04/25/14 1:23pm

Jennifer Senior, author of "All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood." Her next Brooklyn reading is May 13 at the Park Slope Library. Photo: Laura Rose

The idea that a child should be the focal point of a parent’s life, a prized possession to educate and nurture until he or she emerges out of high school happy, successful and college-ready, is a relatively new concept. We all know this on some level—that we coddle our kids more than our parents coddled us, that our parents were coddled even less, and that their parents practically raised themselves. But as Jennifer Senior explains in her New York Times best-selling book, All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood, it was only after World War II that modern childhood—“long and sheltered, devoted almost entirely to education and emotional growth”—really began. And as children have evolved from working members of the family, to precious people who are primarily expected to play and study, it’s created a lot more angst and ambiguity for the grown ups in the room.

“Unless we keep in mind how new our lives as parents are,” Senior writes, “and how unusual and ahistorical, we won’t see that the world we live in, as mothers and fathers, is still under construction.”

This is one of the many a-ha moments in Senior’s book, which examines the agony and ecstasy of parenthood from every angle—historical, psychological, and marital. She traveled around the country to spend time with middle-class mothers and fathers at all stages of the parenting life cycle, from parents of newborns to those with teens, and supports her very relatable subjects with social science and research to illuminate why co-parenting is so complicated, why the teen years can be so disorienting, and why we pour so much energy into raising our kids despite the toll it takes on our sanity.

It’s a deeply reassuring book for those of us preoccupied by parenting, as most of us are. The average mother, Senior points out, spends nearly four more hours on child care than she did in 1965, even though women are working three times as many paid hours, and fathers are more involved than ever in raising their children.

Throughout the book I kept wondering how Senior had applied her reporting to her own life—whether her interviews and research changed her own thinking about motherhood and marriage. I was lucky to spend nearly an hour on the phone with Senior, who recently moved to Park Slope with her husband and six-year-old son, asking questions along these lines. What follows is an edited interview of our conversation. You can also hear Senior in person at one of three upcoming readings, Sunday, May 4 at 2:30pm at Bank Street Bookstore with Kyla Kupferstein; Tuesday, May 13 at 6:30pm at the Park Slope Library; and Thursday May 15 at 6:30 at the Princeton Club of New York (free for members, $25 for guests). (more…)

04/24/14 1:59pm

Francois collects redeemables. Photo:

Yolette Francois collects redeemables in North Brooklyn. Photo: Aleks Mencel

Yolette Francois slowly exits the elevator on the fourth floor, careful not to bump her shopping cart into the walls. She opens her apartment door, adorned with a small image of Jesus and a sign that reads “God is Good,” and steps inside to grab a pair of gloves from a cluttered coffee table.

At 11am on a bitter Saturday, Francois leaves her building in Bushwick. Bundled up wearing two sweatshirts underneath her black winter jacket, a black and white plaid flannel hat and her gloves, she begins searching for empty cans and bottles to fill her rusty cart. “Somebody sell it to me. Twenty dollars,” she says, smiling wide to reveal a set of gold-tipped dentures.

After a fruitless half-hour search, Francois spots a Heineken bottle on the front porch of a Montrose Avenue townhouse. “That’s the first one,” she says, pouring the remainder of the beer onto the sidewalk. She delicately places the bottle into her cart.

Francois is part of New York’s growing group of canners–people who collect bottles and cans and redeem them for a nickel apiece at redemption centers or supermarkets. Many rely on canning as their primary source of income, but for others—like Francois, 52, currently on disability—it’s a way to make extra money and stay busy until returning to work. Although the concept seems like an eco-friendly option for the unemployed, it’s not without controversy.

Robert Lange, director of the city sanitation department’s recycling operations, refers to canning as “scavenging,” and wants to see it end. Over email he explained the  economic tension between the sanitation department and canners, who can legally redeem bottles and cans because of the 1982 New York State Returnable Container Law, commonly referred to as the Bottle Bill.

In the February 2012 issue of the trade journal Resource Recycling, Lange argued that scavenging wastes taxpayer money earmarked for curbside recycling and jeopardizes the jobs of the city’s unionized sanitation workers. Though he declined to give specific figures, Lange said that the loss of curbside redeemables to canners forces the sanitation department to take money out of other budgets to make up for what is not collected.

“A statewide bottle bill and universal curbside collection of recyclables are by design in competition for some of the same materials,” Lange wrote in an email. “Add to that basic conflict…the current state of America’s capitalist economy, which produces periodic high unemployment and a diminishing social safety net, with people’s innate entrepreneurial spirit to survive, and you have widescale scavenging.”
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03/21/14 10:00am

The author, in front of the Mitchell-Lama building she grew up in.

The author, in front of Lindsay Park, the Mitchell-Lama building where she was raised and where she lives today.

I was born in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in 1987. The day my mom took me home from the hospital, “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life” by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes was the #1 song on the Billboard charts and the Cosbys, who lived in a Brooklyn Heights brownstone, were America’s favorite family. My mom and I were headed back to her one-bedroom apartment in Lindsay Park, a Mitchell-Lama development in Williamsburg where I still live today.

Thanks to New York City’s Mitchell-Lama program, which protects moderate- and-middle income families, my mom’s housing costs have gone up minimally over the past two decades. I moved back home with her a little over a year ago, to a two-bedroom apartment in the same complex (she upgraded when my younger sister was born).

I am also on several waiting lists for my own Mitchell-Lama studio or one-bedroom, which I hope to move into before I’m 30. I personally don’t see another way to stay living in my borough as rents rise and gentrification changes local dynamics. I work as hard as the next person, but my industry, book publishing, isn’t so lucrative for the average employee. I’m a Brooklynite, just trying to live on my own in the neighborhood where I went to elementary and junior high school, rode my first bike, had my first kiss and threw my first snowball.
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02/20/14 9:46am


Brooklyn-Museum

Brooklyn Museum has spent more than a century building one of the nation’s largest collections of designed objects, from the everyday to the extraordinary.


There are 25,000 objects in Brooklyn Museum’s decorative arts collection, with one man in charge of them all. His name is Barry Harwood, the collection’s curator—a position that places him somewhere between a design expert and a personal shopper.

“The first objects acquired were in 1902,” says Harwood, who joined the museum in 1988. “It was a pair of silver spoons. In terms of the United States, it’s a very old collection. At 25,000 objects, it’s certainly one of the largest in the country.”

Every major art museum keeps a collection devoted to both aesthetic and useful objects–the stuff a society makes says as much about its culture and concerns as any other art form. Few decorative arts collections are as vast as Brooklyn’s though, and their contents can vary greatly depending on the interests of their curators.

Bypassing the museum’s main channels, Harwood swipes his ID badge to accesses a private elevator, which takes us to the fifth floor where the majority of the decorative arts are displayed.  The collection is so big it extends onto the floor below, but even with the extra space, less than half is on view at any given time.

“The real focus of the collection here is American design from 1850 forward,” says Harwood, stepping into the gallery. “One is always looking for innovation, quality and new materials, originality, so those things have to come together and make an object, but what’s interesting about the collection here at Brooklyn, is that we certainly have masterpieces, but we’ve always collected much further down the food chain.”

A prime example of this high-low mix is a display of 19th century food molds Harwood stops to admire.

(more…)

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02/13/14 8:00am
"The Death of Graffiti" by Lady Pink is part of the CIty as Canvas exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York. Photo: MCNY

“The Death of Graffiti” by Lady Pink is part of the CIty as Canvas exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York. Photo: MCNY

Street artists like Banksy, Space Invader and Mr. Brainwash don’t just mount their playful work in public places, they’re also courted by gallerists and the art world elite. But graffiti and other street art forms weren’t always considered gallery-worthy. Graffiti started to spring up around New York in the 1960s and gained massive popularity in the 1970s, when it was often seen as vandalism. It wasn’t until the 1980s that galleries began to recognize its value and local artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat began placing their works on canvas as well as on buildings.

The fact that it’s not always legal, and the sometimes risky act of completing a piece in a forbidden or difficult to access spot is all part of the work. Even though you could argue that it’s no longer street art when you bring it indoors, galleries have begun to specialize in the form, collecting and selling works made from spray paint, wheat paste, stencils and stickers. Prices range from single digits to the millions.

Here are six spots–five of which will keep you out of the elements–to see some spectacular street art.

Gallery 69, 69 Leonard St., Storefront 1, Tribeca
This art space has shown and sold work from some of the biggest names in the game including LA II, Taki 183 and Lava II. Steve Cornell, Gallery 69’s owner, decided to focus on the form after observing a growing market for it. He says that large companies are frequent customers these days. “Even though it isn’t mainstream, it is horribly mainstream,” Cornell explains. “Every corporation is interested in having a graffiti artist do work for them.”

Cornell still finds the art to be innovative and exciting. “This is something fresh and different,” he says. “It isn’t pretentious or stuck-up or over-educated. It’s unusual and unique.” There’s an opening  night reception at Gallery 69 tonight, Feb. 13 (weather permitting) for a new exhibit called “On the Wall,” which includes work by Phetus, Jerkface, Jamie Hef and Demi.

The elements are part of the art at Bushwick Collective. Photo: Bushwick Collective

The elements are part of the art at Bushwick Collective. Photo: Bushwick Collective

Bushwick Collective, Troutman St. and St. Nicholas Ave., Bushwick
With the loss of Long Island City’s famed 5 Pointz, the Bushwick Collective has taken its place as the top destination for scoping extraordinary street art in its natural state. Joseph Ficalora serves as the curator for the walls, roofs and fences that surround the Collective’s epicenter at Troutman and St. Nicholas, just off the Jefferson stop on the L train. Pieces generally rotate every few months so there’s always something new to see.

Wannabe artists have to send Ficalora photos of their recent work before putting anything up. “My demographic is young, but we are welcoming them,” Ficalora says about the artists he works with. The surrounding area has seen a variety of bars, restaurants and venues open in recent years. “Everyone is grateful,” Ficalora says. “No one wanted Bushwick to turn into Detroit where you can buy houses for two to three thousand dollars. These people filled that void.”

It’s free, of course, to walk around, and the art is available for viewing at all hours. Artists have included the well-known graffiti fixture Cost, as well as Gaia, Hansky, Hellbent and Jim Avignon. Opening night receptions are whenever you see fit–stop in for a drink at Pearl’s Billy Club or dinner at Northeast Kingdom when you’ve had your visual fill. (more…)

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02/07/14 9:07am

Dorchester Road is packed withbeautiful home. Photo: Peggy Truong

Dorchester Road is lined with beautiful homes. Photo: Peggy Truong

When you arrive in Ditmas Park, it’s pretty easy to forget all of your worries–and the fact that you’re in Brooklyn and can get to midtown Manhattan on a train in 30 minutes or less. Driveways, front yards and porches suddenly feel wonderful and out of place at the same time.

Since moving to the neighborhood about four weeks ago, I’ve basked in the glory of streets lined with Victorian houses, the sweet smells of baked goods and the hustle, bustle and charm of residents, old and new.

Built in the early 20th century, Ditmas Park’s gigantic Victorian homes are real estate porn for lovers of Colonial Revivals, Queen Annes, Tudors and Japanese designs, to name a few. Spend a few minutes on Albemarle Road and feel transported to another city, another time period. Served by the very reliable B and Q trains, Ditmas Park runs approximately (depending on who you ask) from Church Avenue to Avenue H, and Coney Island Avenue to Bedford Avenue, surrounded by Prospect Park South, Flatbush, Midwood and Kensington.

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Since I’m a comparative newbie, I spoke to Ditmas Park Corner’s Nora Whelan and Max Habib, owner of Qathra and Milk & Honey, for guidance about the neighborhood, and their favorite hangs and hidden gems. It’s tempting to tag the neighborhood as a suburb, thanks to the bevy of freestanding homes and tree-lined streets. Even the air feels a bit cleaner. “I don’t consider ‘suburb’ a dirty word,” says Whelan, who’s lived in the area for four years. “Ditmas Park is like everything you ever wanted in a perfect suburbia in terms of green space, breathtaking Victorian houses, and neighbors who will lend you a cup of sugar, but with the wealth of creative talent, amazing food and amenities, and easy transportation that the rest of crazy, urban NYC is proud to share.”
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01/31/14 1:04pm

Put down the tweets and move away from the listicles…okay maybe read just this one listicle–our monthly rundown of recent, in-depth Brooklyn-centric stories that you shouldn’t miss.

 1. Faith of their Fathers
BKLYNR profiles the renewed religious interest in New York’s once-secular Russian Jewish communities.

 2. Keeping New York Weird

(Photo by Jessica Bal / Narratively)

Photo: Jessica Bal / Narratively

Is there room for a rough-and-tumble, profanely button-pushon comedy duo in today’s New York? Yes, there is, but they have to be from Brooklyn.

 3. The Future of Brooklyn Underground
Of course, that previous statement ignores the fact that Brooklyn is already so-gentrified-it’s-so-over. Obviously. As 285 Kent shuts down to make way for more yuppie condos, Bedford and Bowery wonders what other venues might fill its shoes.

4. Cuddler for Hire
Just in time for freezing temperatures, NYC finally has its first professional cuddler for hire. Wonder if he was inspired by the original West Coast pro cuddler?

 5. After a Son’s Death, Parents Channel Their Grief Into Activism
After the death of their son in a Prospect Park west car accident, Amy Cohen and Gary Eckstein have become a force for the safer streets cause throughout the city.

6. Long Live the Book
A photographer re-discovers the joy of print reading that still persists in today’s digital New York.
(more…)

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01/10/14 8:59am

For this edition of the Narrative Month in Brooklyn we’re looking beyond what’s already happened and on to the new year. From real estate to retail, and from Park Slope to East New York, here are the 10 Brooklyn-based stories we know you’ll be taking about in 2014.

10. Greenpoint Goes Big

Greenpoint's not-so-distant future?

Greenpoint’s not-so-distant future?


If you’re not a fan of what Mayor Bloomberg did to the Williamsburg waterfront, you probably won’t be jazzed about the new towers set to rise up over Greenpoint. In December, the City Council approved 10 shiny mega-towers planned for the waterfront, despite opposition from some community groups, like Save Greenpoint, who fear the buildings will ruin Greenpoint’s quiet, neighborly appeal. Expect this noisy fight to continue in 2014.

9. The Legalize Weed Battle Comes to NYC

With Colorado, California and other Western states leading the charge on legalizing marijuana, New York is set to seriously enter the fray as well. State Senator Liz Krueger recently introduced a bill to tax and legalize it, and while Gov. Cuomo has called that measure a non-starter, his own recent moves in favor of medical marijuana have pushed the conversation forward. Incoming Brooklyn D.A. Ken Thompson is also firmly aboard the decriminalization train. Prediction: by year’s end, at least one Brooklynite announces plan for an artisan, hand-made-in-Red-Hook line of cannabis.

8. De Blasio’s Vision Zero

While Bloomberg cemented his transportation legacy by building pedestrian plazas and bike lanes, Mayor de Blasio campaigned consistently on the promise of reducing traffic fatalities. His “Vision Zero” traffic safety plan, like Bloomberg’s, looks to Scandinavia, specifically a holistic Swedish approach that emphasizes road design, lower speed limits, and decisions made on the hyper-local level. De Blasio has pledged to install more 20mph speed limit zones and to allow NYC to bypass Albany and have the power to install red light camera zones wherever local officials see fit.
(more…)

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01/07/14 9:21am

With much of network television on hiatus until after awards season and the Winter Olympics are over, we have a solid eight weeks or so without a single new episode of many of our favorite shows like Scandal–that’s a lot of time to wonder what Mama Pope is up to. Here are six shows you may not have watched–or might want to return to–that have plenty of episodes online, to tide you over.

The-Killing-the-killing-19837860-1280-1024

Photo: AMC

The Killing, available on Amazon, iTunes and Netflix
All 38 episodes of this cop drama, set in an eternally rain-soaked Seattle are now online, and Netflix ordered a final, six-episode fourth season in November (no air date as of yet). The show is like a latter day Law & Order in that it lacks a lot of the gore contemporary crime dramas have come to depend on; instead, the cameras focus most of their attention on the series’ main actors Mireille Enos (World War Z), who plays detective Sarah Linden and her partner Stephen Holder, played by  Swedish actor Joel Kinnaman (who will play the next incarnation of RoboCop, which comes out in theaters on Feb. 12). Linden likes to get a little too close to her cases and Kinnaman masks his Scandinavian accent with what can only be described as a colorful urban dialect he picked up somewhere between Oakland and watching old Eminem videos. Brooklyn’s own Peter Sarsgaard has an impressive recurring role in season three, and it’s worth riding the roller coaster from start to finish–through serial killings, smoke breaks and awkward sexual tension–just to see how it ends.

Photo: Fox

Photo: Fox

The X-Files, available on Netflix
If you need some serious binge watching material, and have a taste for conspiracy theories, the supernatural and the 1990s, then you’re in luck–all nine seasons of The X-Files are available on Netflix. It’s a classic odd couple pairing–Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) is an FBI agent searching for the truth about alien abductions, international conspiracies and all manner of paranormal activity, and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) is his straight man, science-loving partner. While Scully’s ill-fitting pantsuits recall the worst of ’90s fashion, the show’s writing is totally self-aware and feels fresh, funny and smarter (Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan was a producer and writer) than you might remember. It’s also fun spotting soon-to-be famous actors like Ryan Reynolds, Jack Black and Giovani Ribisi. Plus, rumors have been swirling for some time about two things: another X-Files movie, and a romance between Duchovny and Anderson. The truth is out there. 

Photo: HBO

Photo: HBO

Girls , available on Amazon, iTunes and HBOGo
I still haven’t fully recovered from the cotton swab scene toward the end of season two of Girls, but I definitely respect the direction Lena Dunham took her hit HBO series in for its sophomore season. Each of the cast’s main characters faced adversity in one form or another, much like the average twenty-something trying to make it in New York today (really anyone trying to make it in New York today). The girls of Girls are growing up–getting divorced, getting fired and getting on with it. Nominated for two Golden Globes in 2014, the show’s third season premieres on Jan. 12. What we know thus far is that everybody’s girl crush and J.Crew’s president Jenna Lyons makes a cameo in the upcoming season as Hannah (Dunham)’s employer; when she’s not getting her head stuck between chair legs, Hannah is having it examined by her therapist; Marnie (Allison Williams) is as anal retentive as ever; Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) and Jessa (Jemima Kirke) are back to sharing a bedroom–and best of all, the writing seems as sharp as ever. (more…)

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12/19/13 2:52pm

Last week we added to the online morass of year-end lists, by naming four of our favorite literary magazines–journals we think will move American letters forward in 2014.  That post was just the first four entries in our full list of eight. Here’s the second half. And, it goes without saying, that a subscription to one of these (or a copy of one of the books we recommended earlier today) would make a great gift for any reader on your list.

Pank6cover1Pank
The New York Times called Pank a “raft” of experimental poetry and fiction–an interesting choice of words. Of all the literary magazines discussed thus far, Pank (along with Armchair/Shotgun) is perhaps the least concerned with name recognition, not to say it’s inaccessible.  Pank has something for everyone, such as The Great Daylight in Pank’s 12/13 issue, a Breece Pancake meets Calvino-style coming-of-age short. On the other hand they also have poetry both experimental and more traditional.  The Pank blog also serves as a nice book review blog ala The Rumpus.  On top of it all, Pank is published by the omnipresent and very brilliant Roxanne Gay, and has featured the incomparable Sean H. Doyle.  Also, Pank online has one very cool feature–the option to listen to the poetry and prose from each issue.

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