Much To My Delight

Much To My Delight

My Achy Valentine

 

Thursday, 4:15pm 

I take a sip, and immediately know. I’d just led a group in my office and had offered everyone present water or tea. I keep a little mug tree on my desk and most of the time consider it a pretty nice touch for a therapist’s office, except on the day everyone puts their dirty cups in the same spot and I mistakenly grab one thinking it’s mine.

Jenn: “OMG I’m panicking because I think I accidentally drank water out of someone else’s cup. I know I have the cold and the flu and probably Ebola.”

Vinny: “Haha, oh no!”

J: I’m going home to pour a bucket of hot salt water down my throat. This might be it for me. Game over.”

V: Ok baba. Get to gargling. You’re not going to die.”

J: “Don’t forget that I love you. We had a lot of good times.”

V: “You’ll be fine.”

J: “You can remarry. I don’t want you to starve.”

V: “Stop! You’re fine. But yeah– you better gargle that salt water.”

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Friday morning:

The staff doctor calls in sick. (in a health clinic, this is the sign of the end). The receptionist looks overwhelmed and slightly feverish.

Friday early evening:

Vinny finally arrives home after a week-long ski trip in Vermont where he’d been hurtling himself through fresh powder and guzzling hot chocolate with shots of whiskey. I pull myself off the couch to greet my husband in paint-covered black sweatpants and a dirty shirt. My head wobbles on my shoulders; its weight substantial and cumbersome. He immediately has to rush out to a work function.  I immediately rush to bed.

Saturday morning: 

I wake up to fresh flowers and crippling fatigue. I know right away I will spend the entire day on the couch with a jug of ginger tea and a remote control. Vinny heads upstairs with his father to paint the rental apartment. Throughout the day, groups of people tour the place, all of them healthy and attractive. I greet them from my horizontal position on the couch in a plush white robe. Refusing to shake anyone’s hand, I offer up a few patriotic salutes.

Flashes of warmth course through my neck and shoulders, so I’d remove the robe and immediately start to shiver. Beads of sweat pooled at the base of my neck, then they’d dry and I’d be cold all over again. Per my request, Vin went to the grocery to buy a whole organic chicken and a huge stick of ginger. I taught him how to make “my great healing soup” from my spot on the couch. The only thing he’d ever boiled before was hot dogs. Watching him skin and debone a whole chicken for me brought tears to my eyes. He takes my temperature throughout the day, presses his cool palm into my hot forehead.

Sunday- Monday:

Still achy and fatigued and laying prostrate on the couch. By late Monday, feeling better– take a walk, call clients and tell them I’ll see them in the morning.

Tuesday morning:
I’m dressed and ready to go to work when my knees start to buckle and the idea of walking a few blocks to the subway seems an impossible feat. I feel much better than I had days ago, but still worried about getting others sick.

“I think I need to check in with a doctor,” I say to Vin, who was just about to leave for work too.

We get in the car and drive to urgent care, where they should consider changing their name because we sat in a windowless exam room for an hour waiting for the PA. Vinny played with every instrument in the doctor’s office before i was finally declared flu-free. We go to the pharmacy to pick up my meds, and Vin waits another 30 minutes in the car. It’s now 12:30 and he’s several hours late for work. It reminds me of how I got sick on our honeymoon, and instead of complaining about not being able to go out and do stuff, he spent an hour brushing tangles out of my windblown hair.

Tuesday evening:

Text message from Vinny,” Make some room on that couch baba. So so achy.”

Jenn: “Oh no! Not you too!”

V: ” I think this is the big one. You should remarry. I want another person to eat as well as I have.”

After a crappy subway ride home, Vinny opens the door and heads for the couch. I lay a blanket on him, the raggedy white throw I’d been coughing into for days. I cover his feet, and start the pitcher for tea. I touch his hot forehead with the cool palm of my hand and tell him to get some rest.

It’s my turn.

On and on we go.

And I can’t think of anything more romantic.

tea

My Great Healing Soup

-one whole organic chicken (skin removed)

-1 whole stick of ginger root, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces

-as many cloves of fresh garlic as you can handle (i go for 6-8)

salt + pepper to taste

Boil all this together for a long time until it tastes really gingery and really garlicky. Remove chicken and shred, then put it back in the pot. That’s it.

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Somethin’ Peed in the Christmas Decor

For a long time, my husband and I rented a basement apartment in Queens. The ceilings were a hair over six feet and the particleboard cabinets had begun to crumble from the edges inward. My closet was in the kitchen and we served appetizers from our bedroom’s dresser drawers during house parties. Lacking adequate space, we stored the overflow in a dank unfinished cave behind the home’s washer and dryer. Most of our possessions back there eventually smelled like mildew, but one cold December day, they reeked of urine.

I don’t like to brag, but I have the greatest sense of smell on God’s green earth. It’s an extraordinary gift when seasoning dinner or saving people from burning buildings, but it’s a real drag when garbage has overstayed its welcome or something’s peed on your Christmas decorations. I’d just stumbled on a box filled with tinsel that smelled like a litter box and it made me feel very unfestive.

christmas decor

I called out to my husband. “Hey Vin! Come sniff these decorations. They smell like pee.”

Vinny thinks I experience olfactory hallucinations because he never smells what I smell, so when he agreed about the urine I knew I wasn’t crazy. It’s nice to have this confirmed now and then.

“Some kind of animal must have gotten down here,” I said.

“Jenn, we’re in Queens. When have you ever seen an animal?” Ummm, did he not remember the rat from last year?

The smell was so strong I began to feel nauseous, and I worried my eyes might never uncross. I wanted to uncover the mystery, but I also needed our Christmas box to spontaneously burst into flames or grow wings and fly itself to the curb.

Vin stroked his beard like an ancient wizard; in times of crisis or uncertainty, he looked to his facial hair as a sort of oracle. Finally he offered, “What if Vito did it?”

Vito was our former landlord, a funny and engaging man with whom we’d always gotten along really well. So when my husband accused the man of marching into his own house and marking his territory like a feral donkey, I thought he was the one hallucinating. It reminded me of the time I heard meowing on the subway and instead of looking for a cat began searching for a person with a bizarre vocal talent.

‘Why would someone pee all over his own property?” I asked.

“Maybe he was working down here and had no other choice. ”  he said.

I’d always admired mens’ ability to relieve themselves at their leisure. The female anatomy made spontaneous evacuation a much more challenging task, with all the hiding and squatting and modesty and whatnot.

I wasn’t ready to rule out a critter, but Vinny was convinced it was human pee, especially after discovering his grandparents’ vintage ornaments were missing.

vintage ornaments

“The ornaments are GONE! You wanna tell me a raccoon came down here and stole them? It had to be a person, Jenn.”

“Let me get this straight,” I debated. “You think our landlord came down here, took a pee in a box, then stole our ornaments?”

“YES.”

I dropped the subject, exhaled, and delivered the stinky box to the trash. Eventually we found the ornaments and ruled out our landlord as primary suspect. We found the mouse droppings an hour later, like tiny lumps of coal. We sang some carols, hung our stockings and toasted with eggnog.

Then we lit a big freaking candle so Christmas could smell like peppermint again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This is Laziness. But this is also Love.

 

This weekend we painted for two days straight. Our upstairs apartment is back on the market, and the previous tenants dinged and bruised every square inch of wall on the way down. Friday night we tackled the bedrooms. I picked out a lovely, subtle shade of very faint gray.  I hope the new tenants are fond of their new light blue sleeping quarters.

Saturday morning we bought more paint and brushes and a bag of bagels, then I put on a big pot of coffee to share with Vin’s father, a man who says very little but always helps us a lot. We taped and edged and rolled for hours until every inch of the living room and front hallway was covered in a ridiculously crisp white. I’d asked for “the most popular shade of white” at our paint store, and apparently the people in our neighborhood eschew soft creamy shades in favor of a blinding institutional glow.

Sunday morning I had intentions to hit the gym and the grocery store before nine, but instead hit snooze for two full hours. My back ached, my legs wobbled and even my knuckles felt sore. I felt like an old dog, tired down to my bones. Breathing in paint fumes for two days made me groggy and lightheaded. I woke up at 8, and stumbled to our windows to open the dated vertical blinds we still haven’t gotten around to replacing. The sun sucker punched me, right in the eye. I let out a whine like a cranky child.

All I wanted was coffee because all I ever want is coffee.

good coffee

I’m one of those people who normally spends 20 minutes grinding whole beans and pouring hot water over fresh grounds through a funnel. There’s a whole meditative ritual behind it, watching the liquid drip through the paper and into the carafe, but in those moments when you really just need to mainline caffeine that whole rigamarole is too high-maintenance. That’s why a traditional drip coffee maker will always be welcome in my home.

But that morning, my laziness hit an unprecedented peak. I was too tired to make my own coffee– pour over or otherwise. I rang a little bell, hoping the butler might fetch me one. No one came, of course, so I hauled my tired ass to the upstairs apartment to get my coffee maker. It was still half full from the day before. I considered it a sign to take it easy, and against (anyone’s, everyone’s) better judgment, decided to reheat my day old coffee instead of making a fresh two cups.

I searched my kitchen for a pot because as much as I was willing to lower my standards, even I was too good for microwaved day-old coffee. Suddenly I remembered that my small pot was in the fridge holding Thursday night’s chili; I should have transferred it to Tupperware, but never got around to it.

So I did the next best thing and poured the cold coffee into a saute pan. I was totally out of Half and Half (WHY GOD WHY?) so I poured a thimble of two percent milk into the saute pan, then showered a teaspoon of saigon cinnamon over the top in my attempt to be civilized.

I cranked up the flame and when it came to a respectable temperature I poured it into my mug, where a nasty milk film spread like a virus across the top. I took a sip and began to gently weep.

“It’s still coffee,” I muttered under my breath, trying to convince myself that things weren’t so dire. I finished the whole appalling mug while laying across the couch in mismatched socks and a white chenille robe surfing instagram with the kind of dead eyes you only see on a child playing Minecraft. I could not recall a time I felt so out of it, so completely opposed to movement or productivity. I realize that the parents among you have likely synchronized your eye rolls at my dramatics. That, or you get me. You really, really get me.

Finally, Vinny woke up and stumbled into the living room in his boxer shorts. He wiped the sleep from the corner of his eyes and asked me how my morning had been.

“Not great,” I said. “I feel totally wiped and I was so tired I didn’t even feel like making coffee.” I raised my sad cup of day old dregs to show him how far I’d fallen from grace. “I reheated yesterdays’ coffee in a saute pan and it was awful.”

“Do you want me to get you a cup of coffee?” he asked. A crown of heavenly light beamed around the circumference of his head. I bit my lower lip as I struggled not to cry.

“You would do that for me?” I asked. I acted like we live on a remote prairie and he’d offered to ride into town on a buggy to get me just one thing. It felt like the kindest gesture in the world.

Now’s a good time to tell you that we actually live across the street from a 24-hour deli. It is literally seven seconds from my home, door to door. They sell half & half there, as well as ready-made coffee. The idea of putting on a coat and shoes and walking across had been too much to bear. And so I waited a few hours for my husband to wake up so he could make the trip.

He put on his shoes and was out and back in less than a minute. I put the paper cup to my lips and let the liquid warm my mouth and stream down my throat. It was lukewarm and sharply bitter, an absolutely terrible cup of coffee. But I drank the whole thing anyway,  because his gesture had been so sweet.

 

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The Life of a Writer

I have been a writer for a very, very long time. I uncovered my talent early, scribbling furiously in little pink notebooks while splayed on my Laura Ashley bedspread. My childhood bedroom was furnished with alluringly feminine pieces–a Victorian style makeup table where I learned to smear glitter all over my face, a canopy bed of wrought iron from which I strung dead dried roses. Vines from our home’s exterior crept inside my front window. I enjoyed clipping them with nail scissors and pretending I was trapped in the tower of an air-conditioned suburban castle. My early setting was very dramatic and inspired my craft.

Recently, I came across a diary I kept throughout my eighth year as a preternaturally evolved person. Please enjoy the early works of a burgeoning artist.

Prologue:
“I’ll always keep this book close to my heart. Through all the years of my life, I will keep this. My favorite page is page 8 about my best friend and me being separated forever.”
Signed, Jennifer (age 8)

Page 4: A Poem
Up in the Sky
“The sky is blue
and the clouds a new
When I sit by the window sill,
Way up in the sky
so high, so high,
up to the brightest star, and I sit and I
sit, And wonder where you are.”
BY: Jennifer P.
March 5, 1986
third grade
age eight 8

Page 8:
“I’ll never forget the day my best friend Magic moved to New Jersey. Yes, it was sad to see my best friend moving, but, it was needed. For her grandmother was dying. It was a tragedy and I cried for her. But I’ll never forget Magic’s smile. And I garentee you she won’t forget mine. And here’s a song I wrote:

Why do we have to be separated like this. We were meant to be together forever forever friends we will be oh, friends together just you and me.

“These words mean a lot to me. Magic was a dear friend to me. And I bet your buckles Erika isn’t even writing in her journal about her moving even though she clams that Magic and her were best friends.

No they weren’t. “

***

(Can you believe I had a friend named Magic? Actually, her full name was Magic Rain And Moon Nelson D’Arienzo. This is what happens when you’re born in the ’70s.)… And yes, the “And” was capitalized.

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So, now do you get the idea? Do you see why I keep crackin’ away at this? You can’t ignore raw talent. You’ve either got it, or you don’t. Same goes for that latent bitchiness in my last entry. If it’s there, you just have to own it. I’m ready to step into my power guys.

So anyway, after a few years (I think it was 3.5, but possibly four!) I *finished* writing my memoir. I put the word finished in little brackets because it will never feel truly finished, I will never get it just right and if by some miracle I am able to get it published in the traditional sense, it’s most certainly not in final form. I’m pretty sure I overuse semi-colons to an almost criminal extent.

Part of me is reluctant to announce “I finished my book!” because now I’m on the hook for whatever comes next. And the truth is, I want something to come out of this. I spent a lot of time on this. I woke up at six–sometimes five– for years to get the writing in before work, when the house was quiet and my brain felt most alert. I wrote this entire thing while Vinny was sleeping; the dude never even saw me at my computer! I spent all spring and summer typing away on my little back patio and I wouldn’t be surprised if my next door neighbors think I have a gaming addiction with the amount of time they’ve seen me glued to my laptop.

I’ve read and fine-tuned each chapter a dozen times, and I can’t look at them anymore. I’ve clipped and rearranged and scrapped big chunks altogether. I’ve given it to a few people (the industry calls them beta-readers) and their feedback was encouraging. But still, when I look over it, I’m constantly asking myself, “Is this a book? Does it read like an actual book?” There are parts I know are good, and there are parts where I think it could be a lot better. It is nearly impossible to objectively read something you’ve written and get a grasp of whether it’s any good or not. Sometimes I read stuff I’ve written and get a kick out of it. Sometimes I read it back and think “Oh wow- this is trash.”

I have no delusions of grandeur here; I didn’t write the next great American novel and I am no Joan Didion. My book falls under the category of “lighthearted”, “easy to read” and “something you might throw in your beach bag”. I’m cool with it. I know what kind of writer I am. I’m hopeful that there are literary agents interested in publishing something like this, but really– I just have no idea what will happen next.

I will say that I am proud of myself for setting a goal and finishing it. Even if nothing happens next (which could very well be the case), I will always be able to say that I got this thing out of my head and onto paper, and I feel true relief in having done that. But if it doesn’t get published in the traditional sense, I will likely self-publish and advertise it here.

That’s where the next phase comes in — marketing myself. Sending queries to agents, proving to them I have a big enough platform to sell copies. Ugh, I’m so loathe to do this, but I’m pretty sure I have to. I’ll ask you this one time and then I’ll shut up about it, but if you like something you read here, please share it–either on social media or the old-fashioned way (with your mouth).

If you’re reading this, I appreciate you. I’ve taken some really long breaks and you stuck around! I’ve always had a really small readership, but it’s always struck me as a smart, encouraging, supportive and savvy one. Now that the book is done, I need to go out and find more people like you to join us here.

If you have any ideas on how to do that, I’m totally open to them. In the meantime, I guess I’ll be in the corner of everyone’s favorite restaurant, hashtagging my poached eggs so that shit can spread like Instagram wildfire.

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What To Do When You FINALLY Finish Writing Your Book (!)

 

Email Subject: Query: XXX (memoir/humor)

Dear kind, savvy and attractive literary agents (all 50++ of you),

I’m seeking representation for my memoir XXX. (My book is not titled XXX; I’m withholding here to add an element of surprise. On second thought though, that’s a pretty intriguing title, isn’t it?).

XXX is about a 22-year-old Gen-X Texas virgin who moves to New York City at the dawn of the millennium, marries a man named Vinny from Queens and fumbles through early adulthood while adjusting to significant cultural differences and a burgeoning digital age.

The story begins in puberty and ends on my 40th birthday, each essay chronicling an experience women of all ages can relate to or find humor in: growing up with quirky mixed-faith parents, a long season of sexual ungainliness, interviewing B-list celebrities as a hair magazine writer, competing on a TV dating show, awkward talks at the gynecologist’s office, urban house hunting adventures and basic reproductive turmoil. It also features practical advice on what to do if your boob explodes in a mental health clinic, you discover your landlord is a XXX (let’s keep that another surprise) and your husband grows a foot-long beard that makes him look like the caveman in a Geico commercial.

The 19 essays bounce between New York City and all across Texas, as my life has, for the last 18 years. Most of them are filled with loving and vivid descriptions of place, local characters, family and food—much of it deep-fried or slathered in bubbling cheese.

I’m a New York City psychotherapist who has been blogging about my personal life for the past few years. I intend to boost interest for this project by reigniting my lifestyle/writing blog Much to My Delight, while I continue developing stories for my next book.

Please let me know if you’d like to look over the completed 49,000 – word manuscript.

 

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Jennifer P.

IMG_4598 *Hi everybody. It’s nice to be back. You’ll be seeing a   lot more of me. Unless you’re Tina Fey you need to   have an “established platform” to have a memoir   published these days. Stay tuned. Tweet at me, bro!

**I can’t believe I just told you guys I was a virgin at   22. I must really trust you. Although, if my Grandma is   reading this, I bet she’s feeling pretty smug.

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The Reason I Don’t Blog Much Anymore

 

Is this thing on?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whether it makes sense or not is another thing altogether.

 

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God Bless Texas

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s the kind of town I’m from.

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

 

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

South Texas Blood and Tissue Center

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

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

Texas Diaper Bank 

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

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

Catholic Charities USA

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

Donate: Text CCUSADISASTER to 71777.

Austin Pets Alive!

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

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

 

 

 

 

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What It’s Like to Be a Therapist

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

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

what it's like to be a therapist

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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Good Morning Greece!

 

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

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

Parthenon

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Athens cafe

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

Oia Village Santorini

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Ammoudi Bay Santorini

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

***

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

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

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

 

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

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If Your Grandparents Turn 90, You Better Have Tissues Ready

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So does mine.

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

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1 brick of Velveeta cheese

2 cans Rotel-brand tomatoes with green chilis

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

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

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About Jenn.


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About Me: I'm a 40-year-old native 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. I'm not normally this tan, but I wish I was.

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