Posts Tagged ‘entertaining a child during a pandemic’

My husband and I have a general plan to look for a new house sometime in the next couple of years. The thing is, there’s no REAL reason to leave this house. It’s a good size for three people (even if it feels MUCH too small for all our stuff), it’s got everything we need (three bedrooms, two office spaces, a laundry room, a non-creepy basement), it’s close to Carla’s school and my husband’s offices, and, most important, it’s in a lovely neighborhood with lovely neighbors who all have dogs and who are all extremely generous with their time (and their dogs’ time). 

And yet sometimes we do dream about finding The Perfect House, the one with allllllll the things we love about our current house and all the things that would make it so much better. (Recognizing, of course, that owning a home at all is a privilege and having enough space for our small family is a luxury that many, many people do not have.)

One of my biggest wishes for a new house would be a real, honest-to-goodness mudroom. Right now, all we have is a tiny square between the garage and the kitchen.

It has a small closet (although the door no longer works) and that’s it. Our shoes and bags and coats are always spilling out of it. My husband stores his work satchel on the floor of the kitchen because it doesn’t fit in the entry space. My daughter’s backpack is usually on the floor as well. There’s no space for grocery bags or my purses or anything, really. So I would love a beautiful single-purpose mudroom. Maybe one that has those tall cubbies, with individual hooks for coats and cubbies for shoes. But my ideal mudroom would also have a closet or shelving for storing hats and mittens and sports gear, and it would have a hook for my purse and a hook for Carla’s backpack and another for my reusable grocery bags (which inevitably hang on the garage door knob until I return them to my car, falling off the knob and onto the floor several times per day). 

Another wish would be a separate space for Carla. If money were no object, I would want her to have a playroom and a separate craft room with a long table and lots of storage. Her bedroom is fairly small and she has WAY too many toys, and they spill into the dining room, living room, basement, kitchen. I am constantly bothering her to clean things up. Maybe if she had a designated room for her stuff, I could simply shut the door. 

In general, I don’t think I have overtly extravagant, MTV-Cribs-style wishes for my dream home. I don’t need a movie theatre. I don’t want a bowling alley. But I would like a swimming pool. Only since the pandemic began have I understood the value of having a pool. Before the pandemic, I would have said never in a million years. But now that we are home so much more often, and now that the preferred way of interacting with other humans is in small groups in outdoor spaces, I totally want a pool. In my ideal, make-believe world, the pool would be in an enclosed, heated space for year-round swimming but could be completely opened up for entertaining. 

While we’re dreaming, I would like a dedicated library. Happy sigh. A room with shelves and shelves and shelves of books… and some comfy, well-lit seating areas… heaven!

Oh, and it would be wonderful to have a separate space for guests. A real mother-in-law suite (or, why the hell not, mother-in-law outbuilding) with a small kitchen, a full bathroom, a bedroom, and a small sitting area. Our parents stay at a hotel when they visit, for a variety of reasons, and it would be lovely to be able to have a separate place for them to stay with us.

Of course, no house will ever be Completely Perfect. I doubt that any house at any price has the exact specifications I would want (not to mention what my husband and Carla would want) in m dream home. I think even if you designed and built your own house, it wouldn’t be perfect perfect. Some of the things that end up driving you nuts don’t reveal themselves until you have lived in a space for awhile. Sometimes you don’t realize just how much you want a big, beautiful mudroom until you find your entire family crammed into a tiny square, all trying to remove their muddy boots at one time.

I want to know the things you dream about, in your wildest house hunting dreams. And I also want to know the things you love – and hate – most about the place where you currently live. 

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

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

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

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

  • Tacos

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

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

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Today we have a wind advisory and hail, with snow coming over night. I absolutely HATE wind, but I suppose the swirling leaves and unsettled skies — plus the queasy feeling they give me, as I imagine the tree crashing through our roof — are a good metaphor for how I’m feeling about the impending election.

Fortunately, yesterday was PERFECT for outdoor entertaining. High 40s, and, best of all, SUNSHINE. The big yellow maple which leans over our backyard from our neighbor’s was practically glowing in all the sun. (Its branches, already today, are nearly bare, and the big yellow leaves are scattered all over our yard.) The sky was blue, the air was fresh and only slightly breezy. Our yard was squashy from all the rain we’ve been getting, but the kids all wore rainboots. Their costumes got very muddy indeed, but they had a lot of fun.

I am willing to admit this looks more like a moldy cherry than a jack-o-lantern, but we do our best with the gifts and number of cups we possess.

The Poke a Prize game I created was a big hit. (It would be really fun to do for almost any birthday party or holiday – you’d just adjust the colors and shape you create accordingly.) It was also a LOT of work. First, I bought a bunch of little treats: candy, of course, but also spider rings and pumpkin erasers, and mini notebooks and hair clips and other little things I thought the girls would like. These LOL mini surprise balls were the biggest hit. Filling the cups was easy. Assembling the board, less so. I misunderstood the directions and bought crepe paper instead of orange napkins to disguise the cups and the prizes within, and it took me a million years to wrap each cup in crepe paper. A million. Years. Then our hot glue gun didn’t work, so I had to Gorilla Glue the cups to the poster board. And then a few cups refused to accept the Gorilla Glue, so I had to duct tape those on. It was a lot of work. Fortunately, since I didn’t have a birthday party to stress about this year, I had lots of pent-up craftiness to put toward this project. Carla helped me cut out letters, a stem, and a leaf to glue to the board.

My plan had been to just have the kids take turns poking the cups and extracting the prizes, but my husband suggested that we make the game a little more challenging to make it more FUN. So Carla and I cut up little pieces of paper and wrote on them either “TREAT! Poke a prize!” or “TRICK!” and then a little activity they had to do before they could poke a prize. Things like, “Hop like a bunny!” and “Yell the ABCs!” and “Go down the slide!” The kids drew a slip of paper from a trick-or-treat pumpkin bucket, read the instruction, and collected their prizes. They had a really good time. 

They also enjoyed their “treasure hunt,” which was just running around the yard collecting the 15 little goodie bags I’d filled with candy, barrettes, and Halloween-themed erasers. 

The food was good. Our kitchen table is right next to the sliding doors that lead to the porch, so I just set up the crockpot and other food on the table, and people could just barely enter our house to fill their plates. Usually, I feel like I make way too much food. But there was practically nothing left by the time our friends went home, so I think everything went over well.

This chicken, mushroom, and wild rice soup won a lot of praise from my friends, which was very gratifying. The recipe makes a TON of soup, and it was all gone by the end of the evening. The six of us GOBBLED it up. If you need a warm, hearty fall/winter soup that you can cook in the crockpot, I cannot recommend this enough. The hardest part of this soup is chopping the veggies for the mirepoix and the mushrooms. Also, near the end you make a quick roux and add milk and half and half to thicken the soup, and that’s a teeny bit of a pain. Otherwise, it is super easy. Despite some comments on the recipe saying that the rice gets mushy after eight hours in the crockpot, I use Lundberg wild rice, and just dump it in at the beginning like the recipe says, and it has always come out perfectly. Also, the recipe suggests putting the mushrooms in 30 minutes before the end of cooking, and I do NOT do that — I just put them in with everything else right at the beginning — and it has always turned out beautifully. 

The daughters of our friends BOTH ate the soup, which seems miraculous to me. I think I’ve been able to cajole Carla to try a bite of tomato soup ONCE EVER and certainly she would never, ever even THINK of trying a soup with a bunch of stuff in it. 

The tried-and-true miracle no-knead bread was also a crowd pleaser. If you like bread, and if you like appearing to be a person who makes very fancy gourmet bread, then you MUST try this recipe. It is the easiest thing ever. Seriously, NO KNEADING. The only hard part is that you have to prep the dough twelve to eighteen hours before you want to cook it. And by “prep,” I mean mix flour, salt, yeast, and water together in a bowl, cover it, and let it sit. Aside from having to plan ahead, this bread is impossible to mess up and the result is soft and crusty and delicious.

My favorite fall salad remains a favorite. I buy these sweet and spicy pecans from Trader Joe’s, rather than making my own. The dressing is delicious and easy to prepare in advance, and really the worst part of making the whole thing is chopping the shallot. 

To make things harder on myself, as is my tendency, I searched for fancy fall cocktails to make for our guests. I found an apple and gin autumn cocktail that sounded kind of weird but workable. Weird in the sense that I’ve never once thought that gin and apple cider would go together. However, I love gin, and I love apple cider, and I wanted a fall drink that didn’t require me to buy bourbon or a bunch of other liquors/liqueurs that I don’t normally use. So I tried it. And it was DELCIOUS. It’s lightly apple-y and not too sweet and goes down very easy. 

Why are all these hot dogs rolling their eyes at me?

The kids seemed to find the mummy hot dogs really charming, and making them was a fun project that Carla and I did together. Carla even ate half of her mummy, which was surprising. I am now realizing that I didn’t cut her hot dog for her, which probably made it hard for her to eat. Whoops. (Although it’s equally possible she just ate her weight in candy and had no room for hotdog, a food she is lukewarm on anyway.) (By the way, per the recipe, I did end up “gluing” candy eyes, leftover from the monster cookies, to the mummy dogs with ketchup, despite the whole thing making me very nauseated. I mean, ketchup with hot dogs?!?! Ew. Plus, candy eyeballs with hotdogs?!?!?!?! DOUBLE ew. But the kids did not care.)

My husband describes the flavor of these cookies as “overwhelmingly sweet.”

I think the biggest disappointment of the evening was the monster cookies. Well, and I would rate them only HALF a disappointment, because a) they were very fun to make together with Carla and b) they were really cute. But they were not the most delicious cookies I’ve ever had. They mainly tasted like white cake mix, to me. (Which is because they are made with a box of white cake mix.) But the kids liked them, so I think overall they were worth trying. Plus, now we have a million candy eyeballs.

This was very likely the last entertaining of any sort we will do for the season, so I am really glad it went so well. We only needed to turn on our heater and put on winter coats once the sun went down behind our neighbors’ houses, no one froze to death, everyone had a good time, mud washes off, and the kids did not seem to miss trick-or-treating at all. 

I didn’t look to see whether there were a lot of trick-or-treaters on our street. My husband did remark that he saw a big group of kids and adults, and none of them were wearing masks, but that was it. After our friends left, and we’d washed the dishes and put the covers back on the deck furniture, I watched Interview with the Vampire on Hulu and then went to bed. 

Now I need to get up the energy to put away the Halloween decorations. And start thinking about Christmas, I guess. 

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Man, I really hate my current blog background.

While I have gotten back into “normal” grocery shopping, and have visited Costco a couple of times over the past seven months, I have not been inside Target since the pandemic began. This is thanks to their super awesome curbside pickup offering, where you order stuff and drive to the store and someone is walking out to meet you practically the instant you arrive. (And if something you ordered isn’t actually available in the store, Target will ship it to you for free.) It’s excellent and contact free and I love it.


Not EVERYTHING is available via curbside pickup. And I have begun to really need some of those things, including cleaning spray and hand soap. At one point, I was able to get hand soap via curbside, but it was only once; it has been unavailable ever since. And for some reason, I can’t order it online to be delivered. Well. They have their reasons.

So I have been thinking about making a trip TO Target for awhile now. What’s been holding me back is a) a desire to avoid most places, as per my pandemic usual and b) the last time I went there, it was such a dystopian nightmare, it really turned me off. That was back in the height of early paper towel hoarding, when the paper goods aisles were picked clean and there was no soap or Purell anywhere to be found and I was trying very hard to fill my cart with measured and reasonable amounts of cereal and pasta and wine despite the doom and dread coursing through my veins. 

A friend of mine has been inside Target several times, and, as she is still uncomfortable in the grocery store, I felt like maybe a trip to Target was workable. (Plus, she once got me two! bottles! of bleach spray on a trip to Target, and I have heard whisperings about a supply of antibacterial wipes, so… the temptation is strong.)

So I girded my… loins is the only word I am coming up with here, but that seems wholly inaccurate and also I don’t really like the word “loins.” 

Let’s try something else. I steeled my nerves and drove to Target after I dropped Carla off. 

Immediately I ran into a sticking point. There was a big sign out front that said something like, “Line starts here for our most vulnerable customers.”

It was an odd and oddly worded sign. There were no hours posted, and no one was in line… so I just… went in. But I felt oddly guilty about it. Was I intruding on Vulnerable Customers Time? I don’t know! I suppose I could have looked it up on my phone but I was a) flustered by the sign and b) dealing with partially fogged eyeglasses and b) STEELED, so I just powered through. 

A staff member pointed to a row of carts and told me they were sanitized, so I took one. There were footstep stickers on the floor in the main aisle – the one that abuts the checkout lanes – but no stickers elsewhere. 

The kids’ clothing section looked and felt normal. But then I got into the cleaning aisles and… well. It still looks like a dystopian nightmare. The soap aisle only had a handful of soap products, and what was available was more in the dish soap category than in the hand soap arena, which was very limited. I was able to get a refill of the soap I prefer in the kitchen, and a refill of a lesser-preferred soap. I am kicking myself for not getting a couple of smaller bottles of hand soap, but we do have some bottles already, and now I can refill them. 

The cleansing spray aisle was VERY sparse. Sure, there were some sprays here and there on the shelves, but I felt panicky and unsure about the items that were left. Like… there seemed to be plenty of Method and Seventh Generation products, but I’m not familiar with those as cleaning agents. And they were so abundant (“abundant”) compared to things like Lysol and Clorox that I looked at them askance; why were so many left behind? Does that mean that they aren’t actually as good at CLEANING? What do all the other Target shoppers know that I do not? And, while it may not be obvious based on my comment awhile back, there wasn’t a Lysol or a Clorox product to be found. No bleach spray, although the actual pourable bleach seemed to be well stocked. (I have plenty of that, but I really dislike and lack confidence in my ability to make my own bleach spray, so I want someone else [CLOROX] to package it for me.) 

There was a section of antibacterial wipes, although none of the brands I am familiar with. I grabbed a container of the Up & Up brand for fake legitimacy reasons; I have been skittish about buying off-brand wipes, even though they pop up pretty frequently these days. While I can look at a hand sanitizer and see that is has the correct percentage of alcohol, wipes are different. I have no idea what chemicals to look for in wipes to know that they are legit. 

The toilet cleaning options were next to nil; again, all that remained were the “fancy” cleansers that I don’t know and so don’t yet trust. I want bleach in my toilets, you know? Not citric acid.  

The paper towel aisle was empty but for one tiny corner. I grabbed a package even though I keep TELLING myself that paper towels are NOT a necessity; we have reusable paper towels and plenty of microfiber cloths and we can MAKE DO. But it is hard not to be swept up in paper towel mania. (Even when the paper towels cost SEVENTEEN AMERICAN DOLLARS OMG.) I did not look at the toilet paper situation.

There was a brand new aisle of ONLY hand sanitizer. The only brand name I recognized was Suave. The shelves carried all different brands and a variety of sizes of containers. Purell was not among them.

Most concerning – moreso than the empty shelves – was the return of signs saying that customers were limited to one item apiece. I mean, maybe Target has had those signs all along (although my friend buying me two entire bottles of bleach spray would indicate otherwise), but my grocery store eliminated those signs weeks ago. But at Target, only one canister (how does canister only have one N?) of wipes, one package of paper towels, one bottle of cleaning spray, etc.

The Halloween section was, understandably, very picked-over and messy. It’s like that every year, but it felt different this year. 

There is still no Hormel pepperoni. 

The food aisles seemed fairly well stocked: flour and yeast and sugar and olive oil and cereal and tea. They had very limited options for boxed cake mix, which seemed odd. I didn’t go into the pasta or canned goods aisles, so I can’t speak to them. I’ve heard there’s a shortage of aluminum, but there seemed to be plenty of soda. (And if you buy $20 worth of soda, you get a $5 gift card! Of course the 12-packs are conveniently $4.89.)

There were maybe ten other customers in Target at the same time. Perhaps it was always that empty at 8:15 on a Wednesday morning, but it added to my feeling of foreboding.

When I checked out, I had to wait six feet away from the register, and then wait for the staff person to call me before I could put my items on the belt. I stood there, as I usually do, to watch the prices scan on the computer screen… but I was flustered, and had just realized that I’d forgotten to scan my items through my Target Circle app (I am out of practice!), and plus I didn’t want to get too close to the checker, even though she was behind plexiglass panels. So who knows if they overcharged me. I guess I can look at my receipt, genius. But at the time I was just eager to get OUT of Target. And possibly never return. 

AFTER Target, I had to go to the grocery store. We are having a Halloween Party (ha! Not really. We are having one of the three families we have socialized with during the pandemic over for an outdoor candy hunt and dinner on our back porch. We feel that this family has been very risk-averse, and have gotten together with them twice already: once for a hike and once for lunch in their backyard. There will be seven of us total, wearing masks until we are eating, and I have configured our back porch with three tables so the adults can sit six feet apart at the big table and the kids who are siblings can sit at one small table near their parents and my kid can sit six feet away at her own table.) and I needed to get some supplies. My grocery store has really seemed to be back to normal (we can even bring our own reusable bags again!), but I checked the cleanser aisle today (I got some 409 there the other day and was hopeful for toilet-bowl cleaner) and it was nearly empty, PLUS there was a sign saying that all cleansers were only one-per-person. So. Make of that what you may. 

Plus, the pasta aisle seemed to be a little light on the pasta. Maybe it’s just a normal low before restocking, but everything feels so portentous these days.

I need more gin, but I will order that for curbside pickup from the grocery store that offers this option.

Just for completeness: For our Halloween party dinner, we are serving chicken, wild rice and mushroom soupbread, and my favorite fall salad for dinner to the grown ups. For the kids, who are of course welcome but unlikely to eat those things, I am making mummy hot dogs and macaroni and cheese. Carla and I will make monster cookies for dessert. Since the kids aren’t trick-or-treating this year, I made up some gift bags with little treats in them, and plan to hide them around the yard. I also set up this elaborate contraption that is a bunch of plastic cups wrapped in orange crepe paper and arranged on a poster board to look like a pumpkin; the cups each have a little treat in them: candy, erasers, stickers, barrettes with colorful hair, hair ties, spider rings, glow sticks. Yes I have gone completely overboard, and yes this is basically two separate and very time consuming methods for the kids to get the same exact junk, but also I am having Feelings about not letting Carla trick-or-treat. (She has accepted this ruling without argument, by the way.) 

Oh, okay, I guess I want to talk about this, too. 

We have a lovely little cul-de-sac with wonderful neighbors who all know and adore Carla (mainly because she knows and adores their dogs). They all want to know if she is trick-or-treating this year, and I have been hedging. But she is NOT, and I feel good if sad about that plan.

A parent of one of Carla’s friends is doing the opposite. She feels that trick-or-treating is very low-risk, being outside and all, and that so many things have been taken from our kids that we shouldn’t take this holiday from them.

I see her point. And I even AGREE that I am being overly cautious here. It’s probably FINE to let your kids go trick-or-treating! No one in our county has said that people can’t do it. I haven’t read (or, to be fair, seen) any articles about whether it’s a good or bad idea. It takes place outside; the risk of contracting Covid from a physical object seems to be pretty low; the contact with other people would be fairly limited. It’s probably FINE.

And maybe it seems contradictory or weird that we are okay having dinner with another family while we are not okay with trick-or-treating. And I get that! You may be looking at me askance — I go into Target AND the grocery store in a single day, plus I am having people over for dinner? And yet I am squicky about trick-or-treating? Trying to assess individual risk is full of contradictions.

The end result is that we are still, out of an over-abundance of caution, keeping Carla home. (And we are not handing out candy. Carla and I may, if we have the energy, try to create a Halloween-y chalk obstacle course on our sidewalk, just to give kids a little something fun to do/make fun of. But we may not, also.) 

I guess what it comes down to, for me, is three things: 1) If lots of people decide to allow their kids to trick-or-treat, there will be crowds of kids on our street. Hundreds of people come to our neighborhood each year, and this year Halloween is on a Saturday AND we expect to have decent weather, so it could be MANY MORE than normal. I don’t know. The thought of Carla walking through a crush of children, hopefully wearing masks but who knows, gives me palpitations. 2) Carla’s school has been very explicit about how limiting infections is a school-community responsibility; it does not feel to me like we would be honoring that responsibility if we allowed her to trick-or-treat. Obviously, other people will have a different read. And the school has not come out and said, “Please don’t trick-or-treat.” But I am trying to take our membership in the school community seriously. 3) I do not think I can count on our lovely, kind, generous neighbors to all wear masks. Some of them have voiced opinions that imply that they do not believe Covid is being accurately represented by our media, i.e. that it will be over as soon as the election concludes, and some of them have also shared with me social plans that involved many people, which implies that they may not have the same risk assessment of the situation that I do. So having Carla go door to door where these kind, lovely people (I feel like my attempt to be really clear that they ARE kind and lovely people is now making it sound like I believe the opposite) will undoubtedly want to talk to her makes me nervous. 4) I guess there is a fourth reason, and that is that if Carla DOES get Covid after/because of Halloween, the contact tracing might be impossible.

ANYWAY. That is all to say that I am overdoing it in terms of trying to make the evening special for her and the two little friends who will be with us this weekend. I know — I KNOW — that they would have been fine if we hid a few Snickers bars around the yard and called it a day. But I think a lot of my own sadness about this year — no birthday party for Carla! no trick-or-treating! no family at Christmas or Thanksgiving! — is finding an outlet in putting a bunch of silly gift bags together for these three children.

How are YOU handling Halloween? Have YOU ventured into Target? Are you just SO SICK of all of this?

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