Much To My Delight

Much To My Delight

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?”

milkflower pizza

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.

food market in montreal

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.”

 

 

 

read more

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.

 

 

read more

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!

 FullSizeRender (5)

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.

IMG_4858

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.

FullSizeRender (4)

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!)

IMG_4598

read more

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.

life-timeline

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.

 

DSC_1238

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:

read more

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.

IMG_4732

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?”.

IMG_4773

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.

DSC_3155

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.

 

IMG_4843

Our cute little kitchen in progress.

IMG_4842

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.

read more

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!!

IMG_4789

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.

IMG_4791

IMG_4793

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.

IMG_4796

IMG_4795

IMG_4799

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.

IMG_4794

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!)

 

read more

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.

DSC_5590

fig tart_small

***

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.

NYFD

stairway to heaven

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:)

DSC_1807

DSC_9569

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

DSC_0316

DSC_0314

(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.

sad tree

“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. 

IMG_4733

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).

 

 

read more

It Happened!! We Bought a House.

 

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

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

We are finally in the clear.

We bought a house.

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_3629

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

IMG_3745

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

IMG_3710

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

DSC_0449

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

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

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

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

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

windows

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

 

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

Home Sweet Friggin’ Home

An Update on Our Housing Adventures

Adventures in NYC House Hunting

Wherever I go, I’m taking you with me

 

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

 

read more

18 (very) Random Facts About Me

 

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

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

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

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

malted

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

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

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

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

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

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

DSC_7486

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

read more

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

 

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

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

Fixer Upper 213

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

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

House-Featured-on-Fixer-Upper-HGTV

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

queens real estate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For anyone keeping track, I am almost 39.

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

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

Time to join the Tiny House Nation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

read more

About Jenn.


headshot


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.

Archives

Subscribe to my posts