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Posts Tagged ‘back to school’

Well, I am thoroughly exhausted after the first week of school. WHY was it so exhausting? I mean, I was shuttling Carla to and from things every day (although my husband took her to her music lesson). But when she is at extracurriculars, I’m just… sitting there? I did go to two social events, which, as we all know, wipes me OUT. But… I was really careful about those. The first one was a one-on-one with a parent I really like, so it wasn’t as stressful/draining. The second social event was with more people, but it was mainly people I know and feel comfortable around, plus I set a timer and stayed for exactly 30 minutes and then skeedaddled. 

By Thursday, though, I was A MESS. Cranky and tired all day. I even tried to take a nap, TWICE, which is a luxury I never allow myself. Of course I was unable to sleep, so then I was even more cranky about “wasting time.” (I tried to repeat Nicole’s mantra that even if I wasn’t sleeping, I was still resting, but I have a long way to go before I achieve Nicole-level Zen. HI NICOLE.) 

The dinner thing, though, is going to have be scaled WAY back. I read all of your advice on my last dinner post with RAPT attention, and the core takeaway was make things as easy as possible. I am interpreting this in two ways:

1. I went to Trader Joe’s and spent an obscene amount of money on Throw Together Meals that are now waiting patiently in my freezer. 

I also really, really want to make leftovers work. I LIKE making dinner, and I don’t want to sacrifice things I WANT to eat just because this is a particularly hectic season of my life. So I am also…

2. Leaning into easy meals that produce leftovers. (This is tricky-ish, because my husband and I are big eaters and often have very little in the way of leftovers… and if we DO have them, I eat them for lunch. So we’ll see how this aspect plays out.)

To recap, the name of the game this week is freezer helpers and easy leftovers meals. Oh. But then there’s the long weekend, and I really REALLY want to make a street corn salad again. So we will have to have Something Fun on the list as well. 

Dinners for the Week of August 29 – September 4 

  • Chickpea BowlsI can double this up and force it to become leftovers, I know I can.
  • Trader Joe’s Sweet Corn, Burrata, & Basil Ravioli with Baked Shrimp: The shrimp isn’t, technically, from Trader Joe’s; it’s from my local grocery store and it has little pats of herb butter in the package. It’s super easy though: thaw and bake. My basil plant is extremely voluminous at the moment, so I will add fresh basil and some lemon zest to the ravs. 
  • Crock Pot BBQ Pork with Coleslaw: An old standby. I like to dump my pork on a baked potato, my husband prefers a BBQ pork sandwich on a King’s Hawaiian bun. I think I can make this stretch to two nights. 
  • Trader Joe’s Mushroom and Spinach Quiche with Some Sort of Green Side: I don’t really know what possessed me to pick these up? Will my husband eat one? Will he consider it enough to count as dinner? Time will tell. It sounded good, it looks easy. Protein, green veggies. 
  • Something Grilled and Mexican Street Corn Salad: Here is where I reveal that my in-laws are staying with us for an undetermined amount of time, and have been around for three weeks already (but not staying with us). So perhaps that also adds to the feeling of exhaustion? Not because I dislike having them around, but because it’s two extra people to try to accommodate? Although they are being EXTREMELY kind about stepping back, especially during the first week of school, to let us do our thing. ANYWAY, I don’t know what the “something grilled” will be, because I want them to have a say. Burgers and hot dogs? Ribs? Chicken? We will just go with the flow on this one. I may also try to make another plum torte before the plum season bypasses us. 

What are you doing for the long weekend, if you are in the US? Wherever you are, what’s your favorite BBQ/picnic food?

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Carla woke up the first day of school before my alarm went off and came bouncing into my room, all dressed. “Wake up! Wake up! It’s almost 6:30!” she called cheerily. I was a bit blearier than that, but her enthusiasm lifted me out of bed. She ate breakfast while overseeing the creation of the “First Day of Fourth Grade” sign; I did the colors wrong at first, so had to redo it. Please imagine me very fondly rolling my eyes. 

We discussed her outfit: a pink sweater over black cutoffs. I told her I really liked the outfit, but wanted to let her know that some kids would be dressy for the first day. Would she prefer to wear something dressier? No, she did not. She wanted to express her “style,” she explained. Plus, she didn’t want to give everyone the impression that she was going to wear skirts and dresses every day. She’d worn a lot of dresses last year, and remembered that one day she wore something else to school and that her classmates expressed shock that she was not in a dress. She wanted to avoid a repeat of this type of incident. 

Did you dress up for the first day of school? My mom took me school shopping every summer: a special trip to the Big City to go to the Big Mall and stock up on new clothes and shoes. I remember LOVING those shopping trips, and feeling very excited about and proud of my new array of school clothes.

Honestly, I loved everything about starting a new school year. Brand-new school supplies, with fresh notebooks full of unblemished paper. New binders – or Trapper Keepers – that were slightly stiff when you opened them. Pencils with sharp, clean points and plump pink erasers. New shoes, free of scuff marks. New classrooms, bright and cheery, and desks that have nothing in them. So many things to look forward to! I am so glad that Carla is feeling that happy anticipatory joy this year. 

I cannot believe she is in fourth grade already. Fourth! Grade! Do you remember when she was brand new? Well, probably not because I was a terrible blogger at that time. But I remember it quite clearly, and it was only five minutes ago! And now she is NINE and in FOURTH GRADE.

My memory is not one of my strong points, and much of my childhood is a foggy mass dotted with blurry snapshots. But I remember big chunks of fourth grade. My teacher was wonderful – she had all these great ways of engaging us in learning – including this semester-long quest that I am sure was accompanied by lesson plans but just seemed, at the time, like a big, long exciting game. She read aloud to us from fun books. She arranged a class field trip into the badlands where we got to dig for dinosaur bones. 

I remember the boy I had a crush on in fourth grade. I remember one classmate took a family trip to Japan, which was kind of unheard of back then, at least in my small hometown, and brought back a ton of exotic snacks that we all got to try. I remember sleepovers with school friends. It was a great year. I hope Carla’s year is just as memorable.

Carla was all ready for school a full 45 minutes before we needed to leave, so we settled in to read the book I am reading to her (Where the Red Fern Grows, which I have never read before). 

We took her photo in the rain and I dropped her off. She skipped into school without a backward glance. Really, could there be a better way to begin a new school year? 

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I woke up at 3:00 this morning from a bad dream. In the dream, I was in my childhood home with my husband. Somehow, my horse had gotten into the house, and we were trying to get him out but he was stomping around and bumping into the furniture and getting very riled up and upset. In the confusion, a fire started in the dining room. My husband was yelling, in a very loud monotone, “Fire! Fire! Fire!” That’s when I woke up.

My father is a volunteer fire fighter, and he’d told me yesterday about a recent fire that had devasted a dwelling. Plus, my husband and I started watching a new show this weekend and last night’s episode featured an explosion that resulted in a house going up in flames. So I think it’s safe to say that I had fire on the brain.

Nonetheless, it’s easy for a dream like mine to have the weight of prescience, foreshadowing, and I lay there in the dark house taking long deep breaths through my nose, trying to smell smoke, listening intently for the crackle of flames. I finally got up and did a walk-through of my home, which allowed me to fall back to sleep after an hour or so of troubled thoughts about my loved ones and whether the dream fire had escaped into any of their homes. 

We’re also about to begin the new school year, and, along with it, a new schedule of extracurricular activities. So perhaps my brain was merely venting its feelings of facing the unknown in an uncontrolled way. 

Carla will be doing extracurricular activities FOUR DAYS A WEEK, sometimes five, and that sounds completely bonkers I am aware. But these activities are ones she has been wanting to do for a long time, and we discussed the time commitment at length as a family, and my husband and I think they will be good for her. 

But I am fretting, as usual, about dinner. Dinner is a thing I can – usually – control, in a world that increasingly feels uncontrollable, but I haven’t quite figured out how I will make it work with our new schedule, so I am out of sorts. Horse-in-the-dining-room, fire-breaking-out out of sorts, it seems. 

Some weekdays will be normal – by which I mean Carla has no commitments after school is out. One day each week, she will have an extracurricular commitment that takes place after school but ends before dinner. I suppose on those days, I will need to have everything prepped and ready to go so that we can come home from the activity and I can immediately get food in the oven. Some weekdays, we will have a couple of hours of free time after school, and then the extracurricular activity takes place in the evening. My plan is to feed Carla dinner before we leave for her activity. But then, it will be quite late when we return, and she’ll need to shower and go to bed immediately upon arriving home. (To accommodate the new activities, we’re pushing her bedtime back a teeny bit to 8:30, as long as she still gets adequate rest.) So… when will my husband and I eat? 

(Recall, if you will, that our normal school-year dinner schedule is: Carla eats at 5:30 and is in bed by 7:30-8:00, my husband arrives home between 6:00 and 8:00, my husband and I eat between 8:30-9:00. Thanks, I hate it.) 

I wailed to my husband that we might be eating a lot of Lean Cuisine this year, and he very kindly said that that was FINE, we would make it work. But I don’t really LIKE Lean Cuisine (or its brethren), so I would prefer to find an alternative that isn’t a) fast food or b) nothing or c) me making dinner at nine o’clock at night or d) some variation on Lean Cuisine. (Although all of those are options occasionally, I don’t want to do any of them ALL the time.)

Making meals with built-in leftovers sounds like our best option. That’s why I have chicken fajitas on the menu this week. That way, I can eat before the activity and my husband can eat whenever he gets home. But I’m not great about knowing which meals will produce leftovers, and it seems to me that most of them (not all, but a lot of the ones I love: chicken paprikas! pizza! chili! spaghetti and meat sauce! tacos!) are the more decadent, less I’m Trying to Lose Weight ones that I would prefer to be eating lately. Sigh. Maybe Lean Cuisine is the way to go. 

Dinners for the Week of August 22-28

  • Sheet Pan Chicken Fajitas: I can definitely amp up the chicken and veggie quotient to get at least one, maybe more, days of leftovers out of this. 
  • 20 Minute Korean Beef Sesame NoodlesThis doesn’t seem particularly leftovers-friendly, although that could be my own bias against reheating beef, but it sounds really tasty. 

What are some of your favorite Plentiful Leftovers meals? Also, your favorite make-ahead meals, quick meals, one-person-eats-now,-the-other-person-eats-later meals?  

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Carla has begun third grade and by all reports, it is going swimmingly so far. While I miss having her sunshiny presence in the house, I have been eager to get my days back. I have writing to do and edits to make and housework to complete. 

But I haven’t quite been able to get my sea legs yet. I feel a little directionless, drifting on an ocean of possibility, but not finding anywhere to drop my metaphorical anchor. 

Part of my aimlessness, I think, is that the house is a mess. It’s cluttered with all the flotsam and jetsam a busy eight-year-old produces. So, I think, start there: clear the house of clutter and you’ll feel accomplished and free to sit down and work on all the other items on the to-do list. I did a first pass, pulling things off the walls (Carla’s long-abandoned reading tracker, an old poster from second grade, a few pictures she’d taped to her door) and wiping down the whiteboards that held our summer schedules and to-dos. I did a bunch of laundry and folded much of it. My husband, without being asked, went through the towering pile of mail that clings barnacle-like to the little sideboard near the garage door. 

Somehow, this did very little to free the house of its cluttery, oppressiveness. And even though I have settled in my writing chair, with a good idea about what to write, my brain feels unsettled and overcrowded. I keep thinking of things I could do that I don’t want to do: put the new fall schedule up on the whiteboards, finish folding the laundry, clean out the bucket that Carla filled with exploded water balloon fragments after last week’s playdate, tidy my desk or my bathroom, paint my toenails, take out the trash, get dinner started in the crockpot, finish unpacking the suitcases from our trip of two weeks ago, implement the edits I painstakingly made to my manuscript, exercise. 

I am fretting about a work thing, a family thing, a friend thing. The news is, once again, still, endlessly, terrible and disheartening. I am dreading Carla’s first soccer practice, during which I will surely be expected to talk to strangers. I keep trying to listen for the air conditioner, which decided to stop working yesterday for several hours, until our house was 82 degrees inside. (It came back on just in time for my husband to come home, ask why it was so hot inside, and then squint at me uncomprehendingly when I told him the air conditioner was broken.) I have a head cold, or a sinus infection, or something that makes me feel foggy and drippy and cranky all at once. I have a giant, inflamed mosquito bite smack in the middle of my forehead. Everything feels rumpled, troubled; ill-tempered waves lashing at me from all sides.

I think what I need to do is make an old-fashioned To Do List and start crossing things off. But the prospect of doing such a simple thing makes me feel limp with I don’t wanna. 

Surely you have felt adrift in this way before. What do you do to restart your engine and coax your ship forward, in any direction at all? 

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I had to double check that it truly is SEPTEMBER SEVENTEENTH SOMEHOW. This has long been a refrain of my life, the “where has time gone?!?!?!” theme, and yet it never ceases to astound me because WHERE has the time GONE?

Time has taken on even new depths of slippery-ness now that Carla is back in school. (She is SO HAPPY, internet. I know it could go remote at any moment, but for now she is SO HAPPY.) I keep jolting out of whatever I’m doing and thinking, “Where’s Carla?!” as though she’s still in the house somewhere and I’ve forgotten about her. Or I will look at the clock and think, “Oh my god! I need to go get Carla!” even though I may, in fact, have four hours yet before I need to pick her up. 

We have all these new things to do each day – make sure she doesn’t have a fever, answer some “do you have Covid or Covid symptoms?”-style questions via an app before 7:30, make sure she has a selection of masks to take to school with her – and it’s making me jumpy. I will be prepping her breakfast and think, “Oh no! I didn’t take her temperature yet!” Or we’ll be in the car line and I’ll yelp, “Shoot! I didn’t fill out the online form!” Or we’ll be just ready to step out the door and I’ll feel that sick sensation of having forgotten to wash her masks. When, in fact, I have plenty of time to take her temperature and I already filled out the form and she has plenty of clean masks.

And then there’s the new pickup time. The kids all have staggered arrival and departure times, and I need to pick Carla up at 2:45. Which is exactly the time I used to leave the house to pick her up. You are seeing the issue, right? Even though I have set my alarm for 2:30, so that I can leave the house right then to go get her, my brain is always going, “Pshaw, you have plenty of time!” because it still thinks I don’t need to LEAVE until 2:45. And then I’ll be puttering around doing lord knows what until I see that the clock says 2:37 and then I FLIP OUT. I have even included a little note that shows up when the alarm goes off, that says “PICKUP AT 2:45.” Still, my brain is convinced I have more time than I do. We live very close to Carla’s school, so I haven’t been late yet. But it’s been very very close. (I don’t know what would happen if I were late. Nothing, probably. But I like to FOLLOW the RULES.)

This is all part of adjusting to a new routine. I have set myself all sorts of alarms and reminders on my phone so I won’t forget any of the steps. Plus, we have purchased new whiteboards and listed out all the things Carla needs to remember each day (she can’t bring a backpack, but she does need masks and a water bottle) (she also has to take a shower immediately upon arriving home; I don’t know if this will help at all with germ containment, but it definitely helps move bedtime along more smoothly). We don’t have any after-school activities; our only commitment is one day a week, every other week, which helps significantly.  I think we have some good systems in place to help keep us on track. But it’s still early days, so I am feeling off-balance and afraid of making a mistake. 

When I was writing this post, I could not for the life of me remember the word for “commitment.” I was WRACKING my brain and coming up with nothing. Well, not NOTHING. The brain is very helpful, and was serving up all manner of wrong and not-even-remotely correct words. I am going to hope this isn’t a sign of aging but rather a keto-related brain fog, yes I have just started keto again and I don’t want to talk about it. Because I was in the car and unable to Google, I texted my husband. I am sure he lives for these urgent interruptions in helping seriously ill people. Obviously he knew the exact word I needed. He is a brilliant, wonderful man. This is the kind of thing that keeps a marriage fresh.

To change topics rather abruptly, Carla is very into LEGO right now. She’s always liked LEGO; she and her dad love to build scenes from Frozen and the like from sets. A few years ago, her grandmother even made her a big table-top sheet of LEGO that she can build on; it lives in our living room as a permanent part of our décor. But this summer, she’s gotten really into it. She used her allowance to buy a big tub of LEGO, rather than one of the build-something-specific kits, and she’s been busy building things and breaking things down and incorporating her creations into her imaginative play. I love that she finds it so absorbing. The other day, my husband and I watched football and Carla just… played with LEGO. The entire time. 

Aside from the important fact that CARLA enjoys LEGO, I like it because I feel like I can get points for playing with her while not actually playing. Listen, I love my child with the fire of all the stars in the universe, but I do not like playing with her. I do play with her. We play Barbies and we play restaurant and we play pet store and we play all sorts of things. But I do not enjoy it. I enjoy crafting and reading and going for walks with her. I enjoy doing things by myself. Playing, not so much. 

But with LEGO, I have carved out a very clear role for myself: that of Piece Finder. The way it works is that Carla will decide she wants to build something – a park or a hotel or a triceratops or whatever – and then she will tell me, “Find me all the green pieces.” Or, “I need all the 2×2 bricks.” Or, “I need this eye that looks like it’s closed so I can make my alligator wink.” And then I will sift through her giant tub of LEGO pieces and find what she needs. It is soothing and I am spending Quality Time with her and – most important of all! – she counts it as playing.

(“You never play with me!” has been a frequent tearful complaint these past six months, because creating lesson plans and taking her to the dog park and walking along as she rides her bike and watching her swing on the swingset and playing board games with her and taking her on hikes and teaching her how to bake banana bread and designing elaborate chalk obstacle courses with her and searching for bugs and watching Full House with her do not count as “playing.” Omfg.) 

We watched LEGO Masters starring Will Arnett (who normally annoys me, but whom I found rather endearing on this show??? even as he simultaneously sort of annoyed me????) together as a family. When it was airing live, earlier this year, I rolled my eyes at it. Carla kept wanting to watch the previews and I kept discouraging her from wanting to watch it. So lame, I thought. Grown ups playing with LEGOs? Ugh. But it turned out to be a really sweet, charming show featuring extraordinarily talented (and sometimes DEEPLY annoying) contestants and truly mind-blowing creations. The things these people can do with LEGO!!!! It makes me eager for Carla to pursue a LEGO-oriented career, like as a LEGO designer or builder or whatever you call them. How COOL would that be?????? (My husband and I agreed that the prize for winning LEGO Masters should be that you get to design something for LEGO. Or maybe get, like, an internship at LEGO or something. Because the contestants were SO creative and skilled with LEGO, it seems like the $100,000 prize was just not enough.) 

One thing that I found charming about LEGO Masters was that there is all this LEGO specific terminology. Like, I had no idea that LEGO is a plural noun. It’s not LEGOs, which I still have to correct myself from saying; it’s just LEGO. (I feel like kind of a dumbass saying LEGO as a plural. The same way I feel like a dumbass if I try to pronounce a foreign word correctly. Which, in both cases, is a stupid way to feel.) And the little LEGO pieces are called bricks. And they have ALL this lingo for different types of brick usage. It was super fun to learn.

One thing we did NOT learn, which would be intensely helpful: how to easily unpair bricks from one another. I spend a LOT of time breaking my thumbnails trying to get bricks apart for Carla’s various building needs. (We have a little orange thing that’s supposed purpose is for getting LEGO apart, but I do not know how to make it work. Most often, it slips and stabs me.) 

This post is not leading anywhere, so instead of leaving you in as completely abrupt a way as I switched subject matter earlier, I will say that we are now contemplating buying Carla a LEGO dragon. She requested one specifically, and I think it would be an excellent Christmas gift. She also wants 1,000 2×3 black bricks, but perhaps she will need to save up her allowance for that particular purchase.

We did get her a LEGO Advent calendar. There are several options in this category – like a Harry Potter version and a Star Wars one. We got her this one because it seemed a) the most Christmassy and b) it had the most options for actually building things; some of the others seemed to feature a lot of figures and not as many things you can put together. 

I can’t believe we’re thinking about Christmas already, but there you are. Well, I guess this post is ending where it began, with time slipping and sliding away. Before you know it, we’ll all be filling trash bags with scraps of wrapping paper and wondering how 2021 is right around the corner.

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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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Let’s pretend that we don’t care one way or another about the outcome, and let’s act like we are confident that we could calmly and resolutely march forward into the coming school year whatever it looks like, and let’s denude the entire situation of ALL its anxiety and stress and fear for the world and our own particular children, and let’s talk brightly and cheerfully about Back to School Shopping When We May Not Know Where School Will Take Place.

(Edited to add: We are currently anticipating sending Carla back to in-person school. Things could change; the school year doesn’t begin for a few weeks yet.)

So! My first question is about backpacks. How long do backpacks last? And, even if they are Sturdy Enough to last for multiple years, how long do they last from like a… user-preference standpoint? My husband says that Carla’s backpack – a Pottery Barn find of the Sturdy type – is totally fine for her again this year. She’s had it for three years, though, and – while it is still in Good Shape, it is looking a little dingy. My husband also reminds me that her backpack is a child’s size, and that he thinks a full size backpack would be too big for her. Maybe he’s right. But… at what age/size does a child need to pgrade to a full size backpack? I am not going into Pottery Barn kids anytime soon to compare sizes or have her try them on, so I realize we can only speak hypothetically here. Or perhaps – I am hoping – from experience. My own experience with backpacks is that I think I got a new one every year? I could be misremembering – conflating the Extreme Excitement I felt during the possibly fewer times I DID get a new backpack with general New School Supplies Excitement. (Oh man, is there anything as delightful as the purchase of a new TrapperKeeper and a colorful array of folders to snap inside it? I don’t know that many things in adulthood properly measure up.) Anyway: When it comes to backpacks for Carla, is it time for an update?

I am also wondering about school clothes. Carla’s school has a no-jeans dress code, with some other stipulations that I find less difficult to adhere to than “no jeans.” But I am not particularly inclined to buy her a whole closet full of new dresses at the moment. (See how I deftly sidestepped talking about WHY I am reluctant to do so?) She has a whole closet full of dresses, many of which still fit. And those that are too short, well, it’s harder to care about that sort of thing when you might only interact with other students over Zoom. (Whoops – got a little too close to The Subject We Are Avoiding there for a minute.)

She does need new pajamas, though. Her current jammies show off three or four inches of shoulder and wrist.  That’s not technically a Back to School Shopping Item, though.

What about shoes? Will there be a lot of shoe-wearing in our futures? WHO CAN PREDICT.

I think we are all set on water bottles. We have two, even if one is pretty battered. And we have masks galore (my dear friend, who said she would make Carla a mask, made her TEN MASKS and then made me a mask as well with the extra fabric she is a SAINT), so I am not worrying about facial protection.

Carla’s school provides all day-to-day school supplies, like crayons and paper and scissors and such (yes, I know we are deeply, deeply fortunate), so we don’t need to buy any of those things. Plus, we are All Set on that kind of thing at home from the end of the last school year.

Part of the thing about Back to School Shopping, though, is that it helps build excitement for the school year. I mean, that’s how I remember it. Getting new clothes and new pencils with perfectly sharpened tips and notebooks filled with fresh, crisp sheets of paper was all tied up in that thrill of nerves about the new school year beginning. Even if we have replaced the delicious anticipation about which teacher we’ll get and which kids will be in our class and which wing of the school we’ll be in with – skipping briskly over stressful subjects la la la – other things, we should still get to be excited about a new year, no? Maybe a First Day of School dress is in order? Maybe a new backpack or a new water bottle WOULD be a good use of money? Maybe I could get her a bunch of erasers in fun shapes and pencils in fun patterns and hand sanitizer in cloying scents and cute fidget toys? If they aren’t exactly necessary, maybe they would HELP nonetheless?

It feels like we’re all in this endless holding pattern. And, okay, even once Decisions have been made — and I know that What Happens With School has already been determined for a lot of people — life still isn’t The Way It Was. So all these routines and seasonal purchases and annual Things We Look Forward To just… aren’t there right now. I think I’m leaning toward getting a few things, just for the sake of (fake) normalcy, fun, and creating joy where we can. If there’s anything on the list, it should be those three things.

Plus, I have my own personal Back to School Shopping List, and let me tell you, it starts with tequila and ends with gin.

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