Posts Tagged ‘I will seriously worry about ANYTHING’

I DID IT. Based on your supportive comments and gentle nudges toward action, I talked to my neighbor about her lovely lunch invitation.  First, I resolved to talk to her about it. Next, I cobbled together a script from several commenters’ suggestions, and I practiced it in the car and in the shower. Then, I waited for the Right Opportunity.

Carla provided me with a very nice segue – she was playing with the neighbor’s dog, and I needed her to come home to eat lunch. So I walked next door to fetch her. The neighbor came out and said hello, and I told her the reason for my appearance. Then I made my little speech: “Speaking of lunch, I was thinking about your kind invitation that we have lunch together, and I was so delighted by the offer that I said yes without thinking, but the truth is, Carla and I have so many silly food restrictions between us it’s not really worth getting into, and I was wondering if we could do something a little simpler, like afternoon tea or lemonade?” When I practiced it, I was Breezy and Casual and I had a little self-deprecating laugh in there, plus I also had a line about how of COURSE we wanted to spend time with her… and I also wanted to offer to bring homemade cookies or something… but it all came out in a rush and I forgot some of it. Oh well. At least I got out the important part which was LUNCH WILL NOT GO WELL.

Her immediate reaction was, “Oh no, sometimes I give Carla food when she comes over!” and so I had to reassure her that I didn’t mean allergies, but rather that Carla is the pickiest person on the planet. (Deftly trying to put the bulk of the blame on Carla’s food restrictions rather than my own.) Here is where Carla chimed in and informed our neighbor that I HATE tomatoes. So I am clearly not blameless. 

Once I had assured her she wasn’t doing something egregious by feeding my child cherries and red peppers, she seemed to relax a bit. She asked if something like tea and biscuits would be fine and I said that would be lovely and we discussed possible dates (though didn’t settle on anything specific). I am… so relieved. THANK YOU for helping me figure out the right way to handle this sticky situation. 

Now I can turn my Food Frets toward camp. 

Carla is attending a new camp this summer, and they don’t offer meals. So we will be packing a lunch. This is fine

Now that she is nearly NINE (which is nearly TEN, omg), I am looking forward to forcing encouraging Carla to make her own lunch (with supervision). We discussed some potential ideas for lunches, and her Ideal Lunch is a Lunchable. She only eats the ham Lunchable, and she only eats the ham, the cookies, and the crackers. She refuses to eat the cheese. If I pack her slices of other cheese – specifically cheddar that I have cut for her – she will eat that. 

So I was banking on sending her with Lunchables each day, and that if Lunchables become unavailable (again), or if she gets sick of them, we can pack a bagel and cream cheese with some pepperoni.

To round out her lunch, I would add other things she eats, like pickles and grapes and berries and grape tomatoes and red peppers and sugar snap peas. 

So I felt pretty good about our options. 

Then we got a note from camp that said NO PORK PRODUCTS. 


What now???

I suppose what we have to do is revert to PBJ. The camp is not a nut-free campus, so peanut butter is an option. Carla also enjoys eats sun butter, so she (and I) can make sandwiches every day. Carla eats sun butter sandwiches at school all year long, so I know she WILL eat them. But the last time I tried to make her one, she complained because my sandwiches weren’t the SAME as the ones at school. 

Weary sigh. 

I suppose I can just send her with the equivalent of Snack Dinner, but for lunch. But I am just not sure what the protein situation will be in that case. Snack Dinner usually has pepperoni or a couple of chicken nuggets or two.

I wonder if she would eat cold chicken nuggets (hork)? 

The reason that I am fretting about this is two-fold.

The first fold is that the camp really made a Big Deal about ensuring that we sent a LOT of food with our kids to camp. They emphasized that we should send MORE than we think – like, enough food for a week rather than a day. The kids work so hard and are so active, they are ravenous when they get to lunchtime. So I want to a) comply with the rules and b) make sure my particular kid is getting enough sustenance. 

The second fold is that Carla already eats next to nothing for lunch. I assume she eats something at school each day, although her reports are sporadic and often sound like, “Oh yeah, I ate a hamburger bun and a slice of American cheese.” So I am already facing an uphill climb when it comes to getting her to eat. I want to stack all the odds in my favor by ensuring her lunches are full of things she LIKES, not just things she tolerates. 

Well. I am not really asking for ideas, because I feel like it will be an exercise in frustration. (You, reasonably: “Send her with some chickpeas! Or beans! Or hummus! Or tuna salad! Or turkey! Or a protein drink!” and I will cringe at you while shaking my head because she will not touch ANY of that, and the list is endless.) (I am going to buy some turkey pepperoni and see if Carla will deign to try it.) I am just whining. New camp, new frets. 

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I have always dreamed extremely vivid – and usually super violent – dreams. But it’s been a long while since I’ve remembered any. 

This past week, I’ve had two that stuck with me after the fact. 

In one, I dreamed I was in an enclosure hiding from bears. The bears WERE going to attack, and if anyone wasn’t in the enclosure, they WOULD be mauled. There were other people who kept coming into my enclosure, but no one seemed to grasp the fact that BEARS CAN OPEN DOORS, and so they were leaving all the doors unlocked, so I had to keep going around and around to all the doors, locking them and shooting meaningful, grim looks to my fellow enclosees, none of whom seemed capable of grasping the fact that MAULING WAS IMMINENT. There were a LOT of doors, and the enclosure kept expanding. At one point, I went outside into a fenced-in area. The fences had barbed wire on top of them, but they were all only about two feet tall so that a really determined bear could simply step over them. 

I think we can all deduce what particular anxiety THAT dream is about.

The other dream is less memorable, and less perilous. But no less upsetting, for me. In the dream, I dropped Carla off at someone’s house for a playdate, and the mother invited me in to join everyone for a snack. The snack was bananas (which I do not eat), but Carla hissed at me, “You have to be polite.” So I ate a piece of a banana. And the host cut off another slice of banana, so I ate that too. And another. And another. Even though I haven’t eaten a banana since… preschool? I can still feel that mushy, sickly sweetness in my mouth. 

This dream, too, has a direct source. Our lovely neighbor has invited me and Carla over for lunch. The date is still pending, but oh my goodness I wish I could get out of it! 

Eating at other people’s homes has always been a HUGE source of anxiety for me. While I do eat a large variety of foods, I have a lot of super picky aversions. It’s not as easy as saying, “Oh, I have an allergy to X” and then the host just doesn’t cook with X. The list is so long I could not even hope to cover it all.

I remember, as a kid, DREADING going over to other people’s houses to eat. Just absolutely finding it awful. I have a vivid memory of sitting at a friend’s dining table with her whole family as they ate what was, I’m sure, a perfectly lovely meal, and I was just choked with anxiety because I did not want to eat any of it. And I tried to eat things here and there – the bread, maybe – and my friend’s mother was scolding me to clean my plate. It was awful. I don’t think I ever ate at that friend’s house again. In fact, unless someone was clearly and definitely serving pizza or tacos, I don’t think I ever ate at ANYONE’s house again.

I will never do the ”clean your plate” thing to Carla and I will never force one of her friends in my care to eat something she doesn’t want to. But that’s children. I am a grown adult. I should be able to go to someone’s house and eat the food. And yet. It is very anxiety producing, because I am equally afraid that a) I will have to eat something I dislike or b) I will offend the host by rejecting something I do not want to eat. 

I would say that my husband and I only rarely eat at other people’s houses. We have two sets of friends with whom we dine occasionally, and I feel like they are close enough friends that I can say, “No, I don’t eat lamb” when they ask, in advance of the dinner, if we eat lamb chops. (I say it regretfully, and embarrassedly, but with great relief.) But with the vast majority of people, you just show up! And eat the food they serve! I remember going to a new friend’s house and they served an absolutely beautiful meal of which the main course was chicken parmesan. Each breast was just smothered in tomatoes, which is probably my Number One Most Reviled Food. I cannot eat tomatoes; I have tried. I think I tried to be surreptitious in how I scraped them off the chicken, and then I helped wash the dishes, and I am SO hopeful that the host didn’t notice. (I am guessing the host noticed; I would notice. I would then, as host, fret that the food was bad or that I’d made something unpalatable to one of the guests.) Another time, we went to a friend’s house and she served chili with chunks of tomatoes in it. I ate around the tomatoes, but it’s so hard to do that in an unnoticeable way, and yet I cannot eat the tomatoes. I WISH I COULD. If I had access to a genie, and could only make selfish and self-serving wishes, I am pretty sure “make it so I love tomatoes” would be one of them.  

All this talk about tomatoes is making me queasy.

Along the same lines: Carla eats nothing. She is FAR more picky than I am and has not developed the techniques I have honed over the years for eating things she doesn’t like but can stand, or taking (as my mother-in-law calls it) a no-thank-you portion of something she doesn’t want, or trying something that doesn’t look appealing, or swiftly moving an item to her husband’s plate for him to eat instead.  

So now, this lovely, wonderful woman has extended this lovely invitation… to two people who eat NOTHING… and I not only have to somehow overcome my own anxieties about eating but also model good guest behavior to my child. Ugh ugh ugh. (What if she serves egg salad, a food I do not think I could force myself to eat??? Or some kind of lunch meat??? Or almost any normal lunch food????????)

Is there any way, after I have already said, “Oh that sounds lovely” to the neighbor, to now go back and say something like, “Carla and I have a bunch of really fussy food aversions – would it be possible to come have a glass of lemonade instead?” Is there any way?????? There isn’t, is there. I can almost picture her face falling as we reject her LOVELY invitation. Which is almost – but not quite – as bad as facing the Unknown Food. 

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May is chaos. I was whining to the mom of one of Carla’s classmates recently about busy I feel, and she said in a gritted-teeth, long-suffering voice, “That’s just how May is. And it will get worse as the kids get older.” So that was cheering. 

It feels like I was just chugging along, doing my thing, and then suddenly realized that I have fifty deadlines heading my way and I am only partway through each project.  Luckily, this isn’t true (at least in the paying work sense; I am on top of those at least). But it FEELS that way. Worse, it feels like everyone else has alsosuddenly had the same realization. My email inbox is jammed with teacher conference requests and reminders to schedule my gutter cleaning and invitations to end-of-year parties and check-ins about summer swimming schedules and gently scolding messages from camp to fill out my kid’s many, many forms already and notifications to update school payment plans and on and on. 

We had, in the past week, an invitation to a musical performance at Carla’s school literally three days before the performance itself. And then a notice, seven days ago, from Carla’s teacher, that the class has themed days all this week – and require things like sandals that I had not yet purchased. Then we had to schedule a meeting with one of the teachers to review Carla’s goals for next year. And I (stupidly) signed up to volunteer at a big end-of-school carnival. Not to mention, we get alerts near daily about Covid cases in Carla’s grade. Plus, Carla’s been working on her big Eleanor Roosevelt research project. IT’S A LOT.

I have not felt up to most things lately – reading, cooking, planning meals, blogging – but I miss those things (except planning meals). So let’s try a random info dump. I will try not to complain TOO much, but no promises. 

Zoom Awkwardness: While I am deeply, sincerely grateful for the ability to meet with people virtually, I wish someone would figure out how to solve the end-of-meeting awkwardness. You know what I mean. When you have all already said goodbye, but then you have to fumble around to find the button that ends the meeting. I realize that this awkward moment lasts maybe five seconds, but I find it excruciating. Often, I find myself distracted in the last moments of the meeting itself because I am trying to plan my exit in the quickest possible way. But no. Even if I can find the “end meeting” button ahead of time, I inevitably fumble it, or forget that I’ve carefully hovered my cursor over it for exactly that purpose, or the “are you sure?” box pops up and I just want to die of embarrassment. I realize this may not be as big a deal to some people as it is to me, and obviously I have lived to zoom again, but I HATE IT. Just let me out of this virtual discomfort! 

End of Year Teacher Gift: Every year, our Room Parent (i.e. Room Mom) collects money for a class gift. Every year, I dutifully send in money. Every year, I fret and worry and scour Etsy for an additional gift that my kid can give to her teacher, personally, on top of the considerable amount we have already sent in. Every year, I decide that the collective gift is BETTER – usually it’s a gift card, and I’m guessing it is much more useful/appreciated by the teacher than whatever dumb crap I could come up with – and exit Etsy without buying the personalized water bottle/bookmark/coffee mug I was pondering. And yet, despite going through this for SIX YEARS NOW, I inevitably find myself in the last week of school, fretting and fretting about the possibility of being the ONLY person who doesn’t double gift with a physical gift in addition to the cash contribution.

Road Trip: I am doing a right terrible job of Not Complaining, so let’s talk about something positive. My husband and Carla and I are going on a Road Trip this summer!!!! Aside from the astronomical cost of gas, I am really excited about our Road Trip. (Yes, I am capitalizing it.) We finalized all our hotel stays over the weekend, and so now I am gleefully shopping for Road Trip Necessities. This is what my father refers to as a “Tool Buying Opportunity,” which is part of what makes the planning portion of something (an event, a hobby) as enjoyable as or more enjoyable than the actual thing itself. My husband is researching the best family audiobooks to buy (or check out from our library) for our trip, and I love that this is the way his trip planning excitement manifests. He has already played a few samples to Carla, so that they can figure out whether she’ll have trouble understanding the accent of the narrator. 

Birthday Planning Stagnation: Despite ALL of your lovely suggestions, I have made ZERO progress toward planning Carla’s birthday party. Zero. This fills me with dread and anxiety. However, I will say that with every confident, encouraging comment about hosting a party here, I grew more and more entrenched in my certainty that having a party in my home is NOT the right way to go. So that was extremely helpful, and I am so appreciative. I genuinely envy those readers who are so easy-breezy about hosting an in-home birthday party. You make it sound so easy! And fun! And like the better choice! But my gut was clear: NO. So whatever we end up doing, it will be somewhere else. Your kind, helpful suggestions also clarified for me something that I already knew – but did not know I felt with such stringency – which is that I loathe trampoline parks. We used to take Carla when she was smaller, because it was a great way to release her endless reserves of energy in the dragging months of winter. But even then I always felt like I had to be careful not to touch ANYTHING, and I would always through Carla in the tub and her clothing in the washing machine the instant we returned home. Perhaps this speaks more to the cleanliness of my local trampoline park than to anything else, but since that’s what we have available, I am going to skip it. So I suppose even if I haven’t made any forward progress, I am at the very least narrowing the field. Thank you so much for your help, even if you may feel like I am ignoring your very helpful recommendations. Your advice is helpful nonetheless. 

Handyman: In other good news, I finally finally got a handyman to not only return my call, but to come over and look at my long list of projects!!!! He seems great. He reviewed things and took measurements, and was very clear on things he can/will do and things he cannot/won’t. The most important result, though, is that he CAN and WILL repair our ceiling. I don’t know if I’ve described our ceiling hole in this space, but I am going to do so now in case you want to skip to the next equally riveting bullet. It is not a hole, per se. It is more like a place where the plaster has declined to provide its normal coverage. The plaster is peeling away from whatever material forms the ceiling, and so it looks like a hole. We have had the spot examined several times by a plumber (and by our fathers), and it does not appear to be a leak. And it’s been there for YEARS, so I think we would know by now. But this stupid plaster lapse makes me so self-conscious about our house. It looks terrible, and it’s right above the kitchen table, and I hate it. And now it will be fixed!!!! Of course, there is no scheduled date for the fixing; the handyman warned me he is booked out for several weeks. So I guess now I am just hoping he really will send me an estimate and offer some dates. I almost don’t care what it will cost because I want it fixed. But then again, I have no idea what this kind of thing should cost, so… I will report back on whether it is a swallowable amount or something that kicks me in the gut and forces me to live with the stupid hole for longer. Like I said, we’ve been living with it for YEARS, so it shouldn’t be such a big deal to keep on living with it. But at some point in the past few months, I have reached some sort of tell-tale heart level of complete inability to co-exist with this thing for one second longer. 

Calendar Bedlam: Recently, I am having an issue that makes me think my mind is on a steep decline. I keep making plans, putting them in EMPTY SPOTS in my calendar, and then realizing – sometime later – that I have double booked myself. Example 1: A friend invites me to a performance. I check the calendar and see I have plans that night. I decline. Later, a friend invites me to dinner. I check the calendar and see I am free, so I accept. The next time I talk to the performer friend, she mentions the day of her performance… which is on the day I originally had free but now do not. Example 2: I set a playdate for Carla. The next day, I notice that she in fact has an orthodontist appointment that day, so I have to reschedule the playdate. Example 3: I have to do a mandatory nicotine test per our insurance, so I schedule it in an empty spot on the calendar. I get a reminder for the test at the same time I get a reminder for a meeting with Carla’s teacher, because I have scheduled them in the same time slot. WHY AM I DOING THIS AND HOW CAN I STOP.

Dirty Martinis: I recently learned the joy and beauty of a very, very dirty martini. My whole life, I have been staunchly anti-vodka, but it seems that may be because I have only ever had cheap vodka? I recently had a martini with really good, smooth vodka and it was delicious. Then I made one at home, with the fancy expensive vodka my father-in-law drinks, and it was also delicious. I am now out of olive juice.

Jury Duty: My stint of jury duty went GREAT. The summons said that we needed to be available for five days, beginning on a Monday. So I prepared to be gone that entire week. When I did jury duty several years ago, I went in on a Monday, sat around all day, and then was called to a courtroom near the end of the day. I wasn’t selected for that jury, but I was released from jury duty for the rest of the week. This time, you call a number in advance of your service and figure out if your jury number has been selected for that day. I got to miss two days, but my number was called for Wednesday. Then I arrived at the courthouse, sat around all day, and… was released. I didn’t have to go back at all! It was… kind of pleasant? Of course, the anticipation was the dreadful part. I had to worry about childcare for Carla for the whole week, and then I had to worry about driving on a freeway during rush hour, and I had to worry about parking downtown. But once I had Carla stowed at school, had made it downtown, parked, and successfully made it to the courthouse, it was fine! Pleasant, even! It was a beautiful day and we got ninety minutes (!!!!) for our lunch hour, so I got something from Starbucks and walked around downtown. I was even a teeny bit disappointed that I didn’t get selected for a case – I think it would be interesting to serve on a jury. The biggest inconvenience of the week, it turned out, was that I kept having to email the school to let them know that Carla would or wouldn’t be arriving early for babysitting services. 

Step Off: My watch has developed quite an overblown sense of its own roll in my life lately. Constantly telling me to stop and breathe, or noting that I am usually more active at this time of day what is up????, or advising me that I can “still do it!” if I just take a brisk 20-minute walk at 11:15 pm on a weekday. And now this??? Stay in your lane, watch. I am doing the best that I can.

Keto Stall: I feel the need to give you a keto update. During my extravagant jury duty lunch hour, I ordered coffee with cream (despite the fact that I hate coffee) and a pre-made lunch kit that seemed to be fairly keto-friendly: salami, cheese, and some nuts/dried fruit that I ate even though I’m sure it was full of sugar. I did not eat the crackers. Anyway: I continue to follow a low-carb plan. And I have completely stalled. It is SO frustrating. I am doing the plan, I am eating the high-protein/high-fat foods. I am in ketosis. And yet my weight has gone nowhere. It wouldn’t be so terrible except that I HATE it. Food is not fun or enjoyable. I do not look forward to meals, and in fact actively dread them. I cannot stand to plan meals, because they are inevitably some variation on meat + veg, or else they are complicated and frequently end up tasting awful. I am constantly asking my husband what I should make for dinner. I am not having fun, I am not losing weight, it is all awful. And yet any time I LOOK at a carb, I instantly gain two pounds. So I don’t think I’m ready to quit keto either. At least I am maintaining this not-quite-ten-percent-of-my-bodyweight weight loss. ARGH. 

A Good Salad: I did make a really good salad recently. It was arugula (yum) and spinach (yuck), heavily weighted on the arugula side for me and on the spinach side for my husband (who dislikes arugula). I added goat cheese, blueberries, strawberries, a sprinkling of sliced almonds, and grilled chicken. And then I added balsamic dressing because I love dressing as much as I love sauce. (Perhaps this is causing the stall in the previous bullet, perhaps indeed, although I don’t eat salads often because of the dressing factor.)

Strawberry Marketing: The strawberries in the aforementioned salad were PINK. My grocery store had a big display and they had a lot of marketing to assure customers that the strawberries are fully ripe! And taste like pineapple! I had to try them. My husband wondered if they might taste like underripe strawberries and indeed they did. They were fine with some goat cheese and balsamic dressing though, but NOT worth $6.99 per container when I can buy actual ripe strawberry tasting strawberries for $3.50. Between these berries and the miniature iceberg lettuces, produce marketers are really working hard for their money, let me tell you.

Garden Inertia: Let us turn to another pleasant topic, which is gardening. Of which I have also done ZERO. What the hell am I doing with my time, if I am not cooking or gardening or planning Carla’s birthday party? I am fretting and wringing my hands and going in circles is what. We have people coming for dinner this weekend, so now I am suddenly feeling Very Urgent about having at least some flowers in pots. It’s not like my “garden” is anything impressive. But I do like to have a few pots with flowers and I need to do that. Perhaps Carla and I will go after school. 

Spring Shopping Syndrome: In addition to fretting/hand wringing, I have been struck by Spring Shopping Syndrome. You are familiar with this yes? The point at which the weather begins to edge carefully toward warmth and suddenly you hate every single item of clothing you own? I have been buying (and then returning) things with great abandon. Loft has been my latest obsession, and they know it: they keep emailing me with adorable dresses front and center, and so I order the dress and then it doesn’t fit and I take it back. But, to get free shipping, I added on a cute blouse, and that DID fit, so now I have that sweet, sweet dopamine rush of clicking “buy” alongside the possibility, however small, that the item I bought will be cute, which makes me want to repeat the process all over again. Interesting how I am able to analyze this behavior and see it for what it is and yet I still can’t stop/won’t stop. 

All right, that’s it for now my dear Internet.

What’s clogging your calendar this month? Have you made any springy purchases? Tell me which deer-proof flowers to buy for my garden. 

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Carla’s birthday is a little more than a month away and I have NOTHING planned. Usually by this point, I have fretted all over this little blog about theme and where to find theme-appropriate napkins and how difficult it was to pin down a venue and which cake I’m going to make. But this year, I have… nothing. 

(Not even a cake request, which is very un-Carla! And perhaps… perhaps this is the year I outsource the cake baking????)

Part of the problem – maybe the MAIN part – is that Carla doesn’t have any sort of specific desire for a party this year. I mean, she wants A Party. But she hasn’t said “I want a tea party” or “let’s all play LEGOs” or “I want to paint pottery!” or whatever. I am not a creative person, when it comes to birthdays. All my creativity crumples into dust beneath the anxiety of planning an event and executing that event and then attending said event with multiple other humans, all of whom I am expected to interact with. 

The only things at all that Carla has expressed interest in are a) a sleepover and b) a party at our house, featuring a treasure hunt. 

Treasure Hunt: When Carla’s cousin was here recently, I made a treasure hunt for them. I’ve done one another time, when I hosted three other families and did a treasure hunt for the kids. I LIKE making treasure hunts. But the older the kids get, the more challenging it is to create clues that won’t stump them, but will take more than five seconds to solve. 

Plus, while I am fine chasing my one niece and my one child around our very safe cul-de-sac while they look for clues, I don’t know a) how I would feel about chasing multiple nine-year-olds around the neighborhood or b) how other parents might feel about their kids being let loose into the wild.

It is almost more challenging to come up with prizes for this age group. Although I suppose if Carla lands on a theme, I could find something that works. 

The biggest challenge of all with treasure hunts is making them long enough. You can make 20 clues and have the kids run up and down the stairs and around the cul-de-sac and it still ends up taking them under 15 minutes to finish. Which is quite deflating when it takes MUCH LONGER THAN THAT to create the clues and hide them.

Party at Our House: The main issue, though, is that I don’t want to have a party at my house. I find the idea of a bunch of kids invading my space SO stressful, even though it shouldn’t be. 

All my birthday parties when I was growing up took place at my house. And they were wonderful! I remember, when I was really little, playing games like Pin the Tail on the Donkey, or drop a pin in a bucket while blindfolded. My mother made treasure hunts, which is probably where I learned to love them. 

My mom was fantastic about birthday parties, my whole life. She always did something fun and delightful. My favorite childhood birthday was the one where she bought a little Troll doll for each guest and we all sat around my kitchen table and decorated them. I seem to remember that it was a contest, but… I’m sure she found some way to make it so that everyone won. 

(Is there a Troll-doll equivalent that today’s nine-year-olds would like?)

There’s also a bit of Keeping Up with the Joneses going on, I can admit. Carla’s classmates often have very impressive parties – think bouncy houses and country clubs and backyard pools. Most of Carla’s friends live in enormous homes with beautiful properties. When we’ve been invited over for parties, there are gorgeous decorations and catered food. Our backyard is (currently) a marsh, and gets so incredibly hot in the summer that it’s not really comfortable for guests. Our outdoor furniture is old and mismatched and we don’t have the ziplines or stone patios or pools that many people have. Our house itself is smallish and somewhat in disrepair – both facts that seem glaringly obvious when we have other people over. Plus, after hosting Carla’s first two or three birthday parties here, I find decorating SO stressful it’s just not even worth it. I want the Instagram/Pinterest-worthy party, but I am not great at executing that level of creativity/cuteness. I suppose I could pay someone else to do it, but that sounds pricey.

If I could be certain that all the parents would just roll up to our driveway and toss their kids out the door and leave… I might feel a little bit better. Kids in general aren’t super judgmental – I don’t remember noticing the décor or size or quality of furniture at any of my friends’ houses – and I think as long as they got to roam around and eat cake, they would be okay. Maybe this is the age where parents would feel okay dropping them off? Maybe this is the perfect time for me to get away with a banner and a couple of balloons and maybe a colorful tablecloth and not do anything else???

I don’t know. Even if it were just kids, I think I would find it very anxious-making. I much prefer going to a specific place that has employees who entertain the kids or supervise an activity and then going home to my quiet, clean, one-kid-only home.

To recap: it feels like having a party HERE would require a) outsourcing and spending a lot of money or b) doing things myself and becoming very stressed AND probably spending a lot of money. I want to avoid it… but I don’t have any alternate ideas. It feels like we’ve exhausted the typical birthday party venues… and I’ve tried looking for others with no success. 

The new Jurassic World movie is coming out around her birthday, and Carla is desperate to see it. Our local movie theaters were allowing people to rent them out for birthdays… but I haven’t looked into whether they are still doing that. Plus, I don’t know how many of Carla’s friends’ parents would allow them to see a Jurassic World movie (nor how many of her friends would actually want to see it). That may be something the three of us do as a family. 

Sleepover: Probably the best compromise would be hosting a sleepover. The reason this feels like a compromise is that I would limit Carla to one or two friends, so it would be less stressful. Presumably. But… then she would have to choose just one or two friends, and she’s a kid who has a LOT of friends, so I don’t know how she would choose. In this time of Covid, would anyone even be comfortable with that (not that they aren’t sharing the same air every day at school)? And my beloved child is a person whose energy level escalates in direct proportion to how tired she is, so I am imagining that NO ONE would sleep at all. Not that you are expected to sleep much at a sleepover, but… no sleep sounds pretty dreadful for all involved, including the poor parents who would be collecting their exhausted children the next day. 

Plus… what do you DO for a nine-year-old sleepover? The only sleepovers I remember (and, bless my parents, sometimes I had MANY friends sleep over) involved activities like calling boys on my phone or watching scary movies or playing with my Ouija board… all of which seem a little mature for this age group. 

A few of my friends-who-are-parents don’t do a party at all for their kids. For some, this is just the way it is. For others, maybe some years it works out and some years it doesn’t. I wish we could go this route! But I know Carla LOVES a party, so I’m not sure she would roll with it. 

As usual, the VAST BULK of this stress is mine. I know Carla wouldn’t really care about any of the things that bother me. I know her friends wouldn’t really care, I know even the most judgmental of parents would only turn up their noses for a few seconds before forgetting about me entirely. And yet I cannot talk myself out of feeling the stress. 

So here I am, doing nothing but fretting, as the weeks tick by.

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I just got off of back-to-back phone calls and am feeling drained and relieved and, as always, a little self-scoldy because making a phone call is rarely quite as bad as I think it will be. Honestly, even if a phone call IS as bad as I imagined (issue remains unresolved, I have to talk to someone unpleasant, I feel like I have no idea what I’m talking about), it is usually over fairly quickly. Much more quickly than justifies the days/weeks/months of procrastinating, resisting, and fretting before I make the phone call. 

One of the calls was for a dermatology appointment – I have a mole that’s being constantly irritated by non-negotiable clothing, and I would like to have it removed. Plus, I would like to get a skin check. The scheduler seemed to think I could just go for a skin check, and have the dermatologist look at the mole then; I suppose that makes sense, to have him check it out first before he commits to scraping it from my body or whatever mole-removal procedure he uses. I had been delaying this call because I have only been to a dermatologist once before, and I could NOT for the LIFE of me remember her name. So I blurted that out right at the beginning, and the scheduler was very lovely and said she could look it up, and it turned out that my previous dermatologist was no longer with this health system so I will be going to a new one entirely. 

To continue telling you overly personal and yet somehow deeply boring things about me, I figured that as long as I was on the phone ALREADY, I would try to do something that I have wanted to do since January: find a new gynecologist. I had SUCH a bad experience this past time – more than an hour’s wait, with no updates from the staff, in an increasingly crowded waiting room during a pandemic – that I was ready to leave. But I had made no progress toward finding someone new. This is the sort of thing that works best with a referral, but all of my friends see doctors in a different health system, not covered by health insurance. So! I simply asked the scheduler if she could get me in with a new gynecologist. Since I don’t need an appointment until next January, I figured I had a good chance of finding someone. And lo! the scheduler DID find me a new gynecologist and I got an appointment and PHEW. Cross two items off my list. 

The second phone call was with a company that provides entertainment for children’s parties. Specifically, they bring dinosaurs to your event and play dinosaur-themed versions of Red Light Green Light etc, and bring out fossils and talk about dinosaur facts. The dinosaurs are adult-human sized and seem to be half robot, half puppet. Carla is obsessed with dinosaurs, so I think she would love it… but I am a leeetle bit concerned that it will be too babyish for her. Like… maybe it would be ideal for the 3- to 5-year-old set. The woman I spoke to said that eight is on the upper range of the ages they serve – any older, and the kids get a little scoff-y. That was… only slightly reassuring. I mean, maybe CARLA would love it – I really think she would – but maybe her six-months-older friends would find it babyish and lame. And I think having your friends think your party is babyish and lame would be absolutely crushing at this age. Anyway, I am still mulling it. NOTE: If you would like to watch some brief Instagram videos of this company in action and weigh in on the babyishness factor, please email me and I will send you the link. 

Just as bad as the concern over how babyish it might be is the fact that the party would need to take place in my backyard. Please believe me when I say that having a party in my backyard fills me with utter dread. I am pre-stressed by even the IDEA of it. I want to go somewhere that is in the business of kids’ parties, where all I need to do is show up with a cake and some decorations, and they do everything else. And then at the end I can leave. I promise you that I will be stressed enough just doing that. 

(Last week, I did call just such a place! I had a couple of questions that didn’t have answers on their website – in fact, one question was about an add-on that was mentioned on the website, with no further details than price – so I wanted to speak to a human. I waited on hold for a long time just to leave a message. And then got an email last Friday that listed the exact same details that were on the website, and no more. I responded via email immediately, with no response; and emailed again today, only to get an out-of-office reply.)

Sadly, this is going to be a phone-call heavy week. Not only do I have a school meeting via Zoom that I have been fretting about, but I also need to call U-Haul to ask about getting a trailer hitch installed on my car. THAT is the type of phone call I hate the most, because I have no idea what I’m talking about. They will ask questions and I will have no answers. 

I also need to schedule a dentist appointment; I think I need another crown. No need to speculate on why I am dragging my feet on that one.

You know how I mentioned above that I felt a little reproachful of myself for wasting so much energy agonizing over the phone calls when really they weren’t that bad? Yeah, well, that feeling didn’t linger. 

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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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What day is it, anyway? I have been off-kilter, day-wise, all week. And I just checked the date and was very surprised that it is somehow the 19th. I guess I think it should be Friday but also only November 15? Well. Time has taken on very strange and malleable properties this year. I should be accustomed to it, by now, but am very clearly NOT.

Last night was a 3:30 a.m. wake up night. I hate nights like that. They happen so frequently that I feel like I should have a better handle on them, or at least know how to get back to sleep. But somehow, in the dark, with the wind doing its best freight train impression outside my window, and the gate shrieking in protest, none of my getting-back-to-sleep techniques occurred to me at all. Instead, my brain decided to first fret extensively about the pandemic and how everything is so much worse than it was in March and yet no one seems to care, and so many people are dying and my loved ones have been spared so far but that extreme good fortune simply cannot hold for much longer. Well. I couldn’t go on thinking about THAT. So I forced my brain to choose a different line of thinking, and it decided to chart exactly how I am a failure, and how I am nearing forty and have not yet finished the book I have been working on for far too many years and how it is now too late and I should just give up in disgrace. Great second choice, brain. You dick.

This is when I pulled up Swistle’s archives on my phone and started reading old pre-Trump, pre-pandemic posts. Very cheerful and soothing. At around 5:00, I fell back to sleep.

That’s when I had a dream about being at some sort of ski resort where four little girls went sailing over a cliff and three of them died in a horrible, violent way. Really, truly gruesome. And in the dream, not only could I do nothing to help, but no one else seemed to register the horrific tragedy that had just happened in front of them, and everyone sort of shrugged and kept on skiing. Thanks, brain. 

So today I am fretful and draggy. Going to walk on the treadmill for a while would probably help, but the act of getting TO the treadmill seems unsurmountable. In terms of productivity level, I score a solid Low. I did have to go to Wal-Mart, for a “contact free” pickup, where I had to wait in a smallish area with another person for the staff member to go get my item. (A present for my niece. She lives in a different state, and I want to wrap her gifts and mail them to her because her mother does not need to wrap extra gifts.) (I do not need to wrap extra gifts either, but I have resigned myself to doing it as I have been doing for several years now. Grim it’s-not-really-as-big-an-imposition-as-it-feels-like face.) (I GET it. Sometimes it just much simpler – and MUCH less expensive! – to order from a website, often with free shipping, and have something shipped directly to your recipient rather than shipping it to your house, wrapping it, then paying to ship it to the recipient. And sometimes gift wrapping isn’t available through online retailers! I totally understand! Occasionally wrapping gifts on behalf of a family member is totally fine!) Then, after eleven minutes of standing around, counting the number of Wal-Mart staff members whose masks covered their mouths but not their noses (final count: 3 of 5), and telling two other staff members who approached me that yes, I was pretty sure I was already being helped, the staff person who’d gone to get items for me and the other shopper returned. He handed the other shopper his item. And then went to a shelf right beside where I was standing and fetched my item. Sigh. Well. I never considered Wal-Mart and efficient to be synonyms.

I was counting the minutes because I needed to get home for my microwave installation. (I made it home in time. And had enough time to wrap my niece’s gift and put it in a box to ship.) Turns out that our old microwave had been installed… badly, is the word I am coming up with. And it’s a good thing a) we never needed it repaired, because the way the previous owners installed it immediately voided the warranty and b) we never had a FIRE. Because they had “installed” it by cutting the wires of the microwave and basically hot-wiring it to the wall. Good times. But! The installation company put in an actual outlet and installed my new microwave correctly and it works and looks basically the same as the old one, so I am pleased. 

(The microwave installation people, by the way, were very nice. They wore masks. I kept the doors open while they were here and also wore a mask. They were gone in about forty minutes. But I asked one of them if they’d been extra busy during the pandemic, you know, just to make awkward conversation, and he said yes, and then went on a [very] little rant about how so many people are going SO OVERBOARD with precautions, and using too much hand sanitizer and wiping everything down, and people just need to chill out a little. Omg.) (After they left, I kept the doors open until the frightful wind started slamming them for me and I also washed my hands and wiped down the entire microwave and everything else they possibly could have touched.) 

What else can I fret to you about?

Oh yes. In Completely NOT Important In The Grand Scheme, Or Even In The Small Scheme, Really, Frets: I am worrying about Santa gifts. 

Let’s take a step back here and offer context: I grew up with Santa. I believed in Santa much longer than most children, in part because my parents were magicians at making Santa gifts appear beneath my watchful eyes, and in part because the magic was so special to me. My parents always gave us gifts, but Santa would give us the big, splashy gifts. A new bike. A Barbie Dream House. A new guitar. A kayak. Skis. (These were not all gifts for me, but various big Santa gifts I remember various members of my family getting over the year.) Anyway, they were the most exciting gifts. And it was such a delight to venture into our living room and see all these fabulous things that Santa had managed to sneak down our chimney. I have always sort of thought of Carla’s Santa gifts the same way. Santa got her a play kitchen one year. Santa brought her a Barbie Dream House a couple of years ago. Big, splashy gifts that really wow her.

My husband did not have the same experience growing up. He has never seen the gifts for Carla as “Santa gives the big gift,” but more along the lines of, it makes more sense to have a Barbie Dream House appear as from nowhere on Christmas morning rather than sit, wrapped, under the tree. And while we have discussed our different views on Santa gifts, and have very carefully said to one another that we know our own personal experience is not The One True Way, neither have we come up with a Defined Way to proceed.

With that context in mind:

As I mentioned in the Gift Guide post, we were planning on getting Carla a sewing machine for Christmas. In my mind, this was going to be her Big Gift from Santa.

But this year, another family member also had the idea to get Carla a sewing machine. And it’s a very generous gift, and very appropriate from this person. But now I am agonizing over giving up our “claim” on the sewing machine because a) now what does SANTA get for Carla? and b) what if the sewing machine doesn’t get here on time? Because this person has a lot going on this year, some very out-of-the-ordinary things that are occupying a lot of time and energy… Plus… even in normal years, this person has a very spontaneous, last-minute type of personality and gifts often arrive the day of a birthday/holiday/event or, sometimes, after the fact. In a year when shipping times and product availability are unreliable, I admit that I am extra concerned about gifts arriving in a timely manner. (That doesn’t give a lot of credit to the family member, I know, which is unfair.)

This is good practice in serenity and flexibility, isn’t it? I can only control my own actions, I cannot control the actions of others. Carla does not know she is supposed to get a sewing machine; she has not even asked for one. So if it doesn’t work out for Christmas this year, we could always get one for her next Christmas, or for her birthday. It will be fine. And, of course, Christmas is not ABOUT presents. It is about family togetherness, and the joy and satisfaction of generosity, and gratitude for all the blessings in our lives. (Yes, I realize Christmas foremost has significant religious meaning, but we are not particularly religious so it is much more of a secular holiday around here.)

And yet the anxious, catastrophize-y part of me is worrying and worrying this not-really-a-problem-problem to death, because I feel like there is tremendous extra pressure to Make Christmas Special this year. What if this is our last Christmas on earth? my doom-and-gloomful brain intones mournfully. What if one or all of us get sick and die and this is our final Christmas together? I realize, fully, that EVERY Christmas has the potential to be our last Christmas because terrible things happen all the time. But that very cheering reminder that this year is, in fact, no different from any other is not as comforting as one would hope.  Instead, it has plunged me deeper into despair and ignited within me a desire to counter that despair with retail therapy. A fleeting and overall ineffective therapy, yet a very appealing one. Except I don’t know what Big Splashy Gift to buy in place of a sewing machine, and I don’t know that I can get my husband on board even if I find one. 

I feel stupid and petty, stressing about these very inconsequential and privileged things when there are so many BIGGER and MORE IMPORTANT things to stress about. But that’s what this is, right? At least partly, it’s a reaction to how helpless I feel about everything else going on in the world. I am trying to regain control over my own little corner, and even that is proving difficult. 

I cannot be the only one wasting energy and angst on ridiculous things, right? RIGHT?

Okay, while you tell me about the inconsequential (or very consequential!) frets you are having right now, I am going to try to climb out of the pit of despair I have mired myself in. Or maybe take a nap.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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As I told you earlier this week, my husband read an article on The Kitchn about a super easy five-day meal plan, and it sounded intriguing, so we decided to try it out.

I had misgivings from the get-go. The first of which is that if you are going to call something “brainless” or refer to a week of meals as “super-simple family-friendly dinners that require next to no thought,” you should include the actual recipes in the article. Requiring your reader to go to five separate blog posts (plus a bonus post by another chef), read them, and figure out the recipes negates the “super-simple” moniker pretty quickly.

My second misgiving was that this Lazy Genius blogger was so loosey-goosey with things like instructions and measurements. Sure, it SOUNDS lazy to not have to measure things and to be able to throw in any number of proteins or vegetables, but it is NOT. It is a recipe (unplanned pun) for disaster. I want a real recipe at least for the first time I make something, if for nothing more than to understand the proportions of things. Well, I suppose the Lazy Genius did give me some proportions; perhaps I am being overly rigid which would not be out of character.

My third misgiving was that the last two meals call for ground pork, which I do not like.

Okay. Now that I’ve set the stage, here’s how it all turned out.

First, I would like to talk about my husband’s role in all this. I am the primary cook in our household. I plan probably 98 percent of our meals and prepare probably 80 percent of them (15 percent of the meals I do not prepare are takeout). This is just how it is, and most days I prefer it this way; I am the pickier eater, I like things a certain way, I am a control freak, etc. Of course, I am always whining about how hard it is to plan and cook for all the meals, and I often ask for my husband’s input. I would say that he typically offers one to two suggestions per two-week period.

So when he read this article and suggested it to me, I definitely wanted to follow through. I want to ENCOURAGE him to continue recommending things.

But I quickly found out that he did not actually read any of the recipes. And this made me Very Irritated. First, because he had NO IDEA what went into the making of any of these dinners – like needing to peel two heads of garlic or slice a thousand mushrooms. Second, and worst, because he did not fully understand my frustration when the recipes said things like “stir in a sauce” or “add a glug of something creamy.” He kept saying, “What does the recipe say?” and I kept replying, “It’s not really a recipe! It’s a suggestion!”

He did, however, help me with things like interpreting the loose guidelines and deciding what pan to use and chopping up pork and chicken. So that was good.

Day 1: Shawarma with Grilled Zucchini 

Report: There was an actual recipe for this one, thank goodness. I mean, the blogger says you can really do whatever you want. But she has some specifics, if you want them. (I WANT THEM.) It’s basically just spices and some oil, and you drop the chicken in and let it marinate for many hours. Easy peasy.

I grilled some zucchini alongside this chicken because I had zucchini and wasn’t really sure what else to do. I made four chicken breasts, so that we could each have one for this meal, and so that my husband could have one breast for each of the next two nights.

It was very tasty – good flavor on the chicken. I would probably make it again. Next time, I might do something with a sauce. Like make tzatziki or do broccoli with a lemon sauce or something, because it was kind of dry. Not that the chicken was dry, it was just… a meal without a sauce. My husband disagreed with me, by the way. He thought it was fine the way it was. 

Day 2: Chickpea Bowl

Report: This was the recipe where I started to panic a little bit. Sure, there were some actual measurements involved in this recipe, like “two 15-oz cans of chickpeas.” And “1-2 tbsp tomato paste” (although there is kind of a large difference between one of something and DOUBLING it). But when it came to the spice mixture, you got more guidance than actual instruction. (And the guidance was not consistent? In one place, the blogger suggests doing equal parts cumin and garam masala, but then when she gives more specific suggested amounts, there is a lower proportion of garam masala… I found that perplexing.) I ended up doing ½ Tbsp each of cumin, coriander, and garam masala; 1 tsp of cardamom; ½ tsp of paprika; and ¼ tsp each of cinnamon, turmeric, cayenne, and fenugreek (the last is something I threw in on a whim because I can be easy and breezy sometimes too) (I was NOT easy and breezy about this meal and groused to my husband about the lack of specifics the entire time).

And then one of the instructions is literally “a glug of something creamy”???? What the hell is a glug? A tablespoon? A quarter cup? We ended up using some leftover heavy cream and I let my husband decide what a glug is so lord help me if I ever make this meal again.

Then – and I have already complained about this extensively but it turns out I am not done – you have to go to another website to get the recipe for this special garlic ginger sauce that the Lazy Genius recommends. In the actual recipe, she references it briefly. But in the meal planning article, she places far greater importance on it; in fact, she says to use it for THREE of the five meals. So I grouchily went to seek out the recipe, which is basically equal parts garlic and ginger blended with some vegetable oil. I happened to have a half cup of garlic and a half cup of ginger on hand, so made the full amount called for in the recipe. (I normally use exclusively jarred garlic, but I had two heads of garlic on hand for the purpose of dropping it into a groundhog hole near our back deck; but I poured some cayenne mixed with water into the hole one day after I had finished painting my baby tomatoes with the same mixture, and the next day the hole was filled in. The groundhog was DONE with us.) I was very irritated by having to peel all the garlic cloves and peel all the ginger, but I was Invested, so I powered through.

The garlic ginger sauce was POTENT. I mean, I don’t know why I was surprised. It’s nearly half garlic. But I do think it worked some sort of magic when added to meals.

Now on to the actual meal. Which required a LOT of prep work for something touted as “lazy.” What I did was: Chop up a shallot. Combine the spices. Make the ginger garlic sauce. Chop up a red pepper and a yellow pepper. Chop up some cilantro. Chop up some scallions. Open my cans (I used two cans of chickpeas, one 28-oz can of tomato puree, and two tablespoons of tomato paste). Make some rice. My husband chopped up his leftover chicken.

I added about two tablespoons of canola oil to a large pot and turned the heat to medium high. When it started to shimmer, I added a big dollop – probably two tablespoons, maybe three – of the ginger garlic sauce and stirred it for a count of ten. Then I dumped in the shallot and spices and stirred for another ten count. Then I added the tomato paste and stirred that around for about twenty seconds. Then I added the tomato puree and the (drained) chickpeas, stirred everything together, and let the whole thing boil. I had my husband “measure” out the “several healthy pinches of salt” called for in the recipe. Then we left it alone for ten minutes. At the end of the ten minutes, I put rice into bowls and added sliced bell peppers on top of the rice, plus some chopped cilantro. While I was doing this, my husband added the requisite “glug” of heavy cream. He stirred it into the sauce, let it simmer for another minute, tasted it, added a bit more salt, and it was ready. We spooned the sauce/chickpeas onto our peppers and rice and topped them with a tablespoon of plain Greek yogurt, some chopped scallions, and some more cilantro. My husband added his chicken to his bowl at some point as well.

This was absolutely delicious. A++, incredible, flavorful, satisfying, yummy. This meal alone confers a lot of credibility upon the blogger calling herself a Genius, even if we have already disposed of the Lazy part of her title. I want to eat it every day. My husband said he likes the flavors much better than my adapted chicken tikka masala recipe. That hurts a little, I have to admit. But he’s not wrong. I don’t know if it was the garlic ginger sauce or the combination of the spices or some magic that happens when you put it all together, but it was SO GOOD.

I am DEFINITELY going to make this again.  Maybe once a week. 

Day 3: Sheet Pan Nachos

Report: Listen, I am no stranger to a plate of nachos. This was a nice break from stressing out about ingredients and ratios and vague instructions.

I chopped up some leftover bell peppers from the night before, set out leftover cilantro and scallions, and my husband and I decorated some chips with cheese, black beans, leftover chicken (for him), and frozen corn. We put the cheesy chips into a 400 degree oven for ten minutes. While they were in the oven, I chopped some avocado and put out some sour cream and hot sauce. When they came out, we put veggies and hot sauce and sour cream and VOILA. Dinner was served.

You can’t go wrong with nachos. And I think if you are building your own, you don’t really have to worry about ratios; how much hot sauce to cheese to sour cream you want is a deeply personal preference.

It was really fun to have nachos for dinner. It felt very decadent, like we were snacking rather than dining.

Day 4: Asian Pork Rice Bowl

Report: This was the day I was dreading. I do not like ground pork so I did not buy ground pork. (Which, of course, means that I VOLUNTARILY made this meal less simple than it could have been; it’s truly so easy to brown grown meat, and I gave up that ease on purpose.) I dithered all day long about what I should do. Should I use my grinder to make my own ground pork? My husband pointed out that doing it myself would not change the texture of the ground pork, which I dislike.

So what I did instead was turn the oven on to broil. Coat a pork tenderloin with salt, pepper, and vegetable oil, and put the tenderloin under the broiler. I turned it over a couple of times, at ten minute increments, until it was browned and crisp in places and the temperature was 145 degrees.

While it was cooking, I washed and sliced mushrooms. I did one package of plain button mushrooms and one package of baby bella mushrooms, even though I cannot taste the difference between them. My daughter came over and pilfered two raw mushrooms from my while I was chopping them. I also reheated rice I’d made earlier in the week and chopped some fresh scallions and cilantro. Scallions and cilantro all day, every day, around here.

Now, the meal plan article calls for rice bowls. But the recipe it links to is for lettuce wraps. Be warned.

Next I had to figure out the sauce. The recipe says “stir in a sauce.” Okay, okay, it does have more specifics for those of us who can’t conjure a sauce out of thin air: “2  tbsp soy sauce, 2 tbsp water, a dash of sugar or mirin, and a tsp or so of cornstarch.” I also added a tablespoon of sriracha.

Once the sauce was mixed, I turned to browning the mushrooms. At first, I did what the recipe recommends, which is to give them plenty of space so they can brown. But after the first batch, I just threw them all in the pan and hoped for the best. Some of them browned nicely, others less so. But it was okay.

While I was browning mushrooms, my husband was chopping the roasted pork into teeny bits. He wanted to approximate the ground pork without the texture. (He is very tolerant of my food peculiarities.) When he was done, he dumped the pork into the mushrooms and then we mixed in some (probably two to three tablespoons, I would guess) of the ginger garlic sauce from the chickpea bowl night and then added the soy/mirin sauce. It took very little time for the pork/mushroom mixture to suck up all the sauce. So we spooned it onto rice, topped with – you guessed it – scallions and cilantro – and ate it up. (I added some sriracha to the top of mine, and my husband mixed in a little sambal, which is a chili paste.)

This was DELICIOUS. If it weren’t such a Massive Pain to slice mushrooms and roast pork, I would make this every week or so. We gobbled it UP. We were supposed to have leftover pork and mushroom mix for the next day’s noodle bowls, but we did NOT. All that was left was enough for my husband to take for lunch.

Day 5: Noodle Bowls 

Report: I have never cooked ramen before. Well, in college, I would occasionally buy those Maruchen Instant Lunch cups that you just add boiling water to? But I have never purchased ramen and made it as a meal. So my main concern was how to cook the ramen. I really wasn’t sure which vessel to cook it IN, and my husband and I went back and forth. (“What does the recipe say?” “It says variously ‘pan’ and ‘skillet.’”) I ended up using my big chili pot. I cooked the protein in it first, then the veggies, then put all of those aside while I filled the bottom of the pot with “an inch” of water. (I think it ended up being about three cups.) The water boiled and I nestled three squares of ramen noodles into it, waited a minute, turned them upside down, waited a minute, and then separated all the noodles. The water did NOT get fully absorbed, so I drained the pot.

We did not have any leftover pork/mushroom mix from the previous night’s rice bowls, so I sautéed some shrimp for our protein, and thinly sliced some red peppers and sugar snap peas for the veggies. I added some ginger garlic paste to the sauce (which again was ¼ cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup water, 1/8 cup mirin, 1 Tbsp cornstarch, and 1 Tbsp sriracha) and poured it over the noodles, added the shrimp and veggies, stirred it around, and then topped everything with some chopped scallions and cilantro.

My husband’s main takeaway from this was that a) it had a good flavor and b) it was “potent” because I’d used too much ginger garlic sauce. When he said that, I wanted to cry because THERE WAS NO MEASUREMENT. The instruction was literally “stand at your counter, mix a little here and there until you reach delicious Asian alchemy.” I thought it was tasty, if a bit salty. But I had MAJOR heartburn for the rest of the night.

Making this meal was pretty easy, though. Minimal chopping. Shrimp are easy to cook. The noodles — now that I know how to do them — are very easy, and the sauce is super simple.

Overall Verdict:

Okay. I think the Lazy Genius is indeed a genius. (Also, I have since read a few of her blog posts and she seems kind of awesome???) The flavors of all of these meals are SO GOOD. And it was really fun to try things that we’d never had before. Well, okay, sometimes it was less FUN than NOVEL. But novelty can go a long way toward livening up a life that’s been rendered very small and stressful by a global pandemic.

But calling this week of meals “super simple” and “brainless” was wholly inaccurate. The whole thing required a lot more chopping and prep work than I would have expected, and the stress of having to figure out how to turn her vague instructions into actual meals ALONE made it the opposite of brainless. But maybe, again, I am being too rigid. And maybe next time I will be looser and more breezy about ratios of ingredients. And maybe I will find that everything STILL tastes good.

Would I do this again? I would not do all five meals in a row again. But I will DEFINITELY make… yes, ALL of these meals again at some point. If I had the ingredients for the garlic ginger sauce I would make the chickpea bowl again RIGHT NOW. And I have already bookmarked the Lazy Genius’s recipe for chicken tikka masala, because I now trust that she knows what she’s doing. (Even if she has too much faith in my ability to throw things together rather than follow a very specific set of instructions.)

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