Saturday, February 22, 2014

A tree falls in Brooklyn

On my way home this week, I literally stumbled over this tree that fell in my neighborhood. Pretty stunning damage.

Check out the arborific carnage...

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Yoga for a beginner

If you're like me, you have a working knowledge of yoga solely informed by funny critiques and news, such as a Craigslist posting advertising the sale of a used mat, those see-through Lululemon pants, and the meme-based video "S*** Yogis Say".

I thought it would be a laugh to try out yoga. And maybe relaxing. I was right. And oh-so-wrong.

I laughed at the thought of myself in Lululemon see-through pants as I put down my mat last Thursday night. Internal laughter at my shaky feet through the warm-ups. A little chuckle at the thought of the huge stained glass window Church patriarchs watching me sweat in yoga pants.

And then tears started spilling from my eyes -- not from chuckles, but from sudden, searing pain. Why? I had unconsciously moved into my first downward-facing dog ever, mimicking the much-more-limber ladies nearby. I made it to the pose, but my own body rebelled -- crying out with creaks and pops: "That. Isn't. Meant. To. Bend. That. Way."

At that moment -- and many after that -- I regretted my front-and-center placement in the class. I couldn't cry in a corner at the stunning pain flooding my hamstrings. I was right in front of the instructor, too proud to slink out the church's back doors.  But you better believe I thought about leaving my soggy mat soiled and alone.

But, you know, now that I think about it, more than self-respect kept me in place and moving during the class: the stretching and breathing -- you actually notice your body isn't some kind of thing that comes along with your brain. And the pain is kind of good after a while. Sort of.

The instructor at the Brooklyn Heights 1st Unitarian Church Community Yoga Class is a charmer, too. She said things about yoga that I have wanted to hear about exercise for a long time; things about receiving rather than giving all you got (I can do that the other days of the week on the running track); about getting centered and balanced; and then there's the touching-your-toes-thing-without-pain thing she could do that looks and sounds really cool.

After class, I knew I'd come back. I might not understand all the terminology or the poses or the philosophy behind it all, but I loved it. Sometimes something comes along exactly when you need it.

And a word to all: If I begin to use the word "Namaste" more than three times in a conversation, invest in Lululemon stock, or throw back wheat grass shots on a regular basis, you have my permission to taunt me.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Becoming a bride

My grandmother's wedding cake topper -- more than 60 years old -- sits on the mantelpiece. An ivory tablecloth to cover us -- our chuppah -- lies in wait in a box. There's new china in a new cabinet. A binder leaking swatches and tux rental papers clutters the desk.

How do you go from five months ago obsessing about Christmas and Hanukkah gifts to putting the finishing touches on a wedding?

You just do. You suddenly become a bride. And it's pink and white and lovely and soft -- and hard.

DJs and photographers and guests and venues and food all seem so far away now, just plans, potentials, and promises.

But there he is and there's that ring -- your promise in touchable relief. It's Thursday and you're wearing a ring. Isn't that something.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Holiday shopping figured out

I'm a bit of a nut when it comes to Christmas/Chanukkah shopping. 

I'm a nut -- not because of my Black Friday deal hunting, coupon clipping or even excessive spending (though I do a little of that every now and then) -- I'm a nut because of how early I do it. September, October and early November are my months for shopping. I've given myself fake deadlines to finish -- and they're fabulous. In my family, I've become notorious for my early shopping. I think a few people hate me for it. But I love it.

For the past two years, I have been done with all of my shopping the week after Thanksgiving. The reason it's so late is because my family picks names for a Secret Santa exchange on Thanksgiving and I have to make sure I don't forget to give a little love that way. But the bulk of my holiday shopping is complete by turkey day.

It's a grand plan and one that I'm going to share. With just a little planning, it puts you in a beautiful place to actually ENJOY THE FREAKING HOLIDAYS. 

How? You work in a no-pressure situation, with a better selection in stores and online and you are not sharing the store with crowds of angry folks with sobbing children.

I avoid the pressure in two ways: I go early, of course, but I also have employed a pretty slick trick (if I do say so myself) that has served me very well through the past couple of years. I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of people I was shopping for that I decided to write everyone down and keep track of what I'd purchased (for budgeting and sanity and fairness). As the list developed, I began writing down things that friends and family said they liked and would love to one day have. (These days, if I'm shopping with someone and they mention something they like or enjoy doing, it goes into the file.) That means, when I'm shopping early, it's so easy to pick something out because you've gotten a personal blessing and know it will be well-received. I sometimes keep the file, in part, in my phone, and then dump it into the email file later. It's so efficient that it makes you feel like you've actually accomplished peace in the world -- or just in your Type A soul...for a few minutes.

Better selection also abounds in these months of early shopping. You get the sales from the summer. This is particularly wonderful if you've got athletes on your list. The summer stuff -- shorts, shirts, runner gear, yoga gear, golf gear -- all goes on sale in mid- to late September. You also get the first picks on the holiday merch they're hiding on the edge of your consciousness in side shelves and far-corner areas. It's also pretty nice when you stop thinking about the lack of perfect boots you were looking for, and focus on the expanse of options waiting to be plucked for your loved ones. You get to pick from a variety of scented candles like Gardenia Mountain and Lakeshore Spa instead of ones you find at the end of the season with names like Burnt Popcorn and Uncle Aggie's Special Sweat Stain. It's a no-brainer, loves.

You avoid the crowds. There are some people that thrive on pack shopping. I'm not one of those huntresses. I have to really scrutinize my purchases. I like quality goods and it's so easy to get duped these days -- ever heard of "leather-like product" or "contains leatherette"? I have -- and I almost missed the tiny lettering that said it, but didn't because I was really looking. And to really look, you need time and space to analyze your purchase. I sometimes shop with trusted friends for their opinion, but I'm not often a habitant of the doorbuster den for my biggest purchases. You end up spending way too much money on subpar items because you're running out of time and often feel peer pressure to buy. It's just not worth it for me. 

However, I know there are virtues to shopping the Black Friday sales and deals and bundled packages. I'm just not that into it. I much prefer the peace I feel and freedom that comes when you actually get to ditch the stores and experience the chill in the air and the lights and the beauty of being together with your loved ones. And as for those gifts, I'm really charmed by them three times: once in the store, again after I wrap them having forgotten what I'd purchased, and then, finally, when the recipient gets to open it. 

And I have time to do other things I really enjoy -- like write Christmas cards, see the 5th Avenue windows, just relax in the warm apartment or work off the turkey I'm having tomorrow with a swim or run. I know I posted this too late for this year, but seriously, think about trying it out for next year. This process makes things SO MUCH BETTER. You get things done timely fashion, hopefully get what people want because you have choices, and don't drive yourself nuts doing it in a crowded store. There is a better way. I hope, for your sake, you try it out.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Sandy: A lot like grief

In New York, tired is a way of living. But it's usually a weariness of mind that you come to accept and shake off every few months with a trip to the suburbs or a less frenetic city.

The tiredness I have now is nothing like that. It feels a lot like grief. My city's buses and trains are moving, but so much else is still on the outside edges -- in tatters and hurting. Things here will not be a type of normal for many people for a very long time. And I know it, but sometimes I forget for a while, and then it washes over me again. Grief. 

I feel blessed to know what my neighbors in Staten Island and Far Rockaway and New Jersey are going through from my work experience over the past week, but guilty for dusting off my boots, taking a shower and settling into clean sheets in a warm bed to watch "South Park."

I have nothing to grieve for. Rich and I were so lucky in so many ways. Lucky we lived in a high place, unaffected by the storm. Lucky we have electricity. Lucky we have heat. Lucky we have employers that accommodated us. Lucky we had each other. Lucky we're alive.

I want to stress this. So many others were not so lucky. So many. I've been in the news business long enough to know how quickly the images become a blur. The houses. The garbage. The crying children and mothers and wandering, lost pets. The stacks of supplies. You've probably seen it all, and you're already sick of hearing about it.

But let me tell you something now. This is Amanda, your friend or relative or casual acquaintance. I've never seen anything like what I saw on Staten Island in the United States. It looked like a Third World country on the brink of breaking down. Have you seen this? The news coverage is beginning to turn away from this reality. It's the way of things, I know. Other things. The election. Back to the Upper West Side toddler murders. Remember those? You'll be swayed to turn away from the devastation. "Anything but Sandy." I get it.

But let me assure you, people will still be in need. I thank everyone who offered us assistance (there were many people!) Thank God I didn't need it. But there are so many that do. I was in a young couple's basement tearing out their walls. Their home was less than 15 years old. An elderly couple was too frail to come down and help our team as we hacked away at the saturated drywall in their basement bathroom they renovated just last year. Through it all, I thought over and over how easily the young couple could have been Rich and I, the other residents there -- my grandparents. What toll would that take on me? Would I be on the next plane to help my family? People are reacting as I hope I would, working to exhaustion on their homes and driving through garbage piles to help their loved ones.

But really, things aren't going to be all right for quite a while. Think about donating to someone.

And just a little P.S. -- A couple of things I learned about my city in the storm's aftermath:

1.  There are good people here. 

My cabbie picked me up and drove me through a maze of dead skyscrapers to get me to work. He nursed his cab to my workplace, running on fumes to get me to my destination. He has regularly waited hours on line to get gas. He has three kids and is currently looking into getting his mortgage payment adjusted because he couldn't work when his cab ran out of gas. He apologized profusely that he couldn't take me to work every day after Sandy. 
      2. This is a dramatic, beautiful place. 

NYC is lacking a mountain, in my opinion. It can be loud. It's manic. But it can be other things, too. It's devastating in its beauty -- and its quiet. I took the East River Ferry one day home from work. For two hours, I took in the gray skies and gray tides and iron skyline. I couldn't stop watching. Another day, I walked across the cold Manhattan Bridge in the light rain and stared between the fences and concrete slats at the rushing brown water below. I didn't breathe. It's not my typical standard of beauty. That's usually green and blue and bright. But New York's dark and melancholy and beaten look has its draw. Lucky that, because most of us are taking on that allure these days. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

At the sole of my consumer manipulation

I don't know if this is as insidious as I'm thinking, but I think I'm thinking right.

I wouldn't put this complete distraction past retailers as utter boots manipulation. And I'm slowly giving in, putting the boots in my shopping cart and then, realizing my insanity, yanking them out and chastising myself by repeating the ridiculous price point over and over again.

The boots. The BOOTS! They're everywhere. And I want them. But the ones I want are upwards of $200 in nearly every shop and website I've been to. 

You probably know what ones I'm talking about already. You want them, too. They're real leather brown calf-high riding boots. (Because I have athletic calves - they're of the wide-calf variety. So special attention that they'll actually zip up must be paid - and often paid, unfortunately, in dollars and extra leather cents.)

And look at you, my reader friend, you are already thinking of the boots you have or the ones you want. Or, if you're looking out the window, you're beginning to feel something is missing in the outfit you're wearing as the 15 women on the street walking by are wearing brown in various states of brown bootness, sporting buckles and bows and ties and clamps of varying intensity based on their style preference. Or, in most cases, they're wearing whatever is available in the store that won't set you back an arm and a leg -- that would, figuratively if literally taken, make the boots useless. Apparently, after looking at that last sentence, I've been thinking about this too much.

I'm strong in my no-boots policy. And in my no-trench coat policy. I been pining for a specific trench coat that's just not in my budget right now, but the self-convincing isn't working so well these days as I confuse L.L. Bean by being the most indecisive customer ever, going through almost all the steps of online purchasing, but stopping just short of the submit order button.

Why do I care so much about this stuff? About quality clothing and getting the particular brand I want?

I have partially been brainwashed by companies and my environment. I live in New York City where everyone dresses like they have Edith Head and Louis Vuitton making out in their micro-closet in Fort Greene. It's easy to feel daunted here by the lushness of the fashion.

But I realize my boots and trench coat are staples. They're not the flirty blouse of the moment. These would seriously have some staying power in my wardrobe. Or so I think. I sometimes buy so-called staple items and often get sick of them after a few years. But I never pay as much as I would pay for these items and would likely keep them around and wear them just because I invested in them. 

Right now, I have a trench coat that I bought for $3 at a thrift store in Pennsylvania. It's a badge of honor to wear such thrift store finds, but it's thin and I want something that I can wear into the colder months ahead. I also want boots that really fit and I don't have to think about when I'm getting dressed. Just kind of like, "OK, brown boots. That'll be great with jeans." 

These days I hate thinking about clothes and putting in the time to dress like a put-together human being. I want to just be put-together.

The boots are torturing me with promises of brown neutrality, and the trench coat with the illusive wool lining wrapping me up in promises of warm mornings and crisp fall air.


Since writing the above, I have remembered that I purchased a pair of black boots that will be both neutral and amazing. And I've lost some leg since I purchased them, so they don't pinch as much when I'm zipping them up. As for the trench coat, I'm still, daily, visiting the site and checking out the coat. I need more hobbies.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Dear friends and family who live far away....

I miss you all in an aching kind of way today.

I realize that I have hurt some of you the last time I saw you and I want to apologize for that. I imagine the distance and quiet has made things sorer. I want to say, more than ever, that I'm often shuffling through the madness of life in some state of loss and hurt and I say things because I am frustrated by that -- that I don't have the answers I think everyone expects of me. I want, more than anything, for the air to be clear and for the hurts to be forgiven. I understand if you feel the same way.

I want you to know that I still love you all, that I always will. I also want you all to know that I may be different from the person you once knew (depending on when we met) and that you may not accept everything about me.  That's OK. Really. That's OK. But please don't intentionally try to hurt me or talk politics with me if you know we disagree.  This creates division and makes it hard when we do finally see each other. If you'd like to get to know me better, keep reading (this blog and others).

If we didn't live far apart, I would have dinner and hot cider at your house tonight. Or you, of course, would be welcome at mine. I would tell you over meatloaf and mashed potatoes that I have finally reached a place of calm about my choice of life, from the man I love to the place I worship -- and that it may not be what you thought it would be, but that it's finally where I'm finding a fit. Aren't you happy for me? I hope you are. Because it is what I wish for you. Really. 

I want you to be happy and if I have somehow made you think I am judging you, I am sorry. I may have judged you (it's something I'm working on, trying to be kinder). But please don't read between the lines of my Facebook posts. There's likely nothing there. I love you as you are and I hope the best things in life for you. Let's be close even as the distance stretches between us. 

My phone call voice is awkward and Skype gives me an extra chin. I am not pretty trying to bridge these distances. My efforts are sadly few. But I'm trying today to move beyond them and the hurts I know I have inflicted. I welcome your presence wherever you are. And I miss you. I really do. I grew up with you, went to college with you, sang with you, drank with you, laughed with you, traveled with you, ate with you, share blood and often tears with you. Don't leave me now when I'm finally becoming the person I think I'm supposed to be. And if I'm not doing this right -- and especially if I am -- I'm going to need every one of you to help me continue to find my way. 

It isn't easy being so far away from you, beloved friends and family everywhere. Waves of homesickness and loneliness wash over me in equal measure with accomplishment and joy at the life I've wrought here. But there are no easy fixes. Only voicemails and phone tag and work. 

I'm calling. Will you call, too? I'll pick up if my phone isn't on vibrate. I promise. Let's not just "Skype sometime" -- let's make a date. Don't worry, this way you don't have to buy drinks for the gal with the extra chin.