Promise Ring

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When I was a kid my family had basically no money. My parents both had paper routes at various intervals throughout my childhood in addition to my dad’s day job, and until I was in high school we lived in the same rented house with cracked walls and moldy bathrooms, renting out our spare room to relatives or friends from church. Sometimes when we went to our favorite salad buffet restaurant my parents would send my brother and me ahead to find seats right before they reached the register. Now I know they did it so they wouldn’t have to pay for us.

I remember asking once when I was very young, “Mom? When are things not going to be ‘tight’ anymore?” I had started to notice that money was always “tight” until the end of the week, “tight” until the end of the month, “tight” until after Christmas, and my innocent mind wondered when the low hum of tension around our household would let up once and for all. She grimaced and then laughed. “I don’t know, sweetheart. I don’t know…”

We were deeply entrenched in a church community and our friends helped out when they could– buying school uniforms for me when I transitioned out of homeschooling in fifth grade, presenting my little brother with a special bike he could ride with his handicapped feet, babysitting so my parents could have a date night. We probably couldn’t have survived without the help of relatives and friends who stepped in to offer their time and finances. But despite the wealth of support we received, there’s one gift I remember most.

I was in middle school when I heard my parents talking in the kitchen about an envelope. Someone had left a small, bumpy package for us in the church foyer, and when my mom finally opened it at our kitchen table something glimmered inside. It was a ring. Soft rubies sprinkled with two tiny diamonds on a gold band. There was an anonymous note inside explaining that our benefactor knew we had been having a difficult time and wanted us to have the bauble. We could pawn it, sell it, keep it, whatever we wanted– they, whoever they were, just wanted us to have it.

My parents had the ring appraised that week and pondered what to do with it. There were bills to pay, birthdays coming up, maybe we could get cable again? The ring wasn’t worth enough to solve all our problems, but it could certainly take a few things off our budgetary to-do list.

Then one night a few weeks later, I was ironing in the garage when my mom stepped out onto the cool concrete and said she wanted to talk. Over the ironing board she told me that she and my dad had decided they wanted me to have the ring. She placed the sparkling trinket in my chubby sixth grade hand and said,

“We want you to have this ring because we want you to remember that no matter what happens, God will always, always provide for you.”

I’ve been wearing the ring a lot lately, drawn not only to its rich pink floral sparkle, but in some subconscious way the promise it carries. Money has been scarce, this time of my life often feels hopeless and unending, and sometimes I can’t imagine ever being able to unpack my suitcase for good… But when I see the glimmer on my hand today, 15 years after it was left in an envelope to help my family pay bills, something in me remembers that provision is all around, and a gorgeous surprise could be just a minute away. Anything could happen. Diamonds could happen! When I look at my ring I see that God not only takes care of me, he takes care of me beautifully.

Provision became a promise. And I haven’t forgotten.

The Crasher Code

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Hello, my name is Jessica and I am a full-time couch crasher.

After losing my job last year and subsequently moving out of my apartment, I began staying on friends’ couches for what I thought (and hoped) would only be a few weeks until I found a new job. Weeks turned into months, months turned into a year, and so far I’ve lived the last 13 and a half months of my life in other people’s homes.

I’ve slept on couches, sofabeds, air beds, futons, in guest rooms and master bedrooms while housesitting. I’ve stayed in grimy Brooklyn apartments. I’ve stayed in multi-million dollar SoHo lofts. I’ve had “one-night specials” on a futon in Harlem. I’ve settled for a month (by myself) (!!!) in a gorgeous Park Slope coop. But no matter where I am, no matter how dingy the sheets or expensive the shower curtain, there is a standard I live by that stays the same. I call it the Crasher Code.

The Crasher Code exists because, no matter how funky, the home I am staying in has been paid for by someone else, someone with a job, and they have graciously offered it to my broke/ unconnected/ stranded ass. I can’t pay them, but still they’re willing to see my six-foot frame sprawled across their pullout as they tiptoe out to work in the morning. Bless them.

So in addition to the standard houseguest protocol (make your bed in the morning, wash your dishes, don’t eat their food unless they offer it [I am not good at this one]), and to make up for the fact that I can’t offer any monetary compensation for the white-blonde “unicorn hairs” they’ll inevitably find scattered around their apartment after I leave, this code dictates a few small things I can do to soften ye olde houseguest blow. Maybe it’ll help you the next time you find yourself bedding down in someone else’s living room.

1)   Fill the Brita pitcher.
This is New York. Every human between 18 and 60 has a Brita pitcher in their fridge. And every single one of those people hates refilling it. Each time you pour a glass, fill that baby to the top. They might not notice, but they won’t ever notice that you emptied it. And really, that’s the goal.

2)   Clean the drain after you shower.
Because of my aforementioned “unicorn hairs”, anytime I take a shower there’s a little golden nest hugging the drain. Do I want my hosts to have to pull my damp, soapy hair from the pit of their bathtub next time they’re cleaning, conjuring the image of me slack-jawed and drooling on their CB2 throw pillow? No I do not. So I fish it out. And if they left hair in there (hey, it’s their shower), dig in and get it out too. Yeah it’s gross, but just imagine the park bench you’d otherwise be sleeping on. And then wash your hands.

3)   Replenish those paper goods.
Just because you can’t pay them doesn’t mean you can’t help out with a few little things. Notice they’re running low on TP? Buy a pack. Hear one roommate ask another to get a roll of paper towels? Pick some up that afternoon. It’s a cheap, easy way to help out. And it means you don’t have to use their organic single-ply toilet paper anymore. HOLLA.

4)   Keep your suitcase closed.
This is a subtle one, but I’ve found it makes a big difference. If you’re staying in the living room, keep all your belongings within the bounds of your suitcase and keep that baby closed. Nobody wants to see your underwear strewn across your exploding toiletry bag and your crumpled sweatpants tumbling from the gaping mouth of your luggage when they settle down to watch Breaking Bad. You don’t have to keep it zipped, but make sure everything’s inside and the lid is down.

5)   Clean sheets, washed towels, can’t lose.
Leaving is emotional*, but if you have enough time in the morning, wash your sheets, pillowcase, and towels. This is especially important if you were sleeping in their bed while they’re away (be sure to re-make the bed). They won’t expect it, and it’ll be one less thing they have to take care of in your wake. Bonus points for throwing in their towels too. No time? Strip your bed and leave everything that needs to be laundered in a tidy stack somewhere visible but out of the way. They can throw it in with their next load.

Pro Tip:
A little thank-you note with a bunch of flowers goes a long way and puts a sweet “button” on the end of your stay, especially if they’re out when you leave. I keep an envelope of pretty notecards in my suitcase for scribbling heartfelt thanks before I take off. They’re always a hit, and if you include flowers it’s nice feeling like you left some beauty in your wake.

And there you have it. The Crasher Code. I’ve been “on the road” for a long time now, and no matter where I am, no matter how brief or long, these things stay the same. They keep me sane, and (hopefully) keep me from wearing my gracious hosts too thin.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a replacement box of cereal to buy.

*”Moving days” are the worst. There’s the uncertainty of where you’re going next, the lugging of all your worldly belongings up and down multiple flights of concrete stairs, through crowded trains, across subway grates… Your arm hurts. You’re sweating. This is when you’re most likely to cry. Even if you’re leaving a gross place and feeling gleeful and free from the dungeon, moving day just blows.

Jump(suit)

I bought a jumpsuit last week. I don’t know what came over me, but I’m just letting it happen.

It’s made of silky crepe, fits like a dream, and makes me feel like the type of person who hosts large, relaxed dinner parties at her sprawling Hamptons home. It also makes me feel like I’m wearing pajamas in public which is the only reason I wear anything, really. The only downside is its, uh, restroom functionality. (Pro-tip: Pee pre-jumpsuit. It’s the only way.)

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some canapés to prepare!

The Peach

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Swish, swish, swish, swish…

My blue checkered button-down was cinched at my waist, and I could feel the soft knit of my orange skirt brushing around my knees as I sauntered across Union Square in the fading, golden and glowy sun, searching for dinner. I tossed my hair, giving my neck a breezy reprieve from its tousled, wavy platinum blanket, feeling the balmy spring air whispering against my collar… and suddenly caught eyes with him.

He seemed about my age and was looking directly at me and smiling, pulling the earbuds out of his ears while coasting quickly through my field of vision. I was startled, but smiled back. And then he was gone. I hadn’t broken my stride, but he had broken my concentration, so I fixed my gaze back on the long black shadow leading me across the square. Then I heard it. The whir of small rubber wheels against pavement, and a low voice from back right. He was beside me now. On a skateboard, which explained his previous sudden departure from view.

“Has anyone ever told you…”

Oh, here we go. Men in public like to compare me to famous women a lot. Marilyn? That one isn’t so bad. Too easy, but not bad. Anna Nicole? I had been getting that one a lot lately. Bad. I braced myself for what this skater boy with inch-thick ear gauges would say to me.

“Has anyone ever told you that you look like a Georgia peach?”

A big, sweet, easy grin had spread itself across his face as he glided away from me, and I felt something like warm honey spill over my insides. A Georgia peach? No one had ever compared me to a Georgia peach. It felt soft, and sweet, and tender and romantic. Somehow exactly how I always wanted to be, but never realized. No one had ever compared me to a Georgia peach…

“You’re the first!” I laughed, “But I’ll take it!”

I was so pleased with myself for coming up with anything at all to say, let alone fairly coherent and witty, but now looking back I wish I had stopped in my place and dragged him down off his skateboard for a kiss on the cheek. Or invited him to dinner. Or done something more romantic than acting fairly glib about the whole thing.

Because I couldn’t stop smiling for the next three blocks.

Mother’s Day

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Today I am thankful for my mom. She who taught me to be gracious and graceful under pressure, noble, think freely and for myself, and the importance and value of true wisdom. She remains the wisest, strongest, kindest woman I’ve ever known. Truly beautiful.

But today I am also thankful for the garden of mothers that have sprung up in her absence. I am thankful for them making a place for me at their table, for their soft hands and encouraging words and answering of “mommy questions”. They have been the hands and feet of my mother’s heart, and I would not be the woman I am today without them.

So today I honor my mom. I miss her and so badly wish she were here to cuddle and kiss. But I am also thankful for all that has grown in the void she left. I was blessed by her life, and have been blessed in her death. I love you, Momma.

Baseball

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If I’m honest, I have never liked baseball. I grew up in a household obsessed with it: my brother could correctly identify every player on the A’s according to jersey number by the time he was two, and my mom would listen to games on the radio in the car, out in the garden, in the kitchen (she purchased a special radio exactly for this purpose)… When we had cable, we watched games on TV.

My dad enjoyed it, I suppose, and certainly went along willingly with our imposed household A’s fan-dom, but Mom was the ringleader, and my brother her protégé. Occasionally Mom would drag me along for a game and I’d be forced to sit in the hot California sun eating Baked Lays chips on the bleachers, bored out of my mind. I didn’t get it. Didn’t like it. And certainly wasn’t going to let on that despite all my protestations I was starting to understand the rules, because I Still. Didn’t. Care. Thankfully she caught on that bringing me along was a bad idea, so the live games petered out.

So you can understand what a total triumph of the human experience it is that I have not only gone to a total of THREE baseball games since living in New York, but I have gone WILLINGLY and OF MY OWN IMPETUS. Truly a testament to… I don’t know, something. Tonight was one such triumph.

With spring in the air, I (now, if you somehow learn how to time travel and go back to tell pre-adolescent Jessica this, she will be just SHOCKED) have been itching to go to a Yankees game. While researching, I discovered that the A’s were in town for a few days, so I knew it was fate. I found two willing accomplices and we trekked to the Bronx to watch the boys do their thing. Now, obviously by “watch” I mean talk, notice the A’s hit a homerun on the opening pitch, talk, eat garlic fries, talk, dance, sing “God Bless America”, talk… But I’m telling you: between the garlic fries and all this fun stuff, I think I could really get into baseball.

Oh, and the A’s won! Somewhere, my mother is very, very happy about this.

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The Cookie from Culture

“I look out the window and I see the lights and the skyline and the people on the street rushing around looking for action, love, and the world’s greatest chocolate chip cookie, and my heart does a little dance.” (Nora Ephron)

My very first Levain cookie on my very first trip to New York.
June 2010

I’m passionate about good chocolate chip cookies. Thankfully I live in a city where all different kinds of people are trying all different ways to make the best, and I get to act as one-woman tasting committee. Levain was, is, and always will be my favorite cookie in New York, but I’m always looking for a handsome runner-up. Jacques Torres has held that spot for many months until a recent trip to midtown changed my mind…

May I introduce, the Culture Cookie. Packed with soft dark chocolate chips (no walnuts), this impressive confection is the closest counterpart to Levain I’ve come across. With a crisper, smoother exterior than Levain’s, it’s seemingly baked a few minutes longer, giving it a darker, more formidable outer shell, which, when broken, yields a tender, gently oozing core. The whole thing is just a little more “done”.

Its size is similar to Levain’s as well– I’d wager roughly 3/4 the size and girth, which is appropriate considering its $3 price point (to Levain’s $4). My favorite feature of this satisfying sweet, however, is also the most subtle. After taking your first bite and tasting the deep, buttery brown crust, the dark chocolate, and the sweet, tender interior, a barely perceptible salty high note grazes the center of your tongue, setting the whole thing to hum. All in all, a real treat.

Yesterday I snacked on one while sitting on a rocking chair in Bryant Park, and could not have imagined a more perfect companion. My favorite cookie south of 42nd St.

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*The last three paragraphs of this blog were originally written for my dear friend Allison, who should definitely come visit again soon so we can eat cookies.

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Rockaway Beach

Before Sandy, the boardwalk on the right was the boardwalk on the left. Now it lays at an angle, curving jagged and broken into its mate. This bench, the lone remaining structure in a demolished landscape, is bolted to the sun-bleached and ocean-worn wood. There is a blue tag affixed to its left shoulder, surely marking it for future removal, preservation and honor. “This bench survived Hurricane Sandy.” But until then she sits at her post. 

Built for facing in, for holding tourists and toddlers with ice cream cones, now she faces out. Once average, now artifact, she sits looking into the currents that once consumed her, the ceaseless thunder of crashing waves filling the salty air. Tide ebbs in and out, light breaks and fades, and still she sits where she was built, gazing out into the wet gray blue.