Tag Archives: Newark

Seeking Adventure in Small Ways

On Sunday, I went to three cafes and spent time in three towns.  In the morning, after singing at church, I picked up breakfast at a cafe before driving to Weequahic Park where I walked around a lake.  Later, on my way to play the organ (at another local church), I sipped a decaf latte on the bench of a cafe facing Independence Park, around the corner from my house.

That evening, my husband and I were ready for another outing, so we drove to Belleville, adjacent to Newark, and ate dinner at Topaz Thai.  I was happy to discover there was a Thai restaurant within a 20-minute drive from where we live.  I’ve missed eating Thai, Indian and Ethiopian food regularly since moving here from Brooklyn close to three years ago.  In my neighborhood in the Ironbound, Portuguese, Brazilian and Italian food predominate.  I’m still exploring all of the nearby towns and discovering what cuisines they have to offer.

After dinner, we drove a few minutes down the road into Lyndhurst and enjoyed a bavarian cream lobster tail and pignoli cookies from an Italian bakery.  Then my husband realized we were practically in Rutherford, which was home to William Carlos Williams, so we looked up his house and checked it out.

I started a notebook the other day to keep track of some of these outings.  It actually has three sections, “Music” (where I record the pieces I’ve practiced on the organ), “Outings” (for hikes, new towns, new places), and “Special Projects” (various priorities).  I process and remember things better by writing them down, so this helps me remember that we hiked in the Palisades two weeks ago, or practiced a Bach prelude and fugue that I want to revisit soon.  I don’t write everything down–but I like writing down what’s important to me.  The act of writing it affirms that it’s important.

I’m grateful that I live in a city that has such easy access to many different types of places.  I also feel grateful for having honored my desire for a little excitement.  Maybe it wasn’t a trip to Europe–but even a little outing, devouring Thai food, bavarian cream pastry, and seeing W.C. Williams’ house, in three new-to-me towns, temporarily satiates my yearning for excitement and adventure.

I suppose it’s adventure on a modest scale, with a lowercase “a,” quite different from ones I’ve taken in the past such as circling around Sicily for a week, or living in Paris for a year.  Yet when those capital-A Adventures on a grand scale aren’t possible, modest adventures go a long way.

Yesterday was quieter.  I cooked breakfast, did some cleaning, worked out at the gym, went to the hardware store, played the organ for a bit, gardened, had two client calls, and talked with family.  A quiet, productive day–and for today, it felt just right.

It always feels wonderful coming home after being out, and conversely, going out after staying at home for awhile.  Something about the varied pace feels important.  I need stability, and I need excitement.  When my schedule doesn’t allow for more, simply walking around a lake or trying out a new restaurant really does provide that sense of newness and discovery.  My need for fun and adventure can be honored by seeking out simple pleasures.

Which needs and values are you honoring?  Which ones are getting stepped on or overlooked?  Small tweaks to our routines can make a big difference.  A small step can often have a huge imapct.

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Weekends in Newark: Nicer than You Think

There is nothing like the weekend.  It’s been said before.  Still, there are times when I wake up from a nap, make myself a cup of tea with soymilk, and sip it on the living room couch, looking out the window onto snowy Independence Park, and am struck with so much pleasure and gratitude that I’m nearly incredulous.

I’ve lived in the house that I share with my husband, our cat, three sets of tenants (and their dog and two cats) for a little over two years.  We spent the first three years of our marriage in a 3-bedroom apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where we rented out the other two rooms.  It was supposed to be temporary, but we hadn’t planned on it being 3 years.  That’s a long time for a married couple to share a kitchen and bathroom with roommates!

Granted, the location was amazing, with Manhattan just two stops away on the L train, cafes aplenty outside our doorstep, and a backyard with a cherry tree, fig tree, and grapevines…yes, trees grow in Brooklyn.  Once, a NY Times reporter contacted me for a story on the number of responses Williamsburgers get to Craigslist ads for subletters, and it’s true, there was no shortage of interested parties.

Regardless, a certain strain was inherent in our living situation, so moving to our own house has been a little piece of heaven.  I’m still getting used to having a guest room, living room, and dining room.  I don’t have to guess if it’s our food in the fridge or someone else’s.

My husband doesn’t even seem to mind taking out the trash, a job that we (thankfully) assigned along traditional gender lines.   Maybe he enjoys the feeling of proprietorship.  (It’s *our* trash, well ours and the tenants’, ha ha).  In any case, I get it–when I mop the kitchen, something I could probably stand to do more often, I have the feeling that this is *our* floor.  It’s a feeling I never had as a renter.

I should take this opportunity to clear the air and share that we live in Newark, and it’s a lot nicer than you think.  🙂  (Don’t tell too many people, though, or you’ll drive up the cost of living.)  We live in the Ironbound, a mostly Portuguese and Brazilian neighborhood 22 minutes on the PATH train from World Trade (hence the title of this blog).

Purchasing a multi-family house with three bedrooms for ourselves wouldn’t have been possible in the urban core of Brooklyn.  We just have to put up with the occasional response, “you live in Newark?  You just hear Newark and you think…” (then they make a face, trailing off).  People’s memories of the ’67 riots die hard.

Yet I feel like I’m in Europe or South America.  My hairdresser kisses me on the cheek.  I can get a “galao” (Portuguese for latte) for under two bucks, and an excellent fish dinner at any number of restaurants.

There are tons of cultural amenities.  We live near NJ PAC, where we’ve heard the NJ Symphony Orchestra, and brought my family to readings at the Geraldine Dodge Poetry Festival.  My brother-in-law gave us a patron’s membership to the Newark Museum one Christmas, whose Asian, American, African, and Classical art collections we’ve enjoyed, as well as the Ballantine House.  There’s excellent hiking 25 minutes away–not to mention Branch Brook Park in Newark proper, with the largest collection of cherry blossoms in the country.

I’ve gotten involved as a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters, which paired me with an amazing 10-year-old girl.  We go on “dates” as she calls them, to all the best that the area has to offer, both in Newark and nearby towns (like the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn where we saw “A Christmas Carol,” and Turtle Back Zoo).  I’m hoping to take her to the Newark Museum and the Dodge Poetry Festival later this year, and perhaps to see a game at the Prudential Center (where the Super Bowl Media Day was held).

snow

It’s good to have a home, and good to have a neighborhood.  I’m grateful for small pleasures on a wintry day, like writing my blog with the cat on my lap and a cup of tea, watching late-afternoon strollers in the park and hearing the chatter of birds.

What are you most grateful for about your neighborhood and home?  Do you have any special morning or evening rituals?  What do you enjoy about weekends where you live?  I’d love to hear from you–please leave a comment and click “share!”

The Meadowlands: Finding Peace in Unlikely Places

I have a couple of commuting options from my home in Newark, NJ, to my magazine publishing job in midtown NYC.  I can take the PATH, a light rail train that is convenient but rarely has a free seat during rush hour; or I can take NJ Transit.  Both are prone to delays, particularly during rush hour, but NJ Transit has two advantages.  First, I always get a seat in the morning.  Secondly, part of the ride is through the Meadowlands, a surprisingly intact natural oasis just miles from factories and the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels.

During the migratory seasons, I love being on the lookout for birds.  I often see a pair or a family of ducks swimming in the stream alongside the train.  (In spite of the Audubon’s birdwatching weekend my husband and I took in Cape May, the epicenter of avian migration, my bird identification skills are less than stellar, but my avian appreciation is sky-high.)

My commute varies in length depending on congestion, but it’s typically an hour and 15 minutes door-to-door.  That includes a brisk walk through the Ironbound, a train ride, and a transfer to the subway.  I’m thankful that I don’t spend that time behind the wheel of a car.  Nevertheless, it behooves me to spend those 12 1/2 hours a week wisely.

I use the time in a few ways.  I admit, I start out by checking email, weather, and taking a quick peek at Facebook.  Next, I typically share a moment I’m grateful for on Happier, an app dedicated to noticing and recording moments of happiness.  Then I turn off my iPhone and meditate, pray, or do some reading to tune in spiritually and center me in the present.

If I’m on NJ Transit, by this point the train has passed the winding Passaic River that empties into Newark Bay, affording an unexpectedly lovely view, and is approaching the Meadowlands, pictured above.  The stadium where the Seahawks trounced the Broncos on Sunday is in this ecosystem.

Nature centers me and offers me a happiness unlike any other  Whether I’m hiking at the Cumberland Gap on the border of TN/KY/VA, or looking across the sound at Martha’s Vineyard, there’s an ineffable vastness and serene beauty that engulfs me just by seeing it.

I have noticed it can be tempting to tune out the beauty of nature either because we’re used to it (it feels familiar), or we don’t expect it (it seems incongruous).  Who would expect such a beautiful area with ducks, reeds, rivers and streams in-between two major northeastern cities–with factories on the horizon, no less?

Yet there we find ourselves, myself and the other morning commuters, and we’re presented with a choice to tune into our surroundings or to tune out, lost in the distractions of our smartphones or our own whirling thoughts.

For today, I choose to tune in, to soak in beauty where I find it, no matter how little I expect it or how easy it would be to overlook.  Then, when the train takes 40 minutes instead of the scheduled 20, I will have filled myself up with all the goodness and beauty available to me in that moment.

And when I feel flustered again later in the day, I can recall it in my mind’s eye and again find a moment of peace.

Herald Square: Staying Sane in an Overstimulating City

I work in midtown NYC in the publishing field.  I often walk to the PATH train at Herald Square after work, instead of taking the subway.  It gives me time to call friends or family, lets me fit in some exercise, and I can save the $2.50 for a trip to a cafe in my Ironbound neighborhood of Newark.

One person I often call on these walks is my 94-year-old grandmother.  She always wants to know where I am and what I see as I’m walking.  She lives in rural Indiana and I imagine she would be taken aback by just how busy NYC is.  This is true year-round, but it particularly strikes me in December.  There’s no shortage of sights and sounds to take in–some positive, like the lights at Macy’s; others negative, like the sirens that make me plug my ears–but all of them stimulating.

How do we survive so much stimuli in a place like NYC without becoming overwhelmed, particularly for a highly sensitive person like I am?  For me, the answer lies in filtering the sensory stimuli, deciding what is most important to focus on.  Letting the rest go, and letting what’s interesting be heightened.  This way, I can appreciate the beautiful parts of my surroundings (the iceskating rink at Bryant Park), and pay little attention to what I dislike.

What’s even better is when I can apply this filter to my own thoughts.  Perspective is so powerful.  What is it like to focus on life events that displease or discourage me?  Conversely, what is it like to appreciate the good in all my experiences?

Two of my character defects are negative thinking and perfectionism.  My character strengths (whew!) include gratitude and curiosity.  I have practiced paying attention to which thoughts could allow me the most insight, and infusing that perspective with curiosity and gratitude.  For example, although I am tired after work, isn’t it good to have a choice of whether I go to the gym, and how hard I work out once I’m there?  What if I focused on what it would feel like to go for an easy jog?  How would I feel 10 minutes into the run, and again after I’ve finished running?  How would I sleep afterwards?  Isn’t it good that it’s a choice to be curious about, not a rule to beat myself over the head with?

My choices have consequences.  I’m grateful that I can experience the results of my choices and notice what does or doesn’t work, in a way that’s loving and observant, not judgmental.  I can change my perspective, like closing my eyes when the train is packed to capacity.  Or I can change my actions–like walking a half-hour and making a phone call instead of cramming myself onto the subway, on days when that’s the last thing I feel like doing.

And when I feel like I’ve made a lousy choice or am having a lousy day, I can see it instead as a chance to practice having a creative perspective.

How would it feel to tweak the thoughts and actions that we choose on a daily basis?  How many possibilities would open up?

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