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Assorted Healthish Things

I am recovering from Justacold. Or maybe it is just January, I don’t know. 

Covid Exhaustion

I woke up last Wednesday with a sore throat and sniffles, and immediately assumed it was Covid. Especially when I learned that Carla and I had been in a group setting with a person who had since been diagnosed with Covid. I was sure of it. And yet, two rapid tests said no, not Covid. My husband and I looked at each other. Do we TRUST the rapid tests? What if they were wrong and I DID have Covid, and I was now unnecessarily exposing my husband and kid to Covid? Ugh.

The thing is, there seems (STILL) to be no reliable consensus on anything. Do I need to isolate or quarantine? What, pray tell, is the ever-loving difference between isolation and quarantine? Is it okay if I drive my kid to school, while masked? Does being in a room with someone who later tested positive for Covid an “exposure” if we are all vaccinated and masked? Is being masked in my house enough to protect my family, or do I need to hole up in the guest room? I read various articles to try to address these questions. I consulted the CDC website. I still cannot tell you what the right thing to do is.

Fortunately! We have a small supply of rapid tests! I will just take a rapid test and then I will know and can move on with my life! 

Oh wait. There’s no consensus there, either.

I read articles that said Covid rapid tests are very sensitive and great in terms of giving you peace of mind. I read articles that said rapid tests aren’t as good at detecting the omicron variant. I read articles saying that rapid tests aren’t great at detecting the virus early on. I read articles that said you can trust a positive result but you need to confirm a negative rapid test with a PCR. I read articles that said if you get a negative while you have symptoms, you’re probably negative. I read articles that said the more rapid-test negatives you get, the less likely it is you have Covid. This all mainly pointed to me not having Covid… But none of it was DEFINITIVE enough for me. 

So I scheduled a PCR test (I was very lucky to find one at a nearby CVS the next day) and stopped wasting our small supply of rapid tests. 

To make a very long and boring story shorter but still boring: my Covid test came back negative two days later. Even though I felt, the whole time, fairly certain I did not have Covid, I wore a mask at home and isolated for the four days between when I first experienced symptoms and when I got the results. Here is how I defined isolating: I stayed in my office or the guest room, with the doors closed, as often as possible. (It was surprisingly difficult to remember to CLOSE THE DOORS when I left one of those spaces, which seems like kind of a critical step in keeping the germs where they needed to be. I got better at it, though.) I ate meals in my office, I slept in the guest room. When I was walking to and from the bathroom/kitchen, I wore a mask. (I did drive my kid to and from school, and we both wore a mask in the car.) It was lonely but I got a lot of reading and writing done. 

Obviously, I am very glad I don’t have Covid. But I also feel really stupid. That’s the rub, right? You do the prudent, cautious thing justincase and then you feel silly when it turns out you didn’t have be prudent or cautious. I wasted an entire box of rapid tests! I missed two nights of putting my kid to sleep for no reason! I mussed up the guest room sheets for no reason! Of course, if my result had been positive, I would be feeling entirely differently. I would be feeling wise and prescient. My husband would be congratulating me on my carefulness and foresight. It’s a lose lose situation. You either feel stupid or you have Covid. 

Justacold

Also, I still feel very yucky. My throat is still scratchy. My head aches. I am not super hungry (MAJOR RED FLAG FOR ME). Maybe I should have gotten the flu test add-on CVS asked if I wanted when I got my PCR. (It’s not flu either, hypochondriac.)

Office Mishaps

Prior to getting justacold, I went for my annual gynecological exam. This year, I saw a new doctor. The office was certainly nicer than the previous office, and the staff was MUCH friendlier. Plus, the waiting room was very roomy and the seats were set well apart from one another.

(The main reason I sought out a new doctor was that last year, I waited for an hour in my gynecologist’s waiting room, during which time NO staff member updated us with the doctor’s status, and the waiting room filled up with people, many of whom were coughing. I think you will understand that my blood pressure shot up over the course of my wait – indeed, it was higher than normal when the nurse measured it – but she gave me a LECTURE about my blood pressure rather than listening to my explanation that I was stressed about being crammed into a tiny space with a dozen strangers during a pandemic. At every appointment since, my blood pressure has been JUST FINE thank you very much. I am not over it, it seems.) 

The nurse called my name and led me over to the scale (UGH) and I mentioned to her that I’d never met the doctor before. And she said, “Uh oh, I don’t have you on my schedule as a new patient.” Right away, that made me nervous. Do you know this? Doctors allot different amounts of time based on the patient’s needs, and one of the scheduling considerations is new patient vs. established patient. Just like a hairdresser needs more time if they are going to color your hair rather than give you a trim, a doctor needs more time with a new patient than with someone they know. So now I was meeting a new doctor, but already putting her behind schedule because my appointment had been mis-scheduled for X minutes instead of Xx2 minutes.

Then we went into the exam room and the nurse took my blood pressure (it was PERFECT) and asked me a few questions, and then gave me instructions about changing into the gown. (Instructions which I always, always forget. Is it supposed to be open in the front, or the back???) But then she said, “Wait, it’s so cold in here… and the doctor is in with another patient… don’t change yet. I’ll poke my head in and let you know when to change.” 

I then sat in the exam room for thirty minutes, and with every minute that ticked by, I thought, “Oh no, the nurse has forgotten about me. And the doctor is going to come in, and I will be in my street clothes, and she will be frustrated because she will have to leave while I change, and she already doesn’t have enough time allotted for my visit as it is.” But I didn’t want to change into the gown because I was afraid the instant I removed my shirt, the nurse or the doctor would open the door. And the nurse would think, “Why is she changing when I told her to wait?” and the doctor would think, “Why isn’t she changed already?” And then five minutes would pass, and I would think, “WHY didn’t I change? I had enough time!” Finally, I told myself, “Just DO it.” And I grabbed the gown (fabric rather than paper, which I love!) and started pulling my arm out of my shirt sleeve, and at that exact moment the doctor knocked on the door and came in. 

I immediately threw the nurse under the bus. I’m so sorry to her, she was lovely. But the doctor waved it off as I tried to stuff my arm back into my sleeve. “I like to chat with my patients first,” she said. 

Outside of that humiliation, the appointment was fine. This doctor gives the impression of having a lot more time than she probably does. My old doctor, while still being kind and unhurried, was more of an in, out, goodbye kind of a person. 

How Do I Get Medical Schools to Make This a Mandatory Part of Training?

One thing this doctor did that I really, really liked was after the exam, she said, “What questions do you have for me?”

And then she listened to my question, answered, and then asked the same thing again. She did this three times, and I thought it was such an excellent approach. It made me feel like I should have questions, and gave me space to ask them. Often in the past, I have written a list of the topics I wanted to bring up, and then felt too time-pressured to raise them. Even on the occasions when I was able to gather the courage to ask, I would never get to my whole list because I felt like the doctor was edging toward the door while addressing the first issue. She wasn’t, but she never asked if I had more questions, so it felt more like she was humoring me than actually interested in/available to address what I wanted to know. Anyway, this new physician not only expected me to have questions, she expected me to have multiple questions, and she remained seated while listening to me ask them. It was great. All doctors should do that. 

Suggestion Box

All doctors should also have cloth gowns (in reality, I know cloth gowns and their care are not practical or economical for many practices). They are SO MUCH better than the stupid paper ones. My previous doctor would give you a paper vest and a paper sheet, and I always felt so awful and exposed. The cloth gown actually covers my body.

This reminds me of a Twitter thread? Reddit thread? Buzzfeed article? that I read when surely I should have been doing anything else. Some doctor was opening up a new practice and asked for people’s ideas about what a new pelvic health practice should have/do. (Oh, it was this thread.) I think using cloth gowns was on the list, as were a lot of awesome things like not assuming all patients are female, and ensuring that patient diversity is represented in photos/artwork/literature, and offering a nonverbal way to signal that the patient is not safe with whomever accompanied them to the appointment.

Some suggested cool quality-improvement ideas, like installing a light switch the patient could flip when they are changed. Or putting warmers over the stirrups (my previous gynecologist had socks on her exam table stirrups). Or providing a restroom connected to the exam room for easy changing/washing up. I mean, if a practice is truly building from the ground up and can cover the costs of these things, sign me up!

Someone suggested making the atmosphere spa-like. Which made me laugh and laugh. No matter how spa-like my gyno’s office is, even if they switch to spa-style robes (like another commenter said were available at her gyno), I am never going to enjoy going there. 

Peering Through the Doors as They Close

While I was waiting, in between panicking about whether I should undress or not, I kept reading and rereading the one framed piece of “art” on the wall. I am calling it “art” because it had a photo, I think, of a mother and a baby, and the text was in a fancy script, arranged in short lines like a poem. But really it was information about how skin-to-skin contact is important, and how new mothers should make it clear to their OBs and everyone at the hospital that they want to have at least an hour of skin-to-skin contact with the baby immediately after birth!

This information is familiar to me. I planned to do skin-to-skin and immediate breastfeeding when my baby was born. But when Carla arrived, I only got to hold her very briefly before she was whisked off to the NICU. So this piece of art briefly made me feel very sad about that, that I didn’t get the birth experience that I wanted. I feel a lot less sad about it now, which is nice; pain does fade over time. And then I wondered very briefly what it would be like, if I had another baby. If we would get the birth I wanted.  Oh well. It’s not going to happen. 

The new doctor asked me if I had any children, and if I was planning on any more. And I said, “No, I don’t think so.” And she said, “You don’t think so? Well, if you think you might, you need to get cracking!”

Sure, sometimes – usually when I have fallen into a rabbit hole of Baby Carla videos, or when I find out someone is pregnant, or when I see someone pushing a stroller around the neighborhood – I’ll get a little twinge. Once the endless nausea finally abated, I enjoyed being pregnant. From this distance, the baby months seem precious and easy. And I would like to have a toddler again — they are so cute. (Do you see how my brain neatly skips past all the difficult, sleepless, maddening parts?) Did we make a mistake, just having one? But most of the time – I’d say 99% of the time – I feel like our little family is complete. And I guess with every day that passes, the more irreversible that fact becomes. It feels right, the three of us. But as with almost any situation where walking through one door means that you aren’t able to go through others, I am a little wistful about it. 

Like a Peach or an Apricot or a Kiwi (?)

As long as we are talking about health topics, I will mention that I have two ENORMOUS bruises on my leg. One of them is the same circumference as a Noxzema face cream jar. I measured it in the bathroom and my measuring devices were limited. It’s a GIANT BRUISE, is what I’m saying. Of course, I have no idea how or when or why I obtained this bruise. Based solely on YA/middle grade fiction from childhood, I am convinced it is leukemia. (The websites I consulted were much less apt to jump to this conclusion, and more likely to blame it on my advanced age and thinning skin.) 

I feel pretty confident in suspecting that you and most people reading this post would also jump to a conclusion that would fall into the Imminent Death category. But what I want to know is, are there people who DON’T do that? They must exist, right? Are they all Capricorns? 

I think maybe my husband might be this type of person? He strikes me as a pretty practical fellow. Despite knowing WAY MORE about the many and varying paths to Imminent Death. But then again, maybe he is just good at putting on a Brave Face when confronted with the alarming proximity of his demise. I don’t know. 

(“You just bruise easily,” he says to me, matter-of-fact and exasperated in equal measures. “You always have bruises.”) 

If I have mistakenly assigned YOU my own death-focused personality trait, and you are, in fact, a person who sees a bruise and thinks, “Oh a bruise” or gets a headache and thinks “Oh, let me have some Tylenol” instead of CANCER ANEURYSM SURELY MY DAYS ARE NOW ENDING, please tell me all about yourself and what it’s like to be you. 

We got about a foot of snow overnight, maybe a little more, maybe a little less, I didn’t take a ruler outside with me because that would be weird. For me. No disrespect to your ruler. I love snow, so I don’t mind too terribly much. Carla – off from school today AND tomorrow – LOVES the snow, so she has made snow angels, tried to make snowballs (the snow is currently too dry for packing), helped our neighbor shovel her driveway, and eaten a large bowl of snow. She went sledding with friends. She has enjoyed cocoa with a jumbo marshmallow in it.

Before all the snow fun, Carla and I ventured out to the grocery store this morning, and I am not exaggerating when I say that we were the ONLY CUSTOMERS in the building when we arrived. Toward the end of our visit, there were maybe 5 to 10 more customers going up and down the aisles as well, but for awhile it was just us. Very eerie. 

The produce section has been making me feel a little watchful lately. First, the store has moved some things around and re-arranged some of the display cases… which I am SURE is because they do this periodically and NOT to disguise the fact that there is less produce than before. 

It seems like the outages are rolling though. A few weeks ago: NO POTATOES or red onions. Then last week and this week, both of those things are back in stock, but Spanish onions were missing from the shelves. Today, there were no white onions, no Spanish onions, and no sweet onions – at least, not in the normal/large size. There were a handful of red onions, and plenty of the smallish yellow onions in a bag, so I bought a bag of the smallish onions. The onions were all arranged so that it looked like only the sweet onions were out of stock. But NO. There is usually a big selection of THREE ADDITIONAL ONION VARIETIES in that section that are simply missing. 

There were very few bananas. 

There were no blueberries. 

Jalapenos were abundant today, as were bell peppers of most colors. Wait a second – I wasn’t looking for green bell peppers today, but now I realize that there weren’t ANY green bell peppers. 

The lettuce area was a little thin, both in the bagged/boxed lettuce area and the heads-of-fresh lettuce area. But not barren. There was still lettuce if you needed lettuce. 

I didn’t notice any major issues throughout the rest of the store. Everything we buy seemed to be either well-stocked, or not completely empty. Like… the milk we buy had two containers in the 2%, and more containers of whole milk and skim milk. The specific type of pretzels my husband eats was out of stock, but other types of pretzels were abundant… and had been arranged so as to fill in the gap that my husband’s preferred pretzels would have occupied. 

Last week, the waffles/pancakes freezer had pretty much zero waffles or pancakes; I am accustomed to the lack of pancakes, but not the lack of waffles. There were no French toast sticks, either. Instead, the entire freezer case was FILLED with hashbrowns and breakfast potatoes. Today, waffles were back, French toast (but not French toast sticks) was back, and one variety of pancakes was available. And there were very few hashbrowns. 

The chicken nugget/chicken tender area was not full by any means, but there were several bags of each. 

I totally forgot to look at pasta today. Last week, the egg noodles aisle was almost completely wiped out. (I changed one of our meals to chicken paprikas, which requires egg noodles.) I had to buy a brand of noodles that I am unfamiliar with (and won’t be buying again). 

The beans/taco shells/Asian/Mexican food aisle seemed just fine; last week, the soft taco shell section had been very depleted. 

Lunchables were available. We already have Hormel pepperoni at home, so I didn’t even look to see if it was in stock. 

Last week, I also went into my local Trader Joe’s. (They have fresh English peas that my kid loves.) I was prepared to be shocked by the experience; I’d been reading that Trader Joe’ses all over the country have been having trouble keeping things in stock. I expected empty shelves and harried workers.

It looked… the same. Produce was abundant. I had no trouble finding the things I wanted. I didn’t see a single empty shelf. 

When I checked out, I asked the two cheery, friendly people who were checking me out about it. “I heard that Trader Joe’s is having so many supply chain issues,” I said. “But this one seems like everything is fine!”

The smiles dropped from both their faces. They said very grimly that it has been ROUGH. That they are out of a lot of things, but have been rearranging things so it doesn’t look like it. They said that one day, a truck just never showed up, and they had nothing… and then the next day, two trucks showed up at once and they were jam-packed with things. One of the checkers said that weird things are delaying the supply chain. She mentioned that there was a problem sourcing glass jars for a while. And then sometimes there will be a certain lid that they can’t get, which means the product can’t be packaged or shipped or put on the shelves. The change in their demeanor was enough to demonstrate how tough this must be. 

It is all making me feel a little tiny bit edgy. Like… it’s clear there are issues. But they don’t seem to be widespread, and they don’t seem to last too long, and – as Swistle pointed out – there is still PLENTY of food. So much food. No one is going hungry. So while remain very interested in the grocery store stuff, I am not quite to the point of adding an extra XYZ item to my cart every time I’m in the store.

On to the actual meals. 

We only made two of the meals I planned for last week, so I am (rather reluctantly) putting the ones we didn’t eat back on the list. 

Dinners for the Week of January 17-January 23

  • Air Fryer Parmesan Chicken with Broccoli and Hasselback Sweet Potatoes: I didn’t make this last week because there were ZERO sweet potatoes at the grocery store. Today, there were plenty, so I snagged a couple. 
  • Chicken Tortilla SoupThis is my favorite soup, but it requires a LOT of work and I am not sure I’m up to it. So. We’ll see. All the ingredients (except the cilantro) will keep if I decide not to make this.
  • Oven Roasted Chicken Shawarma: I have some green beans leftover from last week that we can eat with this. This is honestly the only meal on the list that sounds remotely appetizing.
  • Chickpea Bowls: I like to add green and red bell peppers to these bowls, but I feel like red peppers start to taste odd in the winter. Like… they develop the bell pepper equivalent of B.O. I don’t know what it is, or why it affects only the red ones, but it makes me a little reluctant to cook with them. The only reason I even have this on the list is because I have to find a way to use up the red peppers!

Tell me all your meal plans for this week, and what’s going on with your grocery situation. 

I have done it! I have done the thing I always think I should do, and never do, which is to GET UP when I awaken in the middle of the night and do something more useful than lying awake, counting how many hours of sleep I could get if I fell asleep right then.

Lest you think I am no longer susceptible to the patterns of the past: I woke up at 3:00 a.m., almost on the dot, and then lay in bed/read soothing blog posts until 4:00, and then lay in bed in the dark, telling myself I should just GET UP ALREADY and start the day until 4:37. That’s when I finally Did The Thing and put on my glasses and came downstairs. I deserve a Sleep Award. Although, now that I think of it, a Sleep Award seems more appropriate for sleeping restfully through an entire eight-plus hours, so perhaps I’ll have to relinquish my claim.

In lieu of an award, I am drinking tea, as I do when I wake up. My stomach is a little uncomfortable with this idea – it thinks it is Sleeping Time, rather than Accepting Sustenance Time. It is also a little concerned about what time we will want lunch. 

If only the grocery store were open now, and I could get that over with! Oh well. I will blog about random nothings instead! 

  • Carla has been having extra trouble getting to sleep lately. Firstly, I feel just terrible that she has apparently inherited my fraught relationship with sleep. She has had trouble falling asleep her entire eight-and-a-half years, and that doesn’t bode well for the remainder of her life, which I hope is very long. At least, I suppose, she seems to be able to maintain sleep once she gets there. While I occasionally have trouble getting to sleep, my main issue is staying asleep.
  • Well, I suppose my brain is smoothing over the many, many times that Carla has come into my room at 3:00 or 4:00, or that I have awakened to learn that she had been awake for hours already. BUT, it seems less frequent than her troubles drifting off. The power of posting about something of the internet will immediately ensure that she wakes up at 3:00 every morning for the next month.
  • The only thing that comes close to the frustration of not being able to fall asleep is the frustration of one’s CHILD not being able to fall asleep. Last night, my husband and I were watching the first episode of Sex Education and I kept hearing suspicious thumps coming from upstairs. It was quite windy outside, and my husband felt that the thumps might be exterior noises, while I was quite sure they were human. And then we had one of those mildly irritating conversations I imagine happen frequently in any longterm partnership, where he said, “Do you want to go check on her?” and I said “yes,” because I’d HEARD “Do you want ME to go check on her?” And then he had to correct my misperception and I had to glare at him briefly before I went to investigate the source of the thumps. 
  • Thump source: Carla. Instead of reading quietly or thinking about sheep or doing deep breathing – all of which we have discussed AT LENGTH in regards to their soporific powers – she felt the best way to induce sleep was to get out of bed and gather some toys and play with them, in the bed. On the bed. Preposition the bed. Exasperation! Incredulity! How did she think this was a good way to get to sleep? And yet she seemed very sincere that she thought it would help. Trying to turn down the scold volume on my lecture, I removed the toys and reminded her of all the other options that we have discussed for helping lull our brains to sleep. Count backwards from 100. Count backwards by 5s from 1000. Imagine yourself, in great detail, walking along the route to somewhere you love. List 50 things you are grateful for. Go through the alphabet and name an animal beginning with each letter. Do some deep breathing. Read a book. Recite a poem over and over in your head. When I went back to check on her about 20 minutes later, she was fast asleep. Sometimes it seems like the BEST way to induce sleep is to scold her about it. Which seems… not right. 
  • Carla mentioned to me that she cannot see pictures in her head, so the “walking along the route to somewhere you love” isn’t a viable option for her. I love that she’s so aware of what it’s like inside her head. I don’t see pictures in my head either, but I guess my internal travel writer is so descriptive that I can still make that option work. Or I can drum up a feeling of a place that is almost as vivid as an image. 
  • Also, it is unfair of me to expect that she remember these techniques when I am terrible at remembering them myself! Only when I am DESPERATE for sleep do I recall most of these strategies. The one that I use most often – mentally reciting Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” until I fall asleep – sometimes doesn’t even occur to me in the middle of a 3:00 am wakeup. Instead, I turn to my phone, which almost certainly makes it HARDER for me to sleep. 
  • There was supposed to be a secondly somewhere up there. I suppose you have forgotten about it as well. But on the off chance you were waiting on tenterhooks – “You did the ‘firstly,’ what’s the ‘secondly’? WHAT’S THE SECONDLY?” – I cannot remember. 
  • I have finished my first book of poetry for the year. One of my 2022 aspirations is to read a poem every morning, and I have been keeping up with that so far. However, I may not have chosen the best book to start out the year. I selected a book at random and came up with The Seven Ages by Louise Gluck. She has an umlaut over the u in her surname; I don’t how to do that on my computer. I adore Louise’s poetry. (This makes it sound as though we are on a first-name basis, which we are not. I did meet her once, though. We went out to lunch and she is as fascinating as one hopes a famous poet would be.) But The Seven Ages is all about her contemplating her own death. That’s all fine and good, and it resonates, and I appreciate reading her thoughts from the perspective of being 50ish because I am nearing that age. But it was also a little depressing. Perhaps I will try a Billy Collins book next; I own two of his collections, but I don’t think I’ve ever read the poems; my impression is that they are lighter and sometimes attempt to be humorous.
  • One of the Gluck poems has really stuck with me. It’s called “The Sensual World,” which, in my opinion, mis-implies what the poem is about or how to read it. But poems are very personal, so you do you, boo. Anyway, the poem is about how the world will grip you in startling and unpredictable and inescapable ways. There is this moment of exquisite beauty that the narrator recounts, in the kitchen of her grandmother. A tiny moment: a glass of juice; its taste; the way the light refracts through it. But it leads the narrator to offer an urgent warning about the trap that life has set for you: “you will never let go, you will never be satiated. / You will be damaged and scarred, you will continue to hunger. / Your body will age, you will continue to need. / You will want the earth, then more of the earth – / Sublime, indifferent, it is present, it will not respond. / It is encompassing, it will not minister. / Meaning, it will feed you, it will ravish you, / it will not keep you alive.” It makes my heart pound, it resonates so deeply. I am so familiar with those moments – of shocking beauty that flares suddenly out of the mundane, of intense love provoked by the smallest, most inconsequential thing (a kitten at the pet store, butting its head against your hand; a child seeing you in distress and trying to soothe you with the very techniques you use to soothe the child; an unexpected kindness from a stranger; a moment of private humor with a spouse; a child, asleep, with hands folded beneath the chin as though posed). And I know the exact feeling of wanting to clutch those things with both hands even as I know – we all know – they are not ours to keep. It is not our lot to hold them forever, but only for the short time we have on this plane of existence. You will never let go. It will not keep you alive.
  • Yesterday, I experienced one of those moments of satisfaction/guilt that seem to be a hallmark of parenting. Carla was really anxious about returning to school (who knows why?!?! Is it the constant barrage of contradictory information, such as “Covid isn’t a big deal since you’re vaccinated; don’t worry too much, it probably won’t affect you too much if you get it” but also “make SURE you wear your mask and don’t breathe on anyone and for Todd’s sake, please don’t let anyone breathe on you!” Is it the fact that she hasn’t been in school for a month? Is it the fact that “school” could mean home/not home at any given time?) so I had to bribe her to even get her out the door yesterday morning. The bribe is not the satisfaction/guilt part, although perhaps it should be; it worked. I bribed her with a chocolate chip cookie for dessert (we are reverting to a “desserts on weekends” kind of schedule) AND with “something fun.” (She claims she never ever gets to do what SHE wants, all she does is go to SCHOOL.) I told her she could pick anything non-screen related, and she picked playing Barbies together. Sigh. I haaaaaaaate pretend play. It is the worst. But I agreed, and after school we played Barbies for 30 minutes exactly. Which is nothing. A tiny amount of my day. Then, when we were doing our bedtime mindfulness routine, and we got to the part about “what were you grateful for today?”, Carla said, “I was grateful that I got to play Barbies with Mommy.” No hesistation. Awwww. What a worthwhile way to spend our time together! But also: guilt, because I HATE playing Barbies. And yet it is such a simple way to make my beloved child so happy! Ugh ugh ugh. Well, I am not promising anything, but I will TRY to do more Barbies with Carla. 
  • A thing it turns out I DO enjoy is playing Sleeping QueensDo you have this game? I ordered it on a “my child is not doing enough math” whim last weekend and it is QUITE fun. There’s a video on the product page that describes how to play; it seems much more complicated than it is. And it’s a much faster-paced game than I anticipated. The basic object is that you want to get as many queens as possible. To get the queens, or to keep your opponent from getting queens, or to prevent your opponent from getting your queens, you need special cards. Your only chance to get the special cards is to discard a card from your hand. And – here’s the math element – you can draw more cards if you have an equation. So if you have cards in the values of 1, 5, and 7, you can only discard one of them and pick up one new card. But if you have 2, 5, and 7, you can make an equation and discard all three; then you can draw three cards. If you have/know a child in the young elementary age group, I highly recommend it. Because the number cards only go up to ten, the math is quite easy for Carla (although there’s no harm in keeping up with basic addition and subtraction), but it would be ideal for someone who is just learning to add/subtract. We also do multiplication, when it’s possible. I really wish there were an expansion pack with higher-value numbers. Anyway, I find it to be a really fun game and we have already played at least a dozen times. BONUS: This is a game that you can easily play with two people, which means that we don’t have to wait for Daddy to be home. 
  • I made my first foray into baked oatmeal. I am a little reluctant to post about it, because I didn’t love it. And I WANT to love it. It was both better than I thought it would be and worse than I hoped. But I think I chose the wrong (for me) recipe. It called for coconut oil, which – to me (though not to my husband) – ending up being the predominant flavor. I wanted an APPLE flavor. Also, I don’t think I put in enough nuts. The nuts were my favorite part. I need to do more experimentation before I can make a firm decision about not liking it. I think I will try this recipe next. 
  • I had a mildly negative interaction the other day that is still gnawing at me. It’s one of those things where the situation felt very fraught, almost purely because I am overly concerned with what people think of me. And the rest of it was fraught because it involved Covid, and I am caught in a wildly swinging internal pendulum of “you can’t control it and you need to find some way to live with it without forcing your child to be a miserable hermit” and “it is perfectly reasonable to continue to take precautions for the sake of those who aren’t protected/in order to keep Carla in school ” and “if you allow Carla to go to school, then how is this situation different” and “it is okay to have boundaries and limits even if they seem arbitrary; everything seems arbitrary right now” and “you and Carla are both vaccinated, you really can relax a little sheesh” and “arrrrrggghhhhhh.” I fervently wish I were the type of person who a) knows the exact right thing to do in any given situation and b) doesn’t care what other people think of me. I am neither of those people though, I am me. And as much as I try to be breezy, breeziness is not in my nature. And I DO care what people think, and I hate that about myself but I do.
  • Totally related to the above point: It is not fair to present a situation in one way, with clear parameters, and then to change the parameters in the moment. It is especially not okay to then pressure people into accepting the new parameters. 
  • Gah.
  • We have a new addition to our Dinner Plan this week. My husband requested Taco Tuesday. I think you know that I will never turn down a request for tacos. This is the beauty of planning out fewer meals than one intends to eat. You can just slide tacos right into the mix, no biggie. It is especially helps when you haven’t yet made it to the grocery store.
  • That reminds me that I have my check-up this morningIt is a totally normal check-up, so it should be fine. But it’s with a new doctor, in a new office, in a new location. So I am a little anxious about all of those things. Will I find the office okay? Will I get there on time? Will I like the doctor? Also, will I meet her for the first time while naked? That’s never fun. And then I have to do it all over again in a couple of weeks, because my PCP is retiring and I had to find a new one. (Hopefully I won’t have to meet her naked, though.)

Well, that’s it. I am already painfully aware that today is going to be a grind to get through; my 3:00 a.m. alertness has eroded into fatigue. But blogging is a much better way to spend the early hours of the morning than tossing and turning next to my blissfully sleeping husband, waiting futilely for sleep to bless me with its presence. 

Dinners This Week

We have snow this morning, our second proper snow of the season. The check-up I thought was scheduled for today is, in fact, scheduled for tomorrow. Which means my grocery shopping is now also moved to tomorrow. Most significantly, my child is back in school. I am hoping that everything goes as well as possible and that the kids are all in school for a good long time. See how breezy I am? SO BREEZY.

Dinners for the Week of January 10-January 16

  • Sheet Pan Teriyaki Salmon and Green Beans: I wonder if I could substitute a chicken breast for my husband, who’s not wild about salmon? This was indeed good, and I indeed made a chicken breast for my husband.
  • Roasted Garlic Balsamic Pork Tenderloin with Roasted Balsamic Brussels Sprouts: I am going to attempt to combine these two recipes into a sheet pan dinner. Do the recipes recommend different temperatures? Yes. Am I still going to do it? Yes, I am. P.S. I almost never pan-sear anything before I put it in the oven. An extra dish to wash? Grease splatter all over my stove? No thank you. Works out just fine. 
  • Spicy Fish Taco Bowls: My husband suggested fish tacos recently, and this is an old favorite that we haven’t eaten in awhile. Plus, as everyone knows, if you put a taco in a bowl it tastes just as good. I will obviously omit the cherry tomatoes from the mango pico.
  • Sesame Soy Chicken Bowls: Two bowls in one week?!?! Yes, folks, I am going there. This recipe is new to me, but it sounds yummy. 
  • Air Fryer Parmesan Chicken with Broccoli and Hasselback Sweet Potatoes: I really don’t think my air fryer is big enough to hold chicken and broccoli at the same time… but maybe I could roast the broccoli? Or maybe I will just steam it as I usually do? Let’s leave it for Future Me to sort out. I also reserve the right to forget completely about the Hasselback sweet potatoes. But they look so intriguing! 
  • Lentil Soup: This is an Ina Garten recipe and everything she touches is magic, so I kind of want to try it out. Our current weather is IDEAL lentil soup weather. Maybe I will make a loaf of miracle no-knead bread as well. Maybe not. I am breezy. This lentil soup was a disappointment. It required a LOT of chopping, even though I bought pre-chopped mirepoix from Trader Joe’s. And it just didn’t taste like anything. I tried some of the modifications suggested in the comments, like adding a parmesan rind for a long time and adding some paprika. Nothing really helped. It was warm and hearty though and it made one million bowls worth of soup, so I will be eating it for A While. The very best it tasted was when you slathered a slice of warm sourdough in butter and dipped it into the soup. Then it was very good.

That’s enough meals for the week. I’m going to try to wrap my mind around this “found time” I have today, and make a cup of tea and try to focus on revisions (which, so far, involve a lot of writing, not that I need ANY EXTRA WORDS). Maybe I’ll do some laundry. Look at me being so breezy.

How breezy are you today? Are you as breezy as I am?

Apparently day four is the day when my careful less indulgent eating meal plan falls apart and I beg my husband to pick me up a frozen pizza from Target.

Listen, it’s possible that I could have made it longer if this were a typical year. But we are right back in the thick of Pandemic Living (worst idea for a magazine ever – headlines include “The Best KN95 Masks NO ONE Knows About (Yet)!” and “7 Best Ways to Ensure You and Your Loved Ones Won’t Need to Be Seen in the Emergency Room” and “Is Eyebrow Bling the New Lipstick?”) and I am not drinking alcohol during the week (for now) and so I prescribed myself some medicinal pizza for dinner last night. And some randomosity for today.

  • We continue to be very, very lucky. The family members who have had Covid have fully recovered. The rest of us have somehow avoided it so far. Everyone is vaxxed (with the possible exception of my vaccine eligible niece but I DO NOT WANT TO KNOW) and boosted. My part of the world is fairly pro-mask, so most people in the few public places I visit are masked. I have been able to get my hands on rapid test kits and masks. My daughter’s school continues to take Covid very seriously, and has a mask mandate for everyone and a vaccine mandate for the faculty and staff. We are so, so lucky.
  • I know it’s just luck. I mean, as with a lot of “luck,” some of it is privilege. Where we live and where we send Carla to school being two stark examples. But it also seems so easy to fall into the belief that we haven’t contracted Covid because we are careful. I’m sure that’s helped, but I also know that LOTS of very careful people have been hit by Omicrom. We have either avoided it so far because we are super lucky, or it’s possible (I think) that we’ve had an asymptomatic case without knowing it.
  • Despite being SO LUCKY, I have been filled with despair all week. Early Pandemic-level despair, which I have been fortunate to avoid for many months at a time over the past yearish. The news – which I have been trying, semi-successfully to avoid (except when my husband texts me a particularly upsetting news item THANKS HUSBAND) – is so full of doom and gloom that I feel like I can sense my blood pressure shoot up with every headline. And we have been remote all week, which is a nightmare for my particular brand of child and her particular brand of mother. Plus, there has been the possibility hanging over our heads of another week of virtual learning, which is giving me a stomachache. I mean, there are LOTS OF GOOD REASONS to have virtual learning! Lots and lots! And I am grateful that I am not the one who had to make the decision, that’s for damn sure. But there are also, obviously, MANY BENEFITS to having one’s children physically in school, learning from a human instead of a screen, doing actual math instead of a video game (seriously) and interacting with friends in person. (Not to mention the benefits of in-person learning for the many, many parents who do not have the ability to work from home, or the bandwidth to work while supervising a child during remote school.)
  • We don’t know whether we will have virtual learning next week, too. I have been refreshing my email constantly. I don’t know what to hope for. That we continue to stay home and help drive down the number of Covid infections? Not that our school’s numbers were ever that high. That we return to in-person school for the sake of the children and the working parents and my own sanity? I think I will rejoice/weep at either outcome. Right now, I just want to KNOW so I can PREPARE MYSELF.
  • Possibly due to an urge to soothe the pandemic angst, or possibly this is just my typical post-holiday M.O., I have ordered a few lovely things lately. I got this gorgeous sweater from Nordstrom with a gift card. It is SO SOFT. And it’s totally different from what I normally wear – which tends toward casual and butt-covering. I recently bought a pair of these high-waisted jeans and I think the sweater would look very cute with it. But also… I can’t tell if the sleeves are TOO balloon-y? They are MUCH more balloony in real life than they are on the model. Do they emphasize my arms in a stylish way, or a cartoonish one? Do I look like Popeye after pandemic stress and despair forced him to give up his weight-lifting habit? The jury is still out. We shall see. On the Stay-at-Home Clothes front, I purchased a zip up hoodie that I’m hoping will cover my buttular region. It looks like it will cover my buttular region, based on the photo. But I share nothing in common, body-shape-wise, with the person modeling the hoodie, and I suspect my region is vaster. The hoodie hasn’t arrived yet, but it has “amazing” right in the name, so I have high expectations.

  • Retail therapy is fun even when the purchases aren’t for me. I also ordered this napping kittens calendar for Carla. We’d scrolled through many, many options and this was her favorite and she was obviously correct. I also got my husband another Magic Puzzle puzzle; I’d given him one called The Happy Isles for Christmas, and he loved it. I don’t even LIKE or DO puzzles and I loved it. My husband wouldn’t even let me help (my version of helping with a puzzle is finding one piece and then leaving), and I loved it. It is seriously so adorable, with a million fun things to look at, and even a list of things to find, like in a Where’s Waldo? book. Plus, there’s the “magic” aspect of the puzzle, which was really cool (but I can’t reveal that part because it is magic). If you are a puzzle lover or know one, this MUST be on your puzzle purchase list.
  • Did I tell you about my new salt and pepper shakers? It’s not a new purchase, but looking for those links reminded me that I got them in early December. We had been using one of those Costco pepper grinders for all our peppering needs, but the Costco salt grinders have never worked well for us… so for the last Costco-sized-salt-container-amount-of-time, we’d been salting our food with a Costco-sized salt container. Ridiculous. My husband’s family aren’t a salt and pepper on the table family, but even so, when they were here so often this past fall, I kept feeling so awkward about not having a proper set of shakers for the table. And my family ARE big salt and pepper at the table people, so I was feeling really anxious about it in advance of their visit. My neuroses are many and varied. The result is that I finally persuaded my non-salt-or-pepperer husband that I NEEDED these and I love them. (He does not love them. He only ever uses salt, and the salt grinder grinds crystals of salt that are, to be fair, bigger than your average engagement ring diamond. But it does not seem that you can buy a matching set of pre-ground salt and grindable pepper shakers. And they always [right?] come in a set.)
  • My computer is driving me crazy. the keyboard is not working correctly, and when i try to capitalize things, it either doesn’t work or it WORKS TOO MUCH. As when i am trying to emphasize VIa CApitalization, when the shift key gets over-enthusiastic and capitalizes two letters in a row. I have left the capitalization in this bullet as my computer wants it, for an example. It is Very ANnoying. YOu wouldnt believe how often i have to delete and retype. BLARGH.
  • Speaking of calendars, which we were, a few bullet points ago: if you use a physical calendar, what kinds of things do you fill it with? I do NOT use a physical calendar, even though I love calendars. I have tried many times in the past, and somewhere around February I forget about it and then don’t look at it again until June, when I make a renewed effort to use it… and then forget about it completely until I see Swistle’s annual calendar post and start drooling over all the fun and beautiful options out there. If you think I could resolve this issue with a daily calendar rather than a monthly one, you would be incorrect because I forget about those too. If I didn’t know this about myself, I would own Benjamin Dreyer’s day-to-day grammar and style version. What was the point of this bullet? Oh, right.
  • Speaking of calendars, again, still, I want to populate Carla’s calendar with important things, but I’m not sure what those THINGS should be. Obviously, I will add the birthdays of family members. And I think I can safely add the first day of spring break, the last day of school, maybe even the first day of school for next year if the school has posted that information already. But… what else? Do I add weekly things, like swimming lessons (which we are resuming this month yay/eek)? I WANT to add upcoming trips, of which we have two planned. I WANT to add summer camp (which we had to register for in early December do NOT get me started). But in Year Three of the Covid-19 Pandemic (I started to type “of the Current Pandemic” but that sounded much too bleak), I am wary. So wary. Do I put them on the calendar anyway, as a nod to hope and optimism?

  • Ah, hope. I have an aerogarden in my dining room, and I have been growing a tomato plant for many months. It has been disappointing, to say the least. I think we have harvested maybe six tomatoes total. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. Some of the leaves are yellow; I go in and trim, but branches keep dying. Even so, the plant keeps growing, and keeps putting out these little hopeful blossoms… and once in a while, a baby tomato emerges like a promise kept. I kneel on the floor every morning to inspect the plant, to remove dead leaves, to whisper words of encouragement to the blooms. Many of them spread their petals into a bright reassuring star, only to disappear during the night. It is so discouraging, and it all feels like a metaphor.

  • My husband and I just finished all the Succession there is to watch. It is SUCH a good show, and i spend every episode marveling at how I can be invested in so many people I find abhorrent. We are looking for our next TV show to watch together. I think the two we are deciding between are The OA and Sex Education. I feel like we have watched EVERYTHING, but of course that isn’t true. If you have suggestions, new or old, I am waiting eagerly to hear them.
  • My husband and I have started, but not completed, two satisfying projects. The first is, of course, the basement craft room makeover, which has been paused during the work week. The second, which we did on a whim, was to cull (most of) bookshelves. My husband and I are both avid readers and, perhaps more so, avid book buyers. We also both believe in owning books, which has its benefits and disadvantages. This means that we tend toward keeping every book we buy, when not every book is one we NEED to own. It makes me sad to get rid of books, but really: if I read a book and didn’t love it, and my husband isn’t going to read it, and it isn’t autographed, and it wasn’t a Special Gift from a dear friend or family member… then I think it would be better off going to the library, where they can sell it to someone who really wants to read it. I am very pleased by the stack of books we were able to cull (and the number of spaces we have opened up for NEW BOOKS). Now I just need the libraries to re-open so I can donate them and get them out of my office!
  • Our library system, by the way, is pretty awesome. Even though the branches are currently closed to visitors, you can still order books and pick them up at the drive-up window. Plus, they often give away free rapid test kits. Carla and I went to the library to drop off a stack of books the other day and there was a police car parked at one end next to a sign that said “enter only.” I kept driving to the other end, which is where I usually turn into the library parking lot, but it was blocked by another police car and a sign that said “exit only.” I had to turn around to get back to the new entrance, and then followed a winding path through the parking lot, demarcated by construction cones. At the other end of the parking lot were two people standing next to big stacks of boxes. They seemed to be stopping each car that drove through the lot, so I rolled down my window to find out what was going on. One of the people asked how many members are in my family, and when I said “three,” he handed me three Covid test kits. I took them, because you don’t look a test kit horse in the mouth, and then I dropped off our library books in the drive-through lane. Then I texted everyone I knew that the library had a supply of test kits to give away. One friend replied that she would head to the library immediately, and then she noted that her new supply of Kn95 masks had arrived. I cheered and told her I was excited for the new masks I’d ordered to arrive… and immediately felt a sense of dissociation. THIS is what we text each other about now? THIS is cause for excitement? Free Covid tests and mask delivery? Eeeesh. Welcome to the new world, I guess.

  • These are the masks I got for Carla, by the way. We got a small package, just to try. They are quite expensive, but I saw them listed on a bunch of “best masks for kids” articles and I have some friends who use them and like them. (I have a referral code that can get you $5 off, if you want to try them. It’s not much, but it covers shipping and a teensy bit extra.) They shipped very quickly, and should be here Monday. I hope they fit and that Carla likes them.
  • On the way home from the library, I asked Carla what she thought she would remember about this time, when she is a grown up. She said she thinks her kids will probably think we mean party masks when we talk about masks. (I think she is thinking of the kind of masks that people wear to masquerades.) I laughed and agreed, and oh how I hope that’s true. I hope that masks (and rapid tests and virtual school) aren’t a necessary and regular part of life from this moment on. I hope that she can look back on these pandemic years with a veil of fog, because it was such a small, insignificant part of her childhood. I hope the next pandemic isn’t worse. I hope she grows up. I hope she has kids.
This is the bleakest photo I have on my camera roll. But it’s hopeful too. Those black, empty branches are part of a living tree. Someday soon they will have buds, then blossoms, then leaves.
  • Life is so up and down. It’s always like that, always will be. But the downs – right now – seem so much deeper. I don’t know what I thought, back in 2020. That the pandemic would be temporary? That we’d wear masks for a year, deal with Covid for a year, then be done with it forever? I feel like I always knew it would be a longer-term thing. But thinking something, knowing something, are different than believing them. And maybe I didn’t believe that this would be our way of life for many years, possibly forever. It’s a hard thing, to come around to the truth.

  • We just got an email from Carla’s school. They are back in person as of Monday. Cue the relief. Cue the anxiety. I think I’ll go have some leftover medicinal pizza.

Dinners This Week

Welcome to the first week of dinners for the new year. An entire year of meal planning and shopping for those meals and cooking those meals (or not cooking them, in favor of something that sounds better/easier in the moment) and eating those meals and cleaning up those meals stretches before us.

While that doesn’t sound particularly appealing, I am feeling a tiny burst of energy about it all. The transition from indulgent holiday food to lighter, more regular meals feels refreshing. I spent a bunch of time this weekend looking through recipe blogs for new possibilities; it sometimes helps to have something New and Exciting – or at least New – to keep me out of the meal planning doldrums. I am going to lean into it while I can, before the inevitable drudgery of making meals day after day after day until death settles over me like a weighted blanket.

We did not make sticky toffee pudding yesterday, so that is back on the list for this weekend. (We did get food from my favorite Indian restaurant for dinner, and it was especially delicious. I would rather have chicken vindaloo ten times over than sticky toffee pudding, so it was a win for me. Plus, leftovers for lunch!)

This week, with Carla doing remote school (and therefore getting to sleep in a little later each morning), I am going to make an effort to have us all eat together. Normally, Carla eats dinner by herself at about 5:30 or 6:00, and my husband and I eat dinner around 8:00 or 8:30. Yes, I hate it, thanks. In an ideal world, we would eat together more often, giving us more family time together… and also giving us opportunities to model things like table manners and conversational skills and “trying new things” to Carla. I’m hoping my husband will get home early enough (people are canceling appointments right and left, which is Not Great Bob) that we can all eat together. This doesn’t mean I will be able to make one dinner for us all, of course, because I want Carla to actually eat something. But I can at least make similar foods (chicken nuggets or fish sticks when we have a saucy chicken or fish dish; raw versions of the veggies we eat) that I know she will eat, and add small portions of whatever my husband and I are eating to her plate. It is very challenging to have a picky child, especially since I am a picky eater myself, and I know how upsetting it can be to try new things. Plus, I know that deciding what to eat and what to refuse is one of the few things that Carla has autonomy over, and I don’t want to rob her of the ability to say no for so many reasons. But I also want her to eat more things than chicken nuggets and frozen peas and plain white rice, FOR THE LOVE OF COD.

Parenting quandary detour over.

There are only five meals on the plan for this week, to give us some wiggle room for last-minute additions or cravings.

Dinners for the Week of January 3-9

Chicken and Zucchini Stir Fry: You know by now that this is one of my favorite dinners. Plus it has a lot of vegetables, which means it fits in nicely with my “more veg” aspiration. Plus my husband suggested it; whether as a peace offering for not making the sticky toffee pudding or because he genuinely is in the mood, I don’t care because I love it. (My spell checker thinks that “peace” is misspelled in the previous sentence… though not in this one. Why are you messing with me, spell checker? Underlining a word I KNOW how to spell is making me question everything I thought I knew.) (It’s definitely not “piece offering,” right? RIGHT?)

Steak, Pepper, & Sugar Snap Pea Stir Fry: I guess I am in a stir fry mood today? This is a new-to-me recipe and sounds different and yummy and veggie packed. I will probably ignore the steak, but my husband will eat it, and we have a package in the freezer at this very moment. Carla likes steak and (raw) sugar snap peas… I wonder if I can persuade her to eat this? Unlikely but I will try.

Follow Up: I loved this — it was such a nice change from our usual stir fries. My husband said it was too salty, though, and I don’t know how to change that since the sauce contains soy sauce. Carla ate a piece of the steak and a piece of the pepper and voted them too spicy (there is sriracha in the sauce as well), but she tried them! (She also ate a slice of beef tenderloin, a pile of raw sugar snap peas, a few slices of raw red pepper, and a big heap of rice.)

Honey-Garlic Glazed Salmon with Air Fryer Brussels Sprouts: Another aspiration is to get my family to eat more fish. I love fish. Carla used to LOVE salmon. But now she and my husband turn up their noses. Well, perhaps if I slather it in a sweet glaze?

Oven Baked Pork Chops with Steamed Broccoli: We will probably have some couscous alongside this old standby, which, incidentally, is another Husband SuggestedTM Meal.

Baked Tilapia with Coconut Cilantro Sauce with Sautéed Green Beans: Listen, there is NO WAY that Carla will even try this. But it sounds amazing and I think my husband will like it. Especially if I can find cod instead of tilapia.

What are you eating this week?

Time for some non-resolutions! As per tradition, I am setting some gentle aspirations, rather than goals. These are simply a testament to what seems important now, and when I review them at the end of the year, they will help me better understand my priorities over time. I refuse to feel bad about failing to accomplish any of them, except for the writing-related ones, which I already feel bad about not achieving years ago. 

In addition to the aspirations I may or may not complete, I would also like to state that I am making some resolutions that I am NEARLY CERTAIN of completing, either because I have already completed them prior to this writing, or because I am on the precipice of completing them in mere days. That is the power of posting one’s goals on the internet. I can decide which goals to post, and maybe I have already achieved them, and that is my business and I will be delighted to count them as complete. It is the equivalent of writing a to-do list where the first item is “wake up” and the second item is “write to-do list.” It feels good to cross things off the list and momentum is important! For instance, I encourage you to put “put away holiday décor” on your own list of resolutions, even if you stowed the last ornament days ago. Then you are already ahead of the game!

For sake of honesty, however, I will alert you to any of these goals that are already half complete. Because I don’t want to cheat anyone, not you, certainly, and not my future self, who will be super annoyed that I have halved her feeling of accomplishment at year’s end but who will also appreciate my sense of ethics. 

Personal

Aspiration: Read 50 books. In 2021, I read 74 books. That doesn’t seem replicable, but I think 50 is an achievable goal. 

Aspiration: Work out 5 days a week. This is an oldie but a goodie. I need to get back into regular exercise, and I know it can be done. 

Aspiration: Read a poem every day. I am semi-stealing this aspiration from Nicole, who read Rumi every day last year. Wow. That is A Feat. But it inspired me. However, I am not going to limit myself to Rumi, or to a single poet. I have an entire bookcase FULL of poetry and yet I rarely read poems! This must stop. Poetry is an essential part of life, and I can so easily grab a random book off my shelves each evening, and flip to a random poem each morning rather than reaching for my phone. 

Aspiration: Buy some new shirts that make me feel cute and not like a slob. Listen, you know I am All For stay-at-home clothes. But I have discovered over the past somethingish months that I would like to feel cute in clothes when I inevitably am forced to leave the house, and I do not feel cute in clothing that doesn’t fit me. This is one of those goals that I may have almost achieved even as I write this: I ordered two shirts from Nordstrom with a Christmas gift card. But I am cautious. The new shirts could look… not good. So I may still have this feat ahead of me. 

Aspiration: Come up with a workable weekly schedule. This stems from a middle-of-the-night attempt to come up with a schedule for myself, allowing for maximum writing and revising time, but also slotting in time for working out, eating, and blog stuff. Which led me to determine that there aren’t enough hours in the day and I need to “wake up at 5:00 and go to bed at 10:00 every day,” when I don’t know if that’s doable. Okay. I’m pretty sure it’s not. What I need to do instead is to come up with a few different versions of a schedule, try it out, and then figure out what combination of timings and tasks works for me. 

Aspiration: Try baked oatmeal. This is a late addition, because I somehow forgot about how badly I want to try baked oatmeal after our breakfast convo the other day (she says, as though it wasn’t in early November). For some reason, it intimidates me. Mainly because I really really don’t like oatmeal. But this sounds more like a cookie than like hot mush, and it gets such high praise, and I am going to try it. 

Reach Aspiration: Leave my phone upstairs unless I leave the house. This is laughable to even attempt, isn’t it. And yet I have done this, multiple times, and feel such a sense of freedom from the pull of email and social media when I do. If I could do this on a daily basis, just think of all the work I could get done! 

Family

Aspiration: Eat more vegetables. If you think this aspiration seems as though it should belong to the Personal category, you would be correct. But I am the meal planner and dinner maker in this house, so I have a certain amount of vegetable wielding power around here. We could all do with more veg on our plates. 

Aspiration: Do more non-screen things together. Listen, we have a good amount of Family Togetherness around here, which is a wonderful blessing. But a lot of our time together involves a PlayStation or a TV. We can do better than that. If we ever get snow, we will go skiing and sledding. Once the weather warms up and dries out, we can go biking. When the weather, as is typical, absolutely sucks, we can play the wide variety of board games we own. If we don’t want to play the ones we own, we can buy more of the murder mystery games we enjoy. This is doable. 

Aspiration: Do less “forcing” of my will on the family. This is semi-stolen from/inspired by Swistle. (Maybe the connection is only in my head, because her resolution is very different from mine.) I have noticed that a lot of things don’t happen unless I nag and badger and harp. That’s not fun for anyone, INCLUDING ME. For instance, we were supposed to make sticky toffee pudding for New Year’s Eve dinner. Dessert. You know what I mean. But even though I washed the potatoes and broccoli well in advance of dinnertime, no movement was made by anybody else to prepare anything for the dessert. Then my husband decided at a very late moment – like 4:00 or 5:00 pm – that he wanted to work out. Which is great! Exercise! I am fine with that! But then when he was done, it was much too late to do anything, including make the fancy dinner we had planned, and especially making sticky toffee pudding. We did end up making the steak and potatoes and broccoli, which were delicious, but we didn’t make the pudding. And we didn’t make it yesterday, either, even though we were Going To Make It, because once again he got caught up playing video games with Carla and then at 5:00 pm wanted to work out and lost track of the time. This is fine! It’s prioritization at work! It is not enough of a priority for him to note the time and stop playing video games. It is not enough of a priority for me to do all the work of making sticky toffee pudding by myself. So it didn’t happen. It could have happened, if I had called down to him that we needed to get started if we wanted to have sticky toffee pudding for dinner. But the thing is, it is not my job to be Ultimate Time Monitor. It just isn’t. So I wrote a blog post and drank a cocktail while he worked out, and we did not make sticky toffee pudding, and maybe we won’t do it today either, who knows? There are three of us in this family, and it is not my sole responsibility to keep everything on track. That’s not fair, and it’s not fun, and no one likes the Time Badger, least of all the Time Badger herself. Some things are going to fall by the wayside. And sometimes that will cause some pain. And maybe that pain will inspire a change in behavior, though I am not optimistic. 

Aspiration: Go on some dates with my husband. We went on three (outdoor, rainy) dates in 2021. We now have a good babysitter to call on, should we need her, and one of these days we may decide to brave a restaurant. But even if all our dates take place in the summer, outside, that is fine! I just want to spend some time ALONE with my husband, AWAY from our house.

Reach Aspiration: Have friends over for dinner. We have been to two friends’ homes this past year, and if nothing else, etiquette requires that we return the favor. But also I would like to entertain again. A little bit. Maybe.

Reach Aspiration: Stop treating Carla’s needs as if they are mine.  Brought to you by Girl Scout Cookie Selling Season, which is my own personal hell and yet which is somehow My Thing instead of my husband’s. But that’s only one example of many. This is a two-fold aspiration. First, Carla is eight-and-a-half and can do with more responsibility. Second, just because I am The Mom doesn’t mean that I am automatically responsible for Carla’s laundry in addition to my own, for Carla’s meals in addition to my own, for Carla’s whatever-whatever. We are so fortunate to have two parents in this household, and I should allow/enable the other parent to do just as much as I do. Sure, some things will always fall to me because of my husband’s job (making and attending appointments, for instance). I think, for awhile, this will involve things like answering questions about “what does Carla normally eat with her chicken nuggets?” but perhaps that will be a worthwhile endeavor. See also the related issue of Putting Away Rags and Hand Towels Is Not My Sole Responsibility. 

Work/Finance

Aspiration: Revise my manuscript and start querying agents. Everything I read says that the agent-seeking stage is soul destroying. I am going to do it anyway. Check back at year’s end to see if I have fragments of soul remaining.

Aspiration: Finish my second manuscript. This second manuscript is a thriller, and I think it will be quicker and simpler than the first one. I just need to figure out the ending and WRITE IT. That is in the wrong order. I need to WRITE IT and figure out the ending.

Aspiration: Get a financial advisor. This is another one of those goals that I have already all but completed! My husband and I met with a financial advisor, and he is supposedly looking over our haphazard finances at the moment, and all we need to do is sign an agreement and let him HELP US make wise financial decisions! Side note: Carla asked us if he was a man. Her follow-up question was whether all financial advisors are men. Her follow-up to that was whether we knew any of these supposedly-existing women financial advisors. This line of questioning kind of made me wish that I had found a woman financial advisor. But it was hard enough to find THIS GUY and get up the nerve to meet with him, so I am moving forward as is.

Reach Aspiration: Take a writing class. I want to take a class about writing short stories (I am not good at writing things that are short) (you: YES WE ARE AWARE) or maybe about writing a personal essay. This terrifies me. 

Home/Property

Aspiration: Install a gallery wall in the living room. This one is BACK ON THE LIST, baby! You have kindly supported me and offered me reasonable suggestions for accomplishing this goal by myself many times, and still I have balked. You must first understand that I am incapable of making straight lines. “But use a ruler,” you say. No, even with a ruler, my lines somehow get distracted and wander off. So my husband MUST be involved in this project, because he is the yin to my yang, the meticulous to my slapdash. You must second understand that my husband was originally GUNG HO with this project, many years ago when it first appeared on my list of totally achievable desires. And that he then decided, at some point, unbeknownst to me, that it was MY project, and I should be in charge. That’s where things broke down. Because while I am willing to say “we should have a gallery wall in the living room,” I am unwilling to be the sole person dictating which items appear on said wall, which is co-owned and co-utilized and co-looked-at by other people in our family. And also, even if I could just go balls to the wall (unintentional pun) (but disturbing/perplexing imagery when I call out said pun and visualize it) (why is “balls to the wall” even a phrase? I have never thought deeply about it before and never want to do so again) full steam ahead and pick out a bunch of artwork, I simply cannot install it in a way that would look purposeful and not like a feeble earthquake had come through and jostled everything on the walls. My husband refused to care about the project. I refused to move forward. The project died. This is very long. This past fall, my husband and daughter and I went on a road trip, and found a little gallery that had lots of fun things, including a painting by a local artist of our state bird. We wanted very badly to buy the painting, but I said that I couldn’t in good conscience purchase it, knowing that I wanted it to be on the gallery wall, and knowing also that the gallery wall would not happen. This turned out to be a carrot, friends! A carrot! My husband said something like, “Well, if I promise to help you realize your gallery wall dreams, can we get the painting?” Marital compromise at work! And I agreed and we bought the painting and it has remained in its paper wrapping since August. But now, NOW, we are on the threshold of a gallery wall! Supposedly! Let’s refrain from holding our breaths. 

Aspiration: Hire someone to redo our ceiling and paint our trim. I am including this as one aspiration because a friend suggested a person who supposedly does both. 

Aspiration: Hire someone to fix our fridge. Our fridge leaks. It makes constant musical noises at us to alert us that Something Is Wrong. It has done this for… years, now. I have been afraid to have someone look at it because I fear that the only answer is to buy a new fridge. But it’s time. It’s time. 

Aspiration: Clean our basement and finalize a craft space for Carla. This is another aspiration that is all but complete. We spent the last week of December doing a DRASTIC CULL of our basement, and it looks as fabulous as a basement storage area can look. We also set up the craft-space items Carla received from Santa, and are in the process of finalizing it all. There is still much to be done (I need to cull THREE boxes of Precious Baby Items to ONE, for instance) (plus we need to buy a rug to go underneath the craft area), but it is well on the way. 

Reach Aspiration: PAINT THE BASEBOARDS MY GOD IT HAS BEEN 11 YEARS. Why is this a reach aspiration, you wonder? Well. My baseboards have been dark forest green for eleven years, that’s why. 

I think that’s PLENTY for this year, Internet. Wish me luck! 

While I continue to insist that I am NOT a resolutions type of person, I do like to look at the year ahead and consider some of the things I might want to accomplish before the planet makes its next turn around the sun. And I try very hard not to approach these intentions in black and white terms of success or failure. Setting goals and revisiting your progress toward those goals is a good way to calibrate your priorities, is all.

Last year, I made some extra gentle aspirations for 2021, and I think this year I will try to be even MORE gentle. Low expectations is the path to happiness, baby.

Here are the results of my 2021 aspirations. Having completed 10 of my 19 goals, I feel pretty good about what I ended up prioritizing. Especially because four were “reach” aspirations that I would have LIKED to have gotten to, but wasn’t really expecting to from the get-go.

Personal

Aspiration: Read 40 books. 

Result: Complete! This year, I read 74 books, which is so many more than I’ve ever read in a year before. I credit “joining” Bookstagram with inspiring me to read. I also really increased the number of audiobooks I listened to, which helped. It did mean that I listened to almost none of the Office Ladies podcast that I enjoy so much, but I guess you win some, you lose some.

Aspiration: Exercise five days a week. 

Result: Complete! I logged 280 workouts in 2021, which works out (unintentional pun) to a little more than 5 days per week. In reality, I logged the most workouts March through July, with my activity level tapering off beginning in August, until it was nearly non-existent by December. But I will get back into it.

Aspiration: Buy new towels. 

Result: Complete! I did this! I replaced my 10-year-old towels and my husband’s with… identical towels. Did I manage to purge my home of the old towels? No, I did not. But we take baby steps and the first step was the BUYING of the towels, and I did that.

Aspiration: Stop looking at my phone while in bed. 

Result: Incomplete. I did not succeed at this. Lately, I find myself unable to read anything but my phone, so I do look at it way more than I should. For a large portion of the year, though, I was choosing books instead. So I CAN survive with less of my phone, and I plan to make reducing my reliance on the iDistraction a goal for 2022.

Aspiration: Stop drinking anything after nine p.m. 

Result: Incomplete. I totally forgot about this. But I also had fewer issues with waking up multiple times per night to pee? Perhaps there is something to be said for making embarrassing admissions on one’s blog.

Aspiration: Make focaccia. 

Result: Complete? I did make focaccia but it was a dismal failure.

Reach Aspiration: Cut my own hair. 

Result: WHY WAS THIS A GOAL? Was I suffering from some sort of pandemic-induced delusion about my abilities??? I did not do this. I did not cut anyone’s hair, which is for the best. I waited until I could feel safe-ish going to the salon and I got my hair cut by a professional twice and it was GLORIOUS each time.

Family

Aspiration: Buy bikes for the adults and go on bike rides as a family. 

Result: Complete! We did this! All three of us have bikes and helmets! We have a bike rack for the car! And we took a very small number of family bike rides. We will do MORE this year!

Aspiration: Get out of the house, as a family, every single weekend to Do Something. 

Result: Incomplete. This did not happen. Even with my tiny family of three, it turns out I have very limited powers to motivate them to get outside when they want to play video games.

Reach Aspiration: Have a family game night once a month. 

Result: Incomplete. We did NOT do this, not that I even remembered it was something I aspired to. We had family game night… three times? But we bought one of those murder mystery games in December and plan to complete it together, so I’m hoping that we can have more game nights this year.

Reach Aspiration: Figure out how to see my parents this summer. 

Result: Complete! Carla and I flew out to see my parents during what turned out to be a lull in the pandemic, and it was wonderful. I am so glad we did it.

Work/Finance

Aspiration: Revise my manuscript and get it to beta readers. 

Result: COMPLETE!!!!! I sent my manuscript to beta readers October 1, and have been receiving such wonderful, thoughtful, useful feedback. It makes me all teary to think of how these kind, wonderful people are taking specific time out of their lives to prioritize MY writing and to offer ideas and suggestions for making it better. Beta readers are angels, truly. This month, I am going to be revising based on some of the feedback I’ve already received, and hope to incorporate everyone’s thoughts and have a revised draft by March 1.

Aspiration: Look for a writing class or writing group. 

Result: Complete! I reached out to an author friend who serendipitously had an opening in a writing feedback group, and I joined it, and it has been lovely! We kind of paused over the holidays, but I’m hoping we’ll get back into it again soon. It is so wonderful to be part of a group of smart, talented writers who can give you to-the-minute comments on my work!

Aspiration: Put money into a personal 401(k). 

Result: Complete! I am still kicking myself for not doing this earlier. It was very easy.

Reach Aspiration: Get a first draft of manuscript #2. 

Result: Incomplete, but a good start. I am 50,000 words into Manuscript #2. I am going to finish it in 2022.

Home/Property

Aspiration: Touch up the outside of the house. 

Result: Incomplete. We did not do this, but it will be a goal in 2022. Our trim is starting to look Very Shabby, to the point that I am certain our neighbors are whispering about us.

Aspiration: Deal with the tree issues in our backyard. 

Result: Incomplete. I… don’t know what I meant by this goal. I mean, our trees still look kind of awful? But I have no idea what to do to fix them? I think I emailed the landscapers, asking their advice, and then maybe never responded to them? Whoops.

Aspiration: Get a fake Christmas tree. 

Result: Complete! We got an artificial Christmas tree and put it up this year and it was lovely and I don’t mind it as much as I anticipated I would. Plus, my husband now has to pretend for the rest of our days that he enjoys putting it together because it was his idea.

Reach Aspiration: Hire someone to repaint the interior of the house. 

Result: Incomplete. This did not happen. But I am really distressed by the state of our ceilings, so I am going to put this back on the list for 2022. 

If you care to share, was there something in 2021 that you were really excited to have accomplished? Or, conversely, some mild aspiration you spectacularly failed to achieve/remember?

2021 Round Up-a-Rama

Here is where I am at the end of 2021: down, down, down.

After a year of prolific reading, I find myself unable to lose myself in a book. My comforting morning ritual of drinking tea has deserted me. Carla is about to embark on another round of remote learning – this time, with unknown duration (could be five days! could be more!). Christmas, instead of being a cheery time of fun gifts and family togetherness, was utterly draining. I have been summoned for jury duty; I was able to postpone it, due to remote learning, which is good, but now I have MONTHS to fret about the logistical nightmare of the whole thing, not to mention the idea of being in the giant jury room with dozens of other humans who may or may not be masked or vaccinated. And I am sunk deeper into a pit of self-doubt and -castigation than I ever have been before.

It’s wishful thinking to imagine that a year that held a lot of great things would end on a high note. And it’s naïve to think that a simple shift of the calendar will resolve any of these things. So here is where I am.

There are good things, too, of course. It was lovely to see my parents over Christmas. My husband’s call schedule was light toward the end, so our Christmas festivities were hardly disrupted. He is on vacation this week, so he and Carla and I have been having a quiet, pleasant time doing quiet, homey things like cleaning the basement, playing video games, and eating junk. We got a TON of holiday cards. (I think our card wall looks much fuller than in previous years, but my husband says he thinks we get this many cards every year.) (We received about 45 cards this year, so maybe next year I will remember to count.) While it seems as though everyone in the world currently has Covid, we have still, somehow, by pure luck, managed to avoid it. (SO FAR.) I am aware of my many blessings, I am. But that does not dispel the disconsolate fog that’s clouding everything at the moment.

Be assured that the remainder of this post will (likely) be less dismal. And, as always, I love to read your year-end recaps, so please let me know if you posted one as well.

(If you’re so inclined, you can read past versions of my responses: 202020192018201720162015201420132012201120102009. This yearly recap originated with Linda of All & Sundry.)

As usual, I reserve the right to delete ignore or scoff at any of the questions below.

  • What did you do in 2021 that you’d never done before?
    • Sent my manuscript out for beta reading.
    • Went on a paleontological dig.
    • Rejoiced as each new member of my family received a vaccine against Covid-19.
  • Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

As is my new tradition, I made some very loose aspirations for the year. Out of 19, I accomplished 10, which seems pretty decent, considering some of them were real reaches in terms of potential success.

  • Where did you travel this year? (This is my own recasting of a question I could never answer which was How many countries did you visit this year?)

This year, the only time I left the state was to visit my parents. My husband, daughter, and I also took a trip to a city on the opposite end of our state, which was nice but very hot and sticky. We have some travel planned for 2022, but who knows how that will turn out.

  • What would you like to have in 2022 that you lacked in 2021?

I mean, last year’s wish still holds true: A return to some sort of pre-pandemic normalcy, for myself and my country, and across the globe. More time alone with my husband. Dinner in a restaurant. The ability to travel without worrying about infection/infecting.

As long as we’re putting out our wishes, I would also like to have an agent in 2022. I know this is… a big ask. And will require a lot of work on my part. And will still probably not happen. And putting it out here makes me feel stupid and exposed. But it is what I want, more than anything unrelated to the pandemic, and I’m going to TRY.

  • What dates from 2021 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

Moreso than even in 2020, I think, the days and weeks sort of ran together in 2021. Outside of January 6, I can’t remember a single specific date. A few key moments do stand out – like when I got my vaccinations and when Carla got hers – but I couldn’t tell you the dates.

  • What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Getting my manuscript out to beta readers.

  • What was your biggest failure?

I am not up to answering this one this year.

  • Did you suffer illness or injury?

No, thank goodness. My family and I have been so remarkably lucky during this pandemic.

  • What was the best thing you bought?

I’d say it’s a three-way tie between my new towels, our bicycles, and the artificial Christmas tree.

  • Whose behavior merited celebration?
  • Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
  • Where did most of your money go?
  • What did you get really, really, really excited about?

I was really excited about going to visit my parents with Carla (and really anxious). I was really excited that Carla got to attend summer camp and that she started third grade on time and made it until January without requiring remote schooling.

  • *Compared to this time last year, are you:
    • a) happier or sadder? 
    • b) thinner or fatter? 
    • c) richer or poorer? 
  • What do you wish you’d done more of?

Writing (evergreen item). Exercising. Reading. Eating vegetables.

  • What do you wish you’d done less of?

Feeling sad. Eating my feelings. Wallowing in regret. Doomscrolling. 

  • How did you spend Christmas?

Christmas included the three of us, plus my parents and it was everything a Christmas should be. We have such thoughtful and generous friends and family members, and there were SO many gifts under the tree. We ate bacon and baked French toast and berries for breakfast and then my husband went into the hospital, but he was able to come home around two which wasn’t terrible. For dinner, my dad made his traditional spice roast, my mom made her traditional blueberry pie, I made goat cheese garlic mashed potatoes, and we all chipped in to make Caesar salad. Carla flitted from new toy to new toy and the adults watched football and cooked and ate and really, what more could you ask for?

  • Did you fall in love in 2021?
  • What was your favorite (new) TV program?

Instead of watching TV this year, I mostly chose to read. But that doesn’t mean I was completely cut off from television! My husband and I finally started watching Succession (and have just started Season 3) – we are OBSESSED with it, as everyone predicted. How can so many people be so completely and thoroughly awful? We also started watching Superstore, which is a very fun, 30-minute humorous diversion type of show. I also loved:

  • The Queen’s Gambit – Neither my husband nor I can remember if we watched this in 2020 or 2021. As he says, it was a long year. While I know nothing of chess, I did love this series about an orphan chess prodigy whose addictions threaten to keep her from achieving her ambition. It was a show where I kept expecting terrible things to happen to the protagonist… but the people who surrounded her were almost universally good, caring humans who wanted to lift her up and help her succeed.
  • Mare of Easttown – This is the show that inspired us to finally get HBO, and it was SO worth it. (Also, Succession.) Such a dark, gritty look at a detective who does everything to solve a case. Kate Winslet was stunning. And the heavy-handedness of the accents was quite amusing.
  • Only Murders in the Building – What a heartwarming little mystery series this was. Selena Gomez, Martin Short, and Steve Martin solving a murder in their luxury apartment building was every bit as goofy and fun as you would expect.
  • Maniac – A science-fiction series about grief and brokenness that took some very weird but always interesting turns. It reminded me a little bit of Palm Springs, so if you liked that movie I bet you would like this series. (I enjoyed the movie very much.)
  • Bodyguard – This was a heart-pounding thriller that stressed me out the way early seasons of 24 used to. It was really good, if you can stand that edge-of-your-seat, something-is-definitely-going-to-explode feeling. Also, it has nothing at all to do with the Whitney Houston film masterpiece of the early ’90s, in case you thought it was a serialized version of the movie as I did.
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events – Carla has been listening to the audiobooks of this novel series, so we started watching the TV show as a family. It’s darling and fun, and I adore Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf.
  • *Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
  • What was the best book you read?

While I haven’t been able to read for most of this past month, which really, really stinks (it’s like being estranged from a dear friend), I had a very good reading year otherwise. In fact, I read 74 books this past year, which is a record for me. And so many of them were so good!!!!! 

  • A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne gets my top marks for this year. It was a beautifully crafted, incredibly chilling depiction of a would-be writer who will do absolutely anything to be successful. I loved the way the structure helped funnel the reader toward an ever-deeper, ever-more-sinister understanding of the main character.
  • The Great Alone was my first (and, so far, only) Kristin Hannah novel, and I loved it so much. The landscape, the isolation of small-town Alaska, the in-depth exploration of the dysfunction in one family were all so well done. I listened to this while out walking, often with tears streaming down my face.
  • Megha Majumdar’s debut A Burning was captivating and horrifying and gave a keen view of the inner-workings of life in Bombay and the lengths people go to achieve their ambitions.
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi was absolutely gorgeous – a series of linked short stories about two strands of a family separated by circumstance and slavery.
  • I finally read the second book in the romance duology by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan, and The Heir Affair didn’t disappoint. It’s witty and charming, and the relationship and even the faux-royal setting feel real and relatable.
  • I loved Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir so much that I ended up listening to the audiobook a second time with my daughter. It was fun and exciting and at turns triumphant and devastating.
  • Anxious People by Fredrik Backman started a little slow for me, but turned out to be one of my favorites. The writing style, the juxtaposition of heartbreaking situations and the warmth of strangers, and the humor added up to a deeply satisfying novel.
  • Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro was at once so richly imagined and so startlingly spare in details that it stands out as unique among my reads this year. Themes of ambition and companionship, and the role material “things” have in our lives were explored with the fresh, simplistic-but-insightful eyes of the titular AI. It was gorgeous and left me wanting more.
  • Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman is a book that I found emotionally wracking, but also very hopeful and so well-written/well-characterized that I continue to think of it long after the fact.
  • Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes was such a satisfying and well-written romance. As a person who typically eschews romance novels, I was surprised by how much I loved this story about a relationship that grows between two people who are broken in very different ways.

You know my favorite genre is mystery/thriller, and I read some GREAT ones this year.  

  • Sophie Hannah’s Haven’t They Grown (published as Perfect Little Children in the U.S., which doesn’t seem quite as apt a title) was a close second. She comes up with the most bizarre and fascinating premises (in this one, the protagonist sees a former friend and her two children after many years apart – but the children have not aged a day) and I just love how she unravels a mystery and makes the explanation seem both surprising and inevitable.
  • The third Cat Kinsella mystery, Shed No Tears, by Caz Frear was another favorite. I just love tough, witty, personally-ethical-yet-morally-compromised Cat Kinsella as a character.
  • The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz was really enjoyable, too, although again more for the writing and the slow realization of the main character coming to understand his situation.
  • I loved Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club and, even more, its sequel, The Man Who Died Twice. The septuagenarian detectives and their relationships and struggles were lovely and charming and the books are packed with humor, puzzles, and heartbreak in equal measure. I cannot wait for the third installment.
  • What did you want and get?

Part of last year’s answer is true once again: For my family and friends to be safe and healthy this year. So far, so good. We are very, very lucky.

I am also so very glad that the vaccine was approved for kids Carla’s age, so I wanted for all my loved ones to get vaccinated and that has happened. Well. I don’t know that my niece has been vaccinated, but everyone else has.

  • What did you want and not get?

Well, last year’s answer still suffices: A refrigerator that doesn’t leak mysteriously and incessantly. New windows. Unity around a workable, scientifically-backed virus containment strategy. 

Things did NOT get back to “normal.” That was not unexpected and yet still deeply, powerfully disappointing. Disheartening. Dispiriting. Gutting.

  • What was your favorite film of this year?

Did I watch any movies this year? I can’t remember a single one, except Encanto, which we watched over the Christmas weekend, and which was very charming.

Oh, right – my husband reminded me that we watched Dune, which I was resistant to and ended up really enjoying. (Although I am annoyed that it was only PART of the story.)

  • What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
  • What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

A coordinated, followed-by-everyone plan for enduring the latest stages of the pandemic. Finalizing revisions on my manuscript.

  • How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2021?

As in 2020, my fashion choices were all about comfort. Soft bras, soft pants, soft shorts, no makeup, no shoes. Let’s exchange our pajamas for some Daytime Leggings and then switch back in a few hours. That kind of thing. I did go out more. Not like out out, but out in the world, so I ended up buying a few pairs of new jeans. Two of those pairs are in the supposedly-once-again-fashionable straight leg/bootcut style and I kind of hate them, even though I loved that style when it was previously fashionable and resisted skinny jeans for years.

  • What kept you sane?

My husband. Exercise. My terrible, wonderful, unputdownable phone. Books and audiobooks. Carbs. Wine. Reading your blog posts. Long walks. Takeout. Writing here.

  • Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
  • Who did you miss?

My first and perpetual answer to this question will always be my friend who died. But in 2021, I don’t think I spent a lot of time missing anyone else. As an introvert, the forced isolation of the pandemic wasn’t particularly difficult on me, and I think the increased human interaction we’ve been inching toward this year was perfectly fine. Plus, we got to see both sets of parents AND my sister-in-law and niece, so I didn’t feel separated from my family. We are so very, very lucky.

  • Who was the best new person you met?

I cannot think of a single new person I met this past year.

  • Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2021.

The only current “lesson” that I can come up with – the worst things you think about yourself are true, and other people think them too – is a direct reflection of my current mood, which hopefully is not a reflection of reality. So let’s go with last year’s slightly more uplifting offering:

“Despite everything, there is SO MUCH to be grateful for. Even when the big things are uncertain and scary and sad, there are plenty of tiny, wonderful joys to be counted and held up for inspection and treasured. I have made a point to consider all the blessings in my life this year – sometimes just FORCING myself to be grateful dammit – and I feel more aware of them, and of how full my life is even when it seems otherwise. I hope among all the wreckage of this year that you, too, have found some kernel of gratitude. Not because you SHOULD, but because it helps to have even a small glimmer of light to walk toward when everything seems so unbearably dark.”

  • Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

“Go easy on me.” – Adele

Happy New Year, Internet. May 2022 bring us all happiness and health.