To Be a Better Man

I’ve been staring at my screen for 10 minutes, having so many things to say and not really sure how to start.  Things about thankfulness, and family, and cookies drops, but I keep coming up with nothing.  I’m also surrounded by a small amount of chaos – 4 dogs, 2 parents, 1 sister, 1 b-i-l and 1 nephew that needs the watchful eye of all 5 adults present.  Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, a day that for me, marks the beginning of a season of thanks, of giving and fullness of heart.  I believe we should act the way we tend to act around the holidays all the time, and by that I mean kinder, more thoughtful, more generous and more empathetic to others’ situationa.  But, I realize that’s not the way the world works (yet) and so that makes me cling to the season more than others – because I feel like I’m living in a world that could be, one that I wish existed for the entire year, not just for these short, fleeting weeks.  I like to think we are all our best versions of ourselves around the holidays.

With Thanksgiving being tomorrow, my usual cookie drop day, I am saving my next drop for next week when I am back in the city.  Surely you caught that with the slight chaos illustration – I definitely can’t fit us all in my apartment for dinner tomorrow 🙂  But I can tell you about my drop this week at Prato on Steinway.  I was previously at Samantha II Outlet, just up the street, and they sent me down to Prato.  I’ve got to say, I’m kinda hoping the next few weeks brings me some female clothing stores, because I don’t have much need for menswear lately!  I feel bad not being able to patronize these places, especially because they are small businesses and that’s what keeps Astoria going.


I walked into Prato, plate of cookies in hand, and garnered some looks from a few guys working there.  The man behind the counter was on the phone, so when he noticed me, I mouthed something like, “I’ll just be over here until you’re finished.”, all theatrical and big.  Which, as I looked around, probably looked hysterical to anyone that was watching.  A girl with a plate of cookies.  In a men’s store.  Big smile.  Big arm motions.  Small, tight space.  Yeah.

The gentleman behind the counter got off the phone and looked up at me.  I took that as my cue to approach and launch into the spiel.  That was the only eye contact I got.  Unfazed, I continued telling him about Single Girl Cookies, how it works, I’ll come back on Sunday, but still only got that first, brief eye contact.

Admittedly, I left there feeling a little dismissed.  The more I thought about it though, the more I figured he was being as dismissive as possible because he thought I wanted something and he was waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Like I was going to finish my bit and follow up with a “….And that’s a $20 donation!”  WRONG.  And yes, I know this is nothing new, and people always (or a lot of the time) think I want something other than just spreading my kindness and message around the world.  Ok, around the neighborhood, but go big or go home, right?

And that is where I am right now, at home.  And it feels so good to be here.  I’m nestled up the warmth of a coal stove with a doggie at my feet, Disney Jr. on the television as my nephew stays up waaay past his bedtime.  And continues to talk about pumpkin pie and get real close to the edge of the table where the pie is situated. (he is my nephew, after all)  He is also the kid that misheard me when I said “It’s prayer time” and looked at me wide eyed and hopeful and whispered, “Pie??”  He thought I said “Pie time”.  Family is one of the things I’m most thankful for this season.  The loss of my grandmother, the matriarch of our family, has changed our dynamic a bit, and I think we’re all still trying to figure out how the remaining pieces fit together.  We know they are supposed to go together, but the natural rhythm of our interaction has been disrupted.  We will figure it out eventually, and I’m thankful that even in the worst of things, we stick together.  Cause if things are crappy, wouldn’t you rather be surrounded by people that you love, that love you and most importantly, ‘get’ your brand of crazy?


Speaking of crazy, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the beginning part of my Sunday before picking up my plate at Prato.  I met with Astoria’s own proprietors of Astoria Coffee, Dennis Lee and Liz Wick to do a podcast with Dennis Holden of Dennis Has A Podcast at Snowdonia Pub to have a little brunch before a little podcasting action.  I brought cookies, of course, and they wee the perfect pairing to Astoria Coffee’s coffee, which Snowdonia now serves with brunch on the weekends!


After we finished brunch, we warmed up our podcast muscles and spent the next few hours talking about SGC’s mission, how you can be involved, and even tackled Dennis’s dating life!  We talked so much that Dennis (DHAP) divided them up into two episodes to make a little easier to navigate.  Check them out here and here!


As I found my way back to Prato, I was hoping to find a better reception, and was not disappointed.  It always happens after people have had my cookies.  There was a different guy behind the front counter this time and complimented me on how delicious the cookies were as he looked for my plate.  I asked him where I was headed next week, and the boss from on high (upstairs) phoned down to say “Esquire”.  Now, I hate saying no to people, as in “No, I can’t go there, I’ve been there before”, but I secretly am thrilled when a place gets recommended more than once.  I explained the why, and asked for another place, to which the answer was “Venzini”  Double whammy!  I am super secretly thrilled now, because those have been two of my favorite places in recent months and I’m glad to hear that they are equally as highly thought of in the business community.  I had to say no, no, I’ve been there too.  Their third suggestion was a go, and so next week I will be visiting Portabello on Steinway.

As tomorrow gets underway, don’t be so consumed with ‘getting there’, or with making sure everything is done, or perfect, or whatever – just enjoy the time with those you love.  As cheesy as it may sound to you, carve out 10 minutes to stop and really think on what you are thankful for.  But don’t stop there.  Don’t just say, “Yeah, wow, I’m thankful for that.  Ok, on to the next thing!”.  Whatever it is, don’t let tomorrow be the only day that you stop and give thanks.  Let’s face it, we’re all just lucky (and should be thankful) to be alive.  And I mean that in the most sincere way.  I’m thankful that I’m not homeless.  Were it not for my support system of family and friends, I very well could be by now!  I’m thankful for not being hungry, even if that means I’ve made myself sick with copious amounts of apple pie.


There are people that could only dream of that.  And (grandma alert) I’m thankful to all of you, for giving a shit about what I’m doing with Single Girl Cookies and all I strive to do and hope to do with it one day.  Your positive feedback and words of encouragement are what I need sometimes to remind myself why I started this whole crazy thing in the first place – to make a difference and to make my world a better place.  And as long as I’m doing that, I’m good.



Only the Lonely

I think fall has (dare I say it??) finally arrived here in Astoria.  I haven’t looked at any future forecasts for the upcoming days, but last night I slept with my window open in long pants and a t shirt and it was GLORIOUS.  That is enough of a sign for me.  The other, and most obvious sign for me, is that school is back in session.  Some parents are rejoicing with a resounding, “Yipee!”, while others are wiping away tears as their little ones go to pre-school or kindergarten or day care for the first time, thinking, “How did they get so big?  Where did the time go?”  I literally do the exact same thing every time I get a picture of my nephew.  He is the love of my life, my main man, my bff, and after spending 5 weeks with him upstate, coming back to the city has never been more difficult.  I love my family to pieces and going from one extreme (being surrounded by loved ones All. The. Time.) to the other (being alone 80% of the time) has not been fun.  I feel lonely and listless, as if without the love of others to urge me on, I have little direction and motivation.  Sure, I have my singing and auditions and jobs to fill in the gaps, but it’s not the same, is it?  No, it’s definitely not.  The void is still there.  I’m fine until I experience what I didn’t know I was missing, but then once it’s uncovered, what do you?

What I did was get back in the swing of Single Girl Cookies, Astoria style.  Last week I was at Immaculate Conception School for my first drop back in the neighborhood since being away.  Now, if you’ll recall back to my last drop before I left town for August, I was at Sal, Kris and Charlie’s having a not-so-pleasant encounter with Charlie as he became increasingly belligerent in an attempt to give me my next drop spot.  He had said go to Immaculate Conception Church because that is where his mother is a parishioner and for all the work they do with the homeless.


So  went last Thursday to see about sharing the cookie love.  If you’re unfamiliar with IC, it’s a giant church on the corner of 29th and Ditmars, really quite beautiful.  I locked up my bike and walked around the building to see if I could find an entrance to the church office.  I was raised Methodist and we have a rectory that holds the administrative offices for the church, so I was looking for something like that.  Couldn’t find a thing.  So, i went into the church (the only open door) to see if that would yield different results.

Nearly empty, save for a one or two people, the inside of the church is really something.  I always feel, when entering a catholic or orthodox church, this urge to be hushed and extra reverent.   This was no different.  It’s quite large inside, with electric votives dotting the length of the church for prayers, confessional booth off the right side, and long wooden benches that could easily fit 4 to 5 hundred people.  Not finding what I was looking for, I sat for a moment.  I now had the church all to myself and felt moved to pray.  Prayer is a personal thing.  How we pray, when we do it, if you even use that word.  But we all do it.  Maybe you call it meditation.  Maybe it’s just a quiet moment where you check in with yourself.  This was me needing a moment to ‘right’ myself again and move in a forward direction.  Here I had biked all the way up to Ditmars (fairly far from where I live), toting around a plate of cookies, going to this place because a man I don’t particularly care for sent me here, still feeling lost and lonely in my own life – I was in need of a time out.


I came back out, mentally weighing my options.  I started to walk down the block a ways and noticed an entrance to Immaculate Conception School.  It’s amazing how blind I can be to the rest of the world when I’m too inward focused.  I thought, Surely someone is in here that would appreciate cookies, and I was right.


I rang the bell and was let in and greeted at the top of the stairs by a woman that turned out to be the principal, Eileen Harnischfeger.  I started explaining why I was there and she stopped me and invited me into the office where I could explain once for everyone.  In the office, I met about 5 more women.  I started again, got half way through before someone said, “Hey, aren’t you the cookie lady?  I saw something about you on the news!”  🙂  She had recognized me from the spot Channel 7 ABC Eyewitness News did this summer.  She proceeded to fill the other ladies in on what Single Girl Cookies is all about.  I told them I was sent to IC Church  but not having found anyone there to deliver to, thought they surely would appreciate a sugary pick-me-up as school gets back in session.  I was met with a resounding “yes!” and as I left, I’d bet those cookies didn’t last 20 minutes.


My return for the plate has now sent me to another catholic school, St. Francis of Assisi, on 46th Street and 21st Ave, which I went to this week.  I had a somewhat similar experience there, where I could not find anyone to give my cookies to!  I went on Thursday around 3:20, which I figured was the perfect time to miss the chaos of children leaving school, but still catch the teachers.  It worked at the last school, I thought it would work here!  Wrong.  I saw cars in the lots, and even a kid or two in the playground. but couldn’t get in.  So, I tested my indomitable spirit and went up the next day!

I made sure I went up earlier in the day to make sure people would still be there.  This time when I rang the bell, I was let in and also greeted at the top of the stairs by Principal Anne Stefano the way Ms. Harnischfeger had greeted e at Immaculate Conception.  (I definitely like the safety aspect of that).  She seemed skeptical at first (as many of them are) but warmed up to my initiative as I went on.   I’ll be back up there on Monday or Tuesday for my plate and we’ll see where they send me next!  I wonder how many Catholic schools there are in the neighborhood….I may be making the rounds 🙂

After all is said and done, I still feel a little bit lost, a little bit lonely and a little bit out of sorts.  But not as much as before.  By looking outside yourself and helping others, you open yourself up the the world, to connection, and you start to refocus your energies.  Instead of “Man, this sucks, what about me?” it becomes, “What can I do for you?” and takes that negative feeding energy and creates something good.  And as I’m sure my friends can attest, talking about it helps.  If you’ve got someone to take to about the way you feel, you’re not right then that you’re not alone.  None of us are.

So as I continue down my path of self discover and sharing kindness, I know that day when things feel ‘right’ is drawing closer and closer.  I’m not there yet.  But I’ll get there.




Copyright 2013, Renee Heitmann

Small Town, USA

Ahhh.  That’s the sound of my happy tummy, filled with good ol’ hometown diner food, an everything omelette, hashbrowns and english muffin, to be exact.  And coffee too, you can’t go to a diner and not order coffee; that’s gotta be some sacred rule handed down through the ages.   Boy, oh boy, was it good!  I finally got around to trying out a place I have driven by for literally 31 years, and I’m glad I did – they are closing their doors for good on Monday.  And what a shame too, it’s a very cute, super homey place where you get your own silverware, condiments, coffee and pick up your food when it’s ready.  I chatted with the owner and cook, Bruce, about life, got acquainted with some older gentlemen that came in for lunch and generally had a great time taking in small town life.


I think I’m going to have to stop back in for lunch this weekend; I hear the weekends are quite an experience.

That diner and all that it holds epitomizes small town life to me, both as an outside observer and one that grew up in it.  You work hard, sometimes live hard (cause hell, you’ve earned it) and enjoy life.  You know your neighbors, you meet your friends at the bar for a beer (both of those words are to be said with very hard “R’s”) after work, you’re in bed early that night because you have another full day ahead the next day.  I find myself listening to country whenever I come home, actually when I hit the middle of Pennsylvania, because it just fits.  These songs paint the pictures of my real life Americans here in Penn Yan and the Finger Lakes.  And I love it.

I’m going to do a drop today, but before I do that, I have to tell you all about the one I did last week!  By popular vote, I went to the Keuka Comfort Care Home to deliver some fresh baked kindness to the volunteers that aid in the care of the residents there.  Keuka Comfort Care Home is exactly what the name implies – a place that offers free terminal end-of-life care in a comfortable, home-like setting.  It’s set looking over Keuka Lake with a beautiful, peaceful gazebo in the back, a grapevine sculpture off to the side, and quite homey inside.  It’s run entirely of volunteers (save for one person) and I believe the bulk of their expenses are taken care of through donations.


I stopped in last Wednesday to drop off a plate of cookies and explain my long winded but hopefully enlightening story.  I spoke with a volunteer named Mary. who seemed to really get and like my project.  As we were chatting, her husband came in.  Mary explained who i was, what Single Girl Cookies was all about and how it works.  He said, “Oh, you’re from New York City, huh?”  I explained, yes,  live there, but was born and raised in Penn Yan.  His next question is one that is so common and old school (ancient era kind of old school) but still makes me laugh inside because of the way the world works in a small town.  “What’s your last name?”


Think of this like your modern day Game of Thrones: by knowing my last name or house, if you will, they (generally everyone n PY) knows my family, our history, what we stand for, who I am, what I do, where I live, my relation to other people in town, and generally assume my character to be that of a well balanced young lady.  All of this works both ways – if your history has some patchiness, or even a blemish that stood out in the past, you’d better believe that’s what comes to the forefront of people’s minds as well.  That in particular has never been something I had to worry about.  Being raised the daughter of well known parents, I never had the opportunity to make questionable choices.  And believe me, I tried 🙂


I told this gentleman my last name and he immediately came forth with a barrage of information – “Oh, you’re Kyle’s sister?  Are you the one that got burned or the singer?  I know Kyle from the ambulance corps, I heard he’s doing well, just got a promotion.  i stopped in the other day to see him but he wasn’t there.” 🙂  See what I mean?  And I don’t mind it, really.  There are more pros to being known in a small town than cons.  People are hugely supportive and kind and giving, because they know you.  And you know them.  Although, you can never safely honk at someone in your car they way you might as a frustrated driver in the city – it could be your 1st grade teacher you’re honking at.

I had a similar experience when I went to pick up the plate on Friday.  I ended up chatting with another volunteer, Robin, whom I remember from my days in 4-H when I was younger.  And this morning when I went to get my teeth cleaned, my dental hygienist (whom I’ve known for years, I had a crush on her son, one of my friends, in high school) mentioned that she heard about my next drop because she is on the board of KCCH – I had no idea!

Now, think about this:  I find myself acting a bit kinder, being more thoughtful with my words and actions when I’m home because you never know who knows you, or that you’re probably always going to run into someone you know.  And nobody wants to be a jerk in their life, so a lot of us are nicer as too not be perceived as such.  And this is more pre-SGC, but I would find myself not being a great person when I was back in NYC.  I didn’t really know you, guy standing too close to me on the train.  Or you, impatient lady who brushed by me on the street, so I don’t have to be as nice to you.  I can get angry and shoot you nasty looks or call names after you.  But what if we all tried treating our worlds like a small town?  Where you smile at people you know, and those you don’t.  Take that extra moment to listen to someone’s troubles, or chit chat at the marketplace.  Try it for one week and see how you feel.  I guarantee it will brighten your day and lighten your mood.


This afternoon I’m headed to the Penn Yan Area Volunteer Ambulance Corps to brighten their day with some homemade deliciousness.  Keuka Comfort Care Home suggested that I head there because the PYAVAC freely transports many of their residents, giving of their time and resources.  Then I’ll be popping over to the park at 6:30 to sing in the Penn Yan Community Chorus Concert for the last concert in the Concert in the Park series for the summer.  So come on down, say hi, and get to know your neighbor!  Chances are, you already do 😉


Copyright 2013, Renee Heitmann