It’s all about the sweet potatoes

Once again, weeks have gone by without a post. I mean well. Time, like Douglas Adams’ deadlines, just whooshes by. As it is, I’m stealing this moment to update while my husband and our children are at the store, so I’ll be brief.

It’s been a week of illness around here. A fortnight, rather — in the classical rather than the video game sense. It started with me eating pizza (I know, I know…but it smelled so good, and I was too hungry for a stupid baked potato), followed two days later by the greasiest fries known to man. A mild gallbladder attack turned into a raging gallbladder attack, which led me to get an ultrasound that found…nothing. Because I don’t have gallstones. I have shingles.

Shingles suck, by the way. I spent the better part of a week feeling like I was randomly being shocked in the gallbladder, and am even now waiting for these blisters to finally pop and scab over so I can stop itching/hurting. But shingles don’t require surgery, nor did I end up having to get the expensive follow-up gallbladder test I was scheduled to have, so there’s that.

Partway through my shingles saga, the kids got sick. One, then the other. During fall break. Kai recovered quickly, but Anya complained of a super sore throat. So I took her to the doctor. They tested her for strep, but the rapid test came back negative.

The not-rapid test came back positive. Found that out today, after I’d sent her to school. Oops.

So tomorrow is my mom’s 70th birthday, and we can’t celebrate with her because I have shingles, Anya has strep, and Mom, after a monthish without her RA shots, is finally well enough to get them again…provided we don’t make her sick.

In other words, I’m desperately in need of some self-care. Luckily, fall delivered.

This past weekend, we finally got something resembling fall weather. And I have been head-over-heels in autumn ever since. The kids and I hit the botanic garden, plus several parks; we basically spent the entire weekend outside. And we went to the grocery store, where I stocked up on all things fall. Today I had pumpkin-chocolate chip bread (if you have food sensitivities, click that link — trust me on this) and oven-roasted sweet potatoes with rice and peas. I’m going to have to write up the sweet potato recipe, because I promise you it will make you forget all about pumpkin. Best part? Nobody else in the house will touch sweet potatoes, so they are alllll mine. Also on the week’s menu: Pot pie and corn chowder and mashed sweet potatoes and a white pumpkin soup that sounds promising. I’ll let you know how it all turns out.

Friends, with a small f

My friend Lorna just posted about Friends. I never watched Friends; at its peak, I was commuting 60+ miles per day for college, so I was sleeping, driving, or studying whenever I wasn’t in class. But her post makes me want to check it out. At the very least, I’d get to indulge this 90s nostalgia I’ve been nursing. (Someone please remind me how awful brown lipstick looks on…um, almost everyone.)

But friends. Small f. That’s been an issue. It’s not that I don’t have friends — I do. I consider Lorna a great one. It’s that I don’t have friends I could sit down and have a cup of anything with that didn’t require driving a good distance. I don’t have anyone close by I could tell things I wouldn’t tell my Facebook wall, like how I just got my nipple stuck in the bread machine while I was putting it away. (The kids are still laughing. With me, they say. Little turkeys. Also, life lesson: Carry the bread machine with the lid opening facing away from you.)

I used to have friends. Then I had a few bad friends and just…stopped looking for new ones. When I say bad, I mean…look, I’ve had some pretty awful breakups, but I still continued to date. That says something about how I feel about making new friends. But I’ve come to see how much I need friends. Just a few. One. One local friend who can relate to me where I am now. But I worked over 100 hours this week, and my weekend has been spent making up to the kids for all the hours I said, “Just give me five more minutes before you tell me the thing. Just one paragraph. One sentence. Where’s your tablet?”

How the hell am I going to make friends like this?

My daughter has taken it upon herself to find me friends. At our local town fair yesterday, she was introducing me to vendors: “Hi, I’m Anya. This is my mom. Her name is Nicole. She needs friends. She’s really nice!”

I now know how people feel when their moms try to set them up on dates. Only worse, because it’s my 8-year-old announcing to total strangers how socially inept I am.

Then I discovered I accidentally sent my mom’s birthday present to our old house. Anya introduced herself to the new owners last week, so I took her with me when I went to retrieve it. My daughter, being who she is, opened the door like she lived there and invited herself in. Then insisted on taking me on a tour of the house (which looks amazing — they are clearly better at decorating than I am) and tried to arrange a playdate. For her, but also for me.

“She’s really nice,” Anya said of the new owner as we left. “I bet she’d be your friend.” And she is really nice — I don’t know that I would handle the former resident of my house barging in as gracefully as she did. So yeah…nice. We could maybe be friends. But we are not 8. It’s more complicated now.

My Meetup attempts have failed. I’ve talked to a few moms on Peanut, but I barely have time and stamina for the little social media and texting I already do without adding another app that requires I type with my thumbs. (My wrist is flaring again. More on that later.) And there are days when the only time I see daylight is when my kid gets on and off the bus. I’ve volunteered for the school carnival in the hopes that I might talk to someone there. But most people around here meet friends at church, and…I don’t church.

Anya ran into roughly 15 friends yesterday. Whereas I’ve lived in this town a collective 18 years and saw no one I knew.  Not one person. One of us is clearly better at the friends thing. So maybe I should give Anya’s method a shot.

You think you have time

(Nostalgia alert. Menopausal maudlins a-go-go around here lately.)

RA sucks.

I’ve been deeply nostalgic for the kids’ baby days as of late, and have been watching videos from years past. I recorded more than I thought I did. And captured more than I planned.

In one video, Anya, her Poppy, and I greeted Mimi as she returned home from the office for lunch one day. This Mimi, my mom, looks so different from the Mimi of today. Then she was…Mom. She looked the same as she had my entire life. Strong. Fit. Healthy. She could do anything, and did.

Shortly after that video was taken, Mom got sick. We thought it was a cold that she just couldn’t shake, until she almost died. She didn’t die, but she never fully recovered either. Pneumonia. Heart attack. MAC infection. All stemming from what were not normal age-related aches and pains but rheumatoid arthritis. Now she is pale, cachetic, tired, fragile, with an ever-present oxygen tube.

I miss my mom. I mean, yes, I still have her. We’re so, so lucky. I know that. But it’s different now. We’re on the “after” side of the RA diagnosis.

When I was pregnant with Anya, I made plans with Mom to do a breast cancer walk in honor of her mother, who died of breast cancer before I was born. Only Anya came by cesarean and I wasn’t up for walking that year. Next year, Mom said.

That walk will never happen now.

This year, my company is sponsoring us to participate in the St. Jude walk/run, so I signed Anya and myself up. If it goes well, maybe I’ll sign us up for a breast cancer walk: Daughter and granddaughter walking in place of mom and daughter.

I really wish I’d pushed harder for that mom/daughter walk, though. The problem is you think you have time.


Shortly after finishing this post, I read this one: It’s Later than You Think. Wiley was Anya’s age, so this hit really close to home. Don’t wait. Please don’t wait. You never know which chance will be your last.

He was nice to me

Twenty-nine years ago today, I attempted suicide. Last week, a guy I went to school with succeeded.

I haven’t seen, or even much thought of, this guy since I was 14. We weren’t close; in fact, I never would have said we were friends. But he was nice to me. He was cute and funny and ornery; when I picture fictional characters like Peter Pan or Huck Finn, it’s his face I see. I don’t remember him not smiling.

From what I’ve gleaned from the internet, he had a whole lot to be unhappy about since I saw him last. Eventually, it overpowered him. I’m sorry for that in a way I can’t quite express.

Junior high is not the best period of a kid’s life — it certainly wasn’t a high point in mine. I flip through my yearbooks now and don’t remember many of those people. But I remember him. Was he sometimes jerky, as almost-teen boys are wont to be? I’d be surprised if he weren’t. But I don’t remember that. What I remember is that he smiled a lot. Laughed more. And he was nice.

May he rest in peace.

Scenes from the potty

My son is at this point completely potty-trained; he just can’t be bothered to go to the toilet all the time. As a result, he gave himself diaper rash. He’s never had diaper rash a day in his life, so I thought he had some sort of disease. Took him to the doctor; she gave me Desitin and looked at me like I was a hypochondriac mom.

He hates the cream. He dug through the first aid drawer, found the tube, and threw it away while cackling gleefully. He also hates being wiped with wet wipes, because they are wet and he doesn’t want his butt to be wet. (But sitting in a sack of his own urine and feces is apparently a-OK.) So he tries to hide the fact that he’s pooped his pants. When found out (I have an extremely sensitive nose; I can smell poop from across the house), he screams and punches and pleads. It’s a two-person struggle to clean this child’s tush. So I’ve stopped letting him wear pull-ups during the day, in the hope that he will start using the potty with more regularity.

This is a punishment for me, not him. He still craps his pants. Only this time, I can’t just throw them away; I have to scrub and wash them. This is the child I nicknamed Mr. Fastidious; never have I cleaned up after him so much as I am now.

The following scenes took place in a span of roughly 18 hours.

Scene 1. A public restroom.
He’s told me he needs to potty, so the kids and I pile into a stall in a fast-food restaurant. Kai, for some reason, stands beside the toilet instead of in front of it. It’s one of those oval-shaped toilets, which means he has to really lean to get the angle right. He’s a little guy yet, and not used to standing and peeing, so this is an even bigger challenge.

Once he relaxes, awkward angle and two-person audience notwithstanding, he overshoots and hits the floor on the other side of the toilet. We all laugh. His sunglasses fall into the toilet. He pees on them.

Scene 2. His bathroom.
He’s about to go outside to play when I notice him tugging on the crotch of his shorts. I tell him to go pee first. I leave the room to get a beverage to take outside. When I return, he is mopping up a puddle on the bathroom floor.

“Didn’t make it?” I ask.

“No,” he replies.

“That’s okay,” I tell him, and give him some more paper towels to clean up the mess. “I’ll go get you some dry underpants.”

He is flushing the toilet when I return. “Toilet broke,” he says.

“Oh, no — did you flush the paper towels?” I ask. “You’re not supposed to…”


“Well, I needed to mop the floor anyway.”

Scene 3. Our living room.

After three days of carrying it around, I finally get the chance to crack open my new book. I’m on page two when I start smelling poop and pee.

“Are you wet? Did you poop?”


I check his pants. He is not lying. I go back to my book.

The smells persist. I check again. Nothing.

“Please go use the potty.”

“I no hafta go!”

“Can you at least try?”


I could continue to argue with him, but it’s been a long day, and to be honest I’m kind of tired of fighting about this. I go back to my book.

Just as I finish the first chapter, the poop smell gets really strong. He has either pooped already or will soon. I go get the wipes. When I return, I see him digging at his butt. Which smears the mess from inside his underwear through to the outside of his shorts. I clean up said mess, start the washer, clean the sink.

I sit back down with my book. A few pages later, I realize I still smell pee. I run my foot over the carpet in front of the couch and find a wet spot. Sniff. Yep. Get the stain remover and a rag, scrub the spot, throw the rag in the wash, and sit down to read again. Just as Daddy and Anya return from Girl Scouts.

I never did get to finish that chapter.

My week in ten paragraphs

Noise-cancelling earbuds work just like ear plugs, if not better. Which is really nice on those days when I need to focus on editing and my son needs to listen to Ryan’s World at volumes so loud the neighbors across the street can hear it.

I learned…somewhere (can’t put my hands on the article right now) that weaning can cause depression and menopause-like symptoms. So I’m in a chicken-or-egg quandary here. One thing’s clear: The hot flashes are getting worse instead of better. Just in time for summer! Did I mention that in Barry’s wake we’re experiencing heat indexes of 110+ degrees?

I find gummies to be unspeakably disgusting, unlike the weirdos I live with. R had a bag of gummies in his car, which in this heat melted into a big steak-like mass. And they ate it anyway.

Our kitchen faucet has leaked since we moved in. YouTube made the fix sound simple. What I thought was going to be a 5-minute procedure turned into a 2-hour ordeal that ultimately culminated in just replacing the whole thing. During the faucet replacement, R periodically called me out of my office to give me show-and-tell progress updates. (The inner workings of the faucet were very rusty and gross.) During one of these updates, I was distracted by the music he was listening to. “Did he just say ‘My dog is bigger than yours?'” I asked. “No,” laughed R. “He said ‘My cock is bigger than yours.'” I like my version better.

Last month, when Anya had her nature camp, Kai begged to go to camp too. So I signed him up for a preschool day camp at the botanic gardens. He was excited to go to camp like a big boy…at first. When he realized that the mommies were leaving, he crumpled. I even stayed at camp with him; it didn’t help. After an solid hour of him begging me to take him home, I relented. He later told me that while he liked seeing the worm (it was a big one — as long as my foot, easily), he didn’t want to go to camp unless Anya was there. So I paid $125 for him to see a worm.

I’ve been doing Illustrator training again ( videos on LinkedIn — Deke McClelland is amazing), and while I watch the videos I’ve taken the opportunity to stand and stretch the muscles and ligaments in my lower back and sides that are hurting me so. (I tried looking them up so I could list them by name, but when Google served up anatomy photos instead of just illustrations, I decided I could happily die not knowing what they are called.) Turns out stretching in the morning makes me feel better all day. I need to figure out a way to make this habit. I’ve also learned that in order to make the pain better, I have to first lean into it. There’s a life lesson in that.

Two things I’ve been trying to make time for lately are non-yoga exercise and Duolingo. It’s too damn hot to walk outside, so I’ve been trying to do the step exercises on Wii Fit. But I end up having to fight Kai for the balance board and everyone ends up mad. I’m thinking I need to start getting up at 4 and squeeze in some steps before work. The Duolingo is going much better, because Kai likes to practice with me. His German’s not bad — maybe better than mine, even.

This Instagram post from Twisted Doodles had me sobbing. Though our circumstances are different — she could have another child, but chooses not to — the feeling is the same. It’s why I record in text, photos, and video my children’s every waking thought and accomplishment. The sense that something is slipping away even as you hold it is strong. I waited such a very long time to be a mother, and childhood passes so quickly.

The kids dug in to my workout gear cabinet and found my tai chi ball. I was having trouble explaining to them what it was for, so I decided to show them. Thanks to the YouTube app on our TV, the vast array of videos on YouTube are now useful to me —  I can actually see and hear what’s going on now. Bonus: The kids did tai chi with me! It was a short routine, just 5 minutes, but that was pretty much the only 5 minutes I didn’t have to fuss at them that day. I may try to make this a thing.

Last weekend, we all pitched in and cleaned Anya’s room. It has floor now! This week, after a couple of snags, we bought paint for the kids’ rooms (blue for Kai, aqua for Anya) and Friday we painted both because I am an insane person. Next up is furniture. Pics to come.


Simple mango milkshake

I was going to take a photo of the milkshake for this post, but Kai drank it all before I got the chance.


Luckily, I got a second chance: Anya asked for one the next day. This time I managed to snap a couple of photos (of which the top photo is one) before Kai reclaimed his cup.


The kids are avid Coraline fans, so I have created various versions of her mango milkshake for them. Usually the shakes involve bananas — we almost always have some bananas on the brink — and I make extra so I can freeze some in popsicle sleeves for healthyish snacks. But I was in a hurry and also out of bananas, so I whipped this up for Kai. He declared it delicious and told me I am a good mommy, so it must have been good.

This recipe makes a small (8 ounces) milkshake; feel free to double (or triple!) the ingredients if you are not a little boy.


Simple mango milkshake

1/3 cup good quality vanilla ice cream
1/3-1/2 cup frozen mango chunks
1/3 cup orange juice, or to taste

Blend ingredients together until smooth.