Community gardens by foot & bike

Did I tell you that I joined the board of a wonderful organization called the Brooklyn Queens Land Trust (BQLT) this past spring? I didn’t? Well, that’s probably because I spent approximately half my waking hours between then and last weekend helping to plan our 7th Annual Bike & Walking Tour!!

Happy people in bike helmets looking at plants

Happy bike tour participants inspect foliage at a BQLT garden

But I get ahead of myself. Let me first explain that BQLT owns and stewards over 30 community gardens in NYC’s two most populous boroughs. This means these public green spaces are permanently saved from development and cannot be sold. It means we apply for grants and hold fundraisers to keep them in raised beds and water systems. It means the resident gardeners who put their blood, sweat, and tears into transforming many of these plots from abandoned wastelands into lush oases for the whole neighborhood to enjoy 20, 30, and 40 years ago can confidently pass them on to the next generation. I’m so proud to be part of all this work, and so excited to learning about everything from tree identification to city council budgets with the committed and good-humored BQLT crew.

Group photo in community garden

Select BQLT board and staff members giddy with relief at the end of the tour

That’s why, after many months of planning, it was so thrilling when our big day finally came. Last Saturday, September 15th, 60 awesome people showed up to tour a handful of our beautiful community gardens in Bushwick (apparently the 7th Coolest Neighborhood in the World, according to Vogue), and eastern Bedford-Stuyvesant. We started the afternoon at Concerned Citizens of Grove Street Garden with remarks by a community affairs rep from the office of our Borough President, Eric Adams (who is himself a vegan bicyclist, didn’t ya know?), and by the garden’s founder Jaime Alvarez, who started it 37 years ago.

From there, tour t-shirts donned and branded water bottles filled, we bikers embarked on our ride to check out six more gardens, while the walking group ambled off to four. We saw bitter melon growing and chickens scratching. We heard stories of gardens’ origins as ashen lots in the bad old days of 1970s NYC. We whizzed by stoop sales and farmers markets and a motorcycle washing station with hand-lettered signage set up in someone’s garage. I learned that my husband has the same birthday as one of city council member Antonio Reynoso‘s staffers, and that La Finca Garden was established way back in 1986.

Guy in bike helmet and glasses next to guy in blazer

Birthday twinsies!

Woman in bike helmet next to man in baseball cap

They even have embroidered hats!

After a few sunny hours of pedaling, peeping, and chatting, we arrived at the truly fabulous People’s Garden for plant-based Dominican snacks by woman- and worker-owned catering cooperative Woke Foods and music by a band from Haiti Cultural Exchange. Kids pushed each other around in a wagon. People waiting for the bus outside peered in and bopped to the tunes. And apparently a reporter was there from Our Time Press, because I just saw this article! Nice. As dusk approached, I finally took off my fluoro yellow tour leader vest and headed out the gate, mad tired but wicked satisfied.

While I can’t say I’ll exactly miss the scores of hours the little BQLT events committee spent in after-work meetings at the library, the email chains about flyer printing that grew to 50 messages deep, or the mosquito-filled crepuscular trial rides I took part in over the past handful of months, they were all totally worth it. See you for the 8th!

People on bikes in urban America

ArtPlace America: Birthdays & Anniversaries Edition

I like birthday parties as a rule, but when attending one leads to new friends, new work, and new travel possibilities, my like grows into love.

Such was the case a year ago last May, when I met Sarah Westlake—esteemed writer, teacher, and editor of the ArtPlace America blog—at a birthday party in (where else?) Brooklyn. It turned out we had some friends, some favorite beers, and some editorial pursuits in common. She told me she might have some work for me in the future, and before parting ways, we exchanged business cards. I was excited, but tried to keep calm, since I’ve learned anything can happen in the wild world of freelancing.

ArtPlace Annual Summit 2018 Polaroid Louisville Kentucky

A vision of things to come
(portrait by the singular Eli Keel: twitter.com/thateli)

Happily, this chance meeting was not my last with Sarah. Fast forward a handful of months, and I was pitching her story ideas and starting to write some posts. (You can peep the first few here, on the topics of: health equity and art; preserving black culture in gentrifying neighborhoods; and a public utility’s investment in their community’s story.)

I was already stoked with the new gig, but when Sarah asked if I could cover a couple of upcoming creative placemaking conferences happening in other states, my stoked-ness increased. While I’ve learned that traveling for work has its ups and downs, I still get a kick out of it. Plus I had never been to Madison, New Jersey (“A Town Right Out of Central Casting“) or Louisville, Kentucky (home of bourbon, baseball bats, and that famous derby), which meant one more uptick on the stoked-o-meter. So I packed my bags and experienced every major public transit typology to help document the Creative Placemaking Leadership Summit’s Northeastern Corridor Conference on May 3 & 4 and the ArtPlace 2018 Annual Summit, May 21 – 23.

If I were to sum up these trips in two words, I would use the words: GOOD STUFF.

My posts from the events are still in process, so I’ll have to leave you with that verbal cliffhanger for now, but I can share a handful of my choice snaps from in and around the proceedings:

Woven tapestry featuring people

One of Ebony G. Patterson’s remarkable photo tapestries
(exhibited at the 21c Museum Hotel Louisville)

Shine Bright cardinal mural downtown Louisville Kentucky

Rad mural in downtown Louisville
(if anyone knows who painted it, please leave a comment!)

Skippy in the trash can

One or another of America’s finer airports, exhorting you to throw your perfectly good food and toiletries into the garbage

A big thank you to Sarah, ArtPlace, and a couple of groovy U.S. states I don’t often get to for extending me such a warm welcome this past year. I hope our relationships can enjoy that most oft-uttered of birthday wishes: many happy returns.

When to request a wizard on live radio

Two years ago this evening, my husband (who was then a lowly fiance) and I called up the host of Pyramid Power!, a monthly radio show that broadcasts on WGXC 90.7-FM, a community station based in New York’s Greene and Columbia counties.

Man and woman inside green pyramid

Pyramid Power! in action

The show is great—full, as its show page promises, of “amplified thought forms,” “sounds from this planet and others,” and “space news and self-help.”

But the reason we dialed its digits that April night was not (solely) to profess our love for radio programming well done. It was to ask the esteemed host of Pyramid Power!, one Sarah Van Buren, to be our wedding officiant. Except that’s not exactly how we put it. I know because I saved the script we wrote so we wouldn’t choke on the air!

Unison: Sarah!
April: This is your friends April and Arthur in Brooklyn!
Arthur: We’re calling to say that we love Pyramid Power!
April: And that, as you know, we’re getting married in Hudson this October, which is very exciting!
Arthur: And we’re thinking about our ceremony, and realizing that it isn’t a job for a priest
April: or a rabbi
Arthur: or a justice of the peace
April: or even a Love Boat captain
Unison: We need a WIZARD!!!
April: A wizard who will sanctify our cosmic adventure
Arthur: and unite us by the power invested in the pyramid!
April: So, we’re not asking for you to reply now, BUT!
Unison: Would you be our wedding wizard???!!!
Arthur: We’ll take our answer off the air! <3 <3 <3

You can hear bits of it here, starting at about 1:25:00. We are happily squished between some Constance Demby space bass and Led Zeppelin’s “In The Light,” but you’ll get the drift.

We asked Sarah to marry us for many reasons. I’ve known her since I was her Resident Assistant in the Arlington dorm at Emerson College back in the ’90s. Since then, we’ve taken part in uncountable adventures, both together and together in spirit, including unprepared car camping in California:

Woman outdoors with plastic bag hat

dance parties galore:

Woman in black dancing in red makeup

and at least one Polar Bear swim on New Year’s day:

People smiling on a beach

 

After Hurricane Sandy, I biked some peanut butter sandwiches down to Coney Island and followed Sarah around while she photographed the wreckage. When she was working at a gourmet food store in Brooklyn and I also had a shite-paying job, she’d hide their day-old bread in a paper bag near Prospect Park and text me so I could pick it up. We’ve been to Trees of Mystery together, we’ve had blue margaritas with her family on Easter together. We’ve ridden the Skunk Train and cried over breakups and once she decorated this Sérgio Mendes and Brasil ’77 LP exclusively for my birthday:

Sérgio Mendes and Brasil '77 record album

On top of all that, she rides a motorcycle.

She has gravitas.

And she knows how to, as the Germans say, make party.

Sarah first met Arthur at an old apartment of mine, shortly before she moved to Wales for a while. In him, she recognized a fellow devout music-head. He still remembers her dazzling hand gestures. I felt so happy that day, and remain so grateful, that these two impeccable people are two of my best friends, and that they also see the genius in each other.

To our great thrill that night in April 2016, Sarah immediately granted Arthur’s and my wedding request, over a cacophony of mutually delighted cackles. Six months later, dressed in head-to-toe wizard regalia, she joined us in holy matrimony in a 19th-century steel forge and foundry.

But not before she had led some of our guests in a pre-wedding pose of some mystical import:

People balancing on one foot in a circle

Was it Pyramid Power?

Isn’t it always?

The far-reaching effects of police misconduct

New York Police Department Times Square NYC photo credit Meriç Dağlı

When I first heard about BuzzFeed News’s exposé of NYPD misconduct from the new owner of Bushwick Daily, I had two thoughts almost simultaneously:

  • Sounds like a scoop! Way to go, investigative reporters.
    .
    and
    .
  • But everyone knows there’s police misconduct. What are they going to reveal that’s new?

For better and worse, the answer is plenty.

Ace reporters Kendall Taggart and Mike Hayes published “Secret NYPD Files: Officers Can Lie And Brutally Beat People — And Still Keep Their Jobs” two days ago. (And I was pleased to hear them with Brian Lehrer on WNYC yesterday. My hat’s off to all of you!)

They found:

  • Some NYPD employees who have been allowed to stay on the force after repeatedly lying in court have sent innocent people to prison—and kept guilty people from doing time.
    .
  • New York taxpayers foot the bill to settle accusations against errant officers who continue to serve, sometimes to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars per officer—on top of paying some of them six-figure salaries.
    .
  • The secrecy and subjectivity of NYPD misconduct trials mean life-altering case decisions can easily be made based on the simple personal prejudice of one police commissioner—and cannot be challenged.

Today, I was pleased to share a summary of Taggart and Hayes’s findings and some information about alleged misconduct in Brooklyn’s 83rd Precinct with the Bushwick Daily community. You can read the post here.

A brush with vegan greatness

Last night, Arthur and I celebrated Valentine’s Day a day early—because even vegetarian restaurants are booked hella far ahead for V-Day in Brooklyn!

We settled on Modern Love in Williamsburg, purveyors of “swanky vegan comfort food.” Not only did this restaurant’s name scream Valentine’s Day, but our excellent realtor and friend Alison McQueen had given us a Modern Love gift card to say congrats after we closed on our house last year (thanks again, Alison!). The stars seemed to be aligning.

Vegan cheese plate with fruit, cocktail, and flower

Part 1: Into the (nut cheese) void*

We walked in to find the place abuzz with well-dressed veg-heads.

We opened our menus and found approximately two dozen mouthwatering choices.

And then, We Saw Her.

“Hey—by the host stand in the black overalls. Do you think that’s…?” Arthur asked me.

“Holy crikey! Maybe!” I replied, craning my neck.

Isa Chandra Moskowitz is the brains (and at least some of the brawn) behind such legendary acts of veganism as Post Punk KitchenVeganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook, and Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World—as well as Modern Love, which also has an Omaha location (of course).

Woman with glasses holding a plate of food in a restaurant

Our lady in the flesh!

We were giddily discussing the possible implications of sharing a thousand-square-foot space with this mythical woman when the colorful fruit and cheese plate pictured above was set down on our table by none other than… the Notorious ICM herself!

While we blinked alternately at the plate and up at her, she explained each cheese and cracker variety to us (including their homemade Cheez-Its). When she was done, I ventured:

“Um, are we having a celebrity sighting right now?”

She looked at us, and with delicious deadpan, said:

“Yup, I’m Sarah Silverman.”

Then she walked back to the kitchen.

Isa, we love you even more now.

 

*Sorry, folks—that’s an inside joke with the Arthur-man. Happy Valentine’s, my sweet!

Making peace with the sponsored post

Given my historic predilection for writing about (allegedly) unsexy topics such as congestion pricing, volunteering in retirement, and participatory urban development, it’s no wonder that when Katarina “Don’t Wait for Permission to be Awesome” Hybenova, founder of Bushwick Daily, needs someone to write a sponsored post about a local credit union or end-of-life planning, she rings my bell.

Think unsexy thoughts Simpsons Barney

“Think unsexy thoughts… Think unsexy thoughts…”

I will admit that the idea of writing sponsored articles sat a little uneasily with me at first, because I’m generally angered and saddened by advertising’s incessant and ever-deepening march into every aspect our lives. That said!, if boss little publications like Bushwick Daily are to keep the lights on (and I sure hope they do), someone’s got to foot the bill. If that boils down to a choice between giving readers free access to the site in exchange for throwing some sidebar ads and commissioned stories into the mix, or making readers pay individually to fund BD‘s work, I’ll go with the former.

You know what, though? In this case, it’s not even as doom-and-gloom as that. The kinds of organizations that support BD are pretty much the best kinds of organizations: they’re grassroots neighborhood staples, self-made small businesses, international nonprofits—even startups on a mission to make clean power cheaper! So really, how could I complain?

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need advertising—but heck, we wouldn’t need money, either! So until Reverend Billy & the Church of Stop Shopping become our president and congress, respectively, I hope you’ll enjoy reading about these boss organizations on one of the best little blogs in Brooklyn, and that you’ll support your own local micro-journalism outlets in whatever way best floats your boat.

Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving!

This weekend in Brooklyn: Sound summer camp for badass young ladies!

Teen girls with headphones and microphones

When I took the Bushwick Daily assignment to write about SoundGirls.org’s Live Sound Camps for Girls, I thought it would be cool. Music, Brooklyn, empowering teenage girls—what’s not to like?

Well, I was right! There was nothing not to like about writing this story.

The end!

SoundGirls.org logo

No, no—of course there is more. But it’s the good kind of more!

It turned out that in addition to getting acquainted with an awesome nonprofit that connects female sound engineers the world over, hearing wonderful stories about girls learning to rock intimidating audio gear, and bookmarking the knowledge of this traveling summer camp program for the next time I meet a cool teenage girl, I also got to spend half an hour talking with the woman who’s been Pearl Jam’s sound engineer for the last 25 years: SoundGirls.org’s executive director and co-founder, Karrie Keyes!

I will pause to mention that, while I do enjoy me some classic Pearl Jam, I was even more stoked and awed to learn that Karrie has also worked with Sonic Youth, Fugazi, and Neil Young, and did a 10-year stint as the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ monitor engineer.

Waynes World not worthy

ANYWAY, what Karrie’s doing with SoundGirls.org is just as cool as all that, of course. Check it out, and if you know an NYC-area teenage girl who’d appreciate the chance to get her audio on this weekend, do spread the word!

2,000 miles of driving, 26 feet of truck, & uncountable marionettes: Mom’s miraculous move to Brooklyn

My mom had thought about moving back to Brooklyn, New York (from whence she came in the 1940s) from her adopted home of Colorado for many years. But when the time finally came to load up a big, bad Penske truck and drive it the 2,000 miles over here, my husband and I noticed something.

She hadn’t packed. At all.

Man and woman standing in moving truck

Arthur & Mom share a “ruh roh” moment in the Penske

As we walked around the large house she’d owned for almost 40 years, the house we’d budgeted about two days to liquidate before starting our drive, our thoughts were roughly split between, “Whaaaa?” and “How in god’s name are we going to do this?”

I chalk my mom’s lack of prep work up to a few things: not having moved in decades and forgetting how long it takes; deciding to take the relocation plunge on relatively short notice; and having struck an agreement with the buyer of her property that she didn’t have to leave it empty. Still, it was something of a jaw-dropper.

Fortuitously for us, my best bud from junior high, pictured above (who served as Gay of Honor at our wedding last fall), has orchestrated a few large-scale events in his time, and knew exactly how to pack a moving truck to perfection. Equally wonderfully, my mom was decisive about what she wanted to keep and what could stay behind, and my amazing huzz shuttled furniture and boxes to and fro for two straight days with a smile on his face.

After I’d snapped photos of my childhood home from every angle I could imagine, and taken one last soda-buying trip to the 7-11 behind our house (site of untold quarters spent on video games and untold numbers of dental cavities brought about by its bountiful, cursed pouches of Big League Chew), we were all loaded up and ready to go—a whole half day ahead of schedule!

Man screaming as woman drives moving truck

Mom takes the wheel

Farm silos from a car on the highway

The great Midwest

The week that followed, as I look back on it now, was a blur of $100 diesel fuel tabs, nights spent on midwest relatives’ couch beds, and the seemingly innumerable marionettes that hang from the ceiling of Rudy’s Tacos in Waterloo, Iowa. In other words: an ideal vacation.

Now it’s back to work (which I love), fixing up our house (which is fun), and teaching my mom how to use her new smartphone (which is… gratifying, at times). But a little piece of me will remain back at Cubby’s Convenience in Gothenberg, Nebraska, reflecting on our miraculous, once-in-a-lifetime road trip over a burning hot basket of fried something.

Colorful bunny shaped Easter treats

Bye for now, road bunnies

Two Shameless Feminists

When my friend Angela Altus—of Bushwick Daily and Shameless Photography—spread the word that she was looking for volunteers to man up in front of the camera for a project called “This is What a Feminist Looks Like,” I was all ears.

“The purpose of the project is to showcase the many faces of feminism, and how shared values span gender, age, race and so much more,” she wrote. While my combined characteristics peg me as just about the most predictable feminist in the world, I still wanted to represent! Thankfully, so did my fabulous husband.

Feminists in bike helmets

In our bike helmets, OF COURSE

The shoot took place at Shameless’s awesome space in an old industrial building in Dumbo earlier this month (site of countless body-positive boudoir photo sessions!), and has so far resulted in some gorgeous documentation on the studio’s website and Instagram; I wouldn’t be surprised to find some of these brilliant shots on billboards soon!

Big ups to all the ladies and dudes involved in this uplifting creative project. The organizers said it best themselves: “No matter our differences, if we can come together around equality, we can accomplish great things for the world.”

***

Also: My friend Kaitlin Archambault of Incendiary Designs recently redesigned Angela’s website. Wonderful, isn’t it?

Hey Brooklyn: Divest from filth, get help with your taxes, & eat free pizza*

Brooklyn is home to so many great institutions: BAM, the Wonder WheelChamps Diner.

I recently added a new favorite to my list: the Brooklyn Cooperative Federal Credit Union!

At the behest of Bushwick Daily, I attended a free workshop at Brooklyn Cooperative last month called Tax Tips for Freelancers. Not only did I soak up some sound tax advice, I also…

  • Met a bunch of cool fellow freelancers—among them a party planner, a bike messenger, and a soap maker (so fun)
  • Spoke at length with two of the credit union’s knowledgeable and righteous employees—one of whom also teaches self-defense and leads tours in Cuba!
  • Was offered some great-looking free pizza, which I only turned down because I had just eaten (but I’ll come prepared next time; oh yes I will)
Pizza and money gif

While I cannot argue with this sentiment, our event went a lot better than this

Just as importantly, I was also turned on to some crucial information about credit unions that I had sort of failed to internalize before, such as the fact that they’re nonprofit organizations. Credit unions are owned by members (not shareholders), so they don’t have a business’s usual mandate to make money—just a mission to offer fair and affordable financial services to their community. They also don’t invest members’ money in the stock market, earning their income instead by making fair rate loans and charging small fees for some types of accounts.

Sounds fresh, right?

A Brooklyn Cooperative employee (the self-defense person, actually) offered this nice call to action: “If you’re interested in divesting from banks that fund pipelines and contribute to the housing crisis, switching your checking and savings accounts to a credit union is a great choice.”

I’m on it, Brooklyn Cooperative! Thanks for the timely inspiration.

Read the whole fun-filled, fact-filled article on Bushwick Daily.

*While Brooklyn usually feels like the center of -slash only place in the universe to me, I understand there are credit unions all over the country. Woo hoo! Can’t say they all offer free pizza at their free workshops, though. If you find out, let me know.