Much To My Delight

Much To My Delight

The Reason I Don’t Blog Much Anymore

 

Is this thing on?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whether it makes sense or not is another thing altogether.

 

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God Bless Texas

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s the kind of town I’m from.

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

 

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

South Texas Blood and Tissue Center

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

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

Texas Diaper Bank 

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

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

Catholic Charities USA

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

Donate: Text CCUSADISASTER to 71777.

Austin Pets Alive!

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

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

 

 

 

 

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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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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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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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When You Dread the Holidays

 

It’s Thanksgiving week, and while the official kickstart of the holiday season invokes a sense of joy and excitement for many, it’s also completely normal to approach the holidays with a sense of dread. As a therapist, I observed some of these feelings kicking in a few weeks ago, just as the stores started playing Rudolph the Red nosed reindeer.

“Oh God, I hate what this time of year does to me.”

“Ugh, the holidays are coming. I wish we could just fast-forward to New Year’s.”

“I feel like hiding out in my room until it’s all over. I really hate the holidays.”

While this season is commercialized as the happiest time of the year, it can also trigger a range of emotions in people including sadness, guilt and anger, particularly if they are already coping with things like loss, family discord, marital troubles, financial problems or loneliness. If you feel sad around the holidays, please know you’re not the only one.

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If you find yourself feeling a sense of dread around the upcoming holidays, try these:

CREATE YOUR OWN TRADITIONS: I started hosting my own Friendsgiving party four years ago as a way to bring my close friends together, but also as a way to gain some control around the holidays. Our group comes together with no expectations other than to enjoy each others’ company and share some good food. No matter what happens throughout the rest of the season, I feel good knowing I had a holiday gathering with the energy, mood and ambiance I wanted it to.

 

FIND SOMETHING THAT GROUNDS YOU: Grounding is a technique that helps keep someone in the present, and can be helpful in managing overwhelming feelings or intense anxiety. Several of my clients have shared that gardening has been an effective tool for helping them stay focused on the present moment, while also teaching them patience and persistence. One of my best friends, Jen (a therapist specializing in trauma) uses baking as a grounding technique. I use cooking as my grounding strategy; something requiring slow, but constant attention– like risotto, with its constant stirring–can be very calming.

MANAGE EXPECTATIONS: If you’re not up to cooking everything from scratch, DON’T. If buying presents for 20 relatives is financially impossible or simply uncomfortable, speak up and figure out another solution. If traveling to three different houses on Thanksgiving Day sounds like a terrible way to spend your day off, try working out a different plan.

 

If your family gathering has you seriously stressed, try these: 

TRAVEL SOLO. No one likes to feel trapped. Travel in your own car so you can bounce whenever you’re ready without having to wait for someone else.

OPT OUT IF NEEDED: If you feel attending a gathering will cause you real damage, decline the invitation.

BRING A BOARD GAME:  I could suggest not talking about politics around the table, but it’s going to be tough this year. The recent election results have caused rancor throughout the nation, and will probably cause discord at your family’s table. I often suggest for clients to bring games to their family gatherings to increase the laughter, and decrease the likelihood of stepping on landmines. But if politics do come up, listen to one another.

 

If you find yourself alone at the holidays, try these:

VOLUNTEER. Doing something for someone else has a great side effect of helping you feel better yourself.

EXERCISE. Plan a long hike, go for an interesting walk or run through an area you’ve never explored before. I’m planning to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge on Thanksgiving morning because it’s something I love to do, and being outside makes me feel energized, present, happy and grateful.

START A PROJECT: Engage your mind in something productive that will provide a boost of accomplishment, like finally painting your bedroom a soothing color or putting together those shelves that have been lingering in the corner for months.

 

Anyone else have any helpful tips for managing the holiday blues?

 

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Hard to Swallow

 

When I was about 25 or 26 I had a co-worker who was around 43 or 44. Her name was Sonya, I adored her, and thusly began calling her Mom. It wasn’t because I viewed her as matronly, it was because she was nurturing and sweet and taught me a lot about growing into my womanhood. She’s also the kind of person who listens more than she talks and has all her values and priorities firmly in check, which are qualities I admire very much. I miss having her in my work life. I don’t have a work mom anymore. My office bestie now works in New Jersey, and for a while I was enjoying rich conversations with my fancy European work uncle, but he retired last week, sold his Hamptons house and moved to the South of France, which makes him far more civilized than any biological uncle I’ve ever had.

Anyway, some conversations with coworkers are more memorable than others, and there’s one talk Sonya and I had that I’ve never forgotten, even these many years later. As someone who likes to be prepared for all situations, I always paid close attention when Sonya spoke of recent shifts in her body, her relationships and her life. She’d describe some of the changes she’d experienced in her 30s and early 40s, and I’d listen with rapt attention, often taking mental notes. One day, over lunch, she said something that really rattled me.

“No cheese on the sandwich for me,” she instructed the man at the deli counter. Then she turned to me and said, “Ever since I turned 35, I haven’t been able to digest dairy.”

It was one of the saddest things I’d ever heard.

I remember thinking at the time Nuh, uh. Not me. I’m gonna be able to eat cheese forever. I’m going to be able to eat EVERYTHING foreverrrrrrrrrr.

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***

Flash-forward 13 years, and I’m crammed in the phlegm-filled lobby of an Ear-Nose-Throat doctor to check out the dry cough that’s kept me up every night for the past three weeks. A cough, I’ve learned, can indicate many different things and I was hopeful that he’d give me an anti-biotic and I’d be back to dreamland in two days.

“Well, the good news is it’s not viral,” said the doctor. Perversely, I had been hoping for something viral so I could walk out of there with an actual remedy. Every other time I’ve gone to a doctor for a cough their instruction was to basically wait it out, giving me the pep talk that “it could be weeks, could be a month.”

“Since you don’t have any other real symptoms, I think it could be acid reflux,” said the doctor.  ”President Obama has it; it’s very trendy.”

He handed me a sheet of paper with a bunch of foods on it, including a cup of coffee, a curvy jalapeno and a big slab of steak. They all had giant black X’s marked through the center of them. It was very aggressive.

“Avoid everything on this list, and see how you feel.” The list included things I ate everyday, multiple times a day, and enjoyed more than the average person. Telling me to avoid caffeine, spicy foods and a spritz of lemon was like asking me to floss my teeth with a sailor’s knot or do a math calculation in my head. The task sounded impossible, and I was bitter that the only prescription I walked out with was “lifestyle change”.

I went home and shared the diagnosis with my husband, a former office pal who is now my head cheerleader. He understood the gravity of the situation immediately and was very supportive.

“That’s bullshit, Jenn! There’s no way that’s right. I’ve known you for 16 years; you’re the best eater I know. That doctor’s a hack. You can digest anything!”.

“I know! Thank you! I mean, what does he want me to do? Never eat a raw onion again? That’s no way to live!”

A week or two later the cough drifted away on its own, and I’ve continued to eat everything I normally do without consequence. I thought fondly of Sonya and sharp cheese and wondered if they’d ever gotten to be together again the way they were before.

***

Last year I interviewed someone to become my graduate intern. She was 26 and could digest anything.

She was a pure delight off the bat. Smart, sensitive, committed and hard-working. I welcomed her aboard on the spot; there was only one condition. She could no longer dye her hair blue.

And then I realized why I no longer have a work mom.

It’s because I am the work mom.

 

 

 

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