Feeds:
Posts
Comments

(La la la, continuing to ignore current events.) 

Usually I try to blather on a little bit before I list the meals I’m planning for the week – I don’t know why; so this will feel more like a Regular Blog Post? Who knows. But I’m fresh out of topics for today. Literally the only thing I can think to tell you is that I saw on Instagram (I think?) that you can store your asparagus in half-filled jars of water to keep it fresh longer. Who has room for THAT in their fridge (besides the Instagram poster, whose fridge was FULL of veggies and fruits in matching glass jars that no one would ever have to worry about knocking over while reaching behind it for the milk), is what I thought. But I also thought of some asparagus that has been in my fridge for ** a while ** and that I haven’t been able to motivate to cook and eat. So I tried it. It is in my fridge now, in two small jars. We will see what happens. Now I don’t even HAVE to eat it, because it is An Experiment. 

They’ve been in there for about twelve or so hours and don’t seem the worse for wear.

Look at that – I managed to blather on for a whole paragraph! Never put it past me to come up with some words about nothing, I guess. 

Dinners for the Week of January 19 – January 25 (whew – I looked at my calendar wrong and originally wrote “February 1” instead of “January 25” and TOTALLY ACCEPTED IT AS FACT because time is meaningless) (thank goodness for very minimal proofreading!)

  • Slow Cooker Chicken Tortilla Soup  : This was SO GOOD last time I made it, and I have been thinking about it ever since. Like last time, I will add a can of black beans and a cup of frozen corn. Also, like last time, I suppose I will omit the lime juice? At least, I can’t remember putting lime juice or cilantro in it at any point? And it was delicious? How can I recreate a recipe I enjoyed when I apparently didn’t follow the instructions, but not in a purposeful way but in an I-clearly-didn’t-read-the-recipe-all-the-way-through way?
  • Chicken and Zucchini Stir Fry: This has become such a solid standby. It’s easy (even though I also chop up an onion to throw in with the zucchini) and it’s tasty and I feel very pleased with the amount of veggies it contains. 
  • BBQ Salmon Bowls with Mango Salsa: Okay, I get squicked out by the combination of avocado and mango, so I am just doing a plain old mango salsa with this one. And I think I may put everything on top of some romaine instead of rice. (I am every food blogger’s nightmare.) Hmmm. If I do lettuce, I’d have to make a dressing, wouldn’t I. But I could do a nice honey-and-lime vinaigrette. Yes, that sounds yummy.
  • Something with the asparagus.

I AM going to eat the asparagus. But come on – you do this, too, right? You buy something, fully intending to eat it, and then it loses all appeal before you can do it? I bet you have something like that in your fridge right now, no?

Okay, Internet. That’s it for me. I wish you good health (mental, physical, and emotional) and happy eating this week.

Shall we ignore All Current Events and talk about random inconsequential things? Yes please. 

  • Now that Carla is back in school, I can return to planning my grocery store runs for the week. This is useful because I don’t have to wake up at the crack of dawn on the weekends, and also because the grocery store is MUCH less crowded on a random weekday at 8:30 or 9:00 am than it is on Saturday at 8:00. There is supposedly a limit on the number of people who can be in the store at any given time, but it always seems Very Full. Perhaps it is just that we all move together from produce to dairy to canned goods to meat, like a school of hungry mask-wearing sardines.
  • I went today because I needed dry sherry. (And also because I cannot go Monday or Tuesday because Carla is not in school, and Wednesday I have a mammogram and Thursday I am taking Carla to the orthodontist. Gotta give yourself motivation to wake up every morning, amirite?) I have a French onion soup craving something awful, and I like abundant sherry in my French onion soup. Why didn’t I pick it up with the other French onion soup ingredients when I went to the store last? Because I live in one of those states where you can’t buy alcohol on a Sunday before a certain time. Which is a RIDICULOUS law. What is the purpose? To prevent people from swinging by the store and grabbing a bottle of hooch to drink during church? I will be endlessly annoyed by this. Partly because of this law, I don’t typically go shopping at all on Sundays. But my last shopping trip had to take place on a Sunday for some reason, possibly related to me feeling cranky about waking up early on a Saturday. And as usual when I slip up and go to the store on a Sunday, I completely forgot about the stupid no-alcohol law and was unable to buy the sherry. That’s five extra days of life without onion soup, Internet! Yes I know I sound ridiculous! Anyway, today I was able to get the sherry plus some wine and I am never going to the grocery store on Sunday again. Until I forget about the no-alcohol thing and get annoyed all over again. 
  • By the way, there is apparently a SHERRY SHORTAGE.  I’d had a bottle of sherry in my hands on Sunday – the checker gamely agreed to see if it would scan as a cooking item or as a wine; it was prohibited for sale – but today there was no sherry to be found. I had to ask someone to help me look — surely they had just moved the sherry, I thought. But no, the staff person led me back to where I’d been looking. Fortunately, she was able to rummage around and dig a bottle of sherry out of somewhere. But while she was looking, she told me that sherry has been backordered for ages because there is a shortage. A shortage of… sherry???? Baffling! I find it so fascinating to learn about all these shortages of sort-of odd items – like the graham cracker shortage this past summer or the Hormel pepperoni shortage (which seems, thank goodness, to have ended) or the bucatini shortage going on now. Flour and sugar and yeast, okay; those are STAPLES. But WHAT is driving the shortage of more niche items like sherry? Has there been a lobster bisque upswing? An aperitif movement I’m not privy to? Perhaps we can blame it entirely on the UK, who, according to that one specific article, is going gaga for cocktails. I’m guessing there is some combination of increased demand and the shifting of resources to higher-demand products, but it is so wild to me that odd things keep running low.
  • Speaking of shortages: Every time I go shopping, I peek down into the cleaning supplies aisle, just in case. Today I was rewarded with a bottle of Clorox bleach spray AND a bottle of Lysol spray. Lysol is my preferred kitchen cleanser. I usually like the lemon scent (does not smell remotely like lemons) but have only seen it ONE TIME since March. There was a bottle of “mango & hibiscus” scented Lysol, though, and it was a family size, so I bought it. Okay, I just checked and it is in fact called “A Brand New Day” which seems quite aspirational for a cleanser, but here we are. The “mango & hibiscus” scent is noted in smaller print, so I think I’m supposed to feel more tied to the fresh start aspect of the aroma than to the mango and hibiscus. I tried it out and it has, so far, a fairly pleasant smell. It reminds me of hotels I used to stay in when I went to Florida for work: faintly tropical with an institutional essence. Only time will tell whether the scent eventually becomes repulsive. My grocery store also had a good supply of sanitizing wipes; I would have grabbed a container of those as well, but there is still a limit of two cleaning supplies per person, so it will have to wait for next time.
  • Moving right along to discussing more food-adjacent topics: my husband got me my all-time favorite tea for Christmas this year, Tea Squared Uncle Grey. The first time I had it was a million years ago when we could do things like travel to foreign countries and eat in restaurants. It was the tea served with my brunch at an adorable restaurant in Toronto, and when I make it at home it is just as aromatic and flavorful and luxurious tasting as it was then. It is expensive ($11.50 per box), compared to the tea I normally buy ($2.50 per box on sale), and I drink tea DAILY, so I am trying to keep myself to using two tea bags a week, as a special treat. It is difficult because Uncle Grey is so superior to all other teas but we soldier on. 
  • Why yes, in the background that IS a mug decorated with cats in tacos flying through space. It is another of my favorite Christmas gifts – this time from my daughter. I don’t think any piece of crockery has ever captured a person’s essence better than this does mine. 
  • To move away from food, but not out of the kitchen, I am wondering what to do about our gratitude tree. We started it way back in early April and gave up on it… at some point not too long after. It was always kind of a teeth-pulling sort of experience to get my family to participate, and it got to be too little reward for too much nagging, so at one point I was the only one adding any leaves or flowers. And then after awhile I just gave up completely, even though I continue to have many things for which I am grateful. But the tree remains. I don’t know if I have some delusional kernel of belief that we will pick it back up again? Or if I just no longer see it because I’m so used to it? But I am thinking about possibly taking it down. Or maybe I should leave it up! And try to jumpstart my family into helping it bloom again – maybe, this time, not requiring it, and certainly not DAILY, but just bringing it up time and again in case they want to add a leaf? That sounds really unlikely, doesn’t it. What would you do?
  • In other things-I-don’t-know-how-to-address topics: my return, apostrophe, and shift keys are… stuck. Not completely. But you have to press them REALLY hard to get them to work. Capitalizing letters is hardly worth it anymore and I am about ready to give up on paragraph spacing altogether. I have watched a few videos about how to remove the keys and clean under them, but it sounds very risky, and putting them back on seems VERY tricky indeed. (It took me three times to write the all-caps “very” back there which is too many times.) My husband’s taking a throw-up-his-hands let’s-just-buy-a-whole-new-computer approach which seems extreme. Sure, the computer is old and has some other issues, but I am not eager to spend the money on a new one. Especially when I have new towels to buy. (As if a person who has kept scratch, stinky towels for twelve years would just willy nilly replace an entire computer on the basis of some sticky keys!)
  • Today I finally gave away the last of the holiday gift bags I’d prepared for the various mail delivery people. Obviously my plan was to hand them out around the actual holidays. But those mail delivery people are slippery – they never ring the bell or knock to alert you to a package. And even if I am anticipating a delivery, by the time they drop it off and I get to the door, they are inevitably in their trucks already. A few times, expecting a delivery, I hung the gift bag on the outside door handle with a big note that said “FEDEX/UPS THIS IS FOR YOU” – but no one took it. We were able to give a present to the postal service worker; Carla spotted her coming down the other side of the street and set up camp by our mailbox so she could hand the gift off in person. But then the rate of package delivery slowed dramatically. Today, my husband had a new desk delivered. It came in several pieces, so while the delivery person was collecting the second box, I snapped up a holiday gift bag and handed it to him. He was a little surprised but said thank you and — this is the important part — took it with him. I hope it wasn’t too weird for him, because it was a little weird for me. Next year I think I will try pretending that I don’t know about the money restrictions and give out gift cards as I have in the past. 
  • I am in a bit of a book lull. I read my first book of 2021 last week (The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman – I enjoyed it immensely but it also made me very sad and I cried several times.). But since then, I haven’t really been able to get into anything. There’s no dearth of books, of course! I am reading four, currently – it’s just that none of them is grabbing me. I’m not sure whether to press on (meh) or give up on these four books entirely (I don’t wanna) or start a fifth book and hope that IT grabs me. 
photo from amazon.com
  • As I mentioned earlier, I have to take Carla to the orthodontist for the first time next week. It seems likely she will need braces, but the actual reason we are going is because we are playing Dental Tag, which I don’t recommend. A little over a year ago, her dentist suggested we see an oral surgeon to remove the frenulum between her top teeth. The oral surgeon said that he needed her to be under the care of an orthodontist first. At least, that’s my very vague memory of it; Carla gets super anxious about dental things (who can blame her?), so my husband and I went with her together to the oral surgeon last February for the consultation. I was very nervous (wherever does Carla get it?) and also quite busy trying to persuade a very amped-up Carla not to touch all the oral surgery equipment in the room, so I did not really register what the surgeon was saying. Unfortunately, neither did my husband, despite the fact that he was the designated calm, listen-y, ask-doctor-y-questions-and-listen-to-the-answers person. I must have had some inkling about the orthodontist aspect, because I asked our dentist for a referral when we went for a cleaning last fall. But my husband’s recollection (and he has the well-established Better Memory of the two of us) was that we were to come back in a year. An email I wrote to my mother after the fact said the same thing. It’s now been nearly a year, so I called the oral surgeon to set up the appointment and the receptionist told me I needed to have Carla see an orthodontist first. SIGH. So, long story very long and super boring, we are going to see the orthodontist next week. I am nervous. I don’t recall enjoying the orthodontist when I needed orthodontic work as a child. And I can’t imagine it’s any easier to deal with when it is your precious baby whose mouth is being fooled with. Perhaps we will go out for ice cream afterward as a reward for getting through it.
  • Oh, I see we’re back on food: We are having pizza tonight, per Carla’s request. Pizza, for Carla, is pizza CRUST with just the barest kiss of tomato sauce. She will eat pepperoni on the side as well as raw mushrooms and cherry tomatoes. But she will not eat pizza with those exact same things on them. My husband requested two small pizzas, one with pesto, chicken, tomatoes, and mozzarella; the other with tomato sauce, pepperoni, mushrooms, pepperoncini, and shredded mozzarella. I will just have my normal, which is tomato sauce, pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, and shredded mozzarella. That is the pizza combination I get 90% of the time. And usually if I order some other set of toppings, it’s because I don’t know how smooth the pizza sauce will be (or I know it will not be smooth). For me, pizza is a very specific thing. My husband, on the other hand, likes to get a wide variety of topping combos. Is that normal? Do people like to try different topping variations on their pizza? Or is there One True Pizza for most people, like there is for me? I wonder if I should branch out a little? Sometimes I bookmark pizza recipes that sound exotic probably because they aren’t my boring old norm. But it’s very rare that I actually commit to making or ordering something different. (I did make a delicious mushroom/goat cheese/onion jam concoction a few times, but I always come back to the old faithful.) Do you have a One True Pizza?

Well, now I am hungry. I hope you have a restful, healthy weekend my bloggy friends. 

Despite… everything… I want to continue with my now two-year-old tradition of coming up with a few aspirations for the year ahead.  I do. But these goals are VERY optimistic. And I am going to be especially gentle on myself, I think. 

Personal

Aspiration: Read 40 books. I read 46 books in 2020 – a personal record. Given that sometimes I can devour a book in a day and other times I read nothing at all for weeks on end, it’s hard to say whether I will ever meet this goal. But it’s fun to track.

Aspiration: Exercise five days a week. This is the same goal from last year and seems worthwhile to try for again.

Aspiration: Buy new towels. My bath towels are twelve years old. I use them daily and they refuse to be soft anymore and NO MATTER WHAT I do they have a very faint whiff of mildew.  It seems easy enough to just… buy new towels.  But no. It is not that straightforward. My husband is the first hurdle; they are not his so they don’t affect him, plus I do have other even older towels I could use (but they are blue and our bathroom color scheme is GREY). And then also I feel so wasteful and frivolous, because they still DRY. And I do have the blue backup towels. And some people don’t even have ANY towels. But they are uncomfortable and faintly smelly and I want new ones, so I’m putting it on the list.

Aspiration: Stop looking at my phone while in bed. There is absolutely ZERO benefit in scrolling through my news feed when I am trying to fall asleep. Reading a book is SO MUCH BETTER for my mental health. 

Aspiration: Stop drinking anything after nine p.m. This is kind of dumb, but I tend to drink a mug of tea late in the evening… and then I am up every hour to pee all night long and it is NOT restful. So perhaps I can just… not do that? 

Aspiration: Make focaccia. Listen, we have to have some FUN aspirations, right? I have long wanted to make focaccia. Every time I see a focaccia recipe, I ogle it. I have even headed into several weeks of the past ten months fully intending to make focaccia. But it has never come to pass. This is the year, Internet. The year of focaccia!

Reach Aspiration: Cut my own hair. This sounds bonkers, I know. I can’t cut a straight line to save my life; how can I possibly cut my own hair? But it is coming up on a year since I last had a haircut, and my hair is long enough that it could (probably) survive even a botched little trim; I could simply go get a professional haircut if I make a mess of it. I have watched extensive YouTube videos about how to do it, and it seems fairly straightforward. Perhaps I can persuade my husband to do it for me? He cuts his own hair and is very meticulous and steady-handed. Can I make “persuade my husband to cut my hair” a goal for the year ahead?

Family

Aspiration: Buy bikes for the adults and go on bike rides as a family. If the bikes my husband and I have been looking at since literally last April ever come back in stock, we can make this happen.

Aspiration: Get out of the house, as a family, every single weekend to Do Something. This obviously will depend heavily on the status of the pandemic, but even a walk around the neighborhood counts. I just need to inspire us to LEAVE THE HOUSE.

Reach Aspiration: Have a family game night once a month. We LOVE playing games together, but so rarely do during “normal” life. I think it would be really lovely to try to dedicate a day to doing it purposefully. Carla is at a great age for games now, which opens up a bunch of new options. This is a reach because a) my family might not buy in and b) it’s likely I will forget about this.

Reach Aspiration: Figure out how to see my parents this summer. Should the pandemic continue apace, we will obviously continue to stay home. But if it slackens a little, I would really, really like to visit my parents. They have a guest house where Carla and I could stay and quarantine, if that became necessary, so the real hurdle is getting there. Flying makes me Very Nervous. But perhaps we could get a private berth on a train? Then rent a car when we arrived in their state? A train ride would be A Big Fun Adventure for me and Carla to undertake together (my husband would not be able to join us because he wouldn’t be able to leave work for enough time to complete a quarantine), but when last I looked at train tickets, the price was too high to be worth it. Perhaps if we stayed with my parents long enough, it would be worthwhile?

Work/Finance

Aspiration: Revise my manuscript and get it to beta readers. This has to happen. It is my number one priority. 

Aspiration: Look for a writing class or writing group. Note that this is not an aspiration to JOIN a writing class or writing group; we are being extra gentle. But I am thinking it might be useful, at this stage of the writing process, to find an online group of writers who are working on fine-tuning their manuscripts or learning how to write query letters or are workshopping chapters together… I’m not sure what I WANT, but I want to look into it. That’s it, that’s the goal. THEN I can decide whether I actually want to sign up for whatever it is I’ve found.

Aspiration: Put money into a personal 401(k). Again, there is no excuse for not doing this. 

Reach Aspiration: Get a first draft of manuscript #2. This is ridiculous, when I haven’t gotten through a proper revision of the FIRST manuscript, but once I do, I want to jump right into the second novel, which already has about 40,000 words. 

Home/Property

Aspiration: Touch up the outside of the house. We need to repaint the trim.

Aspiration: Deal with the tree issues in our backyard. We have SO MANY issues. The first is that the large oak in the backyard has some sort of fungus. I want to figure out how to address it. The second is that the arborvitae that line three sides of our yard are in rough shape. Some have been devastated by heavy snow and harsh winds, others have been ravaged by hungry deer. It looks terrible and I need to figure out how to take care of it. I think it is going to cost a lot of money, yikes.

Aspiration: Get a fake Christmas tree. This is not really my aspiration; it’s my husband’s. But he gets so grouchy about buying a real tree and setting it up and putting the lights on it that it really harshes my happy Christmas buzz. So I have come around to thinking a pre-lit artificial tree would be a blessing. We have looked for trees in the past, but haven’t ever gone through with the purchase because the one we want is either too expensive or sold out. They haven’t gotten LESS expensive, but I think we’ve mainly gotten over the initial price resistance. Now all we need to do is find the one we want when it is available.

Reach Aspiration: Hire someone to repaint the interior of the house. My parents apparently had someone repaint the house every five years, which boggles my mind. But now it has been ten years since we’ve lived here, and I can see signs that the house needs repainting. The biggest problem areas are the ceilings, believe it or not: they are not popcorn ceilings, but they have a texture, and in the kitchen and bathrooms especially, paint is peeling off of some of the textured areas. 

We shall see how many of these aspirations come to fruition, Internet! I am hopeful and game… but we shall see!

We are somehow nearly halfway through January and I feel simultaneously as though the month has FLOWN by and also that it has lasted six million years. Much of it – at least the past week – has been extremely dreary and fretful, both for external reasons (what is HAPPENING with our democracy) and internal ones. But even though I am feeling down and worried and unsettled, I feel like my complaints are so small and insignificant that they aren’t worth sharing. There is SO MUCH going on in the world right now, my dumb complaints sound even more out-of-touch than normal. 

Like for instance how my return key does not work unless I press down on it with all my weight. Or how I am FINALLY getting to clean my oven (with the self-clean function) and so my house is filled with the acrid scent of imminent doom and also a soupçon of pizza essence. Or how I had to wait for more than an hour in the gynecologist’s crowded waiting room yesterday which a) I am SURE was the reason my blood pressure reading was much higher than normal and b) is making me Very Anxious about the likely unrelated fact that I have a scratchy throat today. Or how I have been working extra hard on revising my book and the whole thing is stupid and I am wasting my life. I really need to suck it up and stop wallowing.

I hope YOU and your loved ones are doing okay. And, honestly, if you had a small, insignificant gripe to share with me, it would make me feel better. Or not, that’s fine too. If you just want to scroll listlessly through my dinner options, trying valiantly to get up the motivation to think about making Yet Another Meal, that is a-okay with me.

Dinners for the Week of January 12-18

Over the weekend, I tried these Sheet Pan Cuban Chicken and Black Bean Rice Bowls (which Ernie mentioned recently), and they were delicious and a 100% keeper. They got me in a mango mood, so I have a bowl of mangoes ripening on the counter which is one good thing to look forward to, I suppose.

  • Sweet and Fiery Pork Tenderloin with Mango Salsa: Speaking of mangoes, this is what we’re eating tonight. I have made it several times in the past and have always found the pork to be a little… weak in flavor. Today, I threw all the ingredients in the crockpot, added a bit of soy sauce and some minced ginger and garlic, and we’ll see if that does anything. 
  •  Fish Taco Bowls 
  • Fire Fry 
  • Chicken Shawarma with Steamed Broccoli
  • Tacos: The regular ground beef kind, per Carla’s request. I am going to have her make them, since she has been voicing some disappointment about the meals on offer lately. She seemed pretty pleased at the thought.

I also have some zucchini and asparagus in the crisper, for spur-of-the-moment stir fries or protein-and-a-veggie-side options.

What are you most looking forward to eating this week?

Frankly, Internet, I revisited my 2020 goals primarily for a laugh. I mean, whomst among us hasn’t, at some point in the past year, thrown up their hands about ever having a goal again? Plus, even in the best of years, I am not much of a goal-setter or goal-sticker-to-er.

Turns out that some of my aspirations from last year ARE quite hilarious. But somehow I managed to achieve a few of them??? Perhaps I am getting better at setting achievable goals. 

As always, my overarching goal – “I am not going to put a huge amount of pressure on accomplishing anything outside of keeping myself and my child alive. Even my husband is ON HIS OWN, for keeping-alive purposes.” – was the most important. And I did manage to accomplish that one, at least.

Let’s take a look at the other aspirations I had when we sailed into 2020, not knowing what it had in store for us.

Personal

  • Aspiration: Read 30 books. Last year, I read 23 books. Reading just… falls by the wayside. And that’s ridiculous because I LOVE to read, and reading helps inspire and inform my own writing. So I want to really prioritize reading this year.
  • Result: Complete! I read 46 books in 2020! Woo!
  • Aspiration: Buy new sport bras. Like last year, I am borrowing this undergarment goal from Stephany. Thanks, Stephany! I have probably around a dozen sports bras. But they are all terrible. Half of them are from high school and college, which, you may recall, took place TWO DECADES AGO OMG. So these sports bras have put in their time and deserve to retire. The reason I keep them around is because they are so comfy when the sports bras I have purchased in the past few years are so horribly UNcomfy. They are too tight or pinch my armpits and at least one of them has created a skin tag on my back which I DO NOT LIKE. One of them has a decorative trim that has come loose and another has a piece of padding that continually folds over on itself and both of these things make me feel unkempt – not that I am at my most kempt while exercising, I understand this – and in general I just hate all of them. What has prevented me from just getting rid of these awful torture slings, you ask? Cheapness, I answer. Sports bras are EXPENSIVE. But I am committing to, if not replacing ALL of them, at least buying two or three new ones that I actually like. I wear a sports bra probably five days a week, so this is a reasonable thing on which to spend money, SELF, ARE YOU LISTENING TO THIS LOGICAL ARGUMENT?
  • Result: Semi-complete. I bought ONE (1) new sports bra and I also bought myself a handful of bralettes because this was The Year of No Bras. 
  • Aspiration: Exercise five days a week. My husband and I got each other a recumbent bike for Christmas, so now we have that and a treadmill AND I still have a package of barre classes I purchased when they went on sale at the end of last year. Plus I have an abundance of exercise videos and the whole entire internet at my disposal. There is no reason for me to not exercise daily. It lulls the hamsters in my brain and elevates my mood and gives me more energy.
  • Result: I completed 217 workouts in 2020, which, if my math is correct which is questionable at best, works out to exercising about four days every week. So. Not complete, but not a total failure. The thing is, I am very good about exercising when I can do it on My Preferred Schedule, which is at about eight o’clock in the morning. This is not a schedule that is workable when Carla is doing remote learning, so I do not exercise during the week when she is learning remotely. Should I simply get up earlier and exercise then? Yes. But that does not work for me, either. Hopefully she will be back in school, in person, next week for a very long time and I can get back to exercising the way I like to.
  • Aspiration: Limit my phone usage to one hour per day. Hahahahahahahaha. This is probably the most wild and ambitious goal of all, but I am going to try it. I have set the timers on my phone which is the first step. The second step is to stop hitting “ignore time limit” every time I reach it.
  • Result: HAHAHAHAHA. I did the exact opposite of this. My screen time skyrocketed during the pandemic. Just copious, endless amounts of time on my phone. There were multiple days when I had to plug my phone in before the day was over, because I had run down the battery just through doomscrolling. 
  • Aspiration: Find a good balance of social/solitary time. It seems like I have this bad habit of swinging wildly between over-scheduling myself with social events and then reacting to all the over-stimulation by hiding away and doing absolutely nothing and then reacting to feeling isolated by over-scheduling myself with social events. Repeat. I am an introvert. I know this. I should limit my social activities to once – maybe twice – a week, which should help still the pendulum.
  • Result: HAHAHAHAHA. My social activities were VERY LIMITED this year.
  • Aspiration: Take better care of my skin. I have found a combination of facial oil and moisturizing lotion that I like. I have acquired some moisturizing spray. And now I just need to make sure I wash my face EVERY NIGHT.
  • Result: Semi-complete. It’s much easier to have quick, easy nighttime cleaning ritual when you hardly ever wear makeup anymore (pandemic). And yet I still sometimes managed to fail at this goal?
  • Aspiration: Practice the piano. I am stealing this one from Nicole, and, admittedly, it is a wild and ambitious goal that I am unlikely to accomplish. Who will even know, anyway, as I do not plan to track my playing on a spreadsheet or even mark it down on a sheet of paper I could leave handily on the piano. So why aspire to do something I have so little faith in doing, you ask? Well, we have a beautiful hand-me-down baby grand piano and I have thirteen years of piano lessons under my belt and I have a bunch of sheet music of songs I’d like to learn/re-learn. Plus, playing the piano is something that would definitely enhance my life, so I am going to give it the old half-hearted try. I will attempt to play the piano twice a week this year. No specific time requirement – just sit down at the piano and noodle around for a while.
  •  Result: Incomplete. I definitely noodled around on the piano a lot more than I have in years past. But I did not do it twice a week.

Family

  • Aspiration: Find a new regular babysitter. I don’t really know how to go about doing this, but our current list of sitters has kind of fizzled out. By that I mean the three young women who regularly sit for Carla are more likely to a) be busy or b) not respond at all when I ask if they are available… and I feel like three in a row of those things really means I should stop bother them.
  • Result: NOPE. 
  • Aspiration: Go on more date nights. My husband and I really enjoy each other’s company. We need to spend more time alone. And I would like to try to see some movies together, like, in an actual theater. Sounds very adventuresome.
  • Result: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.
  • Aspiration: Undertake more weekend adventures. This is a carryover from last year. It was fun to go on little weekend trips, which I hope we can do again. And for the remaining weekends… Well, maybe we can try to dedicate one weekend day to loafing at home – which we all prefer to do – and the other day to adventuring. I know my husband is on board with this, so maybe together we can make it happen.
  • Result: Semi-complete? Let’s count this as a semi-win, because – despite the global pandemic – we managed to do a bunch more weekends of hiking and walking together. Plus, we did a long weekend driving trip to a secluded AirBnB.
  • Aspiration: Plan a trip to visit my niece. We just need to make this happen.
  • Result: Incomplete. Pandemic.
  • Aspiration: Read/skim one parenting book a quarter. That seems like a VERY achievable goal, right? I have a ton of parenting books on my to-read list, but I have SUCH a hard time getting through them. So I need to make it a clearer goal, to read them and then share what I’ve learned with my husband. And then, I suppose, implement the useful ideas.
  • Result: Incomplete. Did I finish even ONE this year? I don’t think so.
  • Aspiration: Emphasize/encourage more adventurous eating. Carla eats enough of a variety of foods that I feel like she’s getting adequate nutrition. For instance, when I make her dinner, I can be sure there is something from each category – protein, carb, dairy, vegetable, and fruit – on her plate that she will actually eat. But when it comes down to it, the list of foods she eats is very, very short. Which means that her meals look very similar, from day to day and week to week. (Right now, the only vegetables she will eat are sugar snap peas, tomatoes, and frozen green beans. That’s IT.) Lately, I have been applying a Pick Your Battles philosophy to this aspect of parenting — there are other battles more worthy of picking — but I really do want to help encourage her to eat beyond that list. I’m not sure how to do it, but I think one of the aforementioned parenting books could help.
  •  Result: Semi-complete. We try. Carla will now eat couscous, (plain) lettuce, and (raw) mushrooms, which I count as a win. And she will (usually) at least try something new. I will take what I can get.

Work/Finance

  • Aspiration: Revise my manuscript. Now that I have all (most) of the words, I need to go through and put everything in a readable order and fill out the places where I just wrote in filler words and basically transform it from a rough draft into something I can send to beta readers.
  • Result: Incomplete. I did not write/revise a single word between March and September. I just didn’t. I got serious about it later in the year, but am still only halfway done with revisions.
  • Aspiration: Invest every single month. I am in charge of funding several investments we have. It’s a very simple process, done completely online. And yet I get freaked out by the wild movements of the market and the prospect of losing all our money and sometimes just… don’t invest.
  • Result: Incomplete. When the pandemic hit and the market got volatile, I chickened out. I know you aren’t supposed to time the market, but man. I am not good at putting money into a sinkhole. Even though the market turned around later, as it is usually wont to do. I think a goal this year is to get serious about finding a financial advisor to do this stuff for me.
  • Aspiration: Put money into a personal 401(k). Since I am earning money, even if it’s a tiny bit, I can put it into a retirement account. My dad helped me set up an individual 401(k) and I need to put what I earned last year into it before April.
  •  Result: Incomplete. I am really disappointed in myself about this. But I did have some income this past year, before the pandemic hit. So I will add that to my i401(k).

House Projects

  • Aspiration: GALLERY WALL. My husband is on board. He has given me full control over the gallery wall, and just needs me to present him with my vision so that we can make it happen. THIS WILL HAPPEN. 
  • Result: This has not happened. Despite technically being on board with this project, my husband has ZERO interest in making it happen. And he is the only one of us who can create straight lines, so I kind of NEED him. 
  • Aspiration: Fix the freaking toilet. I have purchased and installed FIVE flappers in our toilet. Perhaps it is a much more finicky and complicated repair than it seems based on viewing YouTube videos of the process, and I am merely missing some crucial element. Perhaps there is something else wrong with the toilet that I am unable to diagnose. In any case, I have reached the outer limit of my flapper-installation/toilet-repair knowledge AND PATIENCE – if you have never had to adjust and readjust and readjust and readjust AGAIN the length of a flapper chain while crouched uncomfortably over your toilet tank you have lived a good life indeed – and need to call in a professional. For my sanity.
  • Result: Complete! Well, sort of, if you count the fact that I gave up and bought a whole new toilet. 
  • Aspiration: Sharpen our knives. A local knife sharpener sets up camp at the grocery store at various times throughout the year. I want to load up all our knives (how???) and have him sharpen them, because they are woefully dull and therefore dangerous.
  • Result: Complete! Except that I did NOT take our knives to the sharpener guy (pandemic). My husband sharpened them himself!
  • Aspiration: Purge old items. We have a bunch of stuff to get rid of. For one thing, I think it’s time to relieve our basement of Carla’s play kitchen. I can’t remember the last time she’s used it, and she’s had it since 2014, so it’s fulfilled its duties to our household. Plus, there are many other things that we just do not need in our basement – two giant duffels that my husband has owned since I’ve known him and has never once used in all those 19 years; the battered remains of our old footstool, which my husband cannot bear to throw out despite it being so gross we had to replace it, the pots and pans we replaced but are still holding onto for some reason, TWO coffee makers that we definitely do not need, tons of shoes I do not wear or Carla has outgrown, I could go on.  I need to decide if I am going to host another garage sale next summer (host? Is that the verb I am looking for? Do I mean “throw”? But that makes it sound like a party which it most certainly is NOT.) or if I am going to find somewhere to donate all the assorted items I need to get rid of. That requires calling places, which is unappealing. But a garage sale is a TON of work, which is also unappealing. MOST unappealing is playing hostess to a growing junk heap in my basement, though.
  •  Result: Semi-complete? I got rid of some shoes and some crafting supplies. And I thinned out some of Carla’s toys. But we still have big bags marked for Donation in the basement. Obviously we did NOT have a garage sale this past summer, and it’s SO much work that I am not sure I ever want to do another one. I just need to gear myself up to take the bags to Goodwill and allow THEM to do with our stuff what they will. 
  • Aspiration: Have a realtor come evaluate our house. My husband and I are really, seriously thinking about moving out of this house. But we will not do so for about three years. If there is work we absolutely need to do to make our house more buyer-friendly, I want to do it now, so we can enjoy it before we move out.
  • Result: Incomplete. My husband wasn’t up for this, and then the pandemic happened and I wasn’t interested in pushing him to agree to something that would involve having a stranger in our house.
  • Aspiration: Touch up the outside of the house. We have a stain on the siding above our front porch. The paint is starting to peel from the trim around the garage door. Our front door has seen better days. The front porch could use some fresh paint. I need to look into what it would take to make this happen.
  • Result: Semi-complete. We had a company come and power wash the exterior, which helped a ton. But we definitely need to take care of the trim. This year!

THREE completed aspirations this year, people. Out of 22 total. That is SAD. Good thing I don’t set Real Goals, right, or I might feel like an abject failure!

If anything, this year was certainly a good example of that old saying about life happening while we make other plans. Life certainly HAPPENED, that’s for sure, and my plans fell mostly by the wayside. 

Who knows what 2021 will bring. 

Am I still doing this? Apparently so.

I recently read somewhere that the best way to meal plan is to come up with three (3) specific meals for the week and then spitball from there. This is obviously not the exact wording of the article I read, but the particulars are lost to the sands of time. And it’s always possible I misread, or misunderstood, or read a fragment of a headline and moved on before discovering that, in fact, choosing three specific meals is THE WORST IDEA EVER. Maybe I didn’t even read an article. But we will go with what we have, which is a fairly fuzzy and growing ever fuzzier memory of possibly reading this Life-Changing Suggestion. 

You will not be surprised, I think, to learn that I immediately latched on to the idea of planning FEWER MEALS. The pandemic has made meal planning/cooking more grueling than usual. A better, easier way to meal plan?! Sign me up! Also because of the pandemic, I think I have become better or at least more confident with meal planning on the fly, with the ingredients I have on hand. So this sounds doable. At least for this week.

I don’t want to take away the (only) FUN aspect of meal planning – the searching for and trying new, interesting recipes. But I definitely want to simplify, where possible. So I am going to experiment with planning a few specific things – including some new recipes, or, in the case of this week ALL new recipes – and then fill out the rest of the week with whatever I have on hand. WE’LL SEE HOW IT GOES. 

Dinners for the Week of January 4 – January 10

  • Ginger Salmon Salad 
    • Follow Up: This was a surprising hit! The sauce was a little fussy to make — not hard, just… fussy. But it was tasty and different. My husband liked it too, even though it was salmon. I would make this again.
  • Thai Chicken Quinoa Bowls  (This recipe calls for pre-made chicken, which I do not have. So I am going to braise a bunch of chicken in coconut milk like so and save the extra for another meal.) 
    • Follow Up: Braising the chicken in the coconut milk mixture did not go well, possibly because instead of using red curry paste I used sweet chili sauce (to match the quinoa dressing). It was too mild and the chicken was WAY too chicken-y. Yuck. BUT the quinoa bowls without chicken were delicious. I added sliced red and green bell peppers, edamame, avocado, and scallions, and it was so yummy. I put it all on top of a bunch of romaine which made it feel super healthful. We had leftovers and it was delicious, cold, the next day. (I did sprinkle the quinoa mixture with a mixture of soy sauce and sriracha though, which amped up the flavor factor.) Would definitely make this again, but would reserve the chicken for my husband.
  • Mushroom Ramen 
    • Follow Up: This was tasty, but very salty. My husband described the flavor as very intense. Having a separate broth was a little weird… it was almost too intense to eat without the noodles, so what was the purpose? If I made this again, I might halve the sauce, add the chicken broth, but then put the entire amount of liquid in when the recipe calls for just adding half the sauce. As per usual, it is very frustrating to watch one billion mushrooms shrink into nothing. I added sliced bell pepper and sugar snap peas to this, to amp up the veggie quotient and I used ramen. This also purported to take 30 minutes of cooking, but even if you don’t count the washing and chopping of bell pepper and sugar snap peas, it took at LEAST thirty minutes just to prepare the ingredients. And I ended up using one million dishes, which annoys me. Probably I wouldn’t make this exact recipe again. But it was fun to try.
  • Slow Cooker Chicken Tortilla Soup  (I don’t normally like chicken tortilla soup because it has tomatoes in it. But my husband likes it, and I need a slow cooker meal this week, and it sounds good. I am going to try to blend all the chunks out of the tomatoes – and even strain them, if necessary – and we’ll see if the extra work is worthwhile.) 
    • Follow Up: I did end up blending the fire roasted tomatoes, and even then there were seeds everywhere so I pressed it through a fine-mesh strainer. Also, I think I had in mind that this would be more like chili, which it most definitely was NOT — it was clearly soup. So after it was done cooking and was sitting in the crockpot on warm, I added a can of black beans and about a cup of frozen corn. That helped. This had a great flavor and I would DEFINITELY make it again. Oh – since I don’t like the texture of cooked peppers, I chopped the poblanos into big chunks for easy removal. Next time, I might cut each poblano in half and then toss them afterward — my husband didn’t love eating the chunks of them and I didn’t miss them, but I am sure they did add some flavor to the soup.

Plus, I have pork tenderloin, pork chops, shrimp, and tons of chicken in the freezer. Plus broccoli and zucchini and avocados in my fridge. So I am going to put those things together to make the remaining meals.

What are you eating this first full week of January?

Last year, I ended this yearly recap with “A new decade lies before us, Internet. Fresh and unwrinkled, with no mistakes in it yet. I hope it brings all of us health and happiness and grace.”

Oh, Past Me. So innocent. So unknowing. 

Despite this year being… you know. Awful in so many, many, many ways, I do want to recap it. First, it’s An Established Tradition on this blog. (If you’re so inclined, you can read past versions of my responses: 20192018201720162015201420132012201120102009. This yearly recap originated with Linda of All & Sundry.)

Second, this is a year for the history books, and, well, it feels worth recording.

Also, please forgive the formatting. WordPress and I are NOT getting along today.

As usual, I reserve the right to delete ignore or scoff at any of the questions below. Please let me know if YOU do a year-end recap – I love to read them.

  • What did you do in 2020 that you’d never done before?
    • Lived through (the first nine months of) a global pandemic. 
    • Supervised my child during remote learning. 
    • Stayed at home with my daughter all summer.
    • Tried Keto.
    • Entertained friends and family solely outside. 
    • Dyed my own hair. 
    • Downloaded and used Zoom, many, many times. 
    • Celebrated every important-to-us holiday and birthday without extended family.
  • Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

Once again, I had a bunch of loose aspirations for the year, many of which are quite blackly hilarious in light of the pandemic. At least I was able to achieve the main one – “I am not going to put a huge amount of pressure on accomplishing anything outside of keeping myself and my child alive. Even my husband is ON HIS OWN, for keeping-alive purposes.” Good enough, self.

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

This year, I visited Florida, Montana, and Michigan and that’s it because the pandemic put a kibosh on all my travel plans. We went to Florida pre-pandemic. We went to Montana when the pandemic was just starting to creep across the country. And we went to Michigan in October, just the three of us, and rented a little house in the middle of nowhere and did outdoor activities and brought takeout back to our rental. 

  • What would you like to have in 2021 that you lacked in 2020?

A return to some sort of pre-pandemic normalcy, for myself and my country, and across the globe. A strong third draft of my manuscript. More time alone with my husband. Dinner in a restaurant. The ability to travel without worrying about infection/infecting.

  • What dates from 2020 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
    • March 17, which was the last day of in-person first grade for Carla and the day when Shit Got Real.
    • September 14, which was Carla’s first day of second grade and her return to in-person school. It was a day of WILDLY CONFLICTING EMOTIONS but it turned out to be the best possible decision we could have made, for our particular child, with our particular circumstance. 
    • My husband’s birthday in October, during which he turned 40. He continues to grow ever hotter with the years, which is truly unfair but also really enjoyable for me.

  • What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Surviving.

  • What was your biggest failure?

My FEELING of failure is related to how poorly I’ve taken care of myself this year. It’s not a REAL failure, because I succeeded in Making It to the end of 2020. But I have self-soothed against pandemic anxiety by eating and drinking too much, resulting in me feeling that I have been a) overdramatic and b) using the pandemic as an excuse to lose control. But I am also trying to be kind to myself, and there is time (I hope) to recalibrate. 

I am also frustrated that this novel still isn’t done. So frustrated. But again: trying to be kind, take it one day at a time, and remind myself that the pace doesn’t matter as much as the product.

  • Did you suffer illness or injury?

No, thank goodness.

  • What was the best thing you bought?

The outdoor heater for our back porch. It enabled us to socialize with a couple of families well into October. Oh! And Carla’s bike was a GREAT purchase. She got so much exhilaration and joy and exercise from that bike!

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

I was really looking forward to going skiing with my parents and Carla for the first time. The pandemic nipped that right in the bud. 

  • What song(s) will always remind you of 2020?

There has been – thank goodness – a LOT of music in 2020. A bunch of it comes from Just Dance 2020, and will be forever stuck in my head thanks to Carla’s insistence that we repeat one song over and over until we drop from exhaustion. Despite my early worries – well, I guess it’s still too soon to tell, but I don’t THINK these songs will fill me with the dread of this year. Instead, they remind me of the good times. Dancing with my daughter. Staying up too late, just the three of us, watching music videos on TV. Driving together somewhere outdoors and isolated from people, listening to many of these songs every time. I hope that’s what sticks with me. 

  • Compared to this time last year, are you:
    • a) happier or sadder? 
    • b) thinner or fatter? 
    • c) richer or poorer? 

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

Writing (evergreen item). Going on dates with my husband (HAHAHAHAHAHA). Exercising. Reading.

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

Feeling sad. Eating my feelings. Worrying. Doomscrolling. 

  • How did you spend Christmas?

Just the three of us, enjoying each other’s company, getting together via Zoom and FaceTime with our extended families. It seems wildly unfair to say that I really enjoyed our Christmas alone together. But I did. While I definitely look forward to having my parents here next year, it was so, so nice to be able to have a nearly stress-free Christmas, to stay in my pajamas for nearly 48 hours straight, and to be able to retire to our separate corners (Carla with LEGOs, my husband with a puzzle, me with a book) and just co-exist in a very amiable, very loving, and very quiet space for an entire weekend. I kind of loved it. That does NOT mean I want/need it to be this way every year. I was mainly glad that I wasn’t overwhelmed by grief at being apart. 

  • Did you fall in love in 2020?

I had crossed out this question in previous years because it is stupid. BUT I am uncrossing it on (??? what is the opposite of crossing out?) this year because I feel like I fell more in love with Carla this year. Her flexibility and adaptability and determination and general cheerfulness throughout the pandemic have been a sight to behold. But beyond that, we spent more time together this year than we have since those first few months after her birth. And let’s be honest, back then, we were strangers. Not to mention that the most interesting things she did in those early days included rolling over and sleeping multiple consecutive hours in a night. Now that she is seven, she is SO INTERESTING and FUN and we have real conversations and do things together that are enjoyable for both of us. In past years, I was super anxious for her to go to camp during the summer because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to occupy her by myself. This summer, camp was not a possibility for her, so we DID spend all summer together. And it was FINE. Some days, it was even GREAT! 

Most of all, I’ve gotten to know her better, and, hopefully, to understand her better. I see what she goes through in a school-esque setting. I have a better grasp of her work process, of her strengths and challenges when it comes to learning and friendships. I have a new appreciation for how much effort she puts into her schoolwork, how kind and supportive she is to her friends, how unexpectedly shy she can be in front of her peers, how she lights up when she has one-on-one time with her teachers and classmates. 

Our time together is now more precious than it ever was, simply because I understand better than ever how wonderful she is, and how quickly she is growing up. I treasure the rare moments when she wants to snuggle up and read with me, the times when we can move our bodies outdoors together, the delight we share when I introduce her to something I love (Full HouseEllen TebbitsFriends). I have always loved her with my whole heart. But I fell so much more deeply in love with her this year. 

  • What was your favorite (new) TV program?

THANK GOODNESS FOR TV. Somehow I watched a lot less TV during a global pandemic than I thought I would? Not that I ever thought about it before; I am just kind of surprised that I haven’t been vegged out in front of the TV for nine months. (It was still a lot of TV.) (I love TV.)

  • *
    • Ted Lasso was so, so, so wonderful. Best sleeper hit of the year. (Sleeper hit for me because the previews made it out to be a show about soccer, which is a topic I have ZERO interest in.) (IT WAS SO GOOD.) 
    • The Babysitters Club remake was AMAZING in every way and I was so delighted to watch it with Carla, and plan to watch it with her again in the future because it will resonate with her in new ways as she gets older. 
    • I loved The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
    • Never Have I Ever was super fun. 
    • I watched Veronica Mars for the first time and loved it. 
    • I started watching The Mindy Project for the first time and found it to be very comforting in its romantic absurdity (although I have had more than enough of the weight hate). 
    • The Crown continues to be surprisingly riveting. 
    • Making It and LEGO Masters and Magic for Humans are new to me and all wonderful, feel-good pandemic viewing. 
    • Great British Baking Show and Penn & Teller Fool Us and Songland continue to be excellent, soothing fare. 
  • Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
  • What was the best book you read?

This year, despite going through several long periods where I just COULDN’T get through a novel, I read more than 45 books which is a record for me. And so many of them were so good!!!!! 

  • *
    • The Searcher by Tana French is probably my top book of the year. She’s just such a masterful writer – her prose is gorgeous and the characters are so well-drawn. I didn’t find the plot to be among her best – it’s pretty simple and easy to parse – but there were some surprising (and creepy) elements that I liked, and I just enjoyed it so much. 
    • I read Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies and absolutely fell in love with Thomas Cromwell, whose life and motivations are so richly imagined by Hilary Mantel. I have the third installment of the trilogy, The Mirror and the Light, on my nightstand, but didn’t manage to pick it up in 2020.
    • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett is a book I still think about, even though I read it back in August. I bought it for several of the bookish people I know for Christmas. The way Bennett handles questions of identity and how people present themselves to the world was so skilled and thoughtful. 
    • I typically don’t read romance novels, but The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan was spectacular – fun and touching and funny and well-paced and just an excellent read. (I STILL haven’t read the sequel, The Heir Affair, because of really dumb reasons, like that I read the original on Kindle, so I want to read the sequel on Kindle, but every time it is available from the library I am in the middle of something else. I should really just buy both of them in print and move on with my life.)
    • Speaking of genres I don’t often read, I just this week finished Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia which is what I would categorize as a horror novel. I’ve heard it compared to Rebecca, which I loved when I read it many years ago (and now want to read again). But Moreno-Garcia’s book is ENTIRELY its own. It was fascinating and surprising and like nothing I’ve ever read before. No wonder it’s been on so many Must Read and Best Of lists all year long. 

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

  • *
    • I literally just read The Holdout by Graham Moore yesterday – I started it at lunchtime and finished it right around when my husband got home at about sixish, so perhaps that tells you that it was EXCELLENT and UNPUTDOWNABLE. Well written, well-paced, great use of multiple perspectives and timelines. There were some surprises in the plot and it was just… so, so good. This was a book I hadn’t heard of – my husband bought it for me for Christmas and this just solidifies the fact that he is a GREAT picker-outer of books. Now I think I need to go back and read more of Moore’s work.
    • Long Bright River by Liz Moore was superb, with a surprising plot, great characters, and a careful, thoughtful handling of the subject of addiction. This one book made her a person whose next book I would by unquestioningly.
    • Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden has to be on my list because I think about it long after the fact. The mystery itself wasn’t perhaps my favorite, but I absolutely loved the descriptions of life on the reservation and the protagonist’s experiences with legal obstacles and his reluctant foray into traditional tribal approaches to problem-solving. I look forward to more books by Weiden. 
    • I also really, really enjoyed The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh – it was so fast-paced and built on such an interesting premise. Like watching a really good action movie, but in book form.
  • What did you want and get?

For my family and friends to be safe and healthy this year. So far, so good. We are very, very lucky.

A VACCINE. My goodness,

Also, a new president. 

  • What did you want and not get?

A refrigerator that doesn’t leak mysteriously and incessantly. New windows. Unity around a workable, scientifically-backed virus containment strategy.

  • What was your favorite film of this year?

Um. I think we probably watched more movies this year than ever before, but damned if I can remember any of them. A lot of them were oldies from when my husband and I were youths – you know, Back to the FutureI and IIThe GooniesJumanjiHoney I Shrunk the KidsJurassic Park. Most of them held up pretty well. 

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

IF THERE HAD BEEN NO GLOBAL PANDEMIC.

  • How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2020?

2020 Fashion was all about comfort. Soft bras, soft pants, soft shorts, no makeup, no shoes. Let’s exchange our pajamas for some Daytime Leggings and then switch back in a few hours. That kind of thing. I did buy some leopard print shoes and some jean shorts (gasp!) though. I am never going to feel comfortable wearing a bra again, that’s for sure.

  • What kept you sane?

My husband. Exercise. My terrible, ubiquitous, addictive phone. Recipe and exercise blogs (most of which I just save for later rather than putting to immediate use). Good TV. Carbs. Tequila. The Office Ladies podcast. Reading your blog posts. Long walks, when I was able to take them. My backyard, when the weather was bearable. Writing here.

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

Ted Lasso, who is, admittedly a fictional character rather than a celebrity. Nonetheless, I LOVE HIM. 

I also fell in love with Jenna Fisher, of The Office fame, through the Office Ladies podcast she hosts with Angela Kinsey. She’s a beautiful TV and movie star, yet she portrays herself as kind of this nerdy, super-organized, socially-awkward person… and she just seems like someone I would want to be friends with. I love hearing about her celebrity friends and experiences — her life is SO unlike my own. But she is also such a REAL person, and she gets so REAL on her podcast, talking about REAL things, and she seems so kind and caring. I love how supportive and thoughtful she seems to be — she is always describing her cast- and crewmates from The Office in such a positive and genuine way. But she gets deeper, too. In one episode, she told a story about eating an entire bag of snack mix in one sitting, and saying that sometimes it is okay to not be okay. That has stayed with me. For the most part this year, I have not been okay with not being okay. I feel melodramatic and like I should be grateful for what I have and like I should buck up and have a stiff upper lip and get some perspective. But it has been A TOUGH YEAR. It SHOULD be okay to not be okay. It IS okay. I keep repeating that to myself like a mantra. Not to wallow, but to reduce the guilt and the self-recrimination. Anyway, Jenna Fisher for life, y’all. 

  • What political issue stirred you the most?
  • Who did you miss?

My friend who died. My housecleaner (sob!). My parents, although we got to see them right before the pandemic tipped over into This Is Really A Big Deal, and they also drove out to visit us this past fall. I know this is a TON more time than other people got to have with their families. Still. It wasn’t enough time, and they weren’t here for Thanksgiving which was a bummer. I am a mega introvert, so I didn’t really miss anyone else. I mean, it would have been nice to see some of the other moms more often. But I got to see my two closest local friends a few times, which was honestly kind of the perfect amount of socializing for me.  

  • Who was the best new person you met?

Shocking to absolutely no one, the number of people I know/interact with dropped significantly this year. But you know what? I DID meet someone new this year! She and her daughter moved here, and she enrolled her daughter in Carla’s school, and we actually met in person for a “playdate” in a parking lot. (Parking lot lines are really helpful in keeping children socially distance, FYI. There’s your 2020 Hot Tip of the Year. Get them to an empty parking lot, set them up in individual spaces with one space in between them, and allow them to shout at each other in lieu of actually playing together.) Anyway, we have gotten the kids together via Zoom several times since, and we text while they play and both mom and child are delightful. I am very glad to have met them, and, honestly, the circumstances are very soothing to my introverted, socially awkward soul.

  • Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2020.

Somehow, my answer from 2019 is pretty apt for this year as well: I don’t know. That things could always be worse? Ugh. That’s a terrible life lesson, true as it may be. That sometimes things seem pretty grim and you just have to keep going? I am still processing the past few months and I don’t think I’ve fully wrapped my head around what’s been going on… or how to apply what I’ve learned (what I’m learning?) to the future. So that grit-your-teeth kind of thing is all I have right now.

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

  • Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

“I’m so thankful. Scratch that baby I’m grateful.” – Katy Perry, “Smile” 

Happy New Year, Internet. May 2021 bring us all happiness, health, and togetherness.

Well, right on cue: despite my meticulous catalog of gift options and all my big plans of thwarting the inevitable onset of Stocking Stuffer Syndrome, now that we’re just under a week out from Christmas I am experiencing severe Pre-Christmas Panic that I haven’t purchased enough/the right gifts. What IS this and WHY does it happen? Especially THIS year when a) I have planned so well and so far in advance and b) I cannot do anything about it, aside from braving Target or Costco or the like during a pandemic which is a no from me dawg. Maybe focusing my anxiety energy on gift-related targets is more bearable than worrying aimlessly about Everything Else? The fact is, panic or no, IT’S TOO LATE NOW. 

Oh crumbs! I just realized I never ordered Carla a Rubik’s Cube to replace the one I broke. And glee of glees! It looks like Amazon is still confident it can ship one to me in a day (“a day”), unlike the Elsa styling head I keep fretting about, because I know she would like it, but it is TOO LATE – pretty much every version of the thing is unavailable to ship until January. INTO THE CART, RUBIK’S CUBE. There. Okay I also just bought my husband a pair of work slacks (do people say slacks anymore?) that I can pick up curbside. They were on sale. They are also very boring. Maybe too boring? Nope, TOO LATE, they are purchased. And I am hoping that the act of buying something, anything, even boring work slacks, will help allay the panic.

Let’s have some randomosity, shall we?

  • You know what it’s NOT too late for? Medicinal holiday baking. I have finally decided which holiday cookies to make! My husband found a copycat recipe for Levain Bakery’s chocolate chocolate chip cookies that we are going to bake. I think I will also make the zimtsterne, just because they are so pretty and festive. I have vague semi-plans to package some of the zimtsterne in the boxes I normally use for holiday chocolates and give them to our neighbors. Sharing the sufganiyot with our neighbor went so well, I kind of want to recapture that feeling. Unfortunately, all I’ve recaptured is the anxiety of even CONSIDERING interacting with our neighbors.
  • I haven’t tested the copycat recipe yet, but I CAN recommend the real thingLevain Bakery ships their cookies and I have been the recipient of said cookies in the past and it was delightful. Looks like it is too late to order them for Christmas, but if you ever need to send something delicious to someone in your life (that includes yourself), these are AH-MAY-ZING. They are huge and they freeze really well. 
  • In other baking news, I finally made the cranberry crumble bars I have been planning to make for over a week now. They were SO GOOD – the perfect combination of tart, gooey cranberries and lightly sweet crunchy shortbread crust with a teensy bit of very sweet lemony glaze on top. You use the same crust for the crumble on top, which sounds a little weird (to me) but is quite delicious. I sent a big plate full with my husband on Friday so he could share them with the surgical team, and he said everyone enjoyed them. Somehow I need to remember to make them next Thanksgiving because I like them better than our traditional pumpkin bars. 
  • My holiday card wall is looking a little sad, still. The cards are arriving in little drips, although one day we got a big surge of five. I hope it picks up before Christmas. I know the postal service is doing absolutely everything it can to move everyone else’s pandemic-related-panic-buying from one place to another, so I’m assuming more cards will arrive when they can. Of course it’s also possible that most people decided against cards this year – although most everyone I’ve spoken to seems to be of the “but now cards are more important than ever!!!!” perspective, so who really knows?
  • Speaking of the postal service, I finally stopped dithering and purchased gifts for the kind people who are delivering packages to our house ON THE DAILY. I saw an article about how postal workers aren’t allowed to accept cash or cash equivalents, which threw me for a loop. I have given Target and Starbucks gift cards with wild abandon in the past, so I kind of think maybe it would be okay to keep giving gift cards? Then again, KNOWING that it isn’t allowed is a different thing from blithely giving whatever I want out of innocence, so I dithered myself into complete paralysis. Until this week, when I finally decided that I could not give a gift card now that I KNEW it was prohibited. So I bought some of these little pandemic kits (which I could pick up curbside) and some fancy chocolates from a local small business and that was THAT. Practical plus yummy/treaty. Of course I am second guessing my choices now, but IT’S TOO LATE NOW. What’s done is packaged and waiting in our hall, except for the one gift we were already able to hand directly to the postal worker. Now all that’s left is to intercept the delivery people when they arrive; typically they don’t announce their presence in any way, and even if I know to listen for them they are often already back in their trucks by the time I fling open the door. What says “merry Christmas” better than a wild-eyed middle-aged woman running shrieking after your truck in her bare feet?
  • The pandemic kits I bought include one of those little no-touch door opener tool things. Do you have one of those? My husband got one from his hospital early on in the pandemic and he gave it to me. It is more useful than I anticipated, and I keep it in my purse and use it all the time. Hmmm. Maybe this would make a good stocking stuffer… This one at Amazon supposedly arrives before Christmas AND it has a little smart-screen tip you can use for credit card machines at the grocery store! 
  • This is totally not Christmas related AT ALL, but I cleaned my menorah and put that away, which is a nice if very small preview of the wonderful catharsis of putting away all the Christmas décor. We also have a menorah candle situation that annoys me. We ran out of candles on the seventh night (some people in our family can be a little too, um, enthusiastic about shoving the candles into the menorah), and I had to curbside pickup another pack of candles from Target. And now we will run out early NEXT year, too. I only hope I remember to buy extras before Hanukkah begins.
  • Also not a Christmas topic, and potentially alarming: the last two times I’ve been to the grocery store, there have been big bare spots on the taco shells shelf. And absolutely NONE of the Old El Paso regular-size taco shells. It’s all Stand and Stuff or Super Stuffer. It is perplexing. I haven’t been grabbing up big armsful of taco shells – yet – but I do grab a package every time, even if I’m not planning on tacos that week. (Although a week without tacos around here is, to be fair, rare.) I feel like I was just joking with someone about a hypothetical taco shell shortage, so perhaps I am to blame???? NEVER JOKE ABOUT TACO SHELLS, that’s the lesson here, folks. Well. Too late now.
  • This week’s haul from the grocery store included eggnog – which I like as long as it’s mixed with an equal amount of milk, otherwise it’s much too viscous – and Christmas beer, both of which are fun once-a-year things. I considered and rejected many other Christmas-specific items, including mulling spices, a stollen, and an enticing array of chocolate in Christmas shapes/colors. It is all so very tempting, though!
  • I am very tired of people in the grocery store not understanding the six-feet rule. It has been NINE MONTHS, people. There are signs everywhere, reminding us to give people plenty of space. There are regular announcements on the overhead speaker, reminding us to put six feet between ourselves and the people around us. We are all wearing masks as a big, blaring signal that THINGS ARE DIFFERENT NOW, YO. And yet, inevitably, I will be waiting patiently six feet away from a woman who is carefully evaluating every single onion in the bin so that I can grab some onions and be on my way, and some oblivious jerkface (I am assuming both the obliviousness and the jerkfacity) will squeeze in right next to her and start fondling the potatoes. In the immortal words of George Constanza, WE’RE LIVING IN A SOCIETY, and said society demands six feet between its members! 
  • As long as we are discussing things that I find pandemically perplexing: I have now gotten several emails about summer camp registration. First of all, it is December. Okay, so summer camp planning typically starts in January and I guess it’s not far enough from January for it to be an unconscionably early. But. BUT, and secondly, we are still in the midst of a pandemic. It seems kind of brazen to suggest that we start registering our kids for camps that are still many months away when we have NO IDEA what the status of the pandemic will be. Will everyone have gotten vaccines? Will the pandemic be under control? Will there be some new murder-hornet/zombie-mink-style horror to contend with? WHO KNOWS? The fact is, I am not ready to sign up for summer camp. Of course, the very fact that the camps are sending out the emails makes me a little edgy. I definitely don’t want to sign up today and send in a depost when anything could happen between now and next summer. But I also don’t want to wait until we KNOW what’s going to happen and find out IT’S TOO LATE to sign up. I can only hope that most other parents are giving these emails the ol’ squint eye and postponing thinking about it until at least March. 
  • Here is a Very Nice Thing: Carla’s last day before winter break was Friday, and the only assignment they had was to get together on Zoom and make a holiday present for their parents. I suppose that’s normal thing that teachers do with their kids before winter break, but it makes me feel especially weepy with gratitude this year because of all the extra forethought and planning it required, on top of all of the immense challenges of switching, mid-year, to an entirely new method of teaching. We owe these teachers so much. So. Much.
  • I painted my nails the other day for the first time in months. The polish is a sparkly turquoise-navy and I’m digging it. I wonder how long it will last, considering I wash my hands eight billion times a day.
  • Speaking of which, my hands are in rough shape. Unless I am super vigilant about applying hand lotion immediately after I wash my hands, they shrivel up and crack and my cuticles start peeling and there’s bleeding involved and it’s awful. I have hand lotion in the junk drawer in the kitchen, in my bathroom, and right next to my bed. I’ve had a rotation of hand creams, based on whatever is available to pick up at Target. Aveeno was my go-to lotion for most of the pandemic, but now that it’s winter, I don’t think it’s cutting it. I have Soap & Glory Hand Food by my bed, which is nice to use right before I go to sleep. But I’ve switched to O’Keefe’s Working Hands Hand Cream (this link goes to the 7 oz tube; it looks like Target only has the 3 oz size, and that is not enough hand cream) in the kitchen and in my bathroom and I think my diligence is starting to pay off.
  • My lips are a whole other situation though. It is the time of year where my normal multiple-times-daily application of Burt’s Bees lip balm is not enough to keep them smooth. I get this dry patch that I then pick at, which makes my lip bleed, and then my lips rush to repair the wound, which produces a thicker patch, which I then pick at, etc. etc. etc. until everyone is very glad indeed that I need to wear a face covering in public. What should I be putting on my lips instead? Vaseline? I see that O’Keefe’s makes a lip balm – maybe I should try that? Or this Aquaphor ointment gets good reviews. Oh! There is also a highly-rated Aquaphor balm (though it is PRICEY). What is the One True Lip Balm that will make my lips heal?
  • If you have a spouse/significant other, or if you are willing to pretend you do for this bullet point, would you find it odd if you received a gift card that was intended for both of you? Say your Aunt Sylvie sent you a Target gift card for $100 but it was made out to President and Vice President Yourname. (You are the President in this scenario.) You open it and you feel: _____ How? My husband and I have opposing views on this subject and I’m genuinely curious about others’ thoughts. 
  • My best friend from back home sent me a Friends couch ornament for Christmas. It is adorable AND it plays a quote from each character. I’m not crazy about the one for Phoebe – I’d rather hear her singing “Smelly Cat” – but it has Ross shouting “Pivot!” and Joey talking about a moo point, so overall I am very pleased with the choices. Carla loves to press the button and hear the quotes. She asked me what “pivot” means, which led to a definition plus an explanation of why Ross is yelling “pivot!” which led to watching the relevant clip on YouTube. And then I had to show her a few of my other favorite scenes, including my all-time favorite episode, which is the one where Rachel screws up the trifle. (The episode title is actually “The One Where Ross Got High.”) SO MANY great quotable moments in that episode. My favorite is when Ross and Monica’s mom says, “Rachel, no, you weren’t supposed to put beef in the trifle. It did NOT taste good.” 
  • Last-second addition to this post: I was going to schedule the post for Sunday morning and discovered that WordPress lists Sunday as the LAST DAY of the week on the calendar? What is THAT? Sunday comes FIRST! Every calendar I have ever seen orders the days from Sunday to Saturday. Yes, Monday is the first day of the work week, so it is kind of ridiculous, but this is The Way It Is Done. Even the song (to the tune of “My Darlin’ Clementine,” in case your toddler song repertoire is a little rusty) has the days in that order! Why, WordPress? What is the DEAL?

All right. That’s all I’ve got. How are you doing on this, the last Sunday before Christmas?

First of all, does my daughter have too many stuffed animals, Y/N?

Don’t breathe or the whole stack will collapse. Somehow I am only JUST NOW noticing what a hideous color the carpet is.

Are you sure?

Why is that narwhal so creepy? He’s the only one who looks cheerful — everyone else looks Deeply Concerned.

To be FAIR, they are normally divided between two spots, on top of her dresser like so and also on top of her bookcase. We squashed them all together so we could set up her little Christmas tree on the bookcase. When you have two large piles instead of one enormous pile, it still feels like an infestation, but it’s less alarming.

I wonder what the collective noun is for stuffies? A fluff? A cuddle? A suffocation? Yes, that last one seems most apt right now (for all I know, Carla could be under that pile somewhere): a suffocation of stuffies.

Okay, enough about the Stuffed Animal Addiction which I have fully enabled in my household.

What I ACTUALLY want to talk about today is a Very Great Experience that I just have to record for Future Me. 

Carla and I have been diligently reading through the books suggested on her reading countdown calendar. This week, we got to the one about reading a 12 Days of Christmas book.

In anticipation of this day, I had ordered this book from the library:

A very good book, with beautiful illustrations and, at the end, a nice tidy explanation of what the 12 days of Christmas means that also addresses whether or not someone would have REALLY given all these birds and people as gifts.

After school was done, and we’d each bathed (what? we are stuck at home and you expect me to shower in the MORNING?), we turned on the lamp in the living room to stave off the gathering shadows and sat down on the couch to read. Really cuddled up in there, because our couch makes an L shape and both Carla and I have a Strong Preference for the space where the strokes of the L join. Instead of taking turns or finding an alternative location, we simply squeeze in there together as tight as possible. I’ll be honest. Sometimes elbows are involved. Snuggling now also has a practical component, because our furnace is having Troubles. It is set for 71 degrees, which, when achieved, feels like being on the surface of the sun. But at all other times, the temperature of our house sinks into the mid-60s which doesn’t SOUND cold but somehow is Very Very Cold Indeed.

Back to the memories I WANT to preserve!

I opened the book and asked her if we should read the book or sing it. And I discovered that she had never heard the 12 Days of Christmas! So we sang it together. Which was just the most delightful experience.

She didn’t know the tune, but she gamely sang along until she picked it up. We stopped several times to discuss the oddness of the choices of gifts. So many birds! And then people?! We had to talk about whether the gold rings should be gold-en, because gold-en made much more sense with the rhythm. (This particular book says GOLD.) And we had a brief conflict of opinion when we came to eight maids a-milking, because she felt SURE that the gift was COWS. I mean, why not, right? Makes more sense than giving your true love MILKMAIDS. I mean, what if you didn’t even HAVE cows to milk and now you have eight unemployed women milling around awkwardly?

We also talked a lot about the rhythmic addition of “a” to so many of the lines: a-laying, a-swimming, a-leaping. Carla seemed to understand why it was there, but I think she’s still a little suspicious.

And then, finally, we reached the glorious last page, with alllllllll the gifts sung one after another. By then Carla had a good grasp of the tune and the rhythms and we sang it with gusto. 

It was just… wonderful. The holiday spirit swept me right up and made the gloomy near-dusk all golden at the edges. 

It’s not even a song I typically like! I mean, I enjoy belting out “five gold rings” as much as the next guy; I’m not made of stone. But this book and this reading experience may have changed that. And now I look forward to hearing it on the radio (that sounds so old-fashioned but I can’t bring myself to say “hearing it on the Apple music holiday playlist”) so that we can sing it together! And I hope every time I hear it, from this moment on, that the words are gilded with the joy of sitting with my daughter on a winter afternoon and singing at the top of our lungs. 

I want to remember it always.