Sunday in the park

It’s my first real Prospect Park Sunday ramble of spring. I’ve been here a couple times over the last few months on those weekends where we’ve gotten a taste of warm weather or sunshine, but today I’m in shorts and a t-shirt and flip flops.

I’m regretting the flip flops, but everything else was the right call.

I met up with a friend for pizza, then convinced her to put off her to do list for a little while and take a walk. We meandered from about 6th Street down to 15th and then she left to buy groceries and I walked down to the lake.

The lake is my favorite part of the park, probably because it was the first part I really got to know. My roommate and I used to bike down from Clinton Hill, and when you’re riding the bike loop, the lake is a perfect place to stop and take a breather.

Today I’m sitting on a bench right near the water. On any other day this summer that’s not the first lovely Sunday we’ve had, this little nook might be a quiet spot, but I had a lucky break finding this empty seat – and now there’s a kid standing directly in front of me, maybe two feet away, fishing.


There’s also a large group of kids with a couple of moms standing nearby, and now the fisher boy’s dad or grandpa is sitting next to me. I’m a little annoyed, but as long as I don’t get hit with a pole it’s fine.

I’m glad, though, when the group of kids leaves. There are ten or so of us now and yet it’s much quieter. All the people noise is on the other side of the trees and hedges and I start to hear birdsong, and dogs barking, along with planes overhead and cars far away.

There’s an Eastern King bird flying over the lake. I only know because a dad pointed it out to his kids, noting the white fringe at the bottom of its tail. There are also geese, and ducks, and turtles sunning themselves on a log. If I watch the water carefully enough sometimes I spot a turtle poking its head above water and then going back under.

The sky is bright blue, fading to a paler color by the horizon, and what clouds there are seem delicate against the blue.

There’s a swan in the distance swimming alone, parallel to shore. It turns and now it’s swimming towards us slowly, looking side to side as if unconcerned with us and curious about better prospects. It sticks its head under the water, long neck bending, and when it comes back up it shakes its head like a dog. A few minutes later a black bird with orange on its tail starts dive-bombing the swan and the swan turns in circles a few times like it’s chasing its tail, before the bird leaves it alone and the swan swims away.

The man catches a fish and when he notices a girl, maybe eight years old, watching in fascination, he calls her over to look at it. She comes, but politely declines when he asks if she wants to throw it back for him.

My allergies are acting up a little, but not enough to make me leave. Not quite yet.

There’s a bird perched on the branch of a fallen tree, its wings spread like it’s trying to get a tan. I wish that dad would come back and tell me what it is.

The buoy floating nearby says, near as I can tell: “Danger Thin Ice.” They’ve got that right.

There’s a kid leaning over the water, his face six inches from the surface, and I’m relieved when he sits back up rather than toppling in. Once we saw parents hold a tiny toddler near the water to “meet” a swan and I wanted to go yell at them. Swans can be mean, and even if they aren’t, why put your kid that close to a wild animal?

A little boy wearing a Rainforest Café shirt has walked up, saying “Ducks!” and carrying a roll. He tosses pieces of it at the two ducks nearby, who ignore it at first. The woman next to me tells her children that there’s a sign saying not to feed the water fowl, and that while we can’t control what others do we can control what we do.

The quiet’s been broken – more people again, lots of talking. I’ll try putting my headphones on and reading for a bit, but it’s almost time to go home, and soon I do.

PS New piece for Effed in Park Slope here.


Springtime in NYC: Don’t blink or you’ll miss it

Here in New York we’ve officially taken a left turn from “Is it spring yet?” into “Should I put the air conditioner in the window now?” territory. In just a few weeks we’ve entered the world of not needing to wear a jacket at night and leaving the ceiling fans on at all times. God forbid I fall asleep under my quilt, because I willwake up sweaty and uncomfortable.

This is my problem with springtime: it’s too short. If I’m going to have to deal with seasonal allergies and sporadic rainfall, can’t I at least get a month where the high temperature is seventy-five and the low is sixty? We’ve already left that high temp in the dust, and we’re only halfway into May! And as you might remember, winter dragged things out for an obscenely long time.  

I don’t mean to be ungrateful – I’ve already had some really beautiful days outside, and sitting on the terrace at my office during lunch is one of my greatest summertime pleasures – but I’m just not built for warm weather. I get sluggish and crabby. I like choosingto wear shorts, not feeling I have to do it or overheat when wearing jeans. I’d also prefer to never again sit down on a bench in shorts and burn my legs, but we can’t get everything we want.
On Tuesday I had some friends over and one of them helped me put my air conditioner in the window. Yes, I gave in. It was, as always, a harrowing ordeal, and I live in fear that it will somehow fall out of the window and onto someone. It’s a mostly irrational fear (I’m resisting looking up statistics about how often it happens) and if it did fall, it’d hit the garbage cans, not the sidewalk, but try telling me that when we were maneuvering it around on the sill.
Anyway, it’s now successfully installed and I can use it to keep the air circulating through my apartment. Of course, today it was cooler, so I might not even need to turn the AC on. NYC weather, I officially give up on you.

In other news, my first piece for the Toast is up here! It’s about some of my favorite Louisa May Alcott characters, from the books Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom.

Edited to add: I hit publish on this, and then looked at the weather forecast for the next week. Temps no higher than 72 and no lower than 58. So maybe we’re going to get some spring weather after all. Guess I could’ve waited a little longer on the whole air conditioner rant…

Biking through the five boroughs

When you were out and about this Sunday, did you notice thousands of bicyclists riding through the city? I was home sleeping in and after a busy Saturday, but apparently it was the annual Five Boro Bike Tour.

The first spring I lived in NYC, my dad did the Five Boro ride. It was far from a perfect experience for him (I think even the organization admitted that it was not a great year, with problems including the simple but critical one of too many riders) but he enjoyed it enough to suggest we ride it together the following spring.
The Five Boro ride is a forty-mile bicycle tour through NYC. It’s like the marathon, only it’s not a race, and instead of starting in Staten Island, it ends there. The ride begins early on a Sunday morning in May near Battery Park, and goes through (surprise, surprise) all five boroughs.
I agreed to do the ride with my dad the following spring—but first, I needed a bike. 
So not long after my dad rode the Five Boro ride, I bought (with a little help from him) a Downtube folding bike at a local bike shop. It’s light turquoise, and it only weighs about twenty-four pounds—perfect for carrying up the stairs to my old (and new) third floor walk up. I’ve seen too many bikes without wheels, seats, chains, to want to leave my bike outside long term.
I took short rides that summer and fall, the longest being about eight miles. The next spring I got a few longish rides in before it was time for the ride with my dad. The most impressive was a ride from Brooklyn to Astoria to see a friend. I’d ridden to Williamsburg with friends before, but beyond that I had to follow my written directions (I don’t have a smart phone). It was uphill, and something was weird with my gears (I got it fixed before the Boro ride), but I made it there…and took the subway home. Hey, it was late!
I woke up early on the morning of the Boro ride. My parents had stayed in a hotel near the starting point, but I wanted to sleep in my bed.  I rode my bike to a subway line that’d get me to the Battery area quickly and met my parents at the hotel. After a quick, light breakfast my dad and I rode to the starting point. My mom went off to explore the city on her own.
The beginning of the ride was stop and start—it’s too crowded to be anything else—but once we got better spaced out, cruising up 6thAvenue was incredible—all bikes, no cars. If you want a similar experience check out Summer Streets, three weekends each summer when a route from the Brooklyn Bridge up to Central Park is closed to cars and open to cyclists, roller bladers, and pedestrians.
Around midtown I spotted a friend who lived in the area, waiting to cross the street, and I waved and said hello as I whizzed by. In a crowd of cyclists, even with some stops to allow cars to cross 6thAve, I felt fast. The ride passes through Central Park, and while some of the hills there are tough to get up, going down is pure joy—well, pure joy spiced with the danger of going just a little too fast.
The ride lets out at the upper west corner of the park, and after a stop and go ride north it heads east. There was a bathroom stop along that route, where my dad and I called my mom to check in.
There were groups of riders who had come up with themes to make it easy for them to spot each other in a crowd. Some had simple t-shirts, others had flowers attached to their helmets, and it was around that rest stop that we spotted our favorites: Muppet heads. Nothing like a disembodied Miss Piggy head on your helmet to make it easy for your friends to find you.
The ride dips into the Bronx, but only briefly, something like turning a corner, going over a bridge and finding yourself back in Manhattan again just like that, ready to ride south on the FDR. The FDR. Can I stress here how awesome it is to ride downhill on a highway? Remember this for later when I talk about riding the BQE. The FDR was somewhat shady and occasionally passed through tunnels (or it did at least once—my memories are a little fuzzy on these details). But the ride on the FDR is marred only by what waited at the end of our time on it: the Queensboro Bridge.
This was the first major bridge of the ride, and it was steep. If you were having trouble you were supposed to get over to the side and walk up. Great in theory, but in reality the faster riders kept pulling to the side, to pass us slowpokes, and so I rode all the way to the top and gratefully coasted down.
The queens portion of the tour wasn’t as pretty as the ride through Manhattan and the park, but there was a lovely rest stop in Astoria Park, with pretzels and fruit, and then the trek to Brooklyn—which exactly reversed what I’d ridden on my own earlier that spring. It was a lot easier this time, since not only had I gotten my gears fixed, I was now riding downhill.
It was when Dad and I reached Brooklyn Bridge Park, another rest stop, that we had to make a decision. There were still thirteen miles ahead of us. We were hot, and tired, and Mom would’ve liked some extra time with me.
But my completist nature—the part of me that usually reads all of a series and makes my stories overladen with more details than hearers (or readers) need to know—decided we should push on to Staten Island.
So we did.

Remember the FDR? What a lovely ride. The BQE was nothing like that. Except for the very beginning of it, little of the BQE portion was in the shade, and much of it was uphill. And of course, we’d already ridden twenty-seven miles.

This might also be a good moment to mention that I’d forgotten to put on sunscreen on this lovely, sunny May day.

The BQE was torture. We stopped often to rest, and I remember walking my bike up a small hill.

And at the end of it was the Verrazano Bridge.

Neither the Verrazano nor the Queensboro usually allows cyclists, so like riding the FDR and BQE, this was a special experience, and the view of the water was spectacular.

But the Verrazano is a tallbridge, with a deceptive incline. I poured the last of my energy into the climb, then coasted down the bridge and part of the way to the end of the ride.

There was a party—music, food, the works—at the end, but Dad and I headed straight for the long line for the ferry. I stood, half asleep on my feet, leaning on my bike, until it was our turn to board the ferry. I sat down on boards and promptly fell asleep.
It’s been a couple years since I did the Five Boro ride, and I haven’t done that much biking since— and certainly nothing that epic. I am a casual cyclist. I have friends who ride their bikes everywhere, and my dad sometimes bikes to work during mild winter weather. If I could do that I wouldn’t need my expensive gym membership.
But riding those forty miles was exhilarating, and thinking about it makes me want to get back on my bike. And it’s spring! Maybe if I ride a bunch this summer and fall, I can even do the Five Boro Ride again next spring.
Has anyone else done a long bike ride? Any favorite biking destinations or routes in New York?

In the limbo between winter and spring

Yesterday I bundled up like it was winter again. The temperature was in the upper thirties in the morning today as well — not terribly cold when you figure in all the weeks of temps in the twenties and even the teens, but I pulled on my gloves and covered my ears like there was a Polar Vortex, because I don’t do well when the weather changes quickly. A thirty-degree drop in temperature or a quick shift from dry weather to wet can bring on an attack of the sneezes. A quick Google search shows I’m not the onlyone to deal with this.

So far I’m sniffle-free, with only a hint of a sore throat, so I’m hoping to stay allergy-free for a little while longer, but I’ve been thinking about the way the seasons impact my motivations.

I’ve been going to the gym on and off (mostly on!) since last summer, even through some of the very cold weeks this winter, but after experiencing the warmth of last week it’s been easy to give myself a pass these cold mornings. It should get easier as the weather gets nicer, but I’ve also known myself to become inert once the weather’s been nice for a while. Too many hot, busy days and I’ll stay at home in front of the AC even on a perfectly pleasant day because I’m too lazy to leave home.

I think this means I should always live somewhere that has seasons. If I lived someplace where the weather was nice all the time, I’d eventually get complacent and never leave the apartment, knowing I could always do it the next day. And if the weather was terrible all the time – well, you get the picture. I can be a bit of a homebody when left entirely to my own devices, so it’s good I have the contrasting seasons to remind me to step outside.

I’ll be getting out this weekend to go see a show with a friend, but I also want to take a walk and see how the tiny park near my apartment is doing. I spotted some daffodils last weekend; I hope the frost hasn’t hurt them. About a year ago, on a warm, sunny, April morning, I had an appointment to see my apartment for a second time and ultimately to put down a deposit. On my way over I walked by this tiny park. I’d walked by it many times before, but I’d never been there in spring, and I managed to catch it while it was in full bloom. There was a full palette of colors and flower varieties, and I just sat on a bench and took it all in. By the time I got to the apartment, my vision was a little rosy, and the sunlight streaming in through the windows didn’t hurt either. It was a good decision even so.

The temperature is supposed to climb back up to 63 degrees on Saturday. I can hardly wait.

Has everyone recovered from the winter? What are you most looking forward to about spring?

And, a post by me about that Toughest Job in the World video over at F’d in Park Slope.

How to find an apartment in NYC

It’s spring! The temperature is rising, the days are getting beautifully long, and pretty soon, people will be moving apartments.

Obviously people move year-round, but spring and summer seem to be especially popular times to hunt for a new apartment, probably since so many people move to New York each summer after they graduate from college. I found my current apartment around this time last year and while I plan to stay because I love my place, I thought I’d share some of the apartment-hunting advice I’ve come up with since moving here. Some of it is probably applicable for other cities, but from what I’ve heard about other cities, New York is an especially complicated place to find a place to live.

Most listings go up about a month before the apartment is available. June listings, for instance, won’t go up until May 1. You can start looking earlier than that, but you probably won’t find anything, unless you’re willing to pay for a month’s overlap — not always a bad thing if you want extra time to move! Craigslist and Padmapper are my favorite sites to use, since they both have a map feature. The map is useful because realtors will often say something is in one neighborhood in the listing title, but the actual address makes it clear that it’s in a different neighborhood.

Know your neighborhoods. If you have specific neighborhoods that you’re interested in, make sure you know what the borders are. When I first moved to New York, we were looking to live in Clinton Hill while my roommate went to Pratt for her MA, and we quickly learned that Classon Ave is the eastern border of Clinton Hill, despite many listings to the contrary. If something looks too good to be true (way under-priced for the neighborhood or for how nice it looks in pictures), it probably is too good to be true. But if something is a little under-priced and quirky, check it out — that’s how I found my apartment!

Use your resources: the internet + friends. Looking up information about neighborhoods online is helpful, but friends and coworkers are also a great a resource when you’re apartment hunting. Not only do they know the neighborhood’s boundaries, they usually have an idea of what the going rate is in their neighborhood, and they may even be able to put you in touch with their landlords, who might have openings nearby, or with brokers who know the neighborhood. 

If you love a place, hold on tight. When you find an apartment you like, you have to move fast. Often you’ll need to put down a deposit the day you see a place. Make sure to bring someone with you, preferably someone who will be even tougher on the place than you and will notice things like mouse poop or roach traps, will remember to check the water pressure and outlets, ask about how utilities are handled, check the locks, etc. Google the address and if possible the landlord before signing the lease, in case other people have already taken to the internet to talk about how terrible the building or owner is. There’s a site called, where you can sometimes see if there are 311 complaints about a building or a landlord – definitely worth a look.

Get your documents ready in advance. Ready to commit? Then be prepared to put down a deposit, in cash or cashier check — but never let a broker rush you if you’re feeling nervous. Brokers and landlords will often ask for a packet of application documents, like a scan of your photo ID, proof of employment and salary, your last couple bank statements, and a credit check. Having all these in order, saved in your email and ready to send along, can make applying for an apartment a much speedier process. If you’re a student or not yet employed, make sure you have guarantor lined up and be prepared to provide their financial information. The process for renting in a co-op is even more complicated, and I believe usually involves an interview, so make sure to ask what’s required of you when you fill out an application.

Be prepared to put a lot of money down as a deposit. At the application stage, you’ll be asked for a good faith deposit (often around $500). When you put down a deposit, the owner or broker has to the place off the market. If your application isn’t accepted for some reason, you should usually get the deposit back – but make sure to clarify that (and get in writing!) when you do put down your deposit. If you change your mind after placing a deposit, you usually cannot get your money back. 

Once you’ve committed to an apartment, you’ll hand over the rest of the deposit. By-owner rentals usually only require first month’s rent and a security deposit. If you have to use a broker, you’ll find that most of them charge a fee on top of that. One month’s rent is pretty standard, but some brokers (usually the more established ones, like Corcoran) charge anywhere from 10 to 15% of the year’s rent. Unless you really love an apartment and are committed to staying for a couple years, these expensive brokers often aren’t worth it. 

Read your lease carefully before signing it. Once your application is accepted, you’ll get a copy of your lease. Read it carefully, and ask questions about or Google any clauses you don’t understand. 

After the lease is signed, congratulations! You’ve managed to rent an apartment in NYC. Now you have about two or three weeks to pack up all your things and move. Moving between places in Brooklyn? I’ve used Greenbaum Expert Moving a couple times and found them to be reasonably priced, friendly, and very fast each time. All movers are very busy right around the first of the month, especially on the weekends, so if you can move in a little early or late, or midweek, you might get a better rate. 

For those who have done the NYC apartment hunt before, any suggestions to add? For those looking to move here, leave your questions in the comments!

A stroll around Green-Wood Cemetery

It’s going to be warm again this weekend! Okay, so it might rain on Saturday. And be in the forties on Sunday. And snow on Monday. Or at least this is what the weather report is telling me.

But it might not. It could be 54 degrees and sunny, or at least 54 degrees and not-raining-yet, and if that happens, we all need to get outside and breathe some fresh air.

And where better to do that than a cemetery?

Green-Wood Cemetery, located in Brooklyn southwestish of Prospect Park, below the neighborhood of Windsor Terrace, was begun in 1838 and is now a National Historic Landmark. Back in the 1850s it was popular tourist destination and today it has trolley tours and a variety of events. Last summer they hosted a production The Spoon River Project, moonlight walking tours, and happy hours. I didn’t make it to any of those events but I hope to this year. Because who doesn’t want to go to a happy hour in a cemetery?

Last year around this time I visited the cemetery for the first time, with a friend. We got a map at the entrance, wrapped our scarves a little more tightly, and went on a trek to find the famous people that sounded the most interesting to us.

We’re both musical types, so Leonard Bernstein made the cut.

Along the way we saw the Civil War Monument (at least I think that’s what this is.)

 One of my favorite things about the cemetery is that it’s the highest point in Brooklyn, so you get some great views back across the city.

And down toward the water — that’s the Statue of Liberty in the distance.

I thought this pyramid monument was kind of crazy but awesome.

And this view is beautiful, but also a little eerie.

The main gate to the cemetery is stunning.

 So is the chapel
We made sure to visit Louis Comfort Tiffany, son of the founder of Tiffany and Co. and the company’s first Design Director.

My friend was a history major, so we wandered until we found where Boss Tweed is buried.

After that our feet started hurting, so we headed back to the entrance we came in through, cutting across the grass at one point. There were places where the ground had sunken a little and my friend pointed out that those were graves. We tried to stick to the path after that.

It might be better to check out Green-Wood on a sunnier day than we did, but either way, it’s worth a visit! And walking around it is good exercise because of all the hills.

So now I’ve talked about two cemeteries on this blog. Any others I should visit?

Six months and fifty posts

This is my fiftieth post on this blog! Since I started it on September 7, it’s been just about exactly six months of blogging regularly. In that time I have written about pretty much every interesting thing I have ever done in New York, so I guess it’s time to move on to something new.

Okay, not really. But I’ve written about a lot of things I’ve done, so clearly I need to go check out more places around the city. There are many, many museums I’ve yet to set foot in, neighborhoods I’ve never explored, and parks I’ve never gotten lost in. Thank goodness it’s almost springtime and I totally will want to spend time outside soon. There’s no way we’ll get more snow this month, right? Right?
Before I started this blog, I wasn’t writing very much. Now I write every week, usually multiple times a week. I’ve even started writing occasional posts for F’ed in Park Slope, and I’ve picked back up a fiction project I stalled out on. In the last month or so, I’ve started pitching pieces elsewhere and had one accepted (more on that when it’s published!). I haven’t had this kind of discipline or drive with my writing since college, and really, since before college. I’m excited about writing again, and I hope to keep moving forward.
So thanks to everyone who’s reading this! Thanks especially to everyone who has commented, here or on Facebook or in real life and told me you’re enjoying my posts. You’ve helped me stay on track and stay motivated, and I’m so grateful to you! The goal for this blog has always been for it to appeal to both readers in New York who might go out and do the things I mention and to readers outside New York who want to live vicariously or create a list of things to check out the next time they visit.
Have I succeeded? This is your official invitation to come out of the woodwork and let me know what you’d like to see more of! More write-ups of places you can check out any time, or more about current exhibits and shows? More reviews of things I’ve done or gone to? More slice-of-life posts? Or something else entirely? Any and all suggestions – including specific topics! – welcome.
Let me know in the comments! And thanks for reading!