Thursday, April 28, 2011

Please Support the Shelves at the Brooklyn Public Library!

If you've been keeping up with whatsgoodinny, then you know all about why our public libraries are pretty much the greatest thing ever.

Today alone, at the Brooklyn Heights branch of the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL), I borrowed at least six CDs (Beatles, Pixies, Alan Jackson... my taste is pretty eclectic, yet they have it ALL!), one new-release DVD (How Do You Know), and I currently have two library books at home and three more on hold. The library is my lifeblood, and it offers so much to the community, especially to the most precious residents we have, our children. Did you know that the library has a wide assortment of classic literature set aside as "assignment" books for students so that they do not have to purchase these books? Did you know that the library provides after-school activities and also provides extensive support and resources for job seekers?  Read more about why libraries are so important in my earlier post, here.

However, on June 30, 2011, if proposed budget cuts take effect, BPL faces a loss of as much of $25.2 MILLION in funding, nearly a 30% reduction in its budget. This is in addition to the $9.9 million BPL has already lost in funding over the past two years. What will these additional cuts mean for the library community in Brooklyn? Massive staff layoffs, reduced hours at branches, fewer services/programs/events, and a far lesser selection of books, DVDs, CDs and other materials available.

Please join the Brooklyn Public Library's campaign against the proposed budget cuts by signing this petition and by donating to BPL.

Also, don't forget to "like" the library on facebook.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

"Kosher For Passover" Mexican Food at Toalache, And It's Good!

In this post, I noted that while searching for community Passover Seders in NYC, I stumbled upon a couple  of restaurants (literally) that were offering Passover menus. One of those restaurants was the Mexican bistro, Toalache located on W. 50th Street between Broadway and 8th Avenues.

Last night, I convinced my friend to trek over to Midtown West to try some Kosher-for-Passover-style "Tacos de Brisket." (I say kosher style, as the restaurant does serve both dairy and meat, and I have a feeling that the food has not been blessed by a rabbi, but if you are lenient with your Passover restrictions, as I am, you can rest assured that there is no bread on Toalache's Passover menu). I imagined that, like much of the typical Passover food at the grocery, the "tacos," made out of matzo (the cracker-type food that Jews eat at Passover instead of bread, to remind us of the supposed Exodus from Egypt when the Israelites did not have enough time to bake their dough), would be dry and tasteless. Boy was I wrong!

Matzo Tacos de Brisket
The thin, warm matzo tortilla was so tasty that I never would have known it was made of matzo if I hadn't read it on the menu. And the brisket inside? Mm, mmm, mmmm! It was delicious and full of flavor, better than some of the best brisket I have had at the old Jewish delis. My friend ordered the regular (read: not matzo-made) brisket tacos, and hers were also devoured quite quickly. We were told that the chef and owner, Julian Medina, wished to create a menu in which he could interpret Passover through Mexican cuisine, and what a fine job he did!

We had also started out with a ceviche "atun" (tuna), that was fresh and just a little spicy, but with a unique pairing of watermelon chunks to tone down the pico. 

Dulce de Leche Matzo Pudding with Coffee Ice Cream
For dessert, we ordered a Dulce de Leche Matzo Pudding, as well as flan. The light, creamy flan, topped with mango and strawberry pieces was a perfect compliment to our heavier meals. And just like the matzo tacos, the matzo pudding was so delicious that I could hardly tell that I was restricting my normal diet to eat it. Doused in coffee ice cream, the matzo pudding (kugel?) was positively sinful! 

Throughout the meal, we also sipped on strong, fruity margaritas. I was ecstatic for the Agave Nectar Margarita, which was made with "Agave 99 Blanco Kosher Tequila," and had just the right proportion of tartness to sweetness. When we raved about the food to our waitress, she sent over the manager for the evening, Victor, who was warm and charming and even offered us more margaritas, on the house! We had to decline, due to the strength of the margaritas that we had already consumed, but we were extremely appreciative of the restaurant's hospitality. 

I also enjoyed the upstairs dining area, which was fairly minimalist, yet evoked, to some extent, a feeling of Old-World-style fine Mexican dining. Although Passover ended today and Toalache is no longer serving the Passover-inspired menu, there are still a plethora of options available on their menu to satisfy your Mexican-food cravings for brunch, lunch or dinner, and they even have a vegetarian menu! Mr. Medina clearly has a very progressive approach to his food. See all menus here

The prices are not cheap, but for the area (Midtown West/Theater District/Clinton), it was not bad at all. I look forward to returning soon. Maybe I will even be really adventurous and try the Chapulines Tacos (filled with Oaxacan-styled dried grasshoppers, onion and jalapeno). 

If you live or work in the financial district, be sure to also visit Toalache's downtown Taqueria, on Maiden Lane. See more info on other partner restaurants here

Monday, April 25, 2011

Neutral Uke Hotel Unites Obsessed NMH Fans.

(Picture by Cindy Waffles)
In the 1990s, the indie world was given a rare musical gift in the form of Jeff Magnum and his band, Neutral Milk Hotel (NMH). Unfortunately, NMH broke up in the late 90s, and now fans can never see them live again. However, they CAN see Shawn Fogel's brainchild cover band, Neutral Uke Hotel, whose mission is "to unite obsessed fans of Neutral Milk Hotel for a live performance of their critically acclaimed, 'In the Aeroplane Over the Sea' album" (and, sometimes, a few other popular NMH songs as well.. always stay for encores!).

I recently attended a Neutral Uke Hotel concert, with Cindy Waffles of, at Cameo Gallery in Williamsburg, a little hidden art gallery by day, music venue by night spot, located in the back of the The Lovin' Cup Cafe.  Cindy and I were amazed at how close Fogel comes to sounding like Magnum (admittedly, I never saw NMH live, but I have listened frequently to NMH's albums). If you close your eyes, you can practically picture Jeff Magnum on his guitar, except that when you open them it's Shawn Fogel, and he is playing a soprano ukulele.

Neutral Uke Hotel (Picture by Cindy Waffles)
Yes, Neutral "Uke" Hotel is known not only for its splendid ability to cover NMH, but to do so with ukuleles. Neutral Uke Hotel encourages fans of NMH to clap, stomp and sing along as they play Aeroplane in its entirety. (Some fans suggest that Aeroplane is truly a very special album, not just because of the complexity of the sound produced by NMH and the powerfulness of the lyrics, but because the album seems to be, at least in part, a tribute to Anne Frank and her tragic experience during the Holocaust. You wouldn't necessarily know this if you weren't told, but once you re-visit the album with that potential interpretation in mind, and listen to tracks such as "Holland, 1945," it becomes even more beautiful).

Shawn Fogel on Ukulele (Picture by WGINY)
At the Cameo Gallery show, Fogel played the soprano ukulele while Michael J. Epstein, of The Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library, played baritone ukulele. Other accompanying instruments and performers included Josh Cohen on the melodia, Matt Gerard on trumpet and baritone, and Andrew Lawback on drums. Fogel's solo performance on "Oh Comely," a track from Aeroplane, left some avid fans yelling, "Holy Shit!"

Fogel also had a lot of patience and was quick to provide some humorous banter with the audience when the venue's sound equipment refused to work. Unfortunately, Neutral Uke Hotel is not playing in NYC again anytime soon, but you can always take the Chinatown Bus or NJ Transit to Philadelphia and catch them at World Cafe Live Wednesday night, April 27. As Fogel said at the Cameo Gallery show, "It's not everyday you get to celebrate your favorite record with strangers."

The MJE Memorial Library (Picture by Cindy Waffles)

I also must point out opening band, The Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library, a band I had never before heard of, but which really blew me away. I walked out of the night's show with their album in hand. The music of MJE (not to be confused with the Manhattan Jewish Experience...) was catchy, fun and bouncy. They also incorporated use of ukulele, as well as a fiddle, which I found to be one of the group's highlights. Lead singers Michael J. Epstein and Tayna Palit blended well in perfect harmony, often backed up by the harmonizing vocals of their six piece band. Over and over again during their performance, the band churned out hip and fun songs about everything from love to evil space sharks... Their outfits were trendy (in that hipster way we all hate to love) and color-coordinated, and each band member wore fitting sexy-nerd library glasses. They had an indie rock/pop feel, and my favorite song of their set was Holy Ghost.

Golden Bloom (Picture by WGINY)
Before Neutral Uke Hotel took the stage, Fogel also played a set with (er, as...) his current band, Golden Bloom, sampling both new and old songs, in somewhat of a garage-rock style, while mellowing out on certain love songs. I really liked one tune about never knowing where you'll find love, but I do not know the song's name. (On his website, Fogel defines the band as "indie power pop"... I guess I can see that...).

Grand Finale (Picture by Cindy Waffles)

At the end of the night, all of the bands got back on stage, together, and rocked out with the audience members. I must say that Tanya Patil, of MJE, is full of charisma and stage presence. All in all Neutral Uke Hotel and its opening acts put on a stellar display of music at Cameo Gallery and I look forward to uniting with obsessed NMH fans (and NUH fans) next time Shawn Fogel and his ukulele are in town.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Baby It's You!

Guest Author for this Post: Gina Brill

Edited By: Heather K.

Editor’s note: WGINY was very excited to learn recently that the blog had been selected to
receive tickets to the new Broadway musical production, Baby It’s You!, which is in
previews until April 27. Guest Author Ms. Brill attended the show on behalf of WGINY and
wrote the following review. You can purchase your tickets here. Note that at 10am on performance mornings, a limited number of rush tickets may be available for $30 each at the theater box office only.

This past Tuesday evening, I was fortunate enough to attend, "Baby It's You! Blogger Night!" at the Broadhurst Theatre, located at 235 W. 44th Street. The Broadway musical, Baby It's You!, is the story of music producer Florence Greenberg (Beth Leavel), who starts out in the music business late in life after her children have already grown, in the late 1950s, and discovers the hit girl group, The Shirelles. Her story is one of breaking boundaries and proving people wrong. One of my favorite scenes occurs early in the show, when Greenberg and her husband are at their New Jersey home, and Mr. Greenberg is anything but supportive of his wife's new venture.

Beth Leavel as "Florence Greenberg" with "The Shirelles" in Baby It's You!
(Picture used with permission of Baby It's You)
The story is strong compared to many other musicals that I have attended, and Florence Greenberg is an inspiring character. However, the musical skirts over the depth of the story and the main character, preferring to focus more on being a vehicle for the music that she discovered. The songs highlighted by the show are the hit's of Greenberg's record label in the late 1950s and 1960s, including, "Twist and Shout," "It's My Party," and "Soldier Boy." While these are great popular songs and are excellently performed, they do not always help to tell the story. I would have liked to see at least a few original songs in the show to add more depth to the brilliant story.

The cast is small and, without exception, excellent. Christina Sajous ("Shirley") has a gorgeous, velvety alto voice, and a special mention has to go to Geno Henderson who gave a fantastic performance in multiple roles. The costumes are glitzy and glamorous, and the set simple but effective. In an unusual twist, the orchestra remains onstage throughout the show, on moveable platforms which appeared to float  in mid-air.

In summary, the music of Baby It's You! is good and well-performed, but it could be so much more than a collection of songs. That said, the show leaves you uplifted and is an escape from the real world for a couple of hours.

As an aside, we were invited to pre-theatre drinks at the Library Bar at the Paramount Hotel, located at 235 W. 46th Street. This stylish destination for either pre- or post- theatre is a cut above most bars in the theatre district. The bar is located on a mezzanine up a sweeping staircase, and is warm and cozy, yet modern with an eclectic drink menu.

Catch a sneak preview of Baby It's You!:
(Video used with permission of Baby It's You!)

Or watch Tony award-winning actress Beth Leavel's "First Look" at the show:

(Video used with permission of Baby It's You!)

Monday, April 18, 2011

WGINY Selected to Participate in "Baby It's You!" Blogger Night

Picture used with permission of Baby It's You! on Broadway
WGINY is back from vacation and pleased to announce that the blog has been selected to participate in "Blogger Night" for the new Broadway musical production, Baby It's You!, which will take place tomorrow night, Tuesday, April 19. 

Baby It's You, which is still in previews until April 27, follows the story of housewife, Florence Greenberg (played by Beth Leavel), and the legendary all-girl group she discovered, The Shirelles. Follow these links to learn more about the show, and its cast and creative team, and get ready to rock and roll with some of your favorite oldies!

For Blogger Night, WGINY has been invited to participate in a pre-show cocktail party at The Paramount Hotel Library Bar, located in Times Square, after which bloggers and their guests will be treated to a complimentary performance of Baby It's You! at The Broadhurst Theatre, followed by a question and answer session with the cast!

Check back soon for a review of Baby It's You!... "The Songs You Love. The Story You Never Knew."

Picture used with permission of Baby It's You! on Broadway

Sunday, April 10, 2011

What's Good in...Memphis?

WGINY is on vacation!! Check back for new posts at the end of the week.

Meanwhile, WGINY is excited to spend a few days traveling around Memphis.

What's good in and around Memphis? To name a few... Sun Studio, Graceland, Rock and Soul Museum, Stax Museum, National Civil Rights Museum/Lorraine Motel... I have seen some of these in the past and hope to see a few more and then some during my stay. Perhaps I will also get to try Leonard's Pit Barbeque. TBD.

See you on the flip side!

An Affordable Weekend of Meditation, Yoga and Relaxation, Close to NYC.

This post is #2 in a 2 part series, in which I and contributing author, Tami Shaloum, each describe our experiences at separate weekend yoga retreats at Sivananda Ashram Yoga Ranch. 

Author for this post: Tami Shaloum

I came to Sivananda Yoga Ranch not really knowing what to expect. Admittedly, my vision of an ashram up to that point came mostly from the book Eat, Pray, Love. I had read about Sivananda, and other similar retreats along the Hudson Valley, in a New York Times article written a year earlier. The article talked about professionals from New York City coming up to these ashrams as a weekend getaway, not so much a vacation in the traditional sense, but a break from the hustle and bustle of the city, a way to reconnect and unwind, and a place to get away from the stronghold of technology. It was an intriguing concept. I saved the article.

Despite practicing yoga on and off for 12 years, I had not really delved into the spiritual aspect of yoga. I had recently started taking a yoga class that incorporated meditation and was finding it difficult to sit still and focus. I decided to take myself to one of those yoga retreats I had read about as a birthday present to myself. So that’s how, one chilly evening in mid-November, I found myself being driven up a dark, winding hill toward the Sivananda Yoga Ranch. I chose that particular weekend because it included a hike in the nearby Shawangunks, a mountain ridge jutting out from the Catskills. I wanted to do yoga but the added bonus of hiking in this stunning area also drew me.

I was greeted warmly by the receptionist, who gave me the ashram’s schedule and invited me for dinner in a half hour, just enough time to find my room, place my meager luggage down, and get my bearings. I had booked a dorm but was pleased to see that I was given a double. My roommate came in from the shared bathroom across the hall and I immediately felt her friendliness and warmth as she introduced herself. A 30-something mother of two originally from New York City but now living in the New Paltz area, she would prove to be an excellent roommate and friend.

I felt a little shy at first as I wandered through the kitchen/dining area helping myself to the vegetarian buffet and finding a spot to sit and eat. But the setting was so casual, almost as though you were at a potluck at a friend’s house where everybody is just lounging about, that I just plopped myself down next to two young women who were chatting with each other. They seemed happy to have the company and included me in their conversation. It turned out they also had never been to an ashram before. In fact, one of them was new to yoga. I relaxed considerably. There happened to be only about 15 guests, a fact that surprised me. Add to that the 15 or so regulars (people who live there full time) and the setting was fairly intimate. Some had been to Sivananda before, some had been to other ashrams and some, like me, had never been to an ashram before.

After dinner was satsang. This would become both my favorite and least favorite parts of the weekend. We sat through satsang twice a day, at 6 am and 8 pm, for about an hour and a half. The first 20 minutes are spent in silent meditation. Twenty minutes never felt so long. My back would start to ache, then my feet would fall asleep and I would be subject to pins and needles. I often had trouble emptying my mind and opened my eyes a couple of times to gaze out the window. I would try to overcome this by focusing on my breathing, adjusting my posture, thinking positive thoughts about my loved ones and returning my gaze to my third eye, a spot in between the eyes on the bridge of the nose. I tried to remember mantras that I learned over the course of the weekend but usually I just sat and acknowledged the discomfort, waiting for the signal for the meditation to end. Not very enlightened, I know, but it really is very hard. I noticed some other guests squirming in discomfort as well, so I know I wasn’t alone.

Then the best part of the satsang began: the kirtan, or call and response chanting. Someone passed around various percussive instruments and I tentatively chose a tambourine. It didn’t take long for me to lose my reserved shyness when everyone started singing and playing instruments together. It was so beautiful and uplifting hearing the unity of voices during the chanting of Sanskrit mantras and hymns. For a half hour, everyone in the room lost him or herself in devotional worship, including me, someone whose belief system is skeptical at best.

After the kirtan, there was always a lecture/discussion but, to be honest, I don’t remember much about them. Someone would suggest a theme and we would discuss it a bit, asking questions. I know at one point someone asked how to get over the discomfort of sitting in meditation and I think the general response was to learn what posture works best for you.

My first yoga class of the weekend was on Saturday morning, after the 6 am satsang (we were woken at 5:30 am by a gong each morning). Speaking to some of the other guests, I learned that Sivananda yoga is a very specific style of Hatha yoga that is the same every time, wherever you happen to practice it in the world. I was very intrigued and a little anxious because I had never done 2 straight hours of yoga before, much less twice a day. My concerns were assuaged once the class began. The pacing was just right and felt relaxing, but also challenging. The class began with a series of pranayama, or yogic breathing. Then there was a succession of vigorous sun salutations and another hour or so of various asanas. In between each asana was a relaxation pose. It ended with a nice long savasana. 

After that was brunch, then free time and karma yoga, one of the concepts I admire most in Vedantic philosophy. Karma yoga is a form of yoga based in action, performing selfless acts to humanity. At Sivananda, this manifested itself in an hour’s worth of chores around the ashram each day. For example, my karma yoga involved helping harvest some greens for our dinner that night. That kind of involvement really helped me appreciate the harmony of the ashram and led to a richer experience, especially when eating a meal partially made from the fruits of my karma yoga.

I did not participate in the day’s workshop, a hands-on instruction of inverted poses, which was something I could have really used help with. But I had a killer headache from a combination of trying a headstand and crunching my neck a little, sitting in the sauna too long and probably a little caffeine withdrawal (caffeine, garlic and other spicy foods are not allowed). I took a nap instead.
By the time we shared the evening meal and satsang, most of us guests had become friendly and there was a nice camaraderie. Everyone was really interesting and conversations ranged from relationships to religion to cats. I still felt a little out of my element but that was kind of the point. I had come to Sivananda to experience something different. I truly felt I had explored another side of yoga that kept me wanting to know more.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

An Affordable Weekend of Meditation, Yoga and Relaxation, Close to NYC.

This post is #1 in a 2 part series, in which I and contributing author, Tami Shaloum, each describe our experiences at separate weekend yoga retreats at Sivananda Ashram Yoga Ranch. 

Author for this post: WGINY

I recently decided to get away from the hustle and bustle of New York City for a few days by taking a Shortline Bus up to Woodbourne, New York, for a weekend yoga retreat at Sivananda Ashram Yoga Ranch.  The ashram was suggested to me by my good friend and contributing author for this post, Tami Shaloum.  I was told that my 72-hr (give or take) spiritual journey would mean waking up at 5:30a.m. to a bell or gong, chanting and praying in the ancient language of Sanskrit twice a day, intense, long yoga classes focused on asanas (poses), pranayama (breathing) and relaxation, and two daily all-vegetarian meals, and, as long as none of that turned me off, I should give it a try.  Despite knowing that it would be an intense experience, I decided to book my retreat.

Riding the bus up to Woodbourne, where ashram staff would pick me up, I was feeling both nervous and excited. I am fairly new to the practice of yoga and, even considering Tami's recommendation, this was kind of an impulse decision. Not only that, but I had decided to visit the ashram on my own, without the usual gaggle of friends I tend to find I need surrounding me in my daily NYC life. However, as son as we pulled up to the 77-acre ranch nestled among the Catskill Mountains, I knew I had made a good decision. The sun was about to set just as I arrived and something about breathing in the cool mountain air just brought a peace to my body before I even entered the main building.

I am just in time for dinner and the calming scent of nature immediately transforms into a pleasing aroma of fresh herbs and spices that reminds my stomach that I am quite famished. I am taken aback as I am whisked into the kitchen area where the rest of the group has already gathered, and is holding hands around the serving table and giving thanks for our food (I think), in Sanskrit. I am reminded of long-ago meals at Jewish summer camp, and I smile, truly thankful for the meal and the opportunity to be in the company of the strangers surrounding me.

Sometime during our delicious buffet-style vegetarian dinner, I make the decision to take my watch off, for the weekend. I have already decided that this will be a technology-free weekend, no cell phones or computers (okay, well a DVD on the bus-ride, and an emergency phone call to a friend in need, but other than that, radiowave silence...), but I didn't contemplate the idea of throwing out my sense of time until I got to the ashram and realized I did not want to be a slave to the band around my arm. This was ironic, considering the strict ashram schedule --

5:30am Wake Up; 6:00 a.m. Satsang (silent meditation, chanting and talk); 8:00 a.m. Yoga Class (asanas and pranayama); 10:00 a.m. Brunch; 11:00 a.m. Karma Yoga (helping with ashram chores); 1:00 p.m. Raja Yoga Workshop (each weekend workshop or event varies); 4:00 p.m. Yoga Class; 6:00 p.m. Dinner; 8:00 p.m. Satsang; 10:00 p.m. Lights Out.

Yet, with the schedule so strictly set and everyone else following it, it was nearly impossible to fall out of sync. The only trouble I had was that we could not hear the morning bell in our room on Saturday morning so, luckily, we had set an alarm clock. There was no trouble on Sunday, however, as ashram staff personally walked the grounds banging a gong.

The ashram was not very crowded. I understand it is still the off-season, and during the summer months it can be hard to even get a reservation. I chose to lodge in dorm-style housing (there were various, modestly priced, single and shared accommodation options). Although I expected to find mostly middle-aged guru-trained, hippie-era, new-age types there, my stereotype was way off base. The majority of weekend visitors were young professionals, just like me, and a few had even traveled by themselves, on the Shortline Bus from the city. My two roommates were chic yet laid-back, and we found ourselves swapping books suggestions and discussing the crises in the Middle East. I did feel a bit embarrassed that my retreat reading choice was Nick Hornby's "High Fidelity", while the other girls had chosen more appropriate books for a weekend in which the goal was to focus our minds and our bodies, and find unity and divinity within us, such as Thich Nhat Hanh's "Being Peace", or Greg Mortenson's "Three Cups of Tea".

I was anxious about participating in the two-hour-long yoga classes, but I found them to be both rejuvenating and relaxing. The Sivananda staff were also extremely helpful in demonstrating the proper way to get into and hold each pose. Among the various yoga classes I have taken in NYC studios and gyms, it has been very rare that an instructor has taken the time to really instruct, rather than just jumping right into each move, and expecting me to do the same. I believe that I came out of these classes with a better understanding of not only how to form each pose and, to some extent, begin to learn to control my breathing while doing so, but also with the comprehension that the teaching of yoga is not just an exercise, it is, for people who practice daily, a way of life.

At Sivananda in particular, that way of life is a religious one, following the philosophy of Vedanta, which focuses on learning to love your neighbor and finding peace within yourself. There was a lot of polytheistic praise during our devotional Satsang sessions (which once again brought me back to old days of davening...), and during a workshop over the weekend I asked whether one who is an atheist or agnostic would be able to really immerse themselves in Sivananda's ways, as an important belief of Vedanta is in the existence of a greater power. I was told, with complete genuineness and sincerity, that Vedanta is about acceptance and unity, and that the most important goal, the way to really reach "Enlightenment," was to find God within oneself, rather than focusing on whether there is an actual being in the sky controlling it all. It was an interesting concept that certainly had me introspecting. (I especially loved the Sanskrit songs we chanted and purchased a book, not because this one weekend convinced me to suddenly begin practicing or even studying Vedanta, but I just found the songs to be so beautiful, I wanted a memory of them).

The hardest part of the entire weekend for me, besides just being perpetually tired (because I probably have not been awake this early since grade-school), was the silent meditation. We spent a lot of time during the weekend trying to learn how to clear our minds and just meditate, let all thoughts go and surrender to ourselves. This is not something I have ever been very good at. My mind wanders constantly, around and around and around and... I just have never learned how to make it stop. I learned some good pointers this weekend though, about breathing and mantras and posture. Throughout four satsang sessions, I was never once able to meditate for the entire twenty minutes without my mind trailing off. So, this is something to work on.

As the weekend came to a close, I could truly feel that my entire body was smiling just a bit more than it had been when I arrived. Before I leave I take a last walk around the grounds and once again admire the beauty, majesty and serenity of the mountainous outdoors.  I breathe deeply and I feel a still peace.

Om Shanti.

Sivananda Ashram Yoga Ranch is located at 33 Yoga Road in Woodbourne, NY. To plan a retreat for a weekend, a week, a month or longer (work/study programs and teacher training options are also available), call (845) 436-6492. Overnight accommodations run between $55 and $95 per night.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

SCENEPR! Silent Auction for Hope Details -- Bid Now!!

Here is all of the updated information you need to bid on all of the great prizes available from SCENEPR!'s Auction for Hope. All proceeds benefit the Japan Society. Bid here now!!


Bid on one of a kind experiences & items to help raise money for the Japan Society’s Earthquake Relief Fund.
Auction for Hope is an online auction organized by SCENEPR! and it’s many media, arts & entertainment friends to help the people of Japan recover from the devastating Earthquake & Tsunami.
The Auction is now live.
You may visit to bid on any of the items available for auction, including an Passes for Speed NY Dating (as Seen on TV!), Full Access Passes to the 2011 Williamsburg International Film Festival and an autographed photo (w/certificate of authenticity) of New York Giants Star Defensive End Mathias Kiwanuka!

And there will be more (Dinner for two at two NY restaurants, etc.) coming soon...
Please Tweet & Facebook this to your followers & friends!!
Help us achieve our goal to raise $5,000 for the Japan Society Earthquake Relief Fund!

+ An autographed photo (w/certificate of authenticity) of Mathias Kiwanuka, NY Giants star defensive end, NY Giants
+ Autographed Fan Package from Singer/Songwriter Justin Nozuka
+ Four Private One on One Pilates Sessions with Shannon Paula
+ Original B&W Drawing of Courage the Cowardly Dog by Oscar-Nominated Animator John Dilworth
+ One on One professional Social Media Engagement Session with Jaclyn Mullen, JM Media
+ Guitar Lessons with Singer/Songwriter Cariad Harmon
+ Williamsburg International Film Festival Full Access Passes
+ 2.5 Hours Website Consultation and $400 Gift Certificate on a new website by Promotion for Professionals
+ Passes for Speed NY Dating
+ Passes for “You can do Stand-up comedy” Workshop
+ Bizwall Website & Hosting Package
+ Studio Photography Session with Meagan Cignoli, Visual Country
+ One on One Style Consultation with Dana Prigge, DailyFashionista
+ Business Coaching Session with Mitchel Groter, Quantum Achievement Group

UPDATE: WGINY has bid on two passes to a stand-up comedy workshop donated by Manhattan Comedy School. Wish me luck! I've got part of a routine somewhere on my computer... Time to brush it up and try it out. Hope I win!!

Passover Seders in NYC

The Jewish holiday of Passover begins next week, Monday, April 18, at sundown. Traditionally, the first two evenings of Passover are celebrated with a seder dinner. If you are looking to attend a community seder in NYC, here are some seder options that WGINY found through a google search of "NYC Passover Seder 2011":

Old Broadway Synagogue: First night seder only, follows 7:15pm evening service on April 18. $65 adults, $35 children. RSVP by April 10. 

Talia's Steakhouse: Same deal for both seder nights, April 18 and 19. Seating for prix-fixe dinner seders at 6pm and 8:30p.m. $74.99 adults, $45.99 children, plus tax and tip. Includes the 4 cups of wine for kiddush and seder plate. Includes any other non-other alcoholic beverages. Talia's will also be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner throughout Passover, offering kosher for Passover meals.

Aish Center: Aish will be holding a seder on April 18, at 8pm, and  on April 19 at 8:30pm, for young Jewish professionals in their 20s and 30s. Cost is $45pp.

See more options here.

Looking for a restaurant to dine at during Passover week, but not necessarily for seder? In addition to Talia's, you may also want to try Toloache. Their Passover specials look quite delicious.

I just found out that the NYC chapter of the UJA has a find-a-seder page with even more listings than above.

Chabad also has a find-a-seder page.

And, if you are looking for a self-proclaimed LGBT-friendly seder, try Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope or Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in Manhattan, for their second night (April 19) seders.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Even more community seders listed here!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Going to a Yankees or Mets game this season?

Why not take a FREE Water Taxi to Yankee Stadium or Citi Field?

This baseball season, Delta will once again be sponsoring free ferry rides with NY Water Taxi to take NYC commuters to Yankees and Mets games. Ferries will depart South Street Seaport's Pier 17 90 minutes before each home game for either team. You may also board at the East River stop on E. 35th Street, 70 minutes prior to Mets home games and 60 minutes prior to Yankees home games.

Only 147 tickets are available for each ride, so book online (for a $1 per ticket service fee). You may also take your chances obtaining walk-up tickets at Pier 17, two hours prior to departure (NO walk-up tickets available at E. 35th St).

See the full schedule and more info here

Unfortunately, there is no return service after the game, so remember to keep your Metrocard handy.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Calling All Budding NYC Actors and Actresses -- Chance to Be an Extra in MIB3!

When Men in Black 2 was in production, around 2001/2002, I responded to an open call for extras and was chosen to play a New Yorker walking through Grand Central Station. For this I received free food and $75, and I got to put "extra in MIB2" on my acting resume (although I never made it to the final cut). I also saw Will Smith eating a hamburger during a filming break! I did not personally meet him, but I witnessed a parent asking Mr. Smith whether his child could take a picture with the actor. Famous actors can be a pretentious bunch, as TMZ loves to show, but Mr. Smith was completely affable, joked with the child and posed for a picture.

Sound like fun? Tomorrow, Wednesday, April 6, Grant Wilfrey Casting will be holding an open call for extras for Men in Black 3. Yes, they are actually making a third one, due to be released in 2012, and starring all the characters you know and love from the first two movies.

The open call will take place at 405 W. 59th Street, at 9th Ave, between 10am and 12pm for SAG actors, and 1pm to 4pm for all others. Casting agents are seeking men and women "with character faces," those shorter than 4'10" or taller than 6'5", plus-sized actors, and actors who are willing to get their hair cut and/or styled and can play 1969 New Yorkers such as "hippies, beatnik poet types, 60s celebrity look-a-likes, bikers, models, etc…". Be prepared to spend hours on set for what may be a few seconds of air time, if you make it to the final cut at all. However, the experience is well worth it.

Although Grant Wilfrey previously held a similar open call, it seems they are still looking for more extras, possibly for YOU! See all the information here.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Why You Should Visit The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine.

While biking along Amsterdam Avenue today, on the way to visit a relative, I came upon an immense cathedral whose facade caused me to literally stop short on my bicycle and stare. For a moment I was completely lost in its beauty. Although I did not have time to linger, I returned to explore the cathedral after visiting my relative.

View of Cathedral from across the street

Located at Amsterdam Avenue and 112th Street, The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine is a breathtaking sight. I was giddy with excitement as I marveled at the intricacies of the inlaid stone carvings adorning this Gothic Revival style church (begun in 1892 and still unfinished, according to the church's website and, according to Wikipedia, it was originally started in the Byzantine-Romanesque style ).

With camera in hand, and realizing that I could never capture the full beauty of this imposing cathedral up close, I ran across the street to get a better vantage point. After kneeling along the sidewalk, balancing on a fire hydrant, and trying various other methods of camera angles, I finally ran back across the street to get some close-up shots and then enter the church.

The cathedral's website welcomes all to visit and "become part of the spiritual energy that awaits all who  walk through our doors." As I ascended the steps towards the entrance, I could really feel that spiritual energy drawing me inside, where I was met with the further allure of more Divine carvings, colorful stained glass windows,  and woven tapestries.

Drawing closer to the front of the cathedral, I noticed that a service was ongoing, and that the priest had just begun giving a sermon as the service was ending. I sat and listened, captivated by a statement regarding free will and self-determination and, later, a discussion of the concept of respecting others faiths.

The powerful and moving sermon was followed by a choral selection (one I did not recognize, most likely a hymn) sung in angelic unison by the large co-ed Catherdral Choir. The entire congregation (myself included) then joined together to sing hymn, "God of Mercy, God of Grace". It was incredibly peaceful.

Though I am not Christian, I once built an entire Italy trip around visiting cathedrals, and St. John's rivals some, much older cathedrals that I have seen across the sea. This is a must see for NYC visitors and residents alike.

A Review of Sunday Brunch at York Grill.

A few months ago I acquired a gift certificate to a highly-Zagat rated restaurant, York Grill, located on the Upper East Side, at 1690 York Avenue.  The gift certificate was for York Grill's acclaimed prix fixe Sunday Brunch.

I arrived by bike and when I entered the restaurant the hostess immediately asked if I had anything to check, then, realizing that I had no coat, she offered to check my helmet. I obliged. (Note that the entryway is confusing. The door to the right of the dining room leads to an apartment building. The entrance to the left of the dining room will take you into the restaurant.)

Inside the main dining room, the decor, with its exposed brick, eccentric artwork, and perfectly laid silverware, reminded me of some of the fancier restaurants I have dined in around New York. I was worried that, in my jeans and sneakers, I might be underdressed at this uptown haunt, but I was not the only diner who had arrived casual. Although, there was decidedly a divide between the old New York and new New York brunchers, with the latter group way outnumbered. As one dining companion noted, "It's so old New York, they've dropped the new!" Even our waiter, a handsome and distinguished looking gentleman, seemed like he could be a shoe-in for some wealthy New England politico, if not for the fact that he continuously came to the table to ask how we were doing and was immediately and incredibly responsive and accommodating to all of our requests, including when one dining companion asked for no less than seven fillings in an omelette, after the waiter had explained that "omelette your way" meant two or three fillings could be added.

Each prix fixe meal included a glass of champagne, mimosa, or bloody mary. Although the menu also suggested that the brunch began with a fresh basket of muffins, we were brought a basket of warm sweet breads, including some topped with melted chocolate. Combined with what tasted like a light berry cream cheese, these breads did not disappoint.

We were next each served a fresh fruit platter. On it, neatly arranged, were crisp, pleasing pieces of fruits, a welcomed small appetizer before our main meal.

My two companions then ordered omelettes, and I decided to try the blueberry pancakes with scalloped apples. It sounded like an intriguing combination.

While the omelettes did garner good reviews, I must admit that the pancakes were not my favorite (and certainly do not hold a candle to those at Cafe Luluc). The menu refers to the blueberry pancakes as "fluffy," but they were anything but. The pancakes were quite thin, and were smothered in so much blueberry sauce that I could hardly see what was underneath it. The pancakes were not inedible... To the contrary, I finished nearly my entire plate. However, I would not say that these pancakes are York Grill's best showing.

Perhaps if the prix fixe menu were half the price, I might return sans gift certificate, especially considering the exquisite service. However, as there are countless restaurants with more reasonably priced prix fixe brunch menus, and fluffier pancakes, I likely will not be back.

Friday, April 1, 2011

International Pillow Fight Day 2011 -- Leave Your Feathers at Home.

Tomorrow, April 2, is International Pillow Fight Day! In cities around the world, participants will gather with their pillows and fight!

New York City's 6th annual pillow fight will take place at 3pm in Union Square, at E. 14th Street & Broadway. Newmindspace, which organizes the NYC event, reports that last year's pillow fight took place in over 150 cities worldwide, and drew a crowd of 5000 in Union Square alone. Organizers have requested that participants NOT bring feathered pillows, as it delays the clean-up process.

Get all of the information here.

Newmindspace is run by Lori Kufner and Kevin Bracken.  Follow newmindspace on facebook.

The most important things you need to know:
  • bring a soft, featherless pillow and swing lightly
  • wait for the signal before fighting 
  • swing ONLY with your pillow and do not hit anybody who is holding a camera
  • remove your glasses before engaging in pillow-fighting 
  • if you will re-use your pillow, remember to take it with you. if not, there will be pillow donation boxes. 
  • pajamas and soft teddy bears are welcome
  • Pillows for Puppies will be facilitating the after-fight clean-up effort
Aptly named WHACK! afterparty will take place at Hiro Ballroom, located on 9th Ave and 17th Street. Reduced cover charge for the afterparty is available here (the Fight, of course, is free!).


I am reposting a message from CEO and founder of SCENEPR!, Daron Jenkins, regarding the Auction for Hope event that was scheduled to take place on April 6, as a fundraising effort to support tsunami/earthquake relief in Japan:

Spend a Night at the Museum.

Have you ever wanted to dance and drink the night away at a NYC public museum, nestled among priceless art and artifacts? Think this is something you'd certainly get arrested for? Think again!

This upcoming Saturday, April 2, and every first Saturday of the month, the Brooklyn Museum welcomes patrons to visit for FREE, from 5pm until 11pm, through the museum's Target First Saturdays series. Not only do the majority of the galleries remain open late, but each Saturday features a different DJ spinning tunes later in the evening (and yes, part of the museum becomes a dance floor and they serve wine and beer!).  Throughout the night, there are a variety of changing programs each month, some with limited access, so get there early!

This particular Saturday seems to have the best lineup in some time at the Brooklyn Museum, and WGINY is looking forward to attending! Get your tickets early to catch "human musician" Kenny Muhammad beat-boxing with orchestra Coroco Strings. Although the show does not start until 6:30pm, a total of 330 free tickets will be distributed at 5pm. Once you grab your beat-boxing ticket, head over to see the Afro-Latin Jazz Alliance and the New York City All-Star Youth Big Band.  from 5pm to 7pm, presented by the Fat Cat Jazz Club (an awesome cheap cover-charge jazz bar in the village with board games). Finally, be sure not to miss the Upright Citizens Brigade's improv comedy troupe, The Brothers Hines, as they poll the audience to create skits between 9 and 10pm. For more information on these and other events at First Saturday, see here. First Saturdays at the Brooklyn Museum are a personal favorite of mine...

The Brothers Hines entertain with an improvised skit about kidney replacement...
Another swell monthly program is the American Museum of Natural History's One Step Beyond series. This series brings in hip musicians, often members of well-known bands, to perform or DJ for the evening at the Rose Center for Earth and Space. Although tickets are $25, this includes a free admission to the museum on a later date. During the night, you can dance to your heart's content, walk around the Rose Center and even catch a planetarium show, all included in the admission price. Drink tickets for wine and beer are extra. Past special guests have included Kanye West, Matt & Kim, Passion Pit, Animal Collective and many other noteworthy names. The next One Step Beyond will take place on Friday, April 22 at 9pm.

The Guggenheim used to have something called "First Fridays," which was similar to the Brooklyn Museum's First Saturdays, except that you had to pay admission. I believe it was $25 to get in, and you could roam the galleries, listen to a DJ and purchase alcohol. Although I have not been able to locate any updated information on whether First Fridays still happens, and thus am inclined to say they no longer occur, I did find this flyer for Art After Dark at the Guggenheim, which is a members-only event series that will take place on Fridays during the summer, beginning July 8. Keep your eye on the Guggenheim's calendar year-round, as this museum is no stranger to hosting indie concerts such as Yeasayer and Beirut.

Want to rock out at a museum on weekends other than the first weekend of every month? Try the Rubin Museum of Art's K2 Friday Nights. This lesser-known museum in Chelsea has a fabulous collection of South Asian art, photography and sculpture, much of it from the Himalayan region. Every Friday night, this museum opens its doors for FREE from 6pm to 10pm, and also offers live music, films, and a DJ and lounge. On Friday, April 1, DJ Derek Beres will be performing at the museum's K2 Lounge.

For addresses and mass transit or driving directions to each of these museums:
Brooklyn Museum
American Museum of Natural History
Rubin Museum