NEW YEAR, SAME ME (Lower Your Expectations)

As you know, 97.3% of people who make resolutions at New Year’s abandon them by the end of the year (the rest are, of course, cheating). When I heard that, I was shocked. Shocked. I asked myself, “Self?”

“Yeah.”

“How can this be?”

“How can what be?”

“The—thing I just said.”

“What thing?”

“Weren’t you listening just now?”

“Yeah, no.”

Dropping my head to my chest, I said, “Fine, I’ll start over. So, 97.3% of people who make resolutions abandon them—”

“By the end of the year. Everyone knows that. So what?”

“Well, I was just wondering why.”

“What do you mean why?”

“I mean why can’t we keep resolutions?”

Without a moment to think, Self replied, “Because improving ourselves sucks. It’s the worst. We like to be all like, Get it, girl! You got this! but in truth, most of us don’t got this, girl, because we would prefer to wish rather than work ourselves better. I’m not saying that’s wrong. Work is dumb. It’s hard. And we do enough of it in other areas of our lives that once we get to the hard work of improving ourselves, it becomes easier and easier to decide that those changes can wait.

“Want to know why the countdown felt so anticlimactic to you this year? It’s because you spent all last year working toward goals that take much longer than a year to achieve, and now you’re facing another year of work and doubt and frustration as you slog toward those exact same goals—which you might not achieve this year, either. Sure, you made progress, but you didn’t get the shiny gold star that comes with fulfilling a resolution. And you’re tired. I get it. It’s hard to keep going in the face of something that takes so long. But that’s life. You can’t squeeze your goals down to fit into a single year. You can’t expect to achieve anything truly meaningful in the course of a couple hundred days.

“Maybe we set ourselves up for failure with resolutions. Maybe we should reserve resolutions for silly things, like I resolve to quit accidentally ‘waving’ at people on Facebook like a dummy, or I resolve to go to the eye doctor and pick up milk, or I resolve to grow three inches by September—which is impossible at my age, but what is life without a little unfounded optimism? Actually, probably the best change you could make this year would be to quit social media entirely. You don’t enjoy it, you’re bad at it, you keep accidentally ‘waving’ at people in spite of your best intentions, and it makes you feel bad about yourself. Why do you want to be on there?

“I dunno. Maybe none of this matters. Maybe it’s enough to remind yourself once a year that you are capable of better and you can try to improve. Maybe if, at the end of the year, you can say you did your best, then that’s all that matters. Who knows. Anyway. Happy New Year, buddy. Good luck.”

After that I sat quietly, slumped on the floor, for a long time. The little punk was right. I am tired. I don’t want to keep working at things that feel completely insurmountable—or at least unbearably slow. And so I went for a walk. I thought of a lot of funny resolutions to put into a New Year’s post, and I came home and wrote them down. Then I deleted them. I wrote this instead. When I was finished I gave a great, thunderous sigh, as if I’d been holding my breath for months. Progress doesn’t have a fixed deadline. Improvement doesn’t have to fit neatly within a year. Knowing that, I feel better than I have in a long time. And now I’m going to get back to the long, slow, difficult work that makes us better—mentally, physically, spiritually.

It’s gonna suck. But let’s get on with it anyway.

PS—In an effort to spend less time on social media, I am turning away from sharing posts on Facebook and relying instead on The Email List. If you’ve already signed up for the newsletter, thank you! You are great and I promise I will start sending them THIS MONTH (Probably. Hopefully. Well, maybe. By February at the latest, I swear). If you haven’t signed up for emails, please consider it! Sent monthly, they will include blog posts, any exciting news I have, maybe some interesting facts about animals, and other fun stuff. If that sounds like something you’d enjoy, please enter your email address below:

2018 Holiday Gift Guide

SO! You left all your gift shopping till the last minute. Again. Oh, you thought this year would be different. You started out with such good intentions. You found a sweater that your dad would really like back in August, and you were so surprised and pleased with yourself that you coasted on those feelings for months. But then things got busy at work, and December really snuck up on you, and you can never find anything that your mom/brother/boss really likes anyway, so you procrastinated. But now it’s Christmas Eve, and all you have is that one sweater, and you can’t give everyone pine cones again like last year. What are you gonna do?

HAVE NO FEAR! AUNTIE CARRIE IS HERE FOR YOU! Yesterday I spent hours scouring antique shops for the very best gifts for you to give to all of your loved ones. And then I spent today learning how to make a slideshow in Squarespace. I think I’m a natural!

Next year I’ll teach you how to wrap your presents to ensure a maximum amount of glitter (there’s actually no paper involved at all; you just douse the gifts in glue and roll them in glitter—people love it!). Until then, I wish you and yours a very merry yuletide and the happiest of new years.

Update: Conundrum + Possible Giveaway

Still outside! Hangin’ out. Staying positive. Waiting for Halo to figure out how to open the door with her paws. We might go for another walk! Since the first one was such a treat. (Ah, we have fun, don’t we?) Anyway! I wanted to give you an update because I opened the package that started this whole thing, and hiding inside were…these.

IMG_20181210_111332.jpg

Are they earrings? Are you supposed to poke that long bar into your ear? It looks painful. The bar doesn’t look thin enough for an ear hole. Are they like very small plugs? Won’t the bar dig into your skull and make your ears stick out? In any case, I didn’t order them. My ears aren’t even pierced anymore. They closed up because I am Bad at Wearing Jewelry. Should I return them? They weren’t listed on the receipt. Are they supposed to be a Free Gift with Purchase?

I found them on the website. They—oh, no. OH GOD, NO. YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO PULL THE CHAIN THROUGH YOUR EAR HOLE, TOO. NOOOOO—THAT IS TERRIBLE. WHY WOULD SOMETHING LIKE THIS EXIST? THIS IS THE MOST DISTURBING THING I’VE EVER SEEN. NO WONDER THE MODEL LOOKS SO PAINED. SHE’S BASICALLY TURNED HER EAR INTO A CEILING FAN.

via  Modcloth

Okay. Sorry. There are worse things than pulling a very thin chain through your ear hole. I can’t think of any right now, but there must be something. Oh, like the fact that Stan is back, delivering the actual mail this time, and it’s too late to change out of these fancy shoes or pretend that I haven’t been sitting on the front step all this time digging through a large package that I opened with my teeth like a savage. How embarrassing. Yet, Stan is the consummate professional. Didn’t even blink, just handed me my mail: two credit card offers and a magazine.

“Thank you,” I called feebly, as June stotted off into the bushes.

So now, morally, what are my options here? Should I send the earrings back? They’re $17, currently marked down to $14.99. Not that it makes a difference how expensive they are. I’ve sent a message to the store, and I expect they’ll either respond with, “OH, thank GOD, we’ve been looking EVERYWHERE for those! Send them back posthaste, please, before Shirley in packaging loses her job!” or a dismissive, “Oh, were those gone? You can keep ‘em. We’ve got plenty. We are virtually swimming in dangly earrings over here.” If that’s the case, can I give them to someone else? Who would wear these? Would you? Should I do a giveaway?

Yes. Let’s do it.

Hello! Would you like some understated gold earrings about which one reviewer said, “Thick Posts but pretty”?

“I love a dangle earring that doesn’t try too hard,” another said. Don’t we all?

So…yeah. Some ringing endorsements there. According to the website, they are five inches long, which tells me that I am also Bad at Estimating, because I thought they were at least twice that. The hexagon is half an inch long. It doesn’t say how long the bar is, but if I had to guess, I’d say…three inches? That can’t be right. I don’t know. It’s very cold out here; I think the wind is getting in through my ears and freezing my brain.

So here’s the deal. If Modcloth lets me keep these earrings, the first person to comment saying they want them (either for yourself or someone else—the holidays are here, after all!), gets them. If Modcloth doesn’t let me keep them, then I will handcraft a pair of earrings for EVERYONE who comments and send them to you. Please let me know if you are allergic to any common crafting supplies like pipe cleaners or Grade 80 straight chain. Or, if I’m stuck out here indefinitely, they’ll probably be made of things like leaves and bits of twigs. Maybe a bug.

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE! The holiday season has admittedly crept up on me like a ghost in the nighttime. We haven’t even decorated because we’ve been so busy, and now I have all this pent-up CHEER that needs to be released. So if you do not care about earrings, like me, and just want a homemade Christmas card from a crazy lady with nice shoes who can’t get into her own house, send me your address and you will receive a very cheery card by Valentine’s Day. Probably.

You are all the best, every one of you. Thank you for reading these silly posts all year. I love you very much.

A SLOW WALK INTO MADNESS

I didn’t sleep well last night. Not for any particular reason; but that fact is important to set the scene.

Junebug was extra antsy this morning, so I wrangled her outside for an early walk. Right as we closed the door behind us, though, the mail truck screeched to a halt in front of us.

“We’ve been waiting for you,” I said ominously.

“What’s that?” asked the mailman.

“Nothing! Sorry she’s so energetic.” For Junebug was leaping and twisting in the air like a prima ballerina. “Still a puppy, even though she’s so…large.”

He set a package carefully on the front step, jumped back in the mail truck, and we continued on our walk.

Now, I knew what was in the package: a pair of shoes for a wedding I’m going to this month. (I’m making the dress, but I bought the shoes. Only because I can’t cobble my own shoes. Yet.) These shoes are beautiful—sort of art deco-y, mustard yellow with darker mustard piping (maybe dijon?), high-but-not-too-high heels, and they fit me, which is rare. I think my feet have grown recently. Size 6 used to be a little roomy on me, like my feet were really size 5 3/4, but the last few shoes I’ve tried on have fit perfectly. So either the shoes have changed, or I have.

Maybe my feet will keep growing.

Maybe in twenty years I’ll be walking around in clown shoes.

Which actually might be okay, because I’ve always loved unusual shoes: red sneakers, furry ankle boots, metallic oxfords, sandals with balloons tied around the straps (not inflated, of course; I’m not a maniac), brocade boots that make me look like a fancy witch. In middle school I bought white running shoes for P.E. and then drew all over them in multicolored Sharpies. They were hideous and I loved them. I have this pair of blue velvet heels that wrap around my ankle like a vampire’s collar, but the heels are too high to wear out anywhere so I just clomp around my house in them sometimes. It’s like playing dress-up but much, much sadder.

Also, side note, I don’t know my mailman’s name. He’s super nice, very funny, possibly the tallest man I’ve ever met, but I don’t know his name, and now, after two years of signing for packages and waving when he whizzes by in the truck, it feels too late to ask. It’s even worse because he knows my name—although he does have an unfair advantage, given that he sees my water bill every month. But he strikes me as a Stan and so that’s what I call him in my mind.

So Stan dropped off this package with an alluring new pair of shoes inside, and I left it there to finish our walk (even though my first instinct was to SHRIEK and CLAW OPEN THE BOX to TRY them ON) because I am nothing if not dignified. And because I knew this would be a difficult walk. Junebug wants to race every car that passes us because she is as FAST as the WIND, and she’s so enthusiastic about life that she pulls at the leash for at least two blocks before she calms down, as I give quick tugs on her collar and make her wait and let forth a steady, patient refrain of “No pulling. No pulling. No pulling. NO—PULL—ING.” So I left the package because I wanted a reward to come home to.

I thought that would be it for the unexpected surprises, until Stan stopped the mail truck in front of our neighbor’s house and got out to give them a package. I didn’t know what to do. Should I stride ahead brazenly and risk Junebug jumping all over him and dirtying the mail? Should I wait respectfully until he’d finished, thus leaving more opportunity for chit-chat? Paralyzed by indecision, I stood there, probably with a face like someone had just asked me to do a back flip, until he got out and saw us.

“Oh—” I chuckled nonchalantly. “Hello again.”

He waved and got back in the truck and we resumed our walk. I thought it was over. Until he stopped again, two houses ahead.

This was too much. Sociability can only take a person so far. I considered turning around and going the other way, but decided that would be even more awkward. Instead, I ducked my head and gave Junebug some random dance commands (“Jump around! Do…the twist! Everybody clap your hands!”) until he was gone. Relieved, we continued on our way.

The streets of this town are usually empty during the day. It’s one of the things I like most about living here. Today, however, we found one corner sectioned off with men working overhead, a construction worker talking on the phone in an alcove who looked genuinely afraid of Junebug, a man painting his front steps, way more runners than there should be when it’s this cold outside, and a woman coming out of the dog groomer’s carrying the tiniest fluff ball of a dog I’ve ever seen. Expecting disaster with each new impediment, I steered Junebug out into the street to avoid the construction and the fluff and the impending catastrophe of the paint situation, but somehow we could not shake Stan. When we turned the first corner, there he was, stepping off the truck to give someone else a package.

“So many things to sniff!” he said jovially, his blue eyes twinkling.

“Uh huh!” I mumbled, hurrying Junebug along.

White flakes appeared on her coat as she stopped to sniff at a gate. I looked up to see about a dozen more flakes drifting strangely all around us. It couldn’t be snow, I thought; it seemed to be materializing in midair and not falling from the sky. “Is this dandruff?” I asked foggily. “No. That was dumb. Is it—is it ash? Is there a fire? …Am I dreaming right now?” Junebug lunged at the street, yanking me out of my reverie.

Really, none of these things—the construction, the wet paint, even the mailman—were all that dire. Had I been less tired, I would have thought them merely a string of diversions on an otherwise routine stroll. But I was tired, and so all these small things seemed to be designed to test me, like the labors of Hercules for social anxiety. I was growing edgy and paranoid, and when I whirled around to keep Junebug from cinching my feet with the leash and saw the mail truck inching along behind us, I almost lost my head.

“WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO DO TO ME, STAN?” I whispered, jittery and spooked. “THIS IS DEATH BY A THOUSAND TINY SOCIAL INTERACTIONS. IS THIS SOME KIND OF EXPOSURE THERAPY? HAVE YOU BEEN LYING IN WAIT ALL MORNING?”

I quickened our pace as we turned another corner. “Good girl, good girl,” I sang at Junebug, equal parts praise and hope. I looked back. Impossibly, there was the mail truck, though Stan was nowhere in sight. What if he’s not even in there anymore? I thought frantically. What if the truck left Stan behind to torture us with its slow advance?

We cut through a small parking lot and turned the last corner. Almost there. Ahead of us, a man came out of an apartment building with a vacuum and set it on the sidewalk. A vacuum. Of all the things to bring outside and leave on the sidewalk. All I could picture was Junebug attacking it like she does at home. And then, four more people, including a small child, trailed out of the apartment, reaching the sidewalk just as we reached them.

That’s when the jumping started (pup’s). And the rambling (mine).

DOWN!—I’M SO SORRY YOU KNOW SHE’S—DOWN!—STRONGER THAN I AM ONLY A—DOWN!—PUPPY STILL LEARNING I TELL YA LOOK OUT FOR—DOWN!—STAN OR HE’LL GITCHA!”

A lady with pink hair laughed a little. “Okay.” I don’t think she knew which part to respond to, and I didn’t blame her.

“I’m sorry.” I sighed. “It’s been a strange walk.”

The vacuum man walked back to the building. “Cute dog,” he said, and stopped to pet her.

“SHE’S JUSAPPPUP—” I said, or something like that. I was quite wild by this time, frazzled and so very tired.

“Cool,” he said, obviously more alarmed by me than by an overexcited dog.

I glanced behind us. It appeared we’d shaken the mail truck. For now.

At last we made it home. The package was still there, next to the half-eaten gourds we still have by our front door from Halloween. “We’re home! We’re home!” I chanted softly to Junebug. She trotted along, unconcerned, a model walker in these last few steps. We reached the door. And obviously…well, I mean, honestly. Of course the door was locked. And naturally, I didn’t have my keys with me. But we all saw this coming, right? Stan saw it coming, my pink-haired neighbor saw it coming, even Junebug saw it coming.

I sank down onto the front step, looped the leash around my ankle, and opened the package.

The shoes are nice.

Not a bad morning.

Thanksgiving Mega-Post

[DISCLAIMER: This guide is neither brief nor does it describe a stress-free holiday.]

 SATURDAY BEFORE THANKSGIVING.

Here's something that took me three years of marriage to find out: my husband is the Clark Griswold of Thanksgiving.

"Carrie," he said to me, after informing me that, since we're hosting Thanksgiving for the first time this year, he wants to buy a fresh turkey that costs roughly as much as a diamond tiara, "this is the only holiday where all you have to do is eat. I was born for this."

He also wants to spatchcock it. If you're afraid to Google that term because you don't want anyone to see it in your search history and think you're some sort of pervert, I'll explain: 

How to Spatchcock a Turkey
(Or, I Suppose, Any Other Bird You Choose to Eat. Not Here to Judge.) 

  1. Find yourself a bird. Lay it on its tummy. (I like to use cutesy, humanizing words when talking about something so dehumanizing. REALLY PUTS ME IN THE HOLIDAY SPIRIT.)

  2. Cut out its backbone. Now it won't be able to fight back. Although, fair warning, its spirit will haunt you for eighty years. But like, so will the tenderness and flavor of the meat when you cook it this way? So it sort of evens out.

  3. Turn the turkey over onto what was, until a moment ago, an innocent and upstanding back, and, with both of your bloodstained palms, press its poor little chest down until its ribs crack and the turkey lies still as the grave and flatter than Stanley.

  4. Dry brine and roast!

"I'd rather use those grocery store points I think are still valid for a free frozen turkey, and then buy a diamond tiara," I said. "I'll let you wear it, and you can be the QUEEN of THANKSGIVING!"

However, he was not to be swayed. So we have ordered a fresh turkey, which will be spatchcocked and brined while I take a long walk and think about how my life got to this point.

  SUNDAY: THE GREAT SHOPPING TRIP.

While I stayed home and got a little loopy off silver-polishing fumes (Um, yeah. We polished our silver. What are we, SAVAGES?), Bill took a carefully timed trip to the grocery store to get everything we need. 

"If I go on a weekend evening," he reasoned, "I'll probably avoid most of the crowds. But there will probably be more things out of stock." He was right on both counts. He came back bearing three great armloads of shopping bags filled with mixed nuts and mini marshmallows and pumpkin pie filling and just about all of the onions left in the free world.

"They'd been cleaned out of herbs already," he said as he collapsed on a chair. I was halfway through a Claymation Christmas Special refrain of "WHAT are we gonna DO?!" before I remembered that it is not Thanksgiving Eve. Grocery stores are open tomorrow. And the next day. And even the next. 

When he had recovered, he eyed me across the table where I was industriously buffing away at a large spoon. "Did you find those cloths in the basement?"  he asked.

"YOU MEAN THEEESE?" I said with a lopsided grin as I held up an orange cloth stained black from its mysterious silver-polishing properties ("The polish is in the cloth!" the bag proudly proclaimed. "The blacker it gets, the better it works!" ). 

"Yeah, we should definitely throw those out," he said. "They're from the '60s at least."

"The bag says it's safe!" I told him. "I believe the bag!" My voice dropped to a low growl. "And only the bag, from now on."

Bill took the cloth from my hand and walked me outside for some air. After that I switched to a silver cleaner and a plain, humble rag, and I sat on the porch singing my little silver polishing songs and pretending I was a butler in a big, fancy house. 

 MONDAY.

I have made schedules. Not just one, but several. I have my schedule for Thanksgiving Day which directs me when and where to put all of the foods in various places, and then I have another one detailing the days leading up to Thanksgiving. This second one mostly consists of a gut-clenching whirlwind of cleaning and cooking whatever can be prepared before the actual day.

Like the cranberry sauce. 

Cran.jpg

Cranberry sauce is wonderful because it's so easy to make yet so delicious, and because the cranberries burst when they cook with a little pop! that makes the kitchen sounds so cheery, even though it's sort of like the berries are dying before your very ears. But at least they get to die in a simmering bath of sugar, orange zest, and cinnamon. It's how I'd like to go. Exploding in a hot fruit stew.

With this first official dish of Thanksgiving cooling on the stove, I'd like to take a moment to preach the good news of Serious Eats. Over the past six months or so, we have noticed that the very best recipes we’ve tried have come from Serious Eats. It makes sense. They use SCIENCE to test all their recipes, and explain at the top of each recipe why their method works so well. Last week I made General Tso’s that was super crispy and the only kind I’ve ever eaten that I didn’t need to put Sriracha on. So when Bill found their guide to all of the holiday dishes we could possibly want, I stopped worrying about hunting down the best recipe for glazed carrots and stuffing, for this was to be A Very Serious Eats Thanksgiving!

We are all very excited.

LATER MONDAY.

My mother-in-law is sick. 

It's all I can think about as I clean the house. As the stress bears down upon me like a great block of cement. As I read over the schedule that has me dusting, sweeping, vacuuming, mopping, laundering, cleaning the bathrooms, AND wrestling a duvet into submission, all over the next ten hours. Because I am a masochist.

"Thaaat's cute, Carrie," I tell myself aloud as I scan the list.  "When we both know you're going to abandon this list by dinnertime when you find yourself sobbing on the floor with three out of your four limbs twisted up in the duvet and the house somehow dirtier than when you started.”

But back to the sickness. There's so much dust in the air, clogging my sinuses. So many cleaner fumes entering my lungs to compromise their functioning. So much stress dampening my immune system.

It’s going to happen. I shall fall to the virus. It will have me in its clutches by Wednesday.

My fate is assured.

For today, however, I will carry on. I will take a short nap right there on the floor, just a quick snooze, all tangled up in the damnable duvet, and then I will get up and sweep the floor beneath my feet. Sweep it clean of the dust which doth offend so.

I am not afraid.

I was born to do this.

 TUESDAY.

"Can we name the turkey Beauregard?" I asked Bill this morning. For today is Turkey Fetching Day, which means he goes to the farmers market on his lunch break and picks up the turkey from the butcher. So it’s really less of a whole big day and more a midday errand. But it’s exciting to me nonetheless.  

The rest of the conversation went thusly: 

He still hasn’t come up with a better name. Too busy making memes out of our disagreements, I guess.

TUESDAY NIGHT.

“How about Turkule Poirot?” I said as we tweezed pin feathers from the turkey’s flesh.

“Turkules,” he suggested as we patted the turkey dry and laid it gently on its breast.

“Chris Turkeyton.” He paused his kitchen shears and looked at me blankly. “From Scrubs!”

“Joseph Gobbles,” he said as he finally ripped the spine from the turkey’s carcass and held it in the air. “This time he goes in the oven!”

We settled on Allen Ginsbird. We were going to name it Ruth Bader Ginsbird, but this was right before he cracked the turkey’s ribs. It felt a little too on the nose.

WEDNESDAY.

It’s HIGH TIME for PIE TIME!

Here is the thing. The very thing. I wanted to make the pies yesterday. Truly, I did. But our TAPIOCA STARCH—which I had to order SPECIALLY for the APPLE pie because Serious Eats SAYS so and I am a DISCIPLE of that WEBsite now—didn’t get here till today.

DID YOU EVAH?

And the in-laws arrive this very aftahnewn, and me with mah little ol’ hands all full of punkin pie fillin’, and tapioca starch all in mah hair makin’ me look like an old, old lady! And me only a girl of eight-and-twenny!

Oh, god. I apologize. I don’t know what’s happening right now. Is this panic? It feels like panic. But you know, I don’t know why I should be panicking, in all honesty. There’s not really all that much that I have to do today. I’m just unraveling.

Back to the pies. We are making three: pumpkin in a gluten-free crust, pecan in a regular crust, and apple in a crust made only of tapioca starch and the spirit of friendship.

Now, pecan pie is, I feel, incorrectly named. If we were being honest, it would be called Sugar Pie: Now with Nuts! But even though I can feel my arteries congealing as the pie bakes, I can’t resist Sugar Pie. The weird, curdly custard…the way the pecans magically rise to the top…the sugar. As you are aware, this was the original pie in the window that so tempted the very first hobo to snatch a pie cooling on a windowsill. No one can resist that sugary goodness—no one.

Then there’s the apple pie. Uniform apple slices bathe in ginger, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt until they release all their stresses and toxins and juices and then you take all that and make it into pie. These babies macerate for three hours, and then you mix in the tapioca starch and pop the whole mess into the flakiest crust there ever was or ever will be.

Pumpkin…is just pumpkin. I just use the recipe off the Libby’s can. A classic.

WEDNESDAY NIGHT.

Family is here. So it begins.

THURSDAY.

8:32 - I didn’t sleep last night. I mean…I slept some. A little. I don’t want to exaggerate. I slept a minimal amount. But not much. I was too excited. And also the dogs were snoring. But mostly…the excitement.

10:46 - It’s breakfast time and I am ITCHING to GET STARTED. But there’s only so much you can do in the morning if you aren’t stuffing and roasting a turkey the traditional way. Roasting a spatchcocked bird only takes a few hours, even when you unexpectedly find yourself with a twenty-two-pound bird for five people. This gobbler is a king among poultry. We are swimming in turkey.

…Or—wait, no. That’s not what I—never mind.

11:53: Did you know that the red wiggly skin flap thing that hangs over the turkey’s beak like a deflated nose is called a snood? Stay tuned for more Fun Thanksgiving Facts.

12:42 - Pro tip: When you are toasting bread for stuffing, try cutting it into cubes BEFORE you put it in the oven. It really cuts down on crumbs. Which…are…everywhere, now.

2:10 - STUFFING IS MADE. STUFFING—IS—MADE. FIRST DISH OF THE DAY IS A GO. IT’S HAPPENING, FRIENDS. IT’S ALL HAPPENING.

2:11 - I need to CALM DOWN.

2:30 - Collecting leaves to decorate the table. Junebug is advising me, as she is an expert on All Thing Leaves. “You’re doing it wrong!” she says. “Forget this basket thing. You’re supposed to CHOMP the leaves, Carrie. Chomp them. Like this. See?”

2:31 - Have chomped my first leaf. Not bad.

3:34 - The turkey juuust fits in the oven, legs all akimbo, nestled snugly among the aromatics. The table is set. The vegetables are being peeled and chopped. I’m dressed like a pilgrim. Let’s do this thing.

4:10 - OH WOW. OH, HOLY WOW. WE HAD A BAKING SHEET WITH WATER ON IT TO CATCH THE DRIPPINGS FROM THE DRUMSTICKS BECAUSE THIS BIRD CAN’T BE CONTAINED EVEN BY THE GIANT BROILER SHEET. BUT WHEN WE BASTED IT, WE FLIPPED THE BIRD AROUND AND DIDN’T SWITCH THE PAN OVER AND NOW THE ENTIRE HOUSE IS FILLED WITH SMOKE. HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO US ALL.

4:13 - Oh, and also one of the stuffings is burnt to a crisp. It is gluten-free stuffing, so some might say burning it improves the flavor, but it’s still not what we were going for.

4:22 - The rolls are not rising. I don’t know why. I put the dough in a warm place. Well, a very warm place. Well, I put it on top of the stove. Which is set at 450 degrees. And it was only when I whirled around to see that the dough was sort of…steaming? that I realized the stove top might be a BIT TOO WARM.

4:35 - You know when you’re watching a cooking competition, and the contestants make one stupid mistake after another and you’re like, PUT THE THING IN THE THING, YOU MORON! Today I am that moron.

4:49 - Yeah, these rolls are dead. I used to be the queen of rolls when I was younger. Now that title has passed to my sister, an actual baker, and I am the queen of steamed dough blobs. Not the worst thing I’ve ever been called, but still.

5:08 - BUG. A BUG IS HERE. IN THE KITCHEN. IT’S HUGE AND IT’S FLYING AROUND AND IT IS GOING TO LAND IN THE GRAVY, I KNOW IT.

5:09 - The bug is gone. Nobody knows where. Either it flew out when we turned off all the lights and opened the door and crouched down like the A-bomb was really coming this time, or it’s lying in wait until we let our guard down. A sense of foreboding settles over the room as we return cautiously to our work.

5:22 - The stock that I made from the spine, neck, and giblets of the turkey has gelled so much that, when I went to pour it into the pan, it bounced like a Bumble and looked like it was going to keep on bouncing right out of the pan and onto the floor. Luckily, it didn’t. Calamity avoided.

5:43 - I’m taking a moment. So far, the day has been pretty smooth, with all the help I’ve been given. But we’re about to hit crunch time, when the sad, flat rolls need to go in the oven, the carrots need to be glazed, the yams need to warm, and the gravy needs to thicken. Brussels sprouts and turnips need to be watched, the turkey needs to be carved, and wine needs to be poured. Everything needs to happen at once, and these types of high-pressure situations are ones in which I notoriously crack. I haven’t veered toward panic yet, and God willing I shall remain panic-less. I will swallow this fear and wash it down with a hearty glass of milk, because women under thirty need to make sure to get enough calcium daily to stave off osteoporosis when they get older (have I mentioned I tend to ramble when I get nervous?). I will carry on, my wayward son. I am a warrior. Let us proceed.

5:44 - OH GOD OH GOD OH GOD OH GOD—

6:25 - THE GRAVY ISN’T THICKENING. OHHH NO. OHHH ME. OHHH MY. IT’S PANIC TIME. EVERYTHING ELSE IS READY BUT THE GRAVY AND WHAT IS EVEN THE POINT OF THANKSGIVING IF THERE IS. NO. GRAVY?!

6:26 - Okay. I put…well, a lot of corn starch in. Possibly too much corn starch. But it instantly thickened, and I am in DISTRESS MODE, so right now thick is all I care about.

6:27 - (You don’t have to make the joke. I saw it. Just let this one go. For Thanksgiving.)

6:31 - Everything is ready. It all came together. The spatchcocked, diamond-tiara-turkey is unbelievably tasty, the stuffing is out of control, the cranberry sauce is deliciously spiced, and even though the gravy is congealing and the rolls truly did fall flat, our Very Serious Eats Thanksgiving! is, I think, overall a great success.

I am exhausted. And stuffed. I’ll be ready for pie in approximately ten months.

Like every year, we went around the table and said what we were thankful for. This has been a difficult year in a lot of ways, but because of that, I feel more resilient and open. So I’m thankful of course for all of the normal things like family and friends and good fortune, but I’m also grateful for growth, for our ability to look back this time of year and see how we’ve changed for the better. And that, to quote Cousin Eddie, is “the gift that keeps on givin’ the whooole year.”

That it is, Edward. That it is, indeed.


FRIDAY MORNING.

WE FOUND THE BUG. IN A CUPBOARD, ON TOP OF A CUP. I THOUGHT IT WAS DEAD, BUT THEN IT MOVED A LEG, LIKE MRS. ROBINSON IN THAT MOVIE THE GRADUATE. BILL HAS TRAPPED IT WITH ANOTHER CUP, SO THAT IT’S LIKE A CUP TOTEM POLE, AND HE’S TAKING IT OUTSIDE WHERE IT WILL LIKELY FREEZE TO DEATH IN THE COLDEST THANKSGIVING WEEKEND IN A HUNDRED YEARS.

It’s the pilgrim way.

Puppy Town

I’ve watched a lot of sunrises lately.

In the past, if I’ve seen a sunrise it’s been because I couldn’t manage to get to sleep, and I would frown and shake my fist as the sun clawed its way over the horizon. Or maybe I was talking with friends or working all night and the sunrise arrived unexpectedly, like the hiccups. 

I have not become a “morning person,” whatever that is. These days, we’ve been hanging out with a fourteen-week-old puppy, Junebug, whose waking hours skew about four hours earlier than mine.

PRIME LEAF HUNTING HOURS ARE BEFORE DAWN, she reminds me daily. EVERYBODY KNOWS THAT, LADY.  EVERYBODY. WHO EVEN TAUGHT YOU HOW TO HUNT LEAVES?

PRIME LEAF HUNTING HOURS ARE BEFORE DAWN, she reminds me daily. EVERYBODY KNOWS THAT, LADY. EVERYBODY. WHO EVEN TAUGHT YOU HOW TO HUNT LEAVES?

It’s not so bad, though, this morning thing. Every day Junebug and I stumble downstairs, have a nice little chat over coffee, maybe piddle on the rug, take a walk and stop to marvel at every car that passes, and then once a week I trim her nails while she helps me out by clawing all of the skin off my face and neck. If I leave her alone for too long while I get dressed, she keens like I have died and she’s the only creature left in this cold, harsh world.

By this point it’s about 8:00.

She eats a hearty breakfast of raw salmon and politely offers me a bite, which I appreciate but emphatically decline. Outside, she tears through the yard like a gremlin, stopping only to hunt for worms and eat scat from whatever mystery animal prowls through our garden at night. A feral cat? A mischievous groundhog? Who knows. But it would seem that its poop tastes delicious. She offers me some of that, too.

“Oh, that’s okay,” I say. “I just ate…um…a beetle. Right over there. You didn’t see it, because of…the poop. But yeah, I’m all set.”

You sure? she asks.

“Yup,” I say, clutching at her collar as she strains to get back behind the trees for seconds.

Okay, weirdo.

Junebug has more than doubled in size since we took her home. I’m no mathemateer, but if my calculations are correct, we will have a Clifford situation on our hands by Christmas. Sometimes Bill and I will shake our heads over the size of her paws and whisper, horrified, Think of all the salmon.

Most of the day she spends playing with our other dog (her mama), which means she jumps on top of her and gnaws her ears and jowls until Halo knocks her to the floor with one giant paw. Then they clash together and begin to sing like two seals, their mouths wide open, their teeth clacking eerily. It is truly a sight to behold. And a sound to behear. Especially when I'm working.

Sometimes I'll read a section aloud to them over the ruckus. "How does that sound, ladies?" I ask them. 

But they just sing and sing. Without even a word as to whether the dialogue sounds contrived.

The dogs don’t call us Mom and Dad, instead referring to us as Monsieur and The Lady (their idea, not ours). Per their request, we in turn use the formal Sie whenever we speak to them in German.

They are very proper puppers.

IMG_20180903_095847.jpg

Getting up early wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t also wear myself out emotionally by laying all these cripplingly high expectations on myself. For instance, all the dog training books and articles and podcasts suggest that as long as you never let the dog pee in the house, you will have a perfectly house trained puppy in no time! Of course, I took that to mean that if she had even a single accident, I was Doing Something Wrong.

“If the experts with decades of experience can do it in a week,” I said, “then surely I, a first-time puppy owner, can do it just as fast! After all, I’ve read the books.

Two hundred thirty-seven clean-ups later, I’m beginning to reconsider.

But each accident sets her back a week in training! I warbled weepily to no one. According to the literature! In my sleep-deprived state, I was convinced I’d be cleaning up after this dog ten times a day for the rest of my life or hers, whichever came first. Yet here we are — after a month and a half of belly rubs and puppy breath and head tilts and floppy ears and big yawns and clumsy limbs and almost unbearable sweetness — and somehow, everything has worked out fine. She still has the occasional accident, but at this point, for a pup her age, it’s Good Enough.

Good Enough is not an easy concept for perfectionists to grasp, but I think I understand the theory. It’s like when I cook: I start out making a certain recipe, and if we don’t have a couple ingredients I make some substitutions, and maybe I'm tired so I take a few shortcuts, and before you know it we end up with something that looks less like the original recipe and more like a bowl of rice and beans, maybe with a little cheese on top.

“Gooood enough!” I say, and I drench it in hot sauce and dig in while Bill thumbs wistfully through our many cookbooks.

It’s more difficult to apply this to creative projects. The book I’ve been working on for years now is done. I’ve spent almost a year editing, and I could go on editing it for decades longer, but after all these months of fiddling and tweaking and deleting and rearranging and messing with the font size, I think it’s time to stop. Tomorrow I am going…to let…another human…read it. Even though…it’s not…perfect. Even though it is only…Good Enough.

Oh, wow. I clenched my jaw so hard there I think I broke a tooth. Huh.

Maybe tomorrow Junie and I will wake up, stumble outside with our coffee, have a little chat, and then I’ll settle in to work on any one of the other twenty-six projects I’ve started, while she chomps sticks and the sun rises like an earnest promise over the trees.

Either that or I’ll just skim the book one more time, just real quick. Make sure, like, the voice is consistent or whatever. No big deal. It’s fine. I can stop any time I want!

Why YA?

Sometimes I still feel a little embarrassed to tell people that I'm writing a young adult book. 

"Oh!" they say. "That sounds...easy."

Does it? I want to say. Well it's NOT. Teenage audiences are VERY. DISCERNING. They have their favorite things which they adore and they think everything else is GARBAGE. And I cannot try for even ONE SECOND to be cool because they will see RIGHT THROUGH IT. It is a MINUSCULE LINE between being RELEVANT and being a JOKE. WHERE MY HIGH SCHOOL TEACHERS AT? YOU GET IT. YOU UNDERSTAND. YOU'RE THE REAL HEROES. 

But I don't say any of that out loud. Obviously. I don't want people to think I'm an insane person. Instead, next time someone asks why I write what I write instead of "real novels," I can point them to this handy list to explain WHY YA:

  1. DRAMA. There's a reason why Romeo and Juliet are teenagers--because who else would pretend not to be biting their thumbs at each other even though they totally were; fall in love with someone else when they were seriously JUST making out with poor Rosaline; disregard their families' weird blood feud or whatever; speak only in iambic pentameter; get married in secret after five minutes; and then, like, LITERALLY DIE, except not, except then yes? Teenage life is all tension. It's visceral and terrible and magnificent, expanding and contracting all at once. When we're young we feel everything, even if we don't understand or want to feel it, and all this internal struggle makes for some real compelling characters. I don't mean drama in a negative sense here, either; I think great stories feature people who care deeply (which is why The Catcher in the Rye can sod right off). Young adults care deeply about the world, their friends, their passions. Maybe it's easy for older people to dismiss young adults because we think they're hormone-addled nut jobs who will eventually grow out of their idealism and look back on their teenage years in shame and horror, just like the rest of us. Or maybe we're embarrassed to remember how tragic and foolish we seemed at that age. Despite how brutal and messy those years can be, however, it's a mistake not to respect teenagers--their lives, their stories, their potential, their eminent worth. Their problems are real. Their stories are important. They deserve to hear that.
     
  2. SELF-REFLECTION. I spent all of my teenage years (plus most-to-all of my twenties) intensely confused--about what I wanted, who I was, and pretty much everything about the world around me. The lessons teenagers are supposed to learn are so complex that I (and most adults I know) still struggle to internalize them--universal lessons like how to become a decent human being, or how to recognize your own worth, or what to do when the bassist of your band, Snakes for Feet, is fighting with the lead singer, and it looks like the band might break up but you really just don't have time to deal with this right now because you have to give a speech tomorrow for which you are wildly unprepared. Much of contemporary YA fiction features characters with a HOOK: they're dying, or their friend is dying, or they have to solve a murder mystery in space. Much of it deals with Very Serious Topics like bullying, or drugs, or pregnancy, or violence, or bullying pregnant girls into doing drugs but then they hit you. This makes for vital, gripping fiction that gets young people excited about reading and helps them deal with big issues, which is obviously SO GREAT. However, there's also the kid over there who looks sleepy and a little lost, and he's all like, "So I woke up today...and I have all these feelings...and I don't think I'm emotionally equipped to handle...well, much of anything, really. I certainly couldn't solve a murder mystery, even if it happened on Earth. I just want to be able to eat a taco at lunch on Tuesday without spilling the taco fixings all down my front." Them's m'people. Your concerns are valid, too, and I write for you, you sweet, awkward, confused, little chipmunks. Please teach me all the new slang, and in return I promise to use at least seventy percent of it wrong so you can laugh at me forever.
     
  3. FRIENDSHIP. Let me tell ya, there is nothing goofier, funnier, or more formidable than a group of teenage friends. I'm obsessed with the way teenagers use and change language, and the quality of their friendships feels unique within society: So supportive! So expressive! So chock-full of stupid jokes and dumb ideas, like "Wanna see me try to do a front flip over this railing?" Friends I made in high school (middle school, really, but that's a different genre of books) are still some of my closest people, so writing about teenage friendships feels a little like hanging out with them again. So do I write YA because I'm lonely? I'd prefer not to answer that!
     
  4. INSPIRATION. The other night at an event I met a fifteen-year-old girl who is spending her summer helping out at the campaign of a congressional candidate she believes in. She wants to take a semester off school to keep helping them through November (she is of course the only one who thinks this is a good idea). Let me repeat: she's fifteen. When I was fifteen, I was trying to memorize all the words to "One Week" by Barenaked Ladies (side note: I succeeded! It's good to keep your dreams attainable, friends). My youngest sister just graduated high school, and she gives speeches. In public. To people. She's a talented writer with an inspiring blog, and she (unsurprisingly) wants a career that will let her help people. Every teenager I talk to is so smart, so self-assured and focused and shockingly mature. They seem to all want to change the world, work hard, and help others--and what's more, they already have a plan to achieve their goals. They're not waiting until they're older; they're starting now. So, of course I admire young adults. They're funny and smart and creative and enthusiastic and sad and messy and way overly dramatic--why would anyone not want to write stories about such an awesome group of humans?

Flirting Tips for Human People

FRIENDS. I realize that up till now I may have given the impression that I am more or less a misanthropic recluse who would rather chew my own leg off than spend time with other human people. This is mostly true. HOWEVER--as much as I fear and loathe social interaction, I do love watching other people interact with each other. In fact, through my observations, I've become something of an expert in the matter of flirting. The following represents the sum of my knowledge on the subject.

You are so very welcome.

Our scene is a party. Passed apps--something wrapped in rice paper, heavy on the cucumbers. Summer aperitifs--lightly fizzy, with a single red raspberry bobbing like a jewel among the bubbles. Human people--talking, laughing, mingling. The scene is ripe for romance.

You are there, a little sweaty, but not too sweaty, not like anyone will look you up and down and be like, "It wasn't supposed to rain today! I left the sunroof open on my Hyundai Sonata! Why does this always happen to me?" You're wearing that new outfit you bought the other day because the salesperson told you it made you look older. "Like twenty-five," she said. So, yeah, you're feeling pretty good. Your hair isn't doing that weird thing. You've managed not to drip any of the dipping sauce from those cucumber things on your shirt. AND, as if that's not enough, an exceedingly cute human person has made eye contact with you four times in the past seven minutes.

It's go time. This is your moment. Time to shine.

Remember: First impressions are EVERYTHING. And they happen before you say a single word to each other. So go ahead and give 'em The Look from across the room. You know the one:

Now that things are heating up, saunter on over and begin the flirting.

  1. There's no point in striking up a flirtation unless you have something to offer to the other person. Are you smart? Funny? Good-looking? If so, these tips are not for you. Surely you've got enough going on. You can go ahead and keep doing what you're doing, which I assume consists of leaning in doorways and looking aloof yet wry.
  2. The rest of us will need some interesting or valuable skills to snare the attention of that special someone. Can you do impressions? Or parallel park on the first try? Are you an accomplished bow hunter who could provide for them if you were stranded together in the wilderness? Do yourself a favor and drop your credentials into the conversation as soon as possible, e.g. "GOOD EVENING MY NAME IS MILTON HAVE I MENTIONED I HAVE A BLACK BELT IN THE DELICATE ART OF FOLDING TABLE NAPKINS?"
  3. Don't neglect your personality, though. If you have a good one, it'll shine right through and you have nothing else to worry about. Proceed to Step 5.
  4. If, however, you have a bad personality, you're gonna need to do some work (ask your friends if you're not sure, and if you don't have friends, there's your answer). If this is you, leave the party now. Go home and have a long think about your life. But save that outfit. You really do look great in it.
  5. Contrary to popular belief, you do not need a seek out a magic opening line. You don't have to engineer a meet cute or finagle a fake chance meeting. You don't need to do anything. If it's meant to be--and I think it is--you will simply find yourself, suddenly and mysteriously, in deep and scintillating conversation. There, wasn't that easy?
  6. Keep things playful. Creep up behind them, pull a burlap sack over their head, and whisper, "Guess who?" If they scream and elbow you in the gut, it just means they like you. Honestly.
  7. Mirror their body language. This tip is backed up by SCIENCE, which says that humans love looking at themselves, so the more you can trick them into thinking they're actually looking in a mirror, the more they'll like you. We're like birds that way. In fact, I see no reason not to follow that out to its logical conclusion: Go ahead and style your hair like theirs. Show up in the same outfit. Make a plaster mold of their face. Retreat to the bathroom to finish crafting your mask. They won't be able to resist you once you look exactly like them. Ignore the shouts of the other party-goers as they pound impatiently on the door. Their bladders will have to wait. Love is on the line.
  8. Speaking of body language, make sure yours is open, inviting, and confident. Like a starfish. Spread your limbs out to all sides so that you look like a giant X. If you feel comfortable taking it to the next level, dribble your drink into your mouth from high in the air, like you're a reverse fountain. Hey, look at you! You're flirting! 
  9. Not sure what to talk about? Ask a question you can connect over, like, "Should I get bangs?" This is a great one because it makes the other person focus on your forehead, which we all know is the sexiest part of the human form.
  10. Excuse yourself to go to the restroom, and as you pass by them, slap 'em on the butt like a football player. If they protest, say, "Whoops! I thought that was my butt!"
  11. Actually, don't do that. It's weird. Keep your hands to yourself. Forever. In fact, stand way over on the other side of the room and do a little close-up magic. If that doesn't entice them over, then it's time to move on, friend.
  12. Some people will tell you that the ideal amount of eye contact in normal human conversations is 60/40; roughly, that translates to three seconds on, two seconds off (HOORAY FRACTIONS!). But I would posit a ratio of 100/0. I mean, can you really have too much eye contact? Caaan yooou? 
  13. No. You cannot.
  14. If there's music playing, get that sucka out on the dance floor and bust every one of your very best moves. Really put on a show. You are a bird of paradise, flaunting your glorious plumage! You are a sage-grouse puffing your chest up with air until it pops! You are a hooded seal proudly inflating your face balloon! Communicate only with your body--your twirls and shimmies and shakes--that your entire life has been leading up to this moment, this one right now, with the flashing lights and the thundering bass and the sweat of a thousand strangers soaring through the air like so much confetti. OH, ISN'T IT MAGICAL!
  15. Before you part ways for the night, it's polite to offer your flirtee an offering of some sort. Sashay up to them, take their wrist gently, and drop the dead mouse you've been carrying in your mouth right into their palm. They will be overcome by your generosity, and from that moment on they will be yours.

Ah, well done. Congratulations, friend, on doing a flirt.