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Posts Tagged ‘stressing about stupid things’

First, I feel duty-bound to inform you that last week’s spinach artichoke chicken was a bust. I don’t exactly know why it was a bust, but it was. 

The spinach artichoke dip or sauce or whatever you want to call the element containing the creamy spinachy artichokey goodness was quite delicious. But the chicken… well, it suffered, and the whole dish suffered in empathy. I made enough to have leftovers, but when it came time to reheat the leftovers and eat them, I was filled with such revulsion I ended up a) making fish tacos with frozen fish sticks one night and b) ordering Chick-fil-A another night. And then I ended up throwing out the rest, which made me feel extremely guilty and wasteful. (I did scrape off the rest of the spinach artichoke element and ate it by itself; it was yummy.)

The other issue – besides the chicken, which was very tough? and also didn’t really seem to complement the sauce somehow? even though chicken is so neutral I have no idea how this is possible? – was that some of the artichoke hearts were… inedible. So that you would be eating along and then all of a sudden you realized you had been chewing for ten thousand years on a particular leaf. That was wildly unpleasant. I used the frozen artichoke hearts in a bag from Trader Joe’s and maybe that was the issue. It really kind of put me off of artichokes, though, and those have always been such a treat. 

Since I raised the issue of extracurriculars in my Dinners This Week post last week, I also feel duty-bound to update you. We had our first (nearly) full week of extracurriculars and we survived. It was rough going though. Although it was also a Call Week and it was also a week that Carla was recovering from a nasty respiratory thing that resulted in a lot of coughing, so she and I didn’t get a lot of sleep. 

This week has to be better, right?

I am also experiencing that free-falling panic that often accompanies September, which only just started and yet is also somehow two-thirds done. I have several freelance projects all due at once and then another one coming up in a couple of weeks; I have a big volunteer event looming in the near-distance and preparations and meetings have begun for that; we just had two family birthdays and two more are coming up early next month and one more after that; I am finally getting the ceiling repaired so we’ll have workers taking over our kitchen for a bit; then there are ALL the fall holidays one right after another and I feel as though I am already behind. Plus, in that time my husband and I have a pre-planned mini-getaway and I am trying to figure out if we can go visit my sister-in-law to see a performance she’s in even though the dates we could possibly make that work are the single weekend in between the big volunteer event and Thanksgiving. I don’t mean to complain, because it is all good stuff. It is just A Lot and it all stresses me out. 

I did buy my husband one of his birthday gifts already, so there’s that. But the rest of the uncompleted tasks are in a big, teetering stack and I don’t know what to grab first because everything is going to come toppling down on my head. 

Let’s think about food!  

I did not make lentil soup last week. The weather went from cool and rainy to 80+ degrees and sunny, and hearty soups no longer sounded appealing. I am back in Salad Mode, at least until I remember how much work salads are to put together. 

Dinners for the Week of September 19-September 25

  • Greek Marinated Chicken with Something Green, Probably Zucchini: I saw this on Instagram and immediately wanted to try it. In the Instagram video, Laura Vitale simply combines all of the marinade ingredients in a blender and blends them together, which is a relief because “use a mortar and pestle” is otherwise a reason for me to skip a recipe entirely.
  • Greek Farro Salad: I am feeling really into farro right now? I will make an extra couple of chicken breasts on Greek Marinated Chicken night so that we can have this salad.
  • Fall Chopped Salad with Some Sort of Protein: Another salad, and another Instagram find, this time from Healthy Girl Kitchen. Her recipes are vegan and I am not vegan, so there will be a little variation in the way I make my salad. For instance, I might add shrimp? Also, I don’t have any butternut squash on hand, so I may skip that part. I absolutely HATE chopping butternut squash – they are so hard and I am always afraid I will chop my hand off with the knife, or that I will send a shard of squash straight through the window (they tend to fling themselves away from the knife, when I can get it through the rind). My grocery store sells pre-cubed squash but one package was $5.49 and, while I appreciate how much labor is required to cube that squash, $5.49 is too much for me to pay for what is likely to be my least favorite part of the salad. I suppose I could look for frozen cubed butternut squash but I didn’t and I am not eager to return to my grocery store anytime soon. Last time I went I FORGOT TO WEAR A MASK and I am still reeling from that. Like… WHAT? I have worn a mask in a grocery store for TWO YEARS at this point, how did I just… forget?!?!?!
  • Tacos: ** Alert, alert: very quick weight loss talk ** The thing about tacos is that I love them with my whole heart. I want to put them on the menu because they are easy and everyone loves them, and because they SHOULD produce enough leftovers for a second night. However. I tend to overeat tacos. It’s as though you put a taco in front of me, and suddenly my body is certain this is the last time I will ever have access to a taco, and so I eat more tacos than any person should eat. I have a fond memory of being invited over to my schoolbus driver’s house when I was in elementary school, along with all the other kids on her route, for a taco night. (Yes, I suspect this is a little unusual, and yet my parents okayed it as did other parents of other children. Small town life, I guess.) And I ate TWELVE TACOS. As an elementary school student. Please understand that I do not eat twelve tacos when I make them at home, that was a one-time feat of extraordinary stomach stretchiness, but I do really, really like tacos. For most of my life, I have just… eaten however many tacos I want. But that’s not in line with trying to lose weight. I think it is reasonable to eat tacos, but that it is also reasonable to not eat ALL the tacos. So I am trying very hard to tell myself that just because things like tacos exist in my house right now, doesn’t mean I need to eat them. And likewise, that just because I am not eating tacos now does not mean I cannot eat them later. (This point is to prevent me from scarfing down leftover tacos for lunch, which I usually do as well.) Furthermore, I am not going to die if I only eat two tacos. I’m just not. (I am being hyperbolic; I never feel like I am going to die by restricting myself to X tacos. But I do feel a deep, deep longing for more.) Anyway. I am going to put tacos on the meal plan for TWO NIGHTS and ZERO lunches and it is going to happen.

Do any of these meals seem particularly in line with “easy” or “quick” (aside from the tacos)? No, not especially. So we’ll see how quickly it all falls apart. 

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continue to feel like a planet whirling so fast it is about to spin off its axis. The frigid vacuum of space sounds pretty pleasant right about now. I wouldn’t be able to breathe, but it would be so quiet

I had a meeting this morning about the school project I am working on. My project partner and I are so lucky a) to have each other (well. I am lucky to have her. Remains to be seen whether I will be useful for anything but flailing.) and b) that the previous head of this project has made herself available to us for questions and coaching. But today’s meeting was… well, let’s say it is A LARGE PART of why I am spinning so fast. It seemed like we would ask a question about how best to execute Task A. And we’d talk through it and get to the end, and then an unrelated topic would insinuate itself into the conversation briefly, and then, BAM, by the way, Unrelated Topic is actually crucial and you need to do it BEFORE you can execute Task A. Like, you’re digging away at this nice deep hole, and then when you get to the bottom, someone yells, “WAIT! You were supposed to dig to the left of this hole first!” So you go back and dig the new hole, but the dirt you displace from the new hole crumbles and fills up the hole you already dug, which you are now going to have to dig again, but in a slightly different way.

Funsies. 

Speaking of meetings! I met with my potential client yesterday. And by “client” I mean one organization, but multiple people. As I mentioned in my previous fret about this encounter, I had no idea what to wear. Not only have I had very very few business encounters since I left full-time work SIX YEARS AGO OMG, but I have also put on quite a lot of weight since then, rendering any very old, out-of-style business wear wholly unwearable. I have this beautiful cream silk blouse that I have kept all these years, so I tried it on, but my boobs kept trying to make a break for it. I figured that boob wrangling would add a layer of stress I didn’t need to my meeting, so I scrapped that idea.

I was to meet the client(s) for coffee, and my Fashionable Friend told me that I could wear jeans and a blouse or a nice sweater for that type of meeting. (Do you have a Fashionable Friend? She is very nice to have around. For lots of regular-friendshippy reasons, but also because she always knows the right answer to style questions.) So I found a nice top and a blazer and wore those with dark jeans and heels. It was the right call: the clients were wearing a range from jeans/leggings to dresses, so I felt nicely in the middle. And I was comfortable, and my boobs behaved themselves. 

The meeting itself was very nice. The organization is one I am familiar with and I love its mission and product. And the people were friendly and smart and totally the type of people I would want to be friends with. It was a little intimidating, being in a room with multiple people, unmasked. But the strangeness of that faded quickly. The single drink option during the meeting was coffee. Which, as you may recall, I do not drink. I am SURE I could have asked for some water, but by the time I had the opportunity, it would have been A Big Pain, so I just went with the coffee option. I AM BREEZY. By the way, not only was it coffee, it was black coffee, which I have never even tasted. And WOWZA did it ever go straight to my head! For a few deeply uncomfortable minutes, I felt sure I would throw up or pass out, which is surely not the best first impression to make upon potential clientele. You will be pleased to learn (as I was) that I neither vomited nor swooned, and made it through, hopefully leaving them with the feeling that I am friendly and competent and not a weird socially awkward mole who hasn’t been around people in two years. 

I am getting more and more excited about our upcoming travel. But oh Mylanta there is SO MUCH LAUNDRY. I wish people would just stop wearing clothing so that I can get allllllll the laundry done and folded. Then we can set aside the things we want to pack for the trip, and make do with whatever remains. 

Also, my husband – who is legitimately WILDY busy at work, and never gets home before seven anymore – did a couple loads of laundry over the weekend. I discovered today that he had left the clean clothes in the laundry basket. A, I appreciate that he did some laundry; that is awesome. And B, I am constantly leaving laundry in the basket, or on top of the guest room bed, sometimes for many many days. But it still made me feel betrayed and petulant. 

Speaking of betrayed and petulant: Poor deprived Carla wailed at me today that she has no clothes!!!! and I never do any laundry!!!! and look at her overflowing laundry basket!!!!! The same child who has an entire closet full of dresses, and an entire drawer full of jeans and corduroys that she begged me to buy for her at the beginning of the school year. 

What did she end up wearing? Leggings and a t-shirt. And because it is still chilly here, I dredged up a sweater for her to throw on top. 

WHERE are all her sweaters, I wonder? Perhaps in the overflowing laundry bin, which I must once again put through the wash. I did notice that the bottom drawer of her dresser doesn’t close all the way, and it seems to be because there are some shirts that have fallen back behind the drawer, into the empty space of the dresser. But I cannot for the life of me get to them! The dresser is bolted to the wall and the bottom of the dresser doesn’t have enough room for me stick even a pair of kitchen tongs under. I guess the shirts will stay there until we move someday? Or perhaps we will have to figure out how to take the drawer off its track? But who knows how many shirts and sweaters are hiding back there! 

I am stressing about the keeping-keto portion of our vacation. Part of me wants to just give it up and eat as though I am on vacation… but part of me is deeply reluctant to cede the small amount of ground I have gained. Fortunately, most restaurants (YES, we will be eating in restaurants!!! Ahhhhh!!!!) offer things like steak or salmon. I will simply have to resist things like mashed potatoes and baked potatoes and French fries and desserts. Sounds doable, if not fun, but I suspect my resolve may crumble when everyone else around me is eating something delicious that I “can’t” have. My biggest hurdle, I think, will be hamburgers. I LOVE a hamburger, and I LOVE a nice buttery toasty bun, and I LOVE ketchup, none of which are keto-friendly. Well. We’ll see how it goes. 

Speaking of keto, I have ZERO IDEA what we will eat for dinner this week. It seems wholly unfair to have to keep planning and preparing meals when I am already planning and preparing for a trip. Maybe we will do a stir fry, using one of the MANY delicious ideas you suggested on this post? Maybe a pizza night? Maybe… a salad? I feel like I have some veggies I want to use up before we leave. Some sort of… roasted veggies smorgasbord? 

This period of Too Much Too Much Ahhhhhhh! has served as a valuable reminder to me of just how critical my daily workout it. I am not winning any ab competitions or even doing any sort of visible toning (perhaps there is a LOT of tone beneath the fat and skin; hard to say), but working out is almost the only thing that makes me feel tethered to reality. Sweating for a half hour, grunting my way through a bunch of awful squats, hefting weights over my head, focusing only on the directions/encouragement of the coach while I grind out another rep – whatever it is, it helps my thoughts slow their frantic dash around my brain. (And I know I have recommended her before, but I just adore Lindsey of Nourish Move Love. She is extremely kind and supportive and offers tons of modifications if you don’t have weights/don’t want to bend your knees so deeply/don’t own a booty band. And she does all the exercises with you, panting and groaning over the tough parts, which makes it all seem doable.)

I am going to leave you with some flowers. As per Swistle, I did not wait until my previous flowers had perished to replace them. Instead, I bought a new bouquet and added it to the original group. Carla requested white tulips, so white tulips it is. 

Last week’s batch are definitely looking a little faded and saggy. But you know what? They have their own beauty despite their age. And they are still standing

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I am in the thick of it right now, and it’s not even very thick – people are in much thicker situations, and dealing just fine, and here I am flailing around. So I am feeling stressed and also irritated with myself for being stressed over so little. It really doesn’t take much. 

Taking a page from Swistle’s book and buying pretty flowers so at least there’s something bright in my day.
  • Obviously, at the top of the frets list is the awfulness going on in Ukraine. The thought of people losing their homes, their loved ones, their lives… the thought of cities being devasted and bombed… the thought of babies and cancer patients huddled in basements and subway tunnels… it is all so awful. And then there is the underlying threat of a giant nuclear-weapon wielding toddler getting bored or angry and throwing a temper tantrum that results in nuclear destruction. Of course, there is other extremely upsetting stuff going on here in the US and around the world at the same time. The media coverage feels absolutely gleeful, there is so much bad stuff to go around. I am avoiding as much of the news as I can, which is, of course, a very privileged option. But it’s all horrible, whether you try to ignore it or not.
  • Did I mention that I stayed home today with a sick kiddo? (It’s not Covid.) I would have stayed home anyway, but being at home hits differently when there is a child at home with you. In totally unrelated news, her school went mask-optional last week. Carla was elated about the option to stop masking, and so she stopped masking. My husband and I supported this for several reasons, but it really came down to the fact that she is nearly nine and we literally cannot force her to wear a mask. Once she’s at school, all bets are off. Anyway, some of those virulent little bugs that have been waiting around for two years to get a crack at some delicious elementary schoolers jumped right on board. Right on in there. It took one week for this to happen. 
  • We are still wearing masks in public, even though cases are very low in my area right now. However, my husband and I did go to a restaurant for my birthday. We did not wear masks in the restaurant. (Although I put mine on to visit the restroom.) It feels a little odd to pick and choose this way. No masks at school, no masks at a restaurant. But I will throw on a mask to go to the grocery store or the post office. I don’t know. It all feels very strange. 
  • Dinners this week? Ha. I have not thought about a single dinner beyond tonight. No one will starve. I have some broccoli and some lettuce and some green beans to make as sides. We are having tacos for dinner tonight, even though the thought of tacos makes me queasy. That’s as far as I’ve gotten. 
  • Speaking of taco queasiness, I am doing Keto again. Sigh. This is Week Six, which seems like a good point at which to share it with you. Leave it to Keto to make my favorite food in all the world unappealing. It’s just that I’ve eaten so very much taco meat in the past six weeks. Piles and piles of it. Turns out I really need shells to enjoy the taco experience. I will try not to talk about it a whole lot, although I have found a few products and a few modifications that have made it better, this time around. If you are interested, maybe I will write a post about them. I mean, I may write a post about it anyway, no promises, but I will put something Keto-related in the headline so you can skip it if you are so inclined. 
  • I made up a big batch of Costco salmon last night, which was DELICIOUS, but then I realized that I may be eating too much salmon, and looked it up and INDEED I am eating like 50 times the recommended salmon amount, so now what? I don’t want to let the salmon go bad. Plus it is delicious. How quickly does mercury poisoning set it, anyway?
  • I did a yoga workout today and Adriene said something about how I needed to clear the desk of my mind. Well. My desk and my mind are pretty aligned, I’d say. (I did not get a lot out of today’s session.)
I have to be honest, it’s looked worse.
  • Things that are stressing me out, on the opposite end of the nuclear-warfare spectrum:
    • We are going on a trip. I have all the usual pre-trip stresses, like making packing lists and checking that the plane schedule is the same, and trying to figure out how to remain clothed in the days leading up to the trip without needing to do extra laundry. Plus, the pandemic-era pre-trip stresses, like wondering whether our flights will be canceled or our rental car will be there when we arrive or whether we will all contract Covid in the airport on the way to or from our destination. 
    • I have a meeting with a new potential client. I am excited but nervous. We are meeting in person, which is adding to the nerves. As is typical of my stress about situations like this, I am hyper-focused on WHAT DO I WEAR. I have nothing to wear, nothing at all. 
    • I volunteered for a school project, because I wanted to be more involved at school. And it is turning out to be MUCH more involved than I ever imagined. I mean, this is a thing that happens yearly. There should be clearly defined policies and procedures that I can follow. And yet it is a situation where I feel like I am in a dark room and I can only shine my flashlight on one thing at a time, and even then I can’t get a really good sense of the layout of the furniture or what things I’m missing. It is also taking A LOT OF TIME. 
    • A friend – who is heading up a different school project – asked me many months ago if I would help with a small aspect of her project. I said yes. But now I am concerned that I will be too busy with my project to devote enough time/attention to hers, but it’s also too late to back out.
    • My in-laws are coming to visit. I am so happy and relieved that my mother-in-law has completed chemotherapy. She and my father-in-law are coming up for some post-chemo doctors’ appointments and tests. It will be great to see them, but it is never un-stressful to have guests. 
    • I am on the docket for jury duty. I only had to report for one day each of the last two times I was called for jury duty. The odds are not in my favor for skipping out on it again, are they. 
    • When am I supposed to WRITE, which is supposedly my main priority? 

  • Something that is not stressing me out, but is still requiring time and energy, and, okay, a little stress, is that Girl Scout Cookies arrived. The part I hate the most, aside from asking people to spend money, is the collecting of the money. What if Carla or I make a mistake? What if we under- or overcharge someone? We already had one incident where a neighbor said that a box of cookies was missing – but in fact she had written on the form that she wanted to donate a box. So we are already on the hook for that box of cookies. It is only $5, and paying $5 is worth more than insisting the neighbor pay it. But I hate stuff like that! 
The floor of my office right now.
  • Carla and I ran some errands today. Her fever was gone (which means she can return to school tomorrow), and we mainly stayed in the car. We did go into the pharmacy, where we encountered a man with a giant bloodhound. Carla, of course, wanted to pet the dog and he, of course, wanted very much to be petted by Carla. Also, he had a very long, twisty Biblical name which I thought was absolutely spectacular for a bloodhound. Why the dog was in the pharmacy is a mystery (he wasn’t wearing a vest that indicated he is a helper dog), but it was a fun encounter nonetheless.
  • Another fun sight: I ran into the post office to drop off a StitchFix return, and on the way in I saw a man carrying a Netflix DVD to return!!!! What a blast from the past! I desperately want to know this man and his life. 
  • I bought a carton of strawberries yesterday. Listen, I KNOW that strawberries are Not Good in March. This is not strawberry season. But they were so lovely and plump and red, and I just couldn’t resist them. I haven’t opened the carton yet, so they are currently Schrödinger’s Strawberries, and could very well be juicy and delicious. 

How are you, Internet? What’s cluttering the desk of YOUR mind?

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Well, I am sitting here waiting for the exterminator to come do our quarterly bug roundup (I like to picture him ushering a bunch of creepy-crawlies down the stairs and out into the street and off into some buggy wonderland, Pied Piper style), and I neither feel like emptying the dishwasher nor trying to plan our meals for the week, so randomosity it is!

  • Speaking of our bug guy: I am mad at our pest control service. They are constantly bothering us to sign up for this quarterly “deal,” wherein you get a discount per service. And my husband and I had figured that we were calling the pest control on an as-needed basis about three times per year, so the math didn’t work out for us to do the quarterly plan. But, for some reason, we decided to sign up the last time they made their sales pitch. I don’t remember why, but it must have involved math. ANYWAY, we signed up in June, for the quarterly plan. They sent the bug guy, invoiced us… And the amount was DOUBLE what he’d quoted me. I emailed him back and said, “I thought the quarterly plan cost $X. Or is this invoice for the entire year in advance?” And he CALLED ME. I could not answer at the time, so emailed him back, reiterated my question, and said that email is much better than calling. He called me AGAIN. I remember I picked up the phone because I was waiting for another call, but there was some incredibly stressful thing going on, and he was being super confusing and not answering my questions directly, so I started frustration-crying on the phone. It was awful. The upshoot was that he didn’t want to submit a specific quote in writing, because “their rates change based on unpredictable factors.” *Picture me right now, sitting at my desk, blinking slowly and taking multiple deep breaths.* Anyway, because I cried at him, he emailed me this: “as discussed on the phone. The current charge is your initial charge with a discounted rate. 3 months after your initial treatment we offer a discounted quarterly rate ~$X + tax on a regular quarterly basis.” Which, I have to say, STILL MAKES NO SENSE. Does that mean that the quarterly discount only kicks in… later??? And also, I want to know what we are going to pay, every quarter!!!!! “~$X” is not specific enough!!!!! I immediately started asking my neighbors who they use, even though we have used this particular service multiple times per year for over a decade. The only reason I have decided not to switch services is that I adore the man who does the actual spraying of the bugs. He is a lovely, kind, gentle man who asks about my kid and is always super flexible about timing and is very efficient. He is the kind of guy you could call to come over IMMEDIATELY and take care of any issue. Plus, he is getting up there, age-wise, and I just picture us canceling our service and him being out of a job. (This is ridiculous; they have other customers.) So we are, for now, keeping our service. But I am STILL MAD. In fact, I feel riled up enough that I am once again thinking of finding a new service. EDITED TO ADD: I asked our bug guy if he knew what today’s appointment was going to cost me, and he said he didn’t; he leaves that to the other guy, who will send me an invoice. So I still have no idea how much it cost. I DO NOT LIKE THIS.
  • It is a good time for the bug guy to come, because it is Spider Season. And I know that spiders are good and lovely and take care of other bugs, but during this time of year they get very bold and decide to break the Spider Covenant of out of sight, out of mind. Do they think they add to the Halloween ambiance? There was a spider in Carla’s room the other day, and she came shrieking into the living room to have one of us rescue her from its clutches, but then my husband couldn’t locate the spider to remove it. (I would have squished it. Am mean.) Carla KNOWS that the spider is still there, probably on her bed, maybe building a little web inside her pillowcase. She does not believe us that the spider has likely moved on. She has been sleeping in our room ever since.
  • Oh, speaking of stupid things that make no sense (yes, I am still exercised about the bug service situation): Do you remember I told you, a long while ago, about this absolutely RIDICULOUS bank situation? In short (or, as short as I can very wordily go), we have a loan through a bank, and the bank is holding a big chunk of our money as collateral against the loan. This bank has a policy stating that you (we) need to add some nominal amount of money to the account annually, or you (we) are charged an inactive fee. Even though I don’t WANT to add money, not even $5, to that account because we cannot touch it until the loan is paid. And even though I don’t have any sort of bank card that would allow me to do so without going, in person, to the bank. And even though the bank is nowhere near my house or any place I ever go. So every year I get a statement charging us an inactive fee, and every year I call the bank and ask them to remove it, and they give me a spiel about how easy it would be to avoid the fee, just by making a single annual transaction! And how it could just be $5! And how they have all these branches! (None nearer than a 30 minute drive.) I persist, getting louder and more strident, and finally they agree to remove the fee, and I ask that they make a note for next year, and they say they can’t. Remember when I whined at great length about that? Well! Last year, we got a statement that showed the inactive fee… and then showed an instant refund!!!! I did not have to call! SOMEONE MADE A NOTE! That is my hope, at least. I suppose it could have been a Pandemic Nicety. Anyway, I’m waiting for the statement to show up this year, just to see what happens. I know you are on the edge of your seat.
  • I got myself a jump rope. Carla has one and it seems fun. Plus, it reminds me of middle school gym class, and how Jump Rope for Heart! was a big health movement back then. It IS good exercise, I think. I don’t know for sure because I have yet to try it. I’m… nervous? Afraid of hitting myself in the face? Or… enduring excessive boob-flop pain? Or… having a heart attack? I don’t know. Also, I am pretty sure this is an Outdoor Activity, so that’s another hurdle. The jump rope is currently on the floor of my office. Do you jump rope? And if so, how do I begin my jump rope journey? Perhaps I shall begin by taking it with me to Goodwill and leaving it there?
  • Listen, I KNOW it’s only October, but I also know that you are aware – as are we all – that shipping and supply chain issues are causing delays and snarl-ups all over the place. So I am thinking about Christmas. Fretting is a more accurate word than thinking, except there is also a lot of inertia because it is sooooo far away and I am just coming out of a four-family-members-have-birthdays period over the last six weeks, with the fifth still to come. I persuaded my husband to order a couple of things for Carla already (thank you, Target, for having a “buy $50 in toys, get $10” promotion at the exact right time). (We got her a carnotaurus and an LOL OMG doll that she requested.) But literally no one else in my family is thinking about the holidays right now, except maybe my parents whom I have already bothered on the topic. And lord knows WHAT I will get my husband; I just had to buy presents for his birthday and it was rough. I ended up buying him a couple of things I’d purchased previously, that’s how out of ideas I am. Well. At least Santa Claus will have something to deliver to Carla. If the rest of us get nothing, that’s fine. We need nothing anyway.
  • This Christmas situation illuminates one of the Major Differences between my family of origin and my husband’s. I emailed my mom and asked her to start thinking about Christmas, and she happily complied. In fact, I had received an email previously from my dad, asking what we want to eat for Christmas dinner. They are Plan Ahead People. They have everything planned out for the next… nine months, I’d say. While I am not (always) that much of a planner, I do prefer to know what’s coming down the pike. My in-laws, on the other hand, are Spontaneous People. (This is why I end up wrapping so many gifts that they send us at the last minute grumble grumble.) They are also Christmas List People, who prefer that we all submit and choose from a list of specific items. (My parents are Money Gifters, who then also usually wrap something small to accompany the money.) My in-laws also live in a different state, so we have to ship all gifts to them. (And I prefer to buy them and wrap them before shipping them.) This is a bad combination, even in years without shipping and supply chain issues (not to mention all the health issues that are obviously and justifiably requiring significant attention). But this year it may be that everyone gets a Suzanne Hopes You Will Like This But Maybe You Won’t present.
  • Do you have a go-to gift that you send to people who have everything/people who are difficult to shop for? There has to be a Good General Gift that most people enjoy, right? Except I can’t think of one, outside of consumables like chocolate/wine/cheese.
  • And also, what would YOU, personally, like to receive as a gift? Like, right now, what is the thing that you are coveting most? For me, it is a citrus squeezer. Mine broke, and I use a citrus squeezer ALL the time, so I have been mourning its loss near-daily. Okay, after writing that, I just ordered one – it’s stainless steel, so the paint won’t wear off and it’s dishwasher safe! It will arrive on Friday. SORRY, PEOPLE WHO BUY ME GIFTS.
  • I really, reallllllllly wish that we could alllll agree that we are grown ups and do not need gifts anymore. Seriously. We can get the kids presents, if we want, but no one else needs anything. I just don’t know how to broach that topic. Like, it seems like one thing to say, “I would like you to stop buying me gifts; I have everything I need” but a whole different thing to say, “I would like to stop purchasing gifts for you.” Yeah. Makes me sound like a dick. *Resigned sigh of gift anxiety forever and ever amen.* 
  • At least I don’t have to worry about Thanksgiving! My in-laws are hosting Thanksgiving at their house, in a different state, despite the fact that it is their year with us, and despite the fact that my husband and I established nearly a decade ago that we will not travel on holidays, and despite the fact that there is still an ongoing global pandemic that makes travel – especially crowded holiday travel – unideal. (And lest you think I am being heartless, they made these plans before all the health turmoil.) (I am still being a little heartless, but the whole thing irks me.) So! It will just be the three of us, here at home! My IDEAL! I suspect I will still need to make turkey and stuffing, since my husband likes those things. (Bleh.) I can probably get away with a small turkey breast, though, which will be nice. And I am delighted that I get to make a big vat of garlic goat cheese mashed potatoes to slowly coat myself in.
  • OMG I usually tip our bug guy but I FORGOT to get tip money and had none. He said goodbye at the front door, but then his shoes were at the back door, so we trekked through the kitchen, saying things like “keep safe!” and “see you next quarter!” But then at the back door, I had to wait as he put on his shoes and tied them and tried to make small talk about the weather while I was very blatantly NOT giving him a tip. And then he got his shoes on and walked through the garage and reminded me to close the garage door and we must have said goodbye/take care to each other at least four times all while I was not giving him a tip OMG it was so awkward. I hope he knows I will get him next time.

That’s it from me, Internet. After that grueling interaction, not to mention the anticipation thereof, I need to lie down for the rest of the day. (Kidding. Mainly.)

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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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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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Yesterday, I parted my hair on the opposite side. It felt and looked very weird and I do not think I will repeat that particular experiment.

 

One of the remarkable things about These Unprecedented Times is that going to the grocery store has now become such a major source of stress. I realize this is not a new topic nor a concern specific to me. But I am Right In It now and it’s so odd. I literally had stress dreams about the grocery store last night – where I discovered at the last minute that the store was open a whole hour before I thought it would be and I was able to dash in and grab some half-and-half. I mean, this is causing Major Anxiety these days which is absolutely ridiculous.

It’s been about twenty days since I last set foot in the grocery store, and a little less than two weeks since I picked up a curbside order (which did NOT contain half-and-half). I was supposed to go to the grocery store yesterday, a plan I’d been working toward for many days. Our store opens at eight and has seniors/immunocompromised shoppers hours until nine. My plan was to arrive right at nine and get in and get out quickly. But my husband actually had patients that morning (which is A Good Thing) and had to go into the office, so I couldn’t go. He has patients this morning, too (also A Good Thing). So yesterday we decided I would go later in the afternoon, once my husband got home.

I ordered a mask, which is supposed to arrive sometime later this week. So I fashioned a mask out of an old baby blanket and hair ties. And I got all dressed — in actual Real Clothes — put my hair in a bun, even put my contacts in, and drove to the grocery store. And then I chickened out. The parking lot was SO FULL. And there was a line of people outside stretching along the entire side of the building. Which I know is a good, smart innovation. And yet it made me feel all panicky and trembly so I turned around and came home.

But we obviously still need groceries. So I filled a virtual cart at the grocery store that offers curbside pickup. Curbside pickup is not ideal – for one thing, I worry that I am taking a spot from someone who has limited mobility or is immunocompromised or for whom going into an actual store is otherwise difficult/impossible. Plus, on a selfish level, it’s so much easier to be able to decide on the fly that the store doesn’t have fresh strawberries so I am going to get frozen berries or blueberries instead, rather than counting on the grocery store shopper to find an appropriate substitution. Curbside pickup is not something I am relying on, is what I’m saying. But it worked fairly well the first time I did it. And I figured it would be good to have a backup if I can’t get to the store myself, or if I do  get to the store but they are out of half-and-half.

The app for curbside pickup allows you to choose a date and time from a selection of five upcoming days. At least, that’s the idea. These days, all the spots are full. This means that the earliest possible date I could hope to pick up my order would be this coming Sunday. And that’s only if I happen to open the app at the exact right time and catch the new pickup times before they fill.

This happened last time, too. I stalked the app for three days at all hours of the day. The timeslots opened up one morning and I was able to grab one. So I tried it at midnight last night… and then woke up at five to try it… and then seven… and then kept checking all through the eight o’clock hour… At nine o’clock, the app added Sunday as an option… But all the timeslots were full.

This is not anything to be Truly Panicked about. We still have plenty of food. But we are down to our last package of ground beef. We have only one remaining can of chickpeas. We have no eggs. And we are going to run out of half-and-half ANY MINUTE NOW which makes me feel very anxious.

This is all SO RIDICULOUS. I know that I am in a very, very privileged situation. I think of the news footage of miles and miles of cars lined up at food banks across the country and I feel ashamed. We can OF COURSE survive just fine without ground beef and without half-and-half. We have PLENTY of food. Obviously, we are FINE. But it turns out that running out of half-and-half is my personal grocery store breaking point.

Can I also say that my husband and I are having… disagreements about grocery shopping? We have always been on opposite ends of the preparedness spectrum. Even in The Time Before, I have always been the type of person who prefers to have a backup ready to go before I even start to run out of something. For instance, Carla eats a lot of frozen pancakes, so I always have two boxes in the freezer. When we get down to the last two or three of the first box, I put pancakes on the list. That kind of thing. (I also grew up in a remote, cold place where it was prudent to never allow your gas tank to be under half full; even today when I have a gas station within walking distance of my house, I still get very nervous if the gas dips below the half-full point. Maybe the food thing is related.)

Yesterday when I went to mix the ingredients for chili powder, I discovered that we are nearly out of paprika (which I use A Lot), and that we are – for me – uncomfortably low on garlic powder, oregano, and cumin. My husband sees that the (admittedly giant) canisters are still about a third full and says we don’t need the spices urgently. But to ME, I don’t WANT to need them urgently. I want to have backups ready to go.

The same goes for tortillas and chickpeas and sour cream and cheddar cheese and pancakes and iceberg lettuce and carrots and ranch dressing and chicken breasts and black beans and taco shells and hot sauce and onions and all the other things that make me feel like I can put together a normal and/or comforting meal. Do we need  cheddar cheese to survive? Of course not. But does it make me feel better to have a backup in the fridge? Yes.

This is how I would feel in Normal Times, too. But I feel it even more acutely now, when a) who knows when I will be a store where I can purchase these things and b) who knows if the store will even HAVE these items when I do manage to get there.

So my husband and I are experiencing a little friction on the groceries/necessities front, I have to say.

Part of it is that he is frugal and doesn’t see the point of spending money on something that you don’t actually NEED. (To which I say, but we WILL need this thing. Or, if not need, WANT.) Part of it is that he is not the designated shopper, neither now nor in Normal Times, and so doesn’t really fully understand the current shopping situation. I would guess he hasn’t set foot in a grocery store since late February, so he just doesn’t get how different it is. And/or he is in denial about how quickly the situation is going to improve. (Possibly never, says my doomsday brain.) He was surprised when I said that our online options for ordering spices (Costco and Penzeys are the ones I checked) were experiencing delays. (Not to mention that Costco’s website reacted as though oregano is a concept I made up out of thin air.) And yet, even when I point these things out – shortages and delays – he still seems to believe that we can just get whatever we want whenever want it. When I told him I was going to order curbside pickup, he said, “Oh great. Are you going to have it ready to pick up tomorrow?” and I had to temper my incredulous tone when I responded, “Of COURSE NOT, it will be Sunday AT THE EARLIEST before I can hope to pick up the things we ordered, and even then it is HIGHLY LIKELY that we will not get all of what we wanted.”

I would think that he would defer to me in this case, WOULDN’T YOU AGREE?

Pant,  pant,  panic, panic!

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We are on Day 2 of a serious Halloween Hangover. Carla – whose bedtime is a strict 7:30 – didn’t go to sleep until ten on Thursday, yet still woke up at six on Friday. She was off all day – due to tiredness, no doubt – and I managed to cajole her into taking an actual NAP Friday afternoon. It didn’t take much convincing, I just said, “Carla, you are taking a nap.” And she said, “Okay,” and fell asleep pretty much immediately.

Of course, we put her to bed at 7:30… and then, at ELEVEN PEE EM IN THE EVENING, she showed up downstairs saying she had never fallen asleep. First, I find it a little hard to believe that she was awake, by herself, in her room for three hours, entertaining herself. But stranger things have happened. And, after I gave her a melatonin gummy and snuggled with her a bit and then took her back up to her room, I noticed she had a cookbook open face-down on her bed, which she claimed she had read through during her non-sleeping hours. So maybe she WAS awake the whole time. Wait, there was a “first” back there and now I have forgotten why. Presumably there was at least a “second” in mind… Well, it is lost to the sands of time.

She woke up today at a more reasonable time, but she did NOT get the eleven to twelve hours of sleep that she requires. So we are watching Barbie movies on Netflix. Well, she is watching Barbie movies and occasionally directing my attention to something extraordinary (Barbie’s hair turned pink! There’s a mermaid!) and I am typing this blog post. Okay, in the time it took to write this MONSTROSITY of a post — be warned — Carla’s movie ended and I suggested she take a nap. She agreed without argument and went upstairs… only to reappear five minutes later, yawning extravagantly and claiming her nap was very restful and she was ready to play. She is now setting up a make-up salon in her bathroom, and forging her wares out of paper. Age six is a DELIGHT.

Halloween was fun, I think. We had a few friends over – the very lovely families of two of Carla’s school friends – and I continue to find entertaining absolutely exhausting. I enjoy it, though – or, at least, I want to enjoy it  I love planning the food and buying the wine and the actual conversation when people are here. But my little introvert soul gets so completely worn out by all these extra people in my space… I don’t know. Would it get better/easier if I did it more often? Could I possibly do less in preparation, and would that help?

I made soup and bread and a veggie tray, which seems like the bare minimum. Well, I could have bought the bread, but it really is the EASIEST bread recipe in the universe. I did order pizza, as well – that’s what the kids ate, but I ordered enough for every person to have at least three pieces. And then it all slowly burnt into molten, inedible bricks in my oven over the course of the evening, so I had to throw most of it away. Horrified grimace emoji.

I could have JUST gotten pizza, right? We went to a friend’s house last year for Halloween, and they had ordered pizza and a salad. And it was PERFECT. But… well, I guess I just can’t get past trying too hard. Like, people who order pizza and a salad are already In, and I won’t be invited In unless I prove myself through baking??? As though that is a normal or reasonable barrier to entry into a social group??? What is wrong with me?????? Eye-roll emoji.

Aside from feeling exhausted by entertaining, I have come to really enjoy Halloween. It has all the fun of The Big Holidays – decorations, planning, special food – without any of the pressure. I suppose if I handmade all of Carla’s costumes, as my mother did for me, it would be much more pressure-filled. But since I buy Carla’s costumed pre-made and only have to worry about doing an appropriately tiger-y face-painting job (she was a tiger this year, which hopefully makes the previous part of this sentence make more sense than it otherwise might have), it’s very low-pressure for me.

I love all the homes that decorate for Halloween – and there’s such a wide range. We have the people with a cheery pumpkin or two on the front stoop, and then there’s the family with an entire army of zombies or skeletons posed on the lawn. It’s delightful. Carla had a hankering for “something you stick in the lawn” this year, so we found a very nice collection of ghosts – ones you could hang up OR stick in your lawn! – at Target and that was really fun to add to our outdoor décor.

The ghost brownies I made for Carla’s class party turned out well and the kids LOVED them.

Halloween ghost brownies

I also made little bags of popcorn, which Carla and I decorated as monsters, and those were fun as well. (I just wanted the kids to have a non-sugar option.)

Halloween popcorn monsters

My candy-corn veggie arrangement did NOT turn out well; my serving dishes were the wrong size/shape and/or my veggies weren’t putting on their best candy-corn show, so I just did a tray of veggies in Halloween colors: a stripe of orange tomatoes, a stripe of cauliflower, a stripe of yellow peppers, etc. etc. I thought it was festive enough, but it turns out that yellow/orange peppers and tomatoes and cauliflower aren’t particularly popular, at least not with this friend group.

The pounding rain stopped literally minutes before our neighborhood’s designated trick-or-treating time, and Carla and her friends had a great time going door to door, despite the biting wind. Then they had an even better time handing out candy to the other brave trick-or-treaters – a group of mainly older/bigger kids that arrived in swarms. I remember being that weird age between Eager Trick-or-Treater and Too Old/Too Cool for Halloween, and felt very tender toward the Big Kids, especially the ones who tried, by wearing a mask or some other gesture toward a costume… but, well, also the ones who didn’t have a costume at all, but merely gave in, possibly at the last minute, to the overwhelming desire to prolong the youthful fun of Halloweens past/collect free candy.

Now, November is upon us. And Thanksgiving is bearing down – more quickly for me than for you, because we are hosting Thanksgiving a week early (my husband is on call for the real holiday).

I am exhausted just thinking about Thanksgiving. Is this how I feel most years? Let’s see. I have been hosting Thanksgiving since 2010, and my memory of how I normally feel is that I face the holiday with pluck and enthusiasm. I should have it down to a science, what with my multi-page planning document and my detailed Week Of schedule. But this year, I just feel… drained. Not a good way to go into it, is it?

So, for the first time ever, I am considering asking for help. Gasp. Shock. Wide eyes. I know, I know. This DOES NOT sound like me. And perhaps it will not BE me, at the actual time. But the considering is the first step.

Let’s lay out my concerns/aversions to help.

  1. Differences in Technique: My mother-in-law – who has kindly and generously OFFERED to help – does things differently than I do. You may recall that I am Very Particular about things, especially when it comes to my kitchen. And I don’t want to micromanage, but I also feel very viscerally uncomfortable when someone is rummaging around in my cabinets or doing things differently than I would do them in my very own kitchen. You may be thinking, at this point, that I need to seek extensive therapy and should probably scrap the idea of asking for help. And perhaps you would be right.
  2. Space Constraints: Along similar lines: I only have the one kitchen with the one oven and stove and it’s much easier when I am the only person making the meal. It’s very simple to coordinate with myself, right? But if a whole other person is in my kitchen, chopping veggies and jockeying for the stove… well… that seems like a recipe for frustration/despair.
  3. Specificities of Taste: My husband LIKES the way I make things. Therefore, we have a very specific — I am avoiding the word “rigid” here — Thanksgiving menu, from which we rarely deviate. Could I really impose my specific dressing recipe on my mother-in-law, and expect that she make it exactly the way my husband likes it? That seems unreasonable. If she prefers, say, pumpkin pie or something chocolate for dessert… can I really expect her to make the pumpkin bars that are OUR (my husband’s and my) tradition? That seems very dictatorial of me/us.
  4. Some Sort of Mental Issue Related to Pride/Ownership: Again with the need for longterm therapy. I think somewhere along the line, I have absorbed this very strange and very stubborn feeling that I MUST do the entire Thanksgiving meal or… Or what? I lose street cred? I lose my Housewife Credentials? I don’t even KNOW. It’s just this weirdly pervasive buzz inside me that says I am the hostess, I need to provide the Entire Meal and do all the dishes and make it look effortless or else I lose. Lose what, again, I don’t know. Yet it’s THERE, inside me, buzzing away, making me feel like I am less of… something if I don’t do Thanksgiving perfectly and all by myself. This is one of those weird double-standard things that I apply ONLY TO ME, by the way – I fully understand and admire people who split the Thanksgiving duties among many, and I would gladly and gratefully pitch in with the cooking if I were invited to someone else’s Thanksgiving, and never for a single moment think less of the host. It’s some sort of weird Hostess Martyrdom that I’ve internalized somehow and I don’t understand it but nor can I rid myself of it.

Here are things working in my favor – by which I mean, that the following are present in my psyche makes me hopeful that I can get past my deterrents/aversions.

  1. I don’t particularly LIKE Thanksgiving. This is a little sad, because I think Thanksgiving used to be one of my favorite holidays. But that was back when my parents did all the work, I think, and I just had to show up? It got less enjoyable in college, when generous friends and extended family members opened their homes to me for the holiday – and I spent Thanksgiving feeling deeply, guiltily homesick. More enjoyable again when I began to establish my own traditions with my husband. And now less enjoyable again, now that it’s just A Big Day of Work. Also, I don’t really like the food! I eat turkey literally only on this one day a year. Sweet potatoes with marshmallows are fine in very small doses, but I could take ’em or leave ’em. I loathe wet bread, so the dressing is something I make but never even taste. The only things I like about Thanksgiving are the mashed potatoes and gravy. And the gravy is SO MUCH WORK and the potatoes won’t be exactly how I like them because I don’t make them with goat cheese out of respect for one family member who REVILES goat cheese. The pumpkin bars are good, but really BETTER when my husband makes them and I don’t know if he will have time/energy this year. So. If I don’t really care about the food — nay, if I don’t really EAT the food — why am I so resistant to having someone else make it???? A question for the ages.
  2. This year will be weird, so it’s almost like Not Thanksgiving, which makes me… care about perfection less. Like I said, we’re having Thanksgiving a week early. My husband will be at work all day, so he can’t help even if he wants to. My sister and niece will be flying into town at some point, so I’ll want to spend time with them rather than in the kitchen. Someone will have to leave to collect my sister and niece, someone else will have to leave to collect Carla from school, so there will be interruptions during the day. The timing of the meal will be later than normal (because my husband will be at work), so it will feel more like Any Old Dinner than Thanksgiving. All of these variables are making it wholly UNusual, so why stick to the usual plan?
  3. Plus, we have a built-in Do-Over available to us if we want it. I mean, Actual Thanksgiving will still happen. So I could save Doing It My Way for the ACTUAL DAY.
  4. My mother-in-law really wants to help, so why not give her that pleasure? As a relatively new hostess (can I still say “relatively new,” after nearly ten years of hosting this holiday?), I think I revel a bit in being The Provider. I want my guests to sit back and relax, rather than work hard in the kitchen with me. But… I think it causes my mother and my mother-in-law mental stress and even emotional pain, to sit and relax. They want to help. They have MULTIPLE DECADES of prior Thanksgivings behind them, during which THEY were the hostesses, and they have so much experience and expertise to share, and they are so accustomed to being busy that I think they feel… useless and unneeded when I shoo them out of the kitchen. Part of me feels – rather harshly – like they should learn to chill out and accept that this is the next phase in their lives, that their role now is NOT hostess, but guest and grandmother, that they should let the next generation have a turn at planning the menu and taking care of them. But… a growing part of me feels really bad and guilty and selfish about that, and wants desperately to be more generous about sharing the hostessing. God, this is all SO VERY STUPID and yet it causes me GREAT ANGST. (Also, I am feeling VERY CRANKY TOWARD and simultaneously VERY JEALOUS OF The Men, who seem to be completely unencumbered by any of this, and at least ACT totally content to simply sit in the living room watching football. WELL. There will be NO FOOTBALL this year, Men!) (P.S., in case this paragraph confused the issue, only my in-laws will be here for this Thanksgiving. I just brought my mother into it because I realized last year that she feels kind of sad and unwanted/unnecessary/superfluous when I don’t let her help with holiday meal preparation, and that made ME sad and I have been reflecting on it ever since.)

Okay. So I think I have laid it ALL OUT for you. It’s ugly and doesn’t paint me in the best light and it probably doesn’t make much sense outside of my very specific brain, but there it is.

So what should I do? How should I approach this Thanksgiving? Business-as-exhaustingly-usual? Or welcome my mother-in-law’s offer to help? And, if the latter, HOW do I do that, given the constraints above? If you were ME, with all my neuroses and particularities, how would you make THIS Thanksgiving easier and more pleasant and less tiring?

At this very moment, the biggest part of me wants to make a reservation at a fancy restaurant and have our faux Thanksgiving THERE. But I don’t think there are any restaurants that offer faux Thanksgiving. I don’t even know if the grocery stores offer their pre-made Thanksgiving meals for sale a whole week prior to the real holiday. Can I even get a turkey that far in advance???? And, really, I don’t want my Thanksgiving Antipathy to ruin a beloved holiday for the rest of my family. So I am resigning myself to making Thanksgiving dinner at home as usual. But maybe not exactly as usual…?

Help?

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It is bad enough that I am a very light sleeper. So light that the sound of my niece turning on the lightswitch in the bathroom down the hall jolts me into heart-pounding alertness.

What’s worse is that I cannot fall back to sleep. I am now awake, even though it is not yet four in the morning and even though I only went to bed three hours ago and even though the house is completely dark and no one else – not even my niece – is awake.

Instead, my brain is bouncing around from toe to toe like a boxer psyching herself up for a fight, except that the boxer has just downed an entire crate of 5-hour energy and her opponent is my desire to sleep.

Let’s worry, for awhile, about our security system. Early yesterday, we got a call from our security company to let us know that the power was out in our area. Great, thanks, security company. Allow my blood pressure to drop from Our House Is Being Invaded levels for a moment here. But then, of course, came the worry that our power was out, and we are… not there. My husband looked up the outage and discovered it should be resolved in a couple of hours; sure enough, it was. But then today, we got ANOTHER call from the security company to let us know that the outage had NOT been resolved and our backup battery was running low and we needed to DO SOMETHING. We could not do anything because we aren’t close with our neighbors and our local friends are all also on spring break. So I told them this, fervently hoped that a burglar would not choose this exact moment to break into our house, and said goodbye. But now, at not-quite-four-a.m., I am worrying and worrying and worrying. Maybe the person who said they were from our security company was not, in fact, from our security company… but was trying to scam me? And, yes, their plan was quite elaborate, mirroring the security company’s phone number and all and having two separate people call me, but STILL. It could be a very elaborate burglar. And, even if there is no scammer, what about our poor house, standing empty and unprotected (you know, except by locks and good, observant neighbors)? And what if the power company is WRONG, and our house doesn’t currently have power and our pipes are freezing and our food is all rotting? Of course there is absolutely NOTHING I can do about it, but let’s go over all the nothing options one by one since there is no one awake to entertain me, shall we?

After I finally decide to call the police station tomorrow and ask if they will increase patrols around our neighborhood for the next few days, my mind turns to the much more productive topic of Embarrassing Things I Did and Said During High School.

I turn on my phone and scroll through my news feed.

I turn off my phone and recite poems in my head.

I push my husband because he is snoring.

I go to the bathroom.

I listen very carefully to see if the noise Carla made (she is sleeping on a mat at the foot of our bed) is going to turn into crying; it does not.

I pick up my phone and start scrolling through a favorite blogger’s archives, because they are lovely and soothing, but it turns out I have overused this particular comfort technique because I can’t find any posts I haven’t recently read.

I find a nice long article about the mysterious disappearance of the world’s most famous actress.

Ah, finally. I am starting to drift off to sleep. I close my eyes and… UPPERCUT. My brain pinches me, hard. OMG, I almost fell asleep! Not on my brain’s watch! No way, no how!

Now I am nice and alert to focus on the important work of worrying about an upcoming trip and how hard/awful it will be to leave Carla behind.

Why didn’t I work harder on memorizing more poems???

Oh good. Here are partial lyrics from the Descendants 2 soundtrack to loop through my head instead.

I know! I can fret about the upcoming dinner party! Maybe I should scrap the Tex-Mex theme entirely and go for chicken and salad.

Go to the bathroom.

My husband is doing that thing where he is lying on his back and he has his head resting on his forehead with his elbow up in the air, but it keeps falling over and he keeps jerking it back into position. I push him onto his side.

Is Carla having a nightmare? Is she whimpering?

Are there burglars tiptoeing through my defenseless home right at this very moment?

Dumb Buzzfeed quiz.

Slow slide into sleep… PUNCH TO THE SOLAR PLEXUS. Almost made it there, but my brain swooped in to intervene just in the nick of time!

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

This goes on until seven thirty when my niece wakes up and starts talking with her mom, at which point Carla wakes up, delighted to get to play with her cousin, and I whine to my husband about my sleepless night. Kind man that he is, he takes Carla out into the kitchen and closes the door behind him. But… two minutes later, Carla crashes through the door to get a stuffed animal, and then two minutes after that my husband comes in to get some medicine and I snarl at him to just let me have HALF AN HOUR OF SLEEP FTLOG and lie there fuming at the rapidly-lightening ceiling. And then thirty minutes of no sleep later I angrily get up and start the day.

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