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Posts Tagged ‘Anxieties come in all shapes and sizes’

In highly exciting news, I have recently had occasion to visit a podiatrist for the first time. 

Relatedly, I want to talk about my foot. The thought of doing so bores me almost to tears, so I feel deep empathy for YOU, whose foot it is not. The thing is, it has been causing me enormous grief for months now and I better just talk about it and get it over with. 

Sometime in December of 2021, I started having heel pain when I woke up. It would be worst when I first got out of bed, then would gradually subside throughout the day. My runner friend told me it sounded like plantar fasciitis, which is a term with vowels that look incorrect even when I know they’re in the right places. I looked up plantar fasciitis and found some stretching exercises to do; I did them; they seemed to work. 

But then after maybe a week or so, the exercises stopped being effective. And the pain got worse and worse, so that any time I sat down (and as a person who writes for most of the day, I sit a LOT) and then tried to stand, I would hobble around with serious pain. It started waking me up in the night. It started affecting my ability to drive (I would get sharp shooting pains in my arch when I pushed on the gas or the brake). It made it difficult/painful for me to do my preferred type of exercise (walking). 

I went to a podiatrist, who seems very knowledgeable and who came highly recommended. But it seemed to me that the podiatrist relies a little too heavily on ME and not heavily enough on measurable facts. I suppose that’s how most of medicine is, isn’t it. If I say I have sinus pain and I’m miserable, and the doctor presses on my forehead and under my cheekbones and asks if it hurts, she has to take my word for it that it does. A gastroenterologist has to rely on your report of stomach/intestinal pain. But I hate that. I do. I want to be able to go to a doctor and say, “I am in pain” and for them to be able to VERIFY that, scientifically. I want them to have calipers that measure the pain so they can nod and say, “Yes, I see, this is clearly a Level 5 pain.” rather than making me the sole reporter of painfulness. For one thing, I feel like I have a low threshold for pain, so that what might be excruciating for me would be just a little twinge for you. And I don’t want to overreact to pain, or come across in any way like I am overexaggerating. I want it to be quantifiable. It’s NOT, but oh well. 

The podiatrist did press on my foot to see if I reacted, which I did. And he used an ultrasound machine to check… something. I’m not sure, but he did measure something and record those measurements. (He also took an X-ray, to ensure I didn’t have any fractures or cancer.) (Brief digression: I have been having pain in both feet, but one is much more severe than the other. When I checked in, I explained this. The receptionist said she would send me for an X-ray right away, and did I want X-rays of both feet or one? Um. I don’t know? I feel like that is not the kind of decision I, the non-doctor, am qualified to make? I did say that I would do whatever the doctor recommended, and the receptionist said, “It’s really up to you.” So I told her we could focus on just the one because the pain in the other foot is – currently – livable. But then the whole time I was getting my foot X-rayed I was feeling panicky that I had made the wrong choice, and what if I needed to come BACK in a few months and do it all again, and pay extra to get the other foot X-rayed when I could have gotten it all done at once? I had to use some coping thoughts like, “less radiation NOW is better, when I may not ever need a X-ray for the other foot.” And, “I made the best choice I could in the moment, and there is nothing I can do now.” And, “maybe it would end up costing the same anyway; I don’t know if they charge per foot or per visit, so who knows.” And, “I am fortunate to have health insurance and a health savings account, and this is what those things are for.” I had a good hearty wait before the X-ray technician was ready for me, so I got a chance to repeat these coping thoughts several times. (And panickedly wonder whether I could ask the X-ray tech to do both feet, or ask if I could call up to the doctor and alter the order.) It turned out okay, and if I need another X-ray of the other foot at some time in the future, so be it. But I really wish that the DOCTOR would have said, “Well, I really think that we should focus on the one foot that’s causing you the most trouble.” Or “Well, this thing can develop quickly so if you are having even a little trouble, let’s treat the other foot too.”) 

This is a very complainy post about my podiatrist, when really he seemed very nice. I guess I just get very anxious about doctors’ visits. I don’t want to waste the doctor’s time, I don’t want to overestimate the problem, or make A Big Deal when it’s not a big deal, I don’t want to spend a lot of health savings account money when I could really just be at home icing my foot, you know? 

Anyway. After the podiatrist evaluated my foot, he gave me a little mini lecture about what plantar fasciitis is, using a plaster foot as a visual aid, and I thought it was very useful and interesting and then promptly forgot everything he told me. He then gave me a splint to wear on my foot while sleeping (“gave” – it cost $75; it is possible I could have bought one myself elsewhere for much cheaper, but I did not) and a prescription for a steroid/anti-inflammatory drug, and scheduled an appointment for me to come back in just over a week. 

The first day of the steroid, I had excruciating bone pain in ALL my bones. That was deeply unpleasant. But on days two and three, the bone pain had subsided and I had almost NO PAIN in my afflicted foot. It was MIRACULOUS. Then, as I “stepped down” the dosage of the steroid over the next week, the pain returned. It was dispiriting, to say the least.

Not to mention that the splint for my foot is not… super. It wraps around the ball of my foot and then has a stiff arm that goes up the outside of my shin, and tightens around my calf. Kind of like a shin guard, only a bit more flexible. It keeps my foot in a slightly flexed position, which is not uncomfortable. The edges of the Velcro closure scratch my toes though, and I find it very difficult to sleep with the thing on my leg. Plus, I absolutely cannot walk on it, so I have to remove the whole splint every time I get up to go to the bathroom which is at least twice per night. (Each time, I try to undo the Velcro as quickly as possible, so that I don’t wake my husband. I feel like the sound of Velcro reluctantly parting from itself would be a highly unpleasant way to wake up in the middle of the night.)

When I went back to the podiatrist, the medical assistant asked me how things had gone, and I told her: my foot was definitely better than it was before, but it was not great. She said, “What percentage has your pain been reduced?”

What? Ugh. While I was just whining a few paragraphs ago about wanting quantitative measurements of medical issues, I do not want to be the one who provides them. I am at a loss for how to evaluate things like this. If you ask me to rate my pain on a scale of 1 to 10, I usually have NO IDEA how to do that. Like, I have in my head the worst pain I have ever experienced, so I assign that a 10. But then… it’s very difficult to know where other things fall. Primarily because pain is so immediate, and because the perception of pain fades with time. Right now, it HURTS, and it’s bearable or not.

Anyway, I told her that maybe the pain was 20% better – which was a wild guess on my part – and she said, Wow, okay, that’s not good. If you had said it was a 70% improvement, maybe we could give you another round of the steroid, but the next step is usually an injection. 

Now, I had heard about the injection before I ever made my first appointment with the podiatrist. The person who recommended him had had an injection for my exact problem, and it seemed like that was the treatment, so the steroid/splint treatment I received was a surprise to me. I’d been prepared from the get go for an injection, and the podiatrist had mentioned at my first appointment that if the steroid/splint didn’t work, I would probably need an injection. So I was anticipating an injection. 

The medical assistant left and when the doctor came in, he said, “I hear you were begging for the injection.” Which made my eyes go all wide until I realized he was joking. THEN he told me that a lot of people say the injection is the worst pain they have ever had; that women who have delivered multiple children say it’s much worse than childbirth. (Not the most reassuring way to begin the injection discussion, Doc!) But, he went on, he has never had any patient say that to HIM. HIS injections are painless, and he uses a specific method that makes them so.  

So now I had two things to hold in my head: 1. That some people find this injection to be excruciating and 2. That I could not in any way tell this guy if it WAS, because he would not believe me. 

He put up a little curtain, separating my eyes from from my foot, which is a weird way to phrase that but I am leaving it, and sprayed my foot with what he called a “cold spray.” THAT was pretty uncomfortable, but bearable. And then he started the injection, which took several minutes and was also fairly uncomfortable but bearable. I had to do some deep breathing, and had to clutch my arms across my chest quite tightly to get through it, and there was some tear-prickling at my eyes, but no actual tears. (At one point, he asked if I was doing Lamaze breathing back there, which made me feel quite embarrassed. He went on to say if I left with a baby, we’d each have a lot of explaining to do, har har har, and as I mulled THAT ONE over for awhile, while trying not to breathe so audibly, I came to the conclusion that I probably wasn’t breathing THAT hard, and that instead the Lamaze thing was probably a bit he does for lots of his patients.) (I feel as though, in describing this to you, I am describing this doctor quite unfavorably. I definitely do NOT jive with his sense of humor, although I can see how many patients would find him hilarious and delightful. But I did feel that he was a good listener, and that he cared that I was in pain, and that he wasn’t judging my particular level of pain tolerance, and that he was determined to resolve the problem. AND that he was an experienced and knowledgeable practitioner.)

Anyway. The injection was FAR from the most painful thing I’ve endured. Dental procedures are much, much worse. But afterward, my foot was sore and I kept getting these little shooting pains in my heel and walking was about as uncomfortable as it had been before I saw the podiatrist. 

The injection did HELP, for a while. The next day, my foot felt significantly better. But I am nearly a week out from the first injection and I am back to hobbling around when I wake up/stand up after sitting for awhile. 

And yes, I said “first injection” because the podiatrist mentioned that, for a LOT of people, one injection resolves the issue completely. But for some people, it doesn’t. And that we needed to resign ourselves (he didn’t say resign; I think he said “commit.” Resign feels more accurate for me, though.) to THREE injections before we pursued a different path. He didn’t even mention what the next path would be, so I’m trying to borrow some of his confidence that the second or, gulp, third injection will do the trick. I am NOT looking forward to another injection. Last time, I had the added anxiety of not knowing what to expect. But now I have a different type of anxiety because I DO know. And it’s hard to go into something, knowing it will result in pain. 

This feels like the kind of thing I had better get used to, as I age. More and more parts of me are going to fail. More and more parts of my body are going to experience pain. I am not pleased about it, but I recognize that this is just A Part of Aging. And I’m really very lucky. I can still walk. I can still exercise, even if doing so is slower and causes residual pain. I can afford to treat it. Hopefully my marriage can withstand my ongoing crankiness/hobbling. 

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Apparently day four is the day when my careful less indulgent eating meal plan falls apart and I beg my husband to pick me up a frozen pizza from Target.

Listen, it’s possible that I could have made it longer if this were a typical year. But we are right back in the thick of Pandemic Living (worst idea for a magazine ever – headlines include “The Best KN95 Masks NO ONE Knows About (Yet)!” and “7 Best Ways to Ensure You and Your Loved Ones Won’t Need to Be Seen in the Emergency Room” and “Is Eyebrow Bling the New Lipstick?”) and I am not drinking alcohol during the week (for now) and so I prescribed myself some medicinal pizza for dinner last night. And some randomosity for today.

  • We continue to be very, very lucky. The family members who have had Covid have fully recovered. The rest of us have somehow avoided it so far. Everyone is vaxxed (with the possible exception of my vaccine eligible niece but I DO NOT WANT TO KNOW) and boosted. My part of the world is fairly pro-mask, so most people in the few public places I visit are masked. I have been able to get my hands on rapid test kits and masks. My daughter’s school continues to take Covid very seriously, and has a mask mandate for everyone and a vaccine mandate for the faculty and staff. We are so, so lucky.
  • I know it’s just luck. I mean, as with a lot of “luck,” some of it is privilege. Where we live and where we send Carla to school being two stark examples. But it also seems so easy to fall into the belief that we haven’t contracted Covid because we are careful. I’m sure that’s helped, but I also know that LOTS of very careful people have been hit by Omicrom. We have either avoided it so far because we are super lucky, or it’s possible (I think) that we’ve had an asymptomatic case without knowing it.
  • Despite being SO LUCKY, I have been filled with despair all week. Early Pandemic-level despair, which I have been fortunate to avoid for many months at a time over the past yearish. The news – which I have been trying, semi-successfully to avoid (except when my husband texts me a particularly upsetting news item THANKS HUSBAND) – is so full of doom and gloom that I feel like I can sense my blood pressure shoot up with every headline. And we have been remote all week, which is a nightmare for my particular brand of child and her particular brand of mother. Plus, there has been the possibility hanging over our heads of another week of virtual learning, which is giving me a stomachache. I mean, there are LOTS OF GOOD REASONS to have virtual learning! Lots and lots! And I am grateful that I am not the one who had to make the decision, that’s for damn sure. But there are also, obviously, MANY BENEFITS to having one’s children physically in school, learning from a human instead of a screen, doing actual math instead of a video game (seriously) and interacting with friends in person. (Not to mention the benefits of in-person learning for the many, many parents who do not have the ability to work from home, or the bandwidth to work while supervising a child during remote school.)
  • We don’t know whether we will have virtual learning next week, too. I have been refreshing my email constantly. I don’t know what to hope for. That we continue to stay home and help drive down the number of Covid infections? Not that our school’s numbers were ever that high. That we return to in-person school for the sake of the children and the working parents and my own sanity? I think I will rejoice/weep at either outcome. Right now, I just want to KNOW so I can PREPARE MYSELF.
  • Possibly due to an urge to soothe the pandemic angst, or possibly this is just my typical post-holiday M.O., I have ordered a few lovely things lately. I got this gorgeous sweater from Nordstrom with a gift card. It is SO SOFT. And it’s totally different from what I normally wear – which tends toward casual and butt-covering. I recently bought a pair of these high-waisted jeans and I think the sweater would look very cute with it. But also… I can’t tell if the sleeves are TOO balloon-y? They are MUCH more balloony in real life than they are on the model. Do they emphasize my arms in a stylish way, or a cartoonish one? Do I look like Popeye after pandemic stress and despair forced him to give up his weight-lifting habit? The jury is still out. We shall see. On the Stay-at-Home Clothes front, I purchased a zip up hoodie that I’m hoping will cover my buttular region. It looks like it will cover my buttular region, based on the photo. But I share nothing in common, body-shape-wise, with the person modeling the hoodie, and I suspect my region is vaster. The hoodie hasn’t arrived yet, but it has “amazing” right in the name, so I have high expectations.

  • Retail therapy is fun even when the purchases aren’t for me. I also ordered this napping kittens calendar for Carla. We’d scrolled through many, many options and this was her favorite and she was obviously correct. I also got my husband another Magic Puzzle puzzle; I’d given him one called The Happy Isles for Christmas, and he loved it. I don’t even LIKE or DO puzzles and I loved it. My husband wouldn’t even let me help (my version of helping with a puzzle is finding one piece and then leaving), and I loved it. It is seriously so adorable, with a million fun things to look at, and even a list of things to find, like in a Where’s Waldo? book. Plus, there’s the “magic” aspect of the puzzle, which was really cool (but I can’t reveal that part because it is magic). If you are a puzzle lover or know one, this MUST be on your puzzle purchase list.
  • Did I tell you about my new salt and pepper shakers? It’s not a new purchase, but looking for those links reminded me that I got them in early December. We had been using one of those Costco pepper grinders for all our peppering needs, but the Costco salt grinders have never worked well for us… so for the last Costco-sized-salt-container-amount-of-time, we’d been salting our food with a Costco-sized salt container. Ridiculous. My husband’s family aren’t a salt and pepper on the table family, but even so, when they were here so often this past fall, I kept feeling so awkward about not having a proper set of shakers for the table. And my family ARE big salt and pepper at the table people, so I was feeling really anxious about it in advance of their visit. My neuroses are many and varied. The result is that I finally persuaded my non-salt-or-pepperer husband that I NEEDED these and I love them. (He does not love them. He only ever uses salt, and the salt grinder grinds crystals of salt that are, to be fair, bigger than your average engagement ring diamond. But it does not seem that you can buy a matching set of pre-ground salt and grindable pepper shakers. And they always [right?] come in a set.)
  • My computer is driving me crazy. the keyboard is not working correctly, and when i try to capitalize things, it either doesn’t work or it WORKS TOO MUCH. As when i am trying to emphasize VIa CApitalization, when the shift key gets over-enthusiastic and capitalizes two letters in a row. I have left the capitalization in this bullet as my computer wants it, for an example. It is Very ANnoying. YOu wouldnt believe how often i have to delete and retype. BLARGH.
  • Speaking of calendars, which we were, a few bullet points ago: if you use a physical calendar, what kinds of things do you fill it with? I do NOT use a physical calendar, even though I love calendars. I have tried many times in the past, and somewhere around February I forget about it and then don’t look at it again until June, when I make a renewed effort to use it… and then forget about it completely until I see Swistle’s annual calendar post and start drooling over all the fun and beautiful options out there. If you think I could resolve this issue with a daily calendar rather than a monthly one, you would be incorrect because I forget about those too. If I didn’t know this about myself, I would own Benjamin Dreyer’s day-to-day grammar and style version. What was the point of this bullet? Oh, right.
  • Speaking of calendars, again, still, I want to populate Carla’s calendar with important things, but I’m not sure what those THINGS should be. Obviously, I will add the birthdays of family members. And I think I can safely add the first day of spring break, the last day of school, maybe even the first day of school for next year if the school has posted that information already. But… what else? Do I add weekly things, like swimming lessons (which we are resuming this month yay/eek)? I WANT to add upcoming trips, of which we have two planned. I WANT to add summer camp (which we had to register for in early December do NOT get me started). But in Year Three of the Covid-19 Pandemic (I started to type “of the Current Pandemic” but that sounded much too bleak), I am wary. So wary. Do I put them on the calendar anyway, as a nod to hope and optimism?

  • Ah, hope. I have an aerogarden in my dining room, and I have been growing a tomato plant for many months. It has been disappointing, to say the least. I think we have harvested maybe six tomatoes total. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. Some of the leaves are yellow; I go in and trim, but branches keep dying. Even so, the plant keeps growing, and keeps putting out these little hopeful blossoms… and once in a while, a baby tomato emerges like a promise kept. I kneel on the floor every morning to inspect the plant, to remove dead leaves, to whisper words of encouragement to the blooms. Many of them spread their petals into a bright reassuring star, only to disappear during the night. It is so discouraging, and it all feels like a metaphor.

  • My husband and I just finished all the Succession there is to watch. It is SUCH a good show, and i spend every episode marveling at how I can be invested in so many people I find abhorrent. We are looking for our next TV show to watch together. I think the two we are deciding between are The OA and Sex Education. I feel like we have watched EVERYTHING, but of course that isn’t true. If you have suggestions, new or old, I am waiting eagerly to hear them.
  • My husband and I have started, but not completed, two satisfying projects. The first is, of course, the basement craft room makeover, which has been paused during the work week. The second, which we did on a whim, was to cull (most of) bookshelves. My husband and I are both avid readers and, perhaps more so, avid book buyers. We also both believe in owning books, which has its benefits and disadvantages. This means that we tend toward keeping every book we buy, when not every book is one we NEED to own. It makes me sad to get rid of books, but really: if I read a book and didn’t love it, and my husband isn’t going to read it, and it isn’t autographed, and it wasn’t a Special Gift from a dear friend or family member… then I think it would be better off going to the library, where they can sell it to someone who really wants to read it. I am very pleased by the stack of books we were able to cull (and the number of spaces we have opened up for NEW BOOKS). Now I just need the libraries to re-open so I can donate them and get them out of my office!
  • Our library system, by the way, is pretty awesome. Even though the branches are currently closed to visitors, you can still order books and pick them up at the drive-up window. Plus, they often give away free rapid test kits. Carla and I went to the library to drop off a stack of books the other day and there was a police car parked at one end next to a sign that said “enter only.” I kept driving to the other end, which is where I usually turn into the library parking lot, but it was blocked by another police car and a sign that said “exit only.” I had to turn around to get back to the new entrance, and then followed a winding path through the parking lot, demarcated by construction cones. At the other end of the parking lot were two people standing next to big stacks of boxes. They seemed to be stopping each car that drove through the lot, so I rolled down my window to find out what was going on. One of the people asked how many members are in my family, and when I said “three,” he handed me three Covid test kits. I took them, because you don’t look a test kit horse in the mouth, and then I dropped off our library books in the drive-through lane. Then I texted everyone I knew that the library had a supply of test kits to give away. One friend replied that she would head to the library immediately, and then she noted that her new supply of Kn95 masks had arrived. I cheered and told her I was excited for the new masks I’d ordered to arrive… and immediately felt a sense of dissociation. THIS is what we text each other about now? THIS is cause for excitement? Free Covid tests and mask delivery? Eeeesh. Welcome to the new world, I guess.

  • These are the masks I got for Carla, by the way. We got a small package, just to try. They are quite expensive, but I saw them listed on a bunch of “best masks for kids” articles and I have some friends who use them and like them. (I have a referral code that can get you $5 off, if you want to try them. It’s not much, but it covers shipping and a teensy bit extra.) They shipped very quickly, and should be here Monday. I hope they fit and that Carla likes them.
  • On the way home from the library, I asked Carla what she thought she would remember about this time, when she is a grown up. She said she thinks her kids will probably think we mean party masks when we talk about masks. (I think she is thinking of the kind of masks that people wear to masquerades.) I laughed and agreed, and oh how I hope that’s true. I hope that masks (and rapid tests and virtual school) aren’t a necessary and regular part of life from this moment on. I hope that she can look back on these pandemic years with a veil of fog, because it was such a small, insignificant part of her childhood. I hope the next pandemic isn’t worse. I hope she grows up. I hope she has kids.
This is the bleakest photo I have on my camera roll. But it’s hopeful too. Those black, empty branches are part of a living tree. Someday soon they will have buds, then blossoms, then leaves.
  • Life is so up and down. It’s always like that, always will be. But the downs – right now – seem so much deeper. I don’t know what I thought, back in 2020. That the pandemic would be temporary? That we’d wear masks for a year, deal with Covid for a year, then be done with it forever? I feel like I always knew it would be a longer-term thing. But thinking something, knowing something, are different than believing them. And maybe I didn’t believe that this would be our way of life for many years, possibly forever. It’s a hard thing, to come around to the truth.

  • We just got an email from Carla’s school. They are back in person as of Monday. Cue the relief. Cue the anxiety. I think I’ll go have some leftover medicinal pizza.

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I need a root canal. Deciding that the tooth pain was bad enough to warrant a dental appointment wasn’t super fun. Confirming that I needed a root canal – first at my dentist’s office, then at the endodontist – was agony. 

The dentist kept saying he was sorry for causing me pain, even though the whole point of the tests he was doing was to elicit pain. It was kind, but I have that reflex where I say, “that’s okay” or “it’s not that bad” in response to someone apologizing, which felt a) silly and b) untrue. 

The endodontist did not apologize; not in a sadist-y way; he was kind, but just sort of stood there watching me clutch at my jaw as tears leaked from my eyes. He also offered me an Advil. His tests – which were very similar to the ones my dentist had done, just 30 minutes earlier – elicited a MUCH higher pain response. One test – he put liquid nitrogen or something on a swab and swabbed my tooth – hurt so bad that I cried. And then I felt ridiculous for crying. I tried to comfort myself by thinking that I couldn’t be the ONLY person to ever cry in that office; that must be why the assistant had tissues at the ready for me to dry my tears.

My dentist thinks, based on how nervous I get for dental work, that I need some sort of extra medication. Either something like V@lium or @tivan prior to the appointment, or conscious sedation during the procedure. He said, kindly, “That’s what I would recommend for my wife; she gets nervous about dental work. But I’m just telling you the options – you don’t need it. I wouldn’t do it, myself. Dental work doesn’t bother me.” Which made me wonder: ARE there people who are unbothered by dental work??????? This was a wholly novel concept to me. I figured that there was a spectrum, of course, from moderately nervous to requiring sedation just for a simple cleaning. But I never once imagined that there exist human beings who don’t mind dental work. 

(As for my spot on the spectrum: I get nervous for a simple dental cleaning; I clench my hands into fists, my arms and legs are rigid the entire time, I have to do anti-anxiety breathing while I’m in the chair, waiting for the exam to begin. I did a LOT of focused breathing today, let me tell you. And then cried in my car all the way home.)

The thing is, for me to do any sort of pre-medication, I need someone to drive me to and from the appointment. And my husband is unlikely to be able to do that anytime in the near future, if at all. And I don’t know that I have any friends who I would feel comfortable asking. So I am feeling very sorry for myself indeed. I suppose there is always Uber, but I have never once used Uber so that’s another hurdle to surmount.

Part of the reason I cried in the car (aside from the lingering tooth pain following the swab) was that I felt so ridiculous about crying. The crying was bad enough on its own. But then I couldn’t stop crying. And even when I finally got the actual tears under control, I still had Wobbly Voice. Ugh. I couldn’t stop thinking of that awful anesthesiologist who commented on my ability to withstand pain when I was in labor. Maybe I have a very low pain threshold, and other people are going around dealing with similar or worse pain without being fazed one bit. And maybe everyone thinks I am a huge baby who is making a mountain out of a molar pain. And I am FORTY YEARS OLD for floss sake, why can I not just GET IT TOGETHER like the adult I supposedly am instead of acting like a whiny child? 

This is just the latest in a run of negative self-talk that I can’t seem to squash. It started with my writing and has since spilled over into every other aspect of my life. 

I am suspecting – and hoping – that it has at least something to do with the calendar: both the monthly calendar, which has spun right around to canker sores and chocolate cravings, and the annual calendar, which has turned once again to the anniversary of my friend’s death. Not to mention, we are now sliding down the dark slope of fewer hours of sunshine each day and facing the looming pressures of the holiday season. 

While I do my focused breathing and wait for the calendar to flip a few pages forward, if you have any advice for how you pull yourself out of this kind of self-talk tailspin, I would greatly appreciate it. For now, I have self-medicated with Trader Joe’s macaroni and cheese and some of my only-on-the-weekends good tea. And, of course, I am blabbering it all to you. (Thank you for listening.)

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We are having an especially long weekend, what with Rosh Hashanah following Labor Day. That’s just one thing I am feeling thankful for, this morning. I am also thankful for the beautiful weather – sunny and warm-but-not-hot, with that characteristic rim of cold on the edge of the breeze that signifies the beginning of fall. We have had a lovely weekend so far – I saw a dear friend on Saturday for my second-since-the-pandemic-began attempt at dining at a restaurant (we ate outside and sat at a table that was blissfully distant from any other diners), Carla stayed home with a babysitter (a vaccinated student at Carla’s school who was one of her counselors at camp this year) and had a blast, and then the three of us went to a friend’s house for (outdoor) dinner, which was so so lovely. (This particular friend is an amazing cook.) (Also I still feel compelled to note that everyone is vaccinated except the kids, all of whom attend the same school anyway.) I am thankful that I got to go to a salon and have a professional dye my hair for me, and that she also kindly offered to trim my single, enormous white eyebrow hair. My husband is no longer on call as of this morning, for which I am DEEPLY grateful. And tomorrow, Carla and I will have the house to ourselves as my mother-in-law undergoes surgery. I am grateful for the alone time, but I am also grateful that my mother-in-law is getting such quick treatment. If you can spare some good thoughts for her, please do; we are all expecting the best, including her doctors, but obviously we are all also QUITE ANXIOUS. 

I am grateful, but anxious. While it felt so wonderful to see friends and do “normal” things this weekend, I still get this breathless giddy feeling of getting away with something. And then comes the worry that we are pushing too far, doing too much. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. 

I am grateful that we can provide a home base for my in-laws while they are in town, that we can offer comfort and love and support while my mother-in-law is preparing for surgery and recovering from surgery and determining next steps. But I am not accustomed to extra people in my home. I feel like all I do is vacuum and wash dishes and scrub counters and tidy and unload the dishwasher and prepare meals and clean up after meals. I cannot tell you how many times I have buffed the stainless steel into a mirror sheen this past week.  Why a gleaming refrigerator should do anything to soothe my anxiety is beyond my powers of comprehension. My mother-in-law, bless her, always offers to help with food prep and clean up. But even as I want help, I DON’T; I want to do it my way, and we have very different ways of doing things and I feel like I get (gentle, well-meaning) push back when I try to explain my preferences. And beggars can’t be choosers, right? Why should I even have preferences when the help is being offered? 

I am trying – really, really trying – to be laid back, to go with the flow, even though those things are contrary to my nature. Even though my means of restoring equilibrium is to be alone with my thoughts for long hours. Right now – with Carla crafting ten feet away, her audiobook playing another endless round of Socks by Beverly Clearly – is as close to “alone” as I can get these days.   

And, of all people, this period in our life affects me least. Everyone is worried, everyone is stressed. My in-laws are living out of their suitcases, worrying about my mother-in-law. My husband has been working nonstop for the past seven days; he too is an introvert who needs time alone; and this is his mother who is undergoing surgery and perhaps other adjuvant therapies. My daughter, accustomed to our quiet, three-person home, has had her routine – freshly readjusted, now that school has begun – upended yet again, and she too is worried about her beloved grandmother. My father-in-law was set for knee surgery when my mother-in-law’s health needs popped up; he’s climbing up and down our stairs every day on a bum knee, having to stuff his own pain and health concerns down while he worries about his wife of fifty years. 

Well. I am trying to be a good host, a good daughter-in-law. Trying to be welcoming, and warm, and doing what I can to make the house comfortable and to address my family’s needs. 

The main thing I have control over is food. Which brings us to dinners this week. 

THANK YOU, by the way, for all your suggestions about what to feed my houseguests. I have been asking literally everyone this past week what they serve to houseguests, and I have discovered two things: 1. Talking about food is, for me, endlessly fascinating. 2. It is very hard to turn wonderful, delicious-sounding suggestions into usable options for my particular family. (My in-laws don’t really eat pasta; I hate tomatoes; my husband and his whole family don’t really think of soup as a meal.) 

I still LOVE to hear suggestions, though. And want to visit ALL OF YOU so that you will make me your delicious houseguest meals. Please and thank you.

Here’s what I’ve come up with for this week. 

Dinners for the Week of September 6-12

Hamburgers: For Labor Day. Burgers are easy and everyone will eat them. My husband wanted potato salad from the grocery store, so I got some. I have the ingredients for my favorite chickpea salad, which I prefer to potato salad, and may or may not make it for myself (and whomever else wants it). We have no dessert, but I could whip one up if necessary; I even have a box of brownie mix if it comes to that. (I happen to love brownies from a mix.)

Lebanese Chicken with Charred Cauliflower: I may attempt to make this for the family, although I tend to avoid experimenting with new recipes on my poor unsuspecting in-laws. It sounds yummy and fairly easy, and I am fueled by Nicole’s love of cauliflower to eat more of it.

Steak and Potato Skewers with Rosemary Chimichurri: I made this once before and it was yummy (and surprisingly easy). 

Charcuterie Board: These are SO fun to put together and I tested the idea with the family and everyone was receptive. I have happy anticipation at the prospect of searching through the grocery store for fun little treatsies to include on the board.

TAKEOUT. God bless all the restaurants that offer wide ranging options and delicious food.

What are you eating for dinner this week? 

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Important note: Carla has recently discovered that she likes sourdough bread, and especially so if it is toasted and coated in butter. She refers to this as “sour toast” which is its name henceforth and forevermore.

This morning I helped myself to two (2) healthy slabs of sour toast, which was small compensation for a night that was not in the least bit restful. 

The troubles began at tennish when my husband and I were laughing heartily along to Derry Girls – if you, like me, are very behind on Good Shows, please note that so far this one is Very Good – and my daughter poked her head into the kitchen to inform us that she was (metaphorical ironic jazz hands) still! awake! 

First, we allowed her to come snuggle with us on the couch. We carried on a silent conversation with our eyes about whether we should turn the TV back on and see if she would simply fall asleep there; that has worked exactly once in the past. (We decided against it. Not only has it only ever worked once, but this show also uses curse words with great gusto and Carla is at an age where she loves to say, “Did that person say the f-word Mommy? Why did they say the f-word?” except she likes to USE the f-word because it is a Sanctioned Circumvention of the no-cursing rule.) In the end, we took her back to her room and did all the soothing, get-back-to-bed things – set up a lamp that shed more light than a nightlight but less light than the one on her bedside table, adjusted her covers for optimum temperature, played some spa music on her ipad, lots of hugs and kisses and reassurance that she could leave her room if she was still asleep in half an hour – and went back to Derry Girls

As a totally unnecessary aside, that I still feel I need to share as Important Background, the “you can come tell us in thirty minutes if you are still awake” directive stems from a night earlier this year. Carla woke up at midnight and then proceeded to try to get herself back to sleep – which I commend! – for TWO HOURS until she finally came to me for help. At that point, I didn’t think it was advisable to give her melatonin (why? because it was the middle of the night and my reasoning faculties were sleep-logged), PLUS she was already so awake that there was no getting back to sleep at all. I tried ALL my get-back-to-sleep techniques (including rubbing her back and singing her lullabies) for an hour before we finally gave up and went downstairs and turned on the TV. If she had come to me at midnight when she first woke up, or at 12:30 when she’d given getting back to sleep a good solid go, a) I would have been more likely to be awake and b) I would definitely have given her melatonin. Anyway. Now she has a thirty minute limit to how long she needs to lie awake by herself. 

She did indeed return after thirty minutes. It was by now eleven. 

This time, I gave her melatonin and crawled into bed with her and rubbed her back. She was very chatty for a child who should have been asleep for three hours at that point. It was upsetting to hear her have the same thoughts that I have when I can’t sleep: if I don’t sleep NOW, I will only get X hours of sleep! What if I never fall asleep? What if I am tired tomorrow? I tried to reassure her that it totally doesn’t matter if she doesn’t even sleep at ALL (no school), and that she will feel tired but that’s okay. We can have a low-key day and/or take a nap and/or go to bed early. That seemed to smooth out some of the rumply anxious feelings, so I went to bed and read and tried not to worry that every sound was Carla popping out of bed to tell me she was still awake (semi-frantic metaphorical jazz hands).

At around midnight, the thunder started, so of course Carla popped into our room, this time awake but also Scared Of Thunder and worrying about power outages and whether we would have to relocate to the basement. 

(Did you do this, growing up? Pretty much any time we had a thunderstorm when I was a kid, we’d load up armfuls of blankets and pillows and stuffed animals and flashlights and head into the basement to wait it out. This may be because of Tornado Concern, although my memory is fuzzy on the details. Anyway, it’s still my immediate response to a severe storm: get to the basement!) (My husband did not have the same childhood experience of storms, nor is he remotely concerned about weather, so we occasionally have Heated Discussions about whether we need to go to the basement or not. Carla has probably overheard those discussions, which is probably why she was so concerned about it.) (Our current, finished, carpeted-with-couches-and-a-TV basement is a MUCH nicer place to wait out a storm. My childhood basement was unfinished and we used to gather in the exercise room, which had a concrete floor, a Nordic Track, a stationary bike, and a set of weight lifting equipment. It did have a small, old-fashioned-even-for-the-time black-and-white-TV.) 

Carla set up a little nest of blankets on our bedroom floor and eventually we all fell asleep. But I was awakened throughout the night by very obnoxious wind. 

Possibly because of Tornado Fear, I really hate wind. And I know that some parts of the country experienced tornadoes last night, which is devastating, and my heart goes out to the people who lost their property and homes and loved one. I feel deeply grateful for (currently) being safe in my own home, with my family, and working electricity. But I also know that the whims of catastrophe could descend upon us at any time – it is purely luck that we haven’t encountered a devastating event yet.

So every time the wind shook the gate next to my bedroom, or sent a bucket of rain slamming into the window, I would jerk into wakefulness and lie there, shaking, desperately scrolling through the radar section of my weather app, trying to determine from the little moving blobs of color whether we were nearing the end of the storm or whether tornadoes were imminent, and wondering if we have a local tornado siren, and wondering if the neighbor’s tree – which scrapes shriekingly against their siding in even a gentle breeze – is going to snap off and pierce the wall beside my bed, and, if so, would it reach my husband and leave Carla an orphan or just impale me. 

Of course, today also happens to be Trash Day, so I would wake up at any sound of the trash bins flapping, alert to the possibility that the recycling bin would topple over and spill cans and bottles and cardboard boxes all over the street. Would I emerge from my house to find my neighbors judging the number of pickle jars and wine bottles and cans of tomato puree I use in a week? And just how many Target boxes does one person need, really? (Not as many as Target thinks I need, that’s for sure.) Would I be chasing down soda cans and peeling soggy medical journals off my driveway all morning? 

The arrhythmic crescendo and decrescendo of the wind – plus the addition of the normal slam and clang of the garbage trucks making their rounds – finally tore me away from any semblance of sleep at about six. I lay there worrying about things like power outages (mainly, the prospect of losing all the frozen meat and veggies in my freezer) and insurance coverage (based on previous snow/wind destruction, we are already pretty sure insurance doesn’t cover damage to our arborvitae, but would it pay to replace the swingset?) and the possibility of tornadoes and some additional really dark, upsetting things until seven when a particularly lusty gust sent the now-empty garbage bins tumbling down the street. Ours were in the middle of the road and had to be moved immediately, which gave me an excuse (as opposed to doing something healthy like getting up to write or exercise or ANYTHING else besides worry endlessly) to get out of bed and start the day. 

We have a huge oak in the backyard that is perfect roof-crushing size and distance from our house. Until recently, I had never considered that it posed a threat to our neighbors’ homes as well – I suppose it could do some damage, but I don’t think it would crush the entire roof right over the sleeping inhabitants’ heads as it would if it fell on our house. In any case, earlier this month, we had an arborist come out and prune it. We’d set this appointment up in August, although I don’t have the faintest idea whether that’s a reasonable timeframe for securing the services of an arborist.

On the long-awaited day, two giant trucks arrived, carrying at least four people. But only two people emerged from the trucks – one to talk to me about the plan, and the other to execute the plan. The plan executor used a series of ropes and pulleys to climb up our tree, seemingly on his own – the other three people were nowhere in sight during his ascent or descent or pretty much at all in between; I guess mainly they moved the cut branches from our backyard to the front yard – and somehow carrying a chainsaw, and it all made me deeply uncomfortable. The entire time he was here, I kept darting from window to window, taking photographs and marveling at how many branches he extracted and trying to keep him firmly in the tree with the power of my brain.

This is an objectively terrible photo but it DOES capture a) man in tree, b) CHAINSAW, c) DANGLING, d) no one around to offer any sort of support, moral or otherwise, e) all the branches. And it gives you some sense of how tall the tree is, with a good thirty percent of the tree missing from the top of the photo..

I sent one of the photos to my husband – a photo of the man in the tree – and made a dumb joke about how the squirrels were really out of control this spring, har har. But then later, when the human arborist told me that our backyard squirrel (Howard, we call the squirrel Howard) was quite irate with him (human) for tampering with HIS (squirrel) tree, and I passed that information along to my husband (human), he (husband) was very confused about which squirrels in which situations were real or human. I didn’t think it was that confusing, but I was the one relaying the story. And the one referring to a human person (arborist) as a squirrel.  

The arborist cut off a LOT of dead branches. That’s what one of the two giant trucks was for – turning the branches into woodchips and hauling them away. (I have no idea what the other truck was for. Medical supplies, in case the arborist fell out of the tree?) With the oak being so tall, the size of the branches is disguised by distance. But once they were on the ground, it was clear just how enormous and abundant they were. I wish I had taken better photographs of just how many branches there were. (I felt ridiculous, scurrying around from window to window, trying to get good shots without alerting the arborist to my paparazzing.) 

After he was done pruning, the arborist also “sounded” (?) the trunk and examined any wounds on the tree, and declared that the tree was healthy and not in danger of falling on my house and crushing me while I sleep. That was, as you might imagine, a relief. 

But it turns out that even a healthy, de-branched oak does not prevent me from hating the wind. 

I keep wanting to find out exactly how gusty these gusts are, and then find out what the typical gusts were during my childhood, and compare them. As though I could say, in a tone of slightly-exasperated reassurance, “Okay, Self, these are only 60-mile-per-hour gusts, when the typical gales you experienced in childhood were 75 miles per hour.” and that would completely soothe my galloping pulse and send me immediately into a deep, untroubled slumber. 

When, in fact, it’s just different. We live in a crowded suburb surrounded by lots of large trees and other potential projectiles (lawn furniture, standing umbrellas, garbage bins, mailboxes) while then I was in my lone house on top of a barren hill, with only a handful of immature pines nearby. Plus, then I was a child, and I had the luxury of parents who could offer comfort, who could also carry the burden of worrying whether we would lose power and two freezers full of food, and of hoping fervently that our insurance covers wind damage, and of listening to the weather station with an ear out for the portent of tornadoes, and of deciding whether it was time to gather in the basement. Now I am the adult, with all of those anxieties to shoulder, while still maintaining an outward expression of competent calm, for the sake of the child who is already beset by so many hand-me-down worries she can’t sleep even before the wind starts blowing.

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With everything (that word is doing a LOT of work) going on these days, and the attendant underlying doom, I am continuing to hyper-focus on making the holidays Extra Special. My husband has cut me off from buying any more presents for Carla (although there are still so many things I could get her! as though overwhelming her with material goods will help at all!), and I’m not really sure which new vessel I can pour my Making Things Special panic into next. The panic and the wheel-spinning have consequently drained a lot of the holiday spirit from my preparations. So I am trying to FORCE myself into feeling appropriately festive. Perhaps if I just jam myself as hard as possible into holiday-ish activities I typically enjoy, I will find the holiday spirit somewhere among them.

Here’s what I’ve been doing so far:

Enjoying Winter: We have gotten, so far, approximately 20 inches of snow. Carla and I spent more than an hour outside the first day, while the snow was still falling – I was trying to remove some of the snow from our poor trees, which were bowed low to the ground with the weight of winter (relatable) and she happily slid down the slide, molded snow penguins, crawled through the snow, ate handfuls of the fresh top layer, and flopped around making snow angels. I also decided to shovel the walkway, thinking of the poor postal workers having to trudge through all that white, but of course my work was covered by a new frosty layer by the time we came inside. Oh well. At least there was less to shovel when next I attempted it. By the time we came in, our hoods were full, our hair was crusted, and our cheeks were rosy.

I find snow festive and cheering, especially when I can play in it with Carla. Heavy snow is her favorite type of weather, and I totally get it. (Although I fear for the health and well-being of our poor trees.) Once the snow stopped, we had glorious sunshine. And brilliant sun transforming the snow into a shawl of diamonds is MY favorite kind of weather.

Seeing Through the Kiddo’s Eyes: This week I got to unveil Carla’s Christmas-anticipation activities. I feel weird calling them Advent Activities, because 1) I had to do a quick Google search just to remember what Advent IS (sorry Mom) and 2) I am not really equipped to teach Carla how to appreciate the season from a religious standpoint. This is not to say that we won’t dabble in some religious education this month; Hanukkah arrives on December 10, so we will be revisiting the Maccabees and the miracle of the oil and honestly it seems like a more poignant message than ever this year. As does the hopeful joy of the Christmas season – so much anticipation and gratitude and delight over the birth of the person who is meant to be our salvation. 

Back to my regularly scheduled secular celebrations: My husband and I got Carla this LEGO Advent Calendar, and she is delighted each morning to open it up and find a new little character/item to build and play with. But I also saw this beautiful reading calendar on Everyday Reading a few weeks ago and immediately uploaded it to the Staples website to be printed and picked it up, curbside. I’m glad I got it early; it gave me a chance to look over the daily reading activities and order some appropriate reading material from the library. (Our home Christmas book collection is a little thin.) Carla has been having a lot of fun coloring the image associated with the day and she has been reading the books out loud to me, which I feel is Educational on top of being festive. 

Easing Into Christmas Décor: We have not yet decorated for Christmas. Although I have put up the wreath my mother sent me; she sends me one each year and it is one of my favorite, favorite, FAVORITE things about the holidays. It smells so fresh and lovely and it looks welcoming and festive (it’s the only outdoor holiday décor we have, so it does a lot of work) and this year it has tiny little lights, on a timer, that make it that much more special and lovely. I may start bringing out the Christmas stuff bit by bit, rather than doing it all at once, although this will all be mood dependent; if I get a big rush of decorating energy, I will certainly not tamp it down.

Holiday-ing Day-to-Day Mundanities: I have finally allowed myself to start using the Twisted Peppermint lotion that makes me feel very Christmassy. (Should I get the matching shower gel? Or try the Gingerbread Latte lotion, which could be fun or disgusting and there’s no way to know?) (Although I have discovered I need to use it sparingly; I applied it two days in a row and found it more cloying on the second day than on the first.) I put out the Christmas hand towels – some in the powder room and two in the kitchen; I need more holiday towels, I think. My husband was, surprisingly, on board with buying Christmas family jammies this year so we have matching sleepwear that is bringing me a lot of glee. (We aren’t even wearing the jammies regularly — we did it once — but just the THOUGHT is enough to make me preemptively happy.)

Making a Holiday Playlist: Just like holiday decorations, I can’t start with Christmas music too early because I get sick of it. But it DOES help foster that festive feeling. So I am compromising by making a playlist of holiday-season/winter songs. (I like a good mix of Christmas carols and wintery bops.) This does require me to listen to a song, to ensure that it qualifies for placement on the list. But I am not listening to seasonal music nonstop. I acknowledge that may not be as real a distinction for you as it is in my brain. So far, my playlist has: “Last Christmas” by Wham, “All I Want for Christmas Is You” by Mariah Carey, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” by John Legend (a song that is rightly though exhaustingly controversial, but I like the way John’s version sounds and I don’t mind his contemporizing of the lyrics), “White Winter Hymnal” by Fleet Foxes, and five songs from Gwen Stefani’s “You Make It Feel Like Christmas” album. It’s a slow start indeed, and I welcome any and all suggestions. 

Sending Out Holiday Cards: We DID decide to do holiday cards, and took our photo on Thanksgiving when we were already wearing Real Clothes for family zooms… and our cards arrived this week! They definitely look homemade (which they were – I designed them) but I am trying very hard not to care. I keep telling myself VERY LOUDLY INSIDE MY HEAD that no one will care if the borders are slightly different sizes or that the photos are kind of blurry. NO ONE CARES. They just want the card. Plus, the cards will be looked at close-up probably once, when they are opened, and then they will be hung up on a mantel or a wall or a doorway and will be enjoyed from afar. (Exception: If you are able to have your mother over during Card Season, in which case she will remove her glasses and get right up in there and examine each card very carefully and ask if that is the same Wendy you went to high school with and didn’t she have three children instead of two and wasn’t her husband a fire fighter, is he still with the fire department, and have you heard how her sister is doing after her surgery, shoulder surgery wasn’t it? Moms are the best, truly, and I cannot wait to do this very thing to Carla someday.) 

These things are already working a little, so far. And just writing them down has tamped down the holiday anxiety a bit. What are you doing to feel festive?

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Well. Today is the day. We have voted. Carla is home with me; her school gave everyone a day off to ensure the teachers and staff could vote. I am filled with a buzzing, nervous energy as I am sure so many are. Let us hope I can channel it into cleaning and walking on the treadmill rather than into eating leftover Halloween candy. But either way, we will be gentle with ourselves.

We have sunshine today and mild temperatures. Perhaps I can cajole Carla into going for a long walk through the leaves. (She sees this unexpected holiday as a chance to watch TV.) Perhaps I will spend the day cooking. Perhaps I will curl up with the newest Robert Galbraith book (we can discuss the internal wrestling of enjoying artwork by deeply problematic artists another time). Perhaps I will chip away at a holiday gift guide post I have been working on. Perhaps I will watch more episodes of The Mindy Project, which is a balm. Who can know yet where this day will take us.

This week’s dinners are all about comfort and joy, ease and nutrition. With the exception of paprikas, I’ve got protein, carbs, and veggies in abundance in each meal on the list. Best of all, these are filling, delicious foods I look forward to, no matter what. Today is Tuesday, so we will have tacos. Gorging oneself on tacos is much more soothing than one might expect.

Dinners for the Week of November 3-8 (Election Week 2020)

  • Tacos

I am also planning on making some apple crisp. If there is a more comforting dessert, I don’t know what it is. Plus, the work of peeling and chopping many apples promises catharsis.

Hope and well-being and so much love to everyone.

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Tonight I needed some butter, so I went downstairs to the basement refrigerator and opened the butter… box? cupboard? drawer? It is a little shelf with a door that slides up. Butter cabinet. In any event, there was NO butter in the place where the butter should go. Instead, I found three (3) blocks of extra sharp cheddar cheese.

(Careful readers will remember that I found myself inexplicably! without! cheese! a few weeks ago. Now we know that was a LIE.)

Who put the cheese in the butter tray(?)? That is the question of the day, and a question we shall never answer because a) if I ask my husband he will definitely NOT remember putting cheese in the butter place even if he did, somehow, decide to move all our cheese to a place where no one would ever look for cheese and b) it is actually pretty unlikely that he would do anything with cheese or rearranging refrigerator contents but c) I have NO MEMORY of relocating the cheese to the butter storage space, nor do I think I would EVER consider the butter pantry a good place for anything Not Butter.

Anyway. The cheese expired in August. I gamely opened and have eaten several slices of the block that expired August 28, which was just days ago, so seems within the realm of eatability. Time will tell. The other two blocks went into the garbage. Goodbye cheese. (For reference, the cheese I bought most recently expires in December, so we have had the butter cubicle cheese for A While.)

Aggressive brightsiding: At least I didn’t, like, FORGET to buy cheese???

Another discovery, equal in importance (near zero) if also in inanity (high):

I have been having Severe Right Foot Pain for about a week. At first, I wrote it off to walking on my tiptoes on the treadmill one day. Probably ill-advised, but it seemed like it was “exercising muscles that often get ignored” and also it had absolutely no effect on my calves, the actual muscle I was trying to “tone.” Also, the pain was just on the right foot; the left foot was unaffected. I tried stretches. Doing a sort of lunge stretch, where the right leg is stretched behind the body and the pressure is on the toes/ball of the right foot, was excruciating. I tried massaging my own foot. Difficult. I tried Advil. I tried Tylenol. I tried whining to my husband. The pain persisted.

I decided to Tough It Out and went for a long walk… but halfway through, I was in so much pain – limping, extravagantly, but with my head held high for any onlookers – that I was strongly considering calling my husband to come pick me up. (Are you shocked that I didn’t even allude to the pain in my post about the walk??? Hence is the carefully curated picture of my life I present to you on this here blog.) I did NOT call him; I don’t think he would have gotten out of his pajamas nor piled our child into the car with all the associated whining for much less than an actual broken bone/gunshot wound, plus pride etc.

The next day, I did a lot of couch sitting, with minimal improvement. 

I started googling, and bravely facing several deeply upsetting and highly (im)probable diagnoses.

At the same time, I was having Severe Right Wrist Pain. It’s not like I’ve been writing a lot, and I have actually been trying to cut back on Being On My Phone. So I couldn’t think of any source of the pain (except google-provided neurological diseases, of course). And the pain was so uncomfortable! One day I was trying to eat soup and I could barely hold the spoon! 

Clearly a degenerative nerve syndrome even google couldn’t diagnose.

Then. Last night. 

I woke up at 4:15 (as is my wont; my brain has an un-reset-able internal alarm set for the three- to four-a.m. range, at which point it does crucial worrying about inevitable future deaths of elderly family members and unresolvable political differences with fellow countrypeople and personal embarrassing moments from my past that really, really should have been wiped from the mainframe by now because they do nothing but harm). I was on my left side (this is relevant I promise). I noticed that a) my hand was lodged under my pillow (hence, under my head), at a 90 degree angle from my wrist and b) my right foot was tucked underneath my left calf, in a position that bent my toes forward at an unnatural angle. Hmmmmmm.

I un-wound my limbs from these positions. I lay in bed “trying to sleep” until six o’clock, at which point my alarm went off, I hit snooze, and promptly fell asleep for the nine minutes the snooze lasted and was incensed when the alarm went off again. (My brain is a dick.) 

Even with a less-than-two-hour break, my wrist and foot feel MAGICALLY BETTER.

(Perhaps this is a red herring; we shall see tomorrow. Although… I am not sure I can sleep without performing these contortions. I lay down on the bed yesterday afternoon while Carla was in her post-school bath and my foot naturally leapt to the weird position, so it must be something I do All The Time. And seriously, what is the DEAL? Am I just… clenching every possible body part and staying that way until morning? And how can I POSSIBLY prevent it if I’m SLEEPING? Sure, if I am wakeful all night, I can monitor the situation. And surely, my brain is ready to leap to wakefulness at any moment just to prevent an instant’s pain! Except when I needed it to do so, last week or whenever this took place! Plus, I don’t know if I want to replace Excruciating Foot/Wrist Pain with even less sleep than I am currently getting of a night????)

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Well, yesterday’s sunshine has been washed away by an hours-long thunderstorm that woke me at 6:00 am and seems to have settled right over my house for the duration. It is very dark and wet with intermittent startling bursts of lightning and the grumpy follow-up of growling thunder and I am trying Very Hard to tamp down my School Is Actually Starting Anxiety. So I am retreating into happy memories – forcibly, this time – and still dreamily eating my way through my childhood summers. The food nostalgia is real strong, folks. 

Let’s talk about food! 

Today, for Labor Day, we are having ribs (it will be very fun and soggy to grill them if the downpour continues) and lemony potato salad.

(As an aside, potato salad is one of my Family Tradition Foods. We had it several times a year when I was growing up: New Year’s Day, Super Bowl Sunday, Fourth of July, Labor Day. My mom makes the BEST potato salad – it’s got a mustard base so it’s a nice sunny yellow, and it’s speckled with little bits of pickles and celery and red peppers and also – hork – hard boiled egg. My mom performs some sort of magical chopping technique on the egg so that it becomes dust and I barely even notice it. The potato salad is amazing and when I go to visit her, she makes a big batch of it and I eat it for breakfast. There is NOTHING that beats my mom’s cold potato salad for breakfast, you have to trust me. But even though she hand-wrote a copy of the recipe for me, I cannot make it so that it tastes the way her potato salad tastes. There must be something special she does, or maybe she doesn’t measure the ingredients as exactly as the recipe implies, or maybe she includes some sort of special ingredient like – hork – love. Whatever it is, I cannot replicate the flavor. So I have found my own potato salad recipe that I love but which tastes NOTHING like my mom’s. So even though it is Tradition to eat potato salad on Labor Day, it doesn’t really feel like tradition, because we’re not eating the traditional potato salad. Have I used the words tradition and potato salad often enough to create semantic satiation?) 

(My family is still sort of floundering to find our own Family Tradition Foods. Even for Thanksgiving and Christmas, we haven’t really settled on specific meals that are so good we want to eat them every year forever and ever amen. And that’s okay! I think variety is wonderful! But I also have such fond food-related memories of holidays growing up. The foods we ate at specific times throughout the year took on such significance – and eating something like my mom’s potato salad can bring so much warmth and happiness flooding back that I would love to create the same kind of thing for Carla. Of course, there’s the added hiccup that Carla doesn’t EAT anything, so…)

(Family Tradition Foods must be a thing for other families, too, yes? Do you have any that you remember with fondness? Or horkitude, I suppose – I’d be interested to know about the Special Food your dad made every September First that only he liked to eat, or, like, the hot dish Aunt Violetta used to bring to every family barbecue that you all pretended to love, but would dump behind the shrubbery at the earliest opportunity, or whatever.)

Back to the Labor Day holiday pigging: my husband made these AMAZING brownie crinkle cookies for dessert. We may have eaten some yesterday already. You know. To make sure they weren’t poisonous, and weren’t going to ruin the holiday or anything. They are so fudgy and delicious. You should make them immediately. 

Here’s what else is on this week’s menu. Spoiler alert: it’s full of comfort food.

Dinners for the Week of September 7-13

As I have already mentioned, several times, Carla is starting in-person school this week. She goes to a very small private school that has expended significant money and thought into how to make in-person school work safely for all involved. We feel hopeful and grateful and that this is the best decision we can make for our family at this time… but I am still nervous. Any and all distractions, especially but not limited to food-related memories or your dinner plans for this week, would be MOST welcome and appreciated. 

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