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All NYC parks are not created equal

Daily News writers are often given the opportunity to express their innermost feelings. Although this usually irks me to no end, I’m happy for this writer, who just published an article about how NYC parks have changed over the years–how they were once filled with drugs and teens up to no good, and how they are now closed and protected spaces that sometimes feature hammocks and gentle streams.

I’m happy for this writer because he is from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn — where I currently reside — and refers to Fort Hamilton Park as one that was a “hangout for misfits, drug dealers, and deviants” like himself in the ’80s. A friend of his was even stabbed at this park, so the guy knows what he is talking about. I admire his ability to keep a positive attitude about our city parks.

BUT. And this is a BIG BUT.

I would have preferred it if he had written an article about the major discrepancies that still exist among NYC parks. While he admits that his family travels from Brooklyn to the South Street Seaport’s Imagination Playground because it is a park unlike any other, he stops there and doesn’t expand on the fact that he chooses to leave Bay Ridge and travel 20 mins to get to another park.

I’m not judging him for it because I do the same exact thing. And here’s why: many of our Bay Ridge parks lack grass, new equipment, or even gates to keep children from running onto the street. A park located one block from my apartment features colossal cracks in the asphalt directly beside a children’s slide. Inexplicable pitfall-like drops appear from out of nowhere on jungle gym equipment. And fountains are thoughtlessly set up atop slippery concrete. 

For those of you who have never heard of Bay Ridge, I can assure you it is a pretty residential sort-of suburb where real estate ranges from about $250K for a 1BR apartment to 1.3 million or more for a lovely house along Shore Road.

Yes, Park Slope is a much wealthier neighborhood, which I suppose accounts for their thoughtful park planning? But does it really take money to build a gate around the section meant for children under 2? And is it so much to ask for a section for children under 2? 

 

Have you visited Bleeker Playground in the West Village? It contains a sand box filled with toys that is the size of a studio apartment. There isn’t one square inch that isn’t blanketed with rubber flooring. How do I know? Because like the writer, I’ve wasted 30 minutes traveling to get to it so my daughter can play at a real park. 

I can’t even imagine how residents in neighborhoods like Brownsville, Bed-Stuy, or East New York feel. Yep, I have a definitely have a case of park envy. 

 

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Flour is getting in the way of my domestic goddess-ness

Every four or five months I get it into my head that I’m the sort of woman who is both impeccably groomed and can bake like the dickens. Fictional statement, to say the least. I own muffin pans, so technically I could bake. But I could also train for a 5k marathon and announcing that I walk to and from Third Avenue each day will never convince anyone that I won’t die of a heart attack after 1.5 miles.

Besides, I’m going to throw my short domestic attention span into sewing, since I love to shop, so naturally…I mean, naturally, this means I’m the next Etsy superstar.

Anyway, baking.

With the intention of creating something extraordinary called Baked Blintzes with Fresh Blueberry Sauce by one of my imaginary best friends, Ina Garten, I walked into the supermarket the other day in search of flour. Have you done this lately? When did flour become so damn confusing? Are you as bowled over as I am that there are 300 different varieties of flour or am I from another planet?

I try to keep our family meals healthy, despite what the Barefoot Contessa’s strong presence in our house would have you think. I was so distraught by what it all meant–unbleached, bleached, whole wheat–that I left the stupid store and decided not to make my all-important flour purchase until I did a little research.

And now I’m going to simplify flour. Hold onto your hat–it’s about to get exciting:

1. All-Purpose Flour: Most common flour that comes unbleached or bleached. Unbleached flour is not chemically treated and has more protein. It is used for cookies, pies, pancakes, etc. Bleached flour is chemically treated and is used in many breads, danishes, and pastries. All-purpose flour has a gluten content of roughly 12 percent.

2. Cake Flour: Soft wheat flour with a lot of starch but a lower gluten content than all-purpose flour–about 8 percent. As its name suggests, this flour is powder soft and ideal for cakes and pastries.

3. Buckwheat flour: Perfect for people who must restrict gluten in their diets, this flour can be used to replace all-purpose flour.

4. Organic Flour: Must pass U.S. Department of Agriculture regulation to be considered organic. Otherwise, it seems like you can use this flour for all of the same recipes that require All-Purpose flour. Companies like Bob’s Red Mill offer an insane selection like coconut, corn, and fava bean organic flours.

5. Bread Flour: One day I’ll make homemade pizza. My family will be forever grateful. And I will use bread flour, which has a stronger scent than other flours and a higher gluten content, between 13 and 14 percent.

6. Pastry Flour: With 9 to 10 percent gluten, pastry flour is slightly stronger than cake flour and can be used for biscuits and muffins.

7. Self-Rising Flour: Anyone can prove me wrong and I am happy to hear it, but by all accounts, self-rising flour seems like a pain in the ass to use. It contains salt and baking powder, but various manufacturers put different amounts of these in their product so how are you supposed to know how much flour to use in your own recipe? Anyhoo, it’s most often used for quick bread recipes and biscuits.

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15 interesting celebs who drank the Sesame Street Kool-Aid

You say you’re in the mood to discuss great literature? Well, that’s just adorable, but as my Great Aunt Ida would say: “Go see where you gotta go.” I’m the mommy of a two-year-old. There will be no book reading, ever, to take place in this house. Ever again. Is that clear?

Now, I’m a firm believer in becoming as much of an expert in whatever experience just happens to be yours at the moment–vapid or otherwise. Since Sesame Street haunts my dreams, I thought I’d dig up a list of 15 of the coolest, most interesting celebs who took time out of their busy day to hang with muppets.

Lauren Bacall


The coolest woman ever in films not only appeared on an early episode of the show–where she read to children–she has been referenced several times since. Apparently, not one but two minor muppets reuse her infamous quote to Bogie: “You know how to whistle, don’t you?”

Carol Burnett


One of the funniest comediennes in history was also the first celebrity guest to appear in a Sesame Street telecast. She shared air time with Kermit in 1969.

Buzz Aldrin


Who else could convince Cookie Monster that the moon is not made of cookies? Sadly, Cookie didn’t get to find this out until 2005. I believe he was 49 at the time.

Chuck Close


How can you not love that the contemporary artist chatted with Big Bird about art in 2001? Though wouldn’t it have made more sense for him to shoot the shit with Bert, a muppet who you can actually envision hanging a replica of Rembrandt?

Robert De Niro


In 2001, the legendary actor entertained Elmo by pretending to be everything from a dog to a head of lettuce (which only De Niro could pull off).

Elvis Costello


You can say he bastardized a great song — “(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes”–but at the end of the day, it is his song to bastardize.

Jake Gyllenhaal


It’s not at all surprising that the actor appeared on the show; what’s surprising is that millions of moms had to force themselves not to shout, “He’s so cute!”  while wiping oatmeal from their child’s chin.

Hugh Jackman


In 2009, Jackman and Elmo spoke with an Australian audience about bushfires. Which is important, I know. But he and Gyllenhaal are also important because they don’t so much make me mind having to watch Sesame Street. So much.

Ice-T


The rapper-turned-actor chats with Elmo about his love for rhymes on a 2007 episode.

Kim Cattrall


The Sex in the City star appeared on a 2008 episode, where she–no surprise here–demonstrated the meaning of the word “fabulous.”

Kofi Annan


If only all unruly toddlers could follow the former UN Secretary-General’s example on the show as he taught some pissed off muppets how to resolve a dispute.

Cyndi Lauper


The outrageously talented 80s star sang “Do the Twist” with the Twister Sisters on the Sesame Street video “Elmocize.”

Nina Simone


In 1972, the beautiful singer sat on a city stoop alongside some groovy looking kids in bell-bottoms and serenaded them with “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black.”

Stockard Channing

Rizzo + Jim Henson’s muppets = everything great in the world. But years before Grease, Channing made her TV debut on Sesame Street playing “The Number Painter” (1972).

Lisa Bonet (aka Denise Huxtable)


Hands down, the best dressed television character of the 1980s appeared on the show in 1986 beside Gonzo and her Cosby co-star, Tempestt Bledsoe.

Who are your favorite Sesame Street celebs? Oh, you’re too busy reading? Liar!

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Dear coworkers everywhere: new parents just can’t drink with you at happy hour

Dear Coworkers Everywhere:

As a new parent, I can no longer drink with you at happy hour.

It isn’t because I’m an antisocial freak. I’m actually a nice person who used to be considered fun. You would never know this looking at me now, as I dash out of the building at exactly one second after closing time with a perpetual worried look slapped on my face, but 10 years ago I used to go out—on “school nights.” I would hit up all kinds of bars with coworkers. Oh, there were wine bars on Prince Street and vodka bars on Broadway and good ole nasty cheap beer bars on Rivington Street. There was one bar in Chinatown in which you descended a deep staircase and could disappear into a dark hole-of-a-corner for hours. There was this other bar in East Williamsburg in which I witnessed people who made important decisions by day make horrible choices after 10 p.m.

But we had this social contract, one that built trust and improved our ability to work closely together. The following morning you simply agreed to forget everything you saw the night before. And then you closed a deal in unison. And then you went out drinking again and repeated the process. Cooperative is an important word in the modern work place. At work meetings we form little groups based on everything except our eye color, then we grab chubby markers and go to town brainstorming on large sheets of paper. This emphasis on groupthink also extends to shared experiences outside of the workplace—whether they exist in the form of mandatory professional outings like barbecues and overnight retreats, or more informal happy hours.

I was game for all this 10 years ago. But today, I am mommy to a gorgeous two-year-old daughter. In a nutshell, she is the best reason why I can no longer drink with you on a random Tuesday evening.

But there’s more you should know. There are other things my boss should consider before she pulls me again into her office and chastises me for not partaking in more social experiences with members of my (work) family.

Let me assure you: I really, really, really want to go out and drink with you on a lovely summer evening. But this is why it’s not as easy as you think:

• I’m away from my daughter for most of the week. When I do get home from work, she spends the first hour ignoring me, and the next clinging to my leg. Until America takes back its eight-hour work day, or until I can find a way of working three days a week, I am going to be wracked with feelings of guilt any time I tack on an additional three hours away from her.

• Even if you’re lucky, as I am, to have a loving and considerate partner, getting some time away requires the bargaining skills of a pro-baseball scout. My husband encourages me to go out and I’d like to think I do the same for him. And yet, our conversations still often go a little something like this: okay, if you give me this Thursday, I’ll give you next Sunday. What do you mean, you don’t want next Sunday? But we already have plans next Saturday, so what about next Tuesday? Oh, and you can even sleep in tomorrow morning and then I’ll head out for that other thing I have to do when you get up.

• And if you are one of the 40 percent of women in this country who are raising children without the help of a spouse, I’d like to give you a million dollars just for figuring out how to make happy hour happen—particularly considering how a three-hour evening spent drinking cocktails could set you back an additional $60 in babysitting fees—and that’s assuming you only have one child.

• In addition to haggling with your partner, there is quite a bit of negotiating with one’s self that goes on when a parent finds the luxury of free time. I could go for that drink and catch up on office gossip, but I could also sit down at a coffee shop and work on a short story that has been torturing my brain since pregnancy. I could buy shoes. Finally read three pages from Infinite Jest. Get a pedicure. Take a nap. My minutes are precious and get gobbled up like Pac-Man pellets these days. Every ounce of wisdom warns me not to waste them at happy hour.

• And, finally, coworkers: have you ever woken up and had to take care of a toddler while nursing a hangover? Did you know it’s scientifically proven that you can not coax toddlers to nap beside you on a couch, ever, especially not when they could be screaming and dragging a green crayon across the hardwood floor?

If I go out drinking with you, I will have a green floor. Terrible shoes. An even less cultured brain. And do I really deserve to have to get up early four mornings in a row to compensate for one night out?

Of course, none of this means you still shouldn’t ask me to join you. New parents are tired and unlikely to take you up on your offer, but we still like to be asked.

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A what? A Luteal Phase Defect? Um, a what?

Three days before my period is due and I feel that warm sensation in my belly that always inevitably turns into cramps. Any hope I had when I felt wetness, when I looked it up and learned it could be a sign of pregnancy, when I was so sure we had perfectly timed everything this cycle—is washed away with one cramp. I feel defeated and sad, like my body is working against me. I feel old and shattered and wonder if this is the end of my chance to bring another life into our family. I feel selfish because I already made one life and she is a blessed, gorgeous life that I don’t even deserve. I should just be happy because so many women don’t get an opportunity to create one life. Who says two or three or four lives are superior to one? Who decided that?

Part I of my blood has already been given away to the gyno and I’ve been instructed to return on the 21st day of my cycle to give away Part II.

A Luteal Phase Defect.

What a beautiful name for a stupid thing.

All of a sudden, I am the moon, or a portion of it? A crumb? My limp body is being pulled and poked by its highness the moon, like a submissive tide? The moon isn’t supposed to get things wrong. It isn’t supposed to only provide 8 days in between ovulation and menstruation. That, my friends, isn’t enough time to conceive.

Idiot moon.

In every place on planet Earth, you’re considered young, gyno told me when I visited her a few months ago. Except here.

Remind me why I didn’t have children when I was 24? Oh yeah, that apartment in Williamsburg was pretty, pretty fun, that’s why.

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6 Things I have either purchased or am doing to make life with baby easier

The one item I bought this week that is making life with baby easier is….

The Tangle Teezer brush. Amazing hair tool for all hair types and all family members. Effortlessly and painlessly sorts out the tangles in K’s thick, wavy hair. No tears. This brush, in fact, produces the opposite effect–that of a soothing scalp massage. And the one I have is sparkly and purple and looks like this:

Adorable, no? Oh, and it seems to help with grown-up hair shed. Or maybe that’s just my imagination, a place I don’t mind living in these days.

Five Things I am doing this week to make life with baby easier:

1. Laying out all of my clothes on Sunday. Ironing everything on Sunday. Celebrating this smartest-thing-I-ever did with a glass of wine.

2. Grocery shopping with K. Holding active discussions with her about all the food (Ooh a pineapple)! You have no idea how much interest a pineapple can generate until you’ve reimagined it through a toddler’s eyes. Letting her hold the bananas and pasta. Ignoring when she throws bananas and pasta on the floor. Ignoring when she asks, over and over, for the doggy. That isn’t a doggy, it’s Tony Tiger and cereal makers are evil and the answer is no. Regardless, shopping has become a miniature outing that we both enjoy.

3. Reading a book if I want to instead of ignoring my intellectual needs. I’m modeling good behavior. And K is more apt to sit quietly with a book after watching me.

4. Exercising with my Ballet Beautiful workout DVDs instead of ignoring my physical needs. The first few times I dared push aside the coffee table to perform a bridge she collapsed onto my legs and stomach to make the nonsense stop. My advice is to just push through. Get kiddie used to understand he or she shares this space with you and that mommy deserves low blood pressure and shapely calves.

5. Making meals we can all eat, thus limiting the amount of time I have to spend in a hot kitchen and reducing the stupid number of pots that must be washed. Hubby doesn’t like spinach in the soup? Call it escarole. He wont know the difference. Can’t imagine feeding baby broccoli rabe? Mush it with beans. Swirl it into pastina with a dash of Parmesan cheese to cut the bitterness. We are busy women and busy women will not make pot roast, chicken fingers, pasta with butter, and cereal for a three-person family. Oh, hell no.

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Dear Mom, this is what I wish I could’ve written in my Mother’s Day card to you

As I write this I am sitting in my doctor’s waiting room nursing something that could be strep, a common cold, or the bubonic plague. You have selflessly driven to brooklyn from Queens to watch K, even though you have to work in the afternoon and this is a giant hassle for you, and despite the fact that you have been sniffling for days and have not once vocalized your own discomfort. Before I took off for the doc, you were sitting on the floor next to K, watching her place “Princess” on the Little People potty, over and over again. There you were, asking me if I wanted to pick up the ingredients to make chicken soup and offering to whip it up for me instead of rushing back to your home the minute I return so that you could, you know, live your life.

Yesterday on Mother’s Day I gave you a beautiful card and I wrote some sweet sentiments inside. The usual. Thank you. You are the best mom. You have shown me how to be a good mom to my daughter. The card took me five minutes to write (that morning) and, though I mean everything I penned, those words neither created a warm sensation within me, nor made me pause and reflect.

And that was wrong of me. Because there are things you should really know. There are multi-layered thoughts that actually race through my mind when I think about you late at night. When I let myself go to that ugly place where I imagine your death and realize that, at 64, you could have 30 more years or five. These are the facts about you that inspire me. That make me proud. That make me feel pity for you. That break my heart:

1. You never joined the other women when they cleaned up after Christmas dinner. You, like them, are Italian American. You, like them, learned your place in this world. Yet you, unlike any of them, refused to sit at the women’s table. Refused to leave meat on on your plate. Poured a second and third glass of wine. And then sauntered off to the men’s table and, without asking, plopped down next to Uncle Nick to play cards. You assumed the role of dealer. Blue and red chips accumulated in front of you. You didn’t bother to organize them into neat piles.

2. Your parents didn’t feel college was for girls. You always believed things would have been different if you were Jewish. Jewish parents encouraged their daughters to get a college degree, or at the very least, to sit in a college classroom for two years so they could marry a more respectable man. You would have been a lawyer. You tried to go back a few years ago. You attended classes for two semesters and quit with a 4.0 GPA. Why did you really give up?

3. I’ve tortured you through the years with cutting remarks about how you were never around. Yes, it hurt me when you weren’t there. But if I focused as much on the memory I have of you making me Stelline pastina with melted cheese when I was sick, of lying next to me in bed to watch The Muppet Show, of sitting by the radiator on snowy mornings while you made us fresh juice and oatmeal, of playing beauty shop with me and letting me brush your hair (thicker than mine, oily, darker, with deep red highlights…during this game you taught me the word “auburn” and this new unusual sounding trait made me wish my hair would change into something with an exotic name, something other than “brown.”)–if I focused on these memories instead of how often you were absent I would realize your need to look for fulfillment outside of the house (because one can only play beauty parlor with a four-year-old while watching All My Children for so long) wasn’t unusual or sinful. It didn’t have anything to do with your love for me. I would realize you were there as much as you weren’t and that our ideas about people, and especially about our mothers, are 30 percent fact and 70 percent emotion and resentment. I would confront the realization that forgiveness is not my strongest quality and that I expect you to be a Madonna, while I hold no such expectations for myself.

No Mother’s Day card could hold all these thoughts. And there are more. Decades of thoughts. I’m waiting for the day when I have the courage to spill over.