Saturday, August 15, 2020

Mid-August Highs, Literally

It's 111 degrees outside. And that's not an exaggeration, it's actually 111 degrees outside. According to my weather app, it feels like 118, and according to my body, it feels like the air is made of fire. Hello August, you're always my least favorite month.


Usually the month is made better by our family vacation (always taken in the late summer swim school slow down), school supply shopping (my fave), and the always thrilling first day of school. Since none of those things are happening, it's mostly just me working in the bedroom, everyone sweating all the time, and the kids negotiating with James and I over how long either one of us will sit outside to watch them swim. Fun!

Though of course there are moments of great fun. James gives the kids a creative writing assignment every morning. Some of his prompts have been "who would win in a fight between paper and rock and why?", "invent a new candy, give it a name, explain how it's made, packaged, etc.", "invent a new word, explain its meaning and why it needs to be added to the dictionary." He's such a good at-home summer camp counselor, I just mostly make them clean stuff. Anyway, one prompt last week was to invent a new game, explain the layout, rules, how you win, etc.

The kids read their prompts at dinner each night. They take them very seriously and it's become a very important part of the day. I feel like we've learned some new and interesting things about each of them along the way.

Cora likes to create visuals and exhibits to her prompts. For the game night prompt she had worked for much of the afternoon cutting little strips of paper, writing of them, and placing them into a plastic bin she found. She placed all her components under her chair to await their dinner-time unveiling.

When it was her turn, Cora told us about a game called "Guess The Thing." To play Guess The Thing, you take a piece of paper from a bin, open it, and try to act out the thing written on the paper so other people can guess.

Oh yes, she invented charades. Probably stolen from a scene in Frozen 2, she didn't know it was really a game and definitely didn't know it had a name, though we all call it Guess The Thing now.

And so we played, and you guys, I CANNOT recommend Charades/Guess The Thing more highly with children. I hadn't played since my high school youth group days, and had kind of forgotten about it, but there's a reason Guess The Thing has been around forever. The kids LOVED IT and James and I had so much fun playing too. Like a drawing room in Victorian England, we were giggling away and the kids' acting styles were hilarious and often very unhelpful (they generally chose to become the object rather than show how the object is used; like becoming a water bottle, rather than pretending to drink from one), but the best part was all the "Things" Cora had written on her tiny pieces of paper. It was such insight into her little 6-and-a-half-years-old mind. It was my favorite night in a long time and it will sparkle in my memories of this time.

Other big things that have happened in the last two weeks:

I went to the office for the first time since March. I had to print exhibits for a deposition and so some other necessary items that required me to be on location. As used to be tradition, I grabbed a Starbucks on the way and arrived just before 8 a.m. to walk through an empty lobby.

I was greeted by a stale office with a sadly outdated calendar that reminded me of all the fun things we were supposed to do in March, every single one of which was canceled. What a little time capsule of our former life.

I did my work, embracing the silence and lack of children, and headed home, holding my exhibits and the big book of securities laws from my desk that I've missed near-daily since we'd been separated.

My home office has improved a bit more. James has started painting the walls and ceilings a soft white that contrasts beautifully with my teal accent wall. We also got a new remote for our top row of blinds so they can finally go up again. We lost the remote years ago and really kept thinking it would turn up, but now that I live in our bedroom, and I have to keep the lower windows closed to avoid staring at the swim school families, I really missed the light and trees of the top row. One remote and two service calls later and we're back in business!

We also cleaned our skylights and all the natural light pouring into my bedroomoffice is giving me life.

In the same spirit, I was inspired to dump everything out of our junk drawer in the kitchen and organize it. Every time I open the drawer now I smile. It's the little things.

And then I cleaned out my closet and all my drawers. It was exhausting as I forced myself to try on every single thing, but my drawers now ALSO make me smile and we're all for manifesting things like that.

This week I took my first virtual deposition. It's a brave new world, but thanks to good WiFi, virtual backgrounds, and very cooperative children (and a headset with mic stolen from the youngest child's "virtual school" box), it's one we keep finding new ways to make work. I wore real clothes and packed all my snacks and lunch and didn't move for a very long time.

Afterward I met a friend at a nearby outdoor patio to sit diagonally 6 feet from one another and catch up. Margaritas after depos are a grand tradition and James coaching until 6:30 and the kids never leaving the house couldn't stop me from keeping the streak going. I realized after I arrived that I never told James I'd left. He was coaching and would assume I was still holed away indoors, so I sent him this text to update him.

In other news, finally free from all manner of fungus and worms, Mr. Moose was neutered last week. I'm assuming it was a pretty weird day for him, but his shaved behind is quite fetching and he seems to have forgiven us for taking his testicles.

His favorite place to sleep is the top bunk of the girls' doll bed. Everytime Cora sees him there she covers him with one of the baby blankets. Adopting a kitten was just the best idea.

Maggie, of course, also remains perfect.

She misses our car rides so much that I sometimes make up errands to give her a ride-along.

While working a million hours a day last week I treated myself to a few extra Starbucks runs. The kids and canine accompanied me for one of them.

Maggie is my most stalwart and loyal colleague. Moose flits in and out, but Maggie is always there, snoring loudly beside me.

School has been delayed three more weeks until September 8th. We're virtual only for the first four weeks and I'm here for it. We got Claire her own Chromebook, Cora has my old laptop, and Landon has his middle-school issued computer. Everyone has mouses and headsets with mics. James has pushed all his lessons to afternoon-only and will once again be our schoolmaster. It won't be perfect, and I'll be sad when the original first day of school passes us by, and there will be days when this will be fucking hard and I'll probably cry sometimes and write about my frustrations, but I know to my core that we are so, so lucky to be able to make this work.

In related news, our numbers are going way down. It's almost like opening the whole state without a mask mandate was a really stupid idea and then enacting one in early July was a really good one.

In adapting to this new world, I've learned that the Old Navy kids face masks fit Claire and Cora best, the Target kids masks fit Landon best, James likes the ones my sister in law made, and I like those and the Old Navy adult ones. James has purchased a very large and expensive heater for our backyard pool to keep his lessons going in cooler weather. I'll be working from home until at least January and likely longer.

I remain on the emotional Coronacoaster but am momentarily in a stable place of feeling like this is going to be here a while but it's okay. My coworkers stand ready. Our family is very lucky and we can always play another round of Guess The Thing to remind me of that fact.

Moose thinks we're doing okay too.

Happy August to you all. I'll close with food:

SaturdayCalzones, our latest take on pizza, these were great and everyone loved making their own.
Sunday: Tortilla Soup with chips and toppings. Good, but not amazing.
Monday: Pasta with leftover lasagna sauce I made and simmered for 5 hours the Sunday before; side salad. 
Tuesday: Tamales, rice, refried beans, toppings. 
Wednesday: Teriyaki Meatball Bowls, brown rice, steamed broccoli. These were GREAT!
Thursday: TAKEOUT! BBQ brisket, ribs, and sausage, served with watermelon and tasty sides. 
Friday: Nachos with the leftover brisket. 

Saturday: Greek Pasta Salad with Grilled Chicken, naan, tzatziki. 
Sunday: Caprese Grilled Cheese, fries (baked from frozen), fruit. 
Monday: Vegan Creamy Mushroom Ramen, with soft-boiled eggs, corn, and probably more vegetables.
Tuesday: Beef Tacos, Rice, Beans. 
Thursday: Vegetable Chili (loosely based on this, but with an orange and yellow bell pepper and diced carrot), corn chips. 
Friday: Takeout pizza! 
Saturday: BBQ Salmon with Avocado Mango Salsa, Black Beans. 
Sunday: Party Meatballs on slider buns, frozen tater tots, mixed vegetables.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Currently, Again

Happiest Sunday everyone!

I'm on my third cup of tea, listening to Maggie snore, while Moose sleeps silently in the girls' doll bed. The kids are playing in the pool, James is life guarding, and I'm taking a minute to reach back out in deepest gratitude for your comments on my last post. Comments that are currently hidden because I had to shut them down blog-wide in an act of self-preservation. I have received hundreds of spam comments since the last post. Just today, in the last 5 hours, I've received 15 of them offering to f*ck me in a variety of ways that even my romance-reading self has never seen in print and I am quite f*cking done with that assault on my inbox. Separate from comments of that variety has been a sense of relief in not being open to feedback from just anyone on the internet. Now more than ever I'm aware that the tiny slivers of my life I share online are not a full picture, and now more than ever in this pandemic, people have very strong opinions on what you should be doing and how you should be living and I am just not in any place to receive them. I read a lot of science articles, I follow some really fantastic medical journalists on Twitter, I have spoken with my primary care doctor, my OB/GYN, and the kids' pediatrician in depth at each appointment I've had this summer, and we are making choices we believe are both safe and appropriate. I don't expect anyone else to think they're right, but outside of real conversations with family, in-person friends, and medical professionals, I'm not interested in hearing they're wrong. It lacks the nuance of in-person conversation and the would-be responses I draft and redraft in my head keep me from sleeping and I'm just going to live my life in the small confines of my actual real life for a while.

Which is not to detract from the chicken soup for my soul that you all provided me this week. I can't even tell you what a ray of sunshiney joy they were to read in between deleting the garbage. So many people mentioned that they've been reading for years and never commented and it really helped me visualize how many people must read, smile, and close out- there's a whole friendly little army of you and it felt like a hug. I copied and saved each comment into a word document and put it on my special items folder of our external hard drive. Thank you very, very much. You provided a precious bit of outreach in a tough isolating time and I am so thankful for you.

As far as the future of this blog goes, I have no idea. I think I'm going to release myself from the need to update and just see what happens. It probably doesn't seem like it, since I generally only manage to post once a week, but I think multiple times a day about how I need to post and feel bad each night when I haven't. Maybe it will just be vacations and monthly updates? Maybe, once freed from the feeling of having to do it and the fear of what people think about it, I'll post more often than before? I really don't know. When I started this in the Fall of 2006, typing on my laptop in the bonus half-bedroom of our West Loop downtown Chicago loft, wondering if anyone would ever read it, it never occurred to me I'd still be writing in the summer of 2020, now sitting at my three kids' playroom art table in Fort Worth, watching them swim in our pool while my bulldog and kitten sleep. Of all that, the "Fort Worth" part remains the most surprising.

Speaking of my home in Fort Worth, we've finished Phase 1 of the updates we had planned for this year: two fully new and efficient HVAC systems, all new duct work, insulation in the attic-that's-not-an-attic, and NEW WINDOWS.

Oh yes, the windows are in and they are beautiful. We replaced every original, wood, installed in 1949, swollen/painted shut window in the front and sides of the house with brand new, born in 2020, double-paned, double-hung windows with custom color on the outside and white on the inside and they are GORGEOUS. (Big thanks to my sister in construction sales for the hook up.) I can't wait until our first crisp fall day when I can open them (from the bottom OR the top; #Fancy) and bring fresh air into the house for the first time ever.

I also finally took charge of my own design preferences and had the solid-wood custom-made plantation shutters some previous owner paid a fortune for removed and replaced with a simple trim. I know so many people like them, but I've always hated the shutters on our windows and now there is SO. MUCH. LIGHT. and I love it. I left the shutters in the girls' room and Landon's room, because their windows are huge and go nearly to the floor and look directly at our neighbor's house so I would just be adding giant drapes they'd never open, but now our other windows are all naked and FREE and I'm not at all over the little burst of joy I get from walking in the kitchen and seeing them.


On the downside, our contractor was over to give us a quote on a new back patio (our old one was built in 1988 and is literally falling apart; we're seizing the opportunity to change the whole shape of the deck and make it way bigger and more functional for the pool parties we one day hope to host again) and I mentioned the moisture that we get inside under the giant windows that make up the back of the house. His solution? "You won't like this, but new windows." New, giant, floor-to-ceiling windows that constitute the entire back of our house.

But they'd now be double-paned and we could use the project to update all the framing of those windows to something that doesn't rot like the wood currently does. And we can replace one of the exterior doors we never use (we have 9 of them thanks to the many add-ons people did over the years; I love an old rambling bungalow) with a fixed window and that will look amazing. Then the window installer let us know it was time to repaint the exterior of our house. So lots of projects, but ones that will make a huge difference in the look and function of our house and bring us to a fully updated place. The only reason this doesn't send me into a panic spiral is that I adore this house, I LOVE making it ours, and its value has nearly doubled since we bought it, so I feel like we can give it a little love. Plus this isn't a rush project and we likely won't do it until next year or whenever James's business can return to (or at least come close to) its previous revenue.

Just a few little windows...

On the interior, James has now repainted almost every single room and it's such a nice refresh. Our bedroom is next/last and then that whole project will be DONE. I'm in our bedroom 18+ hours a day now between work and sleep and it's so nice to truly love that space. It is colorful and personal and so very ours. And apparently it will soon have a new wall of double-paned windows that will block out the sound of my husband's business in the backyard!

New art and frames!

I had so much fun picking out his pictures.

And mine. Law-Mas forever.

On the pandemic side of things, the swim school continues to operate in the backyard (until at least January; James is buying a pool heater to try to continue through November and has added a backyard Cross-Training Camp for kids missing PE or their regular activities that we hope takes off), I continue to work in our bedroom (at least until next year), and the kids continue to live inside and among very small bubbles of friends (school has been officially pushed back to Sept. 8 and will be virtual until at least October). At Landon's check-up two weeks ago the pediatrician asked if he was seeing his friends. I felt like maybe I was about to fall into a trap, but I said yes, we had a few families we felt were taking similar precautions and he was allowed to play with them, particularly outside. And his doctor said, good, that's really important especially at his age to spend time with peers and still to be active outside. So that was good to hear.

James has noticed the separation anxiety is exponentially worse this summer than ever before for all his young learn-to-swim kids after so much time at home with mom and dad. It's a strange time, and it's even stranger to think that it's going to be an adjustment when we are one day able to move back closer to "normal." Even for me, an extrovert who regularly feels like I'm dying inside these days, it's weird and strangely upsetting to think of leaving my newly formed and frequently complained about indoor bubble. Not that it looks like I need to worry about making that adjustment anytime soon, it's just odd how quickly this feels normal and the old normal seems foreign and mildly scary. I think this is why our pediatrician wanted Landon to stay in touch with his peers.

Landon, singing to his favorite peer

But generally things are fine in our little corner of the world. We bought another Chromebook so everyone will have their own when online learning starts, with headsets and mics for all. In Texas it has been SUCH a relief to have the mask mandate for the last month. We still keep our errands to a minimum, but I now feel like I can go to a store, wear my mask, keep my space from everyone else in their masks, use my hand sanitizer when I walk out, and feel okay. Like we can function like this. By all accounts masks do a lot of good. In our own tiny example, when James's instructor tested positive for Covid 6 weeks ago, we found that of the 70 or so adults and kids who got tested (including the five of us and all other instructors), only the two instructors who carpool with her without their masks on also tested positive. Not a single kid or parent or other instructor (or James himself) who are around them only when outside and always with masks on tested positive and that was a relief on many levels.

That's the chart from our county public health page showing positive cases by week. The mask mandate went into place at the beginning of July. I'm hopeful that downward trend continues.

And finally, food! If nothing else I'll probably have to keep posting the week's recipes, because they're how I go back and find my recipes on my phone each night when it's time to cook.

Sat: Homemade Pizza. This crust, all the toppings (current fave combo: pepperoni, Kalamata olives, regular mozzarella, little bits of goat cheese, and spinach leaves on top so they char in the oven), raw veg on the side. Also cookies and champagne to celebrate a case I just filed.
Sun: Sweet Potato Black Bean Chili, shredded cheddar on top, corn bread on the side.
Mon: Healthy Sausage and Veggies Sheet Pan Bake, orzo.
Tues: Tacos, rice, refried beans, toppings.
Wed: Pasta with Burst Tomatoes, Burrata, and Basil, with pre-grilled chicken.
Thurs: Greek Turkey and Rice Skillet, with tomato, cucumber, bell pepper, extra Kalamata olives and feta, tzatziki sauce, and naan.
Fri: OUT.

Note: the salmon recipe from last week was AMAZING and everyone declared it my best meal ever and all I had to do was follow Lindsay's excellent directions. Claire said it will be her next birthday meal, but she has 10 more months to decide.

I also realized I never finished the posts about our Curaçao trip, which now seems like it was a lifetime ago instead of just 5 months. This picture is from Day 7 when we went to Playa Porto Marie. There was a resident beach pig, a bar with frozen margaritas, and the most perfect sand and water I've ever seen. Maybe I'll at least finish those posts. Curaçao deserves it and those pictures are many of the brightest spots in my 2020 memories.

That's a tiny little Cora snorkeling out there

I hope you all are well and holding on to your own bright spots. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for being one of mine.