Good Ol’ Days Fourth

I have mixed feelings about how The Fourth was this year. We had a great time, but a different time. It’s the whole Can something be just as fun, even though it feels like something is missing? question I keep asking.

This year I didn’t have to get up at 6AM to put our chairs on the parade route, didn’t have to carry half our house from the car to the chairs then back again , didn’t have to stress out that we wouldn’t find a parking spot or that that one stupid food truck would turn its generator on 10 feet away from us and ruin the whole day.

But this year I also didn’t get to bump into someone I knew every time I turned around, didn’t get swept up in a communal wave of patriotism, didn’t tear up at the sound of bagpipers, didn’t watch the sun set while my kids ran back and forth along the lakeshore, didn’t snuggle on a dock with my boys and watch the fireworks rimming the edge of our lake.

We instead had a neighborhood bike parade that no one showed up early for and that had ample parking spaces, should anyone have chosen to drive the four houses down to the starting point.

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I didn’t realize how entertaining-deprived I’ve been until I went into Michael’s to get a single bag of candy melts and then had a vision for the neighborhood parade, like how some people see Guadalupe or Jesus Toast. And so I did That One Thing I thought I was done doing.

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Not only did I do That One  Thing, I also spent half an hour taking photos of it before the parade.

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It felt…goooooood. It felt so good to use hole punches and double-sided tape again!

And then, darn it, I did That One Thing again in the evening. There were other people watching so I couldn’t take as many photos lest they see what I really am.

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With fireworks shows canceled, we decided to buy our own for the first time since 1994 for me and since ever for Kevin. We realized the boys didn’t know what real fireworks were, so we prepped by watching YouTube videos, which felt weird. Back in my day, you didn’t know what a firework did until it came shooting straight for your chest. Still, I can’t tell you how good it felt to take them to a fireworks stand (which wasn’t a stand but more of a giant pile, but I don’t know what else to call it) and see that the same fireworks of my childhood were still there: ground bloom flowers, pagodas, whistling Petes, Roman candles. It felt like seeing a group of old friends and then later lighting those friends on fire and grabbing onto each other and laughing as the old friends did unexpected things, like light the woods on fire, which in retrospect shouldn’t have been all that unexpected.

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Below: a normally a very tame, mild-mannered, rule-abiding group of citizens moments before illegally setting fire to a bunch of explosives in our backyard.

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The bucksaw here—that one’s new since my childhood.

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It was disturbing how comfortable my boys became lighting things on fire over the course of a day. They had never lit so much as a birthday candle before.

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After a round of smoke bombs and snakes, I took a big breath of ashy, sulfuric air and told the boys this—this is what the 4th of July is supposed to smell like! Isn’t it glorious? They looked at me like I had just farted, which is another way of describing the 4th of July smell.

I’m glad my boys got to experience an old-fashioned backyard 4th of July. But I missed the glossy, city-sponsored, brave-the-crowd celebration we’re used to.  I missed the closeness of the Fourths of the past—the crowd pressing me closer to my family, the closeness of celebrating one thing with one thousand people, the closeness of snuggling with my boys and coming up with names for the different fireworks as they go off.

So we had a” good ol’ days” Fourth of July. But now there are two kinds of good ‘ol days—the ones from my childhood and the ones from just last year. It’s confusing. I’m happy and sad, nostalgic and living-in-the-moment, Guadalupe and Jesus Toast, and I’m confused!

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Hot sesame noodles with pork
Sweet & sour cauliflower
Dessert buffet

Poolside

We’re one week into summer now (or 3 months and 1 week, depending on how you’re counting) and it’s…well, it’s different. Can something be as fun as always and still feel like it’s missing something? It’s weird to not start the day by texting my friends/family to see who wants to join us doing such-and-such thing at such-and-such time.

I went to print off last year’s summer bucket list, thinking I could just make a couple modifications to it. Once I deleted all the things we can’t do or I’m not comfortable doing, we were left with:

*make popsicles
*water balloon fight
*hike (but only on certain trails and only during odd hours)

Deleted from the list were swim lessons, soccer camp, overnight camp, museums, sleepovers, family vacations, Rocco’s birthday party, the 4th of July parade, BBQs, water parks, and, well, actually any park that has something fun at it, like a swing or a slide or another human being.

So with all that canceled, Kevin and I talked long and hard and finally made the decision to get a pool. And we did!  The kids wear exclusively swimwear now, there are beach towels draped on all our chairs, we have strict rules about the amount of wetness a person can be before coming in the house, and I say things to Kevin like, “Take my calls–I’ll be hanging out with the boys at the pool.”

Now, whatever you are picturing about Mrs. Mouthy lounging poolside with the boys, let me fix that for you. Here’s the kind of pool we got.

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I was disappointed to get it set up and see that the expansive real-grass lawn and cloudless, 80 degree day were not included.

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I tried my hardest to take a picture of it that made the pool look as pretty as the picture on the box so I could show you it’s really all about angles, but it was an impossible task.

But still, WE HAVE A POOL!!

It’s the same shape, size, and freezing-coldness of the pool I had growing up. I have the best memories of that pool—playing shark, creating whirpools then trying to swim against them, diving into the middle again and again until the water started making a tidal wave.

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(That’s me in the front! We started with this pool, then moved up to a bigger one.)

I also remember coming out shivering my little heinie off and lying down on the hot driveway to warm up, so last week I nearly died of serendipity when I looked out the window to see this.

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On cloudy days when the driveway wasn’t, hot, we’d hop in the tub together, still in our swim stuff.

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I have nearly died so many times this week!

While the coronavirus has been disastrous on so many levels, it has also brought some special moments to our lives, like listening to my boys splash and laugh in a backyard pool that we wouldn’t have bought if everything were normal.

And so, in answer to the question above: Can something be as fun as always and still feel like it’s missing something?

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I guess, somehow, it can.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Pasta caprese
Salad
Corn on the cob
Strawberry shortcake

Father’s Day 2020

It was all about the food, partly because Kevin loves food but mostly because quarantine hasn’t left us with many other options. (Eating’s still okay, right? Can someone check to see if eating is okay in Phase 2?)

The boys made him DAD sausages for breakfast. How can you tell a DAD sausage from a regular one? Easy!

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(There’s a lot of sausage in that picture, if you stop to think about it.) (Please don’t stop to think about it.)

For lunch, we surprised Kevin with a trip to Arby’s. Not that crappy RB’s knock-off stuff, either.

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For dinner, we made him megetables. Marrots, specifically.  For those of you not familiar with megetables, they are a concept created (but not made) by Arby’s. The vegetarians get to have fake meat made from vegetables, but what about the carnivores? What do they ever get? So Arby’s jokingly invented the “megetable”—a vegetable made of meat. Then somebody on YouTube created a recipe and that brings us up to current time.

Here’s a picture of what we were going for.

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I had to buy carrot powder to make the marrots, which, naturally, came in 5 ounce containers for $20 or 16 ounce containers for $13. I stashed the (full pound) of carrot powder in the pantry and every time I spied it there, I imagined the smile on Kevin’s face come Father’s Day.

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Well that’s weird. I guess he used up all his smiles earlier?

The resemblance was so striking, I bet you can’t even pick the real carrot out of the gang!

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Okay, so they look good, but how do they taste?

Mmmm—a bit like chicken.

Also, is “dry” a flavor? Aggressively dry? Because these should come with a label that reads, “Take with 8 ounces of water.”

The only thing that would help this post really capture the day is if it were playing  Cat’s in the Cradle on repeat, as that’s the song we had playing at our house all day.

I didn’t ask Kevin, but I think I can speak for him when I say this was the BEST Father’s Day ever.

Also, does anyone want 15.5  ounces of carrot powder?

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Leftovers:
Chicken in rice with Indian flavors
Corn chowder
Marrots (I know—I can’t believe we had leftovers either!)
3 half-eaten Arby’s sandwiches (see above parentheticals)
Paremsan broccoli
Cherry-chocolate ice cream sundaes

Phase 1.5ish

Leo, on seeing his brother’s new Lego set:

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Mom! This Lego set isn’t safe! No one is wearing masks and they’re not six feet apart!

Our city is in phase 1.5 and I’m having a hard time with it. It’s a gray area area. When the rules were “shelter in place” I knew just what that meant. In the times before quarantine, when we could go anywhere we wanted, anytime we wanted, I knew what that meant. But phase 1.5? That’s not even a real thing!

I don’t like gray. Even though I live in Seattle and gray is our official color, I don’t like gray.

Everyone’s making up their own rules. My neighbor’s daughter was crying every day because she was so lonely, so they decided to take the risk and let her see a handful of friends. My other neighbor lets her kids play with the families on her block, but only outside, and no food or drinks. I dropped something off at  another friend’s house and she was in there having lunch with a friend while their kids tumbled together on a trampoline out back. My other neighbor told me that they were the first ones in line when a restaurant opened its patio for lunch. I gasped. Behind my mask, I gasped.

I need to schedule an appointment with a sports doctor because I think I tore my calf muscle (yes, again), but maybe I won’t, because it sounds too risky. My glasses keep breaking and instead of scheduling an appointment to get new ones, I ask Kevin if he’s seen the duct tape.

I see Leo’s best friend (and really his only friend) riding bikes with a different kid, but I’m not sure we’re supposed to be doing that. I feel so sad for Leo that he’s not out there, that his friend didn’t even knock on our door. I imagine his best friend and the other kid making an irreversible bond during this time and Leo losing him, then never making another friend again and having a miserable rest of his childhood, all because I followed quarantine rules so strictly.

I don’t know why I’m following quarantine rules anymore. Is it because I’ve always been a rule follower? Because I’m good at following rules? Because I like when someone else is in charge so I don’t have to question if I’m doing the right thing ? Or is it because I’m terrified of what would happen if we got CoVid—terrified we’ll be the ones making the news as the “It’s Not Always Old People Who Die from It” headline?

Last week, three of Rocco’s friends showed up at our door and wanted to play, and I wasn’t going to sit there saying, “Sorry, we’re on quarantine,” so I let him play. He came home dripping wet and happy and said, “Today was so fun, I’m going to remember it the rest of my life.”

It about broke my heart.

So my rule, I guess, is that I’m not going to invite anyone over or but if someone shows up at the door I’ll let my kids play with them outside. And we can play pickleball at my parents’ house and eat cake in Kevin’s parents’ garage. Does that make perfect sense or does it make no sense at all? I can’t tell anymore!

I’m not as in love with quarantine as I was, but we’re still very happy like this. I’m finally getting the hang of sourdough. The boys have turned into best friends.  I know how to buy bananas so that they stretch 7 days so we can leave the house only once a week. Except for the pickle ball. And the cake.

But when someone happens to stop by or I bump into a friend at the grocery store (not literally—that’s against quarantine), I remember how happy other people make me. I love my family, but I also love other people. I love having them over. And I hate feeling left out. All the FOMO that went away during Phase I is coming back fiercer than ever.

Ah! I set out to write a funny post about quarantine and instead vomited anxiety all over the page! Let me try to salvage it by ending with funny.

This week I  e-mailed my friend in Arizona to see how they’re holding up. She wrote back:

It is boring and hot here. We are still stuck inside around here. Also, you know, *gestures around at America.*

I wrote back

I’m glad we visited you back in October because otherwise we might have to do something drastically dangerous, like get on a plane and visit you.

If you feel like commenting, I’d love to hear your personal interpretation of quarantine rules.

Are we all okay?

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Singapore noodles
Edamame
Thai iced tea
Grasshopper brownie pie

Beautiful

In the midst of all the scariness and hurt going on in the world, I got to sneak away and do a newborn family photoshoot for my mom’s neighbor. Today I’m sharing some of the pictures with you–a moment of beauty in a time when beauty is hard to find. I’ve never gotten so many keepers from a shoot before. The lighting was just right, the Mom had chosen a fairy tale park and a goddess dress, and she and her family just new how to work it.

(Before you get too worried, I did wewar a mask and kept my distance. The close=up shots were done with a zoom lens and/or photoshop. The hardest part of this photoshoot was not getting the newborn snuggles that usually come with doing a baby photoshoot!)

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(The last picture was super challenging, as it was the end of the shoot and Baby was not happy. Her mom stuck a bottle in her mouth, pulled it out, then ran while I moved in and shot as many pictures as I could in the five seconds before she started crying again. Totally worth it. I love that Baby’s mom wanted me to leave in the milk drips on her chin.)

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Pad Thai with tofu
Edamame
White chocolate macadamia nut cookies

Get Out!

I’m baffled by my boys’ resistance to going outside. It’s not that they resist it so much (with me as their mom, they know resistance is futile) but when I send them out, they keep sticking their heads in the door saying, “Is an hour up yet?” They haven’t figured out yet that I add five minutes every time they ask that. *evil laugh*

Fortunately for me, every night after dinner we play a game of Monopoly Deal and the winner gets to make one decision, and fortunately for me, last night I won. My decision was that everyone go outside for 30 minutes.

“But we already spent an hour outside today!”

Oh boy. They were about to have some regrets.

Me: When I grew up,I spent an hour inside every day.
All the boys: What did you do outside all day?
Me: What did we do? What did we do? We played cops and robbers. We decorated our bikes and put on synchronized bike shows for our parents. We made tee-pees out of old sheets and sticks. We’d throw balls on the roof and catch them when they rolled down. We packed ourselves picnic lunches. We divided our yard into a battlefield and had plum wars with each other…

(10 minute
Rocco (who was the only one whose eyes were looking brighter instead of duller by the end of my little speech): That sounds fun! Wanna play cops and robbers, Mom?
Me, patting his head: Oh Rocco, the whole reason I had more than one kid is so I wouldn’t have to play with them anymore. Now go outside. Go for a walk or something!
Vincenzo: But Menchies is closed and you won’t let me go to 7-11. There’s nowhere to walk to!

They could hear me suck in my breath all the way down at 7-11 because of course, where I grew up, it didn’t matter if the stores were closed because THERE WEREN’T ANY CLOSE ENOUGH TO WALK TO. If we wanted to walk to a store, we’d get out all the canned goods from the kitchen cupboards, set them on tree stumps, and pretend we were walking to the store!

It sounds like I’m making this all up, but I’m not. It is so unsettling when your memories start sounding like hyperbole.

So. I sent everyone outside and started pruning the peonies because I’ve apparently become a Mom in a 1950s sitcom, and eventually the kids were so bored they asked if they could help. 10 minutes later they were in the middle of a huge flower war, throwing flower stalks at each other until it looked like either a wedding or a funeral had marched across our driveway.

I stood there watching with a giant smile on my face because this, THIS  was exactly what I was talking about.

I’m thinking about stacking the deck in Monopoly Deal tonight.

Finally, something I said to the boys SUNK IN! We have communed! They get it now!

At least, that’s how I felt until over ice cream cones later, Vincenzo announced, “When I grow up, I’m only going to make my kids play outside for 15 minutes. Then when they complain, I’ll say, “When I was your age, I had to stay out a whole hour!”

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Ginger soy salmon burgers
Asparagus with dill
Salad
7-layer bars

Whidbey’d

We spent Memorial Day at our family’s Whidbey beach house. We still kept to ourselves; we just did it in a different living room. Normally the beach house runneth over with cousins, aunties, uncles, and grandparents, so it was a little weird for it to be quiet and for each of us to have a bed to ourselves.

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Or—er—pool table.

Normally we don’t have Internet access (or even cell phone access) at the cabin, but over quarantine we sprung for WiFi. I have mixed feelings about it. One of the magical things about the cabin is the lack of on-line stuff, which forces us to play board games and read books and pull out a random assortment of ancient racquets and balls and challenge each other to a game of EverySport.

But now there was some of this mixed in.

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(One can only assume the are watching a V-8 commercial.)

I made it feel okay by making a rule that we could only play archaic games from the 80s—ones I used to pay on the Commodore 64. Choplifter, Moon Patrol, Spy Hunter and Paperboy, to name a few.

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The graphics might not be quite what they are today, but the sound effects are way rad. Pew! Pew! Pew! Kkboom! Sproing! Srpoing! 100% satisfying.

Kevin and I took a looksee in the garage, which I blogged about years back. To update, the wood paneling got installed in the garage but the 1,000 pinkish carpet squares (actually not mentioned in previous blog) are still stacked in the middle of it, taking up the space of a mid-sized SUV. We were excited to find a box of masks laying on the shelves, unopened. A gold mine in The After times!

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We tried them on right away.

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Well.

Leo held this sea star for about 20 seconds, then spent the next two days talking about how he held a sea star for about 20 seconds.

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Vincenzo found a coconut on the beach, which Kevin dubbed Captain Whidbey’s Nut.

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The boys spent a good deal of their time building driftwood forts on the beach. This guy showed up to help.

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Our Savior!

Usually I’m the photographer of the family, but for some reason Kevin really wanted to take a picture of me on this bluff.

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Anyway, now I’m back home, being half Mom, half teacher, half author (we’re studying fractions this week) and feeling like I’m not doing any of them really well. Only now, when the kids yell up, “Mom! The website isn’t working!” I just go all glassy-eyed and remember that for one weekend, at least, it didn’t matter if the gol-darn website wasn’t working.

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WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Panak Paneer
Basmati Rice
Roast cauliflower with Indian spices
Hair of the Dog cake

Talent Show

The boys’ school had a virtual talent show and so I present to you a magic act, brought to you by my boys and the Coronavirus. The lighting is almost as bad as the singing, but the punch line is worth it.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Salmon chowder (which, Rocco informed me at dinner, is his third favorite chowder, which led us to ask Google how many kinds of chowder there are, which she responded to by telling us about eight different kind of showers, which led us to all pick our favorite kind of shower. Kevin’s is electric. Mine is wedding.)
Whole wheat no-knead bread
Golden kiwi
Chocolate cake and ice cream

Getting What You Asked For

Kevin meets with his Google team on Zoom every day at 11. The only thing I’ve heard them talk about is what they’re eating for lunch, which is to say the only thing I’ve heard them talk about is Arby’s. Except for the lone vegan on his team, everyone else has been ordering Arby’s regularly which is why, after every meeting, Kevin asks me in a whiny voice, “Why can’t we ever get Arby’s?” I explain to him again about the Coronavirus, using very simplistic language.

Kevin: But all my friends are doing it.
Me: If all your friends licked the handle of a grocery cart, would you lick one too?
Kevin: Does it taste like Arby’s?

Since quarantine, we’ve only eaten food that I’ve scrubbed clean and/or cooked, except on Angelo’s birthday (burgers and shakes for Angelo, removed from their wrappers with gloved hands and put on clean dishes before eating). I told Kevin if we’re going to risk extra human contact for some take out, it’s not going to be Arby’s.

But later, I felt bad. Kevin looked so sad and lonely during the Zoom meetings. So I relented.

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When I married Kevin, I never dreamed my new initials would be called on for such an important and topical use some day.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Pasta primavera
Whole wheat crusty bread
Mango
Chocolate sandwich cookies

Not Ready

The quarantine here is being lifted, phase by phase. This week we can go fishing, hunting, and golfing. And guess who feels bad about not going, fishing, hunting, and golfing this week? That’s right. Me.

The other day during read aloud, the word “hermit” came up. The boys wanted to know what a hermit was. I had no problem describing one.

I’m not ready. I know I’m supposed to miss things more than I miss them. I’m supposed to miss GNO’s and soccer games, date nights and vacations, restaurants and nail salons…but I don’t. Even things I really love, like having people over for dinner and going to family gatherings—I don’t miss them like I’m supposed to.

Sometimes I can’t even bring myself to tune into a Zoom meeting with friends because the boys and I are playing our 100th game of Monopoly Deal for the day (which, by the way, is 100 times better than actual Monopoly), or we’re yelling at each other and setting things on fire in Overcooked, or we’re watching Teen Titans Go together and it’s a really good episode. I’d rather keep doing that, even though it’s the exact same thing we were doing the day before…and the day before that…and the day before that…

I’m supposed to be tired of cooking, but I’m not. In fact, I’m finally doing the right amount of cooking.  Apple pastry for breakfast, baked potatoes with creamed eggs for lunch, Pad Thai for dinner and Boston cream pie for dessert. Somewhere during the day I’ll also toss in a loaf of bread for the week and maybe some crackers made from our sourdough discard. This spring, we have eaten exactly zero dinners out of mason jars, squeezed between two soccer fields in the rain. Zero!

With the quarantine starting to phase out, I’m catching glimpses of the gigantic to-do list on the other side. It’s not like we’re going to say, “We really learned something there. Let’s keep life simple from now on.” Nope. It will all come back: the overladen schedule, birthday parties, sports, dividing and conquering, evenings too busy to play a game together, weekends gone to birthday parties, family obligations, church, date nights, girls’ nights, sleepovers, and soccer games. The expectation that I should have spent xx hours a day writing and I should have xx pages to show for it. (During quarantine, if I get any writing done it’s a, “Yay! Bonus!” kind of feel.)  School dances, science fairs, orthodontist and dentist and doctor appointments. Bagged lunches, rushed mornings. Therapy appointments, PT, and root canals. That’s what waits me on the other side.

The thing is, except for the doctor appointments and root canal,  I love all the stuff in that paragraph.  I signed up for it all! But now that I’ve seen how life can be without all that, it’s going to be hard to go back.

We spent a whole day this week defending baby robins from a murder of crows. We go for family walks around the neighborhood now, stopping to chat with other families who, it turns out, have been living right next to us all this time. The boys make up games in the backyard and come in laughing about how Vincenzo won because he got the Golden Sneek.

When I was a kid sometimes the power would go out, and no matter how long it was out, I was never ready when the lights came back on. I love the feeling of having to “make do.”* It fulfills that part of me that always wanted to be a pioneer woman, raising my family in the middle of nowhere, filling the days with good, hard work that, in turn, would fill me up a sense of purpose.

So can we all just agree to do less of the other stuff and more of this for a little while longer? As in, like, forever?

Because this page from my mood chart is my new favorite.

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Only I don’t think they got it right. Let me make a little adjustment…

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There.

(And all these years I thought I was an extrovert.)

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Potato leek frittata
Sourdough bread
Roasted cauliflower with parmesan
Brownies and ice cream

*I do understand that there are limits to this. All the times I’ve had to “make do” my well-being has never at stake, and I know not everyone has that same luxury during quarantine.