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Internet, I am so sick of all food and have no idea what to cook and yet I STILL feel obligated to feed my family.

Yes, I have been here before. But this rut ravine crevasse feels especially deep and wide and insurmountable.

Let’s list all the things that are contributing to these dark feelings:

  1. My grill is broken, so none of my summery “throw some meat and veg on the grill” options are available to me
  2. My in-laws are here, which means I feel (self-applied, only) extra pressure to cook Things That Are Special
  3. I have still not gotten accustomed to our summer schedule, so I feel off-kilter in general
  4. It’s hot and I don’t have any extra energy for cooking
  5. I used up every last store of Cooking Enthusiasm in June, when I baked two cakes and countless cupcakes and hosted my in-laws for multiple Special Meals

First, I tried to make meal planning more interesting by adding two or three Brand New Recipes to the weekly list of dinners. But that requires research and energy, and I am fresh out of both. Okay, I am not “fresh out” of research. I am fresh out of PATIENCE for research. DESIRE to research. And patience and desire for this line of sentencing.

Next, we have been eating lot of meals outside the home, which takes all the planning and cooking weight off of me. But eating out all the time is expensive and time consuming. And I tend not to make the healthiest choices when I go out to eat (if I’m going to spend money on a meal, it better be tasty and fancier than a SALAD is my line of thinking).

Finally, I have turned to cooking super easy things, like Crockpot BBQ Pork or Tacos or Burritos. But my husband is growing weary of all of those things, and they aren’t really the lightest fare, either. I love to eat foods that are smothered in cheese and sour cream, but there’s only so much of that you can eat before you start to feel like YOU are smothered in cheese and sour cream.

How in the world do you climb out of such a deep and overwhelming food chasm?

Probably what I need most is some fresh ideas. Which is difficult to ask for because a) I have a HUGE list of recipes I haven’t tried and b) I am super picky and so 90% of recipes people suggest never sound that great. Really makes you want to help me, doesn’t it?

What are your go-to meals, when you want something easy and delicious? Bonus points if you would serve it to guests.

(Where does this come from, this need to do Something Special for guests? If a food is good enough to serve to my family, why doesn’t that make it good enough to serve to other people? And yet there are MANY things that my husband and I eat all the time – and LOVE! – that I have never thought twice about serving to others. Some of them are pretty spicy, so maybe that’s part of it… we like a spice level that wouldn’t be comfortable to many other people. Some of them seem… plain, I guess? Like the Crockpot BBQ Pork, which is just a pork tenderloin and an onion dumped into the crock pot with some BBQ sauce [and sriracha]. I usually eat it with a baked potato and some green beans. I LOVE it. But I wouldn’t consider serving it to friends because… I don’t know! It seems too homely somehow? It seems like a B-Team Meal, and when you have people over, it seems like you should be serving them only A-Team foods? It’s too easy to make, and you should put in Real Effort when you entertain? I have no idea. Is this Foods-Suitable-for-Guests thing unique to me and my husband?)

In exchange, I will give you my FAVORITE recipe of late. It is so good. So good that I refrain from making it too often, lest I get sick of it.

(And I cook the chicken in the oven – 425F for about 20 minutes or until the chicken is 165F – so it doesn’t matter that our grill is broken.)

It’s called Honey Chipotle Chicken Bowls from How Sweet Eats but I think of it as a big, delicious salad. I use lots of mixed greens for the base, and I cut some fresh corn and bell peppers and carrots and avocado and add those to the salad. And then I top everything with a mixture of the lime dressing the recipe recommends and a generous drizzle of the cooked marinade from the chicken.  I was really suspicious of putting quinoa on a salad, but it adds a very pleasant texture that I love. We served this to my in-laws recently, and they loved it.

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Do you know the difference between these two bottles?

Eyes.JPG

The righthand bottle is plain old saline solution. It’s for rinsing and storing your contact lenses. The lefthand bottle is a special enzyme-cleaning solution for your contacts. You put it in a special case with your contacts and the case contains a neutralizing material that does the crucial neutralizing over many (six, I think) hours. You can see right up on the top of the bottle in big, bold letters that you should NOT put it in your eyes. If you are a contact-lenses wearer, you probably already know that. I have been wearing contacts since fourth grade so I DEFINITELY know that.

And yet, the other day, I removed my contacts from the case, put one lens on the tip of my finger, and instead of filling the lens with normal saline as I have EVERY DAY OF MY ADULT LIFE AND MUCH OF MY CHILDHOOD, I filled it with the enzyme cleaner instead. And, not noticing my HEINOUS ERROR, I put the enzyme-solution-filled lens in my eye. And then I died.

No, I didn’t die. But I was felled by immediate, searing pain. I literally collapsed to my knees, on my bathroom floor, in a very dramatic fashion.

I like to think this act of unfathomable stupidity was a test of my emergency-handling skills. Okay, I will admit that my immediate reaction was to crumple to the floor and screech loudly and wonder who in the hell was going to call 911 for me (I was alone in the house), which doesn’t bode well for fires or murderers.

But then my logical brain took over, and I started flushing my eye with lots of cold water. My eye refused to open because the last time it did, I tried to murder it. So I soaked a washcloth in water and pushed that up against my eye until it finally did let me open it a crack. Then more flushing until I was finally able to pry to contact out of my eye. More flushing still. Then I was able to google what a person was to do if she was so ridiculous as to put enzyme solution directly in her eye. Flush with water, is the answer. Contact your eye doctor if the pain and irritation remains after several hours.

PHEW.

Let us now look at a soothing hibiscus bush.

Hibiscus.JPG

Yesterday, there was a single blossom… today, many! Just like popcorn, where you wait and wait and wait, and then all of a sudden your bush is full! But of hibiscus, not popcorn! Which I don’t put on shrubbery anyway! This metaphor has gone awry!

Before and since the Solution Incident of ’18, my eyes have been bothering me for a different reason. I am going to guess “allergies,” given the fact that I also sneeze a lot.

Whatever the case, my eye are constantly red and itchy and uncomfortable. I am constantly rubbing them and trying not to rub them and wiping them with washcloths. In the morning, they are encrusted by… well, crust. It’s really delightful.

I have been self-medicating with over-the-counter antihistamines and allergy eyedrops. They work a teensy bit. The great and all-knowing internet suggests that my best recourse is to stop wearing makeup and contacts. Blah. I like wearing makeup. My face looks naked without at least mascara. And I like wearing contacts. It’s almost a necessity, in summer, because I need to wear sunglasses to protect my eyes against the solar glare. And I don’t have prescription sunglasses, so I can’t wear them unless I am wearing contacts.

Well, I will give up both. If I have to. But the goal here is to have eyes that a) can see and b) can do so without redness, itching, or total nakedness.

Nothing I am doing on my own (eyedrops, antihistamines, rubbing) is working. I think I need either a) a diagnosis and an actual treatment plan or b) an updated glasses prescription so I can get some sunglasses with prescription lenses. In either case, I need to find a new eye doctor.

You may choose to skip this ranty/boring part:

The last time we discussed my eye doctor, I was frustrated by insurance issues. (Which we ended up paying; to make a long story still unfortunately long, my husband and I both got a bill from our eye doctor for the exact same service. Our insurance was covering part of my visit, but not part of my husband’s. Our insurance claimed that my eye doctor was no longer a preferred provider, so they wouldn’t be covering charges. Turns out he WAS a preferred provider, but only became one a month or so after my husband’s visit [and a few weeks before MY visit, which means the insurance company covered part of my visit out of the kindness of their hearts] [he’d just joined a new practice; previous to that he was a preferred provider according to our insurance].) Anyway, we thought we got the insurance issues sorted out. But recently, my husband made an appointment to see the eye doctor and once he was there, in the waiting room, for his appointment, they informed him that our eye doctor is no longer a preferred provider under our insurance plan. SIGH. So we paid in full for covered services for my husband two years in a row. And now we all need to find a new eye doctor anyway.

End

I do not WANT to find a new eye doctor. I want my OLD eye doctor. And I want him to be covered by our insurance. Yes, yes, I know I am very fortunate to have eyes and a selection of eye doctors in the area AND insurance that covers eye stuff. I can still be grumpy about having to find an eye doctor.

You know what this means, right? Research, and then calls to the doctor to see if s/he is taking new patients. And then calls to my insurance provider to see if the doctor is covered. And then calls to the doctor to make an appointment. It sounds like only three calls, which I acknowledge is manageable if mentally TRYING, but let’s agree that it will actually require many, many more than three.

Let us now look at a charming and probably hypoallergenic baby deer that would totally be a preferred provider lookit his little spotties awwwwww.

Fawn 2

Five

You may be wondering why you haven’t seen my annual Mooning Over the Passage of  Time or CakeRelated Therapy posts.

You know. The ones where I get all misty-eyed and sentimental about my child’s birthday and try to self-medicate with complicated baking projects.

Maybe you think I’ve gotten it over it! Outgrown it! Filled my life with better and more interesting things to think about!

Or, if you are a longtime reader of this blog, and/or A Realist, you may assume you just missed it.

Well, you haven’t missed it, per se. I’ve written it. Oh, I’ve written it. (I have, in fact, written – let me check here… —  2,349 words on the topic.) I just haven’t posted anything because… well, I am making my own eyes roll is really the best reason I can give you.

But I did have the annual mooning. And I did make some cakes.

fifth-birthday-4.jpg

Unicorns in their carrying case at the party, waiting for eager five- and six-year-olds to gobble them down!

Carla wanted to have a unicorn birthday party, so I made unicorn cupcakes for the party. We invited fifteen of her friends. They played on an indoor playground. They ate pizza. They ate unicorn cupcakes. I turned one of her getting-sort-of-grubby dresses into a Unicorn Dress via the magic of iron-on unicorn and stars appliques.

Fifth birthday 7

Baking Secret: I made so many cupcakes that I had… many left over. And I didn’t take this picture until many… weeks had passed. One can only think that the cupcakes would have photographed better had they been FRESHER. These have survived a birthday party, being in a hot car while the birthday girl ate a post-party lunch (she did not eat pizza AT her party), then being in my fridge for weeks. Of course, one might also choose to blame poor photography skills. One has many choices, is what one should know.

For her family birthday party, we went to Carla’s favorite restaurant for tacos. After dinner, we had cake. Carla had requested a purple cake with chocolate frosting. Last year, she wanted a purple cake with black  frosting, a concept I was more amenable to this year. But I went with chocolate.

(Disclaimer: I went with chocolate. But then I tried, briefly, to dye it black. But I only had regular black dye, which turned the chocolate frosting a disturbing shade of grey. [Apparently you need to use some sort of extra-dark cocoa powder AND extra-black black dye to get a truly black frosting.] [Do you think I didn’t check at our local Joann fabric and local baking stores to see if they had these items in stock? If you think I did not, you don’t know me at all.] So then I had to use ALL of the brown dye I own, which was a lot, to get the chocolate to be a nice, dark chocolatey color.)

My husband was very skeptical that that cake would be aesthetically pleasing. I was more optimistic, and plus I had A Plan. A Plan that involved gold and sparkles, which Carla loves.

fifth-birthday-3.jpg

Baking secret: The only way I could get these sprinkles to stick to the frosting was by throwing handfuls of them at the cake. There are STILL tiny white sprinkles on my floor.

I think it turned out rather cute, right?

Fifth birthday 2

Why yes, the cake IS a little crooked, thank you for noticing! I tried to compensate for the lean by taking an off-center photo which is, of course, my specialty.

I wish I had photos of it with the shiny gold candles in it, too. They were adorable. Oh well.

See? Chocolate on the outside, purple on the inside! (My mother-in-law noted that it seems more blue than purple. It is NOT BLUE. I applied the dye myself and it is most definitely PURPLE. Thank you for your comment.)

Fifth birthday 5

Baking Secret: While I never thought I would do it, I DID end up using cake mix to make the cupcakes AND the cake alike. I doctored the mix before baking — butter and milk instead of oil and water, plus I added real vanilla bean and pure vanilla extract — but it was SO MUCH easier than making the batter from scratch. To make sure I wasn’t being TOO easy on myself, the filling between the layers is homemade chocolate ganache.

The cupcakes are gone. The cake is gone. The leftover ganache, which I just ate right now by the spoonful, is gone.

And now I have a five-year-old. An independent, brilliant, confident, creative, twirly, curious, still-sucks-her-thumb, sometimes-cuddly-sometimes-not, animal loving, imaginative, LEGO building, super fast running, fearless, charismatic, hilarious, beautiful five-year-old. She gets better and more fascinating and more complicated and more herevery day. I am so very lucky to have her in my life, so fortunate to be able to watch her and help her and enjoy her as she grows. (But I still have all the attendant Feelings™ that accompany my baby’s inexorable transition from infant to adult.)

fifth-birthday-1.jpg

Why yes I DID color coordinate her wrapping paper with her cake, thankyouverymuch.

I did not think of it quickly enough to add to Friday’s post, but I am IN LOVE with this workout video:

Shape: Best-Ever Hollywood Workout

 

Shape best ever Hollywood

Photo from amazon.com. Every time I put this in my DVD player – EVERY TIME – I think about Paul Hollywood, of Great British Baking Show fame. I think I might prefer a Paul Hollywood exercise video. Especially if it involved cake.

I really hate going to the gym. Likewise, I hate exercise classes of any type. If I’m going to exercise, I’m going to do it in my own home where no one can hear me huffing and grunting or see how inflexible I am.

It took me… nearly 40 years to figure to this out, but my library has a lot of exercise videos that you can just… CHECK OUT! For FREE! So for the past six months or so, I have been adding two or three of them to my pile of books every time I go to the library. Some of them, as you may imagine, are terrible. Others are so good I plan on buying them.

The Shape: Best-Ever Hollywood Workout is my current favorite. It has lots of benefits:

  1. The “star” or “host” or “exercise guru” or whatever you want to call him is Gunnar Peterson, and he is not annoying at all. Some of the stars of these videos make me want to turn off the video. They can be too peppy or too aggressive. Jillian Michaels, for instance, is constantly reminding you that you have to WORK to see results. Don’t just sit there and eat ice cream while she’s working out. You have to DO THE EXERCISES. You want your abs to look like this backup exerciser right here? Well, you have to WORK to get them. Rock hard abs aren’t FREE. Sigh. It’s true and a good reminder and all that but it annoys the crap out of me. I’m DOING THE VIDEO, all right? Lay off me! Gunnar Peterson doesn’t really do any reminders like that. He basically says, “Do this exercise” and then he does some counting down to the last rep and then he moves on to the next exercise. Once in a while he’ll say, “Great job” or “Don’t let your arms gets sloppy” or something along those lines. That’s it.
  2. It has OPTIONS. There are two 20-minute workouts for the whole body and two 10-minute “targeted” workouts (one for your arms, one for your buns and thighs). I like to have options. It gets boring to do the same thing over and over, and so this allows me to rotate things.
  3. It’s FAST. You can do a whole workout in 20 minutes! Or 10 minutes, if you want to! And even in 20 minutes, I get my heart rate up and my muscles are noticeably sore the next day. I feel like it’s a worthwhile 20 minutes. And if you have 30 minutes, you can do one of the 20-minute workouts and then one of the 10-minute ones.
  4. It doesn’t really require special equipment. You can use hand weights, if you want. But usually one of the two backup exercisers isn’t using weights at all. You can use a yoga mat, if you want. Depends on how hard your floor is. But that’s really it. No exercise bands or balls or whatever else the kids are using these days.
  5. The exercises go by really quickly. If I’m doing a plank, I get to the point where I don’t think I can hold it much longer and it’s over. I’ve tried (vaguely, lazily) to count how many repetitions of each exercise you do, and it’s not many. Maybe 10, tops? It’s doable, is what I’m saying. So if there’s something you hate, you can get through it pretty quickly.
  6. It’s fairly low impact. I have bad knees, so I steer clear of anything high impact. One of the workouts has a small section of jumps, but it’s very fast and hasn’t bothered my knees at all. And you can skip it if you aren’t interested.
  7. There’s an option for “customizing” your workout – i.e., you go to a menu of all four workouts, and you can select which ones you want to do. And then they will play automatically. I feel like this should be #20 on the list, because it’s not really that great. I mean, it prevents you from having to press a couple of buttons on your remote, that’s all. But it’s a nice idea, I guess. I still end up fast forwarding through the cool-down of the first session and the warm-up of the second session. There’s only so much warming-up and cooling-down I can handle.

Disadvantages:

  1. This is a DVD, from 2010, which is nearly a DECADE ago. So if you don’t have a DVD player or a PlayStation that can play it, you are out of luck.
  2. Somehow, even though it’s a DVD, it’s still $14.98, which seems like a lot for a piece of near-defunct technology. I am still going to buy it, though. But maybe you could get it used, or check it out from your library. Or, for all I know, it exists in the ether in some digital form that you can access for free.

At 12:45 last night/this morning, Carla SCREAMED my name (well, she screamed “Mommy” which is pretty close to a name) and I leapt out of bed from a deep sleep, heart flinging itself out of my chest, trying to get away from what was certainly a murderer. And it might as well have been: Carla was cowering in the bathroom and refused to go back into her bedroom without me. She’d had a nightmare. She couldn’t remember what it was about, but the terror had followed her outside the cocoon of sleep. Poor kiddo. I sent my husband in to lie down with her but she kicked him out for snoring. So I went in to lie with her until she fell asleep. Pretty normal parenting fare.

But then she couldn’t get back to sleep. She wanted the lights on. No. She wanted to watch videos. No. She wanted to sleep with her bunny and bear. No (both in the laundry after an earlier wake up incident).  She would settle for her fox, but I couldn’t find it and I refused to turn on the lights. Eventually I located it under the bed.

She was too hot. She wanted to watch just one little video please Mommy just one. No.

She was Wide Awake.

I contemplated starting the day at two a.m. I quickly shoved that idea aside. I told Carla firmly but kindly that it was time for bed, she needed to lie down and close her eyes and try to sleep.

“I’m not sleepy, Mommy.”

CHILD. How?!?!?!

I scratched her back. I got her water. I sang her every song in my Lullaby-and-Adjacent repertoire. I even googled some lullabies whose tunes I knew but whose words I was unsure of. Then I googled some soothing music to play on my phone. (FYI – a large number of the “lullabies for babies” options on You Tube are the same collection of notes played in an infinite loop. Very boring.

“This is boring, Mommy,” Carla said.

“I know, that’s the point,” I told her.)

The repetition of the notes started digging deep ruts through my brain, so I kept stopping them and searching for new ones. I just wanted a playlist of soothing lullabies! Did I search for “playlist of soothing lullabies”? No. Eventually, I settled on a track that combined a burbling brook with some soft piano music. Finally – FINALLY – at 3:15 a.m. in the morning, Carla fell back to sleep. I went back to bed and of course couldn’t sleep. So I read a few entries in Swistle’s archives – very soothing – until I fell asleep. Then Carla woke me up promptly at 6:18 a.m. in the morning so I am very tired.

 

Sleep

What a restful night. (I made the executive decision to hand Carla my phone at 6:18 so she watched a couple episodes of Berenstain Bears while I slept for another hour.)

* * *

At camp drop off, I ran into someone who I see pretty frequently. I wouldn’t exactly call her a friend, for reasons that will soon be clear. Sure enough, she irritated the hell right out of me, right away.

“Oh, wow, you look tired!” she said.

Yes. Yes, I do look tired. And I have good cause for it. But for the love of Brie and crackers, WHY would you ever say such a thing to someone else? It’s not the first time she’s uttered that exact phrase to me (although it’s been a while, for some reason).

This person has a habit of making comments about my appearance or general mien, and it’s very off-putting, and I am not close enough to her to have a heart-to-heart about why she should STOP IMMEDIATELY.

“Your face is SO red! Were you just exercising?”

No, no I wasn’t. But thanks for making me self-conscious about my face.

“You look like you’ve lost weight.”

Is that any of your business? Or anyone’s business? Why are you monitoring my weight?

“You look so refreshed! Were you napping?”

What…? Do I really look like I have time to nap?

Or, my recent favorite: “You seem pretty hassled.”

What? What does that even mean? Does it mean that I seem flustered and out of sorts and frustrated? Perhaps I am. Because if you MUST KNOW my child was having a Very Rough Day and just before you got in my face I had to put her on time out not once but twice and we are late for The Thing We Are All At and I am feeling hot and frazzled and a little crazed right now and I am at This Thing and so I am trying to put on a pleasant and capable and not on the edge of losing my mind face for the public while I try to regain my grip. So yes, I AM HASSLED. But do you really think COMMENTING on it is going to help? If you are actually concerned about my state of mind, aren’t there kind, friendly, gentle ways to ASK about it, rather than pointing out that I am not hiding my true feelings very well?

PANT, PANT.

I get that maybe she thinks she is being… friendly? Or… that she is trying to be A Good Friend, and thinks saying these kinds of things is an invitation for me to unload. But it does NOT come across that way. Am I being too sensitive? Too prickly? I just… don’t comment on people that way! I mean, I might say I like your shoes or your nail polish or your lipstick or whatever… but the closest I’ve come to saying anything about anyone’s actual appearance is something like, “You look so great!”

Maybe there are some people who wouldn’t mind this woman’s comments. Maybe some people would appreciate how observant she is about Every Single Aspect of their appearance and attitude. How in tune she is with their… whatever.

I am not one of those people. Well-intentioned though they may be, I find her comments to be invasive and rude. But again, we’re not close enough for me to tell her to knock it off. So I have started responding with single-word answers and perplexed looks in hopes of shutting down the conversation.

“Your face is SO red! Were you just exercising?” –> “Nope.” * confused look *

“You look like you’ve lost weight.” –> “Oh?” * bland smile, subject change *

“You look so refreshed! Were you napping?” –> “Nope.” * perplexed look *

“You seem pretty hassled.” –> “I don’t know what that means.” * blank face * (To this one, though, she responded, “I’m going to take that as a yes.” STEAM IS ESCPAING FROM MY EYE AND NOSE HOLES.)

Exhausting. But it is not my job to teach another person how to properly interact with other humans. Good luck to her.

* * *

I was sitting in my kitchen after exercising this morning, in my sports bra, gulping water and trying to catch my breath after my strenuous twenty-minute exercise video and gazing aimlessly out into the backyard through the sliding glass doors, when a STRANGE MAN waltzed across my lawn. You understand he didn’t really waltz, per se. But he was in my yard, moving in a manner that implied he’d been invited. He had NOT.

He was wearing a bright yellow vest and was carrying some sort of tree-trimming type tool. I shrank away from the doors, hideously embarrassed to be in my BRA and NO SHIRT, and then watched from a distance as he prowled around my yard and then walked back around the house to the front yard. There he joined a few other young men, all in the same clothing, and they tromped across my neighbor’s yard and down the block.

I remember vaguely getting some sort of notice that some sort of workers might be in our area. But I don’t remember who they were or what they were supposed to be doing. And I CERTAINLY don’t remember that they were going to be in my BACK YARD, which seems a whole different kind of deal than doing whatever it is they were doing (inspecting trees/power lines? looking for alligators? scouting potential gold mines?) in people’s FRONT yards.

UGH. Seems like the least a person could do is knock on the door and ASK if they could peruse your back yard, right? Not that I would have answered the door – everyone knows that murderers always knock first and wear bright yellow vests to divert attention away from their murderousness – but STILL. There’s the PRINCIPLE to think about!

* * *

Tomorrow is a holiday but I am not feeling very festive. I love my country but so much about it makes me so sad and hopeless these days. And it is unbearably hot and steamy here. And I hate fireworks because they keep my child awake and make me worry about gunfire and fire-fire.

Okay, okay. My crankiness is making ME weary.

Let’s try to think of the positives: My in laws are coming over and my husband is off work and Carla doesn’t have camp. We will go to a parade in the morning. I bought some pretty red, white, and blue flowers. I have good food planned for us to eat. Also margaritas.

Well, crud. My attempt at brightsiding is not working, because now I am reminded that my grill is on the fritz (is that the right phrase? looks weird but I am on four hours’ sleep so a lot of things look weird) so I am going to have to cook hot dogs and ribs in my OVEN tomorrow. Yes, yes, I know. This is not the worst thing to happen to a person by any sort of measure. And I am deeply grateful to have both an oven and ribs/hot dogs. AND YET. I AM CRANKY.

Feeling grateful for the things I DO have does not mean I have to be HAPPY about the things that are BROKEN. (That last sentence seems perfectly applicable to the state of our country, too, doesn’t it?)

Blueberry cake. We will also have blueberry cake. There. I ended on a high note.

Is it weird that I envy other shoppers’ relationships with the cashiers at my grocery store? It’s probably a little weird, right? Sometimes I am waiting there with my items on the belt as the person ahead of me pays for her groceries, and I catch little clips of her conversation with the cashier… and some people seem to know so! much! about each other! Like they’re old friends, talking about their aging mothers or their new babies or a college-age child coming home for the weekend.

How does a person get to be that familiar with a person she sees for five minutes once a week? (Or more. My in laws are in town and that plus Extra Birthday Baking I’ve been doing for Carla means that I’ve been to the grocery store A Lot lately.) There are members of the grocery store staff that I recognize – like Dan the fish guy, who gave Carla about 50 samples of fish one Saturday before very kindly telling her that this was the last one, okay?, because he needs to save some for other people (I should have stopped her after sample 1, but it was a food that she liked that didn’t come in a package and end in ­–able, so I kept my mouth shut). Or the super nice lady behind the prepared foods counter, with whom I once in a fit of bravery exchanged names, but whose name I then promptly forgot and have never remembered because she doesn’t wear a name tag and obviously I am not brave enough to ask her again. Or the cashier who is really terrific at fitting every single thing into the exact number of bags I have no matter how much junk I’ve loaded into my cart. Or the guys who load my bags into my car, and who are always super nice to Carla (seriously, they have been so kind to her I have sent positive comments to the store manager). But I barely know their names, let alone any details of their personal lives.

(My grocery store is pretty great. I have only ever had three negative experiences with the staff there. One is with a different, non-Dan fish guy who has NO IDEA how to butcher a fish properly and leaves scales all over the fish he cuts for me. Yuck. And ALSO, probably because he is not a good fish butcher, he made a snide comment about how lucky I was that he was removing the skin from my salmon because most stores charge for that. No one had ever once told me that wasn’t a thing a could ask for at the fish counter! And yes, I DO appreciate that they do it, and do it for free! Blah! Thanks for making me feel guilty about something I have asked for literally hundreds of times!!! This is the most privileged paragraph in history! My Coping Mechanism has been to refuse to buy fish when he is on duty. The other was with a cashier who kept insisting that I could – and should – get Carla a free cookie one afternoon because Carla was crying. Crying because she was not allowed to have the free cookie, the eating of which had been contingent on her good behavior during the shopping trip. “Awww! She wants a cookie!” * heaving sobs * “I know she does, but we’re not getting a cookie today.”  * pitiful sniffles * “You can get one right over there!” * wailing *  “Yes, I know, but we’re not getting a cookie today.” * enormous tears * “But they’re free!” “She can’t have a cookie.” * louder wailing *)

Whatever. Maybe more in-depth relationships with my local grocery store staff will come, after I’ve been shopping there for a few decades. Or maybe my relationship level is perfect as is. I don’t know – it can go too far the other way, I suppose.  There’s a checker at my Target who is WAY too overfriendly. She could be the inspiration for that old Kristen Wiig Target Lady sketch on SNL. She’s always commenting on my purchases and asking me where I got them and what I’m going to do with them. And while I am not averse to the occasional curious question or comment – I mean, if you just bought the exact brand of nail polish I am buying, I would love to hear how it looks out of the bottle – this particular checker comments on Every. Single. Item. The last time I saw her, we had a long conversation about couscous and what to serve it with and she also praised my choice of wrapping paper and then asked me if I like the eye drops I was getting. It’s very tedious and I don’t think the people in line behind me appreciate it too much.

Worse than the running commentary is that she makes these vague upsetting references to her life that I don’t know what to do with. Like she’ll say, “How are you today?” and I’ll say, “Fine! How are you?” And she’ll say, “Well, as good as can be expected, I guess.” And then at the end of our transaction, I’ll say, “Have a great day!” and she’ll respond despondently, “I doubt that I will, but thanks anyway.” And she’s been even more gloomy than that, with broad sweeping comments about how life certainly isn’t fair for everyone is it. And I just don’t have any idea how to respond! Am I supposed to ask, while the line grows behind me, while Carla gets more and more antsy, what’s going on with her? Part of me wants to take her out for coffee and let her vent for an hour. And the other part of me wants to say, “We are not close enough for you to say things like that to me!”  My strategy so far has been to listen to whatever she is saying and nod empathetically and then say, “See you next time!” as I leave. On a human level, I want to be kind to her and help her in any way I can. But on a reality level, I don’t have the bandwidth to be a stranger’s support system. (Are there any little, low-bandwidth kindnesses I can extend to her… without being condescending or overly familiar?)

This whole long build up is all to say that I already have anxiety surrounding my interactions with the staff at my grocery store.

So the other day, I put the divider on the conveyor belt to separate my groceries from the person before me. The cashier was still scanning the items for the person ahead of me. But she smiled at me and said, “Hello!” And I smiled and said hello back. A minute or so later, as I was finishing unloading my cart, she handed the prior shopper her receipt and looked at me and said again, “Hello! How are you? Where’s the little one today?” in this super cheerful way. Everyone at the grocery store loves Carla. And so I smiled at her and said, “I’m good! Carla’s at camp today. How are you?” And reached into my cart for the last bag and in doing so saw the person behind me to whom the cashier was actually speaking.

Then of course I had to endure the shame and humiliation of THAT as she rang up my entire cart of groceries and asked me again — me, this time — how I was, and instead of responding — AGAIN — to her pity question, I kind of shrugged and smiled and said NOTHING.

And then I burst into flames.