Lobby Party and Holiday Reflections

This holiday season I arrived back in Brooklyn just in time for the annual building lobby party. Landing in NY always reminds me of why I love my home city.  It is surrounded by water and the buildings and street grid display the organized chaos that makes living in the city exciting and frustrating at once–the constant and ongoing contradictions that feeds an urban denizen’s soul.  The song Native New Yorker by Odyssey  embodies this feeling for me.

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I have been living in my rent stabilized apartment since 2002.  For some of us having a rent stabilized apartment is like having real estate in NY, you don’t give it up so easily.  While there has been much turnover in the building over the decades, there has been a core of people who have been long-time residents (10 years or more).

It is a pre-war brick building with about 97 units, this means A LOT of neighbors.  There are some neighbors I see on a regular basis and others who have been in the building for more than a couple of decades and I never see unless they show up at the Lobby Party.

The Lobby Party is our holiday festival.  While the lobby is decorated for the holiday season (usually from a little after US Thanksgiving until around Three Kings Day), the hallmark event of the season is this party.  And over the years, this party has contributed to many of my fond memories of friends and neighbors in the building.  For example, one year a neighbor wore his “Santa Pimp costume” (and I my red dress and hooker heels) to give out gifts to the kids and another year my cat Mitza, who was a street rescue at the time, gave birth to four kittens–one about every thirty minutes–under my desk while this party was going on (each time I came in to check on her there was another kitten).

This year’s party did not disappoint with the new holiday tree, great spread of food (with four different versions of Haitian black rice) and, of course, music and dancing.  Lots of music and dancing.  The music spanned the continent and included American traditional holiday music, pop music (including hip hop, trip hop etc.), house music, soca, salsa, reggae, and bachata.  All generations danced–a great thing about our building is that it is diverse across multiple spectrums of age, race/ethnicity, socioeconomics, education, gender-identity, etc.  And while we do not always exist in perfect harmony, basically neighbors look out for neighbors.  For example, there was a fire in the building just that morning that left three families homeless.  The Lobby Party provided a perfect space for us to first discuss the safety implications of the fire (the fact that no fire alarms went off) and to collect funds to support the families that were directly affected by the fire.  The Lobby Party continued with the collection and the music, food and community that brings neighbors together to herald the 2017 solstice-Hannukah-Christmas-Kwanzaa-New Years holiday season.

Ginger bread house making, a tradition that has been done my my dear friend Captain Kat, my niece Ariel and my self for a number of years (lost count).   I think she (niece) was in middle school when she started joining us and now she is out of college.  We used to make themed houses based on a trip we took during the year (Thai temples one year after a sailing trip in Thailand for examples) but in recent years have kept it simple with more traditionally shaped houses.  However our decorations are far from traditional–while has traditional elements–are more avant garde and inspired by available sprinkles, candies and food coloring.  Here are this year’s products (my niece’s friend Jazz joined us this year and made the awesome green and yellow brick house.  My niece added a wine cork chimney.

 

During the Romjul week the temperatures dipped.  Romjul, an concept I found posted on a friends Facebook wall, click for the definition.  It is a perfect aspiration. My poor chihuahua ain’t about the windchill life and despite having a Canadian purchased winter coat IMG_4068She chose to stay in a down comforter bunker

IMG_4094Even the pigeons sought refuge in the sun

IMG_4082Temperatures did not rise for New Years Eve, one of the coldest on record.  I had to abandon my plans to join the Polar Bear Club swim.  I will revisit the option next year.

I ended my holiday season with a morning loop in Prospect Park.  It was cold and I had a cold, but I wanted to start my 2018 active.  Now I am actively doing laundry and preparing for my return to YYC and embarking on my 2018 adventures which also includes a significant birthday!!! IMG_4128Here are last year’s fireworks that I missed this year…

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PJ Run

It’s been a few days since I have been back in YYC before I update on my latest river runs I wanted to share my last PPTC run in Brooklyn.

IMG_3754House sparrow in Prospect Park, morning of PJ Run 

The winter chill and the holidays makes one feel all Gemütlichkeit—the need to get cozy with soft, fluffy things (kittens included) and warm drinks. Migrating birds are almost all gone, and the local house sparrows have the bushes almost all to themselves. However, only a bunch of narly runners would think this is the time to go running through the streets of Brooklyn in pajamas. But not before first passing the dog run, none of whom were wearing PJs.

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The PPTC pajama run is a social run, a group run that is not so much focused on pace or distance but more on fun and conversation. The group met at Grand Army Plaza, the usual starting point of group runs.  We were all in some level of pajamas attire ranging from just PJ bottoms (with a running top, of course as this wasn’t the naked run) to an adult onesie. I wore some flannel bottoms that I picked up from Phat Albert’s for $1.99. The same ones that they have been trying to sell off since the summer.

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IMG_3730Pajama squad gathered, Lisa one of our fearlessly flanneled leaders 

 With an almost 6 mile route planned out by the event organizers, we headed off down 9th street, across Court St., down Union St. over to Brooklyn Bridge Park. It was an easy glide down the terminal moraine towards the waterfront.

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The faster runners kept pace ahead while the sexier runners held up the end. I ran with two teammates, one in wearing a super hero pajama set with cape, and the other in multiple flannels and a goofy hat. I was fun getting curious glances and trivial stares from other runners and pedestrians, “Here comes more people running in pajamas!” To which Murray responded, “the only way to run!”

IMG_3740My 11:00 pace squad 🙂 (Murray in the orange hat and Superman aka Eric)

We continued at an easy pace along the waterfront and through the Brooklyn Bridge park.  Along the way we encountered several teammates who were doing their not-a-pajama-run run.  We turned towards downtown Brooklyn and stopped to walk up the small hill.  Since this was a fun run, no need to burn rubber.  After passing the post office, we spotted Adams St.  A street that although associated with my name, I never had any strong attachments do.  However, Murray being as astute as he is, “you must have a photo by your name!” So here it is.  My street, my borough, my photo.

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We made it to City Point Brooklyn, a “new” Brooklyn establishment with a hipster food court on the lower level.  It is on the former Albee Mall site where I used to hang out in high school at the Wendy’s in the basement. Not feeling coffee I went into Trader Joes and got some water and a smoothie.

I was amongst the tail-end runners and once the whole group arrived we occupied two tables.  I did not stay long as I was leaving for YYC the next morning and had some last minute shopping to do.  You know, anything at Targets.  It was an awesome run, with an awesome group of people and I will look forward to more back-to-BKYN runs soon enough!

 

 

 

 

Urban Wildlife: Whale Watching

It was another nice Brooklyn day.  It started wth a three plus mile run on the trails with enough foliage color to produce a day-dreamy run. It is the time of year when the sun is low and the whole day looks like afternoon, but the reddish glow makes the autumn colors and crisp blue skies all the more brilliant.  One of my favorite album covers by New Order evokes my senses in the same way.

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On to whales!!!! I have been jealous of the FB postings of my my sea-oriented friends.  Whales breaching off the Rockaways.  Dolphins off Brighton Beach and Ft. Tilden.  All of these places I have frequented my whole life and have yet to encounter such gracious creatures in the wilds of New York waters.  As I descended into JFK, I eagerly scanned the shores of Long Island to see if I could spot any activity from the sky.  The dominance of the sea relative to the landscape always reminds me that we are a marine city! Sometimes you can smell the saltwater air as far inland as the Nostrand/Flatbush junction.  But back to whales.

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Gotham Whales have actively posting cetacean activity for a number of years now and to me it seems that whale, dolphin (and seal) activity has been increasing each year.  With cleaner waters and organisms lower on the food chain thriving (i.e. oysters and various species of fish and crustaceans) the larger ones are coming back to feed on them. This includes the menhaden or bunker which seems to be a fave of the great mammals.  The American Princess Cruises specializes in whale and dolphin spotting cruises off the shores of Brooklyn, Queens and Western Long Island.  They posted that their last trip of the season would be on 11/26, the Sunday after Thanksgiving 2017. With sightings of 5 and 3 whales on prior trips that week, we took our chance to head out to Riis Landing and hop aboard the American Princess for our whale watching adventure.

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Marine Parkway Bridge 

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Looking West Towards Coney Island 

After a boat briefing, we took off from Ft. Tilden and rounded the peninsula to the Atlantic Ocean.  We passed the confluence of the waters of Jamaica Bay, New York Harbor and the ocean. There were whitecaps and the water was choppy, we were told that this would make the whales harder to spot.  IMG_3530

Kite Sailing near Breezy Point 

IMG_3531Coney Island and the Verrazano Bridge of NYC Marathon and Saturday Night Fever fame

IMG_3537The Confluence of Urban Waters

We were advised to look for bird activity–seagulls and diving gannets.  If the whales are feeding, the birds are feeding too.  We saw several patches of bird activity, but not yet the tell-tale waterspout of a whale.  We continued east past the Rockaways, Long Beach and right off the coast of Jones Beach we finally heard the sigh and saw a waterspout!  There was a whale, logging off the starboard side of the boat.  We grabbed our cameras, left the warm cabin of the boat and ventured into the crisp ocean air to catch a sight of this whale in our local waters.  This whale was resting or napping–slowly moving just under the surface of the water and emerging at almost regular intervals to breathe.  I watched the whale for a little bit, just to absorb the experience of seeing one in the wild this close to hope, before grabbing the iPhone to get some shots of the whale’s dorsal fin. IMG_3561Breathe

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IMG_3567It was amazing to see such a majestic being at ease in it’s habitat.  There was another boat nearby, but each kept a respectful (and legal) distance from the whale.  There were reports of others in the area, but this was the only one that we were able to see.  These are probably the last of the whales to head further south for the winter.

After spending about 45 minutes with this whale, we turned and headed back (into the wind) west towards Riis Landing.  We were hoping to catch another sighting as we headed back, but we saw a variety of seagulls, gannets and small shorebirds running in groups.  As we docked, the sun was almost setting casting a reddish/orange/purple glow on the surrounding structures, including a curious piece of art that apparently has been there since the 70s.

IMG_3574Low Sun over the Atlantic/Lower NY Harbor 

IMG_3577Art Curiosity 

IMG_3579The American Princess in her Riis Landing berth IMG_3581Ft. Tilden Sunset

Until next year when the whales return, but maybe seal watching trip on a winter return visit to Brooklyn???

 

Race Volunteer Recap: PPTC Turkey Trot

There are some races that you have just as much fun volunteering for as running.  For me, these races include the NYC Marathon and the PPTC Turkey Trot.

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Post peak foliage

The Turkey Trot offers people the opportunity to burn of their Thanksgiving meal before eating it.  Five miles through post-peak fall foliage in Prospect Park, this annual race draws close to 2500 runners from all over the city, including a number of their out-of-town visitors.  As a member of the PPTC, this is the time to reconnect with old members and meet new ones.  It is the club’s largest race of the year so it is an all-hands-on-deck kind of event for many club members.  In addition, it is a nice way to celebrate another good year of running–people are coming of the high of marathon training, running and/or spectating and making mental goals for the new running year.  Also, you receive the cool runner’s hat/toque (Canadian for hat) for your community service.

Back (the cat who is the Prince of All Things wanted his feet in the photo)/Front of the coveted race hat.

This year I signed up for medals.  It was a 6 am call so after a night of clubbing and minimal sleep (even though that kind of schedule is supposed to be way behind me) I rolled into Prospect Park Lakeside before sunrise.  There were already a number of volunteers gathered, most donned in the club’s signature colo(u)rs of red and white.  I joined the line to sign in and encountered a number of familiar faces.

“Hey, this weather (approx. 34 degreed F) must be really warm for you!” Or some similar comment I would hear from my teammates.

I try to seem robust, puff up my chest and respond, “yeah, I’ve been running in weather colder than this” although my Caribbean-blooded a$$ has on four layers on top, jeans, really thick wools bed socks I bought in a New Zealand flea market (love them, the socks and flea markets) and heavy gloves.  It did feel warm when I left my Brooklyn apartment (one block away from Prospect Park), but I knew I would be standing around outside for quite a while and moving temperature/still temperature feel vastly different.

As the volunteers were gathering, I reflected that there more volunteers here than there are runners in an average Calgary race.  But then there are twice as many people in just the borough of Brooklyn (approx. 1.3 million vs. 2.7 million) alone. It is a numbers game.

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I gathered around the cart with boxes of medals with other volunteers and started to unpack the medals–larger plastic bags sealed with ten medals which were ensconced in their own smaller individual ziplock bags.  So much plastic…ugh!

So we plugged away at unwrapping and sorting medals.  While we were doing this, we discussed a recent posting on the club Facebook page that went something like,”I was wearing my PPTC gear and approached by a man that informed me that he was planning on banditing the race. I told him that he shouldn’t be telling me that to which he responded with some self-entitled crap about it being a free park so he could do what ever he wanted.”  Basically, a bandit is a person who participates in a race, including trying to take advantage of race amenities like water, food and even medals, without paying for the race and getting a number.  We hate bandits. It is a large enough park where one could run 5 miles without “participating” in the race at the same time.

Anyway, once we moved the medals to the finish line we were given strict instructions to mark each person’s number with a Sharpie upon giving them a medal.  We role played runners coming through the finished line in slo-mo so we could commit the process to neurological memory. While this was going on with our crew, other crews were preparing the start and finish line while a roving santa greeted runners.

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Lone santa headed to the start, sun slowly rising

Finish line set-up

Late package pick-up

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Cold and waiting for the start 

With our orders given, we listened for the start of the race and waited for the runners to first loop past the finish line (the bottom 2 mile loop) before completing one full loop (3 miles) of the park to the finish the 5 miles.

It was great to cheer on the runners as they passed, many donned turkey costumes and the becoming ubiquitous running tutus. As the pack started to slow, we anticipated the first runners.  While this is a fun run, the first three women and men receive a gourmet, nope, artisanal, hand-crafted  Sriracha infused pie because this is the new hipster Brooklyn. Joking, they chose from traditional pies (thankfully)–pumpkin, apple, blueberry, etc.  Each pie-winner was given a white cup with their gender place which they then redeemed for their choice of pie.  Of course the choice narrowed with each recipient, with the third woman receiving the last pie of the six.

As the eventual throng came through, we got busy with the medals and sharpies.  Most people were pleasant, some even refusing medals.  We also encouraged them to return to Lakeside for bagels and hot chocolate. And there were the shameless bandits.  Rather than maybe thinking about not running through the finish line (it’s a wide road, with plenty of space on either side) they not only ran through the line, but attempted to claim a medal! We “caught” many of them but there was one in particular who became belligerent all while NOT producing a number. For our sanity and safety we felt that the medal was not worth the confrontation.  He was an assbandit, the worse kind.

As the running crowd thinned, we moved closer to the finish line so that we could give the back-of-the-pack runners their medals just as they crossed the line.  It is always nice to cheer on these runners and makes us middle of the pack and faster runners appreciate the gift of running and fitness.  Watching these runners and walkers, I could tell by the relief and elation upon crossing the finish line that the 5 miles was a significant accomplishment for a number of them.  I applaud them and hope that they have been infected with the running bug and will keep at it!

With the flow trickling to a single runner every 30 seconds or so,  we started to dismantle the finish area, pack up most of the supplies (including extra medals, the metal Turkey part is timeless and will be recycled with a new ribbon for next year) and high-five each other for another Turkey Trot well done!  I went home with a bounty of bagels, some of which I will freeze for later.

To remind me of Calgary, montage of curling apparatus and hockey practice in Brooklyn:

24 hours in Brooklyn

After my morning run, it was time to prepare for my Thanksgiving contributions, but first means shopping.  Headed downtown Brooklyn to the newish Trader Joes, despite the often ridiculously long and winding lines, I love that place.  I always go with a mental note of what to buy and leave with much more.  “I’d like to try this” or “this looks interesting” along with the chocolate peanut butter cups leads to many impulse purchases.  Most get used but some, unfortunately, end up in the freezer cemetery for no other reason than either forgotten or never got around to eating which leads to being forgotten.

After Trader Joes, I went to DSW in a panic over having warm shoes.  I bought some duck shoes of a famous name brand (I try to reserve name brand-dropping for running stuff ;), however if this shoes somehow end up being magical, you will hear about them). Then I went to Flatbush to catch a dolla van and head home to start my cooking marathon (sprint).  Crossing the street (with the sign flashing “don’t walk” as New Yorkers do–in Calgary they actually wait for the walk sign. Even with neither cars nor bikes nor squirrels in sight. Bothers the impatient New Yorker in me to no end–I saw a sign in the sky that connected Brooklyn to Calgary–a reverse Chinook:

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Seriously, look:

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Calgary is on the left in case you are left guessing.

Let the cooking begin however, not before catching a club night with some colleague-besties.

Headed to the city to get some house music all night long (until midnight) I got off at 14th to transfer to the L.  Descending the platform I heard the sweet sound of salsa music echoing from below.  It is a sound that for me has defined my life as a New Yorker. It is a rhythm that says, “These my peeps, yo,” it is a comforting sound of what was and is rapidly disappearing Nueva York.  In NY it seems we all end up being both Puerto Rican and Jewish by default, intersected with your own ethnic identity and/or the identity of the community in which you grew up. Because you are a New Yorker, you know how and where to schlepp in order to get some arepas (and know that it is not pronounced ah-ray-pas).

El Salsero on the platform was one of those old-school tios, the ones you heard on the streets near Calle 116 in Spanish Harlem and still see on the boardwalk at Coney Island. The ones who’s partner always had some arroz con pollo, pasteles y coquito (no matter what time of year) for sale in a cooler.  He had his maracas y guiro painted in the colors of the bandera and I could not help myself but join in the dance. See my man:

Beautiful. Even more so when thinking about the destruction and current hardship that has befallen La Isla de Encanta and the strength of Caribbean people.  However, even strong people have their limits and we need to always remember those who have suffered this hurricane season. Although the headlines have faded, people are still struggling to rebuild.

From this emotional moment, I moved on to the Meatpacking District to meet up with some friends/colleagues to head to Club Cielo for a night of house music.  It must have been old-skool-post-disco-pre-deep-house night because for the first hour or so it felt like we went back in time to the legendary Paradise Garage.  And I am sure some of the dancers were the original patrons.  Check out this brother:

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Scroll through for the full effect, light up shirt and laces and all.  After the hour plus of discoish house, the beat pumped up and it was time to close our eyes and get lost in the music.  After sweating for another hour and half, my colleague/friend and I remembered the Thanksgiving dinner that we had to cook later that day.  We shared a taxi, headed through the tunnel back to our borough.

But before cooking, I had to be in Prospect Park at 6am for my volunteer gig with PPTC.  Next entry!