This weekend was a typical blur for a person with an office job and small children. There was per usual a mountain of house chores to do, events to take the children to, and hours of each day dedicated to the day job, as our day jobs spread their tentacles into every aspect of our lives. On top of that add grocery shopping.
Sunday I took one of my daughters with me while we went grocery shopping. She helped me find things in the store and took pride in helping me load things into the cart. We navigated the crowded aisles and found everything on our list (with some extra popcorn and coffee thrown in for good measure).
We were running down the clock toward dinner time and I knew I had a full wagon of groceries to get upstairs and away before either I or my wife had to make dinner.
We made good time and were parked outside our building a few minutes after I had returned our shopping cart. I sat at the driver’s seat for a few minutes, trying to calculate in my head the things I needed to accomplish in the next few minutes: getting my daughter out of her car seat, loading up the groceries, cleaning out part of the car quickly between those two steps, getting the groceries away, making dinner, getting logged back in at work—
“Daddy, look at the sunset,” my daughter told me.
Through the trees and the power lines and shadows of nearby buildings, a patch of brilliant dusk sunset filled the sky with its pastel vision. It had been there the whole time, going unappreciated by me.
It was a testament to the excellence of children. They have not had years to become jaded or distracted with the compounded stresses of the mundane. It was a reminder of how grateful I ought to be for my family and my life.
When we think of New York’s beauty we usually picture its stunning skyline, its aged paving stones and its tributes to achievement wrought in stone or glass; the urban landscape is beautiful but almost always bears the mark of a human hand. Even the most gorgeous parts of our most popular parks were put there by design.
This outlook often neglects the natural beauty that surrounds, us, and the fiery sky of an autumn sunset has few rivals of natural scale in our Gotham’s vision.
And so often in the execution of our ambitious dreams, the wonder of life itself gets lost in the shuffle. Having kids won’t bring the same reward if we can’t pass on an appreciation of beautiful things. Without the ability to stop and look at the greatness around you, are we succeeding in life at all?
I opened the passenger door so my daughter could get a better look at the brilliant sky, and took a photo so I could remember this and show her later. I made a silent vow to remember our sunsets, and make the time to take in the natural beauty that surrounds us, even in the densest cityscape.
It finally feels like fall. After having days that topped 80 degrees in October, it was a relief to have days where temperatures stayed mostly in the 50s. This past weekend it was time to get out and enjoy the weather somehow, and I was on a mission to keep my children entertained while my wife prepared our home for more entertaining.
A Pumpkin Patch and other attractions were available at the Queens Botanical Garden. After a late morning I managed to herd my children into a van and off we went.
After paying for parking and Garden admission and finding parking, we made a bee line for the pumpkin patch. My girls wanted pumpkins.
The attendant was a young woman in glasses whose high smiles and uplifted voice was thick with dramatic artifice, faux-professional and failing to mask the relish in every new financial kick in the teeth and bureaucratic inconvenienced layered on.
“I’m sorry, this receipt is for entering the Garden. There is a separate charge for entering the pumpkin patch…. And do you want to keep your pumpkins…. There is no re-entry… stroller parking is over there…. Please turn in your ticket to keep your pumpkin.”
In the end, I paid $17 to enter Queens Botanical Garden and another $42 to let three little girls pick up three small pumpkins. To be fair, advanced registration for the pumpkin patch was available online and I could have saved a few dollars; the attended gushed over the woman ahead of me in line who had done so. I refused to grumble or grouse and give the attendant the satisfaction of seeing me mad. I smiled my own high smile and ushered my children into the fenced-off area filled with pumpkins.
Inside the sanctioned patch area, lines of pumpkins made walking lanes and pumpkins were massed into different shapes and groupings. Bales of hay and other decorative displays were spread throughout as well. Volunteers in neon vests offered to take my picture with my kids, and we managed to pose for a decent photo.
A young man adorned in platform shoes and an outfit of leaves greeted us also. He had freckles painted on his face and an umbrella that was also lined with leaves. He took his photo with some of the other visitors there and one of our twins saw this and wanted her photo taken with the spritely personality as well. We patiently awaited our turn. While one of our kids was too shy, two of them posed for a photo on some bales of hay.
“Smile for Professor Pumpkin,” I told the girls, assigning this autumnal eccentric young man a name. “Is that OK to call you that?” I asked him, realizing he hadn’t given us a name and maybe I should check to see if he offered another.
“I’ll take that,” he said.
Professor Pumpkin showed the patience of a saint, as my daughter asked to pose for more and more photos. I thanked the young man for his time and we finally moved one.
While the pumpkins in the patch were relatively small, my kids were enthralled with the choices they had, and eventually, after they each chose one they found best, we left the pumpkin patch with our choices.
It would be easy to call this day a rip-off, and paying $42 for three small pumpkins is by most standard measures a massive overpayment. But what going to the pumpkin patch gave me was time with my children, and that is priceless. I leave for work when it is still dark and my kids are still asleep. I see them for dinner and then help put them to bed, and I ask them about their day while we are trying to eat and get them into pajamas. Most of my waking hours during the week are spent on things that take my mind off of the things that matter the most.
The pumpkin patch is a time to enjoy the season and time with family, and in the end that is time and money well spent.
Autumn is a great time of year in New York. The humid misery of summer is behind us and the holidays are ahead of us. The trees turn brilliant shades of red, orange and yellow and the air is electric with new possibilities. There is a sense of renewal that is similar to that of the spring but with a more ominous edge. The light grows dimmer and there’s a depressing feeling as the twilight of summer is again denied us. It is time to reap the harvest, but time is running on our days and year.
Like the Christmas holiday, the commercial anticipation of Halloween grows larger every year and we saw Halloween pop-up stores appear as early as August in some places. And there are pumpkin spice flavored food and beverages being offered ad nauseam. At the 7 Eleven where I get my coffee, they have a shaker of pumpkin flavoring so you can make your coffee like a pumpkin Big Gulp if they run out of pumpkin spice coffee. I agree the pumpkins spice has become excessive, but let’s not turn our back on traditional greats like pumpkin pie.
But the season of the pumpkin is a good time to embrace the fall. And the increasingly long Halloween season brings with it some worthwhile activities.
My good friend Jay, lead guitar player for New York punk rock band Endangered Feces, invited me and my family to join his family at the Rise of the Jack-O-Lanterns event, which features a walk through a path lined with intricately carved pumpkins. It features pumpkins carved with many different images and strung together in forms as large as dinosaurs, zebras, skeletons. There was a Hillary Clinton pumpkin and a Donald Trump pumpkin, and carvings that celebrated popular TV shows like Orange Is The New Black and Game of Thrones. The security people told everyone no flash photography was allowed, so my photos didn’t come out too well, but it was enjoyable to bring the kids.
It was a nice brisk evening and it wasn’t too long, and brevity is much appreciated when you’re hauling little kids with you. The event we went to was in Old Westbury, Long Island, New York not far outside our city’s borders. Living in Eastern Queens makes it easier to own a car which makes it easier to head to Long Island for events such as these, but you can take public transportation to similar events elsewhere.
You don’t have to go see nicely carved jack-o-lanterns and you don’t have to put any pumpkin crap in your coffee, but it’s important to do something to commemorate the autumn. Watch the leaves change colors, visit a haunted house, hand out non-poisoned candy to children on Halloween. Walk through a corn maze and go hunting. Take your significant other into a cemetery and conceive a child there. Wander the streets of New York on a ridiculously long walk. Get out of the house before it’s too cold.
The season of the pumpkin is upon us. Do not let it go quietly.
Autumn officially begins on Monday, Sept. 22, and even though New York had a relatively mild summer this year, there are still plenty of reasons to feel good about the new season.
Fall is just better than summer, even a pleasant summer. Autumn is one of the best times of the year. It gives one a sense of renewal, of things starting over again. It is time to celebrate, dedicate oneself anew and see crisply the possibilities of the coming seasons. And this sense of renewal is one of the reasons autumn and New York go so well together. Starting things over again and exploring new frontiers, harvests and chapters of life is what New York City is all about as well.
Here are some ways you can celebrate the coming Fall season in New York that don’t involve fashion shows or raking leaves:
Corn Maze at the Queens County Farm Museum: You probably don’t expect to find too many working farms in the five boroughs of New York City, but there are. Chief among them is the Queens County Farm Museum, located in the Glen Oaks section of Queens. Its annual corn maze (“Maize Maze”) opens this coming Saturday, Sept. 20. A few years ago I entered the corn maze there and managed to find my way out. A few times it was tempting to just break through the walls of corn and thrash my way out of there as if pursued by the Children of the Corn. But we managed to get out without losing our minds, though we didn’t stop at every check point along the way (next time, maybe). Corn mazes are quite common in more rural parts of the country, even those not famous for corn. I’ve come across several while driving through New England.
Any chance to take part in the country life while within the boundaries of New York City is an adventure you should take.
Foliage watching in Inwood Hill Park: People from all over the country come to the Northeast in order to drive through upstate New York or parts of New England to see the trees change color. Save yourself the car rental and take the A train (or the 1 train) to the “upstate Manhattan” neighborhood of Inwood and Inwood Hill Park. I was fortunate enough to live across the street from Inwood Hill Park for more than 10 years. The brilliant array of colors that the trees of Inwood present are as grand as any you’ll find upstate. Inwood Hill Park contains the last natural forest in Manhattan. Even on a day when lots of people are in the park, it’s not hard to find yourself in a quiet and remote part of the woods. Also, because New York City is warmer than upstate and New England, the trees will take longer to change colors, so you have more time to make it uptown. While you’re in Inwood you may spot some eagles or hawks in the park. Nearby Fort Tryon Park is worth a visit too, but lacks the dense woods.
Learn some new skills: Want to be more of a capable person and less of a lazy spendthrift? Well the Fall is a good time to learn some new skills and there are chances to learn how to be a more useful person. For example, New York State is offering free disaster preparedness training courses both in person and online. And this weekend in Queens you can learn how to can your own vegetables thanks to the Flushing CSA (full disclosure: my wife is a member of Flushing CSA and is helping organize this event). So you have no excuse not to emerge from autumn a better and more prepared person.