Riding Her Bike

This—any day like this—is why she adores every transference of the seasons. She doesn’t have a favorite. She loves each one for its unique nature. But she also loves when the qualities of one season infiltrate another. Today is such … Continue reading

Playing Outside

After years of playing competitive indoor volleyball, two nights ago I finally got a taste of taking the game to the beach. It was a good night for trying new things. Like taking a dance class, playing beach volleyball has been on a short list of things I’ve been meaning to do (but not trying very hard to do) for a while.

It was a nice night for playing outside. The early evening air was warm without being too heavy or hot. The sun set in a popsicle shade of orange—it’s colorful light reflected and complemented by the glassy skyline of Manhattan.

I wish it hadn’t rained, but that’s the chance you take when you play outside. Indoor sports are less affected by the whims of the weather, but they’re also devoid of fresh air and direct sunlight. There are no natural breezes in a closed gym. There is no flowery aroma hanging in the air. Light bulbs and fans and air conditioning units are poor substitutes for the sun and wind.

We played despite the rain. Getting soggy made me feel silly. It became difficult to take the game as seriously once the volleyball had become slippery. Diving meant getting wetter and sandy. I felt like a child—playing to win, but mostly just having fun. It reminded me of how much I had enjoyed Physical Education when I was young.

PE was always a high point in my academic day. I love learning, and I’ve been blessed with a lifetime of great teachers, but I can’t sustain hours of static attention without interludes of movement.

There was less to worry about in the gym versus the classroom. My mind could make mistakes. It could forget the right answer or find a concept confusing. My body, however, couldn’t betray me. There weren’t any wrong answers in motion. On days I didn’t feel pretty, PE reminded me that I was strong. On days I didn’t feel confident, PE reminded me that I was fast and capable. On days full of tests and stress, PE gave me fun and success.

PE was a welcome invitation to play and compete. I loved winning—especially if I had to work for the win. I loved being part of a team. I enjoyed devising strategies for dodge ball or capture the flag, racing towards a teammate’s outstretched hand in a relay, or making a shot (or a save) in floor hockey.

PE was a period for releasing stress. It was a time to play. There was nothing serious to worry about—just games. To this day, when I put on my athletic wear, I divest myself of life’s pressures. I want to win, but losing doesn’t ruin my day. It’s just a game—or a bike ride/run/walk in the park. It’s called recreation for a reason. It’s supposed to be fun. And that’s what I found the other night on the beach volleyball court, fun—fun playing outside—playing a game both familiar and new. We were getting wet and loosing, but we were enjoying ourselves too.

Foreign

I am often in awe of immigrants, especially the trailblazers—the ones who are first to leap into a new and unknown land and language without anything familiar or anyone familial or friendly waiting to catch them. What an exercise of audacious bravery. Moving isn’t easy. It takes courage and flexibility to build a life somewhere foreign—whether it’s a new country or a new city.

Though they didn’t have to hurdle a language barrier, I think about what it must have taken for my parents to leave their families behind—to board a plane and set off for a country full of streets, foods, and customs that were new them. Even the weather was foreign—new phenomena like winter’s snow, cold, and the changing leaves of autumn.

They both left an island so small that almost everyone there knew them, and they came to a country so big they must have felt invisible by comparison.

Were they afraid? Did they hesitate? Did they ever feel so homesick they thought they’d made a mistake? What kept them from going back? Was it confidence? Was it faith?

What enables a person to move so far away from father, mother, and motherland that visiting home becomes impossible or, at best, infrequent? When you move to a new place, how long does it take to stop feeling lost where you live? How long before the foreign feels familiar? And what if you’re met with discrimination because of your color, customs, accent, or origins?

It takes courage to move. It takes great bravery to go somewhere or try something new. There are no guarantees in the unknown. Sometimes foreign lands are unwelcoming lands too. And so I am in awe of those who leave country and culture—friends and family—the comfortable and the familiar and move somewhere foreign. I marvel most at those who must live surrounded by a foreign language as well as a new country, but all moves are impressive to me.

Travelling

I love to travel. I love to pack bags, board planes, and set off to distant destinations. I love to sit in airports and read the faces of strangers for their stories.

I love to set sail. I love to cruise along as part of a city upon the ocean. I can go to sleep moored to one country and wake up anchored to another—getting a taste of this place and then that—enjoying a buffet of vistas.

I love the anticipation of travelling somewhere new, packing with uncertainty—not exactly sure what I’ll need. Weighing each item in terms of mass versus usability. What if it rains or the temperature takes an unexpected turn? What if I’m right about needing this thing or that thing? What if I’m wrong?

I love the comfort of travelling to a familiar and favorite locale—revisiting the recognizable where I’ll know what to expect and how to navigate the unexpected, always confident that I can get to where I want to be from wherever I am. I can go about packing precisely—certain of what to bring.

Travel is a welcome departure from the routine of my everyday life. It still amazes me that after a few hours of flight I can be thousands of miles away from where I started. I’ll wake in a bed that’s not my own and look out of different windows. I will not hear the same sounds of my apartment or neighborhood. New and foreign smells will seduce my nose. I will be temporarily displaced—momentarily moved to a new locale. For a season, I will be untethered from my usual responsibilities and uniquely free to do (or not do) as I please. I will journey away from myself, but I will always come home.

Six Things I’m Thankful For

In no particular order… 1. My Fantasy Football record. 5-6 might not seem all that impressive, but if you knew the number of injuries and under-performers I’ve been saddled with, you’d be impressed too. I really expected my week 2 … Continue reading

The Fire & Us: Being Home

We’re home now, but there are still areas of our lives (and our apartment) that aren’t quite back to normal yet. We still have possessions to replace (like a broom and dustpan), some of our clothing is still in a friend’s closet, there’s still one piece of our sectional couch that has yet to be delivered (it comes on Tuesday), and we’ll be sleeping on an air mattress for another two weeks before our bedroom furniture arrives.

I’m a bit worried about that last one because starting Monday (and for at least three weeks), our elevator will be out of commission for “modernization…” to quote the memo we got yesterday. So we will essentially be living in a fifth-floor walk-up when our bedroom furniture gets here—and we went for the platform bed with built-in storage (sigh). So I’m just hoping the deliverymen (or delivery-women) can get everything up the five flights of stairs and into our apartment, because I really want to be able to sleep on a bed again. And it would be nice to live out of drawers instead of suitcases and duffel bags.

But in many ways, it’s beginning to feel like home. We’ve had our first meals here, we’ve woken up and gone to work from here, and (perhaps the one that makes home feel most like home) we’ve entertained a handful of guests here. Somehow no matter how many things we unpack and/or assemble, no matter how many times we brush our teeth here or fall asleep in front of the television, it is the welcoming in of family and friends that most makes it feel like home again. And it is good to be home. There’s no place like it in the world.

The Fire & Us: An Update as of 10.21.11

Today marks the completion of our first full week back in our re-new apartment! It has been a VERY happy homecoming. When last I updated you (on January 19), we were about to live in an apartment in Long Island City through August 1. We thought that would be long enough to move from there back into our renovated apartment, but we had to move two more times after that. First we moved back in with JC and YY (who graciously let us and our cats live with them for a month—for a second time). That took us through Labor Day weekend. Surely (we then foolishly thought), this would be our last move before our homecoming. Construction on our apartment had been finished since August 15. Now we were waiting for the NYC Department of Buildings and the NYC Department of Housing to conduct inspections and lift the vacate order that was keeping us out. That turned out to be like waiting on line at the DMV while everyone is taking their break before going on vacation for a week—and they’re planning on sneaking out of the back door while you stand on line with the wrong forms in hand. Each time we thought our building managers (who were awesome through this whole ordeal) had finished all the necessary steps to get the vacate order, it seemed as if one of the departments would spontaneously generate more hoops to go through. It was like asking someone what you have to do to get from point A to point B, and they tell you. But what they’re not telling you is that point B is just one sub-step on the way to point Z which is really where you’re going. And then thy feed you one more step at a time, all the while making you think the step you’re on now is the last one.

Needless to say, we weren’t able to move home by the first week of September, so we made our penultimate move and began living with my husband’s parents. It was nice to be somewhere we could stay indefinitely. It was nice to live with loving family and have the luxury of LF cooking meals, AF making jokes, and IF playing with imaginary characters in the bathroom (unless I had to pee—which was often), but it was also a tight fit in that small bedroom—on that twin size bed—for the four of us: me, my husband, and our two cats who didn’t get along with the cat or dog my in-laws have, so we were all in there…litter box included.

Back when I last updated you in January, we had no idea how long we’d be out…how many times we’d have to move between December 27 and the day we got to move home (six!)… or how many gifts, life lessons and opportunities this loss would bring. We learned how to live with just what fit in my car (in two or three trips)—how much less than what we had we actually needed to be comfortable. We were fully embraced and cared for by the friends and family around us—we were blown away by generosity. We got to be on TV (NY1 interviewed us. You can still see the video here: http://queens.ny1.com/content/131759/couple-works-to-rebuild-after-elmhurst-fire). The Red Cross put our story up on their website, and then interviewed us for their fund-raising video. Then they asked us to speak at the annual Red Cross gala at the Plaza Hotel. FF had grad school, so I did it alone. You can see a picture of me here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/30084374@N02/5818565487/in/set-72157626806532457/. And whose speech did my speech follow? Niki Taylor’s—a speech about how blood from the Red Cross saved her life. That’s right, I had to walk up on stage—in heels—as the following act to a supermodel the very same week Shania Twain fell walking to the stage at the CMT awards. No pressure, right? Oh and that picture of me I linked to…I had to pose for that after Niki Taylor posed for hers. Can you see in my expression how I’ve been humbled? Speaking at the gala was terrifying and fun, and also meant getting a head-to-toe outfit a la personal shopper at Lord and Taylor because all of my dress clothes were damaged or in storage—I’m talking from shoes to undergarments to earrings to purse.

That Long Island City apartment was also a gift. Because we had a few months there, we were able to get somewhat settled, put down some shallow roots, but roots still. We had luxuries we couldn’t afford except for the fact that our insurance company was paying for them: a doorman, a roof deck with a beautiful view of the city, a gym. Having a doorman was a great gift given that we were in the process of replacing all of our stuff and opted to order almost everything online. Those doormen saved us countless trips to Fed Ex, UPS, and the post office on those days they would have been, “Sorry we missed you.” And then we moved back into Manhattan, living in Union Sq. As I’ve mentioned before, living in Manhattan, and in such a convenient and interesting neighborhood was a longtime dream of mine I thought would go unrequited.

And now, almost ten months later, we’re home again. The apartment is completely renovated. They had to gut it down to the foundations. The floor plan is the same, but the floors, walls, electrical—everything—is newly implanted. Some things I’m still adapting to. My muscle memory reaches for light-switches that aren’t where they used to be. A few of the apartment’s charming character-giving details were replaced with what I’m sure was a time/cost-saving alternative, but almost everything else is new and improved. And our name will finally be on the intercom (!)—or so they tell us.

It is so good to be home. Thanks to our renter’s insurance, we were able to replace (and sometimes upgrade) almost everything we lost, and the things we didn’t replace are things we don’t need. And thanks to my recent struggle with insomnia, we’re almost entirely unpacked—there’s just one more lamp to assemble, one big and one small box of stuff to go through, and one more bag to unpack—none of which are my responsibility (ahem, FF). I do have a bag of old cell phones and miscellaneous cords and connectors to make heads or tails of, as well as the rest of our pictures to hang. But that’s it. 80% of our living room furniture is here. The one missing piece (on backorder) comes on November 1. We’re sleeping on an air mattress again until our bedroom furniture comes on November 7. We learned the hard way (back in the Long Island City apartment) that cats and air mattresses don’t mix, so Carrie and Mr. Big have been banished from the bedroom for now. We’re also technically still living out of suitcases—each one lined up against the wall and filled with our clothing, but that’s okay. I don’t care. I’m home.

Here’s the picture my husband took of me when I got home from the Red Cross Ball. No Niki Taylor in sight, so I’m a bit more comfortable in my own skin.

The Fire: From the Beginning

This week has felt like one long day. The only reason I know that at least two nights have passed since Monday, is that I distinctly remember sleeping in two different beds. My brain now keeps time in BF and AF (before fire and after fire). My life’s course took a sharp turn at a rapid speed this past Monday when a fire broke out in my apartment building.

At 6:30, my husband and I were just having a normal weekday evening. Our computers were open, the television was on, and the cats were where they wanted to be. All of a sudden, we heard screaming. I assumed someone was having a heated argument in our hallway. It wouldn’t have been completely out of the ordinary. But then suddenly I heard what was being screamed, “Fire! Get out!” I wasn’t at all alarmed, I just assumed it was an over reaction and calmly walked to the door of my apartment to see what things looked like. A woman told me to get out now—there’s a fire. I looked up and saw a small amount of smoke coming down from the floor directly above. After years of fire drills in college, I assumed the least serious scenario: someone had burnt popcorn or toast or something.

My husband, however, saw something completely different. He ran to the windows and looked out. In the reflection of the windows of the building across the street, he could see flames spilling out of an apartment on the floor above us. Our building has only six floors, we live on the fifth. Understanding the severity of the situation, my husband (FF) rushed to get shoes and a coat on so we could leave. I, not having seen the flame with my own eyes, and still in “this can’t be that serious mode,” changed into jeans out of my pajamas.

The odd thing is that part of my brain knew this was serious, but part of my brain was convinced that it was a minor event and we’d be back in our apartment once the firemen came and checked things out. I thought to myself, “This is like that time in college when someone left a hairbrush on their radiator. There is a lot of smoke, but no fire. As soon as the firemen get here, they’ll check it out and let us back in.” So my “not serious” or NS brain figured, given the temp outside, let me get dressed for standing outside for an hour. But then there was the “VS” or “very serious” part of my brain that comprehended I might loose everything I left behind. That is the part of my brain that made me move quickly. That is the part of my brain that told me to put on my wedding band and engagement ring. That is the part of my brain that told me to get the cats out with us (even though we’re not supposed to have pets in our building, and I’d be showing my hand).

Unfortunately, we couldn’t wrangle the cats. We only had one carrier at the time, and neither of them liked going into it. I got Carrie in, but in trying to get Mr. Big to go in after her, they both got loose. With FF screaming at me that we had to get out and NOW, I started to become panic-rushed. That is to say, my VS and NS brains were still telling me different things, but my body was now shaking a bit, and I wasn’t able to do anything gracefully. With sadness in my heart, I left the carrier empty on the floor and went to get my coat, my cell phone, and my house keys. Then I turned off the power-strips attached to our TV and laptops (VS brain was telling me if firemen pumped water through out apartment, it’d be best to not have too much electricity on tap). I turned off the lights and locked the door. NS brain let me forget to take my wallet or car keys.

Soon FF and I were standing on the street corner across the street from our apartment watching as bright orange flames raged out of the apartment one floor up and one unit over from us. Even then, my NS and VS brains were at odds. I now understood that this wasn’t overcooked popcorn, but I also thought that since the apartment on fire wasn’t directly above ours, but one unit over, our apartment would be fine as long as the fire stayed where it was. And why wouldn’t it stay where it was? Weren’t firefighters—even now—on their way? Yes, they were on their way, but the snowstorm of the previous day meant they had to stop to dig out and tow cars blocking their route, frozen hydrants on our block meant they had to link hoses to hydrants three or four blocks away, and the winds were in the fifties.

Now that I saw a real fire was underway, I kicked myself for not trying harder to get the cats out, and for leaving behind everything save the coat on my back, for not putting on better shoes, for not taking any form of identification, and for leaving behind my only set of car keys. Thanks a lot NS brain.

Within just a few minutes, the firemen arrived, but no matter how hard they worked, just as it seemed the flames were coming under control, another burst of fire would erupt and rage again. It sounded like a thousand furnaces all going at once. After a while we could see that the fire had spread to the apartment directly above ours and that a large section of the building’s roof was on fire. The firemen used our apartment to get in (as it is attached to the closest fire escape). After about three hours of standing, shivering and watching, my VS brain told me hypothermia was imminent, and I should get inside. FF had already headed towards a friend’s house since he was wearing so little. But I had stayed back to look on, because my NS brain was telling me that soon and very soon the fire would be out, and the firemen would let us back in the building. And I wanted to be around for that. I walked to a nearby laundromat and tried to regain the feeling in my fingers and toes.

This is when VS brain started doing the majority of the work. VS brain was doing the math. This fire had been going for upwards of three hours and was now a classified as a five alarm blaze. It wasn’t worth it to stand around waiting. There would be no home to return to tonight. I started walking the mile and a half to my brother-in-law’s home (where my husband was waiting for me). Friends (with FF in tow) picked me up before I had walked even a quarter of a mile. They had dug out their car to pick FF up, and even though I was willing to walk (not wanting to make them come out again), they insisted on getting me. And I was grateful…my feet were cold and wet, my fingers refused to warm up, and as much as I love walking, a mile and a half never seemed so long as during those first tearful steps.

So how did this all come about? Turns out someone had left a space-heater too close to their bed. Their sheets caught fire, the mattress followed suit, and then the flames took over from there.

And that’s how the second-hardest week of my life started.

Operation: Meow Move!

Operation: Meow Move was not the seamlessly covert endeavor I’d hoped it would be. There was no stealth. We were neither graceful nor inconspicuous. I do not have a future in feline smuggling.

Objective One: Recruit cats to come in from the backyard of my father’s house. I thought this part would be easy. It was a wet and drippy day, and I figured the cats would be glad to come in to a dry home. Just the other week I had gone over to pick up a gift from my Dad, and both cats seemed very happy to see me (or, perhaps more realistically, the cat food I’d brought with me). I thought food was all I’d need to woo them again yesterday, but I was wrong. It took FF’s patience, calm spirit, and cat-like reflexes to get them in from outside and then up in the living room where we had the carriers waiting for them.

Objective Two: Prepare cats for inter-borough transport. If you’re wondering cats (at least mine) don’t want to go into a carrier head first, however butt first is a bit more difficult for the person holding them. The girl seemed to accept her confinement with dignity (and she was the first one we got in). The boy on the other hand, would not go gently into that dark box. Usually silent (to the point where I was under the impression that he was mute) he began meowing as soon as his body was in the carrier. And once he started, his sister chimed in.

Objective Three: Drive the cats to our home. The I-don’t-like-this-carrier meowing turned out to be nothing compared to the oh-no!-this-carrier-is-moving meowing. They began to let out the type of loud plaintive wails that suggest your victim is being mercilessly tortured. And this sound carried. I was pretty sure that by the end of the day all four of us (humans and felines alike) would need intensive counseling and emotional rehabilitation. Once in the car, the wails decreased in their volume, but not in their pathetic heart-wrenching quality. I hoped (in complete and utter vain) that they would eventually quiet down, because once in Queens we were going to have to sneak them into the apartment. But that became a secondary worry for a moment when FF turned to me and asked, “What’s that smell?” Turns out we had literally scared the crap out of the boy. So now, not only was I worried about how loud they’d be as we tried to bring them in the front door and up five floors in our apartment’s elevator, but I was also worried about opening the carrier in our apartment and letting a scared and skittish poop-covered cat run around.

Objective Four: Get the cats into our apartment without being seen or heard. Ha! The cats didn’t stop crying the whole ride over. This was not going to be easy. FF went in alone to see if all was clear. I stayed in the car double-parked in front of our building. And that is where our super (whose permission we had not asked to bring the cats in) found me. He was heading to his car, and seeing me double-parked, wanted to let me know I could take over his parking spot. I kept close watch to see if his eyes would travel to the back seats of my car. They didn’t (as far as I could tell), and he didn’t ask why there were cat cries coming from behind me. We had put the cat carriers in laundry bags because we were under the impression that the cat would be less scared if they couldn’t see anything, so visually there wasn’t any clue I was smuggling animals, but there was an abundance of auditory evidence. In any event, I parked in his spot, FF came down to join me, and we took the cats out of the car. They hated being in the car, but clearly they hated having the carriers carried even more. As soon as they were outside, the volume and frantic quality of their cries became significantly more pronounced. They were in full wail mode, and there were three people standing in front of our building. So even though it was a more circuitous route, we decide to use the service entrance to our building’s basement (which meant we would have to travel up one more floor in the elevator). The elevator took forever to come, and while we were waiting, a man in the laundry room (who must have thought a small child was being viciously beaten) came to figure out what all the noise was about. So much for us going unseen and unheard. We got in the elevator and prayed that it wouldn’t stop on the ground floor to let someone on. And that was the only thing that went our way. FF and I each gave a shallow sigh of relief and proceed to race our feline contraband into our home.

And so went Operation: Meow Move. Now we’re in the acclamation process. The girl seems to be adjusting well, but the boy is exponentially more timid. He spent the first few hours under our loveseat, which given his massive size, and how close the bottom of the couch comes to the floor, took a lot of work on his part. I finally coaxed (actually pulled) him out, and though he was clearly unhappy to be where he was, he did love being petted (he is an affection glutton). I tried my best to clean him off, but he is still a bit smelly. When I was getting ready for bed last night, the girl was happy to follow me around and then sleep by our bed, but the boy stayed statue-like by his safe hiding spot. When I woke up at three this morning, she had clearly moved around, but he had not. I could barely make out the white part of his chest still there by the loveseat. I tried again to entice him, and I was able to get him to come to me. After that, they both spent the last few hours of the night under the bed. And that is where they are at this very moment. I’m pretty sure I overly anthropomorphize them (which is why I think things like, “Well, even in the move is hard, they will find comfort in each other’s company”), but I think she’s only there for him. She’s a good sister. She looks after him. FF thinks he’s retarded, I just think he’s fearful, but on the phobic side of the spectrum.