Posts Tagged ‘trying to banish sad thoughts’

I need a root canal. Deciding that the tooth pain was bad enough to warrant a dental appointment wasn’t super fun. Confirming that I needed a root canal – first at my dentist’s office, then at the endodontist – was agony. 

The dentist kept saying he was sorry for causing me pain, even though the whole point of the tests he was doing was to elicit pain. It was kind, but I have that reflex where I say, “that’s okay” or “it’s not that bad” in response to someone apologizing, which felt a) silly and b) untrue. 

The endodontist did not apologize; not in a sadist-y way; he was kind, but just sort of stood there watching me clutch at my jaw as tears leaked from my eyes. He also offered me an Advil. His tests – which were very similar to the ones my dentist had done, just 30 minutes earlier – elicited a MUCH higher pain response. One test – he put liquid nitrogen or something on a swab and swabbed my tooth – hurt so bad that I cried. And then I felt ridiculous for crying. I tried to comfort myself by thinking that I couldn’t be the ONLY person to ever cry in that office; that must be why the assistant had tissues at the ready for me to dry my tears.

My dentist thinks, based on how nervous I get for dental work, that I need some sort of extra medication. Either something like V@lium or @tivan prior to the appointment, or conscious sedation during the procedure. He said, kindly, “That’s what I would recommend for my wife; she gets nervous about dental work. But I’m just telling you the options – you don’t need it. I wouldn’t do it, myself. Dental work doesn’t bother me.” Which made me wonder: ARE there people who are unbothered by dental work??????? This was a wholly novel concept to me. I figured that there was a spectrum, of course, from moderately nervous to requiring sedation just for a simple cleaning. But I never once imagined that there exist human beings who don’t mind dental work. 

(As for my spot on the spectrum: I get nervous for a simple dental cleaning; I clench my hands into fists, my arms and legs are rigid the entire time, I have to do anti-anxiety breathing while I’m in the chair, waiting for the exam to begin. I did a LOT of focused breathing today, let me tell you. And then cried in my car all the way home.)

The thing is, for me to do any sort of pre-medication, I need someone to drive me to and from the appointment. And my husband is unlikely to be able to do that anytime in the near future, if at all. And I don’t know that I have any friends who I would feel comfortable asking. So I am feeling very sorry for myself indeed. I suppose there is always Uber, but I have never once used Uber so that’s another hurdle to surmount.

Part of the reason I cried in the car (aside from the lingering tooth pain following the swab) was that I felt so ridiculous about crying. The crying was bad enough on its own. But then I couldn’t stop crying. And even when I finally got the actual tears under control, I still had Wobbly Voice. Ugh. I couldn’t stop thinking of that awful anesthesiologist who commented on my ability to withstand pain when I was in labor. Maybe I have a very low pain threshold, and other people are going around dealing with similar or worse pain without being fazed one bit. And maybe everyone thinks I am a huge baby who is making a mountain out of a molar pain. And I am FORTY YEARS OLD for floss sake, why can I not just GET IT TOGETHER like the adult I supposedly am instead of acting like a whiny child? 

This is just the latest in a run of negative self-talk that I can’t seem to squash. It started with my writing and has since spilled over into every other aspect of my life. 

I am suspecting – and hoping – that it has at least something to do with the calendar: both the monthly calendar, which has spun right around to canker sores and chocolate cravings, and the annual calendar, which has turned once again to the anniversary of my friend’s death. Not to mention, we are now sliding down the dark slope of fewer hours of sunshine each day and facing the looming pressures of the holiday season. 

While I do my focused breathing and wait for the calendar to flip a few pages forward, if you have any advice for how you pull yourself out of this kind of self-talk tailspin, I would greatly appreciate it. For now, I have self-medicated with Trader Joe’s macaroni and cheese and some of my only-on-the-weekends good tea. And, of course, I am blabbering it all to you. (Thank you for listening.)

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

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

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


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

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

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

Never Have I Ever…

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

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

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

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

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

Okay. Your turn.  

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City lights

One of the recurring thoughts I’ve had throughout this pandemic is about my friend who died last fall. I will hear a news report or read a headline or catch an update about the status of things in New York City (where she lived) and I will think, “Oh man, Friend would have been so scared and upset.”

And she would have been. She had a compromised immune system. She lived in one of the busiest cities in the world. She took public transportation to and from work. She would have been terrified of this pandemic. And she would have felt trapped. She was an extrovert who loved to explore all the wonderful things her city had to offer. She was always going out to restaurants and bars and concerts and clubs and galleries and showcases and conferences and fancy events. She loved to travel, and I know she and her family would have had to cancel at least one of their semi-annual trips because of the pandemic, and she would have been so bummed.

It seems like the logical follow up thought would be something like, “Well, at least she’s at peace. At least she doesn’t have to be scared of getting Covid. At least she didn’t have to miss out on all those things.”

But that’s not what I think. I wish she were here. I don’t wish she were scared, obviously. But I wish she were here. I want so badly to be able to call her and talk to her about what’s going on the world. We would lament the impotency of our leadership. We would talk about hand sanitizer and bleach spray and disinfectant wipes. We would compare notes on pandemic snacks and TV shows and books.

I like to think how she would have made do in the pandemic. More than made do – she would have found some way to thrive. She was unfailingly positive. She was determined, especially when it came to getting what she wanted, especially if what she wanted involved chocolate. I am SURE she would have talked her employer into letting her work from home. That she would have locked herself securely into her condo. That she would have sprayed the inside of the stairwell or elevator with Lysol any time she was forced to use them. That she would have found some way to cajole some friend or neighbor into helping her take care of things like mail delivery and trash disposal.

I bet she would have created an elaborate and contact-free plan for trying all the best takeout in the city. I bet she would have figured out all the ways to get chocolate and ice cream and cookies delivered straight to her door. And she would have kept track of everything – taste, cost, ease of delivery, kindness of delivery person – in a spreadsheet, for easy reference.

She was single, and I bet she would have attempted pandemic dating – and I can just imagine the stories she would have told me about men she met online and their virtual dates. (“He gave me a tour of his apartment and he has great art and an excellent view but he clearly hasn’t done laundry since March!” or “He kept asking if I would point my phone camera at my feet, so I told him I thought I was coming down with Covid and hung up.” or “We did a Zoom trivia and he didn’t know who Bono was!!!!”) She loved music of all kinds, and I bet she would have figured out which bands and songwriters were doing private shows. She would have filled her schedule with Facebook and Instagram live concerts and she would have taken advantage of all the virtual museum tours and presentations she could find.

She would have found some way to make life better for others. She was passionate about organ donation, and she would have come up with statistics about how the pandemic is affecting those who are awaiting transplants and she would have shared all sorts of facts and resources via social media to let people know how to help. She was a motivational speaker as a side gig, and I bet she would have found some way to record herself giving speeches to remind people that they can get through anything as long as they don’t give up.

Her parents were a big part of her life, and I imagine talking to her about how they would be dealing with the pandemic. Maybe her dad would be a little resistant to masks – or maybe he would really lean in to mask-wearing and buy masks that matched his shirts. Maybe her mom would be appalled at the thought of schools reopening as usual. I bet my friend and I would giggle over her parents’ attempts to get her to move back home, and roll our eyes over that one uncle who was completely clueless and determined to pretend the pandemic wasn’t happening. I bet we would worry over her brother, who is a performing artist and therefore probably out of work for an unknown duration. I bet she would tell me about her weekly family Zoom chats and how wonderful slash irritating everyone is when you’re forced to stay apart.

Well. This is a silly pursuit. None of those conversations will happen. But it does give me a brief moment of pleasure, to imagine an alternate world, one in which my friend is still happy and healthy and alive.




It’s been about a year since she went into the hospital, hoping to get better. It’s been more than ten months since she died, since she left the planet a little darker, a little emptier than it was before. She never had to endure the fear and uncertainty and grief of this pandemic, and I’m grateful for that. But nonetheless, I wish she were here.

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In college, I wrote a paper on the juxtaposition of the profane and the sublime in Milton’s epic poem “Paradise Lost.” Wow, is this ever a boring way to open a blog post! My memory of the whole thing, poem and all, is fuzzy, but the (very hastily summarized) point was that Milton would bring up sacred topics (God, angels, the Garden of Eden, etc.) but describe them in irreverent or disrespectful ways, often using language that would never be associated with the holy (bodily fluids and excretions abound in this poem). It was one of the distinctive hallmarks of the work — this discrepancy between subject matter and treatment. How could you talk about God and farts in a single line?

The reason I keep thinking about that, now, is that I feel we’re living through a similar dichotomy – the extreme/emergent walking hand in hand with the mundane. It’s so disorienting.

On the one side, we literally have people dying. We have hospitals that are overcrowded and suffering from shortages of vital equipment – both protective and life-saving. We have medical staff that are overloaded and fearful and putting their lives at risk. We have medical professionals who are trying to determine whether to resuscitate people with Covid-19, for God’s sake. We have countless people losing their source of income and stability. We have the looming specter of more of all of this – more death, more fear, more people at risk in immeasurable ways. We have what feels like a hopelessly irreparable political schism, and lack of leadership (understatement) at the highest levels. We have the ever-present possibility that we or our loved ones will get sick, be hospitalized, and even die.

These things are too much to bear. I find myself turning away, guarding my heart and my mind against the horror I feel when I think about any of them.

And then, far, far away from the frenetic life-and-death urgency of emergency rooms and ICUs all over our country — all over our planet — I am stuck at home. My family and I are (relatively, for now) safe. We have food (and toilet paper) and plenty to occupy us. And still I am able to find fault with our day-to-day.

I ask myself each morning if this is the morning I return to putting sweetener in my tea. I stopped when I started keto and haven’t resumed the habit. But my tea would taste so much better if I just put a little sugar in it. Why am I depriving myself, in These Unprecedented Times? But also… it seems like things could/are about to/definitely will get much, much worse… so maybe I should be doling out the indulgences a little more sparingly?

Things make me tear up, out of nowhere: a television commercial for T-mobile, of all things, in which people are social distancing but connecting via phone. A phone call from my kind neighbor, who has cancer and is afraid to leave her house but still called to see if Carla would want some things her granddaughter had outgrown. Seeing other neighbors out and about on our walks – but keeping a careful distance; watching Carla strain so hard to keep herself from petting all the neighborhood dogs. Canceling a long-planned dinner with friends.

I am annoyed because I have a canker sore on my tongue. It’s my own fault – the inevitable consequence of an entire week eating mainly chips and salsa – but it’s still irritating, and I can’t just run out to Target or Walgreens to get some Biotene mouthwash. And then I feel super guilty that I just placed an order from Target, because… was that the right thing to do? It is certainly preferable to order things than to take my own possibly-infected self to Target… but I didn’t truly NEED Oreos and sidewalk chalk. Am I helping someone keep her job? Or am I forcing someone to work while sick, to risk infecting someone else?

Where is our mail carrier? I really hope she is okay. We haven’t had mail all week and that seems… ominous. Do I call and check on her? Or will that get her in trouble? Or annoy the post office manager, who is probably dealing with A Lot right now?

My child won’t leave me alone. And it’s a BLESSING, that she is healthy and safe and wants to be with me. But I just want thirty uninterrupted minutes to write or read a book or think. She told me yesterday at 5:00 pm, after I had spent ALL DAY with her and asked her to go play by herself for TEN MINUTES that she feels abandoned – she literally used that exact word and OMG child, just play by yourself and cut the dramatics in half.

Is it time to pull out my giant bag of Reese’s peanut butter eggs – the one I went to Costco specifically to get, back in the first week of March, when I was doing keto and when buying things I couldn’t eat made me feel like I was staving off some of the panic I felt reading those early news reports about coronavirus? Or should I wait until I really need it? What will it look like, when I really need it?

My husband keeps going to work. We are so lucky that he has a job. But my heart is breaking because he has had to furlough some of his staff – people he loves, who support him and his patients – because the patient load has virtually dried up. He is taking a half day today, which should be cause for delight… but… our sole source of income is him seeing patients. And then I feel guilty about worrying about this, because we have savings and presumably he will be able to see patients again at some future time, while others are just completely out of a job and a paycheck and have no idea how they will pay rent or buy groceries.

We have some romaine in the fridge and I want to eat it before it goes bad, but also don’t want to eat it in case we can’t go to the grocery store and replace it.

I keep fretting about Carla’s extracurricular teacher. Like my husband, she has no salary; she only makes money when she gives lessons. Back when All This was just beginning, I asked her about it, and she was breezy and confident – my husband makes money, we will be fine, please don’t worry about me, she said. But… I AM worried about her. And I have no idea how to send her some money without offending her. I thought maybe I could buy a gift certificate to a restaurant doing takeout near her house… but I have no idea what she and her husband eat or if they are comfortable getting takeout or if that would offend her anyway

It’s all but certain that school will be cancelled for the rest of the year. Am I really going to be solely responsible for Carla’s education for the near term? HOW am I going to do that?

Are we being careless, not isolating ourselves from my husband? He is out in the world, every day, seeing people who may be infected. Am I putting Carla at risk needlessly? But then… I wouldn’t be able to sleep without my husband in the same bed, and Carla needs consistency and normalcy as much as possible, so… do those things balance out the risk of contracting the illness?

HOW am I going to listen to the same episode of Wow in the World one more time, when Carla seems like she can listen to them over and over and over and over?


Maybe I should be ashamed about feeling petulant that I can’t just go to the store and get some fresh raspberries. For marveling at how the book I am reading got published at all, it was so clearly NOT edited. For skipping over the news of how awful things are in some of our cities. For getting irritated with Carla when she interrupts a phone call with a friend.

But also, aren’t these feelings little glimmers of normalcy, and, therefore, necessary? Feeling anxious and bad and steeped in guilt and fear all the time can’t be healthy, can’t be conducive to getting through this, right?


It’s such a roller coaster between normal, everyday (well, not NORMAL or EVERYDAY), very MINOR annoyances… and huge, terrifying, life-altering fears and uncertainties. That alone – that juxtaposition between the mundane and the extreme – is enough to make me feel constantly off-kilter. And selfish. And numb.


The sun, FINALLY, is shining; we’ve had springlike weather two days in a row now. The robins are blustering around our yard, the finches have beaksful of twigs and grass. Carla is playing with magnetic Frozen dolls that our kind neighbor sent over the other day. I am drinking the same tea I drink every morning, typing silly words on my computer as I do every day. Everything FEELS very humdrum and typical. But it’s not. It’s not. It’s not.

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It is hard to believe that the year – nay, the decade – is ending tonight. The date has been set since time began, but – like Christmas – it feels like it’s just sort of caught me by surprise. Such is the mystery and irritation of the passage of time.

Along with the closing of the year comes my annual recap. I don’t know why this is something I continue to do, year after year. I don’t particularly enjoy it. I enjoy reading other people’s versions of this post, though, (if you do any sort of year-end post, please link to it in the comments!) so maybe that’s part of why I force myself to endure these same questions, every December. Reciprocity, right? Also, I am nothing if not an enthusiastic resolute cog in the unceasing wheel of tradition.

I am especially dreading the recap this year because it feels like I have so little positivity to contribute. And that’s not really true – I feel fairly optimistic about the future, looking into 2020. (I mean, as optimistic as a person can be, with all the doom and gloom we carry around on a daily basis.) Plus, when I look back on the year, there is MUCH to celebrate.

But… the fourth quarter of this year has been really hard. Two specific things have made outsize contributions to how difficult it has been, I think. First was the loss of my dear friend in September. Second is an unbloggable, ongoing thing of the sort that is lifelong but not life-threatening, common enough to feel like it should be no big deal but new enough to me that it feels like a very big deal indeed. I have been struggling and worrying and grieving a lot these past few months. It’s really hard not to allow that to color the whole year.

Anyway, I will try to inject some happiness and light into this survey, where I can – while still being true to both the year and to my current emotional state. Because this blog is as close as I have to a diary, and it might be useful for Future Me to look back on the truth, rather than a chipper, sanitized version of 2019.

This is all to say, I don’t know if you ever read these, but if you do, this year’s might not be particularly fun. Feel free to skip it.

(This yearly recap originated with Linda of All & SundryIf you’re so inclined, you can read past versions of my responses: 2018201720162015201420132012201120102009.)

  • What did you do in 2019 that you’d never done before?

My husband and I left our baby (read: self-sufficient nearly-six-year-old) for eleven whole days to traipse off to Europe, that was something we’d never done. (We left her with my capable and loving parents, by the way, not, like, on her own.)

I attended the funeral of a dear friend, which was awful and something I’d never like to repeat.

I made a leopard spotted cake.

I (silently) celebrated the ten-year anniversary of this blog. Outside of marriage, I don’t think I can say I’ve ever put so much of myself into something for so long.

I made a big, fancy Pinterest-style cheeseboard.

  • Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

Let’s revisit some of my goals from last year’s survey:

As for 2019, I have decided to make some very specific goals, which I hope means they are easier to accomplish.

  1. I want to learn German. Maybe notfluent German, which seems like quite a stretch. Especially for someone who took four years of high school French and another year in college and never actually learned more than basic vocabulary. But I want to learn enough that I don’t feel like a complete floundering oaf when I visit Munich and Vienna later this year.
  2. I want to finally, after seven plus years in this house, hang up the gallery wall that I’ve been planning to do. All of the photos and artwork exist, in frames, in my basement. The lovely blank wall is just sitting there, ready for decoration. I just need to DO IT.
  3. Last year, I lost 10+% of my body weight. And then gained it all back. I would like to do the former again without the latter.
  4. I want to cut back on the amount of time I spend on my phone. My Reach Goal is to put my phone in my bedroom when I arrive home with Carla after school and not touch it until I set my alarm before bed. But I’d be happy to just keep it out of my hands until she goes to bed.
  5. I want to invite friends over for dinner. I ENJOY this. But I always think about it and then never invite anyone over and they magically never invite themselves, so I am going to remedy that.

That seems like a good place to start. The bigger goals are in play, too – let’s not forget about patience and quality time and THE NOVEL. But throwing in a few specifics shouldn’t hurt.

Well, I have had very limited success with all of these. The big one, first: I believe – very tentatively – that I have completed the first draft of my manuscript. It’s just a DRAFT, so there is still much, MUCH, MUCH work to be done. But I feel like it’s all there, ready to be shaped into Draft Two.

I think I have made some big strides toward being more patient. I certainly am less YELLY than I have been. (Not to be confused with being less ALL-CAPSY which is more of a personality trait and probably not going anywhere.) But of course I can continue to improve.

I did NOT learn German. I learned a few words and phrases and that was it. It turns out that not only do I have no facility with languages, I also just plain do not like learning them.

I have not yet hung up a gallery wall. The closest I came was to gather a selection of paintings and arrange them against the wall on which I want to hang them. However, my plan is to FORCE this to happen this weekend, once all the Christmas has been expelled from our house.

I did not lose 10% of my body weight. I did not lose anything, except the same six pounds over and over and over and over.

I did NOT cut back on my phone time. It is disgraceful. I am really and truly addicted and I need an intervention.

I did invite friends over for dinner. We had the epic dinner party and there were two or three other occasions when we had people over and it was stressful and fun. (And don’t you love how BREEZY I have become, that I didn’t even make full-blown posts out of those other dinners? And I know for a FACT that there was a fourth occasion during which we had people over that I didn’t even mention – but if I am remembering correctly, we just had tacos so it was totally a non-issue.)

Will I make more goals for the coming year? Sure. I am not ready yet. Part of me wants to Make Serious Goals and Track Them… part of me worries that that is a recipe for failure since I am not and have never been a Serious Goal Making and Tracking Person, and that I should probably just… have some gentle aspirations, as I did last year.

  • Where did you travel this year? (This is my own recasting of a question I could never answer which was How many countries did you visit this year? Of course, this is the year that I visited THREE countries. But that is unlikely to repeat, so I will keep the revamped question as it is.)

This year, I visited Austria; Germany; Ontario, Canada; Florida; Kentucky; New York; and my home state out west. Is that really it? I feel like I am missing something, but I don’t know why or what.

  • What would you like to have in 2020 that you lacked in 2019?

A clear, measurable plan for the unbloggable stuff. A strong second draft of the manuscript. More time alone with my husband. More fun adventures with Carla.

  • What dates from 2019 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

As I said last year, the specific dates don’t necessarily stick… but I do remember specific THINGS. This year: My wonderful anniversary trip with my husband. The day my friend died. And the two days I spent in New York for her wake and funeral service.

  • What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Finally finishing a first draft of my manuscript? Honestly, it feels less momentous than I thought it would, because it happened sort of without me noticing? (I don’t write in a linear way, so it wasn’t like I wrote the final chapter and said, “There, finished!”) Plus, there’s still so much work to be done.

  • What was your biggest failure?

What I have said the past two years applies here:

Not getting enough words on the page each day! I can trot out a 7,000-word blog post of a morning, but I seem to spend hours and hours coming up with a measly 200 for my manuscript! What gives? 

  • Did you suffer illness or injury?

Nothing serious.

  • What was the best thing you bought?

Technically, my husband bought it, but I love the eternity band he got me for our anniversary.

  • Whose behavior merited celebration?
  • Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
  • Where did most of your money go?


  • What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Our big anniversary trip to Europe!

  • What song(s) will always remind you of 2019?

The soundtracks to all three Descendants movies, which have been playing around here nonstop.

The soundtrack to Frozen 2.

The entire Jonas Brothers oeuvre, as The Brothers and as solo artists, particularly the Happiness Begins album.

I Could Use a Love Song” and “Sugar” by Maren Morris

Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X featuring Billy Ray Cyrus

Bad Guy” by Billie Eilish (which I hated, briefly loved, and then hated again)

Everything by Post Malone, whose songs played constantly on the radio this year.

  • Compared to this time last year, are you:
  1. a) happier or sadder? 
  2. b) thinner or fatter? 
  3. c) richer or poorer? 
  • What do you wish you’d done more of?

My answer is identical to last year: Writing (evergreen item)!!! Keeping up with out-of-state friends. Doing fun things with Carla outside the house. Going on dates with my husband.

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

Feeling sad. Eating my feelings. Worrying. Driving to various appointments and activities. Trying to fix my leaky toilet.

  • How did you spend Christmas?

My parents came to town this year. My husband did not have to work. We had a wonderful warm, partly sunny Christmas together and it was lovely. We ate a LOT of cheese and drank a LOT of wine and had a really nice time together.

  • Did you fall in love in 2019?


  • What was your favorite (new) TV program?

TV is so great! I really love it. My husband and I discovered Schitt’s Creek after a billion years of people recommending it to us, and it’s so, so excellent. We re-watched the entire American series of The Office, which was so much fun. We fell in love with The Masked Singer, which is a pretty great (and fairly family-friendly) show to watch when you can’t agree on a movie for Movie Night. And my husband and I also LOVED Songland, which I hope will restart again soon. We watched the first season of Fleabag, although I think I enjoyed it more than my husband does. The second season of Mindhunter was pretty great. I really like the new Cobie Smulders private investigator drama, Stumptown. Is that it? That might be it.

  • Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?


  • What was the best book you read?

I really did a terrible job of reading this year. You can go ahead and blame my phone addiction on the low number of books I finished in 2019 – because it was just so much simpler to reach for my phone and read Ask a Manager posts than engage my mind in real literature. But I did read 23 books this year, which means that I can at least answer this question.

My favorite novel of the year was easily The Friend by Sigrid Nunez. SO GOOD. Another favorite was Inland by Téa Obreht,  which was one of the most well-researched and beautifully plotted books I have ever read. As far as top of my favorite genre – mysteries – goes, I loved The Lost Man by Jane Harper and The Next to Die by Sophie Hannah and Big Sky by Kate Atkinson. I was delighted and honored to beta read my friend Kristina’s first novel, Weight of Memory, as well.


  • What did you want and get?

Freelance assignments from great clients. A fantastic trip to Europe with my husband, and a really fun weekend jaunt to Toronto with my husband and kid. An eternity ring. The Megan Follows boxset of Anne of Green Gables which is EVEN BETTER than I remember it. A bottle of Tiffany Sheer. An answer to a perplexing issue that’s been cropping up for years (sorry – I know this is vague); it’s not the answer I WANTED, but I wanted An Answer more than anything, so now I have it.


  • What did you want and not get?

A flapper that will fix the leak in my toilet. Seriously, I have gone through three of them and I need to find another option. My dad thinks I should go to the hardware store, buy one of each, and just try them, one after another, until one works. As dreadful — in so very many ways — that sounds, I think that may be my best course of action. Either that or buy a new toilet, I guess?

On a more serious note, I wanted to see my friend again. She went into the hospital in July and we talked about my coming to visit her at some point. Obviously, when we were planning the visit, we both assumed she would be healthy (or on the way to being healthy) when I did. But I didn’t get to see her and then she died and my heart is broken.


  • What was your favorite film of this year?

Frozen 2 was pretty great. So was Chasing Happiness, which was a documentary about the Jonas Brothers and really made me fall in love with all three of them. I honestly have no idea if I saw any other movies.

  • What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?


  • What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

If I had been able to see my friend before she died, I think I would feel… better, in some ways. Of course, maybe not. I would still be so very sad that she is gone.

  • How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2019?

I’d call my 2019 Lewk “Trying to Appear Carefree and Nonchalant About Being Unshowered Whilst Simultaneously Envying the Moms Who Actually Put On Makeup and Curled Their Hair and Did So Despite Appearing to Have Double Or Triple the Number of Children I Do.”

Does it really require such an effort to just… put on some cute booties and a non-sweatshirt top and maybe brush my hair? A burning question for the new decade.

  • What kept you sane?

My husband. Exercise. My terrible, ubiquitous, addictive phone. Recipe blogs. Freelance work. Alone time. Good TV. Writing here.

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

Dan Levy from Schitt’s Creek. Also Paul Rudd.

  • What political issue stirred you the most?


  • Who did you miss?

My friend who died. We were roommates for three years in college. We stayed in regular touch via phone and email and occasional visits for probably ten years after that. But then work and family and distance put bigger gaps between our conversations. We’d have marathon-length phone calls that we would schedule in advance, and we’d try to catch up on every last detail of each other’s life before we got exhausted from talking. I got to see her in 2018 at our college reunion, which was really great. She got to meet Carla, which is a memory I will cherish. Late in 2018, she began having some severe health problems, and they continued to increase in severity throughout 2019. Our conversations were more anxious than I remembered – she was worried about changes with her work, her health, and what lay in front of her. I think we talked more frequently than we had in years, which is a blessing – although, still, months would go by with just texts between us. (She was a busy, vibrant woman who was always traveling somewhere or going out to a new restaurant or attending a concert or giving a presentation or meeting someone for a date – she lived a jam-packed, interesting life but man was it hard to fit a phone call in among all her events and activities!) We knew each other for twenty years and I had planned on being friends with her for many, many more. I’m really sorry she’s gone.

  • Who was the best new person you met?

The new mom friend I met last year didn’t pan out as a longterm friend. But I met another mom earlier this spring, and we’ve gotten together a few times which has been really nice.

  • Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2019.

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

  • Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

“This grief has a gravity, it pulls me down / But a tiny voice whispers in my mind / You are lost, hope is gone / But you must go on / And do the next right thing.” – The Next Right Thing


Well. That wasn’t the most uplifting note to end on, although I do find that lyric to be a very good Coping Thought.

One of the very best things of the year — one that defies the questions on this list — has been Carla. She is officially six-and-a-half and so… creative and interesting and funny and curious and loving and energetic and fun. I just love her so much. I feel like it’s really an unfair thing, to be a student of your child’s — but the truth is, she is teaching me so much about how to be a better parent, how to be a better person. I owe her my strides in patience and my attempts to be more outgoing. She is such a wonderful human being and she becomes more herself every day. Right now, at this very moment, she is on the kitchen floor, wearing the tiger onesie we got her as a Halloween costume. She has her new artist’s studio spread out around her on the floor and she is making a (second? additional?) tiger costume out of paper and colored pencils and copious amounts of Scotch tape.  The Descendants 3 soundtrack is playing on our Echo. Just a few minutes ago, she showed me these tiger paws she created, complete with claws and paper armbands so she can wear them on her own hands. She is endlessly inventive and imaginative and I am so lucky to be her mom.

Tiger craft

A new decade lies before us, Internet. Fresh and unwrinkled, with no mistakes in it yet. I hope it brings all of us health and happiness and grace. Happy 2020, thank you for reading.

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Thank you all for your kind words on my last post. It’s so easy for that feeling of discomfort and awkwardness to spread until it’s stained every bit of me with self-loathing. I seriously never thought to consider my attempts to be friendly as… progress. I will try to do so from now on.

In the month since I wrote it, well. Life has gone on. Some of it good, some of it bad, some of it heartbreaking, the regular amalgam of living. And, listen, I don’t really want to talk about any of the reasons I might have needed comfort during that time period. (It’s nothing serious, although it felt like it was. In any event, everything is fine.) Today, I just want to talk about the comfort part.

What I turn to, when I need comfort, are distractions (reading, writing, TV) and comforting food. And the food is what I’m most interested in today, because I find it fascinating (and soothing, in itself) to learn what kinds of food people turn to in times of stress or grief.

Sure, food is primarily for sustenance. But it can also carry so much emotional weight. (No moral weight, though; I feel strongly about that.) (Unless you are killing endangered species because their XYZ is a delicacy. Then I’d have a moral objection.)  For instance, my first helping instinct is often related to food. When a neighbor lost her husband earlier this year, I immediately wanted to give her a meal. That just seemed the most useful, reasonable thing I could do, to provide some modicum of comfort to a person I know but don’t know well, a person who was likely reeling with shock and heartache and visitors and logistics and grief.

I looked online, as one does, and was surprised – probably naively so – to see what a wide variety of options people recommended. I always thought a casserole was the appropriate thing to give. A nice, hearty macaroni casserole. Or a lasagna. Something like that: easy to heat, carb-heavy. But the recommendations spanned everything from veggies and dip to cookies to fried chicken to stew.

(I ended up making a stew. It was delicious, and hearty. The death happened in the winter, and I thought it would be good for freezing or ladling out to visitors.)

Lately, after needing some comfort myself, and then remembering that stew, I got to thinking about Food As Comfort in general, and how my idea of Comfort Food might be totally different from yours.

When I am in need of comfort, I turn to the carb-heavy stuff. Chicken paprikas is my go-to favorite. It’s creamy and noodle-y and spicy, and it just makes me feel warm and cared for. It’s kind of weird that it should be my top favorite comfort food, I think, because I didn’t grow up eating it. Instead, it’s something my husband and I started making together back when I was in grad school. Well, maybe that’s the reason: I associate it with him, with cozy dinners at home together with the one person who comforts me more than anyone else.

Sometimes, though, the comfort I need is more primal – a bear returning to its cave to weather the icy winds, a newborn nuzzling up to its mother to nurse, a caterpillar spinning itself a chrysalis. I want to retreat to childhood, which was safe and loving, during which I was free from the horrors of the world. And there are many foods from my childhood that surround me with that kind of basic, fundamental warmth.

One comforting favorite is spaghetti with meat sauce. That’s the first meal I learned to make for my family, back when I was a kid. It reminds me of my childhood and of my own self-sufficiency.

Most recently, I turned to bagels. Another longterm favorite, my mom used to toast Lender’s bagels for me when I was a kid. Dripping with butter, they taste both decadent and simple, life’s complications reduced to its elemental truth: Warm bread. Melted butter. Sometimes honey, making its way in sticky rivulets down my wrist. When I was pregnant with Carla – and horribly sick for twenty-five weeks (I first typed “months” and yes, that’s how it felt) – I subsisted on bagels and pizza. The bagels would stay in my stomach when nothing else would.

Grilled cheese holds a special place in my heart. It was my mother’s go-to Miserable Wintry Day food. A crust of butter on each slice of bread. A thick molten heart of Velveeta. A glass of classic Coke on the side. The unbeatable combination of gooeyness and crunch.

And I’ll always have fond memories of Lipton noodle soup. My mom swears by chicken noodle soup; Lipton did the job just fine, and (a plus for me), has no unappealing chunks of white Styrofoam masquerading as chicken. I tore open many a paper packet and watched the tiny freeze-dried noodles plump up in a swirl of boiling water.

The comfort may not be permanent. But it does help.

What are your go-to comfort foods?


Chicken Paprikas 3

This is a ridiculous photo, but it’s the only one I have. I never eat this little. I eat a FULL BOWL, primarily full of sauce, which is the best part of any meal. 

Chicken Paprikas (adapted from Joy of Cooking)


Approximately 6 servings

1 to 1½ pounds of boneless skinless chicken breast, chopped into bite sized pieces (pre-cooked is ideal; I’ve included a modification below in case you want to use raw chicken breast)

1 Tbsp vegetable oil

1 white onion, chopped roughly

1 Idaho potato, chopped roughly

1 to 3 Tbsp paprika

1 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)

½ to 1 tsp salt

4 cups low-sodium chicken stock

1 8-oz container sour cream (I use the fat free sour cream from Trader Joe’s)

3 to 4 Tbsp flour or cornstarch

1 package egg noodles


  1. Heat vegetable oil in a stock pan over medium-high heat.
  2. Add onion and paprika (and optional cayenne) to vegetable oil, stirring occasionally, until dark red and glossy.
  3. Add salt, chopped chicken breast, and chicken stock. When the mixture comes to a boil, add the chopped potato. Simmer for 15-20 minutes until you can stick a fork into the potato chunks and they slide off easily. I don’t know how to say this a better way; make sure the potato is cooked.

* If you have raw chicken breast pieces, you can do this step slightly differently. Add the raw chicken together with the salt and stock. Then, once it comes to a boil, simmer everything for 15 minutes until cooked through. Then add the potato and cook for another 15 minutes.

  1. Whisk flour/cornstarch and sour cream together in a small bowl.
  2. Add a ladle full of the stock mixture to the sour cream mixture and whisk until incorporated. Do this three times.
  3. Add the tempered sour cream mixture to the pot. Stir.
  4. Serve over egg noodles.

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What with my daughter’s impending third birthday and accompanying Sad Thoughts About Her Birth (which apparently I will never ever ever get over BAH), and the delightful meal pairing of Sleep Issues, I am feeling rather cranky this morning. Here are the current top aggravators:

— Despite producing many many flowers, my tomato plant has only to this point produced one (1) actual tomato. What is the deal?


— Today I have to return to the car dealership for a second-in-three-weeks visit that will cost an amount with t0o many zeroes. At least I am prepared for what this session will cost. The last time I was there – for an OIL CHANGE – I ended up sitting in the waiting room for FIVE HOURS.


— Due to SOMEONE’S cruel and thoughtless munching on my plants, I have become all too familiar with the smell of Anti-Deer-&-Rabbit spray. I’m sure (I’m not sure; I didn’t look) that the spray is made of something horrendous like badger urine or whatever, so I’m not SURPRISED that it makes me wish my face were pressed up against a sweaty pubescent skunk. But it’s pretty awful, and there’s no way to spray the stuff without smelling it. I’ve tried various methods, like holding my breath (works for maybe 30 seconds which is a sight shorter than the time it takes to circle my yard; induces lightheadedness) or breathing only through my mouth (but then I can TASTE the horrendous smell, which is either worse or just as bad) but nothing works. It just STINKS.


And then the spray nozzle DRIPPED and it did so ON MY HAND.


And then it turns out that a CARDINAL, and NOT a deer nor a rabbit is picking at my zucchini, so perhaps I didn’t even need the stupid spray in the first place.

AND THEN I spotted THIS, out in the middle of my yard. Sending the finger right back at you, Mother Deer. Sheesh. We are not running a drop-in daycare service for unguents over here, LADY.


That white thing the fawns are cozying up to? It’s the remains of a T-ball, broken by an over-zealous at-bat by me or my husband.


— Summer, with all its glory, means two things I HATE: 1. flies, in my house, and 2. near-constant STUFF on my floors: grass and dirt and rocks and other detritus of Having Fun Outdoors.



— I found not one but TWO chips in my favorite blue serving plate. It’s the exact same blue as the ring in my everyday dishes, and it’s perfect for serving grilled zucchini or a pair of pork tenderloins or many other delicious things, and it stands out so nicely among my other serving dishes, which are mostly plain white. But now: two big chips that show the pottery beneath the blue glaze. And, to make matters worse, now I see that TWO of my everyday dinner plates have chips in them. WHO is being so ROUGH with my dishes?! Me, probably, which just makes me feel crankier.



— Speaking of serving dishes and being cranky: My husband is not as gifted as I am in the realm of Sizing Things Up. So I got out a serving dish the other night for the grilled mushrooms and onions, and – since he was the one grilling them, and watching them shrink – I asked him whether he thought they would fit in the dish. He looked at me like I was utterly CRAZY; I may as well have asked if an ELEPHANT riding a BLUE WHALE would fit into that dish. So I put it away and got a larger dish. Are you surprised to learn that the mushrooms and onions barely filled the bottom third of the larger dish? I was, even though I should know after nearly 15 years of Tupperware containers half-filled with leftovers not to trust him on this subject.



— Recently I learned that my husband does something COMPLETELY NONSENSICAL. We were seasoning fish fillets for the grill, and I was doing the seasoning and he was doing the turning-of-the-fish, and I oiled the One Side, and then sprinkled salt on each fillet. And then he had me TURN THE FISH OVER so I could salt the other side, BEFORE PEPPERING the first side. How ridiculous is that? You salt and pepper at the SAME TIME. Is our marriage in PERIL?



— Any time I try to write outside of normal working hours, hours in which my child is at daycare, my child is suddenly and irresistibly attracted to my lap, and her hands are suddenly and irresistibly attracted to my keyboard. She perhaps is less child than cat. Very very adorable and (in this particular instance) very very annoying.



— There is little more frustrating than asking someone for advice with a problem, and having them make a suggestion that does not work for you, and telling them it doesn’t work for Reasons, and then having them make that suggestion repeatedly. And yet I am having difficulty NOT asking this person, who is having difficulty NOT giving me the advice I reject, so around and around we go in a resentful circle.


What’s driving you around Grump Corner this morning?

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