Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Let's Tell the World: 2014 Slideshow

This year has been amazing, surprising, and life changing. There are not words to do it justice. In my best and biggest dreams, I couldn't envision it this way. It was a joy and a great privilege to call Brooklyn, New York "home" in 2014.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

What December Looks Like In Brooklyn (or In My Heart)

The stocking were hung by the curtain rod with care. We not a ton of time left in the game, it seemed dumb to put more nails in the wall or buy something we knew we wouldn't use in Mississippi, so this. They're always one of my favorite things to put out! 

I realized this blog has been a little neglected. We were in Mississippi most of October, and truth be told, it took most of November for me to get caught up on In the Warm Hold. I'm finally there and I felt like I needed to pay this space some attention. I'm going to pick up my "First Quarter Rewind" posts but since we're actually approaching the fourth and final quarter, I'm going to need a new name for it. I feel like there's a lot of fun stuff I want to share, but before that I think I'm long overdue for a feelings post.

I'm sure it was more than obvious that I loved Summer here. So many things about it made it rank among the best seasons of my life.

September came and it was HARD. It was probably the hardest month I've had here. I think most of that had to do with the fact that we were trying to make a lot of decisions, the most pressing one being how much longer we were going to live here but also a lot of other things that we needed to work out but could really only proceed on to once we made our moving decision. We just talked and talked about things and it was exhausting, to be honest. We knew we wanted to be back in Mississippi by Fall 2015, but we kept debating another Brooklyn Summer. A few months may not seem like a huge deal, but as alluded to, this past Summer was like magic.

October was largely dominated with getting ourselves back to Mississippi, getting Cookie married, enjoying Mississippi and our friends at a sort of frantic pace to get it all in, and then getting ourselves back to Brooklyn. It was also difficult, but so, so enjoyable. And it confirmed for me in a lot of ways the decision we finally had arrived at- which was to move home at the beginning of May.

November seemed to fly past us. If September was the hardest month, I think November felt the quickest. I'm not even sure why. We weren't super busy or anything. I'm sure it was because it took a little while to ease back in and once we did it felt like the month was nearly gone. It was an amazing month overall and it was wonderful to be back in the place we call home for now and just immerse ourselves in it. Toward the end of the month, during and after Thanksgiving, I did get really homesick. Much more so than I had in awhile. It was a good few days of it, but I came out of it eventually.

December seems to have brought a lot to the surface. I'm realizing how fleeting our time here is. I'm trying to take it in even more than I ordinarily do. There are so many times that my throat tightens and tears well up because I realize we're doing something for the last, or only, time.

Some of it is the big stuff- we went to see the balloons being blown up for the Macy's parade the on the eve of Thanksgiving and we're planning to make a special trip into Manhattan to see the big tree at Rockefeller Center. There's a handful of other things like that. But a lot of times it's the more mundane that pulls at my heart like a stubborn little tug-o-war playing child.

Every night- every single night- when I sit down at my computer to blog or email a friend or whatever, I make a point to sit (really sit!) and look at the lights strung around the courtyard. They're those bigger bulbs, about the size of a plum; but shaped more like an avocado, of course; and they're all different colors. In the past that hasn't really been my style exactly, but it's so magical and perfect to me here. They stretch out like a rainbow Candyland gameboard along the different paths that form the courtyard area of the complex. It feels cheerful and festive and beautiful and I love to just sit and be in those moments. I've tried taking a picture through the window and they come out horrible, understandably. I keep meaning to head down there and take some shots and I've promised myself that I will before the 25th.

The one big heart/head thing I have that I can't get to subside (and I know that realistically, it will probably be a long long time before it does) is that literally every day there is at least one moment where I feel either a  powerful homesickness for what (and who) I miss in Mississippi or a poignant heartache for what (and who) we're leaving behind in Brooklyn. The hardest days are when I end up having to navigate both.

I know, in truth, this will probably be the reality of my life for a good while. Probably even after we get back home and settled, I'll deal a lot with the heartache and with a new found homesickness for a place that has been, very truly, HOME for awhile.

I've mentioned, either here or on my other blog that my friend Carrie made the point that just like loving a person, falling in love with a place is a risk. I can think of very few (actually, I can't think of any) times in my life where loving a person wasn't worth the risk to my heart. And Brooklyn has been worth the heart-risk a thousand times over.

I'm so thankful for it.

Even though 2014 is the last full year we will call Brooklyn "home"; Peyton, Annie, Graves, and I will carry little pieces of this adventure in our hearts for the rest of our lives. And that's incredible, and beautiful, and in some ways to me still knock you--out shocking.

I am thankful. I am joyful. And I am home.

For now.

Halloween 2014: Oz Meets Brooklyn and Other Happenings Around the Hill

So I shared this post over on our regular blog a couple of months back. I realized it was such a "New York experience" type post that I wanted it forever in the archives here as well. So ignore the fact that Halloween was a solid six weeks ago!

- It's Fall, y'all! And it's beautiful. Sadly, I don't think it lasts very long up here and I'm fully anticipating it to drop and start snowing soon. My back is already nervous tightening over it.

- Since the temperature has already dropped some,they've turned the heat up super high and now the co-op feels like the geriatric unit it is. I'm not sure I've mentioned it, but I truly think the median age at the place is about seventy two. Which is frustrating when they sit in courtyard and tell security that Graves is playing near a window (that has bars on it!) and when they scold me for not dressing the children properly when it's in the fifties. It's also interesting though because some of the residents have been around the neighborhood (and the building) since twenty or so years ago back when Myrtle Avenue (the cross street the cooperative is located on) was nicknamed "Murder Avenue". Eeek. Makes for some interesting conversations, but you'd think it'd give them a bit of perspective on the status of my kids' fingers (mittened or non-mittened).

- We had a friend over for dinner tonight and the apartment was a bit of a disaster. I've never had company over with my home looking as ill prepared for a guest as it did tonight and CERTAINLY not for a first time guest. It's half way through November nearly and I still haven't gotten out the small amount of Fall decorations I carefully chose to bring. I had a small existential crisis where I questioned my worth as a homemaker upon realizing I'm just maybe not a woman who's given to decorating seasonally. At least not unless I really push myself.

- The guy we had over (a friend of Peyton's from his book club) was so kind and fun to be around. He played with our kids and engaged them so effortlessly and was just a really, really interesting person. I had worked myself up over the visit for several reasons besides just the apartment and I had to remind myself of something our friend Owen told us- "hospitality isn't hospitality unless it's a little bit awkward. Otherwise, it's just doing what you naturally do". I guess maybe that isn't true for EVERYONE like it is for me because some people are really gifted in this area, but honestly I do think if we let Him, the Lord can stretch us all in this way.

- I chuckled to myself a bit recently thinking about the state of our apartment. Growing up, my mom would occasionally call mine or Cookie's room (or my car) a Shit Pit if the state of things got really deplorable. [I, at times, viewed my car as a vehicle for rebellion and trashed it for the sake of trashing it. Because that felt "cool". And safer than having sex or doing drugs.] Anyway, I chuckled because while we were all four in Mississippi for EIGHT days, we left the cats completely unattended. We left a bunch of food and water and also left the toilet open for when the water ran out. Peyton actually got a couple of under the bed storage boxes from Target and filled them with liter and set up stations. I didn't experience it (thankfully!) but of course when he got back, it smelled all kinds of awful. A LITERAL SHIT PIT, guys. I haven't really told this to many people because it seems to horrify them when we do, but do y'all know how much it costs to get your pets babysat in Brooklyn? I don't and I don't want to know. And we didn't want to inconvenience a friend. All things considered, it went well. The cats are a good bit fatter from not having their food portioned, but actually Darth has become FRIENDLY even with the children. I guess the long span of time without human contact helped her realize we aren't all bad and she should maybe work with us to overcome her shyness. After six years of knowing we are good people.

- I have made soup three times in the last two weeks (Winter Soup Challenge, guys!) although the one I made tonight for our guest was a repeat because it was so delicious. It has a block of cream cheese in it. I also made salad dressing that has a cup of sugar in it. But the soup also had chicken and corn and beans and the salad had, you know, lettuce so I felt mostly good about it. Honestly, if it's not a frozen pizza or a peanut butter sandwich, I feel mostly good about it.

- One thing we've been excited about since moving is Halloween. We found our really before we moved, back when we were narrowing down neighborhoods, that Clinton Hill is a really fun place to celebrate the holiday. They close off streets to traffic, have trick or treating at businesses along the main road, and have some really intense decorations and theatrical shows. It was definitely a fun night for all of us!

We decided to go with a Wizard of Oz theme. The kids have never seen the movie, but they have some random Happy Meal toys that we acquired in the oddest, most Herrington way. About a year ago, a friend of ours who lives in Chicago was getting married and Sweet McFrugal decided to drive us and Annie all the way up there (Graves stayed home with Mick and Minnie, but AP was the flower girl) and back over the span of like seventy two hours or so. Anyway, upon stopping once at McDonalds we discovered they had the cutest Wizard of Oz toys that very much resembled Fisher Price Little People, which our kids adore. So, even though we are decidedly not Happy Meal people, we stopped about five more times to try to attain the whole set. We finished up the trip with everyone, excepting the cowardly lion. Anyway, they love them and especially spend a lot of time discussing Wicked Witch, so we decided it would be a good theme. Initially, I was going to let Graves be her and Annie wanted to be Glinda. But I decided I really wanted us to dress up, too, so an old classmate at my high school reunion helped me come up with the ideas for us.

I decided right away to switch Peyton to being Wicked Witch. I Amazon Primed the cape, hat, and face paint at the eleventh hour and it literally came to our door an hour before we were trying to leave. I think the hat was pretty amazing, but the face paint was what sold the outfit. He got lots of compliments. I also think that it makes it more fun and interesting that he's a man than if, say, I did it. Cross dressing witch FTW. 

 Annie wore an old princess dress and a crown I made for her (I think) fourth birthday. She and Peyton also whipped up a wand with some aluminum foil and wooden dowels I happened to have (which are ridiculous forr me to even have since along with failing at cleaning, cooking, and decorating my home I'm not the best at crafting, either). Graves wore a monkey costume we got on sale at Old Navy one year after Halloween for like six dollars. He obviously looks nothing like the monkeys from the movie, but he kept doing his "evil face" and I think he was adorable. Which is what matters most (aside from fun). As a side note, this is when we trick or treated down the Avenue formerly known as Murder. It was super fun to go by all the businesses. The one issue I had was with a mother who kept (loudly) voicing her opinion about the audacity of adults who were not in costume and were collecting candy. Um, how about adults don't get candy with or without a costume? That's how we play, anyway. A few minutes later I heard her tell her kid she'd "f*ck him up" over some kind of misbehavior, so at that point I really knew we weren't on the same page.

I was Dorothy's sparkly red shoe. Graves was adamant about telling people I was not DOROTHY, I was her SHOE. Anyway, I brought back one of Minnie's flapper dresses from Mississippi. This thing is literally forty years old. It's been around since probably before the crack epidemic even hit Myrtle. It served me well. Peyton also commented on my headband thing I purchased. He loved it and I told him I was planning to wear it in real life on ordinary days. He said that wow, my style had really evolved. Um...I guess the new (short! dark!) hair, the glasses that fit right in at the geriatric unit, and the piece of mental in my nose didn't give that away?!? Glad the sparkly headband did. And yes, I realize that I look way more Great Gatsby than Wizard of Oz, but I just didn't know how to more effectively execute a shoe costume. 

Peyton really got more pictures of the neighborhood, but if you have a brownstone, by all means you should set up a little jack-o-lantern menagerie in your front garden. 

Upon returning home, Annie promptly changed into her Christmas jams. Apparently, P's store did something similar because they have stacks of Santa Skittles and we got probably fifteen pounds of Halloween candy for thirty cents a bag. Also, Peyton fell asleep in that face paint. Possibly more disgusting than his shit pit idea of not boarding the cats. 

Probably my favorite picture from the night. He looks genuinely terrifying. Annie looks sweet and happy. And his little evil monkey helper is under the cape :)

These days are some of the best and I'm glad for these people to laugh and goof through them together with me. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Sunday in the City

Truly He taught us to love one another, 
His law is love and His gospel is peace. 
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother. 
And in his name all oppression shall cease.

This past Sunday was possibly my very favorite Sunday since we've lived here (which is saying a whole lot).

It reminded me of how INCREDIBLY worth it, despite a lot of transit time and a lot of effort (particularly on the weekends that I'm by myself with the kids), it is to be part of two communities of faith. Our two churches here meet very different needs and both are so very important to us.

This morning we worshiped with our TGC Crown Heights friends. It is a very diverse congregation, very dedicated to social justice while never placing it before the Gospel. There was a lot of talk about celebrating the newborn baby while also exalting the man on the cross. The sermon spoke to the importance of these things in spite of the recent events that have our (can I call it our? I always hesitate to do that) city hurt and broken. There was a palpable collective grief, evidenced powerfully when our pastor's voice broke a few times. And the conversation I had with a dear friend after the service is one I will take with me wherever we live for the rest of my life.

This evening we attended a wonderful candlelight service at a beautiful historic church (Saint George's) in Manhattan that we are also very proud to claim. The priest started his meditation quoting the stanza of "O Holy Night" above and preached on our great hope in the midst of pain and sadness. How the eternal became temporal so the temporal could be eternal and what great hope lies in just that there.

This year (and specifically this season) has not been without hardship. But it has been inexplicably worth it. And so much of it's worth comes from these two bodies of believers we are so blessed to be a part of.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Love and Barbecue (and Farm Animals and Block Parties)

If you saw my post yesterday, you know that this August saw me reflecting a lot on last August, specifically mine and Peyton's trip to the city. Over the Summer I had several special moments where we visited places that we had visited on that trip or experienced things we'd experienced on the trip and it just stirred up a lot of emotion. We've done plenty of things here that we also did on the trip- Central library, the Brooklyn Flea, the farmer's market. None of it has seemed terribly special, so I'm not sure why these things did. Maybe it's just because I was more focused on it, being that our trip was exactly a year ago. Maybe I've been extra sentimental about the city lately, realizing more fully has short our time here really will be. Or maybe these just really were very special memories from last year and now I've created new special ones this year. 

Nearly a year ago- last August- Peyton and I sat at these outdoor tables under the sign and looked out, a bit enchanted, at the area of sectioned off street with tables and trees; the gorgeous architecture; and the lively and charming people who passed by. That day, we had taken our first breaths in Kings County. We had been to the Brooklyn Flea and the Farmers' Market at Fort Greene Park. We tentatively said we very much loved it. And little did we know, it was the slow beginning of giving our hearts to a place. It was good to be back there several weeks ago, sitting in the street and eating BBQ, with the other two people I love most in the world.

I mentioned this in my post yesterday, but our co-op has a block party each Summer and it's one of the things that sold us on the neighborhood. Of course we had no idea we'd actually wind up living in the co-op and actually participating in the thing. It was just a good taste of the dynamic of the neighborhood. Well, this year's rolled around and it was great to be part of the party instead of just an observer. It reminded me of all the things I love about Clinton Hill- its diversity, its laid back vibe, its lack of pretension, and it exuberance

When we were here looking at neighborhoods during the trip, I teared up little when we saw this playground because I knew Graves would love the farm theme. It took us this long to get back there, but some things haven't changed a bit with sweet Bud. 

It's so incredible to see these things from the perspective I have now! 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Big Collection of Flashbacks: New Reflections on Memories from Our Trip Last August

I'm a huge fan of looking back over old pictures, old tweets, old blog posts. Back in the day before there was Timehop, I'd do it manually from time to time just for my own enjoyment. I'd go back and look at what I blogged about on this day to years ago or what I tweeted or whatever. Obviously, Timehop simplified things (if you don't know about it, it's a service that compiles your records from various social media sites and then presents you with all that happened on those sites on that specific day over the past few years). 

Well, last month I experienced a first with Timehop. That is, I was consciously anticipating and looking forward to a specific week. I was looking forward to seeing all my old statuses from mine and Peyton's exploratory trip to New York last August to try to zero in on a neighborhood. 

And I was right, it was so much fun to look back. Here are just a few of my favorites! 

As I said, I had been anticipating this week in Timehop for awhile. Last year at this time, we were enjoying our first day of a search which would determine which New York neighborhood we'd call home for a season of our lives. That trip was the first real indication I could do just that- call this place home. A little teary looking back.

 This was a block party we stumbled up on put by the co-op we now live in. The music was SUPER loud and we totally thought the co-op was the projects. In other words, we were terrified. But we met some of the sweetest families and it was a distinct event that solidified our love for Clinton Hill. Peyton took off the following Saturday this year specifically for the party. 

Actually, it probably would have been a fine place to live. But we were naive and fearful. Which is what sometimes happens when you're a tiny, very privileged white girl from the Mississippi suburbs whose body has been trained to tense up when she walks down a block where ninety five percent of the people look different from her. I'm so glad I'll never be her again.

There are some things about the city that I doubt will ever change- I still don't trust Graves on a platform without a stroller, a carrier, or an extra parent. And Times Square still gives me a headache and makes me feel like I'm going to jump out of my skin.

...and tree lined Brooklyn blocks still make me smile and slow my pace a bit.

The initial caption read: "He told me that when he went exploring by himself last night he put $20 between a homeless couple who were asleep and snuggling at the subway stop because he just thought they were so sweet. I cried. I hope I'm tough enough for this city (and good enough for this man)." These days, Peyton just packs extra snacks for the homeless or gives them groceries he's just bought for himself/us. These days I've learned that living here isn't so much about being tough, really. I'm glad I'm tender because I think I'm rewarded for it by seeing things here that sometimes other people don't. It takes a lot out of me to process some of the things I've seen here, but it's overwhelmingly worth it. I don't know that I'm always good enough for Peyton. I'm sure I'm not, really. More infrequently probably, he isn't good enough for me. That's everyone everywhere, though. I'm glad for forgiveness and commitment, to be sure. And really, we've been better to each other this year than any other our marriage has seen. 

It was surreal to look back on these little snapshots of a one week adventure and see what insight I had into them after a seven month adventure. Clearly, a lot has changed. Some things have remained the same. That trip was so special and it was just a glimpse into our life here. I'm thankful for both- the initial experiences as a visitor in the city and the experiences where I've become, in some ways, a part of it. More importantly, the experiences where it's become a part of me. Because those will last forever in my heart (and most likely on Timehop as well, Lord willing). 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Sun Scorched Pavement and the Beauty of a Brooklyn Summer

  • Back near the end of June I posted about Summer in the city. Here it is September first and I feel like I need to write at least once more about something that's been such a special season of my life. Even if I say the exact same thing in different words, it's itching to come out. 

The above photograph is one of my absolute favorites from New York, one of my favorites ever, really. I have a good feeling it will be sitting, framed, somewhere in our home long after the little boy and girl in it cease to live there. 

It's sort of the quintessential urban children picture to me. Little children enjoying a steamy day, playing in a gushing fire hydrant on the sun-scorched pavement of our city streets. And at a block party no less. Feels like something from yesteryear. I'll treasure it always. 

And I'll treasure this Summer itself always. It's been different from any other time in my life. So many happy memories have been made in the months between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Planned outings to parades and street fairs and festivals and often even better just stumbling upon of someone's block party, or drumline performance, or mural painting celebration complete with Spanish music and food. 

That day, back in May, when we found ourselves passing a college graduation. I vividly remember a small framed, older Middle Eastern woman- covered head to toe as is her culture's tradition- and wearing the brightest smile of anyone I've ever seen holding a diploma. 

The notably too infrequent trips to the public pool where the ladies sort of smiled because we didn't bring locks and wore tennis shoes and asked questions about how to work the mandatory pre-entry showers. The free lunches they were so awfully insistent on providing our pretty obviously middle class kids. 

The Sunday morning bus rides with all the older ladies in hats and heels. 

All the nights when I'd click on the national news right before going to bed and watch apprehensively, hoping nothing truly terrible would happen, from a place far away (and a position for away) as night would fall on a midwestern town and people would try to sort through their sadness and anger and fears. Ferguson belongs on this list because I doubt I will ever reflect deeply on this Summer without it coming to mind. It's bittersweet and the only only sweetness is in the hope I have that tomorrow can be better for our brothers and sisters of color. 

The afternoon we discovered the different playgrounds at the Brooklyn piers and the kids got so dirty there was absolutely no way to get all the stains out of their clothes and for the very first time I literally gave not one teeny tiny damn. 

The stupidly amazing, given that it was eighties hair band music, Broadway show with Claire and the freezing cold Five Guys we ate at afterwards. 

Every minute we spent with my mom showing her the streets and nooks and corners of the city we love.

  • The almost weekly visits to Coney Island for fair rides and fireworks and cotton candy and other silliness. The putting to bed of our small, sandy, salty, Coney Island-encrusted children on a pallet on the floor because it's 1:30 AM and we just were not going to bathe them.

The three people who live in this little eight hundred square foot space with me, a handful of others that we've befriended through various venues, and truthfully the eight point three million people that make this place what it is. 

All of that has combined to make this past Summer in Brooklyn beautiful and a time in my life I'll never forget.  

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


The other night at Coney Island we were standing outside a candy shop and a lady right beside Annie said "I'm going to eat everything in this fucking place". This happens on the regular. It's an interesting sort of place to try to grow up. But honestly, I've never been sad about any of the people Annie's been exposed to here. Even the difficult ones. That week, three different people stopped us and told us what a beautiful family we have. Two we had short convos with. I'll love this city, so full of characters, for the rest of my life. It will be a part of me long after I cease to be a part of it. 

Comfortable. Safe. Alive.

[I shared this post over on my main blog a few weeks ago and it occurred to me that I'd like to have it as part of our story in the space, too.]

This is another hard post to write. I'm actually kind of glad to be writing it, though, because now that I've written the church posts and this one, I think it'll be a weight off my chest.

It's hard because honestly it was hard for me to even admit to myself I felt these things. This was at least a month ago and I had been doing some metacognition- thinking about thinking- involving my feelings on the city. I finally was able to boil it down to three things and the night that I told Peyton I was in tears. Partly, I think I was relieved to be able to finally articulate it in a concise way. But partly I was terrified to be honest with myself about how much I love this place. What did that mean for our future? [That is a whole other post, but I'll briefly touch on it at the end.]

But part of it is hard because I don't want to be disloyal to the South. I love the South so, so very much. It still has, and will always have, a huge chunk of my heart. There relationships there that we could never replace. There are, I've realized recently, experiences there that we could never replicate elsewhere. And there's a culture there that is truly ineffable. Like the city, I so adore the place and the peoples of the South. Kudzu country is a beloved land and I never want to dishonor or demean it.

Anyway, with the disclaimer out of the way, here's why I feel such a strong adoration for this place....

I feel more comfortable here. I know I say it a lot but I love our 800 square foot space. I think two hundred square feet for each of us really must be the magic number =) I like how our clothes fit in the closets because I was careful to bring just my favorites (i.e. the things I actually wear). I like how the kids each have a bowl they eat dry cereal out of in the morning and then they each have a divided plate that they use for lunch. I hand wash it and they use it for dinner. I wash it again after they eat and it's ready for the next day. Like literally, they use two plates and two bowls (and utensils and a few cups when necessary). It's so simple and so nice not to have a cabinet overflowing with sippy cups and plastic plates.

More than that, I love our pared down schedule. We are pretty much only doing things we like to do. I was emailing with a friend this week and it helped me to try to articulate what I like about our pace and our way of living here.

 I think a lot of it has to Peyton's schedule more than mine and the kids'. Neither of us thought it would be such a big deal for him not to be a manager at the pharmacy but it's been HUGE. There's just a lot less he's responsible for at his store, so when he leaves he's really done with work- no making schedules, training techs, going in to interview somebody on his day off, ect. And being in charge effected his stress level a lot more than either of us realized. Also, he's not doing Pharmacy Association stuff and picking up extra weekends and that kind of thing up here, which makes a difference. 

I think we also just tried really hard here to only do things we care about. When we get home, I'm going to make sure that the volunteer stuff I do are things I'm passionate about, even if it's more inconvenient. Going to the South Bronx once a week showed me that it's worth it. 

The last big difference is Peyton's work schedule. I know a lot of people would hate it and I thought I might myself. But for some reason it's easier for me to compartmentalize things. I love that on the days he's off we have a totally different schedule. And honestly, I love my days at home with the kids, mostly. On the days he's off, I don't think about blogging or anything until the kids are in bed for the night. I know I'm probably not going to take a nap or read blogs or whatever else I want to do to relax. And I know we'll probably walk a lot and I'll be really tired. On the days he works, it's a long day by myself with the kids but I try to get ALL of Annie's school done and I get to just relax some during naptime. To me, it's easier splitting it up that way than when he was going into work at eleven. And I love that his schedule is more concrete. It's easier for me to keep up with and it's predictable. 

I partly think my perspective has changed, too. I think this experience has sort of helped me to train myself to look for the good in situations (when that is NOT my natural inclination). I just started out doing that and it's become (a little!) more natural. Peyton was saying just today that he feels like I've gotten a lot more laid back, too. Which, we all know I'm SUPER HIGH STRUNG. But it works both ways, I think he's gotten to where he is a lot more appreciative of me and he's more likely to affirm and validate me in things. 

All that to say, I'm more comfortable with my home and with my calendar than I think I've ever been. 

I feel more safe here. Wait a minute- safer than in the suburbs in the 'Sip? Well, not like you're thinking.

I feel safer to be myself, I guess. Or to explore what that means. Sometimes people mention that it must be hard living in such a different environment. One time a friend asked me if it was hard to live in a more liberal environment, in regards to our faith- like was it hard to not be around more conservative, like-minded Christians? First of all, no doubt it's a largely secular urban environment. But one thing I told my friend- who actually doesn't live in the South- is that in a way, that's sort of refreshing. Because the people that are at church on Sunday? Are there because they want to be. People are just so authentic. Secondly, it's not like everyone here is a raging radical liberal. We've found friends who are faithful believers in orthodox doctrine. We're not all up here worshiping our spirit animals or watching Oprah to get tips on living a faithful life. Lastly, and this is what I was trying to get to, I think I feel safer here to share some of our opinions. Like, we feel more comfortable talking about how for us being pro-life means being against drone warfare. Or how we really feel more passionate about fighting poverty than fighting marriage amendments. I certainly don't expect everyone to agree with us, but I feel more at ease putting those things on the table. Especially with people who are casual friends or acquaintances.

I've seen this in other areas, as well. Someone also asked me about how differently people parent here. And it's interesting to watch. I think because there are SO many different styles- from very strict Orthodox Jewish families to people who don't believe in punitive consequences at all- there's a very live and let live mentality. Nobody cares if Graves is fully potty trained. Several times, at church and other things, I've mentioned it in an embarrassed way. And instead of a good natured scolding and "He is THREE, Mom!" people say it doesn't matter and/or encourage me with stories about their little boys taking forever. Literally no one here cares if my son poops in his pants and it's so refreshing. And nobody gives a damn if he sleeps with his pacifier. The other day we were at the park and I noticed the environment. There was a mom breastfeeding in a very casual way. And half the kids playing in the sprinkler had on their skivies. Now, I'm not going to let my kids run around in their underwear likes it's our backyard, but it was cool to me that there's that kind of freedom and liberty to parent how you see fit.

The last thing is kids' behavior. It's no big secret that I spent some of my earlier parenting days, especially when Graves was newly fresh, way overly self-conscious. So much so that it was really anxiety inducing and almost debilitating at times. That's not everyone in Mississippi's fault at all, a LOT of that is one me, but I do think living in a different culture has helped me immensely. I think people here expect children to be children more. They don't necessarily coddle them, but I think there is more grace for hard days and and such. There's also not so much a "children should be seen and not heard" type thing. I mean we take wild Graves to The Met, for crying out loud. We also take him to church, something I'm not sure I'd be brave enough for at home.

Lastly, I feel more alive here. This is the hardest one to try to pin down and articulate. I'm not sure I even can put words to it. It's not about the big, exciting NEW!YORK!CITY! things. It's really not. It's in the every day.I just feel so much vibrancy all around me. The colors seem brighter, the sounds louder, the smells stronger. And for some reason, this makes me feel alive. I guess when I see and feel and hear and smell humanity more strongly, I feel more human myself. I feel like I'm part of an amazing story that is much, much bigger than myself.

We're moving home. We don't know when exactly, but we are. There's a plethora of reasons and as I said, that's a post for another day. But I'm going to take as much of this comfort, these safe feelings, and this very real experience of knowing I'm alive with me as I can. I'm going to focus on maintaining a home and a lifestyle that is simple and happy. I'm going to surround myself with people who make me feel safe, I'm going to do my best to be honest when people don't, and I'm going to fight the insecurity within myself that is so often my own issue. I'm going to force myself to see a vibrant humanity- even if it's a little harder with vehicles and single family homes and such- and remind myself that I'm part of it, part of an amazing story that is much, much bigger than myself.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Hot Town, Summer in the City

I said a bit about it my June Happenings post on the regular blog, but I adore Summer in the city. There's an ugly beautiful that I've come to search for in my life and it's so, so good.

I think Winter in the city is so beautiful, but it's draining and exhausting. And honestly, it hasn't been the experience Summer has been. Winter pushed me inward for a bit and I think the time for processing was good. I'm also glad that we did Winter first because most anything I can do in snow and ice I can do in sunshine and humidity.

I have another post coming (one I'm frankly terrified to write) about the way I've fallen in love with this place and part of that has been experiencing a Summer here.

I think what I love about Summer in the city is the vibrancy of it all. How very much alive everything, and everyone, feels.

I said a lot of this in that other post but Summer seems to bring a different mood to the street. Friends here had warned me this could be a negative thing-  lots of loud house parties raging into the wee hours of the morning, especially in less affluent neighborhoods; more gun violence provoked by the boredom that ensues when school isn't in session; and just more people out and about stirring up trouble simply because it's warm enough to do so. 

But I love seeing what all else comes out with the sunshine. A new fascination of mine is culture- urban culture, specific racial and ethnic cultures, church culture here- all different kinds of culture. And I think in the Summer, we are better able to observe that. A few years ago, I would have been a little surprised if you told me that I'd be living in a very urban, very diverse neighborhood and I would have laughed in your face if you told me that a part of me would smile when Summer came and the rap music (which I mostly have a strong disdain for) gets turned up and the cars bump bump a little more. As I bee bop down the street with my tiny people, it gives me a little thrill because it seems so indicative of our new place and I love that there's a soundtrack to our lives even if it's a different soundtrack than the on.

Not only are the streets less desolate, but in the evenings most everyone in our building has their windows open, enjoying the night breeze. Central air is pretty much not a thing here and lots of people have those loud window units. We have one, but the fresh air is so much more desirable when it's cool enough. Anyway, you can hear a blended buzz of conversations from all over the complex. Most evenings, the courtyard that our apartment looks into is full and there's a chatter coming from there as well.

Summer here feels easy and laid back. Which is great, because it takes most of my energy just getting places since it's gotten hot. I already found my Summer uniform here- denim shorts, Toms or Converse, and one of handful of super soft v-neck t-shirts. On the days Peyton's off and we actually do things, I get a little cuter, but this is what I throw on to take the children to the playground or run an errand. I know that in a year or so when we get back home, there will be tears shed over those t-shirts as I remember our lovely walks on the days it was just the three of us.

On pretty days when Peyton's working, we've been going to the park almost every day. The sprinklers are on and it's such a no-fuss activity. It's easy and is perfect for the time between naps and supper. I asked Peyton last night why it seemed so much more daunting to load up and go to the splash pad at home. I think some of it is my motivation and a more flexible schedule. But some of it is truly logistical. It's so much easier to dry them both off with one towel and stick it under Graves's bottom in the stroller rather than fool with carseats. By the time we walk home, they're half dry. Walking to the grocery story around the corner seems easier, too, because there's no car seat to heave them in and out of. Of course, there's a lot of transit, like the bus and the subway, that's still unquestionably harder.

We get (cheap!) fresh produce on the way home from things and we indulge in ice cream and sno cones a good bit. The fridge is filled with egg salad and Kool Aid and those simple things make me so happy.

There's often a soccer game going on at the big park near us and the sunbathers are out in full force in Central Park.

There are street fairs, festivals, block parties, outdoor movie nights, flea markets and ferry rides. We're trying to explore different playgrounds and now that patios are open, restaurants we hadn't considered taking the kids to are now options.

The city has so much to offer, but more than anything it offers it's people and it offers a different perspective. The other night we strolled by the projects- something we would have been terrified to do when we first moved. I heard some great (loud!) music coming from a couple different apartments and I looked up and saw a girl with an afro in one window, dancing and getting ready for the night. For some reason, I loved that moment. I can only dream about what her story is, but I felt a connection to her, to the city, and to humanity.

I think Summer is giving me that, this connectedness. It feels right to be a part of this place and I feel so grateful for the experiences we're having. In some ways, I feel more alive than I ever have in my life.

And in case you needed a little Lovin' Spoonful fix, here ya go:

Friday, June 6, 2014

First Quarter Rewind: Parks and Playgrounds

This was a fun post to write. One thing that is AMAZING about this city is the parks and playgrounds. In Brooklyn (and maybe Manhattan, I'm just not as familiar!), green space and playground equipment has been sprinkled generously. I often say that if I had to lose my backyard, I'm so very thankful that I have such beautiful substitutes at my disposal. And people here, I think, truly treat these spaces like their own yards. For the most part, they are clean and well cared for. People seem to appreciate them appropriately. And now that the sprinklers are on, I see kids playing in their underwear all the time...just like they would in their very own yards. The obvious great benefit over a personal patch of green is the communal experience. It's good and stretching to be forced to engage more with our neighbors than I was at home.


Clinton Hill/Fort Greene:

Fort Greene Park:
This is a large-ish park that's really near us. It's nowhere near the size of Brooklyn's really big park, but it's sizable. It has lots of green space, basketball and tennis courts, grills for barbecuing, and two different playgrounds. There's a little one for smaller kids that we go to all the time when Peyton's off and then there's a REALLY cool big one for older kids. The equipment is made to resemble a fortress and it's modeled after an actual revolutionary fort that stood on this site centuries ago (sidenote: most of the links are to the history of the parks, so many are really interesting in who they are named for/what the site's original use was). The kids enjoy it, but as I said it's lot of high stuff and also the playground isn't really gated well and the equipment is elaborate so it makes me nervous because it's a lot to keep up with both the kids in it. I do love going when Peyton's off, though.

Underwood Park:
This is the park that's closest to us and the one I try to take the kids to frequently on Peyton's days off. It's got two different playgrounds, but we usually stay on the side for younger kids. It also has a whole area with swings and in the Summer it has a big rectangle that has sprinklers (in the Winter kids kick balls and ride scooters in it). It has benches, picnic tables, a bathroom, and a pretty shady area. It's really nice and I love that it's so close (about three blocks from our apartment).

Edmonds Playground:
This playground is off of Dekalb, which is one of the main streets in Clinton Hill/Fort Greene. It's a cute little area and one of our favorite restaurants is right near the playground. We've only been a few times, but I like it. It's got basketball courts (Graves LOVES to watch games!), playground equipment, sprinklers, and this fabulous guy:

Parham Playground:
We've gone here a few times and enjoyed it. The playground equipment really seems geared toward older kids. Annie can do most of it and Graves still seems to enjoy it, though. And it does have some "tot equipment" and a sandbox. There's also, wait for it, a "mini pool". Can't wait to take advantage of that!


Prospect Park:
This is the BIG park in Brooklyn. It's like what Central Park is to Manhattan, although not quite as big and obviously not as famous =) It has an ice skating rink, a carousel, a fabulous band shell, a couple of playgrounds, a ZOO, and lots of pretty natural space. We haven't taken advantage of all that yet, be we enjoy strolling in the park.

Brooklyn Botanic Gardens:
The botanical gardens here are located right near Prospect Park. We've only been once but it's incredibly well done and beautiful. Thee's a rock garden, an herb garden, and even a "touch and smell" garden as well as beautiful plants and flowers throughout.

Brooklyn Bridge Park (Brooklyn Heights):
This is SUCH a neat park. It's right on the East River, so there's a gorgeous view of Manhattan from the piers. It's sort of almost a beach/boardwalk area, but not quite. There are concession stands, sand volley ball courts, a carousel, and in the Summer you can ride the ferry to Governor's Island for more fun and food. There are also about ten playgrounds at the various piers, including four themed ones (Slide Valley, Sandbox Village, Swing Mountain, and the Water Lab). Not only that, but there's a pop up pool that will come out at the end of June. I'm so excited about going back more in the Summer!

Brower Park (Crown Heights):
This park is right next to the Brooklyn Children's Museum and we've been a couple of times with friends and because it's near where we go to church on Sunday mornings. It's got a nice playground, a restroom, and some basketball courts.

McCarren Park:
This is another big park in North Brooklyn. It's not as big as Prospect Park, more comparable in size to Fort Greene Park. It's got football and baseball fields and basketball and tennis courts. It's also got one of a handful of public, Olympic size pools that are relatively close to us. The pool underwent a recent renovation which made some updates, but preserved the historic bathhouse building developed by Robert Moses in the 1930s. We played in the playground (which includes a fun sprinkler area with big (huge!) stone turtles) awhile back and it was really nice. It's a good bit north of us, but I'm hoping we'll make the trek to the pool once it opens!


Central Park:
This is obvious. Honestly, and this was naive, I was CLUELESS that Central Park offered so much. I mean, I knew it was beautiful and a huge attraction, but I sort of just figured it was one of those things that was famous because it's famous. Wrong. There are so many things we haven't taken advantage of yet- ice skating and swimming, visiting the conservatory garden and discovery center, and riding the carousel and going to the zoo. Not to mention the TWENTY playgrounds. We have visited Belvedere Castle, seen a marionette show at the Swedish cottage, and enjoyed some truly gorgeous nature walks. Again, this is super obvious, but the amazing thing about the park is that you can be in the middle of it and not feel like you are where you are. You can see Manhattan, but you can't hear it. Which is, in a word, lovely.

Bryant Park:
This is a really cool, unique spot. First of all, it's this square of land that's totally surrounded by sky scrappers. It's not big like Central Park, so it's more like you're enclosed by them. It's just a cool visual experience. On top of that, it has a notable open air library where you can find books and periodicals on little carts. It has tons of seating (even an spot with rocking chairs, swings, and Adirondacks) and a carousel. In the Winter, it has a skating rink and vendors open "holiday booths" for shopping in the park.  It also has an area for outdoor games (much more than just the typical painted on cheese boards a lot of parks here have) and it hosts fun events like film festivals and even recently a huge game of musical chairs! It's just quirky and unique like that.

That's my park/playground recap. I can't wait to explore more parks and playgrounds now that the weather is nice...and POOLS. Hooray for Summer in the city!

Friday, May 9, 2014

First Quarter Rewind: Museums

I mentioned it a couple of weeks ago, but since we've been here several months, I wanted to make sure and document some of the amazing things we've done in the city. First up, I decided to share about the museums we've explored. We actually ended up getting a membership at three out of the four museums we've been to. Here they are!

Brooklyn Children's Museum
This is the one we've frequented by far the most and I expect that to continue. First of all, it's in Brooklyn. Secondly, it's geared entirely toward children. In fact, I like this particular children's museum so much because it seems to be (mostly) geared toward children who are our kids' ages- the toddler and preschool sets. I think it would still be fun for a slightly older child, but the activities are very appropriate for their ages and not above their heads. I've heard that the children's museum in Manhattan is geared toward older kids and that was the case, in some ways, the case with a lot of the activities at the museum at home. There wasn't near as much that Graves could do as there is at BCM.

Also, whereas two of the main focuses of the museum in Jackson are literacy and nutrition, there's a BIG focus on culture at the museum here. I think both are neat because it speaks to an awareness on the part of the museums' directors as far as the specific needs of the children in the respective states and I truly love that. But honestly, I'm more interested in different cultures than in healthy eating. Just being honest.

The museum here is literally the oldest children's museum in the country and during the race riots of the early 90s played a huge part in facilitating reconciliation throughout the neighborhood it's located in. This neighborhood was, at the time, the epicenter of a very violent struggle between Hasidic Jews and African Americans. I think that's really amazing and I love that serving it's community in that way is part of the museum's history.

This was our first trip...
Cork box- similar to a sand box, but not. It was the first time I'd ever seen one! 

Graves petted the giant hissing cockroach! 

Ready for the West Indian parade. This is part of a whole area called "World Brooklyn". The neighborhood that the museum is located in actually has a really substantial Caribbean population and there's a huge parade every year. 

The Afrikan area. There's this dress up station as well as an Afrikan market where you can buy pretend groceries.

On a different day, we spent our time almost exclusively in the "tot" area. I really like that there's a designated spot for tinier people (under age five-- we'll probably still sneak Annie in, being that she's "a little five" as she tells everyone who asks her age)....

We dressed up...

and made music...

and played with lions...

and created a magnetic airplane for Minnie, Cookie, and us...

and built a house for Minnie...

and played in the fabulous BLUE! sand.

Annie and Peyton did venture up to the second floor for a bit....
They did some brainstorming...

and demonstrated what conservators do!

We also took advantage of some of the special programming. One day we went for storytime. The most gentle woman read a book about monsters and we created our own. The chick who lead it was, I'm guessing, close to my age and she was SAINTLY. One little boy kept getting all in her face (his mom had a tiny baby with her and was not doing much to restrain him). Anyway, I have no idea if the kid had needs I don't know about or if he was just a little unruly. But it was rough. And she did SO well at gently redirecting him throughout the story. She never really stopped what she was doing entirely, but she'd glance up from the book and offer for him to move his chair right up beside her where he could see better, for instance. It was very encouraging to see someone handle a situation like that so graciously and without getting flustered. Color me impressed. 

We've been to The Met a couple of times and really enjoyed it. It's especially impressive how much Annie is able to appreciate and absorb. There is SO much to see and so many different galleries and a ticket is (understandably) pretty pricey, so even if we don't go a ton, I think we'll get our money's worth out of our membership. 

The day we went and stayed the longest we toured an instrument exhibit. Both kids actually really enjoyed it. Annie learned the different types of instruments and how to classify them (wind, percussion, ect.)

Maps out- time to tour!

I know this will probably be weird to most people. I myself honestly wouldn't have been drawn to it a few years ago. But this kettledrum was my favorite thing we saw at The Met. I absolutely loved it and I even took Annie back to it to show her. I picked her up and said to her "that's a momma feeding her baby and that's someone writing a book. Writing and taking care of my babies are both things that are very important to me". When I said "taking care of my babies" she just threw her arms around my neck and squeezed me so tight. I know that was an NYC moment I'll never forget.

I couldn't not share this, either. This dragon instrument was Graves's favorite thing. We literally revisited it about four times. 

We've only been here once, but again, bought a membership. We ended up being there on a super crowded day (it was during Spring Break), so I'm excited about going back when we can take more in.

The museum has a few different parts. So far, I think it's the "dinosaur part" and the "non-dinosaur part". No really, it's actually a lot more than that. They have quite a collection of exhibits featuring other animals, both extinct and not. 

Then there's also a more cultural aspect, which I LOVE. Annie also seemed to be really interested in these societies from yesteryear. 
Seminole women were given a string of beads at an early age and additional strings would be added from time to time until she was wearing several pounds and they coiled almost up to her ears. She would feel "immodestly dressed" without them.

ETA: We went again today (after I typed most of this post) and had so much fun!
Not the best picture because it was so dark, but I feel like I always share Annie's perception of things like this and I wanted to share Graves's. The animal in the lower left is called a fisher, but Graves kept calling him a "swimmer". He said "that swimmer not get the porcupine- he swat him with his tail prickles" after I read to him on a sign that that could happen. Then he said "Wait! The porcupine put on his cage (when pressed he clarified by saying "like a super hero"- so, cape) and fly down and get the swimmer." Then he said that the swimmer "protects" birds. Well, no, but props for sitting still and telling back to me a little of what I told you. And also for being excited about learning. 

This is the only one on the list we didn't get a membership to (ha!). It's really sort of an elaborate trip (you ride the LIRR (Long Island Rail Road), which is part of the MTA, but is an actual commuter train instead of like the subway trains). But also, the museum is comparatively small. It actually might be my favorite of the four, just because I found it so fascinating from a historical perspective, but it's not a place you'd revisit on the regular. Unless you were just really obsessed with trains. 

Here we are on the way home. The kids didn't need to be in their carseats, it just worked out to be super practical to use them to restrain Graves ;) We had them anyway because we were riding in our friend's car once we got to Long Island. But this gives you a feel of what the trains are like. They're really nice and it was a fun adventure just to ride on them!

The museum is set up in a neat way. There are two buildings and both have really nice, elaborate toy train set ups. Like really, really impressive. 

In one of the buildings the trains are on an elevated table sort of thing and there are tons of little buttons on the sides you can push to make things happen (windmills spin, horns blow, lights go on and off in tiny stations, and lumber can even be loaded into a freight car). 
Annie has by far been the main one to enjoy and appreciate a lot of things in the city (as one can expect), so it was wonderful for me to watch Graves experience something that really intrigued him and brought him a lot of joy. 

In addition to the two buildings, there's also an outside part where real (antique? vintage? I don't know what you call an old ass train) trains are displayed for your to tour inside. 

This is the inside of a Bay Window Caboose from the 1960s. There were signs all inside of it describing its features and the "crew" that worked inside it. 
I loved it and thought it was so fascinating to learn about. 

We also got to ride on this little guy, who made his debut at the world's fair some half century ago. 

Finally, we had a guided tour of some of the old coaches that were part of the Long Island Railroad system. 
This one is from the 1950s and was operational until fairly recently! 

So, those have been our adventures so far, museum wise. We've had such a great time exploring and taking advantage of just a few of the things this wonderful city offers! Next up, I'm going to share the parks and playgrounds we've visited.