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We all live in a yellow submarine
Hi all you quarantine cats and kittens,
Last time I wrote this irregular missive, was months ago, and indeed, it seems like a totally different era. A lifetime ago, as they say.
Before we all started working from home, before casual conversations with neighbors became six feet apart at a minimum, before getting a lot for a grocery delivery turned, seemingly overnight, into a lottery. Remember when we all went to a grocery store and didn’t stand in line, or wear a mask and gloves? Can you picture a future where that will feel familiar again? Yeah, me either.
Like some (if not most) of you, I, too am working from home. Right next to Andrew and Avi and Latke. Forrest dwells upstairs, because he doesn’t appreciate Latke. WFH, as the cool kids say — and by the way, does anyone ever confuse it with WTF? — is hard. Mostly because on top of working from home, we’re also having to parent Avi, who is 5 and has OPINIONS. These OPINIONS manifest themselves in a nonstop stream of words that aren’t even separated by punctuation marks, let alone breaks for breathing. From about 8:30 am until about 9:30 pm (yes, we’ve fallen off our bedtime routine, and no, thank you, I don’t need advice on how to get back into it), we’re bombarded with questions (How many inches is a giant squid? A colossal squid?); demands (More bubble water, please! Mac and cheese for lunch! Sharpen my pencil!); ideas (Let’s make slime, mom! Can we build train tracks now? What if we cross a snake and a hippo?); existential reasoning (When you and Dad die, I will live in this house and drive your car); and just monologues, which can be on anything from the weather, to the latest digested SpongeBob episode, to questions about the cosmos.
It’s also guilt-inducing. Yes, I know kids are resilient. Yes, I am perfectly aware that a few months of zero structure will not damage my kid in any way. After all, from December 1988 until about March 1989, if not April, I had little — if any — structure to my life as my family made its way from the USSR, to Austria, to Italy, and finally, to the United States. And, honestly, I remember that time fondly, even if it was the most stressful for my parents. It was an adventure! It taught me self-sufficiency. It allowed me, for the first time in my life, to be alone. And my inner introvert (before I even knew the word and what it was) loved it.
But what’s hard about all this, what tears every working parent, be it from home or if they are essential workers, is that we, parents, somehow feel like we’re short-changing our kids with our attention. We’re working, and yet, we’re also supposed to home-school. In the early days of quarantine — and boy, does that feel like months ago? — spreadsheets of schedules popped up on social media, like mushrooms emerging after a rain. Here’s a color coded Excel of your 9-5 schedule. Yeah, good luck getting my kid doing any of it.
As two working journalists, we could barely keep our bearings. Our work is just as demanding, if not more so, than ever. Home-schooling on days when we’re both working is just, well, not possible. And while I have a kind, humane boss who worries about his team burning out, and Andrew’s boss is a dad himself, the inner pressure we put on ourselves and the desire to do our very best work, especially right now when it’s so needed and appreciated by readers, drives us to be exacting about the content we put out.
And let’s not even talk about the dirt and filth and clutter that are piling up everywhere. And things in need of fixing. Like a lightbulb that went out in the master bathroom. Yes, I know, it takes 5 minutes to change a light bulb — I’ve done it many times, but you try changing it these days when even brushing your teeth in silence feels meditative?
Which means, young Avi has watched a lot of television. Most of it is very good. He’s a fan of The Octonauts, StoryBots and Dinosaur Train and Wild Kratts. He’s now into Sesame Street. He watches The Blue Planet. And, he’s smarter for it. Fridays through Mondays, we do lots of fun, learning things one-on-one — we read, we paint, we draw, we do math and writing and some science, too. But Tuesday through Thursday, there is a lot of screen time. And you know what? It’s fine, it’s all going to be fine. Even if I feel tremendous guilt about it.
Anyway, this newsletter is too long. I’m sorry about that. I think it's the social distancing that's giving me typing diarrhea. I have so many other things to talk about — like what an introvert feels when she is stuck at home with her family for almost 50 days and has had no time to herself, but I’ll save that for another draft! Let’s hope I can be more regular about it!
So, without further ado, here are a few things I’ve been loving lately. Maybe some of them will brighten up your day.
Reading: The Margot Affair by Sanaë Lemoine. My lovely and freakishly talented friend Sanaë is coming out with her debut novel on June 16, which is incidentally both: Andrew and my wedding anniversary and Bloomsday! I consider this a supremely good omen. Sanaë and her wonderful editor were kind enough to share a galley with me and I started reading it immediately, and then this whole mess started and I’d go to bed totally drained of energy to do anything. But I’m finally back on my reading train — and I can’t put it down. It’s evocative and beautiful and it’ll transport you. Preorder it now! You won’t be sorry.
Listening: I tore through Season 3 of Slow Burn (the Tupac/Biggie feud) and I was eager for more music history/trivia. Enter Hit Parade, another podcast from Slate folks, this one focusing on various songs that have gone on to reach #1 and the history behind it. Fascinating, and if you like rock/pop and also music geekery, this is for you. Teaser: First episode centers on “Red Red Wine,” that UB40 song, which (surprise!) was originally written by Neil Diamond (I know, right?!?) as a sappy, orchestral ballad. When UB40 did a cover (of a cover of a cover) of it, it STILL failed to register on the charts, but then one very persistent DJ in Arizona played it a few years later on his Saturday night show, and the rest is history. Go check it out. And, you’re welcome ;)
Trying: In my never ending quest to limit waste, I am excited to be trying Package Free Shop products — a shop that focuses on reducing waste, including recyclable shampoo/conditioner aluminum containers, which you can ship back in exchange for refilled ones. Will report back in time.
Cooking: As I mentioned above, jockeying for grocery delivery slots is basically like playing Mega Millions — it feels improbable to get a time slot, and if you do, you literally dance around the room as if bounty is coming your way, which it is. In the form of groceries. Our pantries, and imagination with it, is now more important than ever. So, here’s a non-recipe recipe that I’ve adapted from an old David Tanis one… He calls his Midnight Pasta, while I renamed mine to Pantry Pasta…
In a small skillet over medium-low heat, add a generous glug of olive oil (at least 3T). Add 4 large thinly sliced garlic cloves, 1 drained tablespoons capers, 4 anchovies, 1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes, and 1 teaspoon of finely grated lemon zest, and cook this whole mess until fragrant and the garlic is golden (don’t let it burn), 4 to 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it so it tastes like sea water. Cook your pasta 2 minutes less than the package instructions tell you. Reserve about ¼ to ½ cup of cooking water and drain the pasta. Return it back to the pot, add the stuff from the skillet and a little pasta water and over medium heat, toss the mixture until combined, 1 minute or so. Remove from the heat and serve. I like to grate lots of Parm on top of my pasta along with another pinch or two of lemon zest and serve it with a green salad. However, if you’re lacking a green salad, you can sub in whatever you’ve on hand :) It’s delicious and comes together in minutes.
If you don’t eat anchovies, skip ‘em. Use Kalamata olives instead. If you don’t have/like capers, ditto. A briny element is nice, but if you can’t stand it, then just omit. Make it yours.
Stay safe, stay healthy! Hope to see you back in a week, friends.
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