New York, New York: a Guide to Guides

I am going to Book Expo, which is in the Javitts Center, and staying in a hotel nearby.  I took out a pile of guidebooks from the library, to give me ideas for what to do for the short time I’m not at the convention center or sleeping.  Every book I read defined neighborhoods of Manhattan differently, landing Javitts in Hell’s Kitchen, Chelsea, Midtown East, or  lower midtown.  Some just skipped the area entirely.

 

 

NFT (not for Tourists) Guide to New York City, 2015. This book is meant for the people who live in Manhattan or near it, or at least
pretend that they do.  TINY print, easy to put in your pocket.  A section for each neighborhood, with lots of maps.  They don’t solicit businesses for listings or opinions, they gather users ratings and recommendations on their website.  There is advice on city etiquette, street indexes, phone numbers, calendar of events and other useful information.  The descriptions are very brief.  They include a listing of essential books, movies and songs about NYC.

Lonely Planet Pocket New York City, 2016.  Regis St. Louis, Christian Bonetto.  A guide from a UK perspective, for a traveler out for a good holiday with a wad of cash in his pocket next to this little book.  It covers a lot of information in a small size. Includes a pull-out map, top sights, local areas, “best of” lists and a four day itinerary to
seeing the iconic sights.  It gives 2-3 choices for each neighborhood in the categories of sights, dining, drinks, shopping and entertainment.  A separate section gives walking tours, overviews of museums, fine dining, local eats, entertainment, night life, festivals, kids, free, LGBT, architecture, sports, parks and tours.  The last section, a “survival guide” lists hotels, restaurants, etiquette and transportation tips.

Walking New York: the Best of the City, National Geographic 2016 “You don’t really visit a city, you visit its neighborhoods.”- Keith Bellows.  Different walking itineraries through Manhattan- whirlwind tours, weekends, fun, sights.  Clear maps, definitely for athletic tourists used to walking 5-6 miles a day.  Includes transportation information as part of some of the tours.  It doesn’t mention the hefty fee for going to the top of the Empire State Building until the 3rd time it’s listed.

Walking Manhattan, Ellen Levitt, 2015.  This may be a great book, but the design was headache inducing.  The maps are dichromatic, a peach over a salmon color.  Some pages have background images, making them harder to read.  If you are considering trying to be artsy while creating a guidebook, just don’t.  Save it for your bathroom wallpaper.  I tried to give it a chance and chose a walk near where I was staying.  While it had interesting information about sights and architecture, it didn’t mention food, shopping or bathrooms (the reason I walk places).  In the back of the book it lists restaurants with locations and websites, no descriptions, price ranges or other details.

300 Reasons to Love New York, Marie-Joelle Parent, 2016.  This is not a quick-look-it-up guidebook, though it has some of the features of one.  It is a love letter to the author/photographer’s city, 300 places, people and things that have fascinated her.  She profiles different “characters” including several homeless people, and gives an authentic, gritty look into the real New York City.  The photographs are artistic, finding the beauty in everyday objects.  She mentions hidden streets, weird little stores, galleries, speakeasies, fine dining, authentic ethnic food and places to find.  A good book to read from start to finish, even if you don’t plan to go to all the places she mentions.

DK Eyewitness Travel Top 10 New York City, 2016                                        I love DK books.  They always have excellent pictures, clear, succinct information, and interesting trivia.  Their maps are clear.  This guide comes with a laminated pull-out map of Manhattan.  This is a book for tourists, hitting the top ten of must-see destinations for iconic landmarks like the Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty.  It gives details about these places, like yearly events, historical tidbits, pricing, rules, nearby restaurants and more.  The book also has top ten lists of things like museums, restaurants, festivals, free activities and more.  It’s a small book, and a good read for a train ride.

So right now I’m trying to decide if I want to take a pilgrimage down to the Strand Bookstore, walk the High Line to Chelsea Market or shop 5th Avenue.

As a follow-up to my “Best Guidebooks for a Disney Vacation”, here are some recommended apps and websites for your trip.

Apps I plan to use:

  • My Disney Experience– the official Disney app- good for tracking reservations for restaurants and rides, maps, show times and photo packages.
  • Universal Studios official App
  • Undercover Tourist Orlando– touring plans for Disney, Universal, and Sea World, ride wait times, maps.
  • Find My iPhone find friends.  Built in to your iPhone, if you accept friend requests you can track their location and show your location to them- hopefully this will help my daughter find us when we split up.
  • Pokemon GoPlants Vs. Zombies HeroesTetris– for waiting in lines for my very wriggly son.
  • Overdrive digital library.  I can bring a bunch of ebooks and audiobooks on my iPad, checked out from the public library.  I also plan to use the digital magazines on Flipster.
  • Google Photos– automatically upload photos to storage. (note, after I got it all set up, hubby switched us to Amazon Prime photos, so now we are doubling our backups!)

Websites:

If you have an app or website that helped you on a previous trip, put it in the comments!

 

April 1, 2017

A Guide to the Orlando Guidebooks

If you are considering a trip to Disney World, you should know that a little bit of planning and advanced preparation can make your vacation much better.  You should not read every single book out there about the trip, it will make you bonkers.  I have read them for you.  You’re welcome.

I like anticipating and planning, I find it enjoyable, especially when the snow won’t go away, the sky is gray, news is depressing and work is stifling.

I’m not paid for my opinion (but if you are interested in giving me money, I’m listening!).  I suggest you read over these reviews, figure out what book is right for you, then get it out of the library.  Bring the book along in your suitcase, sure, but don’t lug them around the park.  Use apps and the park’s map.  At the end of my reviews I’ll list the  books I plan on using on my trip.  Check back to see another blog on recommended websites and Apps I plan to use.

Frommer’s Easy Guide to Disney World, Universal and Orlando 2017 by Jason Cochran.

A comprehensive book that includes all the latest updates, but some of the descriptions of the rides and shows are as cynical and unappealing as the ones from the food critic in Rattatouie.  It is for a reluctant tourist who has been dragged into an Orlando experience, and mentions gritting your teeth through parades and skipping rides because they’re dated.  I’m pretty sure he doesn’t have kids, because height requirements are not listed, and he suggests preschool activities whenever he mentions “kids”.  The descriptions of food are also a bit snobbish.  He recommends jamming two parks into one day because there’s “not enough to do”.  He’s not all doom and gloom, he encourages people to talk with the experts, the craftspeople and the imported people of different countries who are there to share their culture.  He  says what each shops sells (besides the usual). The descriptions of the tours given by Disney World are detailed and clear, and include prices.  The book includes a full sized folded map of the area.

Birnbaum’s 2017 Walt Disney World

This is the officially authorized book, and it shows.  It has the licensed characters through-out,  and the descriptions can be described as “gushing”.  Magic bands are “technological wonders” and Extra Magic Hours are “a great value”.  I don’t know how all the volunteers are paid, if they are at all.  It would be cool to be one of their testers, if it meant free passes or hotel stays.  Because it is official, it has all the phone numbers, up-to-date details and lists of what characters are at what restaurants.  The book is designed to be used up, to rip out pages, write in the back.  What is noticeably missing is any mention of anything non-disney.  The 8 day planner only has spaces for Disney related activities like what fast-passes will be used, what park you are going to and so on.  The book has coupons in the back.  The only one that was tempting to me was the one for Basin (but this is a library book).  The book suggested both full day and half-day itineraries.  Some of the choices were a bit odd (see the safari in the afternoon, go to all the shows).  I would recommend this book to people who want to get hyped up and don’t plan on moving East of Route 4.  It adds in cruise information.  Were you planning on taking a cruise while in Orlando?  No?  Well, why not?  Now you have all the information!

The Unofficial to Disney World with Kids 2017

Here’s real people telling you real stuff, people who love going to Disney, but aren’t in Disney’s official pocket.  This version of the book is more than a list of rides and restaurants, it reads like a parenting manual, self-help guide and Yelp review.  A group of testers try everything and rate it based on interest and age.  Quotes from real people pepper the book. To give one example, they rented strollers from different vendors to see which ones had the best service, and talked about the advantages and disadvantages of having your own stroller.

They remind parents that their children will not suddenly turn into angels because you are on a special trip, give advice on handling meltdowns, following through with consequences and how to childproof a hotel room.  They cover the “take the kids out of school” controversy as well as the “off property/on property” debate.  What if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding? Should your child bring a friend?  Can grandparents survive taking the kids without the parents? They have suggested strategies for avoiding losing children (tattoos, anyone?). They rank rides based on small child fright potentials, discuss where to find characters in the parks, list restaurants and what they offer, and emphasize, over and over- DON’T SKIP THE NAP.  (I never heed the advice to go back to our hotel, but we do take a rest after my husband insists).  There is a brief chapter in the back about Universal Studios, Seaworld and everything else, but they do suggest readers get a more comprehensive book that they happen to sell.  They have touring plans for different scenarios, like parents with toddlers or teens splitting up from parents.  There are 6 itineraries for Magic Kingdom, and 4 each for Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Universal Studios.  They mention several times that you can have a subscription to their website/app to get more individualized, up to the minute plans.  That would be my only complaint, but they need to make money just like the rest of us.

Complete Walt Disney World 2016 by Julie and Mike Neal

Did I say Frommer’s Guide was snarky?  It is positively mild compared to the blaring opinions in this guide.  At first I thought it would be another “aw gosh” praise of all things Disney, since the Orlando locals said they were the only guidebook “honored by the Disney Company.”  But I got a hint of their free spirit when they called magic bands “dorky”.  Then they did not hold back on either praise or disgust as they rated rides and restaurants.  They give a 1-5

star rating and think of it like a movie critic rating- it’s not the budget or the hype, it’s the viewer’s experience that counts.  They gave the little Mermaid ride one star, but the carousel five.  They selected the “best of” in different categories in the first chapter.

The book emphasizes its photos, and there are some great ones.  Even the packing list has pictures.  The map of the entire Disney domain is odd, in that the two page spread puts North on the right.  This guide is wordy, a good pick for armchair readers who want history, factoids, behind the scenes details and just details in general.  Each ride has at least a page dedicated to it, and at the bottom of the page they list average wait times on a daily timeline.  The Animal Kingdom chapter has an extensive animal guide and where to find each species.  The A-Z chapter goes all over the place, and would not be the format I would use to provide quick information.  I noticed quite a few typos and strong opinions not necessarily shared by the average tourist.  One of the testing things they did was stay all day for a week at a value hotel during spring break to see if it was filled with carousing college kids (spoiler- no, not really).  No mention was made of anything West of Route 4- if an alien read this book they would think that there was just untouched wilderness beyond the borders of the realm of Disney.

MouseJunkies by Bill Burke

This book is hilarious, it makes me want to be friends with this guy.  Unfortunately, it was published in 2011, and his website doesn’t look like it’s been updated since 2014.  Still, this book is entertaining enough to read anyway.  Bill Burke and his fellow “mousejunkies”, people who have become addicted to Disney magic, describe the highs and lows of their hobby.

There is no mention of anything but Disney, and no option but to stay on Disney property.  Bill compares staying off property to walking on broken glass, and professes his fear of Orlando jumping snakes (no, not a real thing). Rides and shows are mentioned, including a funny description of two huge guys happily going on the Peter Pan ride, but the bulk of this book is a poetical love letter to the food and service.  He describes meals in heartfelt detail, including his quest for the best Bloody Mary, the careful treatment of guests with allergies, his inability to stop eating at the Spirit of Aloha dinner show, and a loving ode to Raglan Road.  His description of Dole whips made me give them a try, even though I don’t like pineapple (now a fan). For service, he talks with the tv host Stacy,  who gives (gave?) little segments on hotel tvs and vacation planning videos.  He covers basic information, but also his favorite benches at each park (“My name is Bill and I’m a benchaholic”). He describes an experiment with “drinking around the world”, where you have a drink at each country in the world showcase, cautioning you to not get stupid, abusive or sick.  He and his mousejunkie friends talk about non-park recreation like fishing, golf and spas.  They discuss the Disney Vacation Club points system. Serious addicts, they get their fix 2-3 times a year, with a few even moving to Florida to make trips easier.  He talks about the difference between going as an non-parent and as a parent, and commiserated about the misfortune of getting sick on your vacation.   He invents new words, like “Epcrotch”- the horrendous skin chafing you can get from the wrong clothing and excessive heat.  To top it off he shares many people’s “Lightning Bolt Moments”, the moment they fell head over heels in love with Disney.  I think my lightning bolt moment was when I went with my grandparents, and while everyone else was watching a parade, my grandpa and I  went on Big Thunder Mountain twice, feeling like we got away with something.

I want a new edition!

So what books will I bring?

I will bring the Unofficial Guide to Disney World 2017, Eyewitness Travel Florida, the Birnbaum Disney World guide for kids, and possibly a Harry Potter book (we are currently reading the Chamber of Secrets illustrated edition).

Maybe I should write my own guidebook.  I have a few weeks to do more research.  I want to know if I can tour the Be Our Guest restaurant if I don’t have a reservation, the best place to have a quiet time (low stimulation) in Universal Studios and Island of Adventure, where exactly is the best place to stake out for viewing the river lights in Animal Kingdom, and how to avoid being domineering over my family and instead make sure they do what they want.

 

Goal setting

  1. By the end of March I will finish my second draft of my novel.

Flipping through my notebooks I find goals like these plastered everywhere.  Goals are not dreams or wishes, they are targets for action plans. If you’ve read any literature at all on the subject, you know that writing down goals makes it more likely you will succeed, and that goals should follow the “S.M.A.R.T.” strategy- Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and on a Timeline.  The other commonly described goal is the stretch goal, which is described as a goal that seems out of reach but isn’t completely impossible.

“Yeah, yeah yeah, Jane,” you say.  “Goals.  I had goals, but I didn’t achieve them, life got in the way.”

Ok, go look at those goals now.  Evaluate them.

Ask yourself a few questions.
  • Did you make any progress toward your goal?
  • Did you encourage or reward yourself for taking action on this goal?
  • Was this goal given to you from the outside world?
  • Are you still the same person who wanted these goals?
  • What will happen if you let go of this goal?  Any negative consequences?
  • Do you want to make a whole-hearted commitment to trying again?
  • Do you want to make a different goal instead?
  • What tripped you up the most in trying to achieve the goal- scheduling, motivation, fear, other people, unfortunate events?
  • Is there anything you can change to make this goal easier?
  • Did you break it down into smaller chunks?

Ok, now make some new goals.  Here are the rules- the goals must be something you are willing to commit to, that you have reasonable amount of time to complete, that don’t involve other people giving you approval or permission, and that will give you satisfaction and enjoyment in working towards them (not just achieving them).

Now, think about how to achieve those goals.  What are the obstacles- do you have solutions to overcome them, a “plan b” when things go wrong?  What are you going to do to encourage yourself?  How can you get support from loved ones?  Do you have the tools and space you need to start?

Share your goals with people you trust to encourage you.  Get to it!

“I need a better tool for keeping track of all my to-do lists,” I said to my husband, explaining I had tried out two apps.
“Oh, you mean project management?” he said.
I guess I did mean project management.  At work, I’m keeping track of everyday tasks, long-range projects, event planning, reoccurring monthly or quarterly duties, and overall goals.  At home I’m tracking chores, family appointments, health goals, a construction project, writing goals, craft projects and fun plans. Having all of this in one app would be great.  So far I’ve haven’t found the perfect solution, but I’m still looking.

I thought about what I wanted in my App before searching.  I discovered that’s like deciding what kind of boyfriend you want before dating.  It can cause unrealistic expectations.

What I was looking for:

  • Easy to learn and use
  • Quick access
  • Create to do lists with deadlines
  • Make sub-tasks under main tasks, with separate deadlines
  • Both web and mobile interface
  • See full list in one place, expand or contract
  • be able to share list or export

The Apps I tested:

Remember the good old days, when you bought software and then you used it indefinitely?  Now you rent it, per month or per year.  Basic services are free, sometimes with a free trial of the expanded services to get you dependent on them.  Expanded services add features.  Some of these added features are frivolous, some are fundamental.

I glanced at Smartsheets– it looks very useful, but the $168 a year for individuals (after a trial period) is out of my planned price range for basic to-do list management.  If you work provides it (or other software like it), check it out. Trello also got my attention, but it looks like it has a learning curve, and I don’t know how robust the free service is.

Reminder is the basic thing that comes with Apple devices.  This means it’s on my computer, cell-phone and tablet already, and is already set up to share on iCloud.  You can create multiple lists with deadlines, but each list is its own, without sub-tasks.  I like the checkboxes, that is satisfying.  You can share your list with family sharing (but that only helps if they are using reminders too).

In Todoist, deadlines are a premium feature.  It pesters you with emails of the things you haven’t completed.  It already has project categories to get you started.  I didn’t like the interface or the nagging, so dropped this one.

Wunderlist is very handy to make a grocery list, or a daily to-do list.  You can make a pretty background (some free, most not).  You can add subtasks to projects, but you only see them for one project at a time. Premium service allows for assigning lists to others, attaching files and other pluses.

I am actually thinking of paying the premium ($25/yr)for G-queues so I can get it on my phone.  I’m finding it very useful, since I’m already using  other Apps from the Google overlords that it integrates with, such as g-mail and calendar.

I could make my own system using a basic document that I share in my own cloud. Then of course, I could use a notebook and pen.

How do you organize your projects for home and work?

I am part of a creativity group called Inspirators (by the way, friends, we need to meet again soon! Contact me!) and one of the main things we talk about is getting our act together to be more productive.  Creatives who are selling their art need to keep track of projects, clients and money.  Creatives who are making art for the enjoyment of it need to manage their free time effectively.

I’ve read a lot of books and been to lectures about being organized and productive.  I know two big things.  First, everyone has a different style that works best for them, and a lot of creative types would go nuts trying to follow a style that works perfectly for someone with a more linear, analytical mind.  Second, you can have the best system in the world, but if you don’t know what you really want to accomplish, what’s most important, you’ll drown in the sea of everyday inconsequentials and never get the big picture stuff even started.

I’ll talk about goals in another blog.  I am also checking out some productivity apps- G-queues, Reminder, Wunderlist, and RemembertheMilk.

Books I recommend about time management and organization:

My Goodreads list keeps growing, too- good thing one of the things I have decided to do is set limits on my internet time so I can read more!

 

 

 

November 8, 2016

Westdragon's NaNoWriMon

NaNoWriMon– a pokemon that evolves with your word count!

 

This one’s from the official page.

Now I have to keep going to make this look good at the end of the month!

For Librarians Who Secretly Wish it was “S.T.E.A.” and not S.T.E.M…

When I was asked to do a math-related program as part of a S.T.E.M. grant, I freaked out.  Math has been my nemesis since third grade, when I realized that I could not do quick calculations in my head, or for that matter, slow calculations.  Science, I could do- fun experiments, facts about animals, space and machines, that was easy.

Do a story-time for preschoolers, my grant coordinator urged.  Basic math, like shapes, counting…  I remembered to breathe.  Ok.

dice

I did a little research, and my eye stopped at a picture of dice.  Dice?  That was math?  I slapped my forehead.  Hello!  Gamer!  Reading dice uses a skill called subitizing, where you can look at a collection of items and know the number without having to count each one. Jane's Folly Library Race boardgame  I put together a take-home kit for the kids (I visited our local pre-school) with a printed game-board* I designed, one die, and a flyer about our library.

Books read:
  • One is a Snail, Ten is a Crab by April Sayre- counting by feet.  A snail has one foot, and a crab has ten!
  • How Many Jellybeans? by Andrea Minotti.  Could you eat a million jellybeans?  You might change your mind after you see
    how many that really is!

one is a snailHow many Jelly Beans?

 

 

 

 

 

*Sign up for my newsletter to get a PDF of the board game.

 

649718I’m reading Secret Societies: Inside the World’s Most Notorious Organizations by John Lawrence Reynolds to help me develop my own evil organization for my story.  I recommend this book- I’m not usually a fan of history books, but this one was fascinating.  It covers the league of assassins, Templars, Illuminati, the Priory of Scion and Freemasons, explores the myths behind Kabbalah, Wicca and Rosicrucians, and explains the origins and organizational structure of Triads, Cosa Nostra, and Yakuza.

I’m most interested in how they develop and what methods they use to find and bind members to their cause.  The Assassins used elaborate staging to make members think they’d died and gone to paradise so they could “come back from the dead” and recount what they saw.  The Yakuza punish members by making them cut off their own pinky finger (which is needed for master swordsmen).

Reynolds also talked about how many organizations became secretive to avoid prosecution, but that very secrecy made it easy for their enemies to make up stories about their practices, such as claiming early Christians ate babies.

I’m coming up with a name for the group in my story.  They were established to protect cultures from outside influence and contamination from other worlds, but over the years they’ve built up rituals, beliefs and  practices that will lead them to try to destroy the connections between worlds, even though that will sever their communication to each other.  I started out with “the Order” but I don’t want to look like I’m copying Star Wars.

Here’s some possible secret organization names:
  • Oathbound
  • the Pact
  • Lock
  • Wall Guard
  • Protectorate
  • Portas
  • Alliance
  • Guild of Smiths
  • Borders Union
  • Cleaners
  • 21
  • Council of Order
  • Venn Diagram
  • Root and Leafhailhydra

Hail Hydra. 😉

 

April 17, 2016

e7948dbfec4c04117327f52d819ba94a(art by Luke Carvill

Fighting Despair When You’re Not Selling or Getting Acceptances

The next person who tries to comfort me by telling me Van Gogh only sold one picture in his lifetime will get an ear in the mail.  He is not my role model.  I love my family and friends and their warm, loving support, but it is not the same as commercial success or peer recognition.

I want to be paid for what I write.  This is not to say I am in it for the money, or have unrealistic expectations of success.  I just want to sell my self-published works to strangers, and I want an agent to be interested enough in my manuscript to want to represent it.  I want a publisher to accept my novel.  My goal is to have enough earnings to pay for a nice vacation.

Creativity for its own sake is an enjoyable hobby.  I have no interest in starting a craft business for sewing or paper arts.  While I share my creations on this blog, it’s not in hopes of finding a patron of the arts to put me in a gallery.  Nope, just “hey, look at this, it was fun to make.”

For me, writing is different.  While it is fun, it is also connected with my hopes and dreams.  It is hard to keep pushing along, especially with the hard, serious stuff of revision, without knowing that a goal is attainable.  It is difficult to receive rejection after rejection and still believe that you can be published, that maybe your next work will have readers.  It is nearly impossible to keep your ego out of the equation, and to keep writing with confidence.  Your brain wants to avoid pain, and if you start associating pain with your goals, you hit resistance.  Instead of writing, I’m cleaning, watching tv, surfing the internet, starting a craft project, reading, arguing with people inside my head or thinking about work.  It’s like trying to put magnets together the wrong way.  Part of me is straining to reach my project while  another part is shoving away with all my strength.

Strategies for Fighting Writer’s Block
  • have an established writing time every day, and don’t do anything else during that time (turn off internet, block other distractions)
  • read books about writing
  • research topic you are writing about
  • break large goal into smaller goals, and reward progress
  • write for one person, either imaginary or someone you know, as your target audience
  • join a writer’s group and get feedback
  • make a game out of sending out queries to agents
  • make your writing spot a pleasant place to be, and only do writing there
  • find a role model who’s done what you want to accomplish
  • keep finding ways to push past the resistance

Any of you having the same struggle?  What keeps you going?

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