Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Hits New York

When Hurricane Sandy first entered our vocabulary last last week, I wasn't too worried. Last year's Hurricane Irene didn't much affect New York City despite dire warnings. I figured Sandy would be more of the same.

Over the weekend it became clear that this was something different. While the hurricane came ashore south of New York, near Atlantic City, it was clear that the winds and water surges were going to cause trouble here. The only question was how much.

Hurricane Sandy coverage was on our TV nearly nonstop Monday, and our Facebook friends kept us up to date about what was happening in and around our neighborhood. After the worst of it began near 7 p.m., the winds got extremely strong outside of our apartment, though the rain was barely more than a shower.

From what I've heard, Bay Ridge seems to have been mostly spared, with some downed trees and maybe some electrical wires. Some of the shoreline, from what we've heard, is messed up. Other neighborhoods -- in all the boroughs, Long Island, New Jersey and elsewhere -- came out far, far worse. At least 40 people died. Houses were destroyed. Houses simply floated way.

In a way, Paul and I came out even better after this storm than we did after last year's Hurricane Irene: back then the cable that connected our Dish Network snapped and we had to schedule a repairman. This time, we didn't even have that. The lights flickered a few times, and that was it. When I see on the news about the lost lives, lost property and millions of people who lost power, I certainly feel my luck.

However, the subway system was shut down Sunday evening before the storm and then was flooded during the worst of it. No trains until further notice.

In addition, my office lost electricity and won't reopen until the power is back on. I was off Monday and Tuesday, and I expect the same today.

Two hurricanes in two years. Here's hoping this is the worst New York will see for a while.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Last Week of Work

I got my first job when I was 16 and haven't been off a company payroll for more than a month or so at a time since then.

My first two years of college, it took me a few weeks to find a job at the beginning of the quarter, and when we moved to New York, I was out of work for a little more than a month. Other then those times, I've always had a job -- or at least had one lined up to begin at the end of a college break.

So this week is bittersweet. It's my final week at my last full-time job for a while. Come Saturday, I won't be earning a steady paycheck for pretty much the first time in 15 years. (And my final week will be a short one -- the office is closed today because of Hurricane Sandy.)

It was a difficult decision to stay home after the birth of our first child, but luckily it's a correctable decision if I determine I've made the wrong one. In the meantime, I know exactly how lucky I am to be able to have the option to stay at home at all.

However, I hope I won't leave the workforce altogether. Come springtime, I would like to dip my toe back into the waters, this time as a freelance writer working from home. I'm both excited and nervous about taking this step, but I think it will be a good one for both me and the family.

I'm not worried about becoming a stereotypical housewife, mostly because I still can't cook (I'm trying to learn!) and I hate to clean. What I am worried about are the long, cold winter days in which I'll be stuck inside with little sleep and without another adult voice.

But I've thoroughly explored the pros and cons of the full-time working world. Now it's time to find out the joys and challenges on the home front.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Election Campaigning in New York

New York -- surprise, surprise -- is not a swing state.

Neither President Obama nor Mitt Romney come here to make big speeches, volunteer in a soup kitchen or shake hands. Well, they probably do plenty of the latter, but likely only at $1,000-plate fundraising dinners.

We don't see commercials, we don't get mailings and we don't have a land line, so we don't get phone calls. No volunteers knock on our doors, and yards sprout surprisingly few signs for the presidential candidates.

Local candidates, however, are a different story. It seems like I throw out a different mailing every other day. And it's probably even worse because Paul and I have different party affiliations, so we get something from everyone.

I try to make an educated vote for these state and congressional seats, but it's difficult when I read so many stories in the newspaper about how so-and-so has done such-and-such shady deal.

But thanks to these mailings and yard signs, I know their names almost as well as Obama and Romney. And while I know how my vote will be cast for president, I now have only a little more than a week to decide who to choose for these other races. Happily, there will be no robocalls to "help."

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

8 Things I Can't Wait to Do Post-Pregnancy

Baby Edith is now due in less than a month -- 29 days, to be exact.

And while I can hardly wait to meet her face to face, I'm looking forward to a lot of other things after baby is born, too. I can't wait to:

1. Wear pants that aren't stretchy.

The first time I tried on maternity jeans, I burst out laughing. The elastic goes all the way up to where? I'm not laughing anymore. I live in those jeans, yoga pants, pajama bottoms and, on nice days, a couple of dresses and stretchy skirts. I miss my regular ol' jeans.

2. Fasten my jackets.

I still have a couple of wool coats that zip or button up without squashing my bump, but my very favorites are a no-go. That's not exactly true -- on the mild fall days, I still wear my favorite plaid jacket without fastening the bottom button.

3. Sleep without a backache.

There was a fist-size spot on the upper left side of my back, just below my shoulder blade, that used to hurt no matter how I slept. Now the spot's along my side around my ribs. Sleeping on my right side, left side, with a pillow between my knees, back against the wall or the couch: it doesn't matter. But maybe after baby comes I'll look back fondly on getting any kind of sleep, backache or not.

4. Eat and drink what I want.

A medium-well hamburger topped with blue cheese sounds nice. Even a cold-cut turkey sandwich sounds like an indulgence. And while I haven't missed the absence of alcohol too much, it'll still be nice to indulge in a bottle of beer or glass of wine once in a while. And I especially can't wait to ...

5. Order sushi.

Honestly, my favorite rolls are vegetarian: California or just plain avocado. But now that I can't have it, I really want a spicy tuna roll. Even if I had one right now, however, it wouldn't satisfy me for long. I'm so hungry all the time that I don't even know how many rolls it would take to satisfy my stomach.

6. Stop running into things.

I'm still not used to my belly's extra inches, and it's not uncommon for me to run into stomach-high objects. I forget that I don't have that extra wiggle room! Even when I'm passing by Paul in, say, our narrow kitchen, my belly has a tendency to rub against his back. I want my old body back!

7. Walk fast.

I missed my first subway last week specifically due to my pregnancy. I simply couldn't walk fast enough to make it to the doors before they closed. It made me sad to realize that a woman who slipped by me when we heard the train coming made it in time.

8. Breathe.

It's much more difficult than it used to be to take a deep breath, even sitting straight up. Reclining is not an option, and lying on my back? As they say in Brooklyn, fuggedaboutit.

Monday, October 22, 2012

My Laundromat Has a Patio

In the last year or so, our laundromat turned fancy.

New washers. New dryers. New tiles on the wall. New, higher prices to match all the fanciness.

But what appeared sometime around last summer surprised me most of all: a backyard patio. Who knew my laundromat had more outdoor space than me? (But since my only outdoor space is on the fire escape, it really wouldn't take much.)

The patio certainly isn't fancy. A couple of picnic tables. A garden that has more rocks than anything green. In fact, between the spare laundry carts on one side and the barbed wire along the top of the fence on the other side, there might be more metal than plants.

We live so close to the laundromat that we usually come back up to our apartment while we're waiting for our loads to wash or dry. Still, the patio is a nice alternative to wait between loads, so long as you have a good book and don't mind the aroma of laundry detergent and dryer sheets.

Friday, October 19, 2012

From Apartment to Subway in Bay Ridge

Birds on my way to work.

The walk from our apartment to the subway is only six minutes, but we still have four routes to choose from.

The one I choose depends on several factors, but primarily upon the direction in which the "walk" sign is flashing. But a few other things come into play, too. I'll choose the sunny side of the street on cold days, the shady side when it's extremely hot. After a big snowfall, I'll avoid the sidewalks that haven't been shoveled. When I see a garbage truck making stops on one street, I'll generally go to the next.

In the springtime, I'll purposefully walk down the street with the big purple lilac bush. In the fall, I choose the path with the house that has the best Halloween decorations. And at Christmastime, I seek out lights and try to make it a point to walk through the corner where the trees are sold, taking in the holiday scent.

But some morning sights never change, no matter the month or season. At one corner, I almost always see a flock of birds picking at bread left by some kind soul. Once I saw the birds feasting on giant muffins. Usually, however, it's a crumbled wet mess.

Strollers are a common sight -- both at the preschool about a block away and a popular pediatrician's office closer to the subway. And across from the pediatrician, the beautifully manicured lawn of a funeral home, sometimes with a few men dressed in black out front. Life and death, right across the street from one another.

If I walk by my salon in the morning, I'll give a quick wave to my hairdresser if she's looking out the window. If I walk by the bodegas, I'll see the workers unpack the fresh fruits and vegetables that were just delivered.

Mostly, however, the morning walks to the subway are interesting just because you start to see the neighborhood wake up. It's nearly 9 a.m., and the gates are coming up and businesses are opening their doors.

All that happens in the sun, rain and snow, although it's much more difficult to find enjoyment in it when the wind is blowing raindrops in your face, under your broken umbrella. But sometimes, when it's warm and pleasant and everything comes together, the world seems almost perfect.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Pregnancy and Strangers

I've finally popped. Although strangers have periodically made kind comments about my pregnancy for the last couple of months -- a bank teller asked me excitedly when I was due, a woman behind me in the grocery store told me how beautiful I was -- now there's absolutely no mistaking it. My belly is growing exponentially.

While some strangers, like those above, have treated the bump with kindness, others are more annoying. And at least one stranger had a pretty hilarious response.

The annoying people fall under one category: those who won't give up their seats. I understand subways are crowded and no one wants to stand up after a long day of work. And I don't even try to give anyone a dirty look, instead just gripping a bar until someone kindly offers a seat. This is just as often a woman as a man.

Admittedly, this doesn't come up too often. I almost always get a seat on the way to work without anyone shifting, and I usually do on the way home, too. But a few commutes home I've had to wait. And my back doesn't care for it.

And once, I was made to feel guilty for grabbing a seat. I try to catch a bus from my doctor's office to our apartment almost a mile away. Once, the bus was especially crowded, and an older woman with a cane was left standing right in front of me. No one seemed willing to budge, and I briefly considered it. But I was almost 7 months pregnant and stayed down.

Another woman, a few seats over, offered her seat, which spurred a nearby man to do the same. The woman -- who may not have been able to see that I was pregnant because of the way our seats were positioned -- threw a chastisement in my general direction about people staying put when older passengers needed seats. I stayed quiet, but not in my mind.

Another annoyance came in my doctor's office itself. My doctor was running way behind with her appointments, and all of the seats in the waiting room were taken, with several people standing. I found a spot to stand against a wall. And then I noticed at least one seat taken up by a man. Now, Paul's been to a few appointments with me, and I obviously have no problem with a significant other being there for support. But give up your seat! You're obviously not waiting for an OB/GYN for any medical reason yourself.

The funniest story, however, happened just last week. I need a few more pieces of clothing to get me through the last month of this pregnancy, so after work I went to the Century 21 department store in our neighborhood. I stopped a saleswoman and asked if there was a maternity section.

Not really, she said. But they had some lace underwear that was stretchy.

Thanks, but no thanks.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Best Very Cheap Views of New York City

They say the best things in life are free. But when it comes to high-cost New York City, very, very cheap is almost as good. And in New York, you can get some great views for just a few bucks.

Last week I outlined four of my favorite free New York City views. Today, four more that aren't quite free but certainly won't leave you broke, either.

1. Brooklyn Bridge

Manhattan from the Brooklyn Bridge

Of course, walking over the Brooklyn Bridge is on many to-do lists. And while technically it is free, it often makes more sense to walk over the bridge in one direction and take the subway to your next destination, saving time and your poor, poor legs.

A few tips: make sure to stay on the bridge's walking path in order to escape the ire of angry bicyclists on the other side of the line. Also, the subway is much closer to the Manhattan side of the bridge; plan your trip accordingly.

Lastly, many people recommend walking from Brooklyn to Manhattan in order to get the Manhattan views all the way across the bridge. I don't think it really matters. There are a couple of fine spots to stop along the bridge to see all the good views you want and more.

Total cost: $2.25 for the subway ride.

2. Subway over the Manhattan Bridge

Manhattan Bridge

The Manhattan Bridge is just north of the Brooklyn Bridge on the East River, so you get the same good views that you get from the Brooklyn Bridge, only from here the Brooklyn Bridge is actually in those views.

You can also walk across the Manhattan Bridge, but it's certainly not as popular as its neighboring bridge to the south. I've never done it. Anyway, the train views are perfectly fine.

However, note that you won't be able to get great photos. The subway itself moves pretty fast, and the Manhattan Bridge itself is in the way of any good shot. But you can get some lovely views of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty.

To cross the Manhattan Bridge by subway, take the D, N or Q trains, but note that they may not cross the bridge during weekend construction projects.

Total cost: $2.25 for the subway ride.

3. Roosevelt Island Tram

Dramatic views, both toward Roosevelt Island and Queens (above), as well as Manhattan proper.

For a swipe of your MetroCard, you can take a ride on public transportation that feels more like it belongs in your favorite amusement park.

The ride on the tram's cable car is only a few minutes long, but you get beautiful views of Midtown Manhattan along the East River. The tram drops you off in Roosevelt Island proper -- also a part of Manhattan -- where you can take a scenic walk along the water's edge for even more terrific views.

Total cost: $2.25 for the tram, accepts MetroCards like the subway and buses.

4. BQE along the East River

From the comfort of your car -- or a taxi, if you prefer -- you'll get views on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway similar to the ones you'll see at Brooklyn Bridge Park, which I wrote about in Friday's blog post.

Heading south is fine, of course, but I think the views north are even better: Manhattan on your left, and the Brooklyn Bridge straight ahead. Beautiful.

Total cost: Gas money or taxi fare.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Best Free Views of New York City

New York City isn't free, but luckily some of the best views in town are.

Maybe your visit to New York isn't complete without a trip to the peak of the Empire State Building or the Top of the Rock observation deck ($25 apiece), but you can get city views that are almost as awe-inspiring while saving your cash for a good dinner or Broadway show.

Here are a few of my favorite free New York City views:

1. Staten Island Ferry

Statue of Liberty from the Staten Island Ferry

It's no secret that the free ferry is just as popular for Staten Island commuters into New York City as it is for tourists who want an up-close view of the Statue of Liberty without paying for a ferry directly to Liberty Island.

However, the ferry is also good for great views of Lower Manhattan. For the best views of both Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty on the way to Staten Island, quickly grab a spot outdoors next to the railing (if you're facing the ferry, these spots are on the right, closest to the pier). These spots go fast, although you can often squeeze in a photo with a polite "excuse me."

Returning from Staten Island, go to the far end of the ferry for the best Manhattan views.

2. Governors Island

Pros: The free ferry trip to Governors Island is shorter than the one to Staten Island, plus there are departure points from both Brooklyn and Manhattan (right next door to the Staten Island Ferry). Cons: It's basically only available on summer weekends.

But if you do go to Governors Island, you can snap great photos of Lower Manhattan without the Staten Island Ferry crowds.

3. Brooklyn Bridge Park

In my book, the most gorgeous views of Lower Manhattan come from Brooklyn Bridge Park. At night, the skyscraper lights just twinkle in the East River, plus the Brooklyn Bridge is practically on top of you. How much more New Yorky can you get?

Bonus: The Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory is on the park's Fulton Ferry Pier, and Grimaldi's pizzeria is nearby.

4. Owl's Head Pier and Shore Road Promenade

Manhattan at twilight from the promenade

A visit here doesn't make much sense for a visitor with limited time in New York -- it's a good 45 minute subway ride from Manhattan -- but it holds a special place in my heart since these spectacular views are in my very own neighborhood of Bay Ridge.

Owl's Head Pier is a popular fishing spot that juts into New York Bay at 69th Street in Brooklyn. Bring a zoom lens and take fantastic photos of the Statue of Liberty and, of course, Lower Manhattan. Then take a walk along the promenade south to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. You'll also get good views of Staten Island, and probably several ships -- mostly cargo, but the occasional cruise, as well.

Note: There are various places along the East River in Brooklyn and Queens that also have great free views, and I'm sure there are great vantage points along the Hudson River in New Jersey. I'm just not familiar with them. Explore!

On Monday: They may not be free, but I also have a list of the best very, very cheap New York City views!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Touring the Hospital Maternity Ward

Paul and I stepped foot into the hospital I'll be delivering at for the first time last weekend when we took a tour of the maternity ward.

Things are starting to get real.

Tours are held only the first Sunday of each month, which means this was our last chance since Paul runs the New York City Marathon the first Sunday of November. Now or never; the last chances are coming much more quickly now.

The tour, of course, covered all of the basics -- where to go when you first get to the hospital, what the birthing rooms look like (which freaked me out about as much as anything ever has) and where I'll be staying for the following two days if everything goes well.

We even got a peak into the room where the newborns were staying, which almost made me cry. The Diane I knew a year ago would've laughed at the soon-to-be moms who teared up at the sight of tiny infants. What's happening to me?!

As the baby's taking up more of my space and making it harder for me to breath everyday, I'm anxious for her to make her grand entrance. Although for her own sake, I hope she waits at least a few more weeks. But please, please PLEASE not until December.

Monday, October 8, 2012

5 Years of Living in New York

On Oct. 8, 2007, Paul and I hopped in a car loaded with suitcases, a litter box and two cats and made the half-day drive east to move to New York.

A few things have changed in the last five years. For one, the cats are no longer with us. For another, the Cincinnati Reds are in the postseason this October instead of the Cleveland Indians.

And, of course, we know our neighborhood much, much better. Before moving to New York, we had been to Bay Ridge two or three times -- and one of those visits was to pick out the apartment we still live in today. Now we've lived in Bay Ridge longer than we ever lived in our house in Galloway, Ohio, after we got married, and I know this part of Brooklyn better than I ever knew the west side of Columbus.

Since I wrote the post a couple of weeks ago about the supposed invasion of Midwestern hipsters to Bay Ridge, along with the animosity I didn't realize that some residents seem to feel toward us outsiders, I've put some more thought into whether I'm yet a New Yorker -- or could ever be one.

I'm proud of how much I've learned about Bay Ridge, Brooklyn and New York City in the last five years. I don't have the native knowledge of how the neighborhood and city have changed over the years, but I feel that I'm a part of the fabric here. In a city where so many people are from somewhere else, I can hold my own.

But maybe you can't be a New Yorker until you decide that it's your home forever and always. That was never the case for Paul and me. Sure, our original plans of staying here only a year or two got expanded, but we've never considered retiring here.

New York is home now, but it's not home forever. I think that means that no matter how long we stay here, I'll always be an Ohioan first with only a small fraction carved out for the New Yorker in me. And even that, I'm afraid, will begin to fade all too soon.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

One Month til the New York City Marathon

Although Paul has run something like four marathons -- including one earlier this year in Lake Placid -- a month from tomorrow will mark his first time in the New York City Marathon.

That's because it's fairly difficult to get into. There seems to be three basic ways: (1) join a fundraising team, (2) join a special New York running team and commit to running a certain number of races throughout the year, spending hundreds of dollars in entry fees in the process, or (3) take your chances in a lottery.

Paul did the third -- in fact, he's entered the lottery three years and failed. Fortunately, three strikes and you're not out: you're actually in. That is, after three failed attempts you get an automatic berth the following year. That rule is going away next year, Paul tells me, so he made it in just under the wire.

I've given up trying to follow his training schedule, but I do know that he runs all hours of the day, several days a week. Sometimes he'll get up at 6 or 6:30 in the morning to get in a few miles before work. More often he'll go out to the shore for a couple of hours in the evening. And I can usually count on him putting in a long run -- sometimes up to 18 miles -- either Saturday or Sunday morning.

Now Paul runs half-marathons for fun. When Paul found out last week that there was a half-marathon in the neighborhood this past Sunday, he signed up a few days before the race and ran the 13.1 miles in 1:50. He's not the fastest guy on the track -- the winner clocked in around 1:15 -- but it's still pretty respectable for someone who's basically just doing this for fun.

The New York City Marathon route passes a block away from our apartment, and I am looking forward to cheering Paul on, even if I won't be up for waddling down to the finish line in Central Park (I'll only be three weeks short of our due date by that time). And Paul's looking forward to crossing off a goal he's had since moving to New York five years ago.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Sleep/Walking: Before & After Becoming Pregnant

Now that my eating habits are pretty much back to normal and my puking episodes are down to about once a month, the two biggest changes to my routine since becoming pregnant are how I sleep and how I walk.

Neither was completely unexpected, except for the extent to which my routines have changed.

First of all, I'm more tired. My whole life I've always needed a full eight hours of sleep in order to wake up in the morning in a bearable mood. Now that's creeping up to at least nine hours. And please, don't remind me that all of this will change once the baby comes. I'm well aware that I'll be up all the time, at all hours of the night. Let me enjoy this while I still can!

The real issue, however, is how uncomfortable it is to sleep. Sleeping on my back is out -- too difficult to breath. So I rotate from my left side to my right side all night long, which by itself certainly isn't as easy as it was a few months ago. And the fetal position -- long my favorite way in which to sleep -- has been out of the question for weeks. I wake up every two hours to take a gulp of water and reposition myself. You could nearly set an alarm to my awakenings.

But lying on my side turns me into one big uneven mess -- the extra weight makes me want to lean forward (uncomfortable), but leaning back makes me tip over onto my back (difficult to breath). We finally moved the bed against the wall a couple of weeks ago, and I lean against a pillow on the wall for at least half the night. Once or twice a week I end up spending the night on the couch, which would be by far the most comfortable spot if only I were about a foot shorter.

But I do manage to sleep, and I haven't ever fallen asleep at my desk at work, which must mean I'm doing OK. But as for the walking ...

I've always been a fast walker, probably stemming from my days trekking from the dorms to my classrooms on Ohio State's gigantic campus. Living in New York -- where everyone walks fast -- has only sped me up, to the point where my marathon-running husband frequently asks me to slow down.

Now I'm the one telling him to take it easy. My sides ache after a few blocks of walking at my normal speed, and I've even taken to leaving for the subway a few minutes earlier in the morning so I don't feel like I have to rush. The slower pace is annoying but not that big of a deal -- except when it's raining or, I'm sure, in a few more weeks when it's cold.

But overall I've had a happy, healthy pregnancy, and the eight weeks of nausea and morning sickness that lasted from late March to late May already seem like a long, long time ago.


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