The December List – 2020

It’s New Year’s Eve. I ate too much Indian food from Noor Jahan that was crazy spicy and delicious, followed by a scoop of ice cream, which completely put me over the limit. My oldest is at our pod family’s house for a sleepover and the rest of us are watching “The Witches” (2020 version), which obviously I’m now only half watching. Oh and yes, more champagne, because why not. I’ve already over indulged at this point.

1) Like everyone else, I’m saying a big buh-bye to 2020. I’m ready for a clean slate and a brand new year with less horribleness. But dare I say that 2020 wasn’t all bad for me. As a not-so-subtle introvert, the isolation of the pandemic didn’t crush me and even invigorated me at times. I relished in the intimacy of my immediate family, I evaluated and re-evaluated, cleaned and threw out, spent less and saved more, and spent time that I wouldn’t have otherwise carved out- talking on the phone with faraway friends.

2) I did a lot of podcast listening this year. My favorite podcast line from this year is from the first season of Breakdown. I don’t remember the quote in it’s exact form, but it’s something along the lines of, “you can probably imagine that confrontations that start with the words ‘red-headed crack whore’ usually don’t end well.”

I’m now on Season 2 and at least so far, the podcast is a great investigative journalism series with a narrator who seems down to earth and has a somewhat nerdy and non-pretentious voice.

3) I did an embarrassing amount of puzzling this year. My favorite pieces (in terms of texture, feel, weight, because now I am a connoisseur and can evaluate such things) were the Piecework brand puzzles, a fancy-ish boutique line of puzzles that have chic images. These puzzles are on the difficult side, but not enough to take the enjoyment out of putting them together.

I think my favorite one to work on was this Edward Gorey image, because of the pieces (Pomegranate puzzles have a nice feel, too) but because the image is so quirky. The kids and I had fun imagining the different back stories of the random people.

4) And a lot of TV watching. My favorite show, which I stopped watching in early 2020 because… too close for comfort… but started up again recently is The Handmaid’s Tale. Riveting! Intelligent! Weirdly visually beautiful! Storytelling at it’s best.

A second favorite was His Dark Materials, because I am a sucker for fantasy and anything that involves children on a quest and animals and magic and perfectly evil characters who you love to hate is right up my alley. Oh and The Queen’s Gambit, oh my gosh. An absolute must.

5) My favorite book of the year is hands down “Where the Crawdads Sing,” a book I talked about in the October List, but the one above, “Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore” is the one I read this month and it was the perfect holiday break read – a “light” murder mystery based in Denver. The central character works at a used bookstore. The ending was a bit tidy, but forgivable.

6) I haven’t made homemade mac n’ cheese for years because the kids don’t like it. The little one decided she wanted to give it another shot, so I took out my tried and true Martha Stewart recipe and whipped it up. Holy cow, it is SO good. The big kid still doesn’t like it, but the 9-year-old loved it, so majority rules and I will be adding it to our rotation.

7) I ventured out of Grosse Pointe (ha) to Detroit’s West Village to get my hair cut and colored. The folks at Village Parlor did such a great job, I am SO happy. He took the stupid triangle weight off my hair (finally! thank you!) which means that I can air dry it again with no issues and the color gal spent an extra hour fixing my color because she wanted to get it right.

8) The girls woke us up at 6:40 am on Christmas morning. They actually woke up much earlier, but gave us some extra time to sleep (although I did hear banging of doors at about 5:45 am and never fully went back to sleep after that). It was a low-key, lazy day, which is normal for us and just how we like it.

9) Christmas bonus: waking up to snow! The forecast called for a chance of rain and a smaller chance of snow, and then on Christmas Eve my phone app showed no sign of either, so I assumed we’d get nothing. But around 10:00 pm it started to lightly snow and our white Christmas wish came true (score another point for 2020).

10) On Christmas night we went to our pod family’s house for dinner. (Side note: I think everyone knows what a pod family is by now, but basically the family we have been allowing ourselves to see and be close to since Covid. It’s worked out well.)

We provided dinner this year, due to an incident during my husband’s college years. The story goes that one day my husband brought home a Honey-Baked ham, announcing to his roommates that it was hands off, then put it in the freezer. Long story short, his roommate chipped away at it little by little, day after day, until it was completely gone.

Out of the blue, a week before Christmas my husband received a text that we would be getting a full holiday meal – ham, sides and a pie – delivered to our door on Christmas Eve, to make up for his roommate’s eating of the ham many years ago. A great story and the meal was great and fed all of us!

11) One of my Christmas gifts was the cookbook “Flavor.” I’d seen a recent post on a friend’s Instagram about eggplant dumplings she and her boyfriend made and had been dying to try them since then. Serendipitously, the exact recipe they made can be found in my new cookbook, so I took it as a sign and promptly shopped for the ingredients and made the dish.

The process was more involved than I usually like, but the result was really, really yummy AND the husband who has professed his dislike of eggplant many times, loved it. Winning.

12) I’m trying to think of another favorite to share or a song that sums up my year or some funny quip about what I won’t miss about 2020, but I can’t. One thing that 2020 has done is zapped my brain. And I’m okay with it. When my mind says “I’m done,” I let it be done. Sometimes stopping when you need to stop is just as valuable as forcing yourself to persevere. A lesson learned in 2020 that I’d like to carry into the next decade.

So my number 12 on the December List is I’m done for the year. Later, 2020. I remain hopeful for the future in spite of foreseeable hardships. I truly wish that 2021 brings you happiness, peace and so much comfort, which we all so desperately need – Happiest New Year wishes to all.

The November List – 2020

November was an uneventful month in that we mostly stayed home.

ONE) Because quarantine. November is the month I (supposedly) got Covid-19. I mean, what in the world. I was out for a jog when I got the call that my PCR test came back positive. The only reason I tested in the first place was because one of the kids was in quarantine due to exposure to a positive case and we thought what the heck.

I was completely asymptomatic the entire time except for crazy anxiety and paranoia. Everyone else in my family tested negative. So there. I really hope that I had it, actually, but I’m too lazy to take an antibody test and no one knows how long immunity lasts anyway.

TWO) Two is I am writing my numbered list out because WordPress wants to turn my list into a weird bulleted-type list whenever I type a 1. or a 1) and I want the format that I want and this is the only way I can think of to do it.

THREE) I cooked.

FOUR) I puzzled.

FIVE) I puzzled while Podcasting. This month I listened to Season 2 of BBC’s Intrigue, which was titled “The Ratline.” It was part storytelling, part investigative journalism. About the disappearance of a senior Nazi, about his son who continues to deny the truth, about Nazi hunters and the Vatican. It was, in a word, intriguing. Ha.

SIX) After trying to get my fantasy novel-loving daughter to read “The Hobbit,” I decided to read it myself. It’s the sort of book I would have read as a kid, but never did. What I remember about the story is the cartoon movie adaptation where Gollum appears in the creepiest, most terrifying way. But I loooooved the more recent movie version.

I like to pretend that I like reading classics, but I only sometimes do and usually don’t. But this one is quite good. I’m enjoying it. Lots of dwarves.

SEVEN) The last of my dahlias were cut (by me) and brought inside for us to admire. They lasted a long time this year. Well, they didn’t really last long so much as their season started late. Beautiful either way.

John, photographed by me

EIGHT) My friend, client and mentor John Ahee left us this month. It was not a terrible shock (he’d had health issues for a long time), but it was still enough of a jolt to throw me and I feel the emptiness. I helped write his obituary for the local paper after a call one evening from his wife. I was… relieved. I’m sure she had no idea that the call would bring such comfort to me. I’m honored that I was able to help him one last time. You can read about his life here.

NINE) Auntie’s recovery from brain surgery (her tumor was the size of an orange!!!) has been challenging. She is doing very well, according to medial professionals, but caring for her is exhausting, not because she is difficult, but because there is still confusion and memory loss. And some physical inabilities and then some scares (like almost fainting again the other day). She will likely need to undergo another surgery in the new year.

My mom (who celebrated her birthday this month!) is taking on the burden of primary caretaker and it is a lot. But she’s really good at it. Her knowledge and skills as a teacher are being put to such good use. It’s stressful for me, being so far away, but a lot more so for my family who is there. Prayers for all.

TEN) I made pie. Two of them. For Thanksgiving. Apple pie and sweet potato. I cheated this year and used Trader Joe’s crust for the sweet potato pie. It was…fine. It was delicious. But the fact that I knew that the crust wasn’t homemade made it not as good as homemade! Gah!

ELEVEN) Leaves are gone. We raked the last of them this past weekend. It took three hours. Mostly my husband did it, but the girls and I tried, we really did. I think I lasted about an hour and a half.

And yes there is an extra kid in the picture. My daughter had a playdate and we put them both to work!

TWELVE) I NEVER and I mean never, as in I turn my nose at people who do, decorate for Christmas before Thanksgiving. Foot in mouth. I blame Covid. I bought a cotton candy pink tree and put it up before Thanksgiving and I LOVE it.

I’m keeping it kind of light this year for Christmas. Foregoing some decorations and traditions because I’m just so dang tired. I don’t usually guilt trip myself, but I do feel a little bad about this one.

We had our first snowfall on the last days of the month. Wash it white as snow….I’m ready for a new year. But I’m looking forward to December, too. A time for peace and reflection and gratefulness and joy. Give me all the positive feelings as I say goodbye to this ridiculous year.

I hope this month finds you safe and healthy. And happy, for the most part (is anyone crazy happy right now? If you are, good for you.). Happy December, all!

The October List – 2020

1) Fall is a welcome change of scenery, yet I have never been a fan of the cold weather that accompanies this new season. I’ve taken less walks, due to time issues and also weather, but when I do go out, I’m rewarded with rusty colors and fewer landscaping sounds (lawnmowers, etc), which flooded my walks over the summer.

2) I don’t love Halloween – mostly because I don’t like scary things or strangers and I especially don’t like strangers dressed up as scary things. I’m no-so-secretly happy that the holiday was toned down this year and that the kids celebrated with intimate friend gatherings vs. trick-or-treating. I do enjoy seeing the Halloween decorations around the neighborhood, though.

3) I turned 48 this month. Which….yes, is still relatively young, especially if one is older looking back on 48, but I’ve never been 48 and I’m not loving it, to be honest. I’ve always looked and felt significantly younger than my peers, I think, and now all of a sudden I don’t and it feels unfair (I’m sure this is very eye-rolling to many readers, but this is my blog so I’m writing about me and speaking my truth).

I still, however, look forward to my birthday every year. It means I get some alone time and respite from day-to-day kid responsibilities, and a date night with my husband, which has only happened a handful of times since Covid.

4) I was gifted AirPods for my birthday – yipee! Life changing for gardening (how many times have I ripped headphones out of my ears while gardening!?), walks and on weekly 7:15am Zoom meetings (camera off) while I’m waking up kids and getting ready for work.

5) In the spirit of making more time to do necessary things, I scheduled a visit to Detroit Abloom to spend time with Tom and Nancy and the flowers. Dahlias were still crazy blooming, even this late in the season, and the backdrop of fall colors on the trees was stunning. Make time for beautiful people and beautiful things. Just do.

6) My own dahlias are hanging on as well. These are called Purple Rain, which I believe is Nancy’s own name for the flower, as it is perhaps a mutation of some sort. Anyway, the bulb that I have gives me pure white centers and purple tips on the back petals. The more common versions that I’ve seen at Detroit Abloom feature purple tips on each petal. I’m a bit partial to mine.

7) I always make soup in the fall, and butternut squash is one of my favorites. The girls will eat the caramelized squash cubes, so I set aside a bunch of those and also throw them in the soup as a topping. The last time I made it, I didn’t have celery and it actually tasted better, so I might omit that step next time.

8) The podcast I’m listening to now is Accused, which has up to seven seasons, I think. It’s true crime and done in true investigative journalism style, meaning storytelling isn’t salacious or gratuitous on details.

I have a love-hate relationship with unsolved crime and I was really hoping Season One (which I just finished) would have a more definite ending, but it was a great listen. The only thing that made me almost stop listening is the narrator’s pronunciation of “because” as “BUHcuz” and she says it a LOT.

9) Speaking of true crime, there has been a resurfaced buzz in Grosse Pointe of an unsolved crime from 2010 of the mysterious death of a woman who vanished after a church service (her body was found days later – was it accidental drowning, a suicide or murder?). The case is featured on Netflix’s Unsolved Mysteries and a detailed re-investigation has also been featured in several editions of this month’s local paper, Grosse Pointe News.

10) I can’t say enough good things about “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens. It has been a hot book since it came out in 2018 and I finally got my hands on a library copy. I was skeptical, as sometimes the popular books don’t live up to the hype, but this one was everything I love. Quirky and flawed characters, an outcast, a beautiful setting, a mystery and a satisfying ending.

I looked up the author and of course she is older, not that a young author could have written this, but…I don’t think it would have felt as deep. And she’s also a wildlife scientist, which one says “of course she is” after learning that fact.

11) This was a roller coaster month for my family, as my Auntie Melinda (on the right) discovered she had a large brain tumor after a fall and concussion from a blackout. Things escalated quickly – she had surgery about a week later – and now she is back home, but in a somewhat altered state. We are hoping that her memory comes back and her confusion goes away, but at the very least, she is alive and functioning. So much work ahead.

12) That said, I haven’t been sleeping well. Actually, I HAVE been sleeping well, I’ve just been waking up super early, not being able to get back to sleep, which from experience means that my mind and being are unsettled. I’ve also found that the best remedy for this is to just get up and start my day. Which is what I did this morning at 4:45 am, which enabled me to write (and hopefully finish) this blog entry before waking up the girls for school.

There’s a lot to be unsettled about right now. Auntie, of course. And the rise in Covid again, like a bad recurring dream. The ongoing balance between work and parenting and everything else. The election, which is giving me such anxiety for so many reasons.

I’m hoping November smooths things out and slows things down and I think it will. I hope that if you’ve been feeling a sense of unease that the end of 2020 brings peace and calm to you, too! Be well, friends.

The September List – 2020

This month, I’m skipping niceties and jumping right into the list…

1) After months of taking care our tomato plants, we finally have something to show for it. Throughout summer we’ve had one or two semi-ripened tomatoes, which tasted…fine. But these were truly ripe. And delicious.

Some pics of the crazy plants, that are full grown and have loads of green tomatoes on them. We almost had a frost last night. Crossing my fingers for a couple more weeks of decent temperatures.

2) My WordPress blog format has defaulted to Block editing, which, if you know WordPress you sympathize and if you don’t, it just means that I now have less control in terms of photo sizing and positioning.

I have zero interest right now in figuring out this new systems, so it is what it is.

3) Our youngest turned nine this month. We celebrated with homemade coconut cake and two of her friends (daughters of two families we have been cohorts with throughout summer). She is creative and silly and fun and cuddly and has big feelings that keep us on our toes.

4) The school where I work opened in-person (with safety measures, knock on wood), which means I am back in the office as of early September. When I went in, this reminder of all that had transpired since the last time I was there was waiting for me.

5) After six years of living in our house, we finally repainted our door! Top = old, bottom = new. What do you think? New door knocker coming soon!

6) This month’s read (for me, not our book group book) was “The Tattooist of Auschwitz” by Heather Morris. Online it is touted as a love story, but I didn’t read it as such. Sure, it involves a ribbon of a story of two people, real people, but it was more a story of raw heartbreak, tenacity, wit, kindness and a little bit of luck. Yes, it’s WWII, yes, it’s hard, but not unbearably so. The author gives the hard parts without overdoing the emotion or dwelling on them.

7) I voted for a presidential election by mail for the first time. Fingers crossed!

8) I haven’t seen any of my flower farm friends all summer. Part Covid, part me having to work over the summer (blessing and a curse). I made it out to see one of them this month on a beautiful fall morning – my friend Julia at Willa Rose Floral. It reminded me that I just need to make time for things, period.

9) We (husband, me) finally began watching Killing Eve, which I’ve been dying to watch since it came out. I kept waiting to catch free episodes of the first two seasons, and just sucked it up and paid the $20 (I know, not a big deal, but still) per season to watch via Amazon Prime. It has everything I love. Espionage, murder, surprise, humor, great characters, foreign countries, strong and complicated women and actor diversity (white, asian, black, etc.)

Has anyone read the books the show is based on? Are they good? I can’t imagine a show being better than a book, but the show is so good, I wonder.

10) September was a getting-back-to-a-real-schedule month, so a lot of the month was spent figuring all that out. Waking up early and going to bed earlier, having to actually get ready for work, homework, virtual piano lessons (ugh. is that even doing anything?), not being able to go on my daily walks (aaaaaaah! I miss that!).

11) My dahlias are hanging on, but again, with this latest cold weather streak, I’m not sure all the buds will end up blooming.

I did get this fantastic bloom, which is still amazing after a week of being cut, which was done several days after it opened on the plant. The petals are the whitest white and super fluffy.

12) I’ve done a lot of reflecting this month. Not soul searching, just thinking. About life and what I want out of it and what and how much I’ve been putting out into the universe.

Even though 2020 has been a hot mess, crazytown, sh*t show of a year, it hasn’t been all bad. It’s given me perspective. And more time with my immediate family. More time to walk and connect with faraway friends on the phone. More reasons to be grateful.

I’m not done reflecting or decision-making. Stay tuned. And have a wonderful October!!

The August List – 2020

August was a beautiful summer month, as it always is in the Midwest and East Coast (because if you read The July List, you know that yes! we made it to upstate New York).

1) Who doesn’t like donuts? No one. A new donut shop opened in Detroit’s Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood, just minutes from Grosse Pointe, back in March.

We tried Yellow Light Donuts for the first time this summer and all the flavors are delicious (and they have coconut!!) and the drive-through service is super convenient, especially during Covid (and yes I know it is all caps, but I don’t like calling that much attention to it. Over it.). Biscuit sandwiches are yummy, too. Only drawback – get there on the early side or they may sell out.

2) I never did tell you that we got rid of our hot tub earlier this summer. I loved that hot tub, but it was time. We bought two used chaise lounge chairs from a local mom swap group to put in its place and we’ve used them more than we used the hot tub, so it was a good decision. And the patio looks much nicer, too.

3) We have cucumbers – woo-hoo! I never know what’s going to grow in our backyard. Sometimes things work, but mostly they don’t, because don’t get a whole lot of sun back there. We have a small patch of space where the sun lingers, and that’s where we planted the cucumbers. We also planted tomatoes and we do have some of those, but the fruit has been on the vine for week and weeks and they are all still green.

4) It is dahlia season and the few plants that I have bring me so much joy. The first is my favorite Cafe au Lait and the second and third is uhhh… I think Carribean Fantasy. Can you believe that the second and third photos are the same flower!?! Dahlias seem to change every day, which is one of the reasons why they are so amazing.

5) I read two good books this month. The first, “Still Life” by Louise Penny, was a recommendation from a college friend. His recommendation was actually for her latest book in the Gamache detective series, based in Quebec (Mom – you might actually like this one, it is a murder mystery, yes, but it is “light” like the PBS Mystery shows you used to watch) and when I looked it up, I saw that the book was part of a prolific series. I just put the second one on hold at the library.

The next title is “The Hypnotist’s Love Story” by Liane Moriarty. I love her writing because it is easy and entertaining like beach read, yet is so much deeper. Featuring a hopelessly romantic hypnotist, a ho-hum boyfriend and an obsessed stalker, this book is a page-turner.

6) I have three Podcast recommendations. The first, Undercover, has seven seasons so far. I’ve listened to three and am halfway through season four. The first season gives an inside look on the cult Nxivm (pronounced Nexium). Intriguing. Season two discusses an unsolved case of an airplane bomb that exploded in 1965. Season three is about a series of murders that rocked Toronto’s gay community in the 1970s, with a bonus episode on The Justice Project here in Detroit, and season four is about a nearly-homeless “cat lady” who mysteriously disappeared.

The second podcast, Nice White Parents, is a series about “building a better school system, and what gets in the way.”

The third is Intrigue, Season One (only because that’s the only season I’ve listened to so far) “Murder in the Lucky Holiday Hotel,” about “death, sex and elite politics in China.”

7) I completed two puzzles this month. I would have done more if not for our 1.5-week road trip. But they each had one missing piece which is soooooooo unsatisfying! The first was a brand new puzzle and I swear I didn’t lose the piece, it was not in the box and I didn’t vacuum it up! URGH.

The second one I brought back from my Dad’s. It also had a missing piece, which was surprising, because usually he labels the box with “missing piece!” if that’s the case. If you wondered where I got my puzzle penchant from, when we arrived at my Dad’s, he had three large boxes filled with 30+ puzzles, all of which they were going to donate after I looked through and decided which ones I wanted to keep.

I pretended like I didn’t want them all and ended up with eight. Or nine. I have to say that this particular one (second pic) was very challenging, as up to this point, I have been used to puzzle pieces that are relatively similar in that they are straight-ish and feature one of five different kinds of pieces or so. This one had the most random shapes and sizes of pieces and it was hard to get into my auto-pilot puzzle zone.

8) Speaking of puzzles, the window in this second photo reminds me of a puzzle.

A I stated last month, we quarantined for two weeks before our road trip to upstate New York, ensuring we were safe to be around my Dad and his wife, Lyn. It’s a truly magical place. A simple cottage on a simple lake, but a beautiful refuge just the same. I didn’t relax nearly enough as I’d hoped or planned, finally allowing myself to ignore texts and emails on the last three days, but it was still a great time of winding down and letting go.

9) I captured some of my favorite cabin details.

10) The girls swam and played vintage board games (at least for a few minutes before they started making up their own questions and rules) and learned how to shoot a bb gun, and we ate well and fished (although we didn’t eat the fish we caught – the were all too small) and drank wine and tequila (me) and bourbon (him).

11) For the soon-to-be (school in Michigan starts after Labor Day) 6th grader’s summer social studies project, we visited Sackett’s Harbor (Google says Sacket’s, but it also says Sackett’s was a previous spelling and that’s the way I know it), which was part of the War of 1812.

We also visited the military cemetery there and saw that most of the headstones were adorned with a coin or coins. None of us (including my cousin-in-law, Jim, retired US Army Major General, who accompanied us on our battleground tour that day) knew exactly what that meant or stood for and I have yet to look it up. He did tell us that all headstones face East, which we didn’t know.

12) Remember my amazing hair from June? I posted a selfie and everything. Well, the summer sun turned my highlights orange and I bought some semi-permanent color from RiteAid and dyed it black (actually a dark, dark super dark brown, my natural color) and two months later it’s still black, even though the box promised it would only last 28 days. OH WELL. So I guess I have black hair now. 2020 keeps on giving.

I wish I had some revelation to share with you that came to me while I was living in the woods. I worry that my kids have turned into dummies over the summer with so much screen time and very little social time and I worry that one of us or someone we love will get Covid in a really bad way and I worry that I worked way too much this summer and wasn’t there for anyone, including myself.

I’m not in the depths of dispair, as Anne of Green Gables liked to say, but I’m tired – as in literally, physically and mentally tired – of being in a state of limbo always and not only that, a state of uncertain limbo.

But we have at least one more month of beautiful weather to enjoy. We are healthy, the kids seem… normal for the most part at least for now, my friends continue to be there for me, my extended family is safe and really what more can one ask for.

Be well, my friends. Wishing you a wonderful September!

The July List (Sort Of) – 2020

So, I didn’t actually forget about the July list. I’ve just been remembering at the most inopportune times. Like now (above is where we’ve spent the last week on vacation. My dad’s place in upstate NY and yes we quarantined first). But no time like the present.

Since I’m over 2020 already and I cannot right now with the usual list, I give you 12 things I am looking forward to after the pandemic, whenever that may be. In no particular order.

1) Dining at a restaurant
Okay, granted, since March, I have enjoyed the outdoor restaurant experience twice. It was not fully relaxing, but it did bring some sense of normalcy. I’m guessing there will not be a lot of restaurant eating for us for the remainder of the year. Definitely not when winter hits and eating outdoors is no longer an option.

2) Sending my kids to someone else’s house to play.
Please God.

3) No more political conversations about masks.
I don’t have them. I just hear them and read them.

4) Sports
For my kids. Not college or professional. I don’t watch those.

5) Large (more than 10 people) social gatherings
Just kidding!

6) Indoor social gatherings
That one is actually true. I love hanging out with a nice group of gals (and guys) by the fire with a cocktail. That I miss.

7) Window shopping
I’m not a big shopping, but I do like popping in to stores every now and then. I miss that.

8) Licking the grocery store produce bags
For the love of the land. I cannot open those things. So now I spray hand sanitizer on them and that works pretty well.

9) Touching all of the things
Such as grocery store produce, door handles, Amazon boxes, etc.

10) Not wearing a mask.

11) Sneezing

12) Singing
I miss karaoke, singing in chapel and I will miss Christmas carols.

Over and out!! Enjoy the last full month of summer!!!