Marching Forward, Looking Back

“What’s this?” you ask. Mid-month posting? Not waiting until the last possible minute to get it done? Something must be up.

Up it is. Right up there out of reach. Life, my friends, is never as real as when it’s slipping through our fingers. I sometimes see my life as something I haven’t quite achieved yet, an ideal with unknown outcomes, something to work towards and that I still have time to work out. And in there the idea that I haven’t really grown up yet; that I will be a grown up one day, but not today. But then there are those moments that bring me crashing to my senses, when everything becomes very real and I realise that this is actually it, like it or not. I had thought the saddest moment of this month was the passing of one of my all time favourite writers. A penned voice that accompanied me through the end of secondary school, through college and into my formative years of gainful employment and my first forays into Life. For the world to lose a man like Sir Terry Pratchett was, whilst sadly inevitable, a tragedy for our global psyche. The world needs fantasy, needs a tongue in cheek view of the world, needs harsh realities handled with comedy and gentle compassion. The reality of this world is too stark to face head on so those who dedicate their lives to softening the sharp edges are the true heroes in my eyes. And just as I was musing on heroes, another blow harsher than the last. And nothing to soften the maddening injustice of this one for us.

Juan Claudio Cifuentes (“Cifu” para los amigos) was a slight, unassuming, bespectacled man who had jazz music coursing through his veins, a huge sense of humour and an enormous heart. He was loved by many across the country where he dedicated his life to educating the masses about the magic of jazz, from those times under Franco when this kind of music was banned, to present day where many of us have maybe forgotten what it’s all about. He whispered his appreciation, with impeccable pronunciation and eloquent commentary through night after night of radio broadcasting sessions on Radio Nacional, among others. Second only to his family, he was loved by none more so than by his partner in crime, his “compinche”, his friend – my father. An ever present figure in our family’s life, we kept up to date with Cifu’s adventures, successes and initiatives; there are not many of my friends with dads in their 60s who, at least one evening a week, would be seen heading out to a jazz club to listen to some band or artist with his best mate and rock up in the early hours of the morning as if it was the most normal thing on earth. And I am privileged to have attended a couple of such evenings.

The heartbreaking reality of a massive stroke at age 74 is that the likelihood of recovery is slim. But when you have recently survived severe illness and defied the odds to come back to full health after teetering on the edge, there is that glimmer of hope that it could just be possible again. But life doesn’t always offer up the story book ending, and suddenly you wake up one morning and it is done. Life takes on a new format, with one more missing piece. What struck me the most as I tried to get through my work day today, barely holding back tears, choked by the utter sadness of it all, was that it is friendship that really makes a life. It is knowing that there is someone out there who has your back, who loves you, and doesn’t judge and forgives you no matter what you do, who can connect with you instantly even after losing touch. And whilst this sets us up for the pain of one day losing such a person, what kind of a life would it be without that particular brand of love? So I raised my glass tonight to the great man we lost today and the great friend with whom my father shared half of his life. But I also raise it to my friends – out of touch, in touch or even those I have yet to meet – and say thank you for being part of my life.

Advertisements
Posted in Jazz, Relocation | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

February Stars

February. The coldest month of the winter pretty much anywhere you are in the northern hemisphere. The month where we get short changed each year, some years less than others. The month when everyone else in the city tries to get away down south to warmer climes. 2015-02-28_20.41.14I’ve decided I really like February. Not only because it was the month we became parents (that was a biggie). Not only because of its unpronounceable-ness and the hilarious ways my 6 year old spells it. While New Yorkers up and down Manhattan complain about the frigid weather and about the ice and the snow and the slush, this particular immigrant is loving the extreme weather. We don’t really get extremes in the UK, so 15 degrees C below zero is a big deal for us. I get to trek to work dressed like I’m on an Arctic expedition – how much fun is that!? But it also highlights the fact there will be a swelteringly hot summer, topped & tailed by beautiful spring and autumn. Yes – seasons, people! I don’t know, we kind of lost them in the UK.

So, since I last posted, we’ve been busy making the most of the snowy winter. We are now proud owners of a multicoloured sled and are all praying for a little more snowfall because the icy slopes of Central Park are getting a little harsh on the backsides and joints of those in the2015-02-28_20.37.03 vicinity of 40! We also celebrated mine and Daniel’s 2nd birthdays in the city. In contrast to the last ones, we were both very happy to be able to share our respective days with so many good friends which is a sure fire way to get the year ahead off to a good start. And so begins the year where we are no longer experiencing everything for the first time. I am already shocked at how quickly some things, in addition to our birthdays, have come around: the Super Bowl, the Oscars, Presidents’ Day (the day everyone seemingly buys new mattresses), the Polar Vortex. It has come around fast but it also means we are no longer novices. It means we can reflect on last year and the differences between then and now. It may seem trivial but it is significant to me.

I have decided to try to post at least once a month (cutting it fine this time!) to give a little bit of a glimpse into our lives. In the spirit of Dave Grohl and the title of this post, here are my February (and some January) Stars: having a birthday and it not being the big one; the first tooth fairy visit; my little boy turning 6; a successful bowling party; buying our first sled and LOVING it; lots and lots of snow; Daniel’s kindergarten concert; a visit from the Brazilian; D-I-Y DJ’s at La Nuit; Friday afternoon playdates; snowy sunsets in Central Park. It has been a work-heavy, busy month but all in all pretty cool (no sh*t!). Talk to you again in March!

Posted in Relocation | Leave a comment

Thoughts on our An(NY)versary

Exactly one year ago, the Craddock family landed at JFK. Full of a sense of awe and adventure and excitement. And fear. Yeah. Nervousness, maybe? No – full on fear. We had never, ever done anything like this before and having watched our house get packed into boxes and loaded into a container that would sail across the ocean, there was a sense of permanence; of no turning back. It was exhilarating. And terrifying. Having cleared immigration seemingly unscathed (we didn’t know then to correct the officer when he got our exit dates wrong…) we stepped out of the airport bubble and into the real life of New York. And so our year began.

Don’t worry – I’m not going to give you a full account of the year. But I did feel the need to write to mark the day. And yes, I get that I have not been hugely successful at this blog thing (understatement) but I learned pretty quickly in 2014 that prioritisation is key in every aspect of our lives. For as long as I can remember I have maintained a running commentary of my life inside my own head, for my ears only. It is easy to think that it would be a great idea to share that stream of consciousness with others. And to be fair – I kind of do. Anyone who follows my facebook posts gets a little bit of insight into what is going on there. But to blog it takes some responsibility – to think it through or at least to re-read and edit; to take time to be clear and coherent; to ensure it is interesting enough to keep people coming back; to take care not to forget the audience and turn it into a Dear Diary; to put people off when I just can’t give things a positive spin; to remember there are things that need to be spoken (out loud) before they are written. I gave it a good shot but I don’t think I had ever considered quite how much stress and turmoil comes along with resettling your eagerly expectant and highly ambitious young family into a new world you need them to call theirs. So I went off the radar and actually listened to what more experienced re-locators had been telling us all along: the first year is a bit of a write-off.

Well, write-off or not, it has been a year of learning. Learning new jobs, a new language (oh yes), a new environment, a new lifestyle, a new currency (still converting to GBP), a new set of rules and acceptable behaviours. Learning to let down our defences in a very un-British way and let go of old preconceptions. Also, at times, learning why those preconceptions existed in the first place! We have become city parents – something we would have never dreamed of in the UK. Our kids have transitioned seamlessly from suburban to urban, falling short only in their proper little accents. We have learned to live without a car (although we do miss it), learned to get EVERYTHING delivered, learned to block out the noise from the street, learned to budget like crazy after the rent cheque is cashed like only a New Yorker knows how. And there is still a whole lot more we need to learn. Like how taxes work here, how to find something (anything) to watch on Time Warner Cable, how to navigate the schools admissions process, how to understand medical insurance benefits (I don’t actually expect to ever get there).

But it has also been a year of growth. Growing into our roles as: the full-time working mom at the firm’s flashy HQ; the fully fledged stay-at-home dad of internet fame (see HuffPost & NY Times);  the New York City elementary school student killing his reading assignments when he can be distracted from Star Wars; the urban pre-schooler with an incredible aptitude for his scooter and a slight hint of Russian in his accent (don’t ask).  And a whole load of other stuff. We have missed our friends and family on a daily basis. We have had visitors from home and have been visitors back home. We have opened our doors to wonderful new friends and have had doors opened up to us. We have joined book clubs and dad’s groups, celebrated birthdays and new holidays, hosted Christmas and New Years, and discovered the small neighbourhood in the big city. It may have been a write-off in the grand scheme of things but we played it hard, dug in our heels and we will remember it forever. And we look forward with eager anticipation to year two.

Posted in New York, Relocation | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Parklife

All the people; so many people; they all go hand in hand… No, not that kind of Parklife. It’s more of an imagine all the people, or an Arthur’s theme, or a smooth jazz trio by the banks of the boating lake. It’s altogether a softer and more chilled experience. Central Park really is like the heart and lungs of New York City. When we first arrived it was a beautiful frozen landscape of ice and snow. But what I have been waiting for, for the last three months, is for those buds to bloom. And bloom they have! The park is stunning in the spring and we are only at the beginning. We have often said that if we didn’t have Central Park it would be really quite different living where we do. But I think it is true to say that if Manhattan didn’t have Central Park it would be totally unthinkable. I love the rows upon rows of towering apartment buildings and office blocks and the tight knit grid of streets but still, there is a sense of relief when you come close to the park and spot the trees over the horizon and you know there are miles of park ahead of you. It allows you to exhale. New York without Central Park doesn’t even bear thinking about.

So we have been taking advantage of it and also realising that we need to find our unique spot in the park because with the warmer weather people literally swarm across it – at least on the outer edges. Come summer we will have picked out a few favourite picnic spots with just the right balance of rocks to climb and lawn to lie on. I am excited about events in the park, organised or spontaneous, where we can spend lazy summer afternoons with a picnic and ice creams and a football or a frisbee and no further than 10 minutes from home. And the playgrounds have the kids’ seal of approval too. They are so thoughtfully designed, not just in CP but all over the city. We have never seen so many sandpits and so many kids sharing their sandpit toys! Many friendships may bloom over a shared shovel or rake. Even our local playground, a block from home, has more to offer than any playgrounds the boys frequented back home. And the numerous sprinkler or water features haven’t even started yet – that is going to be a blast! The boys are so spoilt they pick the playgrounds they want to go to based on their mood. There’s 67th and 72nd and Billy Johnson and 84th and Carl Schurz and Heckscher and many more.  Now that it is lighter later in the evenings and warming up it is nice that we can hop down to the local playground when I get home from work if they still have unused energy. So in that respect we are getting over missing our garden. The lack-of-bbq bit still hurts though; we’ll have to find a solution to that one.

I have started walking to and from work which takes me about 30 mins each way. Like before, when I was walking from 34th Street, there are so many different routes that I can take that every day can be different from the previous. I can even cut through the park and will be doing more of that as it warms up as it’s a great way to de-stress in the evenings. I just need to find the right footpaths as I have a tendency to totally lose my bearings. Still, getting lots of exercise which makes a change from my fully seated commute in the UK! There are streets that I’m sometimes in the mood for and sometimes not and the streets also change their appeal with the seasons. About a month ago I would have said that I was bored of Park Avenue because once you’ve seen a few ridiculously posh apartment buildings and smiled at a couple of immaculately dressed doormen and glanced up at the Helmsley building, it is kind of same-y. But recently, it has crept back in to my preferred list because suddenly it is bursting with beautiful tulips in all sorts of colours! Even just across the road from our apartment building, on lowly old East 66th street, there is a flower bed surrounding a tree that is packed full of tulips. And then there are the blossom trees that are everywhere. Really quite beautiful.

At this point I was planning to upload some pretty pictures of the park but unfortunately my phone has stopped playing ball and is not letting me access anything stored within. So you will have to make do with imagination. It has not escaped me that it has been over a month since I posted on here. It is not that there isn’t enough going on. That little thing called “time” keeps getting away from me. I swear time goes faster here…

Posted in Relocation | Leave a comment

Growing Accustomed To Your Face

We visited an area of Brooklyn last weekend that we hadn’t been to before to visit some friends for a very cute birthday party. On the way back we were asked twice for directions or instructions and I felt I could give them. Yes, one of my answers was wrong but that’s because that subway station is just confusing. You go up and over and round and down and then you can get your train. There were plenty of confused people milling about. But I didn’t feel the need to say “Oh, I’m sorry, I just moved here. I don’t know where anything is”. Yes, I have said that a number of times before. But I’m getting used to things – I can hop on subways and still not know where I’m going but not panic about it and look for the map and work out if I went the long way around or do a little happy dance if I actually made a good call (which is pretty much the way I used to roll in London even after all these years). The point is I feel comfortable doing it, and jumping down a rabbit-warren-like subway station (this time, looking out for the uptown / downtown clues) and getting close to where I need to be and walking the rest of the way confident in that I’m at least going the right direction and knowing roughly how long it will take based on the number of blocks. What’s more, when out with the kids, I’ll say to Daniel “This is third, what’s the next one?” and he’ll chime “Lexington, Park, Madison.” We are getting it, New York. Ok, I won’t include Andy in this because he, for some reason, always knows where he is, what direction he is headed, where the sun will set, where the stars are and what side of the road the sun will be on at 4.30pm. Don’t ask me…

I will admit we did a New York tour bus in the first few days of us being here… the SHAME!! It was a fairly dreadful experience for a number of reasons. 1) It was cold. Yes the roof was on but the back is open and it’s bloody freezing up there. 2) It is not possible to see out when the roof is on unless you are the size of a small elf (yup, Daniel and Mikey sized) and can secure a place in the front row looking right out of the only see-through window on the bus. 3) If you dare to use the headphones that literally crumble between your fingers to listen to the commentary, make sure not to have a 2 or a 5 year old next to the controls who thinks it is more fun to continuously switch channels between Cantonese & Portuguese. So we sat next to said elves and had the choice of either not seeing or hearing at all or bending over sideways to about elf-head height to look out of the front window whilst listening to the entertaining but less informed commentary of the Craddock children “Mummy look at that tall building. Look another one. Mummy, a playground!! Mummy, I’m hungry”. I did the latter whilst also manically trying to keep hold of my 2 year old on the front seat of the bus which had no seatbelts and slippery plastic seats… Not advisable. But anyway, we made it round the city on a couple of different tours to get our money’s worth culminating in the uptown tour which took us round Central Park and up into the heart of Harlem. Just as I was reminiscing about watching 125th Street in the West End many years ago, I noticed Daniel’s signature leg jiggle followed by “Muuuummy, I need to go to the toilet”. I had been watching for a while and realised he’s been holding now for some time – he is not going to make it all the way back down to 34th Street. So as we round the corner into Spanish Harlem we say stop – we’re getting out! Cue, horrified looks from the British and Italians on board as we try to look nonchalant and Andy is muttering under his breath about empty water bottles. As soon as we got out, the busy, restaurant filled streets seem to vanish before our eyes and there is not a café or eating establishment in sight. Well, not one that I thought would be a suitable toilet experience, anyway. There is a tonne of snow on the ground and it’s starting to get dark (last tour of the night). We spot a playground with a toilet block between uninviting buildings. Locked. So it’s “al fresco” time for D which he is normally not a fan of. He must have really been desperate. We then trekked along to the nearest subway station to get a long slow train back home. Who’d have thought. I’ll add now that this is pretty much the spot where the awful gas explosion took place this week and my heart goes out to the families of the victims of the incident. It kind of changes the mood of this story.

On a happier note, a couple of weekends ago we took a bus to the Bronx. The Bronx Zoo to be precise, although (hangover from the Superbowl) Daniel has since referred to it as the Bronco Zoo. Fab little express bus that picks up a few blocks from our new neighbourhood and takes us right to the doorstep of this fabulous zoo. It is huge. And with a little snow on the ground and melt-water falls around each rocky outcrop it feels a little wild in parts. I’m always a little unsure how to feel about zoos but the animals definitely looked healthy and happy. We saw tigers up close, grizzly bears sprawled in the sun, alligators, sea lions, monkeys, penguins, snakes, lemurs and more. We left half the park unseen so we will definitely be going back soon to make the most of our annual membership!

Yesterday was probably the warmest day since we have been here (although woolly hats were still required). I was intent on getting the boys out but trying to decide what to do when there are so many options is not an easy task. In the end, as we’d wasted half the morning deliberating, we decided to hop on the subway to City Hall and walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. It was busy and it was windy and it’s definitely a lot longer than the bridges across the Thames! But is was pretty impressive. On the other side you really feel like you are somewhere with a different vibe. We had an unintentionally huge lunch (it is impossible to under-order here) and then went on a playground hunt, realised that Brooklyn Heights would have been a cool place to live, found the best playground with the worst wind problem (buggies flying all over the place like something out of Mary Poppins) and then spent about an hour wandering up and down, up and under and around Manhattan Bridge trying to find a subway station to avoid the long, windy walk back (even if it was the scene of the finale of the Taking of Pelham 123).

This is a bit of a rambly post – maybe obvious it was written over a few sessions! The point is we’re getting around and getting about. We haven’t ventured out of New York State yet but the wish-list is as long as all our arms put together. We have barely dented the 1000 things to do in New York City but we are working our way through! More to come…

Posted in Relocation | Leave a comment

Trying for Adoption

Yup. That’s what we’re doing. No, not adopting a child (no – are you crazy?) Trying to be adopted. That’s what. Family of four. Two big, two small. Some struggles adapting and quite a lot of noise. Some anger management issues from big and small. Cute English accents all round. In need of some friends (big and small). Please adopt us. We are free. We might even throw in some cake/beer/wine/pretzel snacks (damn, they’re good).

Long and short of what we’ve learnt these last 6 or so weeks is that it is hard on all of us having left everything and everyone behind and it manifests itself in different ways. We (the big ones) are most concerned with how it affects them (the little ones) as they are not equipped to be able to vocalise or elaborate on what is making them act crazy but the reasons are obvious. And it’s hard to justify having done “this” to them sometimes, when they are feeling so lost. I will admit that there is a lot of guilt (hey, I’m a mum – what’s a little more guilt sprinkled on top of the guilt laden guilt sundae with added guilt-flavoured guilt??). But I say trust me and just hold on, kids. This is that bit at the beginning of the ride where you cling on white knuckled and say “I want to get off, I’ve changed my miiind!” The best is just over that hill and it is going to be amazing. I promise. Everything we have done, everything we see every day promises a life less ordinary and more beautiful. It is out there and we just need to decide in what order to tackle it. Just as soon as it warms up a little damn bit… seriously! But like anything in life, half the work is taken out of it if you have friends to lean on. And don’t get me wrong, during our 6 weeks in NYC we have met and re-met so many amazing, welcoming and lovely people. We just need to find our groove and our kids grooves so that we can start to feel more normal and less refugee-like. So, to my friends back home I say, come share in our journey either virtually or, better still, in person. And to our friends and friends-to-be over here in the USA, I say please adopt us! We are really quite fun if you try us out. And we do make a mean Sunday roast… 🙂

On a less verbose and more down to earth vein, I have been pulled up on my lack of attention to my blog (you know who you are), so I wanted to come on here and say hi and give a little inkling about what’s been going on and why we’ve been so quiet recently. This move is huge for us like I said it would be. And we are loving it but we are all dealing with our own personal struggles along the way and not for one moment forgetting anyone we left back in Craddock Family Life Mark I.

Next blog post will be all about New York and what we’ve been up to (parks, puppet shows, 20 playgrounds, 2 zoos, river tours and not forgetting an unexpected toilet break in Harlem) because I know you are dying to know more about this amazing city. And it is. Good night from the Upper East Side.

Posted in Relocation | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Quirks of New York (a Tale of Two Cities)

How do you ask a nun to stop kicking snow at you?

Just one of the random questions I have found myself trying to answer whilst walking the streets of this intriguing city. I love my current (albeit temporary) commute to work. A 15 minute power walk or 20 minute avoiding-the-ice/slushy-puddles trek. I can go any of a number of routes block-hopping as takes my fancy. Sometimes I boldly stride along avenues; other times I follow the sun down loosely-themed streets, choosing between little Brazil, bead shops or diamond central as takes my fancy. I love how a route I take in the morning can take a totally different appearance when walked in reverse in the evening. The city really is one of two tales. I love the fact that at night you are guided by big lights and billboards, whilst in the early morning sunshine a glance up will make you realise how much stunning architecture surrounds you. And I’m not one to really marvel at the shiny new buildings so much (as awe inspiring as some of them are) – it is the original buildings thatIMAG3025 captivate me. The ones that have stood their ground for the last 100 years or so among the ever-more-towering skyscrapers, proudly bearing their ornate carvings and stone engraved names. The Scribner building on 5th Avenue is utterly beautiful in the day – just a Sephora shop at night. The Flatiron takes my breath away any time I look at it and from any angle – but at nightfall it’s gone. And even the interiors play along with the game. During the day, the Safra National Bank of New York is just an office building with slightly tinted windows whereas, at night with the lights still on, it shows off sprawling mahogany desks with old fashioned reading lights and vintage leather armchairs offering a hint of 1920s opulence. I try hard not to walk around looking up but it’s hard to do. And I wonder at what point I will stop taking off a glove, pulling out my phone and freezing my fingers off to take a picture of some building or landmark that I already have a hundred photos of!

And then there are the inhabitants of this city who come in every shape, size, flavour, variety and state of mind. The snippets of conversations I overhear range from the sweet (man on a cell phone: “You are the most beautiful thing…”), to the deliriously happy (young guy walking alone sees a movie billboard and punches the air: “Yeah!!! Robocop!”), to the foul (big guy chatting to his mate during Superbowl: “..I sleep in it, f#&% in it and eat in it!” Ewwwww, shudder…), to the totally lacking in self-awareness (short guy in skinny leather trousers walking through Central Park, iPod plugged in, singing God-knows what kind of music genre sounding like a cross between Eddie Murphy, Prince and a strangled cat). And then there is our landlord. Meeting him to sign the lease was like something out of Being John Malkovich with a touch of Woody Allen. His office was on the 6th floor but might as well have been on 7 and a half. “You sure you can afford the rent?? It’s gonna be tight, hey?” interspersed between phone calls he answered on speakerphone about exploding plant pots and tenants wanting to know their rent increase (“Listen, you are paying xxxx for an apartment worth yyyy and you’re pushing me?? If you need an answer that quick then vacate – I don’t care!”). Together they all make this wondrous city the place it is.

I never did ask the nun, but I slowed down and let her get ahead because she was on a mission and I was getting wet shins.

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment