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City DIY Mini-series: Studs and Stud Muffins

9 Aug

Ok, so as you know from our last little foray into the world of DIY projects, IKEA-furniture-building is wonderfully simple. My Expedit bookshelf that I reassembled is up and it is sturdy!  But on to the big guns.

You know what wasn’t sturdy?  My bedroom closet.  When I first began piling my belongings into it, after the move-in, it occurred to me that the top shelf and rod spanned a pretty long distance (76 inches, to be exact).  But I was possessed by move-in madness.  All I wanted was to get everything put AWAY.  So, I packed that closet full, and I shut the door.  Out of sight, out of mind.

And then, like a true space-cadet, I forgot all about it.  Closet?  Shelf that’s bowing under the weight of a mountain of crap?  What on Earth are you talking about?  Yup, I’d forgotten all about my initial closet worry until one Friday night while I was watching TV.  I heard the loudest thud come from the bedroom, and thought “what on earth could have made that sound?!”  This:

If you can’t tell from my photography skillzzzz, the picture you’re staring at is showing a closet’s worth of shit, in a lump on the floor.  Nice.  One of the side supports for the top shelf of the closet had pulled right out of the wall.  It clearly had not been screwed into any studs – just the flimsy old sheetrock.  So, with the weight of my belongings, the whole shelf just came tumbling down, and it pulled down the whole rod of clothes, in it’s path (in my haste and panic, I actually removed the fallen shelf and shelf-contents prior to taking the photos…sorry!).  UGH!  Closet fixing/re-organizing = not how I wanted to spend a Friday night.

I busted out my tool box to see if I had anything that might help me reinforce the supports (and screw the fallen support piece back into the wall.  But alas, my poor wimpy screwdriver was not going to get the job done.

Before it got too late, I headed over to the local hardware store and bought myself a decent drill and a stud-finder, and I set out to get that closet fixed immediately.  I couldn’t stand looking at the mess of clothes and linens all over the bedroom floor.  Initially, I thought I’d screw in a bunch of reinforcing wood pieces below the original supports (if the primary support beam ever pulled out of the wall, I figured the lower one would “catch” it).  However, in talking to my dad, I learned that just screwing an additional piece of wood below the existing one would not actually do jack shit, despite the fact that it all seemed good in my head.

But, he assured me that if I found the studs and made sure to screw directly into them, the shelf and rod should hold up just fine.  So, that’s what I did.  In the picture below, the black dots are the screws I put in, into the studs (I did the same thing on all three support sides), with an additional screw in the middle.  The other random screws that the builder put in are not really even close to the studs.  4-star contracting.

As a final additional safety measure, my dad suggested (and brought right to my doorstep!) a closet rod and shelf support bracket.  It, too, was drilled into a stud, and the whole shelf and rod feel SO much more stable now.

So, rule number 1:  FIND STUDS!   For those who are still scratching their heads about what a stud is (don’t worry, I’m a construction idiot, too – you should have seen me trying to use the damn drill!), it’s a vertical beam in your wall.  When you screw into it, the screw is secured directly into the wood of the stud, resulting in a strong hold.  If you don’t find a stud when hanging something on a wall then you’re just securing the screw into sheetrock…which isn’t really secure at all.

If your sheetrock wasn’t there, your studs would look like this:

Or this:

Just kidding.  What?  No Dirty Dancing maniacs out there?  Just me?  Weren’t you wondering where the “stud muffin” part of the title was going to come in?

Ok, for serious.  The lesson here is that if you see a closet or shelf or cabinet that doesn’t look too sturdy when you move in, don’t just load it down with heavy items and assume it will hold.  Ask your super or landlord to fix it or reinforce it (taking care of apartment issues is what they’re there for!).  Or, in a case like mine, just take the ten minutes to ensure that the screws are all going into studs.  And maybe go the extra mile to put up a support bracket.  Better safe than sorry (especially if you have 2 kitties who like to sleep in your closet All. Day. Long.)!

And one more time for good measure, here is what a SAFE closet looks like:

Tah-dahhh!!!!!

Got a stud story?  Studs OR stud muffins are welcome here.  Tell me about it!

 

Images:  (5) Four Brothers Carpentry, (6) Synfully Delicious, All others Rebecca for Happy City Living

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City DIY Mini-series: Construction-free DIY

4 Aug

So, I LOVE a zillion different DIY blogs.  My first foray into the make-your-house-cool-all-by-yourself world was via Young House Love.  I’ve mentioned them before, and I feel the need to do so again, because they have what is quite possibly the best blog of all time.  Haha – ok, a little over the top, but to me they’re great.  Sherry and John Petersik are former NYC’ers (woo woo!) who bought and renovated a house in Richmond, VA a few years ago.  In order to keep their family up to date on their progress, they started a blog.  But then every DIY-er on the internet got addicted to the blog, and now these two adorable lovebirds are professional, full-time, DIY bloggers (along with their cutesy baby, Clara, and their hilarious chihuahua, Burger).  They recently bought a new house, and I’m glued to the screen every day on my lunch break, as I catch up with their latest projects.

Aren't they adorable?! Click the link above and check them out!

But, out of the suburbs and back to city life:  basically, apartment dwellers like you and me have to just drool over homeowner DIY projects from afar.  Half the time our leases restrict us from making any improvements or modifications to our homes, and the rest of the time it just doesn’t pay off to put money into a place you don’t own.  So, painting walls and hanging pictures is as far as my DIY projects tend to stretch.

Until recently.

Right after I moved into my apartment, I stumbled upon a couple of minor (but not so minor for me) household issues.  So, I thought I’d share a few of them with you.  Over the next week or so, I’ll share a few little stories and ideas that will make you feel like a DIY-ing homeowner, rather than a flush-money-down-the-toilet-every-month renter.  Maybe you’re another city-dweller dreaming about having space to use a table-saw or a sewing machine.  If so, we can totally be BFFs.

Let’s start small, though.  Today, we’ll delve into the joys of constructing IKEA furniture.

I should say this to start:  IKEA is beautifully accessible for city folk.  If you’re living in Mid-Upper Manhattan or the Bronx, there is a free shuttle bus that leaves regularly from the Port Authority Bus Terminal, that will take you to the IKEA in northern New Jersey.  From Lower Manhattan, take the free ferry from the Financial District to the IKEA in Red Hook, Brooklyn.  If you’re in Queens or Brooklyn, take the free shuttle bus from Borough Hall in downtown Brooklyn, to the IKEA in Red Hook.

My sister and me, on the IKEA ferry (slash water taxi). See the store in the background? The boat brings you right up to the back door, practically!

Ok, so you had a fun carnival-like day at IKEA (how do they manage to make that place SO FUN!?), and you lugged home boxes that were ridiculously heavy, full of furniture parts.  Now, you have to put everything together.  IKEA-ing is prototypical city DIY work.  It makes us feel like we’re doing work around the house, but no power tools are involved, and there’s no need for a huge workspace.  Woo woo!

Putting together Ikea furniture is my idea of a good time.  I like working on puzzles and building things, whenever I can.  If I buy a new gadget or home item, I feel an unstoppable urge to get that item set up or assembled right away.  So, after moving, I began reconstructing my Expedit bookshelf from IKEA as soon as I’d cleared enough floor space in my new abode.

Here is a pic of the Expedit during de-construction. Might give you an idea of how it goes together. See the pegs sticking out of the shelf?

These are the pegs. Vader thought they were fun to gnaw on. I'm an awful cat parent.

I was concerned about how well the unit would hold up once I took it apart, transported it, and then reassembled.  However, the process went very smoothly, and putting the shelves back together was quite simple, actually.  The whole enchilada goes together with a bunch of wooden pegs and 8 screws.  Easy peasy.  Back when we bought the Expedit I’d read online that the most efficient method of putting it together was just to use a hammer to secure the wooden pegs in place, and that is certainly the way to go.  So, this time, in about 45 minutes, I had the shelf fully assembled, lying in the middle of my living room floor.  Problem was, I couldn’t get the damn thing to stand up.

When I first realized I couldn’t lift the unit, my plan was to hoist one corner of it and shimmy a pillow underneath the bottom edge to prop it up.  I figured once it was no longer flush against the floor, I’d be able to get a better grip and I’d be all set.  A crowbar would have been the perfect hoisting tool, except that I was so afraid of scratching my gloriously shiny new floors.

Unfortunately, without a crowbar, I couldn’t even get the shelf off the ground the couple of inches I needed to slide the pillow under.  Damn.  I tried and tried to move this thing until I was sitting in the middle of the living room, sweating buckets and completely frustrated.

This is not one of those posts where I tell you some cool trick to hoist a large bookshelf on your own.  There is no such trick.  Consider this more of a reassurance that your IKEA furniture should be able to travel well and be reassembled – assuming you treat it with a little gentle loving kindness.  Also consider this a warning that you should wait to put any large furniture together until you have another person there to help stand it up.  Or, take it upon yourself to go make friends with one of your new neighbors.

My sister was in town that weekend, and once we were able to get our fingers under the unit, it was super easy to hoist the unit all the way up (the shelves were empty, afterall).  But even with two sets of hands, the initial task of grasping the shelves enough to lift it and prop something under the edge was a sweat-inducing endeavor.  The largest version of Expedit (5 shelves tall by 5 shelves wide) is just extremely heavy and you end up scared to death that you’ll chop off all your fingers if you somehow get them caught underneath the bookself without a firm grip.

See the screw in the top corner? There are 8 in the whole unit, and the shelves come with the little allen keys that you need to screw them in. The rest of the parts involved are just the pegs.

Tah-dahhh! Hoisted!

So, for all the IKEA fans out there:  you can get to IKEA super easily in NYC, which means you’ll have all the put-shit-together projects your little heart desires, right at your fingertips.  No need for a car or any stressful travel arrangements.  No need for any real construction or equipment.  Also, if and when you move apartments any oversized IKEA furniture will likely travel well, if you dismantle it.  My Expedit bookshelf is just as sturdy now as it was upon the initial assembly.  Just make sure you have another set of hands ready when it comes to lifting that sturdy unit.  Or hit the gym and build up those biceps!

Coming up: fake sewing, hanging art on stud-less walls, closet collapses, and mini-makeovers!  Stay tuned, all you DIY-loving urbanites!

What Life Is All About

27 Jul

Last month, my godfather, Uncle Nick, passed away after a long battle with numerous health problems.  He was one of the best people I know.  He meant the world to my family, and we miss him so very much.

Uncle Nick was the kind of guy who would give you the shirt off his back, whether he knew you or not…and then he’d pour you a glass of his homemade wine, feed you a dinner big enough for a whole army, and probably repair something in your house.  He had so many wonderful qualities and talents, but the best one, in my opinion, was the absolute kindness and friendliness he exuded every day of his life.  That is what I remember most about him, and that is what I try to emulate in my own life.

My family, circa 1987. Uncle Nick is on the far right. I'm sitting on my mom's lap. Like that old school wallpaper and paneling?

So, in honor of a wonderful human being, I thought I’d take the opportunity to talk about the wonderful people I meet every day in NYC.  New Yorkers get a bad rap, and it annoys me to no end.  Of course in a population of millions there are sure to be some bad apples.  But in my experience, there are many more nice people walking past you on the street, than there are bad ones.  In this town, the areas you live in and frequent become your community.  People greet one another with “good morning” and ask about each others’ families.  They look out for one another.

My first experience with nice New Yorkers was my breakfast cart guy at NYU, during my freshman year of college.  He knew I was going to order a cinnamon raisin bagel with cream cheese and a cup of tea, and every morning he gave me a warning about burning my tongue on the tea:  “wait a minute to drink this, sweetheart, it’s really hot.  And for you, only a dollar for everything.”

Since that first experience, I’ve met so many friendly food folks around the city:  in Harlem, at Miss Maude’s, my friend Damion had food ready for me every Wednesday night.  He’d sit and chat with me while I ate dinner.  At my favorite Mexican Place, Tajin, the proprietor knows my order and even corrected Agent Owens when he tried to order me the wrong meal once.  The halal cart guy near my Battery Park apartment used to commiserate with his regulars about rising rent costs.

But foodies aren’t the only nice guys ‘round these parts (like that rural talk?).  Last month, after Uncle Nick died, a woman saw me crying on the subway (I mentioned I was a mess that month, didn’t I?), and she came over to offer me tissues and ask if I was ok.  And a few days later, on a different subway car, my boss’s AMEX credit card was returned to him by a fellow straphanger after it fell out of his pocket.

One good citizen actually took things a step further when I used to work near Penn Station.  In a super crowded area of town, my driver’s license fell out of my wallet, and I actually didn’t notice until a few days later.  Before I even had time to get to the DMV for a replacement, my ID showed up in my mailbox.  A kindhearted lawyer (apparently that’s not an oxymoron) took the time to mail it back to me.  Similarly, a taxi driver once returned my dorm keys and school ID to the nearest NYU building, where I was later able to retrieve them.

Small, random acts of kindness happen all over this city every single day.  You may not notice them if you’re busy looking at skyscrapers on a quick trip through town.  But if you live here, take a look around.  You’ll see young men helping old women cross the street.  You’ll see someone help a blind stranger to maneuver through a subway station.  Someone will carry a stoller up a set of stairs for a young mom or give up their seat on the subway for a pregnant woman.  A delivery man will stop and ask you if you need help finding where you’re going, as you stand on a street corner trying to orient yourself.  And those drowsy folks you pass by on your morning commute will stop to say hello, if you just share a smile with them.

So, I’m asking for this:  this week, in memory of my Uncle Nick, and in the spirit of infusing a bit of good in the world, do something nice for another person.  It doesn’t have to be anything big or showy – just something to make another person’s day a little brighter.  Show folks that New Yorkers are big-hearted people.  That we’re considerate and conscientious people.  It would have been Uncle Nick’s birthday this past week, and I think he’d consider it a nice gift to know that a group of people (many of whom he never even met) passed along the kindness he always displayed.  What a nice legacy to leave behind.

 

Images:  Rebecca for Happy City Living

Hot Hot Hot!

22 Jul

Yes, it is still hot outside in NYC.  In fact, when I went to my favorite free yoga in Bryant Park tonight, it was still 93 degrees – at 6 PM!  Let’s just say it was more like a sweat-bucket bikram yoga class (typically held at around 130 degrees) than your average breezy outdoor practice.

But the weather isn’t all that’s hot.  The rental market in Manhattan is still scorching.  How do I know this?  All the requests I’ve been getting for help finding an apartment!  I have received a ton of wonderfully enthusiastic emails from friends-of-friends and even complete strangers lately, looking to rent in NYC.  Some folks are looking for real estate agent assistance (gotcha covered), and a lot more folks just have questions about apartments they’ve seen or situations they’ve encountered.  Seems like everyone wants a piece of the New York (well played, all of you city lovers)!

I love talking about all the great neighborhoods in this town and helping to navigate the sometimes-daunting rental market here.  So, I’m more than happy to answer as many questions as I can.  Keep the emails coming!

There are, however, a few questions that I pose to everyone in the midst of a search.  When you decide to seriously start looking for an apartment, here are the things you should figure out prior to delving in:

  1. What are you comfortable paying, and what would be the absolute most you’d be willing to spend?
  2. Where is your preferred area or neighborhood?  If you have questions about different neighborhoods, feel free to shoot me a note or just to Google them (what on Earth did we all do before Google?).
  3. What are your size and space requirements?  How many bedrooms do you need?  Is the main living space more important, or is the bedroom size more important?  Is a convertible apartment an option, if you’re in share situation?
  4. When do you need to move?  Is your move-in date flexible?  Or is it constrained by the end of another lease?
  5. Are you prepared to pay a fee?  In a hot market, fees are the norm (expect to dole out 1-2 months of the year’s rent).  If you don’t want to pay up, are you willing to move farther out from lower Manhattan?

If you answer all these questions ahead of time, your search will be much easier.  I promise you, these are the questions any listing agent or management company will ask – or should ask!  Be honest and realistic about what you need and what your limitations are.  Then, just try to stay realistic and open-minded, and you’ll be ready to search.  Happy hunting, and stay cool!

Tell me about any great (or not-so-great) apartment deals you’ve gotten lately!  Has anyone been struggling to find a place?  Have you run into questions along the way?  Share with the class!

 

Image:  Bryant Park Blog

Hot Town, Summer In the City

17 Jul

Fact:  I am a summer person.  Sun, sand, and water give me my mojo back.

Gross Fact:  I sweat buckets as soon as the temperature reaches 80 degrees outside (ok, 75).  Then, I turn lobster red in the face and feel like I’m going to pass out.  Fun times, right?

So how’s a girl (or guy) supposed to cool down in the land of pavement, during the heat of the summer?  Sure, some days you’re in the AC at work (boo).  But on a beautiful sunny day, like today, you need real relief from the heat.  And, believe it or not, NYC has you covered.  So, the next time you’re dripping with sweat by 8 AM, give these options a try…

Parks

NYC has got it going on in the parks department.  In Connecticut, where I’m from, a park is a mere destination for use of a ball field or a playground.  But, in NYC, city folks put our amazing parks to good use.  Truly, every few blocks you’ll find a park.  Don’t believe me?  Check out this website, where you can enter your zip code or address to find some green space near you.

One of my fave NYC park spots is Sheep Meadow at Central Park. It's ideal for sunbathing, frisbee, picnics, and a constant supply of illegal but thirst-quenching beer cooler guys. Oh, and the view is nothing to scoff at.

The big mamas of NYC parks are:

  • Central Park (Manhattan)Central Park is ridiculously big, in proportion to the rest of Manhattan.  You can get lost in it very easily, with its winding paths and secluded spaces, so plan before you go.  Or at least plan on an afternoon of getting lost in Manhattan’s version of nature.  Central Park features a reservoir, huge lawns, ball fields, an ice rink, a zoo, a castle, row boats, bike paths, concert areas…I could go on forever.  Check it out.  It doesn’t disappoint.
  • Prospect Park (Brooklyn) – I tend to think of Prospect Park as the Central Park of Brooklyn.  It’s huge and it has a lot to offer.  Features also include, expansive fields, botanic gardens, ball fields, a lake, concerts, festivals, and a zoo.  If you live in a neighborhood surrounding this park, you must go over and explore.
  • Pelham Bay Park (Bronx) – You will completely forget you’re in the city when you head over to Pelham Bay Park.  Featuring a large beach, a sizeable picnic area, ball fields, and actual parking areas (!!!!!) Pelham Bay Park has everything to make a Bronx resident’s life pleasant in the summer.
  • Flushing Meadows Corona Park (Queens) – The site of the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fairs, this massive park in Queens features a wildlife center, a museum, and a theater.  And that’s before I even mention its natural beauty.  Add this park to your list of must-do’s in the city, and if you’re a Queens resident, head over there to relax, sun bathe, and picnic.
  • The Greenbelt (Staten Island) – Although my relationship with Staten Island is green (to say the least), I can tell you that the Greenbelt is an area of over 2500 acres of parks, trails, and nature-y goodness.  If you really want to feel like you’ve left the universe that is NYC, head on over there to check out truly unadulterated natural area.  The ferry ride to SI is free, so make it a cheap day-trip.

But NYC parks are not a go-big-or-go-home kind of deal.  Some of the best parks in the city are seemingly untouched little gems.  If you’ve got kids, maybe check out the waterworks at the Madison Square Park playground.  If you’re an uptown BBQ’er hit up St. Nicholas Park in Harlem.  Like to fish?  Check out the piers on East River Park.  Concert-lover?  Try Fort Greene Park.  Kayaker?  Meander over to the Downtown Boathouse at Hudson River Park.  And if you really think there’s something you want to do that you can’t find in a city park, send me a note.  I’ll find it for you.  And prove you wrong.  Type A?  Yes sir.

Oh, you're a bocce buff? We've got that covered.

Pools

Oh you thought you were going to say, “What if I want to go swimming?  In a real pool.”  Well NYC’s parks and rec department is here to grant your chlorine-loving wishes.  Pools are scattered in parks throughout the city – there are 54 of them, in fact.

Plunge, kid. Plunge.

Lasker Pool is located in the northern reaches of Central Park and features an Olympic pool and a wading pool, and like all the city pools it’s open from the end of June, up through Labor Day.  Sunset Park also features a large pool in Brooklyn.  Up in Harlem, there is a pool at the park right across from Riverton (where I lived).  And if a “regular” pool just doesn’t tickle you pink, how about a pool on a barge?  Head up to the Bronx to try out the Floating Pool, docked for the summer.  If you’re looking for something closer to home, visit the pool page on the city’s website here.

Beaches

My favorite way to stay cool in the summer is to just have a good old fashioned beach day.  Sand and surf is required for my wellbeing during the months of June, July, and August.  And, again, NYC does not disappoint.  The beaches are a bit of a further trek than your local parks and pools, but, in my opinion, they are worth it!  The trick is to find the beach that is closest to your apartment, while also being accessible via a nearby subway line.

When I lived in Sunset Park, the famous Coney Island was the most convenient place to go.  This beach/amusement park area is JAM PACKED with people.  Loud music, loud people, and good times are the most notable features of this little strip of coastline.  There are a zillion places to eat along the boardwalk, and there are easily-accessible bathroom facilities.  Want a cold (and illegal) brew?  Some dude will pull a cooler full of beers around within 5 minutes of you sitting down.  And if you need something just a bit quieter, head down Brighton Beach, next door to Coney.  That southern section of the Brooklyn coastline is littered with beach options.  If you’re jazzed by the thought of Coney Island, though, be a tacky as you’d like, and ENJOY!

Coney Island. Please note that you cannot see the water behind my girlies in this picture - that's because the MASS OF HUMANITY is blocking the nice view of the water.

A beach favorite of mine, with calmer waters, is Orchard Beach in the Bronx.  Part of Pelham Bay Park, this shoreline can be just as packed as Coney Island.  However, the noticeably absent waves can make it a safer choice for little ones.  Plus, if you live uptown, Orchard Beach is probably your closest option, in terms of proximity.

Today, I took my first trip out to Rockaway Beach (Beach 60, to be exact), and I have to say, it may be my fave.  Rockaway has a loooooong beach, and depending on where you lay your towel, you can have a crowded or secluded experience.  The beauty of Beach 60 was that it was quiet all morning, and then had a little bit of activity, for my people-watching pleasure (what can I say, I’m a starer), in the afternoon.  The waves were perfection for water lovers, but a bit rough for the faint-of-surf.  The downsides of Rockaway were that Beach 60 had no food spots in the immediate area and no bathrooms.  My friends and I brought drinks and bought snacks at a small convenience store, but there weren’t many any options beyond that.  I am told, though, that there’s an area of Rockaway where a taco truck pulls up.  And fear not, I’ll be searching for that the next time I venture out to Rockapulco, and I’ll pass along any info I discover.  With over 7 miles of beach, there’s food somewhere.  It’s just a case of finding it.

Rockaway Beach 60. See all that open beach space? Let's all say ahhhhhh together.

For more info on the city’s beaches, click here.

So there you have it:  all the 411 on summers in the city.  I hope you’re sunkissed by the next time we chat.  With that, I need to go put some aloe on my slightly-burned back.  Ah, summer.

Images:  (1, 2, & 3) NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, (4 & 5) Rebecca for Happy City Living

Love is in the Smoggy Air

25 May
  1. On Monday night I watched the season premiere of The Bachelorette. (Big Love is over, and Grey’s Anatomy isn’t aired on Mondays.  A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.)  This is unrelated, but my early bets are on JP, Ryan P., and West.
  2. I went to a wedding in Wisconsin this past weekend, wherein I watched two friends get married after dating for almost 10 years (!!!!!).
  3. At the wedding, I saw a friend from college whose date was a guy she met online.  He was super cool, and they were so sweet together.
  4. The online couple reinforced my belief in the power of relationships that start online – like my relationship with Agent Owens (yup, we met on match.com!).  It was a very love-filled, romantic weekend.
  5. It’s spring in NYC.  This is the season of drinking wine in the park and going for romantic strolls.  Well, if it ever stops raining for longer than 2 days, it will be that season.

Bottom line:  love is in the air.  And so, I thought to myself, “Self, what better time to talk about dating life in NYC?”

Everything is different done differently in this city, including dating.  This is not the kind of place where a guy rolls up to a girl’s house and drives her on a date.  This is a city where you take the subway to the restaurant – or a taxi, if you’re really feeling spiffy.  If you’re a girl, you may very well have your high heels thrown in your purse and you’ll have to stop a block away from the date place to change out of your “walking shoes”.  As for the location, you have an overwhelming number of restaurants and bars to choose from, and the ambiance of the place you pick could well set the tone of the date.  And, before we get too far ahead of ourselves, there’s the issue of actually trying to find that one great person who makes your heart skip a beat, in such a mass of humanity.  This can seem virtually impossible. So, the rules are different.

In my humble opinion one of the easiest ways to meet potenial partners is at school or work.  However, eventually college ends, and sometimes your working world consista of a company of 8 people (like mine), with no dating options.  Hell, I’m sure some of you at companies with 1000+ employees still think the pickings are slim!

Then, there’s the bar scene.  But it’s nearly impossible to imagine a future with a man who’s slurring his words or puking on your shoe.

Yea, nobody wants to date that drunk girl (me).

A third matchmaking option is that you could have a friend set you up.  Of course, if it doesn’t work out things can get awkward fast.  This is all starting to sound exhausting, isn’t it?

Enter, online dating.  There used to be a real stigma attached to this method of meeting a mate, but now, it’s quite commonplace.  And in the city, it just might be the best option.  Let’s be real here.  City people like to get shit done.  We move fast; we work late; we keep our smart phones attached to our bodies; we squeeze in social engagements; we knock you over if you’re walking too slowly; and we certainly don’t have time to mess around with culling through the millions of other residents of this town just to find a decent date.

Online match-making was made for us city-dwellers.  One can go online, pick the exact characteristics that they’re looking for in a partner, weed out the weirdos, and schedule as many dates as they’d like, with no string attached.  You can complete this whole search process from the comfort of your couch, and you can get messages from people directly to your email account.  What could be easier?

Intersted?  Here’s my advice after about 9 months, 50+ dates, and countless communications on match.com:

Step 1:  pick a website

As time goes on, the options for internet dating sites are becoming more numerous.  Depending on what you’re looking for, you might choose from one of the following well-known dating sites:

  • Match – good for high volumes of members
  • EHarmony – tends to be Christian-based, and makes matches for you
  • JDate – the best known Jewish singles site
  • OkCupid – free!
  • Lavalife – geared toward enjoying the single life
  • Zoosk – creator of the commercial with the dart thrower (my friend Joe and I watch this commercial over and over and over again.  “I’m getting’ stupid loose.”)

Step 2:  make a profile

The site will prompt you to fill out a profile, and this public description of yourself will likely change over time.  As you get into reading other people’s profiles, you’ll likely discover the best ways to present yourself, as well.  Highlight your best characteristics and the aspects of yourself that you consider important.  And most importantly, try to convey your own voice.  It’s easy to sound generic in these biographies.

Also, make sure you post photos that are flattering, but realistic.  No one wants to see how cute you looked 10 years ago.  They want to see what you look like now.

Step 3:  search for matches or sift through the matches your site has turned up

Depending on the site you use, you’ll do some combination of searching on your own and filtering match results that the site generates.  Whether your matches are computer-generated or self-selected, make sure you’re realistic about what you like and don’t like in each profile you view.  If something seems “off”, move on to the next person.  If you find someone you like, contact them.  Throughout your time on the site, you’ll get more savvy at filtering through the available members, and you’ll be less apt to hum and haw about sending an email or setting up a date.

Step 4:  make contact

Depending on the site you’re using, you’ll be able to make contact with the people you like via email, phone, text, wink, chat, etc.  Do what feels comfortable.  Try to get a feel for what the person is like.  On the other hand, don’t judge them too harshly for being awkward at first – afterall, talking to strangers is universally recognized as being extremely difficult for at least 50% of the population. Like how I just made up that statistic?  Yea, makes me sound like I know what I’m talking about.

Step 5:  go on a date

If there is one thing I would warn against, it would be endless strings of emails.  If you like someone based on their profile and their first couple of emails, go out for a drink with them.  You can waste so much time emailing back and forth with someone, only to find out when you meet them that they’re nothing like you thought they’d be.  Trust me, I know this from experience.  Meeting someone face-to-face will be the most efficient way to find out if they’re someone you’re interested in.

Also, you may be wondering why I said you should go get a drink.  Here’s the theory:  coffee dates can end up being very platonic and non-intimate; dinner dates will trap you at a table too long, especially if you wind up not liking the other person after minute 3; and hookups on the first meeting are just slutty.  You may be considering some more alternative type of date, but I’ll warn you against a few things:

  • Even if you’re a great chef, don’t cook for the person – they shouldn’t know where you live until you know them a little better.
  • Sporting events might seem great, but 9 innings of baseball is a long time to make small talk.
  • Concerts and movies are entertaining, but you won’t be able to talk with the other person much at all.

Drinks are ideal.  Even if you don’t drink, you can have a non-alcoholic beverage.  Either way, it will be short, sweet, and to the point.  Then, if you happen to have landed a date with Prince(ss) Charming, of course you can go out on a longer/cooler date after the drinks meeting.

Agent Owens and I actually ended up on a dinner date the first night (because I had another drinks date planned for earlier that same evening, hehe).  Here’s how it went down:  I talked his ear off for the entire evening and then somehow also convinced him to get drinks with me after our meal.  I thought he didn’t like me because he wasn’t really saying much, but it turns out I was taking up every minute of the date with MY talking.  Anyway, that was years ago.  Not that anything’s changed – I still talk his ear off, and he still hopes I’ll give myself a sore throat so that he can get a word in.

Me giving a psycho waiting-for-a-response stare, and Agent Owens thinking, "If this nutcase doesn't shut up, I'm going to lose my mind."

I will say that in nearly every instance of dating someone I’d met on Match, I found myself with a nice and respectful person.  Even though most of the guys weren’t right for me, I was lucky enough that no one was ever a complete disaster.  For me, I scanned the male-membership for tall, non-pale, non-Republicans.  Once I found someone I liked, the preliminary conversations and emails really only established that the person was intelligent enough to put together a full sentence.  Then, I’d plan a date.  I made dates pretty fast and furiously, believing that sheer quantity would get me a better chance of finding a great guy.

I ended up dating one guy from Match for a couple of months, and then I met Agent Owens.  We’ve been together ever since.  So, I’m going to go ahead and pat my own back here for being an online dating success.  The dirt is being brushed off my shoulder as we speak.  That said, here are my NYC online dating TIPS!:

  1. Find the right site for you.  Research a bunch – they all have different costs, different search methods, and different standard operating procedures.  Most importantly, they all attract a different type of member.
  2. Be yourself – in your profile and in person.  Sounds cheesy, but if you’re an opinionated chatterbox like me, you may as well portray that from the get-go and end up with someone who likes puts up with those qualities.
  3. Be honest with yourself about what you want.  Don’t settle for someone just because they’re good-looking.  If there’s a glaring red flag (like they’re uber-religious and you’re a confirmed atheist), don’t expect them to change for you.  This is your chance to hand-pick someone who is exactly what you’ve always been looking for.  Take advantage.
  4. Pick public places for dates.  Safety first.
  5. Always make the first date a drinks date (see above for the reasoning).
  6. Tell a friend where you’ll be on your dates.  This helps for safety purposes, and it also give you someone who can help you out with a fake-emergency call if the date is truly tedious.  My friend Karen knew every date I ever went on while I was a member of Match and always checked on me to make sure things were going ok.  What a gal.  She’s actually getting married to a guy she met online, later this year.  He’s a gem, an I’m sure this is her good karma for being my date support for all those months.
  7. Don’t be afraid to actually make dates and meet people.  It is much easier to form an opinion of someone in person, and you’ll waste less time than if you email back and forth a ton of times.
  8. When you do email people, do NOT send generic form emails.  It’s a big turn-off when you’re the recipient of a note that you can tell has been sent to 50 other people.  Take the time to be genuine and mention something that you liked or noticed in the other person’s profile.
  9. If you go on one or two dates and realize you don’t really like the person, text them a nice note to let them know you’re not interested.  Don’t drag people around on dates that aren’t going anywhere.  Personally, I used to say “Hi!  Just wanted to thank you for the date last night – it was really nice to meet you.  Unfortunately, I just don’t feel the spark I wanted to feel.  Hope you find someone great, very soon, though!”  To the point, but kind.
  10. If you find the perfect person, on your 5th date or your 50th date, don’t hold yourself  back.  Don’t play games or be emotionally unavailable.  Just go with it, and enjoy.

Going with it, and enjoying.

Images:  Rebecca for Happy City Living

Quick Lesson On SMART City Living…

18 May

Tonight I went out for dinner with some friends, near Union Square.  We finished our meallate, at around midnight.  Normally, when I’m by myself and it’s late and raining, I bite the bullet and hop in a taxi to get home.  But since I was right near the subway at Union Square, I chose the train instead.

There were plenty of other people on the train, but there was one old drunk dude who was behaving badly.  He would not stop talking to me and asking where I lived.  Then, to make matters worse, he followed me off the train and continued to harass me as I walked up to the street.

Since it was late and raining, there weren’t many people out and about.  The stores were all closed in the area, so I couldn’t duck in anywhere.  I did NOT want this creepy guy following me home, and I didn’t want to turn off of the main avenue with him tailing me.  So, I walked out into the middle of the street, and marched away from the direction of my house, against traffic.  I decided I’d get in a taxi to get away from the guy.

The taxis were basically all full.  However, out of the corner of my eye, I saw an off-duty cab stopped up ahead.  I scurried up to it (as quickly as is possible in heels) and dove inside.  I immediately apologized for ignoring the “off duty” sign, and said I just needed to be driven a few streets over to evade a guy who was following me.  As long as I wasn’t near the creepster, I didn’t care how far the cabbie was willing to take me.

If the "Off Duty" words are lit, the cab is technically unavailable.

But the driver was super nice.  He told me about his 26-year-old daughter and said that he always made sure he took care of his passengers as if they were his children, too.  He was more than willing to take me right to my front door, even if it meant driving 10 minutes out of his way, at the end of his shift.  I got home safe and sound.

I say all this to say…despite my obsessive love for New York, there are millions of other people here, and there are bound to be some crazies.  They seem to just come out of the woodwork more at night.  Still, I never hesitate to get on the subway at night if I’m with my friends or Agent Owens.  And, truthfully, aside from a few random drunk dudes, I’ve never had any problems with feeling unsafe at night in the city, even when I’m alone.  I always choose brightly-lit routes home, where I know lots of people will be around, and I avoid dark side-streets.  I walk with my bitch-face on.  But even when you’re an alert person, every once in a while, someone sketchy makes you feel uneasy.  Go with that gut feeling, and be overly cautious.  Spend the $10 to get in a cab and get home safely.  And the next time, maybe just treat yourself to a cab in the first place, if you’re alone and it’s late.

And to all you city nay-sayers who are ready to chime in about how dangerous NYC is:  for every drunk asshole in this city, there are 10 nice cab drivers who will take care of you as if you’re their own kid.

Happy smart city living, to you, too!

Image:  Life

Burn Baby, Burn

4 May

Well, folks…I made it.  I woke up at 6:00 and only hit the snooze button once!  So, I was on time for yoga at 7 AM, and I started my day with a helluva workout.  It felt great.  I arrived at work earlier than usual, and I’ve had lots of energy all day.  And best of all, I got to eat Chipotle for lunch got my exercise in early, so I’ll have my evening free!

Crap.  Guilty conscience.  I DID eat Chipotle for lunch.  Hello 1,000 calories back on my girlish figure.  But it was sooooo good.  It’s always sooooo good.

One step forward, two steps back...

The plan is now going to be that I will attempt to do yoga at least 2 mornings per week.  It’s a wishful plan.  But, now that I know I won’t spontaneously combust from rising out of bed before 8 AM,  I’m game to try it.  Anyone want to join me?

Oh, yea, and I promise to get back to salads and wraps for lunch.  Not that you care how girlish my figure is.  But still,  I’m aware of how ridiculous it is to work hard to burn off calories, only to put back on double the amount of calories you burned off in one meal.  Damn, I hate being rational.

Image:  Chipotle

Yoga to the People

3 May

I have to tell you about one of my favorite places in the city.  Surprisingly enough, for a food junkie like me, this favorite spot is not an eatery.  On the contrary, it’s a place to exercise!  It’s an amazing yoga studio called Yoga to the People.  Now, if you’re like I used to be, just stop rolling your eyes right now.  Yea, I used to think yoga was for wimps, too.  I mean how are you going to burn calories just standing there?

Well, let me tell you, naysayer:  it is estimated that in one hour of power vinyasa yoga (the kind of yoga I do at YTTP), someone like me (average height/average weight, twenty-something female) will burn between 500 and 700 calories per hour.  Plus, you’re not running around in circles on a hamster wheel treadmill.

Treadmills stink, and the only thing you should use them for is as a napping surface.

First of all, here’s why yoga is great (in addition to the fact that it burns off all the carbs I love to eat).  Yoga increases balance, flexibility, and strength.  It works your core muscles, and it helps you to be more centered.  It is a time when all you have to worry about is your breath flowing in and out of your lungs.  Yoga is selfish, in that you get to focus on YOU and only you.  But yoga is also selfLESS in that you are making yourself a more peaceful, less reactionary person to be out in the world amongst everyone else.

Now, here’s why Yoga to the People is my favorite yoga.  YTTP is open to everyone.  There is no sign-up list.  There are no fees.  There are no special clothes or equipment needed, and there’s no right way to move your body.

The classes at YTTP tend to be very packed.  In a space the size of a studio apartment, there are often up to 65 people lined up on mats within inches of each other.  The energy you take in from all the people around you is magnetic, and lack of judgment is calming.  No one is watching you if you can’t do a pose correctly.  No one cares if you fall over (even if you crash into them, as I’ve done).  They’re there to better themselves, just as you are.

I should also mention that there are no class levels at YTTP.  Everybody practices together.  Yes, you’ll see some people standing on their heads, but you’ll see a lot more of us just tackling the basics.  Don’t be intimidating if someone near you seems to be more advanced, just focus on your practice.

Another great feature of YTTP is that it’s donation based.  When I was completely broke, I was able to still go and take classes without worrying about breaking my bank.  If I had a dollar to give, that was fine.  If I had no money on a given day, that was fine, too.  If I handed over a $20 bill, cool.  If I wanted didn’t happen to have cash on me and wanted to pay double next time, no problem.

You can rent a mat from them for $2, and if you’re dying to do yoga, but don’t have clothes with you, those are for sale, too.  They give out hair ties, wipes for the mats, and they lend blocks for balancing.

There are tons of different teachers, and while I certainly have my favorites, almost all of them are really great.

For me, the best parts about practicing at YTTP are the beginning and the end of the classes.  At the beginning everyone starts in child’s pose, curled over their knees, face down to the floor.  This lets you relax and find your breath.  Then, at the end, as things wind down, the lights are dimmed and the final pose is savasana.  Everyone lies flat on their backs.  The breath slows, and the peace that comes over your body after a long workout is amazing.

Now here’s what you need to know to be a cool kid in the know.  Show up early.  If a class starts at 6:00, many people will arrive at 5:30.  If you show up at the last minute, it will be tough to get a spot.  And if you show up after classes start, you’ll be locked out.  This is the one thing in life that I arrive early for.

As for other processes, I can only speak for the studios on St. Mark’s Place.  That’s the only place I go.  The studios are in a residential building.  There is a buzzer marked for YTTP, and before and after classes, there is a steady stream of yogis flowing in and out of the building.  Follow the masses and choose a studio on one of the levels (sometimes an instructor will guide you to continue on to an upstairs space).  Always take off your shoes before entering one of the studios.  Place your mat down to get a spot and THEN worry about changing clothes or putting your belongings in a corner.  Do not be offended if someone moves your mat over a bit.  They continually squeeze more and more people into rows to make room for everyone.

The, just relax, engage, and enjoy.

Truth be told, I’m sharing this post for two reasons.  The first reason is that I love YTTP.  I would love to drive some business their way, and I would love to share this great form of exercise and relaxation with other potential yoga fans.

The second reason I’m sharing is because I’m going to try, tomorrow morning, to do the impossible:  I’m going to try to get up at 6 AM and go to a 7 AM yoga session.  For a night-owl-morning-hater like me, getting myself out of bed that early should be pretty close to excruciating.  But I want to try.  And I want you to hold me to it.  If there’s anything I would wake up early for, it would be yoga.  And maybe, if I’m successful, I’ll start a new routine of introducing some inner peace to my mornings.  So, now that I’ve posted my intended plan, I have to do it.  Right?  I will have failed the interwebs if I don’t.  Right.  Wish me luck.

Namaste.

Yoga to the people now has studios at multiple locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn, plus they’ve opened up shop in Seattle, San Francisco, and Berkeley.  Find zen coast to coast!  Check out their website at www.yogatothepeople.com to find the location nearest to you and the different types of yoga offered at each studio.

 

Images:  (1) Flickr-normanack, All others Yoga to the People.