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!