Assorted Reading

We’re nearing the end of January and I have yet to write about Belgium, or December, or my 40th birthday, or probably other things that merit time in this space. In the interest of ever getting to any of it, here’s a year-end link dump for your mid-week perusal.

Reading

Parenting, kids, motherhood

Relationships, self care

Food, cooking

Work, working

2019 in meme

1. What did you do in 2019 that you’d never done before?
Hired a babysitter; served on a conference planning committee; traveled internationally with two children; saw a world record being broken; wore a stick-on heart rate monitor for multiple weeks; successfully made falafel and a trifle and fish and a bunch of other semi-ambitious dishes; lost a kid in a crowded public place; got mastitis (twice!).

2. Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I made a 40×40 list, but finished less than half of it, so I’m extending the deadline until my 41st birthday.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Several friends, but no one in my inner circle.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
My last grandparent died in August.

5. What countries (or new places) did you visit?
No new places this year. We spent 3 weeks in Belgium, including a day trip to Holland to visit family. I went to Champaign 3 times for work, and Iowa 3 times for sad reasons.

6. What would you like to have in 2020 that you lacked in 2019?
Financial independence (or at least a path there)

7. What date from 2019 will remain etched up on your memory, and why?
A lot of stuff happened this year, and as a result, many of the dates are fuzzy. I remember very clearly where I was when I learned that my grandma died, but I couldn’t tell you the date – it was the first week of August, and the funeral was a few days before the baby’s birthday, but that’s all I’ve got.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Mostly keeping my shit together from August through mid-November. Graduating from therapy. These things are related.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Patience. With myself, my partner, my big kid.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
I’m very grateful that 2019 was medically very boring.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Weleda Skin Food. My Get to Workbook. The no frills men’s jeans I bought at C&A after yet another pair of pants failed me.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
My kids are amazing, even if they drive me bananas at times. The big kid, age 5, is an avid letter writer and is doing 4th grade math and can play chess and poker and piano (if he pays attention to what he’s doing) and ran 5K on his birthday and has been drawing all of these involved pictures depicting all of the important things from our trip to Belgium. He plans to move to Belgium when he is 18, but he also plans to open a coffee shop near Boston called CoffeeFish. The small kid, age 16 months, is clever and naughty and irrepressibly joyful. He has a head of curls and adores his big brother and runs to the door and yells MA! when I come home.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Most elected officials’, same as in previous years.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Food and rent and debt and travel.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Wasbar. Beni Falafel. The Vogeltjesmarkt. NYT Cooking. Getting out of debt. Sesame noodles.

16. What song will always remind you of 2019?
I really didn’t listen to much music this year beyond random Spotify playlists. This track came up often:

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
i. happier or sadder?
Happier

ii. richer or poorer?
Poorer.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Sleep, running, time with friends, lying on the couch doing nothing – same as it ever was.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Worrying about money, dealing with moving and apartment disasters.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
We were in Belgium for Sinterklaas, so the big kid enjoyed all manner of chocolate and surprises, while the small kid was delighted to get to eat little cookies off the floor.

We shifted our family’s celebration to December 23, when we celebrate our dating anniversary. We opened stockings and exchanged books:
The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates for me
The Landmark Thucydides for N
P is for Pterodactyl by Raj Haldar and Chris Carpenter for the big kid
Never Touch a Dragon for the small kid

I worked Christmas Eve before watching the big kid perform in his choir at the Christmas Eve Tableau at Rockefeller Chapel. He was a donkey in the pageant.

We spent Christmas day in Rockford with my family – snacks and presents at my sister’s, more gifts and brunch at my parents’, then a mostly leisurely afternoon with the family.

21. Did you fall in love in 2019?
With the view from our Belgian apartment and the convenience of having actual appliances in our new Chicago apartment.

22. (Adding a new question in place of one that no longer applies!) What was the best thing you ate?
Rijsttafel. Kale sauce pastaMushroom “shawerma”. BENI FALAFEL.

23. What was your favorite TV program?
The Expanse

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
Hate is a strong word.

25. What was the best book you read?
Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
I can’t think of anything ground-shattering. I mostly listened to a bajillion podcasts.

27. What did you want and get?
3 weeks completely checked out from work

28. What did you want and not get?
Entry into the 2020 Chicago Marathon

29. What was your favorite film of the year?
I watched two movies in 2019: The Post (on the flight home from Belgium) and The Secret of Kells (on the big kid’s birthday). I would like to watch more movies, with and without my kids.

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
Brunch at The Gundis, coffee at Intelligentsia (where we took surveys in exchange for future free coffees), cupcakes at Molly’s, emergency water shut off at home, baby in a bear suit napping on my chest.

31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Sleep

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2018?
Whatever fits.

33. What kept you sane?
Nicolas, my sister, Eva, Karen, Kim and Angie, Anne and KZ, long walks

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Who has time for that?

35. What political issue stirred you the most?
Another terrible, terrible year.

36. Who did you miss?
Everyone

Previous years: 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011

 

November Around Here

This month is neatly bifurcated – the first half full of busy stress or stressy busy leading up to the second half spent decidedly not Around Here.

I got through October by putting my head down and focusing on the 23rd – this month, I need to make it to the 14th when, after four consecutive days of meetings with members of admin, I can finally check out for our trip to Belgium. No meetings. No work email. No such thing as a library emergency, at least where my job is concerned. I’ve been at a breaking point for the last two months – it’s good to take a break before an actual break happens.

On my last working day for awhile, I leave early to drive to Champaign, there and back in a work day, powering through with coffee and podcasts to fulfill the final in person obligation for my professional development cohort. Champaign in the throes of Autumn is a liminal space for me, so many layers of memory in the leaving and returning. At lunch, I take a walk past familiar places being unmade and remade, and leave town feeling unexpectedly fragile.

A new chair friend joins us just before we leave town but with plenty of time to become the most coveted spot in the apartment. Mina utterly abandons our bed in favor of the newfound pleasure of a truly cozy spot.

The preparing for being away feels like a job unto itself. There are lists to be made and groceries to be used up and favors to be asked and anxieties to be quelled and children under foot and crucial items missing, but somehow we make it to Monday and deliver a key to a neighbor and the cat to wonderful friends and we’re off!

October Around Here

This month. This month! It was all too much, but much of the too much isn’t really for this space. Some illustrative vignettes:

Inspired by a friend’s dramatic debt reduction, I spend time poring over our spending to cut literally a few dollars here or there. That afternoon, I rearrange my schedule so that I can use a free pass for a fitness class. I arrive at the gym but have have forgotten the pass on my desk. I’m already there, so I pay $5 for a pass, waiting a long time for an entire sports team to enter the gym before they can process my payment. I rush to the class. The instructor doesn’t show up.

We documented a number of issues when we moved into our apartment. A contractor came by in July to measure windows for replacement – while seven need to be replaced, four must be replaced because they can’t be safely operated. The new windows are installed on a Tuesday. The contractor points out significant structural damage likely caused by roof issues and lousy tuckpointing. Four days later, we come home to find rain pouring through one of the windows that wasn’t replaced – not through the window itself, but between the frame and the wall. We report the problem to our landlord, who is predictably upset, having poured buckets of money into his previously low-maintenance rental property over the last few months. On Halloween, less than a week later, we have our first snow, which melts and drips through the frame of one of the new windows.

And so it goes all month, one thing after another, with us doing our best to keep our heads above the waves as we frantically tread water. Appliances stop working. Diapers leak. Everyone gets sick. I get mastitis again.

But despite all of this, projects and events I’ve been planning for months happen at work with minor issues. We almost completely avoid eating out, and so come in way under our food budget for the first time maybe ever. We wear #RedforEd and cheer on our city’s teachers as they strike for a better future. I run to the marathon course and tear up as the new world record holder blazes by. We paint pumpkins and soak up the last spectacular fall weather. The balls roll in the right direction, and time marches on.

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October Reads

October Eats

 

September Around Here

The month starts with a spontaneous trip to the Arboretum on a gray day. We’re members, but have barely visited this year because the baby couldn’t (wouldn’t) tolerate the car. Weather and naps mean that we can’t stay as long as we’d like, but it’s a lovely excursion while it lasts.

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At work, we shut down the intranet that I somehow came to manage nearly seven years ago. The shut-down was supposed to happen in mid-2016. We have a party to celebrate, and I bring a glazed vanilla cake from Simple Cake baked in my grandma’s Bundt pan.

My work isn’t typically tied to the cycles of the academic year, but this year I’ve volunteered for a number of things that keep me busy as the academic year arrives with a roar. I make exhaustive lists in my planner and on my whiteboard. Both are completely filled with text. No wonder I feel like I’m drowning. Deep breaths, and one foot in front of another until the end of October.

We implement Falafel Fridays. The falafel can be accompanied by an exciting veggie side, or by homemade hummus, or by anything we need to use up, or by whatever looks good at the grocery store. We can eat in or get take out or meet at one of several falafely restaurants near us (though regrettably not Beni Falafel – see you in November!). Anything to put at least one meal per week on autopilot.

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We work on making room in our budget, in part because we need to, and in part because we want to, and in part because we’re going to Belgium in two months and travel is always more expensive than anticipated. One week into this new focus on belt-tightening, we notice that our AC is making a strange noise. It stops working completely just in time for a brief but miserable heat wave. Fall is almost in sight, but not soon enough to postpone the repairs, particularly since we still can’t open most of our windows and the new windows, expected in August, still have no ETA. Sorry, landlord. Sorry, eating out budget, but we just can’t cook when it’s 95 degrees inside.

Another month with too much time spent on the road. At the beginning of the month, we drive out to Rockford to celebrate the a number of birthdays (my mom, two siblings, and the big kid) and take family photos with all of the siblings and their kids. A week later, I drive to Iowa to meet my mom and aunt at my grandparents’ house – one last visit to pick up furniture and odds and ends before the house goes on the market. It’s an exhausting out-and-back with an excessive amount of ice cream in the middle.

And then the following weekend, another trip to Rockford to celebrate the big kid’s birthday. His actual birthday is spent doing low-key fun things: pancakes and a special birthday balloon, a farmers’ market walk in the morning, then a run: five whole kilometers, one for every year. Pizza lunch at Jolly Pumpkin, his pick, then meeting his friend at the playground for cake (chocolate, with marshmallow frosting, both from Simple Cake – he requested chocolate with blueberries which I failed to deliver due to frosting miscalculations). A movie on the couch with a big bowl of popcorn. More pizza and cake the next day with his cousins, and many hours of solo time with his grandparents. We can’t deliver much on the present front, but hopefully the happy memories will make up for it.

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September Reads

Also somehow I forgot to tell you that I read the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy this summer, which I LOVED. Also The Egypt Game, for my book club, and Big Little Lies, just because.

September Eats

From the NYTimes:

August Around Here

The month starts on a high note: the baby takes his first steps when I’m at work, and then many more steps not long after. By the end of the month, he is confidently toddling all over everywhere, shaky eggs in hand.

In July, I told my therapist that I was struggling to make time to connect with the big kid. He suggests that putting it on the calendar would be a good start. And so I do, and on Saturday, we bike to the farmers’ market, then to get his hair cut, then to a new-to-us cafe for a brownie, coffee, and chess. It’s a lovely morning in a lovely weekend. In the afternoon, we walk to the campus art museum to take in a remarkable exhibit from Tara Donovan. The big kid comes home and draws pictures of the art to include in one of the near-daily letters to his grandparents.

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Then on Monday, early in the morning, the phone rings. My grandma has declined overnight. I nod in sort of comprehension, finish my breakfast, and unload the dishwasher before leaving for Iowa instead of for work. Grandma is tired, suffering, in and out. When she is present, she is herself. When she isn’t, she calls for help. Everyone looks as exhausted as they must feel: my parents, my aunt, my uncle, the neighbor. We take turns holding her hand, talking to her, listening to the care team, and going through things in her room. I stay until mid-afternoon, when I leave to drive the 3 hours back home in a daze.

Two days later, I am at Maggie Daley Park with the big kid, a visiting friend, her son, and her cousin. The big kid runs ahead into the cauldron-like play area. When we get there, he’s nowhere to be seen. If he hears us calling his name, he doesn’t respond. I run around, half frantic. The park is crowded and maze-like and not a familiar space for any of us. In the midst of this, my phone rings again. I know what the call will be, but I can’t take it because I can’t find my child. Moments later, my friend finds him – he had climbed up into a play structure, got scared, and couldn’t climb back down. I climb up, retrieve him, and hug him, crying and overwhelmed. We decide to get lunch. On our way down Randolph, the phone rings again, and in the middle of noon traffic in downtown Chicago, while the big kid is chattering away about lunch, I learn that my grandma has died. My friend stops in the middle of the street to hug me. We eat lunch – I couldn’t tell you what. I’m too frazzled to explain to the big kid what has happened.

The rest of the day – the week, even – is lost in a daze. A security guard at Whole Foods asks if I’m OK as I cry in the floral section. We take a bottle of wine to the Middle Eastern restaurant and drink a toast over our falafel and salads. I spend two days trying to organize my work life so that I can be out of the office unexpectedly.

Before we leave town, the kids and I make a special trip to the farmers’ market to buy the apples my grandparents grew – Lodi – so that we can turn them into applesauce, a gallon made at my parents’ and another half gallon made at home, the repetitive work of peeling, slicing, and stirring soothing aching hearts, albeit temporarily.

We spend two days at my parents’ house doing whatever we can to help or distract. I take the kids out to harvest beans from the garden, left neglected due to all of the back and forth from the previous week. The baby pulls up on the garden wall and takes a tumble, and I carry him inside covered head to toe in dirt, and happy as can be.

And then we drive to Iowa for the services, and spend a day feeling many things all at once, but mostly feeling exhausted to the bone and turned inside out.

At the end of that week, the baby turns 1. Our wonderful, silly, precious last baby. As with many second-borns, the milestones that were so enormous for the big kid feel slightly less so for the small one, or at least are more easily obscured, or maybe it’s just that everything is happening all at once this month. We celebrate with a beautiful birthday cake at my parents’, and then with a morning trip to the beach, cupcakes and favorite foods, and playtime in the park on his actual birthday. We adore you, little boy.

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And then the next day, we’re off to the northwest suburbs to spend the day celebrating the wedding of a dear friend who snuck off to the courthouse just like we did, opting for a relaxed celebration with a few friends and family months later. It is an idyllic day on the lake – good friends, good food, happy kids – and we feel honored to be included.

I go back to work after a week away, and I’m drowning. Just when I think I might be getting on top of my to do list, I come down with mastitis – I’m fine at noon, but starting to feel unwell at 3, and by 5pm I am in my bed sweating through a high fever. The rest of the week is lost in a fevered haze.

Finally, finally, things start to look up. I work the entire last week of the month, with no sick days or other calamities. We go to a housewarming party, where the big kid kicks off his shoes as if he’s at home. A new coffee chain opens in our neighborhood and we take full advantage of all of the free days and previews. The weather is perfect, and I’m able to go running.

Where did the month go? I don’t really know. I’m exhausted and overwhelmed.

August Reads

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August Eats

My heart wasn’t really in a cooking place this month, but fortunately, it’s high season at the farmers’ market, so we mostly worked with what was available:

  • Tomatoes:
  • Sweet corn, straight into the oven at 350 for about 30 minutes. The kernels steam on the cob, and you can shuck it at the table, using the husk as a handle.
  • Melon upon melon, including a delightful tasting at the farmers’ market of 5 varieties of cantaloupe, 4 watermelon, and 3 honeydew, all delicious.
  • Apples, prepared the way my grandma would: in pies and applesauce.

Also, the first of likely many cakes from Simple Cake – this time the milk and honey cake for the baby’s birthday, with blueberries for the guest of honor, and honey whipped cream for the rest of us.

 

A Monday List

10 Hours of Beverages (5:30am-3:30pm)

  1. Water, with day 5 of antibiotics for last week’s mastitis.
  2. Cold brew, letting the grounds drip awhile before leaving the cheesecloth packet in the sink, where it will have hopefully dried out by the time I get home.
  3. Cold water from the office fridge Brita.
  4. Decaf, from a pod, with oat milk. We’re trying to cut costs, and this is a place where I can economize. It’s flavored, maybe chocolate raspberry?, which reminds me of one of my bosses from my very first job. I can’t remember what her strong feelings were about chocolate/fruit coffees, but I remember that she had them.
  5. Decaf, from a pod, not flavored, prepared for my husband, who stopped by with the kids in the afternoon so that I could nurse. They got caught in the rain. He warmed up with coffee. The baby warmed up with milk. The big kid dried off with my random office towel, then drew at my work table. The kids absconded with my afternoon apple.
  6. Cold brew, made last week from a Trader Joe’s coffee bag, with oat milk, and cold water from the office fridge Brita. I washed the morning beverage containers and filled the afternoon beverage containers.