mulchfest 2014

I almost didn’t want to take the Xmas tree down at all this year. It was the freshest and longest lasting one we’ve ever had. It still smelled piney everytime I walked into the house. This past weekend was Mulchfest, the annual treecycling effort in New York City and so, time to say goodbye to the tree. Chippers are set up in parks and people bring their Xmas trees to be turned into mulch for the city’s gardens and street trees.

This year, I made a couple of extra trips on my bike to Tompkins Square Park to get mulch for the street trees on my block. This is the second year that I’ve participated in Mulchfest and it feels like it will be an annual tradition that marks the end of the holiday season. Time to start looking at seed catalogs.

the chipper in Tompkins Square Park

the chipper in Tompkins Square Park

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bags of pine mulch for the taking

bags of pine mulch for the taking

city gardeners

city gardeners

my cargo bike

my cargo bike

this year I was careful to not put too much fresh mulch around the bark like my friend Virginia advised.

this year I was careful to not put too much fresh mulch around the bark like my friend Virginia advised.

hello 2014

I felt like a college student on a long mid-winter break. Having Christmas and New Years in the middle of the week created a luxurious lull in my “work for money” life. I used the time to plow a path and unclog things in my home and family life.

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The most stopped up place was my computer, so I started with that.  It was clogged with photographs and old information. The hard drive was bursting and slowing my computer down. It was so full that it would not allow me to transfer any more photos from my phone. As a result, my phone was so stuffed with photograhs that if I wanted to show off one, I had to scroll through a thousand. I was unable to upgrade apps or software on either device and felt guilty and unorganized everytime I clicked the “remind me later”prompt. It was paralyzing me. Whenever I looked at the photo library I felt overwhelmed and frozen. If I needed a photo for a blog post, I would email it to myself from my phone and put it in a folder on my desktop since the hard drive kept yelling at me “no way Jose!”. I knew that I had to deal with this in the way that one shovels snow. You have to just grit your teeth and put your back into it. You may stop and catch your breath at points and assess the progress, but you have to keep going till the path is clear. And it is oh so satisfying when you look at that path you’ve opened up.

When I used a film camera, I organized photographs by season and year into photo albums. This works well because it is an easy way for you to remember where to find a specific photo and for general reminiscing about a particular time. So that is the methodology I used to begin the task of archiving the thousands of photos in my library. I also wanted to print them and have them in photo albums on a shelf. When photographs are in digital form they are often forgotten. I wanted them to have a body as well, a physical form that lives in a book.

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I mapped out an archival strategy that I figured once organized, would be the standard going forward.

1. Trash all the bad photos and transfer all the good photos to an external hard drive into seasonal folders by year. That’s just four folder per year which is managable when you want to look for something.
2. Upload the photographs by seasonal folder to an online printing service.
3. Because I trust neither of the two above, transfer the folders to archival CDs and store in an archival quality box.
4. Print the photos I wanted to have a physical body to place in albums on a shelf labled by season and year or for framing.

And so, I grit my teeth, brewed a big pot of coffee and connected a 500 gigabyte hard drive to my computer. I began with Spring 2007. Thats how far back those digital photographs had been just sitting there. I ruthlessly dumped what was out of focus, where people had their eyes closed and those second shots you take for “just in case”. I had a ridiculous amount of photographs of adorable sleeping dogs.

It took me  three solid long days and whosh – the clog is gone. The computer is speedy again and my phone apps are updated. I organized photos into albums on my phone so that I can illustrate the bragging about my kids without having to scroll through a thousand images.

In the press they write about how futile it is to make New Year’s resolutions and how people abandon those resolutions fairly quickly. I like thinking about the new year and starting off fresh and energized with strong ideas about what I want to accomplish. It’s important because you can’t do something unless you set your mind to do it in the first place.

This year I want to improve my photography and master the DSLR that I’m afraid of. I want to finally learn Photoshop. My shoveling has opened up the path. Now I just have to walk down it.

What do you want to do this New Year, dear readers?

xmas is here

It was almost hot as Oona and I walked to get our Xmas tree. It was as muggy as New York gets in late July. My new glasses fogged up as we headed over to one of the many Xmas tree sale stands in lower Manhattan. They magically sprout up everywhere on the morning after Thanksgiving and their wild piney smell wafts over the city’s sidewalks delighting the passersby.

East Houston Street Xmas 2013

East Houston Street Xmas 2013

We always buy our tree late, right before Xmas because we like the tree to be fresh on that day. We examined the selection of pines propped up against a school fence, judging height of the tree and the lushness of its branches under their net cocoon. We bent the needles and smelled. Yes, it was fresh and sticky with resin. The seller was a lumberjack looking guy with a full beard and kind eyes. He made a fresh cut to the trunk and wrapped the tree in more netting and then delivered it to our apartment.

Friends and family joined us on the winter solstice to bedeck and bedazzle our tree as they do every year and I am grateful for their warmth, light and love.

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Wishing you, dear readers, a holiday season full of peace and joy and a Happy New Year.

Loisaida fire escape lights

Loisaida fire escape lights

loisaida lights

I just returned from a weekend in the Catskills and the holiday spirit was in full swing with the houses dripping in xmas lights. Front lawns were dressed with freshly fallen snow and Santa and candy cane sculptures. People drape their bushes in bush net lights, which I think is the coolest thing.  Urban holiday lighting is so small scale compared to what you see in the countryside and the suburbs. We have mini pockets of holiday decoration. A solitary window draped with twinkling lights , a fire escape bedecked with icicle lights, the kind that people with houses string along their gables. Snowflakes cut out of white paper with blunt scissors by little hands are taped to a window. I love the holiday lights in Loisaida. It’s the cheeriest thing when it gets dark so early.

I took these photos two years ago. Walking home from the dog park, I walked with the pups past the tall and skinny lighted tree in Tompkins Square Park and out the east exit at 7th St. Then I saw the windows of the bar 7B. They were so very christmasy on that icy cold night that I had to stop and take out my phone for pictures. It was a struggle because the dogs would not be still and it was hard to hold the phone steady with their leashes around my wrist. I said “damn you dogs!” threw their leashes on the sidewalk, held them under my boot and aimed the phone. A passerby paused and smiled at the dogs, smiled at the windows and then at me and said “Merry Xmas”.

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The bar 7B has been in lots of movies. I came across this video compilation: 7B: A History in Motion Pictures. Check it out.

entryway progress

It’s slow going to fix up your house unless you’ve got a fat purse and a lot of time. Sometimes I feel like I’m buried in the bureaucracy of life admin. Sign an online petition and your email inbox mushrooms with doomsday scenarios. Buy something online and you are attacked daily by 20% off coupons. We now have digital clutter to clear and speak with robots on the phone.

We recently put another dent in the slow moving entryway project. What happens to me is that when we make an improvement, I exhale and exclaim “it looks great”. And so we live with the partially finished project while absorbed in work to put food on the table and tend to our family and friendships.  After the blue venetian plaster work and the teardrop chandeliers went up, I was happy opening the front door and walking into my house for awhile.

Then the novelty of the last phase wore off and so it was time for the next. The doors leading to the girl’s room and the bathroom were filmsy hollow doors. I never liked them. I like the feeling of opening and closing a solid wood door. I shopped around for wooden doors and they were too extravagant for my purse. In New York City, we have a great resource. Build it Green! NYC is a recycling project, a place where contractors can donate excess stuff from construction/renovation projects and others can buy it. I snapped up the two paneled wooden doors for 60 bucks! Then we got molding to frame the new doors with. That was always the vision, a posh entryway with elegant molding. As my friend Linda says “molding brings the eye up and up and up”. It gives the illusion of higher ceilings, a welcome thing in a narrow hallway.

carpenters installing doors and molding

carpenters installing doors and molding

heavy paneled wooden recycled door and molding on my blue venetian plaster walls

heavy paneled wooden recycled door and molding on my blue venetian plaster walls

What’s next? Molding along the juncture of the plaster wall and the ceiling and a good looking and useful spot for hanging up coats and setting down boots now that winter is almost upon us.

loisaida dressed in fall colors

It feels like fall has been deliciously drawn out this year. The days are bright and warm and the trees and bushes are dressed in autumn colors. Fall comes late in New York City. They say that the thousands of black tar rooftops create extra heat in Manhattan. Maybe that is why fall is so much later here than just a few miles away.

fence at la plaza cultural de armando perez community garden

fence at la plaza cultural de armando perez community garden

Everywhere I look there are leaves on the sidewalks. Many colors of leaves, plain large brown leaves from oak trees, maple leaves tinged in red, many small wispy yellow leaves. It seems that the weeping willow trees are the last to turn – they are still green. So many yellow gingko trees. When I see the golden canopy of those trees, I know that I will forever be reminded of Zuccotti Park in the fall of 2011 when idealism itself was a golden thing as we listened to mic check under the bright yellow ginkgo trees. There is nothing as energizing as being around people who think they can change the world.

el jardin del paraiso

el jardin del paraiso

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The turtle pond in El Jardin del Paraiso is still. The red-eared slider turtles, those abandoned Chinatown pets, released into the garden pond are already tucked in, burrowed deep into the mud for the winter, nowhere to be seen. The goldfish are moving slow, shining in the water like jewels. They will conquer the winter like they’ve done for years, sitting at the bottom of the pond in the mud till they wake and come alive again in spring.

turtle pond in el jardin del paraiso

turtle pond in el jardin del paraiso