Much To My Delight

Much To My Delight

Tonight You Will Be Visited by the Ghost of Office Christmas Parties Past

 

The first time I went to a real company Christmas party I was 22 and brand new in the city. I had just started working for a publishing company as a writer and editor for a series of hairstyling magazines and used my journalism degree to write captions like “Pump up the Volume!”, “Color to Dye For”, and my personal favorite: “What About Bob?”. The company had a lot of titles and were each represented by people who seemed to look like they were perfectly matched to the magazine’s content. The whole staff of Guitar World looked vaguely like rockers, and played guitar at their desks between assignments. The folks at Dog News had pics of their pets on their cubicle walls, and the women who worked for Romantic Country were soft spoken and surrounded by bowls of potpourri. I hoped I was representing my team well by having a decent head of hair. Free highlights and endless beauty swag definitely helped.

The staff Christmas party was held at the Bryant Park Bar & Grill, a classic NYC spot right in front of Bryant Park and behind the public library. It was a seated meal with filet mignon, and I remember feeling pretty proud to work in a place that served us expensive steak for the holidays. They also gave us champagne flutes from Tiffany’s as party favors. I couldn’t wait to tell the folks back home about that.

I ate dinner at an assigned table with the rest of my staff, but I was itching to introduce myself to others in the company since I was still an import looking to make friends. Across the room was a group of people around my age, mostly guys, so I tentatively approached them. I was immediately drawn to the only guy in the entire place wearing a suit. Everyone else had come straight from work in their blue jeans, but he changed into something special for the occasion. I thought that was sweet.

We talked and joked for most of the night and decided to become friends. The next morning I came to work to find him sitting in my office chair, hands folded over his chest and feet propped up on my desk.

And that’s the story of how I met my husband.

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Left: Me and Vin as babies at the office  Right: Back in the years of fancy work parties (Sushi and cocktails…those were the days)

 

14 years later…

Last Friday was apparently the official office Christmas party night in the city. We both had ours to attend, and were excited to compare notes at the end of the evening.

I work in a non-profit, so expectations for retirement and holiday parties are kept extremely low. The idea to even have a holiday party was only bounced around a week prior to the event, and my curiosity was piqued as to what they could throw together in such a short amount of time. My office is not in a traditional building–it’s in a converted brownstone, so it’s a series of long hallways with tiny, dark bedrooms used as therapy offices. My room also has a sink in the corner, which I have found to be surprisingly useful over the past few years.

There is really only one place in the building that can contain our staff for parties–and that’s the group therapy room. During the day, it’s all AA meetings and DUI classes, but at night, the room transforms into the staff social area. It feels very naughty to drink Barolo from plastic cups in that room. With the lights on, the thrift store artwork– which can only be described as “bric-a-brac” is on full display, but with the overheads turned off and twinkly strands of colored lights draped from the ceiling, I have to admit that our funky group room was able to acquire a pretty sexy holiday glow. We had a few nice little snacks and some pastries from down the street, and then one of our more outgoing admin staff members used the drafty room’s acoustics to belt a karaoke version of “Oh Holy Night”, quickly followed by some Donna Summer and I Will Survive. Therapists tend to be a pretty demure bunch, so we were all grateful for the entertainment. I didn’t take any pictures because A) it was really freaking dark in there and B) Seems uncouth to post pictures of a mental health clinic online.

A few blocks away, Vin was attending his company party, for which he’d received an embossed invitation over a month ago. It was a roaring 20s- themed bash complete with live band and hired swing dancers held in an opulent ballroom that used to be an old bank. Staff dressed in flapper dresses and feather headbands or suspenders and bowties. There was a costume contest. They had fancy finger foods and rivers of free booze. Halfway through the night, Vin texted me this picture along with two videos of professional swing dancing that I have no idea how to upload:

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To which I replied: I can’t believe this shit.

Over the years together, we’ve each changed jobs a handful of times, and at this point in our respective careers, our workplaces could not be more opposite. When I visit him at his job, I tend to spend a lot of time in the restroom because compared to ours, it feels like the lobby of the Plaza. It’s especially nice because it’s not shared by male co-workers, like mine is. As a side note, for the love of all that is good and holy, WIPE THE SEAT DOWN.

But I digress.

I am probably past the days of bonuses and goodie bags. There is no swag in social work. There aren’t a ton of benefits or added perks in the non-profit life, except for the satisfaction of knowing you’re doing something good for others (which is perhaps, the biggest perk of all). And at the end of the day, I wouldn’t trade the work I do all year for a fancier party at the end of it. I wouldn’t even trade it for a subscription to the jelly-of-the-month club, and that’s the gift that keeps on giving the whole year.

I still have those champagne flutes from Tiffany’s.  I’ll drink to that.

 

 

 

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Rainy days and Tuesdays always get me down

 

The first time my mother visited me in New York City–and we’re talking at least 14 years ago now–it rained cats and dogs the entire time. We schlepped on foot, by bus, and on the subway, all over town and back again. We got knocked around by other peoples’ huge umbrellas and splashed by passing cars. There is no hiding from the rain in New York City. You strap on your boots and a funny hat and you go. Mom is a Texas girl, and is used to precarious weather that affects her hair, but at least at home she never has to worry about how the weather will affect her hair while riding public transportation. By the middle of the week, she turned to me and asked, “What the hell are you doing here? This is awful.”

Then, of course, the rain cleared and she was all: “Oh my god, I get it now. This place is magical.”

But today is one of those days we all have to ask ourselves what the hell we’re doing here. Winter rain is particularly cruel, and especially challenging to dress for. I don’t own rainboots or a proper raincoat (hello genius!), and so I typically wear cowboy boots and a weatherproof  puffy coat on rainy days. I call it my “Wet Western” wear.

I don’t have a story to tell this morning and I don’t exactly have a point I’m trying to make. Today I am writing a post because I’m trying to stall.

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Right now I’m so cozy in my little apartment, all twinkling with Christmas lights and a cup of coffee, but soon I will have to dress in bulky layers, walk to the subway, cram myself on the train car, get dripped on by other people’s umbrellas, then slosh the rest of the way to the office where I will either sweat my brains out or freeze my ass off, depending on what the temperature in the building decides to do today. This is a dilemma that bonds me with millions of people right now, all of us looking out the window and crying inside:

Do I have to?

Do they really need me today?

But my bed will miss me so much…

And my boss never lets me watch Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee.

You know what I REALLY need to work on today? Netflix.

Is there time for another cup of coffee?

All right, all right. I’m going.

But I’m not happy about it.

You stay dry, New York.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Things I Find Difficult To Blog About

 

I was fortunate enough to have been gifted a red Mustang on my 16th birthday. I’ll be the first one to point out that I was born privileged in a lot of different ways, and having generous parents who could provide a new car for me was only one of them.

One of the best restaurants in my hometown sat squarely in the middle of the housing projects, and my friends and I ate there frequently. One morning while driving to the restaurant, a cop pulled me over. I wasn’t speeding, hadn’t run a stop sign, and all my tags were up to date. He pulled me over to ask why I was driving through that neighborhood, and encouraged me to leave quickly because he worried I wouldn’t be safe there. It was 9:00 in the morning.

I found the experience of being pulled over by the police much more frightening than driving through the projects.

In light of the events of the past two weeks, I look back and wonder what the cop might have said had I not been a small, young white girl driving the nice, new red car. Would he have asked where I’d gotten it? Would I have been pulled over at all?

I respect all life, and the many different cultural experiences that make the world and this country more vibrant, complex and interesting. I shook my head in disbelief the first time I watched that video. I feel it is important for me to express that because I am a social worker, an empath, and a human being.

I also respect the law, and the people who often risk their own safety to enforce it.  It worries me that the same type of generalizations that are applied to marginalized groups are also being applied to police officers. Not everyone in law enforcement uses excessive force. I feel it is important for me to express that, because I am a law-abiding citizen and the sister of a criminal prosecutor. But as my friend Kerri so clearly explained in a facebook post: There needs to be better training for anyone put in a position where they can take action that divides life and death. And if they show a willful disregard for this monstrous responsibility, then there need to be consequences.

I have heard things over the past seven years as a social worker that have stabbed at my heart and troubled my soul. Individual acts of prejudice and judgment are so hurtful, but institutional and systemic racism is a real thing, and it changes the trajectory of peoples’ lives. I can take a million classes on cultural competency but I’ll never be in a position to truly understand the daily experience of being part of a marginalized group.

Like I said, I was born privileged in a lot of different ways. Having a small white body that no one will ever be afraid of was one of them.

 

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My Husband Vinny

 

Between you and me, I still find it hilarious that I ended up with a guy named Vinny from Queens. So does my family, who’ve lived in Texas for so many generations that some of their accents might actually require subtitles on national TV.

A lot of people who meet Vinny assume he’s Italian, because you know… his name is Vinny and he grew up in an Italian neighborhood in Queens. But Vinny’s not Italian, he’s Croatian. Which is, you know, not really that far from Italy.

Anyway, Vin’s accent is about the same as mine–subtle, with just a hint of local flavor. But on occasion, he likes to crank the Queens up a peg and go full Joe Pesci on us. There are no famous Croatians to imitate (are there?), so he tends to give the people what they want and pretend he just stepped off a Scorcese set. I find this to be the funniest thing in the world and will usually egg him on. I married a ham.

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Saturday we went to the New York Botanical Gardens for the Holiday Train Show. I seem to have a knack for picking family-friendly activities, and sometimes it feels kind of awkward to be the only childless adults adrift in a sea of MacLaren strollers. However, I have to say, it’s nice to finally have a height advantage somewhere.

We roll into the parking lot at the gardens in the Bronx.  We pull up to the first of two tollbooths, where we pay $15 for parking. There is a $2 discount if you pay with Mastercard, so I ask Vinny if he has one. “Fuck yeah, I do!” It’s amazing how exciting saving two bucks can be.

We pull up to the second booth. The guy tells us it’s $28 per person to come into the gardens. Damn! That’s steep. We ask if it’s worth it. The guy waits way too long to answer. We recognize the brilliance in placing the parking tollbooth before the ticket tollbooth. Clearly we’re not going to spend $13 to take a lap in their parking lot. We buy the tickets.

We tour the grounds before hitting the train show. We walk up a little hill to check out the rock garden, and are disappointed to find a big lock on the gate. The rock garden is closed for the season. Apparently the rocks will not bloom again until next April. Bummer.

We traipse across the grass. There’s a nice building on the other side of a big lawn. “Look at that,” Vinny from Queens says in his best Joe Pesci.  I think he used the top of his hand to brush some invisible dirt from his chin. “Now that’s a beautiful building. I bet it was built by the Italians.”

“Why would you bet that?” I asked.

“Because the Italians…they’re an extraordinary race.” This reminded me of the time Vinny called me a racist for ordering white toast instead of wheat. I had to remind him that wheat is not a race, and my poor nutritional choices are my own damn business.

“Vinny, Italian is not a race.”

“No it’s not…but this is!” And then he ran away from me.

Finally, it’s our turn to go see the model trains. We’re not really here for the trains, but the artist renderings of 150 NYC landmark buildings, all constructed with natural materials like twigs, leaves and roots. It’s apparent that most of the kids are more interested in spotting Thomas the Train than the Flatiron Building carved out of tree bark.

When we get to the front of the line, the young female ticket taker asks Vinny: “Are you a model? For Abercrombie and Fitch?” That Vinny. The one person I know who doesn’t look chubby in layers.

Then she asks me: “Can I see your ticket?”

Well, then. Moving on. Time to see some bark buildings!

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We take the tour amidst a million kids yelling “This is boring!”, completely underwhelmed by the fact that someone WHITTLED THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE OUT OF FREAKING MULCH. We thought it was amazing and felt like telling the guy at the tollbooth that it was definitely worth 28 bucks.

Since we were in the Bronx, we made one last stop before heading home– our favorite bakery on Arthur Avenue (the real Little Italy–not that overcrowded tourist trap in Manhattan) for some freshly filled cannolis. Vin double-parked the car and slipped back into Joe Pesci for this moment: “Be a good girl, and go grab me a cannol”.

I purchase two cannolis– one large, one small–from a delicate Italian woman with pillowy hair and beautiful hands. When I see the difference in their size I say, “Oh look, a mama cannoli and a baby cannoli”, and she repeats back to me in a lovely accent that is soft and slowly cadenced: “Yes, it is a mama cannoli and a baby cannoli, A-ha-ha-ha.” Vin could learn a thing or two about subtlety from this woman.

I run back to the car with the pastries, and Vin says, “Heyyyy, back to Queens. Our home away from home!”

“Vinny, Queens is our home.”

“Even bettah, even bettah.”

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ANOTHER Holiday Gift Guide. But this is the Straight-outta-Queens Edition.

 

They’re a bit redundant at this point, but I just wouldn’t feel like a real blogger if I didn’t come up with my own holiday gift guide. I’m a big believer in shopping local and supporting small business owners, so my list focuses on products and services available in my own neighborhood.

Just in case you don’t know much about it, let me give you a brief rundown on the dynamics of my very special neighborhood. I live in Astoria, Queens, which is just a few subway stops outside of midtown Manhattan. Astoria is extraordinarily diverse, which is my absolute favorite thing about it.

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While it’s traditionally known as the big Greek neighborhood in New York, it also has a really large Middle Eastern population as well as European, South American and Bangladeshi communities. We have more small businesses than national franchises here, which keeps the neighborhood authentic, diverse, dynamic and interesting. The restaurants are outta sight, and we just have a lot of good stuff here (even if the stuff on my list is largely tongue-in-cheek).

That said, welcome to my neighborhood. Here are some great gift ideas for all the queens in your life.

 

BEAUTY TREATMENT GIFT CERTIFICATES

MASSAGE

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I had my first massage in one of these “body work” spas a few weeks ago, and let me tell you, that tiny Asian man pounded into my aching neck and back like I was a piece of pork tenderloin. $35, 45-minute deep tissue massage

 

HAIR REMOVAL

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Get your gal back in fightin’ shape with a set of well-groomed brows and a hair-free upper lip. With a $4 price tag, a service at this place makes for one hell of an impressive stocking stuffer. After she’s been waxed and buffed to a high sheen, take her out for a kebab at the corner meat cart for an additional five bucks. Call it one of your 12 dates of Christmas.

 

SALON SERVICES

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Every lady will tell you–there’s simply nothing worse than posing for your Tiny Prints family Christmas card with your roots undone. This photo is going to be stuck on 60 refrigerators for the next 20 days, give or take. Before sending your season’s greetings, treat your sweet to a day at the salon for a fresh dye and dry. Sneak a pack of ciggs in her purse for an extra special touch. They’re up to like $11.50 a pack in the city. That’s a pretty good gift in itself.

 

CLOTHING
FOR HER

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Some say only tourists would be caught dead in an “I heart NY” t-shirt. Au contraire, my friend. Deep down, we all want to look like we just tumbled off Canal Street. Three for $10. It is also a really good neighborhood in which to buy a burka, if that is your cultural dress.

 

FOR YOU

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Every girl’s crazy ‘bout a sharp-dressed man (or woman). Put a vest on it. Put a bow-tie on it. Put a baseball cap on it. All items, $5

…the look on her face when you walk in the room looking this fly—PRICELESS.

 

AN ENGAGEMENT RING

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Listen fellas. You and I both know there is nothing more original than a Christmas morning proposal. Skip the long lines at the mawl and get her something big and shiny from Paulie down the street. Your girl will know she picked a winner when she finds out you traded all her old gold to pay for it.

You could go the predictable route and hide it in a piece of fruitcake or put a pair of antlers on her collie and tie the ring around its collar, but if you really want to make the moment magical, pop the question while crammed in coach so the stewardess can announce your happy news over the PA system. “HE went to Steinway Street.”

 

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This photo is apropos of nothing, but this guy kept yelling, “Lady, take my picture! Lady, take my picture!” and it just felt right to include him in this round-up, as it seems his store has plenty of good holiday deals going on.

(As he put his two fingers in the air, he solemnly said, “God Bless America.” He was really very sweet.)

 

LINGERIE 

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I can’t speak for every woman, but I always feel my absolute sexiest in the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Between the avalanche of eggnog, my cookie-a-day habit and the chestnuts roasting on an open fire, all I really want to do at the end of the day is slip into a silky red nightie trimmed with marshmallow fluff and pleasure my elf.

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You won’t need any mistletoe with these stockings. You know what I’m talking about.

So when Santa sweeps through Astoria, Queens on his sled led by 12 Halal goats, I hope my garden apartment is on his sleigh-dar. I’ve been good this year, big guy. Don’t leave me out in the cold. And Santa, please ask my landlord not to increase the rent come January. Thanks!

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Sweet Dreams are made of Boobs. (Yes, you read that right).

 

Do you fall asleep listening to music? I do. And when I do, it is always with the same album. I drift away to the sweet, sweet tunes of a record none of you have ever heard of called “Night Tracks”.

I bought Night Tracks (on compact disc!) in the early years of my city life, when I was living with three girls in a duplex on the Upper West Side. As if multiple roommates weren’t enough to tune out, the asshole who lived right above my room would climb his Stairmaster late at night after work and the never-ending mechanical hum was like attempting to sleep in a field that was in the middle of being plowed. Additionally, my bedroom was on the first floor facing the street, which means I heard the door slam every time someone went in or out of the building, and every smoker on West 93rd street gathered directly in front of my window.

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My desperation for sleep was palpable–it still is–and so I went to my local Best Buy and scooped up Night Tracks, an album whose very cover made my eyelids heavy. I tossed it years ago, but it featured a picture of a dark, starry night sky with the title scrolled across in a loopy, dizzy cursive font. The songs on Night Tracks are the kind of moody, melodramatic piano instrumentals you’d hear as background music in a movie about war or star-crossed lovers. It makes perfect sense that I would purposely lull myself to sleep with movie theme songs since I have conked out in approximately 75% of all movies I’ve tried to watch since the age of six. Don’t even try to get me to explain the plot of The Hunt for Red October. I think I set some kind of record in that one. I didn’t make it past the opening credits.

I’d forgotten about Night Tracks until a few months ago, when I just happened to pull it up on the old bedside Ipod. “Hello, old friend.” I whispered as the first familiar song began to play. I don’t remember what I said to the second song, since I was out like a light.

So now, every evening, I tune into Night Tracks before tucking myself into bed. I think I might actually be addicted to it, because I’m finding it harder and harder to get to sleep without it. If I’ve already shoved my legs under the sheets and forgotten to turn it on, I harass Vinny to put it on for me by crying out “I need my traaaaaaaaaaacks” until he offers a patient “yes, dear” and presses play. Ugh, what a doll. I should make out with him more.

So last night, after a bowl of unbearably spicy pho that made my belly drop into my shoes, I got cozy in my sheets and summoned Vin to put on “the tracks”. Next thing I remember is waking up in a cold sweat after a really awful nightmare. We were on our private double-decker ferry, commuting to brunch on the Hudson River after a terrible rainstorm. We hit a huge wave and Vin says flatly, “I hope this boat doesn’t tip over.” Next thing you know we’re upside-down and fighting for our lives Titanic-style while NY1 is filming the whole thing from Chelsea Piers.

This was almost as frightening as the time I dreamed I was trapped at the top of the winding staircase in my enormous mansion, as the walls around me went up in flames. Downstairs, Ben Affleck wore a blue-velvet tuxedo and calmly smoked a pipe while tickling the ivories on a baby grand in the foyer.

Clients will often ask their therapist to analyze their dreams. I have no training in dream interpretation and I’m never going to pay for it. I look that shit up on the internet just like everyone else. But clearly, my subconscious is trying to warn me that Wealth = DANGER.

That, or I need to start listening to Katy Perry before bed so I can dream of happy things like dancing jujubes and cupcake boobs.

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Be True to Your Teeth, and They Won’t Be False to You

I used to be one of those people who feared the dentist. It all started with an x-ray for my wisdom teeth, and ended with me flat on my back on the office floor, surrounded on all sides by a team of alarmed dental hygienists. I don’t know if they still use this torture device, but at the time, they were doing x-rays where the patient stayed standing, inserted their chin into a metal tray, and then had a screen move over to cover your entire face. I was all, “Here’s my chin!” and then my knees buckled and everything went dark.

So I avoided the dentist for at least 7 years after that. Just enough time to develop tons of plaque and plenty of cavities. Then I finally found a place I really liked and my world–and mouth–opened right up.

I got to see my girl Sherry yesterday. Sherry is my dental hygienist, and I love her. A big reason I love her is because she also loves me. She calls me “Sweet Girl” and I become putty in her chair. Instead of handing it to me, she buries that little sample pack of toothpaste and tiny mouthwash right in my purse and says: “We’re close enough for me to do that.” She can’t clean teeth until she’s tuned into Taylor Dane on Pandora, and she has the last known poodle perm on the island of Manhattan. Sherry is fabulous, and I wish she would invite me over for Hanukkah.

Because we’re as close as two people who see each other for 30 minutes every six months can possibly be, Sherry has this habit of pursuing an actual conversation with me while she is knuckle-deep in my molars. On this visit, the main topic was what everybody’s doing for the holidays. Sherry is vacillating between Florida to see her daughter and Pittsburgh with her in-laws. Her first grandson was born six weeks ago, and while he is “yummy and delicious”, she actually finds him pretty boring at this phase and would prefer hitting Florida in 3 or 4 months when he will be guaranteed to be slightly more entertaining and worthy of a trip to the airport.

I have a metal utensil poking around my gums and my verbal skills are pretty limited, so I end up doing a lot of grunting and mhmmmming,while trying not to drool all over her fingers. Thirty-eight years on the job, and Sherry is still holding onto the hope that her patients will magically become viable conversationalists mid-cleaning.

“You’re doing great. Barely any bleeding.” She says, as she attacks my gums with a tiny pick-ax.

“Did you just say it’s good that I’m barely breathing?” I ask, because apparently when my ability to speak is affected, my ability to hear is too.  Of course it sounded more like “mumble mumble grumble droooooool”.

Anyway, I got the all-clear from Sherry and the dentist. No cavities! No gum disease! Barely any halitosis!

And as I packed up my purse, complete with my little plastic baggie filled with waxed floss and Listerine, my darling Sherry said her goodbyes.

“See you in six months, Sweet Lady.”

Sweet Lady. Lady. Apparently Sherry and I have now entered a new phase in our relationship. Equals. Contemporaries. Amigas.

We’re getting together for Mah Jongg next week.

 

 

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Let’s talk about blogging.

 

I’m going to try something new. New is good, right?

These blog posts of mine are getting kind of long. And very infrequent. Time to strike that. Reverse it.

I’m getting to a place with writing where I want to save some longer form pieces for other things, and writing involved blog entries is interfering with my ability to do that. I think I’ve made everything a little more complicated than it needs to be with blogging, which leads to me not posting for weeks, and also not spending the time to craft longer pieces either. No bueno.

So I think I’m gonna bring it back old school and use this blog as a daily online journal of sorts. Short, concise, minimally edited little clips from my daily life. I live and work in New York City, so it’s not like it’s difficult to find something weird to report every day. I mean, just today I saw a man with a huge spiderweb tattooed across his entire face. Imagine? I still wince plucking my eyebrows.

Anyway. As usual, please hold me to nothing. I’ve changed my mind about this blog and the way I use it several times over the past four years. But isn’t that the beauty of registering your own online space? The freedom to make it whatever you want?

Hope to check in with you soon…like, tomorrow!

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Money, Time and Space-Saving Thanksgiving Tips (For apartment dwelling hosts!)

 

Well, folks. I did it. I made my very first turkey. I feel like I just crossed some important threshold in my adult life. I haven’t felt this grown-up since I booked my first podiatrist appointment.

Saturday I hosted my 2nd annual Friendsgiving dinner, and it was awesome. It’s my new favorite fake holiday, trumping even Festivus and National Talk Like a Pirate Day. Last year was my first time to host this important event (hence…2nd annual), and things went more smoothly with a year’s time and a little experience under my pilgrim’s belt. Since Thanksgiving (aka: best real holiday ever) is right around the corner, I thought I’d share some of the tips that helped me feel stress-free. If you’re an apartment dweller, hosting a seated holiday dinner can seem like a pretty intimidating idea, but I assure you…it can be done!

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SAVE SPACE

FIGURE OUT WHO’S COMING: I hesitated writing this post because friends read my blog who weren’t part of this event, and if I had it my way I’d own a 30-seat table so I could accommodate more wonderful people. But since Friendsgiving/Thanksgiving is a seated dinner, it forces us to narrow the focus on a specific guest list. For Friendsgiving, I choose to invite a group of people who all know one another pretty well (you’ll see why this bit is relevant later in this post). We had 17 last year, and it was tiiiiiight. But do-able. So if you live in an apartment, never fear! You can do it. But be realistic with how many invitations you extend.

MOVE STUFF AROUND: When I host seated dinner parties, I end up completely deconstructing my home. With a two-room apartment (note: two-room, not two-bedroom–big difference), I really have no choice. When dinner is served in our kitchen/living room, that means appetizers and desserts are served in our bedroom.

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The sofa gets moved to the bedroom, so folding tables can be brought in for dinner. A chest of drawers next to our bed gets cleared off and becomes a dessert buffet. It’s very New York, and actually makes the party feel more intimate and kind of sweet. Little do our friends know that their chocolate cake is being served right above Vin’s underwear. Well, now they do.

INVEST IN FOLDING TABLES: We got three folding tables at Home Depot and ten folding chairs from Ikea, and we get SO much use out of them. We also use every counter available for hosting– bedside tables, bureaus, windowsills. Gotta make the most out of your space when you’re an apartment dweller!

CLEAN OFF YOUR KITCHEN COUNTER: When potlucking, your kitchen counter is going to fill up FAST once people start arriving. Hide things that aren’t essential, pack away any unused appliances, and make sure you have a big blank canvas for people to start piling things on.

GET YE A COAT STAND:  In a small apartment, 14 coats and 7 purses can make a tight space feel immediately claustrophobic and messy. Instead of having people drape coats on the couch or bed (which I always need for actual seating/lounging), Vin and I cram our own coats in a closet, then make sure all guests’ coats get corralled in one place on the coat stand.

 

SAVE TIME

PAPER OR PLASTIC? For me, both. We don’t have a dishwasher, and no one has time or energy at the end of the night to hand-wash 14 sets of big plates, little plates, bowls, cups and wine glasses. To keep things looking uniform and pretty without falling victim to dishpan hands, I use a strategic mix of permanent plates and disposable serveware. Knowing we will spend a lot less time wasting water makes me feel a little better about all the garbage we put out. Once I know I’m hosting and have a good idea of our guest count, I buy my plates, napkins and tablecloths. I like to get all decorative stuff out of the way early so I can just focus on food the week of the party.

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I set the tables with plastic tablecloths and paper plates and cups. Then I mix it up with glass stemware, pretty silver or glass platters, and good silverware. With the lights off and candles lit, you really can’t tell the difference anyway. Party City has a great selection of disposable stuff in a full range of autumnal colors and they’re cheap. Local dollar stores are good resources too. Pick a color scheme, stick to it, and cheap stuff looks more expensive. Is it sad that I get so much enjoyment from setting a table? Eh- don’t answer that.

BUY YOUR TURKEY EARLY!  For last year’s Friendsgiving I served pork tenderloin because a) I had no idea you had to defrost a turkey for several days in the fridge, and b) I completely underestimated how difficult it would be to find a fresh turkey in Queens two weeks before Thanksgiving. You generally need 24 hours of defrosting time per 5 pounds. For a 21-lb bird, I bought it on Monday night, and cooked it up on Saturday.

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PREP ALL WEEK: I don’t like rushing the day of a party, so I’ve learned over the years to use the whole week to ensure that I don’t. I knew I was making sweet potato casserole and butternut squash soup, so I peeled and baked those a few days before the event and stored them in tupperware until I was ready to assemble the dishes. That morning, all I had to do was mix them with the rest of the ingredients. Easy-peasy. Anything that required baking (ie: pies, cookies, cornbread) was taken care of Friday night, so they wouldn’t have to compete with the big bird for oven space on Saturday afternoon.

TAKE SHORTCUTS: Sorry, I don’t do homemade crusts. Those little Jiffy pie crust mixes cost less than a buck and create a pretty decent pie crust in like two minutes (seriously, all you do is add cold water, stir and roll out into your pie pan).  In lieu of homemade rolls (which I do love), this year I made cornbread instead, which requires no rising, kneading or hand-holding. Know what’s even faster? Go to the bakery or grocery store and buy ready-made or frozen bread dough. Bada-bing, bada-boom. Most people don’t notice the difference.

 

SAVE MONEY

GO POT-LUCK:  Thanksgiving is a communal feast if there ever was one. I would have been stressed out, cramped for time, and halfway to broke if I’d made all the dishes myself. Once I extended the initial save the date (about 6 weeks in advance) I let people know I’d send out another email to get a thread going about food contributions. As the host, I would make the main course (turkey), a few sides and a dessert. I then gave some suggestions for contributions that would be helpful, and would blend with what I was planning to cook. Since everyone has different dietary restrictions, I made sure we’d be covered in all areas so I asked for friends to contribute vegetarian-friendly and dairy-free side dishes and desserts.

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WELCOME NON-FOOD CONTRIBUTIONS:  Not everyone enjoys cooking, so always extend a non-food option. Wine, beer, soda, ice, coffee creamer and jugs of water are always helpful.

RECYCLE, REUSE, REPURPOSE:  Did you know you can reuse all those glass candle holders you have? If you have old wax in a nice glass canister, pop it in your freezer for a few hours. Then you can break up the wax easily with a knife and wash it out with Palmolive and a sponge. They’re great to use as vases, candy dishes, or to burn fresh candles in. The short vase here used to house a candle. The tall vase is actually a drink dispenser filled with fake leaves I picked up for a buck at the dollar store.

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USE BUDGET INGREDIENTS: Pumpkin desserts are cheap; pecan desserts are not ($8 for a tiny bag- no pecan pie this year folks!). Sweet potatoes–cheap! Dishes requiring bacon? Not cheap! I wasn’t planning on making brussel sprouts, but when I went to my market on Friday, they were on crazy sale, so I ended up swapping out green beans for brussels at the last minute. A little flexibility can shave off  quite a few dollars.

 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT:

BUY A BIGGER TURKEY THAN YOU THINK YOU NEED. I bought a 21-pounder, thinking there’d be tons of leftovers. If you’re going to go ahead and devote so much time to one food project, make a really big one and get a few more meals out of it. Our group ate the bird clean! Wish there were more leftovers this week, but I’m really glad they liked it and I didn’t kill anyone. (PS: If you don’t have one, make sure to get a meat thermometer so you don’t kill anyone either).

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GIVE ‘EM WHAT THEY WANT: I heard four people ask “Is there gravy?”. There wasn’t. Note for year three– make the gravy. Also! Buy gravy boat.

KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE:  Recipe didn’t call for it, but I threw a shot of whiskey in my sweet potatoes. Know your audience.

DON’T GO NUTS. I cop to the fact that I tend to overdo it. I start scouring Pinterest and my cookbooks, and then fantasize about making a huge spread with a million different things. I have to continually remind myself to reign it in a bit, and not go bananas with too much food. I kept it much simpler this time, and it made my day less complicated, less expensive, and no one missed out on anything.

SERVE ALLERGENIC STUFF SEPARATELY: We’ve got friends who are vegetarian and others who can’t have nuts or dairy. I like keeping small bowls of toppings on the table so people can customize dishes to their liking. Last year I made a butternut squash polenta which people could top with either bacon or cheese. This year I made a butternut squash and apple soup, then left out bowls of maple-cinnamon-cream (holla!) and almonds to put on top. The cream also doubled as topping for the pumpkin pie. If you can go double-duty on items- do it!

BUY TAKEOUT CONTAINERS:  The last few events I’ve hosted left us with pounds of uneaten food in our fridge.  I finally wised up and bought some takeout containers so guests could help us finish up the leftovers. Everyone packed doggie bags, and we now have a reasonable amount of food to eat for the week.

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SET THE MOOD:

START NEW TRADITIONS:  Thanksgiving, in my opinion, is the best holiday because it’s the one that emphasizes bonding, community, gratitude, and togetherness as opposed to over-the-top expectations and egregious consumerism. It’s a holiday that seems to bring out peoples’ sentimental sides, and it’s a great time to begin and maintain traditions with your family and friends-that-feel-like-family.

I started a tradition last year that our group seems to really enjoy, and it’s one I plan to continue doing as the years roll by. I give little writing assignments at the table that put a spin on the old “what I’m thankful for” lists people conjur up this time of year. For example, last year, I gave everyone a card and had them write 3 things they’re thankful for. Then they had to also write something nice about the two people sitting next to them. It ended up being a great mix of sweet and hilarious. Apparently my husband smells “exactly how a man should smell.”

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This year, I had everyone draw a name of someone else sitting at the table. Then they had to write down everything they were thankful for, in the voice of the person whose name they drew. It ended up being a collective roast, and it was hysterical. My friend Kerri drew my name and read her list in a questionable Texas accent, giving thanks for having a group of friends in Queens so I could “introduce them to cornbread and good manners”. It was fantastic.

And now I need to know…what are your best tips for hosting Thanksgiving or Friendsgiving on a budget? Do you have any fun traditions that you do year after year?

Anyway, that’s a wrap for this post. Off to stick my face in some leftover pie.

 

 

 

 

 

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A Morning in the Life: The NYC Commute

 

Friday, October 23, The commute

8:oo am: Dry my hair, put on my pants, pack my lunch–the usual morning stuff. I need to get downtown to the NYU campus by 9:25 for a “class” I take on Friday mornings. I use quotation marks because it’s not really a class, it’s a seminar I’m required to take as I supervise two NYU grad students at my agency. The interns are cool 20-somethings, and being around them reminds me that I’m not.

8:20: It is a brisk autumn morning, and so I wrap myself in a big cuddly scarf in warm autumnal colors. I bought it innocently at Zara two months ago, then turned on Instagram and became aware that this scarf is an internet sensation, popular with 20-something cool girls. Its popularity stems from the fact that it’s soft and cuddly and looks like it should be worn while kicking a big pile of crunchy red leaves or running in slow motion through a pumpkin patch. This scarf is truly adorable, but it has these microscopic fibers that pepper your entire outfit when worn, and it’s possible that it’s made with something I’m mildly allergic to. But it’s me against the scarf today, and I’m determined to win.

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<worn presumably without reaction on lemonstripes.com>

8:25 am: Leave house for the train station. Hug Vin and mention in passing: “I think I might be allergic to this scarf, but it’s cute and warm so I’m wearing it anyway.” This is what we call FORESHADOWING.

8:31: Ugh, it’s one of those days at the train station. So many people, so little space. My station has those announcements that alert you to when the next train will be arriving. This brings comfort on some mornings, rage on others.

8:32: The train arrives. It’s packed so tight I feel like I’m back in Tokyo even though I’ve never been to Tokyo or anywhere remotely close to it. I’ve  still got time; you’re not squeeeeeezing me thru zat tiny door. (that was supposed to be the German lady from Willie Wonka saying that).

8:33: “The next train will arrive in seven minutes.” Cue collective groan.

8:35: A cool-looking 20-something girl is eyeballing my scarf. It’s sold out everywhere. I could probably get 60 bucks on ebay for this thing.

8:40: I reluctantly board the bloated train. There are people touching me on all sides of my body. One sudden jolt and this car becomes a mosh pit. I excuse myself, and reach over a young woman’s head to grab the pole. I’ve tried riding freestyle on crowded trains before and it always ends in tragedy.

8:42:  I am stuck in an armpit sandwich. We all are. We are all the meat and we are all the bread. You would think this routine would bond us. It doesn’t.

8:45: Thiiiiiiiiiiiisssss traaaaaaaaiiiiin isssssssssssss ssssssooooooooo slowwwwwwwwwwwwww. My arm cramps.

8:47: It’s mornings like this when my mind wanders and begins imagining other possibilities for my life. What about a cute cabin upstate? Or a McMansion in the midwest? A trailer in the middle of nowhere? All of those options would be cheaper than purchasing a residence in this area, and whatever mode of transportation I’d require to get around my new town would no doubt be more comfortable than shooting myself through a tunnel at the bottom of the river in a crowded tuna-fish can.

8:50:  Damn. I think a fiber from my scarf has lodged itself behind my contact lens. Commence one-eye squinting.

8:51: Shit. This is very uncomfortable. I would like to touch my eye or make a go at removing this scarf but I can’t move my arm. There’s a man on my right who’s standing so close that lifting my elbow would give him a black eye.

8:52: The same song has been playing on my phone for the last ten minutes because I haven’t been able to change it. If I hear Chandelier one more time I might have to lift my arm and give my neighbor a black eye.

8:55: Passengers disembark. I’m able to move over to an area with more space. I’m facing a reflective wall and take a look at myself. Holy hell. My eye looks like a cherry tomato at the end of July. Extremely ripe.

8:56:  My eye starts to water. Not a drip, a gushing leak. My nose follows suit. The first case of Ebola in NY was announced last night. The girl sitting below me is probably googling “Can I get Ebola from a dork’s tears?”

9:05:  I move my sunglasses from the top of my head to the bridge of my nose. It doesn’t make me look cool. A river of eyeliner is snaking down my right cheek. I look sad and twitchy. I want to ask the universe why I am having this reaction to a cool-looking scarf favored by 20-somethings. It doesn’t seem fair.  I wasn’t trying to get away with ripped shorts. I knew I couldn’t pull off crop tops. It was just a scarf, a trendy scarf, and my body rejected it.

9:06: I realize my youth is over.

9:10: We’re only at 5th avenue. There’s no way I’m making this seminar on time. I can’t imagine walking into the classroom with my eye looking and feeling like this. I think I actually need to go back home, throw away this scarf and rip out my contact.

9:20: I get off at Times Square station, nowhere near my intended destination. I’m thinking of going home, but I can’t wait that long to get this crap out of my eye. I crouch down on the floor, take out a tiny mirror and some saline solution and get to work right there. I’m far from a germaphobe, but am well aware of how unsanitary it is to go from touching a subway pole to touching my eye.

9:22: I think I can skip going home, so I head back downtown. My vision’s a little blurry. I take a quick tumble down the stairs into the tunnel, but pull myself together. I can’t remember which curse word I yell, but i’m pretty sure it was the good one.

9:25:  Downtown train arrives. Take a seat. A three-piece mariachi band begins to march through the car. I would rather hear Chandelier for the 9th time than hear mariachi music before 10 am.

9:26:  The seminar starts at 9:30, and I’m clearly not making it. I set the example for student interns everywhere and decide to skip class and take myself out for breakfast. I’ve stuffed my trendy scarf in my handbag, as far as possible from my sweet, innocent eyes.

9:45: I’m at a hip French chain with a nice atmosphere. If I’m going to skip class, I’m going full-on Ferris Bueller.  I count the number of times “organic” is scribbled on the walls. It’s 18.  We get it, your shit is fresh.

9:50:  There’s a big chalkboard wall highlighting today’s menu items. It includes organic kale juice, a quinoa salad and $10 avocado toast. That’s bread, toasted and smeared with avocado for $10. Just make it stop.

9:55:  I order a pot of regular coffee and a plain croissant.

I am done with trends for the day.

 

 

 

 

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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". The deets: 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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