Much To My Delight

Much To My Delight

It’s Just a Season…


There is an enormous pile of rubble where my grocery store used to be. A wrecking ball tore through that sucker, and all that’s left is a mound of crumbling red ruins surrounded by a deep green construction fence. They’ve torn it down to make room for a huge pile of glass-block condos with a shopping center on the bottom floor. The old grocery had a going-out-of-business sale a few months ago, and all I got out of the deal was some half-price tin foil and a bag of cinnamon chips. They were already out of chocolate.

Up the street, our local bagel shop swapped out wood paneling and linoleum floors for white subway tile, marquee letters, and free Wi-Fi. Another bagel shop further up started selling Bacon-BBQ cream cheese; such a blasphemous mutation of a New York classic even my Bubbie in Houston is rolling over in her grave. My corner bodega now sells kale smoothies. My hair salon, where very mature women go for their weekly wash-and-set, just got a makeover too. They rolled over the bright green paint that made complexions sallow and painted every inch soft mauve, one wall covered in that plush upholstered fabric you’d see in a rich woman’s closet. I wonder if they’ll keep the sign in the window advertising group bus trips to Atlantic City. Somehow I doubt it. They probably consider it tacky now.

Astoria, Queens

The Athens Cafe, a classic Greek coffee shop where people could sip frappes and eat flaky honeyed pastries for hours, closed after 30 years. Now a trendy Southern spot where they slip duck fat in the biscuits takes its place. We went Saturday night. The biscuits were amazing. The duck fat really does add incredible flavor. What was my point again?

It’s getting crowded here. It’s getting younger too. Hipper. More hoodies and Chuck Taylors. More ironic beards than real ones. Tin ceilings in coffee shops. There are so, so many coffee shops. And rents! Gah! Don’t even talk to me about the rents.

But who am I to complain? Am I allowed to? Aren’t I being hypocritical?

I’m not a native New Yorker. I wasn’t raised in this neighborhood, or anywhere near it. I live in a city, where change is constant and inevitable. For me to expect Astoria to look and feel the way it did ten years ago is foolish and naive. This is not MY NEW YORK or MY ASTORIA. I didn’t found this city. I don’t get to decide who and what sticks around. I’m a hypocrite. I complain about change, while absolutely LOVING most of the changes.  Vin and I have tried almost every new restaurant in town. We are those assholes rolling in with wide-brimmed hats and skinny jeans. We would put subway tile in our kitchen if we had one. We crane our necks up at tin ceilings in coffee shops and sigh because we find them so beautiful. I’m exactly who real New Yorkers complain about when they complain about gentrification– I just got here earlier. Vinny gets a pass because he was born here, and also because he is Vinny, and Vinny is so damn charming it’s hard to be annoyed with him about anything. Plus, hello…his name is Vinny and what’s more New York than that?

Meanwhile, I worry about Old Astoria being pushed out by New Astoria. I sigh about potentially losing businesses I’ve never patronized. I want the shoe cobbler to have work forever. I don’t want the barber shop to let go of their striped pole or start serving shots of whiskey like they do in Manhattan. I hate how sugary their cakes are, but I’d never want that 60-year-old bakery to lose their lease.  What if they close the old vacuum repair shop? The one that fixes only 20-year-old models? Wouldn’t it be sad if that fabric store went away? What will become of the neighborhood if we lose the European housewares stores? The ones that sell fuzzy toilet seat covers and lace tablecloths that look like huge doilies? Where will Astoria find its charm then?

When I moved to Astoria ten years ago, it wasn’t the trendy neighborhood it is now. It was safe and there were plenty of things to eat here, but it wasn’t a place where the reputation was such that they could charge ridiculous rents for small, nondescript apartments. Now it is, which sucks, unless we are actually able to buy property here, in which case… keep growing Astoria! I think you need another really great pour-over coffee place on Steinway Street! See? Hypocrite!


It’s early November, and the leaves are wearing their autumn colors. We don’t have a ton of trees on our block, but the ones we do have are definitely in their prime. It doesn’t get more beautiful than autumn leaves, it really doesn’t. Check your Instagram. Everyone agrees.

The changing of the leaves signals a last hurrah for the growing season, and the transition is fast, moving from green to red to gold to bare in a matter of weeks. We’re already through the better part of the show; the leaves will all be on the ground by next week, and the thought of it makes me sad. As the leaves fall and the branches go cold, I remind myself that time is a gypsy, forever packing up and traveling in and out of town. I remind myself that nothing is eternal; that everything–eventually– will change. That change can be good. That it’s all just a season.

sad tree




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Final Push for the Luby’s Tea Cart Ladies

Growing up, nothing was more comforting than dinner at Luby’s. Now Luby’s, for the uninitiated, is a cafeteria chain and apparently a very, very Texas thing. When you’re a kid, the place you call home is the sun and every other place is like another planet, orbiting around you. I just assumed people in other states spent Friday night shuffeling down a line with a green plastic tray, waiting for a lady in a hairnet to fill their plate with the Lu-Ann special– half a piece of chicken, fish or pot roast, two sides, and a hot buttered roll. I thought everyone else bought fresh shrimp from a little trailer in the K-Mart parking lot and pinned enormous mums to their chests for Homecoming. How arrogant we are, the very young.

The food is probably not as special as my memory of it is– how could it be?– but I do recall having some pretty satisfying meals at the Luby’s off 61st Street in Galveston. My typical dinner was the fried fish with a squeeze of lemon or the chicken fried steak, surrounded on all sides by tiny ceramic bowls filled with gluey mac and cheese, waxy green beans that piled on top of one another and squeaked against my teeth, and velvety mashed potatoes, dented with a spoon in the middle and filled with a puddle of thick brown gravy.  We’d shove our trays down the line until it was time to pick the final flourishes– a warm cloverleaf roll or a big slab of cornbread (toss-up), a thick piece of gloppy but luscious chocolate cream pie or a glass parfait dish filled with chunks of electric blue jello (pie–always, forever, that’s not even a choice), iced tea or lemonade, or if your parents were feeling generous, fountain soda. (Iced tea, no question).

lubys meal

Dad would foot the bill as dads are wont to do, then we’d carry our trays to the nearest booth and shimmy in, one by one. We’d eat our dinners and chat about our week. Occasionally people we’d recognize would pass our table and say hello– a coworker from dad’s office, a classmate from school, a neighbor, a friend. It was the kind of town where it was often hard not to bump into people. Luby’s, TCBY, Home-cut Donuts, Randall’s grocery– go there, you’re going to run into somebody you know every single time. Maybe that’s why my mother taught me to never leave the house without lipstick. Although I think that might be a strictly Texas thing too.

My brother’s personal tradition was to finish his meal, take a deep breath, then untuck his shirt and unbutton his pants so he could hit the line again and go for round two. Eating dinner at Luby’s was a lot like Thanksgiving; you had to go in hungry and commit to a well-constructed plan. My brother viewed a night at Luby’s as a marathon, not a sprint, and made his preparations accordingly, not only by picking the right outfit, but by harnessing his mental energy to become a strategically mindful eater, choosing just the right dishes to leave him calm and satisfied rather than overstuffed and lethargic, or so bloated and comatose we’d have to haul him out in a wheelbarrow.

While he was gone, one of the tea cart ladies would roll through, offering refills. Wait… you don’t know what a tea cart lady is? Oh. You must be from one of the other planets. Bless your heart.

Iced tea is a big deal in Texas. My mother brewed a glass jar of it weekly on our back porch, under the sizzling beam of a blazing Texas sun. My camp kept it ready and available in the dining hall for us to guzzle throughout the day, huge galvanized pitchers we barely had the strength to lift. And my father, in several restaurants where they know him, is given an entire pitcher of the stuff because he requires more refills than any mere mortal could possibly keep up with. Being a truly Texan chain, Luby’s recognized the importance of free-flowing iced tea, and thus employed a fleet of cordial ladies to circle the restaurant pushing metal carts filled top to bottom with slender glasses pre-filled with our favorite beverage. They wore muddy brown or maroon smocks, tied at the waist with thick, white apron strings and flat, sexless footwear like candy stripers asking, “More tea? More tea?” in lilting Texas accents as they paraded up and down the aisles. The tea cart ladies are long gone now, replaced by people who simply take your order, and come back with your refill. I miss the good old days, I really do.

vin at lubs 

I spent Halloween in Brooklyn this year, dressed in cowboy boots and a western shirt to match a few members of the great New York family I married into; the family I was born into would not have considered my outfit a costume. Our twin toddler nephews were adorable little cowboys–custom-made baby chaps included– and since I already have a few pieces of Western wear, it was difficult not to oblige the offer to join in the seasonal fun.

We went to Fort Greene Park where hordes of revelers were dressed to the gills. We saw whole families dressed as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, gangs of superheroes, Mister Potato Head, a walking banana. I kept waiting for one of them to dethrone the greatest costume I ever saw, but it’s been 18 years now, and no one has ever come close.

My brother, the same one who used to unbutton his pants and untuck his shirt in preparation for his 2nd dinner at Luby’s, joined a fraternity in college. The year he pledged, the active members made him dress head toe as a wolf–not the scary, threatening kind, but the plush, storybook version you want to cuddle up next to because the fur is so soft. In one of my favorite photos, my brother is unrecognizable in his wolf costume, with his arm around his older sister, adorned in blonde braided pigtails and dressed like Baby Spice. Flanking my other side is one of my best girlfriends, a spunky sorority girl wearing an old prom dress, fake dreadlocks and a sash that reads “Miss Jamaica”. If Facebook had been around back then, she’d have probably made national news. 

We clinked our red solo cups and danced the Monster Mash, then halfway through the party, one of the other pledges finally made his appearance. He was at least 6 feet tall, with broad shoulders and quads like tree trunks. His furry leg hair was the same color as his frumpy brown dress, and his waist was so thick he could barely tie the apron strings around the back. His hairnet was secured with thick metal pins and his enormous feet barely fit inside his orthopedic shoes. He slowly mingled around the party, pushing an old metal cart across the stained concrete floor. When he finally made his way toward us with his cart full of glasses, I couldn’t help but put down my beer and toss back a Lipton.

Aside from a few out-of-state admissions, we were all a bunch of Texas kids. Many were from Dallas and Houston, while others came from tiny towns no one else had ever heard of– but we’d all grown up grabbing glasses of tea off a traveling cart, all bargained with our parents for the cream pie instead of jello. It was a moment that made every one of us smile and feel nostalgic for our childhoods, even though technically, we were all still in it, albeit the tail end. There was beer on the floor and neon on the walls. Girls were dressed like naughty nurses and guys looked like wild animals. But suddenly, out of nowhere, out fell this little crumb of pure, innocent sweetness.

And oh, what a treat that was.



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A long-ass post about Montreal, married life and general minutiae


Friday morning, 7:30am: We hop in a cab. The driver is laughing his head off, the kind of laugh where you worry a little pee might come out. We start giggling along with the radio program he’s listening to and it instantly becomes one of those New York moments you hope for. The cab doesn’t smell and the driver is delightful.

8:00: We’re headed to Montreal for 3.5 days to celebrate our third anniversary. We almost went to Niagara Falls until we realized I could only look at falling water so long before my bladder yells uncle. I’m very excited to visit Montreal, and am still amazed we can go to another metropolitan city in another country speaking ANOTHER language and it’s only an hour away. They speak a lot of French in Montreal which should be interesting for me since I sound like Clark Griswald on his Pig in a Poke European vacation when I try to pronounce French words.   It’s kind of like my dad in Spain, when he just added an “a’ to the end of every word and called it Catalan.

I have always been intimidated by people who speak French, and have been known to look at French toddlers with befuddlement, for how can someone who can’t toilet independently understand the nuances of such a beautiful and sophisticated language? I always assume French children are smarter than me because they already know something I don’t. I’m pretty sure my sister-in-law is teaching our twin nephews a bit of French and I am already bracing myself for future intimidation. They already dress better than me, and they’re only one.


8:40am: I’m wearing a Montreal appropriate outfit because I try to imbue my clothing with local flavor wherever I go. Texas, I bring boots. California, tank tops. I’ve never visited Montreal, but in my head the locals are tidy and very chic. I am basing this simply on the fact that some of the buildings in Montreal look a bit like Europe, and Europeans can dress. As such, I’ve taken care to outfit myself in a way that suits the weather and my location for the next four days– distressed jeans, a cream cable-knit sweater, tall black boots and a beige trench. My trench is snug and a bit too short in the waist because I bought it in the children’s section of ZARA to save 30 dollars, then shrunk it in the dryer because I am both fiscally conscious and domestically incompetent. 

The real star of the show is my new tan fedora, which lends me the appearance of both a sophisticated North American traveler and my mother shopping for pork chops in 1983, when she could often be found at our local Kroger’s hiding a head full of sponge curlers with a glamorous wide-brimmed hat.   

8:55am: We have checked in at La Guardia, and are now at our first authentically French stop for the day—the airport Au Bon Pain.  There are six women at the counter getting lattes; one is wearing a bachelorette sash and all six are wearing floppy wool hats in a variety of colors ranging from eggplant to cocoa. I look like their cast-off friend, the one who didn’t get invited to the party and is now stalking them at the airport. I get myself coffee and a chicken noodle soup which I accidentally ladle all over the formica counter, then attempt to sop up with those flimsy plastic sheets you’re supposed to use when picking up corn muffins. I hide my eyes under the lip of my hat, leave the mess there and scoot away quickly because I’m supposed to be better than this. I’m dressed neatly and traveling to a city where the dominant language is French. I am supposed to be an urban sophisticate.

9:30 am: On the plane, Vin and I joke about our imaginary second spouses–the people we’re leaving behind as we run across the Canadian border together. I don’t know why we find this so amusing, but we do. Vin is married to a lovely Nigerian woman named Gwendolyn with three children; they spend most Saturdays at the farmer’s market in the country. Gwen loves Sports Center and can stay up all night playing video games and listening to old records. My alternative husband is Persian and extremely wealthy. I never greet him by name, referring to him only as “The Sultan”. We don’t fly coach and my closet looks like Mariah Carey’s. I wear expensive lingerie and lacy corsets but sleep on the other side of the house because I hate him. I assure Vinny that our marriage is based purely on love, which is why I sleep in the crook of his arm wearing dollar-store underwear and pajama pants with a hole in the butt. 

10:25 am: The flight is over in 55 minutes and I’m in another country. That’s amazing. My friend Aimee’s recent trip to the DMV took longer than this (sorry Aimee, that le sucks).

10:40 am: We scoot through customs into an airport so bright, airy and modern it looks like we just stepped into a dystopian movie. Everyone is completely silent. Everything is sterile and ridiculously clean. I can hear my own footsteps. It’s kind of freaky. We step into our own little kiosk and essentially check ourselves into Canada. We no longer have to wait in a long line to scan the paper ensuring the country we didn’t smuggle in firearms or bushels of fresh produce.

“This is the greatest machine in the world!” says Vin, who loves technology only slightly more than me, and quite a bit more than that whore Gwendolyn. “It’s a thing of beauty,” he marvels. A woman in her mid to late sixties is at the kiosk next to us, talking herself through the frustrating process that used to be handled by a real person in a metal booth. She mutters: “Ugh, why is everything computerized now? I hate this.” Vinny helps her scan her passport, and she flashes him a wan, tired looking smile. She looks grateful, but sad.

11:40 am: We check into the hotel. Vin locks our passports in the room’s safe. Adding this detail means nothing now but will make perfect sense later.

 Old MontrealFullSizeRender-12

12:30pm: We walk from our downtown hotel into Old Montreal. The buildings are cute and predictably old, but there’s nothing to indicate that this area isn’t strictly for tourists, which is a shame because Montreal residents should get to enjoy this pretty street but I’m fairly certain they have little use for tiny grizzly bears and decorative bottles of maple syrup. I refuse to eat on the main street here because I know how the world works and assume this area involves mediocre, overpriced food cooked up special for suckers. Here’s a tip for people visiting New York City. Never get duped into eating in the following places:  Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Jekkyl and Hyde Club, Serendipity 3, Sbarro pizzeria, the Times Square Olive Garden (or anywhere in Times Square PERIOD), the M&M store, Manhattan’s Little Italy, Restaurant Row, from a kiosk in Manhattan Mall, or anything on or near South Street Seaport. Cancel your reservations and tell them Jenn didn’t send you.

1:00pm: Vin finds a real local’s joint called Olive & Gourmando, where everyone is speaking French and eating pressed cheese sandwiches. This place bustles with energy, and makes us excited to see what the rest of the city has to offer. We finish up then walk around, smiling, sun on our faces, nothing on our agenda. A nice change.

The first thing I notice about Montreal is that it is almost unbelievably clean. I don’t see trash anywhere. I don’t see trash cans or street cleaners anywhere either. I think the people of Montreal are so clean that they don’t even produce trash. I slipped on a piece of pizza coming down the subway stairs last week. I routinely dodge puddles of vomit and old chicken bones on my walk to work. Where am I?

cute guy in pumpkin patch

2:15 pm: I twist Vinny’s arm until he agrees to pose in a small pumpkin patch. Vinny’s signature season is autumn and he dresses for it all year long. V’s a team player and complies. An older lady walks up and smiles at Vinny, “Do you come with the pumpkin patch?” She asks playfully. He replies that he’s only visiting the patch, then she asks if she too can take his picture. Vin grants her wish, so if you come across this photo on your aunt Helen’s Facebook wall, now you know how it got there. The woman’s husband walks behind Vin, grabs an apple and takes a big bite.

2:30 pm: We turn a corner and spot the six girls from the bachelorette party on bicycles, pedaling one by one down the narrow street. One girl take her hand off the handlebars, points at us and yells “Hey! You were on our plane with us!” 

“I recognize you too!” I yell back. In hindsight, this seems like a pretty dumb thing to say, but really, what was I supposed to say? “Hey guys! Wait up!”? None of us are wearing hats now because the wind is too strong. I chased mine down the street twice before I finally gave up and stuffed it in my tote bag. But we recognize one another all the same because we are more than just dumb Americans in floppy hats. We are English-speakers in a French-speaker’s world. We are bonded.

 Basilica Montreal

3:00 pm: We check out the Basilica. It’s stunning, gorgeous, overwhelming. Its size is humbling and the detail in the architecture is just remarkable. Half of the people are snapping away with cameras;  the other half look annoyed by them. Some pray, some genuflect, many send text messages. Suddenly, someone begins playing an organ from up in the back and it’s not a religious song, it’s a dark, haunting classical piece that boomed though the alley of the cathedral like a thunderstorm. It was amazing.

Vin was captivated. He also looked a bit like Jesus in a fedora, just hanging out in the middle of a church in Canada on a breezy Friday afternoon. I keep waiting for the lady from the pumpkin patch to pop out with her Samsung and ask “Do you come with the organ music?”  The guy behind Vin is all, “Eh, is okay, I’ve heard better.”

basilica montreal

7:oo pm:  Lipstick, concealer, cab to another part of town for dinner. The cab driver is wearing a beautiful wool blazer, a nice hat, a lovely scarf and a smile. “Bonne soirée”, he greets us, then turns on the radio and begins listening to opera music at a completely pleasant volume. The cab smells like a Strawberry Shortcake doll, not takeout Chinese or Halal meat, and I’m again reminded that I am a foreigner in a foreign land.

We are dropped off on a cute little street with a few tiny cafes. Our table is sandwiched between two very young couples. Vin orders a delicious and attractively presented goat cheese salad that the average 22-year-old would have Instagrammed. I leave the phone in my handbag because I’m 38 and starving.

The couple on my right and Vin’s left is on their first date together. The girl is so loud, and the guy is so bored. She is the queen of questions: “How many dates have you been on?” “How did they go?” “Why haven’t you dated more?” “Are your parents still married?” “Do you think they still love each other?” “How did they meet?” “What does your Dad look like?”

The guy chews his steak. Drinks a sip of water. Drinks a sip of wine. Nods. Dies inside. Dreams of going back in time and swiping left.

“Do you think your parents settled for one another, or were they like, actually into one another?” “Can I give you some advice? Don’t go for the hot girl all your friends are into. You need to go for the girl you actually, like, really really like. Life’s too short, you know? Never settle, never ever settle.” I glance over at my husband, and feel gratitude for having reached the point in our relationship where we can easily sit in silence at a dinner table, where the only truly important question left is, “You gonna finish that?”

9:30 PM: Uber, hotel, yadda-yadda, bedtime. 


montreal chinatown



8:50 am: I run downstairs because when we checked into the hotel the lady at the front desk smiled and said they serve free coffee from 6-9 am. I pull my little paper cup to the lip of the dispenser and it comes out in sad, tired little drips as if to taunt me and say, “Really? Ten minutes before closing? Get your shit together and come down earlier next time if you want a piece of this.”

“I’m on vacaaaaaaaation”, I whine inwardly. “I need coffeeeeeee.”  I am happy to note that no fewer than three gentlemen are furious on my behalf. Two of them are members of an (English-speaking!) couple, and another is the French-speaking gentleman in a wool blazer who works in the fancy men’s suit shop in the lobby.

“Oh my God– is it gone?” one of the English-speaking guys says. “Are you sure? What do we do? You’ve gotta get your coffee!” Without having said a word, these people understand me. I feel loved.

“Ugh, I really do. I tried tipping it forward to get the last of it out, but the handles were really hot. It’s not worth scalding myself for. Or…maybe it is?” I try tipping it forward again and almost cry it’s so hot. But then someone runs to me with a tiny silver pitcher full of coffee and we embrace and I can start my morning like a kind, benevolent person instead of one with a withdrawal headache and a heart full of hate.

9-9:50 am:  I hang in the lobby writing and drinking coffee while Vin is upstairs showering. I’m always ready to go earlier than Vin, but my new system is to just wait outside doing something else rather than waiting in the house and getting impatient chanting, “Vin are you ready yet? Vin are you ready yet?” This way I get to enjoy my morning and people-watch in a lobby where many people speak French and several will literally run toward you with hot coffee. These are good people. I may stay here all day.

10:30 am: Before we do anything today, I have to buy a coat because it’s freaking freezing here and I didn’t bring the right clothes. I did this somewhat intentionally since the American dollar is stronger here, so anything I buy will essentially be 30% off, right off the bat. I find a coat at a Canadian store called Simon’s which Vinny compares to JC Penney but I’m thinking more like Macy’s and will tell everyone is the Canadian Saks Fifth Avenue. We walk through a few blocks of construction and down some back alleys to a place Vinny has located by phone to eat our breakfast.


10:50 am: We land in a café that’s so us it’s scary. The walls appear distressed to the point of almost crumbling. The tables are heavy old wood. There are plants hanging from the ceiling. Brass fixtures. Oh, my…we love this place. I am served what is probably the best breakfast I have ever eaten. A perfectly poached egg with a light hollandaise sauce served on top of a huge hash brown cake atop a mound of roasted brussel sprouts and chunks of thick, salty bacon. If this sounds as good to you, come over next Sunday for brunch because I will be recreating this dish every weekend until I outgrow all of my pants.

12:00: We take our first trip on the Metro. I will never become impatient with NYC tourists again for not understanding how metrocards work because it takes two different pe0ple for us to figure out how to purchase cards and where to put them in the turnstile. All the directions are in French everywhere, so we are mostly going by context clues, which we apparently suck at.

12: 50 pm:  We enter the Botanical Gardens because I saw on pinterest that they had these unbelievable topiaries of dragons and wizards and shit and it looked completely magical. When I ask the ticket girl about the magical dragons in her yard, she informs us that those were part of a traveling exhibition that hasn’t been here since 2013, and if we really want to see them we need to go to the Ottawa Botanical Gardens in 2017. We mark our invisible calendars–next Sunday: brunch with poached eggs and hash browns, 2017–Ottawa.

man in leaves

Montreal botanical garden

Montreal botanical gardens

1:15- 3:30 pm:  We traipse around the gardens learning more about plants. I am genuinely surprised by how much Vin seems to be enjoying himself, as taking a walk through nature is not generally his idea of a good time. “Jenn, look at that tree. What kind of tree is that? Wow– look at this plant. I love it. ” He wants to continue walking, taking the long route. This is typically my role in the relationship, and things are completely off-balance cause I’m ready to go roll up in a ball in front of a Canadian TV program. Is You Can’t Do That on Television still on? My feet are just killing me. The tall black boots were a terrible choice, and my occupational hazard of day- long sitting has not primed me for this much continued walking. Also, I’m just not sure what’s happening here. It’s as though I married a stranger. This event opens up a lot of questions for me. Do we ever really know who we’re sleeping next to in our cheap underpants and threadbare pajamas? Maybe Vin is a wealthy Persian and I don’t even know it. That would actually be awesome.

3:45 pm: We’ve arrived at the Jean-Talon food market. Stop the presses. Hold the phone. Jump back, honky cat. Drop me off here, leave me forever, I’ll make out just fine. Aisles and aisles of gorgeous, impeccable, abundant vegetables and fruit. Broccoli in four different colors– FOUR!, piles and piles of luscious leeks, bushels and barrels of juicy red and orange tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins, squash, herbs, garlic. A woman snapped a fresh okra pod in half and gave it to us to try and I wanted to take a bag of it home with me to make a fresh salad but I couldn’t because I was staying at a hotel with $20 club sandwiches and no kitchen access. This place was my heaven, the kind of utopic wonderland that makes me want to hug freely and pass out high fives. I feel suddenly homesick. I want to go home and play with my cookbooks.

food market in montreal

fresh garlic

pumpkin patch

fresh grapes

5:00 pm: Head to the Mile End neighborhood. Eat an authentic Montreal bagel, different than New York bagels. Less puffy, not chewy. I’m not going to tell you which one I like better (cough, cough, of course I am… NEW YORK BAGELS RULE); the only thing I’ll say is that they both beat Lender’s by a landslide. 

5:30 pm: My feet are in agony. It feels like someone took a cheese grater and rubbed it against my toes. They hurt so badly I am no longer enjoying myself, and that’s a shame because it’s a lovely day otherwise. I don’t know exactly what’s going on inside my shoes, but I’m terrified to find out. I am picturing a podiatric apocalypse, like maybe there’s not even feet in my shoes anymore, but shrapnel or a quarter-pound of ground hamburger. In the meantime, poor Vin is researching places we can sit and hang so I can drink coffee, rest my patties, and spend the majority of the late afternoon whining.

5:45 pm: He finds a tiny cafe called Croissanteria, which is charming and adorable and looks like it could easily fit into any Brooklyn street. We sit, we eat pastry, we rest. An older woman with a cane walks in with a younger, attractive man. It’s evident that the man is not her son or nephew. The waiters look nervous, and rush to get her to her favorite table, currently occupied by a sweet-looking family with  a young daughter. The lady with the cane shoos them out of her table, and the family moves to some lowlife booth in the back of the restaurant. The cane lady slides into the bench with the handsome man, then leaves for 15 minutes, so he sits there bored and alone, gazing out the window at the rustling leaves. I don’t know who this lady is, but assume she is either the cafe owner or the mayor of Montreal.


9-11 pm: We have one of the best dinners of our lives at a chic Italian restaurant called Impasto. Vin has porchetta with pear and broccoli rabe, and I enjoy a pasta with lemon and cream that shaves two years off my life but is completely worth it. The dessert is a homemade ice cream with strawberries and pistachios and it feels like an angel is kissing me square on the mouth when I eat it. There are two guys next to us–one looks like a miniature version of Joey Tribiani; he is tiny, tan and muscular, and has come to a great Italian restaurant to only drink black tea. His friend, however, has an incredibly robust appetite in every sense of the word– he orders a charcuterie platter and two pasta dishes for himself while chatting endlessly about his social life. You’d think hearing the phrase “anal sex” no fewer than six times would make me less hungry, but you’d be wrong. I’m happy for this guy’s active sex life, but my one true love is food and I hope we get to spend many happy years together. Unlike him, I do not fear commitment.



10am- 4:30 pm: More walking, exploring, crying about my feet hurting. I feel as though I have shin splints and I am scared to see what’s lurking beneath my sock. Every step hurts. Somewhere in there we eat poutine at an open air spot in Old Montreal. Poutine is apparently the official dish of Canada and it consists of french fries smothered in gravy and cheese curds. I find it utterly gross, and am also weirded out by the fact that there’s an enormous sculpture of ET lurking in the corner of the room.

4:45 pm: Return to hotel. Take off boots. My poor precious little baby toe has an enormous bubble on it. It is tender to the touch and looks very much like a planetarium. There is no tub in our room, only a fancy shower, so I climb up onto the bathroom counter and give my feet a soak in the sink. I will not tell you what I do next, but will explain that it involved some very hot water, the hotel sewing kit and gentle, rolling tears.

I crawl into my fluffy hotel bed and read. It’s a book called 12 Patients, and it’s an inside look at the inner workings of Bellevue Hospital in NYC. Reading about real medical problems makes me feel like a baby complaining about my toe blister, but it also doesn’t stop me from whimpering softly to myself. Vinny has left the hotel and is combing the streets of Montreal searching for emergency supplies to cushion my aching foot.

5:30 pm:  Vin comes back with a spool of gauze, medical tape and a package of three little wraparound bandages designed to cushion corns. He takes my left foot in his hand and begins to gently bandage me. My heart swells even bigger than my toe, and I gaze at my husband with pure love and bottomless gratitude. “The sultan would have never done this for me,” I whisper. I have always known that I married up, but it’s acts like these that show me how far.

8:30 pm: We have scored a reservation at a place made quite famous by Anthony Bourdain. They specialize in things I don’t eat like liver mousse, pickled tongue, and foie gras served about 20 different ways. Our waiter looks like a character actor, the kind that would be cast as a jaunty but evil villain who sneaks around in a silk scarf and black beret while twisting his thin mustache and making creepy shapes with his mouth and eyebrows. I am fairly certain he is high on cocaine because no one is this excited to yell meat specials. The restaurant’s specialty is “duck in a can”, literally two pieces of duck and foie gras shoved in a soup can, boiled, then poured onto your plate at the table in a river of sauce and vegetables. It sounds repulsive and costs nearly $50. A place like this is sort of wasted on us. Vin orders the Happy Pork Chop (it’s covered in sauerkraut, that doesn’t sound happy to me), and I order an endive and apple salad with an entree of tuna tartare. The waiter says “Yes! Perfect!” but is probably thinking, “Why did you come here?” The table next to us has just acquired their meal– it’s an entire hen, resting on a bed of raviolis swimming in cream sauce, and it is served in a full-sized dutch oven. My stomach hurts at the sight of it.

the next day:  We check out, and head back to our favorite cafe where we start off with pastries and end with lunch. We cab back to the hotel, pick up our bags, and jump in our last cab to head to the airport.

“Bon voyage! Thanks for visiting Canada!” says our lovely driver, before disappearing into the clean, litter-free street of Montreal.

We pull up to one of the kiosks and begin checking into our flight. It asks for a credit card, so we swipe. It asks how many bags we are checking in, so we hit ‘none’. It asks us to swipe our passports and I yell “FUUUUUUCK! We forgot our passports!!!”

We quickly discuss our plan of action. We almost hop in a cab to go back to the hotel and procure our passports in person, but instead decide to call the hotel and ask if they can help us skip a step, go unlock our safe and have someone bring the documents to us here at the gate.

We call the hotel, explain the situation and they send a cab driver to our arrival gate with our passports in a manila envelope. “Fast! Fast!” the driver says to Vinny when he finally makes it. We breathe a sign of relief, and go check in. Anxious and overwhelmed, we almost enter a secured section of the airport instead of proceeding forward to our gate. A guy at a table eating a hoagie calls over to us, “Read the sign, guys”, and I already feel like I am back in America. Ah New York sarcasm, how I’ve missed you!

New York City view from sky

We exit Montreal, and 45 minutes later fly over our own city again, the place where Vinny was born and I have grown. From up here, the whole place looks like a Lego set, a movie scene, a Woody Allen love letter.

Now we’re in New York. The Big Apple. The city that never sleeps. The concrete jungle where dreams are made of. We have made it here. We can make it anywhere.

But we really wouldn’t want to.


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How personal do you get on your blog?


I just discovered this new writer who is making me lose my shit on the subway. Her stories are so outrageous and searingly funny that I can’t stop grinning from ear to ear, shaking my head, and laughing out loud. I clutch my stomach and wipe the happy tears from my eyes. And then, I try to tame myself down. Because that’s what I do.

One of the reasons her writing is so strong is because it’s uninhibited, honest and raw. This chick really puts it all out there. Admittedly, not all of her stuff is up my alley (there’s an entire essay dedicated to the rankness of her farts), but many of her stories had me doubled over in pain from laughing so hard because nothing was off limits–ridiculous sex stories, truly mortifying moments, hysterical family memories.  She’s almost painfully self-aware, and ballsy enough to call attention to her baser qualities. She allowed herself to be very vulnerable and writes in a way that shows she’s clearly not afraid of embarrassing herself. But she also seems afraid to write things that have the potential to truly embarrass others, and that’s where I struggle most as someone who writes in the first-person as opposed to fiction.

how personal should i get on my blog?

The best writing, in my opinion, is just like this. You have to pretend there is no one reading your stuff in order to give yourself permission to really let go. You can’t look over your shoulder worrying “Who’s going to read this?”. You can’t pause and say, “But how will this make me look?” or “What will my mother think?”. Writing without those types of restrictions is refreshing and real, and reminds the reader that at the end of the day, we’re all just a bunch of fools fumbling around trying to figure ourselves out.

I really wish I could let myself write this way, but I can’t. Turns out, I am an inhibited person in life and on paper. I have my reasons, and if you’re a blogger who finds herself holding back from writing the whole dirty truth, I bet you do too. My reasons are this: I have a husband, a family, a personal life and a full-time job to consider, and if something I write compromises any of those things, I’d have a really difficult time recovering from that. To me, that risk will never be worth any potential rewards.

So, back to this writer. Her name is Sara Barron, and if you like to laugh you should read her two books because she is truly funny in a way that I will never be. First of all, she ain’t afraid to let her freak flag fly, and will entertain you with many tales of sexual hilarity, including the time she got carpal tunnel syndrome from excessive masturbation and discovered her grandmother’s vibrator in a bedside table drawer. This is a classic distinction of what will always make someone like her funnier than someone like me– had this stuff happened to me, I would carry those tales with me until the day I died. Maybe I would share them at an intimate gathering of my very closest friends, but that’s it. They’d go no further. Two hilarious stories up in smoke, because I couldn’t handle embarrassing myself that way, and my family would (rightly) spear me with a long, pointy dagger if I publicly upset my grandmother. I would never want to bring negative attention to someone I love so much. Plus, I’m still counting on her to direct traffic to my blog.

The truth is, I’m not really at risk for that to happen anyway. I don’t have a ton of wild stories to tell because I’ve never been an incredibly wild person. I have been cautious and relatively conservative my whole life. At slumber parties, the other girls would sneak out the front door and have boys meet them down the street. I’d stay in the house, read magazines in the corner, then put myself to bed at a reasonable hour so I’d wake feeling refreshed in the morning. I usually shared my first few pancakes with the host’s mother; we’d clink juice glasses and swap sections of the newspaper.

I also have a hard time writing openly about my personal feelings. My observations– no problem. But my feelings? That’s very difficult. I’ve got the hang of “show, don’t tell”, particularly when it comes to describing a scene or a setting, but when it comes down to really shooting from the hip and writing from the heart, I struggle. I’m like the Georgia O’Keefe of blogging– all landscapes, no self-portraits.

I am a psychotherapist, and all day long I work within boundaries. Boundaries are huge with dorks like us. I have a job in which I purposely shroud my own background, personal feelings, values, and biases so that I can actively listen, accept and learn about everyone else’s. I have done such a good job at this that it’s now difficult to swing the other way– to let my guard down, to let someone in, to reveal too much. And yes, the idea that my clients would find this blog is something I worry about and tailor my writing around all the time. That’s why I have a different name at work than I do on here, and my Facebook page is named after a movie character. I’m wearing dark sunglasses and a big floppy hat in my Instagram photo. At my day job, my identity is not a secret, but my personal details are to always be sort of vague. This runs exactly counter to the kind of first-person writing I do, and I’m having so much trouble navigating that divide.

Like I said, I’m just another fool fumbling around, trying to figure it all out. With this blog, and the little book of essays I’m stringing together, I continue my quest to determine which stories to tell and how. I’m still trying to get a handle of knowing how far to push and when to pull back. The shape of things is still rather nebulous, with loose shapeless edges that stretch far from center. Nothing is tight; nothing is concrete or secure. It’s a bit of a freefall, frankly.

But there is one thing I do know for sure. My grandmother’s secrets will always be safe with me.



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Developing Self-Discipline


She was in the pool with one of my twin nephews while my foot dipped in and out of the water. I’d neglected to bring my bathing suit, and regretted it immediately. They looked really refreshed in there.

“What were the highlights of your summer?” My sweet sister-in-law asked, spinning a towheaded toddler around and around in the water. It looked like she was having one of hers right there.

I stumbled around that question for a minute, because while I checked off most of the boxes on my annual city-in-the-summer list, I didn’t do anything totally out of the ordinary. No travel, save for a brief, sweaty trip to Texas and nothing that would make SUMMER 2015 stick out in my mind as being particularly memorable.

(Wait, I take that back… seeing George Clinton and Parliament Funk on the beach was pretty bad-ass.) Plus…these views from a sunset cruise were awfully killer.

statue of liberty

night sky

This year, more than any other, has been about keeping my nose to the grindstone. This has been a year when work has definitely trumped play, where jumping right in has been replaced by patiently holding off. For me and Vin, this year has been all about saving. We pick up extra shifts when they’re available and turn down pricy events when offered. I have two main objectives this year–SAVE MONEY. FINISH ROUGH DRAFT–and anything that deters too significantly from that goal is usually something I graciously decline.

It’s called discipline, and I’m trying really hard to have more of it.

We watched Whiplash last week, a movie which hinges on the idea that discipline (and a bit of emotional torture) is the path to mastery; that if you really want to become great at something, you do it and you do it and you do it until your fingers bleed.

My discipline is far less severe and punishing, and I have done it for years. My discipline is waking up very early (today it was 5:30) and writing. My fingers have never bled, but they have definitely cramped so I feel as though I might be getting somewhere. I sit in my little backyard with my computer perched on a tiny rolling desk I purchased expressly for this purpose. I drink coffee–hot, never iced–and am almost always wearing something absolutely ridiculous–pajama pants, a mismatched tank top and usually one of my husband’s dirty button-downs he left out the night before. I am always wearing glasses–never contacts, not yet–and my hair is either very dirty or exceptionally clean with a towel coiled around it like a serpent. I type and type and type and then I lose myself and read with great concentration from the Book of Face, where my friends tell me all their secrets and post pictures of their children on the first day of school.

From there, my discipline is interrupted by one or two more refills of coffee, followed by subsequent trips to the bathroom, where it becomes aggressively necessary for me to scrub the toilet. I realize then that the sink looks a little grubby, so I scrub that too. Then I realize my mascara expired two years ago so I go on a bender throwing out old cosmetics. By this time, I have to pee again, and since the toilet is where all great ideas are born, I take this moment to appreciate the divine intervention my coffee inevitably provides each day as I write my great pages. I will leave this bathroom feeling fully inspired, my bladder temporarily free of interruption, my electric fingers ready to charge at that keyboard of mine. After washing my hands, of course.

And this, this is the discipline.

I am writing a book of essays, so I read books of essays rather compulsively, the same ones over and over by people I consider masters of the art–Didion, Daum, Crosley, and mostly Sedaris, because he is the freaking king of all kings. I read them now not for pleasure, but for education, checking for structure, pacing, dialogue and flow. I am not concerned about publishing anything; I am simply committing myself to finishing something. I make notes in the margins, flag certain passages with post-its (my dad calls them FLYTS for fucking little yellow things. He also calls capers “rat turds”, which would lead one to believe he dislikes them but nothing could be further from the truth.). Anyway, clearly I digress. The point is, my father has a special way of expressing himself, and I continue my pursuit of the same.

In Whiplash, the teacher instills in his students that the two most harmful words in the English language are “good job”. Subscribing to this notion, I’ve stopped patting myself on the back. I no longer look to my friends and readers for effusive praise and positive reinforcement. You won’t catch me winking in the mirror anytime soon.

So if you’ll excuse me, I have to get off the internet now. I need to go scrub my toilet and punch myself in the face.



*I was inspired to write about my creative process after reading a really funny post about how hard it is to blog on Avoiding Atrophy. Go check it out!


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Neighbors and New York City: This is not a love story

Sunday morning I was sitting in the yard drinking coffee when I was suddenly jolted awake by the bone-clattering caterwaul of a power drill. It was the guy next door, the one who’s been in heaps of legal trouble all related to his house (in these here parts we call folks like him a slumlord). In his lifelong pursuit to win America’s ugliest backyard contest, he was constructing some type of low-rent pergola, the kind of thing that looks beautiful in a country garden with vines and flowers or tomatoes growing all over it but looks absolutely ridiculous in urban settings. This pointy unfinished wooden structure had just been fashioned over a huge mound of concrete in the middle of his very narrow yard, a space that currently houses an avalanche of overgrown weeds, a few bricks of unused drywall, and in the past– a broken toilet.


Suddenly, drama unfolds…

“What the fuck are doing back here?” Hark! It is young Juliet on her balcony, calling down to her fair neighbor, the middle-aged slumlord with a power drill in his hand and a dollar sign in his heart.

“I’m minding my business. Why don’t you mind yours?!” He called back to her. Ah! Unrequited love! Heartwrenching.

“Your yard and your house look like shit! You don’t take care of anything back here, and now you’re building this stupid thing. I’m calling my landlord!” She didn’t waste time whispering sweet nothings. She yelled them– a girl who knows what she wants.

“I like it natural! Do you know natural? Do you understand NATURAL?” (I think he likes it natural).

Juliet got flustered and threw her hair over her shoulder before hightailing it off the balcony and back into her apartment. The slumlord continued to drill, muttering “crazy girl, crazy girl” to himself.

These are the people in my neighborhood.


I grew up in a quiet cul-de-sac lined with nice, unattached brick houses, manicured bushes and long driveways. It was a peaceful suburban subdivision where we all knew one another, and if we didn’t, we introduced ourselves so we could become allies, friends, compadres. Texans are a famously friendly people, and ignoring or displaying untoward hostility toward your neighbors is a big no-no. In my home state, it’s considered quite rude to pass your neighbor without a smile and a wave or a cheery, “Mornin’!” In my grandparents’ neighborhood, people who don’t wave back are assumed to be Communists. My father and his wife are best friends with their next-door neighbors; they eat dinner with them three times a week, and our families celebrate Christmas together. My wedding reception was in their backyard.

I have had to adjust to a different attitude regarding neighbors since moving to New York City. First of all, I have so many of them. I live in a three-family house, so I have neighbors on the two other floors. Our house is attached to two other three-family houses, both filled with a revolving door of interesting characters. Those people are my neighbors too. Then there are the houses that flank my next door neighbors’ two houses–people in my direct line of sight when they are perched on their balconies. All these houses are filled with people and technically they are all my neighbors, even if they never say hello back and I wouldn’t ask them for a cup of sugar if my birthday cake depended on it. If I make the choice to do yoga in my backyard wearing nothing but a pair of old boxer shorts, a scuba mask and a purple wig, there are at least 35-40 neighbors who will be able to easily witness this. Moreover, I could don this get-up, do yoga in my backyard, and I still wouldn’t be considered the weird neighbor.


Let’s start with the power drill guy to our right. For years, that house was like Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory– nobody ever came in and nobody ever came out. Then a few years ago, he started doing construction work in there– all without the proper permits and always at the worst possible times of day– Sunday morning, 10:30 pm on a Tuesday– drilling, hammering, pop music blasting through a boombox. He whittled a hideous pergola for his front steps, a ridiculous addition for a Queens row-house and an obvious eyesore from at least two blocks away. People started moving in, but the house was still in pretty wrecked shape. It always looked like it was in the middle of construction.

To make a long story short, I’ll sum up: He divided his three-family house into 9 separate units, rented them out to way more than nine people, took all their money, and ended up on the 7 o’clock news before finally hunkering down in a jail cell for a few months. Inevitably, the house filled with squatters who sometimes smoked cigarettes in the junky backyard but mostly kept a low profile as they lived in a house without a kitchen or electricity. The front door acquired a big note on the front: VACATE IMMEDIATELY: LIVING HERE IS PERILOUS TO LIFE, but that wasn’t a strong enough deterrent. The night two firetrucks and three police cars parked out front and raided the building was one of the most thrilling moments of my life. The most scandalous thing to ever happen in my childhood neighborhood was when someone tagged “The fuck?” on an offbeat sculpture in the Thompson family’s front yard.

astoria, queens
Now, to our left: The people in the house to the left are actually very nice; it’s just been really difficult to track who actually lives there because there are about 1,000 people on the front porch at all times. It’s unclear if the residents of this house are legal residents of this country. What I do know is that someone in that house is celebrating a birthday, a graduation, a retirement, or a quincinera every single week. Martha Stewart never threw this many parties, and never this festive. Karaoke, strobe lights, dance contests, pinatas– all regular features. This is a house that left their Christmas decorations up for two years straight, so whenever I would give directions to my apartment I’d tell friends to look for the sun-bleached Santa on a choo-choo train and hook a right. The other night I came home from work at 9pm (*NYC man. Don’t do it. They’ll bleed you dry!), and looked to my left to find a woman sleeping on a blow-up mattress on the front porch. I wasn’t sure if she was doing some end-of-summer camping or if they are finally running out of room at the inn.

And then there is our own house. We’ve rented this spot nine years now, and have seen top-floor dwellers come and go. Almost all of the renters have been couples around our age and we were friendly and chatty with almost all of them, save for a few who didn’t stay too long. Over the past year the two apartments above us have each changed hands twice, and Vin and I are getting tired of the old-song-and-dance/getting-to-know-you routine. I have met and spoken with each of the four other people in this house exactly once apiece, and I get the feeling all of them think that is perfectly adequate. We will not be hosting potlucks, they will not be borrowing sugar. As long as everyone puts their recyclables in the correct bin, I don’t really give a flip anymore what anyone does here. We’re not friends, we’re not allies, we’re not compadres. We will definitely not be spending Christmas together.

Several days ago a mound of soil was scooped out of a flower pot and dumped right in the middle of our front porch, blocking the path to the steps.

“Vinny, did you see the dirt on the front porch? What was that about?”. Little did I know, not only had Vinny seen the dirt, he was actually quite offended by its presence.

“Who makes a mess like that and doesn’t clean up after themselves? Who DOES that?”. On the way into the apartment, Vin kicked the dirt mound to the side of the porch, but refused to sweep it up out of principle.

It’s been five days and the soil is still there. We keep stepping around it, waiting for the offending party to clean up their own damn mess.

Vinny’s face glows red every time he steps in the door, unable to believe humans would behave this way. “Are these people savages? Do they really expect someone else to clean up after them?”.

I’m actually starting to think that the people in our house are innocent in this crime. After all, why would someone plop a mound of dirt on their own front porch? Maybe some precocious teen ran up our steps, scooped dirt out of the flower pot and dumped it on our porch for a silly prank. Maybe it was the mailman, bored or frustrated on a random Tuesday, trying to give himself some tension relief before heading home. Or perhaps it was the pergola-loving slumlord from next door. Maybe he’d confused Juliet on her balcony to his right with the blonde girl in her yard to his left. Maybe he’d dumped the soil on the porch as retribution for the verbal assault he encountered on Sunday. Maybe spilling dirt on a neighbor’s porch was his way of acting out. Or maybe he just really likes it natural. Do you understand natural?

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You Can’t Go Home Again


Hoboken was the first place I lived when I moved to the New York City area. It’s a teeny little town–only one square mile–on the other side of the Hudson River. To you non-NYC folk, this means that Hoboken is in New Jersey which means my Queens-born husband has a tendency to stick his nose up in its general direction. I’ve hinted during our house-hunt that I’d be open to buying in Hoboken. Vin has been less enthusiastic about the idea. (I believe the phrase he used was “over my dead body”, which means there’s still a 50% chance of me moving there.)

Anyway, it’s set up like this: Once you get off the train that connects the city to Hoboken, you walk along the waterfront, where you get some really killer views of lower Manhattan. The next street is all gorgeous old brownstones, the kind that give you chest pains and make you reconsider a career in finance. The street after that is almost 100% bars, restaurants and tiny boutiques. The rest of the town is mostly tree-lined and residential. It’s a nice-looking place.

hoboken waterfront frank sinatra park

But Hoboken is a chicken wing town. What I mean is, any town with a superfluous amount of beer and chicken wing specials on any given weeknight is a very young town. If you live in Hoboken, chances are you are either very old and Italian, around 29 1/2 with a yuppie spouse and a fat little baby, or fresh out of a dorm room. It’s very well known as a recent-post-grad haven. You can’t throw a rock in Hoboken without hitting someone between the ages of 22 and 25.

I don’t remember how I heard about Hoboken, but I found my first roommates there via craigslist, which in 1999 was still pretty new and considered an excellent way to get yourself murdered. I responded to an ad for an “open house” to find a third roommate for a place on 8th and Willow, and showed up drenched in sweat at the tail end of July with about 25 other girls in their early 20s. We were all trying to win favor with the two lucky lease-bearers, two 24-year-old girls offering an incredibly small, windowless bedroom to the person least likely to stab them in their sleep.  The bedroom for rent was right in the middle of the apartment, dark and tiny, with a door that swung into the room instead of out into the hallway, so that every time you tried to leave you’d have to wedge yourself through the narrow slot between your twin-sized bed and the wall. But at $550, it was a steal. I got the final rose that day and moved in three weeks later, a bold move on my roommates’ end since I was broke and unemployed with no prospects on the horizon. 

At 22, Hoboken was like heaven. I’d never lived in walking distance of anything before, so having groceries and cocktails and tampons only a block away was very liberating. I’d temp and job-hunt in the cit during the day, then at night I’d put on cute outfits and lip gloss and try to meet new friends., either in Hoboken or back in Manhattan. The local restaurants and bars were packed with people my own age, so it felt like college got extended by a year or two. There was a dance club two blocks away and I liked to wear really tight pants and make out with relatively attractive strangers there. We lived next door to a greasy Chinese takeout restaurant, which I believed was the greatest gift God had ever given me. I lived on egg rolls and ambition. They were good times.

For the past 14 years, I have looked back on those early Hoboken days with great fondness and affection. So on occasion, I like to call up my friend Kim– who lives in New Jersey– to see if she’ll grab dinner or drinks with me in my old stomping grounds. I hadn’t been there on a Friday night in a while, but it’s safe to say that Hoboken Friday Night hasn’t changed a bit.

But holy shit… I sure have.

I chose a restaurant that was Mexican/Japanese fusion, meaning I could have chips and guac as an appetizer and sushi as the main event which is basically my idea of a perfect evening. We sat in a precious little backyard with Christmas lights strung up through trees. I had a strawberry- jalapeño margarita to whet my appetite, and excitement began to build around the “Guacamole Trio” we ordered.

guacamole and chips

When it arrived I was disturbed to discover that they had topped three tiny bowls of fairly decent guacamole with ill-advised toppings– a heavy dose of cotija cheese (bland at best, but not completely mad at it), a smattering of diced pineapple (eh…okay, but I prefer mango), and a handful of soft, buttery-yellow corn kernels straight out of a can (OFF WITH THEIR HEADS). Not only were we in New Jersey, world-renowned for their delectably sweet farm-fresh corn, but we were also smack dab in the middle of summer produce season, putting fresh corn at a cost of like, I don’t know, two cents an ear? Haven’t they seen all the documentaries? Corn is the cheapest food product in the freaking world. Plus, who puts corn in their guacamole anyway? It was like a crime against delicious appetizers. And New Jersey farmers. And Mexico! (And Japan, by proxy). 

After our meal, I suggested we go to a rooftop bar around the corner where I’ve oft romanticized one luxurious night I had as a plump-faced 23-year-old, getting smashed with girlfriends while admiring the New York City skyline. At 38, the first stop in the bar is naturally the restroom, a petite space with a meager line and an impudent little patron using one of two narrow stalls as her personal phone booth while young girls with tanned skin and short skirts waited patiently outside the door for their turn to empty their aching bladders, filled to the brim with cheap beer and sparkling wine. When it was finally my turn at bat, I tried to imbue my flush with disapproval, holding the lever down slightly longer than necessary to discursively coax the birdy from her perch. She remained undeterred, so I soaped and rinsed my hands, then made a second attempt at eviction by giving myself the most thorough electric hand-dry of the 21st century. (*as this post goes live, it’s now three days later, and she is still in the stall screaming: “No…I’m at City Something…I can’t remember what it’s called…whatever, it’s on 14th Street, use google maps”.) Eventually I surrendered and dragged Kim upstairs to the roof top deck, where I hoped to enjoy a cocktail (I was imagining gin or vodka, infused with cucumber and fragrant fresh herbs), a great skyline view, and most importantly, a chair.

The space was 1,000 times smaller and less appealing than I remembered it, with a huge crowd of recent college grads all standing and packed tightly around three large TVs, sloshing beer and blowing smoke up each others’ nostrils. I grimaced at Kim–who at almost 30 is my very youngest friend–and said, “Girl, no. I can’t do this. Can we go find some ice cream or something?”


My second Hoboken home was on the top floor of this five-story walk-up building. My butt was a work of art.

So we walked back down the main street littered with bars and restaurants and eventually landed on a crepe place.  I ordered a simple crepe with lemon and sugar and a vanilla latte. We took a seat out on the sidewalk so we could enjoy the nice summer breeze and the sweet spicy fragrance of buffalo sauce tickling the air. When our desserts arrived, I took one look at my little glass mug and immediately recognized my “latte” as Maxwell House International Cafe Style Beverage Mix, that aluminum box of chalky powder one keeps in his or her desk drawer for emergency purposes only. My eggy crepe had been mopped with a sugary, lemon-flavored goo which stuck like gum to the roof of my mouth and made me long for Paris, or at the very least, the charming bistro in my neighborhood where crisp, delicate, lace-like crepes are spun from organic buckwheat flour before a gauzy sprinkle of powdered sugar and the gentlest squeeze of bright lemon fall upon them like light summer rain.

I looked around at the passerby–clean-cut bros in button-down shirts and packs of nubile young women in summer dresses and high heels, full of life and excitement and enough energy to yank them back into the city they had just returned from after a full day of work. The girls were prepared to walk blocks and blocks to the train in those heels, and they were flaunting the types of hairstyles that looked freshly blown. It all just looked like so much effort. Did I really do all that? Was this really my life at one time? My God, it seems like so long ago.

It was an interesting moment for me, for not only was I confronted with the fact I was now a crotchety old fart, but somewhere along the way I’d also become incredibly snobby. Where was the cooly unconcerned 22-year-old of yore, chatting with strangers and living life with unrestrained joie de vivre? Whatever happened to that young girl in tight pants making out with strangers and scarfing $2 egg rolls after a night at the club? Maybe she is gone forever, and all that’s left is a straight-laced working stiff with a love for quality food and sensible footwear. Perhaps this is just the course life follows, a few buoyant years of chirpy, non-chalantness before pining for watering holes where one can enjoy meaningful conversation, adequate seating and corn-free guacamole.

Or maybe that 22-year-girl is still there; she’s just trapped between her twin bed and a narrow wall in a tiny house on Willow Street, on the other side of the river. 








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10 Amazing Brunch/Breakfast Spots in NYC


A month or two ago I had a morning doctor’s visit before work. The appointment wrapped up much faster than I’d anticipated, so I had time to take myself out for a leisurely breakfast before heading to the office. I measured my choices, and decided to go to a Ukranian diner called Veselka in the East Village. I sat outside, pulled out a book and ate a terrific omelette with a side of latkes while watching people walk their dogs and ride their bikes. It was such a relaxed (dare I say, civilized?) start to my day.

My perspective and priorities shifted that morning. Before then, I had always hoped for wild fame and massive fortune, the kind of income that made designer clothing and long vacations a possibility. But that morning I realized that the only thing I really want in life is to have enough time and money to be able to take myself out for breakfast everyday.

That’s it. That’s the life. I don’t want to rush. I don’t want to cook for myself. I want to sit outside under a striped awning, drink a good cup of coffee, and have someone with a friendly smile bring me a plate of eggs or pancakes.

When I’ve finally reached my financial goal, you’ll be able to find me at one of these places:

best brunch in nyc


1. Chavela’s, Crown Heights

When you grow up in Texas, nothing trumps a good Mexican breakfast, and this place is IT. I was immediately blown away by this place; the atmosphere, food, even the plating– absolutely perfect. The Huevos Ahogados were to die for. In my opinion, everything–food, books, countertops, your children– should be smothered in Jalapeño hollandaise.

Huevos Ahogados with jalapeño hollandaise at Chavela’s. Photo by

2. Hudson Clearwater, Chelsea

This restaurant is so charming! It has no door available on the front of the building, so you have to peep around the corner for entry into a tiny garden, then walk up the stairs. Great atmosphere and really awesome food at this place. Try the Southern Eggs Benedict (poached eggs, house-cured ham, sautéed spinach, more jalapeño hollandaise on a biscuit) or the unbelievable cornflake-crusted French Toast with cinnamon cream. Yum!!

3. Sugar Freak, Astoria

Louisiana homestyle cooking GONE MAD. The menu here is ridiculous in the best way possible, but prepare yourself for an afternoon of lazy afterward. Funnel-cake pancakes? Mac and cheese topped with jambalaya? Praline-bacon-Lousiana BBQ Shrimp Benedict served on a grit cake? Lawd have mercy!!

cherry pepper cornbread waffle w pulled pork sugar freak

Cherry-pepper cornbread waffle with pulled pork at Sugar Freak. Photo by

4. Balthazar, SOHO

No tip-toeing around this one, Balthazar is expensive. But it’s the real-deal-holyfield of brunches. Go here when someone else is picking up the tab (visiting parents, expense account) because this place is special, and so are you. Best latte I’ve ever had, and the eggs benedict and sour cream waffles are total classics. You can also pick up baked goods and coffee at the small bakery next door for eating on the go.

5.  Veselka, East Village

Everybody in NYC loves this solid Ukranian diner, for good reason. Great food, open 24 hours, reasonable prices, no attitude. Oh! And they serve breakfast everyday, all day. Plus, where else can you find blueberry pierogies?

Photo by

6. Sarabeth’s, multiple locations in Manhattan

You know them for their fancy jams in your grocery store, we know them for their classically tasteful brunches all over this town. Can’t really go wrong with a breakfast or brunch at Sarabeth’s. I could really go for some lemon and ricotta pancakes with blackberries right about now…

7. Tal Bagels, locations on the Upper West and Upper East Side

I don’t eat bagels often, but when I do, I schlep to the Upper West Side to indulge in an Everything toasted with full-fat cream cheese, piles of lox and sliced red onions at Tal. An extravagant dining experience this is not, but this casual shop is my favorite place in the city to grab a really great bagel and schmear. Perfectly chewy on the inside, slight crunch to the edge.


Bagel with lox and cream cheese at Tal. Photo by

8. Peaches Hothouse, Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn

I have always said that should I ever be lucky enough to make it into heaven I would like to be welcomed at the pearly gates with a bucket of fried chicken. I’ve tried a lot of fried chicken in this town–not all of it, but a lot– and so far, Peaches Hothouse has earned a special place in my heart. Go with a friend– one of you order fried chicken (Nashville style)– and one of you order the French toast with bourbon peaches. First you split the plate. Then you split the pants. Then you go to heaven, and do it all over again.

9. The Haab, Woodside, Queens

This tiny hidden gem of a neighborhood joint is serving up some of the best Mexican breakfast in New York City, and I consider myself a tough critic in that category. Go as early as possible (they open at 6am!) to snag a table and order the incredible Huevos Tapatios– two eggs over easy with Mexican sausage served on a fried tortilla with both spicy and creamy sauces on top. At $8.95, it might be the best bargain in this whole town.

yelp the haab

Photo courtesy of

10. Milk & Roses, Greenpoint, Brooklyn

When a delightful backyard is the setting you’re after, you’ll have a hard time doing better than garden seating at Milk & Roses. With all the quirky hats and tattoos, you’ll feel like you’re sitting right in the middle of a GIRLS episode, but that’s part of the charm. Try the apricot pancakes or their righteous BLT.

Garden at Milk & Roses, Greenpoint. Photo by




Ovelia, MP Taverna, Il Bambino, Queens Kickshaw (get the smoked gouda-black bean-guava jam sandwich!), Cafe Triskell (best authentic French crepes in NYC)


Long Island City:

Sage General Store (Try the chicken chilaquiles or the Wisconsin Pizza with bacon, ricotta, caramelized onions and creme fraiche! )



Jack’s Wife Freda, Cafe Mogador, Ciao for Now, Clinton Street Baking Company, Gallow Green, Doughnut Plant


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Now you’re in New York


He was leaning against the railing in baggage claim, all bent elbows and casually cocked knees. He had a full head of very thick dark hair and tortoise-rimmed glasses like Clark Kent; his shirt was untucked but ironed, in shoes reserved for people who summer in places like Nantucket or “The Cape”. His stubble was only four or five days old, and it made the rest of him look more relaxed. On our wedding day, I requested not a fresh-shaved face but five-day stubble. In my opinion, five-day stubble is the perfect amount of facial hair on a man.

The guy was holding a simple bouquet of purple flowers and I became extremely invested in seeing him reunite with whomever he’d brought them for. Picking up someone at the airport is always thoughtful, but in New York City, where few people drive and cabs are plentiful, the gesture is especially loving because it’s completely unnecessary. The only reason you pick someone up from the airport is because you want to make his or her life easier and more pleasant. In New York City, you only meet someone at the airpot when you simply can’t wait another minute to see them.

We’d received a text message that our baggage was delayed and wouldn’t hit the carousel until the next plane had landed, which actually worked out great because I got to stick around longer and wait for the reunion. The guy was starting to look a little anxious, but he refused to take out his cell phone and fiddle around with texting or twitter to kill time. He was fully present for this person’s arrival and didn’t want to distract himself from it. I liked this about him.

And then…there she was. Long and lean in simple but chic black clothes, with sleek dark hair and a wide-brimmed hat that tipped over her eye like a wink.

He walked up slowly and admired her for a minute before reaching to hold her, and then they made out in the middle of baggage claim like she had just come back from war, even though her outfit indicated something more like Rome or Paris….Vienna maybe?

They kissed for a good three minutes while her suitcase went round and round, blissfully unaware of the crowds rushing past them in a dizzy blur. Outside the glass doors, the roar of honking taxis and buses made my ears burn, but inside La Guardia, on an average Sunday night, two people who looked way too beautiful for the real world turned baggage claim into a movie set and I knew I was back in New York City.

i love NYC


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Never Give a Hoarder a Cupcake


We got excited about a two-family house on a quiet, tree-lined street off of Ditmars and decided to check it out. A crowd had already gathered on the sidewalk, and a hulking Greek agent stood on the front steps with his hands on his hips like the Jolly Green Giant, waiting to show us his plentiful crop. Ho-ho-ho, seller’s market.

As we approached, the realtor said to Vin:  “Didn’t I sell you a vape last week, man?” The realtor must have confused him with some other long-haired guy in the neighborhood, because the only thing Vin ever smoked was a box of eclairs.

“Uhmmmm, noooo. Do I just look like the kind of guy who would buy a vape?” Vin asked. This was off to an excellent, super professional start.

We chatted a little bit about what we were looking for and where we currently lived. When I told him the cross streets of our current apartment, the realtor mentioned that his doctor’s office was on the next corner.

“That’s where I go to deal with my emotions,” he said flatly. Oddly enough, the next thing out of his mouth was, “So what do you do?”

“I help people manage their emotions,” I replied.

“Oh, I was just kidding about that last part. I don’t need to work through my emotions. I don’t have any.”

for sale

This was not the house we saw or the realtor we spoke to. I’m sure Anthony has emotions.


He took us quickly through the first floor apartment and down to the basement, which was bursting at the quickly fraying seams and stuffed from floor to ceiling with several decades’ worth of crap.

Suddenly, out of nowhere a man appeared from behind the boxes, like he’d just parted the dank and dusty sea and entered the promise land. His large belly sunk like a boulder beneath his tight white undershirt and his hair had not been combed. Like the real estate agent, his attention went immediately to Vin.

“Are you in the military?” he asked my husband, who at the time was wearing blue jeans, a surf t-shirt and a glorious mane of long brown hair.

I made a grab for the bulk of his hair and asked, ‘Does this guy look like he’s in the military?”

I regretted my sarcasm immediately when the realtor introduced him as the owner. Everyone knows you’re supposed to sweet-talk the owners if you want to close the deal. A friend told me she wrote a lovely letter to the owner of the house she wanted to buy, and it paid off royally. Damnit, I knew I should have baked something.

I quickly changed my tune and told him what a nice big house he had. The room smelled of mildew and general wetness, and the ceiling was about five inches above my head and ten minutes away from giving up all hope. I put a smile on my face and silently prayed that an avalanche of knick-knacks and old newspapers could hold on upstairs for one more day, or at least until we’d left the basement.

We were then lead back upstairs to check out the first level apartment, which in essence didn’t look so bad. A few nice windows, decent width, wood floors I could actually see. There were a few other real estate agents in the room, one of whom gave us an innocuous warning before heading up another set of stairs to see the second apartment.

“There’s a woman who lives up there. She was the owner’s mother’s best friend. She worked many years as a school teacher, so you may see some lesson plans on the wall.”

“Great,” I say. “Maybe I’ll learn something.”

We began the climb, and immediately understood that he had completely undersold the situation, especially to someone in the mental health profession. This apartment was a case study in hoarding. I was–of course—fascinated, but also claustrophobic and sweating bullets. We were on the third floor, surrounded by a half dozen people and 35 years of clutter, and there was no fan or A.C.

We were walking through what the literature refers to as “goat paths”, narrow strips of clear area, surrounded on all sides by piles and piles of stuff.  Every centimeter of wall space was covered with something– a picture, a receipt from 1990, a newspaper clipping, a note, an index card, a journal entry scribbled in Greek or Spanish. The ground was so completely covered there was no way of determining if the floors were tile, carpet, parquet, or stained with the blood of a thousand men. There could have been meat buried in the floorboards for all we knew.

The current tenant was standing in the kitchen by the stove, wearing an old housedress and sponge curlers in her hair. She was very sweet and asked me if I spoke Greek, or Latin, or Spanish or something other than English. I hate disappointing people. Especially teachers.

We thanked her for allowing us into her home, and made the walk back downstairs, wiping the sweat from our foreheads with the backs of our hands. On the way down, I thought to myself:  Whatever happened to home staging? Is that still a thing, or is it just not a thing in New York City?

“Listen,” I said to the realtors, who were hanging out in the living room. “How are they going to get all of this stuff out of here? You know you can’t just go in there and throw it all away, right?” Anyone who’s seen the show Hoarders knows that, but I wasn’t sure if they’d seen the program or not.  If they had, they probably would have hired a specialist to come in here before they invited the neighborhood to walk in and inspect the house.

“Oh no, it’s no problem. She’s moving back to Greece, so we’re just going to take it all down and ship it to her country.” This plan did not sound likely to me at all.

“You’re really going to take down a million little pieces of paper and ship them to Greece? I don’t know about that…I think you’re going to have to call a professional therapeutic team in here to work with her.”

One time, I gave a client with a hoarding issue a cupcake for his birthday. He was very touched by the gesture and looked at it wistfully before speaking.

“You recognize I’m never going to eat this, right?” He was going to keep the cupcake on a nice plate in his fridge and look at it every so often. It was a gift, and therefore had meaning and significance. I wondered how many “cupcakes” this woman had been given over the years.

I looked around the house one last time before parting. It had good bones, some nice solid woodwork, and was on a beautiful street. But I was standing on land that was about to become a battlefield, as the current dwellers were about to go head to head with a group of eager real estate agents who were probably going to rush them and their stuff out of this house as quickly as possible. This was New York City, where time is of the essence.

And because there must be a moral to every story, like the teacher upstairs I too want to post some lessons on my wall. I’m leaving them here, in the hopes that someone may learn something.

1. Never put an offer on a home where you cannot see the floor. 2. Do not involve yourself with a real estate agent who claims to have no emotions. And above all, unless they are very, very hungry, never give a hoarder a cupcake.







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About Jenn.


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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