on board Flight 93 that crashed in the middle of nowhere saved the lives of countless others.

I’ve thought a lot about what to say about the inside of the visitor center and memorial, but in the end the visitor center is really just something that you have to go and experience. The displays do a great job of pointing out little details/miracles that put the crew and passengers in a better position to fight back. These are the Americans heroes that should be studied in history class: People from all walks of life who came together to do something that they knew was going to be really hard, but was also the right thing to do. There is a small section where you can choose to listen to the last voicemails that some of the people on board left their loved ones. You hear the raw emotion and determination in their voices. And it will leave you feeling thankful for their sacrifice and in tears.

Flight 93 National MemorialShanksville, PAshanksville, PA

A Weekend in Pittsburgh

We stopped by Pittsburgh to visit friends from college, Olivia and Brian, who now live in Portugal. The city surprised us with its beauty and vitality. Here are a few of my favorite parts:

1. We stumbled on the best way to enter the city. In my opinion, all first-timers should have to enter the city from I-376. You start by driving through the rolling hills of Ohio/Pennsylvania (and really what feels like West Virginia). The hills get progressively bigger until instead of driving over them, you drive through a tunnel. The tunnel is a little longer than expected, and just when you decide the thrill of a tunnel has worn out and daylight would be nice BAM! You’re on a bridge, looking out over Pittsburgh’s skyline. The sun is just about to set, and the warm light bounces off of the twinkling, glass buildings. As Brian pointed out, the only thing that could make this better was if the city had a radio channel you could tune into as you enter the tunnel, so that majestic music could crescendo just as you burst out of the tunnel.

Pittsburgh, PA skyline

A close second to this experience, if you have to fly in or take another road, is the Duquesne Incline. The cable car was a little rickety for me, but people use it to commute into the city every day and it offers one of the best views of the three rivers.

P.S.

2. Downtown ice skating in the middle of a very reflective square. Everyone around us was really good and it took me awhile to decide they had all probably grown up in Pittsburgh and thus had more practice. Our weekend in Pittsburgh was the coldest it will get for us in a few years. We’d packed away most of our winter stuff, so thank you Livia to sending us hand-knit hats from Canada just in time! We love them!

olive oil on tap

3. Pittsburgh is a foodie city. This post won’t do that justice. Our favorite little store in the Pittsburgh Public Market had at least a hundred different olive oil flavors to try.

4. A “Pittsburgh left”. (As soon as the light turns green, the first vehicle turning left goes before any of the vehicles driving straight through the intersection).

Suzuki Cathedral of Learning

5. The Cathedral of Learning and all the nationality rooms. Also, that the great hall looks like it came straight out of Harry Potter and was filled with Christmas music by these tiny violinists. After running around all day, this was the perfect place to eat our Iranian Rose dessert from the Conflict Kitchen (tasted like soap) and a Belgian waffle.

Ironman 101: Panama City Beach Race Day

We’ve moved from Cincinnati, and visited Pittsburgh, New York City, upstate New York, Washington, DC, and Florida. Now we’re getting settled in Texas and it’s time to catch up.
First, the Ironman race recap:

Ironman swim start

Waiting at the start. About 3,000 people crossed this line in just over 15 minutes. When Spencer first considered doing a triathlon of this distance, most of the people that we talked to recommended doing a brand name Ironman because the race support staff/volunteers are so prepared and efficient. This was so true. Throughout the day, the race was incredibly organized. It was easier to send Spencer off know that there were plenty of aid stations/boats/medical personnel if needed.

Ironman Florida swim start

And they’re off! The waves were a little more choppy than expected. A few people struggled to make it over the surf. One lady in particular tried to start swimming several times, only to be thrown back on shore by the surf. Also, about two hours before the start time, it was announced that the water was too warm for wet suits. Besides helping to retain warmth, a wet suit is slightly buoyant – helping you to maintain good form and swim faster, so the announcement was quite the mental hurdle. Several people opted to still wear a wet suit and disqualify themselves from being listed as “official” Ironman finishers.

Ironman Panama City Swim

About half way through the swim. This was one of the few times in the day when I worried. Spencer’s tracker didn’t register him as having crossed the half-way point until about 45 minutes after I was expecting. We later found out that the live feed was just slow in updating, but watching the sea of arms and legs those 45 minutes was a little nerve wracking. Turns out that besides getting stung in the face by a jellyfish, kicked by other people, and having a slower time than he would have liked, Spencer was fine.

photo cred: finisherpix

photo cred: finisherpix

ironman panama city bike

Onto the bike!

ironman panama city

About 40 miles into the bike. From my perspective, he was coming in much faster than he had trained for, and I was a little worried that he would burn out later. From his perspective, he was feeling great and was going to keep going at this speed until he stopped feeling good. Apparently that never happened, so he kept going the entire 5 hrs 25 min and finished about 35 minutes faster than planned.

unicity ironman

A last minute decision to use disposable bottles (and grab new ones from volunteers throughout the race) was one of the best choices of the day. Another major player during the bike portion of the race was the fact that the Ironman does not allow drafting on the bike. (If you enter the space 5 bike lengths behind another racer, you must close the remaining distance and pass within 20 seconds or face a drafting penalty) Spencer used the 20 seconds to push himself and slingshot past in preparation of pursuing the next rider. And he passed 900+ people on the bike portion of the race.

spencer reynolds ironman

The start of the marathon. When he first got off the bike, Spencer stumbled a step or two and wasn’t sure he was going to be able to finish the marathon. This led to a slower transition (10 min), but by the time he went through this shoot he was feeling good and looking strong again.

ironman run Florida

Just before the halfway point. I love this picture because look who else made it into the shot. Spencer’s parents! They were such great sports to leave the house with us a 3:30 am that morning so that we could sleep in the back seat of the car and then spend the full day cheering with me. Spencer’s dad would go a little ahead of us on the race course, and then call us so that we knew when Spencer would be coming and I could get the camera ready.

unicity ironman

I had watched Spencer train all summer, so once he finished the swim I was fairly certain that he was going to complete the race. It was just a question of how fast he could do it. That said, from this point on a lot of the participants were visibly in pain. When the Ironman website showed that Spencer had crossed the final tracker and was headed towards us and the finish line, Spencer’s mom turned and told the stranger next to her “My son’s going to make it. He’s coming home!”.

ironman run

This picture of Spencer and his new friend, Fred, was taken earlier in the race where they ran together for a few miles until Spencer eventually pulled ahead. Fast forward to mile 17. Spencer got a little injured earlier in the summer, so before race day the farthest he’d run at one time was 15 miles. At mile 17 he was in the unknown part of the race and his right hamstring started cramping to the point where he had to stop and hobble along. Fred caught up to Spencer, gave him some salt pills and encouragement, and was able to get him running again. (photocred: finisherpix)

Ironman finish unicity

Wait, is that Spencer?

ironman finisher

You are an Ironman

YOU are an IRONMAN

Ironman Florida 2015 with a final time of 12 hrs 11 mins 44 secs. I finished 11th in my age group, 487th of all men, and 570th overall out of nearly 3000 competitors.

Ironman Florida 2015 with a final time of 12 hrs 11 mins 44 secs. 11th in his age group, 486th of all men, and 569th overall out of nearly 3000 competitors. (photo cred: finisherpix)

ironmanfinish

Ironman metal

Home. Exhausted and thrilled. Special thank you to everyone who followed along during the day and to Unicity for empowering people to achieve their individual dreams!

Birthday Party

birthday 12

We arrived in DC in time for this cute girl’s birthday. A few pictures from Family Home Evening and her party below.

birthday 6birthday 2birthday 4birthday 5

birthday 7

birthday 9

Cake by the favorite brother-in-law.

birthday 10

birthday 11

This picture makes me laugh because sometimes it is hard to blow out candles. Good thing she has two older siblings who were willing to help and this mood only lasted about 5 seconds.

birthday 1Happy Birthday to the one of the happiest little girls!

Behind the Scenes: Transtibial Prosthetic Hero Mod

spencer reynolds

Sketching over a SolidWorks CAD model to figure out the final aesthetic.

Spencer Reynolds hero prosthetic mod

3-D printing

CNC milling

CNC milling and gluing a life size foot.

spencer hero mod prosthetic limb

Testing size and (not pictured) sanding printed parts… Hours and hours and hours of sanding.

Spencer Reynolds prosthetic hero mod

More CNC milling, laser cutting, acrylic bending, and more sanding.

Spencer Reynolds

Priming and painting.

IMG_2014Spencer Reynoldstranstibial prosthetic hero mod

Spencer’s Senior Project. Check out the final product on Spencer’s website.

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