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Archive for the ‘Self Improvement’ Category

I try to be a good inhabitant of our planet, as much as a human can be. But I’m not great, and there is a LOT of room for improvement. I have become hyperaware of how much trash we produce, for instance, and we are just a little family of three. But with room for improvement comes opportunity, so I have been keeping my eyes out for ways to reduce our environmental impact.

Two areas of greatest waste in my household are paper towels and plastic bags. I have become an expert at bringing reusable shopping bags to the grocery store, and I am really working on bringing my reusable produce bags, too. (I really need to buy more of them, because I inevitably end up using plastic bags anyway and then feeling annoyed at myself. Baby steps.) I have effectively retrained my brain to use reusable containers instead of Ziploc bags for things like snacks and leftovers. I can still improve in that arena, too: I use a lot of Ziploc bags to marinate and freeze meat (although I am getting better about marinating things in glass dishes instead), and I am in the early stages of researching and thinking about buying reusable silicone zipper bags to use as a replacement. But I’m not there yet.

It takes me a while to change. And I think at this stage of life, I still want things to be fairly convenient. Listen, I know that this is not a good argument against doing something that is better for the environment. But I think we all do what we can, and even a little step in the right direction is still a step in the right direction. Probably I should be composting and bicycling Carla to school each day and avoiding plastic at all costs but I am making changes, and that has to be worth something. Ugh. I am sure Swistle has written about this before… Yes, yes she has: “Environmentalism, Swistle Style” and you should go read that and we can all feel better about our own willingness/ability to change. I’ll wait.

See? Doesn’t that feel better? I guess it boils down to: I can do better, of course I can, we all can. But I am doing SOMETHING and that is NOT NOTHING.

This is all to say that I have been thinking about reusuable paper towels for a long time. First, I discovered that they existed. This was A Revelation to me; I had no idea! Then I started reading about them. Then I thought seriously about buying some. Then I did a test run of No Paper Towels (using washcloths instead) to see if I could justify trying them out. Then I went through a long period of using paper towels as per usual. And then I mentioned the reusable paper towels to my husband, and he got on board, and I bought a package.

These are the reusable paper towels I bought:

Paper towels

photo from amazon.com

My main concerns were fourfold:

  1. Would they be an adequate replacement? I wanted to be sure that the reusable paper towels acted as much like a replacement for paper towels as possible. In my trial period, I’d been using microfiber washcloths, and that was fine… but it wasn’t like paper towels. They were the wrong size. They felt wrong. I had to stow them in a plastic bag in the laundry room until I had enough to wash them. What I wanted was… paper towels. Just… reusuable ones. I was able to determine through research that this was impossible. Sure, the resuable paper towels I got LOOK like a roll of paper towels. But once you use them, you can’t put them back on the roll. So you have to find a way to store them after that first use. Hence…
  2. How and where were we going to store them? We got a new piece of furniture for the hallway between the pantry and the laundry room, so I kind of figured I would put them in one of the drawers. I could lay them all out flat and store them there, and hopefully it would be easily accessible enough to still be convenient to use. I also planned to employ the old bag-hanging-in-the-laundry-room trick to keep the soiled cloths between washings. Instead of a Target bag, I would use one of my reusable veggie bags because it is breathable. And then once we had a whole bagful of soiled cloths, I could wash them.
  3. What was I going to do about really germy messes? Wiping down the counter after Carla eats dinner is one thing. But what about using a reusable paper towel on spilled chicken juice? Even if I give it a thorough rinse afterward, I don’t know if I want that hanging around in my veggie bag until I have enough towels to justify a load of laundry.

The last concern is the least concerning:

  1. Were we going to accidentally throw them in the trash, wasting money and nullifying any environmental benefit?

 

So there you go. I bought the towels. Now, we have to USE them. Next time, I will tell you what I think.

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We have a security system in our house and two of the sensors have low batteries. Which I know because the keypad at which we control the alarm beeps to alert me of the danger. And living with low batteries is really dangerous, according to the keypad, because even though I key in a code that should let it know, “I hear you, I get it, I will call the security company right away,” it feels the need to remind me every two hours on the button. Irritating during the day, but MUCH WORSE in the middle of the night.

And of course the security company can’t send someone out right away. I mean, I GET IT. It’s just low batteries! But they can’t come until THURSDAY and that means THREE NIGHTS of getting up every two hours to key in my code and reassure the system that I AM AWARE OF THE BATTERY SITUATION AND MY IMMINENT DEMISE.

The keypad is in our bedroom. Of course, it does not bother my husband one little bit; he doesn’t even stir when it beeps.

Anyway, I am here to update you on one of my goals/aspirations for the New Year. I have ALREADY had friends over for dinner!

This is a big deal to me. You see, I like having people over to our house. I mean, in theory. I enjoy cooking, I enjoy being friendly. But man, in practiceI find it SUPER difficult.

First, even though I KNOW that it really doesn’t matter, I get all panicky about the state of my house. Is it clean enough? Is it tidy enough? Does our house smell funny? These worries send me into a cleaning frenzy prior to having someone over, which stresses me out. And I start thinking about all the projects that I want to complete – what about our horrible, mostly-destroyed ottoman? and our not-painted baseboards? and the missing kick panels on our kitchen cabinets? – and wondering if I should try to paint the fireplace before people come over and it’s ridiculous and makes me feel out of breath and frazzled.

And then there’s the food. I dither over the meal plan for weeks. (In this most recent case, we only invited people over a few days in advance, so I didn’t have to dither long.) Have I considered all their food restrictions/likes/dislikes? Have I come up with a balanced meal? No one ever seems to EAT salad if I make one, but does it need to be there to give the impression that I care about vegetables? Am I making enoughfood? (This is probably one of my biggest concerns.) Do I have a good variety of drink options?

It’s all ridiculous. When I go to someone else’s house for dinner, all I think about is whether there will be a tomato-free option. I don’t care whether they have Diet Coke or gin or a freaking salad. But for some reason, I am incapable of applying the same standards to myself. I am incapable of seeing my guests (whom I probably like! and likely think are good, easy-going, non-judgmental people!) as people who are more interested in hanging out with me and my husband than in eating a gourmet meal in an immaculate, newly-updated home.

I KNOW it is ridiculous.

And yet.

So we had this family over to dinner. We have wanted to invite them over for a long time; they’ve had us over twice, once for a playdate, once for a meal slash playdate, and it’s high time we reciprocated. And this past weekend, we were all free. I dithered only slightly over even inviting them, but I pressed forward.

I decided I would make chili, which is an easy, make-ahead type of meal (I don’t like having to cook while guests are here; it detracts from the socializing, plus people [nicely! thoughtfully!] want to help and I do not like that). But then almost immediately, I decided to make twokinds of chili – a spicy ground beef chili with a tomato base and a mild white chicken chili– both for sake of variety and in case our guests had differing spice tolerances and meat preferences. I cajoled my husband into making chocolate chip cookies. And then, to make life even more difficult on myself, I made guacamole and salsa, so we could have them (with chips) as appetizers. Before our guests arrives, I prepared a bunch of toppings for the chili (diced onions, diced tomatoes, cilantro, sour cream, shredded cheese, sliced jalapeno). The white chili was a crockpot option, so I started that early in the day. And the red chili tastes better the longer it cooks, so I started that a couple of hours before our guests arrived.

One of my biggest detractions from having people over is that my husband does not share my same level of preparation anxiety. You might think this would be a good thing, but so far in our marriage, it is not. This is not only because he does not understand how I feel in the days/hours leading up to having people over. It is because we clash on executing the actual preparations, and I end up doing (or at least feeling like I am doing) the bulk of the prep. And that makes me feel overwhelmed, overworked, misunderstood, frazzled, stressed, and put-upon. And frustrated and grouchy with my husband. Which is not really the mindset you want to have a fun, effervescent evening with friends.

I feel like I am being unfair, here, because my husband does not get a say on this blog. He cannot represent for you his own feelings, or catalog for you all the things he does to prepare. So please understand that you are getting a one-sided view of things.

On this particular day, I made a list of the things we needed to do before our guests arrived at four. We’d gone out the night before, and ended up sleeping in until NINE. Which put me immediately into a panic. My husband started out by saying that we had PLENTY of time, and so I tried to adopt that mindset and chill out a little. I gave him two projects: making the cookies (he’d made the dough the day before, so he just needed to bake the cookies) and making the white chili. And he had to get himself showered/dressed. He also wanted, separately, to go to a store and get something; I forget what, but it was on sale or something and he had to get it that day.

I unloaded the dishwasher while he made himself coffee. I made Carla’s breakfast while he made himself breakfast. I tidied up the kitchen table, which had become cluttered with Stuff. I asked him if he wanted me to dice the vegetables for the white chili and he said yes. I did that. I rinsed Carla’s breakfast dishes and put them in the dishwasher. I looked at the clock. The chili was supposed to be cooking for 6 hours, and we were nearing 11:00, so I just made the white chili myself. My husband went upstairs to do… I don’t know. Probably something very important and useful, like paying bills. (This sounds snarky but it is not meant to be; I am honestly trying very hard to give him the benefit of the doubt.)I got Carla dressed. I had made the guacamole and salsa the previous day, so I started dicing and chopping the toppings for the chili while my husband made lunch. I made lunch for Carla and coaxed her into eating it. I cleaned up lunch. I went and took a shower. I came downstairs and noted that I was supposed to make a roux for the white chili, to thicken it. My husband said it wasn’t necessary. I looked at the clock and told my husband he needed to get going. (He and I have VERY different understandings of time.) He went and took a shower. I made the red chili. He left for his errand, which I extended because I wanted him to grab me some flowers for the dinner table. It was an hour and a half until four, when our guests were to arrive. I encouraged Carla to move her toys from the living room to her bedroom. I chopped more things. I realized that we didn’t have enough spoons for dinner, so I ran the dishwasher through a quick cycle. I dried my hair and put on makeup. I cleaned up the kitchen. I ran a load of dish towels. The white chili was very watery. My husband was still gone, so I texted him asking if I should do the roux. Carla was running around asking, every five minutes, when her friend would arrive. I worried about drinks; I didn’t know if this couple drinks alcohol, so I had brought home a six-pack of unobjectionable beer and I had a bottle of wine in the fridge just in case. I worried about the kids – Carla won’t eat chili, but my friend said her kids eat anything… but what if they don’t? I washed some berries and some cherry tomatoes. I texted my husband to also grab some La Croix and a box of macaroni and cheese at the store. I unloaded the dishwasher. My husband texted me pictures of flowers and I picked a bouquet for him to bring home. I put out the salsa, chips, and guacamole. I cleaned out the sink. I fretted over whether I needed to cut some vegetables to put out with the chips. I decided against it. My husband got home with about fifteen minutes to spare. I asked him to choose some music for people to listen to. He said he wanted to put the football game on. I asked him to put music on the Amazon Echo while the game was on mute. I cut and arranged the flowers. I asked about the roux again. My husband looked at the chili and agreed it was watery. He started the roux. I cleaned off the counter. This is the most boring catalog of menial tasks ever. I realized I had failed to brush my teeth at all that day, so I ran upstairs to brush them. Carla shrieked that her friend was here. I snapped at my husband to put some music on like I’d already asked him to. He whisked the roux while Carla and I opened the door and invited our friends in.

I felt like I was busy every single second. (Is this a NORMAL level of busy? Are other people this busy in the day leading up to their dinner for guests?) (I don’t think so. Sometimes we go to dinner at the house of friends who were out at the zoo all day or had a birthday party just prior to having us over or who just said goodbye to week-long houseguests the night before. I COULD NEVER DO THOSE THINGS. I need to have plenty of space between guests, first of all. And then I also need the WHOLE DAY to complete my anxious preparations.)

These most recent dinner guests are newish friends, so we don’t know them super well. So while I was chatting with them and munching on chips, I was worrying about whether they’d like the food, and whether it was weird that I’d planned for us to all sit down at the table together. And I was fretting about timing – I’d planned for the kids to play for an hour or two, and then we’d sit down to eat; but was that making them wait too long? How long would they want to stay? Should we set up Guitar Hero for them to play? Should I try to herd everyone into the living room?

Carla was at Excitement Level 8 Billion, which translated into lots of running and shrieking and leaping off furniture. So I was also fretting about whether I was being too restrictive of the kids or not restrictive enough. Was it okay that we kind of shuttled the kids into the basement and all the grown ups stayed upstairs? Would they have preferred if we interacted with the kids more?

They left fairly early (seven thirty?), which of course made me worry that they weren’t having fun. But… it also seems like a reasonable amount of time for people to stay? I don’t know.

And the wife helped me clean everything up which makes me very uncomfortable. But she was very swift and practiced at it, so I didn’t even really have a chance to protest.

I think the dinner went okay? We had plenty to talk about, people ate the food, the kids had a raucous time which I think likely translates into fun. But man.

I really need to find some way to make it less stressful.

Some people think the way to make it less stressful is to not stress about it  but that is really terrible advice coming, I suspect, from people like my husband who are naturally low-stress people. I cannot help it. My mind begins whirring and if I don’t address the whirring it grows louder until it drowns out all other functions.

Some people might think I should just do it more often. But the anxiety around hosting happens even with people who come over ALL THE TIME – like my parents and in-laws, who come over several times a year between them, and with family friends that we have over for dinner four or five times a year or so (we swap houses every couple of months, so they are hosting us just as often). I am telling you, IT DOES NOT GET EASIER WITH PRACTICE. (The only thing that gets easier is that I worry less about the state of my home with frequent guests, because they have already seen it.)

The techniques I’ve tried, with, as you see, little success are:

  • Make things as simple as possible. (I need to work on keepingthem as simple as possible.)
  • Do as many things in advance as possible.
  • Enlist family members to help – and assign them specific tasks. (Possibly I need to also assign specific times, too.)
  • Try to only address things that are reasonable to address (i.e. NOT painting my fireplace).
  • Remind myself over and over that as a guest at other people’s homes, I don’t care about half the things I worry about people caring about.

We met a new couple a few weeks ago and I promptly asked the wife for her number so I could ask them to dinner and then actually followed up. They are coming for dinner in a few weeks. Which gives me AMPLE TIME to stress…. Or to come up with some real techniques for NOT stressing.

What do you do, to ensure that you are low-stress when you have guests over? What are your techniques for keeping things simple and fun? Should I just never invite people over again? That last one seems good, except for the dinner that’s already on the books. And I might as well TRY to overcome this Preparation Anxiety, because I inevitably start wishing I could throw a dinner party or something. WHY DOES MY BRAIN HAVE TO BE THE WAY THAT IT IS?

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I am not a big goal setter. It’s just… not my personality. I promise you that I am hard enough on myself and my failures without seeing them clearly in black and white. (To-do lists are hard enough, you know?) Maybe that’s a cop-out, but I think I manage to accomplish a fair number or things without setting specific goals, so I think it’s one of those more-than-one-way-to-skin-a-cat (WHY is that a phrase? WHO is doing so much cat skinning? YUCK.) more-than-one-way-to-marinate-your-chicken kind of things.

Nonetheless, I love reading about other people’s goals. And so I am going to post a Very Loose List of assorted goals that I will be thinking about and trying to achieve this year. Some of them I already mentioned, if briefly, in my end-of-year wrap-up. Perhaps we should call them aspirations instead of goals. Yes, let’s do that; it sounds less demanding. Less judgmental if I don’t achieve them. (Why list out what you want to do, you may be wondering, if you are so laissez faire about actually doing them? A good question indeed.)

Maybe it will be fun to revisit this list next January, to see how much I’ve accomplished! Maybe it will be amusing to see how drastically my priorities have changed over the year! Maybe it will send me spiraling into a cavern of self-castigation! Maybe I will forget all about this list and only come across it by accident many years in the future, if ever!

To the list!

Habits

–      Be in bed by 10:30 every night. This is really tough because most nights, my husband doesn’t get home until around six thirty or seven. And then it’s time to put Carla to bed, which takes another hour. And then I need to make or finish dinner and we need to eat it. This puts us at finishing dinner around eight at the earliest, and makes a ten thirty bedtime seem kind of early. But I feel so much better about life when I get real, actual sleep each night, so I want to try.

–      Ignore my phone – unless I have a real, actual phone call – between Carla getting home from school and me going to bed. This means giving up my Toy Blast habit, but that’s not something I feel particularly good about as it is, so it won’t be a big loss.

–      Do a practice German lesson every day. I have already skipped a lesson or two this week (yesterday – whoops) so I need to really buckle down if this is going to become a daily habit.

–      Exercise three days a week on average. Some weeks – like last week – I just don’t have the bandwidth for exercise. Other weeks, I manage to walk on the treadmill or do an exercise video almost every day. So I think aiming for an average is the best way to succeed.

–       Eat better. I mentioned before that I lost a bunch of weight last year and then gained it all back. So now I am planning to lose it all again. Perhaps it will return in November and I should think of it as an annual fall houseguest, but if I could rid my person of it for good, that would obviously be preferable.

Work

–      Finish the first draft of my manuscript. I mean, this is Job One. Top Priority. The Most Important Goal of All Goals.

–      Figure out what to do with the short story I’ve been working on for a few years. I finally finished the thing last summer, but now I need to get it into fighting shape and think about submitting it to some publications.

–      Set up an interview with a subject expert for my next novel. The next novel is percolating away and I have a contact who knows a real-life expert with whom I would LOVE to talk. I need to get past my fear of talking to people and just set up an interview with her.

House Projects

–      Finally get someone to come fix the ice maker. It’s been broken for over a year. My husband has tried to fix it. Both of our fathers have tried to fix it. I even called the place that sold our fridge to us and got the name of someone they recommended – but I googled the place and it got terrible reviews, so I chickened out. I need to call back and get a few other options and just make the call already.

–      Find out what it takes to stretch the carpet in the upstairs hall. The carpet bags a little in the middle and I think we could get it re-stretched? I am not sure about this. But I do know I’m not ready to replace the upstairs carpet just yet.

–      Look into the cost of new windows. We got an energy audit and the result was that our windows are ALL leaking. We can get some money to put toward them if we install news ones within the year but man. This is a daunting (and expensive!) task if there ever was one!

–      Revamp the living room. I originally was thinking about this in terms of separate smaller goals, but when I look at them all together, it turns out the whole room needs work. Specifically, I want to:

o   Put up a gallery wall. We have tons of artwork that would look great on the big blank wall in our living room. We just need to plan it out and DO it.

o   Replace the ottoman. We have a beautiful leather ottoman that was a hand-me-down from my in-laws, and my child and other children who visit our home have slowly destroyed it over time, peeling the leather upholstery off the top so that it looks like maybe it first belonged to a raccoon. I want a new one, and I have my eye on some options that have storage inside.

o   Replace the side table. The side table is also a hand-me-down from my in-laws. (See also: almost every piece of furniture in our house.) But I hate it. It’s too wide for the space, the color/style is all wrong. And it has no storage. I want to replace it with something slimmer, in a darker color and more modern style, that has drawers or shelves.

o   Convert our wood-burning fireplace into a gas fireplace. We already have a gas starter, so I don’t think would be toodifficult, but I need to look into it.

o   Paint the baseboards. I mean. I’ve been hating our DARK GREEN baseboards since 2012, so it would be nice to finally paint them white. Maybe this is the year!

o   As long as we’re dreaming, I’d also love to paint the fireplace, get some curtains for the sliding glass door (which we have to replace; see above re: leaky windows), and stain our buffet. And get a new couch. Not that we can afford to get a new one that’s as nice as our hideous, uncomfortable, very expensive but FREE TO US hand-me-down couch.

–      Get additional craft storage for the kitchen. We have a dedicated craft cabinet for Carla. It gets a LOT of use. But we could use more space. I have my eye on these IKEA TRONES cabinetsand I want to install them in the hallway between our pantry and laundry room. Yes, they are technically shoe cabinets, but I think they would be perfect for storing construction paper and in-progress artwork.

–      Figure out what to do about our grill. I tried SO HARD to fix it last summer and I failed. So I am torn between wanting to just figure it out… and throwing up my hands and get a new grill. We earmarked the earnings from our garage sale this past fall for a new grill, so we could totally get a new one. I am just feeling stubborn. But I also NEED my grill in the summer. Maybe “need” is too strong a word. I DEEPLY APPRECIATE my grill.

Family

–      Eat dinner together twice a week. Eating together as a family is not something we do daily. It just doesn’t work for our family. But when we domanage to eat together, I enjoy it. And it gives me an opportunity to model to Carla the eating habits and manners that I want her to learn. If we can eat dinner together on Friday and Saturday, or Saturday and Sunday, that would be an improvement.

–      Do more weekend adventures. When Carla was three, we were really good at this. We took her skiing and ice skating and did something new and fun pretty much every weekend. We hadto – she was a bundle of energy and needed to be going going going all day. Now that she’s mellowed out a bit, we don’t feel the same urgency to get moving. Plus, my husband and I are introverts and homebodies so our default inclination is to stay at home. But I think we need to push ourselves more to get out and take advantage of all our city has to offer.

–      Go on a date night with my husband more often (every six weeks?). We are not good at date nights, but I really do find that they help me feel more connected to my husband. So I want to make them more of a priority.

Personal

–      Be more patient and less yell-y. Evergreen goal.

–      Host friends for dinner. I like the idea of having people over. I like the socializing and the community building and I even enjoy the cooking. But thinking about all of it is super daunting. So I want to get past that.

–      Buy new underwear. I am stealing this goal from Stephanie because I have been lamenting the state of my underwear drawer for a long time. So many pairs of undies have holes in them, or just aren’t comfortable or flattering. Some I know I purchased when I was pregnant with Carla, and many more are even older than that. So it’s time. I get irritated by how expensive underwear is, though, so it’s going to be a challenge to force myself to buy some – especially if I’m going to avoid the prone-to-holes Target options.

–      Read 40 books. I read 30 books this year and I want to see if I can do more in 2019. If I can truly give up my phone habit (and not replace it with TV), I think this will be easy to meet.

I know one of the reasons people don’t accomplish goals is that they are too ambitious… and maybe this list is a little ambitious. But they are aspirations, after all, not set-in-stone do-or-die musts. Anyway, let’s see how this goes!

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Procrastination list

Usually when I go to the trouble of writing things down on actual paper, I have an easier time of getting them done. Something about the physical act of crossing things out. Something about having a slip of paper on my table/counter/desk rather than easily-ignorable in an email or on my phone. Plus, by the time things are so dire I need to write them down in list form, I usually Mean Business. And I bullet the items and then whittle the list down until it’s merely a pile of strike-throughs.

Well, my current to-do list is resisting whittling. I have had it for… three weeks, now? And I have managed to cross off a measly THREE and 6/7 items. And one of those three is “laundry” but, while I have done an altogether excessive amount of laundry in the past few weeks, that it is DONE is a little bit of a fib, because I still have a pile of laundry on my closet floor, waiting to be put into the washer; a washer full of clean towels to put into the dryer; and a laundry bin full of clean clothing to fold and put away. SIGH.

Okay, there, I moved the towels into the dryer. Baby steps.

My To-Do list – well, I guess this is my procrastination list, now. Because all I see when I look at the list are Things I Do Not Want to Do for Completely Valid and Justifiable Reasons.

My Procrastination List stayed on my kitchen island for a very long time and I HATE having things on my kitchen island. That island is for preparing meals and eating those meals, nothing else. So I looked at it DAILY for a long time, hating it and its very presence but doing little to relieve myself of the need to have it there. And then it fell into the junk drawer (which I finally cleaned, although that was not on the list at ALL) and I saw it less often but still regularly, every time I needed some scotch tape or a pen or a rubber band. And then I used it as scratch paper to help Carla write some things. And then it disappeared for awhile until I spotted it again this morning. And now I have resurfaced it, because despite the fact that I am not DOING the things on the list, they still need to be done.

Let’s take a peek, shall we?

  1. Order contacts

Top of the list is ordering new contact lenses. I finally got a new eye doctor and went to see her, and she set me up with a trial pack of new lenses. Which I then immediately hated. She’d given me her business card and had told me to call the number listed to order my contacts, after I’d tried them. She didn’t mention what to do if I tried them and hated them, and I didn’t ask; we both assumed I would love them, I guess. Anyway, the card lists an “appointment scheduling” phone number and a “contact lens ordering” number. Which do I call??? I don’t need an appointment, but maybe if I called that number I could leave a message for the doctor, asking if she could get me a sample of a different kind of contact? But maybe I should call the contact line instead, because they are accustomed to dealing with the specific item I am in need of, and should be best positioned to help? But then again, what if the contact line people are equipped to put in an order only, and do nothing else? ARGH! So here I sit, dithering and refusing to call. Fortunately, I have a nice stockpile of the OLD contact lenses I have and hate, so I’m all set as far as seeing goes.

2, 4, & 13. Buy & change air filter, put up rack in laundry room, grill???

(I apologize sincerely for the lack of parallelism in the header of this list item. Especially because “grill” is also a verb. It’s very confusing. But I wanted to group them together for reasons that will soon become clear.)

Some of the things on this list are probably ludicrous; they’ve been needing doing for so long, it was simply some fit of hyper-industriousness that caused me to put them on the list in the first place. That’s the main problem with to-do lists in general, right? You usually don’t have as much of an issue with taking care of the URGENT stuff. It’s really the stuff that can languish for a while that needs explicit calling out. I mean, the little sticker on our air filter says we last changed in 2013, so clearly a few more months won’t hurt. (REALLY?!?! 2013?!?! The current air filter is as old as my KINDERGARTENER? That is disgusting. I don’t believe it, for one thing; I’d say that we simply didn’t change the sticker the last time we changed it, because that totally sounds like an oversight we would make. But how do I know for sure? The sticker says, very plainly, in my husband’s writing, that we changed it in 2013.) The laundry rack thing is similarly old and not particularly urgent; we got a new washer and dryer earlier this summer and had to remove the little shelf that was sitting on the floor in the laundry room, so we bought a hanging rack to replace it. We have not hung the rack yet, and I’m beginning to suspect we may never do so. Ditto the grill, which has been broken since LAST FALL and swells me up with such rage that I will have to write about it later.

  1. Halloween costumes

This item fills me with dread. We have, for the first time ever, been invited to a Halloween party and are expected to dress up. My husband does not want to dress up. But I don’t want to show up and be the only ones without a costume. So I have been spinning in terrified circles for WEEKS trying to come up with The Perfect No-Effort Costume that will allow us to fit in no matter what. The party is THIS WEEKEND so the time for wheel spinning has come to an end and I still have nothing to show for it. (I realize that I have shifted metaphors somewhere along the way but I am too panicked to fix it.)

  1. Mail boxes

I have had boxes sitting in my office for MONTHS that need to go to various people. But they aren’t technically urgent – they aren’t birthday gifts or anything, they aren’t time sensitive; it’s more along the lines of me saying I would send you a T-shirt you liked and then not doing it – so there they sit. And, of course, the longer they sit, the more I fret about them; are the intended recipients annoyed that it’s taking so long? Will they think poorly of me once they finally, presumably, receive them? Have they already written me off as a lost cause and not worthy of speaking to? It’s so bad that I haven’t even SPOKEN to one recipient in months because I am so embarrassed it is taking me so long to mail her this silly item. Two weeks ago, I moved one of the boxes into the kitchen, near the door, to help move it on to the post office more quickly. That has not worked but has increased my general dissatisfaction with a) my own lack of follow-through and b) the cluttered state of my kitchen.

This also reminds me that I need to mail a housewarming gift to a friend who bought her first house. In July. SIGH. Why am I like this?????

  1. Set up cooking class + sitter

We received – as a gift for our anniversary (in DECEMBER) (of 2017 I wish I could all-caps numbers) – a gift certificate to take a cooking class at Sur la Table. We’ve done one of those classes before and it was great fun; I have no idea why we haven’t scheduled this one yet. (Well, I have some idea; it’s the same reason that I only finally this past April used a pedicure gift certificate that I got as a baby shower gift in 2013.) Anyway, I have at the very least chosen the class we want to attend and texted the babysitter and am now waiting anxiously for her to respond; perhaps she doesn’t know how gratifying it would be to cross another item off this list or she would have gotten back to me more quickly.

  1. Presents for bdays

Carla has been invited to a LOT of Classmate Birthday Parties this fall. So I have been buying gifts left and right. I am down to needing ONE gift (of the upcoming birthdays I know about; but we’re into December already for three of the kids, so I feel pretty safe) and I already have that child’s card, so I feel good about the status of this item.

  1. Cards

For the aforementioned children, plus my brother. DONE.

  1. Fill out details for TB

This is a detailed financial overview for a prospective financial advisor. It asks a bunch of questions about retirement and money fears that either a) I’ve never thought about with any purpose or b) send me into a frenzy of “life is short and then it ends” pessimism. So I’ve been avoiding it. Plus, it requires information from me and my husband, so we have to find simultaneous time to go through it together.

  1. Call about ice maker

Our refrigerator’s ice maker has been on the fritz for several years, and finally, over the summer, gave up producing anything besides a horrific grinding noise. So I have to figure out how to get it fixed. There’s nothing in the manual about how to fix it. My best bet is to call the appliance store where we bought it and see if they know who I can call to look at it. But that’s a guaranteed TWO phone calls about something I don’t know how to describe (aside from “horrific grinding” and “no ice”). So it remains on the list.

  1. Air filter cleaning?

By the way, this should say “air DUCT cleaning” but whatever. Doesn’t matter as long as I know what it means, right? After the horrifying discovery that we may not have replaced our furnace air filter in five years, I started feeling like maybe we should do MORE to purify the air we breathe. I happened to stop at a light behind a truck that was advertising air duct cleaning, which got me thinking that maybe we should do that. (It’s a service I didn’t know existed.) I went so far as to research and email three different companies that offer this service and get estimates from two of them via the phone. But I have not yet scheduled anything.

  1. Laundry

Well. We know where this stands. It’s an ongoing thing. It only made the list because it had gotten out of control. Now it is back to manageable status so I guess crossing it off is the right thing to do.

  1. New sneakers

I need to get new sneakers for Carla. But I hate buying shoes for her, because a) they are expensive, b) they will need replacing in about five minutes, and c) she will insist she likes a pair of shoes… and then never wear them. And I don’t know about you, but getting her out the door and to school on time is already so fraught that I am not going to add “forcing her to wear shoes she doesn’t want to wear” to the mix. No thank you. But now we’re getting to the point where she needs shoes for gym and the shoes I bought her in May are too tight and I can’t find any good sales and BLARGH. I just need to bite the bullet and get her ANY PAIR, but I keep looking online and then going back through a, b, and c, and not buying anything.

  1. Teacher appreciation

The PTA asked parents to volunteer to bring snacks for Teacher Appreciation week; I signed up and already bought the item I signed up for AND already delivered it to the school. BOO YA ending on a high note.

 

Okay, the whole point of this post is to shame myself into tackling SOMETHING. What shall it be? What… shall it be?

UPDATE: Per the magic of posting one’s failings on the Internet, I did, in fact, pursue a few of these items.

1. I called the place where we got our refrigerator and asked for a recommendation for an appliance repair person. However, when I subsequently googled the appliance repair company they suggested, I noticed they have TERRIBLE reviews. So I think I need to either a) find my own appliance repair company or b) call the fridge place back and ask for an alternate recommendation. So I am back at square one with this one.

2. I called the appointment-making line for my eye doctor and explained to the receptionist what I needed. I apologized profusely for calling her, when I KNEW she was an appointment making person, and she was very nice about it but also very clear that I had called the wrong number. She connected me to someone with whom I left a message for my eye doctor; whoever THAT was said I might need to come in and get refitted for contact lenses which fills me with despair. I JUST had an appointment, and I don’t see why those measurements would have suddenly disappeared just because I don’t like the brand of lenses she had me try. Can’t she just… give me another type of lenses to try? Without having to make a separate appointment and come in for what surely will NOT be covered by insurance? But I suppose we will cross that bridge when we come to it.

3. I put my brother’s birthday card in the mail. That wasn’t one of the packages I mentioned above, but it’s something.

4. I am taking Carla to a department store TODAY after school to fit her for new shoes, and then if they aren’t horrendously expensive, I will buy some right then and there.

Man, this was a LOT of work and I don’t think I can even cross a SINGLE THING off of my list. BLARGH.

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Look what we found in our yard yesterday!

Three deer

Don’t water them; they proliferate.

We have an over-abundance of suburban deer in our neighborhood. They roam the yards, eating trees and plants. Yes, they are very picturesque. And I know and understand that we humans are trespassing on THEIR land, and not the other way around. But even knowing this, and even feeling guilty/sad for the deer and their lack of forest/meadow land, I find them irritating. They eat our trees down to the bark. They eat any vegetables I dare to plant. They poop all over our yard.

My husband has taken it upon himself to chase them away whenever they take up residence in our yard. He went out to this trio last night, waving his arms, and they COMPLETELY ignored him. He must have gotten within five feet of them and they didn’t care. So he turned the hose on them. They all stood up, but that was the extent of their botherment. And rather than shooing them away, he sort of ended up watering them instead.

***

We recently spent a few days at the house of some friends. We had a wonderful time. The kids all played splendidly together, with maybe one or two small sharing issues and nothing at all beyond that. The grown ups had a delightful time, chatting and catching up and generally ignoring the kids, who were completely occupied by each other.

Our friends cooked several meals for us, which was so lovely. They are excellent cooks and they put in the kind of attention to detail that makes you (me) kind of well up with love and appreciation. For instance, they made this delicious baked brie with a completely decadent topping of honey and nuts and raisins and sultanas. And my friend made these little heart cutouts in pastry dough and put them on top of the baked brie before she baked it. It was so sweet and so lovely. I wish we lived nearer to them.

Spending time with another family in their house, you get a good sense of how differently families can run. First of all, I love that little glimpse at other people’s lives, just on a voyeuristic level. I am fascinated by how Other People Do Things. Secondly, you can get some good ideas for how you can do things better/differently. For instance, they spend almost the entire weekend outside. Instead of using that time to run errands and loaf around the house doing laundry, they go to the petting zoo and then they go hiking and then they go to the beach and then they find a parade to watch and then they go to the farmer’s market. While that is, to me, Super Expert Level Activity, I really like the idea of doing it on maybe a Beginner’s Level. I can do errands during the week and then we can all go out and have fun over the weekend. (My husband and I were better about doing that when Carla was younger, because she needed physical activity or she was bouncing off the walls. She’s more mellow these days.)

But the other thing that’s interesting is seeing what kind of household rules another family has. And, while interesting, there’s also some potential for conflict, when you are trying to reinforce family rules that might be different from your friends’.

Can we stipulate that there are all sort of things that a particular family might find important or not important? And that every family is different, and values different things? And that just because I value one thing doesn’t mean that I am secretly judging you for not prioritizing that same thing?

In general, I feel that if you are a guest at someone’s house, you follow their rules. Like… if there’s a house rule that you take your shoes off at the door, you do that, even if you think it’s ridiculous. If there’s no eating food in the living room, you don’t eat food in the living room. Right?

And that’s all well and good… but what if the other family has a VOID where your own rules are?

Here’s an example. At our house, one of the family rules is that you stay at the table until everyone is finished. But when we were at our friends’ house this weekend, they let their kids sort of wander off whenever they felt like it. So… what am I, as a parent, supposed to do? Because we’re at someone else’s house, we operate under their family rules… even if the rules go directly against what we do in our own family?

We also have a rule that you don’t start eating until the whole family is sitting at the table. So when Carla grabbed a piece of bacon off the tray and started eating it while my friends were still cooking breakfast and while my husband and I were still setting the table, I scolded her. And she was outraged, because, she pointed out, my friends’ daughter had ALSO taken a piece of bacon from the tray! She was just following her friend’s lead! And my friends (the parents) just shrugged. Oh well, they said. They’re kids. They’re hungry. We shouldn’t have put a tempting tray of bacon on the table like that. (At that point, I felt like an asshole. Like I was one-step-removed chastising their kid, and also them, for not having the same rule.)

There was a LOT of this kind of thing, over the weekend. Where Carla would do a thing that I would normally not let her get away with. Climbing on the furniture, for instance. Or eating candy at breakfast time. Or not holding a grown up’s hand in the parking lot. But when I pointed out to her that she was breaking a rule, she would get all incredulous, because she was just doing what our friends’ kids were doing!

I don’t know what to DO in that kind of situation. Part of me wants to shrug and say something like, “When in Rome.” Or, “We are on vacation, so we can relax the rules a little.” But another part of me shrieks, “Consistency!” and then I get probably a little bit self-righteous, alongside my confusion. I’m not teaching Carla anything earth-shattering.  But these are things I want Carla to learn, and want her to do even when she’s at another family’s house. Even when other kids are doing the opposite. (Right? That’s why we teach our kids things! So that when they grow up or are away from us, they still behave in the way we deem best.) And I also want her to understand that she needs to be responsible for her own behavior, even if other kids are behaving differently. At some point, it starts feeling Big and Important and Critical. Like, if I don’t crack down now on her saying “Well, I’m going to eat candy because Pearl is eating candy!” that in ten years she’ll be saying, “Well, I’m going to try cocaine because Pearl is trying cocaine!” and “Well, Isla thinks it’s okay to send nude photos to her boyfriend, so I’m doing it too!” and “You weren’t there to tell me not to rob this bank, but Emmett was robbing it, so I did it too!” and then her life is ruined.

Maybe what needs to happen is a Pre-Visit Conversation, where I anticipate this kind of thing. And I sit Carla down and remind her that families are different, and have different rules and values, and that we mustn’t forget to abide by the rules that are important to our own family.

But even that feels… sticky. Because some rules are just naturally not as important as others. For instance, if the other family DOES wear shoes in the house, I am fine with Carla wearing shoes in their house. Even though we have a “no shoes in the house” policy. In that case, I’m fine with going with the other family’s way of doing things. Same with… watching TV at meal times. Or eating in the living room. Or whatever.

Why do those feel different to me than the “sitting at the table until everyone is done” policy? Hmm. I suppose there are many categories of rules, and some are important and immoveable while others are more flexible.

Let’s see. The “holding hands in the parking lot” thing is a safety issue, so that’s easy enough to categorize: Don’t put yourself or others in danger. Well, it’s easy for me to categorize, although it may be much more confusing to a five-year-old.

The “don’t eat until everyone is at the table” thing seems to me a matter of manners. So maybe that’s another category: make sure you still maintain your manners at someone else’s house. Say please and thank you, even if the other kids don’t. Pick up after yourself, even if the other kids don’t. Stay at the table until everyone is done, even if the other kids don’t (well, unless the parent says specifically that you can be dismissed). And it goes the other way, too — if the other family has manners-specific rules that you don’t have, you should adhere to them too. I had an elementary school friend whose family rule was that you eat every thing on your plate at meal times, which seems like a manners issue to me. And so in cases where “manners” are involved, you defer to the “good manners” option. I’m describing this in such a clunky way. I think what I mean is, it would be considered impolite to the other family, if you didn’t clear your plate. So in that case, you do the polite thing and clear your plate, even though there’s no “clear your plate” rule in your own family. (Man, that was the WORST rule for me. You may recall that I am super picky eater. It made me never want to eat at my friend’s house.) This is probably an Intermediate Level type of rule following, because it requires the ability to infer the other family’s reaction to following or not following the rules. I mean, if you go to someone’s house and they all say grace before dinner, but that’s not part of your own belief system… I don’t think you should have to say grace out of fear that the other family will find you rude. (You do have to be still and quiet and respectful during grace, like, not grabbing a handful of bacon while grace is being said.) But that’s something that you might not know/think about when you’re ONLY FIVE. I know, I am getting way ahead of myself on some of these things. And also this whole paragraph is confusing me even though it came from MY brain and I’M writing it so I’m going to move on.

Can I say how HARD it is to talk about this, without sounding/feeling judgmental? I know we made all sorts of stipulations at the beginning of this post, but maybe you, like I, have forgotten that. Or maybe you are, like I am, feeling a little uncomfortable about spelling out all these things that other people may or may not do. I am feeling a little panicky that you might be thinking, “Oh no! I never make my kids wait until everyone is done eating before they leave the table!” and worrying that that disqualifies you from Friend Consideration. No! No no no! I cannot express how much I DO NOT CARE if your children are required to stay at the table until the meal is over. They are kids. Let them go play while the grown ups linger over wine and second helpings of zucchini. It’s not a big deal. You would think that, because it is a rule in my own home, I would have strong feelings about it. But I do not. I think we made it a rule to help encourage Carla to develop the skill of sitting and doing something she finds boring. It’s a skill that will help her in many situations, from the classroom to the line at the bank, and I think her pediatrician or a teacher recommended it some years ago, and so it has become part of the family custom.

Similarly, we have the “no shoes in the house” rule, but that’s almost purely because I do not like to wear shoes or socks and I hate the feeling of grit on my feet that comes from people wearing their shoes in the house. If you like wearing shoes in YOUR house, great! My parents wear shoes in their house, and it works for them, and I wear shoes when I visit them and all is well.

And I know I made a big deal, earlier, that “holding hands in the parking lot” is a rule that falls into the “Things That Are Dangerous” category. And so I must be thinking that you care nothing of your child’s safety if you don’t hold her hands. No! Of course not! Some of my friends have children who walk calmly and slowly next to them at all times. Some of my friends have children who are extremely cautious and point out a car coming several blocks away. My particular brand of child is able to spot a roly-poly on a leaf fifty yards away but will not see a car barreling toward her down an otherwise empty street. I also have the brand of child who is prone to dashing and leaping and twirling, with no consideration for her surroundings or the presence of motor vehicles. So for HER, the holding hands thing is really important.

On the other side of the fence, I do NOT have a rule that you have to try every food that the host provides. Or even that you have to try every food on your plate. But if YOU have those rules, I get it! Those are GOOD rules! I see their value! If I could persuade Carla to try a single bite of every food without a Drawn-Out Epic Battle of Wills, I totally would institute that rule at our house. Or maybe I wouldn’t, because I am super picky and I would never want to have to try something like a stewed tomato, so I wouldn’t want to have a rule that I would be in danger of breaking.

I do not think anyone is inferior OR superior for having different rules than I do, is what I’m saying. They’re just different.

Sometimes, I worry that I have too many rules. It’s possible, I acknowledge that. But I had a lot of rules, growing up. And I turned out to be very good at following rules, which doesn’t seem like a bad thing. (And I still maintain a level of independence and creativity and ability-to-question-rules, I hasten to add!)

My parents had a Good Living Room and a Good Dining Room that we weren’t allowed in, except for special occasions. And I wasn’t allowed to have my door shut if there was a boy in my room. And I couldn’t leave anything on the stairs. And I couldn’t leave the doors open (unless there was a screen door in its place). And I had to turn the lights off any and every time I left a room. And many others. It’s kind of funny to think back, to all those rules, and think about which ones stuck and which ones I threw immediately to the wind once I moved out of my parents’ house.

These days, I shut the door to my bedroom ALL the time, even though there’s almost always a boy in here! I am so getting away with things!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hence the pity party.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ahem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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