Much To My Delight

Much To My Delight

Come be my neighbor! Our upstairs apartment is for rent!

 

If you read this blog last week, you know we recently bought a house. And technically, it is a house, but what it really looks like is three cute apartments stacked on top of one another in an orderly fashion.

One of those apartments is available for rent. Immediately. Like, yesterday. (the other one will soon be an airbnb rental–I’ll keep you posted!).

Here’s where you come in.

If you know anyone in the NYC area who would love to live in the adorable, multi-cultural, super safe, incredibly charming neighborhood I write about all the time on this blog, this might be their next dream home. Got a minute? Let me show you around. Welcome!!

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Here’s the living room. Pretty, right? Clean and simple with some nice wood floors and tons of natural light pouring in from front to back (y’all know that’s my favorite part).

It opens up right into the kitchen. I will admit this kitchen is much better than mine. A dishwasher, six-burner stove, built-in microwave, all stainless steel appliances, lots of storage space and a big quartz countertop.

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There are two bedrooms in the back– one is slightly bigger than the other and has a balcony which overlooks a driveway and the pretty little flower garden my mother-in-law just helped me plant. Each bedroom has a nice-sized closet with a high ceiling, and there is also a linen closet in the hallway.

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And finally, here’s le toilette– subway tiles, marble countertop and a skylight. I think it’s cute. Plus, the natural light is really good for applying makeup.

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Need more info?

Located in Astoria, Queens on a very charming street (but in a quiet little nook, which makes for awesome sleeping!)

Very close to the subway, laundromat and grocery store (in city apartment world, I call this “the holy trifecta”).

Neighborhood is extremely safe, with a very friendly, laid-back vibe. Great restaurants and shops nearby!

The landlords are me and a guy named Vinny from Queens. Wouldn’t you like to tell your family back in Ohio your landlord is a guy named Vinny from Queens? They’ll think it’s hilarious; trust me.

cute me and vinny

If you’d like to know more (like the address, price) or know someone who’d be interested in renting this space, please contact Jenn at muchtomydelight@gmail.com. The unit is available right away and ready to be loved! PS: NO BROKER’S FEE!

If you’re in a giving mood, sharing this post on your social media could really help us find lovely people to share our home with! (Tell them I make great chocolate chip cookies too. I’ll throw in a batch with the deal!)

 

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First Comes Love, Then Comes Mortgage. But first! How our basement apartment tried to evict us.

 

I lived in a basement apartment for nine and a half years. The lack of light warped me of energy, the railroad layout made co-habitation a challenge, and the low ceiling gave the false impression that I am, at 5’3, actually a giant. We had pipes burst and mice scurry and water-bugs creep up through the drains. We had a stray raccoon pee all over our stored Christmas ornaments; had a gigantic rat find death beneath our fridge. We had squatters to the right and a shifty slumlord to the left. We were there long enough to see a dozen upstairs neighbors come and go– listened to every step overhead, heard all their fights, smelled all their dinners. We were there long enough to see the house change owners, long enough for our first landlord to become sick and pass away.

And now, just after making our long-awaited getaway, we discovered that we’d been in that basement long enough for things to get really, really weird. The minute we bought a house, there was a shift in the energy down there. It’s like the basement got wind that we were gonna bail and was like, “Oh, you think you’re gonna leave me? Let me make it real easy for you.” Our apartment started doing the thing people do when they want to end a relationship but don’t want to initiate a break-up.  They start acting like an asshole so the other person pulls the trigger first.

I moved into that basement nine years ago without expecting to spend that much time down there. I chose it because it had a cheap price tag, a great location and an old Turkish fig tree in the yard. For seven summers, I planned my July and August dinners around those deep purple orbs– baby spinach leaves with goat cheese and walnuts. Salty prosciutto and crusty bread. Rosemary-cornmeal tarts lined with rows and rows of them, topped with lemon mascarpone cream and drizzled with lingonberry jam.

When the tree stopped producing figs two years ago after 50 years of abundance, I took it as a sign. There is no more fruit here for you. Climb another tree. Go in search of greener pastures. Find a home where guests won’t bump their heads on the kitchen ceiling.

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***

November 18, 2015: After a year of searching nearly every weekend in Brooklyn and Queens, we put an offer on our first house ever. It’s in Astoria, Queens and in great condition. We want it desperately.

November 20th: We’re out-bid by 15 people. We don’t get the house.

November 21st: We begin using the real estate agent we met during the open house for the home we put an offer on. He’s young and eager to make sales. He shows us three houses a week for the next few weeks.

December 16th: We put an offer on another house. It’s not on the market. The only people who see it are me, Vin and a group of investors. We are avoiding another bidding war. It’s also in Astoria, and appears move-in ready.

December 18th: We’re told our offer was accepted, right before Christmas, like a gift. A very expensive gift we buy for ourselves like a washer and dryer or a sports car. We basically freak out, and try to weasel out of the deal. When our realtor asks what I’m giving Vin for Christmas I say: “Debt– the gift that keeps on givin’.”

December 19th: On my way to work, I walk by a local bakery and the smell of fresh Italian bread wafting through the air vents actually makes me cry. We’re buying a house in New York City. We’re staying in Astoria. I can’t believe it.

December 26: We have an inspection. The inspector offers his hand to Vinny and exclaims, “So you’re buying a house!” He looks at me and says, “And you must be the buyer’s wife.” Vin and I are buying a house built in 1945; I didn’t realize we were buying a house in 1945.

January 26th: After weeks of nail-biting, the seller finally signs the contract. We put 10% in escrow. Things are moving. What could go wrong now?

January 27th: Vin is home alone when he hears a sharp crack, followed by a waterfall of glass crashing to the hard tile floor. He walks toward the bathroom to discover that the shower door, for no particular reason, has shattered into a thousand tiny pieces. He spends the next hour sweeping up ribbons of glass, then duct-tapes a black Hefty bag to the shower door frame. We wash in pitch darkness for the next three weeks, sudsing and shaving while intermittently batting wet garbage bag away from our arms and legs.

February 14th, 6 a.m.: I bolt upright in bed and poke Vinny, hard and fast in his side. “Do you smell smoke?!” In hindsight, I realize this is a terrible way to wake your spouse on Valentine’s Day. In foresight, I recognize that having a great sense of smell is my super-power, and one day– perhaps today– I’ll have the opportunity to save my loved ones from a smelly heap of danger.

Vin runs upstairs in his boxers to find two firemen inside our house. Firemen don’t ring doorbells; they pry open metal door frames and invite themselves in. They run past Vin, up the stairs to the third floor where they use pointy instruments to crack open the ceiling so they can get up to the roof. The house attached to ours is currently on fire, and they need to access our rooftop to put out the flames. Frankly, I could have done without all this. It’s Sunday morning and two degrees outside, and all I really want is a cup of coffee and a little light reading.

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I throw on my wedding ring and puffy coat and shove my pajama pants into snow boots. We watch from across the street for about 10 minutes, then get too cold and head to Dunkin’ Donuts around the corner. Finally we get the all-clear and go back inside. For the next few weeks, the house smells like roaring campfire.

March 2, 11 pm:  I’m home, relaxing, tacking things to my secret Pinterest board called “New House” where I save articles about open shelving and packing tips and how to find decent, God-fearing tenants who pay rent on time and scrub floors with a toothbrush. I’m about to close up shop for the night, so I shut my laptop and drop my feet to the tile floor, which is currently covered with hundreds (HUNDREDS!) of tiny fluttering insects. The scene is grisly, as they all appear to be fighting for their last breath, some already dead, some only mostly dead.

It’s like that scene in The Notebook where Noah takes Allie into the canoe and they’re surrounded on all sides by beautiful white birds except google tells me these tiny winged insects are termites which is far less romantic and way more grotesque. I always assumed termites just snacked on wooden poles inside the walls until the whole house caved in on itself, but apparently they sometimes do a “swarm” inside the home to give a little sneak peek of the havoc they’re wreaking behind the scenes.

11:10 pm: Vin comes home and duct-tapes a plastic garbage bag to the heating vent that runs overhead, which appears to be their port of entry to our living room/ kitchen. This time, the Hefty bag is clear. This way, whenever we walk toward the area where we eat our food, we pass under a translucent canopy of partially-dead termites. I have a picture, but I am choosing not to post the picture.

Use your imagination.

They swarm a few more times over the next several weeks, one time after we’d already removed the plastic canopy thinking the coast was clear. Vin was so grossed out he was unable to eat dinner that night. I didn’t have that problem. I’d made lamb burgers and hell if I was letting those go to waste.

 ***

During this time, my friend Aubrey — along with everyone else– was reading The Magical Art of Tidying Up, which apparently warns against talking shit about your current house when you’re in search of a new one because houses talk to one another. Aubrey cautioned me about speaking too critically of our apartment during this delicate time, as we wouldn’t want our current house to tell our future house that we’re ungrateful jerks or insufferable whiners. We were having a tough enough time getting through the mortgage approval process and certainly didn’t need any bad house- juju standing in our way.

I took her advice to heart, and quietly swept up sputtering termites while reminding the apartment that it was still our special sunflower and looking pretty good despite its dank basement smell, terrible fluorescent lighting, and burgeoning mold issue.

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our old street:)

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(Our old apartment on the good days. When it was good, it was very good.)

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(our old apartment on the bad days. some days it was quite bad. But hey– at least we didn’t have to pay for the repairs!)

 

In early April, potential tenants started coming in on the weekends to check out the basement. We’d told our landlord that we were under contract, and he wasted no time getting his rental back on the market. Our stuff was piled in boxes in every corner, as we waited to get final approval and an actual closing date on the calendar. This process was a bit like chasing a unicorn through a dewy meadow filled with land mines and prairie dogs- -just when you think you reach the prize something pops out of the ground and bites you on your ankle. (Have four letters written by Tuesday! Get receipts for that thing you did in 2011! Have your employer call us a fifth time! Contact the IRS and tell them to send you last year’s tax bill! Pee in this jar while tap-dancing! Sign this document in your own blood!).

When the same realtor who’d rented me the basement 9 1/2 years prior came in to show the place, he looked at me and said, “You’re still here?”

Not for long, I thought. Unless, of course, the bank finds a problem with that stool sample they’d requested.

 

***

Just before moving out, the landlord stopped by to make sure the termites were gone. I’d always assumed they appeared because of the house fire in February. I figured that hosing a place down and leaving all that wood to rot seemed like an invitation for breeding something, be it termites or mold or chlamydia or something awful.

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“We’ve gotta get rid of that old, dried out stump in the backyard,” said the landlord in his thick Greek accent. “That’s where the termites came from. Go look at it–  they ate it up from top to bottom.”

“Are you talking about the fig tree?” I asked. Was this man trying to break my heart?

“Yeah, looks terrible. Gotta cut that down or they’ll come back again.”

The fig tree stopped producing fruit two years ago, right when we started our home search. The thing I loved most about my home gave me termites and made my skinny husband lose his appetite. Vin thinks I’m nuts always talking about signs, but what else could it be? There is no more fruit here for you. Go in search of greener pastures. Climb another tree.

The new tenants moved in a week before our closing date, so we packed our stuff in a U-haul and parked it in my mother and father-in-law’s driveway. For a week we lived out of duffel bags; Vin’s guitars and my underthings splayed out across their living room floor. The new tenants texted us a few times: the dryer had already broken, the oven wouldn’t turn on and sugar ants had completely obliterated the kitchen.

They must have talked shit about their old apartment.

***

May 5, 2016: We close on our first house. When the papers are signed, I thank the seller and burst into tears. We drink margaritas down the street in celebration.

May 6:  It pours on moving day and I barely notice. Vinny returns the U-haul. His brother assembles our new queen-sized bed. His mother sprinkles holy water on our kitchen floor. I get to work ripping open boxes with scissors, slowly introducing my silly old things to their pretty new home. 

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I come across a box filled with scented candles. The glass jars gleam under all the natural light pouring through the front windows. I unwrap them all, lining them up in a neat, tidy row on my white kitchen countertop. There’s a wide variety– Lavender and spicy bergamot. Cucumber and fresh sage. Jasmine. Warm vanilla. Fresh fig.

The last candle is made from soft yellow wax and smells like Prosecco. Across the label, its name is scrolled in fancy cursive: Champagne Toast. 

Time to light that motherfucker.

 

***

More reflections on our time in the basement. Thank you, Basement. You sheltered us for a long time and helped us save so much money. We hope your next occupants are able to do the same. 

And yes, I still live in a basement.

Neighbors & NYC: This is not a love story.

I think I’m ready to talk about it. 

I think I’m ready to talk about it (part 2).

 

 

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It Happened!! We Bought a House.

 

I’ve recently learned that buying a house is a little like the initial stages of pregnancy. There’s an initial rush of giddy excitement when after months of trying you finally get good news (“Your offer has been accepted!”), followed quickly by self-doubt and indecision (“Oh my God– can we afford this? Is it the right time?) followed by several waves of panic, a few gnarly bouts of stress diarrhea and multiple rounds of crippling nausea.

Also like pregnancy, you are apt to keep the news mostly private until you’re totally in the clear.

We are finally in the clear.

We bought a house.

(Hold on a second– I need to run to the toilet again.)

Okay, I can finally say this with enthusiasm instead of abject terror… We bought a house!! We closed on Cinco de Mayo and frankly, I’ve never needed a jalapeno margarita more.

We’re more excited now, but these past few months have been incredibly stressful.  I won’t get into details of working with banks and brokers and PMI and interest rates because frankly I’m just so sick of talking about those things I could spit. I will say briefly that getting this house was no slam-dunk, everything took longer and was way more expensive than anticipated, and we are grateful it worked out because there were many points along the way when we were pretty sure it wasn’t going to. We’ve spent the last four and a half months waiting for the other shoe to drop, and we’ve both been doing so much stress-eating we should probably just go ahead and throw out all our tight pants and start over.

House hunting in New York City was a pretty disheartening experience. The houses here are small and old, and many of them are in pretty crappy condition. They’re dated, they’re filled with problems in the walls and foundations, and they’re aesthetically unimpressive. These stats don’t preclude them from being incredibly expensive, either. Just the opposite. You’re paying for your location, not the house you get. And the competition is very fierce for these small, old, incredibly overpriced houses. There’s simply no land left to build new houses on (oh they’ll make room for new condos).

We put an offer on another house (a foreclosure) a month before finding the one we bought. There were 31 offers in four days, we bid over asking price, and still ended up number 16 in line. Still, we look back on the house-hunting days with sugary fondness compared to the gut-punch of getting a mortgage. Why don’t I hear people complaining about this more? That was brutal!

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(This is not the house we bought (unfortunately). This was typical of the houses we saw in Brooklyn. GORGEOUS with classic details but newly renovated and really spacious. I loved almost all of the houses we saw in Brooklyn. They were all in our price range and under, but were all in areas where we just didn’t feel safe. One particularly beautiful one had been a well-known crack house six months before the new gut renovation. No can do.)

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(This house was in an awesome location– our own Astoria, right by the N train, but it was crazy dark inside and we’d need to spend 20-30K to RAISE THE CEILING and it was already over budget. Another one we saw in Astoria tried to pass off a walk-in closet as a second bedroom and you had to enter the house through the bedroom (we forced our friends to do that in our old place for 9.5 years. We’re all over it.).

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(This dump in Astoria cost almost 2 million dollars. No one cares about this crap house–it’ll be torn down immediately and transformed into condos– but it sits on a large plot of valuable land that you can’t see in the picture. But now you see the shite we’re dealing with here.)

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 The first place we ever inquired about in 2014. A total teardown we saw in Astoria and thought we could get for cheap since it was in such terrible shape. Ha! Sold for 1.25 mil. Take a look at it now…1st house

But alas! All of my Texas childhood dreams just came true and I am settling into an attached brick house in New York City with my Queens-born husband Vinny. There’s a bodega across the street and a wash and fold on the corner, just down the street from an Irish pub and around the block from a large Indonesian temple. The city bus drives by my living room window every five minutes.

I grew up on a sleepy cul-de-sac on the Gulf Coast. Our house perched on a small lake where we pedaled paddleboats instead of bikes and floated lazily on hot black tires. We lived a mile from the beach, next to a sharp fork in the road called Dead Man’s Curve. Sometimes I still shake my head in disbelief that this place that’s so different is really home, not just for now, but very likely forever. I feel appreciative, excited and grateful. But still, I can’t help but find life pretty funny too. I could have never predicted this for myself. I guess I’m a real New Yorker now?

It’s been a really interesting time to work in a community mental health clinic, and a lot of countertransference has come up for me in this time. I have several clients who live in shelters and city housing projects, some who’ve spent their lives on and off the streets. Buying a house is enormously stressful, but everyday I’m smacked in the face with reminders that it’s a brand of stress I’m extraordinarily privileged to have. Vin and I worked really, really hard to get to this place together, but we are two people who also really lucked out in the family department, and to say that didn’t make a difference would be a bold-faced lie.

We’re still kind of in disbelief, but somehow we found just the kind of home we hoped for: a multi-family house where we can both live and earn passive income. So now, not only are we about to become home owners, we are also about to become landlords, which is alternatively hilarious and terrifying. Vin plans to wear a tool belt at all times, and I’m going to invest in a pair of tiny reading glasses I can push up the bridge of my nose whenever I march upstairs to demand the rent.

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The happiest news of all is that we are staying in our blessed, beloved Astoria, the neighborhood I have been fawning all over in this blog for the past five years. We’re on the other side of town now, which feels fresh and new, but still the same distance from the 24-hour fruit and vegetable stand and fried chicken place we’ve grown so attached to. The first morning I woke up to sun streaming in the windows, I cried. When you live in a basement for almost ten years, you forget how something as simple as a beam of light can affect your mood. I feel like I woke up to a brand new life and I’m surprised by how emotional I’ve been since moving in. “Don’t Stop Believing” came on the radio while I was unpacking the other day and I broke down and sobbed. We’ve had friends and family pop by every night with flowers and champagne, and it makes me really emotional to think of how happy our loved ones are to see us finally reach our goal. It’s been a really magical, wondrous time, and I anticipate it will be until June 1st…when we have to make our first mortgage payment:).

 

Here are some old house-hunting posts if you’d like to read.

Home Sweet Friggin’ Home

An Update on Our Housing Adventures

Adventures in NYC House Hunting

Wherever I go, I’m taking you with me

 

Sorry for the extra-light posting over the last few months. I’m not a good stress-writer. Hope to be back soon with some home-related stuff. I have a feeling there’ll be a lot of new stories to write here.

 

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18 (very) Random Facts About Me

 

- When I was 10 or 11, I placed 1st in a horse show at summer camp. My horse was named Copper and he was 1,000 years old. He farted the longest slowest horse fart ever right in front of the judges. I was sure I would place last.

In college, I had to do a magazine spread using a new program called “Photoshop”. I had no idea how to use it and the whole thing came out dark and blurry. I was convinced I’d fail. Instead, I got the highest grade in the class; the professor called it “moody”. My instincts have been off ever since. Sometimes I don’t know when something is good, bad or great. One nice side effect of this is that I’m the furthest thing ever from a perfectionist. I let things shake out and they’re usually okay. (Most of the time, anyway. Some things I’m actually really uptight about…).

- In fifth grade, I got a fork stuck on my lip in the school cafeteria. The prongs got twisted in an industrial dishwasher, so when I put the fork in my mouth it decided to stay there. Eventually the vice principal had to come to the table and twist it off while the whole cafeteria looked on in fascination for several minutes. If you ever catch me inspecting my fork before eating, thats why.

-If I were in a position to request my last meal, it’d be a bucket of fried chicken, fried shrimp dunked in tartar sauce and a really thick chocolate malt. This is no time for salads.

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-I once walked out of a bathroom and into the lobby of a mental health clinic with my skirt tucked into my underwear.

- I once walked into a bathroom at the Mexican restaurant where I worked and saw my boss on the toilet. He was relaxing with the newspaper. This was before smartphones. Our working relationship was never quite the same.

- I resent Stephanie Tanner for ruining the song “Motown Philly”. I associate it now with embarrassment and shame.

- Several of my favorite (therapy) clients to work with have been mandated to treatment through federal probation. Sometimes I think I’d like to work in a prison as a mental health counselor. I had a job interview lined up at Riker’s Island but chickened out at the last minute, mostly because I don’t want to have to take the Riker’s bus to work.

- My great-grandmother’s maiden name was Corn.

- Everything I know about the art of seduction was learned from Tawny Kitaen in that Whitesnake video where she’s rolling around the hood of a car. However, no one has been or will be hotter than that, so we should all just stop trying.

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- I didn’t believe in psychics until i saw the show Tyler Henry, Hollywood Medium. Now I’m kind of obsessed with the idea of having a reading done.

- I don’t know how to measure this, but I’m pretty sure I talk to myself more than the average person.

-I am a bit smug about being a child of the ’80s, because I think it was the funnest decade ever with a ton of personality. Prince dying last week was very significant to me, and I still can’t believe that the idols of my youth– Prince, Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston– are all gone. Lately I’ve been crossing my fingers and hoping that Blondie, Madonna and Janet Jackson are all off playing cards in a bunker somewhere.

- I’ve made a lot of mistakes- some bigger than others. When I look back, I picked the wrong choice a few times. I don’t regret any of them, because they’ve always lead to figuring stuff out, whipping things around and discovering the right move, which I always appreciate SO much more than I would have if I’d picked it the first time around. I’d never request a do-over for any of my mistakes. They’ve always been useful to me. I hope I make more. (P.S.– I will.)

- I vacillate between thinking the internet is the greatest and the worst thing that’s ever happened in modern society. It usually depends on how many people have bumped into me while looking down at their palm that day.

-Things I’m terrible at: making fried eggs and pancakes look presentable, reading maps, following specific instructions (i leave almost everything up to interpretation), precision in general, staying awake during movies, making phone calls (i have always hated this task), putting clothes away after wearing them, any type of confrontation, getting to the gym.

-Dairy makes me bloat something awful but I’m in denial because of how much I love cheese.

- I was actually wearing white pants the day I got my first period. I’m such a cliche.

- I’m really not into scatalogical humor, most Jim Carrey movies, horror films, staying up or out late, self-righteousness, unnecessary criticism, excessive cell phone usage, Roseanne Barr’s rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner and capers.

 

 

 

 

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HGTV is ruining all the plans I had for my life.

 

I avoided HGTV for years, for various reasons. In my 20s, I couldn’t have cared less about real estate or renovations. In my 30s, I totally became interested in real estate and renovations but feared watching these programs would mess with my head too much living in New York City, where you have to sink your expectations down to subterranean levels. There’s a feature in the back pages of New York magazine where they show what you could get elsewhere for what you’re paying in NYC. One time they put two pictures side by side, same price. One was a one-bedroom apartment on the Upper West Side. The other was a castle in Spain.

This is why I’ve avoided HGTV. I don’t need to sit in my dark basement studio knowing you can get a tennis court with your house in Atlanta, or a movie den with your split-level in Tennessee. As someone who loves to cook, it’s like a tiny pinprick to the heart when I see what they’re doing to kitchens across the country these days. That open concept thing with the island covered in a half-mile of carrara marble, topped with a big ceramic fruit basket and stools where your kids can do homework. Oh! And the storage! The cabinets that inch all the way up to the ceiling! The hidden drawers for tiny wet sponges and tall wooden cutting boards. The pot-filler sink faucets behind the stove. Those big, beautiful, 6-burner stoves…

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Throughout the house-hunting process, I’ve submitted to watching these programs– mostly Property Brothers and Fixer Upper, though I’ll sometimes catch Flip or Flop if I have nothing better to do even though I don’t find that California couple particularly endearing. I’m really in awe of the construction process– how someone can take something so wrecked and visualize its possibilities. I’m amazed and impressed by people who can peek behind a wall and diagnose what’s going on back there, and have solutions for how to make things better. I also love seeing the overall design–the tiny tweaks like widening a doorway or choosing just the right paint color to catch the light.

But these shows make me feel some funny feelings. Sometimes I watch them and wonder: “Am I screwing myself out of an easier life?”. I know I’ve written about this before, but If I lived in another part of the country (or world, why sell myself short?), my life could look a whole lot different. I won’t deny that sometimes seeing these pretty houses makes me feel less satisfied with city living. If I lived outside of a city, I could stock up on paper towels at Costco, have an actual dining room table, spring for the extra-tall bottle of olive oil, the one that would never fit upright in a New York City kitchen cabinet. A wrap-around porch? A kitchen made for family gatherings? An extra bit of closet space? A price tag that doesn’t make me feel like passing out? These things sound nice.

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(Exterior of typical “Fixer Upper” house in Waco, Texas. Approx $250K (after full gut renovation). 

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(Exterior of typical 2-family home in Astoria, Queens…. quite a bit more than 250K)

Anyway, there was one particular episode of Fixer Upper that kicked me in the teeth a little bit. Not enough to make me uproot and move to Waco, just so we’re clear. (I went to Waco once about 20 years ago and can’t remember one single detail of that trip, which makes me feel like it’s probably not the place for me).

Chip and Joanna were showing this couple– a very young couple– a few places to renovate. The couple looked no more than 24 or 25 years old and they owned an adorable, popular coffee shop in town. Let me repeat… they were in their early 20s, owned their own brick-and-mortar shop AND were able to afford a really nice house.

And that’s not something that’s easily possible here– not unless you’re a Wall Street banker, a movie star or the off-spring of a real estate tycoon.

Several people I grew up with in Galveston own businesses in our hometown. One friend and her husband own an awesome surf shop. Another couple opened a saloon-themed bar on the Strand. There are classmates who own home-cleaning businesses, small restaurants, a party rental company. I think it’s amazing that so many people I know own businesses there. It makes the whole town feel connected. I do miss that.

My hometown is very supportive of small, family-owned businesses. Chains have never been a big deal there; they didn’t get a Starbuck’s or a Target until I’d already left. Back in the day, Dad only bought suits at Schwartz’s, which was owned by his best friend’s next door neighbor. We would never drive off the island to Lens Crafters–it was criminal to get our prescription glasses anywhere other than Patti Zein-Eldin’s. We were only allowed to pump gas at one station in town. It was owned by my friend’s dad.

I have an idea for a little shop I’d like to open one day. It came to me while grocery shopping in Texas two months ago. I could tell you about it, but then you might think it’s such a great business idea that you run off and try to make it happen in your neck of the woods, leaving me high and dry. We’re all friends here; I don’t want that kind of competition. So I’ll just keep it tucked behind my ear for a while.

It is a small and simple idea, nothing flashy about it at all, and the catch is…it would have to be in New York City because it fills a void here. Isn’t that what makes businesses thrive? They fill a void of some kind?

It’s something I daydream about from time to time when I allow myself to picture the different shapes my life could still take. Julia Child didn’t become Julia Child till she was 40, you know.

For anyone keeping track, I am almost 39.

An almost-39-year-old born-and-bred Texan who is for all intents and purposes now a bonafide New Yorker. At this point I’m used to the crowds and the potpourri of human odors and the subway tracks that flood with swamp water every time it rains. I’m accustomed to sticky summers and seemingly endless winters. I’m very used to living in relatively small quarters, and in fact, I have grown to appreciate how little space there is to clean. I mean, what would I do with a four-bedroom house with two sitting rooms and an enormous backyard anyway? Truth is, I know I’m right where I belong. I’m a Queens girl now. Those cararra marble counters will be there for me in another lifetime, or perhaps further down the road in this one.

I may need to lay off Fixer Upper for a while. They just had their season finale anyway.

Time to join the Tiny House Nation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Day in the Life: St. Patrick’s Day, NYC edition

 

10:30 am: Leave for work. It’s St. Patrick’s Day in New York City and suddenly every single white person (and a few Chinese) thinks they’re Irish.

10:36 am: I offer to help a woman carry her stroller up the subway stairs. Her son, roughly age 2, faces me. Due to my own 5-lb weight gain and a recent wash, my pants are so tight the zipper refuses to stay up. My fly plummets as I head upstairs, inadvertently exposing myself to this innocent woman’s child, reinforcing the idea that no good deed goes unpunished, and no pants shall be washed until I lose a few L.B.s.

10: 42 am:  The train is filled with people headed to the parade. I spy a group of laughing moms in green wigs, holding hands with little boys in tiny shamrock shirts. A group of musicians in suits and green ties, fiddles and banjos tucked beneath an arm. Lots and lots of off-duty NYPD and NYFD wearing freshly-ironed parade uniforms. I had no idea this many cops and firemen lived in my neighborhood, but I suddenly feel enveloped by a faux-Irish web of safety.

10:59 am: Exit train at 57th Street, even though my office is below 10th. Anytime I can combine exercise with people-watching is a win. Sometimes I get overwhelmed by the pace of city life, and feel like I need to go build a hut in a field or something. I know the energy of St. Patrick’s Day will provide that shot in the arm that keeps me going here a bit longer.

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A line of folks wraps around the front of Carnegie Deli. Gaggles of tourists in green boas and dip-dyed red beards and blow-up hats swarm the sidewalk. Vendors have replaced scarves and handbags with green shirts and Irish flags and goofy green tiaras. I feel like the only drip on the way to work. How is everyone always on vacation here?

11:03 am: Pull up my fly again.

11:06 am: I make it to Times Square. It’s pure insanity, more so than usual. There are Elmos everywhere. Furry red with big palms and bug eyes delighting toddlers and annoying adults. There’s a guy on stilts dressed like the Statue of Liberty, two Minnie Mouses and the cowboy from Toy Story all hanging out in the street. Out of nowhere, Spiderman jumps in my face.

“Jesus!” I yell, even though I totally recognize him as Spider-man. He can’t fool me in that costume. I don’t like it when people jump in my face. One time I waited in line three hours for a haunted house only to make it three feet in before begging to be let out.

The timing of Spring Break coinciding with St. Patrick’s Day spells danger for the streets of New York City, as there are hordes of college-aged people wearing green in Times Square right now. They’re jumping on the stairs of the TKTS stand. They’re marching past the M&M store. Whole groups are skipping down the street in wolf-packs, singing at the top of their lungs, lyrics indecipherable because they’re all rip roaring drunk. I haven’t seen this many loaded white kids since Spring Break 1998 (Cancun, baby!) when my friends and I took a bumpy booze cruise to a tiny fake island for a barbecue cookout and wet t-shirt contest**.

 11:15am: Like everyone else in New York City, my Pandora station is set to “Ronnie Milsap Radio”, and as I continue hoofing down Broadway, the song Rhinestone Cowboy comes on, the fortuitous timing delighting me. “Rhinestone Cowboy” is not a Ronnie Milsap song, but that’s how Pandora works, see. It’s an Earl Campbell song, who I like a lot because he popularized a little tune about my hometown called Galveston, which is actually a Jimmy Webb song. But Rhinestone Cowboy reminds me of my first time in Times Square, not much older than all these drunk morons, fresh from the airport and riding in the back of a livery cab with a driver who instructed: “Don’t look up so much” and “Stop saying Houston. It’s pronounced How-ston here.”

I’ve been walkin’ these streets so long
Singin’ the same old song
I know every crack in these dirty sidewalks of Broadway
Where hustle’s the name of the game
And nice guys get washed away like the snow and the rain
There’s been a load of compromisin’
On the road to my horizon
But I’m gonna be where the lights are shinin’ on me

11:16am: I get misty-eyed at the poignancy of the lyrics. Been here 16 years now, and I too know every crack in the dirty sidewalk. My God, where does the time go?

11:17 am: Pull up my fly again.

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11: 29 am: Make it out of Times Square alive, continue to pass hundreds and hundreds of people–young, old, jolly, buoyant–dressed in green as they make their way to the parade route on 5th. Today’s weather is glorious and it’s the unofficial season opener for women who enjoy being scantily clad. It’s technically still chilly enough for a sweater, but I’ve seen more bare midriffs and shoulders than expected, even a little peek of some demi-cup green bras.

11:35: At a crosswalk, I stand across from two girls, both of whom are wearing green tutus and white crop tops.

11:36am: To my left is a gentleman indisputably high on crack, pants dripping down his thighs, teeth like a bomb went off in his mouth. He fumbles into the middle of the street, waves hello to the pretty girls and yells “Erin go Bragh, mothafuckaaaaaaaaaaaas!”.

11:40- 12:30: Continue walking through various neighborhoods on the west side of town, through the armpit of 34th street, down through Chelsea and into the West Village. I shed a tear as I walk past the old Loehmann’s, shake my head at all the stupid banks and chain drugstores, walk through 8th Street, where all the cool shoe shops used to be. I’ve been here long enough that I can now say “Remember when?”,  or “Remember that?” and have it actually mean something.

12:43 pm: As I get closer to work, I switch the station to ’80s Pop to juice myself up for the day. Like magic, the line “She’s a maniac, maniac on the floor” comes on just as I trip over a terribly parked bicycle, sending me flying forward. I’m due for a good face plant, so I’m not terribly surprised.

12:44: A guy walks right by me, never asks if I’m okay, even though he sees me rubbing my knees and palms and hears me saying, “Ouch, ouch. That hurt.” His Irish eyes clearly don’t give a shit about me, and he probably assumes I’m drunk. That’s what I love about New York City; you can trip, fall and cry your eyes out and no one even notices.

12:45: That’s also what I hate about New York City.

12: 50: Officially starting my work day. Clients drip in one by one, most wearing green. One client (not mine) is really in the spirit, wearing shamrocks from head to toe. Tiny shamrocks all over his pants, tiny shamrocks all over his shirt, even shamrocks all over his baseball cap.

12:51:  Oh wait, those aren’t shamrocks. They’re marijuana leaves.

3:00: A supervisor walks by my office and congratulates me on being the new fire marshal for the 2nd floor. I had not been made aware of this new role, nor had I received training for it, but apparently I’d been fire marshal long enough that someone had time to type my name on paper, frame it and hang it in the lobby. I assume (and hope!) the new gig comes with a cool hat.

3:01: “Sweet! I got promoted! I had no idea!” I exclaimed. “What does being fire marshal entail?”

“You have to get people out of the building calmly if it’s on fire. Also, it’s not a promotion.”

I was reminded of my 3-month stint as a third grade teacher in the South Bronx, when we had weekly fire drills and I had to get 25 kids from the fourth to the first floor quietly and efficiently. It was the job that convinced me I’d be better off working with adults, which lead me to study social work. I love it when stories come full circle.

3:10- 7:39 pm: I pull my fly up no fewer than 20 times. Screw the hat. I hope the new gig comes with a good pair of pants.

I work until 8pm. I hate late nights. I’m a morning person, always have been. After 6:30pm, my brain changes shape, turns mushy like avocado.

8:10pm: Vin picks me up in the car, and we head back to Astoria for food. We skip the pubs and head straight to Bon Chon, where they serve Korean fried chicken– double fried and dipped in honey-soy and hot sauce. If we could get away with it without dying, we would eat here every day. When I eat this chicken, I actually hear angels singing. On this night, a sweet Celtic harp pings softly in the background.

We skip the Guinness in favor of Earl Grey tea. I wipe my hands clean of chicken wing residue, lift my steaming mug and greet my husband at the end of a long and interesting day in New York City.

“Erin go bragh, mothafucka. Erin go bragh.”

 

 

*And for the record Ma: Yes, I was asked to participate in the wet t-shirt concert, and no I didn’t do it. I sat at a picnic table and ate chicken wings instead. I love it when stories come full circle.

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13 years

 

This is the first time I had to do the math to remember how many years we’ve been together. Was it 2001 or 2002? Is it 12 years or 13? I interpret this to mean we have passed some sort of invisible benchmark where neither of us is sitting around holding up fingers, counting time, asking ourselves “It’s been 3 months, seven days and 55 minutes…I think it’s really going somewhere!” Could this really be something? Could this be…LOVE?

We’ve been together 13 years, but it feels more like three. We’ve been together since I was fresh-faced and 25, and now my eyes crinkle at the top as I inch toward 39. Thirteen years makes our relationship a gawky teen, wide-eyed and hopeful but thankfully short on angst and ennui. The training wheels are off. We’re really in this thing, albeit still a little awkward.

Thirteen years in means less spontaneity, and more durability. Thirteen years in means planning ahead for fifty years in, and making decisions now that will help us feel secure then. It’s not the dopamine-rush of year one, or the wobbly uncertainty of years two and three, it’s the shelter and safety of having some real time behind us, of having shared experiences that really shaped us as people, taught us as individuals, and bound us as partners.

Sometimes I think there’s a certain amount of luck attributed to each person, and I used all mine up when you hitched your wagon to mine. Sometimes I think that the universe has already given me so much good by putting you in my path that I couldn’t possibly be eligible for more. Now I think that you are my luck, and your presence in my life is such a grounding force that it helps me create my own abundance. 

Thirteen years, and in a lot of ways we’ve only just begun. In the grand scheme of things, 13 years is a tiny drop in a big bucket. We’ve still got a long stretch of road ahead and though I’m no fortune-teller, I have a feeling the view’s about to get more interesting.

And at the risk of sounding like Thelma and Louise, let’s keep going.

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in which i compare a puzzle to life’s great metaphor

 

I’ve been really anxious lately. Lots of racing thoughts, funky stomach, sweaty palms. This morning while laying in the dark, I tried to calm myself with some slow, deep breaths. I’ve been taking a lot of slow deep breaths lately.

I’ve also been doing a lot of puzzles. Not sudoku. Not crossword. Old-school jigsaw, baby. Three hundred pieces? Don’t insult me. It’s 1,000 or bust. Five hundred if I’m short on time.

What an amazing distraction a puzzle is. Your mind narrows in on a singular focus, and with each piece that clicks into the greater whole you get a quick hit of accomplishment. It’s overwhelming at first, all these tiny random pieces cluttering up the place, but after you start seeing sections come together– a pond here, a tiny clasped hand there– the picture becomes clearer, your goal reasonable and within reach. Puzzles are a great metaphor for life, don’t you think? Upfront they’re a big old mess– random, scattered, messy, unclear. But you keep at it, piece by piece, and eventually things start making sense. You see the forest through the trees–sometimes literally, depending on the picture.

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I’m partial to puzzles with a lot going on. I want buildings, people, cars, colors, textures. You need pieces that distinguish themselves from the others. Growing up we had a 2,000-piece monster of Santa Claus. Not one jolly guy, which would have been reasonable, but 50 tiny Santa Clauses, which is just scary. When it comes to choosing a puzzle, you want to avoid too much repetition or sameness. No one wants to piece together 40 stacked logs of firewood or an endless flat ocean. Go for the Victorian street scene with colorful hoop skirts and old gas streetlamps and pushcart vendors and tiny street urchins. Put yourself in the middle of Times Square with bright yellow cabs, blinking Broadway marquees, breakdancers, buildings, the Naked Cowboy, people dancing around with chickens on their heads.

I realized my affinity for puzzles during the blizzard last month. I needed something to keep me occupied, so I found an old box in the back of the closet and went to town. It was a challenging puzzle– a tropical scene with lots of blue ocean, blue sky, pebbly sand and dark palm trees, but I stuck with it because I often start things and never finish them, and I wanted to prove to myself that it didn’t always have to be that way.

During the workday, I’d text Vin and ask “Is it sad that all I can think about is getting a happy meal and finishing my puzzle?”.

I finished it in six days and felt a glowing beam of pride. And why shouldn’t I have been proud? I took tiny pieces of compressed cardboard and turned them into an ocean. Where once was nothing, I planted towering trees. In under a week, I built the entire sky. 

Vin came home and admired my masterpiece.

“Do you want me to take a picture of you with the finished puzzle?” he asked. He meant no sarcasm. He is genuinely supportive, no matter my hobby. 

“Do I want you to take a picture of me in my bathrobe and dirty hair in front of a completed jigsaw puzzle?” I asked. “No thanks. I think I’ll be able to remember this moment.”

I’ve done a few more puzzles since then. We went to Texas several weeks ago, and I was feeling overwhelmed by something so instead of wine I suggested a puzzle. We pulled out a card table and four of us silently got to work. Last weekend in Vermont, my girlfriends and I knocked out an abstract 500-piece jammy in just under two hours. When it was finished, we did a three-way high-five and felt like champions.

It’s nice to finish something you start. It’s good to do something other than fart around on the internet. It’s good to feel like your brain has one mission, and one mission only. These days, it’s often hard to see the forest through the trees. Puzzles help you do that. I hope 2016 does for puzzles what 2015 did for adult coloring books.  

As I broke the pieces apart and tossed them back in the box, I couldn’t help but think that served as a metaphor too. Clear the decks, start fresh, take on the next challenge.  

Or you know, just eat dinner at the table again.

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A Face Made for Pictures

Years ago, back in the early aughts, when I was but a poreless, fresh-faced ingenue, I was stopped on 23rd Street by a generally unthreatening stranger. I don’t remember how he phrased it exactly, but what I remember hearing was: “You have a face made for pictures.”

I thought this sounded better than the typical street comment, far more flattering than something like “Hey! I like your butt!” or “You look like trash. Can I take you out?”

I was young and naive so I stopped to chat with him for a bit, and as it turned out, he was actually a small-time movie producer. In fact, he was just coming home from filming all day. “Oh boy!” I thought. This was it! I am totally getting discovered right now! Id always heard about being at the right place at the right time, and my time had finally come! Wait till the kids back home hear about this– stopped by an actual movie producer on the street in New York City and asked to star in his next picture! I’m gonna razzle-dazzle ‘em!”

“So tell me…” I leaned in. ‘What were you just filming? Have I seen any of your work before?” My fingers were crossed behind my back, praying for him to say he’d filmed Grease I and II and was now working on casting part three. I would be phenomenal as Sandy’s Texan cousin, the one from Dallas with big hair and lots of jewelry who seems real “Aw, shucks” and superficial on the surface but shows great depth and emotional complexity once you get to know her.

“My movies don’t really make it to theaters,” he explained, “but they make a lot of money. They’re adult movies. Any chance you’re interested? I really mean it. You have a great look.”

So, porn. I have a face made for porn. I felt like calling my parents and thanking them for their genetic contributions. How proud they would be.

(PS: Please note that I only have the face for porn, not the body).

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“Can I draw you?”

It’s the line every woman has dreamed of hearing from a man since Kate pulled Leo into her wood-paneled cruise cabin and drooped a huge diamond between her double lattes. To be asked “Can I draw you?” indicates a face not just stunning but special, the kind that should be committed to paper and tucked away in a vault or framed and tipped on a mantle. Unless, of course, that drawing highlights your bare naked boobies– then it should be wrapped in butcher paper and tucked in your underwear drawer for safe-keeping.

Earlier this week, a young man took a seat next to me on the subway. In his lap was a sketch pad; his pants pockets were stuffed with colored pencils.

“Excuse me?” I asked. My ears were stuffed with headphones even though I was busy reading a book. I’m a New Yorker. I multi-task.

“Can I draw you?” He asked again. He had a very serious look on his face. I recognized that look. It was the look of someone startled by beauty, an artist who had finally found his muse. A man looking– really looking– into the heart and soul of a woman. As a 38-year-old in the dead of winter, I was neither poreless or fresh-faced; I was slightly chapped and quite ruddy, with a complete and utter absence of anything resembling a youthful glow. But I guess you could say he found my inner glow, and who was I to deny him the joy of capturing that?

“So, where will this drawing be going?” I asked. I was a bit more cautious in my older age, and didn’t want to find my face wallpapering a mens’ restroom in midtown or attached to some product placement for hemorrhoid cream. I support art and the people who make it, but I have a face made for porn, and I need to protect myself. Plus, if he was going to make money off my dry chapped face, I wanted in for 50%. I’m a New Yorker. Let’s make a deal.

“Well, my main goal is for you to give me 20 bucks when I’m done with it.”

“Sorry, that’s not gonna happen. I’m on a tight budget right now.” My ego dropped to my shoes where it belongs, and my nose went back into my book. The artist tried again and asked the dude across from us if he could draw him, but he was getting off at the next stop, so the artist turned his attention back to me.

“Can I still draw you while you read? Would that be ok?”

“Sure, knock yourself out.” I was curious to see his artistic interpretation of my face. I’ve been drawn as a cartoon a few times, and I actually found the likeness pretty remarkable. My mother sat for an artist as a (blonde) teenage girl and he drew her with thick black hair in a gauzy one-shouldered dress like Cleopatra. Mine were always a bit more literal.

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A cartoon drawing of me with my other dance team compadres in high school. I’d say “guess which one is me!” but my name’s right underneath it, so that kind of spoils the fun…

When you know someone is drawing you, it’s impossible to just sit there and breathe in and out like a normal person. I was happy he was sitting to the left of me; that’s my good side. But he was sitting so damn close I knew I’d have to do a bit of facial contortion to really get the best angles. I found myself trying to elongate my neck and make my cheekbones look more angular by cocking my head slightly to the right. I tilted up my wool cap to show off more of that beautiful forehead. I wiped my nose to make sure there weren’t any little surprises.

As we approached 57th Street, he focused back on closing the deal.

“I’m getting off at the next stop. Do you want this picture?” This guy’s affect was totally flat, devoid of all emotion.

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I looked over at the portrait of my face and felt a twinge of sadness. His version of me looked so melancholy, completely spiritless. I looked like every other commuter on the subway–weary, bored, exhausted. Plus– and there’s really no way to say this without sounding like an asshole– I thought I was prettier than that?

He’d scribbled a big 5 on the corner, and I’m still not sure if that was his calling card or some kind of subliminal message, but I ended up handing him a $5 bill and taking the portrait home. It was all I had, and I could appreciate this guy’s hustle, as well as his talent. Artists have to pay the bills somehow, and he’d come up with a pretty interesting strategy.

It’s not the kind of thing I’ll lock in a vault or tip on the mantle, but it’ll definitely make a fine addition to my underwear drawer.

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A Robe made for Queens

 

I got a big, white, fluffy robe for Christmas this year. When I opened it, I wasn’t sure if I’d get any use out of it. Who wears robes these days? I asked myself. Turns out, I wear robes these days. I’ve been wearing this thing every day. It actually pains me to take it off when I leave the house. If they’d let me wear it to work, I would.

It’s not a slinky silk or toasty flannel. It’s not the kind you monogram and hang in the Four Seasons bathroom. This robe is a full-on velour blanket with sleeves. It’s almost unimaginably soft and ridiculously cuddly. When I tie the thick sash around my waist I look like Lebowski and feel like a swaddled child. When Vin hugs me he calls me his “little bear cub”. Did I just make this weird?

Suffice it to say, the year has started with ease and familiar comforts. Homemade chicken soup and too many chocolate chip cookies. Netflix on the couch with socked feet and piles of blankets. Dinners in dark restaurants with friends–warm fried chicken and flaky biscuits smeared with butter and honey. Winter is not as wicked as I’ve always thought it to be; in fact, if you do it right, the downright coziness is almost better than an afternoon warming your face in the summer sun.

I said, almost.

We’re watching Making a Murderer each night (you too? How funny.). We come home from work, eat a little bit, then I put on my big fluffy heaven robe and drape myself across Vinny’s legs. I’m a blanket for him, and he’s an ottoman to me. We yell at the screen, grab the sides of our heads in anger and despair, and yell terrible things at the TV screen. Last night he brought home a cookie the size of a pancake and we ate the whole thing. Unlike the rest of the resolution-making world, I didn’t join a gym on January 1st. I discontinued my membership to save money.

Like I said, this robe is going to get a lot of wear this season, especially once I grow out of all my pants.

Now be a lamb and fetch me a hot chocolate, would ya?

 

 

 

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About Jenn.


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

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