Living in New York City provides opportunities for unexpected fun which you can’t get anywhere else. Take yesterday, for instance. A friend gave me tickets to see a taping of the Rachael Ray Show, and I sat in the front row of the audience with my sister on my right, and a friend on the left. Next thing I knew, I had a microphone in my hand, a camera trained on my face, and I was standing up asking a baking question to Rachael Ray and Buddy the Cake Boss as they made a cream puff pie dessert.
What would you do with more than eight dozen sugar cookies in the shapes of Christmas trees, snowmen, holly leaves, candy canes and Christmas stockings? Decorate them, of course! We pulled the student women and their friends together for a festive Saturday afternoon of decorating with icing and sprinkles.
Decorating Christmas cookies is a holiday tradition for some people, but none of the students had ever decorated cookies. Julie and I made a quick training video for them. The video was in jest, but I thought you’d laugh with us!
Our hostess, Kelly, was rather clever about the event, covering her table with a plastic table cloth and setting out paper towels and plastic knives along with the colored icing and sprinkles. Christmas music and Christmas cartoons played in the background all afternoon as we all got to know each other and “ooh”ed and “ahh”ed at each creative design.
One sweet aspect of the day was that the first six dozen were set aside to give to a halfway house for men with mental challenges. It was great to show that Christmas isn’t just about getting, but about giving, too.
And in that spirit of giving, Julie led a short discussion about the individual art of decorating each cookie and made parallels to how God was directly involved in “decorating” us when He knit us together in our mothers’ wombs. She then talked about gifts God has given us, and that December is when we celebrate the greatest and most significant gift of Jesus Christ.
Three hours into our decorating extravaganza, and with plenty more cookies to decorate, some of the student men crashed us, er, rather, they stopped by unannounced and little hungry. We made them work for their eats, and showed them the fine art of slathering sugary confection all over small, sugar cookies.
Home. A sweet word. A word which conjures up images, emotions, smells, feels, sounds. It’s word which engages your senses and your memories. For many people, the word evokes a positive emotional reaction.
For me, “home,” is a place of safety, connection, and contentment. And I’m finally home. Fully home. No more temporary or short-term living. No more using someone else’s furniture (even if it is really nice furniture!). I’m home.
Two weeks ago we corralled our belongings from Brooklyn, my mom’s basement, and a dear friend’s garage and after Hurricane Irene, we dropped everything off in our new two-bedroom apartment in West Harlem. The reunions with my linens, art work, furnishings, books, dishes, cookbooks, made me happy. Even if it sounds silly, I’ll still say it. There is no place like home.
I flew to Orlando for about 24 hours and when I returned, Mike had finished the unpacking. I walked into the apartment and didn’t see a single box. Instead, I saw my mixer on the counter top, I saw my familiar rug on the floor, Mike’s sofa along the wall, the pillows Mike’s mom helped me sew (and by “help” I mean, she sewed. What a gifted seamstress!). I saw the chest of drawers which Mike and I picked out together. It was the first piece of furniture we bought together. These little touches of Mike and touches of me are what, together, make “us” and make our apartment feel like home. Combined with the new chair we bought, and the art work we had in Brooklyn, our current apartment feels like us through the 3.5 years we’ve been married.
Yes, it feels like home. And yes, it’s good to be home.
I didn’t know what to expect. The TV news relayed messages from the NYPD about a “credible threat” on the weekend of the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Neither Mike nor I were in the US ten years ago on that fateful Tuesday morning. I was in Germany, preparing to return to the Middle East. Mike was on a cruise with his sister in Jamaica. For us, the tenth anniversary was an opportunity to connect with a part of our US culture which we missed out on.
Mike participated in several events hosted throughout the weekend by Pace University. They lost 47 students and faculty when the planes hit the Twin Towers.
Saturday morning Mike, my sister Carrie and I joined two of our friends for Hand-in-Hand-9/11, an event during which thousands of people held hands around lower Manhattan and observed a moment of silence when the first plane struck the South Tower.
On Tuesday we went to the 9/11 Memorial with some of the people from our ministry team. With passes reserved two months prior, we were able to spend the time in prayer for the families of the victims and for the survivors of the tragedy.
The Memorial is beautiful. With 200 trees currently planted, and 200 more slated for planting soon, the shady area is a welcome relief from the sun. The trees surround the footprints of the towers where now two huge fountains exist. It’s like holy ground, for nearly half of the people murdered in the attacks have never been identified. This is their final resting ground.
Its quiet there. You can hear the water falling, continually. People make rubbings of the names, and though it seems so intimate, strangers gather around to watch. Someone asked me to take photographs of them while they made their rubbings to take home. It’s horrifying, beautiful, peaceful, and serene. People walk around with hands over their mouths, tears streaming down their cheeks. One woman had to be helped to the exit by (presumably) a family member. It’s a place of sorrow, and yet a place of hope.
“Location, location, location.” It’s not hard to find an apartment in New York City; it’s hard to find the right one. We have our criteria listed, ranked and ordered, but a sweet apartment in a less than desirable location can up-end everything. For example, I loved the newly renovated apartment with views of the Empire State Building, but Mike thought the “up and coming neighborhood” wasn’t up enough, as evidenced by the bevy of young men selling illicit pharmaceuticals out front.
The NYC rental market is a fast-moving game, and you look for a new place 2-4 weeks before you need to move, and in some cases just days before your move-in date. It’s a brief but all-consuming hunt.
We wake up with apartments on our brains. Over breakfast we scan Craigslist for new listings. We talk about our criteria on the way to the subway. While at work I mentally compare all the apartments we’ve seen. And then, when work is over, we race all over the City to meet with landlords and no-fee brokers. It usually takes about an hour to get to the appointment (ride subway, walk, check the map again, walk back). We wait for up to 30 minutes for someone to unlock the door so we can spend 10 minutes in someone’s filthy apartment (seriously, unless it’s unoccupied, it’s usually filthy), then travel 15-60 minutes to see the next apartment. All the while I’m praying and asking God for another housing miracle.
Perhaps the process would be slightly less taxing if we were open to using a broker, but we don’t want to pay the usual minimum of one month’s rent as a broker fee, on top of first month rent, security deposit, and the credit check fee to the landlord. The upfront costs are expensive!
Our top runner right now exceeds my dreams for the interior of the home, but the location is not very desirable, though it is safe. When we find a potential place, we walk around the neighborhood during the day to check out restaurants, shops, markets and parks, then go back at night to see how the neighborhood changes after the sun sets. Mike wants to make sure I will feel safe and comfortable walking alone from the subway to our apartment building at night.
Lord willing we’ll have a lease signed within the next two weeks.
Mike was right. He didn’t think my car would make it out to Colorado and back, so we rented a car for our month-long journey to visit ministry partners and attend our national staff conference in Fort Collins, CO. My car stayed in Wilmington, De, where after it had a rattle repaired and two new key fobs, the transmission died in front of a firehall while my mom was driving it.
My car is now sitting in a mechanic’s yard in Delaware, waiting for the title exchange, and we are now carless in Brooklyn. Mike says it feels a little unAmerican to be carless, I think it’s at least anti-suburban.
Hello Greyhound, Hello Amtrak!
“We need a new budget,” Mike said as he reviewed our most recent receipts. We returned from our neighborhood exploration walk, having stopped for groceries to get us through the next few days and the impending snow storm.
We stopped at one small bodega for milk, a can of soup, hot chocolate and mayo. That was about $7.00. But the stop at the next store, for a few pieces of fruit, one green pepper, granola bars, rice and sausage cost us a whooping $50.89. Yes, you read that correctly. I just double-checked our receipt.
That means we spent nearly $60.00 on three bags of groceries. And those bags weren’t full. Yikes. Mike is right. We need a new budget!
Mike wanted to go. But I didn’t. Nothing within me thought it would be a “fun” memory. Turns out, I was wrong.
But first, I was concerned. Maybe I have a genetic predisposition towards a phobia of crowds and traffic. Or maybe I inherited that personality quirk from my dad. Regardless of the source, that phobia of crowds and traffic is powerful. It’s not a traditional phobia, as in, a paralyzing fear, but rather a sense of angst, and frustration: my goals are blocked and I feel powerless to maneuver myself through a mob of pedestrians or a traffic jam.
But Mike wanted to go see the Macy’s Fireworks. And not from our rooftop. No, he wanted to go to the Hudson River. And he wanted to go early so we could stake out our spot.
Oh, I think I forgot to mention how much I don’t enjoy being hot. And we just started a heat wave here in New York City. It was at least 10 degrees hotter in NYC today than it was in Orlando. What is happening in this crazy world?
So, it’s hot. And it’s crowded. And we’re not exactly sure where we ought to go. We rode the subway, then walked a long time. We finally made it to 47th Street and 12th Avenue. The avenue was closed to cars and trucks so the people spread out blankets and chairs. Some people had picnics, many were hiding under umbrellas to protect themselves from the hot sun (even at 6pm it was hot!). We had our beach towels, a bottle of water each, and a few hard pretzel sticks.
I grew restless. No books. No magazines. Hot, strong sun. No sunglasses (major oversight!). The concrete road we were sitting on was so hot I had to fold over my towel several times for a little more insulation. Eventually (ok, maybe 20 minutes later) I was so restless I left in search of better seats or a deck of cards. Which ever I discovered first.
Though our fireworks adventure started out on the “not-so-great-for-Sarah” side, Mike was delighted. And my attitude turned around once we started playing card games. (Mike won most of them and I was a good sport, not a sore loser.) When the crowds rushed the barricades for good viewing position, we were ready to dash forward and won coveted spots along the metal railings. To have a better view than we had, you would’ve had to buy a ticket for the INTREPID, the aircraft carrier turned museum docked in front of us.
It was a spectacular view and a spectacular evening. Wanna see a bit of the show? I shot a bit of the finale with my point and shoot camera. Enjoy. It was wonderful!