Much To My Delight

Much To My Delight

How YOU doin’?

 

Growing up, we always knew our neighbors well. I played with all the kids on our street, and my mom usually became best friends with whoever lived within two houses of us. If you went into your driveway and your neighbor emerged from their home, you said hello. Not doing so would be considered terribly rude. If your mom caught wind that you’d chosen to ignore Mr. Jones or sweet Mrs. Baker, you’d be scolded for acting like a heel. My mom still gets offended when she visits here and no one chats with her on the subway.

Now  that I’m all grown up and living in Queens, I’m having to renegotiate all I knew about social dynamics between neighbors, strangers and general members of the community. I’m still learning the rules about who wants to be greeted and who wants to be peacefully ignored. I introduced myself to the girl who lives on the second floor to my right and she looked very surprised, “I’ve lived in this apartment for 10 years and no one in the neighborhood’s ever introduced themselves before.” She looked about my age, so I started imagining myself baking a coffee cake and having her over in the late afternoons for tea and neighborhood gossip. This will never happen of course because now that the niceties are out of the way we will probably ignore one another for the next ten years.

This is apparently the New York way. I was raised the Texas way, which is probably very similar to the Midwestern way, which might also resemble the Nepalese way, if the grocery store clerk on my work street is representative of her culture. Her name is Indra, and she greets every customer by name, always recalling trivial food facts like that I guzzle coffee in the morning and big bags of popcorn in the afternoon. I have always loved these kinds of interactions with people we see over and over. In my college dorm I was one of the few people to have my order announced by name instead of number over the loudspeaker in a thick Spanish accent, “Hennifer, my friend, your stir-fried vegetables are ready.”

And now I’m grown up and living in my own brand of Seinfeld episode, wondering if it’s still okay to say good morning to my other next door neighbor who I’ve been five feet away from for 30 minutes without any mutual acknowledgement whatsoever. This is different from yesterday, when he was out first and I came out second, and I nodded my head and we both said good morning. Every day it’s different. Sometimes we’re in the mood for cheery how-you-doin’s? and sometimes we’re both like, “Ugh, you again? I just wanted to come outside for some privacy.”  There are only so many conversations one can have about storm drains and watering plants, and now I just want to be able to sit out front with my scratched glasses and pajama pants with a cup of coffee, quietly staring into the sky, contemplating my unrealized dreams and peacefully ignoring those around me.

The problem is, we have no privacy. We live in houses that are attached to one another, and except for a few strategically planted hedges, we all have full sight of another. This means that when I sit out front I do my writing about five feet from a man eating his cereal while listening to Tibetan news. If I go in the back, I have full view of his 20-something son, who is almost always shirtless and in his underpants washing the family dog. Her name is Honey and she poops a lot. I know this because our fence is chain-link and I look at it until it goes away.

With my other downstairs neighbor to the right, it’s a little easier because her English is limited to Hello, Nice to See You. I know exactly what to do with that. I’m comfortable with that. There is no threat or promise of ongoing small talk. God Bless her, really.  None of this, of course, is something to really complain about because I have outdoor space, for crying out loud. But still, I have a feeling they’d sometimes love to have me out of their immediate sight line too.

Anyway, my neighbor’s gone back into his house. He took out the trash, sprayed his plants and listened to his news. I was five feet away from it all, for a whole half hour, and we never acknowledged one another’s presence.

We’ll see how things go tomorrow. It’s always just a day away.

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How To Save a Life

 

It wouldn’t be fair or accurate to say I have a black thumb. That would require a history with plant life. I have only recently acquired an interest in the fine art of home botanical tending, but I’m finding that some of my own natural proclivities (ie: I bore easily, I tend to go with my gut in lieu of doing research) are standing in the way of becoming a master gardener.

To the new people here (hello! I think there are two of you!), I recently moved into a home with plentiful sunlight after living 10 years in  a cozy, yet cavernous basement. As a result, every time I pass a plant shop or Home Depot, I scoop up another little green friend to bring home. I’m happy to say that most are still with me, though others–I hate to report– are barely hanging on.

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Here’s a question: How come none of these things come with instructions, and I mean REAL instructions? Sure, there’s a little pointy thing stuck in the dirt with a little sundial on it, but that’s about the extent of it. Everyone’s used toothpaste since toddlerhood but they STILL always put explicit instructions on the tube in the off-chance that someone out there who can read has never used it before. Put this on your teeth. Spit it out when you’re done. Don’t eat it, ya big dummy.

Why can’t they do the same with plants? There are apparently a lot of rules that come with taking care of plants, and not one of them has been written on the little container any of my plants have arrived in. You think any of my plants came with instructions to re-pot them? No! My friends told me that. There are so many things I’ve been learning along the way, none of which was explained to me via a helpful label or tri-fold brochure. You have to fertilize them. Move them around. Talk to them. Don’t underwater them. DO NOT overwater them! Trim the wonky parts. Tickle their roots. Sing them lullabies.

Dust their leaves. Dust their leaves!  Did you know you’re supposed to dust their leaves? But they live IN DIRT!!

I’m doing my best to keep up with them all, but I have a day job and dinner to make and other routine obligations that make it tricky to figure out all their unique, persnickety needs. Some need to be watered every other day, some survive on only one little sprinkle a week. The one currently looking the worst was voted “easiest houseplant to keep alive ever” on the internet. I demand a recount.

I feel mortally obligated to keep this peace lily alive not just because of its name, but because it was a housewarming gift from my friend. It must not die. The results could be disastrous!!!!!

Or, you know, I’d just feel really really bad about it.

I noticed it was starting to do the sad-spinach wilt, so I moved it into a plastic pot I purchased downstairs in the Astor Place K-Mart. Now here’s another question. How does Astor Place K-Mart do it?? Their plant section is in the basement of the store, so deep underground that it exits directly into the subway. What does K-Mart have that I don’t have? (besides 24-hour artificial lighting and miles of rayon).

Anyway, I learned quickly that the pot I replanted in was way too small to accommodate the lily, proving I have no idea what I’m doing and no good deed goes unpunished. After a week, it looked like this:

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Is that not the saddest sad sack you’ve ever seen?

One morning (oh, it’s this morning, it just happened), I’d simply had enough. I picked up the plant, propped her on the counter, looked her right in the dirt and said, “I’M GOING TO SAVE YOU”.

So I found an even bigger pot and got to work. I poured in the Miracle-Gro and patted her roots deep into the dirt. I cut off the sad yellow bits and fluffed up her green ones. I watered her. I dusted her. I consoled her.

“It’s not over,” I said. “We’ve only just begun.”

 

Check in next week for the update! I’m going to do everything I can to avoid calling it “The Funeral”…

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The Mysterious Art of Doing Nothing

 

“You don’t know how to relax.” I was splayed across the sofa when my  husband said it, so the sentence didn’t even make sense to me.

He said he knew it the first time we watched a movie together. We were in Galveston for a wedding ages ago, when we were still just friends, and I wanted to show him Say Anything since he’d never seen it before. I had seen it before, many times, so I sat on the floor and made a scrapbook while he watched the movie with respect and concentration from the couch. Vinny has reminded me of Lloyd Dobbler ever since. I am probably more Diane Court than I’d like to admit.

“Yeah, you can never just sit around and relax. You always have to be doing something productive. It’s just who you are.”

I mean, he’s not wrong. I do have a weird thing about sitting around too long without doing anything. It makes me feel kind of worthless, and frankly, a little depressed. I can do it for a little while, but a whole day of sitting around the house doing nothing but watching Netflix reminds me of having the flu. Vin compares me to a restless, yappy little dog; eventually I need to be taken outside for a walk.

This comes up now because we are officially on day one of our first ever “Staycation”. We’ve had some mixed ideas on how to spend this time. When prompted about what he wants to do, Vin will quickly say, “Nothing. I really want to do nothing.” Doing “nothing” sounds good to me for about an hour or so, but my time off is so precious that if I go back to work next Monday reporting that I did nothing, I’ll feel sad about it. I say, “Sure…yeah, but we’ve gotta do something out of the ordinary, right? Something to break up the monotony of our everyday work lives? Something fun!”

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Staycation Vin

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Staycation Jenn

“Eh, I really want to do nothing. Maybe go to a movie or two.” Movies, unfortunately for my husband, are where I either scrapbook or fall asleep. My suggestions have been horseback riding in Van Cortlandt Park, perusing the Metropolitan Museum before having wine at the rooftop bar, and taking a quick day-trip upstate to go antiquing (immediately vetoed). I want to go somewhere great for Restaurant Week, have coffee and pastries at the little Italian bakery up the street, make homemade ice cream (chocolate malt and sage-lemon), take a crack at duplicating my friend Tara’s strawberry-rhubarb pie, and go bike riding somewhere, anywhere. I have a feeling Vin is going to read this blog post and run far far away.

But hopefully before he does, we’ll get a phone call from my dad, and when Vin is prompted to describe how he wants to spend our Staycation week, he’ll have the opportunity to say, “Sir, I just want to be with your daughter.”

It sounds so much sweeter than nothing.

 

 

 

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You Ruined Me

 

Our pizza finally arrived at the restaurant’s table, a short, squat number whittled by craftsman from freshly rescued wood. We were sitting just across the kitchen in our favorite bricked-out, tricked-out neighborhood pizza place, a hip joint that serves stuff like blistered shishito peppers with aioli (aka: garlic mayo) for an appetizer and tops pies with ramps and brussel sprouts and hen of the woods (it’s a mushroom). We’d chosen our standby spicy soppressata with drizzled honey (burns like heaven) and the one with frizzled kale, burnt lemon and grana padano (sounds fancy, tastes like parm).

“You know you’ve ruined me, right?” my husband says while lifting a hot slice of gourmet pizza to his lips.

“How’s that now? I’ve ruined you?” I’d always heard you couldn’t change a man, but apparently I’d done the impossible. Perhaps this pizza was God’s reward.

“Yeah, you’ve ruined me. I’m a huge snob now because of you. Before you I didn’t care about food and now look at me. You think I can go back to Domino’s after stuff like this?”

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Milkflower Pizza, Astoria 

 

When I met Vinny 15 years ago his skinny ass was barely surviving on a diet of boiled hot dogs and Entenman’s crumb cakes. He used to bring a dozen donuts to the office, plop them on his desk in the morning and nibble his way through the pink box all afternoon. He did this once a week, and called it “Donut Day”. He still eats a shit-ton of donuts, but now they’re from places where they cost $4 each and come in flavors like Hibiscus, Lemon-Poppy and Dulce de Leche with a smattering of sea salt.

“A couple people at work were talking about their favorite sandwiches and I totally laid into a guy who said he loved Subway,” he said. “I was like, ‘Are you fucking kidding me? I see that “bread” baking but that’s not bread! It smells like chemicals and crumbles when you touch it! Ugh, and those meats that have been sitting out all day? You call that a sandwich?!’

“You ruined me. I’m a snob.”

I’d always wondered if he cared about the efforts I made through the years to provide him with sustenance that not only covered his basic nutritional needs but also titillated his palate in a unique and surprising way. I sometimes worried I’d embarrassed him by sending him to work with little tubs filled with quinoa and herbed pestos or kale salads topped with toasted nuts and tiny currants. Turns out, I had broadened his horizons.

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I felt kind of bad that his personal brand of snobbery hadn’t rubbed off on me at all. I still couldn’t tell the difference between digital and film and I continued to watch romantic comedies he’d pass off as pure drivel. Still, I considered it a personal victory and a testament to our relationship that I’d made it through The Tree of Life without falling asleep. That was his influence, for sure. I didn’t understand half that existential shit, but maybe I’ll give it another crack.

Dessert came and we tucked two shiny spoons into three perfect mounds of rich gelato– chocolate-chocolate chip, fresh strawberry and for a little dose of food snobbery– an extra creamy ricotta.

“Which one’s your favorite?” I asked with a wink.

“Well, what do you think, Jenn? The ricotta. God damn, that’s good.”

 

 

 

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Squad Goals

 

There’s a new catchphrase in town, and apparently it’s “squad goals”. Every time I hear it, I swear I age about ten years.

I watched some Grammy red carpet footage a few months back, and half the young correspondents looked at Taylor Swift and her brunette friend, cocked their heads to one side and said simply: “Squad goals.” I scrunched up my face and thought, since when does two people equal a squad? I’ve seen it a few other places around the internet too, mostly at the bottom of Instagram photos where it’s just plates of perfectly poached eggs and rosewater waffles with fresh mint and berries piled on a table with some sunglasses and a tube of Chanel lipstick, which implies there’s a group of cutely dressed girls hovering nearby with camera phones, which is–apparently–the hallmark of super-close girl-friendship.

Maybe I’m an under-achiever, but I have no squad goals. I also have no brunch goals, closet goals, shoe goals, handbag goals, hair goals or nail goals. I used to have ab goals, but then I turned 35 and the whole world went soft so I switched focus to my career, real estate, humanitarian and travel goals, all of which cost a lot more money than nail goals and hair goals, but whatever.

Hey– I like the concept. I get the phrase. Everyone wants solid friendships. Everyone wants to feel like they have a circle of support around them. What I’m talking about is the execution of the word, and the way it’s nearly always attached to some glossy image of a designer-brand life, complete with attractive girlfriends in beautiful clothing and rose-gold flatware at the table. The reason I object to this is because the richest, most meaningful moments ever shared with my girlfriends included crying until snot came out while wearing stretchy pants and flip flops.

The members of my “squad” (I prefer the word “posse” if we have to label ourselves) are almost forty, and there are certain things we no longer give a shit about. It’s a beautiful thing and a wonderful season.

At this stage in my life, most of my friendships are over a decade old and have seen any or all of us through some of life’s biggest changes (cross-country moves, marriages, babies, divorce, loss, financial hardship, gluten intolerance). I think guys are fine, and I enjoy having a husband I also consider my very best friend (awwww, puke), but throughout my life, I’ve always been more of a gal’s girl. I was never ever considered one of the boys. I was very, very lucky to always have lots of good girlfriends, and I cherished their companionship. Boys didn’t get me. The girls always did.

When I moved to New York, I didn’t have any friends here. I didn’t know a single soul. I slowly gathered friendships like flowers until one day I looked up and had an entire bouquet. One of my favorite moments in my adult life was looking down a long wooden table at a dark and very un-trendy Italian restaurant in Queens during my bridal shower. It was overwhelming to realize how many incredible women were sitting there. It was the moment I realized I’d really made a home here.

With my oldest Texas girlfriends, we go months– sometimes years– without seeing one another but when we finally get together it’s like no time has passed. With other friends separated by distance, the internet provides a fun way to keep daily tabs on one another until we meet again. And with my group of girlfriends in New York, the gatherings may not always be frequent, but we always find a way to make up for lost time. We never meet at restaurants–it’s always at each others’ homes–since we usually end up dragging our brunches on till dinnertime.

We set up our email threads weeks in advance with a subject line like “Best Bitches” or “Vagina Day”, because that’s what we call our gatherings. I didn’t say we were elegant. It should be implied at this point that we are fun.

Yesterday was Vagina Day. Diana flew in from Chicago and Tara drove in from Connecticut. Our hostess Aimee wore orthopedic slippers and served tater tot casserole (it was delectable). She also made some tiny quiches that she couldn’t get out of the muffin tin, so she plopped it right on the table and we spooned out eggs with our forks. When deliberating who brought what Diana was quick to write: “You better bring me a fucking bagel” while also offering a box of pastries. Aimee countered that we already had bagels and pie on the menu so maybe pastries would be too much? To which Diana replied: “Fuck that- I’m bringing pastries.” Kerri brought brownies but they had mashed beans and dates in them so technically they were healthy. I’m the trendy food-jerk who brought kale salad and chia seed pudding but never put them on the table. Aubs brought watermelon salad with feta and mint which I’m recreating soon because I’ve recently discovered that mint is basically a weed and since planting my herb garden I basically have it coming out my ears.

There were tears and deep rolling belly laughs and validation out the yin-yang. We talked about our careers and our families and our bodies and our politics. We face-timed Kathy in until she couldn’t take it anymore so she finally drove over. I ate two slices of Tara’s strawberry-rhubarb pie and squirted the canned whipped cream directly in my mouth. Bridget picked me up and dropped me off even though I was completely out of her way and she’d been running around like crazy the day before. That, to me, is a squad goal.

After one of our brunches a few months ago, I got into my husband’s car– exasperated and red-faced from both laughing and crying in equal measure.

“You girls have fun? Did you talk about boys?”

Sure, Vin– we talked about boys.

 

 

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20 Before 40

 

Oh, I am going there.

I used to see all these 30 before 30 lists on peoples’ blogs and I kind of wanted to write one, but since I was 33 by the time I had a blog, I thought I’d missed a window. But now that I’m a year from 40, let’s see if I can inspire myself to get some interesting stuff done. The original title was obviously 40 before 40, but jeez, that’s a lot of stuff to cram in one year.

I’m trying to keep things realistic by setting really attainable goals, not stuff like “build an orphanage in South Africa” or “knit an afghan with my two front teeth”. It’s only a year– stop pressuring me!

Anyway, I guess I’ll check in next June to see how I did on these. Here’s hoping I don’t disappoint my future self. I am almost 40, you know– I’m pretty set in my ways!

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I am posting this picture so you’ll remember who’s writing this thing. But really, I’m posting this picture because my hair looks really good.

 

CAREER:

-Take two continuing education classes/ seminars/ workshops

- Read at least four classic psychology texts

- Take at least two 20-minute breaks during workday to walk around neighborhood. (Put a re-emphasis on my own self-care!)

 

RELATIONSHIPS:

- Host someone for a meal and go out for a walking date with a friend at least 1x per month

- Call/ text/ write/ email my best friends more frequently (1-2 times week)

- Call niece and grandparents at least 1x/ month

- Try a new place with Vinny at least 1x/ every two weeks.

- Write thank you notes promptly.

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I want to be a friend to others the way others have been a friend to me (like my friend Lizzy–who I’ve known for over 30 years!–who just sent me this peace lily as a housewarming present).

 

FINANCES:

- Set new mutually agreed upon savings goal with Vin

- Have a significant amount saved in our “if shit happens” fund for emergency house needs

- Buy fewer things of better quality.

 

EXPLORING:

-Plan a really BIG trip for my 40th (I’m thinking Greece/ Italy)

- Take a day trip out of NYC at least 1x/ every 12 weeks

- Take full advantage of living in the city and go to the following places within the year: Central Park (every season), Coney Island, Governor’s Island, the Highline, Brooklyn Bridge and park, Jones Beach, The Plaza for tea, at least one extravagant dinner, at least one Broadway show

 

HOME:

- Keep home clean and uncluttered without spending every weekend cleaning and de-cluttering. (hints on how to do this gladly accepted)

- Keep plants alive. Say prayers if necessary.

-Decrease waste. Reduce use of toxic chemicals.

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Ever since getting windows, I’ve been obsessed with learning how to take care of houseplants. I’ve killed a few already, but have also brought several back from the dead. Still learning and welcoming tips (Mom says I really do need to talk to them).

 

HEALTH/ WELLNESS:

- Take a meditation/ mindfulness class. (They have them after work by my office for $5! if anyone wants to join me)

- Find some type of exercise I can get excited about. This is my goal every year.

- Start reading on the subway again instead of fiddling with my phone.

 

The Biggie/Bonus Goal:  Finish my book manuscript (it’s been on hiatus for a few months- back to it!)

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Time Marches On (and Pretty Soon You Realize It’s Marching All Over Your Face)

 

When I was 11 or 12, my mom borrowed a book from my friend’s mother. The title was What’s Happening to Me? and it was an illustrated guide to puberty, created to help kids understand the changes happening in their bodies as they got older. I was mortified when she brought it home and told me where she acquired it. Ma? You couldn’t have bought me my own copy? Does Rachel Rosen’s mother really need to know I shave my pits now?

Puberty was just so painful, wasn’t it? Even though literally everyone around me was experiencing the same thing, it felt wholly personal and completely isolating. I tried to hide my new hip-to-waist ratio. Tampons struck terror in me. I used to unhinge my training bra in the back of class and shimmy it out my shirt through the arm hole. I’d shove it in my backpack and forget about it the rest of the day. I had zero interest in boobs or hips or bigger responsibilities.  I’d have stayed ten forever if the universe allowed it. Vin says he was always in a rush to get older; he was curious to know what the next thing was about. I wasn’t curious at all. I was content to stay exactly where I was.

I bring this up because I was 11 or 12 then but I’ll turn 39 tomorrow morning, and I’m not exactly sure what happened to all that time in between. Seems like yesterday my parents dropped me off at summer camp for the first time, but it was 30 years ago. Twenty-two years have passed since I read Chaucer’s Tales in Ms. Vanderpool’s English class. I’m 17 years older than my handful of 22-year-old clients who came to therapy to find their path right after college. I have a stack of bills, a mortgage, and the kinds of bunions that make shoe shopping about as fun as a dental cleaning. I have a couple grey hairs still pretending to be blonde and my 11-year-old niece is now the one in the training bra, at the very start of it all, figuring out what comes next and what’s happening to her now.

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A few days before my birthday each year, Vin will ask: “You’re not going to get weird, are you?” and my reply is usually, “Probably.”

I do get weird around my birthday. I’m a pretty introspective person; I basically view it as an annual check-in, like a gyno visit or a job review. I ask myself, “How am I doing?”, “Are things running ok?”, “What needs improvement?”. I have been historically fearful and generally unenthusiastic about the inevitably natural enterprise of getting older. Yesterday I’d have chosen to stay 38 forever if the universe allowed it.

I’m trying to fight against this mentality by reading up on the tenets of Buddhism. Not so much the stuff about suffering, but the point about not getting yourself too worked up or upset about things that are supposed to happen. Aging is the natural course of life. If you think about the tragedy in Orlando this weekend, you realize that aging in this lifetime is a privilege. The world is fragile. So are we.

I’m not exactly enlightened yet, but I’m trying.

 

A few months ago I was standing in line behind a very elderly woman in the grocery store. Her back was crooked as a question mark, and the speed at which she put her items on the line dramatically changed the pace of it. To my surprise (this is New York after all) no one huffed and puffed behind me, and the checkout clerk made no attempt to help speed her along. We all just slowed down. We adjusted our pace to match hers. Eventually she walked out very, very slowly, a delivery man following a few steps behind, carrying her boxes of bread and milk.

Finally it was my turn to put my items on the scanner.

“We’re all going to get there someday.” said the checker. He had a peaceful look on his face I interpreted as both patient and extremely kind.

“Only if we’re very lucky”, was my reply, and much to my own surprise, I really meant it.

 

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Former birthday introspections:

My, how time marches on. I wrote my very first post on this blog six years ago, the day before my 33rd birthday

Last year, I wrote about being 38 and special:

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Making a House a Home

We’ve been in our house exactly a month, and I’m still not used to the place. I’ve set up my little kitchen, ordered some furniture, bought houseplants, cooked dinner, drank too much coffee. I’ve been to all my neighborhood shops. I’ve even had my first official weekend guests. But still, when I come home from work at the end of the day and prop my feet up on the coffee table, I’m facing a completely different direction than I’m accustomed to. When I go to put my clothes away, I forget that my closet’s not in the kitchen anymore. I wonder when I will belong in here. Don’t get me wrong– I’m in love with the place. But I wonder how long it will take to feel like home.

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I had this vision of what it would be like to meet the neighbors when I was a homeowner as opposed to a renter. I pictured people unhinging our front gate and walking up to our front door with fresh pies and big smiles. “Hey! I’m your next door neighbor. Welcome to the neighborhood!”. Alas, not surprisingly, I was the one to introduce myself on both sides. On my right is an older couple from Georgia (the country, not the city) who speak very little English. On the other side is a family from Tibet with grown children, whose first questions to me were “What are you going to do with your front yard?” and “How much did you pay for the house?”. I wanted to be like, “Nice to meet you! WHERE’S MY CASSEROLE?”.

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Lots o’ mulch. I would like to put pavers or a little deck here, but first I would like to afford furniture. Vin likes the mulch. I don’t like the mulch. But I like saying the word mulch. It’s funny. Mulch. Mulch. Mulch.

 

Sleeping is the hardest. The first week I slept like a rock from sheer exhaustion and cooler weather. Now, it’s a different story. It’s been over 80 degrees with no air conditioning and now that we live above ground instead of a basement, I remember that heat rises. So I crack the window above my head to let some air in and remember that with windows comes both light and sound–the car alarm that rattles every two nights, the clang of the metal gate when the young guy next door comes home, the slamming of metal storm doors.  In 2001, I slept through a live performance of STOMP, which should qualify me as narcoleptic. But here, every tiny sound makes me stir. In the morning, when the harsh, bright sunlight beams down in an effort to replace my alarm clock, I notice new things. Have I always had this many freckles? How long have I had all these tiny lines on my hands? When did my husband get this hairy?

I baked cookies the other night using a recipe I used to consider foolproof and ended up broiling them because I can’t figure out how my new tiny oven works. I had to throw out all my cookie sheets and pans because none of them fit in this this svelte oven, designed for apartment living. The cookies were black on the bottom, raw in the middle, gooey on top and embarrassing throughout. Baking chocolate chip cookies is the trademark of happy homesteading and I messed them up three ways to Sunday. My former oven was old as Methuselah, wide as a tank and reliable as dirt. Burning cookies I nail every time felt like a small failure. It made me feel out of place and off my game.

Hey, I know I read into things way too much, but trust me, it was disappointing.

That night, we were still craving something sweet, so I suggested we hang in the front yard–the one we still haven’t figured out what to do with– and wait for the Mister Softee truck. The Mister Softee truck sells delicious soft-serve ice cream dipped in that mysterious chocolate that hardens and cracks before melting all over your face. They also make a mean black-and-white shake if that’s your bag. They drive around and around in circles throughout New York City neighborhoods playing a twerpy little jingle that gets stuck in your head and reminds you of summer’s magic.

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Vin and I perched in the yard, quivering hands hovering over the clasp of our front gate like kids waiting for the mailman. The street was silent for a good five minutes until finally…”Da-da-da-da-da-da-da, duh-dunh-duh-dunh-dunh-da-da!” The truck was here! It was just around the corner! We grabbed a few dollars and ran down the street. The walk back felt like a victory lap.

I may not have nailed baking in my new oven, but I live in a place where if I just wait a few minutes, my dessert will come to me.

I can get used to that.

 

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Our cute little kitchen in progress.

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This kitchen came equipped with nice counter space and no storage. Lots of the kitchen stuff is in a dresser on the other side of the room, and Vin built me the open shelves so we’d have somewhere to stash our cups and bowls. I’m still trying to find a spot to keep my dinner plates though!

IMG_4841 The only way this shot could get more hipster is if I was wearing a big hat and blending cashew milk in a vitamix next to that bearded guy.

IMG_4832 Still getting used to recessed lighting. I find that everything looks different with overhead lights, including my face. Side note: I wish selfies existed when I was 23. That was a really good skin year.

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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.

new york city houses

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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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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