Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Yesterday we had a Parent Appreciation Luncheon at Carla’s school and I am still reeling from the experience.  Reeling may not be the right word. Perhaps “steeped in self pity” is more accurate, I’m not sure, I am destined to fail at all things including appropriate word choice.

At the top of the luncheon, all the kids in the entire grade got up and did a little song and dance routine. It was very cute. And then they got to usher us to our seats in the cafeteria and then we all ate lunch(eon) together. There was a lot of down time at the beginning while the teachers corralled all the kiddos and got them pointed in the right direction. Which meant that there was plenty of time for me to be SUPER socially awkward and inept and anxious about it.

Let’s just get one frustrating thing out of the way right up front, which is that my husband wasn’t able to make it to the luncheon. And yes, he’s on call, and yes, I’m sure there were single parents in the mix, and even in the case of two-parent households, I’m sure that other parents weren’t able to make it, and/or they have been at their jobs longer than my husband has been at his and feel more comfortable taking off in the middle of the day and/or have spouses who were more persistent about reminding them to find some way to take the time off, but it SEEMED like every child there had two parents except Carla, including two other physicians, which at baseline made me a) feel guilty and b) feel lonely. If my husband had been there, I could have at least talked exclusively to him, instead of sitting there mentally rending my garments as I tried desperately to gather the courage to go talk to someone.

While we were waiting for the kids to set up, I saw another mom that I have been friendly with in the past. If I’m being honest, I wish she were my best friend: she’s so lovely and put together and smart and friendly and kind. She started talking to me, which was nice. But then one of her friends came up to us, and the two of them started talking, and I started to panic. Was I supposed to join in the conversation, about things they have in common and about which I know nothing? Was I supposed to excuse myself and go… stand in a corner? I ended up doing neither, and just stood there silently with what I hoped was a calm, friendly, I’m-a-good-listener smile plastered on my face and nodded along with them. They were nice about it, making eye contact with me occasionally as though I were part of the conversation. It’s not like I was entirely mute; I tried to make interested-sounding noises even though I was much too panicked to focus on what they were saying. And then another friend of theirs came up and joined in and I just kept standing there, my anxiety flinging itself against the inside of my brain like a fish trying to escape its tank, and I tried to ask questions where I could – but they were obviously “I am making conversation” questions and not “I’m part of the conversation” questions, you know? – and tried to laugh and continue to make “I’m totally taking part in this discussion” noises. And the cafeteria was super hot and I started sweating and I became uncomfortably aware of the inside of my mouth and how my breath could not be great even though I definitely brushed and flossed before I came. And I didn’t know the other moms at all, or who their kids were, and – as is always the case anyway – I couldn’t figure out the rhythm of the conversation well enough to interject with a new subject or a related anecdote or a pertinent question. Not that I could properly follow along with the conversation anyway; as I mentioned before, I was too focused on all the THINGS going on in my head to focus on what they were saying.

Finally, a teacher called us to attention and we got to watch the kids’ little performance, which was a nice break. The ladies I’d been “talking with” drifted off to find their spouses and I stood by myself, clutching my sweater (why had I brought a sweater when clearly I’d entered one of the flaming hottest circles of hell???) and my purse and my desire to leave immediately and/or melt into the floor.

And then it was “luncheon” time, and once again I had to navigate the extreme horror of talking to a parent I don’t know that well. This time, across the table. Unfortunately, this parent was either as shy/uncomfortable as I am, or she had already written me off as no use to her. So my lame attempts at conversation were met with single word answers and apparent disinterest. You’d think this would be a good thing! Lets me off the hook, right? But instead, I kept trying to make lame small talk because I wanted her to like me. Obviously she wasn’t talking to me because she’d written me off as Not Worthy of Her Time, right? Okay, okay, so possibly she was having her own inner freak out about having to talk to me and fending off similar worries. Either way, I don’t hold it against her.

Fortunately, Carla was with me at this point, so I could direct most of my attention to her. But as we lunched, I was very aware of all the other parents in the room, laughing and chatting and having a great time. I mean, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only person in the room who doesn’t like groups/crowds/forcible mingling. But it never FEELS like there are others. Instead, it feels like everyone else finds social interaction super easy, and, not only that, but fun, which I find incomprehensible. I long for “easy.” Fun is a pipe dream.

Finally, when I was able to escape, I ran into a couple of familiar couples on the way down the hall. They are all super nice and friendly, but they were in couples, and seemed to be talking to each other, and plus one of the women was the woman whose friend-group I’d horned in on earlier and she was almost certainly done with conversational babysitting, so I tried to smile and make nice friendly noises, but then I motored on past to leave the school and get in my car and go far far away. And as I was doing that, I was mentally chiding myself for avoiding them instead of trying to interact with them. You can’t make friends with people if you dart past them every time you see them! Friendships are not built on awkward smiles and waves and “have a great day”s tossed over your shoulder! (Why not, though?)

And I DO wish I were friends with more of the parents at Carla’s school. So many of them seem great! But the way you get to know people is by talking to them during these school events, and I get so flustered and self-conscious that I just can’t do it. It’s moderately okay one on one, but when there are two or more people, I stop being able to think. I have no idea how to join the flow of conversation. I have no idea what to say. I often walk past little clusters of moms in the hallway after drop off and wonder what in the hell are they talking about?!?! I have no clue, absolutely none.

And then I go home and feel horrible, as I did yesterday. And the bad feelings remain. I feel lonely and isolated, which are terrible feelings to begin with. But then I also feel culpable, because it’s my own fault I don’t have friends. It can’t be THAT hard! Other people do it all the time! There must be something wrong with me that I am always and forever on the outside.

Hence the pity party.

We have a big Parent Breakfast coming up, as part of the kids’ transition into kindergarten. (KINDERGARTEN. Let’s reserve that panic attack for another post.) So I anticipate more of the same sweaty awkwardness and wallflowering and self-loathing to follow in a few short days! Yay!

Advertisements

When I gave up sugar last month, I struggled a lot with the liquid portion of the restriction. I’d been drinking black tea with sweetened creamer for the past billion years, and it turns out that black tea with milk or half-and-half is NOT the same.

My friend had mentioned that she’d started drinking matcha… and it seems to be really trendy right now… and I have liked it in the past, so I decided to start drinking it too.

Matcha latte

My mug has seen better days.

Matcha is a Japanese green tea powder that you mix with hot water and – for a latte – frothed milk. I think it has a very mild, pleasant grassy flavor. It doesn’t remind me much of the green tea you make with tea bags, but I suppose they must have related flavor profiles because matcha is just powdered green tea leaves.

Starbucks sells a matcha latte. And it is delicious. But I will let you know that the matcha is sweetened. (That’s why a grande at Starbucks is 240 calories, and my homemade version is 75 calories and that’s because I use whole milk.) You can buy sweetened matcha, but you can also buy regular matcha. My computer does not recognize matcha as a word, so there is a LOT of red underlining happening right now.

My husband is a big coffee drinker – an afficianado, shall we say. He has all sorts of fancy coffee makers, and he does pour over coffee and drip coffee and cold brew and some other kind of coffee with a totally different kind of coffee thingamabob. He grinds his own beans. You know. It’s a big process. And on weekends he enjoys getting out one of his fancy coffee makers and making The Perfect Cup. It’s almost ceremonial, I say as an onlooker to these strange-to-me coffee rituals. It seems to center him and give him immense satisfaction by making coffee exactly the way he likes it.

Well, I do not enjoy the ritual part of making tea. I enjoy the drinking part. I drink tea because I like drinking it. I like having a warm cup of milky tea next to me while I write. It’s a good way to start the day. But I want the making part to be QUICK. And EASY.

Years ago, my husband got me an electric tea kettle that makes the boiling water part of tea making very easy. It has all these options for water temperature, including for different types of tea. One of the temperature options is “Green” (175 degrees F) so you just press a button and you’re on your way. Holy cappuccino that is one expensive tea kettle! Well, I use it every single day. But there are a lot of less expensive options. And I suppose you could always resort to an ACTUAL tea kettle on the stove, or the microwave. There’s no one right answer here, folks!

Matcha tea kettle

I love you, electric tea kettle.

So the water is the easy part. Matcha, as I have learned, is a little fussy. First of all, it’s pretty expensive. I got a little jar of it (1.5 oz, or 30 cups of tea) from my supermarket for a whopping $19.95. That’s a little crazy to me, considering I can buy a box of 20 tea bags for $2.50. You can get it more cheaply at Trader Joe’s or from Amazon. This is the kind I’m going to try once my first batch is gone (4 oz of matcha powder), but you can get a 30 g “starter package” of a different brand of matcha for $9.95.

Matcha powder

I have not seen any of the benefits listed on this package, but I do like the taste! 

Even making the matcha is a little fussy. If you get the powder, it’s not like making regular tea, where you steep your tea bag in some hot water and then poof! you have a cup of tea. No. With matcha, you’re supposed to buy a little special wooden whisk and whisk the powder in until it’s frothy. I firmly resist the idea that I need Extra Accessories.

Well. There’s no way around it. You have to whisk the matcha in anyway, so I got a little whisk like this:

Matcha whisk

The instructions for mine say you have to let it sit in cold water for a few minutes before using it. And after you do that, you have to inspect it for splinters! I was already predisposed not to like this thing. It’s not doing much to recommend itself.

(It comes with the little scoop, which I have never used. I use a teaspoon.)

But I refused to get a matcha bowl, even though some of them are quite pretty, because that is too fussy for my particular needs. I just want to whisk my matcha powder in my mug, okay? TOO MANY STEPS.

Matcha bowl

Very pretty. And maybe I am supposed to use this as a drinking vessel and not just a mixing vessel? In which case, maybe it has some utility? But I have a mug that I am very partial to! 

And perhaps I am being too stubborn. Because I cannot use the little whisk to save my life. Every time I try, I slosh green water all over my counters. Instead, I use a plain old kitchen whisk and whisk the water and the powder vigorously for awhile until I think all the powder has dissolved. (Sometimes I miscalculate.)

My favorite part of the matcha is the latte part. I did some research (read: I googled and read one article) about the different ways to get your milk to froth, and tried what I had on hand, which is my hand mixer. It did a wonderful job of getting whole milk to froth into a nice thick foam. But it’s a little cumbersome, and I have to lug it out from under a counter, and then find the beaters, and then wash them. So I got a milk frother instead:

Matcha milk frother

It does a great job, but it’s a little hard to hold; I find that my hand cramps a little trying to press the button while holding it. (And you have to hold it at a 45 degree angle and lift and lower, lift and lower until your milk is properly frothed.)

If you haven’t ever frothed milk before, it’s very fun. A half a cup of whole milk (which I heat in the microwave for 30 seconds, first) fluffs up nicely to two cups of froth.

Even though frothing the milk takes a little extra time – maybe three minutes, total – and it takes an extra dish (I froth it in a two-cup Pyrex measuring cup), I enjoy it so much I am willing to deal with a little extra fuss. And now I can make Chai lattes, too!

Every year for the past… many years, I’ve ditched alcohol for the month of January. So many people do this, the month even has a silly nickname (Dry-nuary). I do it because I tend to go overboard during the holidays. With family around, it’s very easy for me to get into the habit of having wine or a cocktail every day. And for me, I prefer to keep my alcohol intake to two or three days a week; I don’t have any specific reasons; I guess it’s fewer calories, it’s less expensive, and I just feel better (I am Morning Headache After Drinking One Glass of Wine years old, after all). But the problem – for me – with doing something every day is that it becomes a habit. I am a very routine-based person, so when I’m enjoying the holidays with a fancy cocktail every night, it doesn’t take long before a normal Tuesday feels like it requires a gin and tonic. Taking a month off helps me reset my mental and physiological expectations.

In April, I decided to apply the same principle to sugar.

Let’s be clear: I don’t have anything against sugar. I enjoy it. As with pretty much anything, I am totally fine with it in moderation. But I was no longer doing a good job of moderating. Sugar had become a habit. After every single meal, I kid you not, I found myself thinking, “Hmmm. I could go for something sweet right now.” I was eating a Reese’s peanut butter cup with my almonds and tea for breakfast. Which is a delicious breakfast, by the way. And I am not OPPOSED to having a Reese’s peanut butter cup for breakfast. What I am opposed to is my body’s willfulness and my mind’s lack of will power. I don’t like being bossed around by my cravings for sugar. I want to be in charge, and if I want to have a Reese’s peanut butter cup for breakfast, fine. But if I don’t want one, I don’t want my body to protest and whine and pout and wheedle until I give into the badgering.

So I decided to give it up. Just for a month, just to see if I could do a hard reset on my expectations. I got my husband on board (this was important) and I roped Carla in and on April 1, we gorged ourselves on sugar (because it was Easter) and the next day we gave it up. Cold turkey. (Well, except for Carla. She still ate PB&J for lunches, and pancakes with syrup at breakfast, and when friends brought donuts for brunch one day, we let her have one so she wasn’t the only kid who couldn’t eat a donut.)

In an admittedly half-assed way, I tried to do some research before we started. Based on some of the things I’d read, we crafted our own Sugar Free plan. We weren’t doing it for health reasons, so there was no need to be super strict. Which meant that we defined “No Sugar” as “no artificial sweeteners, no added sugar, no sweets.” We continued to consume milk products, fruit, and things like pasta and rice. (We also continued to consume things like ketchup and barbecue sauce and a few other things that probably had sugar as an ingredient. But those instances were pretty rare; I even avoided recipes where sugar was an ingredient in the marinade or the sauce.)

Most of the major differences for me were a) getting rid of the morning Reese’s cup (and maybe an afternoon spoonful of cookie dough here and there), b) eliminating my normal sweet creamer from my morning tea and c) cutting out all the diet soda I was drinking (usually one but sometimes two a day).  And of course, I stopped eating dessert.

To really jumpstart things, I did the first three days without any milk or fruit, too. On the fourth day, I added one piece of fruit (if I wanted it) and milk back into my day, and I also drank a glass of red wine in the evening if I felt like it.

The first week was BRUTAL. I thought about sweets all day every day. After every meal, my body would send up this internal notification: Ping! Feed me something sweet! Ping! I need candy! Ping! Ice cream needed urgently! Every time I was online, I was looking at recipes for cookies or cakes or pies. I was desperate for a Diet Coke. I transferred all my desire for sweets onto carbs, and found myself wanting bread and pasta more often than normal (which is already, at baseline, a lot). Instead of eating dessert after dinner, I’d prowl around trying to stem the craving with something else: almonds, Triscuits, tortilla chips. We bought cartloads of dried fruit (no sugar added) from Trader Joe’s. I once ate an entire bag of dried apples in one sitting.

The second week was less brutal but still pretty rough. I usually drink black tea with a hefty slug of sweetened creamer. Black tea with milk was NOTHING like black tea with sweetened creamer. I switched to green tea. Then to matcha lattes with whole milk. I drank a lot of water. I hated every sip of every drink. It was nice to drink the red wine at night; that helped stem some of the dessert cravings. But I longed for a glass of sweet Riesling or even prosecco. I thought a lot about fizzy, ice cold Coca Cola in a tall glass, ice cubes clinking together, the bubbles effervescing on my tongue.

Week three, something clicked. I no longer wanted anything sweet. I went to a birthday party and a beautiful piece of birthday cake was set in front of me and I did not take a bite or have any desire to do so. I didn’t even smell it. It was a completely neutral presence. My internal sweets notification alarm had either deactivated or been turned down so low I could barely hear it.  I still had the occasional craving for Diet Coke, but even that was less frequent.

Week four passed quickly and smoothly. My husband and I agreed that the worst part of the sugar restriction was the liquid portion of our diets, and we started to split a packet of sweetener to add to our respective coffee and tea each morning. That helped immensely. Water no longer became a chore to drink. At night, I’d sometimes still have a phantom dessert thought flicker through my brain – “Hmmm, wouldn’t it be nice to have something sweet?” – but I couldn’t ever transfer that general desire to something specific. If I rummaged around in the pantry or fridge, I could never even find something I wanted. I stopped gorging on almonds and chips and crackers to fill the sweets void.

April 30 was our last day of the No Sugar Month. I think I can safely say that I eliminated my sugar cravings. To tell you the truth, I’m glad that’s the reason we did the No Sugar Month, because we didn’t experience any of the other supposed benefits. One thing I heard from a lot of people about giving up sugar is that they lost a ton of weight. My husband and I did not experience that. I lost two pounds right away and then stayed pretty stagnant. It’s possible that if we decided to use it as a weight loss technique, we would have approached it differently (less fruit, for instance).  I’d also heard that it would improve my skin. Nope. That has not happened. And that I’d begin to taste the natural sweetness in foods (bell peppers, fruit) that I’d never experienced before. Nope. Everything tasted the same. (Well, except milk. That began to taste sweet to me.) If I had given up sugar for a month because I wanted some of these other benefits, I would have been pretty annoyed. Of course, we weren’t as stringent as we could have been, so that probably has a lot to do with it.

Now that I’m done… I’m not sure where to go from here. I would certainly enjoy my morning tea more if I could add some sugar or some honey. I don’t really want to go back to my sweetened creamer. I swapped out my normal raspberry yogurt with plain Fage topped with pomegranate seeds, and I suppose I don’t really want to spend my life’s savings on pomegranate seeds anymore, so maybe I’ll switch back. I am delighted that I no longer want my afternoon soda, or my post-breakfast Reese’s cup, or my post-dinner whatever.

But I also really want to go get ice cream with Carla when the weather gets nice. And I want to make cookies with her. And I want to bake her a big sugary birthday cake with lots of sugary frosting. So I think we are going to resume eating sugar, just at a much lower level than before. We want to try to keep sweets to once a week. That way, they’ll really be treats rather than a regular part of our diet.

Time will tell, I suppose! Hopefully a month of no sugar has at least enabled me to enjoy sugar in moderation.

(Of course, you know what I did the very first day of May right? Cupcake for breakfast. And a huge glass of Coke for dinner.)

A new market opened up in our neighborhood, so close that I can easily walk to it. Which I did, a few days ago. I can’t tell you (and probably shouldn’t; it’s embarrassing) (when has that ever stopped me before?) (carry on) how much… pride? No, that’s definitely not the word; happiness? Hmmm, not quite right either… I can’t tell you how much satisfaction I felt, braving the snowy day, trekking to the market to buy a bag full of fruit to bring home to my family like some sort of pioneer. Forget that my strawberries are packaged in plastic and that my avocados are really more of a fashion statement than a source of sustenance, at least these days (I use them to decorate my nachos.) and that absolutely ZERO of my day-to-day experience has any relation to pioneer life.

I don’t know WHY it should feel so satisfying. The snow was meager to begin with and in any case it had melted, if I’m being honest with you. And it’s not like I had to travel any real distance; I was disappointed to learn it was under 3,000 steps, according to my Fitbit, which I am beginning to suspect is a dirty dirty liar. And even though I felt very I Can Totally Survive without Modern Conveniences Like Transportation!, and I didn’t even use a credit card, I did have my phone on me. And I was wearing the aforementioned Fitbit, a device that would surely make Laura Ingalls Wilder sigh at the dissolution of societal values (we would keep the phone from her entirely; at least it has some utility in an emergency – I mean, what if another Kardashian gave birth?).

So it would have perhaps been even MORE satisfying if I’d gone outside and harvested the fruit from my very own fruit trees, which I’d planted and nurtured and tended to maturity. Or if the market had been a milliner and I had purchased a skein of wool out of which I produced clothing and linens for my entire family. (I’m not advocating woolen bed sheets; I simply like the word “skein.”)

The last time I clearly remember feeling this type of satisfaction was going on six years ago when I completed a minor repair on my new-to-me washing machine. The hot and cold water valves – if that’s even the correct term – were backwards; I switched them. I felt so pleased with myself after I’d made the repair. And I’d done it all with my father on the phone, walking me through the entire process; it’s not like I did it myself of even did any research.

It doesn’t take much to make me feel Laura Ingalls Wilderian, I guess is what I’m saying. And it’s a good feeling. A feeling of capability. Of ingenuity. Of I-Can-Deal-with-Whatever-Life-Throws-at-Me. A feeling I honestly wish I had more of (and, let’s be honest, more right to).

The very opposite of that feeling is sitting on the couch, watching a DVRed episode of Real Housewives of New York City while texting your horrified reactions to your friend in another state.

What an utter feeling of uselessness, watching in mute horror as a woman with countless piles of money asks an artist – whom she’d invited to bring some of his own artwork to her house so that she could choose which paintings should adorn her walls – to move furniture for her. And yet, I cannot look away!

I see that the winds of societal/televised decay have blown me off course.

Ahem.

For me, another feeling directly opposite to the Laura Ingalls Wilder glow of satisfied resourcefulness is taking your car to the service station. Which I have to do.

I need an oil change, and I want someone to look at the tread on my tires and tell me when I need to replace them, is the real reason. But my car is old and it tends to always need Additional Somethings whenever I go, and that’s frustrating. I don’t know anything about cars (my poor father; his life’s work – thwarted) (I mean, he TAUGHT ME how to change my own oil and I have forgotten/don’t want to) and so I always feel ornery and suspicious when the service station people tell me in their earnest, automotive-terminology-speckled way what’s wrong and what they recommend I should do.

Usually, I leave the service station with a very light wallet and a renewed vow to find a Basic Car Mechanics class and just learn! So that I can talk about cams and transmissions and axles and I have already exhausted my knowledge of car terms with the best of them! So that when they tell me what the problem is, I understand it! And can understand the solution! Or, better yet, I can anticipate a problem before I even take the car in!

Isn’t that a good idea? A way to better myself? To infuse a regularly uncomfortable situation with an ongoing sense of Laura Ingalls Wilderian competence and practicality?

The problem is that I am so bored by the car stuff.

Listen, it’s not inherently boring; it’s just that I personally have no interest in it, and the thought of spending any time at all learning about how my car works makes me want to crawl under the nearest vehicle and allow it to run over me. My father, who rebuilds cars, sends me lovely charming emails about his car-rebuilding adventures and I understand maybe every third word. And even though I love him and want to share in his car-rebuilding joy, my brain reacts as though he’s spoken in some long-forgotten language. Sometimes, in a fit of daughterly love, I ask him to expand on what he’s saying, because I genuinely wish I could be enthusiastic about something he finds such delight in. Sometimes, I get angry with myself at my complete lack of curiosity about the subject; this is something I know NOTHING about; shouldn’t I want to correct that????

But man, even those two, powerful motivating factors are not enough to make me turn off my RHONY and subscribe to Popular Mechanics.

Okay, I have spoken to my father and now have developed a compromise plan. I am going to order a new air filter for my car and change it myself. And then I plan to gloat over it. A lot.

This post is about that most controversial of marital subjects: division of chore labor.  Well, a sub-category, at least. So prepare for some boredom and talk of folding.

As the person who, for most of our relationship, works from home, I am typically the Main Laundry Person in our household. Over the years, we have developed a pretty solid laundry routine, wherein I have no trouble washing the clothing but then when it’s dry I leave it stuffed in the laundry basket or on the guest bed for months on end I fold Carla’s clothes and my own clothes, but only some of my husband’s clothing (underpants, socks) and then leave the rest of his stuff in neat piles so he can deal with it the way he wants to.

He’s not being weird. It’s just that there are specifications that I can’t meet.

For instance, he keeps all his undershirts in a specific drawer and he folds them in identical rectangles so that they all fit in the drawer.

Back when we were first married, I tried desperately to fold the shirts for him. I would go so far as to grab an already-folded shirt out of the drawer and try to use it as a folding template. Seriously. Is there anything more pathetic (or anti-feminist???) than a grown woman fretting over the perfect way to fold her spouse’s T-shirts? Picture me, setting a neatly-folded white Hanes T-shirt on the bed and then placing a recently (yes, we’ll go with recently) cleaned shirt on the same bed underneath it, and then trying to bend each sleeve into the center of the collar until the width matches the sample shirt, and then turning both shirts ninety degrees so I can then fold the bottom of the shirt up in such a way as to meet the desired depth and then triumphantly turning the newly folded shirt over to admire my obviously perfect work only to discover that I’ve somehow folded one sleeve in so far that the collar is not so much centered as all the way to the right, and the act of turning the shirt over has untucked the bottom and the finished product looks nothing like the template AT ALL, they are not in the same universe, this is a Picasso rendering of a folded shirt, maybe a raccoon wandered into the bedroom and tried to make a nest in it, it’s unclear. Certainly the raccoon could have done a better job. So I shake out the “folded” shirt in frustration and begin again. Ad infinitum.

Listen, it is no secret around here that I am terrible at things like folding. Anything that requires precision and straight lines is beyond my capabilities. Whatever. I am good at other things. I type pretty fast. I can load a dishwasher. I’m good with knots.

What I’m saying is, even though I used a template, back in those heady days of trying-to-please-my-husband-in-impossible-ways-early-marriage, the shirts would be too square or too thin or not look in any way like a shirt or whatever and my husband would end up refolding them.

I don’t really blame him. They were ridiculous. Sometimes I’d bury my worst attempts at the bottom of the pile and top them with the one shirt that looked somewhat like a folded shirt should look and less like a deflated smear of whipped cream with a “tagless” tag.  So I knew they weren’t up to his standards.

But I have to tell you something, and that is that I have my own drawer of T-shirts. T-shirts that I folded, all by myself. And they all fit in the drawer. Maybe not perfectly, maybe there’s some squashing. But my T-shirts are for exercise and sleeping, and his T-shirts are for wearing under other shirts, so an errant wrinkle here and there shouldn’t be a big deal. What I’m saying, I guess, is that while I understand his T-shirt folding preferences, I don’t think that they are necessarily any better than my own. Or… maybe they are better, but not so much better that they should require their own individualized folding process. And that maybe he should have just let me fold the shirts and be done with it.

I’m not saying that he’d chastise me or anything. He wouldn’t. Probably, in his infinite patience slash kindness he would thank me. But when he’d inevitably refold the T-shirts, I would feel such a mixture of emotions. Shame, for the horrid failure of my fingers to assemble his shirts into something resembling folded. Frustration, for spending time and energy trying to do something that he felt compelled to redo. Irritation at my husband for being so particular (as though I don’t have a specific way I fold, sort, and hang my own clothes). Wounded exasperation, because I was doing something NICE for him, and he didn’t APPRECIATE it. And despair, because certainly this was an indication that my marriage was bound for failure and also did I possibly have some sort of neurological disorder that was impairing my ability to fold.

I mean, seriously. If you go out of your way to do something nice for someone else, shouldn’t they APPRECIATE IT? So what if it isn’t perfect? It’s the THOUGHT, right? Whatever happened to not looking a Chore Horse in the mouth????? This Chore Horse is SAD!!!!!!

You may wonder why my husband continues to live in my home with me when I tell you the T-shirt thing is just one example of many. The only other example I can come up with is also laundry related: I wash the towels at regular intervals and, because I enjoy being at Towel Zero, that usually means that they are all in the wash at once. And sometimes I forget to, you know, dry the towels. Or maybe if I do dry them, I forget them in the dryer. And then my husband gets mad because he inevitably gets in the shower and then turns off the shower and realizes not only are there no towels hanging helpfully off of the towel rack but there are NO TOWELS AT ALL in the linen closet.

And when he gets annoyed at me, I get petulant. I WASHED THE TOWELS, MAN. Is that not enough for you? (I mean, I also apologize and go get him a towel. Obviously. Am not a sadist.)

Well.

When I get beyond the stage of exasperation, I completely understand where he is coming from. I am not so morally superior that I don’t have preferences for how I do or like certain things. I can’t think of any examples now, of course, because that would cede too much ground, but I am sure they exist. And I do, really truly, understand the rage that comes from exiting a shower, cold and wet and shivery and possibly late for work, and finding that all your towels are placidly soaking in OxiClean for the twenty-third consecutive hour. Let’s be honest. It’s a wonder he hasn’t divorced me and taken all the towels.

What I’m trying to say is that I get where he’s coming from.

And he is, or at least has been on multiple occasions, right that sometimes there just is a BEST way to do things.  The towels, right. I mean, obviously the Best Way is to dry them and put them back in the closet and maybe even hang one on the towel rack for easy post-shower access.

And, why not, let’s talk MORE about towels. For years, my husband would refold the towels that I’d just folded. Shame, frustration, irritation, wounded exasperation, despair. He claimed there was a Best Way. I maintained that my way got them done and folded and in the closet, therefore it was Good Enough. But then he taught me how to fold them (somehow what I cannot achieve with undershirts, I excel at with towels) and he is right: when a stack of towels is folded exactly the same way, it fits better in the closet and it’s easier to fetch down a new towel when you need one! And the rest of the towels don’t slump all over the shelves in desperation! So I acknowledge that there is a Best Way to do some things. Maybe many things. But not all. NOT ALL. Sometimes DONE is good enough.

Have I established that I understand a) there can actually be a best way to do some things and b) when I don’t/am incapable of the best way, my husband is justified in being irritated?

Okay. So let’s go back to my frustration. The frustration of doing something – perhaps not best but done – and having it rejected.

At what point do you say, I love this person and will exhaust my body and soul trying to execute a task to his exact specifications and when do you say, Spouse, love of my life, accept it the admittedly inferior way I do it as Good Enough, or do it your frogspam self?

The towel thing is something I have to work through; it’s mean, to leave a person dripping and towelless with no recourse. Doing towel laundry half way is most definitely NOT the Best Way OR Good Enough.

As I mentioned above, we have evolved a workaround for the shirts issue. I just don’t fold them. I don’t like it, because it makes the task seem unfinished. And it reminds me of my Folding Weakness, and no one wants that shoved in their face week after week. But it works. I don’t have to not-fold his shirts for endless hours. He doesn’t have to refold the Dadaist art I’ve presented to him as a pile of folded laundry. And his shirts are all meticulously rectangled and fitted into their drawer. Everyone wins.

But there are probably oodles of OTHER things where the specificity of the end result is less critical. Like the loading of the dishwasher. Does it really matter that my husband insists on putting the bowls on the top rack of the dishwasher when I would put them on the bottom rack? No, not really, as long as they get clean and don’t prevent other dishes from being included in the wash cycle.

Does it really matter that I leave a puddle of water on the counter next to the sink, when that space is reserved SOLELY for dirty dishes, and when it is washed each night before bed anyway? No, not really.

Does it really matter that I believe the washer can, as it claims to, hold laundry up to the “top row of holes” while my husband believes I am overfilling it and preventing it from agitating properly? (I ask you, when have I ever prevented something, including my own self, from agitating properly???) Since neither of us has ever unloaded the dryer and found a still-dirty item of clothing, not really, no.

My personal opinion is that there is very rarely a Best Way to complete a chore. The person doing the chore should, within reason, have freedom to complete it in his or her individual way. Complete it being the key term; I would be the first to agree that washing a towel and then NOT DRYING IT is not “completing” that particular chore. And if someone is kind enough to do a chore – by it’s very nature a thing that few people actually want to spend their time doing – the other person should be grateful and not nit-picky. And if doing it in some perceived Best Way is such a big deal to the other person, well then, he or she can take it on him- or herself for the future.

This is where I want to hear what egregious errors your own partners have made under the auspices of Doing A Chore. And I want to hear your examples of which things have a clear Best Way and those that can be completed successfully in many ways. And your squabbles about Best vs. Good Enough. Tell me all of them!

I woke up at five this morning after dreaming something ridiculous that I won’t go into here. (It wasn’t salacious, sadly. Just odd.) The key part was that my husband was somehow melded into my high school boyfriend in that weird way of dreams. So that when I woke up my brain decided to replay in gory detail how awful I was to said boyfriend when I went away to college. There’s nothing I can do about it now, and also I don’t think it was really THAT bad, and also we were friendly years afterwards so I don’t think there are lasting scars on his end, plus we are both married and I haven’t thought about him in countless months. But thank you, brain, for steeping me in shame at so early an hour so I can bask in it all day long.

Last night I made an excellent recipe for zucchini noodles. Let me state for the record here that I have no patience for foods masquerading as other foods. I love zucchini, and therefore I enjoy zucchini noodles (although in their noodleishness they are difficult to eat). But I’m not going to try to convince you that they are a good or even fair approximation of noodles themselves. I’m not going to replace them in my recipe for spaghetti and meat sauce, for instance. I am not going to dress them with cheese and pretend they bear any resemblance to macaroni and cheese. They are not noodles. They are zucchini in noodle form. If you don’t like zucchini, you will probably not enjoy them. I discovered this the hard way, by trying cauliflower rice a few years ago. NEVER AGAIN, Internet. Never again. I don’t like cauliflower and spending nearly an hour rasping it against a box grater and getting cauliflower shards all over my kitchen did not change that in the least. I keep hearing about cauliflower mashed potatoes and cauliflower pizza crust and while I am intrigued, I am NOT going to fall for it. STOP PRETENDING, cauliflower. Just be who you are.

ANYWAY. The recipe I tried last night is really good, but it is good in a zucchini way. If you like zucchini you should try it: Easy 10 Minute Asian Zucchini Noodles from Gimme Delicious.

What do you do when you find a recipe you like, and you want to try it again? I’m really curious, by the way. Do you have a list on your phone? A folder on your desktop? A physical file folder into which you stow printed recipes?

I really want to know, because I haven’t found a good system.

As pretty much sole cook for our household, this is the kind of boring thing I spend a lot of time thinking about. As I’ve mentioned previously, we eat a lot of meals that look like Chicken + Vegetable. That is a combination that gets boring realllllllllly quickly, so I am always on the lookout for new, delicious ways to shake up the boring. But there are three problems I’ve run into:

  1. What is the best way to keep track of recipes that look good but I haven’t tried?
  2. What is the best way to separately track recipes that I have tried and want to use again?
  3. What is the best way to avoid re-making a recipe that I have tried and was terrible?

Okay, maybe they are three variations on the same problem. What it comes down to is that I need some sort of filing system. One that is more efficient and comprehensive and located in one, easy-to-access spot than what I currently use.

What I do now is a combination of things. First, I have a folder on my laptop where I bookmark recipes that I want to try. Since I follow a bunch of food blogs on Feedly, it’s really easy for me to put things into my Recipes folder.

But it’s super unwieldy. I have SO MANY recipes. And there’s no rhyme or reason to them, either. Chicken dishes and veggie sides and frosting recipes and how-to posts for making rainbow layer cakes and the best marinades for steak are all jumbled together in the same folder, and many of those are recipes I’ve tried and either liked or NOT.

Meal planning 3

This blog post is chock FULL of really boring, really poorly lit and off-kilter photos! I know my photography skillz keep you coming back!

You may be thinking, Why not just go in and set up some additional folders? And you would be smart for thinking that, and also I tried that and it isn’t working. First, I had been collecting recipes for about a year before I went in and tried to organize them, so it was already a jumbled mess. Second, the organization tools at my disposal are not particularly user friendly. I can’t easily grab a recipe or ten and drag and drop them into the Veggie Sides folder, for instance. Getting things into the appropriate folder involves a lot of scrolling and it is tedious and time consuming. Third, I still run into the issue of what to do with things I’ve already tried. Sure, I could set up a sub-folder in each category for Make Again and Don’t Make Again… but that gets to be even more unwieldy and also I am kind of lazy.

Meal planning 4

To the left is an example of what’s inside one of my folders. Supposedly, this contains favorite recipes that I should return to again and again. This is the first time I’ve opened this folder in many months, so it’s not really working as planned. Also, you may notice that I occasionally (okay, more often than reasonable) bookmark something I’ve already bookmarked. I REALLY need a better system.

PLUS, I am not always on my computer doing stuff. I do a lot of recipe finding on my phone. So I have a folder of recipes on my phone, too… and getting them to my computer is not simple. I really need a system that works across devices.

The best part of my system is my weekly dinner plan email. Each week before I go grocery shopping, I create an email to myself that lists all the meals and includes links to online recipes. Sometimes I’ll open the email a few days in advance, if I already know that I’ll be making something specific, or if it’s a week where I’m feeding people beyond my own immediate family. I always reply to the previous week’s dinner email, so there’s a single record of everything I’ve ever planned to eat since March of 2017 when I started it.

Then, after the week’s meals, I try to write notes to myself about what worked and what didn’t. So after last night’s zucchini noodles success, I responded the email and wrote, DELICIOUS! MAKE AGAIN.

This email is also really useful for any modifications I do to a recipe. For instance, last year I found this Martha Stewart recipe for crockpot garlic chicken that sounded so good, but wasn’t. But instead of giving up on it, I kept tinkering with it until I got it right. And I put those notes to myself in my dinner planning email. If I get any feedback on the recipe from my husband, I put those in the notes. So it’s all there in one place.

Meal Planning 2

I first tried the Martha Stewart recipe in May of 2017. My reaction was that it was too sweet. Hot tip: “More lemon juice” can solve most of the world’s ills. At least foodwise.

Dinner Planning Email 1

Here is where I recorded the modifications that made the Martha Stewart recipe not only edible but delicious. Ah memories. This is also the day when I discovered my husband — whom I’ve known for SEVENTEEN YEARS — doesn’t really like soup.

(Sometimes, when I have the wherewithal, I post the modified recipe here. Like with the “chicken tikka masala” recipe I revamped to suit my own needs. It got to be too annoying to look at the original recipe and try to remember what I changed each time I made it.)

So my meal planning email is the best part of my meal planning system. But it’s not perfect. Sometimes I have to scroll and scroll through old emails to find what I’m looking for. And, because I haven’t mastered the art of organizing what I haven’t tried, I tend to go back to the same things over and over.

I’ve contemplated doing a weekly meal plan blog post. Many bloggers do this, and I always enjoy reading them. And I could always add notes to myself in the comments. But again, this does nothing for the stacks and stacks of recipes I have yet to try.

There’s got to be an app that handles this, right? But I don’t want to look for and evaluate and try a bunch of them. And honestly, thinking about moving all my carefully curated but as-yet-untried recipes to a new place sounds exhausting. But I WANT something better and I suppose I am willing to do a certain amount of work to make it happen.

How do YOU keep track of what you’re cooking? What’s working and what isn’t? Have you come across a magic app that does it all? If you have a meal planning and tracking system you love, I am HERE FOR IT.

The Pre-K year, for us, has been The Year of Play Dates. We maybe do one or two a month, but that’s a 53,008% increase over previous years, so I’ve been devoting a LOT of energy to them.

Does everyone find playdates unbearably awkward? Well, I do. My personality – introvert, people-pleaser, awkward in general – is just not suited for focused encounters with other parents and children I may or may not know.

This is not to say I don’t want to do playdates with my child! I do! I want her to have friends. I want her to build the kind of social skills that playdates seem suited for. I want to get along with other parents. Hell, I want to make new friends.

Some of the issue, maybe, is that playdates are relatively new to me. For the first three years of Carla’s life, my husband and I both worked full time outside of the home. So playdates on weekdays were a no-go. And because we spent so much time away from Carla during the week, we typically spent weekends together, just the three of us. If we had anything resembling a playdate, it was a get together with our friends and their similarly-aged children.

But this year, we’ve had many. And by “we,” I mean me and Carla because my husband obviously still works full time outside the home. I cannot tell you how anxious these stupid playdates make me. Well, I’m going to try, I guess, considering I’m writing a post about the topic. Let’s see if I can break down the awkwardness into a few categories.

Initiating a Playdate

I don’t really know how to go about arranging a playdate. I mean, it seems pretty obvious, right? But I am shy and I am deeply afraid that the other parent won’t want to hang out a) with me or b) with my kid. There’s been a little bit of the old, “Oh, we should do a playdate!” kind of thing that never results in anything. And that kind of thing totally feeds my own self-consciousness/despair. When, in fact, the other parent could be feeling just as awkward/nervous as I am and/or could just be BUSY with LIFE as people tend to be. Also, the phone works two ways, Me.

Previous to this year – last year, Carla and I went on a whopping three playdates, two with the same friend – the other parent and I would suggest the playdate. But now, Carla and her friends have figured things out. And they seem to be scheduling playdates at school, without their chauffeurs in attendance to record the details. Once, Carla’s friend’s mom came up to me and said, “Carla said she wanted to do a playdate with my child. Let’s get together!” and then, miracle of miracles, we actually did end up getting the kids together. That’s my ideal, right there. A sort of mutual mention that results in an actual playdate.

But that ideal was a one-time thing. Usually, Carla comes home ALL THE TIME saying she wants to have a playdate with so-and-so and I get overwhelmed. Do I pick up the phone and call them up? What about the moms who have additional small children – will they even be interested in getting/able to get together? And what if I’ve never said more than hello to the parent at drop off? Some of the other parents seem to get their kids together all the time, but it also seems like those parents are friends. Would they welcome a suggested playdate from me and my child? Would they recoil in disgust? WHO’S TO KNOW?

The Playdate Location

This fills me with dread, too. First of all, who suggests where the playdate should take place? It’s the playdate initiator, right? That makes sense to me but… it hasn’t always worked out that way. Anyway, when I suggest a place for the playdate, I am always at a loss. I have gradually come to be okay with having Carla’s friends over to our house (listen, I’m an introvert and having people in my space is always nerve wracking), but… is that too forward? Is it too boring? Should I be presenting an option that’s super stimulating, like a trampoline park or a museum? And, if I DO suggest something like the latter, who pays? Am I supposed to pay for everyone because I suggested it? I am HAPPY to do that, but I don’t know what the protocol is! Summers are easier, at least, because you can just go to a nice, free, stimulating playground. But it is NOT summer and summer feels a million years away and I need to know what to do now.

I do love having playdates at other people’s homes, though. I love to see other people’s houses, and how they decorate, and the level of neatness they have (it is SO refreshing to see some clutter). But then there’s the awkwardness/stress of my child not eating anything they offer, or possibly breaking something, or bothering the dog, or whatever. And I always feel super self-conscious: how should I sit, what should I wear, do I trail after my kid or sit here like I expect to be entertained. Blah blah blah.

What to Do on the Playdate

So far, my playdate experience has been that the kids run off and play, and the other parent and I stay pretty much in one location and chat, intervening with the kids in case of an argument/injury/extended silence. Is that the expectation, universally? I mean, it is pretty ideal for friendship building. But what if you aren’t interested in/meant to be friends? Carla has a friend who is darling and wonderful and whose parent is someone I think is lovely and very nice, but we just aren’t clicking the way friends do, you know? It’s all small talk, and I find it exhausting. The PARENT is wonderful and does a marvelous job of keeping the conversation going, but I find it so terribly draining to be “on” with a person that I don’t feel 100% comfortable around. (This is the introvert thing again, I fear. If you are an extrovert, you may be furrowing your brow right now, trying to understand why ninety minutes of chatting leaves me feeling like I’ve just completed a biathlon.) I suppose I could just tell the other parent they could leave their kid with me but… that fills me with new layers of terror. And do I need to feed people? So far, when we’ve had playdates at my house, I’ve tried to have some kid-friendly snacks on hand and then I’ve offered the other parent coffee or tea. But is food expected? I certainly don’t expect it, when we go to other people’s homes. But that’s because Carla and I are both super picky, so eating at other people’s homes is additionally fraught with anxiety.

What If the Playdate Goes Sour?

And then there’s the other worry, that the kids won’t get along, or that something bad will happen. My daughter’s teacher gave me a Hot Playdate Tip, which I now pass along to you: groups of three are a bad idea. If you have three kids (at least, Pre-K-age kids), one of them will inevitably end up feeling left out. Okay, so as long as I’m the playdate initiator, that’s easy enough to control for (and egads I have enough trouble working up the nerve for a one-on-one playdate, let alone a playdate involving more kids!). But what if your kids start fighting? Or are bored? Or want to do completely separate things? How do you salvage a) the playdate and b) the potential for future playdates? Do you just throw in the towel? Write it off as normal kid behavior? WHAT DO YOU DO?

How Do You Get the Playdate to End?

You know how most birthday parties are about two hours? I tend to go by the Birthday Party Rule for playdate length, too. Carla has a playdate threshold of about ninety minutes. Sometimes she’s good for two hours. Other times, she’s done after an hour. And I can tell she’s done because she starts wanting to be alone and there is an increased level of pouting/irritability. Fine; she knows her boundaries, and so do I. But how do you communicate that to another parent, whose children may have no limit to how long they can be together? I have usually just said from the beginning, “Carla’s good for an hour or two but not much longer than that.” And when I am in control of the planning, I try to say things like, “We’ll meet you at this indoor park for an hour and a half and then we’ll split for lunch.” Or whatever. But sometimes the other parent wants to extend it! Or they’ll invite us for an open-ended playdate! Ack! We had one of those open-ended jobbers at our house recently, and I was able to close it out with my need to prepare dinner. But it can be tricky! Especially if the kids are getting along really well (as was the case at my house recently). (Although, believe me, “getting along really well” can transform into “the world is ending tears” in a matter of moments.) And, okay, sometimes it’s really just ME who needs the playdate to end. I guess this is a lesson for me to always have something to do immediately after the playdate, whether it’s going to the grocery store or making dinner or whatever.

How Often Do You Do Playdates?

I really think two playdates a month is my limit. But I think other parents and their kids are getting together once or twice A WEEK.

Okay, I am back after taking some deep, restorative breaths; the thought of two playdates a week made me a little dizzy. I think that’s my answer right there: two playdates a month. Sorry, Carla.

 

I do wish I could put less pressure on the whole situation. It’s a playdate, for goodness sakes. The way, for me, to make playdates the most palatable and least stressful is to have them out in the world. My preference is for going to parks in the summer (although, as I noted above: NOT CURRENTLY SUMMER DAMMIT). That way, you can be outside in the fresh air. No one has to cook (although I do bring enough snacks for everyone). No one has to clean. You can take breaks from chatting to push your kid on the swing or the merry go round or the teeter-totter. It’s free. The kids get worn out pretty quickly, so it’s easy to not spend seven hours together. If I could do a playground playdate every time, AND if I could get over my crippling dread of initiating the damn things, they might not be so bad.

I am holding out hope that the awkwardness will fade with time. Either that or Carla will develop a deep and lasting friendship with a mom who turns out to be my Friend Soulmate.