Much To My Delight

Much To My Delight

When You Dread the Holidays

 

It’s Thanksgiving week, and while the official kickstart of the holiday season invokes a sense of joy and excitement for many, it’s also completely normal to approach the holidays with a sense of dread. As a therapist, I observed some of these feelings kicking in a few weeks ago, just as the stores started playing Rudolph the Red nosed reindeer.

“Oh God, I hate what this time of year does to me.”

“Ugh, the holidays are coming. I wish we could just fast-forward to New Year’s.”

“I feel like hiding out in my room until it’s all over. I really hate the holidays.”

While this season is commercialized as the happiest time of the year, it can also trigger a range of emotions in people including sadness, guilt and anger, particularly if they are already coping with things like loss, family discord, marital troubles, financial problems or loneliness. If you feel sad around the holidays, please know you’re not the only one.

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If you find yourself feeling a sense of dread around the upcoming holidays, try these:

CREATE YOUR OWN TRADITIONS: I started hosting my own Friendsgiving party four years ago as a way to bring my close friends together, but also as a way to gain some control around the holidays. Our group comes together with no expectations other than to enjoy each others’ company and share some good food. No matter what happens throughout the rest of the season, I feel good knowing I had a holiday gathering with the energy, mood and ambiance I wanted it to.

 

FIND SOMETHING THAT GROUNDS YOU: Grounding is a technique that helps keep someone in the present, and can be helpful in managing overwhelming feelings or intense anxiety. Several of my clients have shared that gardening has been an effective tool for helping them stay focused on the present moment, while also teaching them patience and persistence. One of my best friends, Jen (a therapist specializing in trauma) uses baking as a grounding technique. I use cooking as my grounding strategy; something requiring slow, but constant attention– like risotto, with its constant stirring–can be very calming.

MANAGE EXPECTATIONS: If you’re not up to cooking everything from scratch, DON’T. If buying presents for 20 relatives is financially impossible or simply uncomfortable, speak up and figure out another solution. If traveling to three different houses on Thanksgiving Day sounds like a terrible way to spend your day off, try working out a different plan.

 

If your family gathering has you seriously stressed, try these: 

TRAVEL SOLO. No one likes to feel trapped. Travel in your own car so you can bounce whenever you’re ready without having to wait for someone else.

OPT OUT IF NEEDED: If you feel attending a gathering will cause you real damage, decline the invitation.

BRING A BOARD GAME:  I could suggest not talking about politics around the table, but it’s going to be tough this year. The recent election results have caused rancor throughout the nation, and will probably cause discord at your family’s table. I often suggest for clients to bring games to their family gatherings to increase the laughter, and decrease the likelihood of stepping on landmines. But if politics do come up, listen to one another.

 

If you find yourself alone at the holidays, try these:

VOLUNTEER. Doing something for someone else has a great side effect of helping you feel better yourself.

EXERCISE. Plan a long hike, go for an interesting walk or run through an area you’ve never explored before. I’m planning to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge on Thanksgiving morning because it’s something I love to do, and being outside makes me feel energized, present, happy and grateful.

START A PROJECT: Engage your mind in something productive that will provide a boost of accomplishment, like finally painting your bedroom a soothing color or putting together those shelves that have been lingering in the corner for months.

 

Anyone else have any helpful tips for managing the holiday blues?

 

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Hard to Swallow

When I was about 25 or 26 I had a co-worker who was around 43 or 44. Her name was Sonya, I adored her, and thusly began calling her Mom. It wasn’t because I viewed her as matronly, it was because she was nurturing and sweet and taught me a lot about growing into my womanhood. She’s also the kind of person who listens more than she talks and has all her values and priorities firmly in check, which are qualities I admire very much. I miss having her in my work life. I don’t have a work mom anymore. My office bestie now works in New Jersey, and for a while I was enjoying rich conversations with my fancy European work uncle, but he retired last week, sold his Hamptons house and moved to the South of France, which makes him far more civilized than any biological uncle I’ve ever had.

Anyway, some conversations with coworkers are more memorable than others, and there’s one talk Sonya and I had that I’ve never forgotten, even these many years later. As someone who likes to be prepared for all situations, I always paid close attention when Sonya spoke of recent shifts in her body, her relationships and her life. She’d describe some of the changes she’d experienced in her 30s and early 40s, and I’d listen with rapt attention, often taking mental notes. One day, over lunch, she said something that really rattled me.

“No cheese on the sandwich for me,” she instructed the man at the deli counter. Then she turned to me and said, “Ever since I turned 35, I haven’t been able to digest dairy.”

It was one of the saddest things I’d ever heard.

I remember thinking at the time Nuh, uh. Not me. I’m gonna be able to eat cheese forever. I’m going to be able to eat EVERYTHING foreverrrrrrrrrr.

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***

Flash-forward 13 years, and I’m crammed in the phlegm-filled lobby of an Ear-Nose-Throat doctor to check out the dry cough that’s kept me up every night for the past three weeks. A cough, I’ve learned, can indicate many different things and I was hopeful that he’d give me an anti-biotic and I’d be back to dreamland in two days.

“Well, the good news is it’s not viral,” said the doctor. Perversely, I had been hoping for something viral so I could walk out of there with an actual remedy. Every other time I’ve gone to a doctor for a cough their instruction was to basically wait it out, giving me the pep talk that “it could be weeks, could be a month.”

“Since you don’t have any other real symptoms, I think it could be acid reflux,” said the doctor. “President Obama has it; it’s very trendy.”

He handed me a sheet of paper with a bunch of foods on it, including a cup of coffee, a curvy jalapeno and a big slab of steak. They all had giant black X’s marked through the center of them. It was very aggressive.

“Avoid everything on this list, and see how you feel.” The list included things I ate everyday, multiple times a day, and enjoyed more than the average person. Telling me to avoid caffeine, spicy foods and a spritz of lemon was like asking me to floss my teeth with a sailor’s knot or do a math calculation in my head. The task sounded impossible, and I was bitter that the only prescription I walked out with was “lifestyle change”.

I went home and shared the diagnosis with my husband, a former office pal who is now my head cheerleader. He understood the gravity of the situation immediately and was very supportive.

“That’s bullshit, Jenn! There’s no way that’s right. I’ve known you for 16 years; you’re the best eater I know. That doctor’s a hack. You can digest anything!”.

“I know! Thank you! I mean, what does he want me to do? Never eat a raw onion again? That’s no way to live!”

A week or two later the cough drifted away on its own, and I’ve continued to eat everything I normally do without consequence. I thought fondly of Sonya and sharp cheese and wondered if they’d ever gotten to be together again the way they were before.

***

Last year I interviewed someone to become my graduate intern. She was 26 and could digest anything.

She was a pure delight off the bat. Smart, sensitive, committed and hard-working. I welcomed her aboard on the spot; there was only one condition. She could no longer dye her hair blue.

And then I realized why I no longer have a work mom.

It’s because I am the work mom.

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Hard to Swallow

 

When I was about 25 or 26 I had a co-worker who was around 43 or 44. Her name was Sonya, I adored her, and thusly began calling her Mom. It wasn’t because I viewed her as matronly, it was because she was nurturing and sweet and taught me a lot about growing into my womanhood. She’s also the kind of person who listens more than she talks and has all her values and priorities firmly in check, which are qualities I admire very much. I miss having her in my work life. I don’t have a work mom anymore. My office bestie now works in New Jersey, and for a while I was enjoying rich conversations with my fancy European work uncle, but he retired last week, sold his Hamptons house and moved to the South of France, which makes him far more civilized than any biological uncle I’ve ever had.

Anyway, some conversations with coworkers are more memorable than others, and there’s one talk Sonya and I had that I’ve never forgotten, even these many years later. As someone who likes to be prepared for all situations, I always paid close attention when Sonya spoke of recent shifts in her body, her relationships and her life. She’d describe some of the changes she’d experienced in her 30s and early 40s, and I’d listen with rapt attention, often taking mental notes. One day, over lunch, she said something that really rattled me.

“No cheese on the sandwich for me,” she instructed the man at the deli counter. Then she turned to me and said, “Ever since I turned 35, I haven’t been able to digest dairy.”

It was one of the saddest things I’d ever heard.

I remember thinking at the time Nuh, uh. Not me. I’m gonna be able to eat cheese forever. I’m going to be able to eat EVERYTHING foreverrrrrrrrrr.

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***

Flash-forward 13 years, and I’m crammed in the phlegm-filled lobby of an Ear-Nose-Throat doctor to check out the dry cough that’s kept me up every night for the past three weeks. A cough, I’ve learned, can indicate many different things and I was hopeful that he’d give me an anti-biotic and I’d be back to dreamland in two days.

“Well, the good news is it’s not viral,” said the doctor. Perversely, I had been hoping for something viral so I could walk out of there with an actual remedy. Every other time I’ve gone to a doctor for a cough their instruction was to basically wait it out, giving me the pep talk that “it could be weeks, could be a month.”

“Since you don’t have any other real symptoms, I think it could be acid reflux,” said the doctor.  ”President Obama has it; it’s very trendy.”

He handed me a sheet of paper with a bunch of foods on it, including a cup of coffee, a curvy jalapeno and a big slab of steak. They all had giant black X’s marked through the center of them. It was very aggressive.

“Avoid everything on this list, and see how you feel.” The list included things I ate everyday, multiple times a day, and enjoyed more than the average person. Telling me to avoid caffeine, spicy foods and a spritz of lemon was like asking me to floss my teeth with a sailor’s knot or do a math calculation in my head. The task sounded impossible, and I was bitter that the only prescription I walked out with was “lifestyle change”.

I went home and shared the diagnosis with my husband, a former office pal who is now my head cheerleader. He understood the gravity of the situation immediately and was very supportive.

“That’s bullshit, Jenn! There’s no way that’s right. I’ve known you for 16 years; you’re the best eater I know. That doctor’s a hack. You can digest anything!”.

“I know! Thank you! I mean, what does he want me to do? Never eat a raw onion again? That’s no way to live!”

A week or two later the cough drifted away on its own, and I’ve continued to eat everything I normally do without consequence. I thought fondly of Sonya and sharp cheese and wondered if they’d ever gotten to be together again the way they were before.

***

Last year I interviewed someone to become my graduate intern. She was 26 and could digest anything.

She was a pure delight off the bat. Smart, sensitive, committed and hard-working. I welcomed her aboard on the spot; there was only one condition. She could no longer dye her hair blue.

And then I realized why I no longer have a work mom.

It’s because I am the work mom.

 

 

 

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The Day I Got Old-Schooled

 

My throat was scratchy so I ordered peppermint tea with honey and a croissant. Traditional Italian bakeries in Queens are great for hard, dry biscotti or crisp cannoli shells piped with sweetened ricotta or bright rainbow cookies layered with thick chocolate ganache and gooey apricot jam. They’re where you go for a tiny shot of espresso or an enormous loaf of round bread that’s crusty on the outside but kind of stretchy in the center. They’re not typically known for perfectly buttery, flaky croissants or tarty stuff like matcha tea lattes and designer donuts. But it was still morning and I needed something more bread than cake. I couldn’t handle a brittle napoleon; wasn’t ready for a butter cookie with a puddle of raspberry jelly in the center.

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(photo by goosiegirlboutique.com)

I sat outside on a plastic chair, under a long green awning that ran along the sidewalk. I’d passed this place every day for months, always charmed by the people relaxing with coffee at the tables or the many benches on the opposite side of the street, mostly older Italian, Greek and eastern European men congregating with a deck of cards or silently reading the newspaper. It was clearly an established neighborhood joint with a loyal crowd, the kind of place people had built into their daily routines over the years.

I sat, and said hello to the man at the adjoining table. This was the kind of place where you said good morning to the other patrons, not just because we were basically sitting on top of one another, but because that’s just how it was done here. I’d brought my computer–I tend to equate coffee shops with writing time– and plopped it on the table in front of me, but didn’t end up using it until 30 minutes later. Instead I began chatting with my fellow Astorian.

He was retired, and had worked as a flight attendant out of La Guardia for 30 years. Like many people in Astoria, he’d lived in the neighborhood since birth. He liked some of the changes, he said, but most of them he could do without.

Then he started asking me questions. How long had I been in the neighborhood? Did I grow up in Queens? Did I rent or own? What did I do for a living? Do I work in the city? Was my home one or two-family? What are houses going for these days? Who did we rent our upstairs apartment to? Did they work in Manhattan too?

It was an interesting battery of questions, one that made me shift slightly in my chair. As personal as his questions were, there was something very impersonal about the way he fired them at me, like he was a census worker collecting demographics. I felt like he wasn’t really interested in getting to know me as a fellow member of his community; he was mostly interested in taking the temperature of his lifelong neighborhood. I’d lived in Astoria ten years already, but I sensed he viewed me as an interloper of sorts, someone too young to remember the good old days before 30th was lined with frozen yogurt shops and Greek frappes were replaced by almond milk lattes.  I wasn’t his new neighbor; I was another gentrifier mucking around with the look of the place.

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Eventually a few of his friends joined him at his table– a group of presumably retired Italian men– and we stopped chatting. I started tapping on my computer. He finished up his coffee, and walked to throw it away in a garbage can across the street. Before leaving, he stopped back at my table to give me a tip.

“You know, this isn’t a computer place; it’s a social place. You wanna use your computer go to 60 Beans…or Brooklyn.”

“Yeah, she’s kind of weird though,” said one of his friends. “Most of the young ones these days are on the phones, she’s on a computa.”

“Got it,” I said. I felt a little shamed in that moment, like he’d reached out to shake my hand then slapped it with a ruler. But a bigger part of me actually appreciated the heads-up. Like any other place that I visit, I always try to respect the local custom, even if that place is on my street. Actually, especially if that place is on my street.

His friend then started talking to me about computers. “Once you go Mac, you never go back. Am I right, or am I right?” He was smoking a cigarette while balancing on a segway. He’d bought it two weeks earlier for $2,500. Everyone at the cafe was talking to him about it.

“Whatdya think? You want to ride it? If you were ugly, I’d probably charge you for it, but since you’re pretty, I’ll let you go for free.”

I thought for a second, then abandoned my laptop and took him up on his sexist offer. After all, this wasn’t a computer place, it was a social place and what was more social than trusting a stranger to ride your overpriced toy? He ran alongside me as I cruised down my little street, a place I’m still trying to get to know. I rode past Croatian men smoking outside their private club on the sidewalk, past the tiny wine store setting up for a tasting, past a seamstress fixing hems in front of an old foggy window. I rode past modest brick houses attached to one another on both sides with rose bushes and statues of the Virgin Mary in their tiny front yards. I rode by plenty of people– young and old– looking down at their hands, tapping on cell phones.

The irony of what I was writing on my computer that day wasn’t lost on me. It was an essay about my early years in Astoria, how I loved the old-school businesses and residents, that I loved hearing every type of language on each corner, loved the old barber shops and shoe cobblers and European cafes that don’t give a crumb about passing trends. I was writing about how I worried it would all go away, and all we’d be left with is another generic neighborhood without a real sense of community or flavor.

I guess I don’t need to worry about that so much. We’ve got some guys on the block making sure the change isn’t so swift.

 

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God Knew We Liked The Sun

 

Ask anyone what they remember about that day, and nine times out of ten they’ll mention the weather. It was the most glorious September day in New York, sunny and bright tempered by the kind of breeze that lifts the edges of skirts and makes the trees dance.  If it had rained, or been oppressively humid or boomed with thunder, our collective memories would be vastly, metaphorically different. The gorgeous weather on September 11, 2001 was a tiny shot in the arm to help us through the day. God knew we liked the sun.

I’d been living in the New York City area for only two years at the time, and had just turned 24. I lived across the Hudson River in Hoboken, NJ with roommates in a 5th floor walk-up where the fire escape attached to my itsy-bitsy bedroom. My room was smaller than both my roommates’ due to budget constraints, but I felt like I’d won the best space because technically mine had a balcony. People in their early 20s are romantically hopeful that way; they can gaze out a window and see a universe of shooting stars and possibilities, fan pillows across a fire escape and dream it’s a private balcony.

At 24, I was almost recklessly optimistic. I’d lived a safe, sheltered, lucky life and I didn’t look at anything or anyone and assume or expect the worst.

In the mornings, I took the long route to the train station, walking along the fringe of Hoboken so I could look across the river at downtown Manhattan. I always felt sort of bowled over in those 20 minutes; my brain was still adjusting to the fact that I lived and worked here, that my commute included a skyline view on one street and an Italian ice if I took another. People always complain about commuting into the city, but it was usually the highlight of my day. I was grateful for it.

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On that particular day, I gave myself plenty of extra time for my morning walk so I could make a lap around Sinatra Park, which juts out right over the Hudson River. As I made my way closer to the park, I saw a small puff of smoke coming from one of the trade towers. A cabbie was parked nearby and staring at it.

“What’s going on? Is the tower on fire?” I asked.

“I was sitting right here and just watched a plane nosedive into the World Trade Center. It was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” he said.

There was no part of me that thought it was intentional. At 24, my thoughts didn’t work that way. So I made my way down to the PATH train and traveled into Manhattan for work, expecting the freak plane accident to be the water cooler talk of the day.

By the time my train arrived at 23rd Street and I emerged from underground, the second tower had already been hit. People were alternatively standing in the middle of the street, staring downtown, or panicked and running as far away from the Flatiron Building as they could. This was before camera phones, before peoples’ first reaction to every event–good or bad– was to stand there and film it.

In the office, we huddled around an old TV in the mailroom, getting a better understanding of what was happening in our skies, at the Pentagon, in our country, 20 blocks away. We paired up and began our journeys back home; all buses and subways in and out of Manhattan had been shut down, so people in Brooklyn and Queens went by foot, while those of us from Jersey would need to cross the water.

It was the first and only time I ever took the ferry. The line coiled for hours until we were finally able to board, hundreds of hot, weary bodies crammed side-by-side on the boat as we drifted past the smoldering site. The ferry dropped me off in Weehawken, the next town over, so we continued to silently walk one by one down the road. My roommate Ashley and I fretted for hours about our other roommate John who worked in Building 7; he was unreachable by phone and hadn’t come home yet. We knew he was okay when we turned on the news and saw him on TV, covered in ash. My mother–who was on vacation abroad at the time–worried that I might be dead, not because I was in New York City, but because I had been set to board a plane from Newark to San Francisco the next morning and she’d gotten the dates messed up, and thought I was on Flight 93.

A friend and I returned to the park that evening with a crowd of dozens, standing across the river, silently watching the towers smoke and burn. We didn’t know what else to do. We didn’t go to work for the rest of the week. No one did. The smell lingered for a month. People covered their mouths with surgical masks. Union Square Park was littered with thousands of handmade signs and posters of people searching for their loved ones, burning candles, the ground pierced with American flags and strewn with yellow flowers. People offered hugs and prayers. The We Heart NYC posters took on new significance, many graffitied with addendums like “More than ever” or a tiny arrow drawn into the center of the heart, “you are here” scribbled in felt pen just above it.

***

My first counseling job in 2008 was on John Street in downtown Manhattan, blocks away from the World Trade Center. Seven years later, we still got referrals from people who lost loved ones in the attacks, downtown business owners who’d gone completely broke after having to close their shops or restaurants, people who lost their apartments, people with unexplainable respiratory illnesses, people having panic attacks, Muslim women who stopped wearing scarves and feared for their safety after having beer bottles thrown at their heads.

Even today, I’ll occasionally do an intake where the person says they’ve “just never been the same” since that day.

 

***

There was a fine dining restaurant called Windows On the World in the north tower. It was all the way up on the 107th floor, and on a clear night you could see all of the bridges to Queens and Brooklyn from there, every light in the Manhattan skyline, every drop of water in the surrounding rivers, but none of the garbage on the sidewalks, none of the dried-out old gum glued to the pavement. It was the glittering view we all know from the movies. The view that makes people travel here from all over the world, hoping to absorb a bit of magic. The dazzling city of dreams you constructed in your head the first time you read The Great Gatsby.

One of my favorite early New York City memories was drinking and dancing one night at the restaurant’s bar, named–  not-so-humbly– The Greatest Bar on Earth. There was a live band playing swing music that night, and a group of dancers turned up wearing A-line skirts and pin-curls, bright red suspenders and glistening saddle shoes. The men tossed the women across the room like ragdolls, and they all looked so happy and free it was impossible to watch them and feel anything but joy.

I refused to get on the dance floor, not from embarrassment but because — like always in New York City–space was finite, and I felt like they deserved the room more than I did. I sat in the corner sipping my $16 cocktail, my heart exploding with gratitude to witness their jubilant innocence and uninhibited glee. I looked out the window and saw a postcard below me. I felt like I was in a movie, or a really vivid dream. Fifteen years later I feel so thankful for this memory because it tempers, just a little bit, some of my other ones.

But still, at the end of the day and like everyone else, I’ll never forget.

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How YOU doin’?

 

Growing up, we always knew our neighbors well. I played with all the kids on our street, and my mom usually became best friends with whoever lived within two houses of us. If you went into your driveway and your neighbor emerged from their home, you said hello. Not doing so would be considered terribly rude. If your mom caught wind that you’d chosen to ignore Mr. Jones or sweet Mrs. Baker, you’d be scolded for acting like a heel. My mom still gets offended when she visits here and no one chats with her on the subway.

Now  that I’m all grown up and living in Queens, I’m having to renegotiate all I knew about social dynamics between neighbors, strangers and general members of the community. I’m still learning the rules about who wants to be greeted and who wants to be peacefully ignored. I introduced myself to the girl who lives on the second floor to my right and she looked very surprised, “I’ve lived in this apartment for 10 years and no one in the neighborhood’s ever introduced themselves before.” She looked about my age, so I started imagining myself baking a coffee cake and having her over in the late afternoons for tea and neighborhood gossip. This will never happen of course because now that the niceties are out of the way we will probably ignore one another for the next ten years.

This is apparently the New York way. I was raised the Texas way, which is probably very similar to the Midwestern way, which might also resemble the Nepalese way, if the grocery store clerk on my work street is representative of her culture. Her name is Indra, and she greets every customer by name, always recalling trivial food facts like that I guzzle coffee in the morning and big bags of popcorn in the afternoon. I have always loved these kinds of interactions with people we see over and over. In my college dorm I was one of the few people to have my order announced by name instead of number over the loudspeaker in a thick Spanish accent, “Hennifer, my friend, your stir-fried vegetables are ready.”

And now I’m grown up and living in my own brand of Seinfeld episode, wondering if it’s still okay to say good morning to my other next door neighbor who I’ve been five feet away from for 30 minutes without any mutual acknowledgement whatsoever. This is different from yesterday, when he was out first and I came out second, and I nodded my head and we both said good morning. Every day it’s different. Sometimes we’re in the mood for cheery how-you-doin’s? and sometimes we’re both like, “Ugh, you again? I just wanted to come outside for some privacy.”  There are only so many conversations one can have about storm drains and watering plants, and now I just want to be able to sit out front with my scratched glasses and pajama pants with a cup of coffee, quietly staring into the sky, contemplating my unrealized dreams and peacefully ignoring those around me.

The problem is, we have no privacy. We live in houses that are attached to one another, and except for a few strategically planted hedges, we all have full sight of another. This means that when I sit out front I do my writing about five feet from a man eating his cereal while listening to Tibetan news. If I go in the back, I have full view of his 20-something son, who is almost always shirtless and in his underpants washing the family dog. Her name is Honey and she poops a lot. I know this because our fence is chain-link and I look at it until it goes away.

With my other downstairs neighbor to the right, it’s a little easier because her English is limited to Hello, Nice to See You. I know exactly what to do with that. I’m comfortable with that. There is no threat or promise of ongoing small talk. God Bless her, really.  None of this, of course, is something to really complain about because I have outdoor space, for crying out loud. But still, I have a feeling they’d sometimes love to have me out of their immediate sight line too.

Anyway, my neighbor’s gone back into his house. He took out the trash, sprayed his plants and listened to his news. I was five feet away from it all, for a whole half hour, and we never acknowledged one another’s presence.

We’ll see how things go tomorrow. It’s always just a day away.

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How To Save a Life

 

It wouldn’t be fair or accurate to say I have a black thumb. That would require a history with plant life. I have only recently acquired an interest in the fine art of home botanical tending, but I’m finding that some of my own natural proclivities (ie: I bore easily, I tend to go with my gut in lieu of doing research) are standing in the way of becoming a master gardener.

To the new people here (hello! I think there are two of you!), I recently moved into a home with plentiful sunlight after living 10 years in  a cozy, yet cavernous basement. As a result, every time I pass a plant shop or Home Depot, I scoop up another little green friend to bring home. I’m happy to say that most are still with me, though others–I hate to report– are barely hanging on.

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Here’s a question: How come none of these things come with instructions, and I mean REAL instructions? Sure, there’s a little pointy thing stuck in the dirt with a little sundial on it, but that’s about the extent of it. Everyone’s used toothpaste since toddlerhood but they STILL always put explicit instructions on the tube in the off-chance that someone out there who can read has never used it before. Put this on your teeth. Spit it out when you’re done. Don’t eat it, ya big dummy.

Why can’t they do the same with plants? There are apparently a lot of rules that come with taking care of plants, and not one of them has been written on the little container any of my plants have arrived in. You think any of my plants came with instructions to re-pot them? No! My friends told me that. There are so many things I’ve been learning along the way, none of which was explained to me via a helpful label or tri-fold brochure. You have to fertilize them. Move them around. Talk to them. Don’t underwater them. DO NOT overwater them! Trim the wonky parts. Tickle their roots. Sing them lullabies.

Dust their leaves. Dust their leaves!  Did you know you’re supposed to dust their leaves? But they live IN DIRT!!

I’m doing my best to keep up with them all, but I have a day job and dinner to make and other routine obligations that make it tricky to figure out all their unique, persnickety needs. Some need to be watered every other day, some survive on only one little sprinkle a week. The one currently looking the worst was voted “easiest houseplant to keep alive ever” on the internet. I demand a recount.

I feel mortally obligated to keep this peace lily alive not just because of its name, but because it was a housewarming gift from my friend. It must not die. The results could be disastrous!!!!!

Or, you know, I’d just feel really really bad about it.

I noticed it was starting to do the sad-spinach wilt, so I moved it into a plastic pot I purchased downstairs in the Astor Place K-Mart. Now here’s another question. How does Astor Place K-Mart do it?? Their plant section is in the basement of the store, so deep underground that it exits directly into the subway. What does K-Mart have that I don’t have? (besides 24-hour artificial lighting and miles of rayon).

Anyway, I learned quickly that the pot I replanted in was way too small to accommodate the lily, proving I have no idea what I’m doing and no good deed goes unpunished. After a week, it looked like this:

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Is that not the saddest sad sack you’ve ever seen?

One morning (oh, it’s this morning, it just happened), I’d simply had enough. I picked up the plant, propped her on the counter, looked her right in the dirt and said, “I’M GOING TO SAVE YOU”.

So I found an even bigger pot and got to work. I poured in the Miracle-Gro and patted her roots deep into the dirt. I cut off the sad yellow bits and fluffed up her green ones. I watered her. I dusted her. I consoled her.

“It’s not over,” I said. “We’ve only just begun.”

 

Check in next week for the update! I’m going to do everything I can to avoid calling it “The Funeral”…

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The Mysterious Art of Doing Nothing

 

“You don’t know how to relax.” I was splayed across the sofa when my  husband said it, so the sentence didn’t even make sense to me.

He said he knew it the first time we watched a movie together. We were in Galveston for a wedding ages ago, when we were still just friends, and I wanted to show him Say Anything since he’d never seen it before. I had seen it before, many times, so I sat on the floor and made a scrapbook while he watched the movie with respect and concentration from the couch. Vinny has reminded me of Lloyd Dobbler ever since. I am probably more Diane Court than I’d like to admit.

“Yeah, you can never just sit around and relax. You always have to be doing something productive. It’s just who you are.”

I mean, he’s not wrong. I do have a weird thing about sitting around too long without doing anything. It makes me feel kind of worthless, and frankly, a little depressed. I can do it for a little while, but a whole day of sitting around the house doing nothing but watching Netflix reminds me of having the flu. Vin compares me to a restless, yappy little dog; eventually I need to be taken outside for a walk.

This comes up now because we are officially on day one of our first ever “Staycation”. We’ve had some mixed ideas on how to spend this time. When prompted about what he wants to do, Vin will quickly say, “Nothing. I really want to do nothing.” Doing “nothing” sounds good to me for about an hour or so, but my time off is so precious that if I go back to work next Monday reporting that I did nothing, I’ll feel sad about it. I say, “Sure…yeah, but we’ve gotta do something out of the ordinary, right? Something to break up the monotony of our everyday work lives? Something fun!”

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Staycation Vin

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Staycation Jenn

“Eh, I really want to do nothing. Maybe go to a movie or two.” Movies, unfortunately for my husband, are where I either scrapbook or fall asleep. My suggestions have been horseback riding in Van Cortlandt Park, perusing the Metropolitan Museum before having wine at the rooftop bar, and taking a quick day-trip upstate to go antiquing (immediately vetoed). I want to go somewhere great for Restaurant Week, have coffee and pastries at the little Italian bakery up the street, make homemade ice cream (chocolate malt and sage-lemon), take a crack at duplicating my friend Tara’s strawberry-rhubarb pie, and go bike riding somewhere, anywhere. I have a feeling Vin is going to read this blog post and run far far away.

But hopefully before he does, we’ll get a phone call from my dad, and when Vin is prompted to describe how he wants to spend our Staycation week, he’ll have the opportunity to say, “Sir, I just want to be with your daughter.”

It sounds so much sweeter than nothing.

 

 

 

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You Ruined Me

 

Our pizza finally arrived at the restaurant’s table, a short, squat number whittled by craftsman from freshly rescued wood. We were sitting just across the kitchen in our favorite bricked-out, tricked-out neighborhood pizza place, a hip joint that serves stuff like blistered shishito peppers with aioli (aka: garlic mayo) for an appetizer and tops pies with ramps and brussel sprouts and hen of the woods (it’s a mushroom). We’d chosen our standby spicy soppressata with drizzled honey (burns like heaven) and the one with frizzled kale, burnt lemon and grana padano (sounds fancy, tastes like parm).

“You know you’ve ruined me, right?” my husband says while lifting a hot slice of gourmet pizza to his lips.

“How’s that now? I’ve ruined you?” I’d always heard you couldn’t change a man, but apparently I’d done the impossible. Perhaps this pizza was God’s reward.

“Yeah, you’ve ruined me. I’m a huge snob now because of you. Before you I didn’t care about food and now look at me. You think I can go back to Domino’s after stuff like this?”

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Milkflower Pizza, Astoria 

 

When I met Vinny 15 years ago his skinny ass was barely surviving on a diet of boiled hot dogs and Entenman’s crumb cakes. He used to bring a dozen donuts to the office, plop them on his desk in the morning and nibble his way through the pink box all afternoon. He did this once a week, and called it “Donut Day”. He still eats a shit-ton of donuts, but now they’re from places where they cost $4 each and come in flavors like Hibiscus, Lemon-Poppy and Dulce de Leche with a smattering of sea salt.

“A couple people at work were talking about their favorite sandwiches and I totally laid into a guy who said he loved Subway,” he said. “I was like, ‘Are you fucking kidding me? I see that “bread” baking but that’s not bread! It smells like chemicals and crumbles when you touch it! Ugh, and those meats that have been sitting out all day? You call that a sandwich?!’

“You ruined me. I’m a snob.”

I’d always wondered if he cared about the efforts I made through the years to provide him with sustenance that not only covered his basic nutritional needs but also titillated his palate in a unique and surprising way. I sometimes worried I’d embarrassed him by sending him to work with little tubs filled with quinoa and herbed pestos or kale salads topped with toasted nuts and tiny currants. Turns out, I had broadened his horizons.

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I felt kind of bad that his personal brand of snobbery hadn’t rubbed off on me at all. I still couldn’t tell the difference between digital and film and I continued to watch romantic comedies he’d pass off as pure drivel. Still, I considered it a personal victory and a testament to our relationship that I’d made it through The Tree of Life without falling asleep. That was his influence, for sure. I didn’t understand half that existential shit, but maybe I’ll give it another crack.

Dessert came and we tucked two shiny spoons into three perfect mounds of rich gelato– chocolate-chocolate chip, fresh strawberry and for a little dose of food snobbery– an extra creamy ricotta.

“Which one’s your favorite?” I asked with a wink.

“Well, what do you think, Jenn? The ricotta. God damn, that’s good.”

 

 

 

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Squad Goals

 

There’s a new catchphrase in town, and apparently it’s “squad goals”. Every time I hear it, I swear I age about ten years.

I watched some Grammy red carpet footage a few months back, and half the young correspondents looked at Taylor Swift and her brunette friend, cocked their heads to one side and said simply: “Squad goals.” I scrunched up my face and thought, since when does two people equal a squad? I’ve seen it a few other places around the internet too, mostly at the bottom of Instagram photos where it’s just plates of perfectly poached eggs and rosewater waffles with fresh mint and berries piled on a table with some sunglasses and a tube of Chanel lipstick, which implies there’s a group of cutely dressed girls hovering nearby with camera phones, which is–apparently–the hallmark of super-close girl-friendship.

Maybe I’m an under-achiever, but I have no squad goals. I also have no brunch goals, closet goals, shoe goals, handbag goals, hair goals or nail goals. I used to have ab goals, but then I turned 35 and the whole world went soft so I switched focus to my career, real estate, humanitarian and travel goals, all of which cost a lot more money than nail goals and hair goals, but whatever.

Hey– I like the concept. I get the phrase. Everyone wants solid friendships. Everyone wants to feel like they have a circle of support around them. What I’m talking about is the execution of the word, and the way it’s nearly always attached to some glossy image of a designer-brand life, complete with attractive girlfriends in beautiful clothing and rose-gold flatware at the table. The reason I object to this is because the richest, most meaningful moments ever shared with my girlfriends included crying until snot came out while wearing stretchy pants and flip flops.

The members of my “squad” (I prefer the word “posse” if we have to label ourselves) are almost forty, and there are certain things we no longer give a shit about. It’s a beautiful thing and a wonderful season.

At this stage in my life, most of my friendships are over a decade old and have seen any or all of us through some of life’s biggest changes (cross-country moves, marriages, babies, divorce, loss, financial hardship, gluten intolerance). I think guys are fine, and I enjoy having a husband I also consider my very best friend (awwww, puke), but throughout my life, I’ve always been more of a gal’s girl. I was never ever considered one of the boys. I was very, very lucky to always have lots of good girlfriends, and I cherished their companionship. Boys didn’t get me. The girls always did.

When I moved to New York, I didn’t have any friends here. I didn’t know a single soul. I slowly gathered friendships like flowers until one day I looked up and had an entire bouquet. One of my favorite moments in my adult life was looking down a long wooden table at a dark and very un-trendy Italian restaurant in Queens during my bridal shower. It was overwhelming to realize how many incredible women were sitting there. It was the moment I realized I’d really made a home here.

With my oldest Texas girlfriends, we go months– sometimes years– without seeing one another but when we finally get together it’s like no time has passed. With other friends separated by distance, the internet provides a fun way to keep daily tabs on one another until we meet again. And with my group of girlfriends in New York, the gatherings may not always be frequent, but we always find a way to make up for lost time. We never meet at restaurants–it’s always at each others’ homes–since we usually end up dragging our brunches on till dinnertime.

We set up our email threads weeks in advance with a subject line like “Best Bitches” or “Vagina Day”, because that’s what we call our gatherings. I didn’t say we were elegant. It should be implied at this point that we are fun.

Yesterday was Vagina Day. Diana flew in from Chicago and Tara drove in from Connecticut. Our hostess Aimee wore orthopedic slippers and served tater tot casserole (it was delectable). She also made some tiny quiches that she couldn’t get out of the muffin tin, so she plopped it right on the table and we spooned out eggs with our forks. When deliberating who brought what Diana was quick to write: “You better bring me a fucking bagel” while also offering a box of pastries. Aimee countered that we already had bagels and pie on the menu so maybe pastries would be too much? To which Diana replied: “Fuck that- I’m bringing pastries.” Kerri brought brownies but they had mashed beans and dates in them so technically they were healthy. I’m the trendy food-jerk who brought kale salad and chia seed pudding but never put them on the table. Aubs brought watermelon salad with feta and mint which I’m recreating soon because I’ve recently discovered that mint is basically a weed and since planting my herb garden I basically have it coming out my ears.

There were tears and deep rolling belly laughs and validation out the yin-yang. We talked about our careers and our families and our bodies and our politics. We face-timed Kathy in until she couldn’t take it anymore so she finally drove over. I ate two slices of Tara’s strawberry-rhubarb pie and squirted the canned whipped cream directly in my mouth. Bridget picked me up and dropped me off even though I was completely out of her way and she’d been running around like crazy the day before. That, to me, is a squad goal.

After one of our brunches a few months ago, I got into my husband’s car– exasperated and red-faced from both laughing and crying in equal measure.

“You girls have fun? Did you talk about boys?”

Sure, Vin– we talked about boys.

 

 

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About Jenn.


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Kindly ignore the "food/friends/fun" part on the top of this page. It no longer describes this blog; I just don't know how to change it. Pretend it says something more accurate like "Stories of my Life", or "For a good time, read Jenn". About Me: I'm a 30-something Texan who moved to New York, became a therapist, and married a guy named Vinny from Queens. I delight in observing the world around me, and write about it here.

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