Much To My Delight

Much To My Delight

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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Career Advice From a Bunch of Smart Ladies…my friends.

 

Growing up, I often fantasized about being a “career lady”. When I thought about my future, I could picture it a million different ways, but it almost always included me living in a big city and working in a job that made me feel good about myself. I’m pretty happy to say that after many setbacks, multiple returns to school, plenty of very low-paying jobs and several years of utter confusion, I have finally achieved both. Plus, I don’t even have to wear heels or pantyhose to work, which is doubly exciting.

I’ve been a therapist since 2009, which makes me a career-changer. Prior to this latest incarnation I also spent time as a beauty writer and editor, a nanny, a cocktail waitress, a private tutor, an elementary school teacher and a freelance copyeditor. The path to my career was definitely not straight– it was very wriggly, and occasionally rocky– but the struggles and setbacks have been strangely worth it, and ultimately very, very helpful.

So when comprehensive career resource The Ladders asked me to dole out career advice to recent graduates, I jumped at the chance. In fact, I’d had the idea to ask my friends for their career advice months ago in hopes of writing something like that already. In my therapy practice, I always have at least six or seven 20-somethings on my roster that are either current college or high school students or recent graduates, anxious about starting their professional life. These tend to be some of my favorite clients to work with, not only because I can remember and relate to that experience, but also because of their energy, optimism and hopefulness for the future.

So whether you’re just starting out, or at a place in your life where you’re looking to make a change, these are the words of wisdom from some of my most trusted sources–my friends. A few of my thoughts are sprinkled in too:).

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<My niece Allison, future career lady>

Jenn (me), Clinical social worker/ Psychotherapist

Bridget, Learning and Development Supervising Associate for a major corporation

Aimee, Stay-at-home-mom, Former HR professional

Michelle, Interior Redesign and Staging Specialist, Feng Shui Consultant and Owner of Inspired by Design, LLC

Rachel, Plastic surgery nurse/ Rock musician

 

What do you wish you had known when you were younger and just starting out?

“I was very lucky early on in my career to find a mentor. It is extremely beneficial to have someone to bounce ideas off of, to provide guidance on next steps, to be a sounding board.  Don’t be intimidated, strike up a conversation with someone further along in their career. Nine times out of ten, they’ll be happy to talk and help.” - Bridget

“Don’t try to take on a job that you’re not ready for.  Don’t try to impress people so they like you.”- Michelle

“It’s really okay if you don’t know what you want to do. Most of the time there’s no thunderbolt, a-ha moment where we magically figure it all out. A lot of stuff happens simply by process of elimination. Prepare to hit a few bumps and plan for an exit strategy. Start backward; what do you definitely not want to do? This might help narrow things down a bit.”- Jennifer

“I wish I’d known that everyone felt the same as me–lost. I was too shy to speak up.  I wish I’d known that it’s okay to ask for help.”- Rachel

 

What’s the biggest mistake or setback you’ve made professionally? How did you get through it?

“I don’t believe in mistakes. Everything is just a learning experience. I think the only mistake would be to view something as such. Again, things will go well, things will go badly. When things go badly, look at what happened, learn a lesson, and move on. No need to dwell, no need for a pity party.” - Bridget

“Success comes from confidence and knowledge gained by learning from mistakes.”- Rachel

“I make mistakes daily at work. I forget things people told me. I have said things that weren’t helpful. I always take ownership of my mistakes at work and am very quick to tell people when I’ve done something wrong, don’t have an answer for them, or feel like someone else would be a better fit for them as a therapist. To err is human, and taking responsibility for mistakes is important. Plus, if we did everything perfectly the first time out, we’d never learn or grow personally or professionally.”- Jennifer

 

To what do you attribute your success?

“I think my success is not professional but personal — I believe I am successful at being a mom because I am so proud of the way my daughter is developing. I guess I attribute my success at motherhood to listening to my instincts.”- Aimee

“Not giving up. There will be amazing months and years where everything seems to fall into place. There will be terrible months and years where you will question everything. It’s all part of the ride. None of it is permanent. So don’t get too cocky when things are good, and don’t get too down when things are bad. Just keep going, always.”- Bridget

“Having strong communication skills and a positive attitude. You can be the most well-qualified, impressively educated job candidate, but if you are unpleasant to be around or have a poor attitude, you’re going to hit a really big wall professionally. Don’t discount the importance of honing your interpersonal skills.”- Jennifer

Finally just admitting it was time for a change, doing what I love, and making my own rules. I love being my own boss and am proud that I’m able to do something I love and get paid for it.”- Michelle

 

What’s the most important thing to remember when it comes to your personal life?

“I think it’s important to find a hobby or volunteer work that can be scheduled into your calendar so that it becomes as much a priority as your work. Doing something that you truly enjoy is important for the soul and will keep you well-rounded.” -Aimee

“You are no good to yourself or your employer if you are burned out. If you don’t have time for balance, you need to discuss your workload with your employer. If they expect you to give over your life to the job, it may be time to find a new one!” - Bridget

“Try to leave work at work, whenever possible. Don’t internalize your job.  At the end of the day, it will be more important for your headstone to read “She was a loving mother/sister/daughter” than anything else. - Michelle

“It’s probably an unpopular opinion, but I don’t think everyone needs to be in search of their “dream career” in order to be happy. Plenty of people find jobs that may not stoke their creative fires, but pay the bills and allow the flexibility and financial ability to pursue other interests, hobbies and passions outside of their work.”- Jennifer

 

What’s the boldest choice you have made in your life? What have been the payoffs and drawbacks?

“Quitting my corporate job to to be a stay-at-home mom. The payoff is that I get to be the one to raise my daughter exactly the way I see fit. I get to witness every achievement, milestone and nuance in her days. I am proud to be the one to guide and shape her life. The drawback is that my work skills are getting rusty. I don’t know when or if I’ll return to the corporate world, but if I do, it’s going to be a huge adjustment.” - Aimee

“After being laid off of multiple jobs in one industry, I decided to start my own business in another one that I had always felt passionate about. Starting a business is very hard. Getting new clients is hard. Building a reputation is hard. But doing and enjoying the work makes it all worth it. The fulfillment I have when a job is done and a client is happy is the best feeling. Feeding my spirit and soul through creative work that helps people is one of the best feelings in the world.”- Michelle

“The decision to live my life for myself, not others.  To not worry about the opinions of others.  It might not seem very bold, but it was a very difficult shift to make in my head, and it’s something I have to remind myself of often.  People are going to question your choices, people are going to think you are wrong.  But people don’t have to live your life for you.  Listen to that voice in your head telling you what you truly want, follow it, and block out the voices of haters.”- Bridget

 

What is your best career advice for women?

“I would suggest looking toward careers that could offer flexibility, which would be helpful upon returning to work if she decides to stay home with her children for a few/many years. Careers where she could have her own practice, such as accounting, real estate, education, or therapy would be suitable for part-time work or flexibility.” - Aimee

“Be honest, upfront, respectful and never get overly emotional on the job.”- Rachel

“People aren’t mind readers; you need to let your expectations and desires be known.  If you want a promotion, your bosses need to know that. If you’re not satisfied with your compensation, they need to know that too. And if nothing is done about it, you need to look elsewhere. It’s  imperative to open your mouth and not be afraid to ask. And don’t languish someplace that is not filling needs for you. You have to be getting something out of your job. If you aren’t, you’re not building a career.”- Bridget

“Don’t avoid doing something you really want to do (like graduate or medical school) because it will take 2, 3, 4 years to complete it. Money is a different story, but the time will pass regardless. Make the most of it. Don’t say “it’s too late to do that”. It probably isn’t.”- Jennifer

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Tin Cups and Tea Saucers

Vin and I recently spent 24 hours with my grandparents in Texas–just the four of us–and I don’t think I stopped smiling the entire time. I really cherish time with them, and it breaks my heart that we don’t live closer. I think I annoyed them by asking a million questions about their lives–financial advice, health tips, thoughts on long-lasting marriage. I think if your grandparents are alive and you don’t ask them lots of questions you’re missing a golden opportunity to learn some of life’s most important lessons. My grandparents are content, in good health, financially stable, independent, and have had a strong marriage for 67 years. If I’m gonna get advice about life from anyone, they’re the ones I trust most to dispense it.

My grandmother worked as a teacher for over 20 years. She taught several grades, but the job she held the longest was teaching high school math. This has always impressed me, not only because I can’t do algebra to save my life, but also because it was uncommon for a woman of her generation to leave the home to work. Girls of this generation are still being told subliminally by toys that math is hard, but my grandmother taught it at the high school level 50 years ago. So knock that off, Barbie.

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Grandmother’s senior photo

I asked my grandmother if a lot of her female classmates had joined the workforce the way she had.

“Not many. A few did. There was this one gal Joan, who worked and cared for her mother, and then her sister for many years. She always worked and never married. Her mother said to her, “You don’t have to get married! You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do!”

Grandma lost touch with Joan over the years, but like all people of this day and age, reconnected with her over the internet. They began corresponding again, and Joan made a plea to her fellow female classmates. She said she’d heard enough stories about the husbands and fathers who were frontier settlers in West Texas. She wanted to hear the stories of the mothers and grandmothers from the previous generations, the sturdy Texas women who worked hard raising children, were active in their community and sometimes worked outside of the home.

My grandmother Susan (the retired high school math teacher) and her sister, my much-adored Great Aunt Harriet (one of the first women in the state of Texas to be licensed as a CPA) wrote the story of their mother Kathryn, a trailblazer who didn’t marry until she was near 30, then raised five children. When her husband passed away, several of her kids were under 18 and still living at home, but my great-grandmother managed to put herself through college and become an English professor at the local university.

If this sounds like I’m bragging, I am. I am unbelievably proud to come from this strain of strong, independent, smart women. Their stories have influenced and motivated me all my life, and they’re too humble to share them, so I will.

Anyway, Grandma’s friend Joan took all the stories that her girlfriends submitted and turned them into a book. It was called “Tin Cups and Tea Saucers”, which ventures so close to Steel Magnolias territory it makes me lose my mind.

Here’s where you come in.

I want to hear your stories.

I want to know about the women who have influenced you–your mothers and grandmothers, aunts and sisters.

What they were like, what they read, what they wore, the stories they told you, the songs they sang.

Please send a paragraph or two by next Monday, January 12 to muchtomydelight@gmail.com. I’ll write a post publishing snippets of everyone’s submission later in the week.

And cheers to you– the strong, smart, interesting women of this generation.

 

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Thank YOU.

As we start 2015 (have you ordered your flying vehicle yet?), I wanted to press pause and take a minute to thank you for following this little blog of mine. I’m a sporadic blogger with no actual schedule, occasionally inconsistent content material, and a small-ish readership. Size may matter in some departments (closet space comes to mind), but in this instance, I’d rather take quality over quantity. Which I have.

I have very cool readers and several regular commenters that really boost my motivation to keep blogging. As anyone who blogs and works a full-time job knows, it’s challenging to balance both, and there are definitely days when you want to back away from the keyboard and stay away forever. But just when I get close to shutting this bad boy down, I’ll receive a comment that encourages me to keep writing. You have no idea how much this feedback means to me, and how appreciated it is. One of the best things about writing for a blog (as opposed to other publications) is the immediate feedback you receive. For me, personally it’s a huge motivator to continue writing.

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Thank you so much for reading what I write. It means A LOT to me.

Hope you all have a wonderful start to this new year, and I hope to have many more stories to share with you.

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