About this Site

Leslie Beslie is a personal blog of me, Leslie. I share articles and thoughts on where I live and things I like. This includes NYC, books, finances, running, music, cats, and drawing.

Other Projects: French Toast Brigade | Life & Spending 2016 Weekly Planner | College Football Daybreak Podcast

New Way to Get to Rockaway Beach

rockaway-beach-queens

If you live in NYC and still haven’t made it out to the Rockaways, I highly recommend it. The beaches are beautiful and there is lots of access to the ocean. Plus, it is all free. Rockaway Beach is in the outskirts of Queens so getting there can be a trek. But thankfully the MTA does have train service directly to the beach access points. And that’s all included with a swipe of the metrocard!

The beaches have gained popularity since Hurricane Sandy wiped out all of the boardwalk and almost everything there. Some growth in food pop-ups and for-pay buses that go directly to Jacob Riis State Park have helped bring new visitors to the Rockaways. Thankfully, the MTA has noticed this too and increased train service as of June 2016.

rockaway-beach-shuttle-service

Extended Shuttle Service to Rockaway Beaches

According to the MTA, Rockaway Park Shuttle service has been extended to reach both A trains at Rockaway Blvd.

Old Way (pre-2016): Take a Far Rockaway bound A train to Broad Channel and transfer to the Rockaway Park Shuttle (S) train.

New Way (as of June 2016): Take either a Far Rockaway or Lefferts Blvd A train to Rockaway Blvd and transfer to the Rockaway Park Shuttle (S) train.

It is still a same platform transfer from the S to the A. The Shuttle extension to Rockaway Blvd is on weekends only until at least labor day. It is making regular A stops between Rockaway Blvd and Broad Channel. If you find yourself on a Far Rockaway train, you can still stay on it and transfer at Broad Channel if you’d prefer.

On their site, the MTA alluded to keeping the extra shuttle service on after Labor Day. Hopefully it will continue while all the NYC public beaches are still open. Remember, the water finally warms up in August so late summer is the perfect time for a beach trip.

rockaway-beach-sand

Full Directions to Rockaway Beaches

Once you’re on the Shuttle, the rest of the trip is the same. From Broad Channel onwards all stops have direct beach access. You will be about two blocks away from the beach. And the ocean will be visible from the train platform. There are several different parts of the beaches here. I am mostly familiar with the beach access around Beach 105th st. I haven’t been to Riis Park Beach in several years.

Swimming/Sunbathing: The Shuttle train will take you from Beach 90th st to Beach 116th st. There is now a boardwalk for most of this. There are some food places. There are public bathrooms. The beach is nice for sunbathing, playing, generally relaxing. And the water is great for swimming.

Surfing/Hanging Out: The Far Rockaway A train will take you from Beach 67th st to Far Rockaway/Mott Ave. I have never been down this way so I do not have first-hand experience. There are more food & drink options here. And this part of the beach is great for surfing. I’ve heard good things about taking surf lessons here as well.

Riis Beach: The Riis Park Beach is accessible by bus & car only. The Q35 stops here. And there are lots of pay options now for bus services that go directly from neighborhoods in Brooklyn to this beach. There is a Beach Bazaar now too. There are definitely more food/drink options than when I was there a while back. There is also a part of the beach that is very lgbtq-friendly.


How To Legally Change Your Name in New York State

Order for Individual Adult Change of Name - Kings County (Brooklyn) New York

Order for Individual Adult Change of Name – Kings County (Brooklyn) New York

Since grade school I’ve wanted to change my name. My last name was not a family name but my mom’s last name out of marriage. It was a name that had no meaning to me. Then my first name, was actually a hyphenation of two names. It was really long. Later on, they hyphen symbol became an issue with computers, credit cards, and IDs. Having two first names, plus a middle name, is a lot for one person.

Once away from high school bullies, I really grew to love my first name. Well, the first part of it at least. I never used the second half except in legal dealings. Most people even now didn’t know I had a hyphenated name.

The first part of my first name was then, and is now the entirety of my first name, is Leslie. I am quite proud that my namesake is my grandfather. The original hyphenation was my mother’s way to feminize her father’s name. Leslie is still commonly used as a unisex name today. Have you ever met a Les? He was probably a Leslie.

Starting in high school, I had the thought of changing my last name to my dad’s last name, O’Connor. Whenever I looked into legally changing my name, I was immediately discouraged by hearing that it was expensive, required a lawyer, or I was too young and would regret it. And so I waited until I was 33.

It’s been officially one year since the paperwork has been signed. Perhaps I could have continued going by my nickname and never using my last name. Although I do enjoy the moniker Leslie Beslie, part of me felt silly handing out business cards with the name.

When my father passed away in 2014, I waited a year then went with my gut and finally, legally, took his last name. I figured that while I was changing my last name, I might as well change my first name too. Mainly to remove the hyphenated appended portion.

One of the biggest issues after changing my name was telling people. I understand it is rather rare to change your name without getting married. And that is the number one assumption. So, when asked, I would respond with, “No, I did not get married but I appreciate your optimism.”

My official work announcement was, “I recently changed my name to a family name for personal reasons.” My more personal announcement was, “My dad passed away last year so I wanted to take his name to have his memory with me.” No one in legal departments asked for a reason.

I tried to make the announcement at work as soon as possible to thwart the “Did you get married?” questions. But I was still bombarded by them. (Especially that conference call when I asked does anyone have any questions about this project? and someone, being light-hearted, asked what was with the name change is a congratulations in order and I had to awkwardly laugh then say No and I couldn’t end that call fast enough.)

The actual steps I took to legally change my name in New York State are below. The court-house process was quicker than I expected. Once the newspaper announcement had been published, I could then legally go by the new name. It didn’t feel official to me until I received my new Social Security Card and my new driver’s license.

The name change process varies a lot state by state. This is specific to New York State. And my court house dealings are specific to King’s County, Brooklyn, NYC.

If you subscribe to my newsletter, you’ve known for a while that I am now, officially legally, Leslie O’Connor. After a year, I have fully embraced this name. For the first time, I feel like me. I feel comfortable having a name that matches who I am.


Name Change Application

I changed my first and last name, leaving the middle name the same. Thankfully I did not need a lawyer for any of this. I completed a form online that was pretty standard but did require I give a reason for wanting to change my name. No proof was required that these reasons were valid. I was changing my name to serious names, nothing silly. There is a fee to file a name change in New York state which came to roughly $200 (cash only at the courthouse).

County Clerk’s Office

I then brought this form, a copy of my driver’s license, and a copy of my social security card to the County Clerk’s office at the King’s County Courthouse. (This is the same court house you will likely go to for Jury Duty. The County Clerk’s office is in the basement.)

A person there took everything, stamped a few things, stapled a few things, then gave me everything back and told me to go upstairs to submit to the judge. A New York judge has to approve all name changes in the state. This is to ensure that you’re not changing your name for malicious reasons; like avoiding paying debts or running from a warrant. I submitted all the paperwork plus my original birth certificate to the judge’s office. Three weeks later I went back to the judge’s office to pick up my approved name change letter.

Note: I filed for a public name change. You can file for a private name change, which will not be on public record or published in the newspaper. You will probably want to use a lawyer for this. (An example of a need to file privately is when victims of domestic violence are trying to leave their abusive partner.)

Public Newspaper Announcement

All public name changes in New York state are mandated to be announced in a newspaper. Information about which newspaper to use was included in the letter from the judge. I contacted the newspaper via email, then sent them a pdf of my name change (the file was provided by the courts in their system), with some personal information. It cost $130 to have this published.

They have a “legal notices” section in the paper, so they published it the following week. The announcement was only included in the paper copy, not their online version. I then went to the newspaper to pick up the clipping they provided, which proved it was publicly announced. The newspaper that was recommended to me was directly across from the court house, which really made this part quite easy.

Official Notarization

I went back to the County Clerk’s office with the newspaper announcement. They notarized my name change. And it was then, finally, legal. I could legally use my new name!

Social Security Office

I took my notarized name change document to the Social Security office, along with a form I filled out there, and applied for a new social security card. I did not have to provide any form of ID to prove it was me. This was free.

Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)

I took my new social security card and name change document to the DMV to apply for a new NY license. This cost $14.

Everything Else

Everything else is tedious but I’m handling it as it comes. Work was super easy as my HR department changed everything in payroll, health insurance, and my 401K. Credit cards and bank accounts are annoying but fine. I’ve noticed that it is much easier to change your name with companies due to marriage rather than a legal name change for other reasons. I sent my landlord a copy of the court order but did not have to re-sign the lease.

Total Cost of Legal Name Change

Filing Application: $200
Newspaper Announcement: $130
DMV: $14
Total: $344


The name change process was easier than I expected but it varies greatly by state. Be sure to look up your specific state requirements before starting the process.


What is Metlife’s Total Control Account (TCA)?

Metlife is an insurance company that also deals with life insurance policies. For beneficiaries, they offer a Total Control Account (TCA). This is a draft account to hold your policy pay out for you “while you go through this difficult time.”

To be clear, the Metlife TCA is not a bank account; it is not a checking account; it is not a savings account. It is not FDIC-insured; it may or may not offer a competitive savings rate; your funds are not as easily accessible as Metlife would like you to believe. Metlife is earning more on the interest of your money than you are.

Money is complicated because a lot of times it is tied to emotions. Death is also complicated and emotional. Unfortunately, the two often meet at a time in our lives when the last thing we want to think about is money. When a loved one dies, there are suddenly a lot of questions that you are expected to answer on the spot. These are things that we have done zero research on. And due to natural circumstances, there isn’t time to shop around. Also, when a loved one dies, your brain turns to mush and stops working. When it comes to these questions, you say a lot of, “I don’t care” and “What do you think?” because you can’t think about anything else other than missing this person who is now gone forever. Nothing will bring this person back so why bother thinking about it. Unfortunately, people and businesses know they can take advantage of this.

Beneficiary Claims Payouts: Lump Sum vs Metlife’s TCA

When my father died in 2014, all he left was a savings account with a small amount of money in it. Once the death certificate was processed, the bank mailed me check. Easy peasy. When my mother died in 2015, she left a life insurance policy where I was one of the beneficiaries. I didn’t realize this until I received a letter in the mail from Metlife about six months after her death. The letter included a beneficiary claims form that had to be completed. It was fairly straightforward and mainly asked identification questions. I did not need to attach a copy of the death certificate. I was not aware of this policy or that I would be a beneficiary, so all of this was a surprise. Also, receiving this six-months after the death brought up a lot of emotions again. So be prepared for that.

On the form, they ask how you would like to receive the policy benefits. Your options are: 1) Lump sum, or 2) Total Control Account (TCA).

Although a lump sum may sound overwhelming, beneficiary payouts aren’t (usually) taxed, so that is one less financial aspect to have to worry about.

The payout amount was not included on the form and I doubted they would tell me over the phone. With my two options, I decided to see what a Total Control Account is just in case it is the better option. From the get go I was planning on going with Lump Sum.

It was difficult to find any non-biased information on the Metlife Total Control Account, which is why I wanted to write about it. There are criticisms of it. In 2010, the company was taken to court because the account was then named Total Control Money Market Account. They were sued over the misleading “Money Market” name, where people were led to believe that it was a bank account when it’s not. The only positive information I could find was from Metlife itself.

I am being fairly objective here but, honestly, I don’t think it’s a good idea to keep large sums of money in a non-FDIC insured bank account.

How the Metlife Total Control Account Works

Here’s a breakdown of the account. It is a draft account. I want to make it clear that this is not a saving account and not a checking account. To withdrawal funds, you are given a draft book from Metlife. They call it a checkbook, and call the papers checks, but it is actually a draft book and you are making drafts. You cannot deposit any money into the account, only withdrawal. In order to withdrawal your money, you have to write a draft to yourself then go to a bank (or check cashing facility) and cash it. However, there is a minimum withdrawal of $250.

These are not checks. You can’t write one to the grocery store, or the funeral home. You can only withdrawal your money when you have access to a place that can cash checks. This may require some planning and should never be used as an emergency fund.

On the plus side, you can write a draft to yourself for the full amount of your account, which will automatically close the account. Or you can save yourself all this headache and just take the Lump Sum.

What about interest rates? The Metlife TCA is insured by Metlife but not by the FDIC, as is the case with most bank accounts. According to Metlife, their interest rates are “competitive”. They state that some of their Metlife TCA accounts are earning 3% interest, though it is more likely you will earn less than one percent.

Of course Metlife earns interest on your money, too. Since they are the ones holding it. Seven years ago, Metlife made $10 Million in investment earnings on these accounts.

The Metlife TCA Is Not A Bank Account

My main caveat with the Metlife TCA is it feels deceiving. Metlife’s literature claims that they are doing you a favor by offering you this account. They take the decisions off your hands during this emotional time so you have one less thing to worry about. You can keep your money in their Metlife TCA and worry about it later. Though, honestly, I’m not sure how that’s any easier than receiving the lump sum and immediately depositing it into your bank account to worry about it later.

Another issue with the account is, despite the catchy name, you really don’t have any control over your money. It is difficult to access and you aren’t choosing the best place for your money. By receiving the lump sum instead, you can choose to put it in a high interest savings account, a CD, or another type of investment. Again, you don’t have to do that right this second. This is an emotional decision. It is an emotional time. But if you have these benefits in one of your bank accounts, rather than a draft account, you have more options open to you down the road.

Remember, Metlife is an insurance company, not a bank.

If you are dealing with this currently, I am sorry you are going through this. Take your time with the decisions you can and don’t rush into anything. If you are not dealing with this right now, inevitably, you will. Learning about these issues will help you make smarter decisions in the unfortunate time that you will have to.


Walking Manhattan’s 32-Mile Shoreline

george washington bridge on the great saunter

The Great Saunter

The shoreline of Manhattan is a 32-mile walk taking at least 12 hours at a 3mph pace. Every year the Shorewalkers organization puts on the Great Saunter, which is exactly that. If you register for the walk, it is $20 which gets you a bib number and their official map. There is some support of gatorade along the walk. At the lunch stop in Inwood Park they provide some chips, gatorade, and moleskine bandages.

Don’t let the word “saunter” fool you. This is no easy walk. It is an intense physical and mental challenge to walk the distance of an ultra marathon. It is a task for the physically fit who are willing to push themselves and suffer for an accomplishment. It’s not “just” a walk and you can seriously injure yourself by moving steadily for 12-hours straight.

It requires preparation. Not necessarily training but you definitely need the right clothing, strategy, and most of all supportive shoes. Hiking boots or newer running sneakers will work. Dry wicking socks are a must. Layers. Snacks. Extra socks. Water. Salt. Sugar. I can’t stress enough how this is a pretty serious walk.

With all the said, it’s a really fun experience. I walked it last year under much more favorable conditions. We can’t predict the weather. While last year was a high of 66, this year was a high of 60. That’s a pretty big difference for being outside all day. It also was rainy and overcast most of the time.

In the late afternoon the sun peeked out and that helped. Mood-wise there seemed to be a big difference between the two experiences. When it was warm and sunny, of course we were in greater spirits. I’m not sure I will do the walk again but I will factor in the weather next time. For runs, I’d never think about skipping because of rain. But running in gloomy weather for 2 hours isn’t nearly as bad as walking in it for over 12. Last year we started at 7:30am and ended right at 7:30pm. This year it took us an hour longer. That’s how it goes!

Little Red Lighthouse on the Great Saunter

How to Prepare to Walk an Ultramarathon

Changing my socks and using body glide on my feet was a life saver. If I do this again, I’ll bring two extras because putting on fresh socks made a huge difference! We still stopped to stretch a lot. I brought more snacks than last time, and it still wasn’t enough. I was hungry the same whole time until the last 3 miles when my stomach started feeling upset. That usually happens to me after intense physical activity.

I have the background of being a distance runner so take this with a grain of salt. Being able to ignore the pain, something I’ve learned from running, was extremely helpful. I was decked out in running gear including sneakers. I saw some people in hiking boots but for cement walking I prefer sneakers. I had dry wicking socks, compression sleeves on my legs, running pants, a flipbelt to stash snacks in; then 3 layers of shirts including a tank top, long-sleeve shirt, and running hoodie for more pockets and warmth. We all wore baseball caps, which I also recommend to be prepared for good (sunshine) and bad (rain) weather.

I may not do the full walk again but I would do just the first half. I felt “fine” (considering) at the halfway point of 16-miles. This is in Inwood where we eat lunch. There’s a subway station right there too. And that distance is still nothing to laugh at. Even “just” walking. Plus the West side is a much nicer walk the the east.

gps watch battery lasts 11 half hours

My GPS watch battery died after 11.5 hours

I didn’t really start to feel it until about mile 21. That was when my energy level really started sinking. My muscles started tightening up, especially my hip. The pain kind of sustained from this point, never feeling worse or anything. But I kept feeling more and more tired. Even after finishing. A friend of mine (brilliant illustrator Nikki DeSautelle) felt hyped up after finishing the walk. But I just wanted to lay in a horizontal position for a long time. I did take the train and still walked home from the station.

My recovery, and you do have to recover for this, was taking a warm bath & shower. Drinking lots and lots of liquid (gatorade, water, ginger ale for my stomach, and tea for something warm). Then elevating my feet – I slept like that too. If you have a stick or foam roller, that will help a lot.

kips bay from great saunter

The Best Way to Experience Manhattan

The walk is beautiful and I recommend it as an experience. If you are new to the city or don’t get to the upper parts of Manhattan much, it is a wonderful way to see all the neighborhoods. The scenery changes on a dime and more than anything the walk helps relight my love for New York City. When I was going through a tough time my first year here, I wish I had participated in The Great Saunter. Seeing so much of the city all at once, while also having time to think, meditate, and still be able to talk to others when needed is truly a unique experience that might have sped up my falling in love with the city.


Being Part of a Flash Mob

Here’s the video of our flash mob crashing a swanky party at the Central Park Zoo! (I’m hiding in the back right corner in a green dress).


A year ago, Tonya mentioned being part of a flash mob. When I asked how she found out about it, she passed along the company Flash Mob America. I signed up on their mailing list. Then promptly ignored every event they sent along. Finally, at the end of May, I decided to pull the trigger and go for it.

Once I registered for the specific event, FMA sent over a video with the choreography. I watched it a few times but didn’t really study it. We were taught the dance in person, the day of the event. The event was at 7:30p on a Friday. We were asked to be at the studio at 3:30p. And were not given any details about the event until around 5p. Secrecy is key otherwise you’ll ruin the fun.

Sure, we weren’t paid for this. But it was a lot of fun and I would definitely do it again. It was great seeing the guests laughing and smiling while watching us. The dance also sparked my interest in taking a dance class here. I took dance classes until I graduated high school then stopped completely. Focusing on a choreographed routine was a really great mindful exercise. Since this event, I have signed up for an affordable adult hip-hop dance class in Brooklyn.

This was definitely one of those events that made me very grateful for living in nyc.


Mad Max is On Fire & Tomorrowland is Ayn Rand

Any movie that has explosions or robots or both is my favorite movie. I love “dumb action movies” and I am not even apologizing for that. I prefer when they’re smart, of course. But I just want to see things blown up, chase scenes, and general bad ass behavior. A plot is a bonus.

The big blockbuster for the start of the summer is currently Mad Max: Fury Road. Another big-name blockbuster is Tomorrowland since it is Disney + George Clooney. One has fire on top of fire and the other has a message Al Gore spouted a decade ago. Which one is which!


mad max fury road

Mad Max is On Fire Then Explodes With More Fire And Now I’m Being Chased By A Bob-Omb

I will lead with that. However, there was actually a lot more downtime than I had expected in Mad Max: Fury Road. Mainly because everyone has been so amped up about it. And you should be. The whole movie is an adrenaline rush about people who are on an adrenaline rush. But there is a real plot. And there is actual down time to address it. So, not explosions every single second. The car chase does stop at some point.

However, just as I was like “boooooring why are these people standing around talking” then the plot went BOOM and everything lit up again!


Tomorrowland Was Originally Called “An Inconvenient Shrugged”

Atlas Shrugged is a book by objectivist Ayn Rand about this weird perfect society created by the best of the best because they don’t have time for “regular” people.

Tomorrowland is a movie by Disney about this weird perfect society created by the best of the best because they don’t have time for “regular” people.

An Inconvnient Truth is a 2006 documentary from Al Gore about how humans are destroying the planet.

Tomorrowland is a 2015 film from Disney about how humans are destroying the planet.

Enjoy!


The Problem with Being Perfect 365

perfect 365 is not possible

(Another title for this post is “Everything is Terrible”) (Also, the girl above is photoshopped on both sides!)

This post will probably be a soapbox of old news. This is because I’m a little bit too old for selfies. I partook in the activity when digital cameras first came out. I was in college and it was very novel. But by the time smart phones really started to take over, I outgrew the insecurity and self-absorption needed to take selfies all the time.

I do remember, back with our digital cameras, we would always ask our friends to “touch up” the photos before posting them on Facebook. Or to not post the one where I’m making a goofy face. The touch-up, would require someone to have photoshop and know enough to clone out red marks or fix red eye. That was it though.

Now, on the rare occasions I do take a selfie, I just post the thing. Everyone knows I have some red spots. Big deal. I hadn’t even thought of a way to edit my photos like that on a smart phone. Sure, I would crop and frame. But thinking about smoothing my face or erasing “fat”, just never really occurred to me.

Well there certainly is a market for it! A few months ago, I was browsing around Instagram clicking various hashtags. I came across a person who was on a “journey” (weightloss, financial, travel, etc). This person posted a selfie stating how happy they are with themselves compared to some time in the past. The first comment was, “You are glowing!” And she was. Her face was bright, polished, smooth, red cheeks, and she had a whole “glow” about her. Like, unnaturally.

That was my first forray into Makeover Apps. Specifically, Perfect 365.


makeover with perfect 365

The tagline for Perfect 365 (and all the other makeover software out there) is “The easiest way to make you look great.”

This makes me so sad. Because no matter what I do with this software, I never look great. I only look sub-human. Pretty much like a cyborg.

Going through the app is eye opening and depressing. The first thing it does is, supposedly, cover up blemishes. Funny, this is the only thing it keeps fairly natural as you can still see mine on the right-hand side of the photo.

Now on to the bigger stuff; under eye darkness. We have to remove that completely. Because, humans get circles under their eyes, and we don’t want to look human. Nope. Get rid of those. Because, for some reason, under eye circles are not “great” and are not “attractive” and make me “less than”. Gone!

Well, if we’re going to bad-photoshop our dark circles away, we might as well bad-photoshop our entire skin. Pores are for suckers. We don’t need them. Lines? Nope, see ya. Sure, humans have pores and lines. But who wants to look like a human? Not me! I want to look “great”!

Okay, we’ve done three things and already we look like a creepy porcelain doll. Perfect. 365.

But why stop there! To keep looking “great” I need to contour. Clearly my face is too fat because I still look like a human. Silly humans with your fat faces. I can’t even stand to look at that photo. Gross. “Great” people don’t have fat faces.

So we’ll slim down the face, ah much better. Oh no! Our cheeks are droopy now. Okay, let’s lift them right up. There we go. “Great”! Perfect. 365.

You’re bad at make-up? Because you’re a human right. No worries, this app has you covered. We can just bad-photoshop all types of make-up on you.

Eye liner and shadow and fake lashes and cat eyes and lip stick and now you look “great”. (Actually, these look so bad that people don’t even try to pawn them off as real on Instagram. Surprisingly).

So, this photo is my attempt at a “still kind of human looking” makeover with the app. The smoothing alone really comes out looking creepy as fuck. Oh I mean “great”.


I have no idea what this says about our society. It’s really fucking depressing. What’s the point of posting a picture of yourself, if you need to render yourself into a completely different person? People love you because you’re human. We like looking at humans. Not creepy dolls. Not cyborgs. And not fakes.

The more rampant this is, the more impressionable people will believe this really does look “great”. And that there is something wrong with them. There is nothing wrong with spots under your eyes. There is nothing wrong with blemishes. There is nothing wrong with having pores.

Trust me. You already are perfect. 365.


Where To Buy European Treats in NYC

In celebration of the 60th anniversary of the campy song contest Eurovision, I hosted a party and wanted to stay on theme. This being NYC it wasn’t to difficult to find European candies and foods. I found some on the books places and other local places, so here is the whole round-up. This spans Brooklyn and Manhattan of the best stores to buy European treats.


Meyers of Keswick – West Village

meyers of keswick in west village manhattan nyc

You know you’re in the right place because there is a bench outside painted in the United Kingdom flag. This was by far the best place I stopped at. It is completely a British market. It had all kinds of imported snack foods from the UK. But it also had just imported foods in general. It truly was a market. Lots of Heinz canned foods. And Marmite! That was $6 if you were wondering. They also sell Vegemite for $9.95.

They offer lots of tea. Plus, prepared foods of traditional fare. You can buy a full shepard’s pie or other meat pie if you call ahead. For take out they offer sausage rolls and mini-pie’s. These were delicious. I even saw the chocolate Smartie’s there.

The woman on register was definitely British and very friendly. I found exactly what I was looking for. And the store was really great. I definitely would stop there first if you’re looking for any type of British food or other items.


Golden Farm – Kensington, Brooklyn

golden farm kensington brooklyn

This is my local market! When I first moved to Kensington, I shopped here regularly because it is just a few blocks from my apartment. Then, there was a controversy about them not paying their workers fair wages. There was a huge boycott of the store and I started shopping somewhere else. Only recently, have I started shopping there again. It’s a shame there was that issue because it is a fantastic grocery store!

I almost didn’t need to go anywhere else, Golden Farm (Church Ave at E 4th st) offers so many foods from other countries. And it is very very cheap. (Probably because for a long time they didn’t pay their workers fair wages).

When you first walk in, head to the left and you’ll see plenty of European crackers, candies, and other snacks. Some are traditional, some are not. There are also American commercial and organic foods put in there as well. Kensington is a primary Eastern European neighborhood so that is how the store caters. There were lots of Polish snacks and foods. Traditional perogies. But also German cookies. Italy imported crackers. And authentic French crepes.

There is not a meat or cheese department, so you’ll have to go somewhere else for that. I even found preserves that were made in Armenia and Moldova (both Eurovision countries). And canned veggies from Israel. Many of the food items are fairly random. They also sell whole fish or dried fish. However it is. Sorry, I don’t know how to prepare that! But it’s there if you’re interested.

This is also a traditional market in that it has a huge selection of fruit and vegetables outside the store. They do sell a little bit of dairy; some milk and cheese. And have good prices on beer, cereal, and other ingredients. It is not a traditional grocery store since it doesn’t have a deli, a weekly circular, or sales.


Bobek Deli – Kensington, Brooklyn

bobek deli kensington brooklyn polish deli

Not actually Bobek Deli but close enough

I am extremely fortunate that two of the best sources of European goods were just a few blocks from my apartment. I love my neighborhood so much. There are quite a few Polish deli’s on Church Avenue with similar offerings. On the same block as the aforementioned Golden Farm, is a small Polish deli called Bobek Deli (Church Ave between E 4th and 3rd Streets).

This store offers many Polish goods like food ingredients, coffee/tea, soaps, sausages/meats, cheeses, and fresh food (perogie’s!). I went here mainly to pick up Polish sausage and fresh perogie’s. The perogie’s (several types) are $0.60 as of today. They also many types of sausage, salami, and other cured meats. I specifically asked for something that didn’t need to be cooked. Since I just wanted to make a platter of sausages for Eurovision (in honor of Conchita Wurst of course).

The woman behind the counter was extremely helpful. All the labels and names were in Polish so I wasn’t quite sure which was which. She spoke in English and was great at helping me pick which sausages would work best for the party and what else would go with it. I bought two Polish sausages, then some delicious salami, and perogie’s. Everything was very affordable.

Bobek Deli also offers other cooked foods, which I definitely recommend. Plus, it being right next to Golden Farm means you can get most of your shopping done right on the same block.


The Sweet Life – Lower East Side

the sweet life lower east side candy store

This candy store is very small, cluttered, and in an awkward area in the Lower East Side/Chinatown. There are lots of traditional candies on the right as you walk in. Then Jelly Bellies and other normal candy shop candies near the register. The register itself is kind of hidden and checking out with multiple items is kind of awkward. The whole places is pretty crowded with goods but I know small spaces is what NYC is.

More importantly, on the left near the front of the store, are all the Imported treats! Here is where you can find Vegemite for $9. This is the best price I found of the two places I found Vegemite (of the six places I went to). I also found Tim Tams here – those were $9 as well. I can’t even complain. These treats have to cross multiple oceans to get here. I’m glad that I can get them both for under ten bucks.

Because I do know what vegemite tastes like, I skipped on that. But I did pick up a container of Tim Tams to try, after hearing a lot about them. Well, they were delicious! And I wish they were cheaper because I’d love to have them on hand when friend’s come over.

The Sweet Life also offered Marmite (for $8, so not as good of a deal as Meyers of Keswick), which I did not purchase there. They had Italian hard candies. And Hob Nob’s. These were another treat that I heard a lot about but had never tried. This and Meyers of Keswick were the two places I saw that had them.

Honestly, I thought the woman behind the counter could have been a bit friendlier. I was in the store quite a while looking around and it seemed like she was in a hurry for me to leave. But they have an excellent selection of everything. And this was the only store that had any type of Australian treats! Maybe there are other places in the city that have them, but this was a fantastic selection over all of imported snacks.


Sockerbit – West Village

sockerbit west village best store to buy european candy

My plan was to visit the London Candy Company then Sockerbit because both are/were in the West Village. So, I first went to the London Candy Company several years ago on an awkward date. They were located on the Upper East Side and I loved the store. I had heard about a year ago, they were moving to the West Village but hadn’t had a chance to check out the new store. Over the weekend, I decided to go there for Eurovision supplies. I looked up the address and walked past. The building was completely closed up! Looking on line, their Twitter account hasn’t been updated in a while. And their domain has been sold/parked. It looks like nothing is happening there. This is very unfortunate and disappointing. The only upside is that Meyers of Keswick is near-by and is a great alternative.

But another great European candy store in the West Village is the Swedish candy store of Sockerbit. This was the “cleanest” store I visited of all of them. By that I mean more in design. None of the stores were dirty. But Sockerbit was extremely organized, highly stylized, and kind of very Swedish.

It is set up like bulk candy shop, which is unique in comparison to all of the others. They sell a few packaged items but that’s not the reason to go there. You pick up a paper bag and a plastic scooper then go to town in the bulk bins. Mix and match putting them all in the bag. All the candies are the same price (I think $12/lb). They also have Finnish and other types of European candy than just Swedish.

Sockerbit also offers several Swedish goods and market items. They also have a refrigerator for cheese and those types of Swedish goods. The store was fairly busy when I went. The bulk candy thing might weird some people out but they seemed to do a good job of the “no hands” rule. In general, this was the “prettiest” store of all of them.


If you’re looking for European goods/snacks, there are lots of options in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Australian snacks (other than dub pies) are a little bit trickier! My round-up included Meyers of Keswick, The Sweet Life, Bobek Deli, Sockerbit, and Golden Farm.


Eurovision! (A Guide for Americans)

eurovision

Eurovision 2015 will be streamed live Sat 5/23 at 3p (est)!


What Is Eurovision?

Eurovision is campy, over-the top, EuroPop performances. It is very self-aware. And it is also very serious business.

This year will be the 60th edition of the Eurovision Song Contest! Eurovision combines the national pride of the Olympics with the live performance & voting style of American Idol. Some call it the World Cup of song competitions. There will be 27 live performances this year; usually there are 26. This year is extra special because, for whatever reason, Australia has been invited to compete.

Unlike song competitions and award shows here in the states, Eurovision is streamed live because there are no commercials. The show is not drawn out painfully forever to try to increase ad sales. Instead, the show plows through one performance to the next. The pacing makes you feel like you cant take a break until it’s time for voting! Twenty-seven performances in about two-hours!

After a speed run of live performances, there’s a break where the host makes awkward banter and bad jokes. They don’t mean for them to be bad. But, the entire show is in English. Usually in countries where English is not their first language. So you end up having two people trying to make stage-talk in a language that both of them only half understand. The result is as you would imagine (great).

Then comes the voting! The votes consist of 50% audience voting and 50% “panel of expert judges” voting. You cannot vote for your own country. While Europe is voting (we can’t vote, obviously) there are musical acts. Or a history of Eurovision montage. Then they painstakingly display the results from each country as spoken by a country representative via live satellite link. Sometimes the satellite link works correctly. And sometimes it doesn’t. You’re not supposed to vote politically…

Then, they declare a winner! Somehow, Eurovision is a very efficient award show machine. They crank out 27 live performances, voting, results, and crowning a winner in just about four-hours. I’ve seen episodes of American Idol that have barely 5 performances take two-hours! The winner is actually important because it determines where the competition will be hosted the next year. This year’s is in Austria because they won Eurovision last year.


Drinking Game / Bingo

Because simply watching a campy EuroPop song competition isn’t enough, many people play Eurovision Bingo. Or, much simpler, just a drinking game. The competition is this predictable. Yet, it’s also not predictable at all some years.

The list below make up some of the bingo card slots that I compiled this year. Read through to get an idea of what this competition is all about! Feel free to download the bingo cards pdf to print out for your own Eurovision party!

 

eurovision bingo game

 

  • ABBA Mentioned
  • Air Instrument Played
  • Audience Member witih Face Painted
  • Awarding Points for Political Reasons
  • Awkward Joke
  • Blows Kiss to Camera
  • Country Representative Goofs
  • Crawling or Kneeling on Stage
  • Dressed All in White
  • Dub Drop
  • Host Changes Outfits
  • I Love You Europe
  • Mid-Song Costume Change
  • Obvious Neighbor Voting
  • Out of Sync Backing Dancers
  • Shirtless Man
  • Singer Doesn’t Move
  • Technical Glitch
  • Thank You Australia
  • Wind Machine

 


Eurovision Past Winners

Eurovision has some famous artists under it’s belt. Like Celine Dion, Katrina and the Waves, ABBA. But more often than not, the performers competing are big in Europe just not over here (or yet). Here are some highlights of previous Eurovision performers:


Rise Like A Phoenix by Conchita Wurst (Austria)

A drag queen performer sings a song reminiscent of a James Bond theme song. She won last year’s competition.


Party For Everybody by Buranovskiye Babushki (Russia)

This song features a group of grandmothers singing about partying. During their performance they bake a batch of cookies.


Hard Rock Hallelujah by Lordi (Finland)

Eurovision’s only winning rock song to date. These Gwar-esque performers won in 2006.


Moustache by Twin Twin (France)

Last year, France’s goofy entry received the lowest amount of votes with a total of 2.


It’s My Life by Cezar (Romania)

Sometimes Romania sends falsetto-singing vampire warlocks to perform.


Irlande Douze Pointe by Dustin the Turkey (Ireland)

In 2008, Ireland sent a turkey. His name is Dustin. He is a TV personality and has recorded several albums.


Watch Eurovision streamed live Saturday May 23rd 3p(est)!


Five Graphic Memoirs You Should Read

When I first started reading Graphic Novels, I started with memoirs. I loved reading an illustrated autobiographical story. I’m a sucker for personal stories anyway. Graphic Memoirs do read different from autobiographies. Little moments are shared in a way that doesn’t work as well in written novels. There doesn’t always need to be a grandiose chapter of insight into the author’s life. Little moments can be illustrated very easily. And still portray the author’s life.

Graphic Memoirs also tend to be about a particular aspect of an author’s life, rather than a chronological telling. In this way, it’s like reading a very personalized non-fiction story. These can be of travels, family, childhood, mental illness, identity or a number of other specialized topics.

My favorite type of graphic novel are memoirs and I’ve read a lot of them. The five books below aren’t necessarily my favorite. More so, these are a good representation of memoirs and tackle very interesting topics.


Epileptic by David B.

Page from Epileptic by David B

Page from Epileptic by David B

This memoir chronicles the author’s brother’s struggle with epilepsy and how is family handled it. The story itself is actually very interesting. As his family tried lots of different religions, home remedies, and other natural paths to cure their son of epilepsy.

But what truly makes this book are David B’s illustrations. They are very dark. His drawing style is of mostly blacks. Thick lines. Very busy. And very grim. The book has a dark overtone to it all throughout, most of which is depicted just in his style.

His visualizations work perfectly for the story he’s telling. This is also an interesting memoir because it is, essentially, his brother’s story. Yet told from his perspective.


Page from Burma Chronicles by Guy Delisle

Burma Chronicles by Guy Delisle

Burma Chronicles was the first graphic novel I ever read. I love traveling. I love reading about traveling. Guy Delisle has written several graphic travelogues of his various experiences traveling as an animator. He is a Canadian citizen, which allows him work visas in countries that us Americans don’t necessarily have access to. This memoir is about his time in Burma. But he has also written about living in North Korea. That one is also very interesting.

Since I have never been to Burma, seeing his illustrations helps to bring the country alive more than written descriptions could. He shares many little moments in his day-to-day life, which really help to show what living in the country is like. Writing this out would become mundane or monotnous. But illustrations are different and even the same drawing can represent different things.

In this one, his family is staying with him in Burma. So it is also a memoir of him being a father and raising an infant, while working in a foreign land. There is a lot to this that written text just wouldn’t do justice. He brings to life his infant son, the country of Burma, and even his work as an animator.

I highly recommend all of his travelogue memoirs!


Page from graphic memoir Marbles by Ellen Forney

Page from graphic memoir Marbles by Ellen Forney

Marbles by Ellen Forney

This is the best autobiography I’ve read on mental illness. Far better than any written novel. Illustrating mental illness makes the feelings visible. Seeing a drawing of someone crawling on the floor in sadness gets the point across better than using metaphors. Having a visual for a manic episode shows the true nature of the disease. These emotions just cannot be conveyed as strongly in text.

I’ve never felt like I could relate to any book on depression as much as this one. Her drawings of sadness clouds, darkness, crawling from the bed to the couch, represent perfectly how I’ve felt in depressive episode. Rather than write in words her feelings while going through mania or depression, we are able to actually see what her feelings look like.

This novel also addressed the Creativity Factor of mental illness. She illustrates the struggle between wanting to manage her mental illness while also fearing she will lose her creativity. Forney goes into this in detail. Even discussing famous artists who were definitely suffering from depression.

Also, in the end she does learn how to manage her episodes through behaviors and meds. Most of the book chronicles her visiting a psychiatrist and how she goes about that. I love her honesty not only in her writing but also her drawings. Lastly, Forney identifies as bisexual, which is always nice to see representation in media.


Page from Tomboy by Liz Prince

Page from Tomboy by Liz Prince

Tomboy by Liz Prince

Liz Prince is one of my favorite graphic novelists. Her drawings are simple yet tell you everything you need to know. Her writing is a perfect balance of wit and substance. I can also relate to her fairly well. So that helps. In the past she has published short graphic novels about a long-term relationship. And then, when that ended, her life being single again. Those are both really great and funny.

Tomboy is Prince’s first long-form graphic memoir. She is definitely ready for it. Instead of focusing on relationships or the lack of relationships, Prince focuses on her own identity. Specifically in the terms of her gender. This is not a LGBTQ novel. It is not a trans novel. Prince falls into this niche where she is both cis and straight, yet is assumed not to be. Her look is rather androgynous. And her personality/interests more masculine. She her struggles with being misidentified in childhood. And being the only girl on the baseball team.

Her illustrations help to show us all of her various phases, hairstyles, and body changes as she grew up. These visuals are key, since we her appearance is the main topic of the book. In the end she finds a place where she can be herself, and be liked for being her. This story’s message couldn’t be conveyed as strongly if it were written in text rather than the graphic memoir style.


My Friend Dahmer by John Backderf

This is a novel I didn’t love when I finished, but was sufficiently creeped out while reading. The premise of this graphic memoir, is that the author went to high school with Jeffrey Dahmer. He had a few brief interactions with him. And even back then knew that there was something off about Dahmer.

The book then goes into detail about Dahmer’s childhood. His early homicidal tendencies. And other high school interactions with him. But the fact that it is revolving around the author’s own personal experiences, really makes this one. Hearing this from a personal perspective is very effective at increasing the creepy factor. Reading about a serial killer is creepy enough. But to think that this person was once considered just a regular high schooler, is even creepier.

Although Backderf’s illustrations aren’t overly dark, these visuals really make Dahmer’s actions feel more realistic. And, yes, creepier. It’s interesting to see him transform from an awkward teenager into, well, a monster. Having visuals for this is really effective.