Containment 

With all of the holiday bounty comes another uniquely Fun Apartment moment: finding places to actually put away the new toys, all of which seem to be enormously larger than last year’s toys.

So, first comes the purge. I have been sneaking old stuff out of the fun apartment all week (hey, I’m basically unsupervised all day, what did they think was going to happen?) I have a sort of de-cluttering quirk that allows me to give away basically anything we own, as long as I know it is going to a good home. (The flip-side of this quirk is that I have a lot of stuff we are hanging onto because I just know there is a good home for it out there somewhere. Wow, do I hope my knocked up sister has a boy, because that would clear out half of our basement storage closet in a single shipment!)

Because things can really pile up around here. And I seem to be the only one who raises even one eyebrow at the piles. Sure, we live in a small place, there’s going to be stuff around, but sometimes a girl might want to see some flat unoccupied space, like a table top, without waiting for the accompanying unicorn or blood moon. We heard this study on the radio a few days ago (my bit is at the end) and I was basically jumping up and down pointing at the radio, while the man of my dreams shrugged charmingly at me. But science has proven: I am being neuro-chemically altered–in fact, poisoned!–by all this crap around here! Thank you Science! I am vindicated! Now, I have to go to the Salvation Army carrying these large plastic bags. And, no, I don’t know what happened to your magazines from 1998. Or Thomas the &*$#ing Tank Engine, but whatever happened to him, I’m sure he totally had it coming.

After the purge, more bins. Today I spent $35 on Lego storage. And I thought I was the one getting the bargain. I admit, I have a complicated relationship with this temple of organizational commerce. But it is the only place where I could remotely be considered a pop star. The clerk seemed to have his world-view shaken when I asked for “under-couch” storage bins. “Santa brought me several Lego storage problems,” I explained.

“Lego storage opportunities,” he corrected. They should give that guy a raise.

That’s what we have at the fun apartment: opportunities. Lots of opportunities.

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Ch-ch-changes

“We interrupt your irregularly posted blogs to bring you this.” Mrs. Fun Apartment was too much in overdrive for all of December playing elf – cookies, crafts, presents, and travel – to make any recent posts. To cut her a break while she recuperates with a glass of wine and the new season of Downton Abbey, her adoring husband has written up a bit of an interlude. . . .

Mid-November marked twenty years since I had closed on the sale of the Fun Apartment. For my own amusement if not yours, I wanted to take a measure of some of the changes around here since then:

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View through the railroad apartment just before demolition began on Day 3 of ownership. The little yellow stove is among the few things that remained after demolition was complete.

Today, the Fun Apartment is a sort of studio-one bedroom hybrid, opened up for the most part for light and air. In 1995, the railroad apartment was four distinct rooms that ranged from 70 square feet up to 140 square feet. The plastered walls, cracked and poorly patched, were all painted an all-too-chipper shade of yellow. The old wood floors had been covered over with vinyl tile. Everywhere! From kitchen straight through to bedroom. As now, one entered into the kitchen. But instead of having a bathroom walled off, this kitchen had a tub that was boxed in. There was no sink. At all. There was a small stove, also yellow, from about the mid 60s. That I kept and worked into the new design. And I also kept the claw-foot tub, after freeing it from its tiled wallboard enclosure. There was a refrigerator, belted with duct tape, that I had carted away before it might ever be opened.

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Behind the pipes for the missing sink is the claw-foot tub. On its underside, a stamp from the foundry dates it to 1924. After liberating it from this enclosure, I reset it in a new spot in a new bathroom. And it serves the boys (and ourselves) to this day.

Of the fifteen apartments in the building, ours was about the third to be owned by a tenant-shareholder. The rest of the apartments held residents living on old rent-controlled and rent-stabilized leases. A number of those leases were for less than $100 a month at the time! Today, only four remain as such. Among the folks gone now were:

Tom Hudson, apartment 4R. The next-door neighbor who moved in during the early 70s. He was the one who informed me that a woman who lived in our 480-square-foot apartment had raised six boys here, all of whom grew up to become NYC cops. At not that old an age, Tom died in the heatwave of July 1999. Sadly, his remains were found too late to be included in the tally of the victims of the heat.

Clarence and ?, apartment 3E. Below me was an elderly pair of men. One clearly suffered from Alzheimer’s or the like. He would yell viciously at his partner many a night, with the sound carried perfectly clearly through our common air-shaft.

Laura Gonzales, apartment 1E. The somewhat daft but entirely friendly old lady on the first floor was quick to chat and share gossip. Did she herself tell me that it was fetal alcohol poisoning that had made her son not quite right? In any case, her grown son, who would frequently come around, clearly had, um, issues.

Anna Pinto, apartment 5E. Well before my time, Barneys New York relocated a bunch of tenants from their buildings on Seventh Avenue to this building. That included Anna. Her severe osteoporosis, giving her posture nearly a 90 degree bend, made my own chronically slouched shoulders seem ram-rod straight. Getting outside only once per week, Anna had the smoothest skin imaginable right into her seventies. And she would wear her winter coat during almost every season of the year. Living on the fifth floor of an elevator-less building, she regularly accepted help getting her weekly haul of groceries up the stairs. But, if no one were around, she would get them up by herself, slowly but surely.

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Nearly the same view as above (on Day 3), but this might have been Day 70. The bars on the fire-escape window were a holdover from days when the neighborhood was iffier.

If the apartment and the building have undergone thorough transformations, so has the neighborhood – every bit as dramatic or more.

ON THE BLOCK
The block itself doesn’t look all too different – even as the population has shifted toward a more affluent set. Just next door, a somewhat pricey hair salon replaced a small bodega that sold candy and sodas to schoolkids. Across the street, the old local Intermediate School (I.S. 70) was phased out and closed. In its place came The Lab School, now one of Manhattan’s most competitive public middle schools. (Why is there jockeying for seats among fifth graders in public schools? Only in New York!)

Though I have heard of times when our mid-block playground was too much of a drug market for others to use, I never witnessed those days. As I understand it, much of that got shut down around the neighborhood after the Drug Enforcement Agency established a bureau at 17th Street and 10th Avenue. Still, some strains remained in 1995. A few doors down from us (different building but same co-op), there had been a dealer living on a rent-controlled lease. The laws so overwhelmingly favor tenants that it’s not easy to evict even a bad apple like him. But the co-op did succeed in getting him out, circa 1997, after one of his clients overdosed and died just off the public corridor. For real.

The most obvious changes on the block all occurred down at the corner of Ninth Avenue. When I came around, there was an outpost of Covenant House, the stopping place for run-aways. They had taken over the funky pair of buildings constructed in the 1960s as a retirement home for old merchant marines. Not long my arrival, Covenant House slapped a funny little façade along 17th Street for the bottom two stories of their twelve-story building. The intent was to make it look more like a row of brownstones. But the scale, accuracy, and craftsmanship all fell short. And the results were absolutely ridiculous. I just wish I had a photograph to show how dreadful it was. The next owner was an arm of the Chinese government, which used it for a few years as a dorm for visiting scholars or such. And then after them came the Maritime Hotel. And the Dream Hotel [Handel Architects]. Those boutique hotels remain there to this day. With everything else going on around here, I guess that their view to the Robert Fulton House projects across the avenue doesn’t much matter for their guests. But the more the neighborhood goes upscale, the more I appreciate how that stretch of public housing keeps the area anchored in reality.

FROM THE RIVER TO TENTH AVENUE
Chelsea Piers Sports Complex had only recently opened in 1995. North and South of there, the Hudson River Park – with its popular playgrounds and biking/jogging paths – was just in the planning stages. Even still, that park was further along than the Highline was. In 1995, the Highline was a hulking mass of unused and unloved infrastructure. This was four years before anyone broached the improbable idea of making it into a raised park that meanders down the lower Westside. I knew one person who had sneaked up in those days to walk along the old railroad tracks, where weeds and even trees had sprouted. I wish I’d done that same at the time when it could have been enjoyed raw and empty.

Among the sprawling brick warehouses and former factories lying west of Tenth Avenue, most were serving as industrial spaces or as nightclub venues in 1995. Now, many of them have been converted into art galleries. Or they’ve been torn down to make way for the high-rises for the uber rich. (See ‘Ins and Outs,’ below.) And Tenth Avenue remained fairly gritty. Industrial bits interspersed with the likes of The Roxy (closed 2007). I was reminded by a friend who lived on our block back at the time that, in 1995, Tenth Avenue was plied at night by transvestites (as opposed to the regular prostitutes who worked Ninth Avenue). These days, both avenues have gotten very well-heeled.

NINTH AVENUE AND THE MEAT PACKING DISTRICT
Over on Ninth Avenue, Nabisco’s old factory complex was yet to be reborn as Chelsea Market. When it first opened in the spring of 1997, Chelsea Market seemed to me like a nice enough place but maybe not that great an idea. Mostly, I just liked the fresh milk I could get there in glass bottles. I had no idea of what a destination it would become. Today, we have to brave the throngs of tourists if we want to get produce from Manhattan Fruit Exchange. Across the street, Google has taken over the mammoth Port Authority Building. In November 1995, Larry Page and Sergey Brin hadn’t yet started their search-engine. Down the avenue at 14th Street, a three-story building had been occupied by a local outpost of Western Beef — not one of New York’s upscale supermarket chains. As of 2008, that same building has housed a spiffy Apple Store, clean and clutter-free.

Below 14th, the Meatpacking District was still a meat-packing district in 1995. Apart from the odd bar or diner, it would shut down and be nearly deserted after dark. I made my way a couple of times to the long-standing restaurant, Florent. Sadly, the French chef closed down his 24-hour diner in 2008. Maybe he didn’t like having Apple around the corner. Or the Standard Hotel [Polshek Partnership, 2008], where Jay Z and Beyoncé come to visit. A block away from Florent was the old biker bar, Hogs & Heifers. Though I had never patronized it, I reveled in seeing it hold out amid all the changes. All the rest of the block and the neighborhood had changed as quickly and as drastically as Cinderella. In stark contrast to the old meat-packing warehouses colonized by the toniest of boutique stores, Hogs & Heifers was the only establishment I knew of down in the Meat-Packing District that remained as was. Was was the key word there. I’m sorry to learn that Hogs & Heifers also closed its doors just this past summer. Oh well. Maybe it didn’t do well by the crowds drawn by the recently opened Whitney Museum [Renzo Piano, 2015] that stands now between the Highline and the river. (From a recent walk though the neighborhood, I realize that there are still a handful of meat wholesalers that have remained, off to one side. Perhaps they are kept around to give an air of authenticity.)

Further up Ninth Avenue, stores had always catered to a more working class clientele. Bodegas. Run-down laundromat. Fish Market. Cheap liquor store. Now, the avenue has tipped toward upscale restaurants, fancy wine stores, and pricey cupcake shops.

EIGHTH AVENUE
Around the corner from us on Eighth Avenue, there had been a string of eight stores: bar, cigar shop, restaurants, coffee shop, clothing stores. Each one was independent. Now it’s all chains and franchisees: bank, drug store, fast-food joint, wireless phone store, and coffee shop. No moms or pops in sight. One of the lost establishments was a little coffee shop called The Paradise Café. Now we’ve got four Starbucks in the half-mile between 13th and 23rd. This stretch of Eighth Avenue has always had an abundance of restaurants. Still does. But I guess even the best of them close their doors eventually. Not a single one remains from 1995. The one we remember most fondly? Sam Chinita’s, in an old style diner with the look of an Aerostream trailer. After closing, it was reincarnated down the block, if less flashily, as La Chinita Linda. For all the choices among the hybrid Cuban-Chinese menu, we only ever ordered four things. Black beans. White rice. Fried plaintains. And sweet plaintains. Oh, and beer. Five things.

SEVENTH AVENUE
There isn’t much on Seventh Avenue that has ever held my attention. I would skip it entirely except I’d like to give honorable mention to a hold-out dating from 1920! When I started renovating the fun apartment, there had been an assortment of little hardware stores scattered throughout the neighborhood. As handy as those small and cluttered shops were, I made plenty of trips – by subway or bus no less – out to Home Depots in Flushing, Queens, or Secaucus, New Jersey, to haul back all manner of materials and tools. Now, there’s a Home Depot on 23rd Street and, just recently, a new Lowe’s on Sixth Avenue. And all of the little hardware stores have gone. All but one. (Well, the great Prince Hardware is still going strong on Ninth Avenue, but they shifted down by one block in the late nineties.)

SIXTH AVENUE
Speaking of Sixth Avenue, it didn’t yet have Bed Bath & Beyond or The Container Store or Trader Joe’s or any of the other big-ticket tenants. However, it did have Apex Tech

– the trade school that routinely advertised during the afternoon reruns I had watched throughout my childhood. (“Remember: I can’t call you. You have to make the first step.”)

LAST BUT NOT LEAST
Here are a couple of other changes. One – the Empire State Building. Not new, of course. Nor Chelsea for that matter. But the Fun Apartment does have a decent view to it from one window. And, yes, it has changed in the last two decades. For untold years, the upper reaches of the Empire State Building have been bathed in light after dusk. And then it would go dark promptly at midnight. You could set your watch to it. I liked that. If you were up and out late, it reminded you (or reassured you) as much. However, during our Philadelphia interlude, they re-fitted the landmark’s lighting system with LED fixtures. I’m all for saving energy where you can. But this upgrade came with two major drawbacks. For one, they let the too-cheap-to-meter LEDs burn until all hours of the night. I wouldn’t mind it so much if they just picked a time. One AM. Two AM. But there’s no consistency. It can be found lit up at 4 AM or in the dark at 3 AM. So disappointing!

Worse yet are the colors. Then as now, they pick colors to fit the day. Holidays, sport teams, whathaveyou. But the colors used to be simple and staid. It was often just one color. Sometimes they banded a second color around the highest tiers. Today, I am grateful for days when they use just one or two colors. All too often, they take their inspiration from candy-canes and juke-boxes. They pay no heed to the shape of the building as they tart it up in four or five or more colors. Worst of all are the nights when they rotate the colors like some pinball machine. New York City may not amount to much more than one huge amusement park, but they don’t have to make it so obvious. Ugh!

The most significant change in twenty years? Our two boys of course. When I designed the new layout and started work on it, I hoped to make the apartment cozy enough to fit two comfortably. Although it was four-plus years before I met the future Mrs. Fun Apartment, the idea crossed my mind that I might want the place to accommodate a, um, roommate. What had not crossed my mind was accommodating three roommates! Now, if we could only figure a way to start collecting rent from those little guys . . . .

 

INS AND OUTS – for a partial record of what has come and gone around the neighborhood in these last twenty years . . .

Out went a bodega next door to us (Circa 2002). In came a hair salon. (Circa 2002)

Out went the old local Intermediate School (I.S. 70). In came The Lab School, one of Manhattan’s most popular test-based public middle school.

Out went Mr. Pizza, a pizza joint at the corner. In came a hip noodle shop, Nooch, circa 2003. Out went Nooch, circa 2011, and in came a Koffeecake Kafe (which shut its doors last year and has yet to be replaced).

Out went Alley’s End – a cozy, windowless restaurant on our block where I had taken the future Mrs. Fun Apartment on a ‘blind date.’ In came Sueños (which we never tried). Out went Sueños. Now it still sits empty.

Out went Camouflage, circa 2014 (a stand-alone clothing store that featured stylish men’s clothing). In came a Caffe Bene (2015).

For the two brownstones on our block and countless others in the neighborhood, out went the divisions of one or two apartments per floor. Renovations have taken them back to being single-family residences. For several years, Kevin Costner lived in a Chelsea brownstown on 21st Street. Other sources tell me that Kate Winslet lived a block over from us for some time. I am certain that no A-list actors lived in these parts in 1995.

Out went Covenant House, the stopping ground for run-away teens. In came a dormitory of sorts for the Chinese government (maybe 1997). Out went the Chinese dormitory, and in came the Maritime Hotel (maybe 1999).

Out went Eigen’s, a big old plumbing supply store on West 17th between 7th and 8th (circa 2007). Decorated with years of filth and disheveled boxes, Eigen’s was geared for the trade. But they had everything plumbing, and served well for the random apartment renovator. After the old paint and grime was stripped down and an addition doubled the height of the building, in came a set of high-end residences.

Out went Barnes & Noble.com as the main tenant at the hulking Port Authority Building a block south of us. In came Google (buying the whole building in 2010 for $1.9 billion with a ‘B’). Out went a decent-sized post office along Ninth Avenue, relocating immediately next door in space that’s a fraction of the original size. The old post office space remains empty. At the other side of the building over on Eighth Avenue, out went a bank of Citibank ATMs (Nov 2015). Not sure what’s to come. Out-going is Banana Republic as the anchor retail tenant in this huge complex. I don’t think they were there in 1995, but they’ve been there for the vast majority of those years. They’ll be closed for good after Tuesday. Not sure what’s coming next. Maybe Google needs some retail space to showcase their glasses and cars and god-knows-what.

Out went a manufacturer that produced ductwork on 18th Street (circa 1999). In came the event space The Metropolitan Pavilion. On that same block, Midtown Electric has somehow held on through all these years.

Out went the switches & offices in the 1930s telephone building (circa 2012). After something like two years of renovations, in came – you guessed it – high-end residences. (‘High-end’ like how? Like penthouses were offered for $30 million or more. Or for rent at a mere $75,000 per month.)

Out went – not sure – low-end offices that had replaced old sweat-shops, in came Publishers Weekly offices (late 90s). Out went PW, in came the New York offices for Twitter (2015).

Out went Sam Chinita’s cuban-chinese diner in a vintage stainless steel diner exterior and non-descript interior at 19th and 8th. In came a Greek fish restaurant, reclad in an entirely blah façade. Out went the fish restaurant. After many years has been shut down and boarded up, something is finally coming back around. Not sure what.

Down around the Meat Packing District. .  .
Out went the restaurant Florent down on Gansevort Street. In came . . . not sure.
Out went Hogs & Heifers biker bar (August, 2015). In came . . . nothing as of yet.
Out went I don’t even remember what — a mix of nothing stores and maybe some industrial shops and boarded up storefronts with perhaps a hidden nightclub in the mix. In has come fancy boutique and splashy store for seemingly everyone: Apple, Hugo Boss, Pategonia, Diane Von Furstenburg.

Out went any number of low-slung warehouse and garages stretching long and wide between 10th and 11th Avenues. In came a series of new buildings that ring the river or the Highline. Many of the new buildings that have sprouted up are by star architects: Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvelle, Shigeru Ban, Neil Denari, a handful by Annabelle Selldorf, and another handful by Morris Adjmi.

Out went a medium security state penitentiary for woman over on West Street (2012, after Hurricane Sandy). Nothing new in yet, but plans are afoot.

Out went Sam Chinita’s cuban-chinese diner in a vintage stainless steel diner exterior and non-descript interior at 19th and 8th. In came a Greek fish restaurant, reclad in an entirely blah façade. Out went the fish restaurant. After many years has been shut down and boarded up, something is finally coming back around. Not sure what.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. There are some 90 establishments fronting Eighth Avenue among the seven blocks between 14th and 21st street. By my count, only nine or ten are the same businesses that were there in ‘95. A Western Union below 15th. A neighborhood dive bar and a poster shop near 17th, a laundromat and a dry-cleaners near 18th, the Joyce Theater at 19th, a Salvation Army store, a pizza joint, and a bodega at 21st, and maybe a Korean deli or a second laundromat that I’m forgetting. Of the whole set of 90 shops, about 26 are restaurants and an additional 15 other types of food establishments. As a make-up of the neighborhood, that proportion has held steady. And that neighborhood bar (that makes claim to also being a restaurant) has been a constant. But all the other 40 have changed over at least once in the intervening years.

For any others who knew the neighborhood from back when, what am I forgetting?

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Workshoppy

Now that the holiday craziness is over, I have time to write everything I have been thinking about holiday craziness. So, guess what happened here at the Fun Apartment in Decmber? It was projects! A. Lot. of Projects! We were very busy in Santa’s Sweatshop.

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I have no idea why your hammer smells minty. I think you are imagining things.

For instance, there are the Christmas cookies. The fourteen kinds I made this December, and then forbade my household to eat. And now I have lots of leftover, slightly stale cookies. That was bad planning on my part, especially for my new January theme: “cleanliness is next to Momliness.”

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White chocolate. Peanut butter. Marshmallows. Grandma was right.

But Midwesterners often express their love through butter. And one thing I love about the holidays, among the bajazillion other things I love about the holidays, is that it is one thousand percent acceptable to invite people over and ply them with cookies and drinks and call it dinner! Cheers!


There is also this job I invented for myself: making embroidered felt ornaments for everyone. I love making them, but I have to make rather a lot, and I am running out of holiday themed items that can be reproduced in felt. Somehow I have a sad feeling that next year’s ornaments will be a mini felt Christmas potholder and roll of scotch tape. (Suggestions gleefully accepted!)

And let’s not forget these dudes. Apparently all the dinosaurs at the Fun Apartment never heard about that whole K/T barrier business. Or I am running some sort of dinosaur safe house in the Mesozoic extinction level event witness protection program.

Also, if I ever hear the words “shutter” and “fly” together, I will start to throw knives around.

But, really, I love all the doing. Because, for us, or well me at any rate, Christmas is just a lot of projects! In fact, the lads and I spent most of Christmas Eve engaged in one sort of holiday craft or another, largely because I needed them to be occupied while I was madly embroidering, and because the YMCA insisted that I spend the day with the boys, rather than dumping them in childcare while I went to kickboxing. But it was fun, because, well, they’re my kids after all, so they love complicated projects.

Because of this tremendous project list, however, I have very little energy to disguise my handwriting to fake correspondence from Elf on the Shelf. I wish he were back in Africa. One wise woman told me recently, “Don’t you know? All magical creatures type!” She’s right. They do (now).

However, we encountered one major holiday problem here at the Fun Apartment: the deplorable lack of good hiding places for presents. In a normal household, people just hide their presents in some secret, out-of-the-way spot. But at the Fun Apartment, those secret out-of-the-way spots were colonized long ago by summer clothes or sea monkeys and therefore cannot possibly accommodate a large Lego set. Mommy had to get creative. Sometimes, I had to rely on the fact that they are not overly curious about the piles of random crap err detritus that seem to form all over the place without any encouragement from me and at a rate that would alarm the CDC. So, I just arranged these piles more artfully around holiday gifts shrouded in many layers of plastic shopping bags. I’m a little discouraged to say that this approach worked pretty well. Perhaps they are a little too accustomed to living cheek by jowl with those random piles. But I spent the whole week leading up to Christmas cringing inside whenever the boys gasped or said “Mommy! Look!” Luckily, though, none  of my stash houses were raided.

But this was also a problem when, at 11:30 on Christmas morning, my older son looked at his payload curiously. “Hey!” he said, poking through his Legos and whiskey for a gift he had already glimpsed bringing it home from school (Damn you Scholastic and your ridiculous packaging, too !) “Where’s my weather station?”

I stopped mid-coffee swig. I had hidden the weather station, and its co-presents, the oft-requested remote control monster trucks, somewhere so secret that I had forgotten its location entirely. But, of course, I couldn’t exactly go on a room to- um, well, a room search anyway, because then I would be revealing all my hiding places and expressly destroying my children’s belief in Santa.

Happily, the lad seemed to accept my snorting coffee out of my nose as an answer to this query, and I was able at last to locate these stray items by surreptitiously searching the one cupboard that I can reach without a ladder. And Santa trotted them at the next Christmas celebration we attended (We had five. Check the Shutterfly calendar: It’s a big family.)

Actually, one of my favorite holiday moments was sitting at Fika with a cup of coffee and a candy cane while I wrote out my holiday cards. Never mind that this cozy “holiday” moment happened on January 6. It still had that feel.

And, your holiday card is (finally) in the mail!

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Wonder Land

Sometimes I wonder why we live in New York City. To be fair, I am not alone in asking this. The boys have each requested a change of venue recently. One would like to move to “a rural community because I like silos.” The other alternates between wanting to live with various grandparents and hoping we could all live in the pretend tree house at the playground. And I think my mom never stops asking herself what the $&@% we are doing here.

As a native Midwesterner, I have spent most of my time here perfectly pleased with my surroundings. After September 11, I swore I would have to be cut out of the city with a knife and fork. But then we moved to Philadelphia, so that shows how much I know about it. (Fortune teller: another career path closed to me)

But moving back to New York with my little brood into our cozy den, the city just seems hard sometimes. There’s a lot of schlepping. There are all kinds of stores you can’t go in because the stroller won’t fit. There are a lot of unpleasantly scented elevators to get to certain death on the subway platforms. There’s lots of dog poop. There’s lots of milk to be lugged up to the fourth floor. There’s just a lot of hassle sometimes.

But sometimes, sometimes, the city gives you presents: perfect days just for you. Like the time some TV network flooded an entire section of Chelsea market and filled it with crocodiles to promote some uh . . . oh who the hell knows what they were promoting! The point is, there were crocodiles that the boys could visit at what is effectively our neighborhood grocery store! Real! Live! Crocodiles!

And yesterday, just as sort of an offhand fluke thing, we went to Wonderland! I know, I know, it is a Target Wonderland, but that doesn’t keep it from being awesome! (And free). And it just opened that day, so not very many people know how fun it is. Tomorrow, the entire city will be there and never leave  so it will become one of those things that would be amazing, except you can’t see it because there are too many people. (I’m looking at you, High Line) But yesterday, it was amazing and special. Yes, it was wretched excess. But it was wretched excess on a scale that only New York seems to manage effortlessly.

See, this is how New York gets you: once in a while you get the amazing and special things that feel both like they are just for you and that you are part of some larger beating heart. Or a life size Lego pirate ship with a giant ball pit.

Ball! Pit!

 Maybe they have these special things where you live, too. Embrace them! I think Philadelphia has them sometimes. (But I refuse to believe that, despite what one of the Mister’s former coworkers swears, Philadelphia has waiters with tuxedos and trays loaded with glasses of wine roaming the city. That can’t possible happen, right? . . . Right?)

So yesterday was a day when I knew exactly why we live (and love it) here!

We’re home. Fist Bump.

Ho Ho Hulk!

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Fun Apartment Fitness Plan

I got a stack of “how to be hot . . . err healthy” magazines at the Y, which was kind of awesome. But after reading nothing but Self, Shape, and Women’s Health magazines, a girl could be forgiven for thinking that she’s not doing enough to keep her smoking hot self in good shape. So I developed this Fun Apartment Fitness Plan to help all the other moms in tiny apartments on track to set a PR (it only took me two months to figure out they meant parenting record, not public relations.)

Morning: wake up early to the relaxing tones of shrieking children fighting over old Halloween candy and dumping out bins of Legos. Take a minute to visualize throttling them with their own licorice. Give yourself a good long hamstring stretch as you reach down to clear a path wide enough to reach them. Then drop into a squat to scoop one of them up and carry them away from the battlefield. (Lift with the legs, keeping the knees behind the toes–remember, form is important!)

Incorporate some yoga into your morning preparations. Assume the downward dog thingy to check for the library books under the table. Use warrior pose with your honey when he suggests that he might want to work late tonight. If you really stretch with your back leg, you might be able to reach the bathroom door. Hold it closed to remind your older son than he really needs to flush before he comes out. Then swivel around–engaging your core–to direct him to the sink for washing his hands. Finish with child’s pose when one of the children tells you that they need 44 purple-frosted cupcakes by 10 am today, for the party they thought they told you about.

Stare at is picture of a labor intensive breakfast consisting of multiple complicated and / or expensive ingredients. Then make yourself some peanut butter toast and pour a large mug of coffee. Remember, coffee is just one of the few flimsy things that stand between you and prison.

Now that you’ve completed the warm-up, it is time to get that heart rate up. Just check the clock and realize that you should have left uh now. Kick it into high gear by jumping around the apartment on alternating legs while trying to put on pants. Windmill your arms to get the children moving toward the door. Make sure you leave some critical item behind, so you can have the added benefit of running back up to the fourth floor an extra time. Want to make it harder? Forget something else and remember it only on the second trip down. Now you can really feel the burn!

High intensity and high impact time! Let’s take it outside! Make sure you carry a minimum of 40 lbs of kid and backpack as you race walk the half mile to school. If you like intervals, you can alternate between carrying and dragging. Do this a minimum of four times and your biceps and back will love you for it! Remember, poofy down jacket season is just around the corner!

For strength training, look no further than your trip to the grocery store. If possible, wait until you run out of all the heavy stuff at the same time: milk, cat litter, laundry soap, box wine–all the essentials. That way you can maximize your heft and really throw those shoulders out of whack. Plus you will really blast some calories hauling all that stuff up to the fourth floor. Be sure to reward yourself with a few chia seeds when you get upstairs.

If you are looking to build stamina, you can just clean the apartment by walking from one end of it to the other, carrying things back to their base of origin. Based on my expert fitness assessment, one can do this circuit a total of 237 times and still have crap to put away. It is a great way to keep your heart rate and blood pressure up!

And for the real tough mothers, you can take on the laundry challenge. Haul 40 lbs of your family’s dirty clothes three blocks away to the nearest laundromat! For extra burn, carry the large size detergent–or better yet, run back for it! You will feel great as the weight of all those quarters tugs down your pants!

Let’s not forget the fitness fad of the moment: kickboxing! If your day is anything like mine, then you probably have numerous opportunities to practice your jab and cross, followed by a nice, satisfying roundhouse. Be creative in your workouts: think outside the gym! You could be throwing down with the clerk at the drugstore, the walkers-while-texters weaving around on the sidewalk, the UPS guy, the inept contractors working upstairs that inadvertently cut off heat to your apartment, the pot-smoking teenagers occupying the slide at the playground, and pretty much anyone working at your insurance company. Think of all these daily encounters as chances for calorie-burning and muscle-building! Thanks everyone! (After all, the relaxed feeling you experience afterward is probably keeping your family alive!)

Make sure you incorporate some more cardio intervals as you race from one school to the other, because of course they dismiss at exactly. The Same. Time. You can really torch those calories by alternating between dragging the kids behind you because they are “too tired to walk” and racing to catch them because they saw a dirty plastic spoon in the street that they need to bring home and keep forever! Make sure you turn up the burn by carrying their backpacks.

I’m sure you are already planning your high protein, fiber rich, healthy fats, green veggie filled dinner made from limp scallions and whatever is in the freezer, rounded out by peanuts. Make sure to engage the hamstrings when you are cleaning shells off the floor!

After dinner, hoist the lads  into the tub and boost them into bed. Finish up by raising your middle finger at the article that encourages you to do squats and lunges during commercials. When you have finished your wine glass bicep curls (about 150 reps ought to do it, adding more weight as necessary), reward yourself with a nice stretch, face down on your bed.

 

Mommy is tired.

Workout complete! Tomorrow you can shrug your shoulders hopelessly as you admire the payoff when you look in the mirror! You go, girl!

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Filed under Not cool, Mommy, The outside world

Thank You

I know you all have nothing better to do than read my blog today. Nobody is tearing apart their kitchens or anything. Nobody is watching the Packer game. So here I am with a quick word.

(After a month of total radio silence)

After the recent spate of horrible news across the globe, both close to home and far from it, I felt like having a blog in which I alternately moan and crow wildly about my life and family was terribly fatuous. 

So let me say this: I am fantastically lucky! I have a cosy place to live, quirky boys of all ages to adore, an enormous city full of friends, a family that has (mostly) stopped asking when we are going to move, an enviable degree of health and safety, the audacity to turn down a perfectly good job, and a sunny disposition. And a blog. I have a blog, to keep me out of jail.

   

Another year, another wonky tree

 
Is there stuff I want? Sure. 

1. Equity in education

2. A dishwasher

But I can wait for that stuff. I’m confident, or at least hopeful, that those things will come in time. Until then, it is a privilege to lead the life I lead, and I will do my best to be worthy of it.

***

Also, it is amazing to climb into a bed with clean sheets fresh from the laundry! Maybe I should try washing ours more than every few mon–what’s that? Still on the air? Oops! Err forget that last! Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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Shelf Life

When we are (okay, when I am) looking for new and innovative ways to clear some space around the Fun Apartment, the answer usually involves the local Salvation Army or more shelves. When considering the bathroom, I figured that toilet paper is generally useful and not really an item one outgrows. So, I began my campaign for some bathroom shelving.

Really, the bathroom is not pulling its weight, storage-wise. I mean, look at the place:

The potty isn't there anymore, but when it was, it was like having 1.5 bathrooms.

The potty isn’t there anymore, but when it was, it was like having 1.5 bathrooms.

It is practically monastic in there. It’s also acidic, thanks to all the vinegar.

My request for bathroom shelving was hung up in committee for a while. (You know the old saying: if a man tells you he is going to take care of something, he is going to take care of it. There is no need to remind him every six months.)

But, finally after the annual shelving sale at this blank-ity blanking place, and after one weekend of having to kick the work crew out once in a while so I could pee, well, looky here:

Trust me, they are *level*

Trust me, they are *level*

Now all I need is are some bins, because I don’t really want to discuss the function of tampons with boys of any age, but particularly not those living in my household, aged four and six.

And since this whole shelving thing was working so hard for us, we looked around to see what else we could store on shelves. Here’s what we came up with:

Tiger Sharks! The Giant Squid!

Tiger Sharks! The Giant Squid!

That’s right! Two can sleep more efficiently than one if they are stacked up on top of each other!

This is exactly the kind of sleeping arrangement I wanted when I was a kid, largely due to this exhibit at the Milwaukee Museum. I was fascinated by those the little pretend houses, where curious strangers from the future can peer in the windows. One of them–maybe Dutch? German? Not sure–had a little bed cabinet built in the corner with a curtain drawn across it. I don’t know if English has a strong enough word to express how badly I wanted to sleep in that  cabinet/caboose/magic tent. But, alas, it didn’t happen for me. So, in order to live out my dreams through my children, I seem to have recreated it for the boys.

After all, isn’t this a little bit magical?

Scoot over, kid.

Scoot over, kid.

It’s going rather swimmingly. After all, we reasoned, a four year old could probably stand to stop sleeping in a crib, even if we did pull one of the sides off to make it look more like a toddler bed. And–even more thrilling!–at least two square feet of floor space reclaimed! The boys love sleeping in their little compartments and, unlike some of our neighbors, they don’t really keep each other up with raucous parties.

And now bedtime is less fuss, more fun. But we still have to whisper. Eh, I’ll take it.

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Filed under Home Ec, Living Small