Rain ready

These days I am often reminded of my first impressions of life in New York City. I think about the before and after as I got to know the city.

When I moved to New York, there were so many things I didn’t know. Learning about a day in the life has left me with some great memories The New York City ebb and flow of a rainy day is one of the takeaways.

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Rain or shine, out you go!

A rainy day in this city takes on a life of its own. Here is what I have come to understand:

New  York City is the place where umbrellas go to die. With most heavy rains come winds that feel strong enough that feel like you are walking on an angle. Almost all umbrellas are doomed to face an inside-out twisted fate. New York sidewalk umbrella etiquette is a serious sport. Umbrella style matters. When we first arrived I noticed that many people carried the Apt 5 brand that I thought must be chic, but as it turned out it was an umbrella from the local drugstore.

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By the end of the day there will be pile of dead umbrellas.

In my early days I was never prepared for a rainy day. I was caught more than once in a total downpour. On one particular day, after a walk home, I arrived soaked: shoes, clothes, glasses and all. It was messy. The woman waiting for the elevator was clearly unimpressed with my state. She, on the other hand, was wearing a raincoat, rubber boots and a hat, and carrying a nice umbrella (you can tell). It was a moment of understanding. To survive in this city, I would need to step up, embrace the conditions and work on my rain readiness.

I started to watch the New  Yorker umbrella culture more closely. Instead of owning one umbrella I could never find, I bought a few coloured ones (not the Burberry one I really wanted, but hey, we all need our dreams). That led to the need for an umbrella-holding vestibule just my style. I found it. It stands near the elevator, so I can grab an umbrella on days it might rain. I’m not yet a rubber boot owner, but maybe one day.

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Even the fruit stand umbrellas have plastic covering.

The get-to-the-train-in-the-morning umbrella crush is quite a site and nothing short of an Olympic event. There are golf umbrellas and some that seem the size of backyard patio umbrellas. The pretty coloured ones stand out among the regular black ones.

Five years later the sidewalk rules about whether you zig or zag, lift up or just keep walking are still not clear to me. I remember wishing I knew where to find NYC umbrella etiquette advice. And as a friend pointed out, we all do well not to have our eyes poked by the umbrella spines. You eventually come to accept that the umbrella-to-umbrella bump causes growls and grimaces. As I adapted, I began to throw my own scowl now and again.

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The umbrella congregation as people board the bus.

On every outing you come across the don’t-get-your-hair-wet people who remind me of my grandmother and her need to wear her plastic rain hat. These people are carefully looked after by doormen who hold umbrellas from the canopy to the car, making sure not a drop lands unsuspected. Don’t be too close when the bus door opens as it leads to many Mary-Poppins-like figures emerging umbrella first.

I have a learned a thing or two in my time here. Now, when people, who are planning a trip to New York, ask me what they need to bring, I can say a little smugly: “Don’t forget to pack your umbrella!”

A New York Kinda Day

Today was the day I felt a bit like a New Yorker. Living in a city filled with tourists, there is a clear distinction between those who live here and people who visit. For most of our first year, I felt more like a visitor than a dweller: more things in day were new to me than were familiar. So much so, some of my first year’s memories are captured on the days I felt could navigate and blend in to this crazy magnificent city.

It is the everyday, most mundane tasks that help me feel like I’m starting to have a better sense of the flow of the city. Not being a lifer, and coming from another country at that, means I am more in-tune with the subtle shift as I’m upgrading to residence status, yet my newness lets me see the humor and uniqueness in these distinct NYC  moments.

Today, my particular sense of accomplishment comes from a lineup of very simple events. Navigating NYC is its own very particular type of exercise, so much so that I usually feel that I’ve done well to accomplish one task at a time. In practical terms, this means I can go from point A to point B and back, but adding an unexpected point C or even a point D is unlikely, if not impossible. In other words, it has taken me a long time to connect the dots and amalgamate the different bits and pieces of the city.

I connected the dots today. The day began with me needing to go to the Social Security Office  to apply for my card, a place I’d been before and one I knew I could get to by taking the 2nd Avenue bus. The bus didn’t come for a very long time. The comic relief was provided by a disgusted older man who would flip the bird at the Express buses as they drove right by (three times)  and from another guy who was weirdly smiling at everyone (my NYC friends laugh at me when I smile at people too much). When I finally got to where I was supposed to go (and the exact place I had been about a month ago), the office had changed location to Fulton Street, almost as far downtown as possible.

So, I gave up temporarily, took another bus to Kevin’s school and then walked the last two blocks to a meeting there. After the meeting, I walked to Union Square with a friend, got on the train to go to Fulton Street. Got off the train in search of Williams Street and the Social Security Office only to be greeted by the craziness of the Financial District with police and construction everywhere and the chanting of the Occupy Wall Street protesters. I went to the Office, got my card, took the train home, walked to meet Scott at school, jumped in our car, picked up a team-mate, this time without driving in circles for 20 minutes in an attempt to drive in the right direction down the one-way street.

In between, the most stunning moment of the day came as I was headed down Fulton Street in full view of the new World Trade Centre. From this perspective, its magnitude and sheer presence was almost overwhelming. I could see how it towers over the financial district and the 9-11 memorial in the most protective, “I’m here” way. Not yet completed, it is already stunning.

All that “knowing how to get where I needed to go” later, I can’t say I’ll be walking down the street eating a slice anytime soon and I’m probably still going to wave thank you after I cut someone off in traffic (a Canadian thing). I still have many moments when I shake my head and realize that I actually live it New York City and I’m beginning to get what that means. By the way, one of the most puffed-out moments of the day came as I wrote most of this blog post on the train. home. Ohhh yaaeh! That’s what I’m talkin’ about!

More than a Walk in the Park!

I walked more miles (kilometers), covering more ground in Central Park in the last 10 days than the entire last year. I’d say easily, but my tired legs at the end of the day told me that my walk-til-you drop NY leg muscles were not what they were before I went on summer holidays.

Central Park is one of my favorite places in all of New York City. You can feel its elegance and playfulness as the sun rises first thing in the morning, shines brightly in the middle of the day, and glows magnificently with city lights as dusk turns to darkness.

No two visits feel the same.

Last week, Kevin and I met his friends at the boathouse. Anywhere near the boathouse, you can’t help but watch the people rowing the boats in the pond, somehow the ones who seem not to have ever rowed a boat before based on their attempts to coordinate the oars. On the way to a must stop a the carousel, we came across the bubble man. With some sticks, string and a bottle of dish soap, the bubble man quietly entertains those who care to linger with bubbles of all shapes and sizes, colors and hues.

Off to the carousel to experience that iconic twirl on the merry-go-round, as the kids scheme to pick the perfect painted horse, wait for that special music to begin and hope that this up and down around and around is the longest one of the day. Our ride always seems longer than the last one, part of the magic I think of being the lucky ones to ride with Kevin and his friends.

Our path takes us to an obligatory stop at one of many playgrounds in the park, where we were welcomed with the loudest buzz of children swinging and sliding and not wanting to leave. We stopped at the big swings, which led to a long swing for Kevin and his friends and even a quick swing for the moms, symbolic of our own youthful park days.

No Central Park kid’s tour is complete without a nod to the zoo. A quick visit to the Children’s zoo (where the nice bathrooms are) confirms that cow, goats, and ducks are all well. Stopping to see whether Martie and his Madagascar crew are back will wait for another day, as will the need of my children to repeat the movie’s most famous line (at least at our house), “if you’ve got poop, fling it now!”

My adult-only days in the park that followed the next week were completely different adventures. They merit their own tribute another day. For now, I smile as I think of some of my own memories of the days as a kid in the park and at having created some new ones at the grand-daddy park of them all — Central Park. It’s a Sharmed Life!

Out the Back Door

The odd red maple tree branch peeking out of the trees at the cottage tells me that summer is almost over. Today is the last day. Despite a last summer project that involved painting the Canadian flag on the floating dock, there is no denying the fact that today is clean-up day. Our summer this year has been full of cottage time, New York parks and adventures, visitors and family, and making the most of having Sarah and Matt with us for three months that came and went so quickly.

At the cottage, one of the constant sounds is the endless slap, slap, SLAP of the screen door as each of us go in and out at least 50 times a day. When we lived in Manor Park, the in-and-out pattern was no different. Now that we live in an apartment in New York, I realize popping out the back door is a way of life for us and probably for most Canadians.
Besides summer’s end, this post marks the end of our first year living in New York City. If I was to think back on some of my observations about it, I would comment that certain ways of life for New Yorkers hit me out of the blue. As I try to take in this unique way of living, there are certain “I get in now” moments.

Working at home for the past year, I often get up from my desk to stretch and look out one of the windows of our apartment. What I usually see on our block is doormen hailing cabs, and people walking their dogs, taking kids to the park, carrying takeout to eat lunch at the park, with chairs, towels and books. It all looks completely effortless, so much so that I finally realized that the ease of this activity comes with it being a way of life. For New Yorkers, going to the park is our equivalent of popping out the back door. Because most New Yorkers, including us, live in apartments, all the beautiful parks around the city become everyone’s back yard. These parks are enjoyed by millions in a way I wouldn’t have understood before living there.

With Sarah and Matt, Kevin and Scott, we spent our fair share of time in the park this summer. Nobody logs more hours in our “own” backyard, Carl Schurz park, as Kevin. Besides loving to see the tug boats, the kids and dogs playing, this summer he enjoyed arts and crafts and music programs. While we missed the outdoor movie (one of my defining New York scenes from a movie), I liked hearing the big band and our friends commented on the hearing the jazz ensemble as they headed out one day.

Our Central Park memories include walking through the park and around the reservoir, talking a break on the Great Lawn while watching a random baseball game and Sarah and Matt in running races. Around us sat a group of teens hanging out and what seemed like thousands of people throwing balls and frisbees and having picnics. A blast from the past one day included a stop at an ad-hoc roller derby rink on a very hot day, where some of the moves were impressive and others were just part of the fun.

Another nice memory came on the day we all walked over the Brooklyn Bridge and then relaxed in the park on the other side. After the mandatory lounge on the soft green grass under the bridge, Kevin and Scott had a ride on the carousel and we all loved the ferry back to Manhattan.

As we trek back to NYC tomorrow after we drop Sarah off in Kingston, the happy summer 2012 memories  and photos will have to last us until next time. It’s a Sharmed life…!

True North Strong and Free

Having spent most of July in the Big Apple, it was a welcome escape this week to get to the cottage deep in the forest of the Ottawa Valley. For my family growing up and for my husband and kids, the cottage is a biggest part of what defines summer.

As we pack our bags to head back to New York, I am smiling at the thought of some favorite “only at the cottage moments.” This week’s reminders took place early in the morning when the thick mist lifted from the lake, late at night as I was falling asleep and could hear the raindrops on the tin roof, in the all-about-life chatter first thing in the morning that stops abruptly when people turn to their books to finish a chapter, as the wind meandered through the trees while I was sitting on the swing and with the buzz of the hummingbirds as they drop by the feeders.
I’m not sure whether everyone realizes it yet, but the days of NO TV at the COTTAGE are long gone. This week, among 18 of us, there are 3 iPads, 5 iPods and 4 laptop computers. There were more Olympics watched here this year than ever before. Peak usage came when the Canada vs. US Women’s soccer game was streamed on three different devices. Funniest thing was that none of the streams were at the same point in the game, so the cheering and yelling was a little off. All of the cousins were surprised how clearly we could see and hear Sarah from India. It was almost as clear as the 100-metre final that all 25 of us gathered and missed as we were watching TSN instead of CTV. Not to worry though, we heard the results after they were posted to someone’s Facebook and we watched the replay 30 seconds later.
The dogs got into the action too. With a cottage full of young new dogs this year, there was the odd tussle to determine the top dog, but the two-year-old little girl, Brynn, was the most dominant as she persuaded the dogs to go down the playground slide.
The major project this year paid homage to the swings. Three now instead of two, the swings sport a new wood frame and they are flanked by a spiffy stone patio. The prominence of this renovated area was shown when the ritual cigar-smoking was held there to replace the usual around-the-fire life-as-we-know-it event.
All in all, here’s how it went…with Sarah not here, Julie has the best tan and I am well on the way to winning the cribbage tournament. Kate waterskied for the first time, Matthew and Teddy learned to play Euchre, and Scott, Adam, Gabe and Vikas learned how to play LOUD Monopoly. Mom read the most books and played enough games of UNO for all of us. Heather learned the most from reading “informative” magazines.  Brynn was the dancing pink princess in the middle of a room with an audience of many.
Karen watched and read enough articles about the Olympics for all of us and she and Scott kept us up to date. Dad after all these years has earned the right to be the last out of bed, never too late to feed the dogs though. Matthew, Connor, Scott, Adam and Gabe tubed for hours on end around and around, always with someone different winning the day. Kevin went tubing too and even fell in, but he is still the best boat spotter there is. Vikas and Julie were the adults that went wakeboarding, proving that the adults can do anything that the kids can do.
Steven and Julie led the hikes in the woods, and I climbed up the steepest hill of my life! Gabe led the pack for eating sugary cereal and the year’s quota was more than consumed. We learned this morning that Brynn can ALMOST pour her own milk and Gabe finds this hilarious. Steven and Todd were the barbequers supreme with Todd cooking the beef for the PIG ROAST (a long story) and Steven taking on the day-to-day meals for 20.
One of the highlights of the week was our lunch at Taste Funatic in Calabogie, an event that reminded us to savour the deliciousness of basic ingredients in food, in life and with family. It is A Sharmed Life!

Occupy Upper East Side!

Every day I meet Scott (our 9-year old) at his school and we walk home together. In that 15-to-20 minute walk, I hear about his day, what homework he has, marks from any tests, what he had for lunch…the usual all-in-a-day stuff. Thursday, when I picked him up though, Scott was bubbling over.

Thursday is swimming day at Scott’s school. All the grade four students pile onto the bus and head off to Asphalt Green, the community recreation centre, where they take swimming lessons as part of their gym program. No surprise that Thursday after school often begins with, “How was swimming today?” Expecting Scott to answer “good” or “fine,” it took me by surprise when it launched an all-the-way home discussion.

After telling me that swimming had been cancelled, Scott couldn’t talk fast enough to tell me why! He had happened to hear one of his teacher’s say that it was cancelled because of the protest at Asphalt Green. He assured me that it was a silent protest (he meant peaceful) and no one was yelling and getting hauled off into police cars.

Asphalt Green (and our apartment building) is located  next to the East River. The City of New York has proposed to set up a garbage depot near Asphalt Green. Trucks would bring garbage to the depot near Asphalt Green, where it wold be loaded onto the barges and then transported to a landfill. Tonnes of garbage would float up and down the East River, the sight of which would be admired by the many who enjoy Carl Shurz Park (the park outside our front door). The garbage trucks would be housed at the depot near the recreation complex. It would be “A FUTURE OF MISERY,” said Scott.

Scott was very worked up to tell me about the issues associated with such insanity (as opposed to Lin-sanity that is gripping New York)! Our neighbourhood would smell badly and the kids playing on the soccer field at Asphalt Green would have to worry about rats and flies. (Given New York’s rat problem, I nodded my head.) The garbage that would fall from the flat-bed barges would pollute the river. Big garbage trucks would be a constant feature in the neighbourhood.

When there was a moment to speak, I asked Scott how he knew about the garbage proposal. As it turns out, one of Scott’s teachers lives right across the street from Asphalt Green. (She was the teacher for whom Scott made a Valentine card in class while telling her he was making it for me). According to Scott, she had written a letter (the most powerful piece of persuasive writing he had ever read) describing the pitfalls of the garbage proposal.

As I was appreciating the link between an issue and Scott’s education, not to mention trying not to laugh all the way home, I realized that moments like this one had to be one of the ways people become protesters (activists as Vikas prefers to call them). In the fall, as we were learning about the city and what it had to offer, I often wondered about the world of protesters as I watched Occupy Wall Street unravel. It was widely reported that at its core, Occupy Wall Street was formed by a group of “professional” protesters.

Until now, it hadn’t occurred to me that learning about issues through the eyes of protesting would be a part of Scott’s unique New York experience, but there it was. I feel like his outrage for the idea of a floating garbage parade is partly because he is nine-years old, but also to do with being in a particular time and place at a time.

Funny enough, I was at Asphalt Green today as the protesters were gathering. Contrary to the unruly protesting crowd that Scott pictured, the protesters were mostly seniors, community people, it seemed, who had probably lived in the neighbourhood for years. They came with their friends, their husbands and wives and most of them brought their umbrellas (instead of the bats Scott imagined). No one was yelling or standing on a podium talking into a microphone. There were no banners and the television camera that was there, was filming from across the street. It was a peaceful gathering with a purpose.

The “Sharmed Life” part is the reminder that even though Scott proudly teaches his friends and teachers about Canada and Ottawa and what it means to be from there, the New York seeds have been planted and they are germinating!

P.S., Scott checks online for any updates to the protest every morning. Fingers crossed that the garbage project will not happen.

A Right of Passage…Floods of 2012

We live in a pre-war apartment. I’ve come to know that to mean nice wood floors, spacious rooms, large foyers, high ceilings, thick sculpted mouldings, and last, and no longer least…old pipes. The pipes in our building are of the 1928 variety. They are old pipes…and until last week, they had stood up.

Taking it all in at the Sharmas means going with the flow as different events unfold around us, as they do. It should have come as no surprise that the day after Vikas installed the chandelier (as Scott calls it), also fondly known as the light above the dining room table, the floods of 2012 were upon us.

I was in the middle of something at work, when I heard water pouring. No big deal, the water had been off all morning and it sounded like the tub tap was running. I took a couple of minutes, finished up what I was doing and then went to turn the tap off. There was water pouring out of the ceiling light (chandelier) in Kevin’s room….buckets and buckets of water.

In hindsight, I did think that if I was a serious blogger, I would have grabbed my camera and snapped a quick photo, but I’m not there yet. Instead, I threw a bin under the water (be thankful Vikas that we have one or two empty bins around in case of an emergency), and ran downstairs to tell the doorman that we had a serious water situation going on in our apartment. I ran back upstairs (i.e., hop in the elevator, wait for the doorman to push the button and ride to the sixth floor), walk into the apartment and for whatever reason, head to my bedroom, where, wow, there was hot water pouring from the closet and soaking every piece of clothing we own. I threw a blanket over our duvet and started pulling all the clothes out of our closet. The water poured out of the ceiling much longer than it took to yank all the clothes out of the closet. As I was furiously trashing my room, don’t think it didn’t occur to me that I could count the number of weeks since the last box had been unpacked and things were put away.

Stuff, life stuff, just seems to happen to us. For the most part, we look to find the humor in a situation. Given a little time to reframe, these occasions become famous family stories that help define our journey. People will smile and perhaps even laugh to think of the sod story, the moving-day chicken pox story, the barfing plane ride from Caracas to Ottawa story, and others. I promise you, the Sharmas go to New York sequel won’t be dull.

If I’m honest, I could see the humor in the flood right after it happened more than I do now. Being mid repair with workers in and out all day as they bring in yet another machine to dry out the walls, is a bit of an exercise in patience on my part. When I feel a little meltdown coming on, I remind myself that I hate mould and mildew more than anything, and then the moment passes.

Oh yah, did I tell you that I’ve wanted to live in a brand new house for a long time? But it’s always the “sharm” of the older ones that seems to get me.

Every single New York day so far, I learn something new. Today it was all about plaster. Yes, it’s a Sharmed Life!