Meet Me There – New York

Our first episode of Meet Me There – New York is live! You can see some of my favorite off the beaten path things to do in New York City.    Me and the crew at Exclusive Resorts are taking you to some of our favorite luxury destinations in this travel show.  Of course, New York City is one of my very favorite places on the planet and it is where we kick off the show.

A little note about this episode – If you find yourself on Crosby Street in SoHo, make sure you stop into Saturdays Surf.  They’ve got great coffee and some really cool things for the gents.  And if just you want to LOOK at some cool gents, stop in Saturdays Surf!  Just sayin’!

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Happy Birthday Dad

My Dad, Joseph Henry Cunningham, would have been 67-years-old today. That is young in my book, too young to die for sure. Dad had just retired about this time last year. I’d talked to him about throwing a BIG retirement party but he talked me out of it. That is a decision I regret. Maybe he was talking himself out of it because he really didn’t want to retire after all. His two excuses for not having the soiree:

  • People would not show up because it was a Friday night and everyone in Carlisle would be at the high school football game – the Bison were heading to the state championship most likely.
  • No one would want to spend their Sunday afternoon at his retirement party at the hall at the church.

Dad died suddenly on May 22nd. He was in Mt. View working on his cabin when he had his heart attack. I still haven’t gotten my head wrapped around the fact that he is gone. Friends who’ve lost parents tell me that I may never get my head wrapped around it.

Cocktail Hour With Dad

Cocktails and Smiles in NYC with my Dad

What I have figured out and wrapped my head around is this. The next time I want to throw a party for someone I love, I’m going to do it. If I want to talk to someone I love, I’m gonna call them. If they don’t answer, I’m going to leave a message. I’m not sending any text messages. I’m calling. My Dad and I played phone tag the week before he died. He left me the sweetest most heart felt message ever that week. Luckily, I saved it and on occasion I’ll listen to it which usually sets off a river of tears and a simultaneous smile. He just wanted to tell me how much he loved me and to call him when I had some time. I am so glad he didn’t hang up that day when I didn’t answer and went on to leave me such a keepsake of a message. I’ll forever be able to hear his voice even now that he is gone.

Usually on his birthday, Father’s Day or Christmas, I’d ask him what he’d like to have. His response was, “just some time with you.” Our last time together, just the two of us, was on March 13th. I’d flown back to Arkansas to hire an attorney after being served divorce papers the day before on the street at 7:40 in the morning after dropping Corbin off for school. Needless to say, it was not the happiest of times for me. But looking back on it now, it was probably the most time the two of us had spent together alone in a long time.

Despite the legal business at hand for me, Dad managed to help me shift my focus for a bit. He took me to his most recent construction site to show me the progress. He’d bought a small lot in a neighborhood that needed a facelift of sorts and was building a really cute house. Dad was proud of it. I was proud of him for taking the risk. If I was looking to buy a house in Lonoke, Arkansas, I would have bought it. It was that cute!

I would give anything to have some time with him today, right now. I would love to be able to sit and sip on a gin and tonic with him and just “visit” as he liked to say. I would love to take that trip to the White River in Mt. View and check out his wood working workshop. He was looking forward to spending time after his retirement in that workshop. The last time I saw him turning wood on a lathe, I was in middle school! That was a long time ago! He was making miniature duck calls then. I wished he could have found a way to work his retirement dream into his pre-retirement life. I’m pretty sure he thought he would have more that 7 months of retirement before he checked out!

For Dad’s birthday, I’m giving myself a gift since I can’t give him one. The gift is this. I’m going to spend more time with my friends and family – at least the one’s I like! I may be sad, but I haven’t totally lost my mind! And to do what I love TODAY, not next week, next month or next year. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. Yes, I’ll plan for the future,  but I’m going to make sure I live each day to the fullest. That’s one hell of a gift, I think. Dad would agree, too.

Hidden Gems on the Upper West Side

I love being able to share my favorite New York spots with you on “Meet Me There“.  Of course, showing you all of my favorites would have made the episode about two hours long! But here are some Upper West Side gems for your next visit:

  • As I said in the episode, Milo’s is my favorite restaurant in New York City. But my favorite neighborhood bistro is Cafe Luxembourg. It’s just around the corner from me, and it’s been a local favorite for more than three decades. The menu is wonderful and the bartender is top notch!

    Cafe Luxembourg New York City

    Cafe Luxembourg

  • I love the bright lights of Broadway, but I’ve discovered and even become a part of some amazing live entertainment at the Upright Citizens Brigade theatre. UCB was founded by some very funny folks—including Amy Poehler of Saturday Night Live fame—and is the training ground for many of the cast members on that show, The Daily Show, and others. I started taking improv classes at UCB and fell in love with it. The shows are hilarious and, unlike some Broadway productions,don’t require you to take money out of your 401k to pay for tickets! If you like to laugh, you won’t be disappointed.

    UCB Theatre Chelsea

    UCB Theatre Chelsea

  • To my great relief, Corbin found a neighborhood toy store that has cut down on our trips to the Times Square Toys R Us! Now we hit Stationery and Toy on West 72nd Street. Despite the conspicuous lack of an indoor Ferris wheel, he is happy as can be, and so am I.

    Stationery and Toy David W. Dunlap/The New York Times

    Stationery and Toy
    David W. Dunlap/The New York Times

  • Some big name brand stores have moved onto my main drag, Columbus Avenue, but I still prefer to pop into A Tempo for a new dress or Cafe Margot in the historic Ansonia building for a hot cup of coffee after grocery shopping at my local Fairway grocery store.

    Cafe Margot

    Cafe Margot

  • I’m OVER the cupcake craze, aren’t you? When I’m hungry for a baked treat, I head over to Levain bakery on West 74th. The $4 cookies are as big as softballs. They’re meant to be shared – but don’t ask me to share with you. I won’t. They are that good! Get the chocolate-peanut butter chip cookie. You’re welcome!

    levain-bakery-cookies

    Cookies are THAT big!

Living the Dream in New York City

Living the Dream

When I was anchoring the morning news cast at KTAL-TV in Shreveport, Louisiana, my dream was to move to New York City and take over for Katie Couric. I thought I’d look fantastic alongside Matt and Al. (Some days, I still think that!) But sometimes life takes you on the scenic route. That’s what happened to me.  Fast forward—A few years later, I was no longer in television news.  I was married and soon after nursing a baby and changing diapers. Fast forward to now…

sheep's meadow in Central Park

All Smiles from the Sheep’s Meadow in Central Park

I am living in New York City and loving every minute of it. So half of my dream came true. But Katie, you can sleep easy. I’m no longer gunning for your job! So how did I get here? I would have never in a million years thought that my repeat vacation destination would later become my home town, thanks in part to our Exclusive Resorts Concierge in New York.

From Arkansas to the Apple

One day, at our home in Jonesboro, Arkansas, my husband and I had a serious discussion about moving to New York City. It went like this:

“DJ, what do you think about moving to New York City?”, said Mark.

“I’ll be ready in five minutes!”, DJ exclaimed.

It was one of the most decisive conversations we’d ever had.

We’d lived the majority of our lives in Arkansas, but from the first Exclusive Resorts trip to Manhattan, we were in love with the Big Apple. There wasn’t just one thing about the city that drew us here. There were a lot of different things. From the people and food, to the museums and lights of Broadway, the city captivated us in a way like no other city in the country.

After a few weekend getaways, we found ourselves scouting out apartments instead of sightseeing. Our ER concierge encouraged our curiosity. On her days off, she would go to real estate open houses and then call us with the scoop.(Talk about service that goes above and beyond!)

“It was awful. Total fixer-upper.”

“Those on-line photos have been photoshopped to death”

“It was AMAZING, D.J., you’d love the kitchen! But it’s under contract.”

It was a process. But finally, we found the right place for the whole family. We moved on August 10, 2010, and it was a day I will never forget. We walked into our beautiful new apartment on the Upper West Side with just a few suitcases and Leo, our dachshund.

living room

My Living Room featured in Lonny October 2011

I knew I was no longer just a visitor in New York City. There would not be a car waiting to pick me up in a few days to catch a return flight to Arkansas. Or a packed schedule of things to see and do. All I had to do was put down my bags, kick off my shoes and exhale! I was home and I was over the moon excited about this new chapter in our lives.

Settling In

When we moved, I knew New York pretty well—for a visitor. But as you can probably imagine, living in New York City is a totally different experience. I moved from Jonesboro, Arkansas, a town of roughly 60,000 people, to one of the largest cities in the world in a matter of hours. Everything was different. You can’t just zip across town to the grocery store and park your car in the lot. I learned to love the subway, which is hands down the fastest and easiest way to get around NYC, other than walking!

All-weather gear was not anything I spent much time worrying about before I moved. Proper outwear is essential every day of the year in New York. It is a walking city and you need to be dressed appropriately all the time. Rain, sleet, snow or sun, I don’t want to be stuck in midtown without the proper gear in the event of a downpour or a blizzard in January. Or caught in the sweltering heat of July without my sunglasses and a hat! Without the sanctuary of a car to duck into, it’s just me and the elements most days. Although a taxi or the subway isn’t usually too far away.

Full Contact Shopping

About that grocery store, and shopping in general? It’s not easy to trek four blocks from the grocery store with heavy bags in tow! I learned to shop for a few days at a time so I could carry the bags home—or better yet, have them delivered. I can even order groceries on-line and have them delivered….all from the comfort of my bed! Grocery delivery definitely comes in handy when snow is piled high on the side walks and the temperature drops below freezing.

Maneuvering in a Manhattan grocery store is like living in a bad video game. The aisles are tiny and so are the grocery carts. The energy in my local store, Fairway, is similar at times to what you’d feel at a boxing match. You can feel the anticipation of someone about to take out a shopper with a one-two punch at any given moment, for no reason other than they aren’t moving fast enough!

School Next Door—And Everywhere

Some things are more convenient in New York than they were in Jonesboro. Corbin started kindergarten in the public school right next door to our apartment – no morning commute for us. In Jonesboro, I’d have to get Corbin in his car seat and make the drive across town to his school every day. But now it was just a short three-minute walk to the front of the school! Reading, writing, and arithmetic just steps away from home.

Corbin at Bronx Zoo

Corbin and the Hairy Creature at the Zoo

And let’s talk about the field trips! Corbin and his class have visited the Central Park Zoo, the Bronx Zoo, the Natural History Museum, and Ellis Island. He even has an upcoming trip to Washington, D.C., and a trip to London in his elementary school future. Growing up in Carlisle, Arkansas, I remember one time we checked out a local dairy farm and once even made a trip to the state capitol and the Little Rock Zoo! New York City itself is a classroom for Corbin and the rest of us, too.

Do Not Enter

What’s not part of my New York Experience? Two words: Times Square. Sure, I’ve done the touristy things in the city, and still do on occasion. But I only venture into Times Square if I’m on the losing end of a bet with Corbin and have to take him to the indoor Ferris wheel at Toys R Us to settle up. Other than that? Forget it. Even if I have theater tickets I’ll sidestep the whole area to avoid the chaos. (We did shoot ONE scene of the NYC episode of “Meet Me There” in Times Square. It was NUTS, even more so than usual. After we wrapped the episode, we found out that there had been a crash involving some tour busses a block away from where we were shooting!)

DJ in front of Juniors in Times Square

Escaping the Times Square Bus Crash Insanity

It’s been four years since we moved to New York City but it feels like I’ve been here much longer. I may be Southern by the grace of God, but I’m a big city girl at heart. As for the other half of my dream? I’m living it right now with Exclusive Resorts, getting to create “Meet Me There.” Sharing my adventures with you and introducing you to new people and places is also something my 22-year-old self would have never thought possible! See, dreams do come true, and sometimes turn out even better than you expected.

Not Your Mama’s Cookies – In Search of the Perfect Maracon

With all of the the trips I’ve taken, my favorite souvenirs are not tangible objects, although I’ve snagged some fun things along the way. (Hello, Cartier bracelet!) My favorite souvenirs are the experiences and memories created along the journey.

The Challenge

My recent trip to Paris was no exception. My Aussie friend Jackie Brown gave me a fabulous idea. When she went to Rhode Island, she set out on a quest to find the best clam chowder. The Black Pearl in Newport won out. (I’ve had their clam chowder numerous times and I’d have to agree.) She challenged me to do the same—find the best…something…in all of Paris. My first thought was to set out to find the best flute of champagne!! About two seconds later I decided my son didn’t need to be trotting around Paris with his Mom half lit from the bubbly.

Then I thought about the macaron. If you aren’t familiar with a macaron, it is a perfectly sized, meringue- and almond-based cookie sandwich, simultaneously light and chewy, filled with delicious flavors—everything from raspberry to caramel to green tea. As an Oreo addict, I like to think of a macaron as the Oreo’s upscale, cultured French relative.

Meet the Macaron

Meet the Macaron – photo courtesy of Laduree

So off I went, across the Atlantic, with nearly 50 pounds of luggage and my one and only son in tow, in search of the perfect macaron. Within two minutes of landing at Charles De Gaulle, Corbin and I had a sighting—a delectable little macaron beckoning to us from airport’s Ladurée counter. But tempted as we were, first things first—we needed to get to the hotel to decompress from the long flight.

Our Welcome Macaron

But we didn’t have to wait much longer—walking into our beautiful apartment at the Hotel Raphael, we spied a full spread of treats, including a bucket of chilled champagne, a lovely note from Norbert, the hotel manager, and our first macaron contender. Our quest began.  Strawberry, bite-sized, delicious—the macarons were the perfect welcome to the City of Lights – or the “City of Love,” as Corbin insisted on correcting me about daily!

Diamonds in the Rough

After some sleep and a hot shower, we set out along the Champs Elysees and bought more “classy Oreos”. They came from, of all places, the Publicis Grocery store around the corner, nowhere near as fancy as the Raphael. And they were fantastic! Simple and delicious, they hit the spot.

Temple of the Macaron

For our second macaron stop, we made a pilgrimage to the temple of macarons— Ladurée, the esteemed French bakery and inventors of the macaron as we know it. When we arrived, the line out the door let us know we were in for some serious yumminess. There were two lines – one to sit and eat and a second line to just walk in and buy a box of macarons. After lunch, we munched on the Strawberry, Raspberry, salted caramel, and rose. Corbin devoured two after committing to share them all with me and then reneging once the waiter put them on the table. Of course, they were divine–though the rose macaron was a bit weird to eat. While I love the smell of roses, the taste of rose really threw my senses off. Don’t get me wrong, it was really good. But I wasn’t compelled to order another rose macaron anytime soon. I just like to smell a rose and not taste a rose.

Sharing a salted caramel macaron

Sharing a salted caramel macaron

Our third macaron sample came from Ramella, a little shop in the Marais, one afternoon before we set off on a picnic in a nearby park. We went straight for our favorite flavors strawberry and raspberry. These were good, but I wasn’t blown away. The workmanship was not nearly as neat as the previous two competitors. If you find yourself in the area, though, I highly recommend you pop in and put together some things for a picnic lunch. It was scrumptious, though, I admit, a bit lost on me. By this time in the trip I was over fancy French food and was really craving a quinoa and spinach salad.

Ramella sack

This is all that was left!

We made our fourth and final macaron purchase at an amazing store called Dalloyau. Corbin and I spied the store as we were walking out of the Jardin de Luxembourg after sailing boats.

Corbin at Jardin de Luxembourg

Sailing, takes me away…Jardin de Luxembourg

I’d been encouraged to try a macaron “store” near Jardin de Luxembourg—was this the place? The store was immaculate. The display counters were simply beautiful. I bought one of everything. Corbin yelled at me from across the store, interrupting my impulse-buying spree. He had found the macarons. We bought four and headed out to find a taxi, just as it started to rain.

Dalloyau macaron

Dalloyau Deliciousness- photo by Market Manila

As soon as I bit into the first salted caramel macaron, I knew I’d possibly found the best macaron in Paris. This one had the right amount of firmness and just the perfect amount of soft, sweet filling. It was crafted with the kind of precision that would make an Army sergeant proud. These perfect specimens were so pretty to look at and admire that I almost didn’t want to eat them.

Dalloyau sack

Empty sack #2 from Dalloyau

So where is the best macaroon in Paris? Drum roll, please! I have to give the crown to Dalloyau. From the taste, texture and presentation, they swept the competition. And guess what? I found out later that Dalloyau was actually NOT the store my friend recommended after all—that was a place called Pierre Herme! I guess this means I’ll have to make a return trip, right?

Despite crowning Dalloyau the winner, my advice is this: Next time you’re in Paris, stop and buy macarons whenever you see them! They’re like gelato in Italy – it’s all good! You can’t go wrong. My only caveat? Remember that the calorie exchange rate is exactly the same in Paris as it is in New York City. So leave your skinny jeans at home!

And anyway, half the fun is in the hunting—the time I spent with Corbin taste-testing macarons is what I will treasure long after the cookies are gone.

Paris, We Can Be Friends Now

My first trip to Paris was during college in 1992.  I was studying theater in London and extended my trip two weeks to check out Paris, Florence and Rome.  My distinct memories from the trip were staying in a really bad hotel with my travel companion Ashley Hamilton.  I can’t remember the name of the hotel.  But what I do recall is old, dark red velvet interiors with dark wood everywhere. It felt old.  It smelled even older.   And even after I stepped out of the tiny shower, I still felt dirty.  It was that kinda hotel…college budget lodging at it’s finest.

I set out all around Paris to see the sights.  I walked into a store and bought some Chanel make-up and a bottle of perfume that has become my signature fragrance, Quelle que Fleurs.  I was feeling good about my purchase when we hopped into a taxi and headed to the Eiffel Tower.  I must have been so excited about seeing the Tower because I left my bag of goodies in the taxi!  I realized this and quickly turned around to see taxi pull away and into the sea of traffic.  So long bag of beauty goodies.  Paris was not showing me much love and I certainly wasn’t feeling it.  I left Paris thinking I didn’t need to come back any time soon.

We Meet Again

We Meet Again

My second trip to the City of Lights was in December of 2004.  I was about two months pregnant and sicker than I have ever been in my entire life.  I can’t accurately describe how profoundly crappy I felt at the time.  What I can tell you is this.  I was so ill, I begged my first husband to take me home – like back to Arkansas home!  We were on the last five days of a trip that started in Rome on Christmas eve and was going to end up in Paris five days after the New Year.  He assured me I would be fine.  I wasn’t.

I’d hoped this trip would show me Paris in a new light and that I’d fall madly in love with it just like so many of my friends.  Sadly, as you might suspect, it did not.  It was cold, snowy and I was MISERABLE.  You know how it feels the few moments right before you vomit?  That’s exactly how I felt around the clock for three months.  But here’s the catch!  I NEVER threw up once while I was pregnant! I returned home and never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever wanted to see Paris again.  Or my husband, or a penis!  This pregnancy business was for the damn birds!

As you can imagine it was with great reluctance that I returned to Paris recently.  The trip was booked two years ago.  I decided I did in fact want to go back to Paris but with Corbin. This was his first trip to Europe.  I was very excited to show him his first European city.  Looking back it seems odd that I took him to the one place I said I didn’t want to go back to!  I would pack up and move to Florence in a heart beat, so why we didn’t start there seems odd now that I’m writing this.  Oh, well.  There will be time for Italian travel later.

What I discovered was the source of my second trip morning sicking, nightmare turned out to be the perfect cure for Paris dislike.  Corbin and I had a blast!

Crepes, Coca- Cola Lite and Smile

Crepes Coca-Cola Lite and Smiles

We ate some amazing food at L’Office and Spring.  We hung out in a neighborhood park in the Marais and devoured a picnic lunch.  We set out on a quest to find the best macaroon.  The best macaroon in our opinion can be purchased at Dalloyau. His favorite thing we did? – dinner at the Eiffel Tower.  It’s a super touristy thing to do but he’s 9-years-old and absolutely loved it.  During dinner we witnessed two marriage proposals and visited with an Australian couple who were renewing their vows after 15 years of marriage. So Corbin was right, Paris is the City of Love. Keep in mind he’s 9-years-old, so he was more jazzed about the Lego store than the Louvre. We saw both. But we made a return trip to the Lego store. Shocker, right?

Lego Lion in Paris

Lego Lovin’ Kid

So Paris, the third time was the charm. We can be friends.  Like the kind of friends that see each other after years of not talking and seem to pick up where they left off without skipping a beat. I was worried it would be the third strike and well, you’d be out!

Keep up with DJ and her adventures my following her on Facebook at I Am DJ Duckworth and on Twitter @mrsdjduckworth. She posts some great photos on Instagram @djduckworth.   DJ is the brand ambassador for Exclusive Resorts.  She lives in New York City with her son and the world’s most amazing wiener dog, Leo!

Exclusive Resorts Meet Me There debuts!

Thrilled does not quite describe how I feel about the release of my new web series “Meet Me There”.  I have teamed up with Exclusive Resorts and together we are taking you to some of my favorite travel destinations and few new ones, too! Real del Mar, anyone?  We will show you the highlights in each location and trek off the beaten path to unearth the real travel treasures.

Check out the first video here.  Like it, share it and make sure you subscribe to my YouTube channel I Am DJ Duckworth to catch the upcoming episode of Meet Me There!