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Posts Tagged ‘anxious thoughts’

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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My brain is doing that thing where it won’t settle on one thing for more than about 6 seconds before it leaps, hiccuping-jack-rabbit style to the next topic. So let’s have some randomosity, shall we?

  • I was supposed to post a Dinners This Week post yesterday and I DIDN’T because arbitrary blog-scheduling needs don’t rule my life. And also because I have nothing new on my meal plan for the week. Not that a) anyone cares or b) anyone but me would even notice that I am once again scheduling us for tacos and chicken fajitas.
  • We are, however, having ribs this weekend. I bought a three-pack of racks – a three-rack-pack, a rack three-pack – at Costco, and, if I could only organize my freezer, I plan to freeze two racks and make/serve one as a Labor Day treat this coming weekend. Do I have a recipe for this weekend’s ribs? Not yet.
  • Speaking of ribs, have I sung the praises of Pig of the Month yet? If not, I am severely in the wrong. I ordered a rack a billion years ago (May?) and they were heavenly. I got the sriracha BBQ flavor (they have a bunch of options) and the ribs were SO GOOD. They came in a package with dry ice and included re-heating instructions and they were everything I want ribs to be. Tender, not fatty. Substantial and meaty. Great sauce. Easy to re-heat. Free shipping. Plus, they cost about the same for what you’d pay at a restaurant. I promptly ordered some for my father for Father’s Day, and have another rack coming our way for a September surprise and ordered ANOTHER three-pack for my mother-in-law’s birthday present. They are so good. I don’t know why I didn’t order some to eat on Labor Day, instead of making my own like CHUMP, but here we are.
  • Labor Day usually marks our neighborhood block party. We got the typical block party flyer over the weekend with a big CANCELLED on it. But also, the fine print read, maybe some enterprising neighbors will be serving treats and booze beverages, to be enjoyed SAFELY, just in case you want to check it out. My main question is: Does anyone really think this can be managed safely? Because I sure as hell don’t. AND my neighbors are all, as far as I can tell after more than a decade of living here, super nice and consicientious and respectful of other people. But anytime you mix alcohol beverages and a bunch of people who either a) have been cooped up with their college-age children for five months or b) are college-age children once again living at home with their parents, probably involuntarily, I think safety is going to go right out the window in favor of getting lit having fun.
  • Because our house is down at the boring end of the block, I have been toying with the idea of making cupcakes and putting them, bake-sale-style, in individual containers, just so we can take part in the block party. I could put them on a card table at the end of our driveway and wave at people from my front porch. We’ll see. Carla, of course, would be the rate-limiting factor because I don’t think she’d be able to keep herself from visiting the neighbors’ dogs. So we will probably watch a movie inside our house, in the dark, so it doesn’t look like we are avoiding our neighbors.
  • School starts soon and I am having ALL the feelings. Any feeling you can imagine, I am having it in relation to school starting. Terror? Check. Guilt? Yes. Delight? Absolutely. Relief? In spades. Fatigue? All the time. Sad that I won’t be with Carla as often? Shocked by how sad I am. Excitement about all the alone time I will suddenly have? Yeppers. Certainty about how I will fill all those hours? Sure thing. Anxiety about whether Carla will be sad/stressed/anxious/able to wear a mask all day/able to interact normally with other humans? Of course. Nerves about potentially seeing other parents? Totes. Irritation that I will have to wear a Real Bra and Hard Pants in the car twice a day? You bet. Concern about whether I’m making the right choice in sending her to school? UH HUH. Pre-cranky at the parents who don’t think this is A Big Deal? Yessir. Deep, soul-shaking gratitude for the teachers and administrative staff at Carla’s school? Oh, yeah. Resignation about the eventual and possibly quick return to remote learning? Yup. Hunger for foods that will fill the aching hole all these warring emotions have eaten in my heart? Obviously.
  • Is hunger an emotion? Hmmm. These are the real, important questions we should be asking.
  • I had a pre-school meeting with Carla’s teacher on Monday. She is pretty much the loveliest person in the universe. She was so kind and attentive and reassuring. I feel deep, all-encompassing gratitude for her — and for the school that Carla attends. The kids don’t need to bring anything to school besides masks and a water bottle this year. Not even a backpack. (My backpack angst was completely unfounded.) I am glad they have a plan and they have everything Carla needs at school, but I am also sad that they won’t have even these completely frivolous trappings of normalcy. The teacher wanted to be clear that the first few weeks of school would really be focused on safety and community, and that academics might take a backseat for awhile. The kids have been out of school for so long, and their sense of normalcy is by now so warped, and their ability to interact with their peers has been so stunted/different, and the school itself has been so drastically reconfigured and adapted to our current circumstances, they will all need a – probably lengthy – period of adjustment. I didn’t cry during our conversation, but that is only because I was holding back my tears by gripping my chair arms so hard it left indentations in my wrists.
  • Let’s immediately move on to less emotionally roller-coastering topics. You know my go-to topic is food. Or shopping for food.
  • There should be a long-German-noun type word to describe the bone-deep exhaustion one feels after doing the grocery shopping during a pandemic. Saturday, I went to both the grocery store AND Costco, which was a mistake on all levels. But it had been two weeks, and we had eaten the very last morsel of vegetable matter for dinner Friday night (zucchini). We had two grape tomatoes to our name, procured earlier this week from the other store that does curbside pickup. We had half a plum leftover from Carla’s lunch. Surprisingly, we also had two heads of iceberg lettuce, because apparently I overbought at some point. (Yes, I recognize that iceberg lettuce technically counts as “vegetable matter” so we had not technically consumed ALL of it. But I put iceberg lettuce and zucchini in two very different food categories.)
  • When I was at the grocery store, I tried valiantly to buy only enough food for one week. Despite having done every-other-week shopping since March, I have never gotten very good at buying the correct amount of produce. Last week was the worst. I had to throw away an entire head of perfectly good broccoli, two zucchinis, and half a bag of sugar snap peas. I mean, they were no longer perfectly good; the broccoli was moldy and the zucchini had developed deep, soft pockmarks, and the ends of most of the snap peas were brown and liquified. Gross. It made me really sad and frustrated. Money and food, right in the garbage. I think what has happened is that I plan the meals two weeks in advance, and then, by the time I get to the day on which I need to eat the planned meal, I (or my husband, or Carla) no longer want to eat it. I am feeling more comfortable with going to the grocery store during a pandemic, and I feel, overall, pretty good about our grocery store’s safety practices. And the people who also shop at my grocery store seem to be pretty good about wearing masks and keeping their distance. (Well, they are not GREAT at the latter, but what can you do.) So I think I am ready to resume once-per-week shopping. And I can always go back to every-other-week if I feel less comfortable, or if our county’s infection rate begins to rise again.
  • This is all to say that I TRIED to shop for just a week’s worth of food. It was hard; I have now developed a pretty serious feast-or-famine perspective on shopping, so it was really hard to not buy zucchini for the first time all summer, even though I have planned nothing with zucchini as an ingredient for this week’s meals. I lingered over the grapes for awhile, even though I already had peaches AND plums AND apples AND blueberries in my cart. And I… well, I did buy another head of iceberg, just in case the two (2) icebergs we have at home go bad before I can use them. And THEN pork was on sale, in many forms. My husband has recently decided he is no longer a fan of chicken. I know Very Well what that’s like, so I am cutting back on meals that feature chicken. But since we are meat eaters in this household, I need to buy SOME sort of meat to fill in for all the chicken we used to eat. Instead of buying enough for what we are going to eat this week, I bought… more. Well. Pork freezes very well and we will eat it. It was a relief to see the final bill, which was much less than what I have been spending of a typical shopping trip. It was a bit more than half, though, but we shall blame that on the pork sale.
  • A friend and I are doing a Burpee Challenge together. That makes it sound like my friend had a choice; what really happened is that I told her, “I’m doing this, please please please do it with me” and then just expected her to agree. We completed an Ab Challenge together earlier this summer (which took me two tries, because I suffered from excruciating back pain after Week 1 of the first try and had to take a three-week hiatus), and when I came across a PopSugar article about someone who did 50 burpees for 30 days, I knew that was the next thing to try. Sometimes I like to torture myself with physical challenges I am in no way fit enough to complete, just to see how much pain I can inflict on myself. Or endure. I don’t know. Let’s not delve too deeply into the psychology of the thing. I don’t know if my friend is, in fact, doing 50 burpees a day or if she is just going about her normal life, enjoying walking around without searing shoulder and wrist pain, but even the prospect that she might be doing 50 burpees a day is enough to keep me accountable. Well, except that I have already skipped a day. Whatever. I will make it up on the other end.
  • It is safe to say that my forties are LOOMING in front of me and I am dealing with it by being Very Concerned about my physical fitness level. (Not good.) I am achey ALL the time. Just sitting here typing, I have a headache (from neck/shoulder tension), my hand hurts (too much Toy Blast on my phone), my wrists ache (burpees), and my left knee aches (walking). I know that aches and pains are associated with age, but… this can’t just be How It Is from now on, can it? CAN IT? (If the answer is yes, then… can it. I don’t need the truth, I need HOPE.)
  • Speaking of forties: My husband is turning 40 in a few weeks and I want to do something special for him. Any ideas????? Based on knowing nothing about my husband aside from the fact he is a doctor and can apparently put up with my shenanigans for at least 19 years???? He wants a new desk for his home office, so we will get that for him – but it’s more than I can afford myself, so it doesn’t really feel like it’s coming from me. But he is notoriously difficult to buy presents for and I am also a TERRIBLE gift giver, so I am FLOUNDERING. He doesn’t want any sort of party and we aren’t going to restaurants and as much as I’d love to have an actual date with him, we have no family in the area and are not ready to try having a babysitter come into our home. I feel like I can’t just buy him another puzzle for his FORTIETH BIRTHDAY. Right? HELP?
  • STILL speaking of forties, I think I am finally nearing the point at which I want to try coloring my hair at home. My hair is now the color Streaked With Grey and I am not loving it. Instagram keeps serving me ads for Madison Reed, and a friend of mine just used that very company to color her own hair and it looks GREAT, so I am edging closer and closer to the DIY dye cliff.
  • Here is a satisfying follow-up to my satisfying shoe project: I had called my local DSW last week, to see if they did, in fact, accept donations. The very lovely woman I spoke to said that I could donate one pair of shoes per week for 50 (I think???) points (for what????) and was very confused when I asked if I could donate multiple shoes, and then, as a follow up, if I didn’t actually care about the points, could I then donate multiple pairs of shoes? She had warmed to me considerably by then, and told me that sure, I could donate a big bag of shoes! And yes, the donation center was right inside the door. So on Saturday, I drove to DSW, hauled my bag of shoes out of my car, pulled on my mask, and marched inside. The donation box WAS right inside the door. I was a little leery because the other donations were single shoe boxes with nearly-perfect-condition shoes in them. My shoes are in good condition, but they have been WORN. Well. I did not let it deter me. I put my giant bag of eight pairs of shoes into the donation bin and LEFT.

Should we end on that very random but surprisingly positive note? Yes, I think we shall.

What’s going on with you, Internet?

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In college, I wrote a paper on the juxtaposition of the profane and the sublime in Milton’s epic poem “Paradise Lost.” Wow, is this ever a boring way to open a blog post! My memory of the whole thing, poem and all, is fuzzy, but the (very hastily summarized) point was that Milton would bring up sacred topics (God, angels, the Garden of Eden, etc.) but describe them in irreverent or disrespectful ways, often using language that would never be associated with the holy (bodily fluids and excretions abound in this poem). It was one of the distinctive hallmarks of the work — this discrepancy between subject matter and treatment. How could you talk about God and farts in a single line?

The reason I keep thinking about that, now, is that I feel we’re living through a similar dichotomy – the extreme/emergent walking hand in hand with the mundane. It’s so disorienting.

On the one side, we literally have people dying. We have hospitals that are overcrowded and suffering from shortages of vital equipment – both protective and life-saving. We have medical staff that are overloaded and fearful and putting their lives at risk. We have medical professionals who are trying to determine whether to resuscitate people with Covid-19, for God’s sake. We have countless people losing their source of income and stability. We have the looming specter of more of all of this – more death, more fear, more people at risk in immeasurable ways. We have what feels like a hopelessly irreparable political schism, and lack of leadership (understatement) at the highest levels. We have the ever-present possibility that we or our loved ones will get sick, be hospitalized, and even die.

These things are too much to bear. I find myself turning away, guarding my heart and my mind against the horror I feel when I think about any of them.

And then, far, far away from the frenetic life-and-death urgency of emergency rooms and ICUs all over our country — all over our planet — I am stuck at home. My family and I are (relatively, for now) safe. We have food (and toilet paper) and plenty to occupy us. And still I am able to find fault with our day-to-day.

I ask myself each morning if this is the morning I return to putting sweetener in my tea. I stopped when I started keto and haven’t resumed the habit. But my tea would taste so much better if I just put a little sugar in it. Why am I depriving myself, in These Unprecedented Times? But also… it seems like things could/are about to/definitely will get much, much worse… so maybe I should be doling out the indulgences a little more sparingly?

Things make me tear up, out of nowhere: a television commercial for T-mobile, of all things, in which people are social distancing but connecting via phone. A phone call from my kind neighbor, who has cancer and is afraid to leave her house but still called to see if Carla would want some things her granddaughter had outgrown. Seeing other neighbors out and about on our walks – but keeping a careful distance; watching Carla strain so hard to keep herself from petting all the neighborhood dogs. Canceling a long-planned dinner with friends.

I am annoyed because I have a canker sore on my tongue. It’s my own fault – the inevitable consequence of an entire week eating mainly chips and salsa – but it’s still irritating, and I can’t just run out to Target or Walgreens to get some Biotene mouthwash. And then I feel super guilty that I just placed an order from Target, because… was that the right thing to do? It is certainly preferable to order things than to take my own possibly-infected self to Target… but I didn’t truly NEED Oreos and sidewalk chalk. Am I helping someone keep her job? Or am I forcing someone to work while sick, to risk infecting someone else?

Where is our mail carrier? I really hope she is okay. We haven’t had mail all week and that seems… ominous. Do I call and check on her? Or will that get her in trouble? Or annoy the post office manager, who is probably dealing with A Lot right now?

My child won’t leave me alone. And it’s a BLESSING, that she is healthy and safe and wants to be with me. But I just want thirty uninterrupted minutes to write or read a book or think. She told me yesterday at 5:00 pm, after I had spent ALL DAY with her and asked her to go play by herself for TEN MINUTES that she feels abandoned – she literally used that exact word and OMG child, just play by yourself and cut the dramatics in half.

Is it time to pull out my giant bag of Reese’s peanut butter eggs – the one I went to Costco specifically to get, back in the first week of March, when I was doing keto and when buying things I couldn’t eat made me feel like I was staving off some of the panic I felt reading those early news reports about coronavirus? Or should I wait until I really need it? What will it look like, when I really need it?

My husband keeps going to work. We are so lucky that he has a job. But my heart is breaking because he has had to furlough some of his staff – people he loves, who support him and his patients – because the patient load has virtually dried up. He is taking a half day today, which should be cause for delight… but… our sole source of income is him seeing patients. And then I feel guilty about worrying about this, because we have savings and presumably he will be able to see patients again at some future time, while others are just completely out of a job and a paycheck and have no idea how they will pay rent or buy groceries.

We have some romaine in the fridge and I want to eat it before it goes bad, but also don’t want to eat it in case we can’t go to the grocery store and replace it.

I keep fretting about Carla’s extracurricular teacher. Like my husband, she has no salary; she only makes money when she gives lessons. Back when All This was just beginning, I asked her about it, and she was breezy and confident – my husband makes money, we will be fine, please don’t worry about me, she said. But… I AM worried about her. And I have no idea how to send her some money without offending her. I thought maybe I could buy a gift certificate to a restaurant doing takeout near her house… but I have no idea what she and her husband eat or if they are comfortable getting takeout or if that would offend her anyway

It’s all but certain that school will be cancelled for the rest of the year. Am I really going to be solely responsible for Carla’s education for the near term? HOW am I going to do that?

Are we being careless, not isolating ourselves from my husband? He is out in the world, every day, seeing people who may be infected. Am I putting Carla at risk needlessly? But then… I wouldn’t be able to sleep without my husband in the same bed, and Carla needs consistency and normalcy as much as possible, so… do those things balance out the risk of contracting the illness?

HOW am I going to listen to the same episode of Wow in the World one more time, when Carla seems like she can listen to them over and over and over and over?

 

Maybe I should be ashamed about feeling petulant that I can’t just go to the store and get some fresh raspberries. For marveling at how the book I am reading got published at all, it was so clearly NOT edited. For skipping over the news of how awful things are in some of our cities. For getting irritated with Carla when she interrupts a phone call with a friend.

But also, aren’t these feelings little glimmers of normalcy, and, therefore, necessary? Feeling anxious and bad and steeped in guilt and fear all the time can’t be healthy, can’t be conducive to getting through this, right?

 

It’s such a roller coaster between normal, everyday (well, not NORMAL or EVERYDAY), very MINOR annoyances… and huge, terrifying, life-altering fears and uncertainties. That alone – that juxtaposition between the mundane and the extreme – is enough to make me feel constantly off-kilter. And selfish. And numb.

 

The sun, FINALLY, is shining; we’ve had springlike weather two days in a row now. The robins are blustering around our yard, the finches have beaksful of twigs and grass. Carla is playing with magnetic Frozen dolls that our kind neighbor sent over the other day. I am drinking the same tea I drink every morning, typing silly words on my computer as I do every day. Everything FEELS very humdrum and typical. But it’s not. It’s not. It’s not.

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