Friday, April 30, 2021

panem et circenses

Surviving the endless months at home required a certain amount of panem et circenses to escape what otherwise could be (and sometimes was) an overwhelming situation. I was (am!) so thankful for social media during this time. I mean, it's certainly a double-edged sword. I could for sure do without knowing how...questionable...some of my acquaintances and family members are on matters of politics, science, and common sense. *sigh* But hey, my 'unfollow' finger got stronger and stronger, so there's that. BUT man did social media come in clutch with solid recommendations for books, shows, podcasts, and products to keep me entertained, distracted, and having things to look forward to. In that vein, I figured I'd pay it forward (slash document for the historical record) with some of my favorite things in the Essentially Meaningless but Fun Anyway category, in case Summer 2021 proves to require some distraction, too. (Please ignore/enjoy the mostly random, old, unrelated pictures...but what's a blog without pictures?)


Turns out pandemics result in a lotttt of reading for me! I completed 77 books in 2020, and am at 30 for 2021 so far. Here are a few of my favorites, and please note that in general, I'm looking for total escapism here. I did read a few more serious nonfiction books, but for the most part, I just wanna live in another world when I'm reading. (As always, you can follow me on Goodreads for more reading goodness!)

(Note that I'm skipping most of the 'hottest books of 2020' here, although I read and enjoyed many of them. These books below are mostly older and widely available through your library or Libby!)

1. A Court of Thorns and Roses (series), by Sarah J. Maas. I recommend all 4 novels and 1 novella currently in the series, but be sure to read them in order. I did not used to be a faeries-in-imaginary-lands type person. I am now. Note that this series is marketed as YA for reasons I do not understand, but I would not suggest letting actual young people read it. This is rated R for suuuuure. These books are an investment of TIME, as each one is like 600+ pages, but hey, that's hours upon hours you get to spend thinking about something other than your normal life, so it's a gift, really.

2. The Book of Longings, by Sue Monk Kidd. An absolutely incredible story written from the perspective of Ana, Jesus' (fictional) wife. This story just sucked me in and blew my mind in the best possible way. Hiiiighly recommend. And don't skip the Author's Note at the end.

3. The Mercies, by Kiran Millwood Hargrave. How's your Norwegian 17th century history knowledge? Not so good? Mine wasn't either, but now it's a lot better because this novel based on a true story SUCKED ME IN and took me on some deep Wikipedia research so now I basically AM an expert on 17th century Nordic witch hunts. Speaking of things I didn't see coming for 2020. 

4. The Cruel Prince (series), by Holly Black. Told you I was a faery person now. I can't help it. I adored this trilogy. Honestly the first one wasn't great until maybe the last 25%, but the second and third books were fantastic, so it's still worth the read. These are more normal-length books (compared to ACOTAR) and appropriate for traditional YA audiences.

5. The Book of Strange New Things, by Michel Faber. There's no way to describe this book that doesn't sound insane. A compassionate, ex-addict British minister is recruited by a large, mysterious company to travel to their space base on another planet and serve as a missionary to the native population on that planet. The Bible he brings is their "book of strange new things," and this is a really lovely, slow story that is less action and drama and more interesting ponderings on the nature of faith and culture and relationships. It really sucked me in.

I'm a combo of chaotic neutral, neutral evil, and chaotic evil. SORRY.


I don't watch as much TV as many folks because I spend all my time reading. But I did manage to keep up with many of the most talked-about shows (because FOMO, and it's nice to have something lighthearted to discuss with folks!) and am thankful for the hours of distraction the following provided.

1. The Wilds (Amazon)- this was described to me as a combination of Lost and Mean Girls, and I'd say that is pretty accurate. Matt and I both enjoyed this one!

2. Bridgerton (Netflix)- If you haven't heard of/watched this by now, there's nothing I can say that's gonna change your mind. It's a delight, and also rated R, and I enjoyed every second of it. It's well-described as Downton Abbey meets Gossip Girl.

3. Naked & Afraid (reruns on Hulu or YouTubeTV)- I've already mentioned how much my whole family loves this one! Trust that everything 'naked' is blurred, so your eyeballs will not be offended, and most of the bad language is bleeped, except for every time someone says "Nature is a B****!!" (which is often, because it is) it is NOT, and so Millie regularly asks what that means. Sigh.

4. The Queen's Gambit (Netflix)- SO GOOD!! Almost good enough to make me want to learn to play chess, but nah. But seriously, this one is essential. Watch it.

5. Ginny & Georgia (Netflix)- This one took me by surprise! The description and branding had me expecting something Gilmore Girls-esque, but that is not what I found. I don't even know what genre I'd put G&G in; it covers a lot of ground and is somehow funny/amusing, deep, and thriller-y all at once. I really enjoyed it.


Well...I was going to think of some movies I liked this year, but then realized that I never watch movies. Who has 2 hours to commit to one thing, when you could be committing 12 hours to 12 episodes of some other thing?? Honestly now. Matt and I did set a goal a few months ago to work our way through the whole Marvel universe (chronologically) and so far we are averaging about one movie a month, for a grand total of 2 movies so far (and I don't remember the names of either. Why are the names of those movies so complicated?? Also I can't tell superheroes apart.) So I'll report back in *checks watch* 2849 years. At this point they create new content at a faster rate than we can consume it, so if my math checks out (and it always does), we will never finish.


Now podcasts I have time for! I took an unscheduled break from podcasts for the first 6-8 months of the pandemic because my normal 'podcast listening time' was during my commute, which disappeared along with my office. Eventually I started finding new podcast time, and now that I'm back to my usual commute, I'm firing on all cylinders with my old (and some new!) faves.

1. The Popcast. Shoutout to my faithful friends who didn't give up on me, even though they recommended The Popcast for years and I ignored them. Eventually I gave in, and I'm so glad I did. But the bonus that comes along with waiting a million years to start a pod is that now I have 8 years of back episodes to listen to, so I'm constantly laughing. Matt also enjoys listening to this one, so it's perfect for putting on in the car (if Millie isn't there, or is on her iPad. There's nothing objectionable on this one, but she doesn't *get it* and bothers me asking for explanations of every other sentence, so that's a waste of podcast time if you ask me.). I like how this one is totally standalone episodes, so you can just browse the titles and descriptions and find something that sounds fun, and you're good to go for an hour!

2. Pantsuit Politics. Man, Beth and Sarah, the hosts of PP, have been some of my best friends the past few years. I am so thankful for their calm, educated, measured perspective on the news, and I always look forward to new episodes. 

3. Dolly Parton's America. It's been awhile since I listened to this one, but I really enjoyed it. Obviously Dolly is our queen, but it was so interesting to understand more about her life, career, and historical and current cultural impact. This is one that needs to be listened to in order!

4. The Lazy Genius. This is one I run to when I want practical tips on how to make one particular thing in my life better in about 20 minutes. Seriously, it's kind of the format. Laundry. Meal planning. Buying gifts. Finding your holiday decorating personality. Each episode (just browse the ep titles) targets a very specific 'thing' with the goal of "being genius about things that matter, and lazy about things that don't." I find this pod to be encouraging and usually super helpful!

5. Planet Money. This is another go-to for one-off, fascinating topics. I'm pretty sure Matt listens to every single episode, and this is one of our favorites for road trips. Planet Money is equal parts entertaining and educational, so you can't beat that!


And here's where I'll throw in the miscellaneous things that have made life fun over the last year!

One of our many, many family "scoot-scoots" this year. That's little sis on Matt's back. ;)

1. Scooters. Guys, they're not just for kids anymore. I know I mentioned this the other day, but getting scooters for me and Matt was one of the most fun things about this year! I have this one and I honestly adore it! The handlebars come up high enough that it's a very comfortable ride. (Matt got a different one, and I'm not exactly sure which one, to link, but I don't like it as much. The handlebars don't go as high.) What's really fun is that our cul-de-sac neighbors also have their own adult scooters, and so all 4 adults plus our 2 first graders are often found having a scooter party in the cul-de-sac, and if that's not cool, I don't know what is.

2. Olive & June nail polish. I was swayed by my Instagram ads (they're just so good) and I'm not mad about it. Since I haven't been going to salons for the last year, I decided to redirect that money towards O&J polishes and I am SO happy about it! The top coat is the key, though. The colors are fantastic, but that top coat is clutch and means I don't have a chip for entire week. Unheard of. You can get O&J at Target now, but the display at my local Targets are always somewhere between super picked over and completely empty, so ordering direct is the only way to ensure you have a comprehensive selection. 

(Not O&J polish, but the closest thing I had to a professional mani for about a year)

3. Skrewball peanut butter whiskey. I mean, you didn't think we were gonna survive a pandemic acting like teetotalers, did ya?? Ha. Our neighbors introduced us to this delightful beverage and man, is it a treat. You can get it at probably any liquor store near you, and I highly recommend that you do. The sooner the better. We usually drink it straight up, but it's also fantastic mixed into a milkshake or your hot chocolate!

4. Sleeping Queens card game. This is a super fun little game that friends recommended early in the pandemic, and I'm so glad they did! It's simple enough for kids (Millie was 5 when we got it and she could play independently after maybe two or three times of being on a parent's 'team') and not boring or annoying for adults. You know it's not easy to find games in that sweet spot! Plus it's cheap (less than $10) and takes up no space. Grab a spare deck in case you need an emergency birthday present sometime. 

5. Educational Instagrammers. Who knew- social media can be for more than just cute pictures of babies and puppies and food! I am thankful for finding some experts in their fields who are both entertaining and very educational, and since most of my friends follow them too, it's been so wonderful being able to have educated, fact-based conversations about things we otherwise might not know much about! Here are two of my faves, both on Instagram:

-@kinggutterbaby- Laurel is an infectious disease specialist at Emory who primarily studied global health and tuberculosis before focusing on Covid this past year. She is hilarious, brilliant, and colorful (in personality and language, haha). She has a million highlight stories that cover basically everything related to Covid, so if you're interested in data-driven information, explained by a scientist who also speaks plain English, I highly recommend her!

-@sharonsaysso- Sharon is "America's Government Teacher" and all-around incredible human. She not only answers questions (only with facts!), she teaches us all how to FIND facts on our own, explains where the facts came from, and what they mean for us now. She is funny, calm, non-partisan, generous, and intersperses her government talk with a lot of whale pictures and facts (besides government, whales are her other passion). I learn something new every day from Sharon, and her language and content is completely appropriate for anyone from your kindergartener to your great-grandma. 

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

100 years later

You know it's been a minute since you blogged when you go to your blog and then stare at the screen (and the most recent post, from 1.5 years ago) for five minutes trying to figure out what to do to start a new post. Ha. Am I 400 years old, or is it that after faithfully blogging for what felt like a lonnnnng time, I've well and truly forgotten how to do it?! I'll let you decide that one. Also, let it be noted that being out of the habit of blogging does NOT mean I've forgotten the thrill of receiving blog comments. Shout out to the filthy comment-bots that find a 9 year old post every now and then and helpfully leave garbled comments with hot tips about products that can increase my "manhood" and/or make me rich if only I click this link!! I ain't clicking, but I do appreciate y'all thinking of me and finding some ancient story about my deep thoughts on that day's lunch and gym exploits fascinating and worthy of your robot-time. 

At any rate, it's turned out to be a slow afternoon, so I was digging deep and trying to remember what I used to do during slow afternoons, and here we are. I highly doubt anyone is anxiously awaiting a Life Update from me, but just in case- why not. (The girls in my Zoom book club, affectionately known as Blog Friends Book Club, since we all met via blogging, regularly harass me about not-blogging, but even they do not need this update, since our monthly meetings + Instagram keep them in the know. But I digress.)

Well, since the last time we spoke here in August 2019, there was a pesky global pandemic that made life quite...interesting. (I'm going for positivity here.) So nothing about the last year+ has been normal for my family, as I know applies to everyone...just need to write it down though, so that the NEXT time I blog (appx 2025, if trends hold) I will remember the context of this year. Because I'm sure otherwise I would never remember what a very special, special time 2020-2021 was. Mmmhmm.


Yep, still plural there. Still can only show you pictures of one of 'em, though. As you may recall, we because foster parents in June 2019. We were quickly placed with twin girlies, who stayed with us for five wonderful and chaotic and lovely and tear-filled months. We said goodbye to them right before the holidays, and took a little over a month off to breathe and focus on our family of 3. In January of 2020, though, we said yes to our next placement, and welcomed the absolutely cutest, sweetest baby girl ever (or since Millie was a baby, obviously) into our home. We expected her to stay for a short time, maybe a few weeks, but you will all be utterly shocked to learn that she is still with us...and we hope this will be the case for, oh, ya know, forever. Fingers crossed and that's all I can say, but keep checking back and maybe in a few months or 5 years I will update again and be able to share pictures. :)

But Millie (or Camilla, as she prefers anyone not family to call her) is doing great! She's 6.5, almost done with first grade, and nothing but personality and opinions. She adores being a big sissy, though she is going to adore it more when little sis can PLAY ACCORDING TO HER EVER-CHANGING RULES. Yes, Millie is in the stage where she likes to micromanage every single aspect of play (thus sucking all potential fun out of it, if you're me)..."OK, now you take the baby and say '_____' and now you go over there and sit down and do ____" and OKAY BUT CAN I NOT PLEASE JUST MAKE A FEW OF MY OWN CHOICES AS WE PLAY HOUSE?!?! Sheesh. Anyway, I too am anxiously awaiting the day baby sis can be bossed around in play so that I can go water the plants or something. For the love.

One thing the whole family can agree on, though? Our favorite family TV show- Naked & Afraid. Haaa. But for real, we watch it together all the time, and this guides most of our outdoor adventures as well. We go on lottttssss of walks around town (shoutout to the #1 and only entertainment option of 2020!!!) and on some trails in the woods nearby, and we have all learned so much from watching that show, we spend our time discussing the best place to make shelters, whether water looks potable or not, and pondering what kinds of predators might be after us in any given place. And then we walk home and enjoy eating and sleeping in our nice, air conditioned home. It's really the best of all worlds, since the Bates fam has no desire to ACTUALLY camp or experience nature too much. So there's your hot parenting tip for today (slash this year and probably next year too)-- a show the whole family can enjoy and learn from!

Exhibit A: a bamboo forest near our home that had a lot of shelter-building potential, and MAYBE even some panda bear potential!

Since we pretty much spent the last year at home (we're the mask-wearing, scientific-advice-following, err on the side of caution type folks), we've had lots of time together as a family and are happy to report that we still like one another. And more importantly, Matt and I both ended up buying adult scooters, and with the baby on one of our backs in an Ergo, we take many "family scoot-scoots" around town and are well-acquainted with basically every human, dog, cat, flowering bush, and holiday decoration within a two mile radius of our house.

We ventured off our street for spring break and made our way down to a house on an empty beach on Cape San Blas and it was a delight. But the water was freezing.

Matt & Erika ( could say...Matt y Erika...see what I did there?)

Matt and I both worked from home beginning in March of last year. Matt is still working from home, and will be permanently, as it was apparently a big hit with his company. I started phasing back into my office in January with a hybrid WFH/work at office schedule, and have been full time back in the office since the beginning of April. I truly loved working from home, and even enjoyed the extremely chaotic double dip of working from home full-time while managing Millie's digital learning for the fall semester. We sent her back to in-person school in January, when my office's patience with me being home all the time ran out, haha. She is doing great at school, but I so miss getting to see her throughout the day. Kids, man. 

But MOST excitingly....

Matt and I are now both double vaxxed, post-two-weeks, and SO EXCITED! We celebrated by re-joining the YMCA last week, which is great, but not as great as my REAL "congrats on surviving being stuck at home for a year with your very loud children" present to myself, which is a very fancy (by Athens standards) and long-awaited mani/pedi with allll the extras. It's been a LONG TIME (since March 13, 2020, actually, as the first thing my coworker and I did when we got sent home from the office "for two weeks" was stop and get our nails done in case we wouldn't be able to do it again for *gasp* like a whole month or something. OH TO BE SO YOUNG AND INNOCENT.) and I am VERY excited. (Sure, nail salons have been re-opened for a long time here, but spending any unnecessary time indoors in public places is not a thing I have been willing to do until I was fully vaxxed, so NOW IS THE TIME!) I am...perhaps overly excited. It's fine. Just give it to me.

I am so thankful that relatively speaking, the last year has been bad only in a stress and inconvenience sort of way. Though many of our family members and friends got the virus, no one close to us passed away, and I am deeply thankful for that and aware that it certainly is not everyone's situation. As someone who during a "normal" year has a 9-5, lives half an hour out of town, has kids and millions of foster care-related appointments, and is fairly introverted, I don't generally have a busy social life or a group of friends I see regularly (beyond work friends and church friends). By far the best part the last year has been the close friendships I've developed with a group of girls that started with our Bachelor group text (remember how Pilot Pete's season ended JUST as the world shut down?!?!) and just kinda...never stopped. Those girls (a subset of my real-life book club-- ya know, the Bach-watching contingent of the club, haha) were my constant text companions and eventually real-life companions, too, as we started gathering masked-up around someone's fire pit for long conversations after our kids all went to bed. I imagine my feelings for them are something like what soldiers might feel for the people they went to war with. But those ladies were a life-saver this past year, and the joy we've shared as we've slowly all gotten ourselves (and our partners) vaccinated is just...priceless. I cannot wait to sit INSIDE THEIR ACTUAL HOUSES very soon and drink my margaritas WITHOUT A MASK IN MY WAY!!

I guess that sums up the last year-ish, pretty much. I should note that we had to say goodbye to sweet Lola, our beloved doggie, in February 2020 (thanks a lot, 2020). We missed her greatly those first few months of being home all the time, and know she would have been so happy to have her people home all of the time. Thankfully, we welcomed a new furry friend into our home in August, and Lucy is the sweetest little blond ragamuffin dog. She's definitely the girls' favorite member of the family, and our house is just a lot happier with a dog running around in it. 

As school wraps up and the hot weather rolls in, we look forward to more walks, more Naked & Afraid marathons, more time with friends, more time working out (hahahahaa...I mean, yes, but am I actually looking FORWARD to it? Debatable), and less time scrubbing makeup off the inside of masks (THE WORST, why do I even bother with makeup, honestly?). More importantly, I look forward to hopefully someday soon telling Millie she's gonna get to be a big sissy forever...that all of her dandelion wishes have paid off (it's legit what she wishes for, every time).

Until next time, friends.