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Posts Tagged ‘distraction’

I am sad and my foot hurts and I have too many things to do but instead I keep bouncing back and forth between reading awful news articles and researching gun control legislation, so I am going to distract myself by blogging for a few minutes. 

Today as I was putting away the groceries (this is the THIRD trip to the grocery store I have made this week, which is a testament to how important it is to MEAL PLAN in advance because I did not do that this week and now here we are), I came across a giant five-pound bag of sugar that I bought in 2020 during the height of the sugar/flour shortage. I remember spotting it at Costco, alongside enormous industrial sized bags of flour and snapping it up with glee and relief. It has remained in my basement lo these many years. 

Well, my sugar container is looking a bit wan, so I will use the five-pound bag to refill it. My sugar container does not hold five pounds of sugar, though, so… I’m not really sure what to do with the remainder. That’s what gallon-size Ziploc storage bags are for, I suppose.

(The reason I need to refill the sugar container is because I am making cupcakes. They were supposed to do double duty: 1. They were to be dessert for an evening with friends, who were scheduled to come for dinner this weekend. 2. They were to be a special birthday surprise for our neighbor, who has become one of Carla’s favorite people on the planet; when Carla found out it was the neighbor’s birthday, she insisted that we make cupcakes. Anyway, the friends are no longer coming but the neighbor is still having a birthday, so I am still making cupcakes.) 

Pulling out the five-pound bag of sugar did jolt me back, a bit, into those dark days of the early pandemic. Not that the days have gotten a whole lot brighter, in many senses, pandemic and otherwise. But things are different. We no longer buy two jars of pickles a week, for one thing. I still note that we are getting low on paper towels or toilet paper, but I don’t fret. I raised my eyebrows when I saw that cream cheese was in very low supply (and zero of the Philadelphia brand was available), but I didn’t grab more boxes than I need for the cupcake recipe. The peanut butter shelves were near-empty, but that’s because of the Jif recall, not because peanut butter is no longer available. (Our giant two-pack of Jif was in the affected batch; we’d already eaten one entire jar but the other was unopened.) I have been gradually and purposefully whittling down our supply of frozen meat, rather than rushing out to refill it. 

I know things are still far from pre-pandemic “normal.” The note about “only four packages of baby formula per person” at my Target is a glaring example of that fact. But I do worry less. 

On the illness front: I have given Carla a Covid test before school every day this week. She keeps waking up with a sore throat or sniffles (that do seem to magically disappear by the time we leave for school), and I just don’t want to take a chance. Plus, Covid is rampant in her grade, with four and five cases per class as of last week (except in Carla’s class, so far). We are five days out from the end of the school year, and it would be amazing if she could make it the whole way… but that seems increasingly unlikely. 

My family continues to wear masks in public, indoor spaces. I am accustomed to wearing one that I don’t really notice anymore how many people are or aren’t wearing masks. I haven’t been hassled. My husband thinks that our road trip later this summer will take us through a lot of areas where masking will be non-existent, and I wonder if we’ll be hassled then; we’ll see. Carla’s school went mask-optional a long time ago, and we allowed Carla to make her own choice about whether to wear one or not. She enthusiastically chose NOT. We have been urging her, as cases at school and in her grade have crept up, to reconsider, and I think she IS wearing a mask at least some of the time. But it’s hard to know. When you are eight, it is extremely difficult to understand abstract non-immediate consequences. 

We are in the very, very privileged position of not having any underlying health issues ourselves, and not having any immunocompromised people in our household or classroom/work situation to worry about so we are more relaxed than some. I don’t know much about Long Covid, so that does worry me a little. We are of course willing and happy to take stronger measures if necessary – like I am always happy to throw on a mask if a friend is wearing one, and I don’t insist on going out for coffee when it is perfectly acceptable to have coffee at my house. But I feel like we have reached a level of comfort and regularity with how we protect ourselves. More than ever, it feels like contracting Covid is inevitable. We have been so lucky not to have it (or to have had such mild cases it went through us undetected); that luck is bound to run out.  

We are looking at a nice long weekend ahead of us. I finally got some flowers into the flowerpots in my front and back yard, and that makes me feel much better about things. They were looking so dejected and depressed; now they have little bright spots of color. (Except for the pot that has been designated as Carla’s. She went with me to pick out the flowers, and she fell in love with some black petunias. She would have had all our pots full of black flowers if it were up to her. Instead, I bought her a black petunia and gave her her own pot. And then filled up the other flower pots with purple and yellow and pink.)

I am very disappointed that our friends are no longer coming. We haven’t seen them since February, and they are the kind of people whose social calendars fill up months in advance so the next time they can work us in is August. (In fact, we’d originally been scheduled to have them over for dinner in April, but they accidentally double-booked us and had to back out of that; late May was the first available option way back in March when they realized the issue.) So I am disappointed and cranky about that. Especially because I already bought – literally – ten Roma tomatoes so I can make salsa and five avocados so I can make guacamole. I guess my little family will be feasting on salsa and guacamole all weekend. Perhaps I can coax our neighbor to come over for a little birthday fiesta? 

In my planning for the dinner party, I totally forgot about the long weekend. So this morning I planned out our meals on the fly, mid-produce section. In addition to chips, salsa, guacamole, and strawberry cupcakes, here’s what we will be eating:

  • Ground Beef Tacos: Carla squealed with delight when I told her we will be having tacos. Same, Carla. Same.
  • Spinach Salad with Strawberries, Chicken, and Goat Cheese: I will be using regular strawberries this time, not pineberries. Also, I like to use a mix of spinach and arugula because I dislike spinach. Also also, I am going to make my favorite balsamic dressing instead of the raspberry vinaigrette. 
  • Steak Kebabs: This may end up being steaks and veggies instead because my husband has a very interesting aversion to cooking shish kebabs. Even if I am the one who threads the food onto the skewers AND grills the skewers, he is very… hesitant about it. I am choosing to see this quirk as cute.
  • Crispy Slow Cooker Carnitas: This is what I planned to make for our friends. It’s fairly keto-friendly and always delicious.
  • Greek Chicken Chopped Salad: Unfortunately, I could not find any fresh oregano so I will need to go to the grocery store YET AGAIN. I will use that opportunity to buy more berries; I cannot get enough strawberries right now.

Salads and tacos. Sounds pretty great to me.

What are you up to this weekend? If you live in the U.S., are you doing anything special for Memorial Day?

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Are there people in your life who simply rub you the wrong way? Like, no matter what they do, their actions grate on you? And maybe it’s not so much that their actions grate, but that you are pre-expecting those things to irritate you, so you get advance annoyed? No no no. Let’s not talk about this; it’s steeping me further into agitation, the way scratching a mosquito bite just makes it itchier.

Sometimes I am so sick of being The Wife. Not A Wife; I love my husband and on the whole enjoy being married to him. But sometimes the Wifely Expectations make me so mad! And Wifely Expectations sounds much more salacious than what I’m alluding to. I’m talking about the thing where you wait until everyone else is served to take your own food, and then the food is cold. Or how when every spot on the couch is taken, except for the one in the middle, which is blocked in by the coffee table and four pairs of legs, no one notices and so you sit on the floor because asking everyone to move would require lots of standing up and picking up of plates and shuffling around. Or how you wake up earlier than everyone else to make sure the house is as clean and tidy as possible, even though it will be messy and crumb filled the next morning, and no one notices (although they would be sure to notice if things continued along the messy/crumb-y route). Or how when your mother-in-law (also The Wife) offers to clean up the kitchen, it is to help YOU out, not your husband because it is not his job to clean up the kitchen, it is the job of The Wife. Okay. Deep breaths. Let’s not go further down THIS path.

No Dinners This Week post, because my sister-in-law may or may not be arriving at some point today or tomorrow, and I am unable to commit to a meal that may or may not take her into account. Tonight we are having takeout from an Indian restaurant; we were ALL in the mood for it last night, but neither of the two options we could agree on were open. I still have ingredients for fajitas, short ribs with polenta, and pork with roasted vegetables that I’d planned on last week, so those should hopefully tide us over. Well. That topic is less – but not un- – fraught, but I have nothing more to say about it.

For multiple very boring and make-sense-only-to-me reasons, I have decided to make an effort to eat breakfast more consistently. And I am hoping that you will help me figure out the best breakfasts and the best breakfast times, because I am floundering around.

I will tell you, in advance, that it may seem futile to offer your own suggestions. It may seem like the kind of thing where someone asks for advice and then wrinkles their nose at everything you recommend. But I promise that I want your suggestions and breakfast insights, and that I am willing to TRY, even if the nose-wrinkling feels more natural.

I feel like sort of a breakfast newbie, so I want to collect data and go from there.

Breakfast Foods

For most of my life, I have not only avoided breakfast, but actively disliked it. I remember eating breakfast in elementary/middle school: usually Rice Krispies or a bowl of milk with a single brick of Shredded Wheat in it. Maybe Corn Pops if whomever had done the grocery shopping was feeling wild. Sometimes a toasted Eggo waffle. It was something to be endured, not something to enjoy, and I am very much an Eats for Enjoyment type, rather than the equally valid but mysterious-to-me Eats for Sustenance type.

When I was in high school, and responsible for driving myself, I did not eat breakfast, opting instead to drink a can of vending machine Coke when I got to my first period class. (I can’t imagine that school vending machines carry soda anymore, but mine did. We also had candy machines, and I ate a package of peanut butter M&Ms for lunch almost daily.)

After that, the breakfast timeline gets fuzzy… because I think I just stopped eating breakfast altogether. I am not particularly hungry when I wake up, and I dislike 95% of the options – eggs, oatmeal, and cereal being right up there with the breakfast things I despise the most. Granola bars, breakfast cookies, muffins, protein bars – none of those interest me in the least.

You might think I would be an ideal candidate for intermittent fasting, and I have tried that in the past, but I am not interested in doing it again at the moment (although that might change at some point; who knows).

During my brief flirtations with keto, I ate a hot dog every single morning, and it tasted both incredibly delicious and yet horrifically nauseating at the same time. Kind of how I imagine it would feel to be a vampire: disgusted by what you’re doing, but craving it with every cell of your being.

Sometimes, I will eat Greek yogurt with honey and granola, topped with raspberries or pomegranate seeds. I really only like this as a combination. Sometimes I will make a mango smoothie, but I admit to being a little weary of them lately. Yogurt by itself generally doesn’t do it for me – and it is very difficult to find my preferred yogurt, which is blended raspberry. Must be blended, none of that fruit on the bottom stuff for me no thank you.

On special occasions, I can handle a Big, Traditional Breakfast. You know. A frittata. A breakfast strata. Belgian waffles. Pancakes and bacon. French toast casserole. But those are special occasion breakfasts, not everyday breakfasts – at least, for me.

Once in a great while, I will make myself an omelet or scramble myself an egg. But this is very rare, because eggs typically make me queasy.

I am not ever going to eat a banana.

Today I ate a jar of honey-flavored Oui yogurt, which is delicious and not something I can gear myself up to pay for on a daily basis. ($1.59 per jar! And, yes, the jars are perfect for regenerating scallions on your windowsill, but I already have six of them.) I also had some fresh raspberries, leftover from my daughter’s breakfast this morning. (In addition to the raspberries, I made [“made”] her a chocolate-chocolate-chip muffin, which she used to LOVE and now refuses to eat because I accidentally let her see the package and now she knows it contains vegetables. Why do we teach children to read?)

Carbs are great. I love carbs. I love an English muffin with butter and raspberry jam. I love a toasted bagel with butter and salt. I love toast. But most days they seem too heavy to bother with. And they often seem, somehow, to start the day off on the wrong foot. They sit like a lump in my stomach, for one thing. But I also feel – perhaps imaginarily – that I get hungrier faster when I start out with carbs. Who knows. It could be the result of Big Keto, filling my newsfeed and my brain with the dangers of blood sugar spikes etc. etc. Or it could be a real phenomenon. Or maybe I crave a bagel on days when I am already hungrier and there’s nothing I can do to stop it.

Everything I read stresses the importance of PROTEIN! in the mornings. But I don’t really like protein, I guess is the issue. I already mentioned my aversion to eggs. I do love a slice of bacon, but microwave bacon is about as appealing as frying up bacon every day (i.e. not appealing). My morning keto hotdog would probably do a lot more harm than good, considering I am no longer doing keto. And I REFUSE to eat peanut butter, all due deference to those who love it.

I am also not opposed to eating lunch for breakfast. Many a time have I warmed up some leftover soup or tacos at nine in the morning. But then what am I supposed to eat for lunch? Problems, problems.

Breakfast Timing

Usually, I wake up, start my tea brewing, unload the dishwasher, and then drink my tea – all between approximately 6:30 and 7:15 in the morning.  Straight out of bed, I am almost never hungry. In fact, the idea of food makes me nauseated when I am still trying to wake up. (“Why are you staring at the floor, Mommy?” Carla asks me, as I space out, trying vainly to rejoin the realm of the living.)

But then I like to exercise right after I drop Carla off at school, which means that I am exercising on an empty stomach. (“The #1 Absolute Worst Thing You Can Do For Your Health!” according to several Instagram diet and exercise gurus I click on too often.) If perhaps I should be waking up earlier, then I need to find a different family, one that has fewer night owls.

Also, it is weird to eat breakfast without tea, but I rarely want a second mug of tea so early in the day. Hmmm. A paradox.

I have been experimenting with delaying my tea until after drop off, and drinking it with a little breakfast. This seems to work well: I am hungrier at that time, at least. But it does mean that I feel less inclined to exercise. Well. One thing at a time.

Breakfast… At All?

Okay, who knows. Maybe I am trying to force myself into a pattern that just doesn’t work for me. I acknowledge that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” could very well apply to only a portion of the population, and that I am an outlier. Maybe I really need to embrace my tremendous enthusiasm for lunch, and give up on breakfast all together. Maybe having reached a Breakfast Experimentation phase in my life is an indication that I have too much time on my hands.

But for now at least, the Breakfast Experimentation phase persists. And in my quest for reliable, enjoyable breakfast foods, I am really curious about what YOU eat for breakfast, and any other breakfast-related topics.

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I was calling up to my daughter this morning, to tell her breakfast was ready, and it struck me that I never in a million years would have predicted that I would end up using the nickname I most often do. 

One of the reasons I fell in love with her name is because it had an abundance of nickname choices. I didn’t love one of the nicknames – the most common one – because it seems to be fairly common overall, both as a nickname for her name… but also as a nickname for other names… or even as a name by itself. But her name was in our family tree, and my husband and I both loved it, and it had ALL those other nickname possibilities… and I had fallen in love with one of the (lesser used) nicknames in particular. 

Let’s say, for example’s sake, that her given name is Carla (which it is not), and I had been sure, just sure that I would call her LaLa. But instead, I almost exclusively call her Carly – the very common nickname I had wrinkled my nose at early on. 

It really is so funny how naming works. Because now that “Carly” is inextricably associated with my darling child, I love it. 

A couple of times, I have given LaLa a go, just to see what would happen. (Carla is fine with this; she seems to find it sort of novel, that I had planned to call her LaLa.) But not only does LaLa seem very separate from Carla-the-person, it feels odd in my mouth.

I also love that her friends have come up with their own separate nickname for her: Cars. It’s so cute, and I never would have imagined it when I was choosing her name. Sometimes I call her Car, sure, but Cars seems different in a way that I find so charming. Well. Perhaps you’d have to be here, in my brain, to see it. 

Who knows why we never gave LaLa a fair shake from the beginning. Probably it’s because we refer to Carla, 90% of the time, as Carla. I use the Carly nickname a lot more these days than I ever have before; perhaps I am getting lazy in my decrepitude.

Oh! One unforeseen benefit of going with Carly over LaLa: One of the dogs down the street is LaLa. The dog is only a few years old, so I’m guessing that if we had gone with LaLa, the neighbors would have chosen something else. But maybe not! 

Did you have a nickname growing up? Do you now? I’ve had a couple over the years. My parents planned a nickname for me, based on squishing part of my first name together with a common nickname for my middle name. That sounds really weird when I can’t just share it with you, but that’s how they came up with it. They LOVED it. In fact, I think I even went by that name for some time. But – and I remember the event clearly, even if I can’t remember at all how old I was – I was enrolled in ski school at some ski resort when I was little, and someone mispronounced my nickname in such a horrid, detestable way that I immediately and vehemently refused to answer to that name ever again.

Later on, in high school, a couple of kids called me Susie. But it was irregular and there were only a few specific people who did so. I never introduced myself as Susie or anything. 

In college, one of my beloved roommates started calling me Suz, which stuck. That’s how I began referring to myself. My mom and my husband and a handful of other people (almost exclusively college friends) still call me that today. Aside from that, my husband doesn’t use any nicknames for me. Sometimes he’ll call me “Babe.” But that’s it. 

Once college ended, I went back to using my full name at work and when I met people. So most people just call me by my full first name. 

The lack of nicknames almost makes a little wistful, I guess, because I am a very nickname-y person (though I try not to be annoying about it). Obviously, if you don’t like a nickname, I will refer to you by whatever name you choose. But I tend to have multiple endearments for my nearest and dearest. As I said earlier, I refer to Carla as Carly (most often), and then Car, and then C, but I also call her Little Cat or Kitten (because she used to make a purring sound after she drank milk when she was an infant) or Honey Bun or Cutey Patootie or Sweetheart or whatever strikes my fancy in the moment. I have a variety of sobriquets for my husband. I even still call my brother by his childhood nickname, which I am sure he LOVES (but he has never bristled or asked me to stop). 

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For a few weeks or months maybe, I have noticed a change in my grief. I still think of my friend every day, but the thoughts are mainly happy and wistful. There is the occasional instance when I come across something I would have normally called or texted her about, and I can’t call or text her, and so there’s nowhere for that desire to go, which is a sad and unbalancing way to feel. But mainly I’ve been doing better. Less sharp stabbing pain, more dull, bearable ache. But I have been having jolts of anticipatory sadness in the past week or so, knowing that the milestone of One Year Since She Left Us was coming up. And today I am really not okay. I suppose this is all normal, and you’ve possibly endured it too, and I’m sorry. 

I dreamt about her last night. It was one of those dreams that feels long and endless, but of course it probably took only a few seconds. In the dream, my friend was alive and cheerful and planning all sorts of fun things to do, but I knew she was going to die before we got to do any of it. So instead of being able to enjoy the planning and the anticipation, all I could do was struggle not to cry, to try very very hard to preserve the illusion – for her – that everything was and would continue to be great. It was an awful, heartbreaking dream — not least because I was with! her! and yet I was ruining that precious time by being sad!

But of course this is how it is for all of us. We are all going to leave this plane of existence at one time or another. We will, and so will everyone we love. And we know that it will happen. And yet somehow we go on, making plans, and falling in love, and having babies, and getting crabby with one another and making poor decisions and wasting time and sleeping in and procrastinating and all the mundane, wonderful activities of a normal life, and pretending for our loved ones and ourselves that everything is fine without falling over sobbing from the absurdity of all of it. I do not know how. 

::EXTREME TONE CHANGE::

Which is all to say that I am craving uplift and distraction. I think I will watch some old episodes of Real Housewivesbecause that is soothing in its ridiculousness. Maybe I will take a nap. Sunshine and exercise are curative, or, if not exactly curative, at least healthful so I plan on walking to the neighborhood grocery store to check out the selection of mums, which I drive past every day and which seem lovely and cheerful and fall-ish. Perhaps, if the store looks un-crowded, I will even dash in and buy an avocado. 

What else can I do to distract myself? If you’re up for it, we could play a little game of Never Have I Ever.

Come on, it’s Friday, everything is awful. I’ll go first.

Never Have I Ever…

… gone more than a day without shaving my legs. And even that is RARE. A friend noticed the cooling weather with relish the other day, saying she was excited to stop painting her toes and shaving her legs. Do most people do that? Go all winter without shaving? It sounds very freeing, but itchy. I have been shaving my legs since sixth grade, if I remember right (I certainly remember being teased by other, more sophisticated girls for how hairy my legs were) (to be fair, they were very lush), and I haven’t stopped since. Once in a while, if I don’t take a shower that day, I won’t shave. But every single time I bathe, I shave my legs. Even if I went swimming at a spa or something, back in the Before Times, I would shave my legs afterward, with those horrible single-blade disposable razors you get at places like that. Even if I forget my razor at a hotel, I call down and get a free one so I can shave. Even when I was pregnant, I shaved my legs EVERY DAY. It’s just MUCH more comfortable to me, to have clean-shaven stems. I do not feel the same compulsion with my underarms. 

…eaten sushi. At least the raw fish kind. Listen, there are just some foods I KNOW I won’t like. Yes, yes, I know you are supposed to try new things ‘cuz they might taste good (TM Daniel Tiger), but I can TELL by the way the raw fish looks that it is going to be a texture I cannot abide. Plus, I have touched a lot of raw fish, so I KNOW it will be a texture I cannot abide. It is beautiful and many many people love it but it is NOT for me.

…lived by myself. I went straight from my parents’ house to college, where I shared a dorm all four years (three of those years, my roommate was the friend I am missing today). Then I went to graduate school and lived with my then-boyfriend. Then he and I moved together so he could attend medical school, then we got married, and have been living together ever since. I think the closest I ever came to living alone was the summer before senior year of college when I got a job in my husband’s hometown so we could be together… and “house sat” for a family who lived across the street from his childhood home. I slept on a mattress on the floor in one of the bedrooms and had to keep the house Show Ready for any interested buyers. There was zero furniture in the house, and it was enormous and had a scary basement. But that was three months AT MOST and I spent much of my non-working time at my husband’s house. 

…broken a bone. Well, caveat, I do think I may have broken a big toe at some point in my youth. But that was never proven and therefore doesn’t count. My husband has broken a couple of bones and it seems like I’m in the minority when it comes to leaving my thirties with all my original bones, intact. Maybe I just run in a fragile crowd, I don’t know. 

…seen my husband’s office. Okay, okay, this is kind of a cheat because he has three offices. (Down from five.) But I have only seen one of the current offices. That’s kind of weird to me, considering how much time I spent in my father’s medical office – and even in my mom’s law office – when I was a kid. I feel like I should be able to picture where he is when he’s at work. Not in a controlling way. I suppose the difference is that it’s not really HIS space; he shares it, since he rotates through, so he has no copies of his medical license and diplomas on the wall, no nameplate on his desk, no framed photos of me and Carla on bookshelves filled with not his books, no trout-themed paintings on all the exam room walls (TM my former ophthalmologist). But STILL! He goes to these places every week and it feels odd to me that I have yet to see them.

Okay. Your turn.  

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Do I write about anything besides food? Is this a thing where I have A Serious Problem and I am just breezily unaware of it? I’m hoping it’s just Keto, which forces me to think about food waaaayyyyy more than I want to, and way more than is probably healthy.

Right now is my food witching hour. Well. Witching Hour #1. (The second takes place after Carla goes to bed when I flop onto the couch and watch something ridiculous.) This is the period of time between when I am starting to get hungry for dinner (about 4:00/4:30) and when we actually EAT dinner (anywhere between 6:30 to 9:00, depending on my husband’s schedule and/or my ability to time the dinner correctly). 

(This is also some sort of mating witching hour for a local… chipmunk? bird of some sort? other creature that makes repetitive clock-ticking – but, like, a loud cuckoo-style clock-ticking sound, not a tiny click that a normal wall clock makes – noises every single day at right about this time?)

(Well, now whatever it is has finished his business and has moved on. Soon the neighbors will release their dog into their backyard where he will bark persistently until they let him in. Which takes MUCH longer than it reasonably should.) 

Anyway, I am typing this post right now to avoid snacking. I have already snacked on my Allotted Keto Snack, which is an ounce of cheddar cheese, and which was delicious. I have been doing Keto for one week and two days and it has been going fine – you know, as fine as it goes when you hate it and all food seems super sad and/or requires too much chewing. But today I have been smacked right in the face by Severe Cravings.

Maybe if I write them down here I will transfer some of the craving energy from my belly into the Internet. That’s a thing, right? Like how if you post about your baby sleeping through the night, she is guaranteed to wake up seven times the next night and for every night for the next three months? Maybe it’s like that with cravings: I tell you all about them, and then they disappear. Yes. That is going to happen.

At some point, I hope to have a relationship with Keto that is less restricted. Where I can take little breaks. Or even… eat regular amounts of carbs on the weekend or something. I don’t know. But right now, everything feels very fragile and precarious, and I’m worried that one rogue glass of wine is going to tip me right off the wagon and into a bag of tortilla chips.

(Here is where I note that this weekend, we have not one but TWO [outdoor, masked-except-while-eating] family get togethers [of the exactly three families we have gotten together with since March, these are two of them] and so I am already sure that I will be pretty lenient with myself. My husband is making these amazing cookies, for one thing, and for another, we will be watching football [outdoors, on their deck; I don’t understand how this will work either; do they have an outdoor TV?] and football goes so very well with beer. Maybe I will take some Michelob Ultra with me?)

(Also: TWO get togethers??? That seems so incredibly extravagant. But it is also coming at a good time; this is the anniversary of my friend’s death and I am feeling wan and tearful, so being with other friends should be a lovely and welcome distraction.)

I am slightly surprised by the things I am craving most fiercely; for one thing, “chips” is not up there. Not that I’d throw a plate of nachos out of bed, mind you. But I have other carbs on the brain.

  1. Bagel. This is my top food fantasy right now. A thick bagel, soft on the inside, crunchy on the outside, perfectly toasted. Coated in a slick layer of butter with salt and a nice gooey topping of honey. Oh my GOD. 
  2. Wheat thins. We have a box in the pantry and I ate one this past weekend and it was SO GOOD and I have been thinking about gobbling up its brethren ever since.
  3. Triscuits. We also have a box of these bad boys because I was eating cheese with Triscuits all summer when I needed a little pre-dinner snack. So now when I eat cheese, there’s a Pavlovian Triscuit bell that rings in my head.
  4. Apple anything. A nice, crisp, juicy apple. Apple cake. Apple crisp. Apple pie. ANYTHING WITH APPLE.
  5. Mango smoothie. I think this is a spite craving and will be therefore fleeting; I made a smoothie today with raspberries but before I did that, I looked up how many carbs mango would set me back and it was A LOT. My raspberry smoothie left a lot to be desired, so I have been really jonesing for the mango version I used to make for myself and Carla on nights she had ballet.
  6. Bruschetta. I would love a nice crusty baguette, sliced into pillowy rounds, and coated with wonderful things like spinach and artichoke dip or a mushroomy tapenade. YUM.
  7. Garlic bread. Droooooooool.

I thought for sure I would really want pizza, because I love pizza with all my heart. But I have been making a Keto version (with fathead dough) and I guess it is an adequate-enough stand-in that I am not missing pizza too much. (Yet.) (Adequate is the absolute highest praise I can give the fathead pizza dough. I think all the people who say it tastes just! like! regular! dough! have either been on Keto for too long or have never eaten really good pizza.)

I would also love a big glass of Sauvignon Blanc. And a Coke. 

I have thinking about Coke so intently today that I may temporarily suspend my “no artificial sweeteners” rule and drink a Coke Zero. We’ll see. 

What are you craving right now?

Thank you for joining me on this cravings journey. It is now time to put my dinner in the oven and feel resentful toward our neighbors and their dog who has, right on cue, begun to bark in their yard.

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

Let’s talk about food! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dinners for the Week of September 7-13

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

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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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If nothing else, being forced to stay at home and supervise my daughter’s distance learning has been excellent for my reading. I have already read ten books this year (which is a lot for me), and eight of them since self-isolation began in mid-March.

Since we last discussed books, I have read several more that I can recommend. Agatha Christie continues to be a perfect book type for me – I love mysteries, and Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple are just so charming and coy and the mysteries themselves are fun and not overly violent or dark. The very definition of cozy. And nothing distracts my brain like a good mystery. I just read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and it was delightful. I wish my library had more copies of Christie books available via ebook, but I am apparently not the only person who finds them ideal pandemic reading.

Speaking of cozy mysteries: Allison R. mentioned Louise Penny in response to my previous post which reminded me that I had her first Inspector Gamache mystery – Still Life – on my bookshelf. I read it and enjoyed it. Perhaps not with the enthusiasm I feel about Christie books, but with enough pleasure that I will read more Penny books.

I did read the Liz Moore book my husband got me for my birthday. It was excellent. A well-crafted mystery. Good writing. Believable, relatable characters. But… it dealt with a lot of Heavy Topics, so I don’t know that it helped my mood any.

Open Book  – Jessica Simpson’s memoir – was a very satisfying read. I am predisposed toward Jessica Simpson – I was a teenager when she and Britney and Christina appeared on the music scene, and I watched Newlyweds  religiously and found Simpson’s ditzy act to be charming and refreshing. The book was also charming, in its way. And I loved learning all about her life before stardom and getting the juicy details about her breakup with Nick Lachey and the juicier details about her on-and-off relationship with John Mayer. This book also had some Heavy Topics – sexual abuse and alcoholism/substance abuse – but Simpson somehow managed to address the topics in a way that felt truthful but also optimistic. And her religious faith and sense of humor are threaded throughout the book in such a way that buoys you along. This book was nowhere near as light and fluffy as I’ll Be There for You: The One About Friends, but it was still light enough and definitely scratched my celebrity-curiosity itch in a very satisfactory way.

The BEST book I have read recently is Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert. Kelly used to be a blogger, a million years ago, and I always enjoyed her posts. But man, her fiction is EXCELLENT. I read her first novel, Conviction, a couple of years ago and really liked it; it’s a book that has stayed with me, and I still find myself thinking about the protagonist and his motivations and choices. But Picture Us in the Light is just… it’s one of those books that I want you to read so badly I am having to restrain myself from grabbing you about the shoulders and shaking you until you buy it. First, it’s Young Adult fiction, which is not normally my thing… but the writing is so good that it feels relevant and worthwhile to read even so. (This feels reductive of YA fiction, which can be excellent. But there’s enough out there that’s not great that I feel I have to include a caveat.) Like some of the other books I’ve been reading, it’s got some Heavy Topics, although I don’t want to detail them for you because I don’t want to give anything away. But the care with which Kelly handled the heavy stuff and the beauty of the writing and the wonderful, wonderfully flawed characters made it a hypnotizing book that I read straight through in a couple of days. I’m not going to tell you that it won’t break your heart; I fell in love with the characters and wept several times over their pain. But there’s healing there, too.

I have been watching much less TV than I anticipated I would during a pandemic. Partly because I want to be providing A Good Example for my child, and partly because I am sitting in her room with her for hours every day as she does her schoolwork. But I have been watching a little bit, and I have some recommendations.

The second season of Songland  just started on NBC. I only watched the first season begrudgingly because my husband was interested… but fell in love with it almost immediately. The premise is that a singer/band is looking for a new song to round out an album. Four songwriters present songs they think would appeal to the singer/band. The singer/band picks three songs to work on, and a trio of music producers – Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic, Ester Dean, and Shane McAnally – help the songwriters improve their songs, which they then re-present to the singer/band. The singer/band chooses one of the songs. It is really fun to watch the songs’ transformations from something beautiful and raw to something more produced and tailored to the specific singer/band. The producers are super talented and everyone treats the songs they are working on with such respect and care. It’s a feel-good show and I really love it.

Together with Carla, who wants to be a zookeeper someday, we are watching The Zoo on Animal Planet. It takes place in the Bronx zoo, and usually has three storylines, following three separate animals. Maybe an injured bird will be rehabilitated and the released into the wild. Or a red panda will get pregnant and have babies. Or a camel will be found down in the yard and the zoo staff have to figure out what’s wrong. It’s got cute animals and staff who are deeply enthusiastic about the creatures under their care. Sometimes animals die on the show, which is sad – but I suppose that’s what happens. What I love most – beside the cute fuzzy critters – is the staff. It makes me all teary to think that there are people in the world who love animals SO MUCH that they make it their life’s work to take care of them, to make sure they are loved and fed and comfortable, to help spread the word about conservation and what it’s like for these animals in the wild and why their habitats are disappearing. These are people who care so much about the mental and physical health of the animals that they will spend days or weeks training them to feel comfortable around and inside a crate, just so the creatures aren’t scared or worried during a very short trip to a new location or to a veterinary clinic for a checkup. It’s a very welcome difference from the money-hungry cruelty of Tiger King.

My husband and I finally got around to watching the final season of The Good Place. The last episode made me sob and sob, it was so well done. I really wish I could watch the whole series again for the first time.

After several years of hearing rave reviews about it, I just started watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Oh it is so good. I have been staying up much too late to watch multiple episodes back to back. My husband doesn’t love it – it has the same non-stop patter viewers will remember from Gilmore Girls, which drives him nuts. But I don’t mind that, terribly, and it’s hilarious. Raunchier and cruder than I anticipated, with a LOT of foul language. But it’s so funny and fun. If, like me, you are years behind the TV trends, I highly recommend it.

Next up: I am in the middle of Elvis Duran’s memoir, Where Do I Begin? Stories from a Life Lived Out Loud. On the recommendation of NGS, I have checked out Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street. On the suggestion of Kara, I have recommended As If: The Oral History of Clueless to my library, because I want to read it and they somehow do not own it. And, because of a recommendation from Lee and Angela, I have As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride on hold via my library – only six weeks until it’s my turn to read it!

 

Now it’s your turn. What have you been reading/watching since we last talked?

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I checked out the ebook version of I’ll Be There for You: The One About Friends from my library, and it was the PERFECT distraction from These Unprecedented Times. Maybe if you don’t care for Friends it would be less perfect, but I DID like Friends and still watch episodes on occasion and I really enjoyed the book.

In places – okay, a lot of places – it seemed like the author had just read all possible media content about the show and its actors, and was compiling it all in one place – like, maybe this book has no actual newinformation. But… I liked it anyway. I thought the author did a great job of finding fun facts about the actors and interesting behind-the-scenes tidbits. And I WASN’T going to go read all articles on the topic, so I was pleased that she’d done it for me and summarized the best parts.

Another thing I liked was that the author did not shy away from some of the more discomfiting aspects of the show – like how it can be blatantly homophobic and how nearly everyone is white – which I appreciated.

What I liked most, perhaps – and this is probably a feature of the times we live in – is that she explained why Friends has such staying power, particularly as “comfort fare.” It grew even more popular in the wake of 9/11, for instance, and I can definitely see myself turning to the show for comfort and distraction even now.

But now I’m done reading it, and I’m looking for the same kind of warm, cozy comfort it brought me.

My usual go-to in reading material is detective novels, which are diverting but certainly not warm and cozy or comforting. I am reading the fourth Joe Ide mystery, Hi Five. I have Long Bright River by Liz Moore on my nightstand and an Agatha Christie book on my Kindle. I already own all of the Sue Grafton Alphabet mysteries, and might reread them for the millionth time – the exploits of Kinsey Millhone in the carefree eighties can be oddly soothing.

But I want more books like I’ll Be There for You. I don’t really know how to categorize it though, in order to seek out similar titles. Nonfiction books about beloved TV shows? Pleasant and familiar and uncontroversial subject matter? Some combination of benign facts and nostalgia and fun-but-not-salacious celebrity gossip? I read Bachelor Nation: Inside the World of America’s Favorite Guilty Pleasure a while ago, and that SEEMS like it would be exactly the same, but I don’t think it would give me the same kind of comfort. (It was a fun read, though.) The book about Gilmore Girls (Talking As Fast As I Can by Lauren Graham) seems closer, but I found that almost too cheery. Maybe it’s in its own category, but I feel like there have to be other books along the same lines as I’ll Be There for You. Maybe not, though.

If you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about, and what I should read next, let me know.

 

What are you reading when you need distraction from the news?

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