Winter in NYC

There is a moment when you become more settled into a new place, where it starts to feel a little bit more like home. The novelty has disappeared, and the camera certainly comes out less. For me, it is realising that I tend to take a trip into Manhattan for a particularly shop to visit or food to try, not just because the city is there to explore.

As you settle in, you forget about the little things – like updating your blog of the adventures you do have, and remembering to photograph the beautiful moments along the way. So as a brief update, and as the last was of Autumnal colours, a few photographs of a winter wonderland seemed fitting. More updates will come, I promise (and my darling Mum keeps gently reminding me to get on to it). I am currently on the job hunt after my work authorisation finally came through, and anticipating the arrival of my little brother for a visit in a couple of weeks.

Politically, 2017 has started a little painfully. I move between attempting to avoid and becoming increasingly infuriated by the situations that present themselves. It has been heartening to see people across the political spectrum stand firmly in opposition to attempts to erode legal rights, and my faith in the American system of government has been given a little boost. Ultimately, as the wise Jon Stewart stated just the other day, if America gets through the next four years relatively intact and with the constitution relatively unscathed, then it can be argued that American greatness has been proven. Till such time, well it is a game of wait and see.

For something lighter in tone, I leave you with the beauty of American commercialism at its finest. Valentine’s Day is coming up, and my local Target has spewed pink in this corner…

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This corner changes with each holiday, so it has been busy with Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Having not visited since the festive season, I am unsure how long it has been pink, but I am intrigued as to what comes next. Perhaps they go all green for St Patty’s? Then next it must Easter. I guess there is always a reason for themed chocolates!

 

 

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Changing seasons

New York is beautiful in the Autumn. The summer heat really surprised me in its muggy oppressiveness, but the crispness of ‘Fall’ is a beautiful respite. It is more pleasant exploring the city, and the colours are breathtaking. We spent an afternoon out in the Bronx recently, watching squirrels rummaging in the leaves and admiring the changing colours of the park.

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Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx

It was lovely to feel like we were back amongst nature for a little bit, and I enjoyed an escape from the concrete. At times, we were actually on a dirt path! Such a novelty now.

It is entirely possible to ‘escape’ the trappings of the city without actually leaving, but I have found it challenging at times to adjust to just how much concrete there is. Probably a reflection of previously living by the beach, where evening walks on the sand were a regular occurrence. In contrast, our current neighbourhood features trees and playgrounds, but all surrounded by concrete. It is a great area to live, but I miss Mum and Dad’s massive lawn quite often, and think about my beach walks in that blissful way of sentimentality.

What New York lacks in lawn space though, it certainly makes up for in seasonal flair. Manhattan is gorgeous as Autumn arrives and the Christmas markets start to appear.

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Along the Hudson River in Manhattan
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Ice skating rink at the Winter Village in Bryant Park

Exploring the Winter Village in Bryant Park was one of my highlights of this city so far, and it was everything that I had hoped for. I will take more photographs next time I am there – need to sample a few more hot chocolates so that I can offer a more detailed report I suspect… The markets and ice skating rinks stick around till well into the New Year, so there is a permanence to the buildings everyone is operating out of. What is lovely is that they seem to be made up of small businesses, often selling stuff they have made themselves rather than what one would buy in a bigger store elsewhere. The skating is fun to watch, with a wide range of skills on show. It might be something to save for a little later in the season though – those queues could put anyone off.

 

I understand a lot of the stores on Fifth Ave and around Manhattan now have their Christmas windows on display, and I cannot wait to see what they look like. Ever since we got to New York I have been most excited about seeing what the city is like at Christmas time, so far it is living up to its promise.

It is time to do all the good you can. My reflection on a turning point in American politics.

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What else could I use other than a photo with Lady Liberty herself?

I need to preface this with clarifying that I am a cryer. If you have met my husband, you can only imagine how that would confound his analytical, rational brain. Whilst he confronts a problem head on and carefully weighs his response, I am far more likely to lose the plot, cry and occasionally throw a spoon… I cry when there is a cute ad on television, or a happy story about a puppy, I cry when I am angry, sad, or happy.

So with that noted, I do not think it takes much imagination to guess how election night played out in our house. Oh, did I rage, throw a spoon, make grandiose statements, and then cry. The next day, I cried a bit more and even today I got close to shedding a few more tears. On the flip side, Ashby represented a calmer reaction. I do not think he will mind me saying that he did not vote for either Trump or Clinton (on a policy basis rather than any personality aspects), and he is calmly waiting to see what happens before making judgement. I am less pragmatic.

The reaction in our house I think plays out some of the themes that are seen in the bigger picture of America’s reaction to the election. The divide between those who are (probably quite sensibly) waiting to see how this plays out, and those of us who are concerned about the sky falling tomorrow. This includes swing voters who have given Trump the benefit of the doubt. I live in a massive urban centre, that predominantly voted Democrat. For the most part, I engage with media outlets that see the world the same way, have interacted with people who share my views, and whilst I have tried to understand the other side, I have not been able to shake my anger enough to truly say I see where they are coming from. All of these aspects led into the tears I have shed for the future of this country and reflect the problems that have led to the split in American political discourse.

Honestly, my life here is pretty insular (a result of not being able to work while I wait for my immigration stuff to be sorted, and an introverted nature which sees me more likely to get lost in the fictional world than reality sometimes), and I have actually actively avoided political discussions with strangers. The reasons for this are multiple, but predominantly it is because I have very strong feelings but I do not feel it is my place to argue with Americans about how they feel regarding the state of the nation. I have struggled to separate rational discussion with a desire to shake people who I think are misguided. As a visitor, who has observed this country from some distance for many years, I still feel I need more time here to really get to the heart of the issues. To tell someone I think they are wrong, when I have yet to walk in their shoes, does not sit well with me and yet I cannot separate my contempt for what I hear with a rational appreciation for why it is being said. Perhaps this is a poor reflection on me, but I believe that in knowing one’s own weaknesses you gain strength over time. Try as I might, I cannot yet truly get into the headspace of someone who would vote Trump and as such I stand back. For me, this has been an ongoing internal battle, and thus I have removed myself from political debate for the time being.

However, while I choose not to debate I have been an active observer. My husband loves little more than a nitty gritty political discussion, and has a skill in getting to the heart of the issue. It is that rational, thoughtful brain of his. This has led to meeting some interesting characters as we crossed the US earlier this year. I have not argued, but I have listened to the views of people who I know will have voted for Trump. From a woman in Colorado Springs who was so angry about how easy it is to immigrate to America (she has clearly never seen the process first hand about how complicated it is, even when you are married to an American), to a man in Dallas who wanted a change from the horrors he believed the Obama administration had inflicted on his America. These were people on the ground, who would never have voted for a continuation of the status quo. In contrast, we chatted to a man when we visited the Arkansas State Capitol. He was a Republican who had worked with Mike Huckabee and was certain there was no chance that Trump would win. Even within a broader Republican base, the differences between those within the political system and those on the ground were stark.

That is where the pundits got it wrong ultimately. It is where I got it wrong. I have been convinced for many years that Hillary Clinton would be the next president. This was before she announced her run, and certainly before we saw who the Republicans would put up against her. I was confident on election night that I had called it correctly and the early data supported that. Her policies resonated with me, her fighting temperament and her commitment to doing good in the world meant a lot to me, and I believed that the time was right for a woman to take on the job. The polls were close, but the path for a Trump victory was so narrow I believed that the Clinton camp would succeed.

When the early results came in, I remained optimistic. From previous election nights, I knew the advantage usually went to the Republicans and then as urban centres came on board the Democrats came back into play. But the swing did not come. The anxiety started creeping up till I realised that it was done. This was not going to be our night.

Instead, it was the night of a large number of people in this country who feel overlooked. Their feelings are as real as mine. They are looking at a life where they feel they are worse off than their parents were. Where their country does not look like it used to. Politicians are easy to blame and in many cases it is a fair response. I believe Obama has been a great president, and I do think history will look at his administration as a good one. However, my beliefs are shaped as a left leaning New Zealander. We will see what future generations say, but maybe I am wrong.

Trump won for a host of reasons, he tapped into a part of America that feels they have been left behind. A vote for him was, for the most part, a vote against the status quo. I would argue that given his vagueness and sweeping statements, few could have truly voted for him. They are voting for their projections of what they hope an outsider can do (just as I am reacting based on my projections on what I fear he may do). It remains to be seen how his administration will play out. In most likelihood it will result in him either being impeached for something, or he will end up being a shadow of the man he was as he campaigned. His sweeping ideas are for the most part unrealistic and certainly unconstitutional. I suspect in two years the Democrats will take back congress and the government will stall again. It just remains to be seen what will happen in the next two years.

In the meantime I feel it is more prudent for me to take heart from the message of the Clinton campaign. This is not about conciliation, because I believe that what has happened is wrong and a move in a dangerous direction. I think that, whilst there is fairness in giving Trump the benefit of the doubt, the Democrats who are responsible for working as the opposition must now buckle down and fight harder than ever to make their voices heard. I often heard Clinton speak the words of her mother: “Do all the good you can, for all the people you can, in all the ways you can, as long as you can.” So for me, that is my new guiding light. In a time where fear had a victory, I want to fight back on the side of hope.

I miss NZ tonight

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I never really appreciated how wonderful it was to live on a tiny island so far from the rest of the world. Now I live on a tiny island in the heart of the world and it’s rather terrifying. I am working on a more thoughtful response to tonight, but for now I am just going to take a moment to think about how glad I am that I will always have a NZ passport in my pocket.

Kiwi adventure: exploring the Coromandel

Many months ago, Ashby and I set off on our big adventure. It didn’t actually start in San Francisco, but in New Zealand. As part of our wonderful extended honeymoon we spent a month travelling around our own country before we set off to check out some of the big, wide world.

We were lucky enough to be able to borrow ‘Sam’ for the trip – Ashby’s Dad’s trusted van – and we took him on a proper adventure. Four wheel driving through the South Island and camping in the Coromandel region, as well as more sedate time spent visiting with our gorgeous families and friends, all meant this was a trip to remember.

One of my highlights was getting to see a bit of NZ that I had never seen before – the Coromandel Peninsula. We had a few days in the region before we went to Auckland to catch our flight, and it was such a special treat for me.

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Top of the Coromandel, looking over Port Jackson with Great Barrier Island in the distance.

In a traditionally dicey time for weather, we got super lucky with loads of sunshine as we explored the beaches that make the area famous. With no real plan, we based most of our movements around checking out DOC camping grounds. For anyone considering camping in NZ, DOC is certainly the place to start. The facilities range from incredibly basic, to fully serviced, but on the whole I have always been super impressed. The campgrounds are often in little spots of paradise and if you avoid the peak season you get miles of beauty all to yourselves.

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Kuaotuna Beach

 

Driving along the coast was a chance to see how breathtaking NZ can be, it is another stunning view around each corner. We took the chance to explore where we could, and spent hours soaking up the beauty of the beaches in particular.

I think the most breathtaking spot was a beach with a most wonderful name – New Chums Beach. It is a bit of a hike through the bush and we were glad we got there early as it did start to fill up a little after a while, but it is just beautiful. While Ashby found a comfortable spot to stretch out for a nap, I walked on an isolated sandy beach and had one of those moments of true peace. Secluded and beautiful, it really was something quite special.

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New Chums Beach

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It is about a thirty minute walk to the beach itself, with limitations around high tide. A less formed track than Cathedral Cove means it is not as popular – and hopefully it will stay that way!

On a future trip to the region it would be great to find a place to base ourselves for a longer stay. It is small enough that you could do quite a bit in a day trip, and it is such fun to be able to really relax into a place as well. With only a few days before we had to be in Auckland for our flight, we were limited in just how much we could see. There are loads of walks to explore, and many an hour could be spent under a Pohutakawa tree doing some proper summer time reading!

Ah, looking at these photographs has left me a little homesick! New Zealand really is a special part of the world.

Exploring NYC: Governors Island

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Checking out Manhattan from atop Castle Williams, Governors Island.

Over the time we’ve gotten to know each other, New York and I, it has become apparent that some of my favourite things about her are peripheral to what makes her so well known. Perhaps it is that I am a little older now, but while the hustle and bustle of Manhattan enthralled me when I visited previously, as I make the city my home I have found a special place in my heart for some of the smaller spots. Our neighbourhood of Sunnyside, which I will introduce you to properly soon, exemplifies that. Another highlight has been visiting Governors Island, a 172-acre island in the middle of New York Harbour.

There are a couple of ferries that run to the island, but when we decided to go one weekend in late summer we jumped aboard the East River Ferry. A crowded journey down the river allowed for entertaining people watching alongside some impressive views. I finally got to see one spot where Ashby has done a bit of work, and enjoyed the new view of the city.

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Brooklyn Bridge from the ferry.

The island itself has had a long history, and the National Park Service do a great job of summing that up here. I was particularly interested in the role it played in establishing the defence of New York following the America’s victory in the Revolutionary War. Two fortifications were built on the island – Fort Jay and Castle Williams – and they successfully acted as a deterrent for the British Navy in the War of 1812. We managed to sneak onto the final tour of the day through Castle Williams when we visited, and learning about the history and unusual design of the fortification was another testament to how good the National Park Service is at preserving America’s history. By 1830, the defensive efforts of Governors Island were so successful that the fortifications were now redundant. As a result, Castle Williams has gone through a host of different roles. During a period of guardianship by the U.S. Coast Guard the castle itself was mostly used as storage, but apparently once a year hosted a most epic haunted house for Halloween! Now a good chunk of the island, include the fortifications, have been declared a National Historic Landmark District, and the island as a whole is a public space operated by the City of New York. There is masses of green space, and spectacular views of the city skyline.

There has also been a move to use the old fortifications in new ways, and they housed a variety of art installations when we visited. Certainly a different setting than what I am used to.

Governors Island only operates during the summer, but it was such a great way to spend a Saturday as the weather got just a little bit cooler. After our visit, we took a different ferry back, heading towards Manhattan. A few drinks and nibbles along the waterfront capped off a beautiful day in NYC.

 

New York baby! A long overdue update

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Manhattan from Governor’s Island

In a twist I did not see coming, Ashby and I now call New York home. From an epic road tripping honeymoon, to a short job search and an incredible opportunity for Ashby, we found ourselves living in one of the most amazing cities in the world. It is a long way from where the year started in Paraparaumu, that’s for sure!

I am still planning on going back and writing about the rest of our trip (and also sharing some photos from our wedding and NZ holiday earlier this year), but I thought it was better to jump right in to where things are at today.

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Filming the next Spiderman movie in our neighbourhood.

We are living in a place called Sunnyside in Queens (if you are from Christchurch, I am sure you can appreciate just how much I giggle about the fact I have ended up in Sunnyside!). Our apartment is a lovely wee one bedroom place on the ground floor of our building. It is about a two minute walk to the subway station, and we can be at Grand Central in about fifteen minutes. Ashby’s office is in Manhattan, but he spends a good amount of time on different sites around the city. It is a bit of a change of pace for him, moving to a consultancy, and he seems to be enjoying the new challenge.

Perhaps not surprisingly, I have started to adjust quite nicely to being a housewife! While I am in a holding pattern for immigration, I cannot work. What this has led to is a new enjoyment of cooking, and some time to start digging into my own writing. After feeling rather weird not working, having consistently been studying or working since high school, I am enjoying the luxury of having time to dig into some of my passions.

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Night out in Manhattan

New York itself is all the madness that one expects from a big city, and only increasing in my estimation as the weather cools! The summer was long and sticky, but the crispness of Autumn has been lovely so far. We have been warned on numerous occasions that it gets really cold in winter, so I am intrigued as to just how bad that is. Having experienced an Indiana winter, I feel I am at least a little prepared! The central heating has been kicking in over the last few weeks as the temperature dips, so as a preview to what is coming, at least we know home is comfortable and warm.

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Sunset from Long Island City

Expect a few updates to start popping up in the next few weeks. Need to get it all written down while I still remember it! Feel free to follow me on instagram, where I am a little better and adding photographs.