Friday, March 27, 2015

Play Clothes

Last week I found out there's a chance I'll get to work at an amazing outdoor parent-child class here in Brooklyn. I've wanted to work there for a long time and I'm crazy excited! But recently, the reality set in. Because yes, dream job, etc, but what in the heck am I supposed to wear? Playing in the mud is a huge part of the curriculum. They meet in all weather, all year long. And it turns out adult rain suits are way less cute than children's rain suits. So I've had to explore options for serious all-weather dressing. In the winter, I'm sure I'd trek my ski clothes down from my parents' house and wear multiple long johns. Patagonia's Torrenshell (good pun!) Rain Pants seem like a good option for very rainy/splashy days. But mostly, heavy-duty outdoorsy clothes options for women stink. I was hoping L.L.Bean's hunting department would be helpful (never thought I'd say those words...) but it's almost entirely men's clothing, which I can rarely pull off due to my rather womanly proportions. Plus, all that stuff is far too expensive to justify buying a whole new wardrobe just for a part-time job. So I thought I'd work with what I have, things that I can wear outside of the mud pit.  

Beat up old jeans. So I don't care when they get more ripped and muddy.
The back of my closet (pictured, from j.crew)

Wellies. For mud puddle-splashing, of course.

Basic t-shirts. Nothing too precious to throw in the wash twice a week.

Rain Jacket. Fancy. Because I won't care how cute my normal one looks after two hours soaked to the bone. I've had this (less cute) one since high school and it works.

Smock. Explained more here
Toast. Good options on Etsy, too. 

Birkenstocks. For less muddy days, or times it's too warm to wear wellies.

Sunscreen. All day, every day. 

I'm visiting a class in a week and a half, wish me luck! 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Window Box Planning

I am lucky enough to live in a beautiful brownstone with perfect space for window boxes. This little three square foot bit of dirt and life is just enough to keep me from going crazy. In my last apartment, I stuck flowers in the window bars. So this is a big improvement. (there might even be a garden in the works in the backyard, fingers crossed!!) I love the aesthetic of wild, tall meadows with lots of rich purples and yellows against a cool, grassy background. 
With this as my inspiration, last summer I chose lavender, black eyed susan, dill, echinacea, and meadow sage:
Unfortunately, north-facing windows on a shady city street are not the best place for most of these plants. They did surprisingly well, given the circumstances, but this year I want to plan a little better. Trying to find that meadow look without actually having a meadow is proving a bit challenging! I planted boxwoods on the outer edges of all the boxes in November, which should provide a nice base, and save me some money since I can just swap out the plants on the inside of the boxes as the seasons change and things die. 

I love what Erin Boyle did here, with dusty miller, forget-me-nots, and vinca. I hear echinacea can work in part shade, so I might try it again--I just love those flowers so much! 
Here is a weird mock-up of what I'm thinking: 
It's not quite as beautiful as this patch I found by the edge of the road out in the country, but I'll take what I can get. Planting starts in a few weeks! 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Waking up the Earth

Last week was not awesome. I had stress insomnia, fell behind on a bunch of stuff, got sick, and things just sortof piled up, as they do, to turn me into a wreck. The best way I found to manage all this was to get the heck outside. Not just sitting on a bench soaking up the sun (although I did that too), but really filling all my senses with the warm, wet, new life that comes up this time of year. Thankfully, my profession encourages this. So last week found me, more often than not, filling up spare time with digging in the earth. Mud puddle splashing and stick poking and mud throwing, following the little rivers of snowmelt that form throughout the park, re-writing foot traffic patterns and forming makeshift pools around tree roots. Pulling out, until my hands were raw and chapped and bleeding, the old morning glory vines (an invasive species here) that had sneaked their ways around every plant in the garden and were now laid bare, unhidden by leaves or flowers. Chopping and digging and raking at the soil with all of my strength, singing it "good morning." Of course I had my ever-enthusiastic little helper at my side, singing and waking up the earth as well.

My mother and I have had this conversation so many times. What I would call dirt, she would call soil. To her, dirt is the stuff that covers the streets and the subways, the black stuff I blow out of my nose and wash off my hands. What I would call... grime? To me, "soil" is too specific, it sounds too well-managed and healthy to be what I find in the park; soil is something you buy or make, not something you just find beneath your feet. We have settled on "earth." Simple, non-judgmental, clear. And yet fraught with meaning. As we sing "good morning, earth" we are, on one level, waking up the ground we are working, giving the microorganisms inside the air and movement they need to prepare for the plants. On another level, we are waking up this whole part of the earth that shares our seasons: people, ground, animals, plants... everything that is crawling out from the deep sleep of winter to turn its face up to the sun. We are doing it for ourselves, too. Transitioning into a new mindset, a new season, a new rhythm.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Pitch Perfect

Having a bad day? Just watch Pitch Perfect. Even just the end of it if you only have a little time because you accidentally went to work an hour early. It's just incredible. This moment, at the end, restores my love of life and will send me from grumbling to joy-crying and singing and dancing and heart soaring wherever I am. It's just beautiful. ALSO THEY'RE COMING OUT WITH A SECOND ONE. In May. I'll see you in line opening night. 
It's not deep, it's not layered, it's predictable, but who the fuck cares. It's like buying flowers for yourself. A simple, beautiful joy that puts all the big stuff into perspective. Because little stuff can make you feel all those feelings, tiny little "unimportant" nonsense can balance out everything else. Movies about a cappella competitions can restore your faith in your soul's ability to heal itself. Watch it. Watch it regularly. Realise, when you're on your way home after a long day and the train is crowded and your feet hurt and your hair is matted, that you can watch it and everything will feel better. Download the soundtrack to sing (and dance) along with when you're walking on an empty street. It will always be a good life choice. 

Sunday, March 15, 2015


March is an old man,
old and cold,
grey beard and weary.
He sits there
melting the snow,
tempting the catkins,
the pussy-willow twigs,
watched by the coltsfoot,
the first signs of spring. 

Soon he'll be going,
the grass will turn green.
Soon warm sun
will melt him,
and he will be gone.

[from Elsa Beskow's book Around the Year]

Monday, March 9, 2015

City Mouse: Soho

I love living in New York City. Sometimes it's really obnoxious and your feet hurt and you miss the G train and your backpack is heavy and laundry takes up a whole morning and your rent is ridiculous and you just want to move somewhere boring and cheap where you're tethered to your car and don't have to brave half hour walks in the bitter cold or 90 percent humidity... But then people visit you and you show them around and realise you live somewhere amazing! I try to keep that in mind most days, but sometimes it takes a second pair of eyes to really show how lucky I am. When people visit, I have a couple of solid, free-to-cheap activities on hand. Museums, the Staten Island Ferry, etc. But I think just walking around is one of the best, least predictable, most instagramable (v. important), most flexible activities. In an effort to remember the best places to explore with a guest, I'm starting this series. Arranged by neighborhood, with tips, good activities, public bathroom suggestions (also v. important), and what makes each place special.

I used to have really mixed feelings about Soho. Well honestly, I used to hate it. It's really easy to just stay on major streets which get packed with tourists. It's also mostly dedicated to shopping which is expensive and stressful and not really something I want to dedicate a large chunk of time to if I have guests. It's also not really a part of the city I could access easily from any of my former apartments. Lately though, I've started visiting more, and now I get it. It has a really distinct personality, perhaps more so than other parts of the city. Old, whitewashed buildings with huge windows, along cobblestone streets, weird old glass things in the sidewalks, really artsy graffiti. Most stores will have a flagship location here, so you have a giant Hollister, but also small, curated brick and mortar stores for smaller brands that are mostly online or wholesale (I love Alternative Apparel on Lafayette by Prince). If you want to go shopping, I just recommend that you make a list of everywhere you want to go, make that list short, and add extra time.

Soho Pro Tips:
Bathrooms: limited. REI is supposed to have a good one, otherwise you can go to a coffee shop. Which necessitates buying a drink, which means you'll have to pee again... it's a viscous cycle that I'm very familiar with. Bring a reusable mug if you don't want to feel really guilty about going through five paper ones in an afternoon.
Kids: nope. Streets are too shitty for stroller naps, no real kid-friendly activities. I met my three year old cousin at the New Museum in the LES once and we walked back to the train in Soho which was a very "only in New York" type experience, but it could go bad so quickly. Just be prepared.
Time: Afternoon, definitely. Most places won't be open in the morning, plus it's just very much an afternoon-y kind of place. Not really a place to go specifically for brunch or dinner, but good cafes for power snacks. Sunday afternoon if you are willing to trade crowds on major streets and stores for the time and atmosphere to hang out and wander, weekday afternoon if you're on vacation or something and really value avoiding tourists.
Clothes: one of my friends visited recently and said everyone she saw in Soho was wearing the same outfit: black or navy beanie, black wool cocoon coat, black jeans and black chelsea boots. Just something to keep in mind.
Also, don't wear clogs. This is what you're up against:
[those are those weird glass things in the sidewalk I was talking about. No idea what they're for but I love them. But they are not ideal for walking over with wooden shoes.]

Soho Activities:
I like to break up my wandering with a few defined stops so it feels less pointless. First up...

Evolution [Spring between Greene and Mercer]
This. Place. Is. Awesome. Need some exotic taxidermy? They have it. Need a real human skeleton? You're covered. Need a raccoon penis bone? Yup. Fossilised poop? Awesome crystals and rocks? Ditto. And apparently (somehow) all this is legal, I asked. They also have a private room for some of the things that are "illegal to display to the public," whatever that means. Einstein's brain? Walt Disney's frozen head? The mind boggles. It's my go-to spot if I need to get my father a present. Also perfect for the April Ludgate in your life. (OH MY GOD I've been watching Parks and Rec lately... so good. I think I'm very late to this game but whatever.)
Dancing phalanges! 

Purl Soho [Broome between Greene and Mercer]
Most people think of this as a magical yarn oasis, but I (a veeery slow knitter) love their fabric selection. It's definitely more expensive than say, the garment district, but you're paying for a wonderfully curated collection, amazing service, unique fabrics, and all the wonderful free patterns on their blog, the Purl Bee (well you're not paying for them, obviously, but I like to support the work they do there). Seriously. Everything here is beautiful and amazing and will make you feel so much better about the world. And they have a whole wall of Liberty of London. And luxurious, diverse options for the color-averse among us. My mother actually dragged me in here the first time and I was hungry and tired and in pain (long day) until I looked at the back of the store and saw their fabric selection. I made a beeline to it and started petting everything. 
Obviously they have yarn too. Awesome selection of mostly natural fibers, which is really hard to find. And the staff are all crafters so they give super good advice and get super excited about whatever project you're working on. 

Harney and Sons [Broome between Crosby and Broadway] 
Tea. Good tea. They have a little cafe, bathrooms (yay!), and obviously you can buy a box to take home. This is really some of the best tea, a lot of my favorite coffee shops use it. I honestly don't dig the atmosphere of this place that much (the lighting is weird and the cafe is in the back where there's no natural light), but if you want to get some tea it's a good option. But if you want to just sit and chill for a while, go somewhere else. 
Other Activities:

Ground Support [W. Broadway between Spring and Broome]
Nice little coffee shop with lots of fancy coffee options for the coffee lover, really good cookies, and sandwiches. Nice place to hang out and chill, people watch, etc. Good bathroom.

The Tenement Museum [Orchard Between Delancy and Broome]
This is technically in the LES, but it's right by Soho and a good thing to do if you need activities. Buy tickets in advance on their website. You can't actually go in unless you sign up for a tour ahead of time, so keep that in mind. Prices are reasonable and it's SO worth it! (At least to a history nerd like me). It will be cold (or hot) and grimy and cramped and you have to stand up a lot, so prepare. Also you can't take pictures. They have amazing accommodations for the visually impaired though, lots of special things to touch, etc. 

Most of these things are pretty crowded together, so they serve as a good starting point. But really, walk around a bunch: try to find a street you can walk down the middle of (lots of useless one ways), find some good graffiti, find a random unused stoop to sit down on with your tea and chat. Once you get off the main streets it's a perfect neighborhood for feeling somewhat private and exploratory. You'll also probably see at least one fashion shoot (I saw two in the few hours I was there shooting for this post) which is fun and acting all aloof about it will make your guests think you're fancy. 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Kitchen Shelves

[SourceRyan and Emerson of Emerson Made (now Emerson Fry) on Design Sponge]

My kitchen is weird. It's very old, designed before "counters" were apparently a thing, and smaller than most peoples' bathrooms. The really weird thing, however, is that the upper cabinets and the range stop about six inches short of the wall, leaving a weird gap. Additionally, there's only about three feet of space between the front of the range and the back wall. Right now, I have a small wire shelving unit providing storage along that back wall. I have all my dry goods in jars up top, my small appliances on the bottom, and hang my pots and pans from s-hooks on the sides. It's a great system, except it means I can't open my oven door all the way. This is a range that would work in a dollhouse, mind you. I have to put cookie sheets in sideways. Here are some very "before" shots of it. 

Wow those are sad. And gross. It's less gross in person? Really, I just need to finish paining. Old yellow does no one any favors. 

A few months ago, I noticed that the gap was about the same depth and a half-gallon mason jar. So I devised a plan to hang thin shelves on that wall for mason jar storage, and a rail beneath for hanging storage. I just bought all the supplies I need (you can actually see one of the brackets in that last photo), including lots of special drill bits and anchors for screwing into this wall. But of course, I should paint before I hang things, and I forgot to pick up more paint. Which is one of those things that's not really a big deal unless you don't have a car, so a trip to the Home Depot a mile away will eat up at least an hour that you can't combine with any other errands. But at least I have a start! The whole thing should only take a day once I set my mind to it, so maybe next weekend. In the meantime, here are some pictures of what I'm going for:

And one more of a prettier spot in my kitchen, for good measure. See the difference paint makes? Eventually I want to do a subway tile backsplash there, and replace the faucet, and paint the cabinets and re-tile the floor... But I think I can start with some shelves.