This is how we start 2023?

It’s 4 a.m. on Sunday, January 1, 2023.

The Teenager is on an overnight for a client, petsitting. Her dog is sleeping in her crate in the living room below my bedroom. I have Louise, the sweet foster tripod cat, sleeping in my arms. Bean, the Teenager’s dog, whimpers.

You see, I normally get up for work at 4 a.m. She knows this. I fall back to sleep and wake to barking at 5 a.m. Poor Bean thinks no one is home and she will be left to rot in the crate. So, I get up, let the dog out, and make coffee.

I struggled with my mental health yesterday. I was prone to depression, anxiety and even anger. I had to see some people whom I no longer trust, and whom I feel betrayed me. I’m stressed about some recent financial upheavals: an unexpected medical bill that I should have expected, uncertainty about heating the house and the borough announcing that the garbage service we have used for the last 20 years has changed, the rules have changed and the days have changed and the rumor is that the price has tripled– starting tomorrow.

All first world problems. Except for the relationships gone wrong. It hurts when people don’t listen to you or respect you.

I hit a new PR on the squat at the gym yesterday, 145 lbs. Everything felt like it was moving well, and I even did impressively on my hamstring curls (and my right hamstring is reminding me of that fact today.)

Our New Year’s Eve involved finally remembering to retrieve our medicines from CVS. I grabbed a couple of clearance Russell Stover Christmas hearts with three milk chocolates inside. And I used my 40% off coupon to buy a Duncan Hines EPIC Fruity Pebble Cake Kit. The Teenager was soooooo excited she baked it right away. We washed down the cake with some leftover Jewish Christmas cookies from Little Dog’s Mom. She makes incredible cookies.

Little Dog Sobaka, Little Dog’s Mom and I listened to the recent Christmas episode of This American Life, where comedian Alex Edelman discusses his first and only Christmas. It’s a great story of experiencing Christmas as an Orthodox Jew. It also looks like Little Dog’s Mom will be able to accompany The Teenager and I to the Harrisburg Mall on January 25 for my Canine Therapeutic Evaluation with Susquehanna Service Dogs.

I also made this weird little treat: I took a sprouted flat bread, spread it with vegan cashew cheddar, sprinkled it with organic parmesan and herbs de provence and drizzled it with cold-pressed extra virgin Lebanese-imported olive oil and toasted it.

But this morning, things took a turn. I texted the Teenager about a run to Dunkin on her way home. She arrived with her tea, my bagel and some hashbrowns.

“Where’s my coffee?” I asked.

But quickly it became apparent that the Teenager was doubled over in pain. I have never seen her like that. On Monday, the Teenager and her uncle came down with a fairly violence stomach bug that seems to have originated with the Christmas Eve gathering at my mother-in-law’s. The Teenager’s cousin and her family got it. My husband got it. I did not. Though I did fart heavily most of the week. My guts did churn a bit so I think I managed to fight it off.

As a consequence, the Teenager did not eat for about three days and her meals since then have been tiny but frequent. The smell of the hash browns in the Dunkin bag triggered intense pain. The Teenager nibbled a protein bar with her hash browns and laid down for a nap. I am waiting for her to come back downstairs. Here’s hoping she’s okay.

Of course, her dog became extremely distressed that The Teenager was not well. And the Teenager did not want to dog all over her in her discomfort. So, I opted to take the dog and run to Dunkin to get my missing cold brew.

“Bean,” I said, “Do you wanna go for a ride?”

The dog looked at me confused, as if saying, “did you say what I think you said?”

“Do you want to go for a ride?”

The dog leapt to her feet and ran to the front door and then the back not sure if we were going to the garage or the street. We headed into the garage. Bean hopped in the car. Dunkin made me a fresh cold brew and I bought the dog some munchkins which I fed her at every stop sign along the way home.

‘Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime’

I woke at 6:30 this morning but despite having ten hours of sleep, my eyes had dark circles and my mind spun with a bizarre sequence of dreams. I fed the fat cats on their diet kibble, went downstairs to make my coffee, checked book sales and suddenly realized one of the foster cats appeared to be missing.

A missing cat caper?

Foster Cat Touch of Grey has claimed the bathroom sink

I did a quick sweep of the house, as the missing cat was Touch of Grey, known for her clumsiness. She once managed to crawl into the heat ducts and get stuck almost in the furnace. Touch of Grey, or Tiggy as we call her, can be a jerk. My cat, Fog, also known as Meatball in his obesity, can also be a jerk. I caught Fog intimidating Tiggy as she used the litter box, so I removed her from the fat cat room.

She promptly took up residence in the bathroom sink. So me, being me, laid a towel in the bathroom sink so it would be cozier for her and brushed my teeth using water from the tub.

It seemed extremely odd that I couldn’t find her now.

Introducing The Phulasso Devotional

Seeing no signs of calamity, I decided to have some coffee and dig into my publishing company’s latest work-in-progress, The Phulasso Devotional. Lots of people texted, and seeing some familiar names felt good to my heart. And Maryann Riker, the mixed media artist who contributed to Not an Able-Bodied White Man with Money, emailed with samples of work she had come across in the style that she thought would be nice for Phulasso.

They touched me– even before Maryann told me the series had inspiration in Tao. Before I started work on The Phulasso Devotional, I sent a rather thorough, elaborate spiritual statement to the author (yesterday!). I wanted to be upfront with him about my own formerly Christian, agnostic, animistic and pagan beliefs. As a publisher and editor dedicating myself to a very Christian project, I needed to cement that we would be comfortable and trust one another. And I believe we do. But to quote one line of that treatise on my own religious background: “(I also took Religions of China and Japan and fell in love with Taoism.)”

And I loved the miniature watercolors depicting a sunrise and an open path that glows with openness and potential.

I ended up buying them.

Maryann said she would be in my area later today so she’d deliver.

Continuing the Cat Hunt

The Teenager did a sweep of the house and the outside. She went to work, and sent me a text saying one of us should check the coal bin in the basement. I put on shoes and headed down, found no cat but carried some garbage from the basement outdoors. I checked the cardboard boxes we have piled next to the garbage cans for recycling, because if I were an indoor cat suddenly outside on the coldest day of the year, a cardboard box would look so good.

No cat.

And then I had a thought: did anyone check my room?

Tiggy was lying peacefully on my bed. Apparently when I left my room at 6:30, she silently crept in.

Sweet Fruity Doughnuts

During my last visit to The Grocery Outlet, I bought some weirdly glazed doughnuts. When The Teenager got home from work, I asked if she wanted to try them. She was game. The glaze was not merely glaze but a thick, hard icing that tasted like fruity candy. I had purchased a mango and a strawberry.

Decorating the House

The Teenager got her baby cousins window markers and window crayons for Christmas, in addition to procuring some for herself. So we decorated the windows for Yule after I showered and donned my Christimas Flamingo sweatshirt.

A Bagel Big Surprise

Little Dog’s Mom brought bagel-themed presents for The Teenager and I and a new toy Christmas Llama for the Bean dog. The bagel theme included a gift certificate for one of our favorite places in the world, New York Bagel & Deli, in one of our favorite local shopping plazas. We also received everything-bagel-flavored pretzel chips (which are one of The Teenager’s favorite snacks) and everything bagel seasoning which has been on my shopping list forever. And Little Dog’s Mom remembered The Teenager’s favorite candy!

Plus, Little Dog’s Mom and I were twinning.

Maryann called and said she was on her way.

Another Artist in My Collection

At Parisian Phoenix, we incorporate original photography and art into our books. We aim to support visual artists as we do those who share the written work. Heather Pasqualino Weirich, of Heather Pasqualino Fine Art, whose art adorned the cover of Not an Able-Bodied White Man with Money, joined Maryann and other artists in that anthology. Maryann commented that the cover painting from that book should be released in prints.

When Maryann delivered her art, I asked her to come inside my home and decide where to hang them. She hung them beside Heather’s original piece in my central room.

And the nicely wrapped art pieces came with a Ghiradelli packet of hot chocolate and a shot of peppermint vodka. The Teenager took the hot cocoa. I claimed the peppermint vodka. Now I need a candy cane.

Magnetic Ransom Notes

I returned to work on the devotional until The Teenager’s Dad arrived to play Ransom Notes and have dinner with us as I had bought the Teenager shrimp. Ransom Notes is like Cards against Humanity using magnetic word pieces like those in a magnetic poetry kit. We mixed it all our magnetic poetry kits, too. We also listened to Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias.

The Teenager made shrimp, broccoli, rice and potatoes, but since I don’t eat shrimp she cooked up some Spam so I’d have some protein. That’s right. My Christmas dinner was a pile of broccoli with some diced up Spam.

As I write this, The Teenager and her father are downstairs playing video games. All in all, a simple but soulful, joyous Christmas.

The Magic of Yule Time

I consider myself agnostic, animist pagan with a foundation in some Christian values and appreciation for religious myths. I wonder if maybe I would be a better Jew than Christian, but in the end I think our behavior overshadows our labels when discussing the “goodness” or “worthiness” of a person or a way of life.

I have struggled with my share of issues this past year– as many of us have and do– but yesterday was the start of Yule and the Teenager wanted to lean more into our pagan side.

She purchased a small live tree and wanted to decorate it with items in homage to nature, such as pine cones.

Today was my last day at work before the holidays and the leadership team have designated that I get all the pre-boxed work. For some reason I felt energetic and more myself in months, if not since my father died. So, I decided to take the early out from my shift, clocking out at 9:44 a.m. I came home, had a cup of coffee, did some dishes, and whipped up some really yummy macaroni and cheese.

It was that good that the dog and I licked the bowl and then the dog ate the spoon. Oops!

I invited Gayle over– because Gayle knows the fleeting nature of my holiday spirit– and she brought a summer sausage to share with the Teen and I as we ended up popping and stringing popcorn for our miniature tree for Yule. The Teen brought down the sewing kit which is really an old, plastic storage bin for Matchbox cars that we stashed yarn, needles and other small sewing implements on one side and The Teenager moved all our embroidery thread to the other.

While it may be under three feet tall, and has only pine cones and popcorn on it, it stands in our living room like a marvel.

Let’s talk a little bit about the holidays

The Christmas season, in general, makes me anxious and uncomfortable. The reasons for this don’t matter. Just accept the statement. I spent Thanksgiving alone this year, though I know I could have gone to my in-laws. This year has been a year of firsts, first everything without my father. And spending most of my holidays home alone has been part of my grieving process. A great big letting go of all the expectations and obligations.

It’s the first weekend in December. The Teenager has asked to give up the Christian trappings and embrace our pagan side. So, we intend to celebrate Yule. She wants a small tree covered with pine cones and other items of nature. I’d like to make a dinner that includes rabbit or venison.

Yesterday, we ended up in Bethlehem– The Christmas City– and stopped to see The Teenager’s grandparents (in part because The Teenager added the grandparents to our phone plan since a certain phone service that focuses on seniors has sent phones Grammy cannot use and that don’t dial 9-1-1 when her husband is having diabetic seizures in a stranger’s driveway. Good job, Consumer Cellular.) Grammy is learning how to use her iPhone 13 and even FaceTimed her sister who lives six hours away. Even if the FaceTime was an accident.

I got to see Grammy’s tree and train, and eat the last slice of Grammy’s shoofly pie. While Grammy comes from Pennsylvania Dutch stock, she struggles to make a wet bottom shoofly pie. So she’s been working on it. And we brought the dog, so the dog got to see Grammy and Poppop and the squirrels in their backyard.

Then the teenager and I spent some time doing chores and resting before embarking on the one totally ridiculous thing that is our holiday tradition: watching Denis Leary in The Ref. And this year we watched it sipping chocolate laced wine, eating dusty road sundaes without the chocolate syrup and waxing our legs.

Every day I see more and more ways The Teenager has absorbed the values of my estranged husband and I, and the things that make us uniquely us are important to her. And that makes me happy.

And it’s not easy to be happy these days, under the weight of grief and the stress of disability.

Half way through the movie, The Teenager wanted potato chips. So she called her dad. He happened to be in the middle of Target. He brought us two bags of Doritos, one original red for The Teen and one Cool Ranch blue for me.

Because we’re all still family.

Walking, workouts and waffles

I did not work a full ten hour day any day this week. But you know what? That’s okay.

My stats on Sunday were 105%, then 98 Monday, 88 yesterday and 94 today. What happened?

I don’t know. I was in pain Monday, stiff and uncomfortable yesterday and almost fell today but caught my balance.

And then Andrew at Apex put me through legs. We did split leg squats and he got to watch my hip do the funky angles it does. And I got to feel every fiber in my knees, quads and hamstrings.

Plus, I walked more than 8,000 steps today while my legs were stiff. Well after that workout they are not stiff but jelly.

The Teenager showed one of her dog walking clients some of the neighborhood dogs and their tricks— here is the video.

And then for the final event of the day we went to Waffle House as earlier this month we had heard that August 24 was National Waffle Day.

I had a scrumptious hash brown bowl with egg, cheese and jalapeños.

We split a peanut butter blueberry waffle.

These are the moments to treasure.

Commentary #2 on Stitch Fix fashion trends, waiting for first Fix

On Monday, the Teenager should receive her first Fix. I’m tremendously excited. So much so I am annoying her. But, she is 18, and I often annoy her by existing. She received her preview yesterday, and complained about it, as she said it ruined the surprise.

She selected two or three of the eight recommended items, with my input, and left her stylist some notes. I believe it was a heavy knit sweater, a thin but soft color blocked sweatshirt and some Vigoss black shorts. She rejected the cardigans, almost chose the faux leather jacket, and liked but ignored the two pairs of boots. I think in part because I have purchased her several pairs of shoes lately.

I offered to give her my employee discount and a budget to pursue some fixes as she was recently lamenting that she hasn’t had a chance yet to develop her own style. She’s paying her own bills: car payment, food, contributing toward electric and car insurance, so I thought investing some of my monthly savings into her wardrobe would be fun.

Meanwhile, I’m watching my Stitch Fix account and the trends, waiting for my turn. Which won’t be until Valentines Day.

If you want to see my overzealous first set of trend reviews, click here.

Here are some recent outfits from my recommended trends:

Let’s break these down.

Now, I do have this dress in my favorites as it is adorable, but I find it amusing that Stitch Fix is offering me the same dress in two different colors. My soul wants the red, but I feel my style now is more black. The black would give me the freedom to accessorize with a vibrant scarf, a bright purse like the one in the photo or any pair of shoes I own.

I love this ensemble— and I could even walk in the shoes. The dress is fairly heavy, too, so it should have some great drape when worn and offer some warmth.

This dress looks amazing but it’s really short and I’m not sure my middle-aged mom bumps could pull it off. I love those animal print shoes but I don’t think I can wear them so I perused the other styling options— boots, a necklace and motorcycle jacket? That is definitely awesome.

I don’t like this outfit. I like the theory— and the jacket is the one my friend Joan received in the video below. It looks nice on Joan, but I don’t like the fabric. The little green shirt looks good in the photo and seems to look good on people, but it’s just weird when you see it. The shoes are funky and I don’t like them. But the outfit might be nice.

And finally two outfits that would probably be perfect for my current lifestyle. One note: I want that mustard sweater.

Here is the video of Joan and I unboxing her recent fix:

The Teenager is already dreading when I submit her to something similar.

A yummy Tuesday

Tuesday already. If I had not taken voluntarily time off this week, I would be three-quarters of the way through my work week and asleep in preparation of my last day before the weekend.

Instead I slept until a leisurely 6 a.m., did some kitchen cleaning and some laundry while I waited for my coffee to brew.

I did some work on my own essay for the As the FURR Flies cat fundraising anthology — “The Unfortunate Cat Bite Hospital Vacation.”

Spoke with the teenager and headed to visit Gayle, the Parisian Phoenix Art Director, and my longstanding (and upstanding) friend. First I had to remove a tire toy the dog inserted into my purse. We had plans to scan the ink cartoon our friend Rachel had done for the anthology.

Then we went for a walk. I told Gayle not a long walk as my right hip just didn’t feel right and I felt like I had to march to avoid tripping myself. That I had not only fallen on Sunday night, but out of the damn bathtub while taking a shower yesterday.

I bought her a beverage at Déjà Brew, an eclectic local coffee shop/cafe, and nearly fell on my face because the damn floor has a massive bubble down the whole thing. I can’t even describe how huge and high this ridge was. I felt like someone had parked a tree under the tables.

Lunch was pita with hummus and harissa. Then the teenager went to visit a housebound senior to try and help her clean up a bit.

When we finished, I took the teenager to the auto parts store where the Amazon driver left her new Apple Pencil, bought us both discount Diet Cokes at McDonalds and then we headed to a place she’s wanted to visit for a long time— Exotic Dreams and Lingerie— and their neighbor. We bought some anatomically styled sour patch candies and let’s just say our dress form Esther might be donning some knotted red ropes in the future.

When we got home, I unboxed my new calendar: Video of unboxing Silk & Sonder August 2022.

The teenager went to work and I finished my story for the cat book and attended a library meeting. Then the teen made a magnificent hamburger dinner with homemade garlic parmesan gourmet fries.

And we attended a foster meeting via Facebook.

To end the night, the teenager broke an ancient ceramic bowl and I dropped a mason jar very painfully on my toe wrestling with the dog gate.

We’re both pretty exhausted tonight.

Tidbits that made me happy today

I helped my baby, The Teenager, buy a 2012 Nissan Rogue
We stopped at our local Target, where I worked for nearly a decade in the cafe. The store, 2536, is in the midst of a rather tasteless remodel. The cafe sink is in the parking lot. I haven’t worked there for three years now, but man… did the memories come back. I pulled my car next to the fence, put on my flashers and snapped this photo.

Making granola and buying a car

I often joke that I have spent many lives in other time periods— someone once randomly told me I had a soul that belonged to the 1950s and I think maybe I was a hungry child during the Great Depression.

You see, I don’t let food go to waste. I have used for all the leftovers. Like the mini pretzels from the Philly Pretzel Factory at her graduation party? I let them dry out for a couple days and then ran them through the Ninja food processor to make bread crumbs.

And today I poured hot water into the honey jar to get all the honey from the sides of the jar and poured the water into my pitcher of extra strong home-brewed iced tea.

I also made homemade granola. Now you might ask what does homemade granola have to do with saving food from being wasted?

This is an old blog post on my food blog where I chronicled every meal I ate for seven years discussing granola.

The teenager and I are in the middle of reorganizing the kitchen and tackling a lot of home improvement projects. I cleaned and rearranged the cupboards yesterday and found a lot of ingredients that were old and could make granola.

  • Extra unopened containers of traditional oats
  • Raisins
  • Dried blueberries that I don’t remember buying… ever
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Nut mixes and random small bags of no-carb trail mix

So, I made granola.

And then I went to Lipsky Cars with the teenager to test drive vehicles. And with me as her co-signer, the teenager has her first auto loan.

What did she drive?

Three 2012 vehicles: the Nissan Rogue, a Subaru Forester and a Honda Crosstour. The Crosstour had some really amazing features and a spicy engine.

Tomorrow we pick up the vehicle. And the handyman comes to look at the ceiling from the flood.

But I’m not going to tell you which car she picked. Tune in tomorrow!

Chicken McNuggets and Monday morning car accidents

Yesterday was my first day working with a custom splint on my mallet finger instead of a cast. And it went really well— except for the times I put my splint back on the outside of my hand instead of the inside. And I went to apply fresh tape and the nurse at work wanted to help.

All-in-all, I achieved a new record (for me) in Freestyle, shipping I believe 574 items or 115% of the 500 item goal for a 10-hour shift. And that includes 15 minutes I spent trying to find a work station that was operational. If you subtract that as official “non-production time” it might be damn close to 116%.

Today, a Monday, with the traditional Monday through Friday people at work, I was assigned to a different table in QC, my regular department. It was a table just a smidgeon higher than the table I worked at last week and the line was on the left instead of the right.

This is the first time since my return-to-work in late May that I have worked on the left. In one way, it’s nice because I have been having issues with the stability of my walk and control in my right leg, so working on the left means I can use my left side more.

But working on the left side means I’m shoving all those boxes with my injured hand and after two hours the cuticle area under my nail on my injured finger is tender and really red. Despite this, at one point this morning, I reached 118%.

But then I got a call from The Teenager. She rear-ended someone in her father’s 2022 Kia SUV. The car he bought after he rear-ended someone in late December and totaled his beloved 2016 Nissan Juke.

She’s fine. It was raining and she misjudged how long it would take her to stop in the wet. The car looked driveable, but when she tried it started leaking fluid and overheating. So, she called AAA to tow it.

I left work early. At four hours into my shift, I think I had QCed 69 fixes, and goal for that specific time of day is 65. That’s with going out to my car to get info for my daughter, calling her father, and similar nonsense.

I was listening to an episode of business wars, the podcast, or was it The History Channel’s The Food that Built America and the history of Burger King vs. McDonald’s and the invention of the Chicken McNugget.

Now I distinctly remember the debut of the Chicken McNugget, which, according to the podcast, became available at all McDonalds in 1983.

I was eight. Probably riding around with my mom in her 1979 Camaro (black). We lived in a very rural area in Pennsylvania’s Slate Belt. The closest actual town was Portland, Pa., which I feature in my first novel, Manipulations (and if you are interested you can buy it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble.com, or at Bookshop.org here — the Bookshop price includes shipping and designates a portion of the profit to an independent bookseller of your choice).

Anyway, we had a very small supermarket in Portland so my mom would do most of her family shopping in Stroudsburg, Pa., the gateway to the Pocono Mountains. If she were shopping at Kmart for clothes or household items or at Shoprite for our groceries, we would often stop at Burger King where the delight would be a cheeseburger and some onion rings.

But if we had to go to the Stroud Mall, McDonald’s was across the street. So we want to McDonald’s. I didn’t like McDonald’s — they put onions on their burgers and I don’t like onions. So, eight-year-old me was very excited for these Chicken McNuggets. If my mom was in a good mood, I could order a Chicken McNugget Happy Meal. Which— in the eighties— came with six nuggets in a styrofoam container. And of course, I only liked the barbecue sauce.

So the podcast got me thinking about McDonald’s in general especially since I worked at a McDonald’s (a very busy McDonald’s) from the summer I graduated high school until the August after I graduated college.

We made $5.25/hour in the late 1990s. A full-time employee made $200/week. And we got one meal per shift. I ate a lot of McChicken sandwiches.

I’m thinking about McDonald’s and listening to Conan O’Brian and Andrew Gurza (not together although that would be amazing), when I get the phone call with the teenager in tears.

“Mom, I rear-ended someone in Dad’s new car.”

This was her first car accident. It’s a rainy day here and she misjudged how far she needed to stop. And she didn’t want to slam on her brakes harder and lose control of the car.

At first, she and the police officer who responded thought the car was driveable. It started leaking what looked like antifreeze and overheated. So the officer called AAA.

I told my Stitch Fix supervisors the situation and asked to leave.

The teenager told me she was on a side street “out by Target” “by the library” and I misinterpreted her and went to the wrong town.

The teenager texted me a photo of the nearest intersection and I realized my mistake and turned around.

A very kind officer waited with her and I drove her to the dog walking client she had been driving to when the accident happened.

And then I grabbed us lunch at McDonald’s because their triple cheeseburger is my favorite sandwich on the menu and I couldn’t get it out of my mind.