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I hate shorts. It’s the item of clothing I loathe the most – well, I guess I might put it head-to-head with “romper” – but rompers are one-piece shorts anyway, right?

Let’s be clear about something. I do not hate shorts on OTHER PEOPLE. (Same goes for rompers and jumpsuits and even palazzo pants.) When I see other people wearing [hated clothing item], I either a) don’t notice and simply register is as “That person is not naked” OR b) I envy how well they are pulling it off.

How I would LOVE to like shorts. They are so practical in the hot summer months. They are so useful for trips to warmer climates (not that anyone’s going on trips to any sort of climate). They are so CUTE on SO MANY PEOPLE.

But not me. I do not like the way I look in shorts. I do not like the way they feel.  I do not like the way they make me feel about the way I look.

I see other people in the world, just going about their business, wearing shorts, and sure, a lot of those people I admire have long, thin, shapely legs. But there are PLENTY of shorts-wearing women who look GREAT in shorts and who have shorter or curvier or sturdier legs. I feel weird saying what I am about to say, because I (we) have been so conditioned to think of “fat” as a pejorative term, but there are plenty of FAT women who look great in shorts because obviously being fat is not a contraindication for being cute or stylish. You can be both.

But for ME, shorts have always been a downer. I’ve tried. A few years ago, I bought several pairs of some longish shorts from J. Crew. Last year, I think, I bought a pair of longish shorts from Talbots. They were okay. I didn’t hate life when I wore them. But I didn’t love them, either. Mainly, in summer, I wear sundresses or I suffer in jeans.

And I pine for a universe in which I could wear shorts.

However… I wear exercise shorts. I wear them almost daily. Sometimes even in public. I like they way they feel. And I don’t mind (too terribly much) the way I look in them.

So I wondered if maybe, somehow, there was some way to replicate the feel of athletic shorts… but in, like, a regular, everyday kind of short.

The word “shorts” is rapidly losing meaning.

To cut a VERY long story short (ha) (also, not short at all, we are already a good 400+ words into this post by now and there is MORE TO COME), I SUCCEEDED.

I have, this very summer, purchased FOUR PAIRS of shorts that I actually like. My thighs are still thick. My legs are still stubby. I still have cellulite. But I wear these shorts in public and still feel cute. I can’t give any higher recommendation than that, so let me show you them.

Pair the First: Madewell High Rise Cuffed Denim Shorts

Shorts Madewell

This image is a lie. These shorts are longer and much roomier in person. Photo from nordstrom.com

These were my gateway shorts, if you will. I am pretty sure I saw them first on Kendi Everyday. Please click through to see Kendi modeling these shorts, instead of using the above thumbnail as a guide – there is a WORLD of difference in the fit. And the way they looked on Kendi was the way I wanted them to look on me. Most shorts look, on me, like they do on the thumbnail model – tight. But, because – unlike the thumbnail model – I have thick thighs (which is a perfectly acceptable type of body part) there is no tapering below the hem of the short. Sometimes there is even… thigh bulge below the hem. Which is neither physically comfortable nor aesthetically pleasing to my ever-self-critical eye.

On Kendi, though, the Madewell shorts appeared to have nice, roomy leg openings. So I bought a pair and lo! they fit as I hoped and I love them very, very much. Did I ever think I would spend nearly seventy (70) US dollars on a pair of denim shorts? No, no I did not. Was it worth it? Yes it was. I have worn them many, many times this summer, sometimes even – purposely – instead of pajamas!

Pair the Second: Topshop Roll Hem Mom Denim Shorts

Shorts Topshop

Do I hate the name of these shorts? Yes, I do. Have I irritated myself with this question-and-answer format? YES I HAVE. Photo from nordstrom.com

Confession time. I went on kind of a denim shorts binge after the success of the Madewell pair. I have not owned a single pair of denim shorts since high school, so I guess I felt the need to make up for lost time. Plus, I had been abstaining from non-essentials shopping for most of March, all of April, and all of May, and I was really itching to spend money. I am deeply grateful for Nordstrom’s free shipping and free returns policy because I really put both to good use in June.

The name of these shorts annoyed me, but the SHAPE of them was very appealing. I don’t want shorts that GRIP my thighs. I want roomy leg openings, folks. And these shorts delivered. (They also have a high rise, which is good for keeping the tum tucked in.)

For those of you who care, my husband likes these shorts less than he does the Madewell shorts. He says they aren’t as flattering. And, sure, they are a little less fitted in the buttular region. But I will repeat: roomy leg openings.

Pair the Third: Universal Thread Women’s High Rise Pull-On Shorts

Shorts Target

The next best thing to wearing jammies. Photo from target.com

At some point – probably after trying and returning my fifth or sixth pair of denim shorts – I realized that a woman doesn’t necessarily need that many pairs of jorts. Two, it turns out, shall suffice. Especially for a shorts-hater like myself, especially during a pandemic when one so rarely needs to change out of pajamas.

Speaking of pajamas: I have several pairs of soft pajama shorts that I really love to wear. My experience finding jean shorts that mimic my beloved exercise shorts having gone so well, I wondered, in a very Carrie Bradshaw way: could I find non-pajama shorts that had everything I found so appealing about my pajamas?

Indeed I could! And these are they. They are loose and comfy but the fabric is sturdy enough that it’s clear you haven’t just rolled out of bed. Or, if you HAVE just rolled out of bed, you at least rolled past your dresser and put on some Real Clothes before leaving the house.

Best of all, these are under $20. (I think I got them on sale for $15.)

Pair the Fourth: CeCe Pleat Front Double Stripe Shorts

Shorts CeCe

For all your Fancy Shorts occasions. Photo from nordstrom.com

Now that we have the Denim and Not-Pajama categories of shorts covered, let’s go straight to the Fancy Shorts option. Because what we all need during a pandemic is something fancy, right?

These shorts have all that I now know I need in a short: A high rise, a roomy leg opening, free shipping.  Plus, they’re cute. I picture myself wearing them to all the adults-only backyard cocktail parties no one is throwing this summer.

Have I worn them out of the house yet? No, I have not. But I could. And that’s good enough for me.

 

And there you have it. Four pairs of shorts for a (reformed?) shorts-hater.

 

My husband read this article on The Kitchn about a super easy five-day meal plan… so we are trying it this week. (Personally, while the article makes the whole thing sound very easy and breezy, it does not actually seem like it will be easy and breezy in practice. First of all, I had to click on all the links for each separate recipe. And secondly, it sounds like these recipes are easiest and breeziest if they are things you make all the time and are comfortable just throwing ingredients in with eyeball measurements and stuff. While I feel like I am fairly confident in the kitchen, I am not THAT confident. So I am suspicious whether any of this will be worthwhile.

HOWEVER it is fun to try new things AND my husband suggested that we do it, and he is not usually particularly helpful when it comes to meal planning, AND I have a Meal Plan Sanctioned reason to make nachos for dinner so I am HERE FOR IT.

I also got some beautiful cod from the grocery store (nothing notable about this trip, for which I am grateful) so we are having fish tacos tonight.

Dinners for the Week of August 10-August 16

Note: I haven’t been eating a lot of fish since the pandemic began, and I am kind of… craving it? Can you crave fish?

Note: I am going to make four chicken breasts instead of two, and then my husband can have the extras for the next two nights’ meals.

Note: This sounds suspiciously similar to the crockpot Indian-spiced chicken I make… But without the ease of the crockpot. I am wary. I don’t need chicken with mine, but my husband will have a leftover breast from Shawarma night. I am also a little irritated that I am supposed to go ANOTHER website to make a ginger-garlic sauce that is apparently essential not just for this dish but for the rice bowl AND noodle bowl later in the week.

Note: The Meal Plan decrees that we shall eat nachos; I must but comply.

Note: Okay, here’s where I hit a roadblock. I do not like ground pork. And the ground pork is supposed to be for this meal AND tomorrow’s meal, which makes it kind of essential. So… I guess I will crockpot some pork tenderloin instead?

Note: The recipe for the noodle bowls calls for ramen – like the kind you used to buy at the corner store in college? And heat up with one of those “Insta Hot” fountains outside the bathroom? Well, turns out that ramen is A Thing these days and my grocery store had about a million options. None of which was the corner store individual packet of ramen.

  • Takeout

 

Cocktail of the Week

Note: This sounds like a strawberry margarita with some black pepper in it. But I am intrigued.

 

Let’s pretend that we don’t care one way or another about the outcome, and let’s act like we are confident that we could calmly and resolutely march forward into the coming school year whatever it looks like, and let’s denude the entire situation of ALL its anxiety and stress and fear for the world and our own particular children, and let’s talk brightly and cheerfully about Back to School Shopping When We May Not Know Where School Will Take Place.

(Edited to add: We are currently anticipating sending Carla back to in-person school. Things could change; the school year doesn’t begin for a few weeks yet.)

So! My first question is about backpacks. How long do backpacks last? And, even if they are Sturdy Enough to last for multiple years, how long do they last from like a… user-preference standpoint? My husband says that Carla’s backpack – a Pottery Barn find of the Sturdy type – is totally fine for her again this year. She’s had it for three years, though, and – while it is still in Good Shape, it is looking a little dingy. My husband also reminds me that her backpack is a child’s size, and that he thinks a full size backpack would be too big for her. Maybe he’s right. But… at what age/size does a child need to pgrade to a full size backpack? I am not going into Pottery Barn kids anytime soon to compare sizes or have her try them on, so I realize we can only speak hypothetically here. Or perhaps – I am hoping – from experience. My own experience with backpacks is that I think I got a new one every year? I could be misremembering – conflating the Extreme Excitement I felt during the possibly fewer times I DID get a new backpack with general New School Supplies Excitement. (Oh man, is there anything as delightful as the purchase of a new TrapperKeeper and a colorful array of folders to snap inside it? I don’t know that many things in adulthood properly measure up.) Anyway: When it comes to backpacks for Carla, is it time for an update?

I am also wondering about school clothes. Carla’s school has a no-jeans dress code, with some other stipulations that I find less difficult to adhere to than “no jeans.” But I am not particularly inclined to buy her a whole closet full of new dresses at the moment. (See how I deftly sidestepped talking about WHY I am reluctant to do so?) She has a whole closet full of dresses, many of which still fit. And those that are too short, well, it’s harder to care about that sort of thing when you might only interact with other students over Zoom. (Whoops – got a little too close to The Subject We Are Avoiding there for a minute.)

She does need new pajamas, though. Her current jammies show off three or four inches of shoulder and wrist.  That’s not technically a Back to School Shopping Item, though.

What about shoes? Will there be a lot of shoe-wearing in our futures? WHO CAN PREDICT.

I think we are all set on water bottles. We have two, even if one is pretty battered. And we have masks galore (my dear friend, who said she would make Carla a mask, made her TEN MASKS and then made me a mask as well with the extra fabric she is a SAINT), so I am not worrying about facial protection.

Carla’s school provides all day-to-day school supplies, like crayons and paper and scissors and such (yes, I know we are deeply, deeply fortunate), so we don’t need to buy any of those things. Plus, we are All Set on that kind of thing at home from the end of the last school year.

Part of the thing about Back to School Shopping, though, is that it helps build excitement for the school year. I mean, that’s how I remember it. Getting new clothes and new pencils with perfectly sharpened tips and notebooks filled with fresh, crisp sheets of paper was all tied up in that thrill of nerves about the new school year beginning. Even if we have replaced the delicious anticipation about which teacher we’ll get and which kids will be in our class and which wing of the school we’ll be in with – skipping briskly over stressful subjects la la la – other things, we should still get to be excited about a new year, no? Maybe a First Day of School dress is in order? Maybe a new backpack or a new water bottle WOULD be a good use of money? Maybe I could get her a bunch of erasers in fun shapes and pencils in fun patterns and hand sanitizer in cloying scents and cute fidget toys? If they aren’t exactly necessary, maybe they would HELP nonetheless?

It feels like we’re all in this endless holding pattern. And, okay, even once Decisions have been made — and I know that What Happens With School has already been determined for a lot of people — life still isn’t The Way It Was. So all these routines and seasonal purchases and annual Things We Look Forward To just… aren’t there right now. I think I’m leaning toward getting a few things, just for the sake of (fake) normalcy, fun, and creating joy where we can. If there’s anything on the list, it should be those three things.

Plus, I have my own personal Back to School Shopping List, and let me tell you, it starts with tequila and ends with gin.

How is it that every day – Every. Day. – I find myself tortured by a single hair that has affixed itself to my side? It’s always in the same place – on my left side, within reaching distance of my left elbow, but just out of eyeline, so that I can only catch tiny glimpses of the hair if I contort my body in just the right sunlight. It does not seem to matter which shirt I am wearing – the hair is always there. Always grasping for the delicate skin of my inner arm, yet darting nimbly out of the way when I start feeling around for it with the fingers on my right hand. It’s tricky, too, pretending to retreat when I brush at my side. Only to pop up again when I am doing things like unloading the dishwasher or trying to make pancakes. (Don’t get excited. I am merely putting pre-made – by Eggo – pancakes into the microwave and then flipping them once.) Eventually, I get so mad at the hair, I wage all-out war, plucking at my shirt, my arm, my head, until I FINALLY extract the offending strand. It is typically, somehow, through the mysterious magic of hair, lodged INSIDE my shirt, as though the fabric had developed hair follicles and sprouted its own lush if single-stranded mane.

Today, I was attacked from both sides: the ubiquitous hair on the left was joined by a rarely-but-not-never-seen hair on the right side. Why am I dancing in the kitchen before my first sip of tea, you ask. It’s not dancing but the writhing gyrations of a creature enduring ticklish agony from an unseen enemy.

Every day I struggle. Every day. I have long since given up asking how. And why. But, if there is a way to prevent this from happening (Ponytails: doesn’t work. Vigorous morning hair brushing: nada. Going nude: haven’t tried it, but I’m rapidly approaching it as an option.), I am all ears.

It’s so funny (to me, only me) to see the difference in my meals for Week 2 of the time between grocery store visits. The fresh veggies ebb away and the sturdier veggies that can survive longer in the fridge take their place.

I do also usually get a smallish curbside order of things like cherry tomatoes and Lunchables to supplement our pantry. I would order more veggies this way, but the in-store shoppers – bless them; they did, after all, bless ME with six pounds of sour cream, long gone – are not good at choosing vegetables. I always end up with a short, gnarled stub of pockmarked zucchini or a lime that looks like its been on the floor of someone’s pantry since March. So I really only get the necessities. (Cherry tomatoes are a necessity.)

Dinners for the Week of August 3 – August 9

Note: I found a package of salmon fillets deep in my freezer and am going to use them up!

Note: This chickpea salad is GREAT for lunches, so I call dibs on the leftovers!

Note: I don’t have any fresh spinach, but I do have a plastic clamshell of arugula which holds up really well. Also, I am debating whether I should make some focaccia this weekend. I have never made it before but it sounds DECADENT.

  • Chili
  • Takeout

Cocktail of the Week

Note: I made Frose once before this summer and it was kind of meh. I think that may be because I am kind of meh on Rose. Makes sense that if you freeze it, it doesn’t get much better. But Frose just SOUNDS so light and refreshing and summery! And THIS recipe sounds promising because it also includes sugar and vodka. We’ll see how it goes!

 

What are you planning for dinner this week, Internet?

City lights

One of the recurring thoughts I’ve had throughout this pandemic is about my friend who died last fall. I will hear a news report or read a headline or catch an update about the status of things in New York City (where she lived) and I will think, “Oh man, Friend would have been so scared and upset.”

And she would have been. She had a compromised immune system. She lived in one of the busiest cities in the world. She took public transportation to and from work. She would have been terrified of this pandemic. And she would have felt trapped. She was an extrovert who loved to explore all the wonderful things her city had to offer. She was always going out to restaurants and bars and concerts and clubs and galleries and showcases and conferences and fancy events. She loved to travel, and I know she and her family would have had to cancel at least one of their semi-annual trips because of the pandemic, and she would have been so bummed.

It seems like the logical follow up thought would be something like, “Well, at least she’s at peace. At least she doesn’t have to be scared of getting Covid. At least she didn’t have to miss out on all those things.”

But that’s not what I think. I wish she were here. I don’t wish she were scared, obviously. But I wish she were here. I want so badly to be able to call her and talk to her about what’s going on the world. We would lament the impotency of our leadership. We would talk about hand sanitizer and bleach spray and disinfectant wipes. We would compare notes on pandemic snacks and TV shows and books.

I like to think how she would have made do in the pandemic. More than made do – she would have found some way to thrive. She was unfailingly positive. She was determined, especially when it came to getting what she wanted, especially if what she wanted involved chocolate. I am SURE she would have talked her employer into letting her work from home. That she would have locked herself securely into her condo. That she would have sprayed the inside of the stairwell or elevator with Lysol any time she was forced to use them. That she would have found some way to cajole some friend or neighbor into helping her take care of things like mail delivery and trash disposal.

I bet she would have created an elaborate and contact-free plan for trying all the best takeout in the city. I bet she would have figured out all the ways to get chocolate and ice cream and cookies delivered straight to her door. And she would have kept track of everything – taste, cost, ease of delivery, kindness of delivery person – in a spreadsheet, for easy reference.

She was single, and I bet she would have attempted pandemic dating – and I can just imagine the stories she would have told me about men she met online and their virtual dates. (“He gave me a tour of his apartment and he has great art and an excellent view but he clearly hasn’t done laundry since March!” or “He kept asking if I would point my phone camera at my feet, so I told him I thought I was coming down with Covid and hung up.” or “We did a Zoom trivia and he didn’t know who Bono was!!!!”) She loved music of all kinds, and I bet she would have figured out which bands and songwriters were doing private shows. She would have filled her schedule with Facebook and Instagram live concerts and she would have taken advantage of all the virtual museum tours and presentations she could find.

She would have found some way to make life better for others. She was passionate about organ donation, and she would have come up with statistics about how the pandemic is affecting those who are awaiting transplants and she would have shared all sorts of facts and resources via social media to let people know how to help. She was a motivational speaker as a side gig, and I bet she would have found some way to record herself giving speeches to remind people that they can get through anything as long as they don’t give up.

Her parents were a big part of her life, and I imagine talking to her about how they would be dealing with the pandemic. Maybe her dad would be a little resistant to masks – or maybe he would really lean in to mask-wearing and buy masks that matched his shirts. Maybe her mom would be appalled at the thought of schools reopening as usual. I bet my friend and I would giggle over her parents’ attempts to get her to move back home, and roll our eyes over that one uncle who was completely clueless and determined to pretend the pandemic wasn’t happening. I bet we would worry over her brother, who is a performing artist and therefore probably out of work for an unknown duration. I bet she would tell me about her weekly family Zoom chats and how wonderful slash irritating everyone is when you’re forced to stay apart.

Well. This is a silly pursuit. None of those conversations will happen. But it does give me a brief moment of pleasure, to imagine an alternate world, one in which my friend is still happy and healthy and alive.

 

 

 

It’s been about a year since she went into the hospital, hoping to get better. It’s been more than ten months since she died, since she left the planet a little darker, a little emptier than it was before. She never had to endure the fear and uncertainty and grief of this pandemic, and I’m grateful for that. But nonetheless, I wish she were here.

I have a very unromantic recommendation for you today. But it is something that I have had for YEARS and for which I have been extremely grateful these past few pandemic months.

It is a zooper – otherwise known as a handheld vacuum. We always called it a zooper when I was growing up; I don’t know why. Maybe because of the noise it makes? And “zoop” is a verb – you go zoop something up with the zooper. Sometimes we called it a Dustbuster, but I think that’s a proprietary eponym, like Kleenex is for facial tissue or Band-Aid is for sticking plaster.

Anyway, in pre-pandemic times, I would use the zooper approximately once a day. Carla has an uncanny ability to produce crumbs, so I would mainly do a little tour under her seat at the counter, but then I’d give a quick once-over to the kitchen and the entryway.

During These Unprecedented Times, when Carla and I are here all day every day and have nothing better to do than produce endless messes, I am using the zooper twice a day, at least.

Carla is still a crumb generator. Plus, it’s summer, so we are in and out and constantly tracking in playground mulch and grass strands and pieces of dirt. Plus, Carla’s new-since-the-pandemic fascination has been making clothing for her Barbies and stuffed animals, so there are bits of paper and tape and fabric and dried-up fabric glue and yarn and string and beads everywhere constantly. To stay on top of things, I make a daily round with the zooper each morning after breakfast and each evening before bed, with an occasional mid-day zooping if we’ve been particularly prodigious with fashion production or going outside and back in thirty times.

Zooper

photo from amazon.com

My zooper – the Black and Decker cordless handheld vacuum – is excellent. It’s lasted for at least three years – probably longer; I can’t remember when we got it – and it’s still going strong. And it’s helping to keep me sane.

Things I like about it:

  • It has a small charging base that’s easy to fit in an unobtrusive corner. I suppose you could wall-mount it, if you wanted to, but I haven’t checked.
  • It maintains its charge very well. Previous handheld vacuums have gradually lost power over the years, until they have the stamina and sucking power of an aging tortoise. Actually, now that I think of it, I know very little about the stamina or sucking power of a tortoise of any age. Hmm. Well, onward. I shall say, instead, that I’ve had this zooper for years and have never had a single problem with it losing power or suction.
  • It has a nice long neck, which allows you to get into things like the tracks of sliding doors and the space underneath the oven. (The helpful diagram on the product page refers to the neck as a “nozzle” which is a delightful word.)
  • It is VERY easy to clean. You pop out the little plastic container, dump your household detritus in the trash. Pop out the filter, dump it out. You can wipe everything clean with a damp cloth. And then everything pops back together easy peasy lemon squeezy.
  • It’s lightweight (just 2.6 pounds) and easy to hold. My only problem with excessive zooping is that my back starts to ache from all the bending. I am not meant to wander back and forth the length of my house whilst stooped over. But it’s just my back; my arm never gets tired.

Things I don’t like or about which I am neutral:

  • It’s kind of pricey. Amazon is selling it for $72.99 right now, which seems like A LOT to shell out for a handheld vacuum.
  • The neck has a flip-up brush tool that I have literally never used. The brush isn’t bothersome, though; it lives folded down against the neck of the zooper, like a coarse little goatee.

I feel kind of lame, recommending something so utilitarian. But my admiration for its utility has grown so much over these past few months – I really lean on it to help me keep my house from feeling like a hovel in between Big Cleanings.

This is what being An Adult means, I guess. Feeling evangelical about a household item.

 

What silly household things are making your life easier these days?

Now, Cake

My daughter turned seven a few weeks ago. Seven. All done with first grade, and off (or not off, depending on Many Factors) to second grade in a few short weeks. I cannot believe it. She is SO grown up.

7 balloon

The Birthday Girl

At seven, she seems to enjoy “crafting” more than any other activity. She defines “crafting” as drawing; sculpting with clay; sewing; creating clothing for her Barbies and stuffed animals out of scraps of fabric, fabric glue, and Velcro tape; or making a wide variety of things out of paper or cardboard. A confetti of paper, fabric, and cardboard scraps follows her from room to room, and we have had to invest in a craft mat to protect the table and floors from glue, tape, and clay residue. (It is useful insofar as she remembers to bring it with her to various crafting spaces in the house. I sense multiple craft mats in our future.)

She loves to sing and to listen to music of all kinds. She adores any and all animals, and any time we go for a walk or a bike ride, she makes friends with any dog owner we pass. Her day is absolutely made whenever she gets to pet a dog. (It is hard to stay socially distant while giving a good dog some pats, but we are working really hard at it.)

She has grown four inches since last year. She still loves dresses, but prefers pajamas during these long pandemic days. She adores the Story Pirates podcast and listens to episodes until she has them memorized. It is really expanding her vocabulary; one day I said something silly about maybe a chair or something walking over to her, and she gave me a withering look and said, “Mommy, it did NOT walk, it is INANIMATE.” Delightful.

She can truly and honest-to-goodness read, pretty much anything. But she is still what I would call a reluctant reader; she prefers to be read TO, and she gets frustrated if she encounters a single word she can’t read. She’s an intuitive reader, and so can “guess” what some surprisingly large words are, but other words trip her up because they aren’t sound-out-able (or, more often, she doesn’t feel like sounding them out). I am hopeful that the phase where she constantly has her nose stuck in a book is right around the corner, but…

She loves being active as much as she loves making a cardboard house for her Barbie’s cats, but lately I have to exert a lot of persuasion to get her outside and moving. Once out, she loves riding her bike and her scooter, playing (large, plastic, no-net) badminton and (beachball) volleyball with me in the backyard, collecting bugs, and swinging on her swingset. Her uncle and aunt gave her a bug collecting kit for her birthday and she loves to put on all the accessories and seek out sow bugs and spiders and beetles from the darkest corners of our yard.

She still eats almost nothing. I don’t mean volume – she eats a good amount of food. I mean variety. She eats a lot of chicken nuggets and fish sticks and tacos. The exception is fruit; she loves almost all fruits outside of the melon family. I almost always have to order curbside pickup in between grocery store visits, just so I can get more berries and tomatoes; we go through three to four pints of tomatoes in a two-week period, mainly because of her.

She is kind and creative and enthusiastic and affectionate. She is super supportive and encouraging. She is FULL of ideas. She is still occasionally cuddly – right up until she puts her feet on my legs and I have to be DONE with cuddling because ew. She is a chatterbox who loves to talk and ask questions and learn things.

She is absolutely wonderful. I cannot wait to see what seven has in store for us.

The Birthday Itself

Her birthday passed this year without my usual weekslong lead up of Birthday Anxiety. Well, there was SOME Birthday Anxiety, because this is me we’re talking about. But it was very mild. Lest we all rejoice that I am finally mellowing out, consider these relevant facts:

  1. I have been spending SO MUCH time with Carla since March. So. Much. Time. We, like the rest of the known universe, have transitioned from enjoying plenty of time together during Not School to enjoying plenty of time together during Not Camp. Because we have no local relatives and because we are still Staying At Home as much as is humanly possible (read: almost all hours of every day) and because my husband is now back to working in the office most days at an almost regular schedule, this means that we are alone together for approximately ten hours every day. It has been wonderful and challenging. And I am missing NOTHING of her life, which is such a blessing. The result was that I experienced almost none of that Childhood Is Fleeting panic in the weeks leading up to her birthday. I am getting a front row, minute-by-minute experience of her life. And while there are many things about our collective present situation I would change, I would not change that.
  2. There was no birthday party to plan for! Well. We did have, at Carla’s request, a Zoom birthday party with all of her grandparents, aunts, uncle, and cousin). But I waited until the absolute last minute to plan that and it was relatively easy: Carla opened presents, said an enthusiastic thank you after each gift reveal, blew out the candles on her cake, and the party was OVER. Easiest party ever.
7 Presents 2

Gifts from relatives! All from Amazon, nearly all wrapped before they arrived. I am pleased to see that Amazon is experimenting with some different styles of gift wrap.

I admit that I did go a little overboard with the presents – and with overthinking the presents, and worrying that she wasn’t getting enough presents, and fretting over whether her birthday would be special enough. (At one point, I was wondering if I could pull off a Chalk Party, where her friends would come by in the now-familiar parade format and leave a chalk message on the driveway. I was researching individual boxes of chalk we could give out as a favors and trying to figure out how I could time it so that there was plenty of social distancing but not too much waiting in your car. Fortunately for all of us, Carla did not want so much attention.) You know, all the things that someone with no real worries can turn her mind to. But I think we hit exactly the right notes with everything: we had the party and the family presents to look forward to on the day before her birthday, and a special taco dinner. And then on her actual birthday, she got to open presents from me and her father, plus she had pancakes for EVERY SINGLE MEAL, plus she got to start (virtual) Story Pirates camp, PLUS, during camp and completely unplanned, she got to talk to one of the actual Story Pirates (Lee) and ask him a question which was like meeting a celebrity and made the entire camp worth the cost.

7 Presents

Gifts from her parents. I do love the flower theme.

The Birthday Cake

Anyway: cake. In the months leading up to her party, Carla went back and forth about what kind of cake she wanted. For a very long time, she wanted a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. At first, she wanted a tiger theme, and I was fretting over how to add tiger stripes to chocolate cake batter and chocolate frosting. But then she decided she wanted a flower theme, and the chocolate frosting would be the dirt out of which would bloom flowers made of icing. Then, she decided she wanted LEMON cake, but with chocolate frosting. I have never had that combination, but I found a recipe online and was all set to make it for her when she decided, at the last minute, that she wanted lemon cake with cream cheese buttercream frosting. Still with the flower theme, although I kept having to temper her expectations for what the flowers would look like.

7 Cake 1

I made this lemon cake with lemon cream cheese buttercream frosting. I also made my own lemon curd, which I put between the layers instead of buttercream; I thought it would benefit from a little extra tartness, to keep it from being too sweet.

7 Cake 2

I researched a variety of ways to create buttercream flowers. Yes, I know I could do them with piping tips. But I also know that I do not have a great track record of success with buttercream flowers. So I wanted to do something else. I discovered two really cool options – the first is the carved buttercream or scratch art technique, but my husband kindly and gently suggested that it might be a more advanced technique than I might want to experiment with on so fraught an occasion. So I went with the painted buttercream technique, hoping to evoke more impressions of flowers than actual flowers.

7 Cake 3

The Cake Results

The lemon curd turned out great, but I did not use enough of it. I think I could have done a thin layer of buttercream AND a thicker layer of lemon curd in between each layer. Oh well.

Worst, I overmixed the cake. One of the very clear directions in the recipe is to mix the ingredients until just combined. And as I was mixing them together, I kept fretting: you’re overmixing! you’re overmixing! But it turns out that I have no idea what “just combined” means. And so I did indeed overmix the batter and it turned out to be kind of heavy and dense. Oh well. It still tasted pretty good. I just do not know how to make the light and fluffy cake of my mind’s eye (my mind’s taste? my tongue’s dream?).

The painted buttercream technique went fine, I think. The end product looked more clumsy than impressionistic, but whatever. I am an AMATEUR baker. Carla seemed to like it, so that’s all that matters.

Cake age 7

See? I really AM mellowing with age and quarantine.

First of all, I love you, Internet. Thank you for understanding. Secondly, turns out I am not yet in the mood to talk about cake. Instead, I have some randomosity.

  • Today was my twice-monthly grocery store run. I didn’t see anyone without a mask. Nothing seemed to be out of stock — plenty of pasta, beans, sauces, cheese, frozen pancakes. The green pepper situation was atrocious, which is disappointing to me because they are one of my favorite vegetables, but I don’t think that has anything to do with the pandemic. I am aware there is a graham cracker shortage, based on my previous grocery store run, but I have enough for my family’s limited graham cracker needs. Fortunately, pickles were well stocked. This is relevant to me because I just purchased the sixteenth and seventeenth jars of pickles since the pandemic has begun. Maybe this doesn’t seem THAT outrageous. Until you realize that the only person who has eaten ANY pickles at all is Carla. Since she still barely eats anything green – peas, occasionally green beans, very rarely broccoli – I am counting pickles as a vegetable.
Pickles

I have no idea why this picture is so off kilter. I tried to adjust it so it didn’t look I was standing sideways and no matter how I did it, it looked odd.

  • Probably I should buy THREE jars of pickles every two weeks. Carla would certainly eat them. But considering I am one of the few shoppers who seems to be filling her cart so full that the baggers automatically go and get me an extra cart when I pull up to the checkout, I think we are doing okay with two. Also, there has to be a limit to how many pickles a person can eat. We may not have reached it, but we are certainly VERY CLOSE.
  • I have stopped keeping the pickle jars. My husband helped me recycle a bunch of the jars I had saved and I have since been – woefully, regretfully – recycling each new jar as it is finished. The only thing that has helped me let go of these beautiful, beautiful jars is that they NEVER stop smelling like pickles. I have run them all through the dishwasher multiple times, I have cleaned them out with boiling vinegar and baking soda, I have handwashed them with Dawn, and they still reek of their former occupants.
  • Another pandemic food milestone we have reached – if you can count “sixteenth and seventeenth jars of pickles” as a milestone; frankly, I am counting each new jar as a milestone in itself – is that we have finally reached the end of our frozen chicken supply. Way back in February, when there were murmurings of needing two weeks of food, I started buying extra packages of chicken and ground beef so our freezer would have two weeks’ worth at any time. I have continued to buy one or two packages of chicken and ground beef each time I go to the store, freezing extras, so it took a long time to go through it all. But this week we ate the very last package of frozen chicken. Today, I bought enough chicken for the next two weeks, but not beyond that. (Again, when I’m already buying So Much Food, it feels really weird/greedy to be getting extras, even though there is no limit on number of packages anymore.)
  • Instead of a freezer full of meat, we have moved onto a freezer full of frozen fruit. While I have in general stopped drinking alcohol during the week (except on days when our governor holds a Big Press Conference), I am making Fun Cocktails on the weekends. Pina coladas, strawberry daiquiris, frozen vodka lemonade, frozen mango margaritas, frose. This afternoon I am making frozen palomas; I will report back.
  • Speaking of milestones: Carla finished first grade! Maybe I will say this with every grade she completes, but it feels like first grade is the End of the Small Child Years. Second grade seems so… BIG. Maybe because second grade is the first year of which I have real, distinct memories. I have little clips and memory shorts of kindergarten and first grade, but second grade I REMEMBER. I don’t know whether to hope the same for Carla; second grade for her, after all, is building up to be memorable in very unpleasant ways. Anyway: we got to say goodbye to her wonderful, wonderful teachers – to whom I am so grateful because they are kind and loving and did their absolute BEST to make remote learning worthwhile for the kids and less of a burden on the parents – and we got to say goodbye to endless hours of arguing over work Carla didn’t want to do and I didn’t know how to teach.
  • Carla’s teachers came over to say goodbye in person. It was so sweet. They sat in the grass on our lawn and chatted with Carla while I valiantly held back tears. The import of the moment didn’t really hit Carla – she loved seeing them, but didn’t get upset at all about saying goodbye which is unusual for her. Her biggest takeaway was that they arrived together in one car! Together! In the same car! TOGETHER! This pandemic is really screwing up our kids, isn’t it. We gave her teachers s’mores cupcakes and I wrote each of them a rambling and tearful and effusive letter about how much they meant to me and to Carla. (I also contributed to the class gift; why I feel compelled to stress this point, I don’t know.)

Smores cupcakes

  • We celebrated the end of remote learning (“end” — ha – we’ll see about that, won’t we) with a fancy tea party in our living room. Carla was so delighted by it that I wonder why I don’t do it more often. It takes very little effort and brings her so much joy.
Tea party

Fancy child’s tea set from my own childhood paired with my grandmother’s china. Makes mini PB&J sandwiches and chickpea salad and lemonade that much tastier. And once again I do not understand the camera angle here and why everything looks slightly wonky. Also, I do not iron tablecloths for Thanksgiving or Christmas so I definitely do not iron tablecloths for tea parties.

  • Summer has been okay so far. I was very, very sad that camp couldn’t happen this year. But Carla and I are making do. We are still Staying Home as much as possible – for us, things haven’t really changed since March/April, except that fewer people seem to be doing the same thing. I have been planning some lessons for us to work on each day – some are a bigger hit than others – and we have been doing a LOT of bike riding/walking and scootering/walking (I am the one doing the walking) and a LOT of screen using and a LOT of playing in our backyard and a LOT of collecting bugs. It is a quiet, sometimes lonely summer, but I think it is going better than I anticipated.
Sow bug 1

You cannot see them, but there are sow bugs in the little tupperware. We found them under a big rock in the backyard. Carla put the container in the planter so the sow bugs could have “some beautiful flower scenery.” She didn’t believe me when I suggested that the sow bugs probably preferred their own dark, moist under-rock scenery, but maybe they enjoyed the change.

  • It has been a quiet, sometimes lonely summer, but I think it is going better than I anticipated. In fact, some days are really good. Some days Carla loves the projects I have assigned her, and/or we spend most of the day outside making obstacle courses with chalk and running through the sprinkler, and/or we cuddle up on the couch and eat popcorn and watch movies old together (I’m talking original-Jumanji old, not Casablanca), and/or we have picnics and popsicles under the tree in our front yard, and/or make baked goods together. Some days, though, we have door slamming and very pointed signage.
Mom keep out sign

That, if you have not already guessed, is me.

  • This stage of the pandemic seems to be centered largely around acceptable risk. (I wrote “reasonable” but then erased it, because while I cannot see someone hosting a large, mask-free get-together as “reasonable,” I can see it as acceptable to that person.) I feel sort of a grim determination to stick to my own low level of risk-taking. The only not-my-home building I regularly enter (every two weeks) is the grocery store. I have been to Costco, wearing a mask, twice since February. I have been into Barnes and Noble once, wearing a mask, to get Carla her free birthday cupcake, and she and I went into an empty donut shop, wearing masks, to get a donut. I have also been into the post office two or three times, wearing a mask, to swiftly drop off my pre-paid packages and get the hell out of there. I have been to the doctor once, and then to the lab. I have also been briefly inside a couple of restaurants, to pick up takeout. And inside the gas station, twice, to refill our propane tank. All while wearing a mask. These very infrequent and short-term visits seem acceptable to me, although I fret about them before and after.
  • Other people so CLEARLY have a different, higher tolerance for risk. And there is such a wide range! From hunkering down at home and ordering everything to be delivered and then disinfecting every item, like a friend of mine continues to do, to going pretty much back to business as usual but with a mask, to completely denying that there is a pandemic at all. The gas station where I get propane for our grill, for instance, is some sort of local crossroads for anti-maskers. The first time I went in, I was the only person in the entire place wearing a mask. The second time, after our city made mask-wearing mandatory, only one person was without a mask. But ALL five of the staff had their masks down around their chins. (And the person who took my propane tank order could not understand me!!! While it is most likely that he was just hard of hearing, part of me wonders if he was doing it on purpose, to goad me into removing my mask. I held firm, repeating myself more loudly and slowly. Fortunately, the unmasked construction worker next to me helped me out by saying, “She wants to exchange her propane tank.” Phew.)
  • Carla and I have not been wearing masks when we go to local parks for bike rides. We are so rarely in the proximity of others, and even then, it’s for such a brief period. And we are outside, which scientists seem to agree makes it tougher to contract Covid19. So for me, it is an acceptable risk to leave our masks in the car. (Well, I carry one for each of us in my fanny pack just in case.) But… I still feel anxious about it. Also, when we encounter other walkers/bikers who ARE wearing masks, I feel guilty. “I wear masks too!” I want to assure them. “I’m not one of those people who thinks it’s ridiculous!” Instead, I try to give them as much clearance as possible, and to communicate with my smile that I am WITH them, not against them. But I wonder if, after they pass, they whisper amongst themselves or complain on their blogs about how so many people DON’T wear masks when out riding bikes/walking, what is WRONG with them?! And I don’t blame them. We all have our personal levels of acceptable risk and it’s hard not to feel weird when you encounter someone with a different risk threshold.
  • I have engaged in four social outings, three with the same family. One occasion, we all went on a bike ride with family friends. One occasion, I brought a bottle of champagne to my friend’s house for her birthday and we sat in her backyard on opposite ends of a table and put the bottle of bubbly in the center alongside a bottle of hand sanitizer. (I also brought my own glass.) On two occasions, I brought my husband and daughter along to that same friend’s house. These family friends are being VERY careful, and they are very close friends, and we’ve been outside each time. We sit at least six feet apart. We haven’t shared any meals (although I may be getting closer to being okay with doing so). We haven’t used their bathroom. It’s been very nice to get together with other adults. And I think Carla has loved playing with their kids.
  • Speaking of kids: we have had a couple of accidental playdates. With people we know; they just weren’t planned and I would not have agreed to them had we discussed them in the first place. But I have not been able to figure out how to reject a playdate once it’s sort of already in action. Like if someone shows up at your house to drop something off and then the kids see each other and are so delighted about the opportunity to hang out that you just don’t know how to disentangle yourself. (Especially because you are Staying at Home, so there are no reasonable excuses.) One of the families has a wildly different idea of acceptable risk than I do, so I have been trying really hard to prevent any more accidental (or planned) playdates from happening with them. It’s easier to decline when I am being specifically asked to do something. The thing is: kids are BAD at social distancing. No matter how many times I remind Carla, in advance and in the moment, she can’t seem to remember/understand the six-feet rule. I keep seesawing between wanting to tell her the playdate will end immediately if she can’t keep her distance… and not wanting to give her a complex. It’s so hard.
  • Also, I feel constantly judgmental. Saying that I have this very low-level of risk acceptance – and not doing the things that are above that threshold – just makes me seem like I am questioning your choices. And, okay, sometimes I AM judgmental; if you are the manager of a pizza place and you remove your mask to tell me how things are backed up because it is super hot in the restaurant and everyone has to wear masks at all times, I am going to judge you. (I am also going to feel sorry for you, because it must be super uncomfortable to be wearing a hot mask while working around super hot pizza ovens. But wearing a mask means WEARING the mask.) But usually I am NOT judging you and your choices. Carla has a friend whose parents seem much more relaxed about things – they are operating more in the vein of “social interaction trumps social distancing” and I GET IT. I do not think badly of them for engineering get-togethers for their kids, even though I am uncomfortable joining them. I am not judging them. I am just feeling grim. I wish I felt like I could take more risks. I wish I could be more sanguine about where we are with this pandemic. I wish I wasn’t so full of fear and despair.
  • I am avoiding writing anything about the upcoming school year. It is all horrible.
  • Oh here is something school-related that isn’t quite so awful. Well, okay, it is heartbreaking in its own way, but it’s PRACTICAL and we can DO SOMETHING about it. That is: Masks. Carla has been practicing wearing masks. (I have joined her so she doesn’t feel singled out.) (This makes it sound like her choice; I am FORCING her to practice wearing a mask.) We have been doing it roughly every day for a week or so now, increasing the duration by five minutes a day. It is going okay. I like that I can be there to note when her nose pops out so I can remind her that her nose has to be covered. And I like that I can see the masks in action.
  • To prepare for school, I have been trying to stock up on masks for her. I estimate she’ll need at least one for each day of the week (this is assuming she goes to school in person and for five days in a row — I am such an optimist! both about there being this option and about my comfort level in having her attend!), because I don’t want to wash masks more than once a week. And that she will also need extras because kids lose things. But it’s hard to know what the RIGHT mask is. Right now, she has five masks from Hanna Andersson, which are in cute, bright colors and seem well-made and have a little pocket for a filter. (I haven’t yet figured out filters.) She also has five masks from Old Navy which are also pretty cute, but are wider than the Hanna masks. They don’t have a pocket for a filter. I also got five of the Old Navy ones and I like them just fine. But they don’t fit Carla well at ALL, so I’m really glad we are practicing now so that we can find something that works. I also ordered two face masks from Guess (I had a gift card that has been in my wallet for nearly twenty years and I FINALLY used it to buy masks which was the perfect way to spend it), and the kids’ one is ENORMOUS, even after washing and drying. A friend of mine is sewing face masks for her family and offered to make a couple for Carla, which I gladly took her up on. (I ordered some curbside pickup fabric from Joann Fabric, and also provided my friend with an old, soft pillowcase for the lining.)
Kids masks

Kids’ masks: Hanna on the left, Old Navy on the right, Guess not pictured because it is unwearable.

  • The biggest problem with the kids’ masks is the ear loops. Way back at the beginning of the pandemic, I ordered a couple of masks from Etsy that had the ties that go around your head. Those are so much better for Carla – they just fit her face better – but she cannot tie the ties herself and I am certain her teachers will not want/be able to help her. But the ones with elastic loops that go over her ears… well, the loops are too long and keep coming off her ears. There was a video going around online that showed a way to adjust your mask, but that didn’t work for Carla’s masks. So I think I am going to order some ear loop adjusters from Amazon and see if those help. If not… I guess I will hope that my friend feels up to sewing ten masks for Carla. (Just kidding.)
  • To end on a truly random note, my favorite pandemic food (currently) is this vodka pasta that is attributed to Gigi Hadid for reasons I have declined to care about. It is SO delicious and decadent.

 

Okay, that’s enough babbling for today, Internet. What’s up with you?