Sunday, November 25, 2012

Giving Thanks

Apparently the last time I updated this website I was still without heat or hot water, washing my hair over the sink and improvising other ways to keep warm (heat pads on the bottom of my socks and such).  Well things are well and truly back to normal now and I resolve to never take a flushing toilet or heating vent for granted again.

The weather has warmed up a little now too - we haven't had any more freakish slush/snow and the temperatures have been bearable (and typical for this time of year).  It's a good thing too because it meant I could get a jump start on planning for Thanksgiving.

Looking at the calendar, I see that this year marked the 7th year since I first celebrated Turkey Day.  I gave a handy recap of all my past Thanksgivings last year, so I won't bore them with you here.

This year was a bit special though because for actual Thanksgiving Day (Thursday) I had managed to get into a volunteering slot at the Bowery Mission, one of the oldest (if not the oldest) shelters in NYC.  I had tried to get in to volunteer last year, but the slots filled up so quickly so I missed out.  This year I got my act together and signed up for the morning shift.  My work colleagues stepped up to the plate and helped me gather toiletries and warm winter coats to donate to the Mission.  Did you know that everyone that comes to Thanksgiving Day lunch leaves with a new coat?  That's got to be about 500 new coats, distributed on just one day.  Incredible.  So anyway I had big plans that I'd be in a massive kitchen, wearing a hairnet and prepping vegetables for a huge Thanksgiving feast.  As it turns out, I was one of about 40 volunteers in the 9am-11am shift, on waitressing and food service duty.  The Mission has much more of a religious bent than I was expecting (lots of Jesus talk and "God loves me" affirmations).  But there are also a lot of lost souls who come to the Mission to find comfort, and who am I to judge whether that comfort comes from warm food or Scripture!

We had a short induction lecture at the start of our volunteer shift, where we learned about the number of mouths the Missions feeds every year, the number of pounds of food that are donated each year, and the number of articles of clothing that are distributed.  The scale of the operation is terribly impressive and so by the time the warm-up lecture was done, I was pumped to get started.  We all got a bright red apron to wear and before I knew it, I had some latex gloves on, an empty dinner plate in my hand, and I was making my way along the lunch buffet, piling up the turkey, mashed potatoes and all the trimmings.  With plates piled high with hot food, the volunteers stood in line and waited to process into the chapel, where tables of 10 had been set up around the room, all filled with people needing a tasty meal.  The chapel ceilings were high and the walls decorated with beautiful artwork.  At the front of hte chapel, a soloist was singing beautiful gospel hymns - a lovely accompaniment to the lunch service.

Under the watchful eye of Mission staff, the volunteers were shepherded into the chapel and distributed their plates of food, then returned to the kitchen to get another plate.  In the first brunch shift that we did, there would have been about 120 people in the chapel.  I gave plates of food to two ancient Chinese ladies, both of whom grabbed my arm and wished me the most hearty Happy Thanksgiving.  I also had to give my plate to a man who had put his head on the table and was grabbing a bit of a nap.  I wasn't sure whether I should wake him up, but his table companion did it for me.  A sharp elbow to the ribs snapped the guy out of it, and it gratefully took his lunch plate from me.  The first brunch service finished and we swung into action to ready the room for the next service.  We wiped down tables, reset the cutlery and cups, and swept the floor.

The volunteers disappeared back to the kitchen so Mission staff could bring in the next group of diners. We heard that the second brunch service was not a scheduled one - but there had been so much demand for service, the Mission didn't want to turn anyone away.  And so it was that we readied ourselves to serve another 120 people.  This time around, I switched with a couple of young kids who were volunteering with their family.  I was assigned "mixed vegetables and gravy" duty.  With one hand I ladled generous portions of mixed veggies on the plate, and then with the other hand I ladled steamy, tasty gravy all over the top of the plate.  As the young kids came back to the kitchen to refill their plates, they were telling me stories about the people they'd met in there.  Like me, they had been surprised that families had come in together - grandparents, parents, and little kids.  I hadn't expected to see young kids at the Mission - I really did think it was just a place that men went.  But it was good that the volunteering kids were really engaged in the exercise and the mood in the kitchen was upbeat and friendly.

By the time I left the Mission it was around midday, and I had been given more "God Bless Yous" that I had heard in a long time.  But it was all okay because despite my initial concerns, I ended up having a really good time at the volunteering.  It felt good to be able to provide a hot meal to someone who obviously needed it.  And on such a traditional day, it was impressive that the Bowery Mission did not skip any corners at all.  The lunch plates had all the usual fixings - and as everyone left, they were even given a slice of pumpkin pie.  How's that for completing the meal?

The rest of my Turkey Day was spent at home, doing a quick spring clean in readiness for Cousin Ems, who arrived from Dubai.  We ate some pizza at my place, caught up a bit on the gossip, and then fell quickly asleep.

Friday morning we got up early and ran some errands before having our own (belated) Thanksgiving lunch.

I wimped out again this year and chose the "heat and eat" meal option, but it was quite the feast.  I was very lucky to have two special guests this year - Ems (for her first Thanksgiving ever) and Fish from work.  A delicious turkey breast, dinner rolls, cranberry sauce, and gravy come standard, and then I had to choose my sides and dessert.  I selected brown-sugar roasted veggies, sauteed kale & garlic, and mashed sweet potato.  Dessert was a fruit of the forest pie, with vanilla ice cream.   Just in case that wasn't enough food, I mashed my own potatoes, and roasted some baby carrots alongside.  I needn't have bothered - there was so much food that we didn't eat it all.  Fish kicked in a delicious bottle of Piper-Heidsieck, which complemented the meal beautifully.

Ems had to leave at about 4.30pm to get back to the airport and fly home.  Me and Fish kicked on for a couple of hours before she too disappeared, and I threw the dirty plates into the dishwasher and then threw myself on the couch.  With one eye open, I enjoyed my Thanksgiving tradition of watching "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation", but I also laughed along with "Overboard" - which I had not seen in aaaaages.  Classic!

By the time Saturday rolled around I had no real idea what day it was.  All these days off had thrown me, I think.  The day itself was rather quiet - I luxuriated in my pyjamas for a disgusting amount of time, and then left the house to dine at Union Square Cafe with Westo.  I'm going to have to visit this place repeatedly, as the menu is amazing and has so many temptations.  After dinner we then headed way uptown for some drinks at the very cool Hi-Life lounge on the Upper West Side.  And we rounded out our evening with a late screening of "Anna Karenina".  I enjoyed the film but my favourite part was definitely the costuming - such beautiful outfits.  Sigh.

I'm at the stage of my long weekend where I could really use a couple more days off.  You know how that happens?  Weird.  Sadly it's back to work for everyone tomorrow.  I don't feel that I overdid things too much this weekend, so I can still wear pants with buttons and I don't need to find excuses to wear my trackpants to work (phew!).  But that doesn't mean that I won't be counting down the hours until home time so I can put them back on.  I'm only human after all.

Monday, November 05, 2012

McGyver Moments

My apartment still doesn't have heat or hot water, but the notice in the lobby today suggests we'll be back to normal by Friday, if not earlier.  So far I'm coping OK with the service interruption but talk to me on Wednesday and we'll see. 

I made an attempt at a cold shower on Sunday morning.  Not my best idea.  I am such a baby when it comes to bathing in icy cold water.  There is nothing refreshing or restorative about it.  I got my hair a little bit wet and had brain freeze.  Then my toes froze and I had to get back into my pyjamas.

I'm trying really hard not to be precious about all this, but I made the mistake of looking at the weather forecast for this week.  Early on we're expecting top temps of 10 degrees (Celcius) during the day, falling to 7 degrees for the latter part of the week.  I couldn't bring myself to look at the night time temps.  Chilly or what?!  So it's about coping the best way I can.

My mood improved exponentially on Sunday morning when I got groceries delivered.  Ordering online meant I didn't have to be depressed by post-apocalyptic empty shelving in the stores closest to my house.  I didn't have to resort to evaporated milk (or worse, no milk at all).  I got fresh bananas, bagels, vanilla yoghurt, hummus, and an assortment of seriously healthy produce.  Now I'm not stupid. I  know what's going to happen; it will all just sit in my fridge and rot because I'm too bone lazy to cook for myself, but the point is I actually got it all and for the briefest of moments, I was happy again.

And for Sunday afternoon I was able to enjoy several steamy cups of Nespresso coffee, and a couple of Twinings teas.  I cocooned myself in a fluffy red blanket, my face poking out like a little babuskha, just far enough to see my computer screen and watch some episodes of "Game of Thrones".  Side note, how awesome is that show?  I know I am late to the party here, but I got totally waylaid by "True Blood" and "Homeland".  But I'm here now, so let's rejoice.

Finally at about 6pm, having sat around in my pyjamas and bed hair all day, I had repulsed myself for long enough.  I pulled myself together, and had a go at washing my hair over the bath.  Channelling McGyver himself, I boiled the kettle, diluted the scalding hot water enough to be bearable, and bent forward.  I even managed to get water ON my head first time!  It was quite the success and as I lathered the shampoo, I was feeling quite chuffed.  I only had enough water left in the kettle to do a half-assed rinse.  But a quick refill with the cold tap rinsed the rest of the suds off and I was left with clean, pretty-smelling hair once more.  But I didn't stop there.  I even went so far as to do a proper blowdry AND applied styling product.  McGyver had fluffy, styled hair too remember!  Every bit of effort counts.

I know that when our heating finally does get turned on, it's going to be like the Sahara in our apartment.  And I know I'll complain.  But for now, the very prospect of that is divine to me.  And being able to hang out under a scalding showerhead with the bathroom radio blaring just sounds like heaven. 

Will Friday ever get here?!

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Let there be light!

no power | power
Originally uploaded by Vitaliy P..

Over the past few days I have been staying in touch with the doormen in my building, eager for any news about the return of our heat, electricity and water. This morning the news came that warmed my heart. The power had been restored!

I packed up my belongings and thanked Sharlo profusely for being such a good samaritan and putting up with me this week. Piling into a cab, the driver told me how he'd had to wait in line for gas that morning....FOR TWO HOURS! And even then, he was only allowed to fill up his car with 30 gallons. I don't know how much that is, but I remember saying a silent prayer that it was enough to get me home.

Turns out we were fine and before long I was back in the blessed elevator, and safe and sound on the 15th floor once more.

It wasn't until I got back upstairs that I learned what the doorman had NOT mentioned: we were still out of hot water, and the toilets still weren't flushing. ICKY.

I did the only thing I could think of to do. I set off in search of pantry basics, to restock the fridge and freezer, and (most of all), for some milk so I could make a wonderful, heartwarming Nespresso coffee. I literally searched four different stores in my area - includes two pharmacies and a supermarket - but the shelves were bare. No milk, indeed no dairy of any kind, was to be found. It was quite frightening actually. Not in an oh-shit-society-is-crumbling sort of way, but more in the sense of when-is-life-going-to-get-back-to-normal way. I ended up just getting a filtered coffee from the little Italian deli on the corner and I even got one for the doorman (cause that's how I roll). As average as the coffee tasted, it warmed me right down to my toes.

A couple of minutes ago, building maintenance showed up to turn on the water pressure to the toilets. That flushing sound has never been so sweet to my ears, let me tell you!

Now I'm well aware that to some people, I probably sound like an asshole princess for complaining about my situation. But I'm well aware that this momentary inconvenience is NOTHING on what other people have suffered. I know how lucky I am, trust me on that.

But this slow return to normal life suggests to me that New York City is finally starting to get back on its feet. The rebuild will take time, and for some people the wounds will never heal. But with every service that gets restored; every light bulb that blinks back to life; and every toilet that flushes, we get a stark reminder of the resilience of a great city and its proud residents.