Peeling back the layers.

This week when my husband and son returned from traveling for work it was so nice to have everyone home that when Thursday rolled around and then Friday I just couldn’t pry myself out the door to go into the city. After my post from the other day about learning to be alone it felt so good to not be alone that I just wanted to stay home and revel in the chaos that ensues when we are all together.

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By Friday night I couldn’t shake the niggling feeling that I needed to go to the apartment. so I woke up early Saturday morning and headed in. I had reasons. Even though my husband had been in the city for a couple of days during the week he hadn’t checked the mail. I wanted to take some pictures and have something to blog about. Not much to blog about in Connecticut these days. I had a list of events that I wanted to check out. Nothing earth shaking; just a couple of street fairs and Holi Hai, a Hindu festival that involves lots of music, food and covering your friends and family in colored paint powders. I’d seen images from the event and of the things I could do, that had the biggest draw for me. Partly because of the photo ops and partly because I’ve actually been to many Holi Festivals in another life when I still had a guru I followed. I was curious to see what the Holi in NY was like in comparison.

I got to the apartment, collected the mail, made lunch and planned my agenda for the day. And then I procrastinated.

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It was a glorious day — the sun was shining, the air was cool, the sky was a brilliant blue. There was every reason on earth to get outside and enjoy it. But that required me to get on the subway and then step a bit outside my comfort zone. See, in order to get the kind of photographs I wanted to get at the Holi Festival I’d have to get right in there and do the thing that makes me quake in my boots: ask people if I can take their pictures. People I don’t know. In a crowd.

My theme for living in the city has been pushing against my own limitations. I started small — really small. Like using the subway to go places that I would normally just walk to or take a cab. Or taking myself out to dinner instead of getting take out and eating in the apartment alone. When I started to talk myself out of going to the Holi Festival  I decided that this would be a great opportunity to take one more step outside my comfort zone. If it was too bad I could always leave and go do something else.

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As I’m writing this I’m thinking that if you are reading this you must think I’m just slightly insane. But for the past 20 plus years I’ve been really insulated. I feel like I’ve been living in some kind of suburban cocoon. As with most cocoons, I built it myself and it was pretty cozy. But my cocoon is getting old and it’s falling apart. And I think that if I don’t break free of it, well, I’ll die in it and that won’t be pretty.

For the sake of honesty here I am pushing sixty. There. I said it. Sixty years old. Next year. Don’t get me wrong — I’ve done a lot of things and been a lot of places in those years. But all the same I ended up living in that cocoon and now it’s time to break out of it. Maybe I’m not starting out for the first time but I am starting again.

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There is a video going around on the internet these days of a woman who still runs at the age of 100. She took up running when she was 67 and has been running ever since. So there’s still hope for me. I want to be that person who finds something later in life and keeps doing it. Honestly, I doubt it will be running because I don’t think my knees or ankles would be too happy about that but there is that Yoga thing that I’ve been trying to get back into. Just for the record, I started riding dressage and doing Yoga for the first time when I turned 50. And I thought that was old.

But back to the Holi Festival. And my discomfort at asking people if I can take their pictures. Which, by the by, got completely in my way at the Easter Parade. I got there and gave myself permission to leave if I got uncomfortable. I walked around the perimeter of the action before I went inside. But the music and the dancing drew me in. I started doing my thing of taking candid shots of people involved in their activities and looking away from the camera. This is my comfort zone mode. I have gotten some pretty good shots this way. I can take pictures, remain anonymous and be pretty happy with the results. But that wasn’t what I wanted from this event.

Side note here: I totally blame Brandon Stanton of Humans of New York for this.

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I wanted to capture interaction and in order to do that I had to interact. “Hi. Do you mind if I take your picture?” I had to get in there and get messy. Literally. Because it’s hard to stay clean at an event where the main focus is throwing paint.

At first I watched other photographers.  The smart ones who had probably been to the festival before had their cameras protected with plastic bags. They approached people with ease and everyone was very happy to have their pictures taken. No one was biting anyone’s heads off. People were just doing their thing, having fun, enjoying the music, the dancing and the sight of everyone covered in bright colors. It was infectious. So I tried it. “Hi. Do you mind if I take your picture?” Dang. It wasn’t hard at all.

The moment when I allowed myself to relax into the whole experience was when a woman in a sari came over to me and marked my forehead. “Happy Holi” she said. That drew me in and made me remember. This was a celebration she and the others were sharing with all of us. “Thank you. Happy Holi to you.” I responded. And that’s when I let the fun begin.

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Maybe I am wrong but I am pretty sure that having the apartment in the city is part of the process of emerging from my cocoon. Because really,  faced with the train trip in to the city and then the train trip back, I would have more than likely talked myself out of the whole thing and spent the day puttering in the garden and cleaning the kitchen. I’m not sure why it is but at home in Connecticut it’s easier to add to the cocoon rather than peel back a few more layers.

It was a huge lesson for me that I know I will use from here on. It may not sound like a big thing but seriously, it was. I hope that you agree that I got a lot of really nice images, images that I wouldn’t have gotten if I hadn’t moved past my limitations.

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Getting used to time alone.

When I moved into my tiny apartment on E 17th Street back in the early 80s it was the first time in my adult life that I had ever lived alone. I went from my parents’ house in Far Rockaway to college to a variety of communal living situations before I decided to move back to the New York area. Suddenly I found myself living in a one room studio completely by myself. It was quite an adjustment but I think I handled it well. I got a job. I got a dog. I went back to school. I learned the art of eating alone. I took lots of walks. I went to the gym regularly. I dated a bit so I wasn’t completely by myself all the time but much of the time I was.

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I lost my apartment (it was an illegal sublet even though I was subletting from my aunt and uncle) and moved back in with my parents who by then had moved to Brooklyn Heights. I met my soon to be husband not long after that, moved in with him, moved with him to Connecticut, had kids and pretty much haven’t been alone very often since.

But now, my kids are not kids any more. My son is 21 and while he is still living at home, has finished school and is working and traveling with his dad. My daughter is turning 18 this summer and will either be going to college full time in the fall of this year or hopefully, after a gap year, the fall after this. I am poised and hovering over the prospect of an empty nest some time in the near future. The apartment in the city is my “empty nest bootcamp.”

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When I am in NY I am surrounded by people, activity and noise. I love that. I thrive on that. It makes me feel alive. In an essay by EB White about New York he says that in New York you are surrounded by people but you can still retain your anonymity. For me, it’s being able to talk to a neighbor in the elevator, someone on the street or even on the subway, make a brief connection and then move on.

There is always something to do or see in New York. That’s the thing that can keep you alive and moving forward. Don’t get me wrong — I am in no way suggesting that in order to stay young and alive you have to move to the city. What I’m saying is that in order to stay young and alive you have to find the thing that keeps you young and alive. I know that many if not most of my friends who live in Connecticut live there because they truly want to be there. I passed a neighbor walking on the road the other day and I knew that she was returning home from a hike in the woods because that’s how she recharges every day. Me? I get anxious on hikes in the woods. If you read my post about getting lost in the woods with my kids you’d understand where that anxiety comes from. I’m not a person who ventures off into the forest from the trail. But put me on 14th Street and head me towards the Farmer’s Market and I’m a happy camper. My muse is in the city. Not everyone’s is.

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So here’s the thing (yes, I am finally making it to the point of this post.) You can be alone in a place like NY but not be completely alone. As I approach the time in my life when I will most probably be alone by chance and not by choice I would like to be prepared. I would prefer to be somewhere where I can stay independent for as long as I can. For me, living in the burbs where most things are only accessible by car would mean not only being alone but housebound as well. Alone is much more lonely in the country.

I could live my city life for the rest of my life and be content — despite the fact that it took me 25 minutes to get to a cash register in Trader Joe’s the other night. What was I thinking shopping for dinner at TJ’s at 5:30 on a Friday? But hey, I walked to Trader Joe’s. WALKED. TO. TRADER. JOE’S. For someone who’s lived in a town where every shopping trip requires getting in the car that’s something to cheer about.

 

 

 

The absence of things.

I make no bones about the fact that my apartment in the city is my second home. We also have a 3 BR 2 Bath house in Fairfield County, CT that we started built in 2001 after we learned that the 250+  year old farmhouse we had been living in for 10 years had been condemned and needed to be completely demolished (but that is a story for another time and possibly even another blog.)

One of the things I like the best about the apartment is, well, the absence of things. There is enough furniture to be comfortable. We have bedding, towels and dishes and are just starting to accumulate a few decorative items to make the place feel inviting and homey. There is internet access but no cable (a fact that makes every Verizon customer service rep froth at the mouth every time they get me on the phone.) I figure that if I’m in the city there are better things I can be doing with my time besides watching tv.

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We have been living in our house in Connecticut long enough that it is loaded from the basement to the rafters with stuff. Add to the fact that my husband is a pack rat by nature and you can probably imagine just how much stuff we have accumulated over the years. I will continue to call it stuff for the sake of this public blog forum but in my mind I’m using the other word that also starts with “s.”

When I go to the apartment I get to leave all the stuff behind. I find that extremely freeing. However, I still find myself browsing on Amazon.com for things I am convinced I can’t live without.  I have an electric tea kettle in the kitchen in Connecticut that I bought after a trip to London. Did you know that in the UK they really have tea about every 15 minutes or so? Ok, not quite that often but almost. When we came home an electric teakettle seemed like just the thing to keep my memories of our lovely vacation alive. I use it often when I’m in Connecticut.

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But do I really need an electric teakettle in the NY apartment? So far, the small stainless steel saucepan I use to heat water in is serving the same purpose well.

One morning my husband sent me a link to a video about making perfect coffee in a French Press. Instead of using a coffee measure or tablespoons to measure out the amount of coffee, the video suggested using a digital scale to weigh the grounds before brewing. But I don’t have a digital scale. Do I really need one if the tablespoon measure I have at the apartment work just fine?

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There is ample closet cabinet space in the apartment — it’s one of the perks of where we live. But our closets and cabinets are practically empty. And I am loving it that way.

I spent most of yesterday clearing years of accumulated clutter from the main bathroom in our Connecticut house. I’m still not finished. How do I get anything important accomplished if have to wade through mountains of crap first? Keeping my 3 BR home in the country clean and organized takes way too much of my time; time that would be better spent doing other things. While I’m not ready (nor do I think I will ever be) to go “tiny” the idea of taking it down to a much smaller and more manageable space is winning me over every time I go into the city.

When I get to the apartment I can focus on the important things. I can take pictures, I can write. I can go places. And all without the nagging feeling that I’ve left something undone.

Am I completely nuts?

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I am seriously wondering about myself. Am I completely nuts? I have lived in “the country” for almost 30 years now and I cannot wait to leave it. I am not a “take a walk in the woods” kind of gal. In fact, I find walking in the woods not only boring but a little bit scary. Oh please don’t judge me. Or do. Go ahead and judge away. Because I’ve walked in the woods and in the park often over the past 27 years. It’s nice and all but one thing I’ve noticed is you don’t really get anywhere except maybe back to where you started. For me, that’s back to the parking lot and back in the car. We drive a lot here in the burbs.

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I know there are many articles and much research done about how walking in nature changes your brain. I’m sure it does. I have my moments when sitting by a lake calms my soul and makes me feel peaceful but I’m always left with, “Now what?” Just how many walks around the same park, the same path, the same trail can one take in a lifetime? I am not one to explore further than my own comfort zone especially when I am walking alone in the woods. Ever since the episode of getting lost with my kids as the sun was going down on a warm day in February I have been reticent (no, really, I’ve simply refused to get off the marked path in a park again.) Believe me, not knowing where you are because you wandered from the main trail in a very large state park with 2 kids in the snow as it’s getting dark and cold is no day at the beach. So there you have it. I am afraid of wandering in the woods. I will walk from one end of Manhattan to the other and probably into Brooklyn without batting an eye but do not ask me to go exploring in the woods. I don’t do “explore.” Especially not in the winter.

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When you walk aimlessly in the city there are things to see and do even if you had no immediate goal when you set out. There are shops to stop in, there are parks to rest in, there’s a river on either side, a sunrise on one and a sunset on the other. There are museums to visit, street performers everywhere you look, people to talk to and to watch. And yes, there is noise and traffic and commotion and all sorts of smells, many of them not so pleasant. But all of those are the things that make me feel alive and make my heart sing.

I’m trying so hard not to sound like a spoiled brat. I may be coming across as one and if I am, let me apologize. I am grateful for the beautiful home we built here in the wilds of Fairfield County, CT with it’s large yard and lovely garden. Probably if I were a different sort of person it would be pretty close to heaven. There is a lovely lake to swim in about 10 minutes away on property that used to belong to the photographer, Edward Steichen. A dear friend of mine opened an amazing Yoga studio 3 minutes down the road. I live close enough to Long Island Sound that I can get my fix of sand and salt water. I have a barn to go riding at about 15 minutes away. Despite the fact that it’s a 1.5 to 2 hour trip in, the city has always been accessible to me. There is a lot to be thankful for.

But the fact is I can’t walk out my door and go somewhere. If I did I’d likely get hit by a car; we live on a busy road with no sidewalks. The closest thing to a “somewhere to go” is the Post Office, Town Hall or the Library (named for and founded by Mark Twain, in case you were interested.) And I’m a person who likes to go places. So it fills me with joy to be able to walk out the door of my apartment and get coffee.

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I can’t be the only one going stir crazy in the country, can I?

 

 

 

 

The sun is out and I don’t want to go home yet.

I woke up early Sunday morning (who am I kidding, I wake up early every morning.) After all of yesterday’s rain, the sun was shining. I opened the windows to let some of the fresh spring air in and made coffee while I waited for Clare to wake up. The sound of Bag Pipe music drifted in from over on 1st Avenue. I looked out the kitchen window and watched people walking their dogs, bringing home their groceries, going here and there. Birdsong and squirrel scolds filled the air along with the usual traffic noise and sirens.

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My plan for the day was to head over to Union Square Park to check out the Adoptapalooza event and pet some dogs. My husband has already said no to adopting another animal but the reality is that there is a 2 dog limit in the apartment and we have 2 dogs. I know there are people with more dogs than that in the neighborhood but I’m a new tenant and don’t want to rock the boat.

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My daughter is slow to get out of bed in the morning so I threw in some laundry and worked on cleaning the apartment while she got ready. Did I tell you that there is a website that allows you to monitor the laundry room? You can check to see if there are available washers and dryers and then check the progress of your laundry as it washes and dries. What wonder of technology is this?

Finally we were out the door and heading up 14th Street. When I lived on East 17th Street back in the 80s 14th Street was kind of a no man’s land. The East Village was not trendy. It was a dump and not very safe. Thompkins Square Park was known as Needle Park because junkies hung out there at night and left the place littered with used syringes and drug paraphenalia. I didn’t cross 14th Street until I was west of 5th Avenue and heading into Greenwich Village. The East Village was a place for squatters, drug dealers, junkies and the Hell’s Angels. 14th Street divided the safer Uptown neighborhoods from the seedier Downtown. Now 14th Street is a busy shopping street with a Trader Joe’s and a Whole Foods, a new and modern campus for The New School, tons of restaurants and apartments.

The Union Square Park we were headed for was also a much different place back then. The Farmer’s Market ran on Saturdays on the north edge of the park. I’d go there for produce, eggs, milk and honey. But I’d never walk through the park. Like Thompkins Square Park, Union Square was occupied by the homeless and the junkies. Today, the Farmer’s Market is open for business all year round on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays and you can walk through the park without fear of your life. There are playgrounds and a dog run and a great Holiday Market in the Winter. I have spent a lot of time in this area in our pre-apartment days when I’d come into the city with my daughter for her Saturday Pre-College classes.

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We hadn’t had breakfast and it was already lunch time. I would have been happy with any of our usual choices but my daughter wasn’t cooperating so we walked up to the Park and went straight to the event.

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Who needs food when they are adorable dogs just ripe for the petting?

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I don’t know why I go to events like this. I can’t adopt another dog just yet so it’s a little bit of sweet torture. I haven’t been able to take my country dogs into the city with me yet (and frankly, I’m not so sure they will love it as much as I do. The city can be a bit of sensory overload for a dog with all the sounds and smells) so I feel the need for dog kisses whereever I can get them. Plus, tons of cute puppies seemed like more of a photo op than I could turn down. And really, I wanted to go in support of the message, “Adopt, don’t shop.”

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When we could finally tear ourselves away from the puppies, kitten, and bunnies we went off in search of a late lunch at Big Daddy’s Diner. Then we meandered our way back to the apartment, stopping to browse through some stores along the way. We oohed and ahhed at the treasures in ABC Carpet where I love to take pictures of all the beautiful things, we looked at the Doc Martens and browsed our way through the tons of cool stuff at Muji.

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And then it was time to go back to Connecticut.

Pinch me. I’m dreaming that I have an apartment in New York.

Another weekend in the city. The apartment is starting to look and feel more like a home. We are adding to the furniture bit by bit instead of rushing to fill in the empty spaces. I am crossing my fingers that the really cool dining room set with the 4 red leather chairs and the glass table is still at the Vintage Thrift store on 3rd Avenue. I’d buy it in a minute if I could figure out how to get it here without paying as much to transport it as it costs to purchase. There are lamps in the bedroom purchased at the local ACE Hardware, and rugs from a recent sale at West Elm on the floor. Soon we will have pictures on the walls and when the weather gets a little warmer I will paint a couple of accent walls.

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My son came in with my daughter and I on Friday to help me collect some packages and get them up to the apartment. He’s official now with a visitor pass and a key of his own. While Clare is happy enough to join me when I come in, Nick is planning on a few days on his own. He really needs to get a regular job that will allow him to pay his own rent and get a place of his own.  I remind both my kids regularly that this is my husband’s and my apartment. They are welcome to visit and  stay as long as they like but they aren’t on the lease and they can’t move in.  This apartment is my dream. You should see the eye rolls when I mention that fact yet one more time. I am discovering that I don’t share well.

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I have this idea when I get in to the city that I am required to do something  when I get in. You know what I mean — go somewhere. Take pictures. Get out of the apartment. But some days that just doesn’t happen. We got up early to get to the train to Grand Central, we got to the apartment mid morning and took care of the packages — 2 rugs and a tv stand. We got lunch. We moved some furniture and placed the rugs and the tv stand. Nick’s friend who lives on 3oth and 1st came by for a visit before the two of them headed out and about. And that ended the productive portion of my day. I am pretty sure the rest of the day included a nap, some time on FaceBook and an order from Grub Hub for dinner and a Netflix movie for my daughter and me.

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My daughter had her last SVA Pre-College class and critique at 1 PM the next day so we headed out on a rainy and cold Saturday to try and fit the Fairy Tale Fashion exhibit at The Museum at FIT in before she had to get to class. Luckily her class was just a few blocks away from FIT. Did I mention that I went to FIT for Textile Design back in the 80s? It was my second attempt at college. The first one straight out of high school didn’t work as well as I had planned so I took a break. I spent 3 years working on a two year degree but the first two years were part time at night while I was working during the day. I’d have my AA in Textile Design if it wasn’t for the fact that after 3 years of regular visits to the advisors office to make sure I was taking all the classes I needed to graduate when I went to the office to pick up my degree they looked me in the eye and told me I was missing 3 credits. It seems that they weren’t honoring my AP English Comp class from High School.  I walked out with my portfolio and my pride and didn’t look back. Well, there’s a little tidbit about me almost no one knows. But I digress.

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I’m so glad we made the effort to see this exhibit before it closes on 16 April. If you are anywhere near it, stop in before it’s gone. Did I mention it’s free? It’s one of those hidden NY gems. I’m posting some of the pictures I took there, I hope you like them.

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I dropped Clare off at her class and made my way back to the apartment slowly in the rain. I stopped in to a few stores and was cold and wet when I finally got home.  That was about all of the nasty weather I wanted to deal with so it was another night in with a delivery for dinner.

Have you noticed that I haven’t cooked anything at the apartment yet?

 

 

 

 

 

In my Easter Bonnet

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My birthday fell on Easter Sunday this year and what better way to celebrate than to spend the weekend at the apartment. Without going too deep into to my complicated religious background and beliefs, I am a card carrying Unitarian Universalist who, despite being raised as an agnostic Jew, has spent a fair amount of time in the Catholic Church. When my husband expressed the desire to go to Easter Mass and to have me to go along with him, I said “Why not?” I haven’t been to Catholic Mass in a very long time and the pomp and circumstance of an Easter Service still inspires me. Besides, I know most of the hymns even if the UUs have managed to change all the words.

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When I first met my husband he was living in a loft apartment in The Armory on 42nd Street between 10th and 11th Avenues. In those days, that was still pioneer country. Disney had yet to take over and Times Square was still populated by Adult Bookstores and Porn Shops. You can get a sense of what it was like from this blog post I found this morning (thanks for the memories, Mitch O’Connell.) We’d laugh when people would  tell us how dangerous it was. We walked on 42nd Street, even at night. The police were on 42nd Street. The drug dealers were on 43rd.

Back in those days my husband attended mass at St. Malachy’s. St. Malachy’s is also called The Actor’s Chapel and it has been the spiritual home of many a Broadway celebrity. I’d been there with him on several occasions. They certainly know how to put on an Easter celebration. It was not surprising to find a standing room only crowd and a schedule of back to back services.

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The next item on our Easter Sunday Birthday Celebration agenda was the Easter Parade. And here goes my confession of the morning. I have never been to the Easter Parade. Yes, I grew up in the New York city area but I have never been to the Parade. So I didn’t know what to expect. I thought it was about old ladies in hats. But I was wrong.

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My daughter was spending the weekend at an Anime convention in Boston. I am pretty sure I saw as many costumed characters at the Parade as she did at the convention. Fifth Avenue was closed off from 49th Street to 57th Street and the street was filled with people dressed in their Easter finery and outlandish costumes as well.

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Everyone with a camera or a phone was taking pictures. Since I was a first timer it took a while to get my groove on and get comfortable with the crowds. There was very little time to get a well composed well lit shot before someone walked right into it or bumped into me as I was trying to shoot.

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But I took a deep breath and kept on shooting. In the end I think I did pretty well. I’m looking forward to going again next year when I’m more prepared.

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It’s all about the food.

When I was younger I had an apartment on 17th Street between 3rd Avenue and Irving Place. It was a tiny studio with 2 windows: one in the bathroom and one in the living  space. Both looked out onto an air shaft and there wasn’t much light. It was my first apartment of my adult life and the dog and I were pretty comfortable there. My Mom would come visit from her place in Brooklyn Heights. Every time she came she brought a shopping bag filled with food. I thanked her for that once but she looked at me and said,”I’m not bringing this for you. Its for me. You have nothing in your place to eat and I get hungry.” My Mom was right. I never had anything in my fridge except for coffee, milk, a can of tuna and leftovers from my most recent take-out meal. And so it goes.

We have been in the apartment since the beginning of March and there is not much more in the fridge besides half a dozen eggs, bottled water, some assorted leftovers, half and half, ice cream and coffee. Not one to break with tradition, I have been eating out for pretty much every meal since we got the keys. Honestly, after making dinner at home almost every night for the past however many years, I am appreciating being in the apartment and not having to cook.

There is no shortage of restaurants in our neighborhood and I am pretty sure that if I ate out for every meal for the next 3 months, I would barely be scratching the surface of the many places there are to eat in the surrounding neighborhoods. The options are endless and I’ve planning on visiting almost every one.

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So far, my some of favorite spots include Baohaus which serves up a pretty mean Pork Bun, T-Swirl Crepes which features both sweet and savory crepes, Hane with it’s lovely sushi selection, Raclette for it’s melted cheesey goodness and Big Gay Ice Cream with it’s soft serve selections.

Of course that’s a very short list and I’d also like to mention that we’ve eaten at the following places:

B-Cup Café
Tree Bistro
Balade
Asiam Thai
Sao Mai

I have been reviewing most of my eating experiences on TripAdvisor (I have some serious catching up to do) and if you are interested you can read my reviews here.

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I try to keep busy when I’m at the apartment. My opinion is that I can sit on my butt in front of my computer when I’m in Connecticut and have Not Much To Do. It’s pretty thrilling to say “Let’s go out for coffee” and then walk across the street or down the block and be able to choose where to get coffee, what kind of coffee to get or even decide that I don’t want coffee at all and get tea. I guess what I’m trying to say is it’s thrilling to be able to walk somewhere. ANYWHERE. Which when you live in a small town in Connecticut is not an option. Unless you want to get hit by a car. Or walk in the woods and pick up ticks. Or drive somewhere to walk where you won’t get hit by a car. But I digress.

As you must have noticed, there are plenty of places to get food and I have been doing my fair share of walking to almost every one of them. My mouth and my tummy are happy and on the flip side, so is my Fitness App on my phone.

Then there was the one night when my daughter and I were just too tired to go out. We had both come back from a long day of doing things and going places and walking to a restaurant was not going to happen. Now what?

“Why don’t we try Grub Hub?” my brilliant daughter suggests.

Who would have thought? Getting dinner delivered in New York City. What a concept.
In our town in Connecticut we couldn’t get pizza delivered until about 2013. I bet you think I’m kidding about that but I’m not. The only reason that our local pizzeria started delivering at all was because another pizza placed opened up in the neighborhood and they started delivering. In order to stay in business our pizza guy had to own up and start delivering, too.

But we are in our New York City apartment now and a whole city of restaurants is just a point and click away from delivering our favorite foods. I let my daughter take care of the details — signing us up for an account and perusing the multitude of food options. We finally settle on Ramen and I find a Ramen place that I had seen online while looking for a place for dinner one night. We choose our dinner and get $7 off for our first order. Now we wait. And soon enough, dinner is at our door. We set our food on the table and feast.

I may be just a part-time New Yorker but it’s definitely the good part.

 

 

In which I come to terms with the Subway.

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I was a true New Yorker once. I walked whenever I could, took the subway if I had to and a hailed a cab only when necessary. Just before we moved to Connecticut, a co-worker teased me and told me to practice saying the following: “We’re from Connecticut. Can’t we pay somebody to do that?” I must have taken that to heart because when I finally did make it back to the city from our sleepy little town in the country I became one of those people who took cabs a lot, walked when I had to and avoided the subway like the plague.

On one of my first days as a semi-New Yorker, I figured out that if I lived in our apartment like I would if I was staying in a hotel, things were going to get expensive pretty fast. For only $2.75 (and yes, I am old enough to remember when it was $0.25) I needed to be taking the subway more often and foregoing the expensive cab rides unless absolutely necessary. Besides, the S-Health app on my phone had been nagging me to get more active so walking would probably be a better option.

The subway is a fact of life for most New Yorkers. You have to admit that it’s a convenient and inexpensive way of getting around the city. But you also have to admit that it’s dirty, filthy in fact, smells awful most of the time and is not always the safest method of getting around depending on the time of day and where you are heading.

Our apartment in Stuy Town is conveniently located near the L train which runs East/West along 14th Street and connects to several of the major subway lines that then run North/South across Manhattan. Not a line I’ve ever taken or explored before. But the apartment is all the way on the East side of the city and sometimes where I am heading is on the West side of the city. The L train connects the two.

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On a whim I had made an appointment with a designer from One Kings Lane in Soho. We have the bare basics right now in the apartment: a sleeper sofa and two chairs in the living room from Crate and Barrel, a desk and chair from IKEA, a dining room table and chairs from the house that we’ve had forever, a queen sized bed bought on a whim at the Sleepy’s across from Stuy Town and an oversized chair that folds out into a twin sized bed (also from Crate and Barrel) Oh, yes. A rug. We have one area rug that adds the only pop of color in the place right now. Most of the furniture is grey. The walls of the apartment are still white. The place is very bare bones and it needs some perking up. Ok, lots of perking up. Soon, I will make my mark with paint and artwork but I needed a direction and some inspiration. What better than a free design consultation? But first, I needed to figure out how to get from the apartment to Soho. And I wasn’t up for a 40 minute walk. I pulled up Google Maps and popped in where I wanted to go. It suggested the L train with a transfer to the C train to Spring Street and a short walk to my destination. No problem.

Metro Card in hand, I headed down into the subway. Just keep in mind that I have not lived in the city since 1989. And while I have come in to New York often, I have avoided the subway like the plague. I have sadly turned both of my children subway averse. My son will walk for miles before setting foot on a train. My daughter is completely clueless about how to get around the city other than walking or getting in a taxi. I am going to have to change all that.

I grew up in New York City. Not Manhattan. I grew up in the Rockaways in Queens. But hey, that counts. We lived near the last stop on the A train. The Mott Avenue Station. As soon as I was old enough, which if I remember correctly was some time in High School, my friends and I would get on the A train and head in to New York, a trip that took pretty close to 2 hours but it got us in to the city to see concerts and sometimes even plays. It’s a long trip but one of the most beautiful subway trips you will ever take. The elevated line to the Rockaways takes you past the Atlantic Ocean and across Jamaica Bay before winding it’s way through Brooklyn and into Manhattan. I can remember watching breathtaking sunsets over the Bay on long trips home from the city. They are some of my most treasured memories of growing up in NY.

I worked in Bay Ridge in Brooklyn for awhile as a young adult while I was going to school at FIT in Manhattan. I remember sleeping for most of the 45 minute train trip into the City from work so I could go to the gym and then classes at night. Somehow, I never missed my stop. I’d wake up from my train induced slumber, note that I still had my purse and my wallet and continue on with the rest of my day.

All of that came back to me in a flood of memories. I knew that I’d have no issues getting around because riding the subways was already embedded in my DNA. I got on the train, made my transfers, and got off. With a brief moment to re-orient myself on the street, I headed off to my meeting knowing that I could pretty much get anywhere I needed to go. Manhattan was once again, my oyster.

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My Part-time New York Life, Preamble.

My husband and I moved to Connecticut 27 years ago in 1989. We reluctantly left our apartment in Brooklyn Heights — the one with a view all the way to the Harbor and the Verrazano Bridge — for a small cottage in the country with a 2 hour commute door to door back to Manhattan. We became Country Bumpkins; we had kids; we built a house and grew a garden. We grew our kids. And then one day with our kids pretty much grown, I looked around and realized how much I missed the city.

Wait, let me back track on that a little. Because it wasn’t just a one day awakening. My city lust came on me slowly over the course of years. And I’m pretty sure it started when the kids were still young. Was it the trip we took one Spring when we stayed at the Plaza just before it closed for the renovations that turned it into Luxury Apartments instead of just a Luxury Hotel? Was it when we stayed over during the Christmas Holidays so we could immerse ourselves in the Christmas Spirit as only NYC can provide? It could have started on any one of our many day trips in when the commute made NY seem a tiny bit too far away. I am pretty sure what cemented my deep desire to be back in NY was the many Saturdays spent wandering around Union Square and Gramercy Park while my daughter took classes at the School of Visual Arts.

In order to make her class which began at 10 am, we had to get up at 6:30 am, leave the house by 7:30 am, and catch the 8:13 am train from South Norwalk. Arriving at Grand Central Station at 9:20 am left us with enough time for my daughter grab breakfast and a cab downtown or maybe even a fast walk on a nice day. We’d part ways on 23rd Street and then my adventure would begin. I’d make my way over to HU Kitchen, a Paleo restaurant (believe me, there are none of those in Connecticut) where I’d get a Bulletproof coffee that they have aptly dubbed “Crack” and something lovely to eat. Then I’d meander my way back through Union Square, changing my route as I saw fit, through the Farmer’s Market, to the Barnes and Noble or shop my way up Fifth Avenue. I’d wander and walk through familiar neighborhoods and haunts — I used to live on 17th Street and Third Avenue so the Gramercy Park/Union Square area still feels like home to me. Some days I’d change my routine up and spend the morning in Midtown at the MoMA before heading back to pick Clare up and make our 2 hour way back to Connecticut. By the time we were headed home we were pretty worn out.

I loved my Saturdays in the city. And then one Saturday my daughter decided she didn’t need or want me to come in with her. She was 17 years old and she could make her own way to class. Because I’m the kind of mom who wants to foster independance in my kids, I let her go. (I promise, I will not tell you about the time I sent my now 21 year old son on a trip to the city but made him walk through his route with me on Google Maps first.) With there no longer being a need for me to go in with her each Saturday, I dropped her off at the Metro North station and went home to bide my time in the country, my city lust gone unfulfilled.

I wasn’t sure what prompted my husband to tell me to start looking for a place to rent in Manhattan. Was it my non-stop whining and complaining about how I didn’t want to grow old and die in our house in Connecticut where we are completely dependant on getting into the car for everything including finding a safe place to go to take a walk? Was it my insistence that we come up with a 5 year plan that ultimately ended with our selling the house and finding a retirement option in a walkalble city preferably closer to the ocean? I thought so, but after more and more conversations, I’m pretty sure the deciding factor became what’s in it for him. And that worked for me, as he now had a vested interest in what I thought was only my dream.

At first I didn’t take him seriously in his offer. Then I started peeking at options online. Then I blew my expectations out of the water and started showing him places we really couldn’t afford. I started confusing the issue by trying to make the apartment fit the needs of my soon to be out of the house kids. He reigned me back in and we began the search for a place in earnest. What would be a reasonable rent? What kind of space would work for us? Where did we want the apartment to be? I was looking at studio apartments because they were less expensive but I had a feeling they wouldn’t give us the flexibility we needed if by any chance all of us were to be there at one time. I had to be reminded that this was our apartment — my husband’s and mine, not a place we were getting for our kids. So how was I to make this work?

A friend of mine who I grew up with and now keep in touch with through Facebook had mentioned that his brother was a Real Estate agent who worked in the city. What better than to have someone with a personal connection, I thought. So I got his number and gave him a call. Armed with a list of prospective one bedroom apartments that fit our meager budget, we started off on our first foray into the world of NY rental Real Estate.

While I knew his brother fairly well from my childhood days I don’t think I’ve ever met Real Estate Bob (not his real name.) But we had friends in common, lots of them, of course. And many of them are people I have reconnected with over the years, mostly through Facebook. Despite these connections, when we met I knew RE Bob was not going to be the guy to find me the perfect place to live. He was pretty unkempt and way too casual for my tastes and I knew he wasn’t impressing my very business like husband. But I was going to give him a chance because — well — connections. So we went through the list of places he had prepared for us to see. And each one of them was your typical lower end of the spectrum NY apartment.

If you have ever looked for a place to live or better yet lived in the city then you know what I mean. The word “apartment” in New York City take on it’s very own meaning and in many cases it’s a stretch to call these chopped up little boxes living space. There was the apartment that had a windowless dungeon like room in the basement with only a narrow spiral staircase as access. When I asked my husband what he thought we’d be able to get down those stairs he responded, “A wallet.” I asked the agent showing us the apartment how she thought we could get furniture into that room and she just looked at me and shrugged.

We saw an apartment where it would be impossible to open the refrigerator door and the bathroom door at the same time. You would have to climb over the toilet to get into the shower. In one apartment every window looked out onto an air shaft but “Great building and great space,” said the showing agent. There was one apartment where the bathroom smelled so strongly of mold and mildew that I couldn’t walk in. Most of what we saw were 4 and 5 story walk ups. They were all tiny. And every showing agent wanted you to know it was the best you could expect in that price range and it would go fast. And so it went.

RE Bob drove us from place to place in his car filled with crap and cigarette butts, getting lost at almost every turn despite the fact that “he’s from the city.” When he had shown us everything he had on his list, my hubby and I breathed a sigh of relief and went to regroup and get coffee. What to we do next? We had dinner plans with friends and a few hours to kill. We set off walking and found ourselves in front of the leasing office at Stuy Town.

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I have always loved Stuy Town. My Auntie who was my Mother’s best friend from their Nursing School days had lived there from the early 80s until she moved into Assisted Living. I didn’t live far away from her on 17th Street near 3rd Avenue and I went to her place to visit every now and then. Stuy Town is a neighborhood unto itself and is unlike any other place I know of in Manhattan. There is green space and playgrounds and meandering pathways that take you away from the street noise of the city. And trees. And black squirrels. Did you know that for a while Stuy Town was the only place in New York City with black squirrels?

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After one visit to my auntie I vowed that one day I would have an apartment in Stuy Town.

Built in the 1940s, the apartments had been upgraded over the years and while many of them are probably still rent controlled the ones that come on the market now are much more expensive to rent. We decided to take a tour anyway and see what we could see.

I am pretty sure that the models they showed us are much larger than most of the available apartments but even so, the spaces are very well laid out and beautifully appointed. We saw the gamut from a smaller one bedroom in Stuyvesant to a 2 bedroom in the much larger Peter Cooper Village community. I was sure that the space would be perfect for us but I filed it away because I was certain that even the smaller and less expensive apartments were above our budget.

We made a call to another real estate agent completely cold and from a listing on the web. She couldn’t see us that day but we arranged to meet her at her office on a day when she had listings to show us. That’s when we met the landshark of Real Estate Agents who shall remain nameless. She zoomed in on her motorized scooter, handed us paperwork that promised we would turn over our firstborn plus 15% of a year’s rent and then turned us out onto the cold, rainy streets of Manhattan with one of her younger agents, a very sweet young woman who really wanted to act but was paying the rent with real estate.

This was to be a much more promising day. We saw apartments with actual bedrooms, real living room spaces and amenities like elevators and doormen. Most of them were on the small side but we weren’t surprised at that. Some of them even had great views. Many of them had been taken before we had even walked in the door but that’s the NY Real Estate Market.

The question of neighborhood kept coming up. If we were going to spend the kind of money it would take to get a decent apartment and then hand over 15% of a year’s rent to the landshark, just where did we want to end up? Did we want to be on the Upper East Side with proximity to Central Park but a subway ride to the school my daughter had applied to and the place my son might be working part time? Did we want midtown which would give us access to Grand Central Station for our comings and goings from Connecticut but would be noisy and crowded during the day? Did we really want to give access to our firstborn and 15% to the landshark in the first place?

That’s about when my honey and I realized that the very best choice for us was to make a call to the Leasing office at Stuy Town and find ourselves a one bedroom apartment that in the end wouldn’t cost much more than the places the landshark had showed us. Sight unseen, (yes, I said sight unseen,) we signed a 2 year lease on an apartment centrally located near the fountain at Stuyvesant Town and picked up the keys on 8 March 2016. As of this moment, I don’t think we could have made a better choice.