I Heart NY Part 3: Apartment Living

Home Sweet Home.

I lived in a four-room apartment in Hoboken for 14 years, then we tried house-living in Michigan, and now we're back in an apartment. I just seem to be one of those people who is an apartment-dweller at heart. When they start talking about the American dream of 'owning your own home' I cringe and think "O-ho, but no...not me!" -- and perhaps you wonder why.

See, a house has both an inside and an outside. An apartment like ours, on the other hand, has no sidewalks to shovel, no driveway to dig your car out of, no grass to mow or leaves to rake. There's no roof to fix, siding to repair, or outdoors-y stuff to patch or paint or nail up, nothing to sweep or de-ice or plow. You don't even have to go outside the building to check the mail, and if anything breaks or leaks or cracks or seeps, you can call the landlord, who also takes out the trash and cleans the hallways and the stoop and the sidewalk.

Yeah, go ahead and call me lazy. I just know my limitations.

But apartments can have other advantages, Sometimes, they're just cool. Our building dates from 1916, and it has high ceilings and enormous (1 x 2 meter) windows. Not to mention that its five rooms are just the right amount of space for us. I'll give you a little tour.

This is the view from the kitchen, which we painted a retro minty-green color.
The funny-shaped archway leads into the living room.

I love the ceramic tile in the kitchen.

The previous tenant, who had lived here for over forty years, left behind some furniture (like this kitchen table) that the landlord allowed us to keep.

The kitchen has roomy old metal cabinets.
Two big windows look out into the back yard.

I do most of my knitting here in front of the TV. Embiggen to see some of Mr. O'Kitten's black-and-white photography on the wall.

This started out as the "craft room," but I want to put comfy chairs in it and make it more of a reading room since I never really use the table in there anyway. And look--there's finally a place for the OED.

The table really just collects junk.

I sit here. A lot.
We've carpeted the study and the bedroom since these pics were taken.

Morgan's favorite room.

We have a big ol' tub. With actual claw feet.
Yes, that's the subway on the shower curtain.

Home Sweet Home.

Our Uncle Pindy, who is 87 and has lived in this area his entire life, refers to our building as Mathews Flats. (Most people around here call them 'Six-Families,' since they're three-story buildings with six apartments.)

Research revealed that our building was indeed constructed by G.X. Mathews, who built over 800 apartments in Brooklyn and Queens, according to a June 1, 1919, New York Times article. The Mathews Flats followed the principles of the 1901 Tenement House Act, which insisted that "every room must be light, airy, and sanitary." And our rooms still are--93 years later.


Cats on Tuesday: For I Will Consider My Cat

Cats on Tuesday: For I Will Consider My Cat

I happen to love this jubilant poem by Christopher Smart (1722-71), so I am once again going to inflict poetry upon you. This week, For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffry (excerpt, Jubilate Agno).

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God, duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.

For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For tenthly he goes in quest of food.

For having considered God and himself he will consider his neighbor.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.
For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
For when his day's work is done his business more properly begins.
For he keeps the Lord's watch in the night against the adversary.
For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.
For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he suppresses.
For he will not do destruction if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation.

For he purrs in thankfulness when God tells him he's a good Cat.
For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.
For every house is incomplete without him, and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.
For the Lord commanded Moses concerning the cats at the departure of the Children of Israel from Egypt.
For every family had one cat at least in the bag.
For the English Cats are the best in Europe.
For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.
For the dexterity of his defense is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly.
For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.
For he is tenacious of his point.
For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.
For he knows that God is his Saviour.

For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.
For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion.
For he is of the Lord's poor, and so indeed is he called by benevolence perpetually—Poor Jeoffry! poor Jeoffry! the rat has bit thy throat.
For I bless the name of the Lord Jesus that Jeoffry is better.
For the divine spirit comes about his body to sustain it in complete cat.
For his tongue is exceeding pure so that it has in purity what it wants in music.
For he is docile and can learn certain things.
For he can sit up with gravity, which is patience upon approbation.
For he can fetch and carry, which is patience in employment.
For he can jump over a stick, which is patience upon proof positive.
For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.
For he can jump from an eminence into his master's bosom.
For he can catch the cork and toss it again.
For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser.
For the former is afraid of detection.
For the latter refuses the charge.
For he camels his back to bear the first notion of business.
For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly.
For he made a great figure in Egypt for his signal services.
For he killed the Icneumon rat, very pernicious by land.
For his ears are so acute that they sting again.
For from this proceeds the passing quickness of his attention.
For by stroking of him I have found out electricity.
For I perceived God's light about him both wax and fire.
For the electrical fire is the spiritual substance which God sends from heaven to sustain the bodies both of man and beast.
For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
For, though he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.
For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadruped.
For he can tread to all the measures upon the music.
For he can swim for life.
For he can creep.

-- Christopher Smart (1722-71)

"With the exception of one brief intermission, Christopher Smart remained hospitalized for mental insanity from 1756 through 1763, during which he wrote the poems considered his best work: A Song to David (1763) and Jubilate Agno, first published in 1939 by W. F. Stead. Though critics of his own time accused A Song to David of incoherence, it experienced a surge of praise and interest in the nineteenth century by such poets as Browning and Yeats. Only fragments of Jubilate Agno remain today; best known of these fragments is the cataloging homage to his cat Jeoffry, companion during Smart's incarceration."


Like Libraries?

"...Above all things Truth beareth away the victory."
(The Apocrypha, 1 Esdras, chapter 3, line 12; inscribed at the entrance
of the main branch of the New York Public Library.)

I really like libraries. If you like libraries as well, then, like me, you could spend an inordinate amount of time perusing the Librophiliac Love Letter: A Compendium of Beautiful Libraries over at Curious Expeditions. This is a website I could get lost in for days.

This is the Handelingenkamer Tweede Kamer Der Staten-Generaal Den Haag in the Netherlands and this photograph made me gasp out loud at its winding spiral staircases and elegant railings. Apparently, Handelingen means "reports," although for us English-speakers they've translated Handelingenkamer as Old Library. [Perhaps Anya or some other Dutch reader can fill us in if I've completely misinterpreted.]

Whatever it means, it is extraordinarily beautiful and, in typical Dutch fashion, useful: the library is topped with a leaded-glass dome to allow daylight to flood all four levels, so that (back in the day) they could keep combustible candles and gas lamps out of the library.

The New York Public Library (NYPL) lions have become symbols for New York City. I've used this library on occasion and it is big, beautiful, overwhelming, and simply amazing. I just found out today that the two lions are named Patience and Fortitude. (Great NYPL trivia--about the sculptures and inscriptions behind the lions--here.)

This is the public research room at the main branch of the NYPL
(yes, the branch with the lions).

Another discovery I made today is the NYPL Digital Gallery, which "provides free and open access to over 685,000 images digitized from the The New York Public Library's vast collections, including illuminated manuscripts, historical maps, vintage posters, rare prints, photographs and more." (You know how much I like maps.)

This is the Old Reading Room at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC. I had to include it not only because it is lovely, but because Mr. O'Kitten's cousin works here, and we like her a whole bunch.

This is the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale. The walls have translucent marble panels. See how they're almost tiger-stripy in a weirdly futuristic way? The climate-controlled glass-enclosed part in the middle contains the rare books and manuscripts. This library has one of the remaining Gutenberg Bibles. The fact that I have actually seen this extraordinary part of human history with my own two eyes still strikes me as both odd and exceedingly wonderful.

This is my college library, the Sterling Memorial Library at Yale. It looks far more like a cathedral than a library.

It now houses about 4 million volumes. The stacks would give you vertigo. When I was there in the late 1980s the system wasn't computerized, so I spent a lot of time using this:

...the Sterling Memorial Library card catalogue. It too could give you vertigo.

These are the Sterling Library stacks. Yes, they are as old as they look -- the Library and its sixteen-level "book tower" opened in 1931. I'm sure they are quite haunted.

Good night, Sterling Library.


Easter Egg Washcloth Pattern

Hippity Hoppity, Easter's on its way, peeps! Here's a pattern fer ye. Enjoy.

Bunnies by LoveLeeSoaps

O'Kitten's Easter Egg Washcloth Pattern

SIZE: 7 3/4 x 7 3/4 inches (19.5 x 19.5 cm)

MATERIALS: Less than 1 (one) 2.5 oz (70.9 g) ball Lily Sugar’n Cream 100% cotton yarn (colors shown are Robins Egg Blue #01215 and Pretty Pastels #00199), US size 6 needles, tapestry needle, crochet hook (optional)

GAUGE: 18 stitches = 4 inches (10 cm) in stockinette stitch

NOTE: See abbreviations and stitch explanations at bottom.


Rows 1–4: Knit
Row 5: k3, purl across, k3
Row 6: Knit
Row 7 (and all odd rows unless otherwise specified): k3, purl across, k3
Row 8: k15, k2tog, yo, kb, (yo, ssk)x2, k15
Row 10: k14, (k2tog, yo)x2, kb, (yo, ssk)x2, k14
Row 12: k11, (k2tog, yo)x3, kb, (yo, ssk)x4, k11
Row 14: k10, (k2tog, yo)x4, kb, (yo, ssk)x4, k10
Row 16: k9, (k2tog, yo)x4, kb, (yo, ssk)x5, k9
Row 18: k8, (k2tog, yo)x5, kb, (yo, ssk)x5, k8
Row 20: Repeat row 16
Row 22: k8, (k2tog, yo)x3, kb, yo, ssk, yo, sk2p, yo, k2tog, yo, kb, (yo, ssk)x3, k8
Row 24: k9, (k2tog, yo)x2, kb, yo, ssk, yo, sk2p, yo, k2tog, yo, kb, (yo, ssk)x3, k9
Row 26–28: Repeat row 22–24
Row 30: Repeat row 14
Row 32: Repeat row 12
Row 34: k11, m1, (k2tog, yo)x3, sk2p, (yo, ssk)x3, m1, k9
Row 36: k12, (ssk, yo)x3, kb, (yo, k2tog)x3, k12
Row 38: k13, m1, yo, ssk, yo, d4, yo, k2tog, yo, m1, k13
Row 40: k15, m1, yo, d4, yo, m1, k15
Row 42: k17, c3, k17
Row 43: k3, purl across, k3
Row 44: Knit
Row 45: k3, purl across, k3
Row 46–49: Knit
Row 50: Bind off …

…and weave in ends. Or…

…Bind off to last knit stitch. Transfer the last knit stitch to a crochet needle and single crochet 12 stitches. Loop the crochet chain back to the washcloth and secure it using the tapestry needle and loose yarn end. Weave in ends.


CO: cast on

st: stitch

k: knit

k2tog: knit 2 together

yo: yarn over

kb: insert right needle into back of stitch on left needle and then knit it

ssk: slip two stitches (one at a time) knitwise from left needle onto right needle and then knit them together

sk2p: slip one stitch knitwise onto the right needle, knit the next two sts on the left needle together, then pass the slipped stitch over the k2tog sts and off the needle

m1: create a new stitch by knitting into the back of the stitch in the row below the next stitch on the left needle, then knit into the front of the next stitch on the left needle

d4: Quadruple decrease (reduces 5 sts to 1):
1. Slip 3 stitches to the right needle.
2. Pass the 2nd stitch on the right needle over the 1st (center) stitch.
3. Slip the center stitch back to the left needle.
4. Pass the 2nd stitch on the left needle over the 1st (center) stitch.
5. Slip the center stitch back to the right needle.
6. Pass the 2nd stitch on the right needle over the 1st (center) stitch.
7. Slip the center stitch back to the left needle.
8. Pass the 2nd stitch on the left needle over the 1st (center) stitch.
9. Knit the center stitch.
Or: You can ssk, then k3tog, then pass the ssk stitch over the k3tog stitch, but the result isn’t as nice as using the longer version of this decrease as described above.

c3: Cluster 3. Slip 3 sts to right needle. Pass yarn to front. Slip same 3 sts from right needle back to left needle. Pass yarn to the back. Give the yarn a good tug, then k3.

Pattern and photos ©S. Clarke 2009 http://obsidiankitten.blogspot.com/


April Fools Day: Ha-Cha-Cha!

Lavender Lemon Citrus Soap

One of my favorite recent discoveries on Etsy is LoveLeeSoaps. She makes fancy bath stuff like body butters (this one is packaged like carrrots), bath salts, and luxurious bath bars (I got the lovely lavender-lemon one shown above). Her prices are great and she is super-nice, even doing custom fragrance-free soaps for me. She uses high-quality soap bases and fragrance oils; be sure to check the descriptions because many of the soaps have shea butter in them to make them super-rich and creamy.

Milk and Honey Gnome Soap

The real treat for me, though, is the variety of novelty soaps she comes up with. For example, right now Leeana has marshmallow peanuts, pickles, popcorn, a chocolate soap birdnest with three eggs and a little bluebird, cottontail bunnies, and even an easter bunny egg set.

When I first saw the peppermint denture soap, I couldn't stop laughing, picturing it on our sink next to a glass of water. Now it's been nominated for Etsy's April Fools Pranks and Gags, so if you have a minute check out the poll and vote. Voting ends 10 am March 30.

Easter Bunny Egg Set

Hazelnut Cappuccino Kitty Soap


Name the Thing, Knit the Thing

I made a couple of these Heart Lace Cloths and liked the Heart Motif, but I couldn't find anything similar for Easter. So I came up with this:

I think it looks like what it's supposed to be, right? I rearranged the stitches from the lace heart pattern on a new chart. It's not easy to make something ovoid out of rectangles, but there you are.

I would love it if one or two of you intrepid knitters would test out the pattern for me. It's super-quick and takes less than half a ball of Sugar'n Cream. Just post a comment here or email me at sohopixieATyahooDOTcom and I'll email you the pattern. Once I know it works for someone other than me I'll post it here on the blog.

Any takers?

Easter is April 12. The bunnies are coming!


Cats on Tuesday: The Cat, Bewitching and Seraphic

Cats on Tuesday, with Poems from Charles Baudelaire's Fleurs du Mal (1857-1868)


Both ardent lovers and austere scholars
Love in their mature years
The strong and gentle cats, pride of the house,
Who like them are sedentary and sensitive to cold.

Friends of learning and sensual pleasure,
They seek the silence and the horror of darkness;
Erebus would have used them as his gloomy steeds:
If their pride could let them stoop to bondage.

When they dream, they assume the noble attitudes
Of the mighty sphinxes stretched out in solitude,
Who seem to fall into a sleep of endless dreams;

Their fertile loins are full of magic sparks,
And particles of gold, like fine grains of sand,
Spangle dimly their mystic eyes.

-- Translated from the French by William Aggeler, 1954

The Cat


A fine strong gentle cat is prowling
As in his bedroom, in my brain;
So soft his voice, so smooth its strain,
That you can scarcely hear him miowling.

But should he venture to complain
Or scold, the voice is rich and deep:
And thus he manages to keep
The charm of his untroubled reign.

His voice can cure the direst pain
And it contains the rarest raptures.
The deepest meanings, which it captures,
It needs no language to explain.

There is no bow that can so sweep
That perfect instrument, my heart:
Or make more sumptuous music start
From its most vibrant cord and deep,

Than can the voice of this strange elf,
This cat, bewitching and seraphic,
Subtly harmonious in his traffic
With all things else, and with himself.

-- Translated by Roy Campbell, 1952

The Cat

Come, my fine cat, against my loving heart;
Sheathe your sharp claws, and settle.
And let my eyes into your pupils dart
Where agate sparks with metal.

Now while my fingertips caress at leisure
Your head and wiry curves,
And that my hand's elated with the pleasure
Of your electric nerves,

I think about my woman — how her glances
Like yours, dear beast, deep-down
And cold, can cut and wound one as with lances;

Then, too, she has that vagrant
And subtle air of danger that makes fragrant
Her body, lithe and brown.

-- Translated by Roy Campbell, 1952

I Heart NY Part 2: Public Transportation

I love not having--and not needing--a car. Because I grew up in the suburbs, where getting a carton of milk requires hopping in the car, this seems like a luxury to me. For most of the world, living where you can walk to everything seems to be pretty standard. But here in the U.S., a country largely built to the grand scale of the automobile, it's definitely not the norm and good public transportation is unfortunately rare.

To begin with, living car-free saves us about $400/month. Second, there are no car repairs, no maintenence, and nothing to break down or shovel out of the snow. Third, Mr. O'Kitten hates to drive and doesn't even like riding in the car--he really is a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker in this regard. I myself prefer not to drive, given the choice, and am delighted to take bus or subway or walk instead.

The bus.

And think about this: "The MTA is one of the nation's most effective sustainability programs, transporting [our] riders on more than 8.5 million trips daily with twice the energy efficiency of the most advanced hybrid cars.

"Thanks in large part to the MTA, the energy consumption and CO2 output of New Yorkers is approximately a quarter of the national average. If the rest of the country matched New York City's carbon footprint, the nation could achieve the goal of cutting carbon 80 percent by 2050, more than 40 years ahead of schedule."

This is where we get the subway: the Myrtle-Wycoff Station. It's about a 15-minute bus ride or a half-hour walk from our apartment. The bus stops right on our block, so it's really convenient. We get on the subway, and twenty minutes later we're in Manhattan.

When I first moved to New York in 1990, the L train was one of the least trustworthy trains--but also the closest to my apartment. It was so unreliable that I almost never rode it. Now it's the closest line to us and was ranked the best according to the Straphangers 2008 report card.

It has the newest cars in the fleet and they are pretty spiffy.

The L stations also have train arrival times posted on LED displays. I haven't seen these on any other lines yet.

Fourteenth Street/Union Square is our regular stop in Manhattan. It still looks pretty much like this.

This historic postcard of the 28th Street and 4th Avenue Station shows a kiosk almost identical to the one at the Astor Place Station (below).

Astor Place. We often pass here since it's just a few blocks south of Fourteenth Street. The building behind the kiosk at the left is part of Cooper Union.

Even better is not needing any public transportation at all. I walk to work about 90% of the time, unless it's really pouring or I'm coming home late in the evening, in which case I take the bus. Rain or shine, even if it's cold or snowing, I love to walk. Within a block of our apartment there's a grocery, barbershop, butchershop, laundrymat, bank, discount store, nail salon, pizzeria, hardware store, and pharmacy, and most any place (including the grocery and pharmacy) will deliver. Perhaps that explains why so many elderly people still live in our neighborhood: everything is within reach and if you can't get to it, they'll bring it to you.

Gotta love New York.