Much To My Delight

Much To My Delight

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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I didn’t send Christmas cards this year. Here is my holiday greeting to you.

I love this time of year, when my mailbox is flooded with more than cell phone bills, junk mail and Oriental Trading catalogs (warning: never order from there. You’ll get seven catalogs a month for the rest of your life). I’ve gotten quite a few Christmas cards this season, and let me tell you — your kids keep getting cuter and cuter. But you, on the other hand, may have noticed that your stack of cards looks thinner this year.

It’s not you, it’s me. I’m not sending cards this year. I’m simply not on the ball. I only started shopping a few days ago. I guess I was still hoping that Santa is real and would let me off the hook.

Did I just ruin Christmas for anyone?

My grandmother has been sending out one of those “year in review” Christmas letters for years, and they are always one of the highlights of the season for me. Over the years, our family has been updated on the status of her garden, granddad’s golf tournaments, and physical ailments ranging from sciatica to hip replacements. This year they got a Vitamix, which is actually pretty awesome. She usually encloses a recipe she thinks I’ll like from her local paper. Since marrying Vinny, she also sends me any article that mentions Croatia. She’s as sweet as she sounds.

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As a non-practicing Half-Jew/Half-Christian hybrid, I feel like I should probably call this my holiday letter, rather than assign it a specific denomination.  It’s a pretty cheap substitute for Tiny Prints, but I’m saving a ton on stamps and contributing to the welfare of our planet. Anyway, here’s my year in a nutshell:

To tell you the truth, this year has been a bit of a blur. It went really fast, and without anything major to report. We work, we take the subway home, we eat ourselves some dinner, and we have a few giggles with our friends on the weekends. Life is simple, but good. Very good. Few complaints, many blessings. God bless us, everyone.

We still live in our rented apartment, and are faithfully socking money away for a potential home purchase.  This is basically the focus of our lives and energy right now. It is taking longer than anticipated because we continue to torture ourselves by staying where the majority of our friends and family are, which unfortunately happens to be in one of the most ridiculously expensive places in the country.

2014 was our official “year of saving”, which makes it one of the least interesting years ever to report. Turns out, the money you spend is often equivalent to the amount of fun you have. I added some longer hours to my schedule and spent $60 on thermoses so we could take hot lunches to work with us everyday. We already lost one, so if any of you are looking for any last-minute gift ideas, that’d be pretty high on the list.

The highlight of our year was the birth of our twin nephews, who are so cute I want to cover them in gravy and sop them up with a biscuit. I hope this doesn’t creep out their parents. I think they’ll take it as a compliment. So basically, the most exciting thing about our year happened to someone else. That’s okay; we still get to sleep through the night.

Hope you guys are having a wonderful holiday week and your boss lets you out early. We’re currently road-tripping through Central Texas, visiting every relative possible along the way. And for all you would-be-robbers who now know about our empty apartment, save yourself the hassle of heading to our place. Vin packed his entire closet and half of mine for this trip, so all the good stuff’s already been cleared out. Go next door– they have a karaoke machine I’d love for you to take off their hands.

Have a great holiday, everyone! And save the neck for me, Clark!

 

 

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Sweet Dreams are made of Boobs. (Yes, you read that right).

 

Do you fall asleep listening to music? I do. And when I do, it is always with the same album. I drift away to the sweet, sweet tunes of a record none of you have ever heard of called “Night Tracks”.

I bought Night Tracks (on compact disc!) in the early years of my city life, when I was living with three girls in a duplex on the Upper West Side. As if multiple roommates weren’t enough to tune out, the asshole who lived right above my room would climb his Stairmaster late at night after work and the never-ending mechanical hum was like attempting to sleep in a field that was in the middle of being plowed. Additionally, my bedroom was on the first floor facing the street, which means I heard the door slam every time someone went in or out of the building, and every smoker on West 93rd street gathered directly in front of my window.

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My desperation for sleep was palpable–it still is–and so I went to my local Best Buy and scooped up Night Tracks, an album whose very cover made my eyelids heavy. I tossed it years ago, but it featured a picture of a dark, starry night sky with the title scrolled across in a loopy, dizzy cursive font. The songs on Night Tracks are the kind of moody, melodramatic piano instrumentals you’d hear as background music in a movie about war or star-crossed lovers. It makes perfect sense that I would purposely lull myself to sleep with movie theme songs since I have conked out in approximately 75% of all movies I’ve tried to watch since the age of six. Don’t even try to get me to explain the plot of The Hunt for Red October. I think I set some kind of record in that one. I didn’t make it past the opening credits.

I’d forgotten about Night Tracks until a few months ago, when I just happened to pull it up on the old bedside Ipod. “Hello, old friend.” I whispered as the first familiar song began to play. I don’t remember what I said to the second song, since I was out like a light.

So now, every evening, I tune into Night Tracks before tucking myself into bed. I think I might actually be addicted to it, because I’m finding it harder and harder to get to sleep without it. If I’ve already shoved my legs under the sheets and forgotten to turn it on, I harass Vinny to put it on for me by crying out “I need my traaaaaaaaaaacks” until he offers a patient “yes, dear” and presses play. Ugh, what a doll. I should make out with him more.

So last night, after a bowl of unbearably spicy pho that made my belly drop into my shoes, I got cozy in my sheets and summoned Vin to put on “the tracks”. Next thing I remember is waking up in a cold sweat after a really awful nightmare. We were on our private double-decker ferry, commuting to brunch on the Hudson River after a terrible rainstorm. We hit a huge wave and Vin says flatly, “I hope this boat doesn’t tip over.” Next thing you know we’re upside-down and fighting for our lives Titanic-style while NY1 is filming the whole thing from Chelsea Piers.

This was almost as frightening as the time I dreamed I was trapped at the top of the winding staircase in my enormous mansion, as the walls around me went up in flames. Downstairs, Ben Affleck wore a blue-velvet tuxedo and calmly smoked a pipe while tickling the ivories on a baby grand in the foyer.

Clients will often ask their therapist to analyze their dreams. I have no training in dream interpretation and I’m never going to pay for it. I look that shit up on the internet just like everyone else. But clearly, my subconscious is trying to warn me that Wealth = DANGER.

That, or I need to start listening to Katy Perry before bed so I can dream of happy things like dancing jujubes and cupcake boobs.

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All in a day’s work.

 

“Let me feel your hands,” he asked, before extending his right arm toward mine.

One of my therapy clients had just accused me of “never working a day in my life” and wanted physical evidence of how easy I had it.

I laughed at the irony of the situation, as the evidence of my working was right in front of his face. “What do you need to feel my hands for?” I asked. “You know exactly what I do for a living.”

I was reminded of this conversation Saturday while standing on a hardened mound of snow with a large plastic shovel in my hands and utility boots on my feet. Vinny and I were finally making strides to unearth our Honda, which had been fossilized by several feet of ice and snow over the past two weeks. It was a hell of an undertaking as every snowplow in the county appeared to have rolled down Broadway in the interim, essentially burying the vehicle in a copious mix of snow, filth and salt which had now hardened like a rock and clung like a barnacle. Last week the snow was vanilla soft-serve. Now it had deep freezer burn.

The top layer was pretty easy to scoop away, but once we started going lower we realized our grave error in letting this task go ignored for the past week. Plastic shovels work great in sand but serve no purpose in ice, and it was starting to look like that freakin’ groundhog was about to cost us a fortune in parking tickets as this car wouldn’t be leaving this spot until the ground thawed in mid to late April. Or July, the way this winter’s been going.

And then, like some kind of urban fairytale, two sanitation workers parked their plow truck behind our car. They walked toward us with ice picks and metal shovels, their neon green bibs gleaming like shields. They started stabbing the ice around our car with the pick so Vin and I could easily scoop it away. They dug and dug until the ground was clear, and waited until Vin warmed up the engine to make sure we were truly free. Everything was working out so well that my hopes climbed too high; as more and more snow was brushed off the car I started feeling the anticipation of a dramatic reveal, as some part of my brain actually began to believe that all that snow was actually a magic dust sprinkled from the sky, the kind that turns soap into bars of gold and 15-year-old Hondas into brand new Mini-Coopers. Alas, that was not the case.

Still, we were happy as clams and super grateful to the city, who put these two hard-working fellas in our path. They were our knights in rubber armor, and they were clearly doing the kind of job my client would describe as work.

Vin shook their hands. I wanted to touch them.

 

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12 Wallet-Friendly Ways to Get in the Holiday Spirit

 

While my better half has been listening to Harry Connick Christmas albums for the past few weeks, I’m a big proponent of waiting till Thanksgiving has had its day in the sun before getting my yuletide on. So now that the turkey’s in the Tupperware and the sweet potato pie has been reduced to crumbs, it’s officially time to hammer lights onto the roof and blow up the yard inflatables. Unless of course you live in Queens, like me. Then it’s time to creatively rearrange your furniture so your tiny tree doesn’t block every available doorway.

But I’m also a big proponent of doing the holidays (and everything else) on a budget. I love creating merriment in December, but I refuse to cry over credit card statements in January. Tis the season to be merry, not out of moolah.

 

ROCK AROUND THE CHRISTMAS TREE

This weekend seems like a pretty good time to break out the holiday branches. As apartment dwellers with limited space, a big tree would absolutely overtake us. But that’s okay, because little trees are cheaper anyway. You can get a mini-tree for $25-$35 (depending on where you live) as opposed to spending $75 and up for a full-size tree. Plus, everything little is cute.

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 If you don’t have the money or space for a full tree, a fresh pine wreath is a festive option that won’t break the bank. And they smell just as good:).

 

 LIGHT THE MENORAH

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The passing of Thanksgiving ushered in the beginning of Hanukkah! I was raised half-Jewish, so the month of December has always brought with it a host of ways to enjoy some mixed-faith merriment. Spin the dreidel, light the menorah and serve some latkes next to that leftover turkey!

DECK THE HALLS

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I’m always amazed that most Christmas ornaments cost between $8-$10 EACH. I love the idea of adding one new ornament to the tree every year. As for us, we keep the decorating costs down by picking up stuff at the dollar store, Michael’s and small shops on our street in Queens. We were also lucky enough to score some vintage ornaments that belonged to Vin’s grandparents. They’re my favorites:). Our tree (clearly a faux fir) was only $35 at a local dollar store in Astoria, and the decorations on the wall were handmade out of scrapbook paper.


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 Thrift stores are also a great place to find seasonal decor. If memory serves, I scored the silver platter for $2 and the tiny nutcrackers for $1 each. I’m not into buying a bunch of new stuff to decorate, and tend to repurpose a lot. Red and white striped straws mesh perfectly with a jar filled with candy canes.

 

SAY HI TO SANTA

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One of my all-time favorite holiday photographs is of my mom and her best friend Debbie sitting on Santa’s lap together. Two college-aged Jewish girls working as Santa’s helpers—adorable. I think I need to recreate that photo this year. Warning Vin- I may be dragging you to a lap soon.

TAKE TO THE ICE

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Nothing says winter like strapping on some skates and hitting the ice. Doesn’t matter if you suck at it. Doesn’t matter if you face plant. What matters is that you are KILLING IT with your skater outfit. By the way, if you’re in NYC, skating is FREE at Bryant Park. Bring your own skates, or rent for $15.

 

HANG OUT WITH A KID. 

Photo_2008_1_6_22_13_57Read a classic to a kid:  it’s FREE and priceless. I cherish this photo of me with my Great Aunt Harriet.


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I wish I was going to Texas for the holidays so I could make another gingerbread house with my niece Allison. Kids love doing these types of projects and they’re cheap! These things are everywhere (Michael’s, Wal-Mart, Target) and cost about ten bucks. Watch the gumdrop on top though. You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.

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One of the coolest things my brother did for Allison last year was register her for “The Nice or Naughty List”. There are a lot of websites that offer this service, but this one makes a customized video and certificate for your child based on information and photos you enter into the site. The kids went NUTS for this! (and it’s free).

GET YOUR BAKE ON

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My favorite thing to do during the holiday season is bake my face off. My friend Crystal and I have a yearly tradition we call Bake-a-Palooza. I lay out all my baking supplies in the kitchen, she brings over her favorite recipes and a million sticks of vegan butter and we collectively make about six or seven things. She distributes to her friends and family, and I usually bring my stash to the office to share with co-workers and clients. We skipped our tradition last year and I really missed it.

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A great way to keep the cost low is to make one basic sugar dough, then use different mix-ins (nuts, sprinkles, chocolate chips, candies, pretzels, various extracts, different spices) to create a wider variety of treats.

DON WE NOW OUR GAY APPAREL

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Go plaid. Go red. Go glitter. Remember, every time you wear a dorky Santa-shirt, an angel gets its wings.

GIVE A LITTLE BIT

Vin loves going to the mall at Christmastime. I hate it. I either make homemade food gifts, or I do my shopping online.  Ever tried carrying a bunch of presents on the subway? It’s N.G. (no good). Online is the way to go. I haven’t decided which of my friends’ kids I’m buying these adorable animal heads from Urbanara for yet, but someone’s about to have a safari party in their bedroom.

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PS: If you’re looking to take a vacation any time soon, lots of travel websites run deep discounts on hotels, air fare and car rental packages on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Vin and I are taking a quick cheap trip this year in lieu of swapping presents.

SEE THE LIGHTS

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No one can resist driving around pretty neighborhoods looking at the Christmas lights. In New York, we strap our boots on and walk around the major holiday hot spots– Rockefeller Center, Central Park, 5th Avenue. And because I live in an apartment, there’s no pressure to spend money on decorating the outside of our crib. I just get to enjoy the fruits of everyone else’s labor:). Merry Christmas to meeeeeee.

LOOK AT FROSTY GO

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Grab a corncob pipe and a button nose, and some hair made out of pretzels. Creativity is the mother of invention. Thumpety-thump-thump…where’s the hummus?

 

AND HAVE YOURSELF A MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS…NOW!

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What are your favorite budget-friendly ways to usher in the holiday season?

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Am I Smarter than a Fifth Grader?

Over the weekend I took the train out to Long Island to visit my sister and brother-in-law and their kids- Ethan and Reese. They are ten and eight, respectively, and are just sweet, smart, adorable, all-around great kids. I love spending time with them and need to do it more often before their hormones get screwy and they start refusing hugs.

One of the greatest things about being an aunt is being introduced to a completely different culture than you’re used to. As a kid-less adult, I am generally not hip to what the kids are into these days (are Garbage Pail kids still in? What about Teddy Ruxpin– no?), so having nieces and nephews keeps me from feeling like a completely clueless old fart.

The first thing they wanted to show me were their Rainbow Looms. If you’re a parent to kids of a certain age, you’ve probably caught wind of this rubber-band-bracelet-making craze. They were cute and colorful and looked like they’d been strung together by the tight, tiny rubber bands most commonly found in the back of kids’ mouths to keep their braces from popping a spring. It was like my ’80s childhood exploded all over the table–my jelly bracelets hooked up with my friendship bracelets at the 7th grade dance and had like, 10,000 babies.

 

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So then Ethan and Reese showed me how they used a loom to create these things. They were doing all these complicated loop-de-loops and triple lindys and figure-eights with the tiny rubber bands, and none of it had any rhyme or reason to me. I was totally blown away that these kids could visualize an end product, keep up a pattern on these things and have them turn out so well.

I didn’t get it.

So I asked Ethan if I could have one of his, since I couldn’t figure out how to make one myself. He pulled out his list of prices. The kid had set up shop and was taking custom orders. I hope to get it before the big holiday rush.

Then it was time to show me Mine Craft. This is a game on the computer and they’re both very into it. At first glance, I thought I was looking at Tetris, but then Ethan just sat there and watched some  other kid in Great Britain playing while he giggled and shouted and showed his support. In the corner of the screen, a British teenager was narrating all of his moves, none of which made sense to me. It just looked like a bunch of blocks and cubes with a few people running around like they were lost in a corn maze. Meanwhile, E is on the edge of his seat exclaiming, “Man, this is the greatest game ever!”.

I didn’t get it.

Then it was time to look at Reese’s math homework. Reese is in the third grade, and they apparently teach basic math in a completely different way than they did when I was in elementary school. I don’t understand why they would change the way they teach basic math. This makes no sense to me. If they were going to change something in the curriculum, why didn’t they start with taking Beowulf off the reading list in 9th grade? I hated Beowulf. But about the math–the process was overcomplicated and silly and it took me twice as long to compute something.

And then I started thinking about my brain and its capacity to learn and grow and do important things like compute simple math problems and remember my own phone number. These kids seem to pick up this new stuff so quickly. I know I did when I was their age. What if I’m slipping? My fear is that I actually piqued 28 years ago, back when addition was taught in a reasonable fashion and we learned cursive on wide-lined paper instead of typing on donated Macbooks.

Still, my brain must not have turned to total mush yet. After all, I did have the acumen to visit two very adorable kids in the suburbs the weekend after Halloween.

I ain’t no dummy.

You can keep your gummy bracelets and computer games. But nobody better lay a finger on my Butterfinger.

 

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