Tuesday, February 2 2021

a busyness casserole, tikka masala, and robot turtles

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Dear Journal,

Good morning, everybody. Happy Tuesday, and congratulations on making it through the first day of February. Not that I was expecting anything bad to happen or anything. It's just a cold Monday at the start of one of the most weather ambivalent months of the year. For us it also marks a full year in quarantine. Twelve months later without doing anything or going anywhere, it's still the same weird mixture of impatience, restlessness, tiredness, and hope.

"I feel very quarantined today," were Marissa's first words to me yesterday morning. I nodded in agreement before silently slipping away and disappearing into the bedroom with a piece of buttered toast.

I feel very quarantined today too. But the quarantine feeling comes in lots of different varieties. I brewed coffee with a regular store bought paper filter. I just finished my laundry. I rediscovered my favorite warm sweater in the back of our closet. Right now I'm feeling cozy quarantine - one of my favorite varieties.

Sip. We had a pretty good day yesterday. As promised, Marissa took Rodney to the big sled hill on the far side of the neighborhood. Marissa told me that Rodney's tiny body and wide circular sled made him pick up impressive speed on the big sloping hill next to the park.

"He just wouldn't stop," she laughed. "And then when the sled finally did stop, he had to walk all the way back up and he wanted me to go down and get him."

2021 02 02 sledding

Stuck at home, I had to settle for reliving it vicariously with Snapchat. But as he was throwing his damp boots and coat on the ground, he graciously extended me an invitation to return to the hill this weekend. I can hardly wait.

Meanwhile, work was approaching new levels of busy. These days our team feels like it has so many different priorities to keep track of, the feeling of day-to-day busyness is reaching new heights. It's like a busyness casserole, at the foundation of which is individual busyness - physically locked into a computer screen churning through a to-do list. The next layer we have is the social busyness - meetings and staying in constant communication with people. Finally, poured over the top of the casserole is the inescapable feeling of busyness - the way your brain hums like a warm engine even after the computer has been turned off for the day. The tasks and priorities of the week lurk in the background of making dinner and picking up after the kids.

Speaking of food, I commend Marissa for trying an ambitious recipe yesterday - chicken tikka masala, the real kind with coconut milk and everything. At five o'clock just when my work day started to wind down, she was already in the kitchen chopping onions, garlic, and ginger. Everything was cleaned and impeccably prepared. Sensing she had her game face on, I took Rodney into the living room to play video games so she could focus. Rodney and I wandered away from the tantric and comforting smell of spices wafting out of the kitchen and booted up our Super Nintendo. We played Street Fighter. To Rodney's delight, I picked his favorite player, leading to an epic Vega against Vega fight.

"DOUBLE VEGA," roared Rodney as he mashed buttons on the controller.

Marissa called me into the kitchen. I paused the game and joined her at the stove where a fragrant brown mixture was gurgling in the pan. "I think we need to order a pizza," she said. "I burnt the spices."

She gestured at the small charred flecks bouncing around in the liquid. I grabbed a spoon and took a sip, letting out a satisfied sigh.

"That's no big deal," I said. "It tastes a little burnt, but still delicious."

"Really?" said Marissa. "I smell it, all I smell is burning."

Minutes later, she found the true source of the burning smell. It was the rice. She had forgotten to turn the head off after covering it. Marissa called me in again.

"We're definitely ordering a pizza now," she said. She lifted the cast iron lid. A puff of smoke escaped from the pot revealing burnt, sticky rice goo. Marissa plopped the smoking Dutch oven outside in the snow. Rodney and I jumped in the car. We reconvened at the dinner table a half hour later around a warm to-go bag of Portillo's.

"I feel so bummed right now," said Marissa.

"I know," I nodded. "It's the worst feeling. Not to mention you've been working on this for two hours."

Marissa hung her head low. Rodney stole a French fry off her plate, and she cracked a smile. I related to what she was feeling all too well. It's one thing to half-ass a dumb lunch idea or bungle a late night snack, but it hits different when an ambitious, meticulously prepared dinner goes off the rails. Two hours of planning, chopping, and arranging. Two hours of smells and textures. Just one or two small mistakes later, and it was all for nothing.

"It's been a while since I messed up cooking this bad," said Marissa. "This is the worst feeling in the world."

"It's OK," I said. "If this didn't happen every now and then, it means you're not learning. You just need a redemption meal. Make this next week, it's going to be great."

To help de-escalate tings, I suggested we play Battleship after dinner. But Rodney strong-armed our choice and convinced us to play Robot Turtles instead. Rodney stood on his chair and busily arranged the plastic cards on the fold-out grid.

Rodney loves Robot Turtles because he gets to run the show, and he basically gets to make up the rules. In the game, Rodney arranges a level for our turtle figurines to overcome. Each with a fearsome laser beam mounted to our shells, we have to navigate around ice walls and wood crates to reach jewels. Sometimes when Rodney gets on a roll, he'll arbitrarily claim and extra turn to blast me with his laser or leap over half the board. Marissa and I find enjoyment from making up our own more subtle rules. My turtle forgot to pay his taxes, I have to skip a turn. My turtle's laser can shoot around corners. My turtle is taking a nap.

To be fair, Rodney probably has as much fun watching us play Battleship as we do watching him play Robot Turtles. I guess we owed him one.

Thanks for stopping by today. Have a great day everyone.