Much To My Delight

Much To My Delight

The Reason I Don’t Blog Much Anymore

 

Is this thing on?

I know what you’ve all been asking yourselves. “Where has she been? Why doesn’t she blog anymore?”

Just kidding, I’m well aware no one is sitting around asking that. But I thought I’d fill you in anyway. Plus, my website domain renews every September 15th. I just paid 15 bucks to keep this blog running, so I might as well use it.

I haven’t been writing much here, but I have been writing a lot. Actually, I’ve been writing more than ever. At least I was, until Labor Day. Labor Day was my self-imposed deadline for the first draft of the book of essays I’ve been writing. The original deadline was my 40th birthday in June, but I missed it. This is now a recurring theme–not of my book– but of my life. To the 22-year-olds going out into the world, making plans, putting milestones on a timeline… as your 40-year-old elder, I will now encourage you to remain flexible. Things may not happen when you want them to, and you better learn to roll with it. If you don’t get married by 28, the world will keep turning.

Anyway, I thought I was just about ready to put this puppy to bed on Labor Day, and I was feeling pretty great about it. Then I showed it to a writer friend to get some much-needed feedback, and have spent the three weeks since staring into space, organizing my inbox and scratching my butt. Sometimes I take a break to share a really interesting thought on Facebook, something groundbreaking like my urgent and irrepressible need to pee, but mostly I just sit around, feeling lost, confused and unmotivated. It’s not a good feeling.

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The only person to have read my essays is one of Vinny’s work colleagues named Zach, an international bon vivant, technical wizard, writer, and supercilious wine drinker. Zach and his girlfriend lived in Montreal this summer and are now moving to Paris for two months this Thursday. Zach speaks four languages and spent 12 hours a day learning Arabic while living in Syria. He’s applying to fellowships so he can complete his novel from a remote cabin in the woods, deep in the piney Adirondacks. When we visited Zach in Montreal over Labor Day weekend, we spent more on wine than our monthly electricity bill. Zach leads a vivid life–far more vivid than mine–and it shows in his writing.

I was extremely reluctant to show my writing to Zach. First of all, he’s a man and my writing– I’m fairly certain– is far more appealing to women. I wasn’t sure he’d enjoy my voice, or be able to appreciate my “period at summer camp” story the way a woman reader would. Plus, his writing style is just the total opposite of mine. His writing reminds me a lot of Chuck Paluhniuk (who I love), while mine is kind of simple, straight-forward, and probably a little too silly or sweet for his taste. But I showed it to him anyway, because I’ve read every line of my “book” 40 times and none of it even makes sense to me anymore.

His feedback was enormously helpful, but none of it included lines like, “My God, girl…you are brilliant” or a softly whispered “I had no idea you were so talented, Jenn”. His feedback was critical, straight-forward, laser sharp and extremely accurate. Each of his suggestions made complete and total sense, and he made no attempts to coddle my ego when making them. I found his recommendations enormously helpful, but now I’m worn out and wondering how to execute them.

Writing doesn’t come easily to me at all. It’s hard work and unfortunately I’m in a spot where it doesn’t feel fun anymore. I kind of want to finish this thing up and move on. I was on a bit of a roll for a while, but now I find myself distracted so easily. I feel like I’ve lost my swag, and I really want to find a way to get it back.

Anyway, that’s the reason I don’t blog anymore. I don’t know how other people balance so many balls in the air, but I learned a long time ago that I can’t. If I’m actually going to finish this book, it needs to be the only writing project I do for a while. I’d rather throw 100% of my effort into completing this now than barely having time for both that project and the blog, for God knows how long. I’ll be back here more regularly once I’m done. Maybe. We’ll see.

And yes, eventually I will get this book done because I started something and I am hell-bent on finishing it.

Whether it makes sense or not is another thing altogether.

 

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God Bless Texas

I grew up on the Texas Gulf Coast, where the air is thick and sultry and almost always smells like salt. I drove to school with my windows down, on a long road that lays like a plank across the Gulf of Mexico. My hometown isn’t known for having the most beautiful stretch of beach in the world, but its ours and we take care of it. We also take care of each other. That’s the kind of place I’m from.

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On the Gulf Coast, we have hurricanes. They are familiar and a fact of life. To grow up in Galveston is to grow up watching your dad nail sheets of plywood to the windows while your mom packs clothes and gathers road snacks. When the sky turns dark and the gulf begins to look restless, parents drive their kids to the beach to run around in the wind before they’re trapped inside for who knows how long. The grocery stores quiver with anticipation, dogs get anxious, dauntless men wax their surfboards.

Hurricane Alicia was the only one I ever witnessed. There was a long stretch of storm-free weather after that, and then I moved away. I was six years old and my parents had finally let me paint my bedroom an extremely nauseating shade of pink. We joined the masses on the causeway to get out of town and stayed in my grandparents in Houston until it blew over. When we came back home, the only room to have flooded was mine. It was repainted white, with one pink accent wall because my parents, though logical, didn’t have a full appreciation for my girlhood aesthetics.

Mom fortuitously moved out of Galveston just before Hurricane Ike in 2008, when the decks that jutted off the back of our house crumpled like a house of cards and fell into the lake below. Moving to Houston felt like a logical plan, since Houston always seemed impervious to the worst of these storms. Houston was always the place we evacuated to.

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My mom, dad and brother all own homes in the greater Houston area–which is enormous, by the way–and by sheer luck and stroke of fate, they are all safe and their homes are completely dry even though the roads around them certainly are not. The relief is palpable, but they are still sitting out storms and waiting for water to recede. Down the street from my brother’s house, cars were completely submerged in water, and people were sitting on roofs waiting to be rescued. Many of my niece’s friends and classmates have been displaced from their homes, and it’s been upsetting for her.

Watching the news has been heartbreaking and I’ve tried to limit it, but it’s hard to look away. So many Texans have a long, hard road ahead of them. Instead I turn to Facebook, where it feels very much like a community potluck right now. People in Austin and Dallas offer up extra rooms and hot meals. Friends from high school have posted their phone number and encouraged anyone who needs rescue by boat to use it. They’re volunteering at shelters and leading prayers at churches.

That’s the kind of town I’m from.

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Please consider helping South Texas recover. And if you think Houston is all barbecue and good ol’ boys, I highly encourage you to watch Anthony Bourdain’s Houston episode on Parts Unknown and get to know this great city in a way that’s rarely seen. It’s a dynamic and diverse city with a big heart.

 

If you want to donate, here are a few places to get started.

South Texas Blood and Tissue Center

The STBTC is in dire need of blood donations to prepare South Texas Hospitals for Hurricane Harvey. The center says although O negative and O positive blood is at critically low levels, all blood type donations are welcome. The center says less than a day’s supply is available. The center is asking the public in the San Antonio and New Braunfels areas to donate right now.

Donate: Visit southtexasblood.org or call 210-731-5590 to schedule an appointment to donate blood.

Texas Diaper Bank 

“Diapers are not provided by disaster relief agencies,” the TDB posted on Facebook Friday. To alleviate that need, the TDB is requesting donations of cash and diapers to provide emergency diaper kits for families that are being displaced due to Hurricane Harvey.

Donate: Visit the donation page at texasdiaperbank.org and designate your donation for Disaster Relief.

Catholic Charities USA

Catholic Charities USA, a Catholic social service organization, is seeking donations to help those who have been affected by Harvey. The group has set up a website devoted to Harvey relief, and explains that “long term recovery” is part of the group’s approach to disasters like this one.

Donate: Text CCUSADISASTER to 71777.

Austin Pets Alive!

Austin Pets Alive! is an animal shelter and no-kill pet advocacy group seeking assistance to help with pets in the aftermath of the storm.

Donate: It has created a page on its website specific to Harvey-related needs.

 

 

 

 

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What It’s Like to Be a Therapist

These days i seem to blog only when something significant–good or bad– has happened in my life. A trip, a special moment, a funny or sweet observation. I basically write when I’m moved to do so. I write only when I think I might have something interesting to say. But sometimes I write because I literally don’t know what else to do with my thoughts.

One of my clients died. I found out Friday afternoon, in between appointments. I’d mailed an outreach letter to her home after several missed sessions and the envelope was returned back to me– the word “Deceased” scribbled quickly on the front. I found myself wondering who wrote it. Was it the post office? Her mother? Her super?

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This isn’t the first of my clients to die. It’s my fourth, that I know of. In nine years, I’ve seen literally hundreds of people. It’s a safe assumption that several have died and word never got back to me. The first three died in their 50s and 60s, from medical reasons. I see several clients in pretty poor health right now, and I worry about them all the time.

This one is weighing on me heavier because she was young. She was only 36. I don’t know how she died but there are possibilities looping through my brain. What I do know is that three kids lost their mom, and every time I think about that, I get a little teary.

My job is so strange. People come to us at their most fragile, and sometimes they stay with us for a very long time. I’d been seeing this client for three years, but a lot of my clients have been seeing me over 5 or 6. Some came with me when I changed agencies. I’ve been seeing one of my clients since I was an intern, when his son was 9. He just graduated high school.

We spend more time with our clients than we do the majority of our friends. How many friends do I see once a week? None! I see my clients more frequently than I see my parents or talk to my brother. We root for them to succeed and we support them if they stumble. We’re genuinely concerned for their health and well-being, and we grieve them when they’re gone. I didn’t know about my client’s funeral. If I had, I would have gone. I’m writing this blog post to process my feelings. I don’t know where else to put my grief, so I’m putting it here.

 

I’m a pretty fortunate person in that my brain is wired for gratitude. I look for it everyday, but if I’m being honest, I actually don’t have to look very hard. I’m literally overwhelmed by it sometimes. Sometimes it makes me cry a little. Vin makes fun of me, but I think he actually likes that about me.

My job reminds me that this beautiful world is punctuated with tremendous sadness. It reminds me that life is short and fragile, and sometimes cruel. Even so, my work doesn’t diminish my optimism or gratitude. It reinforces it. The happy moments shine a little brighter and I have greater appreciation for them.

I love my job so much. It humbles me every single day. But sometimes, I wonder if it isn’t pressing a little too hard on my heart.

 

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Good Morning Greece!

 

This morning I woke up in a pension off the main road in Fira, on the island of Santorini in Greece. I didn’t realize I’d booked a hostel until after we’d arrived, and aside from paper-thin towels and a parade of tiny bugs that march up the shower wall, it is actually not a bad place to lay for the night. The bed is firm but forgiving, and there’s a rooftop patio with umbrellas that provide adequate shade from the blazing June sun. In the mornings, between the hours of 08:00 and 10:00, they lay out a meager breakfast spread of weak tea and strong coffee, sliced bread and a buffet of bland, disc-shaped cereals. Greeks are not very big on breakfast–they go heavy for lunch and dinner- but they try to accommodate the people from places where they are. We are from New York City, where Sundays are built around where you go for brunch, so we do that down the street, in an outdoor garden cafe surrounded by huge terracotta planters filled with mint, basil and fragrant thyme.

I’m traveling back home today after our 11-day vacation in Greece, and this was the third place we stayed in, which has made it feel like three separate vacations in one. We spent our first three and a half days in Athens, in a rented flat in the center of hectic, touristy Plaka, where we took selfies in the shadow of the Parthenon and ate baklava in the pouring rain while crouched on flat green cushions on the famous Plaka steps, where locals drink Nescafe in tall, skinny glasses and smoke cigarettes one after another. We walked around and sat for hours in tiny cafes, eating grilled meats and pita and feta until our stomachs bulged, then walked around a few hours more. A seven-hour time difference resulted in restless, fitful sleep so we watched the Before Sunrise series, part one two and three, because they’re my very favorite, but also because there’s no better time or place to watch them than when traveling through Europe with the person you love walking around with.

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Athens cafe

Up next was a quick flight to the dreamy Santorini, where’d we’d booked our first three nights in Oia with its famous blue-domed churches and labrynth of winding cave dwellings built into a steep hill, the village they smartly photograph for all their postcards. On my 40th birthday, I woke up in a cave with cool gray walls, then stepped onto our bone-white patio to face the Aegean Sea. I shared the footpath with donkeys carrying crates of onions and bright red tomatoes on their backs, and drank icy frappes (medium sweet) on balconies that peeked over the spectacular caldera. I crawled down a narrow set of stairs into a little pipsqueak of a bookstore so magical I felt like a child discovering books for the very first time. For dinner, we hiked down 300 wide stone steps to the edge of the sea, where we watched tiny fishing boats and large charters pull up front to catch the famous Oia sunset while we ate a kilo of flounder pulled straight out of the water, flecked with salt before laid to rest on an outdoor grill. As the waiter cleared our plates, a colorful burst of fireworks arm-wrestled the stars and just as a plate of freshly fried loukamades dripping with honey and cream was placed before us, a group of handsome waiters from Athens walked through the winding decks singing Happy Birthday, until they finally reached our table and magically walked right past it, gathering around the girl sitting just behind me. I turned around and wished her a happy day too.

Oia Village Santorini

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Ammoudi Bay Santorini

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And now we’re here in bustling but beautiful Fira, where there are more scooters than cars and tourists than locals. It’s so hot I ran out of clothes, so a few days ago I pretended I was a local girl and washed a few dresses and underthings in my bathroom sink with a bar of soap and hung them to dry. Yesterday we ate gyros for $2.50 and swam in our strangely-shaped pool, which was mostly occupied by 23-year-olds staying from Ohio and Canada, who sleep here in a shared dorm with rickety bunk beds, just the way I did when I first traveled to New York. They are too young to care about sun hats and I don’t even envy their undimpled thighs and unlined foreheads, because I know our food budget for this trip has been much higher than theirs, and at this point in my life, that’s what really matters.

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We went on a few really nice vacations when I was a kid– never internationally– but nice, usually skiing in Colorado or New Mexico. I remember my father made us get up super early so we could make it to the mountain at the exact time the lifts started running, and he’d make us stay all day, until they stopped. Lunch was short, and we were allowed only one quick rest for hot chocolates. As a kid, I never appreciated how hard Dad worked to make those trips happen, that the tedious grind of work makes your time off precious, so he never wanted to waste it. I sure get it now.

Traveling feels like an enormous privilege to me, and when I’m somewhere so far and so different from home, I can’t help but feel overwhelmed with humility and gratitude. Whenever I travel, I think of a few 8-year-old kids I taught briefly in the South Bronx, who’d never taken the subway into Manhattan. Manhattan was so far from their reality, they actually thought it was New Jersey. The people who have served us on our trip seem far more deserving of a vacation than I do. When we stayed in Oia, a man carried our bags by throwing one over his shoulder and tucking the other under his arm, then hiked up steep narrow stairwells made of rock and stone with sweat pouring from his forehead. I’ve been in a state of constant awe on this trip, not just with the scenery, but with the people too.

I haven’t been blogging much, but this trip has been filled with delightful little stories which I’ll start sharing more of when I get home. I think I’ll also put together a little tourists’s guide, since there were things that would have been super helpful for me to know before coming that I’d never read online before.

 

Anyway… Kalimera from Greece and wish me luck in my 13-hour travels today! I have loved this trip so much, but I am also ready to be home!

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If Your Grandparents Turn 90, You Better Have Tissues Ready

 

My grandparents are pretty old now. It happened gradually, like it always does. Grandmother is 87, and two weeks ago, our family gathered at their home in Horseshoe Bay to celebrate Granddad’s 90th birthday. “Time marches on”, he said. He must have repeated the phrase half a dozen times. I think it’s a concept he thinks about a lot.

Something funny happens to me when I’m around my grandparents. I’m like a reporter when I visit them, inspecting and zooming in on everything–their movements, their routines, the way they turn a phrase. I take pictures all over their house– the wall in the laundry room that’s plastered with family photos, their bright orange couch that’s so ugly it’s awesome, the framed art in the kitchen from the days when grandmother loved to paint. I live so far from them, and I see them so rarely that I’m afraid things will be different the next time we visit. I know how lucky I am to be nearly 40 and still have my grandparents with me, not only doing well but still together too.

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Often, just thinking about my grandparents will trigger a dull ache in my chest, so actually being in the same room with them is almost too much for my heart to bear. I’ll watch my grandmother throw a handful of diced potatoes into a pot of beef stew and marvel at her genius. I’ll follow my grandfather around like a schoolgirl, letting him show me things I’ve seen dozens of times. I’ll just stand there like a dope with a toothless smile, secretly biting the underside of my lip as I struggle not to cry, hoping he doesn’t notice that my sternum is about to crack under the weight of that much love.

We don’t have a big family, but even so, it’s extremely rare to have us together. But for this occasion we all showed up– my brother and his family, my aunt, uncle and cousin, my dad and his wife. My brother and his wife stayed at grandma and grandpa’s while the rest of us bunked in a rented house down the road. It was built into the hills and had a large screened-in porch overlooking fishing ponds and bluebonnets and miles of shady mesquite trees. I’ve decided that my happy place is a breezy porch and a hot cup of coffee, and all of my life’s decisions from here on out will be devoted to being there more often.

On Saturday morning we went hiking (Vin wore white jeans and walked straight into a cactus–city slicker), then gathered on the porch to play cornhole and drink moscow mules. Grandpa, of course, snubbed the trendy cocktail and enjoyed what he calls “The Family Drink”. The family drink is what Grandpa has every day after 4pm– vodka and caffeine-free diet coke. No one else in the family drinks this, but he likes to include us in his daily routines. He also slips pictures of us beneath the glass at his kitchen table so even when we can’t make it over for supper, we’re sitting with him anyway.

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We’d had plans to make some healthy snacks out of ground turkey and zucchini, but when I turned to my aunt and said casually, “I’m in the mood for queso”, she jumped out of her porch chair and said, “I’ll drive you to the store!”. We melted down that familiar orange brick of Velveeta and poured in a can of Rotel tomatoes, and when I brought out the bowls of melty cheese and salty tortilla chips, my kinfolk stopped what they were doing and swarmed like vultures. If you grew up in Texas, you can identify with the scene.

There was a cake and impromptu speeches, and a few faces warmed by tears because I come from a family of saps, just like me. You can only get a few words in to honor my grandfather before he passes all the glory to his wife, batting away praise with a humble, “Everything I am… Susan did it.” Ninety years old, and the man still can’t take a compliment. We pressed him for a few more words, since a celebration like this calls for such things.  ”I always wanted a family,” he said. “My cup runneth over.”

So does mine.

Texas-Style Chili con Queso (We just call it queso…)

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1 brick of Velveeta cheese

2 cans Rotel-brand tomatoes with green chilis

You can also add ground beef or chorizo, or a spoon full of guacamole.

Get a pot, melt the cheese, stir with wooden spoon, add Rotel tomatoes. Serve with tortilla chips. You’ve now eaten every Texan’s kryptonite.

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I flew United this weekend and lived to talk about it.

Our Travel Plan: Thursday, April 6th:

Leave NYC 1:50pm, Arrive Houston 5pm.

Get picked up in a rented church/ party van at the airport. Fellow travelers: My dad, dad’s wife, husband Vinny, 12-year-old niece and a shih tzu named Chewie. Plan to drive (approx. 4 hours) to Horseshoe Bay, TX, home to many retired white people, down-home cooking and my grandparents. Estimated arrival time: 9:30pm.

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What Actually Happened:

1:00: The rain is falling. Our Uber driver drops us outside La Guardia and tells us to have a nice flight. Looking back, I realize that phrase is bad luck. We need a new saying for “have a nice flight”, something along the lines of “break a leg”, but gentler. Suggestions?

1:30: All checked in. We came here knowing this flight was delayed; we learned at home which gave us freedom to leave the house late, which we always do. We were originally scheduled to leave at 1:50, now the board says 3:00. We have time for lunch in the airport. Airport lunch: A treat if there ever was one.

1:45: I text dad and let him know we’re now arriving at 5:47pm instead of 5:00.

1:46: His response: “Ouch.”

Vin has a burger and fries; I hit that turkey club with a bag of chips.

It is now legitimately pouring outside. I check my phone; flash flood warnings for the area. Vin calls his folks and asks them to check our basement for flooding. Our basement has flooded three times since we moved in less than a year ago, and every time it did, the gush was so forceful I consider wearing floaties and having myself a swim.

2:00: We take two seats at our gate and wait for boarding.

2:30:

2:45:

2:50:

3:00: The plane hasn’t arrived yet. The sky is pitch-black. The children next to me are kicking their seats. Everyone’s food stinks.

3:42: We get an update over the loudspeaker. The good news is, our plane has landed.

3:43: The bad news is, it’s been struck by lightning. In eight places. There are scorch marks and everything.

3:50: The maintenance crew can’t assess the damage because the airport is still under threat of lightning. Once they figure out how bad the damage is, they’ll let us board the aircraft. I’m actually not that interested in this plane anymore and would prefer they go wrestle up a new one.

4:00: El Capitano comes over the loudspeaker. “So, the plane you’re going to be on was hit by lightning in eight spots. There are some burn marks they’re checking out. No planes are leaving this airport because of the heavy rain. All the ramps are closed. I don’t know how long they’ll stay closed. I’m assuming not forever. Eh, I don’t know, folks. Surmise from that what you will. I’ve been doing this a long time.” We are all humored by this, but not reassured.

5:45: Vin’s parents give us an update. The basement flooded. I think of my vintage rug down there and send my best from afar. Which actually isn’t that far at all, considering we live ten minutes from the airport.

6:00: Announcement: They got us a new plane and we’re leaving at 7:00. Sighs of relief abound. The 7th graders in the corner go back to playing chess. I am picturing my father having a coronary from his leather couch in Kemah as he realizes he’ll be driving until at least 2 in the morning.

6:10pm: An Orthodox Jewish man with five children under the age of 10 file in seats across from us. There are always a lot of Orthodox Jews leaving from La Guardia, and I don’t know what it is about them (or me) but I always find myself wondering where they’re going and what they do on vacation. But when I see this gentleman, all I want to know is what he does for a living, and how he can afford that many plane tickets.

6:45: We board, five hours later than planned. By 7:20, we’re in the air. A five hour delay, but hey, this is a flight on United. We could have waited around five hours only to be punched in the face.

10:30: We’ve got our bags, and we’re in the silver party van dad rented for this road trip. We’re each handed a bag from Jack in the Box, and we’re on our way.

11- 12:50: The stars at night are big and bright.

12:55: We are deep in the heart of Texas. Bastrop, to be exact.

1am: We make a pit stop at Buc-ee’s; a convenient store the size of three football fields where you can choose from 20 different kinds of beef jerky, 25 brands of chewing tobacco and a wide variety of breakfast tacos. The one by my dad’s house is tiny, but this one also has a section for clothing, home goods and full-size barbecue pits. There are apparently 83 toilets and this is the view you get as you walk toward them.

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2:15am: We have arrived at our rental house. I seek out my toothbrush and my bedroom. In 13 hours I could have made it far into Europe, but I have only made it so far as central Texas. Tomorrow morning our whole family will gather in Horseshoe Bay to celebrate my dear grandfather’s 90th birthday.

Incidentally, we will also be celebrating mine.

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Almost, Not Quite, Just About 40

I’m going to need to update my sidebar soon. It describes me as a 30-something, and that won’t be true much longer.

The race to 40 is not a race at all, but a slow and steady march toward the other side of youth into a land of eye lift serums, fortified yogurt and yearly mammograms. I finally upgraded my skin care routine, which until recently included drugstore cleanser and a drop of coconut oil. I discovered my upper eyelids were starting to droop at the same time I realized it’s time for nose hair clippers. I walked into Kiehls’ flagship store on 2nd avenue and announced to the first guy I saw, “Help me. I’m turning 40″. His name was Bobby, and his eyes danced as he dreamed of commissions while playing dress up with my face. When the bill came I looked Bobby in the eye and said, “Listen, if in two weeks I don’t look like an eighth grader, I’m coming here and demanding my money back.” He laughed and said, “You’re not turning 40. You’re going to be young forever! You have a young spirit.”

I thought about what Bobby said, about having a young spirit and all, and I decided that he’s wrong.

I don’t have a young spirit. My spirit has no interest in staying up late and playing beer pong. My spirit craves 9pm bedtimes and takes probiotics after every meal. My spirit gets overwhelmed in crowds and shoves two fingers in her ears at rock concerts. I actually have a very old spirit with a good sense of humor and a slight curiosity about the whole thing. The whole thing being…what happens next anyway?

I have a profile on the social networking site Facebook (you too?!) and have been following along as all my friends from high school and college turn “THE BIG 4-0” this year. Some of them threw ’70s or ’80s-themed birthday parties. Two had enormous displays in their front yards, the letters 4 and 0 constructed entirely out of balloons. Most booked sitters and took nice vacations someplace tropical; Hawaii, Jamaica, Miami, Puerto Rico. That’s the route I’m going as well. The tickets are booked and I’m already stocking up on big straw hats, which I plan to wear faithfully in this next chapter of my story.

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It’s been kind of a trip watching my oldest friends hit this age, the one that used to be associated with mid-life crises and tipping  ”over the hill”. I don’t live close to these friends or see them often, so all I get are little snapshots every few months. What I see are tasteful, grown-up houses and kids dressed for the first day of kindergarten or fifth grade, and sometimes even high school. My old friends are running businesses and church fundraisers. They’re PTA moms and soccer dads. A couple have health problems, the kind you only start to develop “after a certain age”. A few are switching gears or completely starting over.

None of this matters because I see them now as I did then.  The people I grew up with will be 16 or 18 or 22 forever, at least to me. True, most of them don’t look too different physically, but more than that–and as corny as it sounds–their spirits really have remained the same.  Situations and lifestyles and faces change, but at the end of the day or the start of a decade, I’m starting to believe youthfulness has a shot at everlasting.

Eh, we’re not really turning 40. We have young spirits. We’re going to be young forever.

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Reading Aloud from Martha Stewart’s Cookbook: Collected Snark for Every Day

 

Pay no attention to the mounds of filthy frozen snow on the ground. Spring is here! We made it through winter and now it’s time to get sprung.

Anyway, if you’re anything like me, the harkening of spring means opening up your home for a little entertaining. The sun is out, people are in good spirits and we’ve all been cooped up at home too long. And when we do our entertaining, we defer to Ms. Martha.

Thrift stores aren’t generally my favorite place to stock up on cookbooks, because they’re usually circa 1960 with entries like chipped beef on toast and canned fruit suspended in jello. But a few months ago, I popped into my local Housing Works and scored The Martha Stewart Cookbook– Collected Recipes for Every Day, which is a culmination of her most popular recipes and tips from previous books. At 619 pages, I believe it qualifies as a tome. At five bucks, I considered it a bargain. I couldn’t wait to get that puppy home.

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Spring is for parties. All types of parties.

 

On the subway ride home, I cracked right into it, and knew immediately it’d be one of the funniest books I’d read all year.

“The eggs called for in these recipes are large. I raise my own chickens and always cook with the freshest eggs.”- Martha

“You pretentious turd”, I thought to myself. This is just classic Martha, and classic Martha is ridiculous. This is why we love her, but also why we kind of hate her. I realized very quickly that I wouldn’t be able to refer to any of her recipes without rolling my eyes, or picturing Anna Gasteyer topless, walking me step-by-step through the tedious preparation for a classic Buche de Noel.

This book is called “Recipes for Every Day” but I get the sense that Martha Stewart’s everyday life (and especially her “everyday people”) swings widely outside the norm, as many of her recipes would be better used by high-end caterers than a mom trying to put food on the table for two or three kids who’d rather be eating Gordon’s fish fingers. For example, she includes in this book a recipe for cassoulet (it serves 100) that costs at minimum $500 to prepare. Cassoulet– which I just learned includes several legs of lamb, a couple pork loins, two pounds of duck fat, three bottles of premium wine and five whole pounds of pancetta. A page away, she has a big chart illustrating how to set up the perfect raw bar. My assumption is that anyone who can afford to serve 800 cocktail shrimp can also afford a catering staff and a professional ice sculptor, since everyone knows the only way to do a proper raw bar is to first procure a series of gigantic clamshells carved from artisanal ice.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that her Jerusalem artichoke soup with pears and cream sounds delicious, but I feel like Martha should have included a disclaimer that those little tubers are going to give all your party guests diarrhea. I wish I had known that fact before trying (and loving!) Jerusalem artichokes for the first time. Now I can’t stay away from those little bastards, but I always stay close to home.

Now that I’ve caught your attention, let’s flip through a few pages together, shall we?

(Everything you see written below is straight out of Martha’s mouth, except for the words in parentheses beside them. Those are editor’s notes, and the editor is me. (For reference, the abbreviation, FOM is short for “Fuck off, Martha”.)

 

THE HOLIDAY PARTY  “The year I was writing my Christmas book, I held one of my annual Christmas parties. The theme was “Christmas All Over the House”, (No. It wasn’t. The theme was I am very rich. Let me show you.) and the party was to begin at 6 p.m. and end whenever (See! See! I can be fun too!). Hors d’ouevres were served in the outside kitchen (FOM), a buffet supper was laid out in the barn (OF COURSE IT WAS), and champagne, eggnog and desserts were in the house.”

“It was a clear night; there was a bit of a moon, and the sky was filled with stars. The paths were lined with hundreds of luminarias (candles set in paper bags) and the fruit trees shone with little white lights. It was festive but warm, friendly, and simple” (Please, define simple. I actually dare you. This Christmas party was more elaborate than my wedding).

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Tip #1: ”Changing the use of rooms can be fun for both host and guests, for it breaks tired habits. A formal dinner in a candelit finished barn (It tickles me that Martha assumes everyone has easy access to a barn, and that–if by good fortune you do–it doesn’t smell like horse shit, as every functional barn does), or cocktails in a Victorian bedroom (?) or a greenhouse, can have special moment and drama”. (Martha, my greenhouse is currently filled with imported orchids from Thailand. Guess our storage closet will have to do).

Tip #2: ”Entertaining provides a good excuse to (hire someone) put things in order (polish silver, wax floors, paint a flaking windowsill) and to be more fanciful or dramatic with details. It is the moment to indulge in a whole bank of flowering plants to line the hall (SO TRUE), or to organize a collection of antique clothes on a conspicuous coatrack” (TOO LATE, ALREADY DONE DID THAT).

 

TACOS LA SALSA

First of all, STAY IN YOUR LANE MARTHA. People come to you for nice WASPy classics like egg salad canapes and smoked trout with horseradish cream.  No one plans a fiesta with Martha Stewart as co-host. You’re not who we turn to when embracing primary colors, melty orange cheese and actual fun. I do not need or want a recipe for borracho beans or gorditos from you. Second of all, you put sardines in your quesadillas and for that I will never forgive you. You’d probably fill a pinata with after-dinner mints.

 

Inexplicable Whining No One Can Relate To

“I have more than a hundred fruit trees growing in my orchard, but for some unknown reason, I have had no luck at all growing apricots.” (FOM)

 

Tip #3:  “If you have time, marinate your own mushrooms, eggplant, artichoke hearts, and roasted peppers and crack and season your own green olives” (I did not even realize this was an option).

 

Deep Thoughts about Entertaining by Martha Stewart

“Entertaining calls for an extrovert’s heart and an introvert’s soul.” (Actually, I kind of love this and tend to agree. Maybe I’ll embroider it onto my hostess gown.)

 

Random Bragging About Being Able to Do Something No One Else Would Ever Want to Do

“Family traditions evolve over time, and one of my favorites is the yearly creation of the plum pudding. To keep up with demand (You are delusional– no one is demanding plum pudding. Banana pudding is where it’s at), I began collecting traditional English pudding bowls, and one year I made three hundred puddings to give as gifts. While you may not wish to produce puddings on such a grand scale (you got that right), it is one of the most wonderful gifts you can give (this part is true, because plum pudding is traditionally topped with Cognac and lit with a match, and I can think of nothing more festive than setting one of Martha’s original creations on fire).

 

Funny Anecdote to Wrap Things Up:

When I was 22 and stupid, I interviewed at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia for an editorial assistant job. The lobby was exactly what you’re picturing– pristine polished floors, tarty little loveseats and oversized vases filled with seasonally appropriate greenery. The HR guy’s name was Adam– I’ll never forget it– or the look he gave me when I asked how Martha’s impending prison sentence would affect job security within the company.

I didn’t get the job, but I did get a free cookie while waiting in the lobby, and man was it delicious.

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Snow Days

We had an unexpected snow day yesterday, and among all the things that excited me about it, what thrilled me most was spending a random Tuesday with you. It was so out of the ordinary, a special little bonus, a shot in the arm to get us through the last few weeks of winter.

Losing a day’s work, for me, means losing a day’s pay, but I didn’t really worry about that. The older I get, the more I value time over money. Once the bills are paid, I’m usually left feeling like I have enough money to make me happy. When the weekends are over, I never jumpstart the week thinking I had just enough time. These days I’m working longer and harder than ever, but it’s not because I’m dying for more money. It’s because I’m trying to eventually free up more of that precious, fleeting time. I hope you’ll continue to work the same way, because when I get all those hours freed up, I’d like to spend the majority of them with you.

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Yesterday, I watched you through the window while you were shoveling and thought, “He’s such a good man.” You really are. You’re hard-working and kind and faithful and funny. You’re the kind of guy who shovels more than his side of the street, who goes all the way down and around the corner, because the next door neighbor is older, and you don’t want him to have to come out in the cold. You’re the kind of guy who’d drop anything he was doing to help anyone who asked. After all these years, you still open my car door every time, still wait for me to turn the key in the lock and step inside the house before driving away. There’s never been a time when you didn’t offer me the last delicious bite, and you always, always put the toilet seat down. You are one in a fucking million, and I’m very, very lucky to be married to you. I’m cursing for emphasis here, because sometimes you need the word fuck to really drive the point home.

Today marks 14 years that you’ve officially been my partner, and it all just seems to be going by so fast. Sometimes I’ll look at pictures of us in our 20s and think of how much our faces have changed. How when I met you my stomach was flat as a board and you were so skinny your chest was practically concave. This week I spent a fortune on anti-aging products and when the snowflakes hit your beard, it was hard to distinguish them from the slender threads of gray. These years with you have been the best of my life, and I hope the years ahead are just as kind. Occasionally I worry that someone is up there keeping score, and I already used up all my good luck when you hitched your wagon to mine. Let’s hope not.

I delight in your company, and look forward to it every single day. So here’s to snow days and sunny days and all the days in between. I just want to hug you and love you and make you pancakes until the end of time.

 

 

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People I really like

 

I like all kinds of people, really, but some — like cream– simply rise to the top. These are the types of people I like the very most.

 

People who understand and apply the phrase “to make a long story short”.

People who don’t have a hard time saying, “You know what? You’re right.” or “I see your point.”

People who enjoy eating and talking about carbs. And coffee. And tacos! Food in general really.

People who ask questions.

People who play fair and share their toys.

People who use the phrase “Pimpin’ ain’t easy” indiscriminately, for example: “I need to head across town to get some corncobs for dinner. Hey, pimpin’ ain’t easy.”

People who use their whole face and a good portion of their body to tell a story.

People whose natural instinct is to treat others with kindness and respect.

People with a signature style, like only and always wearing Hawaiian shirts or the color blue.

People who are quick to give up their seat on the train for the elderly, disabled or pregnant.

People who laugh and smile and don’t take themselves too seriously.

People who aren’t afraid to make mistakes, and acknowledge when they’re wrong.

Anyone over 80.

Anyone under 5.

People who don’t give a fuuuuuuuuuuck.

People who call me miss instead of ma’am. I like them extra when they call me “young lady”.

People who already own or are in the market for a scotty-dog sweater.

People who listen before speaking. People who think before reacting. People who don’t interrupt.

People with unique hobbies like carving soap or collecting old milk bottles (train surfers need not apply).

People with accents indicative of their native region. Any kind will do, but I’ll always prefer British, Australian, Venezuelan, Bronx-born Puerto Rican and East or South African. I have a client from Somalia and every time she speaks it’s like listening to a book on tape I never want to end.

People who put antlers on the roof of their car at Christmastime.

 

 

 

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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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