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We use a lot of citrus around here – I like lemony flavored dinners and limey flavored drinks – but our current juicer wasn’t really cutting it for me.

 

Here it is:

Old juicer

I searched Amazon, Sur la Table, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Target, and couldn’t find this for sale anywhere, so maybe I’m not alone in thinking this could be improved upon.

I mean, it’s FINE, but it tends to get seeds in the food and it requires some elbow grease to extract juice, so it’s not PERFECT.

So the last time my husband and I were at Sur la Table (for a hot! date!), I asked if we could look at the juicers and see if there were any better options.

I was thinking of something like this, where you can use gravity to aid in the juice extraction process.

Glass juicer

Glass Citrus Juicer, $12.00 (photo from Sur la Table)

But instead, during the course of our hot! date!, we got to see THIS juicer in action.

Juicer 2

And lo! it was amazing!

So even though it was $14.99, we bought it. And it is my new favorite thing EVER.

It’s SO easy to use.

But! It is also non-intuitive to use!

If I had bought it on sight rather than after seeing a demonstration, I would never have guessed how to use it properly. And the website is no help. There are multiple photos, including a somewhat disturbing one of juice falling from the juicer, but not ONE showing how you put the fruit into the juicer.

I would have put the cut lemon or lime into the bowl of the juicer with the rind nestled down in the little bowl all snug, and the pulp facing up. So that when I squeezed the arms of the juicer together, they all fit together in a nice nested fashion, and that the emptied-of-juice lemon ended up looking like a little empty bowl at the end.

No!

Instead, you put the lemon in round side UP, and pulp side DOWN. Like so!

Juicer 4

I do know this is a lime and not a lemon. Also, it’s not a FULL lime. There are limits to what I will do for a post.

At the end, you have an inside-out lemon. And lots of delicious juice.

A real live chef showed us this method, so I am choosing to believe that this is The Best and Proper Way to use it. Although I haven’t tried it the other way. So perhaps it works equally well if you put the lemon in round side down.

It is – and I am not being compensated at ALL for this opinion (call me, Sur la Table) – FULLY worth the $14.99. In fact, I plan to buy one for each family member at Christmas. Okay, I also now see that there is a very similar version on Amazon for $8.95. Whatever. I don’t regret a thing.

Perhaps you do not use lemons and limes as frequently as I do. I still recommend this tool because it is AWESOME.

Juicer 1

Ocean.JPG

The only ship on that entire vast sea is barely a white fleck on the horizon.

Well, after all that gift discussion (after which I begrudgingly admit that even though my husband has The Exact Opposite Feelings on the topic to me, he is not the only one and maybe I should give him a break), my family visited my in-laws for spring break and I brought lots of wearable gifts my mother-in-law has bought us over the years, and she noticed and commented on ALL of it, in an affirming I’m-so-happy-you-actually-wear-that! sort of way. And I was glad.

We had SUCH a nice time over spring break, and I think the nicest part of all was that Carla was SO EASY.

She is a happy, affectionate, inquisitive child who tends toward the super-high-energy end of the energetic spectrum. Which, in the hands of her introvert, prefers-to-lie-on-the-couch-quietly-and-read-a-book-by-herself mother, can translate into exhausting. We have kept past vacations to an X-day limit because she gets bored and then the energy cranks up to 7,000 and she begins bouncing off the walls and furniture. But this year, mainly because of an incompatibility between airline ticket prices and reasonable flight times (I am NOT boarding a plane for home with my gets-more-energized-the-more-tired-she-gets toddler at eight p.m. thank you very much), we ended up staying a full week. And it was GREAT. Everything was great.

Carla was a peach of a traveler, both ways. She happily walked around the airport (with us, obviously) before our flight, looking at all the glorious toys in the many gift shops and newsstands, asking us to add a variety of items to her birthday list. She was excited about everything: the airplanes lined up outside the airport, going through security, people traveling with dogs, wearing her little penguin backpack, getting on the plane, having her own seat, plane snacks, seeing the clouds, seeing the ocean from the windows, watching Sofia appisodes over and over (she has an Amazon Fire tablet for kids that keeps her busy and happy for hours), landing, waving at friendly strangers, running full-steam to hug her grandmother when we left the concourse.

While we were in Florida, she was GREAT. She ate well, she was happy and charming. She was enthusiastic about every one of the seven million projects her grandmother had set up for her. She was happy vegging in front of the TV whenever the grown ups needed a minute. She loved the pool, the beach, the boat we took to a little island, the ocean, shells, lizards, local dogs, collecting rocks, watering the plants, pretending to drive her grandfather’s car, going to restaurants, eating ice cream. All of it. She went to bed late pretty much every night we were there, and napped maybe twice, and yet she was good natured and happy to play by herself or happy to play with a grown up, just happy in general.

Great. She was great.

So of course all of this has me thinking – maybe more concretely than usual – about babies, and how great they are, and how yes they are challenging sometimes but look! it all turns out so GREAT!

Listen: DON’T GET YOUR HOPES UP. I’m just musing here. I’m just thinking idly, happily, about a topic (babies) that interests me to no end. It doesn’t mean anything.

My husband and I are 95% certain that Carla is IT. There are many many wonderful, valid, reasonable reasons to have more than one child; there are – despite those who may disagree – an equal number of wonderful, valid, reasonable reasons to have just the one. (Or none! If that’s your choice!) So we are very comfortable with that near-decision.

But it is a near-decision, not a final one. We haven’t taken any measures. We haven’t donated the large pile of baby stuff in our basement. We haven’t stopped talking about it.

It’s just that the conversations always turn to, We love having just Carla. We feel complete. We feel happy.

But…

I still think about Another Baby, every day. Carla was such a great baby, and watching her grow and learn and develop her personality has been such a complete wondrous delight; part of me feels so sad that I won’t get to experience that with another baby.

Following nearly two weeks of Carla At Her Best, it’s easy to imagine that another baby might be doable. I’m not saying I WANT another baby. I’m just saying that, before, I couldn’t picture at ALL how a tiny, needy infant would work into our family. Because Carla is a hands-on, all-hands-on-deck kid. Now, I have this glimpse of what a more mature Carla might be like: (slightly) more serene, more independent, more able to channel that immense energy into activities that don’t put her in immediate danger and leave me whirling.

Anyway, it has me thinking, five years wouldn’t be such a bad distance between two siblings.

Let us forget the fact that we were on vacation and so we were removed from our normal pattern of life… and that we were much more relaxed and less time pressured than on a normal day… and that Carla had not her normal one-most-of-the-time, sometimes-two adults but four to attend to her every whim… and that prior to spring break, I had a week-long stomach bug, which was horrendous, and Carla was just off, complaining of a tummy ache and not eating anything much at all, so by comparison OF COURSE everything is easier… and FOUR ADULTS. Let’s not take ANY of those factors into consideration when we look at how easy it has become to parent my nearly-four-year-old. Instead, let us jump headlong into LET’S THINK ABOUT MORE BABIES.

Clearly, I have become infected with some sort of tropical brain-altering disease. So let’s turn this discussion away from ME (and, as much as it may hurt to clamp your hand over your mouth, away from Why We Need Another Baby) and toward YOU and the infinitely interesting topic of baby spacing.

What, for you, is the ideal spacing between siblings? Has your opinion changed – perhaps after you experienced the spacing in real time? What is your own experience with any siblings you have – are you a good distance apart? What are the plusses and minuses?

My brother and I are six years apart. That’s a big gap in many ways; when I went off to college he was still in middle school. Six years represents a huge difference in interests and pursuits and abilities. I wouldn’t say we’ve ever been close, although we certainly love (and like) each other. As adults, we don’t talk particularly often, but we have a good time when we’re together. For (possibly false) reference, I read or heard somewhere that a six-year age difference is like having two only children, which has plusses and minuses.

A former colleague of mine has two boys five years apart. She maintains that five years is the PERFECT distance. The older child is old enough to be helpful and self-entertaining when the baby is born. You’re far enough out of the nursing/no-sleeping infant stage that it doesn’t seem as daunting anymore. The older child is in school part of the day. There won’t be two children in college at the same time. Other reasons that I didn’t pay close enough attention to at the time, because I was DONE. Am done.

Someone my husband works with said that four years is the perfect distance. That happens to be the same spacing between my husband and his sister, who have a slightly-closer-but-not-by-much relationship than I do with my brother. I don’t particularly want to ask their mother what the plusses and minuses of that spacing are(, considering her opinion is that we are HARMING Carla by not giving her a sibling; if that is your opinion as well, I kindly ask that you refrain from sharing it here). I would guess that many of the same reasons as the five-year spacing apply.

In any event, the four-year-spacing ship has sailed for us.

A woman from my long-defunct book club had three boys, one right after another. I’m sure they weren’t exactly a year apart, but it seemed that way. And she swore by that method: you get the baby stage over with all at once. It’s not super while you’re in it, but then it’s OVER. The same goes for all the rest of life’s experiences, I suppose. And all your kids are close-knit, or at least have a good chance of it.

Most of my friends are in the eighteen-months-apart to three-years-apart club. Again, for me, all that’s left of that particular ship is a tired crest of wake finally breaking against the shore.

I think, for my particular personality, and my own brand of I Am Not Cut Out to Be a Mother at All, Let Alone to Two Children, a bigger space would be better. This may be obvious, considering that I have a nearly-four-year-old and am just now getting around to moving the dial from 95% sure we are done to 93% sure. But the idea of breathing space between the stages seems attractive. (Ignoring, of course, that all kids are in stages all the time, so there would really be NO breathing room.) It’s really too bad I didn’t start much younger; an eighteen-year-old and a newborn has its appeal.

See? I must have some sort of Only In Florida parasite munching away at the reasoning centers of my brain.

This is one of those posts where I make you decide who is right and who is wrong. As per usual, it’s a cage match between me and my husband and it’s not really a fair fight at all, considering that a) he has no idea I’m writing about this and b) I am so clearly in the right.

(As always, please recall that whenever I write a post that forces you, Internet, to take sides between me and my husband, I feel morally obligated to reference Temerity Jane, who used to write similar-enough-that-I-feel-morally-torn-type posts [only better and with more hilarity]. [This is purely a moral obligation, not a Temerity-Jane-imposed obligation.] [And in any event, the Temerity Jane blog is no more, a fact that is deeply sad because it contained so much good, funny writing and so many eye-opening posts about normalcy and I miss it.])

Let us power through the sadness we feel at our collective loss by directing some side-eye toward the Wronger. Yes, I’m sticking with that pseudo-word choice.

Okay, so let’s say you get a nice gift from someone. Let’s say it’s a… fancy chip and dip set. It’s from someone you care about but maybe don’t see all that often. You thank them, then you do whatever it is you do with a chip and dip set (put it in a cabinet for months at a time, in my house).

Then! The very people who have given you the chip and dip set let you know the happy news! They are visiting! So you invite them over to your house. What do you do, vis a vis the chip and dip set? (Is it really a set? I’m doubting that usage, now.) (I am also doubting my use of vis a vis but we must ONWARD!)

In my household, one of us would plan dinner around something that the visitors might enjoy, and the dinner may or may not include chips and dip – in fact, probably it would NOT involve chips and dip, because we really reserve chips and dip for larger gatherings: Super Bowl parties, birthday parties, I’m realizing as I type this that we really don’t have large gatherings very often at all. Anyway, no chips, no dip. The dinner would be pleasant and enjoyable and we’d all have a good time. The end.

The other of us would also plan a dinner around something that the visitors might enjoy, but would definitely figure out a way to incorporate the chips and dip element. AND would definitely use the chips and dip set that the visitors had so kindly bestowed upon us. We would all have chips and dip, any of the four of us might remark on how great the chips and dip set is, we’d all have a good time. The end.

The non-chips-and-dip member of our family (and by that, I mean in this scenario only; we are an all-chips, all-dip, all-the-time kind of couple, keeping in mind my previously stated reluctance to serve either chips or dip unless the event includes the word “party” in it somewhere) might show some exasperation for the chips-and-dip serving member.

“It seems kind of condescending,” that person might say. “Like we are purposely getting out the present just for them.”

The chips-and-dip serving member might respond: “Exactly! That’s exactly why we’re doing it! We are showing appreciation to the gift giver by using the gift in their presence!”

This is where the non-chipper member of our family might bring up the pro-dipper member’s propensity for wearing clothing gifts in the presence of the gift giver.

“What’s wrong with that?” the gift-wearer might ask. “It shows that a) I remember that this person gave me a gift and b) I like it enough to wear it!”

“But it appears as though you ONLY wear the gift in front of the gift giver,” says the non-gift-wearer, sensibly. “They might think you don’t actually like it, so you never wear it unless you are around them.”

“Perhaps that is sometimes true!” responds the gift-wearer. “But doesn’t it also show gratitude? It’s not as though every single minute I am in the gift-giver’s presence I wear only things given to me by that person. If I throw in a bracelet or a t-shirt or a pair of socks every now and again, isn’t it only giving that person pleasure, to see their gift in action?”

“It’s weird,” says the non-gift-wearer.

 

Who is RIGHT, Internet? And what do YOU do?

Whether or not you LIKE the gift, whether or not you USE it frequently or once a year…

If your mother-in-law sends you a necklace, do you wear it on occasion when you go out to dinner with her? If your coworker gives you a funky wallet during your Secret Santa exchange, do you sometimes grab it when you go to coffee with her? If your brother sends you a set of towels, do you make sure they are clean and hanging from your towel hook the next time he comes over for dinner?

AND, let’s look at it from the other side! If you gave someone a present, and they used it in your presence, how would that make you feel? Condescended to? Or pleased?

And AND, does this really only matter in specific situations like mine, wherein our family all lives thousands of miles away and we are pretty unsocial in general?

While I await your sage advice, I will go eat some chips. I just need to find something in which to dip them…

I love pizza but I hate tomatoes.

It’s a pizza paradox.

pizza-3-pizza

Pizza, delicious pizza.

Yes, yes, I know there are white pizzas and green pizzas – and I do love me some pesto, don’t get me wrong – but my True Love is traditional pizza with red sauce. I like it not only as a pizza base layer upon which all other toppings rest, but also as a dipping sauce for my fully-cooked pizza.

But. The sauce must be completely smooth. COMPLETELY. SMOOTH.

If I get a single tomato seed in my teeth, the entire pizza-eating experience is RUINED.

So my pizza preference is to make my own. And I have perfected my pizza-making methods, including my pizza sauce. And now, dear internet, I share it with you. You know, if you care about smooth sauce.

For the tomato lovers out there: my husband could eat chopped up tomatoes (HORK) on his pizza and still enjoy himself, and he also enjoys my sauce.

First you get your ingredients.

My favorite pizza has mozzarella, pepperoni, and mushrooms. Sometimes I throw on some sliced onions or green peppers, if I’m feeling fancy.

So, you know, assemble whatever you like to throw on your own pizza.

Then you’ve got to make your crust.

I don’t care to make my own dough, so I buy it pre-made. My local grocery store carries a brand called Papa Sals that I really love. I’ve compared it against the pizza dough that my local Italian bakery sells, and it’s got everything I like: it makes a nice crisp crust with a good chew and a nice mild flavor. It’s very easy to knead into a pizza shape. And, most importantly, it last a LONG time. I tend to make little pizzas for lunch, using an eighth of a crust per pizza, and the dough lasts an entire week. (And what dough I have leftover, I roll up in baking-spray sprayed cling wrap and freeze.)

pizza-1-dough

Papa Sal’s, best pre-made pizza dough on earth. Or at least best available in my local grocery store.

(Disclaimer-y deviation from the post at hand: I was in line at the grocery store once, buying my Papa Sal’s dough, when a fellow shopper asked me how long it lasted. I told her a week and the grocery store checker frowned and said, “Oh, I wouldn’t do that” as though I was suggesting the woman lick the inside of a trash can lid or something. And to be fair, I am no food scientist. And also the dough does get limp and weepy at some point. So I guess even though I have eaten week-old dough and I am still here, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend doing it yourself.)

Getting back to the sauce.

It’s the easiest recipe ever. Takes 10 minutes, tops.

There are four, maybe five ingredients:

pizza-5-ingredients

You have no idea how much money I spend on Penzey’s and Hunt’s every year. So. Good.

  • Hunt’s tomato sauce: I usually get two of the 8 oz cans because my grocery store doesn’t carry the larger size in the low-salt variety. Why low-salt? Well, I prefer it anyway, but also the seasoning for the sauce has salt in it.

 

  • Water: I fill up each tomato sauce can about halfway with water and swirl it around. So let’s say 8 oz of water to be specific about it.

 

  • Penzey’s pizza seasoning: This is a combo of fennel and oregano and basil and other things that combine into sweet sweet pizza goodness.

 

  • Sugar: I put in maybe a teaspoon? I’d err on the side of less sugar. I have over-sugared my pizza sauce before and it is Not Pleasant.

 

  • Cayenne pepper: totally optional, but if you like spice, it adds a really nice extra heat to your pizza.

Combine all these ingredients in a sauce pan. Bring it to a simmer. I turn it to medium and then go collect my pizza ingredients and usually by the time I’ve peeled and washed a mushroom or two, the sauce is beginning to bubble. Then turn it down and let it gently simmer for about five minutes, just long enough so that the sauce is warmed through. Seriously. That’s it.

pizza-7-sauce

This is the sauce in a pot as I am stirring in the seasonings. That odd silver pole in the middle is the handle of a spoon. What? I never purported to be a photographer.

You might want to taste test it, just to make sure you’ve got the right balance of seasonings. I find the best way to taste the sauce is to dip a slice of pepperoni in it. And then maybe another slice, just to make sure. Yum. Pepperoni. But any pizza topping should do the trick. Or I guess you could, like, use a spoon or something. To each her own.

While the sauce is simmering, I usually throw my crust into the oven — at 425 degrees — for a few minutes, just to help with the crispening process. Technical term. If I’m making a teeny just-for-me pizza, I do three minutes; if I’m doing a big for-the-whole-family pizza, I give it five minutes.

Then once your crust comes out, you slather it with the sauce you just made. Add your cheese and pepperoni and whatever else floats your pizza boat. And toss the whole thing in the oven for about twelve minutes (for a small pizza) to twenty minutes (for a big one), or until the cheese is all melty and your pepperonis are nice and crisp.

(Pro tip: I like to pre-bake my ingredients. I put sliced veggies on their own tray to dry out in a hot oven for a few minutes, which helps prevent a soggy pizza. And sometimes I’ll put the pepperoni on the raw crust when I pre-bake it for three to five minutes. That way it gets nice and crispy when I cook it for real.)

This recipe makes enough sauce for your pizza and dipping sauce and more to refrigerate. I have left mine in the fridge for… a long time. A few weeks, I’d say. But again, your results may vary and I am not recommending that you do or not do anything.

Except I do recommend that you eat pizza. Pizza is delicious.

pizza-9-sauce

Completely. Smooth. Smooooooooooth.

Last night as I was pacing the kitchen, waiting for the broccoli to become “tender-crisp” without plummeting over the edge into “muddy yard waste” I found myself rummaging through the pantry, looking for sweets.

We have a not insignificant amount of Halloween candy leftover from, you guessed it, Halloween, and the miniature gold-edged bag of tiny Haribo gummy bears caught my eye. They were delicious, by the way. I eat them orange first, then yellow, then red, then green, then white. There are far too few white gummy bears, in my opinion.

haribo-gold-bears

Image from haribo.com

I haven’t had a gummy bear in, what, a billion years? No, I can pinpoint it exactly: middle school. Because the instant the first gummy bear broke on my tongue, I was plunged back to the days when, instead of taking the bus home, I would walk to my mom’s office. What a walk, for an 11- to 13-year-old – two miles by car. It must have seemed like a thousand miles by foot. First, I’d cut through the residential area around the middle school, then walk through the park, then up past the cemetery. Then I’d cut through a grassy area that ran behind the football field, cut down a steep hill via some meandering paths that may well have been cut into the hillside by water, then head north through more residential areas to the small business district in the center of town. That’s where my mom’s law practice was, and she’d let me do my homework in the basement law library as long as I was quiet and respectful to the other lawyers.

Now we get to the candy part.

Her office was next door to a donut shop, and for some reason it sold gummy bears in little cellophane bags, cinched shut by red tape. I think you could get an entire bag for a dollar. Maybe it was even less. (Past Me did not know to make a note of it.) All I knew was I had a couple dollars in my pocket and wanted to spend them on candy. I’d sometimes buy a donut and a Sprite instead, or too. Occasionally I’d meet a friend there, and she’d have an Italian ice, which sounded exotic but tasted too much like soda water for my taste.

The law office basement also housed a sort of break room, where I mixed myself coffee and powdered creamer and packets and packets of sugar. Sitting between the sink and the coffee maker was a box of various delights – chips and candy bars and trail mix and the like – that could be your very own by shoving 50 cents or a rectangled dollar bill into a slit at the back of the box. Some days when I didn’t get the gummy bears, or they didn’t fill me up, I’d buy a Butterfinger. Or a Fifth Avenue Bar. I was always suspicious of the Watchamacallit, the confection with the tantalizing commercials that didn’t sound all that great on the package description.

watchamacallit

Image from thehersheycompany.com

In the summer, I’d sometimes spend days at my friend K’s house. We’d ride our bikes or roller blade or giggle over boys. There was a convenience store a few blocks from her house – not that everything wasn’t a few blocks from everything else – and it sold candy by the penny. You could 100 Swedish Fish or 100 Sour Patch Kids for a buck. Which I did, as often as possible.

sour-patch-kids

Image from troyerscountrymarket.com

Is that where I discovered Zotz? Hard candies that exude a sour fizz when you reach the middle. I know I experimented with the chocolate Charleston Chews. And fell in love with Laffy Taffy – and discovered that I despised its cousin, Airheads. Put a king size grape Laffy Taffy bar in the freezer and you had a delicious melt-in-your-mouth snack for days.

Never one for chocolate, I would gorge myself on Pixie Sticks and Lemonheads and Alexander the Grape and the sour apple version of that candy. And also: Jolly Ranchers. Candy corn. Those little wax bottles of sugar water. Lik a Dip, or whatever ridiculous name accompanied the candy spoon you could dip into various packets of flavored sugar.

alexander-the-grape

Image from oldtimecandy.com

Gum was my second choice, after candy: Hubba Bubba and Big League Chew and Crybabies and Fruit Stripe and all the pungent flavors of Bubblicious in the world. (Snappin’ Sour Apple was my jam back then; during car trips, my dad would yell at me to stop blowing bubbles because it stank up the car.)  I loved Blow Pops best of all: the perfect combination of hard candy and bubble gum.

bubblicious

Image from retrocandy.com

In high school, a bunch of kids went through a phase where those sour caramel apple lollipops were “in,” and I must have eaten one every day. Oh! And my best friend and I spent our entire freshman year eating Peanut Butter M&Ms for lunch, alongside our cafeteria-made nachos (chips with a mucousy layer of nacho cheese).

At some point, I became obsessed with these teeny candies called Tart n’ Tiny. (Oh look! You can still buy them online!) And then there was the friend-of-a-boyfriend who got me hooked on Chewy Sprees.  High school was also the site of a chewy peach ring period in my life.

In college, my then-boyfriend (now husband) brought me some candy from Europe that looked like fried eggs: the yolk was a jelly candy, the white was some foamy concoction. I’ve been trying anything that looks similar ever since, but haven’t come across quite the right consistency or flavor.

These days, my go-to candy fix is Haribo mini rainbow frogs, which I can get at the local branch of World Market. Sometimes, I’ll go for Nerds. (Especially on top of vanilla ice cream.)  Sour patch kids are still pretty great.

haribo-mini-rainbow-frogs

Image from haribo.com

On the rare occasions I’m interested in chocolate, I choose Skor bars. Or Snickers. Maybe Reese’s peanut butter cups. Or peanut butter M&Ms.

It is a wonder that I still have all my teeth. (And that I’ve had but two cavities.)

 

When I was on my little gummy bear time machine, being transported back twenty-plus years to middle school, I started thinking about how strange memory is. Encounter something out of the blue – something you’ve truly been distanced from – and the experience is transformative. The past ripples in front of you so vividly you might step back inside and resume your years ago life.

But go seeking that thrill of memory? And it fades.

I eat sour patch kids all the time, and they certainly played a much bigger role in my candy-eating childhood than gummy bears did. But because I never stopped eating them, they have lost the tinge of nostalgia.

When my husband and I first moved in together, and had to cook for ourselves, I whipped out all the recipes that I’d grown up with. My mom’s chili, her fried chicken, her mulligatawny soup, and on and on. At the time, it was akin to bringing a piece of my childhood into my adult home.

But now, we’ve made those same dishes so many times… and put our own spin on them, to make them fit our particular tastes, that they are almost unrecognizable as My Mom’s Meals. I think if I were to go to my mother’s house and ask her to make mulligatawny, it wouldn’t taste right. And it wouldn’t taste like childhood. Because I’ve worn it out so much.

Have you ever tried to preserve the past? I have. Years ago when we were still dating, I spritzed a stuffed animal with my husband’s cologne, so I could drink in his scent when we were apart. That elephant just smells… neutral, now. (Well, and it’s now been incorporated into Carla’s collection of plush critters, so who really knows what it smells like.)

I kept the bottle of shampoo we used the first time we (the nurse) bathed Carla in the hospital when she was a newborn. But after a few sniffs, the feelings that used to walk hand in hand with that particular scent, the images of us crowded around a squalling, incredulous infant as a nurse gently washed her skin, have faded.

The songs I’d listen to in the car on the way to work when I was pregnant – they no longer bring back that bursting sense of joy and possibility and fear and wonder and anticipation that they once did.

These tastes and scents and sounds of the past: overuse has corrupted their connection to the memory.

Holding onto things you love, things you enjoy is one thing. But holding onto the past is impossible. Those flickers of time long gone are fleeting. And that’s what makes them so delicious.

I am dreading this recap this year, for some reason. Yet I am still doing it because TRADITION. I think I may start liberally tossing questions out the window. So BE PREPARED FOR THAT.

(This yearly recap originated with Linda of All & Sundry. If you’re so inclined, you can read past versions of my responses: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009.)

Oh! And if YOU do this yearly recap, always or for the first time this year, send me a link in the comments won’t you? I love reading these.

  • What did you do in 2016 that you’d never done before?

I quit my job to write a novel. (Which I have not yet completed, BLARGH.) (Prediction: I sense that the topic of the previous parenthetical may reappear below.)

  • Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

Last year, I said:

This year, I want to prioritize my husband, quality time with my kid, balance in my life… and I also want to really work on personal fulfillment. That sounds… vague and a little frou-frou and a lot privileged, but I think it will honestly help with the first three priorities. At least, I hope so. And I’m going to try.

I do think I have made solid steps on all fronts, and I attribute all progress to leaving my job at the end of March. I feel very fortunate that I have this little pocket of time during which I can be part-time novelist/part-time stay-at-home-mom. The reduction in stress has helped me be more present with my husband and daughter, and helped me really focus on contributing to my family in new ways. It has not been easy, for me, to give up on being a financial contributor. That has altered the identity I always felt I had, and it has been a challenge to adapt. But I do think I’m contributing in new and different ways, or at least contributing more in areas where I wasn’t before.

This year, I am going to finish the novel. That’s my primary goal. It’s taking so much longer than I anticipated just to eke out a first draft. I need to find some way to speed up the process. Because the first draft is only the beginning.

  • Did anyone close to you give birth?
  • Did anyone close to you die?
  • What countries did you visit?

Same as last year: Not really a big year for travel. I visited three states besides my own: Illinois, Florida, and my home state. All with Carla.

I can’t really imagine the answers changing in a big way anytime soon.

  • What would you like to have in 2017 that you lacked in 2016?

Better ability to prioritize my time. A fully drafted novel. Making my time with Carla richer, somehow, rather than making a bunch of slipshod and ultimately frustrating attempts at “activities.”

  • What dates from 2016 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

March 31, which was my last day of working in the office.

  • What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Taking a leap of faith and quitting my office job. (OMG, broken record much?)

  • What was your biggest failure?

Not getting enough words on the page each day! I can trot out a 7,000-word blog post of a morning, but I seem to spend hours and hours coming up with a measly 200 for my manuscript! What gives? If I can do it elsewhere, why can’t I blather and drivel my way through a first draft?

  • Did you suffer illness or injury?

I am currently enjoying a bout of asthmatic bronchitis, which is super fun. Other than that, nothing too crazy.

  • What was the best thing you bought?

Scrivener!!! It is a tool for writers and I loooooooove it.

  • Whose behavior merited celebration?

This goes 100% to my husband. He is a rockstar. I can’t even express all the ways he’s shown up this year without drowning my keyboard in tears, so let’s move on.

  • Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

I mean do you really have to ask, non-sentient Survey created years ago with no knowledge of our current times? I think I’m going to cross this one out because it makes me sad and bewildered and fearful and shaky.

  • Where did most of your money go?

This question sucks. I really want to say something fun like “a new ski lodge in Aspen!” or “a twelve-week trek around Europe!” I guess I could say my potential earnings went toward financing my lifelong dream but that makes me feel dizzy and sick to my stomach so MOVING ON.

  • What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Last year I said: The holidays this year. Carla is so excited about EVERYTHING, and it is so fun to see that.

As with last year, I didn’t even KNOW what excited was! She has been super over the moon about everything. And she gets stuff now. Like, she understood the little countdown-to-Christmas calendar I put in her room, and the last couple of days she switched the numbers all by herself before I even got to her room. She has been really gung-ho about Hanukkah, and has helped her dad light the menorah and say the prayers. She loved decorating the tree and every night for a week she would pick up a present that she knew was for her and squeeze it and hop up and down and say, “It’s so HARD to WAIT until Christmas to open my present!” I mean, a tree full of presents and she didn’t realize most of them were for her, and yet she got So Worked Up about this one tiny thing. She loved all the holiday books I pull out each year, and expressed interest in Santa and Baby Jesus and the Maccabees alike. She loved the stockings, and asked questions about how Santa could do such and such. She loved painting ornaments for her grandparents. She loved collecting the Amazon boxes from the front stoop and putting them in the guest room to await her grandmother’s arrival. She loved singing Christmas carols. Everything this year was just SO. MUCH. FUN. I hope we have at least a couple more years of this pure, unadulterated joy in the season. It’s a mood lifter for sure, and helps make all those I-want-them-to-be-fun-and-meaningful-but-are-really-kind-of-tedious projects seem worthwhile and enjoyable.

  • What song(s) will always remind you of 2016?

I have to say the Frozen soundtrack. Carla hadn’t seen a movie in her entire life until Christmas 2015, and once we started we couldn’t stop. As toddlers are wont to do, she fell in love with Frozen and we have watched it eleventy billion times. PLUS we bought the Frozen soundtrack (we call it “Carly Songs”) on CD (yes, I still use CDs in my car) and we have listened to THAT at least seventy gazillion times. Also: Justin Beiber’s “Sorry” and “Let Me Love You” by DJ Snake featuring The Beibs. “Waves” by Miguel (the Kacey Musgraves version). “One Dance” by Drake. Carla does a mean dance move to Drake, and sings along very sweetly to “Let Me Love You” and “Waves.” Also also, on the classical front, I have grown very attached to Chopin’s Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2. I have some fantasy that I will learn to play it. (HA.)

  • Compared to this time last year, are you:
  1. a) happier or sadder? Happier but more fearful about the future, I think?
  2. b) thinner or fatter? Fatter. Which kind of sucks because I lost 12 pounds after I left my job. I have since gained it back. But I kind of hate this question because I just do. I am scowling at it.
  3. c) richer or poorer? I am skipping this question because math.

This is a question I don’t care to answer anymore, I think. Are these really the benchmarks by which I want to measure the year? No, no I don’t think so. MORE SCOWLING.

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

Writing. (Always.) Submitting my work for publication. Figuring out a better time management system.

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

Worrying. Yelling. Procrastinating. Writing poor-quality apocalyptic poetry. Wasting time on my phone. Feeling too hot or too cold; that’s really annoying when the house maintains a stable temperature.

  • How did you spend Christmas?

Here at home, with my husband and Carla, and my husband’s parents. It was lovely and fun. Also lovely and fun was adding my sister and niece the day after Christmas, but that amped up the freneticism by several degrees. How does adding ONE additional child to the mix make things exponentially more crazy?

  • Did you fall in love in 2016?

Ugh. Every year this one makes me gag a little, but I definitely fell more in love with my husband. He has been supportive of me and my dreams in a way that shatters me. I hope I make him feel even half as loved and understood and… seen as he makes me feel.

And, as we allow the tears to dry a bit, I fall newly in love with Carla with each new stage in her life. Three has been challenging, but it has also been utterly delightful as she becomes more independent and imaginative and curious and affectionate and funny and fun and inquisitive. I just adore her.

  • What was your favorite (new) TV program?

What a year for TV! Standouts from the year include the OJ Simpson mini-series, The Night Of, Westward, and the Gilmore Girls revival (even though I hated GG as much as I loved it – many flaws, no?). I also loved the latest seasons of The Americans, The Great British Baking Competition, Shark Tank, Black-ish, Fresh Off the Boat, The Middle, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. What can I say? I like feel-good shows to balance out the gritty stuff slash real life. Oh! And two series my husband and I watched and loved that were new to us this year were Master of None and Catastrophe. God, I love TV.

  • Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

I can’t even. This question has got to go.

  • What was the best book you read?

I READ SO MANY BOOKS THIS YEAR! Contenders for best book include A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, The Round House by Louise Erdrich, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, and A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin. There have been others, but those are the standouts. For me, all had great stories with interesting, well-rounded characters, and truly beautiful language that enriched the story without getting in the way. Then sometime in November I fell into a Sue Grafton wormhole and have been reading my way through her Kinsey Millhone series (again) because it’s fun.

  • What did you want and get?

A chance to write a book. More time with my daughter. More time to exercise. More time in general, I guess. Less stress. And also this gorgeous green coat from Boden that unfortunately didn’t fit so BOO to that. My hips are not British enough, it seems. Oh! And I got the sheet music for Chopin’s Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2, and have been painstakingly picking out the right hand notes. That’s really all I’ve managed.

  • What did you want and not get?

A finished first draft of my manuscript because I am SLOW.

  • What was your favorite film of this year?

Let’s see. My husband and I took a break from watching TV to watch all of the Daniel Craig James Bond movies. That was fun, but I wasn’t as… enamored of the most recent (last?) film as I was of the earlier ones. (To be fair, Daniel Craig seemed less enamored of it as well.) Did I watch anything else? Of the (many) kids’ movies I’ve seen this year, Brave is my favorite, followed by Wall-E and then probably a tie between Tangled and Frozen. I did not care for Zootopia, and Robin Hood – a childhood favorite – sadly did not live up to my memory version. (Robin Hood himself is still by far the foxiest cartoon I’ve ever encountered, though. No pun intended.)

EDITED TO ADD: My husband and I watched Sicario just last night, right under the 2016 wire, and it was really well done. Dark and disturbing but a heart-thumping, thought provoking film.

  • What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I turned 35 this year, and I can’t really remember what I did. Which is a pattern at least a few years running, so I am getting rid of this question.

  • What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Same as every year (don’t I ever PROGRESS as a person?!?!):

Being able to just LET GO and not freak out about EVERYTHING.

  • How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2016?

Same as last year: I have full-on embraced the leggings-as-pants “style” that I used to disdain. COMFORT IS KEY. In your face, Past Me!

Also, this year I started doing Fabletics (I joined Fabletics? I am not sure of the proper verbiage here. It’s just a subscription service in the vein of Stitch Fix. Sort of. Third cousins.), and so have added some very cute workout ensembles to my wardrobe, which means that sometimes I switch up my leggings with legging-like yoga pants. You can spot the difference because I wear tennis shoes with the yoga pants version.

  • What kept you sane?

My husband. Exercise. Being able to write every day most days.

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

I adore Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan of Catastrophe. The characters they play are adorable and funny and in-your-face in a way I find charming. Sterling K. Brown. Constance Wu (her and her character as Jessica Huang on Fresh Off the Boat) because she seems fearless and take-no-prisoners and also is hilarious and beautiful and talented. Kelly Bishop as Emily Gilmore. Okay, so maybe these are primarily TV CHARACTERS and not necessarily the actors themselves but whatever.

  • What political issue stirred you the most?

Nope. NOPE. Not even going to. CUT.

  • Who did you miss?

Same as last year, although – shocker – blogging more frequently myself has helped a teeny bit: I guess I most missed the bloggers I used to interact with regularly, back when I blogged frequently and they blogged frequently. I suppose I should figure out a way to do Twitter (which makes me uncomfortable for some reason).

  • Who was the best new person you met?

As last year, I don’t know that I met many new people this year. AM A HERMIT. Oh wait, that’s not true. I have made a couple of (tentative strides toward making) mom friends through Carla’s new school.

  • Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2016.

Write it down, don’t write it right, for the love of all that is holey.

  • Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

(I don’t know if the following makes sense as a lyric or as the answer to this question, but it’s in my head, so I’m going with it.)

Don’t you give up, nah nah nah / Never give up, nah nah nah / Let me love you.

Happy New Year, Internet! I hope 2017 goes a hell of a lot better than we fear!

Perhaps you are looking for some last-minute Christmas gifts? Or maybe you just like reading about what other people enjoy. In either case, here are some things that I am loving lately (and just to be clear, I am not getting ANYTHING in return for recommending any of these; I either bought them myself or received them as gifts):

Chef’n ZipStrip Herb Zipper

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Photo from surlatable.com

Okay, I didn’t realize this had such a ridiculous name. But it’s awesome. I got a bunch for people as stocking stuffers last year – including myself – and I use it ALL the time. It’s on sale for $6.36 at Sur La Table, if you have any people who like to cook on your Christmas list. 

Anthurium Plant

 

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Photo from homedepot.com

This summer, I was looking for a red lamp to add to my new office and I could not for the life of me find one I liked. But I DID find a really pretty plant with red leaf-like flowers (in a red ceramic pot) at my local Home Depot. I know, a plant does not have the same functionality as a lamp. But if you think of the lamp as more of an accessory, you will see how the plant fit the bill. ANYWAY. It is an anthurium plant, which seems to be a type of orchid. And it’s super easy to care for: I just put a few ice cubes in it each Monday and it remains lovely and shiny all week long. If you have someone in your life who isn’t great at caring for plants but who loves them AND has easy access to ice cubes, this could be the perfect gift. Okay, I am giving the Home Depot site the side-eye because I did NOT pay $32.99 for my anthurium. I can’t imagine paying any more than $15 for it. Maybe $20. I kind of want to dig through my old receipts just to prove it. Perhaps it is seasonally more expensive. If so, it would make an excellent Christmas in July gift.

Kung Fu Girl Riesling

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Photo from kvintners.com

Riesling is my favorite type of white wine. My mantra used to be, the sweeter, the better. But my palate might be changing or maturing or something (unlikely) and I have gravitated to drier wines of late. Kung Fu Girl is my current go-to. It’s probably what I would call semi-dry, so there is a hint of sweetness there. But it’s crisp and clean and also, bonus, I can usually find it for $10.99 at my local grocery store. I’ve also seen it at World Market, if you have one near you.

Lands’ End Shimmer Down Long Coat

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Photo from landsend.com

We live in an area of the country whose winters include snow and cold temperatures. And I happen to possess the variety of child who loves snow more than anything in life. So last year, my husband bought me a down coat from Lands’ End.  It was longer than I wanted it to be – it came all the way down to the tops of my boots (also from Lands’ End). And I felt like a marshmallow. BUT. It is AMAZING. I can be wearing a t-shirt-weight shirt and jeans, and as long as I have that coat on, I feel NOTHING. I can play in the snow with Carla for hours (or until her face is red and I have to drag her inside). I can even lie down in the snow and make snow angels and feel NOTHING. It’s truly the best. And Lands’ End has really good sales on a regular basis. It’s a bit pricy at $199, but if you get a code for 40% off, you’re looking at a much more reasonable $119 for a really great, really warm coat. Oh. I just now “got” why it’s called “Shimmer Down.” I say “got” because you CAN make a pun on “simmer down” just because the coat is made of down doesn’t mean you SHOULD.

UGG Tasman Genuine Shearling Gloves

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Photo from amazon.com

Speaking of warm, these gloves are the softest, fuzziest, warmest gloves ever. Obviously, you can’t text with them on or anything. But I find they are perfect for driving before your car’s heater has kicked in. Or for, you know, being outside in general. They are pricey, at $140, but I looooooove mine so I think they might be worth it.

Bedford Cottage Eskimo Throw

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Photo from bedfordcottage.com

Perhaps you can tell that it is only 15 degrees here, based on these last three items. Well, I am in love with this faux fur throw, which is currently draped over my legs. It’s super soft and warm, but I also love it because it looks like it belongs on a chaise longue in some fancy catalog and makes me feel like the type of person you might refer to as “stylish” and “put together” and less like the type of person whose living room has seventy five Amazon boxes stacked in one corner and a bright blue toddler-height table with red, green, and yellow chairs in another corner and a giant bear from Costco behind the couch and the detritus of a Doc McStuffins vet station scattered across the hearth and pieces of a menorah puzzle strewn like tiny land mines about the carpet. You can buy it via the link above for $149, which I did not; I got it as a gift. But it’s possibly that you could find it elsewhere for less.

Cuisinart CPK-17 PerfecTemp 1.7-Liter Stainless Steel Cordless Electric Kettle

 

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Photo from amazon.com

I drink tea every day, and this water boiler has made it very very very simple. Just fill and press a button. And there are all sorts of temperature variations, so you can set it to the proper temperature for green tea… or black tea… or oolong… or whatever.  My husband – a coffee drinker – uses it too; on weekend for pour-over coffee. I really like that it maintains a specific temperature, too – just in case a toddler suddenly urgently needs you to come help her find proper socks. It cost $73?!?! Sheesh. That seems… excessive. Although it DOES do a nice job. And I really have no concept for how much these things do/should cost. 

Carole Hochman Ladies’ 3 Pair Ribbed Lounge Sock

 

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Photo from costco.com

I grabbed a three-pack of these socks at Costco the last time we were there (what’s a trip to Costco without grabbing something that you simultaneously NEED URGENTLY and also had no idea you needed/didn’t need at all?) and they are sooooo soft and warm and cozy. They don’t look like much from the picture, but they are cushy and plush and I love them. Also: $5.99.

Laura Mercier Hand Crème Sampler

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Photo from amazon.com

Well, crud. I see this is either $51 through Amazon or not available. My husband got it for me last Christmas, and it was a PERFECT stocking stuffer. I wash my hands a bajillion times a day, so they get very dry. And there’s nothing less appealing than that powdery feeling of dry skin – well, I suppose cracked and bleeding finger webs are less appealing. I think it was, at one point, around $30 at Nordstrom. (And, keeping in mind that each of us is comfortable paying certain amounts for certain things and not for others, I find that $30 seems just on the high side of reasonable while $51 has me shaking my head emphatically NO.) I have just in the past month squeezed the very last glob of lotion from the very last sample and I would enjoy getting this again and again each year. Also, if you don’t want to gift someone ALL of the little lotions, you could certainly open up the box and give one sample to multiple people. Including, perhaps, yourself. Of course, all this is MOOT because it No Longer Exists. But I’m sure there are many other good hand lotion sets in the world.

Scrivener

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Photo from literatureandlatte.com

This may be a bit of a niche idea, but as a (would-be/trying-to-be/hopes-to-be) writer, I use this every single day. I never thought that I would like a writing platform more than I do plain old Microsoft Word. But I LOVE Scrivener. It’s very intuitive and user friendly AND it has a very simple tutorial on how to use it, just in case. It makes putting together your novel (or screenplay, I imagine) very simple. No more scrolling down in a long document, or opening multiple documents. You just create a new chapter or chapter-part inside an outline, and then you can move parts and pieces around with the flick of your mouse, OR read your entire manuscript in one flowing document. Plus, it allows you to assign (and customize) keywords to each bit of text, from which characters show up to things you need to research to plot points and dates – which you can then use to help you organize the manuscript in different ways, like, you can see at one glance every chapter featuring your villain. It’s fabulous and it’s only $45 and I love it so. If only it could do the writing for me…

Matymats Grippy Yoga Socks and Stargoods Yoga Gloves 

Photos from amazon.com

I have newly taken on yoga as part of my at-home exercise routine. Which means I have newly discovered that my feet and palms sweat when I do yoga. What can I say. The body is a mysterious wonderland. These socks and gloves help A LOT. No more sliding around while I’m trying to do downward facing dog or a triangle pose or other horrific contortion of limbs that my body is clearly not meant to perform. Both are about $15, but both come with multiple pairs of socks/gloves, which means I can match them to my sports bra. (No.)

 

Good luck with any last-minute shopping you are doing!