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February 26, 2023 — A Week in Guatemala
I just flew back from a week in Guatemala, and boy are my arms tired! Sit back, relax, and read all about the journey.
I don’t feel like much has changed from my itinerary in my year recap, so I’m going to eschew any update on projects till next time, and just do a (hopefully) quick trip recap.
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 16th, DAY 1: TRAVEL DAY, GUATEMALA CITY
The main reason I went to Guatemala was for Celia and Victor’s wedding. Victor’s parents grew up in Guatemala, so they decided it would be a wonderful destination for the nuptials! I met Joyce, Celia’s twin sister who lives in Paris (where I visited in 2014) and her friend/plus one, Jacquie at JFK since they decided to take the same flight to Guatemala City. After an uneventful flight we got through immigration incredibly quickly, and then got picked up in a cab to be taken to our hostel, which was in a gated community (ala “The Walking Dead”).
The hostel was charming enough. They gave us as much filtered water as we desired. In general, it was easy to find bottled water or filtered water. Every place I stayed had access to unlimited filtered water; every restaurant was geared towards tourists so it was mostly safe to eat/drink in those establishments.
Joyce, Jacquie and I shared a room with 3 beds for the night, and somehow survived! We actually got scolded multiple times for talking too loud because the walls were paper thin and apparently some people go to bed before midnight. Who knew?
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 17th, DAY 2: ANTIGUA
We arose early at 9am (which was 10am EST) to get the included breakfast. I got pancakes and scrambled eggs, which also came with fresh papaya. We met up with Rochel, Amy and Ollie who were also staying there and heading to Antigua that day. Unfortunately, the driver of the van Joyce had booked for us to all go together to Antigua forgot that he had been booked and was in Chile. Thankfully, the hotel was able to call us 2 cabs to take us separately, which ended $5 more each and left an hour later, but it all ended up fine. (I prefer bad trip luck early on a trip so that the rest is good, and that happened on my UK trip, and here!) Our driver was Jose, our driver from Friday night; his battery stopped working right out of our gated community, but his father, who co-owns the company with him, came and traded us his battery. What a mensch!
I was staying at the wedding venue, which was a house connected to the ruins of a monastery. There were 6 or 7 guests staying there, including my new BFF Niall who was put in the room next door to mine. (We also shared a bathroom.) Niall was ready to explore the town, so we picked up Jacquie from her hotel down the street, and we set about walking around. We ended up buying souvenirs and seeing a few churches and other ruins. Then we headed over to Central Park and the marketplace, which was filled with more souvenirs! I actually checked my walking tour list that night and we managed to see almost everything just walking around aimlessly. Antigua is a small town with a lot of traffic, and the main area is a grid: 1st to 5th Streets crossing 1st to 5th Avenues, so once you got acclimated, it was pretty easy to navigate.
At 3PM I had signed up for a workshop at the Chocolate Museum learning how to make chocolate and making our own from the cocoa beans. Thankfully they were able to squeeze Niall in; Jacquie who doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth, split from us and meandered on her own.
In the 2 hour workshop, we took the cocoa beans and roasted them and made them paste and we made chocolate tea and created our own chocolate nougats. I ended up putting quite a lot of toppings in mine — rainbow sprinkles, gummy bears, M&Ms, peanuts, pistachios, almonds, cinnamon, and they came out great!
After the workshop, Niall went back to shower, but I walked around a bit more getting to the main arch of town and the Iglesia de la Merced, which is the largest church there. After snapping a bunch of photos, I headed to the Welcome Party for the wedding at the restaurant/bar Aqua Antigua fashionably late. Incidentally, the view from the roof terrace was spectacular and according to one of the erudite guests, we could see Venus, Jupiter and Mars! It was quite different than NYC where we can barely see any stars…
I gave a well-received teary-eyed speech about Celia and Victor during toasts, and then after it ended at 8PM, Celia, Niall and I went to get delicious tacos at Los Tiempos. I chose one with multiple cheeses and sweet potatoes and it was so good!
We dropped Celia at her hotel, Niall conked out for the night, and since it was only 10PM, I went for a dip in the hot tub for an hour. It was quite relaxing, and I feel asleep fairly early around 1:30am.
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 18th: DAY 3: WEDDING BELLS ARE RINGING
Saturday morning, Jacquie made me get up at 10am so we could go to this Reptile Conservatory she found on GoogleMaps. It turned out to be super fun! This guy saves reptiles from going extinct, and we were able to meet a bunch of them and even hold them (see photos!). He didn’t speak much English, but Jacquie took Spanish in high school, and I had Google Translate. I wish I had known about this app when I was in Japan! You can actually download the dictionary when you’re online and then have a real life translator in your phone even when you don’t have service.
The conservatory was actually really hard to find; our driver’s Waze app ended up taking us to the wrong turn off and we had to circle around these dirt roads, but it was nice to see how authentic aers of town. Bravely I held multiple non-venomous snakes, some which wrapped around my arms. I held the sweetest, softest chinchilla, a guinea pig and a turtle. We paid the guy 4 times what he had asked because we had such a great time (and it was still only $3.50/person).
Afterwards, we stopped by the Girasoles de Antigua AKA sunflowers. This ended up being fairly small, mostly for kids, and thankfully free. We realized it wasn’t going to take too long, so we had our cab driver wait for 15 minutes.
Then, we had him drop us off at the Santo Domingo Hotel Museums. This was basically 7 small museums for the price of 1! The grounds of the hotel were gorgeous, and there a huge tree. We saw the Museo de la Plateria (Silver Museum), then 2 crypts (one with actual bones), a church where people get married, a candle shop, then the Arhaological Museum with very interesting artifacts. After that we saw an art gallery with paintings and sculptures (many of animals) and finally the toy museum.
Afterwards, I dropped Jacquie off at her hotel at 2PM (before the 3:30PM call time for the wedding) and went to explore the main church. I had seen people climbing on the roof, but after 20 minutes on queue, I finally realized that the roof was not open on Saturdays — oops! I did have a nice conversation via Google Translate with the girl on line with me, at least. I realized that I had about an hour to kill, and saw a sign for a massage for $34! How could I pass that up? I saw they had coupons sitting out for 20% off, and they told me that was okay, so I ended up getting a massage for $24! Woo!
When that was done, I had to scurry back for the wedding, but since I was literally staying at the house on the wedding grounds, I managed to change and easily get there before the ceremony started at 4pm. I got to wear my new piano tie that I bought in Boulder, Colorado after our “Fabulous Fanny Brice” show at the Denver JCC in January. (Incidentally, I didn’t do a ledger after that trip because I had been to Colorado before, but I got to see 2 of my cousins and also my high school friend Rebecca whom I stayed with a few days. In addition to Boulder, we went to Meow Wolf Denver (I have one to go in Vegas!), saw some live music, went to the Science Museum including an exhibit about the Apollo missions, and on a quick hike up a mountain partway.)
The wedding was charming. There was a marimba band welcome guests and yummy hors d’oeuvres. At the reception, I was the emcee, which was lovely because I prefer having something to do. I was pretty funny, if I do say so myself, and I do! Celia and Victor’s first dance was to “Eye to Eye” from “The Goofy Movie” choreographed by their wonderful friend Mandie. There was a kick! There was a lift! I went to 2 cousins’ weddings and I have 2 more friend weddings this summer, but I must say: partying in Guatemalan ruins was pretty magical.
After the wedding, we went to this terrible bar Reilly’s that was incredibly loud. Thankfully, they had WiFi so I uploaded some photos while I waited for someone who was ready to go, and then walked with them back home.
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 19th, DAY 4: HOBBITENANGO
Sunday was the BEST! I slept till 11am and then I picked up Joyce and Jacquie for our excursion to Hobittenango, which is totally a tourist trap, but so super fun. About 20 minutes up the mountain from Antigua, we spent a little over 4 hours exploring the Hobbit holes and taking photos of breath-taking views. The ride up and down the mountain in the back of a truck was a bit chaotic and bumpy, and the weather was a bit colder than we had imagined (though we probably should’ve guessed from the elevation), but otherwise it was such a fun day. They also have an all-you-can-eat buffet on Sundays for about $20. So we had lunch when we got there and then dinner when we were about to leave!
I also met a friendly cat named Frodo. This was very nice because while there are a ridiculous amount of stray dogs everywhere in Guatemala, there were barely any cats! In fact, I only met 4 the entire trip!
After we returned from the Hobbits, I moved into this charming artist hostel for one night: Hotel Y Arte, which had art painted on all the walls. Celia and Victor were hosting a post-wedding dinner at El Adore, which ended up being 2 minutes from my hostel. I wasn’t hungry, but I went for the company. Afterwards, I was walking home and a few doors before my hostel I heard live music at Angie Angie. I could not turn down hearing some guitar and singing, so I went and got a juice and sat there (on WiFi) till the musician’s set was done. And that’s where I met my 2nd cat! Afterwards I went back to my hostel which luckily had international CNN in English. (It’s really hard to go so many days without having a TV on, after all!)
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 20th, DAY 5: ATITLAN NATURE RESERVES & HOTEL ATITLAN
After a lovely breakfast (for a bit extra) at my hostel, I grabbed my stuff and walked back to the wedding venue to meet Tiffany and Nick, Celia’s friends whom I was sharing a ride to Panajachel with. We had a lovely, picturesque drive for a few hours to the Lake Atitlan area, and I was dropped off at my next hostel, which was Jabel Tinamit Hotel & Villas. I ended up having my own cabin there, and it was quite affordable, too.
Most people were staying up at the fancy Hotel Atitlan, and there was a dinner planned that night by Victor’s best friend at 7PM. One of the main things to see in Panajachel is the Atitlan Nature Reserve, which happened to be right by their hotel. I walked up this incredibly inclined slope (Google did not warn me about this!) and had about 90 minutes to explore the reserves before it closed. I pushed myself hard, which is probably good since I had been eating lots of food. I saw many butterflies in the conservatory and took the paths all around, first to a waterfall, then all the way up, up, up to a wonderful view of the lake. The reserve has zip lining and also zip biking — which sounds a bit scary — but I got there too late for either any way.
Afterwards, I explored the gardens at Hotel Atilan and then waited in the lobby for the happy hour at 6:30PM before dinner. The dinner was a scrumptious 3 course meal. Oh, and there were birds in a glass cage tweeting while we were eating. How classy is that? After dinner, we hung around the bar till they kicked us out around 10:30PM.
Niall actually was staying in a hostel in the general vicinity of mine, so we took a tuk tuk, which is a mini-cab where you are holding on for dear life, down the mountain. The lovely concierge at my villa told me she didn’t recommend walking around after dark, so I figured better safe than sorry, especially when the rides are so cheap. That night I heard a noise outside, and turned on my porch light, and there was a cat! Oh, also this hotel had more cable channels, so I watched the last half of the final Harry Potter movie and remembered it was really not that good compared to the book…
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 21st, DAY 6: PANAJACHEL & ATV SUNSET TOUR
Tuesday was my day to walk around town. I took pictures of a lot of nice murals, popped by head in the big church, and explored the main shopping street: Calle Santandar where I bought even more souvenirs. I was going to mail my postcards from the post office I saw on GoogleMaps, but apparently it closed pre-pandemic. I was also told by this nice guy who retired there from Albany 8 years ago that it was a terrible idea to mail anything from Guatemala, in general. Apparently the post office is known for taking the postage money, then throwing out the mail. So, for the first time ever, I am mailing my postcards from America… (or just handing them to people if I am seeing them…)
I went to the lake, and this guy asked if I wanted to take a cruise. I had almost 2 hours to kill, and he said it was only an hour so I agreed. He told me it was 150Q (about $20) so I said sure. When I got on the boat, he then proceeded to tell me it was 150Q each way, and actually 300Q. That still was a fairly decent price, so I paid it even though it used up most of my remaining cash, but then he tried to get more from me! I was very firm that I had been told 150Q and that I would take my money back and leave, and finally he said fine, and I got an hour cruise around the lake! It was great to be on the water (go Pisces!) and I got a closer view of the volcanos surrounding the lake.
At 2:30PM, I had booked a Sunset ATV Tour. I invited everyone to go with me, and a bunch of people agreed! We had a fantastic time driving ATVs (first time for me!) and even though there was a road blockage so we couldn’t see the final town on the tour, I think driving the ATV was the best part anyway. We took some great sunset pictures on the beach, and before that some great ones from an incredibly viewpoint.
For dinner we went to Los Pumpos which was a restaurant our ATV guide recommended. Not only was the food absolutely delicious, the decor was all made of recycled materials. The restaurant owner created all these figurines from plastic that would’ve been thrown out. It was very creative and really cool. Also, they had a cat! (That’s the fourth!)
I then took a tuk tuk home for less than $2 to be safe and not sorry. I watched some “South Park” and I actually started to get chills, my guess from the tomatoes from my nachos not being washed in filtered water, and I took 2 ibuprofen and went to bed right away around midnight.
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 22nd, DAY 7: MAYAN SACRED CAVES
I woke up about 10 hours later on Wednesday, feeling fine but not hungry at all. For my final day, I booked a private (because no one else was available since they were either leaving town or doing a 3:30am sunrise hike #loco) Mayan Sacred Cave tour.
I had thought that I was going to be exploring caverns underground, but these caves were actually rocks that were protruding from the mountain. We took the “chicken bus” which was literally just an old American school bus upwards past where Hotel Atitlan was, and after a really nice view, we started climbing to the caves themselves. I saw the remains of one ceremony where they had sacrificed a rooster. And then we climbed upwards up some steep, slippery rocks for what was to be the best view of the trip!
We saw 2 other caves, which were further down and then what goes down must come up, so there was a steep incline coming back to the bus stop.
My guide explained a bit about the Mayan rituals and how they have 4 colored candles representing North, West, South and East and consequently all the natural things that go with those. People also put in sugar or candy so they can have sweet results. In the old days, Mayans would sacrifice the princess or newborn children, but obviously that doesn’t happen anymore. He also explained about spirit animals — and I took a test — I got a coyote/fox… almost a cat, but not quite… I would’ve liked to read more about my result but the webpage he sent doesn’t allow copy/paste so I can’t Google translate it…
And then by some miracle of timing, a couple had hired a shaman to perform a ritual for them! So, I got to witness the entire thing. As the shaman chanted, they would list what they wanted, and according to my guide, they were starting a new business and wanted it to be blessed. It was really nice of them to allow me watch, and I felt very in touch with Mayan culture.
After the tour, I had 2 hours to kill, so I got a $40 massage from a spa Google recommended. It was a fantastic deep tissue massage which came with relaxing tea afterwards. I went back to my hostel to sit on the bench in the garden till my airport shuttle came.
I got an inexpensive $35 shuttle back to Guatemala City, and you get what you pay for… when the hostel booked it for me, they didn’t tell me it was going to stop in Antigua on the way or pick up so many people en route. It was fine, though because my flight was at midnight, so even though the shuttle was for 4PM and I didn’t get to the airport till 8:30PM (even though GoogleMaps said it was 2 hours away), I had plenty of time. I ended up getting food at Starbucks, which was the only food open in the airport around 9PM. The midnight flight was really not great, and the line at customs at 5am was also really treacherous. The E train was running on the F line, so I had to walk home in 40 degree weather after a week in the 70s, but I got home around 7am, promptly went to sleep, and even though I was absolutely exhausted at Broadway Bowling at 11PM that night, by today, I am feeling fine!
JONI IS HAPPY I’M HOME
Or should I say feline fine!?! Joni is feeling and feline fine… she was pretty upset that I left her, but after a few days, she has either forgiven me or completely forgotten I was gone! She is back to watching TV with me after midnight and sleeping on my legs. We are trying a new litter — Pretty Litter — if any cat owners out there want to try it, I can refer you — you get one for free, we get one for free. Supposedly it absorbs urine and does not smell at all. I will report back if that’s accurate or not, but Rebecca loves it…
Here is what I’ve read so far this year!
The Fran Lebowitz Reader — I’m actually slowly reading her essays — this is my new bathroom book for when I figure Time magazine before the next one comes now that Entertainment Weekly is gone forever.
The Mother of Degrassi — I will admit that I read the memoir of the creator of “Degrassi”!
The People We Meet on Vacation — This was the most checked out book from the library in 2022, but it was very rom-com, and not my genre without quirky songs.
Inheritance — This memoir about a writer who finds out her father wasn’t her father is good, if a little long-winded in parts. Or maybe I just don’t like reading non-fiction.
Sondheim & Me — Speaking of non-fiction, this was a very short read about the guy who wrote/edited the Sondheim Review magazine’s experiences with Steve.
Kindred — Finally some fiction! I loved this TV adaptation (see below) and when it got canceled, I had to read the book to find out what happened! The book was better than the TV show, as usual.
Elizabeth Finch — iI really liked Julian Barnes’ book, “The Sense of an Ending” but this one was a bit tedious and had a whole non-fiction section. NO MORE NON-FICTION PLEASE!
Pachinko — Now HERE is a fantastic book. I am halfway through, and I cannot wait to keep going and then watch the TV adaptation!
I actually saw 2 early free movie previews of films I quite enjoyed, but signed papers that I wouldn’t talk about them. I would like to see the new “Antman” and “Shazam 2” but for now, here are the 3 movies I watched on the plane:
Wakanda Forever — not as good as the first one, but still had some good moments.
Armageddon Time — this movie was kind of slow, but had some good moments, too.
Aftersun — this movie was even slower, but also had some good moments.
I guess I’m repetitively redundant today, but I hope this ledger had some good moments!
Between the Guatemala vacation and being in Denver for the Fanny Brice show in January, I haven’t tried that many new shows this year, but here are some recommendations anyway!
Kindred — I really loved this Hulu adaptation of the novel, and I am devastated they canceled it — and equally devastated they canceled Reboot!
Dear Edward — This is my new Apple show, and it’s by Jason Katmis who wrote “Friday Night Lights” and “Parenthood” and the unrated and also canceled “Why They See Us” (Amazon). It is a very sweet show about a boy who survives a plane crash and stars Connie Britton, who can never do any wrong.
The Last of Us — It took me awhile to warm up to this HBO Zombie show that everyone else is loving so much — the turn off for me is episodes over an hour. I prefer my shows to cap themselves around 50 minutes, an hour at most! But this show is pretty good, not going to lie.
Star Trek: Picard — I was so excited to see the cast of TNG reunite, but so far I am a bit underwhelmed. Hopefully the season gets better as it goes on!
Mayfair Witches — I have been enjoying this AMC show based on an Anne Rice book series about witches.
Servant — I absolutely must shout-out this phenomenal show on Apple — now in its 4th and final season. The twists and turns keep coming, and I cannot wait to see how it ends in a few weeks!
For All Mankind — Good for Apple for making the list so much — I realized I posted about this show on FB, but didn’t actually put it in a ledger — it’s a fantastic alternate history show about what would’ve happened if the Russians had landed on the moon first.
Ginny & Georgia — Finally, I will end this with my new favorite Netflix show — sad that we’re not quite sure what will happen when April rolls around with the family account — but I really enjoyed this edgier “Gilmore Girls”.
There is a lot of theater coming out this spring; here is what I’ve seen already this year.
The Collaboration — Broadway play about Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s artistic collaboration in the 80s.
Colin Quinn: Small Talk — New standup show by Colin Quinn, which had some funny lines.
Cornelia Street — New chamber musical off-Broadway about a restaurant’s last days.
Titanique — Parody musical with Celine Dion explaining the plot of Titanic with her own songs.
Letters from Max — Wonderful Sarah Ruhl play about a poetic and terminally ill student she had who became her friend. Not a dry eye in that house at the end!
Other than that, I’m looking forward to seeing Celia in “Life of Pi” and also will hopefully get to the new “Sweeney Todd”.
Well, there you are. A very short update for now. Clearly I will be reaching out mid-April when I start my crowdfunding campaign for “Malka”, the short film, musical drama about my grandmother’s Holocaust experience. Other than that, I have added 8 extra cabarets this spring, so those will keep me pretty busy. One song to go in “The Secret Adversary” score, another Sunday Universal puzzle coming up, and of course MY BIRTHDAY ON TUESDAY!!!
June 8, 2023 — Meandering Around Minnesota & Its Neighbors
Good evening, fine friends!
Due to the air quality in NYC, we have postponed the Maury Yeston Cabaret for 11 days, giving me the opportunity to send out a recap of my latest adventure to Minnesota and its neighboring states: South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa & Wisconsin. For those counting (which is only me), I have now visiting 45 states, leaving only 5 more to go to completely 50 by 50! (Those 5 are Michigan, Indiana, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arkansas.) It was a super fun trip, and I ended up driving 2,498 miles. Had I realized, I might’ve circled around for another 10 minuets or so to get to an even 2,500. Ah, well.
Before we get to the trip, let’s do a quick summary of summer projects, and then afterwards, as always, I will do reviews.
MALKA: THE SUN WILL RISE AGAIN
We are now down to the last week of the campaign for Malka, the short film about my grandmother’s Holocaust experience. We get no money unless we hit 80% of our goal by Friday 6/16 at 1PM EST. Please continue to share this personal project, so we can keep my grandmother’s story alive and educate young audiences about what she and millions of other Jews endured.
I’ll tell you, the Malka campaign has taken up 100% of my time and energy, so I have had to push back all other projects. It has been absolutely exhausting and at times demeaning, but it will be worth it when we get to make the film this fall.
I have pushed back season 5 of my podcast to the fall, as well. I will probably do a truncated season of only 6 episodes this year, and most of them will be about Malka and the process of creating it. Speaking of podcasts, I was a guest on the On Broadway podcast this week, which will come out tomorrow:
Speaking of pushing back, I have also pushed back the publication of my new book: “The Making of a Musical: the 12 year journey of Love Quirks”. I had 2 people read through it and love it, so I apologize to those LQ fans out there who have been dying to read it! With so much going on, I’m considering waiting till my birthday in February 2024. And hopefully by then my college and regional outreach will garner a few productions, as well. This career is nonstop hustle.
Other than those, we hope to produce a NYC production of The Diamond as Big as the Ritz in 2024, possibly spring, maybe fall. And Broadway aimed, Agatha Christie’s The Secret Adversary which is modern adaptation of the Agatha Christie mystery novel is about completed with its first draft. It’s possible we will do a reading fall 2023, and also possible it will be spring 2024.
Even though it was a terrible time, the pandemic era has taught me a bit about patience, and as you can see, instead of putting all of these things out at once, I have taken a more Marvel strategy to space things out.
Unfortunately, I have also not had time to write many crossword puzzles, so I do not have any news to report there, though hopefully I’ll get one more in somewhere by the end of the year.
DAY 1, WEDNESDAY, MAY 24th: TRAVEL DAY
I took a 1:09PM flight out of Newark to Minneapolis. The flight out was fine, though the woman next to me was for some reason still using her phone to connect to the outside world, so I did learn that Tina Turner had passed mid-flight. Once I left the airport, I checked off Minnesota on my Been app – it was my 40th state.
The first 2 nights I was staying at my friend Laura’s and she had a Zoom call till 6PM, so I had to Uber from the airport. Unfortunately, Laura mistyped the last digit of her address, and I used that for the app. Uber autocorrected the first number from a 5 to a 2 since the last number didn’t fit any houses in the 5000s. Thus, I ended up an hour and a half away by walking b/c even though it was 30 blocks, the blocks were more like NYC avenues. So, I ended up taking the bus, and even though I ended up there an hour later than I planned, it was fine because it was still before 6. I ended up going for a swim in the pool and rehearsing my Sondheim talk.
Our friend Erin came over for dinner, and she brought with her delicious juicy lucies which are cheeseburgers with the cheese baked inside! Afterwards, we made s’mores in Laura’s fire pit with her kids. Then, as Laura put them to bed, Erin and I just talked til it got dark.
One of the perks of the timing staying at Laura was that her husband was away for work, so I had his entire man-cave in the basement, complete with a giant TV, to myself! I watched “Ted Lasso” and went to bed as early as I could muster before Thursday.
DAY 2, THURSDAY, MAY 25th: ROCHESTER, MINNESOTA
Thursday was a very early start. I had to be up at 7:20am and even though that was 8:20am EST, it was earlier than I’d been awake since before the pandemic! My friend Sophia had seen my posts about Sondheim’s passing and the letters he wrote me on the Facebook. She asked me if I would be interested and available to come give a talk on Sondheim and Me at the Alice Mayo Clinic Club, and of course, I said yes! The Alice Mayo Clinic Club started as a wive’s group, but now is a spouse’s group because — not sure if you know this — women can be doctors, too! I ended up giving a half TED Talk/half cabaret, which I coined a SETH Talk. I performed half my songs, and have Steve’s songs, and talked about him, me and him & me. There was also delicious lunch and a quick Q&A.
I had to take a shuttle from Minneapolis to Rochester. First I Ubered back to the airport for the shuttle. There was only one other person on the shuttle at 8am, and she turned out to be a doctor at the Mayo Clinic. She was very chatty, so we talked a lot of the way, and then she was so super nice that she took me out for tea since I had a half hour to kill. I ended up having a matcha with green tea and honey at Fiddlehead Coffee, which really WOKE ME UP! She also gave me a brief tour of the main section of the Mayo Clinic before dropping me off at Rochester Arts Center where my talk was.
The talk was really well attended and incredibly well received. I do find that outside of NYC, people are very complimentary, and I appreciate it!
If anyone out there has a similar club where they bring in people to speak/entertain, do let me know. I would love to do more of this sort of thing.
Anyway, afterwards, I took the shuttle to the Mall of America while Laura was working. This is the largest mall in America, and it’s pretty large, though actually not as large as the one I went to in Shanghai. I actually almost took a nap while charging my phone, so I didn’t walk around that much. I did get a Minnesota magnet, though, and did see the huge Nickelodeon theme park. There was also mini-golf, an escape room and a museum, but they were all ridiculously overpriced, and I was too exhausted anyway.
That night, I watched the final Maisel and went to bed early (well for me).
DAY 3, FRIDAY, MAY 26th: MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA
I slept 10 hours, and then I commenced my day exploring Minneapolis. I bussed downtown and my first stop was the Stone Arch Bridge, which is one of the oldest bridges in the city. After that, I went to the Guthrie Theater and got to walk around the inside, though not in the actual auditorium. The Guthrie has a high, panoramic view of the city, and also many photos from past shows. Next up, I walked to see the Bob Dylan Mural then the Mary Tyler Moore statue. After taking a selfie with Mary, with my hat off, I realized I am going to make it after all!
I walked through the park at Loring Greenway, then took in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. After that, I walked for a half hour, uphill in the sun to find the house that was used as exterior shots for the “Mary Tyler Moore Show”. I mean, I’ve now been to a few exterior houses, including the “Breaking Bad” one in Sante Fe and the “Full House” one in San Francisco, and honestly, it’s not that exciting.
I was exhausted and very hot, so Laura was nice enough to pick me up and bring me to the next stop which was the Bakken Museum. This museum is about electricity, and was mostly geared towards kids, but still had some cute spots like a Ben Franklyn room with some shocking experiments you could do. There also was a scavenger hunt to find Lego scientists hid throughout the museum, which was quite hard for us, though there was a random kid with his family who seemed to be able to find them instantly. There was also a room on Mary Shelley, who is a fascinating author and scientist, and they had a little show on Frankenstein, with a monster popping out at the end that made me scream, just b/c I was not expecting it.
After having some pizza with some interesting Minnesota toppings by the pool, Charise and Evan came to pick me up for my next few days in St. Paul!
Friday night, Charise, Evan and I went to The Children’s Theatre Company’s new production of “An American Tail the Musical” which was based on the cartoon from our youth starring Fiefel the Mouse who gets lost in America after emigrating from Russia. This was a charming adaptation and super fun production. Who knew there was good theatre in the middle of the country?
DAY 4, SATURDAY, MAY 27th: WHITE BEAR LAKE
Saturday was a bot day. By some trip luck, Charise’s friend had invited us out to go to White Bear Lake on her father’s boat! We took my new friend Nicky, who may look like a Chihuahua but really acts like a cat. So we got along!
It was such a fun, relaxing day on the lake… till I was talked into going tubing! I got very wet; it was very cold, but I survived even though I still have a bruise on my knee. It’s basically like water skiing, except you are holding on for dear life to a tube. We also had some lunch at a lakeside restaurant (bbq pork sandwich with fries), and then afterwards got dinner (pesto grilled cheese) at a bar in White Bear itself.
That night, we watched some TV, and then called it a night.
DAY 5, SUNDAY, MAY 28th: FARGO, NORTH DAKOTA
Sunday, I picked up my rental car, and put on some podcasts, and drove 9 hours with one stop!
Speaking of podcasts, on this trip I listened to the entire first season of Julia Louis Dreyfus’ new podcast: “Wiser Than Me” which was fantastic. Julia interviews women who are older than she is, such as Carol Burnett & Jane Fonda (who when asked when she knew it was time to leave a marriage said “When I start fantasizing about his funeral!”, and it’s filled with wisdom. I also listened to a bunch of episodes of “Conan O’Brian Needs a Friend” including the one with Julia.
So, my first stop was Fargo. I went to the visitor’s center b/c they apparently have some stuff from the movie (even though I didn’t really like the movie that much), but it was closed for the holiday weekend. They had a sign with a QR code to join the ND as Last State club — apparently a lot of people have ND as their final state — probably because there’s not much to see there… for me it was 41!
Then, I walked around downtown, which is basically just a few blocks. I took some pictures of the murals (including a really cute Nintendo one) and the Fargo Theater, and then I doublebacked into Minnesota to go to one of the original Dairy Queens in Moorhead.
After dinner, I drove almost 5 hours to my hotel in Belfield. Thankfully Niki was available to chat for a few hours on Sunday! Oh, and incidentally, most of the ND/SD part of my trip was basically itinerized by Erin!
DAY 6, MONDAY, MAY 29th: THEODORE ROOSEVELT NATIONAL PARK, ND; DEADWOOD, SOUTH DAKOTA
After a night with no Wi-Fi (good thing my family got unlimited data recently!), I headed 15 minutes to the exquisite Theodore Roosevelt National Park. This was definitely one of the best national parks I’ve been to! I only did the South Unit of the park b/c the North one was a bit far. I started at the Painted Canyon Visitor Center then took the Painted Canyon Nature Trail. Personally, I am not a huge hiker. I prefer moderate to easy trails, always ones under and hour, and I much prefer loop trails because I hate going all the way somewhere just to have to turn around and walk backwards. This one was thankfully a moderate loop which took about 40 minutes.
Next I went to the main area of the South Unit, which cost $30 to enter. There I saw the Skyline Vista, went on the Wind Canyon Trail overlooking the Missouri River — where it started to hail, and then I proceeded to slip into the mud twice on my way back to my car… and of course it stopped right after I got back to the car — and I had to change my shirt with was caked in mud — but thankfully I didn’t get injured — then, my favorite was the Boicourt Overlook and Trail. After that, I did Buck Hill and the Coal Vein Trail (which was a loop!). I will say that the Boicourt Overlook was simply incredible, and I stayed there, still a bit wet and muddy, and was just one with nature… till Mollie called… but then I talked to her while having the most amazing view! I’ll tell you, I’ve never had such a mercurial weather day; it was like there was a different climate in different parts of the park, which I’m sure there was. Besides the hail, some places it was super hot and sunny, while others it was cold and windy.
While in the park, I saw some wild horses, prairie dogs (which look like Muppets to me) and of course, bison. After those few hours of exploring the wonder of the park, I went to the Visitor Center on my way out where they had an exhibit on Teddy, plus the cabin where he lived when he was in the park.
I drove South and got to catch up with Jen and Marian on the phone, as I crossed into South Dakota (state 42!). That night for dinner I went to Deadwood, which people might have heard of from the TV show (which I never watched). Deadwood has a population of 1,270, which is fewer people than my apartment building. Deadwood has one long main street (called Main Street) with a strip of interesting things like old saloons, (now closed) brothels, and a fake place to buy used coffins. I had to pay $2 for parking, and it was pretty chilly out, so I didn’t linger that much. There actually was a street show going on, but I was too cold and hungry to watch. I did have dinner at Mustang Sally’s, which was just a cheeseburger, fries, and a banana shake.
My hotel for that night and the next was in Rockerville, SD, which actually is the only one I got on Orbitz instead of AirBnB.
DAY 7, TUESDAY, MAY 30th: BLACK HILLS, SD
After breakfast, which was included at my hotel and offered till 10am so I didn’t rush for the first time all trip, my first stop of the day was Mount Rushmore. I had expected to be underwhelmed, so maybe coming in with low expectations was necessary, but honestly, I really found it super cool. Maybe, deep down, I have been brainwashed to be patriotic, but it is an incredible feat that they actually carved a sculpture into an actual mountain! And sure, the guy who did it was problematic, but still – what a feat! It took 15 years — 8.5 of that was fundraising, which I completely relate to. I took the path around closer, and went to the museum, and I found the whole thing just crazy. I mean, yes, paying people only 35 cents/hour to do very dangerous work is a bit specious, as well, but at least no one got killed. I also watched the movie on how they did it — lots of TNT and then scraping… So, yeah, I get that there are issues, but I did really enjoy it, and I even bought a magnet.
After that, I passed a sign for Horsethief Lake and decided to go. This was a really beautiful lake in the middle of the Black Hills and I decided that I deserved to just sit awhile and enjoy the birds. I also actually took a phone call for Malka and closed a $180 donation, but… mostly I was enjoying the peace and quiet.
Next up, to atone for going to Mount Rushmore, I went to Crazy Horse, which is the site of a Native American sculpture of the hero Crazy Horse. The only things that have been completed at this point are the head and the hand, but they intend to carve the rest of him and his horse! They also have the Indian Museum of North America on the site, which was very interesting filled with true history and also lots of art. I also saw an hour long show featuring some dance, which also came with some historical facts about what really happened to Native Americans in the Dakotas, which is not something that is discussed so much in American History. She also said that there was a prophesy that the 7th generation (which she is a part of) would start bringing the traditions back, so I’m glad that has come true.
I felt incredibly educated, and I’m super glad that I went. And I also got to bring a rock from the sculpture home! Speaking of the sculpture, one interesting fact I learned from the video is that the sculptor they chose was born 6 days after Crazy Horse died.
Next, I was going to check out Wind Cave National Park, and it was there that I had my first trip fail — though I guess it was my second if you count the actual trip trip — it turns out to tour the caves are booked the day of at 8am, and then are sold out for the day. As there was no way I was going to get there by 8am the next day (and then drive an extra 40 minutes back to where I was), I settled for seeing the cave hole that you could see without the tour.
Then, I drove through Custer State Park a bit where I saw a dear deer, and GoogleMaps actually had me drive right past the Black Hills Playhouse. I drove past my hotel to have dinner in Rapid City at Colonial House where I got a really delicious salad.
Finally, I headed to the Badlands to view the sunset from one of the overlooks. On the way, I got to catch up with my friend David, and then it started pouring and hailing again! But the good news is, there remained a sliver of the sky in the west, and not only did I get to see the sunset… since it had just been raining, there was a double rainbow over the Badlands, as well! I ended up chatting with a few other adventurers who were there, and one woman took a panoramic of the sunset with the rainbow, and realized I was right in the middle of it — so she was nice enough to text it to me, and it’s now my FB cover photo!
So, even though it would’ve probably been more all-encompassing if it wasn’t so cloudy and rainy, I think it was worth getting wet for that double rainbow.
DAY 8, WEDNESDAY, MAY 31st: BADLANDS, SD
Again I took my time getting out since there was breakfast included, and I needed to not rush myself too much.
The first stop Wednesday was Wall where I went to the mall Wall Drug, which is quite quirky and Wild West themed. They have lots of statued people on benches you can pose with and many tiny stores. There was also some photographs and historical plaques.
And then it was time for a day at the Badlands (another $30), which were actually Fairly-Decent-Lands!
I started with the gravelly Sage Creek Road, and stopped by all the overlooks. I saw some bighorn sheep, prairie dogs and more bison. I walked around for a bit at the Sage Creek Basin, then drove back to the main road, Badlands Loop Road. I drove the entire road, stopped at every overlook, and took lots of sprawling pictures. I walked around the Fossil Exhibit Trail for awhile, and did a little bit of the Sand Castle Trail. However, to really do that trail, I would’ve needed to have someone pick me up at the other side. Also, I felt like I got the gist after 15 minutes, so I turned around and went back to the car.
I got to the Visitor Center on the opposite side of the Badlands from where I came in. It had a tiny exhibit and a room where paleontologists were working with fossils.
I thought I was done, but it turns out there are some of the must see things on the other side of the center before the exit. Indeed, it would’ve been better to come from the east side and then go west; however, my vacation was designed opposite to that, so I made due. I was just ready to leave, but then had to do the Cliff Shelf Nature Trail (a nice loop) then explore the incredible Doors and Windows, which were rocks with “windows” you could look through to see the vast expanse. I also allowed myself to linger on some benches and just take it easy because my AirBnB host said she went to bed at 10PM, and would just leave the door open. Without time pressure, I figured I could procrastinate driving for a bit.
I finally gave in, then drove 3 hours to the Corn Palace. Google had said that it was closed at 5PM, but I was pleasantly surprised to find out it was actually open till 9PM starting after Memorial Day, and they hadn’t changed it online yet! The Corn Palace was, as you expect, fairly corny. There were lots of opportunities to take selfies with corn. The murals on the front of the building are actually made of corn. Oscar Howe was the first person to start these in 1948, and they usually do a new one each year which takes 275,000 bundles of corn; however, this year there was a draught so they still have the Circus mural from 2022 up. It was quite amazing to see how they make the corn into art. The auditorium is used for sports things during most of the year, but in the summer, it is filled with a huge gift shop where I got some corny souvenirs for my family.
One of the main corn murals in the auditorium was of the Native American vs. the white man, and had them shaking hands in the middle. It went white man, church, horse, book, hands shaking, prophetic bird, buffalo, tepee, Native American. Very cool and very peaceful.
Afterwards I was starving and realized that things would be closing soon, so I had a cheeseburger with a corn on the cob instead of fries at the bar right across the street from the Corn Palace. Then I drove my final hour of the night to my AirBnB in Sioux Falls, SD.
DAY 9, THURSDAY, JUNE 1st: OMAHA, NEBRASKA & IOWA CITY, IOWA
Thursday I head out to Omaha, Nebraska (state 43!) to get to the Joslyn Castle for a 1PM tour. I made it a bit early, and then sat in my car while it was pouring. The volunteers who give the tours at the castle are all very nice. The basic story is that this rich guy decided he wanted to build a Scottish style castle in Omaha. It cost about $250K in the early 1900s which is probably a billion dollars today. It’s now a preserved historical site where you can tour the 38 rooms. The tour itself cost only $12 and lasted a good 90 minutes. The door to the castle is 1800 pounds, which was very heavy to open and close. There were lots of adornments everywhere, most reconstructed. There was one room with a circular dining table that they fit the room to, so it was also curved, and there were sliding doors that came in and out on a curve, which was quite unusual. There were lots of decorative wallpaper, too. And the top floor was a huge ballroom.
Next up, I drove over to The Ford Rose Garden which was where President Ford was born and raised. There is a gazebo filled with Ford memorabilia which featured a bunch of audio recording you could play. There was even a brick salvaged from the mansion where he was born. Finally, there was a time capsule from 1976 to be opened in 2076, which will be here before you know it!
My final stop was to visit OMAR the Troll who lives under the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge that connects Nebraska to Iowa over the Missouri River. He was very nice to selfie with.
Then, it was another 4 hours of driving to stay with my cousin Sanjay in Iowa City, Iowa (state 44!). En route, I drove through Des Moines and got a blurry photo of the gold capitol building while driving.
Iowa City is a quaint little college town. Sanjay and I got Chinese food at Uncle Sun Restaurant and then retired to his place for Scrabble and 3 rounds of Bananagrams (I won all 4 games).
DAY 10, FRIDAY, JUNE 2nd: IOWA & WISCONSIN
Not having an actual checkout time, I really started getting a bit more into my regular routine of sleeping late! It also helped that my first stop — The Voyage Home Museum in Riverside, Iowa — didn’t open till noon. As you will all surely know, James T. Kirk will be born in Riverside on March 22, 2228… which is only 205 years from now! The museum was more of a collection of “Star Trek” memorabilia you could buy. In fact, I had a lot of it growing up. There were lots of autographs, too, a recreated bridge, and Data’s actual desk from the set of TNG! The bathroom had a cute sign that said “To Boldly Go” and its walls were filled with more posters. It was a pretty small space, so it didn’t take that long to go through it.
Next, I set out for my next patch of driving to my 45th state — Wisconsin! I stopped at the first rest stop because I realized from my print out that the cheese factory I was going to go to closes at 3PM and I wouldn’t get there till 3:30PM. So, I took a bit of a break to do some last minute research and instead found one of the first cheese restaurants in Monroe, WI — Baumgartner’s. On the way there, I was lucky enough to catch my friend Brianna on the phone to keep me company for this patch of driving!
Monroe was a cute little town that was actually having its annual car show — where people bring their old cars and just put them out near the park for people to take pictures of them. I had a cheese platter at Baumgartner’s and what they say about WI cheese is true! As I cut the cheese, I was glad to know I had my own bedroom that night in case I… cut the cheese again!
I dropped my stuff off at my AirBnB in Madison, which was about 15 minutes from downtown in more of a suburban area. By the way, this part of the trip was itinerized by Mollie and Lauren who went to college at the University of Wisconsin!
My first stop was to walk around the Madison Capitol Building, and when I did, I realized there was live music! Madison has free concerts every other Friday night in the summer, so I had really good timing! There were 3 bands playing at Live on King (what they call it) on Friday, and I saw bits of all 3. I realized that I wasn’t going to want to be far from the music, so for dinner I had Subway given that I wasn’t too hungry having already eaten a cheese plate. I ate my sub and read my book while sitting on a bench and listening to the first band. Band 2 took so long to get ready so when it got dark, I decided to cut out near the end of their set so I could get back for Band 3.
I had been recommended the Daily Scoop, homemade ice cream at Memorial Union at the college, and since it closed at 10PM, I figured I should get there before that. I walked down State Street, which is the main street filled with stores and nightlife, and got on queue in the dining hall for the inexpensive and delicious ice cream. I had orange chocolate chip and peanut butter chocolate in a waffle cone. YUM! I walked around the river for a bit, before getting back on State St to get back to the Capitol where I saw the last half of the final band set. The final band was Horseshoes & Hand Grenades and I wish I had found a spot where I could see better, but they were really great from what i heard.
The biggest discovery of the night was that GoogleMaps kept track of where I parked! (Not that I really needed it, but it was a nice discovery.)
DAY 11, SATURDAY, JUNE 3rd: MADISON, WI
Saturday I took my time again because I wasn’t in a huge hurry. I had brunch at Mickie’s Dairy Bar — an omelette with broccoli and cheddar cheese, and the highly recommended apple coffee cake. Next, I drove back to the main area of town. After parking, I walked down State Street again, this time with things actually open.
I went to the free Madison Museum of Contemporary Art then the free Chazen Museum. And funnily, Madison was having a car show on State Street that day, too!
MMCA had some sculptures on their 3rd floor, the 2nd floor had a gallery of Floyd Newsum and then an oddly sexual video game written by Ava Wanbli.
Chazen had an exhibit on emancipation, then the top floor had their permanent collection which had 1 Andy Warhol, 2 Roy Lichtenstein and 1 Rodin statue.
After the museums, I walked back towards my car, stopped in a used bookstore (Paul’s Books) then a cute artsy place where I bought a cute cat statue. And then, it was time for my final 4 hour drive back to Minneapolis, on which I happily got to talk to Staci for 20 minutes.
Charise and Evan picked me up from the rental place, and then we went out to dinner in St. Paul at the historic Grand. They recommended the German Chocolate cake, so I had that after chicken stroganoff soup and pasta salad. There was also a decent guitarist singing some covers. Then, we went home and watched “The Other Two” and the last “Ted Lasso”.
DAY 12, SUNDAY, JUNE 4th: ST. PAUL, MN
Sunday morning, we got up for brunch with their friends Matt & Paul at Handsome Hog where I got incredible Chicken & Waffles with creamy, cheesy hash-browns. After we went briefly into the W.A. Frost historic building where there used to be a speakeasy in the basement. Next, it was an estate sale where I got a $2 extension cord to replace the one that disappeared at Don’t Tell Mama, and a huge street fair with food and music — I was worried there would only be fair food, but indeed, it was good! I had more homemade ice cream (cookies and cream) then my final meal was cheese curds, which are basically mozzarella sticks but smaller.
Charise and Evan dropped me off at the airport; the flight was fine, but coming home from Newark on a Sunday night took 2 hours. However, I made it safely, so we will consider the trip a success!
JONI THE KITTY
Before I get to the review section, let’s do a quick feline cat–ch up!
Joni has grown very comfortable in our home. She does this new thing where she jumps up on my lap when I attempt to put on shoes and socks and starts meowing in my face to get me to stay, even though she usually has been ignoring me up to that point. She also gets super needy if I’m on the phone, even though I’m clearly still in the apartment! But it’s very sweet, and she watches TV with me most nights now.
She also has been all over social media in meme form, because for $18 contributors get a personalized graphic of Joni thanking them for becoming part of the Malka campaign. She is very humble about her newfound fame, as it hasn’t really affected her every day life.
It seems I have read quite a few books since my last ledger!
Shy: the alarmingly outspoken memoirs of Mary Rodgers — This is a very frank, very entertaining final memoir of the composer of “Once Upon a Mattress”
Finale: Last Conversations with Stephen Sondheim — This is a short book filled with some interviews about Sondheim’s final musical. The interviewer didn’t really know much about Sondheim, though, so it’s kind of annoying to read in parts.
Horse — This is historical fiction about a horse. It was okay.
Lessons in Chemistry — This was the most popular book of 2022 I think, and is now a TV show with Brie Larson, but it was just an okay read. Pretty predictable.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo — This is a fantastic book with lots of twists and turns, and I highly recommend it.
Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow — Hands down, the best book of 2023. I cried when it ended just b/c I fell so in love with the characters and the story.
The Book of Goose — I forget to recommended this one. It was kind of like “My Brilliant Friend” but in France. Enjoyable, though.
The Power — This is a great sci-fi book about what happens when women get electric powers, and I also liked the TV show (I decided to read the book first).
Signal Fires — This is another really good book, which is about 2 families whose lives are interconnected.
At Least I Was There — Paul Ford, who was rehearsal pianist for a few of the later Sondheim shows, has an incredibly honest memoir where he is not afraid to share any opinions since he has retired forever. Quite entertaining, and lots of tea spilled, to quote Gen Z.
Fingersmith — I’m almost through this book that Time Magazine recommended awhile ago — it takes place in Dickensian times in London and is about 2 orphans who are connected in a mysterious way.
I’ve seen a couple of early movie previews that I could get sued talking about, so this will be unusually short. I guess I’m mostly seeing theater these days!
La Usurpadora the Musical — this was a super fun Mexican movie musical, and I am so happy that I got a free preview to it b/c I never would’ve seen it otherwise!
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania — I actually watched this on Disney+ at Charise & Evan’s and kept falling asleep. Evan also fell asleep. I think maybe the era of superheroes is coming to an end. I do still watch to watch Shazam 2: The Fury of the Gods on MAX at some point. Hopefully that one is better…
Oh, I am looking forward to the new Wes Anderson movie, Asteroid City.
With the Writer’s Strike, there’s going to be a dearth of TV sometime in the next few months. Indeed, I think that Peak TV is over, as all the streaming companies tighten their belts. To that end, I really have very little to recommend to you, and for that I apologize.
A Small Light — This show is on NatGEO but they also have it on Disney+/Hulu. It is about Miep, the woman who hid Anne Frank’s family, and it is one of the best written and acted dramas on TV right now. It is an 8 episode mini-series where you know what is going to happen, but it is so compelling, and I highly recommend it.
The Power — This Amazon show actually improves on an already really good book!
The Other Two — This isn’t a new show, but season 3 of this comedy is so on point — you might have to be in the industry to get it, but I think this is the funniest show on TV right now.
Yellowjackets — This also isn’t new, but season 2 was great, and if you like shows like LOST, you should be watching this on Showtime or Paramount+!
Other shows I’ve been meaning to check out are: Daisy & the Six (Prime), American Born Chinese (Disney), Our Flag Means Death (MAX) and Poker Face (Peacock).
There were a lot of shows that have ended, and I wanted to just shout them out:
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel — this fantastic season really stuck the landing, and I cannot wait for Amy/Dan’s next show!
Barry — I thought the final season of Barry was also very strong, and the ending was really brilliant.
Ted Lasso — I didn’t think the final season was that great, but I do love the characters still.
Never Have I Ever — I haven’t watched this yet, but I will be watching it tonight and tomorrow, and I’m pretty sure that is all it will take.
Manifest — I am watching the final episodes right now as I type this. Shout-out to my friend Jennifer who has lines in episode 19, which I will get to soon!
I clearly have been seeing a lot of theater again.
A Bright New Boise — This was a really fantastic off-Bway play at Signature Theater.
The Best We Could — This was also a fantastic off-Bway play, this time at MTC. I really liked this one a lot.
Pictures from Home — Nathan Lane, Danny Burstein & Zoë Wanamaker made this play very enjoyable to watch.
Elyria — Off-Bway play at Atlantic Theater.
Life of Pi — My BFF Celia’s 4th Broadway show! The puppetry was stunning to watch!
Dear World — Got to revisit this obscure Jerry Herman gem at Encores — my father and I did a production of this in the 90s at our our community theater!
Ann Reinking Memorial — Went to honor the wonderful Ann at this memorial with performances by Ben Vereen & Mandy Patinkin.
Great Performances 50th Anniversary — My friend Amanda got an offer to be in the audience for this incredible all-star concert that was on PBS a few weeks ago. You can see me in the audience multiple times!
Marilyn Maye at Carnegie Hall — So happy I got to see Marilyn’s Carnegie Hall solo concert debut — she just turned 95 and doesn’t look a day over 80! She is ICONIC!
Thanksgiving Play — I found this new Broadway play to be very funny with a wonderful cast.Without You — Anthony Rapp’s solo show based on his memoir about losing his mother to cancer while becoming a super star in RENT was very cathartic.
New York, New York — Beautiful choreography and sets/lights in this “new” Kander & Ebb musical.
Walking with Bubbles — Wonderful solo play with music off-Bway based on the actress’s true story.Summer, 1976 — In my opinion, this was the best play of the year. Laura Linney & Jessica Hecht shine in this show about female friendship.
Fat Ham — Modern adaptation of Hamlet on Broadway.
Woman of the Year — Off-off-Bway revival of this obscure Kander & Ebb musical originally written for Lauren Bacall. What a classic score!
Funny Girl — Saw Lea Michele in this beautiful revival! While she’s no Barbra, she still did a pretty good job.
Bad Cinderella — Carolee Carmello was fantastic in this quirky new Andrew Lloyd Webber musical that probably needed a few more years of development…
Sugar — Off-off-Bway revival of the Jule Styne-Bob Merrill version of “Some Like It Hot” — super fun time!
Audra McDonald at NJPAC — Audra is ABSOLUTELY stellar, and it was worth going to Newark in the freezing rain. She is incomparable and was in great form.
Parade — Great revival of the Jason Robert Brown musical, but like “A Small Light” it’s hard to watch in parts.
& Juliet — Jukebox Broadway musical about a version of Romeo & Juliet where Juliet doesn’t die.
Camelot — Hearing these classic Lerner & Loewe songs with a full orchestra mostly makes up for Aaron Sorkin’s attempted rewrite.
On the Right Track — Saw my friend Brian in this new musical at AMT off-Broadway.
Days of Wine and Roses — Adam Guettel’s new musical off-Bway is so beautiful. Kelli O’Hara and Brian d’Arcy James are giving the performances of their careers, and I’m so glad I got to see it.
Next up: Wet Brain off-Broadway this weekend. And I am trying lottery/rush for a few more Broadway shows, mostly plays. I guess you’ll find out if I get to see them next time!
Well, there you have it. It’s going to be a busy summer. I am in Boston for a wedding right after Malka ends, and then I’m doing 2 showcases/week for most of the summer due to incredible demand. I also have a wedding in upstate NY in July, and I’m going with Mollie to Lake George for July 4th and a few days before. Though, my August has a few holes, if anyone wants to go somewhere cool!
Anyway, I hope you are all doing well! Thank you for your continued support. It brings me great joy to know that in the hours it took me to write this, the amount we need to get to the finish line has been diminishing at a decent clip! Oh, and thank you to Charise, Evan, Laura & Sanjay for hosting me this vacation, and again to Erin, Mollie & Lauren for their trip suggestions!
Finally, please do respond to let me know how YOU are as I would love to know.
September 1st, 2023 — A Frenzied Fall
Happy September! What follows is a comprehensive summer recap and fall update. I hope you enjoy it!
SUMMERTIME AND THE LIVING WAS BUSY
It was a really busy summer. I had a massive turnout for showcases, so I was doing 2 showcases/week for most of July/August and one of those weeks it was 3! Besides that, I tried to get in as many free concerts as possible to take advantage of the city’s wonderful cultural scene.
I didn’t really get away as much as I would’ve liked to, but I did have a lovely extended weekend with my friends Mollie and Penny in Lake George for July 4th week. We had a wonderful AirBnB in Glens Falls, and went to the Hyde museum, mini golf, a Steamboat tour of the lake, a free classical concert, the beach, lots of fireworks including the wonderful one on Lake George itself on July 4th, and lots of delicious food. I also got an $8 green silk shirt at a vintage shop, and an old Miss Piggy Pez dispenser at an antique store for $4 (the pink one, I already had the purple one).
I also went up to Boston for a weekend in June for Thomas & Susan’s wedding, where I got to see Yamini, Amitha and James, as well as the new MIT Museum, which was really cool (and free for alumni). I also had Laura & Brian’s wedding in July for a day trip to New City, NY.
My other 2 times out of Manhattan were when Celia and I walked 12 miles in a circle over the bridge to Queens then to Randall’s Island (not to be confused with the character on “This is Us”) and back to Manhattan, and when I went with my family this week to Sesame Place in Pennsylvania (which was mostly for kids, but still fun to spend time together).
Also this summer, Emi and I had our 3 year wedding anniversary, which is just crazy to think about. To celebrate, we went out to our favorite Japanese restaurant and spent a few hours at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the (very crowded) Van Gogh exhibit. (Which we van went to, to van see!)
AUTUMN LEAVES AND PROJECTS
It’s going to be a busy fall, as well. First, my podcast: “Millennials are Ruining the World? an Xennial perspective: real conversations bridging the gap between Generations X&Y ‘I’m not woke, but I’m awake!’” returns for its 5th season: Wednesdays at 1PM starting September 6th. The wonderful guests and eclectic topics this season are: Mara Jill Herman (Producing), Lenny Schwartz (Screenwriting) Amara Nogee (Doodles), Michaela Moore (opera), Natalie Neckyfarow (embodiment) and Westley Todd Holiday (Empathy). sethbh.com/podcast
As you may remember, the first 3 seasons of my podcast had 13 episodes each. Last summer, I was so busy with Love Quirks that I ended up only doing 8, and this year, I was so exhausted I knocked myself down to 6. The good news is I moved the hosting platform to Anchor, which is free, so I will no longer be paying SoundCloud $144/year. That alleviates the pressure of trying to get my money’s worth. Some people say it’s quality, not quantity; while I usually try for both, I’m happy to have 6 really great episodes. If you haven’t listened to the other 47, you have a few days before the new season starts!
On Tuesday, September 19th at 7PM at Don’t Tell Mama, we will be celebrating my 750th Showcase with a concert of my songs headlined by soon to be Broadway star/showcase alumna Ashley Wool (How to Dance in Ohio). I’m excited to eclipse “The Simpsons” in produced shows! I have 20 singers lined up, and I’m super excited to celebrate this amazing milestone.
The ad for fall showcases goes up on Monday, and I will be booking the regular showcases Tuesdays 9/26-12/17, including a Halloween showcase with costumes on 10/31. At this rate, I will hit 800 sometime spring 2024. For reservations to any of my cabarets, go to: shows.donttellmamanyc.com.
In other news, I’m still working on getting Love Quirks productions into colleges, regional theaters, and London. Please send any interested parties my way! View the Sizzle Reel at lovequirks.com! Honestly, I knew it would be a hustle, but after having an award-winning, critically acclaimed off-Broadway run, I thought it would be a bit easier to get people to produce the show. However, I am going to follow up with 500 or so places next week, and I am hopeful once the show is done a few times, interest will expand exponentially.
A most heartfelt thank you to the almost 500 backers for “Malka” the short film inspired by my grandmother’s Holocaust experience. I truly appreciate it from the bottom of my heart. We have started pre-production, and hope to film this fall. I will be sending updates for the project via Seed&Spark once we have things more solidified. The 8 weeks of crowdfunding were emotionally grueling, but I am so grateful that they were a success.
In other news, my collaborator R.C. Staab and I are producing a month-long run of The Diamond as Big as the Ritz midtown-Manhattan in September 2024, and we just completed a first draft of our Broadway aimed Agatha Christie’s The Secret Adversary. More details soon!
If that’s not enough, I have rejoined the Essential Voices USA choir, and will be singing with them as part of their holiday concerts, including Carnegie Hall with Norm Lewis and the NY Pops in December. And Broadway Bowling started up again last night, which is always super fun!
My 7th published puzzle was in the Wall Street Journal on 8/16 and my 8th will be in the Modern Crossword on 9/9. The Modern Crossword is available online only at:
For those who want to keep complete track, it’s been 1 New York Times, 3 LA Times, 2 Universal Crosswords, 1 Wall Street Journal & 1 Modern Crossword.
If you missed any of these puzzles and would like to try them, let me know, and I will send you PDFs!
And if that wasn’t enough, I was recruited to join the writing team for the MIT Mystery Hunt 2024. As you will most likely recall, I was on the writing team for 2014, so it seems fitting to me that it is something I will do once a decade. It is quite time consuming, but super fun. Those puzzles will be available after Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, and I will make sure to include them in an update next year.
In other puzzle news, I went to the really fun Lollapuzzola crossword competition a few weeks ago up by Columbia University. I came in 3rd… if you add a 1 and a 0 to the front of that 3… AKA 103rd out of 170 people in my slower division. There were about 70 other people in the express competition which is nuts b/c those people solve the puzzles in 2-3 minutes! And there was also a pair division, so I estimate about 300 people were there. I was able to meet a lot of constructors whom I recognized from the crossword blogs, and I met a few of the New York Times editors in person, including my personal editor, the lovely Tracy Bennett who is also the editor of Wordle (which I got in 3 today).
I’m going to the Bryant Park Crossword Tournament next weekend, and that should be fun. It’s also free, which is my favorite price!
Oh, also, a few friends and I did a 2 hour The Great Gotham Challenge in Central Park, which was part scavenger hunt and part puzzle hunt. The puzzles were exceedingly easy; however, the scavenger part was hard, and some technology they used was tricky for us. However, Celia and her husband participated in it the week after, and they found the scavenger and technology parts easy and the puzzles hard. So, clearly, next time, we should join up with them!
AND ALL THAT JAZZ
In October, I am visiting my friend Lauren in Chicago. While I was there in 2002, I didn’t do all of the touristy things. In fact, I didn’t even realize in 2002 that Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” was in Chicago. I will finally rectify that omission and see the painting in real life!
Also, Lauren has been nice enough to offer to drive me to the Indiana Sand Dunes, which got recommended to me this year as the one good thing to see in Indiana. It’s only an hour outside of Chicago, so we are going to go for a day trip, and I will check off my 46th state. That leaves: Michigan, West Virginia, Arkansas and Oklahoma. I hope to get to these 4 in 2024, so that I can write my 5th book: “Seth Reviews the States!”
Speaking of books, I have had my 4th book: “The Making of a Musical: the 12 year journey of Love Quirks” ready to go for awhile, but it was just too crowded a year for me. I intend to publish it for my birthday (and Valentine’s Day) in February. I actually believe I’ve published all of my books in February so people have something they can get from me for my birthday!
JONI: A CAT-PRICIOUS FELINE
Joni has gotten very into staring out the window. For the first year of living here, I think she was scared of it, but now it is her favorite spot… at least for this week. Joni is always looking for a new spot to nap, which is hard work considering our apartment isn’t that big.
In other news, Joni is a bit moody. She can be really affectionate or really aloof, and there are no patterns to be discerned, even though I keep trying to find them.
Joni also has this weird habit where she wakes up from a nap and meows like she doesn’t know what is going on repeatedly for a few seconds. It’s possible she has very vivid dreams, and then is shocked that she is back in the apartment!
We adopted Joni in December 2021, so this December will be her 2 year anniversary of living with us, and we will be throwing her a Second Gotcha Party to commemorate it!
Other than that, Joni will keep posting a photo every Caturday, as she is very beloved on social media.
Here are the books I’ve read since the last ledger:
I Have Some Questions for You — This was a pretty good book centering on a podcast about a murder that happened years ago at a boarding school.
How to Be Perfect — This was a very educationally, sometimes funny, very philosophical book by the creator of “The Good Place”.
The Anansi Boys — You can never go wrong with Neil Gaiman! I still have a few more of his to go.
Tender is the Flesh — This dystopian futuristic book was fantastic, but it’s about what happens when all the animals become diseased and people are forced to eat other humans, so it won’t be for everyone.
Romantic Comedy — I love Curtis Sittenfeld’s writing, though this book was a bit rom-com for me, though, I mean, that is very clear from the title.
The Glow — This was a cute, comedic, satirical book about self-actualization, which completely stuck the landing.
The Rachel Incident — This was a fairly funny read, though I didn’t love parts of the ending.
The Book Eaters — This is a great fantasy novel about an alien race that ingests books to learn, and what happens there are mutations that make their offspring crave eating minds instead.
Family Lore — I’m halfway through this cute book and a family from the Dominican Republic that has just a bit of supernatural powers.
The next book I have out of the library is Emma Donoghue’s (“Room”) new book, “Learned by Heart”. I will take any and all book recommendations!
The best movie I saw this summer was an early preview of a movie that isn’t released yet, so unfortunately I can’t say what it is (but I will say it stars Olivia Colman!). One other early preview movie I saw was fairly good, too, but needed some trimming, and another was terrible, but I wouldn’t mention its title regardless because it’s uncouth to say such things publicly. Here are the ones I can talk about:
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny — We actually went to see this in Lake George b/c it kept raining, and we thought it was super fun.
Theater Camp — This movie has some really funny moments.
Asteroid City — I adore Wes Anderson, and really enjoyed this movie, even though it happened to be the day we were kicked out of our apartment for 8 hours because of a fire on a crane on a neighboring building’s roof.
The Last Voyage of the Demeter — This was an okay prequel to set up a new Dracula movie, but it’s pretty anti-climatic when you know there’s another movie coming.
Guardians of the Galaxy 3 — I waited till this was out on Disney+. It was a fine movie, with some funny parts, but I feel like I have a bit of Marvel fatigue.
The Flash — I waited till this was out on Max. This movie was surprisingly better than I expected, but I mean, I’ve seen almost the same storyline on the TV show version, so again, it was pretty anti-climatic, though the post credits scene was hilarious.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie — My nephew and niece are really into this movie, so my sister had already purchased it; I figured I might as well watch it — it was very nostalgic and quite cute.
I have yet to see the “Barbie” movie or “Oppenheimer”, and will most likely wait till they are out on streaming platforms.
As there is about to be a huge dearth in television, here are some recommendations from me with some new shows and some older shows you may have missed. I hope that the strike ends at some point soon; it is truly crazy how greedy corporations are. I offered to run Netflix for $200K/year instead of $200 million, but for some reason they did not respond.
The Way Home — I found this really cute time-wimey family show on, of all channels: Hallmark. It was absolutely fantastic. They have another show called Ride that is on my queue now.
The Lazarus Project — This is a TNT show, and is also quite good. It seems all these cable channels that used to have a bunch of good shows have sadly cut back to one a year.
Family Law — This is a Canadian show that has been imported by the CW (whom has canceled pretty much all of their programming) but it’s really great and stars Firefly’s Jewel Staite and Broadway’s Victor Garber.
Son of a Critch — This is another CW import, and of their 4 imported comedies, it’s the only on that I’d recommend. It’s basically a quirkier “Wonder Years”.
What We Do in the Shadows — This FX show which is a mockumentary about vampires was on fleek for season 5! I’m so happy it’s been renewed.
Breeders — This FX/BBC show is also great for its fourth season, which is sadly its last.
Only Murders in the Building — Now in its 3rd season, this Hulu show consistently makes me laugh, and it’s nice to see some people I’ve worked with on it (which happens a lot with shows that film in NYC)
The Other Two — While I’m mentioning comedies that are actually funny, I will put in one more plug for this MAX show which just finished its third and final season. This might only be funny to those of us in the industry, but it is absolutely hilarious and I will sorely miss it.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds — What a wonderful season 2 it was! And now the hilarious animated show “Star Trek: Lower Decks” is back next week, though we have to wait till 2024 for the final season of Discovery (which they apparently canceled at the last minute #rude).
Minx — This former MAX show is now on Starz, and I find the second season to be quite fun.
For All Mankind — This Apple show is SO GOOD, and YOU should be watching it. It’s historical fiction that becomes science fiction — in the pilot, the Russians get to the moon before the Americans, and it starts a major space race. In the show’s history, NASA becomes super funded. It is a wonderful drama, and I cannot recommend this show highly enough.
Pachinko — Speaking of Apple dramas, this adaptation of the great novel is a really compelling watch with incredible actors in roles that are expanded from the book.
Physical — My final Apple recommendation is Physical, which is in its third and final season. This is a really quirky show that takes place in the 80s amid the jazzercise craze (speaking of which, I found Miss Piggy’s Jazzercise album on Reddit – I used to have it on record!)
Kim’s Convenience — Emi and I just started this Netflix show, and it’s pretty funny so far.
I’m sad to say that I no longer have access to Peacock. I had been meaning to watch “Poker Face” and a few other shows, but alas, didn’t get to them. The good news is there are still so many other shows to catch up on from the peak TV era, which I would argue has reached its peak… If you have any recommendations that are not shows that people seem to like that I don’t (“Succession”, “The Bear”, etc) do let me know!
Here are the shows I saw this summer:
Rock & Roll Man — Cute show about the guy who coined the term “rock & roll”.
Goodnight, Oscar — BRILLIANT Tony-winning performance by Sean Hayes — absolutely wonderful show.
Once Upon a One More Time — Fun time with lots of great dancing.
The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window — Great production of a moving play by Lorraine Hansberry.
Here Lies Love — Enjoyable, immersive musical about the history of the Philippines.
The Great Gatsby Interactive — Going around a basement of a hotel to see this innovative retelling of the classic was fun.
Grey House — Really enjoyed this supernatural play on Broadway, which turned out to be quite funny.
The Cottage — Funny farce starring Eric McCormack, the other guy in “Will & Grace”.
Broadway by the Season 1940/41, 1951/52 — So nice to that Scott Siegel’s concerts are back; they are always a fun, nostalgic time.
Just for Us — Got to go to the HBO taping of Alex Edelman’s well-done one-man comedy special recounting how the riveting tale of how he crashed a white-supremecist meeting in Queens.
Flex — Touching off-Broadway play about a high school women’s basketball team in the 90s.
Coming up: Annie Baker’s new play Infinite Life, Rachel Bloom’s new one-woman comedy show, and then the last week of October, I have tickets for Sweeney Todd and Here We Are Sondheim’s final musical. Now, if only I could win Merrily, We Roll Along tickets that week, it’d be a trifecta! I also hope to see the following musicals on Broadway this fall: Harmony, How to Dance in Ohio, Gutenberg! the Musical!, and I still have yet to see Back to the Future.
Well, there you have it. I’m looking forward to the rest of the year.
Please send me a note to let me know how you are doing if we haven’t talked in awhile!