Checking out The Vessel at Hudson Yards

Yes, readers, we are trying to get you caught up to the current time, but it’s moving a bit slowly. Here is a quick summary of March 2019, so we can move on soon to more recent, and more eventful, months.

March was a waiting month — waiting for winter to go away, waiting for a certificate of occupancy so we can close on our condo, waiting for some big travel plans in April, waiting for spring weather to bring a raft of visitors to New York. But during all that waiting we had a few fun visitors, made our first trip outside of New York, and did plenty of exciting exploration of this great new city we call home.

But we’ll mostly just let the pictures tell the story…

In March the massive new development known as Hudson Yards opened for the first time. We booked early so that we could climb the centerpiece sculpture know as “The Vessel” on one of the very first days.

Underneath The Vessel is a weird mirror-type-thingy that makes you turn blue for a great photo with the towers of Hudson Yards

Here is a lovely view across the Hudson River toward Jersey City on a chilly but sunny day

Early March brought some our first ever houseguests — Jim’s sister Rebecca, along with her son Jackson and his girlfriend Sydney.

Rebecca and I soaking in culture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

What happens halfway through March? St. Patrick’s Day! So I whipped up a nice cozy batch of corned beef and cabbage. We’ve been enjoying the rediscovery of all the things we used to make before we took a 6-year sabbatical from cooking.

We had a wonderful opportunity to meet up with my niece Leigh and her friend Abby during their intense group weekend of culture here in New York. We caught up with them at the Whitney Museum for the incredible Andy Warhol exhibit there.

Leigh is a delight to be with!

One of the first nice spring days brought people out to the parks in droves. Here is a little park just caddy-corner from our apartment. Now we are just dying to see those leaves pop out!

My first genuinely unexpected run-in in New York: I stopped in a grocery store in Brooklyn to get an iced tea, and there is Mike Conlow, a comrade-in-arms from the DNC and the Obama campaigns!

My brother John made a surprise appearance in New York. Only after he arrived for work meetings did he learn that we were actually living here. So we squeezed out an evening at the last minute and had a blast.

In late March we made a first trip outside New York since moving here. We spent a nice weekend visiting my family in Michigan. Here we are, bundled up for a chilly walk on the streets of rural LaSalle, a place where NOBODY walks.

With my mom in the house where I grew up on a farm in LaSalle, Michigan

My parents receive irregular visits from a cat named Mabel. She (though technically a he) was kind enough to make an appearance during our visit. Mabel always gets food on demand on the back porch but will never let you get closer than a couple feet away.

Moving gently into the role of hosts, we had our friends Sven & Mary Beth over for drinks one night before going out to dinner. Soon we would face our fears and insecurities and actually cook a meal for guests.

This whole “Catching Up” process hasn’t gone so well. I was pretty happy back in April when I wrote up our final stop in Brazil, and then in May when Mark posted our January doings. But here it is in June and instead of having caught up … well, we haven’t. And it’s not as though we’re super busy or anything. I mean, retirement leaves a lot of spare time.

At any rate, back to February. The big deal for the month was getting a household set up after not having a household for nearly six years, but there’s not much interesting to write or say about that. We started the scary process of inviting people over for dinner; after six years of not cooking our skills were a little rusty. Mark’s parents came for a visit, our first house guests though we were pretty confident not our last.

It was a mild winter in New York and only once in February did we get any accumulation of snow at all. That once was enough for me to go down to the Battery at Manhattan’s southern tip to enjoy the views.

A lot of the month was just getting to know our new home town. Turns out it’s a big city with a lot to do. We’re trying to embrace the cultural opportunities here so we joined both the Metropolitan Museum and the New Museum, a modern art exhibition center just a couple blocks from our apartment. We even went to a “Music in Time” lecture an old graduate school classmate was giving on the Upper West Side. He’s mostly retired from the CEO-ing he did after graduate school and instead puts his energy into researching the relationship between music and political history. In this case it was Verdi’s role in the Risorgimento, Italy’s reunification campaign of the 18th century. It was a fundraiser (in an apartment on Central Park West) for a music scholarship program where his lecture was interspersed with real opera singers doing some of Verdi’s arias. Very New York.

Speaking of very New York, we absolutely love this view of uptown from our Lower East Side apartment

And then of course there was the seemingly interminable waiting to close the contract on our new loft at 62 Cooper Square. We wanted to close as quickly as possible to get the whole process rolling but that was not to be. The previous owner had had some construction done and needed to get an occupancy permit for the unit before the condo board would allow the sale to go through. You see, she had previously owned both the 11th and 12th floors, with a staircase connecting them, since no one could be expected to live in just a single full-floor unit. But she was downsizing and had the staircase removed and the floors created as separate units, meaning ours needed the occupancy permit. Now, all the work had been done; it was a perfectly livable with toilets and a kitchen and all that. It’s just that the city bureaucracy, particularly in the Department of Buildings, can move at a glacial pace. So we waited. In the meantime we were working with our architect to design the space (assuming we would be able to buy it eventually) while the then-current owner was paying taxes and condo fees. Frustrating to have to wait but ultimately not a bad deal for us.

As the month closed though we had no occupancy permit and, more frustrating, no idea whatsoever when the city would get around to issuing it.

Our first house guests, Mark’s parents, enjoying pre-dinner snacks and cocktails

Classic New York street scene near our apartment

One of New York’s new “pencil towers” on what is becoming known as Billionaire’s Row up near Central Park

We met Tamara in April 2014 when we first discovered the fabulous Temple Lodge in Bali. We bonded with her, stayed in touch, and even visited again with her in Bali in January 2017. While she still travels a lot, she lives over in Brooklyn so she was our first dinner guest. She appears to have survived.

There’s a lot to love about shopping here. For instance, New York has cheeses…

…and Jesus (this one by El Greco at the Met)

And here is El Greco’s view of Toledo (the one in Spain, not Ohio)

Me, enjoying an espresso and wearing the sweater I bought in Baku that I wore nearly every day in February…

And one last view of winter in New York

New York is beautiful in its own way even in the dead of winter. And we figure if we can get through January we can get through anything.

Hello again readers. Since we landed in New York City on January 2 we have been pretty quiet on our blog, right? Since that landing ended our 5-year, 8-month travel adventure, we’ve also been debating whether to end the travel blog or turn it into something else.

We’ve decided on “something else.” We love having the blog as a record of our adventures and especially a place to put our favorite pictures. And while the full-time travel adventure has come to an end, other exciting adventures keep unfolding. And we keep taking pictures that would like to have a nice home as well.

So welcome to MarkAndJim.com 2.0. We are going to try to write about our adventures monthly or so and see if that works. But we’ve got some catching up to do, so here is a summary of our first month of readjustment to non-nomadic domestic life. We will try not to include any spoilers!

We spent most of January living in a hotel right on Union Square, where the farmers markets are legendary

Our first home in New York felt a lot like our recent homes elsewhere. We spent 26 nights in a hotel as we tried to figure out how to find something more permanent. We spent all of that time at the W hotel right on buzzy Union Square, arguably right at the edge of lower Manhattan. Union Square is a great location, close to all the downtown neighborhoods where we wanted to look for a place to live.

Truth be told, we had a pretty good sense of EXACTLY where we wanted to live before we even got to New York. We’d been watching property listing in New York for most of the last year, always wishing we could find the perfect thing for us, which would be a large space with good bones in need of a total renovation. Our last home in Cambridge was our own creation, a loft space that we planned and designed ourselves. And it was perfect for us. Thinking about living in New York, we could never imagine ourselves with anything less than a space imagined and designed just for us. And we are willing again to suffer through a year of renovation to get it.

62 Cooper Square

The Carl Fischer Building was built in 1926 and housed a music publishing business for decades. Our 11th floor future home is highlighted.

Back on November 30, in Egypt, Jim saw a new listing on Zillow, which captured both our imaginations right away. It was the full 11th floor of the historic Carl Fisher Building at 62 Cooper Square in NoHo — an unimaginable 6,500 square feet, with 40 windows facing every direction with sweeping open views. And badly in need of a total renovation! NoHo is a great neighborhood surrounded by our other favorite neighborhoods — Greenwich Village to the West, the East Village to the East, Union Square and Flatiron to the north, and SoHo, NoLiTa, and the Lower East Side just to the south. OK, something must be super wrong with this property.

When we arrived in New York on January 2, our agent, Mara, had already set up a grueling couple days of property showings, starting that very afternoon. And the first property on the list was 62 Cooper Square. From the moment we walked into that space, nothing else was ever going to be able to compete. What was the awful thing wrong with it? Absolutely nothing. We could hardly believe someone else hadn’t scooped it up in the month since that listing first appeared.

We were blown away by the vast expanses of raw space at 62 Cooper Square. Now this has potential!

The front of the unit looks out over the historic college called the Cooper Union and the ultra-hip East Village

I know what you are thinking — sounds expensive! And yes, New York’s astronomical real estate prices take some time to get used to. We are lucky to have the budget of people who started and eventually sold a software company. But Cooper Square, with its big, open, unfinished spaces was priced so much lower per square foot than almost everything else we were looking at. You pay a lot more per volume to walk into a beautifully furnished spaces with appliances and finishes somebody else picked out. By our accounts, this property will be a bargain even after investing heavily in the renovation. Plus we know we can turn this into the perfect place for us.

As Mara shepherded us through a grueling schedule of property visits, nothing came close to Cooper Square. Every listing compared unfavorably to its value and potential. We’d barely cross the threshold of the next property before we’d be saying, “But Cooper Square This” and “Cooper Square That.”

So within just a few days we made an offer. And after another two weeks of anxiety, negotiation, excitement, and worry, we signed a contract to purchase the 11th Floor of 62 Cooper Square. We were aware then that we were embarking on a long and difficult process to turn the place into our dream home. Ahead of us lay months of agony to close on the property, make renovation plans, get permits to build, hire a contractor, and complete the construction. But by the end of January we had a signed contract and a newly hired architect.

We traipsed through many beautiful properties with Mara (in the white hat), but everything compared poorly to 62 Cooper Square

This was the rooftop of an apartment that belonged to the playwright Edward Albee. It was an interesting but quirky place that needed major renovation, but would still be quirky

196 Orchard Street

Until we had that contract in hand, we were afraid to make any other commitments in New York or anywhere else. We constantly feared the deal would fall through and it could take many months to find something else we could be so excited about. Would we stay in New York all that time? Or run away to somewhere else to sulk?

But now it was time to find an apartment for the year or so it would take to renovate Cooper Square. We felt little enthusiasm about finding an apartment, feeling like we’d be living in temporary squalor for a year. After looking at lots of dreadful listings and visiting a few dreadful apartments, we discovered a sparkling new apartment building in the Lower East Side and fell in love.

Because everything about real estate in New York is hellish and complicated, it took us well over a week to apply and get approvals to move in. On January 25 we got our keys to the new apartment and embarked on a mad three-day shopping binge to acquire the things we’d need to move in. After all, we’d been living out of suitcases for nearly six years. We had NOTHING required to live in an apartment. No furniture, no dishes, no sheets or towels or silverware or toilet paper or cookware. Finally, on January 28 a whole set of rented furniture was delivered, and we moved out of the W Hotel and into our new home at 196 Orchard Street. It felt really weird to have a place to call “home” again.

Our new apartment before the rental furniture got delivered. Here is Jim taking a break from our 3-day shopping marathon.

One of the best things about living in New York is that we have a surprising number of old friends here. That includes my college friend Mary Beth, here with her youngest daughter Fiona at one of several wonderful dinner parties they’ve hosted for us.

Dinner parties are Mary Beth and Sven’s house are pretty serious gastronomic affairs. This is the stunning fish dish that Sven put together.

Plus everybody loves to visit the Big Apple! Bart and Ann came down from Boston for a super fun weekend.

New urban planning strategies and new construction technologies have led to a new generation of super tall and skinny skyscrapers called “pencil towers,” here rising above Central Park

Cool modern shapes at the World Trade Center

New York is a very international town, as witnessed by signs for the construction workers in our apartment building in English, Albanian, Russian, and Spanish. Over 37% of New Yorkers were born in another country.

That’s Peter Stuyvesant, Director General of the New Netherlands from 1647-1664

We were anxious to get to New York so Jim could see a doctor here after his health scare in Brazil. They filled all those little tubes with his blood and eventually concluded that he’s in pretty good shape.