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Dinners This Week

It is the last week in January. Somehow. I know time goes faster as you age, I know it. I understand the intellectual concept behind it. And yet it still feels shocking, like loose gravel slipping out from under your feet as you try not to fall down the side of a hill. 

We have snow and sunshine right now, which is my favorite combination. February is right here, knocking on the door, and I love February. It’s so short, it makes it seem like spring is right around the corner. Plus, it’s my birthday month. (And Lisa’s!) One of my aspirations this year is to get a massage, and I think I’ll schedule it for my birthday. That sounds like a good way to start my forty-third year on this planet.

Time to stop delaying. Let’s get to the meal planning.

Dinners for the Week of January 30-February 5

Garlicky Spinach and Chickpea Soup: My husband wants to try this, so try it we shall! I do admit that I am a little wary of spinach in soup. Cooked spinach already has an unpleasant (to me) texture, and I can’t imagine that making it wet will improve things. 

Szechuan Stir Fry: Tried and true favorite. My grocery store has been flush with beautiful bell peppers lately. I have been eating the green ones raw, filled with cottage cheese, but I also really want all the stir fries. I think I will make this with steak for my husband. I like to stir fry the meat in a little garlic and ginger and oil, put the meat into the bowl I will use, add it back into the stir fry at the appropriate time, and then enjoy the essence of meat it leaves behind. 

Sheet Pan Pesto Salmon with Lemon Thyme Potatoes: I love a good sheet pan meal. I don’t know if I can persuade my husband to eat salmon though – it seems like every time we eat fish, he gets a piece with bones in it. 

Crispy Slow Cooker Carnitas: I snagged a big ol’ pork butt on sale the other day. Carnitas seems like a good thing to have on hand for tacos and burrito bowls and salads. Plus, it’s delicious and easy.

What are you doing, this final week of January 2023?

Shoes in the House

For the entirety of my adult life, I have been a No Shoes in the House person. And yet I have been wearing shoes (sneakers) (sneakers that have never once been outside) in the house since Thanksgiving. I thought I would report on how that’s going. 

Pros

  • My feet seem to hurt less when I wear shoes than when I go barefoot. 
  • I have new empathy for my in-laws, who keep slippers at our house so they can wear them when they visit, and for my mother, who also needs to wear shoes in the house to prevent foot agony. 

Cons

  • I hate wearing shoes. 
  • I keep forgetting to put my shoes on, and have yet to develop a good spot to keep them so that when I inevitably forget to put them on, and then find myself in agony, I don’t have to go traipsing all over the house to find them. 
  • I am less aware of the crud on our floors, which seems like a pro but is not. 
  • I keep catching the heel of my shoe on the bottom rung (?) of the kitchen table chairs, and knocking the chair over onto the floor, which makes a horrific banging noise and also cannot be good for the health of the chair or my floor. 
  • When people come over, I still want THEM to not wear shoes, but it feels a) as though I am cheating or stingy when I get to wear shoes but no one else does or b) ridiculous and princessy. 
  • Lying on the couch to watch TV or in bed with my daughter while I read to her feels so clunky and dumb and just wrong with shoes on. 
  • My laces come untied ALL the time. All the time. Even when I double knot them. 
  • When I go to friends’ houses (all our friends have shoe-free homes), I am not sure if I need to bring my only-in-the-house shoes or if I should just suck it up and go barefoot, and I have defaulted to the latter so far but then my feet are in agony. Good thing I don’t socialize much.
  • My husband and child seem to be slightly more relaxed about taking off their own shoes at the door, even though there is a clear! difference! between wearing shoes that have literally never been outside and wearing shoes that are both outdoors and inside public spaces every day. 

Conclusions:

  • I need to continue wearing shoes.
  • I should get over myself and order some easy-to-put-on orthotic sandals or Crocs or whatever; I have a whole list of recommendations and just haven’t bought any yet (which is because I have already committed to buying a new pair of snow boots, which is expensive, and I have also needed to replace two coats this winter, so I feel like I’ve already crossed the threshold of buying things for myself). 
  • I remain, crankily, but perhaps more staunchly than ever, Team No Shoes In The House.

Do you wear shoes in your house?

I am in the market for a gift for a child that I don’t know all that well.

That sounds… odd. So let’s come up with some background details about my particular relationship to this semi-known child.

Let’s say I want to find a gift for the child of someone I sing with in the church choir. So… I know the parent, and I know him in the way that you know someone you see every week for years on end. For instance, I know his spouse’s name and maybe I’ve even stopped to chat if we see each other in Target. I know his kids’ names and I made a plate of cookies for him when his father died last year. His spouse helped volunteer for the donation drive I managed a couple of years ago. Maybe he and I have been in a group text about who’s bringing bagels on a given week. So we know each other, but we don’t know each other well. Similarly, I know his child in the way that you know a child who occasionally sits in the front pew every week during choir practice, and who sometimes reads a Bible verse when the Sunday School comes in for the children’s sermon, and who runs around shrieking with your own child during church potlucks. I know the child well enough to say hello, and to ask how school is, but I don’t necessarily know what the child’s favorite colors are or what they are into these days or whether they own all the Pokémon figures or if they only wear pink. 

This scenario is completely made up, but I hope it helps paint the picture of the relationship in a clear-enough way.

Anyway. This child has been in an accident; it has been extremely stressful and worrisome for the entire family and of course the poor child. The parents have been at the hospital; there have been churchwide efforts to help with childcare. The parent I know emailed the entire choir with an update, so we all have a few very limited details like the child has survived the accident and will be in the hospital for a short time and then will come home and be in a neck brace. It sounds like the recovery will be lengthy, and that the child will be stuck in bed for awhile, but the duration is unknown.

The idea that a child so close to Carla’s age could endure something so awful – well, I’m sure you know what that proximity to near-death feels like, and all the complex emotions it raises. 

My brain has chosen to channel this proximal fear and horror into a compulsion to buy something for this child. It literally feels like the least I can do. But maybe also it would be useful, to help the child get through what promises to be a painful recovery. And maybe it would indicate, to child and parents, just how loved this child is – by people even at the fringes of their circles. Knowing that someone cares about your child offers a kind of comfort. 

I am going into the gift buying process without ANY KNOWLEDGE of what the kid likes or doesn’t like or already has. This kid is a second-grade girl who has older siblings, if that helps in any way. My own child was a second-grade girl in the recent past, so you would think that would help but it does not. You might also assume that many years of buying birthday presents for my child’s classmates might help me here, but again, no.

(Please note that I am not going to text the child’s parent for more information. It is too stressful a time for them. Nor has any one of our mutual friends stepped forward as The Point of Contact, so there’s no one else I can ask. I have brainstormed with a couple of other people in the choir, but we are all kind of at a loss.)

In some ways, I think that it doesn’t matter what the gift is, because hopefully the novelty will help. But in other ways, I would like it to be a good gift. Something that helps make the time pass. Something that isn’t too painful to use/operate. Something that provides a welcome respite from what will surely be a LOT of screen time. 

One thing I’m considering is a lap desk. Maybe something like this, that has a spot for a glass (or pencils) and some cubbies for crayons or coloring books. 

Or this one has a little compartment in which you can store papers and pencils, plus it has a little slot in which you can stow an iPad. It is awfully small, though. 

I think I would also want to buy some easy-to-use toys. Like Wikki-stix, maybe? Those were an enduring favorite of Carla’s, maybe even into second grade. And I think they could be used even if head/neck mobility is limited. Pop-Tubesare fun, too. Or Monkey Noodles

Play-Doh came to mind as something that could be operated easily… but then I started thinking about how messy and crumbly Play-Doh can be. Monkey Foam might be a good alternative. Still moldable, but won’t dry out or crumble or smear into the carpet/bedding (I hope). 

Paint by stickers books are another enduring favorite of Carla’s. Maybe they would be soothing/diverting for someone in bed for endless hours?

Speaking of stickers: I was thinking about how, when you break a limb, your classmates can sign your cast. I think it makes it interactive for the kids, plus it also helps make it less scary for everyone and less of an embarrassing “thing” for the kid wearing the cast. I wonder if there’s something similar for a neck brace? A friend suggested the kinds of stickers you put on water bottles. Without knowing at all what the brace will be made of, I wonder if that would work?

Magnetic Tic-Tac-Toe might be fun, especially for the siblings to play together.

Or maybe these tangram puzzles – also magnetic – would be a fun challenge?

I wonder if this particular child would enjoy coloring? This pillowcase looks fun – and it seems kind of gleefully wrong to use markers on the bedding!

While I’m a little suspicious of how well this will work, I think the idea is so cool: a projector that shows images of dinosaurs, planets, or stars on the ceiling or walls. 

book of games and puzzles would definitely be useful. Maybe along with some cute pencils that never need sharpening.

Stuffed animals seem to be a hit even with the ten-year-old set, and I love this little tree full of stuffed friends.

Are there other options I’m missing? What would you get for a bed-bound child about whom you knew very few details? 

And would you get the child’s siblings anything? (And if so, what?) I keep thinking, this has been traumatic for them, too! Maybe they would also appreciate a little giftie. 

Dinners This Week

It’s a new week, which means that another 21 meals stretch before us, waiting to be planned and created. That both sounds like A LOT and not that many, although it feels endless and insurmountable. It’s also an appointment-heavy week, which I am not looking forward to. So much driving. So much trying to squeeze in Normal Life around these holes in the schedule. Why do I do this to myself? I think what happens is that, as I’m scheduling the appointments (which is usually months in advance of the actual appointment), I either think, “Oh, it will be so nice to just get everything over with at once!” when in fact I do not find that “nice” at all, but overwhelming and disruptive. Or I get all flustered on the phone and feel like I am being A Pain if I continue to request different dates/times. Probably it is a combination of the two. Either way, Past Suzanne is a jerk. 

Dinners for the Week of January 23-29

Lemon Chile White Fish with Chickpeas: I think I have shared my rule of thumb with you before, which is, if my husband suggests a meal, I make it. I hope that this encourages him to suggest more meals because coming up with meals is so tedious. (Once again, I fervently wish that I had A Mostly-Fixed Weekly Rotation, like Nicole… or a handful of tried-and-true recipes that we eat regularly, like NGS. Alas.) We do not own “Aleppo pepper,” but my husband is confident we can use chipotle powder and no one will know the difference. Probably we will have something green on the side – steamed broccoli, maybe?

Greek Chicken with a Big Salad: I am going to use this marinade as the dressing. Alert alert: I do not use a mortar and pestle with the marinade/dressing ingredients: I blend everything up in the blender. My Greek salad will have feta, Kalamata olives, red bell peppers, red onions, and cucumbers. My husband will have tomatoes instead of olives. I may also make some pita bread, just because it’s not too hard and it’s so fun to see the little pitas puff up. 

Japchae (inspired by this post from Birchwood Pie Project): Birchie eats this meal with gyoza, but says steak would probably be a good accompaniment. I may make steak for my husband and shrimp for myself, or just load it up with veggies and eat it without meat.

Farro with Garlic and Roasted Vegetables (inspired by this post from The In Between Is Mine): This sounds so wholesome and wintery and versatile. I will not be using tomatoes (quelle surprise), and I don’t have any potatoes on hand. I think I am just going to throw in whatever I can find rolling around in the house: mushrooms, red onion, zucchini, maybe a sweet potato although I’m trying to decide if that would taste weird with the other ingredients or not. I don’t really like sweet potatoes, but they are supposedly pretty healthful and my husband likes them and I have one languishing in the pantry. Hmmm. It will be a game-time decision.

Black Bean Burritos: I have been in a burrito sort of mood, so I’m putting this on the list. My favorite kind of burrito is a simple one. On the inside: black beans, a little cheese, a lot of hot sauce, a sprinkling of cilantro if I have some on hand. On the outside: copious amounts of cheddar – no, more than that, maybe just a little more – heated in the oven until it’s all bubbly and melty, lettuce, onions, sour cream, and so much hot sauce the whole thing looks more like an enchilada than a burrito.

What are you looking forward to this week?  Or not looking forward to, as the case may be?

Five for Friday

I rarely do “five for Friday” because usually I have too many words and thoughts burbling around in my head to limit it to five. But I’m having a hard time with posting lately, so I’m hoping the Five Things Only structure will be useful instead of restrictive. 

  • My daughter’s new alarm clock has had some unintended consequences. First of all, it has proven to be both an excellent purchase and a terrible purchase. Terrible because it does not work in the way it is intended to work. Its purpose is to wake up my child; it does not do that. She sleeps right through the sunshine and the birdsong. (You can set it to wake you up with different sounds, and Carla chose birds chirping.) It is excellent, however, because it gently wakes ME up, even though I am in the other room. I greatly prefer it to the blaring of her old alarm clock. The bird noises are cheerful and pleasant, and when I go in to awaken Carla, the room is already light enough that I can easily navigate the inevitable dinosaurs or stack of drawings or tangle of yesterday’s clothing on the floor. My only complaint is that the birdsong is a short snippet that repeats on an endless loop. I do wish that the manufacturers had recorded a longer excerpt. Maybe that’s what you get when you buy one of the more expensive versions. The other thing is that now I feel like I hear birdsong at odd moments of the day. Has the alarm lodged itself inside my brain, only to go off each day in the late afternoon? Are there birds outside our window that sound identical to the alarm clock, perhaps hoping that by mimicking the sounds of the birds trapped inside the house we will release them? Am I experiencing avian auditory hallucinations? I swear that I hear birds chirping merrily on a three-second loop, but then when I go still and silent to try to pinpoint where it is, I can’t find the source. 
  • Did you know that you can substitute wheat germ for flour? A friend taught me this wonderful secret a few months ago when she handed over her grandmother’s recipe for chocolate chip banana bread. Supposedly, wheat germ has a bunch of good things in it: thiamin, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc. I think it also has a bit more protein than regular flour. What I really like about it is that it adds a different texture to baked goods. Over the long weekend, I made chocolate chip cookies and threw in some wheat germ (I think you can use 1/3 cup of wheat germ per cup of flour) and it gave the cookies a slightly nuttier flavor and a nubbly texture a bit like that of an oatmeal cookie. Yesterday, I made a second batch of banana muffins for Carla and I have been using wheat germ in those, too. I don’t know how much healthier a cookie or a muffin is, just because I’ve added wheat germ. But I like the phrase “wheat germ” and it gives me a very wholesome Laura Ingalls Wilder sort of feeling when I scoop it into the mixing bowl. 
I am sure it is the wheat germ that makes these so appealing and not all the sugar sprinkled on top.
  • I have had to make too many phone calls lately. Several of these calls are for work. Part of what I do as a freelance writer is interview subject matter experts. Technically, I quite LOVE this part of my work, because there is nothing cooler than chatting with someone who is an expert about something, or passionate about a subject, or loves what they do. It is inspiring and exhilarating. But I get so worked up in advance of our phone calls, and I get all tongue-tied (at least at first) and sweaty, and afterward I am completely spent. I made FOUR PHONE CALLS IN ONE MORNING this week, and it was awful. I mean, I got to chat with awesome people, but I also had to leave a couple of voicemails (HATE. Even if I carefully prepare what I’m going to say ahead of time, I bumble over my words and take WAY too long to leave a message and yet inevitably forget some important piece of information. Like I had to leave a message about a prescription recently and forgot to leave my phone number. Voicemail is almost worse than having someone ANSWER the phone! Although worse even than leaving a message is the long Schrödingerian moment when the phone is ringing and you have no idea whether someone will pick up or not.) And now I have two more phone calls to make: one to the gutter cleaning service that was supposed to clean our gutters in December and one to my dentist. I have to reschedule a dental appointment. I have known I needed to reschedule the appointment since I made the appointment, and didn’t call at all last week, so I put a reminder on my phone to call the dentist this past Tuesday. Instead of just calling, I have found very real and pressing reasons NOT to call the dentist every day this week. It’s so dumb and it will take five minutes, but I hate appointment-scheduling phone calls. Again, there’s the anxiety of being on the phone. But then you add that to trying to look at your stupid calendar at the same time, and going back and forth about possible days and times, and then – as I did last time, hence the need to reschedule – idiotically making your appointment at a time when you were already committed to something else. UGH. It is all the worst. But I guess I should just GO MAKE THE PHONE CALL ALREADY.
My husband surely has nothing better to do at work than respond to my complaints about making phone calls.
  • I am doing a new thing where I (try to) soak my feet every morning. The recommendation comes from my acupuncturist, whom I am seeing for my plantar fasciitis. (Would anyone be interested in a Swistle-style report about my acupuncture experience? With the understanding that I realize I am not, nor will I ever be, Swistle.) She gave me a specific list of things to include in the foot soak: Epsom saltrosemary oil, and eucalyptus oil. She specified that the water should not be boiling, but should be more than warm. While I do find it difficult to set aside twenty minutes every morning to soak my feet, it is quite luxurious. (“Go soak your head” is a dismissive expression of annoyance; “Go soak your feet” is a gentle suggestion for self-care.) It gives me a chance to listen to my audiobook and sip my tea and feel like I am following doctors’ orders rather than wasting time. After I’m done, I slather my feet in lotion (I think Nicole – HI NICOLE – recommended this specific lotion awhile ago and I love it.) and put on some warm socks. The whole thing is rather lovely. Except for the part where the water is too hot and I overcompensate and make it too cold and then I have to heat it again.
  • Do you know about LibraryThing? I am sure the website is full of excellent resources for book lovers, but I have used it specifically to help me identify a book I cannot remember. I guess I’ve only used it successfully one time, but I recently posted a new query. The first time, I was looking for a book I remembered reading in fourth grade. It was a mystery, and the only things I could remember about it were as follows: The protagonist was a middle-school aged girl. The story took place at a ski resort. There was a tertiary character named Eunice (I remember this specifically because I can hear my fourth grade teacher saying, “Usually, this name is pronounced ‘yoo-NEESE,’ but in this book it is pronounced ‘YOO-niss.’” and I thought at the time, how could she possibly know that? and to this day I wonder. Did she have an in with the author? This was in the eighties, so there were no podcasts. Mysterious.). (Still, to this day, I have never encountered a real-life person named Eunice. So I still have no idea how to pronounce it. For all I know, it could be Gaelic and sound like “Chelsea” or “Bruce.”) The protagonist couldn’t ski well, and the climax of the book saw her being tricked into going down a black diamond run in a snowstorm. That was all I could dredge up from the depths of my memory. And yet I could not get the book out of my head – for YEARS – and was desperate to know what it was. So I posted my question in the Name That Book group and someone figured it out!!!! The book is called Mystery at Snowshoe Mountain Lodge by Lisa Eisenberg and I keep dithering on whether I need to buy it and read it again. Anyway, it is so amazing to have the answer, finally, to a question that’s been nagging you for years! I am hopeful that my most recent question will find similar success, although my memory of the book series in question is even fuzzier. (A middle grade/young adult series from the 1980s or early 1990s about kids solving mysteries, but maybe there’s a werewolf? Maybe the word “shadows” in the title? It’s really bugging me, but my brain isn’t helping.)
Extremely blurry image from LibraryThing.com

Well, that’s the long and the short it, my dear Internet. I hope you are having a lovely Friday. 

Dinners This Week

Well, January is half over. I swear, January used to feel so interminably long and now it goes by in a flash just like all the other months. I do not care for the speed at which time passes now that I am 40ish. 

Part of what is making things go by so quickly is that we are so busy. Activities have resumed, but now we’ve added performances for my daughter’s instrument lessons, plus skiing lessons. We have two vacations coming up, which seemed – just two weeks ago, when we bought the plane tickets – so far in the distance, and which now are rapidly approaching. I have been much too social, which is good but also bad. And there’s the day-to-day normal on top of it all. It’s all good, it’s just… busy. I was under the impression that staying busy helped time feel like it passes more slowly, but maybe that’s just if you’re doing novel things? I don’t know. I do know that it feels like none of us have gotten back into a normal sleep pattern, after our two-week holiday of extremely laissez-faire bedtimes. And sleeping in until unholy hours on the weekend does nothing to lengthen the days. Perhaps this is the week we will get on top of that.

Despite time’s maelstrom swirling around me, I have to take a minute to slow down enough to answer the ever-pressing question: What shall I feed my family this week?

Dinners for the Week of January 16-22

  • Slow Cooker Pork Al Pastor: This sounds yummy and different from our usual, although I am slightly suspicious of pineapple. I craved fresh pineapple during the last trimester of my pregnancy with Carla and ate probably two entire pineapples each week, all by myself. In the decade since then, I don’t think I have eaten more than two bites of pineapple. Certainly not cooked pineapple. 
  • Quinoa Salad with Apples and Sweet PotatoesI am on a half-hearted mission to divest my husband of his belief that a meal must contain meat in order to have enough protein. I know quinoa and sweet potatoes don’t have as much protein as chicken, but they do have quite a bit. And this salad sound fresh and hearty and filling. I may swap out the dressing with this hummus dressing – I have hummus in my fridge and it sounds yummier than boring old oil and vinegar.

Follow Up: I lost my nerve/energy to make the hummus dressing, so we stuck with the boring old oil and vinegar. I think the salad would have been better with more interesting dressing. Aside from that, this salad was AWESOME. I included goat cheese and chopped walnuts as toppings, and the salad was very hearty and satisfying. PLUS it produced enough leftovers for at least two more meals. So good! Definitely a keeper.

For the rest of the week, we can eat leftover pork with whatever we can dig up from the depths of the fridge/pantry and leftover quinoa salad. 

What’s on your meal plan this week? Are you feeling the same way about January’s speed?

Dinners This Week

The other day, I saw a headline that said something like, “People Living in [My State] Should Expect to See Higher Food Prices in 2023.” That was a head scratcher because we have been seeing higher food prices for quite a while thanks. Can’t wait for the grocery bills to climb more steeply, I guess.

(The container of honey we have is leaking. But it’s doing so in a way I cannot figure out. I have tried having it rest on its top and on its bottom, and both ways seem to leak, but not in any discernible way, i.e. the top isn’t swimming honey. But I am constantly scrubbing honey off our spice cabinet which is not my favorite. Anyway, my husband discovered the honey leakage yesterday and after hearing my explanation his solution was to throw the entire jar of honey away. Um, no???? It is 3/4 full???? And honey costs a million dollars $4.99 on sale???? I will scrub honey off the shelf every day if it means I can delay paying eight dollars for honey by even a couple weeks.) 

That’s all I have in the way of preamble this week, so let’s get to the dinners.

Dinners for the Week of January 9-15

  • Brussels Sprouts TacosThis is a very specific craving I’m having lately, based on the memory of the amazing spicy Brussels Sprouts tacos I ate with a friend at a local restaurant this summer. I like the sound of the one I linked in the headline, but I also think this smoky version with black beans, sweet potatoes, and crema sounds amazing.
  • Thai Larb: Last week, my husband and I tried the Lemongrass BBQ from the sampler of Southeast Asian sauces he got me for Christmas; it was delicious. I want to try the Thai Larb this week.
  • Beef with Snow Peas: This is one of the simplest stir fries in our rotation, but it is so delicious. And all the peas make it super crunchy and green, two characteristics I find very appealing.  
  • Creamy Chicken and Orzo SoupYum, this sounds so good and hearty and nourishing.
  • Soy Ginger Salmon Rice Bowl: I could probably swap out the salmon for chicken on behalf of my husband. I am just not in the mood for chicken lately, plus if there is an egg shortage a chicken shortage must not be far behind, right?

What are you eating this week?

Being Social

I am feeling stricken with social anxiety, Internet. STRICKEN.

Here’s the thing: At the beginning of the school year, a group of parents from Carla’s school decided to get together semi-regularly. Varying numbers of these parents have met several times already and I have been unable to attend a single event. I have been sad, but also relieved because OMG dealing with people. But I have also been getting more and more anxious because I realize that the more this group meets, the more cohesive it becomes, and the harder it will be to join. I already feel like I am on the fringe of any group, and my inability to attend any of the events so far has already pushed me further to the edges of this group. Does that make sense?

Now, finally, the group is getting together on a night when my husband can watch Carla! So I took a deep breath and responded that I could go. And now: stricken. 

I am Not Good in groups. I mean, I am barely okay in one-on-one situations, but in groups I just flail. I have never mastered a non-awkward way to squeeze into an already-going conversation. I feel like my small talk game is poor. I am not adept at discussing current events. I am not an interesting storyteller. Not that I even have anything interesting to say. I become overly aware of how I talk and my tongue fumbles all over itself. If more than one person looks at me expectantly, my face will burst into flames. You know how it is. (Maybe you do not, in which case can we exchange personalities for a night please?) 

HOW do I do this? My 100% serious plan is to make a (mental) list of topics I can turn to in a pinch, but… what are those topics? I feel like I am pretty good at asking people about themselves, and since I don’t know a lot of these moms very well I can ask them who their kids are and what activities they’re doing and how their holidays were and whether they have anything exciting planned for our upcoming four-day weekend seriously we JUST had two weeks off and what their kids think of their teachers and what books they’ve read and whether they saw any good movies over the break… but I don’t necessarily know how to move from “bombarding a person with questions” to “real conversation.” I have a hard enough time carrying on a conversation with my hairdresser, and she’s just one person, and I am fairly comfortable with her. I have a hard time responding to the emails without feeling like I am dumb and everyone thinks I’m dumb. Going out to dinner with multiple people is like… more than that. Ugh ugh ugh. 

And if it’s a sit-down restaurant, where do I sit? And what do I wear? And and and…? 

There are a couple of parents I do know fairly well who are in the group, and I could probably try to hang near them. But I don’t want to be a GLOMMER-ONNER, you know? Plus, it would be nice to get to know new people. 

I don’t even know what I am asking you. I am just nervous. And determined to go anyway, because it is good to be social and it is good to meet new people and presumably most of us will know each other and each other’s kids for the next eight years at least and it is good to push outside one’s comfort zone now and again… but I’m also really nervous.   

As has become my start-of-year habit, I am going to list out some gentle aspirations that Today Me believes are important to pursue in the new year. I recognize that Today Me and End of December 2023 Me may have different priorities, so I am not forcing anything on either of us. This may sound wishy-washy, and it is. I do like to strive to make improvements in my life, where possible. But sometimes, my best guesses at what will make my life seem better or easier or more fulfilling don’t result in improving anything, in which case they were fun experiments. Sometimes, they become real upgrades in my life, a source of happiness or pride or relief. I wonder which of the following will turn out to be which?

I broke these aspirations into categories, and there are quite a lot of them. That doesn’t daunt me; I’m guessing a few of them will naturally drop off as I complete them or forget about them completely. 

Personal / Self Improvement

  • Aspiration: Read 70 books. I read 86 books in 2022 and 74 in 2021, so I think this is doable. I don’t see my reading habits changing a whole lot, although there are of course the unplanned and agonizing reading slumps that happen every now and again. If I only read 50, I will be fine with that. 
  • Aspiration: Get a massage. My mother-in-law got me a massage gift certificate for my birthday in 2020 that I have not yet used for, I hope, obvious reasons. But I love a massage and it would be a fun treat to have one this year.
  • Aspiration: Give my line-a-day journal another go. I started tackling this aspiration early in the morning of January 1, and immediately made a mistake. I wrote a few little lines about the last day of 2022, but I did so – in pen – on the first day of 2023. Also, I wrote “Saturday” (IN PEN) above the date, and then had to cross it out and write Sunday above it. So I have already made a huge, indelible (totally unimportant in the grand scheme, I realize this) mistake and I am going to have to fight so hard against my impulse to never open the journal again. Maybe I should just buy a new one. My husband thinks I am ridiculous, and suggested I just skip a day and then start again as though I hadn’t made the mistake. So I am trying that. But I can feel the mistake, infecting the entire journal. (He also suggested copying the text into the correct day, then using whiteout on the mistake, and starting fresh, which – just so you understand completely my particular brand of irrational – does not erase the mistake. It just buries it there under white goop.) So we’ll see whether I buy a new one or continue with line-a-day journaling at all or somehow resist all my innate tendencies and forge on with the inalterably ruined journal.
  • Aspiration: Read more poetry. I burnt out early on poetry last year, but I still find it holds enormous value in my life. Maybe I just shouldn’t put so much pressure on reading it daily.
  • Aspiration: Master two Chopin songs on the piano. I have been working on relearning the Raindrop Prelude, which I could play flawlessly in high school, and my dad has been learning Waltz in A Minor and I love listening to him play it, so I want to learn that one too.
  • Aspiration: Buy some cute date-night-appropriate shirts. This means not falling into the trap of finding nothing appealing so instead buying yet another long-sleeved T-shirt/sweatshirt/sweater that is fine for hanging out at home but not great for Feeling Cute and Dressy and then feeling like I did buy the shirts I am looking for when really I didn’t.
  • Reach Aspiration: Try to keep a spreadsheet of these goals, for tracking purposes and also purposes of not forgetting them until December 31. 

Health 

  • Aspiration: Do a sweets revamp. This is a family goal. The three of us have developed some very bad habits and I really don’t like how they are affecting Carla. She chooses sweets first, always, and I think this is because we always have cookies and candy lying around. A sweets revamp does not mean No Sweets Ever. We can even set a weekly family goal to go get ice cream or buy a candy bar or whatever. On Valentine’s Day and Easter, I will probably lift the restriction for a day or two of unbridled sweets eating. It just means getting them out of our immediate orbit so that they are available when we could be eating other things. Yesterday I collected all of the sweet things I could find and threw them away or put them in a “to donate” bin. (I did leave three – why do we have three???? – unopened bags of chocolate chips in the pantry, but I could choose to donate them at any time.) So that’s Step 1. Now I just need to complete Step 2, which is to keep sweets out of the house for the rest of the year.
  • Aspiration: Do what is necessary to make my feet feel as good as they can. The combination that has had the best results in terms of limiting pain has been stretching my feet morning and night, religiously, combined with walking. Not-walking seems to result in more pain than walking. I haven’t figured out the ideal amount of walking yet, but getting at least 10,000 steps seems to help. 
  • Aspiration: Spend ten minutes outside every day. This seems outlandish considering I haven’t set foot outside in days, but it’s something I really want to prioritize.
  • Aspiration: Buy some winter boots I can walk in.
  • Aspiration: Eat more vegetables. I am doing this for myself, and by extension influencing my family to eat more vegetables (the benefit of being the family meal planner, grocery shopper, and chef).
  • Aspiration: Figure out a skincare routine that doesn’t make me want to claw my face off. My face is driving me out of my mind. It is simultaneously excruciatingly itchy, to the point that I need to take Benadryl regularly to curb it, and constantly broken out. Every day there is a new pimple or five on my face. At the risk of oversharing (I would never), I am currently on Day 5 of enduring a cystic zit that is so enormous and so painful I feel embarrassed when even my husband looks at me. I DO NOT LIKE THIS. I have an appointment with my dermatologist for early February (sob) and I don’t think I can get anything earlier, and honestly don’t have high hopes that he will help. But I need to figure out some way through this. I am kind of attached to my face.
  • Reach Aspiration: If I am reading/writing blog posts, I am walking on the treadmill. I have gotten pretty adept at this, over the break. I’m not sure if I can keep it up (right now, I am typing this while waiting for my tea to brew, and then I don’t want to drink tea while walking on the treadmill because that seems like a disaster waiting to happen), but if I can pair the two activities in my mind, just think how much more of both I will do! 

Connection

  • Aspiration: Get a pedicure with Carla. She’s at the age where I think this would feel like a fun treat. Although I’m guessing she’ll enjoy the foot-sanding portion of the pedicure as much as I do. (Carla, however wants to do a mani-pedi, mainly, I think, because she likes the term “mani-pedi.” She is working on not biting her nails this year, so I am hopeful that she will succeed and we will get a mani-pedi together. Or a pedicure and then a mani-pedi some other time!) 
  • Aspiration: Put my phone away when Carla and I are together. Why it is so hard to choose chatting with my lovely, fascinating daughter over knowing exactly what’s happening on Twitter/Instagram/Wordle right that second is beyond my powers of comprehension. But the days when she wants me to pay attention to her are surely numbered, and also I want her to remember me as an engaged mother not as someone addicted irrepressibly to her phone, so this is something I really, really want to work on. 
  • Aspiration: Find a way to see my grad school friend in-person. We have A Plan, we just need to implement it. 
  • Aspiration: Go on ten dates with my husband. During the early days of the pandemic, we got out of the habit. But now we have two great babysitter options and both feel more comfortable about being in restaurants, so there’s nothing stopping us from going out more often.
  • Aspiration: Get together with two friends a month. This one makes me nervous, because I have a tendency to feel lonely and isolated and then overschedule myself and then get overwhelmed and become a hermit for several weeks and then feel lonely and isolated etc. etc. etc. But maybe if I plan, in advance, to get together with two friends a month, it will feel more intentional? Also, a couple of friends like to go for walks together so that’s a good way to meet two goals at once. Efficiency in action. 
  • Reach Aspiration: Invite neighbors over for coffee/wine/snacks. We have the sweetest, kindest, most generous-with-their-time-and-dogs neighbors. I would love to get know them better, and I think I can (maybe) invite them over, one household at a time, for a few minutes of connection. Maybe. I hope. (I can already feel my socially anxious soul straining away from this idea. And also how do I convey that I would like them to come over without their dogs?)

Work/Finance

  • Aspiration: Finish my in-progress manuscripts (and don’t start another one!!!!). I can do this if I put my mind to it. I am good at writing lots of words. I can do this. 
  • Aspiration: Revise my completed manuscript. I am so very tired of my completed manuscript. But it needs some revision and A LOT of trimming, so I need to tackle it again. 
  • Aspiration: Query 100 agents. This sounds like a ton, but it is fewer than two agents a week. This is doable. 
  • Aspiration: Make good use of the writing accountability team a friend and I set up last fall. We met twice, and only once did we write, but the intention is to meet every week and spend a short time walking together in nature and then devote two hours to writing or writing-related projects. If I complete this goal, it will mean I am making good progress toward my other writing goals. 
  • Reach Aspiration: Take a class in short story writing. This is a Big Scary Goal, but one I would really like to attempt. Maybe when my writing partner returns from his six months abroad, so we could do it together?

Home/Property

  • Aspiration: Repot my plants. A new very cute plant store opened up just down the street and they will repot your plants FOR YOU for FIVE AMERICAN DOLLARS apiece. I have resisted repotting my plants, even though they are all on death’s door, because I am so sure I will kill them. Now I can pay to have someone else do it! Someone who knows what they’re doing! This should be an easy goal to accomplish.
  • Aspiration: Fix the freaking closet door. We have the materials necessary for fixing the door, because we bought them more than a year ago with the idea that we would use them to fix the door, we just need to FIX THE DOOR.
  • Aspiration: Try, again, to find someone to repaint the trim. Why is it so infernally difficult to find a person to do a thing when that person’s job is to do the very thing you want to pay them to do?
  • Reach Aspiration: Gallery wall. My eternal dream, always just out of reach.

Well, there you have it. Some gentle aspirations for the year. Looking at these aspirations, all together, I am wondering if my word of the year should be “consistent.” It’s a word I resist, because consistency is not my strong point; perhaps that is an even stronger reason for allowing it to exert whatever influence meditating on one theme for the year will exert.

I reread my post about my aspirations for this year, and holy cats I crack myself up. Like, some of the things are just ludicrous and others I completely forgot about and others (GALLERY WALL) are just permanent ridiculous features on this list. This is why I do this, not necessarily because I am a goal-oriented person, but because it is so fun and funny to me to see what was important at the beginning of the year vs. at the end.

Personal

Aspiration: Read 50 books. Complete! In 2022, I read 86 books! Woo! 

Aspiration: Work out 5 days a week. Incomplete. 2022 was my worst year ever for exercise. My feet hurt and I felt very sorry for myself and just sat around like a grumpy lump. 

Aspiration: Read a poem every day. Incomplete. I was good about this for several months and then just… stopped. I am not a very consistent person. 

Aspiration: Buy some new shirts that make me feel cute and not like a slob. Incomplete. I returned the shirts I got before I wrote this post and once again find myself lamenting the lack of cute shirts – particularly shirts that are date-night worthy. I need to correct this. 

Aspiration: Come up with a workable weekly schedule. Incomplete. My schedule is even worse this year than it was last year, with the addition of all of Carla’s extracurriculars. 

Aspiration: Try baked oatmeal. Complete! I did try baked oatmeal and I did not like it.  

Reach Aspiration: Leave my phone upstairs unless I leave the house. Incomplete. Hahahahaha. I totally forgot about this one.

Family

Aspiration: Eat more vegetables. Incomplete. I don’t think I achieved this in any shape or form. Is it possible that we eat fewer vegetables than a year ago? Perhaps. 

Aspiration: Do more non-screen things together. Complete-ish, with room to improve. We played games, we went on a road trip, we did lots of skiing, we did a few bike rides, we visited a few museums. We can do more, though. 

Aspiration: Do less “forcing” of my will on the family. Incomplete. I had to laugh tenderly at this aspiration, because reading this goal, and absorbing the frustrated/resentful energy that emanated off of it, it was so clear that my lack of Christmas spirit and my annual holiday overwhelm coupled with yet another open-ended school closure had just pushed me right over the edge. 

Aspiration: Go on some dates with my husband. Complete-ish? I think my bar was “three,” and my husband and I have gone on… three, maybe? Or was it four? And one overnight trip to a local resort? 

Reach Aspiration: Have friends over for dinner. Complete! We had one set of family friends over for dinner in 2022! Now that our ceiling has been repaired and I am not so embarrassed by our kitchen, perhaps we will have friends over again! (Probably it will be the same family.)

Reach Aspiration: Stop treating Carla’s needs as if they are mine. Incomplete. I did not do very well on this.  In fact, I think I kind of forgot about it and even re-reading what I wrote last year, I’m having a little trouble understanding exactly what I meant. 

Work/Finance

Aspiration: Revise my manuscript and start querying agents. Complete! I revised the manuscript, started querying, and got one request for a full and one request for a partial and many, many nos. But it’s a start!

Aspiration: Finish my second manuscript. Incomplete. I did not do this. In fact, I did the opposite which was to start another manuscript and get completely distracted by that one. 

Aspiration: Get a financial advisor. Complete! We got a financial advisor, handed over a big chunk of our savings, and he is Doing Things. It’s been pretty much the absolute worst year in more than a decade for investing of all kinds though, so it’s been fun. (No.) Love reading that monthly statement and seeing our principle dwindle. (No.) 

Reach Aspiration: Take a writing class. Complete. I took a very short class about query writing that turned out to be kind of a dud. But I did it. I’d like to take a more structured, traditional class about writing short stories this year. Maybe.

Home/Property

Aspiration: Install a gallery wall in the living room. Incomplete. This item will be on the list forever and ever and ever. We were so busy with the craft room last year when my husband was off and could actually help that we did not do anything about the gallery wall then. While he was home for a week this winter break, I raised it to him as a possible project and he had forgotten that he’d ever agreed to do it. ARGH. Maybe I just need to give up on this one? Despite everyone’s very good and reasonable ideas every time I bring up the gallery wall project, I cannot do it without my husband. I just can’t; he must be a part of it. And if he’s not going to participate, then it’s not going to happen. 

Aspiration: Hire someone to redo our ceiling and paint our trim. Half complete! I did hire someone to come out and fix our ceiling! And he did indeed do that! The several handymen sorts of people I had over to quote us on painting the trim never called me back though, so that needs to be sorted at a later time.

Aspiration: Hire someone to fix our fridge. As complete as it can be! I did find someone to come out and look at our fridge. Turns out, he couldn’t fix it because our fridge is awful and cannot be fixed! Woo hoo! For reference, our fridge is a GE but made by Samsung. It has a GE logo on it, so when I made the appointment, I told the receptionist that it was a GE fridge. As soon as the service person arrived and realized that it is a Samsung fridge, he said, “I can’t fix this. I wouldn’t have come out here if I had known in advance that it is a Samsung, because I have experience with this kind of fridge and it is unfixable.” He did decline to charge me the service fee just for showing up, which was nice. And then he gave me a very detailed and maddening backstory about why our fridge is the way that it is. (Has to do with the type of cooling system Samsung uses in their fridges, which is very complicated but in a nutshell sucks and causes all sorts of issues including but not limited to the ones we have been having. There has been at least one class action lawsuit against Samsung for the issue, according to the service person, but as I understand it, there have been no major consequences so Samsung continues to manufacture the exact same type of fridge and produce the exact same type of problems.) He also made a couple of suggestions about how to temporarily alleviate the issue (empty it completely, let it sit unplugged for three days), which we tried, and which worked, but was indeed very temporary. So. We still have the fridge, it’s still a piece of crap, but at the time of this writing – I realize anything could change at any time – it cools and holds a lot of food and is very beautiful so we haven’t shelled out the thousands of dollars that replacing it would require.

Aspiration: Clean our basement and finalize a craft space for Carla. Complete! This happened! Carla uses it on the regular! I promise I will post about it in more detail.

Reach Aspiration: PAINT THE BASEBOARDS MY GOD IT HAS BEEN 11 YEARS. Year Twelve, still green, baby! 

By my count, that’s half complete and half incomplete. Since these were aspirations and not set-in-stone goals, I am happy to celebrate the successes and shrug at the things that weren’t a big enough priority to address in 2022. But some of these may make an appearance on my 2023 list… we’ll see.