Posts Tagged ‘good books’

It’s been a long while since I’ve done one of these posts. Yes, I have done a lot of complaining, and honestly, I plan to continue complaining here in the future, but that doesn’t mean I need to complain AT ALL TIMES. Plus, there are many many blessings in my life, including of course my wonderful family. But there are also material things that bring me joy.

Fabric Resistance Bands: Yes, I know I know, I have recommended these before. But they are SO GOOD. Carla has been exercising with me lately (both super cute and VERY DEEPLY ANNOYING), and she brought up my old non-fabric resistance bands for us to use. Why can I not think of the word that should go where “non-fabric” is? Well. The mind is a mysterious junk heap in which sometimes you find Babysitter’s Club plot lines and Garth Brooks lyrics instead of the word you are looking for. I used them for several workouts, hating them all the while, before I remembered that I own FABRIC resistance bands! So now I am using the fabric ones again, and all is right with the world. They are just as resistant, but they are wider than the other ones AND made of a thicker material, so they don’t roll up into a tight wad that cuts into your leg flesh. Plus, they stay in place rather than traveling up and down your legs at their own whim. 

image from amazon.com

Caramel Almond Clusters: While one of the keys to my current “success” at remaining on keto is that I am sticking to real foods that I like rather than trying to find keto versions of everything, I do occasionally crave candy. And these caramel almond clusters really address that particular craving. They do not taste exactly like a candy bar, mainly because of the odd taste of whatever sweetener is used to make them (I just looked; it is erythritol), but they are so close. The caramel is nice and chewy. The almonds are REAL almonds, and give an excellent crunch. And the chocolate is real unsweetened chocolate. Best of all, each one contains 2 net grams of carbs, which is an amount that I can work into most days of eating. (It seems like a lot of other keto sweets are 5 or 6 or more net grams of carbs per serving, which I almost never have at the end of a day.) They are about the circumference of an Oreo, so they aren’t huge. But I find them extremely satisfying from an “I Need a Treat” perspective.

image from amazon.com

Treadmill DeskElisabeth mentioned that she has a desk that attaches to her treadmill, and I immediately wanted one. My husband got me one for my birthday and I LOVE IT. He chose this version because it has a nice, textured surface. My laptop seems very secure on it, and I don’t really worry at all about it falling. I have used it several times and the time flies – I will be writing emails or doing revisions to my manuscript and all of sudden ninety minutes will have flown by. So far, I walk at about 2 to 2.5 miles per hour – it takes a little while to get used to typing while your body is moving. My only complaint is that the keyboard is not at an ideal position in relation to my hands, so I do have a teeny bit of wrist strain. But I suspect I will get used to that. And I feel so much less sedentary when I can stroll along while doing my normal work. 

Hot New Thrillers: I have read two truly excellent thrillers this year (so far). The Night She Disappered by Lisa Jewell and The Burning Girls by C. J. Tudor. Both were extremely well written with engaging plots and relatable female characters. Plus, even though both were predictable in some ways, they were told so well and crafted to be so satisfying that I loved them both anyway. They are thrillers, so there is disturbing stuff in each of them. But if you like really good murdery books, I highly recommend both.

Decorative Tile: Lauren has been writing fascinating accounts of how she and her husband are finding cool pieces at estate sales and reselling them. During one of these accounts, she showed a photo of a decorative tile featuring a skier, by a Montana artist. I fell in immediate love and had to have it. My husband and daughter do not understand it, but I know you will. Someday I will find some proper way to display it (maybe on the gallery wall of my imagination?), but for now it’s sitting on a shelf in my office, where I can admire it often. 

What are you loving lately?

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I am sitting in a dark house, staring out at a brooding sky and wind-tossed trees. It is deliciously quiet right now. Thanks to your powerful not-Covid thoughts, Carla is Covid negative and back at school. Hooray!

We were very productive yesterday: in addition to going to the doctor, I did four loads of laundry – INCLUDING folding – and have a last load waiting for me to put it in the washer (I have been trying to see a load through from hamper to folding before I start a new load; reduces the pile up). We also cleaned out Carla’s desk, which had an entire trash bag’s worth of junk in it, and we listened to Project Hail Mary (which I listened to based on Jaida’s excellent recommendation and loved so much that I explained it to Carla, and my enthusiasm made her want to listen to it also), and we watched a very long video of someone who gives makeovers to OMG dolls. Carla subsequently added “liquid latex” and “heat gun” to her list of must-have crafting items. It was nice to have a little extra time with my kid, but she has another day off coming up and I am very glad she is back at school.

After I dropped Carla off, I went to the grocery store and spent all our savings on food. I have not been noticing a huge number of shortages… things seem to have leveled off, a bit. (Although at Costco this weekend, there was no Kirkland-brand toilet paper, and both toilet paper and paper towels were one-per-customer.) Plenty of staples – beans, pasta, flour, sugar, pepperoni. Even Lunchables are available again. A thing that I do find concerning is that Target now has “only X left” on pretty much anything I try to order online. This is true whether I choose “pick-up” or “shipping” as my delivery option. It could simply be marketers playing to the scarcity strategy, but whatever it is, it definitely cues my panic response.

You know a thing that I find unnecessarily anxiety-provoking? When someone can’t hear what you’re saying. The checker at the grocery store had a hard time hearing me, and was really frustrated-acting about it. Which I get! It must be frustrating, to not hear someone! And I am sure that she has to deal with this same situation multiple times per day, what with people wearing masks, and her being stuck behind a plexiglass shield and all. But she did that thing where she shook her head and closed her eyes in an “I am counting to ten” kind of way, and, her tone said “this is entirely YOUR fault” and I felt helpless and defensive and equally frustrated that I couldn’t make myself heard and ugh. I just hate that. Makes me feel shaky and tearful when it should be a simple exchange of, “Oh, sorry! I will speak up!” and “Thank you! That’s better!” instead of disgusted dismissive shrugging like I am purposefully being a jerk.

She also seemed mad at me that I asked her to re-scan my apples. I bought Jonagold apples because a) I can’t remember the last time I ate a Jonagold apple, and cannot remember how they taste and b) because they looked so beautiful and shiny and red. I purposely avoided the Honeycrisp apples because a) they were $0.50 per pound more expensive and b) also looked pale and bloated. So I pointed out that they had rung up as the wrong apple – which she had me repeat twice – and then she said in an angry way, “Well, they come up as Honeycrisp when I type in the number on the tag.” Which. Okay. Either some Honeycrisp apples migrated into the Jonagold section or the tag was incorrect or the computer was reading them incorrectly or she typed the number into the computer incorrectly or I blacked out in the apple section and got Honeycrisp instead of Jonagold… I don’t know, but it didn’t seem to me that I had been BLAMING her for doing something WRONG when that is clearly how it came across. She is never as friendly as some of the checkers, but she sure drank some curdled milk this morning or something.

A package of M&Ms classic mix (M&Ms, peanut M&Ms, and peanut butter M&Ms all in a single bag) caught my eye at the checkout, but I neglected to act on my impulse and buy it. I wavered because I don’t really like plain M&Ms. But I am regretting my inaction now.

We got the bill for the exterminator, and it was MUCH higher than indicated in our previous infuriating and elliptical conversation. And I can’t decide whether I need to simply pay it and find a new exterminator service or if I should email him back and request an explanation. And I KNOW that prices are rising and costs are increasing, so there could be a reasonable explanation for the discrepancy. But I want to KNOW. I don’t want to just pay whatever he says the price is, willy nilly. We got a nice letter from our snowplow service saying – in advance – that they had a lot of increased costs and so our bill would go up, and I really appreciate that kind of up-front transparency. We will gladly pay the increase. Part of me wants to email the exterminator, just to see what he says. Although I am afraid he will then call me.

My root canal takes place next week. My husband took the day off from work and will drive me to and from the appointment and presumably ensure I don’t die afterward. I am not looking forward to it. But it will be nice to no longer have severe pain in my jaw. (Although I have heard plenty of stories about root canals not “taking” and needing to be repeated. Arrrrggghhhhh.)

This past Sunday, because Carla wasn’t going to school the following day, the three of us watched Cruella, with Emmas Stone and Thompson. There were some men in it, too, but the Emmas were the real stars. It was a decent movie, although it made Cruella a little too sympathetic, and I still am not quite sure I can make the narrative jump to her wanting to skin and wear a bunch of a Dalmatians as a coat. Also, the whole nature-vs-nurture theme of the movie could have done with a little more thinking through, but I suppose what do you want from a children’s storybook villain origin story. Carla was quite taken with her and has resumed speaking with a semi-British accent.

This is a bit of a delicate topic, maybe. But… do you shave your face? I had not done any sort of facial hair removal until a couple of months ago, aside from an occasional plucking of a stray eyebrow hair, or pulling out the hair that insists on sprouting witchily from the mole on my chin. But now I am completely obsessed with these Tinkle razors. I think I have used these enough times now to be able to recommend them with confidence. A little back story: an acquaintance mentioned these to me over the summer, and said she’d gotten a couple extra and she would give them to me. Note that she did not ask if I wanted them. Then the next couple of times we ran into each other, she’d slap her thigh and say, “Oh darn, I forgot to bring them for you!” As you might imagine, after each of these exchanges, I would spend long minutes with my face pressed up against the mirror, trying to determine whether my peach fuzz had graduated into full on facial shrubbery. Surely, my furry outer layer was so evident that this person felt COMPELLED to get me to take action. So when she finally pressed a couple into my hands, I was ready to give them a try. I had never tried any sort of facial hair removal options before because my mother had always given me stern and strenuous warnings about how the hair would grow back thicker and darker than before. A mother’s admonitions are a hard thing to get past, even when one is in her fifth decade of life. So far, I have not noticed this to be the case with the Tinkle razors. There is a period during which the face feels a teeny bit rougher than normal, but then the hair goes back to its normal downy state, and I haven’t noticed any change in color whatsoever. Anyway, these are very easy to use and I LOVE THEM and I am not going back and if you are looking for a facial hair solution I recommend you give these a go.

What are we supposed to be watching on TV these days? My husband and I watched Midnight Mass (interesting and thoughtful concept; Hamish Linklater; too many long-winded monologues) and Squid Game (VERY stressful but impossible to stop once we started) and are of course watching the latest season of Great British Baking Show. But we need something new. I want to watch that murder comedy with Selena Gomez (Only Murders in the Building) and my husband wants to watch Succession and neither of us is particularly excited about the other’s choice. What have you watched recently and loved?

I looked up the person who does the OMG doll makeovers and she apparently makes somewhere around $14,000 a month.

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I keep encountering things that seem like they would be perfect for discussing with you. And then I promptly forget them. Perhaps I should keep a list on my phone, alongside my Target List and my Books to Look Into List and my Excellent Words List and my Grocery List. 

The one topic I did remember – the ongoing stress of figuring out how best to interact with our neighbors and their dogs – is one I have posted about before. Lucky for us all, I read the previous post before sitting down to type up my angst. Not only did I discover that things have not improved AT ALL, which is quite discouraging, but I also prevented myself from writing (and saved you from reading) pretty much the exact same post, just three years later. So now I am out of a post topic, which is also discouraging. 

But I am feeling chatty despite not having anything to talk about. 

These are the lovely flowers I informed my husband I required for Mother’s Day. While I am not particularly pleased by having to ask for them, I am pleased by the end result. Very cheery, especially in light of the dreary weather.

My Mother’s Day was fairly lovely this year. Sunday is our normal cleaning day, which we moved to the day before Mother’s Day. But I was the only one who did any cleaning, so my house remains un-vacuumed, which is irritating and sneezy. (To be fair, my husband did fold the laundry.) For the day itself, I asked specifically for what I wanted (flowers, a book, Mexican takeout) and I got those things, plus my husband got me a couple of other goodies. Carla made me a coaster in school, which made me tear up at the thought of her teacher instructing all the children to make coasters for their parents. I lounged around and read all day. The only hiccup was dinner. Somehow I was the one who went to pickup the takeout, which annoyed me in retrospect. And apparently EVERYONE IN THE MIDWEST had decided to take their mothers to this specific Mexican restaurant for Mother’s Day, so it was very busy. None of the staff would look at me or address the long line of people waiting for takeout unless specifically asked (even though bags of takeout kept appearing on a long table near the cash register). And, worst of all, I did not get the margarita I had been looking forward to. They were listed as “sold out” online, so I hoped to order one in person. When I finally got a staff member to speak to me, she said I could order one at the bar. But after sitting at the bar for ten minutes, the bartender informed me I had to order the margaritas at the cash register. And it just wasn’t worth it after that. I waited for forty minutes for my food, and then only when I got home did I realize that they had forgotten the guacamole. OH WELL. It was still a nice, relaxing day. I know Mother’s Day can be fraught for SO MANY REASONS for SO MANY PEOPLE, and if yours was crummy, please know I understand just how crummy it can feel, and I hope that you have better days ahead.

Oh! Here’s something: I got my first haircut since February 2020! It is… barely distinguishable from what it looked like before the haircut. Although it FEELS 10,000 times better. My hair had grown quite long – nearly to my belly button – and I like the length. But it was at the point where, every time I brushed it, I would pull out huge brambles of tangled hair. The bottom edge was all raggedy looking and the whole mop was so lank and heavy. Now, I have some new layers and new movement to the whole thing. I wish I had been brave enough to ask her to whack more of it off. A friend of mine had similarly long hair and chopped it to chin length and it looks great on her. I could never do something that drastic – for one thing, my hair does not do chin length, it does triangle – but I was thinking about shoulder length, which would have gotten rid of a good eight inches. Oh well. It took all my courage to go INTO the hair salon during a pandemic; I didn’t have any left over for significant style changes. 

Being A Good Blogger, I had Carla take a picture of my Before Hair as we were leaving for school. But we were already late and I didn’t think about how posing in front of a tree with leaves a surprisingly similar shade to my hair would make it difficult to see. (The leaves are a very dark reddish color, not green.)

I don’t consider my hair to be this color, but it looks virtually identical in the photo. Perhaps the Madison Reed folks should consider naming one of their hair dyes Crimson King Maple in light of this coincidence.

The other problem with the photo was how startlingly large I am in it. Listen, I am under no illusions about my current size. But it’s one thing to regard yourself in the mirror every day and another thing entirely to see yourself from behind, in a photograph. Well. I am working hard on Accepting Myself, because – as I mentioned in a previous post – I just cannot fathom engaging in another 1,200-calories-per-day diet, and the mere thought of trying keto again exhausts me. I do not want to think about food every second of every day, which is what happens when I diet. 

We seem to finally be getting some sunshine in these parts. I tend to turn to the topic of weather when I need to transition away from topics that make me uncomfortable. I do this in person, too, just in case you thought I reserved this particular quirk for blogging. Weather. The great conversational neutralizer! It has been cool and springy, which I appreciate. I do not like when the weather goes from winter straight into blazing heat. But we’ve had so much rain (and snow on Mother’s Day!) that I am feeling extra delighted by the sun’s appearance. 

Carla and I went to the garden center last week to pick up some plants. I have a couple of planters in the front of the house and a few in the backyard, and it was pleasant to fill them with flowers last summer (instead of with vegetables that are eaten by vermin the second they appear on the stems), so we filled them with flowers again this year. Carla really, REALLY wanted us to buy some variety of flower that said it would attract hummingbirds. I don’t think we get hummingbirds in this part of the country, and the flower was $17 which is too much for me to pay just to SEE if we could attract hummingbirds to our yard from wherever they normally live. But we did pick up some supposedly deer resistant varieties of flowers, the names of which I have promptly forgotten. We planted them, and then, of course, we got snow. And have had two separate frost advisories since, so I’m hoping they will survive. 

If they do, somehow, live through the frost, they will also have to thwart the very brazen rabbits that live in our yard. 

A little presumptuous, to just make oneself at home in a pot already occupied by flowers!

Oh! I thought of another thing I wanted to tell you. I read a very good book recently. I don’t think I’ve felt as strongly about a book as I did about The Friend by Sigrid Nunez. That book was, to me, a real masterpiece. But that may have something to do with the subject matter, which was extremely well-suited to my particular personality and situation and career goals. ANYWAY, buy The Friend, the paperback is under $10 right now, but that is not what I want to recommend today. And, in fact, I don’t know why I am even bringing UP The Friend, because this other book is NOTHING LIKE IT IN ANY WAY. I am going to need a new paragraph here, to distance myself from The Friend.

There we go. The book I would like to urge you to read is A Burning by Megha Majumdar. Three things to know before rejecting it: First of all, it’s a fairly short book – 304 pages, but the book itself is somewhat smaller and narrower than a typical hard-bound book – plus, the chapters are very short, so it goes by quickly. Secondly, this book is described as a thriller, but I think that’s a mistake; it implies things about the way the book will unfold that aren’t actually true. I’d call this literary fiction with some elements of suspense. Third of all, if you read the description on the dust jacket, you get one sense of what the book is about… but it is not really about that. (This reinforces my usual practice of not reading the jacket copy before I read something.) Here is what the book is about, according to amazon: “Jivan is a Muslim girl from the slums, determined to move up in life, who is accused of executing a terrorist attack on a train because of a careless comment on Facebook. PT Sir is an opportunistic gym teacher who hitches his aspirations to a right-wing political party, and finds that his own ascent becomes linked to Jivan’s fall. Lovelyan irresistible outcast whose exuberant voice and dreams of glory fill the novel with warmth and hope and humorhas the alibi that can set Jivan free, but it will cost her everything she holds dear.”

I mean, that sounds (potentially) appealing, right? And, sure, the book addresses all those things. But it is just so much MORE than that. It’s told from three perspectives – you get chapters in Jivan’s voice, in PT Sir’s voice, and in Lovely’s voice. And there’s the underlying story of Jivan’s arrest and trial. But it’s really about the three characters, who live totally different lives from one another in the middle of contemporary India, and whose lives intersect because of the case against Jivan, and who all share the desire to better themselves and rise above their current stations. Ugh. I don’t even want to say too much about the plot, because I don’t want you to think, “Oh, I don’t want to read about a terrorist.” or “I have no interest in another book about ambition.” It is exquisitely written – beautiful, descriptive writing without being flowery AT ALL, and, in fact, being rather spare and simple. The characters are so different from one another and so distinct in behavior, voice, and morals. The depiction of contemporary India was, to me, utterly fascinating; I have never been to India, and know very little about day-to-day life there. And the commentary on morality and social aspiration was cutting and concise and never preachy or overbearing. It’s not even commentary, which implies that Mujamdar was sitting above her characters and pointing out how what they were doing was amoral or justifiable or whatever. She was masterful at allowing these characters and their actions to speak for themselves. I don’t want to push too hard, because of course we are different people and you may not like it all. But I really really recommend it. I found it simultaneously crushing and deeply hopeful. 

Oh, by the way, I have a separate book blog and book Instagram if that sort of thing appeals to you. I feel weird bringing it up but also weird keeping it from you, but I would love to discuss books and writing with you, so there it is.

I am resisting the urge to start discussing the weather again.

My husband and I have a few small projects in mind for the coming weeks/months. One of them is to finally make progress on the gallery wall that I have been putting on my New Year’s aspirations list for YEARS. The other is to install a new mailbox. The snowplow people hit it sometime in mid-winter, and it listed sideways for awhile until the arm holding the mail box sagged away from the main post. The post is half-rotten and the whole thing looked very precarious. The person who came to trim the giant oak in our backyard kindly secured it with a bungee cord. And then during one of the April snowshowers, the snowplow people hit it AGAIN, knocking the entire mail box off the post. I nailed it back into place. But we need a new one. In fact, we HAVE a new one; it’s sitting in our garage, alongside a bag of quick-setting cement, waiting for us to install it. Perhaps we shall tackle the project this weekend!

Carla is done with school the second week of June this year. I keep thinking it’s still so far away, but we have less than a month now! I still feel grateful, every single morning, that she has been able to attend school in-person for the better part of this academic year. 

Well, I am going to go pour another cup of tea and work on editing my manuscript, so come by and chat with me. I want to know what projects are in the works, what you’re reading or watching, how your hair is doing, what you’re eating for dinner or right this very minute, or literally anything else you want to tell me. 

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My friend Kristina has written a book! (You may recall that I’ve mentioned it in the past, before she found a publisher; but now she HAS found a publisher, Sands Press, and her book comes out March 30!) I am telling you about it not only because am I delighted for and proud of Kristina for bringing a book into the world, but also because it is an excellent, heart-pounding, heart-wrenching thrill of a book. 

photo from amazon.com

The book is called Weight of Memory and it is like nothing I have ever read before. 

Mini Plot Summary: The main character, Lara, has lost her brother and she is really struggling. Her grief is crushing everything in its path and threatening to ruin her marriage and her mental health. One of the only things that helps is an old book Lara finds tucked away in an antique shop. She finds early comfort in its pages. But as she starts down the long, difficult path of the healing process, she suffers a new devastating loss: her memories of her brother are starting to disappear. She seeks solace in the book again, but this time, the story has changed… and the terrible things that occur in the book begin to happen to Lara, putting her marriage, her young daughter, and her life in harm’s way. She must try to understand the dark power she has unleashed and figure out how to repair the breach between this world and the next… without losing the only thing she has left of her brother. 

Mini Review: I don’t normally gravitate toward books about the supernatural, so I was surprised by how vivid and compelling that aspect of the plot was. But I wasn’t surprised by the quality of the writing, by the skill with which Kristina developed her characters, or by how invested I became in Lara’s struggle. This is a horror story at its best – and Kristina masterfully develops the tension in a way that made me jumpy and anxious in all the best ways. But what I love most about Weight of Memory is that it’s also a heart-rending excavation of loss and how we must make a place for grief in our lives. Kristina lost her own brother in a sudden, tragic accident and every word of Lara’s struggle carries the power and truth of that lived experience. I found the book simultaneously spine-tingling and deeply moving.

Giveaway Details: Today, I am giving away a copy of Weight of Memory. If it sounds like you or someone you know would enjoy the book, leave a comment on this post. It can be about absolutely anything. Or you can tell me the last book you read, if you like to have a prompt. I will choose a winner by midnight Wednesday. 

And of course, if you prefer, you can always pre-order Weight of Memory on Amazon, at Barnes & Noble, or wherever you buy books. 

UPDATE: This giveaway is closed. Ernie, commenter number 3, is the winner! Ernie, I have emailed you to request your address and will pre-order a copy of the book for you. Hopefully it will arrive the day it comes out so you can be one of the first people to read it! Thank you everyone for participating!

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Last year, I ended this yearly recap with “A new decade lies before us, Internet. Fresh and unwrinkled, with no mistakes in it yet. I hope it brings all of us health and happiness and grace.”

Oh, Past Me. So innocent. So unknowing. 

Despite this year being… you know. Awful in so many, many, many ways, I do want to recap it. First, it’s An Established Tradition on this blog. (If you’re so inclined, you can read past versions of my responses: 20192018201720162015201420132012201120102009. This yearly recap originated with Linda of All & Sundry.)

Second, this is a year for the history books, and, well, it feels worth recording.

Also, please forgive the formatting. WordPress and I are NOT getting along today.

As usual, I reserve the right to delete ignore or scoff at any of the questions below. Please let me know if YOU do a year-end recap – I love to read them.

  • What did you do in 2020 that you’d never done before?
    • Lived through (the first nine months of) a global pandemic. 
    • Supervised my child during remote learning. 
    • Stayed at home with my daughter all summer.
    • Tried Keto.
    • Entertained friends and family solely outside. 
    • Dyed my own hair. 
    • Downloaded and used Zoom, many, many times. 
    • Celebrated every important-to-us holiday and birthday without extended family.
  • Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

Once again, I had a bunch of loose aspirations for the year, many of which are quite blackly hilarious in light of the pandemic. At least I was able to achieve the main one – “I am not going to put a huge amount of pressure on accomplishing anything outside of keeping myself and my child alive. Even my husband is ON HIS OWN, for keeping-alive purposes.” Good enough, self.

  • Where did you travel this year? (This is my own recasting of a question I could never answer which was How many countries did you visit this year?)

This year, I visited Florida, Montana, and Michigan and that’s it because the pandemic put a kibosh on all my travel plans. We went to Florida pre-pandemic. We went to Montana when the pandemic was just starting to creep across the country. And we went to Michigan in October, just the three of us, and rented a little house in the middle of nowhere and did outdoor activities and brought takeout back to our rental. 

  • What would you like to have in 2021 that you lacked in 2020?

A return to some sort of pre-pandemic normalcy, for myself and my country, and across the globe. A strong third draft of my manuscript. More time alone with my husband. Dinner in a restaurant. The ability to travel without worrying about infection/infecting.

  • What dates from 2020 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
    • March 17, which was the last day of in-person first grade for Carla and the day when Shit Got Real.
    • September 14, which was Carla’s first day of second grade and her return to in-person school. It was a day of WILDLY CONFLICTING EMOTIONS but it turned out to be the best possible decision we could have made, for our particular child, with our particular circumstance. 
    • My husband’s birthday in October, during which he turned 40. He continues to grow ever hotter with the years, which is truly unfair but also really enjoyable for me.

  • What was your biggest achievement of the year?


  • What was your biggest failure?

My FEELING of failure is related to how poorly I’ve taken care of myself this year. It’s not a REAL failure, because I succeeded in Making It to the end of 2020. But I have self-soothed against pandemic anxiety by eating and drinking too much, resulting in me feeling that I have been a) overdramatic and b) using the pandemic as an excuse to lose control. But I am also trying to be kind to myself, and there is time (I hope) to recalibrate. 

I am also frustrated that this novel still isn’t done. So frustrated. But again: trying to be kind, take it one day at a time, and remind myself that the pace doesn’t matter as much as the product.

  • Did you suffer illness or injury?

No, thank goodness.

  • What was the best thing you bought?

The outdoor heater for our back porch. It enabled us to socialize with a couple of families well into October. Oh! And Carla’s bike was a GREAT purchase. She got so much exhilaration and joy and exercise from that bike!

  • Whose behavior merited celebration?
  • Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
  • Where did most of your money go?
  • What did you get really, really, really excited about?

I was really looking forward to going skiing with my parents and Carla for the first time. The pandemic nipped that right in the bud. 

  • What song(s) will always remind you of 2020?

There has been – thank goodness – a LOT of music in 2020. A bunch of it comes from Just Dance 2020, and will be forever stuck in my head thanks to Carla’s insistence that we repeat one song over and over until we drop from exhaustion. Despite my early worries – well, I guess it’s still too soon to tell, but I don’t THINK these songs will fill me with the dread of this year. Instead, they remind me of the good times. Dancing with my daughter. Staying up too late, just the three of us, watching music videos on TV. Driving together somewhere outdoors and isolated from people, listening to many of these songs every time. I hope that’s what sticks with me. 

  • Compared to this time last year, are you:
    • a) happier or sadder? 
    • b) thinner or fatter? 
    • c) richer or poorer? 

  • What do you wish you’d done more of?

Writing (evergreen item). Going on dates with my husband (HAHAHAHAHAHA). Exercising. Reading.

  • What do you wish you’d done less of?

Feeling sad. Eating my feelings. Worrying. Doomscrolling. 

  • How did you spend Christmas?

Just the three of us, enjoying each other’s company, getting together via Zoom and FaceTime with our extended families. It seems wildly unfair to say that I really enjoyed our Christmas alone together. But I did. While I definitely look forward to having my parents here next year, it was so, so nice to be able to have a nearly stress-free Christmas, to stay in my pajamas for nearly 48 hours straight, and to be able to retire to our separate corners (Carla with LEGOs, my husband with a puzzle, me with a book) and just co-exist in a very amiable, very loving, and very quiet space for an entire weekend. I kind of loved it. That does NOT mean I want/need it to be this way every year. I was mainly glad that I wasn’t overwhelmed by grief at being apart. 

  • Did you fall in love in 2020?

I had crossed out this question in previous years because it is stupid. BUT I am uncrossing it on (??? what is the opposite of crossing out?) this year because I feel like I fell more in love with Carla this year. Her flexibility and adaptability and determination and general cheerfulness throughout the pandemic have been a sight to behold. But beyond that, we spent more time together this year than we have since those first few months after her birth. And let’s be honest, back then, we were strangers. Not to mention that the most interesting things she did in those early days included rolling over and sleeping multiple consecutive hours in a night. Now that she is seven, she is SO INTERESTING and FUN and we have real conversations and do things together that are enjoyable for both of us. In past years, I was super anxious for her to go to camp during the summer because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to occupy her by myself. This summer, camp was not a possibility for her, so we DID spend all summer together. And it was FINE. Some days, it was even GREAT! 

Most of all, I’ve gotten to know her better, and, hopefully, to understand her better. I see what she goes through in a school-esque setting. I have a better grasp of her work process, of her strengths and challenges when it comes to learning and friendships. I have a new appreciation for how much effort she puts into her schoolwork, how kind and supportive she is to her friends, how unexpectedly shy she can be in front of her peers, how she lights up when she has one-on-one time with her teachers and classmates. 

Our time together is now more precious than it ever was, simply because I understand better than ever how wonderful she is, and how quickly she is growing up. I treasure the rare moments when she wants to snuggle up and read with me, the times when we can move our bodies outdoors together, the delight we share when I introduce her to something I love (Full HouseEllen TebbitsFriends). I have always loved her with my whole heart. But I fell so much more deeply in love with her this year. 

  • What was your favorite (new) TV program?

THANK GOODNESS FOR TV. Somehow I watched a lot less TV during a global pandemic than I thought I would? Not that I ever thought about it before; I am just kind of surprised that I haven’t been vegged out in front of the TV for nine months. (It was still a lot of TV.) (I love TV.)

  • *
    • Ted Lasso was so, so, so wonderful. Best sleeper hit of the year. (Sleeper hit for me because the previews made it out to be a show about soccer, which is a topic I have ZERO interest in.) (IT WAS SO GOOD.) 
    • The Babysitters Club remake was AMAZING in every way and I was so delighted to watch it with Carla, and plan to watch it with her again in the future because it will resonate with her in new ways as she gets older. 
    • I loved The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
    • Never Have I Ever was super fun. 
    • I watched Veronica Mars for the first time and loved it. 
    • I started watching The Mindy Project for the first time and found it to be very comforting in its romantic absurdity (although I have had more than enough of the weight hate). 
    • The Crown continues to be surprisingly riveting. 
    • Making It and LEGO Masters and Magic for Humans are new to me and all wonderful, feel-good pandemic viewing. 
    • Great British Baking Show and Penn & Teller Fool Us and Songland continue to be excellent, soothing fare. 
  • Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
  • What was the best book you read?

This year, despite going through several long periods where I just COULDN’T get through a novel, I read more than 45 books which is a record for me. And so many of them were so good!!!!! 

  • *
    • The Searcher by Tana French is probably my top book of the year. She’s just such a masterful writer – her prose is gorgeous and the characters are so well-drawn. I didn’t find the plot to be among her best – it’s pretty simple and easy to parse – but there were some surprising (and creepy) elements that I liked, and I just enjoyed it so much. 
    • I read Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies and absolutely fell in love with Thomas Cromwell, whose life and motivations are so richly imagined by Hilary Mantel. I have the third installment of the trilogy, The Mirror and the Light, on my nightstand, but didn’t manage to pick it up in 2020.
    • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett is a book I still think about, even though I read it back in August. I bought it for several of the bookish people I know for Christmas. The way Bennett handles questions of identity and how people present themselves to the world was so skilled and thoughtful. 
    • I typically don’t read romance novels, but The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan was spectacular – fun and touching and funny and well-paced and just an excellent read. (I STILL haven’t read the sequel, The Heir Affair, because of really dumb reasons, like that I read the original on Kindle, so I want to read the sequel on Kindle, but every time it is available from the library I am in the middle of something else. I should really just buy both of them in print and move on with my life.)
    • Speaking of genres I don’t often read, I just this week finished Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia which is what I would categorize as a horror novel. I’ve heard it compared to Rebecca, which I loved when I read it many years ago (and now want to read again). But Moreno-Garcia’s book is ENTIRELY its own. It was fascinating and surprising and like nothing I’ve ever read before. No wonder it’s been on so many Must Read and Best Of lists all year long. 

You know my favorite genre is mystery/thriller, and I read some GREAT ones this year. 

  • *
    • I literally just read The Holdout by Graham Moore yesterday – I started it at lunchtime and finished it right around when my husband got home at about sixish, so perhaps that tells you that it was EXCELLENT and UNPUTDOWNABLE. Well written, well-paced, great use of multiple perspectives and timelines. There were some surprises in the plot and it was just… so, so good. This was a book I hadn’t heard of – my husband bought it for me for Christmas and this just solidifies the fact that he is a GREAT picker-outer of books. Now I think I need to go back and read more of Moore’s work.
    • Long Bright River by Liz Moore was superb, with a surprising plot, great characters, and a careful, thoughtful handling of the subject of addiction. This one book made her a person whose next book I would by unquestioningly.
    • Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden has to be on my list because I think about it long after the fact. The mystery itself wasn’t perhaps my favorite, but I absolutely loved the descriptions of life on the reservation and the protagonist’s experiences with legal obstacles and his reluctant foray into traditional tribal approaches to problem-solving. I look forward to more books by Weiden. 
    • I also really, really enjoyed The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh – it was so fast-paced and built on such an interesting premise. Like watching a really good action movie, but in book form.
  • What did you want and get?

For my family and friends to be safe and healthy this year. So far, so good. We are very, very lucky.

A VACCINE. My goodness,

Also, a new president. 

  • What did you want and not get?

A refrigerator that doesn’t leak mysteriously and incessantly. New windows. Unity around a workable, scientifically-backed virus containment strategy.

  • What was your favorite film of this year?

Um. I think we probably watched more movies this year than ever before, but damned if I can remember any of them. A lot of them were oldies from when my husband and I were youths – you know, Back to the FutureI and IIThe GooniesJumanjiHoney I Shrunk the KidsJurassic Park. Most of them held up pretty well. 

  • What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
  • What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?


  • How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2020?

2020 Fashion was all about comfort. Soft bras, soft pants, soft shorts, no makeup, no shoes. Let’s exchange our pajamas for some Daytime Leggings and then switch back in a few hours. That kind of thing. I did buy some leopard print shoes and some jean shorts (gasp!) though. I am never going to feel comfortable wearing a bra again, that’s for sure.

  • What kept you sane?

My husband. Exercise. My terrible, ubiquitous, addictive phone. Recipe and exercise blogs (most of which I just save for later rather than putting to immediate use). Good TV. Carbs. Tequila. The Office Ladies podcast. Reading your blog posts. Long walks, when I was able to take them. My backyard, when the weather was bearable. Writing here.

  • Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Ted Lasso, who is, admittedly a fictional character rather than a celebrity. Nonetheless, I LOVE HIM. 

I also fell in love with Jenna Fisher, of The Office fame, through the Office Ladies podcast she hosts with Angela Kinsey. She’s a beautiful TV and movie star, yet she portrays herself as kind of this nerdy, super-organized, socially-awkward person… and she just seems like someone I would want to be friends with. I love hearing about her celebrity friends and experiences — her life is SO unlike my own. But she is also such a REAL person, and she gets so REAL on her podcast, talking about REAL things, and she seems so kind and caring. I love how supportive and thoughtful she seems to be — she is always describing her cast- and crewmates from The Office in such a positive and genuine way. But she gets deeper, too. In one episode, she told a story about eating an entire bag of snack mix in one sitting, and saying that sometimes it is okay to not be okay. That has stayed with me. For the most part this year, I have not been okay with not being okay. I feel melodramatic and like I should be grateful for what I have and like I should buck up and have a stiff upper lip and get some perspective. But it has been A TOUGH YEAR. It SHOULD be okay to not be okay. It IS okay. I keep repeating that to myself like a mantra. Not to wallow, but to reduce the guilt and the self-recrimination. Anyway, Jenna Fisher for life, y’all. 

  • What political issue stirred you the most?
  • Who did you miss?

My friend who died. My housecleaner (sob!). My parents, although we got to see them right before the pandemic tipped over into This Is Really A Big Deal, and they also drove out to visit us this past fall. I know this is a TON more time than other people got to have with their families. Still. It wasn’t enough time, and they weren’t here for Thanksgiving which was a bummer. I am a mega introvert, so I didn’t really miss anyone else. I mean, it would have been nice to see some of the other moms more often. But I got to see my two closest local friends a few times, which was honestly kind of the perfect amount of socializing for me.  

  • Who was the best new person you met?

Shocking to absolutely no one, the number of people I know/interact with dropped significantly this year. But you know what? I DID meet someone new this year! She and her daughter moved here, and she enrolled her daughter in Carla’s school, and we actually met in person for a “playdate” in a parking lot. (Parking lot lines are really helpful in keeping children socially distance, FYI. There’s your 2020 Hot Tip of the Year. Get them to an empty parking lot, set them up in individual spaces with one space in between them, and allow them to shout at each other in lieu of actually playing together.) Anyway, we have gotten the kids together via Zoom several times since, and we text while they play and both mom and child are delightful. I am very glad to have met them, and, honestly, the circumstances are very soothing to my introverted, socially awkward soul.

  • Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2020.

Somehow, my answer from 2019 is pretty apt for this year as well: I don’t know. That things could always be worse? Ugh. That’s a terrible life lesson, true as it may be. That sometimes things seem pretty grim and you just have to keep going? I am still processing the past few months and I don’t think I’ve fully wrapped my head around what’s been going on… or how to apply what I’ve learned (what I’m learning?) to the future. So that grit-your-teeth kind of thing is all I have right now.

Maybe, on a slightly more positive note, that despite everything, there is SO MUCH to be grateful for. Even when the big things are uncertain and scary and sad, there are plenty of tiny, wonderful joys to be counted and held up for inspection and treasured. I have made a point to consider all the blessings in my life this year – sometimes just FORCING myself to be grateful dammit – and I feel more aware of them, and of how full my life is even when it seems otherwise. I hope among all the wreckage of this year that you, too, have found some kernel of gratitude. Not because you SHOULD, but because it helps to have even a small glimmer of light to walk toward when everything seems so unbearably dark.  

  • Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

“I’m so thankful. Scratch that baby I’m grateful.” – Katy Perry, “Smile” 

Happy New Year, Internet. May 2021 bring us all happiness, health, and togetherness.

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First of all, does my daughter have too many stuffed animals, Y/N?

Don’t breathe or the whole stack will collapse. Somehow I am only JUST NOW noticing what a hideous color the carpet is.

Are you sure?

Why is that narwhal so creepy? He’s the only one who looks cheerful — everyone else looks Deeply Concerned.

To be FAIR, they are normally divided between two spots, on top of her dresser like so and also on top of her bookcase. We squashed them all together so we could set up her little Christmas tree on the bookcase. When you have two large piles instead of one enormous pile, it still feels like an infestation, but it’s less alarming.

I wonder what the collective noun is for stuffies? A fluff? A cuddle? A suffocation? Yes, that last one seems most apt right now (for all I know, Carla could be under that pile somewhere): a suffocation of stuffies.

Okay, enough about the Stuffed Animal Addiction which I have fully enabled in my household.

What I ACTUALLY want to talk about today is a Very Great Experience that I just have to record for Future Me. 

Carla and I have been diligently reading through the books suggested on her reading countdown calendar. This week, we got to the one about reading a 12 Days of Christmas book.

In anticipation of this day, I had ordered this book from the library:

A very good book, with beautiful illustrations and, at the end, a nice tidy explanation of what the 12 days of Christmas means that also addresses whether or not someone would have REALLY given all these birds and people as gifts.

After school was done, and we’d each bathed (what? we are stuck at home and you expect me to shower in the MORNING?), we turned on the lamp in the living room to stave off the gathering shadows and sat down on the couch to read. Really cuddled up in there, because our couch makes an L shape and both Carla and I have a Strong Preference for the space where the strokes of the L join. Instead of taking turns or finding an alternative location, we simply squeeze in there together as tight as possible. I’ll be honest. Sometimes elbows are involved. Snuggling now also has a practical component, because our furnace is having Troubles. It is set for 71 degrees, which, when achieved, feels like being on the surface of the sun. But at all other times, the temperature of our house sinks into the mid-60s which doesn’t SOUND cold but somehow is Very Very Cold Indeed.

Back to the memories I WANT to preserve!

I opened the book and asked her if we should read the book or sing it. And I discovered that she had never heard the 12 Days of Christmas! So we sang it together. Which was just the most delightful experience.

She didn’t know the tune, but she gamely sang along until she picked it up. We stopped several times to discuss the oddness of the choices of gifts. So many birds! And then people?! We had to talk about whether the gold rings should be gold-en, because gold-en made much more sense with the rhythm. (This particular book says GOLD.) And we had a brief conflict of opinion when we came to eight maids a-milking, because she felt SURE that the gift was COWS. I mean, why not, right? Makes more sense than giving your true love MILKMAIDS. I mean, what if you didn’t even HAVE cows to milk and now you have eight unemployed women milling around awkwardly?

We also talked a lot about the rhythmic addition of “a” to so many of the lines: a-laying, a-swimming, a-leaping. Carla seemed to understand why it was there, but I think she’s still a little suspicious.

And then, finally, we reached the glorious last page, with alllllllll the gifts sung one after another. By then Carla had a good grasp of the tune and the rhythms and we sang it with gusto. 

It was just… wonderful. The holiday spirit swept me right up and made the gloomy near-dusk all golden at the edges. 

It’s not even a song I typically like! I mean, I enjoy belting out “five gold rings” as much as the next guy; I’m not made of stone. But this book and this reading experience may have changed that. And now I look forward to hearing it on the radio (that sounds so old-fashioned but I can’t bring myself to say “hearing it on the Apple music holiday playlist”) so that we can sing it together! And I hope every time I hear it, from this moment on, that the words are gilded with the joy of sitting with my daughter on a winter afternoon and singing at the top of our lungs. 

I want to remember it always.

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This post is half grousing/fretting, half meal planning, or maybe a little quite a bit less meal planning than grousing. I am just preparing you, so you can scroll down past the cranky part or click over to some other more cheerful blog. And also if you have grouses/frets, I am in a very empathetic mood, so please do share. 

Anyway, I woke up this morning in a grump. There’s nothing WRONG, per se. It’s just, you know – everything. Yesterday, I had two mildly irritating experiences that aren’t worth describing and really come down to Pandemic Life Adjustments and Everyone Is Doing the Best They Can.  (Okay, I will briefly describe one: I had to wait for nearly an hour, as in 50+ minutes, for my curbside Target order; normally the wait is like 5 minutes tops.) (Here is the brief run-down of the other: Carla’s school required me to buy a last-minute hole punch – I got the request yesterday, and the hole punch was needed yesterday and will be needed again today – and I cannot locate one; I even WENT IN to WalMart to find one and still couldn’t; so Carla just has to do without, which is fine, it’s not a big deal.) There’s nothing I can DO about these irritating experiences, and I really do think everyone is trying their utmost best, but they are still irritating. 

Plus, I am still having self-conscious feelings about our holiday cards. I know I mentioned this before, but I stuffed all of them into their envelopes yesterday so I was looking at them for a long time and I just feel like they are BAD and DUMB. I mean, my husband thinks they are cute, and I trust him, so hopefully I am just being overly precious about them? There is the possibility that he is Not Hurting My Feelings, but really thinks they are dumb… although… that doesn’t really sound like him. But the borders just seem SO uneven and the pictures are blurrier than I originally thought and I am a little uncomfortable that we are wearing Santa hats in our photos; but OF COURSE THAT IS STUPID. No one cares! Our Jewish friends do not care if we are representing Christmas in our cards! And our card is kind of light-hearted – it’s the three of us on Zoom, and it references social distancing. What if it’s too light-hearted for some people? Or feels like we are making light of the pandemic, which has been much harder on so many people than it has for us? And then, on the back, there’s a message that is a little more serious in tone, about hoping everyone is safe and healthy. And I’m worried that the tone shift is too severe? What if people think I’m being super over-serious about everything? And then on some cards I’ve written little messages like “Merry Christmas!” or whatever and that feels like adding to the mixed message-ness of it all? Plus, I look old and my nose looks weird. And OMG NOBODY CARES. But what it comes down to is that I am having to force myself to send them out, rather than feeling happy about them. 

Plus, this morning the kids in Carla’s class did an opening discussion about things they are grateful for. It was very sweet, but the things they listed (my siblings, because I can play with them even if I can’t play with my friends; being safe from corona; the world) kind of broke my heart. 

Pluscheery frivolous post material aside, I am increasingly anxious about The State of Things. The emails my husband gets from his hospital system are increasingly… upsetting. I mean, aside from the graphs they send out regularly, illustrating the steep upward climb of Covid cases and ICU patients, there have been some bland, semi-vague missives that to me seem like “covering the bases” types of emails. NOT THIS EXPRESSLY, but like, along the lines of, “Hey, you may be in a specialty totally removed from emergency or respiratory medicine but just kind of gird your loins for the possibility of maybe jumping in if we need you? Kthanx.” or “By the way, at some point we may need to shift hospital stuff to your clinics because we are running out of room. Byeeeee.” Again, this is not exactly what they are saying, and again, I think this is more like the hospital system making sure their doctors are prepared for any eventuality. But it is not a confidence-builder, you know? 

Okay. Grumping and worrying do nothing. NOTHING. Let’s go for some Cheering Thoughts:

First, I have SO MANY great cookie ideas to follow up on. This does not mean I have TOO MANY or even ENOUGH, so please let me know if you have a Must Make Holiday Cookie I need to consider.

Second, Remote Learning is going… okay, so far. I’m not going to say it’s good, because it isn’t. But it’s so much better than it went last spring. Carla is doing great and, now that the teachers have had time to prepare and some experience with online teaching, the school days are so much better organized. It still feels impossible to complete all the necessary work during the day, and neither of us is getting any exercise (where to fit it in???) (do not say wake up earlier), and we are both in Carla’s room/office for pretty much the ENTIRE DAY EVERY DAY but still, it is Much Better. And supposedly she will be back in school, in person, in early January… but even if not, we will at least have a two-week break in there. 

Third, I finally finished not one but TWO books I have been reading for literal months. One of them was really good, but had a slow start; the other was interesting but the author’s voice wasn’t my style. Anyway, I finished them, which is a good feeling. AND now I can start the three books that are next up on my to-read list: Mayflower: Voyage, Community, War by Nathaniel Philbrick, which I received as a surprise from a friend; The Searcher by Tana French, which my husband ordered for me on a whim; and Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, which I bought for myself. I am really excited about all three, and this anticipatory which-one-should-I read-next stage is delicious and fun. 

Fourth, back to food, this week includes both (the beginning of) Hanukkah and my wedding anniversary, which means some special meals. Perhaps I will make the special meal for Hanukkah and order takeout for our anniversary. Also I have some repeats from last week because I am lazy Super Flexible.

Dinners for the Week of December 8-14

I also have some extra cranberries leftover from Thanksgiving, so I may make these cranberry crumble bars and send some to work with my husband. 

What are you eating for dinner this week?

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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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We had zero days of sunshine in January. ZERO. But! It is only Day 7 of February and we have already had THREE WHOLE DAYS of sunshine! Glorious! (Note: It is currently Not Sunny, but I am holding on to those memories of sun with both fists.)

Let’s discuss a few other things I am loving, besides sunshine.

(This post uses affiliate links.)

Jalapeno Ranch Ruffles

Photo from target.com

Jalapeno Ranch Ruffles – I was having A Day recently, and after I put gas in my car, I popped into the convenience store to buy Diet Mountain Dew and the chip section just started calling to me. I haven’t had non-tortilla chips in a loooooonnnnggggg time. But which chips to get??? It has been well established on this here blogaroo that spicy things are my jam. My normal spicy-chip go-to is Miss Vickie’s Jalapeno Chips, but they have this annoying tendency of making me cough. Worse than that, they are very hard to find. Anyway, I spotted these Jalapeno Ranch Ruffles and they sounded yummy. It turns out they ARE yummy. Very yummy indeed. I wouldn’t call them spicy, exactly. But they have a great flavor and a nice little kick. A+, would crunch again.

Meadow hand soap

Photo from target.com

Smartly Hand Soap – Meadow Scent – This soap was a whopping 99 cents at Target recently, so I bought some to replace my expensive Method foam soap. (My husband and I, for no memorable reason, have decided that we need to wean ourselves off of foam soap. It’s expensive and the gel soap works just as well and there was possibly some other driving force behind this very important decision.) My problem is that I still like FUN soap, and gel soap is less fun. Enter the Smartly soap collection. The Meadow scent has a nice clean, grassy smell without being overpowering and I love it.

Plumping oil

Photo from beautycounter.com

Beautycounter Plumping Oil – I have been using the Beautycounter brightening oil for about a year, and still love it. But I tried this plumping oil in the past several months and LOVE it. It smells so good – I mean, it’s not smelly, per se. But it has a light, semi-citrusy scent that I really like. And it feels so soothing in these dry winter months. I do think my skin looks smoother than it has before. I still have crow’s feet though. Oh well.

Bomba no slip

Photo from bombas.com

Bombas No-Slip Socks – My husband and I had a $10 coupon for Dick’s Sporting Goods, so I thought it would be the perfect chance to buy a new sports bra. Turns out I could not find a sports bra I liked (this is going to be a difficult resolution aspiration to keep). But I saw these no-slip socks on an end-cap and bought them to wear during my barre classes. I LOVE them. They fit really snugly, even though I have narrow feet. The anti-slip dots cover the entire foot, so I’m not sliding during my warrior 2 pose and planks if I don’t have my foot positioned just so. And they are comfy.

Stone Cold Heart

Photo from amazon.com

Stone Cold Heart by Caz Frear – This book came out this past July and I bought it immediately. But I didn’t want to read it too fast, and have it be over. So I refrained from reading it until the very end of the year. It was WELL worth the wait. This is my kind of book – a detective novel with a relatable, complicated main character – and it was even better than the first in the series, which I thought was excellent. (And the first book, Sweet Little Lies, is only $7.49 right now!!!) I can’t wait for the third book, Shed No Tears, which should be out some time this year. Woo!

What are you loving lately?

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