Much To My Delight

Much To My Delight

If Your Grandparents Turn 90, You Better Have Tissues Ready

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So does mine.

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

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1 brick of Velveeta cheese

2 cans Rotel-brand tomatoes with green chilis

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

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

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I flew United this weekend and lived to talk about it.

Our Travel Plan: Thursday, April 6th:

Leave NYC 1:50pm, Arrive Houston 5pm.

Get picked up in a rented church/ party van at the airport. Fellow travelers: My dad, dad’s wife, husband Vinny, 12-year-old niece and a shih tzu named Chewie. Plan to drive (approx. 4 hours) to Horseshoe Bay, TX, home to many retired white people, down-home cooking and my grandparents. Estimated arrival time: 9:30pm.

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What Actually Happened:

1:00: The rain is falling. Our Uber driver drops us outside La Guardia and tells us to have a nice flight. Looking back, I realize that phrase is bad luck. We need a new saying for “have a nice flight”, something along the lines of “break a leg”, but gentler. Suggestions?

1:30: All checked in. We came here knowing this flight was delayed; we learned at home which gave us freedom to leave the house late, which we always do. We were originally scheduled to leave at 1:50, now the board says 3:00. We have time for lunch in the airport. Airport lunch: A treat if there ever was one.

1:45: I text dad and let him know we’re now arriving at 5:47pm instead of 5:00.

1:46: His response: “Ouch.”

Vin has a burger and fries; I hit that turkey club with a bag of chips.

It is now legitimately pouring outside. I check my phone; flash flood warnings for the area. Vin calls his folks and asks them to check our basement for flooding. Our basement has flooded three times since we moved in less than a year ago, and every time it did, the gush was so forceful I consider wearing floaties and having myself a swim.

2:00: We take two seats at our gate and wait for boarding.

2:30:

2:45:

2:50:

3:00: The plane hasn’t arrived yet. The sky is pitch-black. The children next to me are kicking their seats. Everyone’s food stinks.

3:42: We get an update over the loudspeaker. The good news is, our plane has landed.

3:43: The bad news is, it’s been struck by lightning. In eight places. There are scorch marks and everything.

3:50: The maintenance crew can’t assess the damage because the airport is still under threat of lightning. Once they figure out how bad the damage is, they’ll let us board the aircraft. I’m actually not that interested in this plane anymore and would prefer they go wrestle up a new one.

4:00: El Capitano comes over the loudspeaker. “So, the plane you’re going to be on was hit by lightning in eight spots. There are some burn marks they’re checking out. No planes are leaving this airport because of the heavy rain. All the ramps are closed. I don’t know how long they’ll stay closed. I’m assuming not forever. Eh, I don’t know, folks. Surmise from that what you will. I’ve been doing this a long time.” We are all humored by this, but not reassured.

5:45: Vin’s parents give us an update. The basement flooded. I think of my vintage rug down there and send my best from afar. Which actually isn’t that far at all, considering we live ten minutes from the airport.

6:00: Announcement: They got us a new plane and we’re leaving at 7:00. Sighs of relief abound. The 7th graders in the corner go back to playing chess. I am picturing my father having a coronary from his leather couch in Kemah as he realizes he’ll be driving until at least 2 in the morning.

6:10pm: An Orthodox Jewish man with five children under the age of 10 file in seats across from us. There are always a lot of Orthodox Jews leaving from La Guardia, and I don’t know what it is about them (or me) but I always find myself wondering where they’re going and what they do on vacation. But when I see this gentleman, all I want to know is what he does for a living, and how he can afford that many plane tickets.

6:45: We board, five hours later than planned. By 7:20, we’re in the air. A five hour delay, but hey, this is a flight on United. We could have waited around five hours only to be punched in the face.

10:30: We’ve got our bags, and we’re in the silver party van dad rented for this road trip. We’re each handed a bag from Jack in the Box, and we’re on our way.

11- 12:50: The stars at night are big and bright.

12:55: We are deep in the heart of Texas. Bastrop, to be exact.

1am: We make a pit stop at Buc-ee’s; a convenient store the size of three football fields where you can choose from 20 different kinds of beef jerky, 25 brands of chewing tobacco and a wide variety of breakfast tacos. The one by my dad’s house is tiny, but this one also has a section for clothing, home goods and full-size barbecue pits. There are apparently 83 toilets and this is the view you get as you walk toward them.

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2:15am: We have arrived at our rental house. I seek out my toothbrush and my bedroom. In 13 hours I could have made it far into Europe, but I have only made it so far as central Texas. Tomorrow morning our whole family will gather in Horseshoe Bay to celebrate my dear grandfather’s 90th birthday.

Incidentally, we will also be celebrating mine.

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Almost, Not Quite, Just About 40

I’m going to need to update my sidebar soon. It describes me as a 30-something, and that won’t be true much longer.

The race to 40 is not a race at all, but a slow and steady march toward the other side of youth into a land of eye lift serums, fortified yogurt and yearly mammograms. I finally upgraded my skin care routine, which until recently included drugstore cleanser and a drop of coconut oil. I discovered my upper eyelids were starting to droop at the same time I realized it’s time for nose hair clippers. I walked into Kiehls’ flagship store on 2nd avenue and announced to the first guy I saw, “Help me. I’m turning 40″. His name was Bobby, and his eyes danced as he dreamed of commissions while playing dress up with my face. When the bill came I looked Bobby in the eye and said, “Listen, if in two weeks I don’t look like an eighth grader, I’m coming here and demanding my money back.” He laughed and said, “You’re not turning 40. You’re going to be young forever! You have a young spirit.”

I thought about what Bobby said, about having a young spirit and all, and I decided that he’s wrong.

I don’t have a young spirit. My spirit has no interest in staying up late and playing beer pong. My spirit craves 9pm bedtimes and takes probiotics after every meal. My spirit gets overwhelmed in crowds and shoves two fingers in her ears at rock concerts. I actually have a very old spirit with a good sense of humor and a slight curiosity about the whole thing. The whole thing being…what happens next anyway?

I have a profile on the social networking site Facebook (you too?!) and have been following along as all my friends from high school and college turn “THE BIG 4-0” this year. Some of them threw ’70s or ’80s-themed birthday parties. Two had enormous displays in their front yards, the letters 4 and 0 constructed entirely out of balloons. Most booked sitters and took nice vacations someplace tropical; Hawaii, Jamaica, Miami, Puerto Rico. That’s the route I’m going as well. The tickets are booked and I’m already stocking up on big straw hats, which I plan to wear faithfully in this next chapter of my story.

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It’s been kind of a trip watching my oldest friends hit this age, the one that used to be associated with mid-life crises and tipping  ”over the hill”. I don’t live close to these friends or see them often, so all I get are little snapshots every few months. What I see are tasteful, grown-up houses and kids dressed for the first day of kindergarten or fifth grade, and sometimes even high school. My old friends are running businesses and church fundraisers. They’re PTA moms and soccer dads. A couple have health problems, the kind you only start to develop “after a certain age”. A few are switching gears or completely starting over.

None of this matters because I see them now as I did then.  The people I grew up with will be 16 or 18 or 22 forever, at least to me. True, most of them don’t look too different physically, but more than that–and as corny as it sounds–their spirits really have remained the same.  Situations and lifestyles and faces change, but at the end of the day or the start of a decade, I’m starting to believe youthfulness has a shot at everlasting.

Eh, we’re not really turning 40. We have young spirits. We’re going to be young forever.

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Reading Aloud from Martha Stewart’s Cookbook: Collected Snark for Every Day

 

Pay no attention to the mounds of filthy frozen snow on the ground. Spring is here! We made it through winter and now it’s time to get sprung.

Anyway, if you’re anything like me, the harkening of spring means opening up your home for a little entertaining. The sun is out, people are in good spirits and we’ve all been cooped up at home too long. And when we do our entertaining, we defer to Ms. Martha.

Thrift stores aren’t generally my favorite place to stock up on cookbooks, because they’re usually circa 1960 with entries like chipped beef on toast and canned fruit suspended in jello. But a few months ago, I popped into my local Housing Works and scored The Martha Stewart Cookbook– Collected Recipes for Every Day, which is a culmination of her most popular recipes and tips from previous books. At 619 pages, I believe it qualifies as a tome. At five bucks, I considered it a bargain. I couldn’t wait to get that puppy home.

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Spring is for parties. All types of parties.

 

On the subway ride home, I cracked right into it, and knew immediately it’d be one of the funniest books I’d read all year.

“The eggs called for in these recipes are large. I raise my own chickens and always cook with the freshest eggs.”- Martha

“You pretentious turd”, I thought to myself. This is just classic Martha, and classic Martha is ridiculous. This is why we love her, but also why we kind of hate her. I realized very quickly that I wouldn’t be able to refer to any of her recipes without rolling my eyes, or picturing Anna Gasteyer topless, walking me step-by-step through the tedious preparation for a classic Buche de Noel.

This book is called “Recipes for Every Day” but I get the sense that Martha Stewart’s everyday life (and especially her “everyday people”) swings widely outside the norm, as many of her recipes would be better used by high-end caterers than a mom trying to put food on the table for two or three kids who’d rather be eating Gordon’s fish fingers. For example, she includes in this book a recipe for cassoulet (it serves 100) that costs at minimum $500 to prepare. Cassoulet– which I just learned includes several legs of lamb, a couple pork loins, two pounds of duck fat, three bottles of premium wine and five whole pounds of pancetta. A page away, she has a big chart illustrating how to set up the perfect raw bar. My assumption is that anyone who can afford to serve 800 cocktail shrimp can also afford a catering staff and a professional ice sculptor, since everyone knows the only way to do a proper raw bar is to first procure a series of gigantic clamshells carved from artisanal ice.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that her Jerusalem artichoke soup with pears and cream sounds delicious, but I feel like Martha should have included a disclaimer that those little tubers are going to give all your party guests diarrhea. I wish I had known that fact before trying (and loving!) Jerusalem artichokes for the first time. Now I can’t stay away from those little bastards, but I always stay close to home.

Now that I’ve caught your attention, let’s flip through a few pages together, shall we?

(Everything you see written below is straight out of Martha’s mouth, except for the words in parentheses beside them. Those are editor’s notes, and the editor is me. (For reference, the abbreviation, FOM is short for “Fuck off, Martha”.)

 

THE HOLIDAY PARTY  “The year I was writing my Christmas book, I held one of my annual Christmas parties. The theme was “Christmas All Over the House”, (No. It wasn’t. The theme was I am very rich. Let me show you.) and the party was to begin at 6 p.m. and end whenever (See! See! I can be fun too!). Hors d’ouevres were served in the outside kitchen (FOM), a buffet supper was laid out in the barn (OF COURSE IT WAS), and champagne, eggnog and desserts were in the house.”

“It was a clear night; there was a bit of a moon, and the sky was filled with stars. The paths were lined with hundreds of luminarias (candles set in paper bags) and the fruit trees shone with little white lights. It was festive but warm, friendly, and simple” (Please, define simple. I actually dare you. This Christmas party was more elaborate than my wedding).

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Tip #1: ”Changing the use of rooms can be fun for both host and guests, for it breaks tired habits. A formal dinner in a candelit finished barn (It tickles me that Martha assumes everyone has easy access to a barn, and that–if by good fortune you do–it doesn’t smell like horse shit, as every functional barn does), or cocktails in a Victorian bedroom (?) or a greenhouse, can have special moment and drama”. (Martha, my greenhouse is currently filled with imported orchids from Thailand. Guess our storage closet will have to do).

Tip #2: ”Entertaining provides a good excuse to (hire someone) put things in order (polish silver, wax floors, paint a flaking windowsill) and to be more fanciful or dramatic with details. It is the moment to indulge in a whole bank of flowering plants to line the hall (SO TRUE), or to organize a collection of antique clothes on a conspicuous coatrack” (TOO LATE, ALREADY DONE DID THAT).

 

TACOS LA SALSA

First of all, STAY IN YOUR LANE MARTHA. People come to you for nice WASPy classics like egg salad canapes and smoked trout with horseradish cream.  No one plans a fiesta with Martha Stewart as co-host. You’re not who we turn to when embracing primary colors, melty orange cheese and actual fun. I do not need or want a recipe for borracho beans or gorditos from you. Second of all, you put sardines in your quesadillas and for that I will never forgive you. You’d probably fill a pinata with after-dinner mints.

 

Inexplicable Whining No One Can Relate To

“I have more than a hundred fruit trees growing in my orchard, but for some unknown reason, I have had no luck at all growing apricots.” (FOM)

 

Tip #3:  “If you have time, marinate your own mushrooms, eggplant, artichoke hearts, and roasted peppers and crack and season your own green olives” (I did not even realize this was an option).

 

Deep Thoughts about Entertaining by Martha Stewart

“Entertaining calls for an extrovert’s heart and an introvert’s soul.” (Actually, I kind of love this and tend to agree. Maybe I’ll embroider it onto my hostess gown.)

 

Random Bragging About Being Able to Do Something No One Else Would Ever Want to Do

“Family traditions evolve over time, and one of my favorites is the yearly creation of the plum pudding. To keep up with demand (You are delusional– no one is demanding plum pudding. Banana pudding is where it’s at), I began collecting traditional English pudding bowls, and one year I made three hundred puddings to give as gifts. While you may not wish to produce puddings on such a grand scale (you got that right), it is one of the most wonderful gifts you can give (this part is true, because plum pudding is traditionally topped with Cognac and lit with a match, and I can think of nothing more festive than setting one of Martha’s original creations on fire).

 

Funny Anecdote to Wrap Things Up:

When I was 22 and stupid, I interviewed at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia for an editorial assistant job. The lobby was exactly what you’re picturing– pristine polished floors, tarty little loveseats and oversized vases filled with seasonally appropriate greenery. The HR guy’s name was Adam– I’ll never forget it– or the look he gave me when I asked how Martha’s impending prison sentence would affect job security within the company.

I didn’t get the job, but I did get a free cookie while waiting in the lobby, and man was it delicious.

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Snow Days

We had an unexpected snow day yesterday, and among all the things that excited me about it, what thrilled me most was spending a random Tuesday with you. It was so out of the ordinary, a special little bonus, a shot in the arm to get us through the last few weeks of winter.

Losing a day’s work, for me, means losing a day’s pay, but I didn’t really worry about that. The older I get, the more I value time over money. Once the bills are paid, I’m usually left feeling like I have enough money to make me happy. When the weekends are over, I never jumpstart the week thinking I had just enough time. These days I’m working longer and harder than ever, but it’s not because I’m dying for more money. It’s because I’m trying to eventually free up more of that precious, fleeting time. I hope you’ll continue to work the same way, because when I get all those hours freed up, I’d like to spend the majority of them with you.

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Yesterday, I watched you through the window while you were shoveling and thought, “He’s such a good man.” You really are. You’re hard-working and kind and faithful and funny. You’re the kind of guy who shovels more than his side of the street, who goes all the way down and around the corner, because the next door neighbor is older, and you don’t want him to have to come out in the cold. You’re the kind of guy who’d drop anything he was doing to help anyone who asked. After all these years, you still open my car door every time, still wait for me to turn the key in the lock and step inside the house before driving away. There’s never been a time when you didn’t offer me the last delicious bite, and you always, always put the toilet seat down. You are one in a fucking million, and I’m very, very lucky to be married to you. I’m cursing for emphasis here, because sometimes you need the word fuck to really drive the point home.

Today marks 14 years that you’ve officially been my partner, and it all just seems to be going by so fast. Sometimes I’ll look at pictures of us in our 20s and think of how much our faces have changed. How when I met you my stomach was flat as a board and you were so skinny your chest was practically concave. This week I spent a fortune on anti-aging products and when the snowflakes hit your beard, it was hard to distinguish them from the slender threads of gray. These years with you have been the best of my life, and I hope the years ahead are just as kind. Occasionally I worry that someone is up there keeping score, and I already used up all my good luck when you hitched your wagon to mine. Let’s hope not.

I delight in your company, and look forward to it every single day. So here’s to snow days and sunny days and all the days in between. I just want to hug you and love you and make you pancakes until the end of time.

 

 

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People I really like

 

I like all kinds of people, really, but some — like cream– simply rise to the top. These are the types of people I like the very most.

 

People who understand and apply the phrase “to make a long story short”.

People who don’t have a hard time saying, “You know what? You’re right.” or “I see your point.”

People who enjoy eating and talking about carbs. And coffee. And tacos! Food in general really.

People who ask questions.

People who play fair and share their toys.

People who use the phrase “Pimpin’ ain’t easy” indiscriminately, for example: “I need to head across town to get some corncobs for dinner. Hey, pimpin’ ain’t easy.”

People who use their whole face and a good portion of their body to tell a story.

People whose natural instinct is to treat others with kindness and respect.

People with a signature style, like only and always wearing Hawaiian shirts or the color blue.

People who are quick to give up their seat on the train for the elderly, disabled or pregnant.

People who laugh and smile and don’t take themselves too seriously.

People who aren’t afraid to make mistakes, and acknowledge when they’re wrong.

Anyone over 80.

Anyone under 5.

People who don’t give a fuuuuuuuuuuck.

People who call me miss instead of ma’am. I like them extra when they call me “young lady”.

People who already own or are in the market for a scotty-dog sweater.

People who listen before speaking. People who think before reacting. People who don’t interrupt.

People with unique hobbies like carving soap or collecting old milk bottles (train surfers need not apply).

People with accents indicative of their native region. Any kind will do, but I’ll always prefer British, Australian, Venezuelan, Bronx-born Puerto Rican and East or South African. I have a client from Somalia and every time she speaks it’s like listening to a book on tape I never want to end.

People who put antlers on the roof of their car at Christmastime.

 

 

 

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You are Welcome Here.

There’s a street in Astoria, Queens called Steinway. It’s lined with ethnic restaurants and pizza shops and strange housewares stores that still sell things like window valances and ivory tablecloths that look like gigantic doilies. There’s a Brazilian clothing shop where the mannequins have triple-D breasts, a lingerie store with some very provocative window displays and a bubble-tea parlour named, of all things, Mr. Drink. The travel agencies specialize in one country only– Croatia, Greece, Mexico– and double as translation services. There are boring franchises like Sleepy’s Mattresses and Duane Reade and KFC too, but for the most part, Steinway is for doing business with a local who is more than likely from another country. The whole place looks a bit like Sesame Street, which–perhaps not ironically–is filmed in a studio just around the corner.

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On the far end is a section known as Little Egypt. It’s about a ten-minute walk from my house, but it feels like stepping into another world. There are tiny groceries selling things like sumac, z’aatar and Sebah Baharat (ie: 7 Spices), enormous bottles of tahini and bags and bags of dried nuts, grains and lentils. On the sidewalks, fresh packages of pita breads are stacked on plastic crates like pancakes, while perched in the windowsills, jeweled hookah pipes catch the light like stained glass.

The large Arab population that lives and works around this street dresses in a variety of ways, some in American jeans and t-shirts, but many in modest and traditional clothing; men in long white kaftans and kufis, women in dark abayas, with either a burqa or hijab covering their heads.  This section of town is often referred to as “Hookah row”, as it’s lined with at least a dozen parlours, three of which are co-owned by the Egyptian family renting our upstairs apartment.

Vinny lived on Steinway Street when we first starting dating. He and two friends shared a grungy three-bedroom with wall-to-wall maroon carpeting and a bathroom ceiling so destroyed by moisture bits of it would fall on you while showering. I didn’t really love sleeping in his warm, windowless bedroom but I always looked forward to the next afternoon, when we’d head downstairs to the Lebanese deli on the ground floor. The man behind the counter was always so friendly, and he sold the most incredible hummus in the whole wide world.

A few weekends ago, I was taking a Sunday stroll around the neighborhood. The weather was brisk but sunny, the kind of day that makes it easy to feel really, really alert. I was walking more for leisure than exercise, so I kept peeking around at everything. The big church by my house had just let out its Spanish service (it conducts them in English and Italian too) and throngs of parishioners flocked toward two ladies selling homemade churros and hot chocolate from a giant orange thermos. Further up, a crowd of hungry 20-somethings stood in line for brunch at Queens Comfort, which specializes in things like Breakfast Lasagna Benedict and Oreo Brioche French Toast. And just a minute later, there I was on Steinway, surrounded by Egyptian coffee shops and hookah bars with plush red curtains and a store called Islam Fashion, Inc.

I peeked into the window of a small grocer who sold beautiful things like Moroccan tea glasses and tajines in addition to a huge assortment of imported Middle-Eastern foods. I was just about to continue walking when the store owner popped outside and greeted me on the street. “Hello there,” he said. “Why don’t you come inside? You don’t have to buy anything, I just want you to know you are welcome in my store.”

I walked in and poked around the narrow aisles, smelling bags of cinnamon and turmeric and reminding myself to come back later when I needed to buy a gift. The man approached me again, and handed me the largest date I’d ever seen in my life.

“Try this,” he said. He watched me as I chewed it, genuinely hopeful that I enjoyed eating it as much as he enjoyed giving it to me.

“It’s delicious,” I said. “Thank you so much. I’ll definitely be back.”

I left his store feeling like I lived in the greatest neighborhood in the entire world, but also found myself thinking a lot about what he said to me, “Come inside– you are welcome here”, and wishing we lived in a world where a line like that wasn’t so fraught with complication.

 

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It Ain’t Easy

 

I was at the hair salon Friday night, my neck cramped over the back of a sink while my stylist Suzie talked to her next customer.

“Hey Maggie! Good to see you! Everything is fine?”

“No,” said Maggie flatly.

“Oh, Jesus,” said Suzie. “Well, I don’t want to hear about it.”

It was kind of brilliant, really, not just in terms of quotable dialogue, but because I had never heard a more honest exchange between two people before, at least two people who weren’t related to one another. Maggie wasn’t up for pretending that everything was peachy, and Suzie– by Friday night– was exhausted. She’d been on her feet all week and didn’t have the energy to hear about another customer’s problems. That, or she has a slight impairment in communication skills (which, by the way, is totally plausible as she’d just squealed “Yummy in my tummy!!!” while scrubbing shampoo into my roots. Seriously, she’s pretty weird).

Anyway, back to the point: Every day, in some way, I am reminded that we all have problems, just different ones. At work, for example, I am presented with a new problem approximately every 45 minutes. Work problems. Lack-of-work problems. Crushing grief. Crippling debt. Painful memories. Paralyzing fears. Legal issues, immigration issues, health issues, marriage issues, parenting stress, homelessness, loneliness. We had friends over Saturday night and learned that one of our guests works for a program that helps free women from sex trafficking, which happens right here, all the time, in massage parlors up and down an average street.

“How does this even exist?,” we both kept saying, painfully incredulous but acutely aware that life, as lovely as it can often be, can also be terribly cruel and just really fucking sad. I also can’t help but notice that the people who deserve bad luck the least seem to be dealt one shit sandwich after another, leading me to believe that not only is life really hard, it’s also completely unfair. If this thought has never occurred to you, perhaps you’re not paying close enough attention.

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Want to know the real reason I barely blogged in 2016? I’ll tell you why. Because I had a banner f-ing year, that’s why. A lot of people talked about 2016 being a constant struggle, but I had one of my best years to date. There’s no winning in comedy; when things go that well there’s actually very little for me to write about. But more than that, I didn’t want to appear tone-deaf. I could wax on and on about my current happiness, but eventually I’d want to join the line and punch myself in the face. Things are calm on the home front for me; I have exactly what I need and more than I could want. But I can’t help but be reminded of something my dear old dad–the poet laureate of Kemah, Texas– said to me about a year ago. “I’ve got the world on a string… hope it don’t all turn to shit one day.”

It’s been about 20 years since I’ve had a major wallop that really shook me, and sometimes I wonder if the universe is keeping tabs and knows I’m overdue. I’m pushing 40 and still haven’t experienced a major loss, which means unfortunately, inevitably, I still have much to eventually lose. I shove away these thoughts because they do nothing but waste energy, but they’re there. The world can change on a dime; what I have going for me today can look completely different tomorrow. I try not to dwell in the worry of what I could lose but practice gratitude for what I currently have. I enter my office every day, appreciative for the work. I hug my husband when he walks through the door each night, grateful for his safety. We moved into a home with big windows seven months ago. Every morning since, I have opened my blinds in the morning and said thank you to the sun.

 

On Monday morning I opened up Facebook and read a status that punched me right in the gut. It was terrible news and it made me truly, deeply sad. I welled up while riding the subway and had to take a few laps around my work neighborhood to clear my head before going inside my office. The week was off to a pretty glum start, and I began searching for something, anything to help me see the flip side of the coin, a reminder that life may be tough, but so are we. And then–out of nowhere–there he was, passing me on the left. A well-dressed man in a nice wool coat, beautifully-shined shoes and a full set of kitten-whiskers tattooed across his face. I wanted to kiss him on his black-inked nose, and thank him for reminding me that even though life can be hard and sad and unfair, it can also be so much fun.

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Caution: Objects may be closer than they appear. (Especially if you have big ol’ hips.)

We finally said goodbye to our Christmas tree yesterday, and thank God for that. Vin teared up a little, but I was ready to see it go. The month of December was like one one big reminder that I have child-bearing hips and no spatial awareness. Putting a six-foot tree in our small living room was like trying to park an RV in a two-car garage. It changed the dimensions of our living and walking space in a dramatic way, one that I never quite adjusted to. Every time I tried to make it to the couch I’d brush against the pine and stiff needles scattered like confetti. The ornaments hung on for dear life, waiting for me barrel through the room and hip-check them to the ground. The puffy cotton ones merely braced themselves for impact, like tiny colorful airbags, but the vintage glass balls actually held their breath and quivered. They knew their days were numbered sharing space with me.

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This is a common problem in New York because every place (with the exception of the parks and the libraries) is about four times smaller than it would be in any other city. Restaurants are so tight you could easily go family style with the next table. Coffee shop seating is so limited you usually can’t get a seat until you’re already on your second cup. There’s a famous bakery called Levain that makes the best $4 chocolate chip and walnut cookie on the planet, but to get one you must endure a 15-minute wait on the sidewalk before going down three cramped concrete steps into a dark basement you’ll share with two stools and 20 people. And don’t get me started on grocery stores here. Only one cart can squeeze through the aisles at any given time, and you have to abandon it altogether to acquire certain merchandise. I’ve knocked entire rows of chips off the wall at my local Trade Fair trying to let someone by.

Yesterday we ate at a restaurant so tight I had to remove my winter coat in order to get to my chair without knocking someone out. We were stuffed into a tiny corner of a busy place, and it was one of those game-time decisions when I had to decide whether it was better to give the girls at the next table a view of my butt or a view of my crotch (#team butt). Once seated, I made sure to stay put until my meal was complete and they had already taken off. I used that opportunity to move their table over before shimmying out, and I STILL managed to knock three pieces of silverware off our table. I then went to the bathroom and proceeded to turn on the hand-dryer three times just by being in the room. Still, I am used to this dance; my own bathroom is so tiny that I knock the toilet paper roll off the wall every time I bend down to grab something under the sink.

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(My bedroom in its rawest form. I’ve yet to find bedside tables to fit (currently using plant stands) and I’m terrified to hang anything on my side of the wall that involves glass. Those 2 a.m. pee runs could get dangerous)

It would be easy to blame all this on tight spaces and big hips, but I’m starting to wonder if perhaps there is another problem at play. This morning I managed to get my thumb stuck in the back of my alarm clock while turning it off. It took me about thirty seconds and some soft whimpering to get it out, but I can honestly say I haven’t felt that awake first thing in the morning in a very long time, so that was a pretty good start to the week already. But the real win was walking through the wide aisles of my tree-less living room without brushing anything to the floor.

Thank God it’s Monday.

 

 

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Back in the Saddle

 

The month of December gets mixed reviews from me. On one hand, I do enjoy the general merriment of the month– the family visits, the gradual loosening of my waistband, the nightly twinkle of a million little lights–but I find it so easy to slip out of my healthy routines and fall into benders where I start swigging coffee straight from the pot and eating raw cookie dough for breakfast. I stop using my mornings for exercise and writing and spend hours in an internet wormhole, shifting between recipes and home decorating ideas before devolving into shopping sprees and trash articles about celebrities without their makeup on. But if I’m telling the truth, these habits crept in way before the holidays. Why are bad habits so easy to pick up? And why are Butterfingers so hard to put down?

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The year 2016 was split right in half for me. The first half was about just holding on, keeping up a very strict regimen of fiduciary restraint as we closed on the house and were forced to watch–literally– every dollar we spent. The second half was about becoming comfortable with finally letting go. We’d closed on the house, we no longer had to save for our down payment, and I was ready to drop my shoulders and start the party. By party, I mean ditch all my good habits and spend most of my time shopping for furniture and housewares, occasionally taking a break to swap a recipe or tend a houseplant. We were in a new space, and with the change of scenery I basically abandoned every good routine I’d ever developed. I really slacked on the writing habit I’d developed over the years and used my computer as a shopping mall instead. I quit the gym last January to save cash and haven’t stepped in one since. I started knocking back bread and dairy and desserts like I was 15 and impervious to bloat and stomach cramps. I didn’t go to any medical check-ups last year. As far as lame habits go, mine could certainly be worse, but I’ve definitely reached a tipping point where I need to swing back around and start taking care of myself better.

Anyway, I haven’t blogged in a really long time, so this post is really just a warm-up for me to get my sea legs back. I’m not going to be getting any big laughs or gentle tears out of this post; my only expectation is to finish it. I’ve had a head cold for about two weeks now, and I’ll preemptively blame the pudding-like consistency of my writing on the fogginess it’s provided me. I’d like to say I hit 2017 running, but I’ve actually started considering next Monday the official “official” start of my new year changes. I’ve never understood how to make the holiday/new year switch so seamless when the entire month of December is about attending parties in flannel pjs while eating sticks of butter until the very last day, when we’re abruptly forced to switch from fatty eggnog to sexy champagne and elastic waistbands to snug sequins. By January 1st, the fridge is cleared of the casseroles and figgy pies and filled with plastic bins of spinach and fresh citrus for juicing. It’s all so cliched, isn’t it?

Well, I hate cliches. That’s why I’m still hanging out in my bathrobe, wiping snot from my nose. I’ve still got the Christmas tree up, and the twinkly lights on. Outside my window, I’ve watched several joggers in tight pants and new shoes smugly run by. Maybe next week, I’ll join them.

Just remember: I said maybe.

 

Anyway! Hi again! How are you? How’s your new year started? What are you aiming for or looking forward to in 2017?

 

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