Ramblings: Just a Walk in the Park...










Memorial Day weekend always reminds me of moving to NYC – the heat, the humidity, the laziness of the first holiday of the year since New Year’s Day in the middle of the bustle and noise of everyday life. Subsequent years bore beach days and hungover days; brunch times and walks in the city;  Long Island days and barbeques in Bushwick. Every year I longed for Memorial Day weekend to arrive so that I could celebrate the beginning of summer, my real favourite season in NYC. This year it crept up on me, my first Memorial Day as a family: a day where no one needed to work, a day to spend together as we see fit, no plans, just mother, father and baby time.

Nowadays it’s really just the simple things that matter: a walk in the park, watching the turtles watching you with their little heads sticking out of the water, looking at the squirrel scampering away with the acorn in its mouth, relaxing on a blanket under a tree and closing your eyes. Choosing a pretty spring outfit for yourself and your daughter, knowing full well that she doesn’t care if you are in a dress or pyjamas, or if she is in a onesie or a dress, but doing it anyway because it is fun and because you can. Walking along the sidewalk as a unit, mother, father, daughter, altogether as one, making jokes and gazing at the pretty houses and gardens, imagining together what our next home and garden will look like. Tickling your child under the chin with a blade of grass and listening to her laugh and hoping that you will hear that beautiful sound every day, forever.

Flushing ended up being a good choice for us, because despite the commute into Manhattan, it really is beautiful here. There are parks and gardens and trees and flowers everywhere and a happy alternative to the race of the city and all that it entails. As I was walking around the neighbourhood yesterday I realised just how much every single priority had changed for the better. A walk in the park is just so much more enjoyable now, as are all of those little things that we take for granted most of the time, the turtles and the squirrels and the naps in the grass, the smell of concrete after a rain shower, and the lilac bushes in bloom on the street corners. I guess this is what my real happiness is…

Ramblings: Setting up a new home and those last few weeks

ALISON TOON: Jade baby shower &emdash; Jade's baby showerAh it has all been a bit of a whirlwind these past few weeks, and I have been getting so tired that between work, the commute and trying to make our new apartment into a real home before the baby gets here I haven't had a moment to really write anything down. Although there is a lot to be said... I feel like so much has happened and I need to record it now before I forget due to baby brain, or have even less time on my hands! I know full well that the moment the baby gets here I will hardly have time to sleep let alone anything else!

Between the endless (or what seems to be that way) snowstorms and icy winter days and nights we managed to move a lot of our belongings from the old apartment on Troutman St in Brookyn to the new place in Flushing at the beginning of February. Our moving truck man got stuck in the slushy snow pile outside the building, and tried to put Joey Ramone the howling cat in the back with the furniture, but we managed to make it to our new home without breakages or damages. And what a home! It's big, airy, bright and so quiet. I slept so well the first night and woke up to the sounds of birds singing, not to the sounds of the endless construction on the streets of Bushwick. There were still quite a few of my belongings left in the old place, but my mum and wonderful best friend went to pick it all up for me last week so I didn't have to deal with it. I just don't know if I could have faced any more moving at that point.

Setting up home has been so much fun, apart from the fact that every time we save some money, we end up spending on very important things... Necessary things of course, but the money part is beginning to worry me, as we have 4 weeks left until the baby gets here... I know deep down everything will be fine, but I am taking 2 months off, and am not used to not making my own money and not being financially independent! All for a very, very good cause though, as I will be busy looking after our little Munchie and giving her the best start in life that we can give her. Buying a new couch was the most fun part, turning up at Bob's Furniture and walking around trying all types of different couches, and looking at sectionals as we have the space for one. We ended up going for a lovely coffee coloured one with large pillows and enough room for us to both lie down on it and watch TV on our brand new 42 inch HDTV... Which we ended up getting at a super discount price because someone had messed up on the pricing at Best Buy... There are still boxes and boxes that need to be emptied or put away, but there is no real rush with this. I've been doing one or two a night, and trying to imagine how I would like our home to look like when it is all done. I feel like we are finally really making a home for our family, a place that is ours and no one else's!

I'm still working 40 hours a week, and C. is still at his 60 plus hours, and it's been a little strange for us both as I am now working day times and he is still working the usual night time hours. We are going to have to make real efforts to spend enough time together on this schedule as I spent a lot of the first week feeling a bit thrown off and missing him, even though we live together and work on the same premises. I know he did too. Thankfully we both have Wednesdays off together still and these have become even more important than before. We have been trying to explore our new neighbourhood (we already have found "our" deli and "our" diner), looking for places to eat and shop and hang out. It's been a little difficult with the weather that has limited my movements a lot (on top of the fact that I get tired fast when I am walking now, as Munchie is really growing fast). I love how multicultural the neighbourhood is, how there is a church that has service in 5 different languages on Sundays, that it feels like it's still NYC, but a little quieter and more relaxed than where I lived in Brooklyn before. Then again, I wasn't too happy when I had to get the shuttle bus instead of the subway last week and people kept pushing me, despite the fact that I have a very obvious baby bump. I'm sorry to anyone who got my elbow in their face, but being pushed and squashed makes me do those type of things!

ALISON TOON: Jade and Cesar &emdash; Jade and Cesar


I don't really want to get started on the whole getting up and giving your seat to a disabled, elderly or pregnant person on the subway, but I do want to mention it. I was brought up in countries where this was a normal thing to do. You don't look up, look at a person and look down again, without getting up from your seat. Yes, maybe I chose to be pregnant and ride the subway, but standing up for long periods of time in a crowded subway at this point in my pregnancy actually makes me feel light-headed and faint, and easily able to lose my balance. In any case, it's always other women who give me their seat, never has a man offered his seat, not even when I am standing right above them. I'm not the type to ask for a seat, nor am I going to glare at you angrily to make you feel bad, but people need to be a little more aware. It's quite sad really! The best moment for me was the time I asked a woman to move her bag so I could sit down and was looked at as if I were some kind of cockroach trying to crawl into her personal space. Of course I didn't feel bad ha!

 My amazing mother came out for a week to help us with everything and to participate in the baby shower that my lovely best friend threw for me. It was really perfect, as I really don't like being the centre of attention, but she made it into a lovely tea party at the Kings' Carriage House where people I love joined me to celebrate the impending arrival of my little girl. Everyone has been so generous and it is really helping us get ready for having a baby in our home. I have the best people in my life, and I hope I am the same type of friend to them as they are to me. Mum took some wonderful photos of the afternoon that display how lovely (and pink) it really was. You can see them HERE

ALISON TOON: Jade baby shower &emdash; Jade's baby showerSo this is it really... Four weeks left (give or take a few depending on when she decides its time to come out), and I am hovering between stages of feeling elated and intensely nervous. Not about the actual birth which still feels like something surreal that is going to happen but that I have no idea how, but more about afterwards. Am I going to be able to breastfeed easily? Is everything going to be OK? Will I be a good mother?!? Will my baby be happy and healthy?

In the meantime I shall continue to feel content and to breathe through all the mini moments of panic, and just know that everything WILL be OK. Both C and I are happy and healthy and are prepared to do anything to make sure our child is happy and healthy too. And I really really really can't wait to finally meet her outside of the womb, and talk to her little face and tell her how she spent the last month inside me kicking my ribs and making me laugh.

This continues to be the most amazing journey of my life.


For more of my mother, Alison Toon's photos from her recent stay here and more check out her website here: Alison Toon

Ramblings: Apartment hunting in NYC (often equivalent to hitting your head repeatedly against a wall)




I’ve lived here nearly 9 years now and the am convinced that the single most stressful part of NYC living is finding an apartment to live in. Finding a place to live, a place to call home. When I first moved here I lived in a small one bedroom apartment on the Lower East Side (corner of Rivington and Clinton to be more exact) for a month, courtesy of the company I worked for, so that I had time to find my own place. Yes, I thought that was small at the time. I loved the neighbourhood the moment I set foot in it, and spent the first few weeks walking around at all times of the day and night, grabbing a drink at random bars, observing people, buying Pringles at 24 hour delis at 4am, watching the people walk by from the apartment’s fire escape and writing poems up there. From the moment I started looking for a place to live I knew that the neighbourhood was completely out of my price range, especially after I had decided that for the first time in my life I wanted to live alone, without roommates… 

I was clueless. I had no credit (what on earth was this credit that everyone was speaking of), no real money to my name, no furniture and no idea how I was going to find a place. I had also never been to NYC before, let alone lived there, didn’t know anyone, and also had no idea on where it was safe or cheaper to live. Luckily, after trawling through Craigslist for a few days I found a 1 bedroom furnished sublet in Spanish Harlem, on First Ave between 119th and 120th streets. A tiny one bedroom for $900 (heat and hot water included, electricity separate) on the ground floor, with a little back yard (meaning a concrete area outside the bedroom door). It seemed pricy, but still affordable if I were careful, and it was finally my own place. Some people warned me that the neighbourhood was dangerous, but in 10 months I lived there I never had a problem. The guys who were always hanging out on my stoop were always courteous and opened the door for me, the man who ran the deli next door held on to my packages for me, and the only unwanted visitor I had was a rat, who appeared during my first week there, and after that never reappeared again (yes, you quickly learn how to plug up holes that may be found under the sink with wire…). Oh and a clogged toilet on July 4th weekend just after I had moved in because the previous tenant thought that that was where you disposed of your cigarette butts. Lesson learned – always have a plunger at hand!

Ten months later I was able to secure a bank loan thanks to my wonderful mother (she probably wouldn’t jump at doing that again though, but that’s a whole other story), and started looking for a place that would be mine, a studio on the LES, where I was all the time anyway. With the help of a friend who also happened to be a broker I ended up finding a little rent stabilized studio in the West Village, on Sixth Ave between Houston and Bleecker, right above the restaurant called Bar Pitti. $1350 a month for a place to call my home. I spent over $7 grand on first month’s rent and security deposit and broker’s fees and furniture, and never thought about the fact that $1350 was going to be too much to spend if I didn’t curb my lifestyle in a little… And even though everything was super legit, I still felt like it was all kinds of shady, signing your life away to a management company or landlord that issues you with a lease with so much small print that your brain starts to hurt after the first sentence. Advice to all: always read the small print, especially if you have a vindictive landlord who will try to extort money out of you after your lease ends. I signed a 2 year lease on this place and although I don’t regret living there, and the experience of living in the West Village, the convenience to everything and the fact that I could literally walk everywhere I needed to go to, if I had to do it again I would have been a lot more financially savvy, and would have spent less money on rent and electricity and take-out and all the rest. But I still have fond memories of that little place, where the two windows looked out onto another building and where it got so hot in the summer there was no way you could live without AC. The convenience of the location was amazing – I walked everywhere. If I didn’t feel like getting out of bed I could call the deli down the street and they would deliver within 20 minutes. So convenient that I ended up spending most of my time outside of the apartment, and in the end it just became a place to sleep rather than a home. A very expensive place to sleep.


When the rent just got too much and my lease was finally about to expire my friend Beth and I decided to look for a place together in Brooklyn, as she was in the same situation as me, and both of us needed something cheaper.  I also just wanted more space and light in my life. We had no idea where we should go in Brooklyn, visited a few places in Williamsburg, and branched out a little to Bushwick, even though most people we knew warned us not to. This was 6 years ago when no one wanted to live in Bushwick. We saw a 2 bedroom going for $1900 in a brand new building just off the Myrtle-Broadway stop on the J and decided to visit it. The place was amazing. Huge space with stainless steel appliances (a dishwasher!!), laundry IN the apartment (yes IN THE UNIT), and huge windows. The street itself looked pretty calm and there wasn’t much around in terms of restaurants or bars, but it was $1900… Meaning that we would both be saving around $400 a month EACH. Yes, we jumped on it. I still can’t believe that I thought that the commute would be a little long after living in the West Village for ages… Then we were told we had to present first and last month’s rent, as well as one month’s security deposit before we could sign the lease. And ASAP, in case someone else wanted the unit and got in there before us. That’s a total of $5700. Luckily we managed to get them to agree to first month and security deposit and got the money together within the week. We passed our credit checks and other checks, signed the lease and had the keys within a few days. The first people to move into a brand new, empty building. We felt like queens!! We discovered the neighbourhood and watched Bushwick change rapidly over the years. We negotiated our rent down to $1,700 and it hardly went up over the years… Until last year. Last year saw a huge influx in new buildings in Bushwick, and also a huge hike in rent. Ours went up from $1750 to $2000 (and even after a meeting with our landlords they assured us that they wanted to go up to $2200 but didn’t want to lose us so agreed to $2000). People were really paying these types of rents in Bushwick?? Apparently so. 

(The story of life on Troutman St will be relayed in another, separate account. It deserves its own post).


And so now it is time to move again. For multiple reasons, most importantly because I am having a baby in April, because I want to move in with my boyfriend in OUR own home, and because I want to pay less rent. Over the years my credit has gone from being nil to passable to completely crap, and C. has no credit at all, not making it any easier to secure a place. On top of that our lease runs out on February 28th, and I don’t want to have to move when I am ready to give birth. The stress of finding an apartment in this city makes me want to cry on a good day – imagine being 7 months pregnant and traipsing the streets looking for a place that will take you without credit and that is actually affordable… We had already decided that Queens was where we were heading this time, with rents that are still affordable and places that were still of a decent size. I walked out of the first agency in tears because the woman told me she couldn’t help us as we didn’t have good credit. Didn’t even try. So we started grabbing numbers from leaflets on lamp posts on Roosevelt Avenue, and ended up meeting some type of broker guys in the back room of an Internet café (yes sketchy it was). They took us to a few places, one being a large one bedroom apartment in Flushing. Yes, large. And quiet. And on the ground floor. And airy. And light. And large. Did I already mention large? Oh, and with a rent of $1275 a month. 

Yes, it’s in Flushing. A few blocks away from the last stop on the 7 line (but still, no buses! It’s still off the subway!!). Does this bother me? Surprisingly, no. To be honest it’s a perfect compromise. I’m tired of being in the noisy parts of the city. I want to be able to take my baby to the supermarket and to the park without feeling that I am walking a stroller through a maze of unexpected obstacles. I want to be able to relax at home without hearing sirens and car horns and people blaring their music from their car stereo. So, Flushing it is… I hope! This time it’s even more shifty as we don’t want to have to go through a credit check just to get rejected, but the lovely gentlemen who showed us the apartment are helping us through it and we will be signing the lease tomorrow… Fingers crossed as I don’t want to jinx it, but with a little help from some friends, long hours at work and the art of living off pasta for a week we managed to cobble together the funds that we need to get the keys. It appears to all be legit too as the landlord/owner of the building called our workplace to check that we weren’t lying about our jobs… Honestly, looking for and finding an apartment in NYC always feel completely sketchy, as if you are doing something slightly illegal. Even when you have amazing credit and a decent salary and enough money to pay for 3 months rent up front.

I can’t wait to take this next step, setting up our child’s first home, living in a new borough of the city (for me) and just discovering a new neighbourhood. I’m excited to decorate a new place with our drawings and photos and belongings, making it ours. And I’m so happy that I don’t have to worry about this any longer, as once the lease is signed we can focus on moving and setting up the apartment for the baby… So long Brooklyn, Queens here we come!


All images  © Jade Anna Hughes

Ramblings and Photography: Autumn in California




A two week holiday with my family in California was just what I needed after a long and tumultuous year of happenings and changes. Next time I won’t be away from the love of my life for this long (thankfully FaceTime exists), but all in all this holiday was seeped in love and happiness as the main reason for my trip over here was to see my brother marry the love of his life in a beautiful ceremony in the rose gardens in downtown Sacramento.



Two days after I arrived, the weather as warm as a summer day (minus the humidity) in NYC, I watched my little brother and his now wife vow to be together forever while putting the hand-picked rings they had chosen for each other on each other’s fingers. Even in late October the many rose bushes were still in bloom, and the lilac trees were full of pretty butterflies, the precious animal that is always so dear to my heart for so many reasons. Close family and friends of the couple were there with us, including some family from England that I hadn’t seen for years. There were lots of tears of happiness and sadness when thinking of those not able to join us in the celebrations (I am still going to blame the pregnancy hormones for the amount of times I have cried in the past few weeks though). Dylan is the first of us three siblings to get married and I am so happy to be there, and so happy that his unborn niece or nephew was able to somewhat participate in everything.



I have been very much more aware of the season change in California this time around, more than I have been in the past. Despite the warm weather the leaves on the trees are turning yellow and red and orange, and littering the lawns and the roads with their colours. The wind blows cooler and harder than it does normally, and the temperature has dropped from the summer temperatures that I felt on my first days here. It is still warm though, and not the freezing notes that NYC has dropped to during my time away. Ten days ago the sun was beating down on us as we walked around the pumpkin patch looking for witches and ghouls and random Chucky figures that were hiding out in the corn fields; yesterday while walking around a parking lot in downtown Sacramento that was decorated in Dia de los Muertos altars I had to wear a hoodie and grabbed a hot chocolate to warm up, waiting for darkness to roll in earlier due to the time change.
 


There are so many places in this area that I still haven’t seen, in all the years that my mother has lived here and all the times that I have visited. Mum and I went on a day trip to the Sacramento Delta, starting off at the Old Sugar Mill in Clarksdale, driving along the Sacramento River, over some of the many bridges spanning one side to the other, right up to the semi ghost town of Isleton. We had a most delicious lunch in a small diner where a few locals lined the counter, watching television while eating their lunches, and then snapped images of the buildings that were once lived in and are now abandoned, waiting to be renovated or to fall down in disrepair. An old man in overalls stopped us on the street and told us to wait until nightfall so that we could see the bats swarm from one of the building…
 


That would have been pretty magical to see, but we had to move on, a few miles back down the road to another semi ghost town called Locke. A town that was built by Chinese immigrants and then abandoned when the work on the delta and bridges and railroads tapered off. More old houses, falling apart and left, waiting for someone to come back and lovingly restore them to their former glory. Houses filled with stories and memories and dreams and nightmares…
 


I always love to walk around Old Sacramento, no matter the weather or the season. The old wooden board sidewalks and the saloon buildings make me think of cowboys and whiskey and horses and gunfights and a world different from today’s. And then the juxtaposition of the old buildings and steam trains and steam boat on one side of the river and the glass and steel edifices on the other side. Old and new; now and then. One of the coolest costume shops I have ever been to, Evangeline’s, is in one of the old buildings and just strolling around made me think about all of the cool ways I will be able to dress my baby up for Halloween next year. This year’s Halloween was spent with good friends and their children, watching them trick or treat around the neighbourhood, laughing at their excitement every time they gathered some chocolate or candy to put in their bags. Next year I will be doing the same with my child, although I doubt he or she will remember her first Halloween for very long. It will all be for my own personal pleasure of dressing up my child like a little monster on a holiday that I really love.
 


And then yesterday, last but not least of the California adventures, I stopped downtown to see some of the Dia de los Muertos celebrations on J Street downtown. I love the tradition of setting up altars for departed loved ones, and there were many to look at. Lots of flowers, dressed up skeletons, pictures of people’s deceased family members and friends, sugar skulls, personal items and other memorabilia. I told my boyfriend that next year we will be making a similar altar, not just because I love the idea, but also because I think it’s important that he or she be imbued with her Mexican heritage, as well as his or her English and French heritage. It’s actually going to be loads of fun mixing everything up and celebrating all of the different holidays there are to celebrate. 



And now it will soon be time to head back to NYC, prepare for a cold winter and navigating said cold winter while heavily pregnant. I am determined to enjoy this winter and the upcoming holidays as much as I can in the city, as who knows where I will be next year? Maybe enjoying another autumn in California, close to my family… I do have to say, this time round, when I was flying in to San Francisco I felt my heart lift with the feeling that I was coming home. That is usually the feeling I get when I'm flying into New York...

In order to see the full set of photos from all of the adventures above click on the link HERE, or the link under the screenshots below.

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California Autumn 2013, a set on Flickr.

Ramblings: Spiritualized again...

I should have finished this well over a month ago, but as usual, I started something with the aim to finish it “at some point”. Thankfully it’s not a review of the show that took place on September 10th at Webster Hall, just some ramblings about sharing music with my unborn baby…


Everything I do nowadays has a “We” to it as opposed to just an “I”. For example, I am not just hungry (make that absolutely starving as if I may collapse hungry) in the morning when I wake up; no “We” are hungry and “We” must eat right away. Little Munchie has taken over my life in the most magical of ways and I will never again see myself as a person alone in the world. It’s amazing. Anyway, the point of all this is that I am now sharing absolutely everything in my life with my unborn child, one of the most obvious things being my love for music. I haven’t been to anywhere near as many shows as I would like this year, but that didn’t stop me from looking forward to seeing Spiritualized when one of my dearest friends bought us tickets as soon as they went on sale this year. I didn’t know I was pregnant then, but I did before we went and it felt so good to think that my child was going to witness the live performance of one of my favourite bands before he or she was even born. 

There are some bands or musicians with whom you have a really intense relationship, one that holds you so hard that sometimes you need to take a step back to reevaluate, just to come back loving them even more. That’s my relationship with Spiritualized. I have seen them many a time over the years, at different venues in NYC, been around them with friends in different locations in the city, and have never ceased to be entranced during each performance, tears in my eyes and a smile on my face. There are some bands and musicians you go to see just for the live music, others you prefer to stay away from as they are just better recorded. And then there are those bands that you want all of: recorded, live, live recordings, conversations, everything. That special music that you will never tire of, will bore your children to death with until they, at a certain age, will appreciate your love for them and may even start to love them too. I have a list of bands and musicians that little Munchie is going to have to listen to over and over again and will probably hate for some years (some on this list are actually musicians that my mother had me listen to before I was even born, so I am just continuing a trend over the generations). In any case, Spiritualized is on this list and I am so happy that I was able to experience one of their performances with my unborn child.

"If you feel lonely and the worlds against you, take the long way home, past the scary jesus, and you'll find my door with your name in diamonds, and you'll feel lonely no more" - So Long You Pretty Things  

A list of random Spiritualized-related memories in no special order (just the order in which they come to mind when I am thinking about the band or listening to the music in some form or another): dancing round and round to Come Together with Hannah at Terminal 5 back in 2009; running late to the show at Radio City Music Hall with Meg but not missing anything due to the disco ball falling from the ceiling a few minutes before the band came on stage (and therefore being yet another narrow escape for Jason Pierce); listening to Death Take Your Fiddle with Meg on repeat for days before marching (stumbling?) off to Darkroom for another night of the same non-adventures; playing Broken Heart on repeat for days and days on end to constantly remind myself that my broken heart wasn’t the only one in the world; receiving a signed copy of Sweet Heart Sweet Light in the post out of the blue from a friend in England; the way hearing Stop Your Crying will always bring tears to my eyes, every single time; reconnecting with old and special friends I haven’t seen in a while at a show, and not feeling like anything had really changed over the months of not speaking to each other; dancing with my now-deceased and very, very special cat Luna to Ladies and Gentlemen in its entirety the moment work got too stressful… Music, friendship, memories, connections, love, anger, happiness and pain. Spiritualized embodies all of that and more for me.

Other bands/musicians on this list are of course The Cure, Marianne Faithfull, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Stevie Nicks, Tim Buckley, Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, Nirvana, Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, PJ Harvey… And so on…

Ramblings: There is no I in Me anymore...

By the time you are reading this you probably already know (if you are very, very close to me), have an inkling something has changed, or really just don’t know and are going to be super surprised. In any case, it’s all been a little surreal for myself over the past nine weeks… Yup. There is no I in Me anymore, there is an Us. Me and It, It being a little munchkin that is eventually going to grow into a He or a She and eventually be born in late March/early April of next year.

Everything seems surreal and exciting and scary at the same time. There was that moment I had that dream where I took a home pregnancy test and the test appeared to be positive with a due date marked in the screen… Which lead me to run out to Walgreens as soon as I woke up in the morning to buy a real one, and then sat around staring at the packet for hours until I finally dared to do it. The two lines appeared almost automatically, and at that moment I decided there was no way I was going to be able to keep a child and I needed whatever it was inside of me removed as soon as possible. Needless to say, by the next morning , on my way to Planned Parenthood for a “proper” test, I had already changed my mind dramatically and was hoping that the home test wasn’t a fake positive… I mean I knew it wasn’t. I already knew I was pregnant, there are certain signs that you can’t ignore. And yes, it was positive.

That Friday I went around in a haze, lying on the grass in the middle of Washington Square Park, trying to fathom the idea of having a child, and then raising said child. I stopped smoking and drinking that very day, and surprisingly enough it was easy. I mean REALLY easy. No nicotine withdrawal, no crankiness, no nothing. Just the knowledge that there was a little me growing right inside of me. For the next 10 days it still didn’t feel real. I told a few people close to me, but that was it, my little munchkin was going to remain a secret until I was ready for the world to know about it. 

I don’t have health insurance. That was my main concern about actually having a child. Planned Parenthood lost all funding to provide prenatal care, so they just gave me a number for a low-cost women’s health clinic in Brooklyn, and I was able to get an appointment for 10 days after I found out I was pregnant. In the meantime I found out I was eligible for Medicaid, so I started working on all the paperwork I needed for that. In the end, the clinic filed for me (they are amazing – and there I was worried that I would have to pay for everything by myself!). I had blood work done, and exams, and went over all different kinds of things with the technician and the nurse and the midwife, and then finally got a referral appointment for an ultrasound at the Brooklyn Hospital for the following week. I am really happy with the people who are following my pregnancy – they made me feel comfortable and a lot less nervous than I was before I got there. 

Unless you have already been through this yourself, you can only imagine what it feels like to see your baby inside of you and then to hear the heartbeat… It’s mind-blowing. That little blob on the screen, the actual size of a bean which is beginning to form into a person is actually part of you and created by you. And that heart beating… Honestly it was only then that it fully became real to me – I now have two hearts beating in my body, and one of them needs to be protected and nurtured and loved at all costs. Every day I wake up and (after the immediate feelings of absolute hunger and thirst, followed by a wave of nausea) I feel blessed that this is happening to me. I remember my 17 year old self writing in my diary and telling my best friends that I wanted a child by the age of 19, and that I would call her Luna. Instead I got a cat and called her Luna, and as the years went by started to wonder if I would ever have a child. Growing up with an amazing mother but with a father figure who disappeared too early and another who wasn’t around for too much longer I always promised myself I wouldn’t have a child unless I was completely sure the child would have parents who would stay together forever. Well, unless you remain a complete and hopeless romantic with no shred of cynicism in your bones all of your adult life you will certainly realize that this was quite a tall order. And a straight shot to never having children. And I have to say that at the beginning of this year I was really starting to think that maybe I wouldn’t have kids, and that, in a way, that was allright (as long as my siblings were going to have them). I could just live in New York City for the rest of my life and live like I have enjoyed living for the past 8 years…

And when have I ever done anything conventionally anyway?! Every time I try to I fail, so I gave up on trying a few years ago and started living life in the way I wanted to. I have never been happier, or more comfortable in my own skin, and everything is just another adventure to embark on… This one probably being the most amazing adventure I will ever jump into head first. And don’t get me wrong, little munchkin’s father is more than present, and won’t be going anywhere (unless I decide to move, because then he will be moving with me, and munchkin). Which brings up the idea of moving… For some silly reason being pregnant kind of changes your perspective on everything. I mean everything. Obviously the idea of moving away from NYC has come to me over the past eight and a half years, but I’ve never actually really acted upon it. But now I just want to move to California, be nearer my family over there and actually be able to live in a house with a back yard where I can grow my own food, not feel like I am constantly hustling to make ends meet like I do here. I will always love New York, but I don’t know if I really want to bring up a child here. I’m most certainly going to have the baby here, but after that, who knows? Within the next 18 months I am pretty sure that I will be making a move over to California. It’s always been my dream to live in Santa Cruz, but I think I will probably have to start in Sacramento and then see where life leads me. 

But all of that is not for a while yet… In the meantime I am going to enjoy the amazingness that being pregnant is (especially now that the uncomfortable first trimester is over), and be happy.

Ramblings & Photography: A Long Beach Walk




The equivalent of a 79 block walk on the beach, from Rockaway Park right down to 37th street, started off as a day taking photos and catching up with a friend who had never been to the Rockaways before, and turned into a day full of adventures. It’s amazing what the imagination can do… Shipwrecks! Secret treasure troves hidden under the sand! Volcanoes! The remains of witchcraft rituals in the sand!


It all started right between 116th and 90th streets, in the sand, while contemplating the vast variety of odd jellyfish that had washed up onto the shore, what appeared to be a tugboat seemed to be heading directly for the shore, the closer it got, the more worried I was that it was going to be beached in the sand, unable to move again. That is, until it dawned on me that the boat wanted to be shipwrecked on the shore! It had been stuck on a remote island for years and was so excited to see civilization that it was heading directly towards us, and the Caterpillar diggers working on the beach to fix the pipelines damaged by the previous hurricane. Land at last! However, I don’t think that the version of civilization that the captain was approaching enchanted him that much, because he turned around after a while and disappeared back to where he came from… 


A little bit further along I nearly tripped over a piece of rusty metal wiring that was slightly sticking out of the ground. The low tide had revealed the hiding place of what could be an ancient treasure trove, locked way down under the sand, the evidence that it was there soon to be erased by the incoming tide. I wonder if this is what the captain of the tugboat had come back for, and realizing that there were too many people to witness his arrival, turned back, to come back at a later date, maybe during the winter months when the beach is deserted apart from the random person playing with their metal detector? He could anchor the boat of shore and swim inland with divers, dig out the treasure and take it back to the deserted island without anyone seeing him!


After nearly being decapitated by fishing lines pulled taut along the sand we bumped into a shaman, seemingly dropped from the sky right in front of us. A parrot on his green hair, followed by a green and pink poodle, walking towards the water, smiling at us, waiting for us to talk to him. I imagine him walking on the water, connecting with nature and the sparkling sunlight on the waves, collecting more pets and followers along the way. I wish I had managed to capture his essence on camera but I was a little nervous about his reaction. What if he decided to send his parrot to take my eyes out? He didn’t seem completely benevolent to be honest.


Walking on, we managed to avoid any more appearances for a while, until we came across what seemed to be an abandoned film set on part of the boardwalk that was still intact (all along the way parts of the boardwalk have disappeared and have not been fixed yet). We rushed over to it and found that it had actually not been abandoned, but was guarded by strange individuals who let us take photos but wouldn’t let us touch anything. We were taken back to the Prohibition era that Boardwalk Empire is set in, surrounded by billboards for Atlantic City, and an inhabited house in the sand that obviously used to be grass and road until the storm surge brought the sand inland… After removing ourselves from the 1920’s we pushed through heavy dunes of drift sand and found evidence of witchcraft rituals held in the sand at some point not so long ago. There is nothing better than a remote beach surrounded by dunes for a nighttime ritual, is there?
And then for the last discovery, before making our way back to the reality of the A train: volcanic rock hidden in the sand! The glitter of the rock in the sun, half covered by the sand, lead to a larger piece of rock, maybe the last remainder of what used to be a volcano, thousands and thousands of years ago, before the world was what we see it as today. A little reminder of what and where we come from…


All in all, the walk is really worth it, especially on a beautiful day in September, just before it really gets cold. There is so much to discover and see along the shoreline, and so much to imagine…
For the full set of photos taken please see below or HERE 


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Rockaways Sept 2013, a set on Flickr.

Short Story: 9/11 - The Day the World got Darker

I don't know why I have never posted this one, but it was written years ago one September, as I remembered what I was doing on 9/11/01. I will never forget that day, nor how it made me feel for a few years after that. It's important that we always remember this day, for the horrific acts that happened, for the people who perished, for the heroic people who ran into the buildings to save lives, and for the aftermath of the attacks, all over the world. I know that I will never forget.

9/11 - The Day the World got Darker

It was just another day really… No classes to attend, no teaching classes to give either, so I was just sitting at home pretending to put together some research points towards my MA thesis, but really scrolling through the web on my slow dial-up connection looking for something interesting to read, and watching Derrick on the TV. Nothing better than a daytime German detective show dubbed in French to pass the time.

Until the phone rang.

“Have you seen what’s happening?? Attentats!!”

“What on earth are you talking about? I’m watching Derrick and drinking coffee. Want to meet up and hang out?”

“Put the fucking TV on. Someone has bombed the World Trade Center in New York. LOOK!!”

I groaned and changed the channel and then just sat there in silent shock with the receiver stuck to my ear. All I could see were images of smoke billowing from one of the tallest buildings in the world. I couldn’t even register what the reporter was saying, I couldn’t even read the words that were flying by on the bottom of the screen, but it appeared that everyone was in the same type of shock and no one really knew what was happening.

“Can you please come over right now? This is scaring the shit out of me and I don’t want to be alone here.”

“I’m on my way, will be there in 10 minutes.”

I sat there with the receiver still in my ear and waited. No one knew what was happening; the journalists were trying to scramble together as much information as possible and everyone was obviously in a state of shock and fear. And then all hell broke loose, a silence, and then the reporter’s voice saying that it appeared that another plane had crashed into the second tower.

The moment that that happened the world knew that this wasn’t a freak accident. Two planes flew directly into the WTC towers and exploded inside. I sat glued to the TV, trying to make sense of it all. There was no way on this earth that two aeroplanes had flown directly into the Twin Towers by accident. It was too precise, too calculated. I let my friend in, he made some coffee, and we continued to watch the news together, in silence. There was a hush, a chain of images and then the reporter’s voice, trembling slightly, announcing that there were two more planes in the air somewhere, two planes that had turned off their radios and were most probably heading for the Pentagon and the White House.

Then a plane crashed into the Pentagon. The images on the TV screen hovered between the Twin Towers with the smoke billowing out of them and the Pentagon where there were also clouds of smoke appearing from what looked like the center, and the reporter who was obviously as shaken as we were, civilians all over the world watching in horror as the biggest terrorist act ever carried out was taking place, live, before our eyes. Three planes crashed into important American landmarks, a fourth plane still in the air, possibly heading for the White House. All of those people dead and dying, all of those people trapped above the flames and the smoke, waving for help out of the windows so high up in the sky. I saw something black fall from a window, and then another, and realized that people were jumping to their deaths rather than waiting to burn or die of asphyxiation. There were no real words to describe all of the feelings that were going through my body at once, pain, sadness, confusion, disgust, anger and also the feeling that this couldn’t be real.
Then there was a rumble and all voices stopped talking, and as if in silence, one of the towers just collapsed into a huge cloud of dust and debris. It didn’t fall down sideways, but floor by floor, as if a huge hand had come out of the sky and shoved it down from above. I say in silence, but only because I heard silence in my head, the world had stopped and the impossible had taken place. 

“All of those people!! Oh my God, all of those people!! How could they survive with THAT falling on them??”

And then the same rumble, and the collapse of the second tower. I just hoped that those who were trying to escape the second tower had made it out, because all that was left was clouds and clouds of smoke and dust. The TV went silent for a second, while the commentators tried to gather their composure and explain what had happened right there, in Manhattan. Visible on screens worldwide, the entire world population had been able to see a terrorist act gone completely right, probably even better than had been expected in their wildest dreams. More images on the screen, and then the reporter giving us news of a plane that had gone down in Pennsylvania, probably the last hijacked flight that had fortunately not met its intended destination.
I continued to watch the scenes, listen to the words, hoping that it was all a huge farce, a prank to see how gullible we were. I was speechless. My friend refilled my coffee cup a few times and went out to buy cigarettes, as I couldn’t move. Couldn’t eat, couldn’t really formulate any sentences. I realized I was in shock and then felt terrible, as I was lucky to be thousands of miles away, in the comfort of my little apartment in France. But then again, how safe was I? How safe were any of us anymore? Planes had been hijacked before, not one, but four in one go, right under the eyes of the American officials. Before this plane hijackings were used as a way to extort some kind of deal, money or other (apart from the Lockerbie bombing). When had hijacked planes been used as deliberate weapons to kill? The name Osama Bin Laden was said over and over again, as many times as the images of the attacks spiraled over the screen. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t even think straight. I finally got through to my mother in California, and she had only heard the news when she got to work, had been spared the horror of seeing it all happen on live TV. I saw those people die when they jumped from the top of the towers. Flying through the air, all hope lost.

I continued to watch through-out the night, fell asleep to the same images that I woke up to. All regular TV shows had been suspended and the news reports kept coming in the rest of the next day. Death tolls and interviews and pictures of women running for their lives, covered in dust and debris. Statements from different terrorist groups, images of people weeping and people cheering, a collective feeling of horror in most places, chants of joy in certain countries. Death is death. It kills you just the same. I couldn’t wrap my head round the enormity of the acts, the change that they brought to the entire world. The day those planes crashed into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, and into a field in Pennsylvania, was the day the world changed. No country was safe anymore, and no country would ever be safe again. Ever. During the Cold War we feared nuclear attacks, but we also knew that they would never really happen, neither the US nor the USSR wanted to commit that much damage and death. Not really. But on September 11th 2001, a new evil emerged from the darkness and bared its teeth to the world. There would be no warning, no amnesty and no guilt. You were going to die, wherever the fuck you may find yourself in the world. 

I lost the little hope and optimism I had left that day. For weeks afterwards I was obsessed with watching the footage, over and over again. I followed the war in Afghanistan with baited breath, with some anger that it had taken such a terrible act to actually care about what was going on in Afghanistan. I think that I couldn’t help feeling like it was too little and too late. I started to stay in as much as possible, just in case something else happened. The TV was on day and night, with me waiting  for the next attack, the next images of death and destruction and hatred and sorrow. A plane disintegrated above Queens and all of the national TV channels went on high alert until it was determined that it was just a “regular” crash, based on some kind of technical fault. Engine failure.

I started suffering from brain failure. My slow decline into depression that had started months before took a nosedive, right down into the pits of the dark world that surrounded me. There was no hope left inside. Food tasted bland, and I couldn’t concentrate on anything apart from the news, terrible chick lit novels and my thesis. Sylvia Plath? Why not, I mean I was more than willing to crawl right under the bell jar with her, snapping it tightly shut. We could breath the same foul air together, but at least we were protected from the outside world. Three CDs on eternal rotation on my CD player: Tim Buckley’s Greatest Hits, Tom Wait’s Used Songs and Bob Dylan’s Desire. A Tim Buckley cassette compilation I had made was in the shower, nothing else. The Cure’s Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me on my record player in the living room. I couldn’t drink alcohol anymore, it just made me want to vomit. My dreams just turned to nightmares, so it was better off I didn’t really try to sleep, just toss and turn and think of death and how much warmer it felt than life.

How can something so much bigger than you, something that effects the world as a whole, something that triggered events that would never end, wars that had no meaning, more death, more hatred, more despair, affect one person in such a way? Why did  not let it change me for the better, why did I crawl away into a hole and hope that I could hide away in death, because life had no more happiness to offer? I felt like I was wasting away, I withdrew myself from my friends and stayed in my apartment, cuddling my cat and watching the news. There was no more hope. What happened to the girl who was an idealist? Who lobbied for the rights of the Tibetan people in front of cinemas and bars? What happened to the girl who tried to talk to everyone about the fate of the Afghan women under the Taliban? What happened to the girl who cared, who wanted to make a change, who wanted to make things better?

She lost hope. The day those planes crashed into those buildings was the day I finally lost the will to survive.

“Want to go out for a drink? I’m out with the boys at the usual bar, everyone is asking about you and is wondering why they haven’t seen you for a while.”

“Ah… I’m in my pyjamas. It’s too late, I have class tomorrow.”

“No you don’t! You have one class a week this semester, and don’t use the thesis excuse, I saw how far along you are. Take a night off, come out and have fun. Please. I miss you. We all miss you.”

“Don’t just say that to make me feel better love, I know you will all have fun without me. I… Just… I just can’t right now. I don’t feel well, I feel like I may puke and just want to stay in bed. I love you.”

“I love you too… I’m worried. I’ll bring you coffee in the morning.”

Click. 

What did I say? Lost all hope.


Ramblings: The beach in September


I love the beach in September. Just after Labour Day the beaches are much quieter, and there is more room to spread out and enjoy the sound of the waves breaking on the shore (as opposed to people shouting and blasting music from every side). September has always been my favourite month in NYC (even though it signifies the end of summer and the beginning of autumn which is always followed on by cold, cold winters…): the air is cleaner and les muggy, the sun is still shining and warm and the nights are cooler. There really is nothing like walking barefoot in the warm sand, relaxing right by the water and soaking up the sun, never knowing if this will be the last time you will make it to the beach before the cold sets in.


The Rockaways have always been my favourite part of NYC. I’ve written many times about my trips to the beach, to Rockaway Park or Fort Tilden (when you could still go there before Sandy). A 45 minute subway ride from my home in Bushwick finds you in the middle of a lovely beach community, with miles of beaches to choose from, a perfect place to get away from the oppressiveness of the city and the humidity that coats everything through-out the summer. There have been years when I have spent at least a day per week on the beach, and then other years when I have struggled to make it out there more than a couple of times a month. I have to say that I have done better this year than I did last year, and mainly because I felt the need to support the place that I love so much after all of the devastation that happened there during Sandy. The first time I walked down the street towards the beach the boarded up places (especially the Sand Bar, a regular stop-off place for my friends and I), made me sad, although the fact that so many businesses were back open and ready for customers surprised me and made me realize how hard people had worked to go on with life even after part of it was destroyed. The beaches themselves were completely different. Smaller, with only partial boardwalks, the rest swept away during the hurricane. Fort Tilden closed for the foreseeable future, but beaches that were still accessible, comfortable with all of the amenities that one would need. I’ve always preferred the Rockaways to Coney Island – it’s more laid-back and less noisy (and there is always Pickles and Pies deli where you can buy sandwiches and fruit, not just places where you can only get fried food like hot dogs and fries). Coney is fun, but the Rockaways are my real place to go to, to relax and swim and be in the sun. 



I realised this week, listening to the Psychedelic Furs and contemplating the future while lying in the sun on Beach 106, that this is probably my last summer in NYC and that my future visits to the Rockaways may just be that – visits. There are oceans and beaches all over the world but this one will always have a very, very special place in my heart. Today some of the beaches are “closed” (although if you listen to the construction workers they will just tell you to walk over the dune and hang out on the beach – that no one is going to stop you from going there), but only because there is still so much work to be done to clean up after Sandy. I just worry that we will get hit by another super storm again this year… Or next year. Hopefully the work done will help avoid the extent of the damage that we all suffered last year. Right now a huge man-made dune has appeared all the way down the beaches, exposing a large pipeline (carrying water?), and the beach is even smaller, especially at high tide. But the same feeling is still there, it will always be the same place, no matter what the natural and man-made changes are… And it will always be a place that represents freedom, happiness and beauty in my heart. Hopefully I will still make it out there a few more times until the end of the month as I still want to finish a photography project I started using film earlier on during the summer. Fingers crossed that the weather will hold out until October. 



Photography: Roosevelt Island




I love summer in New York. Especially those days when it's in the 80's and there is a slight breeze in the air. I also love taking photos in the city, and today I decided to go to Roosevelt Island and walk around, especially after I found out that there is a pretty cool ruin of an old smallpox hospital in the park (while randomly searching for abandoned mental asylums on the web the other day). I've only been to Roosevelt Island once in the 8+ years that I have lived in this city, and that was a couple of years ago when I ran a 5k charity run to raise money for women in the Congo. Needless to say, I didn't do any running today, but I did walk around a lot of the island.


Located in the East River, between Manhattan and Queens, the views are pretty amazing, especially of Manhattan. I could totally imagine myself living there - it's easily accessible via the F train or the cable car/tram thing, and it's so quiet! Not many cars around, a few buses, and mainly apartment buildings and hospitals. And a beautiful park - although for some reason the new FDR Four Freedoms Park is closed on Tuesdays. Luckily I could still access the area of the park where the Renwick Smallpox Hospital ruin is located though. I wish you could actually walk around the ruins, but apparently the building is unsafe (or they are just safeguarding it from graffiti and vandalism, who knows).  Everywhere is so clean on the island - I even found myself holding my cigarette butts until I found a trash can, as I didn't want to just leave them on the ground... Makes a change from the streets of Bushwick or the LES...


It always makes me happy to still discover places that I haven't really been to, or captured with my camera. Full set of photos HERE.

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Roosevelt Island, a set on Flickr.