Tuesday, November 25, 2008

New Perspective: Small Apartment Insecurity & Entertaining

This photo ("borrowed" from NYT.com) of NY Times food writer Mark Bittman in his home kitchen made my day. As one of countless Manhattanites who suffer from what I like to call "small apartment insecurity," I thought here's one of us! And he's not ashamed to show the world he's got a small one...kitchen, that is.

I particular loved the discussion that this photo generated on the NYT site. Some were surprised that such a venerable food expert would be cooking in such a small, low on frills kitchen, but other astute commenters reasoned that the people with lavish kitchens are the very ones who order in all the time.

City Guy and I hardly ever entertain in our 555 square feet (68 of that a nice-sized kitchen) studio apartment and we never have overnight guests. That's more space than a lot of people in NYC have (and we have lovely high ceilings!), and it's all we need for the two of us. When I moved in with City Guy a year and a half ago, I thought we'd end up killing each other living in a studio, but now I think when we get around to buying our 1 or 2 bedroom condo, I'm going to miss the intimacy of always being in the same room as my husband. It's also easy to keep neat and clean, and we like that manageability.

That said, when it comes to having people over, "When we move..." is my mantra. When we move, I'll have dinner parties. When we move, my mother-in-law can visit. When we move, my friends will drop in at all hours.

Maybe Manhattan's thriving food culture is fed by legions of people just like us, who'd rather meet up with friends at a restaurant than invite people over to their little apartments?

The NY Times also had another great article about how couples are choosing to raise their kids in smaller apartments, just so they can stay in Manhattan. I completely relate to this love of Manhattan. The lure of more square footage is strong, to be sure, but I can also see making do in Manhattan at least until our kids (just theoretical at this point) reach an age when they need their privacy. It's an interesting dilemma, one that my friends in California just can't relate to--i.e., we live in an apartment the size of most of their guest houses.

The truth is I love that in NYC people do with smaller and less. In the "green" revolution, the rest of the world should be taking a cue from us. We use less electricity, take up less space, have a smaller impact on the environment.

So why such shame? Because more square footage and designer furniture signals money and status? Because in the rest of the country, living in 555 square feet seems down right third-world. Sure, but shouldn't I trust my friends to like me for me, not the size of my apartment?

Which is why I took a big step on Monday. I invited Funny Dude (I've known for almost ten years now, he's been to our place before, and he lives in a small apartment himself --figured he'd be most forgiving) over and cooked dinner for him. I cook for City Guy almost every night, but somehow cooking for someone else really made me nervous. I planned the meal in advance, shopped for ingredients and stressed about the preparation. The food didn't turn out as tasty as I had hoped, and it was an hour late getting to the table, but it was nice to have someone over, and I hope he'll forgive me for being such a disastrous hostess. It was my first time. No shame in that, right?

The upshot is it felt good. It's a small step on my road to recovery, and I hope I'm brave enough to keep do it again.

P.S. If you are suffering from "small apartment insecurity," the entries in Apartment Therapy's annual Small Cool Apartment Contest will inspire you. All entries are under 850 square feet.

Monday, November 24, 2008

On My Mind: The Winter Blues and Its Cures

What a difference 20 days makes. Last time I posted, I was on a high from Election Day. Since then, the following circumstances have killed my buzz:
  • Just when you thought it could sink no further, the market fell another 1000+ points. My stock portfolio has now lost half its value, which means a> I feel poor and b> I am poor. The upshot of this is I have less disposable income for spending on two of my favorite NYC past times and blog inspirations: eating out and shopping. All the retailers are slashing prices like crazy, but this Girl Next Door won't even walk into a store to avoid the temptation to spend.
  • The temperatures with wind chill have dropped into the single digits, effectively killing movie night or weekend exploration. A movie's got to be damn well-reviewed to get me out of the house on the weekend, and it's too damn cold to be walking around aimlessly. The upshot: I am now more house-bound than ever. I really hate cold wearther.
  • I, like so many others, am feeling down about my career. My industry is laying people off right and left, making less money than ever and generally gripped by fear. An already tough line of work may be getting even tougher.
  • The days have gotten too damn short. It's pitch black at 4:30 pm.
Anyhow, I'm back and climbing back from the post-election/onset of winter blues. Here's how:

The cure to feeling poor is appreciating what you have. I'm keeping a gratitude journal...and cooking delicious dinners at home more often. Last week, I cooked dinner every day of the week. I know, big whup. But I live in Manhattan, my friend, and I consider this a feat.

The cure to being housebound is...well...cleaning your house. Did that yesterday. Got on my hands and knees and scrubbed the tiles even. Felt good. Felt in control. Board games and card games are my next project to keep me and City Guy entertained. I could also just bundle up and leave the house...

The cure to career insecurity? Reading about people like cookbook authors Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, who raised two boys while traveling the world and eating....oh and occasionally writing to support their lifestyle. Featured in last week's New Yorker (registration required). Alternately, I'm vowing to try harder, persevere, keep learning.

The cure to short days and the maddening lack of light? A light box. Recommended by my doctor, I recently bought the Apollo Go Lite P2. I love this little thing. It's about the size of a paper back book and brings sunshine into your life, even when it's dark, overcast and dreary outside. Seriously. I love this thing. 20 minutes a day at breakfast, and I'm good.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Happenings: Election Day in NYC!!

The day is finally here! How excited are we?! So excited that my polling place, which is located in the lobby of the High School for Leadership on Trinity Place, was chocked full of people, mostly well-heeled yuppies, typing on their blackberries, dressed in their designer suits...oh and Russell Simmons, the music mogul. Very intimidating crowd. At one point, City Guy turned to me and said, all the women here look like Feist. That was pretty funny. But seriously, an hour was enough time for me to start questioning whether I was cool enough to live in this election district.

Anyhow, this is how it worked in my polling station. You had to stand in line twice--once to sign the voter registration book, the second time to use one of three voting machines for election districts 7, 10 and 95. The guy who worked our machine was saying in all the years he's worked elections, he's never seen it as crowded as it was today.

To give you a sense of how extraordinary this was--when I voted in the primary, I had ZERO wait. Today, I waited about an hour and 15 minutes to cast my vote. Not as bad as other places around the country, but what a difference a few months makes.

After waiting in line for over an hour, I'm unhappy to report the ancient mechanical voting machine broke down just before I got to use it!!! It got stuck! There was only ONE machine for our district, and they tried to call this number posted on the side of the machine for "Voting Machine Problems" but no one seemed to be answering, and no one working at the polling place seemed to know how to fix the problem.

Everyone left in line, including me, had to use paper ballots--they look like SAT answer forms. A bunch of pissed off yuppies joked about kicking the machine to get it working again. I hope these paper ballots get counted. This ship seems to have some leaks, if you know what I mean.

This is New York City! Why is our State so poor! Why is it little podunk towns in middle America have electronic voting and dozens of voting booths...and "I voted" stickers...when my precinct, which serves lawyers and bankers who work on Wall Street have only three rusty machines with levers...and no stickers by the way.

I live in election district #7, but I can't for the life of me find a map of Manhattan Election districts on Google, so I don't know what that means really. Another example of how arcane this election process is. Here are some pictures:

View of the room:
Where are our line begins:
Our line as it snakes around to the registration table...
Our goal....the little old ladies at our registration table!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Cool Spaces: The New Museum

Today, City Guy and I spent the afternoon at The New Museum. Neither of us had been to the museum, which opened its newly architected space on Bowery last year, and although our main reason for going was to check out the Elizabeth Peyton exhibit, we were pleasantly surprised by how pleasant the entire experience was. The New Museum might just be my new favorite NYC museum, and here are six reasons why:
  1. The architecture is beautiful, modern and comfortable. Every detail, from the green elevators to the wraparound glass balcony rooftop deck is clean, airy, light, simple and modern. I love the cafe where guests can sit on designer chairs and munch on tasty cupcakes or cookies or pizza. Great menu. And the museum shop, though small, has unexpected delights, like the official New Museum Senz umbrella.
  2. The top floor rooftop deck, which is only open on weekends, but can also be rented out for private events, is gorgeous. What amazing views of the LES, Soho, Chinatown.
  3. It's the perfect size. Big enough to satisfy your art craving; small enough to make you feel you've conquered the thing (which you never feel at the Met or MOMA). The Peyton exhibit is drawing good numbers of people, but the galleries don't feel overly crowded. Because there's no permanant exhibit, the museum can devote multiple floors to one artists' work. Today, both the Elizabeth Peyton and Mary Heilmann exhibits were presented on two floors. Also, because it's probably off the radar for the average tourist, the crowd is more of an art crowd, so you feel like you're in the presence of other people who are there to appreciate the art, not just check off another NYC landmark.
  4. The exhibits are focused and well-curated. Both the Peyton and Heilmann exhibits are beautiful, thoughtful mid-career retrospectives. I look forward to seeing more contemporary artists at the New Museum.
  5. There is an education center on the 5th floor, open to the public, stocked with art magazines and books. We spent the better part of an hour in there, just reading Art Forum.
  6. The museum is located at Bowery & Prince Streets, not uptown like the other art museums in Manhattan, and celebrates the artists and culture it grew out of there, on the Bowery. The museum celebrates and supports its neighborhood, and that more than anything makes it feel like the real deal.