Fun, fabric and family

It’s time to leave to the old US of A and it has been a magical trip.

Holly and I spent another day exploring Manhattan, starting with a morning in Greenwich Village, poking around in shops, stopping for coffee and weaving through the streets. We stopped for lunch in a little pizzeria where the enormous slices came with a little pamphlet explaining how best to eat the pizza and the history of the establishment. It was great pizza – a crispy base with the most delicious tomato sauce and the perfect amount of cheese. I also had my first root beer of the trip which I had forgotten all about until then, but it’s one of the great American treats not available back home.

We took the subway uptown and spent a while around Times Square, taking in the lights and the hustle and bustle. We had a look at the incredible sales in Macy’s, another Urban Outfitters and a Foot Locker that was more like a nightclub than a store.

The main event that day was going to Mood Fabrics, an amazing store (apparently featured on Project Runway)with 3 floors dedicated to fabrics of every variety, an incredible range of trimmings, ribbons, feathers, fringes and all the accoutrements as well as a separate store for upholstery materials. We spent hours browsing, and though it wasn’t laid out too well with such quantities that it was hard to see what was what, the staff were so knowledgable. I got some beautiful multicoloured Paisley for cushions with a lovely purple fringe for trim.

Later that afternoon, we went to Juniors, where we had been told we could get a great New York cheesecake. It was so rich and creamy, but on a sponge base which I don’t think is as good as a biscuit base. Afterwards we had another wander around, and got some veggie sushi to take back to our apartment for later. It was a good day for food.

The final day that Holly and I spent together, we did a trip out of the city and into the sticks. This was in order to visit Jo-Ann’s (an enormous fabric and craft store) and Walmart. Every American person we told about this trip thought it was so weird that we were so excited about it, because these are just normal stores to them, but we have nothing like it. I guess it would be like if someone told us they were coming to the UK to go to Tesco. We took the Long Island Railroad to Westbury, which was just full of malls and superstores. Usually I massively shy away from excessive consumerism, but I think it’s a huge part if American culture and I’m all about embracing the cultures I visit. Plus amazing selection and low, low prices.

The train seemed to take us to the middle of nowhere, but a bit of a walk down a huge highway led us to civilisation. We got breakfast in a supermarket where no one spoke English (but I was glad to get to practice my Spanish) then headed to Jo-Ann’s. It was probably smaller in size than the Mood Fabric in NYC but the selection was even more suited to both our tastes and so diverse. They also had a whole range of craft stuff besides fabric. We spent 3 and a half hours in there and I came away with some granite alphabet material for my bedroom curtains, some travel stamp fabric for bedroom cushions, and some beautiful peacock fabric for couch cushions and pink Pom-pom trim to go with it. The best find though, was some Harry Potter print fabric. The selection was so wide compared to the UK that their range of St Patrick’s Day themed fabric was bigger than the selection in the fabric shop back in Croydon.

We’d planned to have lunch in the nearby Denny’s, but we’re lucky enough to stumble across a Cheesecake Factory (which we had tried to hunt down in the city and failed). I had never been to one before, but had heard all about it, and Holly was already a convert. Now to the uninitiated, it’s not just cheesecake (though they do have about 20 varieties of this) but they serve basically everything – sweet and savoury. The menu is as thick as a book and the portion sizes are ridiculous. I had a veggie toasted sandwich, which was 3 doorstop wedges filled with 4 different cheeses, avocado, artichoke, bell pepper and salad and came with what can only be described as a bucket of fries. I was impressed with myself for conquering the meal, but I should have stopped there. I should have used common sense instead of ordering the slab of salted caramel cheesecake. A few bites in, I realised it was a mistake and though I didn’t finish it, it made for an uncomfortable afternoon.

Walmart was another adventure and another shining example of the spectacular selection offered in the States. We filled an entire trolley – I got some activewear, some New York Mets pyjamas, a stunning cushion, a load of photo frames and a huge suitcase to accommodate all our new purchases. We trooped back to the train station, only to discover that the next train was an hour and a half away. I was heading to my Grandma’s house that evening, so started getting really anxious about time. We passed the wait in a nearby Starbucks then headed back to Brooklyn. Holly was staying one more night there while I headed out to New Jersey, battling across the city with my now enormous luggage, getting to NY Penn station 5 minutes after the train and having to wait nearly an hour then ride to Fanwood with a drunk guy next to me asking me the same questions about London and the U.K. Education system over and over. It was pretty late by that point and I had to drag my poor grandma out to get me, but I was just beyond happy to see her for the first time since 2014. Stepping into the kitchen in her lovely home made me so happy. It’s a lovely, classic American weatherboard house in a cute neighbourhood, with a huge driveway and garden, cosy interior with lots of books, photos and knick knacks and to me is the most comforting, homely place in the world.

The next morning I got to drink coffee and chat away with my Grandma. My wonderful grandfather, Papa Beau, passed away in 2014, and being in their house, with photos and memories made me sad, happy and nostalgic. He was just such a brilliant man, and my Grandma Carol and I talked about him for ages. My Uncle David and his family live at the house too, and they are just the nicest family. He was at work and my cousins James and Carol Maria were at school, but his wife, Rosa and their new baby, Benjamin were there. Benjamin was 10 days old and the most adorable bundle of joy. I’d never held a newborn before and it almost gave me the same kind of feeling of a mixture of awe and insignificance that I get when I’m surrounded by enormous mountains. Rosa let me feed him with the bottle and he made the cutest little noises. Rosa is Guatemalan so I tried to practice my Spanish. I had only met her once before as the whole family spends a lot of time back in Guatemala but we got on so well.

I spent most of the day with my Grandma, while she did her usual things. It was great to see the local community in action, like visiting the local recycling centre which was fascinating from both a community and logistics point of view. We also went to a bereavement group, which was quite humbling; all the members were so supportive of one another and the woman facilitating was brilliant. We went to pick up James and Carol Maria from school, and they are just the nicest kids. She is 8 and he is a teenager and they are both so nice.

We went for an early dinner with my Aunt Toni, her husband Steve, my cousin Natasha and my Uncle Michael. We had a great Thai meal and it was so wonderful to spend time with so many family members I rarely get to see. It all felt like it was over too quickly though, but I really enjoyed the short time with them. My Uncle Michael is an excellent poet and shared a new piece with me which was so good, really witty.

Today was my last day of the trip, and I got to spend more quality time with my amazing grandma. We chatted in the kitchen for a while, and we had a laugh about the language difference when she asked if I wanted to go get a hoagie for the plane and I had no idea what she was talking about, though I loved the word. (A hoagie is a sub sandwich). I fuelled my shopping problem further at a big store locally called Kohl’s where I got some funky placemats and managed to refrain from buying all the scented candles. Back at the house, I got to have another cuddle with Benjamin and he was wonderful, and hang out with my grandma some more. In the afternoon, she dropped me at the train station and I was just so sad to leave. I get so sentimental about family and I really am very lucky to be related to such genuine, special people. The journey back to the city and all the way to JFK airport was exhausting with my luggage, and after 3 hours on trains and subways I realised I had left my phone. I’m an idiot.

I board my flight soon and I really have had the best time, every single day I’ve been here. I used to really love America and I think that love has been rekindled this trip.

I always like to travel to different places, but hope I remember that even if the wonder of New York City isn’t enough to lure me back, my family is a big reason. So America, I won’t say goodbye this time, let’s just call it “hasta luego”.