Much To My Delight

Much To My Delight

How YOU doin’?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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Former birthday introspections:

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

Last year, I wrote about being 38 and special:

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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.

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-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.

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- 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.

 

 

 

 

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A Day in the Life: St. Patrick’s Day, NYC edition

 

10:30 am: Leave for work. It’s St. Patrick’s Day in New York City and suddenly every single white person (and a few Chinese) thinks they’re Irish.

10:36 am: I offer to help a woman carry her stroller up the subway stairs. Her son, roughly age 2, faces me. Due to my own 5-lb weight gain and a recent wash, my pants are so tight the zipper refuses to stay up. My fly plummets as I head upstairs, inadvertently exposing myself to this innocent woman’s child, reinforcing the idea that no good deed goes unpunished, and no pants shall be washed until I lose a few L.B.s.

10: 42 am:  The train is filled with people headed to the parade. I spy a group of laughing moms in green wigs, holding hands with little boys in tiny shamrock shirts. A group of musicians in suits and green ties, fiddles and banjos tucked beneath an arm. Lots and lots of off-duty NYPD and NYFD wearing freshly-ironed parade uniforms. I had no idea this many cops and firemen lived in my neighborhood, but I suddenly feel enveloped by a faux-Irish web of safety.

10:59 am: Exit train at 57th Street, even though my office is below 10th. Anytime I can combine exercise with people-watching is a win. Sometimes I get overwhelmed by the pace of city life, and feel like I need to go build a hut in a field or something. I know the energy of St. Patrick’s Day will provide that shot in the arm that keeps me going here a bit longer.

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A line of folks wraps around the front of Carnegie Deli. Gaggles of tourists in green boas and dip-dyed red beards and blow-up hats swarm the sidewalk. Vendors have replaced scarves and handbags with green shirts and Irish flags and goofy green tiaras. I feel like the only drip on the way to work. How is everyone always on vacation here?

11:03 am: Pull up my fly again.

11:06 am: I make it to Times Square. It’s pure insanity, more so than usual. There are Elmos everywhere. Furry red with big palms and bug eyes delighting toddlers and annoying adults. There’s a guy on stilts dressed like the Statue of Liberty, two Minnie Mouses and the cowboy from Toy Story all hanging out in the street. Out of nowhere, Spiderman jumps in my face.

“Jesus!” I yell, even though I totally recognize him as Spider-man. He can’t fool me in that costume. I don’t like it when people jump in my face. One time I waited in line three hours for a haunted house only to make it three feet in before begging to be let out.

The timing of Spring Break coinciding with St. Patrick’s Day spells danger for the streets of New York City, as there are hordes of college-aged people wearing green in Times Square right now. They’re jumping on the stairs of the TKTS stand. They’re marching past the M&M store. Whole groups are skipping down the street in wolf-packs, singing at the top of their lungs, lyrics indecipherable because they’re all rip roaring drunk. I haven’t seen this many loaded white kids since Spring Break 1998 (Cancun, baby!) when my friends and I took a bumpy booze cruise to a tiny fake island for a barbecue cookout and wet t-shirt contest**.

 11:15am: Like everyone else in New York City, my Pandora station is set to “Ronnie Milsap Radio”, and as I continue hoofing down Broadway, the song Rhinestone Cowboy comes on, the fortuitous timing delighting me. “Rhinestone Cowboy” is not a Ronnie Milsap song, but that’s how Pandora works, see. It’s an Earl Campbell song, who I like a lot because he popularized a little tune about my hometown called Galveston, which is actually a Jimmy Webb song. But Rhinestone Cowboy reminds me of my first time in Times Square, not much older than all these drunk morons, fresh from the airport and riding in the back of a livery cab with a driver who instructed: “Don’t look up so much” and “Stop saying Houston. It’s pronounced How-ston here.”

I’ve been walkin’ these streets so long
Singin’ the same old song
I know every crack in these dirty sidewalks of Broadway
Where hustle’s the name of the game
And nice guys get washed away like the snow and the rain
There’s been a load of compromisin’
On the road to my horizon
But I’m gonna be where the lights are shinin’ on me

11:16am: I get misty-eyed at the poignancy of the lyrics. Been here 16 years now, and I too know every crack in the dirty sidewalk. My God, where does the time go?

11:17 am: Pull up my fly again.

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11: 29 am: Make it out of Times Square alive, continue to pass hundreds and hundreds of people–young, old, jolly, buoyant–dressed in green as they make their way to the parade route on 5th. Today’s weather is glorious and it’s the unofficial season opener for women who enjoy being scantily clad. It’s technically still chilly enough for a sweater, but I’ve seen more bare midriffs and shoulders than expected, even a little peek of some demi-cup green bras.

11:35: At a crosswalk, I stand across from two girls, both of whom are wearing green tutus and white crop tops.

11:36am: To my left is a gentleman indisputably high on crack, pants dripping down his thighs, teeth like a bomb went off in his mouth. He fumbles into the middle of the street, waves hello to the pretty girls and yells “Erin go Bragh, mothafuckaaaaaaaaaaaas!”.

11:40- 12:30: Continue walking through various neighborhoods on the west side of town, through the armpit of 34th street, down through Chelsea and into the West Village. I shed a tear as I walk past the old Loehmann’s, shake my head at all the stupid banks and chain drugstores, walk through 8th Street, where all the cool shoe shops used to be. I’ve been here long enough that I can now say “Remember when?”,  or “Remember that?” and have it actually mean something.

12:43 pm: As I get closer to work, I switch the station to ’80s Pop to juice myself up for the day. Like magic, the line “She’s a maniac, maniac on the floor” comes on just as I trip over a terribly parked bicycle, sending me flying forward. I’m due for a good face plant, so I’m not terribly surprised.

12:44: A guy walks right by me, never asks if I’m okay, even though he sees me rubbing my knees and palms and hears me saying, “Ouch, ouch. That hurt.” His Irish eyes clearly don’t give a shit about me, and he probably assumes I’m drunk. That’s what I love about New York City; you can trip, fall and cry your eyes out and no one even notices.

12:45: That’s also what I hate about New York City.

12: 50: Officially starting my work day. Clients drip in one by one, most wearing green. One client (not mine) is really in the spirit, wearing shamrocks from head to toe. Tiny shamrocks all over his pants, tiny shamrocks all over his shirt, even shamrocks all over his baseball cap.

12:51:  Oh wait, those aren’t shamrocks. They’re marijuana leaves.

3:00: A supervisor walks by my office and congratulates me on being the new fire marshal for the 2nd floor. I had not been made aware of this new role, nor had I received training for it, but apparently I’d been fire marshal long enough that someone had time to type my name on paper, frame it and hang it in the lobby. I assume (and hope!) the new gig comes with a cool hat.

3:01: “Sweet! I got promoted! I had no idea!” I exclaimed. “What does being fire marshal entail?”

“You have to get people out of the building calmly if it’s on fire. Also, it’s not a promotion.”

I was reminded of my 3-month stint as a third grade teacher in the South Bronx, when we had weekly fire drills and I had to get 25 kids from the fourth to the first floor quietly and efficiently. It was the job that convinced me I’d be better off working with adults, which lead me to study social work. I love it when stories come full circle.

3:10- 7:39 pm: I pull my fly up no fewer than 20 times. Screw the hat. I hope the new gig comes with a good pair of pants.

I work until 8pm. I hate late nights. I’m a morning person, always have been. After 6:30pm, my brain changes shape, turns mushy like avocado.

8:10pm: Vin picks me up in the car, and we head back to Astoria for food. We skip the pubs and head straight to Bon Chon, where they serve Korean fried chicken– double fried and dipped in honey-soy and hot sauce. If we could get away with it without dying, we would eat here every day. When I eat this chicken, I actually hear angels singing. On this night, a sweet Celtic harp pings softly in the background.

We skip the Guinness in favor of Earl Grey tea. I wipe my hands clean of chicken wing residue, lift my steaming mug and greet my husband at the end of a long and interesting day in New York City.

“Erin go bragh, mothafucka. Erin go bragh.”

 

 

*And for the record Ma: Yes, I was asked to participate in the wet t-shirt concert, and no I didn’t do it. I sat at a picnic table and ate chicken wings instead. I love it when stories come full circle.

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in which i compare a puzzle to life’s great metaphor

 

I’ve been really anxious lately. Lots of racing thoughts, funky stomach, sweaty palms. This morning while laying in the dark, I tried to calm myself with some slow, deep breaths. I’ve been taking a lot of slow deep breaths lately.

I’ve also been doing a lot of puzzles. Not sudoku. Not crossword. Old-school jigsaw, baby. Three hundred pieces? Don’t insult me. It’s 1,000 or bust. Five hundred if I’m short on time.

What an amazing distraction a puzzle is. Your mind narrows in on a singular focus, and with each piece that clicks into the greater whole you get a quick hit of accomplishment. It’s overwhelming at first, all these tiny random pieces cluttering up the place, but after you start seeing sections come together– a pond here, a tiny clasped hand there– the picture becomes clearer, your goal reasonable and within reach. Puzzles are a great metaphor for life, don’t you think? Upfront they’re a big old mess– random, scattered, messy, unclear. But you keep at it, piece by piece, and eventually things start making sense. You see the forest through the trees–sometimes literally, depending on the picture.

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I’m partial to puzzles with a lot going on. I want buildings, people, cars, colors, textures. You need pieces that distinguish themselves from the others. Growing up we had a 2,000-piece monster of Santa Claus. Not one jolly guy, which would have been reasonable, but 50 tiny Santa Clauses, which is just scary. When it comes to choosing a puzzle, you want to avoid too much repetition or sameness. No one wants to piece together 40 stacked logs of firewood or an endless flat ocean. Go for the Victorian street scene with colorful hoop skirts and old gas streetlamps and pushcart vendors and tiny street urchins. Put yourself in the middle of Times Square with bright yellow cabs, blinking Broadway marquees, breakdancers, buildings, the Naked Cowboy, people dancing around with chickens on their heads.

I realized my affinity for puzzles during the blizzard last month. I needed something to keep me occupied, so I found an old box in the back of the closet and went to town. It was a challenging puzzle– a tropical scene with lots of blue ocean, blue sky, pebbly sand and dark palm trees, but I stuck with it because I often start things and never finish them, and I wanted to prove to myself that it didn’t always have to be that way.

During the workday, I’d text Vin and ask “Is it sad that all I can think about is getting a happy meal and finishing my puzzle?”.

I finished it in six days and felt a glowing beam of pride. And why shouldn’t I have been proud? I took tiny pieces of compressed cardboard and turned them into an ocean. Where once was nothing, I planted towering trees. In under a week, I built the entire sky. 

Vin came home and admired my masterpiece.

“Do you want me to take a picture of you with the finished puzzle?” he asked. He meant no sarcasm. He is genuinely supportive, no matter my hobby. 

“Do I want you to take a picture of me in my bathrobe and dirty hair in front of a completed jigsaw puzzle?” I asked. “No thanks. I think I’ll be able to remember this moment.”

I’ve done a few more puzzles since then. We went to Texas several weeks ago, and I was feeling overwhelmed by something so instead of wine I suggested a puzzle. We pulled out a card table and four of us silently got to work. Last weekend in Vermont, my girlfriends and I knocked out an abstract 500-piece jammy in just under two hours. When it was finished, we did a three-way high-five and felt like champions.

It’s nice to finish something you start. It’s good to do something other than fart around on the internet. It’s good to feel like your brain has one mission, and one mission only. These days, it’s often hard to see the forest through the trees. Puzzles help you do that. I hope 2016 does for puzzles what 2015 did for adult coloring books.  

As I broke the pieces apart and tossed them back in the box, I couldn’t help but think that served as a metaphor too. Clear the decks, start fresh, take on the next challenge.  

Or you know, just eat dinner at the table again.

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A Robe made for Queens

 

I got a big, white, fluffy robe for Christmas this year. When I opened it, I wasn’t sure if I’d get any use out of it. Who wears robes these days? I asked myself. Turns out, I wear robes these days. I’ve been wearing this thing every day. It actually pains me to take it off when I leave the house. If they’d let me wear it to work, I would.

It’s not a slinky silk or toasty flannel. It’s not the kind you monogram and hang in the Four Seasons bathroom. This robe is a full-on velour blanket with sleeves. It’s almost unimaginably soft and ridiculously cuddly. When I tie the thick sash around my waist I look like Lebowski and feel like a swaddled child. When Vin hugs me he calls me his “little bear cub”. Did I just make this weird?

Suffice it to say, the year has started with ease and familiar comforts. Homemade chicken soup and too many chocolate chip cookies. Netflix on the couch with socked feet and piles of blankets. Dinners in dark restaurants with friends–warm fried chicken and flaky biscuits smeared with butter and honey. Winter is not as wicked as I’ve always thought it to be; in fact, if you do it right, the downright coziness is almost better than an afternoon warming your face in the summer sun.

I said, almost.

We’re watching Making a Murderer each night (you too? How funny.). We come home from work, eat a little bit, then I put on my big fluffy heaven robe and drape myself across Vinny’s legs. I’m a blanket for him, and he’s an ottoman to me. We yell at the screen, grab the sides of our heads in anger and despair, and yell terrible things at the TV screen. Last night he brought home a cookie the size of a pancake and we ate the whole thing. Unlike the rest of the resolution-making world, I didn’t join a gym on January 1st. I discontinued my membership to save money.

Like I said, this robe is going to get a lot of wear this season, especially once I grow out of all my pants.

Now be a lamb and fetch me a hot chocolate, would ya?

 

 

 

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Thoughts on New Year’s Eve-Eve

 

I’ve always wanted to go to one of those really fancy New Year’s Eve parties. The ones where men with slicked back hair wear sharp tuxedos and women pour themselves into tight sequin dresses and bloody their lips with bright red lipstick. I’ve pictured myself in a huge ballroom with a live band on stage; huge floor-to-ceiling windows that stretch out across the length of Manhattan skyline, revealing the million tiny nightlights that show up for work every evening. It’s the kind of party where confetti falls like rain from big blankets hung across the ceiling and champagne bottles are popped open by perfectly capped teeth.

In this particular fantasy, a man who looks like 1987 Tom Selleck strides toward me, leans against a wall and asks, “So what do you think about this party?”

I smile– no teeth, all lip. “I love it. The music’s great. I would have given up some of this raw bar for some Rotel dip, but that’s just a personal preference. What about you?”

“I’ve seen better.” He’d say, leaning against a railing. “Or at least I thought I had, until just now.” He lifts up the corner of his mustache to reveal a smirk, a smirk that says “Hey, baby… you wanna get out of here?” and “The only thing hotter than Rotel dip is you.” Then he winks and nods before asking: “Are you here alone?”

“No, I’m here with my husband. He’s the skinny one with the bushy beard and long hair.” I point across the room, to the dessert section. “See him over there? He’s the one flirting with that pile of donuts dusted with glitter.”

“Huh, oh yeah.  Good looking guy. That’s a rookie ‘stache though.”

“Tell me about it. I can’t wait to see what it looks like after he nosedives into the powdered ones.”

“Nice meeting you, pretty lady.”

“Likewise. Enjoy your evening.”

Alas, nothing like that ever happens on New Year’s Eve. I haven’t been approached by a handsome stranger in public for centuries now.  The last ten years, we’ve mostly attended intimate affairs at our friends Aubrey and Mitchs’ house, where I inevitably end up falling asleep on the couch long by midnight. It’s sweet of them to continue inviting their narcoleptic friend to all their parties.

The worst NYE was 1998, when I attended a Matchbox 20 concert in the middle of a parking lot in Houston. I don’t even remember liking Matchbox 20 very much, but somehow I always ended up at their concerts because it was 1998. Anyway, December is still warm enough in Houston to have outdoor concerts, so a small group of us went to enjoy $11 draft beers and greasy tacos. At 11:45, my bladder (the ultimate party pooper) decided it could no longer participate in the events, so I excused myself to the powder room. I say “powder room” because it sounds a lot more delicate than “a big line of porta-potties.” The line was a million people deep and barely moving, but I had no choice but to wait in it. As I stood there, it became clear to me that not only would I not be getting kissed at midnight, but most likely I’d be squatting over a disgusting plastic hole, my pants down around my ankles, breathing in the veritable potpourri of smells one can only find in a modern-day outhouse.

At the stroke of midnight, I heard whoops of laughter, cries of hope and joy, screams of “Happy New Year!” echoing through the hollow walls of my porta-john. “Happy New Year”, I mumbled to myself. I worried that spending the stroke of midnight on New Year’s in a portable toilet was a harbinger of things to come.  That a moment like that would imbue the following months with oppressive obstacles, less-than-ideal circumstances, and frankly, shit.

And of course, that didn’t come to pass. I don’t remember anything particularly distressing happening in 1998 because I was in college then and protected by the magical forcefield of youth. If that were to happen this year? Why, the results could be disastrous.

So instead I’ll put on my flat shoes and a t-shirt of breathable cotton and Vin will tweak his facial hair with some beard wax. We’ll head over to Mitch and Aubrey’s house for some tasty snacks and a champagne toast. The gang will clink glasses and toot paper horns, and I’ll be curled in a ball on their mid-century-style sofa in the front room, sleeping my way into 2016, dreaming of Tom Selleck.

 

 

 

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April Showers Bring More Blog Posts

 

If you ever notice that I start posting here more or less frequently, you can almost always assume it has something to do with the weather. If it’s rainy, very cold, icy, snowy, balmy, perfectly sunny or terribly crappy, chances are I will blog that week. If the weather is temperate, reasonable, average, or generally unremarkable, I probably won’t.

It all has to do with the peculiar rhythm of my job, which syncs to external and metaphysical forces almost always beyond my control. If there is an exact formula to client show rate, I have not yet stumbled on it, but the general rule is people do not want to come outside in any sort of extreme weather scenario.

Today the weather is positively terrible, as though a gang of nasty little gremlins is hanging over some invisible ledge in the sky, waiting to dump buckets of water on the poor innocents schlepping to work.  I’m sitting in my office alone waiting for my pants to dry and wishing I had someone to play Scrabble with. The cancelled reservations have been literally pouring in. It’s after 12 noon, and I haven’t seen a single person yet.

My favorite cancellation message was from a client who texted: “Can’t make it. I’m made of paper and unable to get wet.”

Anyway, the point of this blog post is that I’m sort of bored and looking for ways to make use of this unexpected free time (and by free, I really mean “unpaid”.

If any of you local-yokels are soaking wet and ambling around the East Village, come stop by my office. We’ll grab some noodle soup around the corner and I’ll hang a funny sign on my door that says something like “Gone Fishing” or “Can’t talk now; I’m busy trying to fix my hair.”

In my world, April showers bring May flowers, poor show rates and bad hair days.

But they also get me closer to June and backyard barbecues, so I can’t complain too much.

 

 

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Dream Interpretation

 

I’ve been having the weirdest dreams lately. They’ve been disturbingly violent, which is a particularly pleasant way to wake up in the morning.

Yesterday I heard a story about someone getting stabbed fighting over a bag of Cheez Doodles. My first thought was well, that seems a little harsh, but Cheez Doodles are pretty freaking good. I guess that was still on my mind as I lay down last night, because I dreamed that I was stabbed in the face in the grocery store down the street. It hurt a lot, so I walked up the street to the Rite Aid, and the pharmacist patched me up with a Dora band-aid, then I bought a bag of Doritos and traveled home.

Two nights ago I dreamed I was in a massive chain hotel in the desert, standing in the window with a crowd of people as we watched a fire erupt on the ground below. We stood there, slack-jawed,  as cars and trucks drove straight into the fire, everyone holding up DLSRs and snapping pics as they drove into the flames. Eventually I snapped to and said, “What are we doing? Grab your shit and let’s get out of here!” Then we all ran to the LIRR station (in the desert?) and headed back to the city.

But my favorite dream of the past week, and the one I think has the most potential to actually be shopped around as a movie, involved a one-on-one brawl between me and my arch rival. My enemy was trying to mow me down with an enormous boulder. Except it wasn’t a boulder. It was a huge frozen boiler chicken, shrink-wrapped and ready for roasting.

They say that what happens in our dreams is always a reflection of something going on in our conscious mind, but I have no idea what getting mauled by a massive frozen chicken has to do with my life.

I can tell you what it doesn’t mean though.

I still ain’t going vegetarian.

Bacon 4-eva.

 

 

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Home, Home on the Brain: Our Down Payment Saving Strategy

 

This past year has been all about SAVING MONEY. Because when you’re house-hunting in New York City, you need a whole lot of it.

I feel squeamish sharing the actual number in our joint savings right now, but we’ve both been pleasantly surprised by how much we’ve been able to stash away over the past year and a half or so. We got hitched in 2012 and went on three big trips in our first year of marriage (no regrets there!), so we really began saving in earnest in 2013.

We’re not extreme cheapskates and reusing toilet paper or anything nutty like that, but we’ve definitely made some good changes that were actually pretty simple, so I figured they were worth sharing here.

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Our general saving strategy:

We fall under the DINK category (double-income/ no kids) which puts us in a great position to save. Certain aspects of our lifestyle are also conducive to saving– we’re blessed with small appetites and below-market rent, and neither of us drinks (much) or smokes. We have no debt or student loans, we live within our means, we’re in good health, and we’re in a stage of our lives where we just have a very low overhead. We work very hard, and feel lucky that we are able to save.

We used to just split most of the bills down the middle and each put $500 in savings each month. A few months ago, we switched it around, and it seems to be working much better. Vin pays all bills (rent, all insurance, cable, cell phones). Food and most house-related purchases come out of my checking account but almost every dollar I make goes directly into our joint savings. Seeing the number go up and up in our savings has made cutting back in lots of ways not as difficult.

Here are some of the ways we’re keeping more of our cash:

 

FOOD:

-I cook homemade 95% of the time. Grocery shopping, food prepping and cooking takes more time and energy than ordering in/eating out, but for me, the cost savings and health benefits are well worth it. Almost all lunches are brought to work.

-If we’re not cooking at home, we’re actually going out. In a city built on Seamless, Vin and I never order takeout. If we’re going to skip cooking at home, we are going to have a real restaurant experience. I realize this is easier for us to stick to because we don’t have zeee babeez.

- I buy and make food that can streeeeeetch. Every Sunday I boil one whole organic chicken with tons of garlic, ginger, salt and pepper. I use the leftover broth for soups and other dishes, and whatever’s left gets frozen for another time. The chicken is used throughout the next few days on salads, sandwiches, in enchiladas, in soups or plain with avocado on top. I make my own almond milk, and am planning to dehydrate the pulp to make almond flour (that stuff is EXPENSIVE). Other cheap ingredients that give you more bang for your buck are lentils, dried beans, and cornmeal (for polenta, making crusts, cornbread).

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-Speaking of soups– start making ‘em! I end up making two simple soups a week with the broth leftover from my boiled chicken. I bought two Thermos food jars and we take them to work a few times a week. It makes packing lunch super simple, and very cost effective. You can make a ton of soup out of really cheap ingredients and freeze leftover portions.

-Reduced impulse buys– I really have been trying to stick to a list when grocery shopping, and making sure I buy ingredients that can be used in several meals over the week. I stopped buying $2 seltzer waters at work and just drink from the tap during the day, and Vin has cut out his hot cocoa runs (we’ll see what happens when he’s off the Whole30 though:).

-I always eat and cook fruits and veggies in order of when they’ll spoil-  Quick-to-wilt stuff like spinach, fresh herbs, lettuces, and berries get eaten early in the week, while hardier stuff like butternut squash, sweet potatoes and kale are eaten toward the end because they keep longer. I’ve been throwing out much less uneaten produce, which makes me feel good.

 

ENTERTAINMENT

-I just say ‘No’ a lot more often. If concert or movie tickets are thrown around for something that I’m not THAT into, I’m not going. I’ll always pony up for something I’m dying to do or see, but if I’m feeling “meh” about it, I’d rather hold onto the cash.

-We choose cheap thrills. If Vin and I want to get out of the house, we go out to a coffee shop instead of a restaurant. We can stay much longer and spend much less. It’s easy to hang out with friends and not spend a lot of money- take a walk with a cup of coffee. Done!

-We put a general moratorium on travel- This is admittedly one of the hardest rules to follow because we love to travel. I flew to Texas twice last year to visit family, but we had no other big trips in 2014. Vin’s recent trip to LA was a bargain because he flew on off times and stayed with a friend.

-We’re smarter about when we travel- We wanted to do something special for our anniversary, so we booked one night at a cool hotel in upstate New York- only a two-hour drive away. This hotel has a two-night minimum for weekend nights, so we booked Sunday night only, which was considerably cheaper. We drove up early Sunday and drove back Monday evening, which also helped us avoid traffic!

-We’ve been going potluck when entertaining. I love, love, love to entertain, but it definitely gets expensive. My birthday was a (free) picnic at Central Park, and our other hosting this past year was potluck. Our friends are generous and good cooks so it’s worked out well.

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SHOPPING HABITS

-I’ve stopped buying things just because they’re cheaper. This is hard for me, because I love a bargain. But I’ve started buying things I really want instead of settling for the cheapest option, with the assurance that because they’re higher quality I won’t have to replace them anytime soon. I’m finally subscribing to the notion of quality over quantity.

-I buy things that allow me to use other things better.  I always thought I had nothing to wear, but the real problem was that I didn’t have the right shoes to wear with my clothes! I recently bought three pairs of shoes from Zappos– short black boots, tall flat blat boots and black sneakers. These three pairs of shoes have effectively made me feel like I tripled my wardrobe because they go with everything! I’ve worn the boots exhaustively since purchasing them. (except when I’m wearing snow boots of course).

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-Replace items only when absolutely necessary. Unless it is unusable, falling-apart-at-the-seams or dangerous, nothing in this house is getting replaced until we move. I have wanted a new couch for years but refuse to buy one until we own our own place. Our car is 15 years old, and we’re not getting a new one until this one crumbles into pieces or bursts into flames. My computer is slow as molasses and the bottom is literally falling off, but it still works so it’s sticking around much longer.

-I barter or swap when able. My expensive hairdryer conked out last year. Rather than cough up the money to replace it, I reached out to my friend Crystal, who works as a beauty editor. I offered to take her out to dinner in exchange for a new dryer. The dryer she brought me was valued at $200, but I only ended up spending $45 and had a nice evening with a friend! My girlfriends are quick to swap books and household items too.

-Before you call the handyman, Youtube it. My husband’s kind of amazing. Anytime something breaks– the washer, the AC in his car, the flatscreen TV-  he hops on Youtube and makes an attempt to fix or replace something himself.  We’ve saved hundreds of dollars this way. My brother remodeled his entire house on his own from watching youtube videos!

-Just keep it simple. Don’t buy things unless you really, truly need them and will use them several times a week. How many handbags does one person need? How many lipsticks?

 

REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE

-Give glass a second life. I almost never buy new glass products, because it’s so easy to repurpose glass containers. Once the last bit of jam has been swiped onto toast, that little glass jar will be used for carrying smoothies to work. My favorite thing to upcycle are the glass candle holders from Bath and Body Works. Once the wick is gone and there’s only a bit more wax in the bottom, stick it in your freezer. After it hardens, take a knife and break up the wax until it falls out in large chunks. A little Palmolive and a sponge, and the whole thing wipes perfectly clean. I use them for candy dishes, flower vases, to corral loose jewelry, and to house my next candle.

-Make your own cleaning products. Scour Pinterest for homemade cleaning supply recipes. Most require stuff that’s super cheap, non-toxic and already in your home like vinegar and lemons. I still make my own homemade laundry detergent and haven’t bought a bottle of Tide in a year and a half. I bought the supplies for 10 bucks in early 2013, and still haven’t had to buy any new ones!!

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-We use every last drop, then we add water and make it go even further. When we buy toiletries and other household or beauty products,  I’m not buying a new one until every single drop of product is gone. One great way to use up that last bit of lipstick or concealer that gets buried in the tube is to scrape it out with a toothpick and pack it into a contact lens case. It’s great to have that tiny makeup compact for travel or your work drawer for quick touch-ups.

 

And because I’m always looking for new tips for saving, please share your best advice for keeping more of your cash! Add it to the comments, or share on my FB page.

 

 

 

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