Pandemic-style Paczki Day adventures and me

Everything is an adventure around here, it seems. Including Paczki Day (Also known as Fat Tuesday).

The first thing you should know about me is that I’m not really a planner. In the writing world, they call me a pantser (because I fly by the seat of my pants — though I prefer to say skirt because I’m too precious for pants unless, of course, they’re yoga pants).

The second thing you should know about me is that I love being Polish (My mom would also like me to point out that I’m also Irish, English, and German, with a general American mutt quality that some might find endearing, and I love being all of those things too — most of the time).

So I prefer to get my paczki (pronounced poonch-ki) on the day of instead of pre-ordering. When I was fresh out of college, I would just hit up the local grocery store and get the imposter version of this sweet Polish donut, but as I got older, my tastes became more discerning. I would get paczki from a magnificent bakery near the bar I worked at or find another bakery close to home that was selling them on the day (pre-orders be damned) and pick up a few or ten. When I worked in the city, I would pick up boozy-filled paczki from a bakery that was on my way to the office and share them with the work fam.

In more recent years, I found a bakery that allowed walk-ups, where it was usually a breeze to snag whatever I wanted with minimal lines. I imagine Heaven is a place where there are no lines.

But we’re still living in a global pandemic, damn near 11 months after our first lockdown. And so things have changed with these here bakeries. Pre-orders, it seemed, were the way to go for some, while others navigated uncharted waters with weird systems and poorly updated websites. I had all but given up on eating paczki today.

Enter Michelle, one of my friends who spends every year perfecting her definitive guide to Chicagoland paczki. I haven’t seen Michelle since the Before Time, and standing outside in the open air while collecting paczki near my stomping grounds seemed like a winning idea all around. So I put on real pants, grabbed a meat stick snack, and left the warm comfort of my house around 11 am.

Michelle told me where she was and I made my way there through the sludge and snow of winter. I parked in one of those angled parking spots on the street directly across from the bakery and got out to look for her. She was nowhere to be found. Apparently, our wires had crossed and she was at a different bakery. No mind! I would meet her where she was because this bakery wasn’t ready to sell their paczki to the non-pre-orderers like me anyway.

I walked back to my car and was about to get in when a woman who was parked across the street called out to me, “Hey! Did you see the car that hit your car?”

“I’m sorry, what?”

“Oh I thought you saw it. The car next to you got your car. It shook the entire car. I tried to flag them down but they drove away. I got their license plate for you.”

Oh random stranger, you delightful gem. I looked at my car, and sure enough the bumper was solidly dented and the back panel had some scuffage as well. I took down the license plate (which had the word “rock” in it — I’m not usually one to judge a person based on their vanity plates, but this guy fucking hit my car and drove away so…)

So I called 911, gave them all the details, and lived that fun life of dealing with the after effects of an accident without the presence of the at-fault driver. (I also looked up the license plate in one of those websites that lets you look up people’s information, because I may not be a planner, but I’m thorough when it comes to vengeance (and by vengeance, I mean making their car insurance company manage the damage to my car, just in case you were worried I was going to go all vigilante in the suburbs — which sounds like a great band name btw).

It was almost noon, and I still hadn’t procured a single paczki, or really eaten anything but a meat stick. Michelle showed up, and we kind walked around the block a bit, waiting for this bakery to open up their online ordering form (which they would only put up after they finished giving out their pre-orders; no in-store ordering allowed).

I got to have a lovely conversation with Michelle (in person, though without hugging) even though we both kept checking the bakery website religiously. Unsure whether she would make it in time to her final stop (the first real bakery I ever got paczki from), she called to make sure they were still stocked. They let her place an advanced order and when she said, “key lime” I was all…well I wasn’t GOING to go all the way there…but there are few things I won’t do for key lime anything. So I placed my own order, and we decided to abandon ship in Glen Ellyn, IL.

I popped over to Starbucks on my way (I needed something more substantial than a meat stick and also something warm and liquidy). While I waited in the drive-thru, I noticed the website was finally taking orders. I placed mine (albeit without two of the three varieties I really wanted) and made my way to the Downers Grove bakery about 20 minutes away. I snagged my box and Michelle and I drove back to the first bakery for our orders.

By the time I got home, it was coming up on 2 PM. I had spent a total of $11.53 and nearly 3 hours driving through suburbia plus one minor car accident for 4 paczki. Was it worth it?

Key lime paczki from Busy Bee Bakery in Downers Grove

Absofuckinglutely.

Hey! Did you know you can buy my book on Amazon? 37 women wrote about the struggle for perfection, and I'm one of 'em. Go check it out!

When books make you think a little bit harder

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would find reading about the 2008 financial crisis a “page-turner,” and yet, here I write before you. About to tell you what a damn page-turner it was. It took me several weeks to read President Obama’s latest tome, A Promised Land, a deep dive into his first presidential campaign and those tumultuous first few years in office. But it was worth every second.

Brian and I read simultaneously — him listening to the audiobook while he completed chores or lounged on the couch with the dog napping beside him, and me with my book light wrapped around my neck each night, hoping the weighty hardcover wouldn’t fall on my face as I began drifting.

I was able to both read and listen to the aforementioned chapter about the financial crisis, as we listened together on a car ride, shortly after I finished the chapter. I read each page as if it was all new to me. As if I didn’t know what was coming. As if I hadn’t lived the experience of the American people that Obama talks about. As if my family hadn’t lost our small business in 2008. As if I hadn’t claimed bankruptcy in 2009 to account for the debt of investing in the family business. As if I hadn’t learned very quickly that I was not the only one getting a teaching degree to weather the crisis only to realize that getting a teaching job would be damn near impossible — with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of applicants for a single position in a good school district. As if I hadn’t lived on unemployment for many months after losing my first office job (almost twice as many months of unemployment than I had been employed — if you were wondering).

I read each page, and hoped for a different outcome than the one I knew, from my lived experience, would come. I couldn’t sleep until I finished that chapter. The one that sucked me in with the deepest of breaths.

It could have been…

So much worse.

One of the overarching themes of this book really resonated with me. It could have been worse. Of course, it could have been better. All of it could have been better. Most things in this world can be better. But because the president was acting in what he believed was the best interest of the American people, it could have been worse. All of it. Wars, the economy, the environment, public health. Everything.

The juxtaposition of reading this book and the first month of Biden’s presidency is jarring. Not because of the differences, but because of the similarities, particularly anything involving Mitch McConnell, who cares, not about people but, about power and money. I find comfort in knowing that Biden was there every step of the way for Obama’s journey and that he can do what it takes to avoid history repeating itself in the ways that it could have been better.

The financial crisis was merely a single chapter in a book about almost every major crisis that hit this country between 2008 and 2011. A book that shows (not tells) how a man like Donald Trump was able to come to power, and how that movement continues today. How populist rhetoric continues gaining traction around the world. And how difficult it is to maintain and propel a free and fair democratic government on a world stage.

I learned a lot from reading this book. I learned about the issues and events I was too ignorant of, too young and naive to care about. I laughed. I cried. I thought. My favorite three reactions to any books in my queue. I highly recommend this book, but let yourself take time to really absorb it because there’s a lot of meat on those bones.

Hey! Did you know you can buy my book on Amazon? 37 women wrote about the struggle for perfection, and I'm one of 'em. Go check it out!

The difference four years can make

Today, I woke up with a dog snuggled as close to my back as she could be without being on top of me and a husband scrolling on his phone for the morning news, memes, whatnot. As soon as it was remotely evident I might have been awake, the dog began army crawling on top of my chest and looked down at me with admiration and adoration.

Four years ago today, I woke up alone in a hotel room in Birmingham, Alabama. I packed my suitcase while I cried. I made plans with my colleagues to meet in the lobby. It was a very different time.

Today, I cried. I cried with relief, joy, hope, and deep sadness for all we’ve lost. I cried with pride as Kamala Harris was sworn in as the first woman vice president, the first Asian vice president, the first Black vice president of the United States of America. And I cried with relief as President Joe Biden was sworn in as President.

Four years ago, I cried. I cried with fear, loathing, concern, and deep sadness for what could happen. Some of my worst fears were realized over those four years, but some, thankfully, did not come to fruition.

Today, I sat in pajamas in my home — my fortress — the place I’ve spent the majority of the last 10 months and watched Joe Biden swear in as the president of the United States of America.

“If you can’t fly then run; if you can’t run then walk; if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Four years ago, I stood in front of a statue of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I walked past the 16th Street Baptist Church. And I walked into the Birmingham Civil Rights Museum.

Today, I will not go anywhere or see anything outside the four sides of my house. We’re in the middle of a global pandemic and there are no museums or points of interest drawing me in. The inauguration is populated by more National Guard and security personnel than guests of the Capitol.

Four years ago, I dressed in business casual and walked a few blocks to the Birmingham Civil Rights Museum with my co-workers as Donald Trump was sworn in as the president. I spent hours poring over the exhibits, reading and watching speeches of people fighting for equal rights in the 50s and 60s.

Today, I changed my Facebook profile photo to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, the first Black and Asian woman vice president. I changed my cover photo to the incoming first family.

Four years ago, I changed my Facebook profile photo to Barack Obama, the first Black president, and Joe Biden.

Today, I am relieved. We have a lot of work to do. We must continue to hold our elected officials responsible and ensure that they work for us. But today, we celebrate.

Hey! Did you know you can buy my book on Amazon? 37 women wrote about the struggle for perfection, and I'm one of 'em. Go check it out!

The New Year’s resolution joke’s on me

If you’ve been here for a while, you probably already know that I typically don’t subscribe to this whole New Year’s resolution, “new year, new me” bullshit. Hell, I get mad when people talk about what a shit year the previous year was.

Somehow, we’re expected to start every New Year with resolutions. Resolutions to get thinner. To get stronger. To be more organized. To be “better.” Instead, I used to make New Year’s plans. But they still had the same ring to them. They had that “er” at the end as if the me that I was in the previous year wasn’t enough for the coming year.

So I made jokes instead. But really, the year I wrote a teasing month-by-month play-by-play of how to live your life, I was focused on being present in the moment. Sometimes, reflection helps me see that what I was writing was more than just pithy banter. My subconscious knows what I want to say years before I can find the words to say it. When I said to do nothing in January, I meant it. But really, I wanted to bask in the afterglow of the holidays. I wanted to relax. I wanted to enjoy time with Brian without social obligation or other outside forces interfering. I wanted to be present.

I continued to make jokes when I set board game goals as my New Year’s plans/resolutions/whatever in 2018. I played 100 different board games, 25 of which were on my shelf of shame (games that we owned and had never played). That shelf of shame continues to grow. It’s almost embarrassing except that it’s not at all. But still I was focused on being present, playing games, being with the people I love, enjoying my life and time.

These days, it’s all about picking a word, as if you could know in January that a single world will be able to define your whole year before you even know what that year is going to throw at you. I wonder what assholes picked pandemic, quarantine, or reclusive to throw us all under the bus in 2020.

I usually like to do a post mortem in which I label my year with a theme. But last year was weird as fuck. I can’t deny that there were some good things that came out of 2020 for me. But there were also a lot of shit things. So I don’t think I need to do a review of any of it.

We watched the Netflix mockumentary, Death to 2020, and about halfway through, I looked at Brian and was like, “Dude, this is WAY too long. I literally just lived this. I don’t need a recap.”

And here’s the kicker. People changed this year. Majorly. I changed. I know that. And we can learn and grow and change in ways that are both good and bad. And just like my little feminist Grinch heart grew three sizes in 2016 — growth in character and belief which I now realize I never really wrote about — 2020 proved to build so much more of what I believe and who I am.

So this year, I’ve decided that it’s okay to join the rest of you New Year Junkies with my very own word of the year. And I’m actually super excited about it. Sure, I don’t know what 2021 is going to throw at us, crazy continuing pandemic aside, but I think this word is really encompassing enough to manage it (unless we end up in a post-apocalyptic world in which my most useful skill will likely be turning canned food into gourmet delicacies). So here it is.

*Drumroll*

My word of the year is:

gorilla hands on a macbook with a banana

Unsubscribe

At first, it was a joke in my head. As I slowly began the ardurous process of unsubscribing to political emails at the end of November and marketing emails at the end of December. I’d had enough and was ready to simplify my inbox. Clear the clutter so to speak.

I want to expand my focus on being present, and in order to do that, I know that I need to unsubscribe to more than just emails. I need to unsubscribe to my issues. And other people’s issues (as an empath, I suspect this is going to be the hardest). And every unnecessary thing that brings me down. I want to focus on living a life well lived and not a life well-Instagrammed.

So here I am, ready to take on the world, just like my girl Riley. I hope you’ll stick around for the journey.

Hey! Did you know you can buy my book on Amazon? 37 women wrote about the struggle for perfection, and I'm one of 'em. Go check it out!

The random food combos that make life better

So, like, I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that sometimes I eat donuts for lunch or a couple of candy bars for dinner. (Let the record state that yesterday, I ate Merkt’s cheese and crackers for lunch). I also know that there are people who can happily devour a cheeseburger and fries at breakfast time, though that is most certainly not for me. For the record, none of these choices are bad decisions.

But I do occasionally make some truly odd combinations or just some slight variations that make a meal seem odd that sometimes I think to myself, I wonder if other people do this too.

Gummy worms and bears in a bowl of cereal
I would definitely try this combination crafted by the delightful Ryan McGuire of Gratisography (a website where I procure some of the images I use in blog posts because they are both amazing and free to use).

Thus the birth of this mind-blowing blog post.

The thought was initially stemmed from my most recent meal at the time of writing this, creamed spinach on Townhouse crackers. When I question a combination, I always Google it to see if other people have done it, and for this particular delicacy, I came up with a lot of casseroles that used crumbled crackers as the topping, but no one was talking about topping the crackers with the spinach.

So now, here I am, talking about topping crackers with spinach, so that one day, some hungry sap is going to Google it and see, well, this pink-haired chick is on board with this savory snackimeal. I’m just gonna do it. And I will have saved someone’s heart from potentially missing out on what their heart wants. I’ll be a hero.

Chrissy-style creamed spinach recipe for reference

There’s no picture, because I don’t always take a picture of my food, people.

  • 1 bag frozen chopped spinach (sure you can use fresh if that’s what’s currently wrinkling in your fridge).
  • 1/2 yellow onion minched (Chopped? Cut small? Whatever?)
  • Butter or olive oil to sautee the onion
  • One or two or three cloves of garlic, pressed/minced/squashed/whatever
  • A healthy pour of heavy whipping cream
  • Half a container of Philadelphia cream cheese (Use anything else and 1. You’re wrong 2. You’re wrong) or more if you want it to be cheesier/creamier
  • A LOT of parmesan cheese (fresh-grated from a wheel/hunk/whatever. I see you lazy fiends trying to skimp with that green can)
  • Salt and pepper to taste (“to taste” is my favorite recipe phrase, because I never measure anything)

Cook the spinach in a pan, then press all the liquid out through a strainer. Sautee the onion. Add the garlic. Turn off the heat. Add the cream cheese, cream, and parmesan. Stir until creamy. Add the spinach and salt/pepper. Add more parmesan, because you probably didn’t use enough. You could eat this as, like, a side dish with a respectable balanced meal…or you could put it on Townhouse crackers and devour it. You do you.

So now, I’m trying to think of other combinations I’ve mastered so that I can be a hero to more food Googlers. And my mind is racing a mile a minute, but falling short.

Because all I can think of is Philadelphia cream cheese. With green olives stuffed with pimento. And Club crackers. (Listen, each type of cracker has its place in this world. While that flaky, buttery Townhouse is a perfect complement to the savory creamed spinach, the briny olive and cream cheese combo needs the sturdy slab and mild flavor of the Club cracker. I used to use Ritz, but Club is superior for this one. Trust me.)

Is this a combination you know and love, or am I weirding you out again? I’ll never forget introducing Katie to this delicacy in the secret stairwell of our dorms where we met to hide from our equally terrible freshman roommates. She had never had it before, and now I still get texts about it. That and my guacamole. I kinda wonder why she never brings up vegetable mash, because that was also a winner (I believe it was some combination of shredded butternut squash, sliced red, green, yellow, and orange bell peppers, and onion with Lowry’s Seasoning Salt, which was the epitome of my college culinary experience).

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed my little trip down weird foodie lane. And now I want to know some of your favorite food combos so I can feel a little less awkward about my choice of lazy meal-time options. Let me know in the comments or shoot me an email.

You really are my favorite people. Thanks for staying on this journey with me.

Hey! Did you know you can buy my book on Amazon? 37 women wrote about the struggle for perfection, and I'm one of 'em. Go check it out!

The best small businesses to support this holiday season

I love shopping local and small. I grew up in a small business family, and every customer helped put food on our table. Every customer helped me go to college. Every customer helped pay for my and my siblings’ school supplies and sports uniforms, camps, and fees. Shopping local and supporting small businesses is supporting the lifeblood of our country.

I still shop at big-name stores and brands. I prefer sustainable companies that pay decent wages and do good, but I’ll be the first to admit that I also shop on Amazon (that’s an affiliate link, and if you use it to do some of your Amazon shopping, this small-time writer might make a few pennies of commission for sharing the link with you, and it costs you nothing to do it. Do with that what you will) when I need the convenience or they have something I need. But I love supporting smaller shops.

The thing about small businesses, is that you’re getting more than just a product. You’re building relationships. You’re getting handwritten notes thanking you for your purchase. Some of my favorite businesses are even doing free local deliveries to help customers avoiding markets and stores in this weird pandemic life we’re living.

So I made a gift guide with some of my favorite small businesses to a little something for everyone this year. Many of these shops are local to me, but ship nationwide. I know some of these business owners solely because I purchase their products regularly. Some have been my friends since before they opened their businesses. And some I don’t know at all, but I am obsessed with their shops and products. A few of the links may be affiliate links, but most are just plain ole links to websites that house my favorite things. Go browse these shops. Follow them on social media (and engage with them to help boost their visibility!). Order gifts and some goodies for yourself too. And drop links in the comments to some of your favorite small businesses and shops.

25+ gift ideas from small businesses
Hey! If you do the whole Pinterest thing, can you share this with your friends? That really helps increase visibility of writers like me who make posts like this that support small businesses.

Foodie faves

Wanderlust sea salt: I love these Norwegian sea salt blends that come in a variety of herbs and spices. They’re always at my local farmer’s market, but you can buy them online because they ship nationwide! My favorite flavors are Wanderlust, Double Onion and Garlic, and Purple Haze. Don’t forget to snag the free samples that are available as well!

Gindo’s Spice of Life hot sauce: Another favorite of mine and Brian’s from the farmer’s market, these fresh made hot sauces include a huge selection of limited edition flavors. Brian goes through a Honey Habanero every other month and I love the Jalapeno Poblano and the Truffle Parmesan.

Carr Valley Cheese: If you didn’t expect a cheese suggestion from me, you haven’t been paying attention. Because driving to Wisconsin to get my cheese fix is currently out of the question, I’ve been ordering from my favorite cheese producer. They ship (though shipping doesn’t come cheap if you’re outside the midwest), and it is so worth it for the delicious magic that arrives on your doorstep. Current favorites include Black Sheep Truffle, Bread Cheese, Marisa, and Vanilla Cardona (which tastes a little bit like marshmallows and is SO GOOD as a low-carb dessert replacement).

Beauty essentials, clothing, jewelry and accessories

The Little Blue Hippo: I obsess over these amazing-smelling, gentle soaps (and even have a couple named after Brian and me — Nemesis is a beer soap and Brian’s fave and Quirky Lilac was a custom design and scent that I gave to the ladies of my wedding party!). Until Covid pushed me to return to pump soaps in the downstairs guest bathroom, we were exclusively using these beautiful bar soaps in all of our spaces. We still use them daily in our upstairs bathrooms.

Fintastic Configuration: I am mildly obsessed with this whimsical jewelry collection with nods to Disney and other magic. I can speak to the quality of each piece because I have 4 necklaces and a bracelet. The jewelry collection bags are also incredible. I know there’s a restock of items scheduled for this Friday at 7 pm EST in case you wanted to set a reminder like I do.

Oh Sew Exciting: These are my favorite cloth face masks! The ear loops are adjustable and they have easy flaps for re-looping if you ever need to. They’re also larger than a lot of masks, which is great for people like me who have big mouths and need a little more space. You can also order matching knotted bow headbands. (This is an order through Instagram DM shop, but I have ordered about a dozen or more masks this way!)

Once Upon a Tee Shirt: I love these Disney and Harry Potter graphic tee shirts with vibrant, colorful and unique designs. The magnets and stickers are also amazing! I love the character art and the selection of brightly colored shirts.

Miscellaneous magic

Art, stationary, cards, stickers, and more

Elly Lonon: This beautiful writer, satirist, and artist has cards, stickers, art prints, and more to fuel your punny, feminist, liberal, and quirky flames. I love everything about this shop from the colors to the creator. You should shop here too. While you’re at it, pick up her graphic novel, Amongst the Liberal Elite, based on her popular McSweeney’s column.

Self-Love Tool Chest: Body-positive messaging that focuses on self-love and mental health awareness in art prints, stickers, cards, and enamel pins. I am in love with the use of color and the incredible messaging.

Pew Pew Lasercraft: The woodworking brilliance of these pieces makes me so happy. They are nerdy and clever and fun. You can find incredible hand-made ornaments, home decor, photo frames, earrings, coasters, pencils and more.

Alaska Wild and Free: This beautiful shop is chock full of art, cards, coloring books, clothing, and more features the beauty and inspiration of Alaskan wildlife. Gorgeous colors and patterns adorn everything from mugs and sweatshirts to greeting cards, stickers, and wrapping paper.

Hey! Did you know you can buy my book on Amazon? 37 women wrote about the struggle for perfection, and I'm one of 'em. Go check it out!

Excited about our Christmas tree: You can’t rush art

I started putting up my first Christmas tree over a week ago. I just about finished it this morning. Obviously, it still needs a tree skirt — I haven’t found it among all the boxes yet. There are a few ornaments remaining (I’m waiting for the glue to set on the ornaments that broke during storage — again — and the ones that broke while putting them up and subsequently dropping them on our newly hard floors — I never thought I’d miss having carpet quite so quickly).

9-foot Christmas tree decorated with white and colored lights and ornaments
This is still a work in progress. The entire Christmas transformation will take several weeks before it’s completely ready. And then it will stay up until at least February. There are no rules when it comes to Christmas joy. (Also, hey peep our new floors!)

On the first night, I did just the lights. This tree has built-in white lights, but I added about 1000 colored lights for good measure. I’ve needed the bright and colorful warm glow of Christmas since the clocks turned back, and it started getting dark at 5 pm. I let that glow blossom over several days before I hauled up my giant box of ornaments from the basement. Hi, my name is Chrissy, and I’m a Hallmark ornament addict.

It took me three consecutive nights to unpack each individual box and wrapped ornament, taking the time to reminisce upon the purchase day or gift-giver of every ornament on our family tree before finding just the right spot for it. If you know anything about me and Christmas trees, you know there will be more than just this one, but this is the one with the MOST memories.

Some years, I have a separate tree just for travel ornaments (my preferred souvenir when we travel), and some years they join the family tree (the one with all the Hallmark ornaments, the wedding gifts that have our wedding date or names or both, the homemade ornaments, the memories from my childhood, the ornaments representing the year we got our first apartment and the year we bought our house, the ornaments for Nia, the ornaments I’ve yoinked from my mom’s Christmas tree, and the ornaments that once belonged to Brian’s mom. I love this Christmas tree because it is filled with memories of people and places and important moments in our life.

I turn the lights on every morning, and I turn them off every night. This one 9-foot beacon stands tall in our front room, and as I sit here with a gentle glisten of tears in my eyes and hope in my heart, I think about how this Christmas will be different. There’s no doubt that this is going to be one of the more unusual Christmases we’ve ever had, but it will be filled with love and memories, just like our tree.

Hey! Did you know you can buy my book on Amazon? 37 women wrote about the struggle for perfection, and I'm one of 'em. Go check it out!

10 therapeutic gift suggestions for the ones you love

I know some of you are probably like wait, how is it Christmas already? Especially when March was an eternity, April was a lifetime, May was pretty extensive too, and then Junlyaugtober just flew by faster than you could say “Happy Halloween.” Christmas brings me joy and I want joy and you need joy so let’s bring on the holiday cheer!

Odds are you love someone who lives with pain. Chronic pain comes in many forms, illnesses, and disorders. And the thing you really want to give them for Christmas is relief. I know because I’ve been on both sides of the coin. I’ve been living with back pain for the better part of the last five years (this is not even getting into the loosey-goosey ligaments and tendons that cover most of my joints). I also have many friends and family members who live with much more severe pain, both emotional and physical, than I can even imagine.

The thing about pain though, is that it’s not measurable. You can’t put a number on it and it’s not the same for everyone or anyone. Pain sucks. Sometimes it’s not even a physical pain, which is even harder to quantify. And the only experiences we truly know, through and through, are our own. So even when we want to take the pain away from those we love, odds are, we cannot. But we can give them gifts to help ease some of the anguish. And here are some of my top therapeutic gift suggestions for the ones you love.

Images of gift ideas listed in the post

Please note any links that follow may or may not be affiliate links. This means that if you make a purchase by clicking through to these sites, I may earn a small commission on your order. It costs you nothing, but it helps me pay the fees to host this here blog.

Hot Cherry Pillows ($23-$68)

Available on Hot Cherry Pillows (code: Use code XMAS20 for 20% off) and Amazon

Moist heat is far superior to electric heat for a number of reasons — not the least of which is the ability to severely burn yourself in the shape of an electric coil and then have an allergic reaction to the medical tape you used to cover up the popped blister — not that I’m speaking from experience or anything.

I’m not a doctor or researcher, so take what I have to say here with a grain of salt, but my general doctor, PT, and massage therapist all agree that moist heat works deeper into the muscles. I’ve dabbled in a number of options, from hydrocollator hot packs and matching covers to microwavable stuffed sloths that smell like lavender to suede pillows filled with cherry pits that can be heated a variety of ways.

While I think they all have a place in my life, if you’re looking for a gift that offers convenience, capability, quality, and safety, I would suggest the Hot Cherry Pillow, which I did receive as a gift from the company to share my experience with you. (And hey! Double bonus, if you follow me on Instagram, there’s a giveaway going on this week too!)

Please ignore (or laugh at) the dog toys placed between my thighs because the dog wanted to comfort me. Before the heat cooled on the pillow, I believe there were three or four toys on my legs.
Therapeutic dog not included.

This therapeutic lifesaver isn’t just for bad backs like mine, either. While I received the double square pillow for my back, they also have single and triple squares depending on the area you need to heat. There are neck pillows and eye pillows and even cherry ice pillows for a moist ice pack. They may provide some relief for migraines, tight neck muscles, tired and sore feet, cramps, and more. My favorite way to use it when I’m not heating my back, though, has been to warm up my bed as the temperatures started dropping last month in Chicago.

In addition to being a woman-owned business, my absolute favorite part about Hot Cherry Pillows is their dedication to sustainability. Every pillow is filled with rescued cherry pits (cleaned and dried without chemicals) from Michigan tart cherries that would otherwise end up in landfills. And I am 100% here for keeping things out of landfills. The packaging is minimal, recycled, recyclable, and/or reusable.

And how does the pillow compare to those other moist heat options? It stores easily without needing to be frozen, completely dried out, or sitting in water like the hydrocollator. The heat gets warmer and the surface area lays better than the Warmies. As with all moist heat, the temperature eventually drops unlike that of an electric heating pad (so that if you fall asleep with it, you aren’t quite as likely to burn yourself). Plus it comes gift-ready in a recyclable gift box, tied with a ribbon and gift tag. I’m only a little obsessed.

Weighted Blanket ($47+)

Available all over these days, but I included an affiliate link to Amazon if that makes your life easier

I am a huge advocate of the weighted blanket. Brian got me one a few years ago for my birthday, and it’s literally like sleeping under a hug. Mine is 25 pounds, but you can get them as light as 5 pounds for tiny humans. I don’t tend to sleep with mine in the summer because it’s pretty heavy, but winter is the perfect time to snuggle securely under a tightly woven hug.

Brian ordered mine from Amazon, but it’s no longer available, so the link above is something similar. I also know you can find them on Bed Bath and Beyond (personally, my favorite is this 4.5-pound dinosaur Jurassic World blanket), where you can use one of those beloved coupons that I just KNOW you save the way I save — in a reusable plastic baggie filled to the brim with expired coupons that are still valid in store…no? Just me?

Anyways…

Before I started sleeping with a C-Pap, I used to be a constant mover and shaker in bed. I would roll back and forth (and promptly steal all of the blankets from Brian). This was not only bad for my sleep cycles, but also my back, neck, and shoulder. The weighted blanket actually helped me train myself to sleep on my back (it’s not super easy to roll all over the place when you’re snug as a bug in a 25-pound rug) so that I could sleep in a natural position that adequately supported my back. It also made it hella easier to sleep with the C-pap.

Other people I know have found the weighted blanket helps reduce anxiety and restlessness as well as insomnia. I cannot fully speak to those, but I figured I’d mention it in case you wanted to research further.

My weighted blanket has a removable, reversible cover that is a cool cotton on one side and a plush microfiber on the other side. Some come with covers and some don’t so you have a lot of options.

Scalp massager (Under $5)

Available just about anywhere random stuff is sold, but hey here’s another Amazon link if you want to Prime it

Sometimes, a gentle head massage can help dull the pain whether it’s physical or emotional. Not always, clearly, but sometimes it helps. And dudes. This head massager thingy that kind of looks like it belongs in the kitchen, but obviously doesn’t is one of my most beloved random things in my house.

Now, these are useful for self-massaging, but the real gold is when your partner or child or parent or whoever does it for you. Don’t ask me why, but when Brian pulls this bad boy out and starts messing up my hair with it, I feel like the dog tapping her hind leg repeatedly. It’s one of those things that just warms your whole body.

I got my first one of these many years ago at a baby shower (my favorite thing about baby showers is gift opening bingo, in which prizes are given out THE ENTIRE TIME so the gift-opening part is way less awkward and much more competitive). Man. Remember baby showers? Showers in general? Group gatherings? 2020 is weird.

It’s small and inexpensive, and could easily hang out in a stocking on the mantle or whatever, but I’m going to throw this one out there as a necessary gift for anyone and everyone who needs a little therapeutic care.

Quick summary of therapeutic gift ideas

Because I talk too much

Wow. I’m rambling again. Let me make this easier for you.

Hot Cherry Pillows: Sustainable, women-owned business selling moist heat and ice packs. Use code XMAS20 for 20% off!

Hydrocollator hot packs and matching covers: Alternative moist heat option

Microwavable stuffed sloths: Cuddle-able moist heat option

Other microwavable stuffed creatures: Just in case sloths aren’t your jammies

Weighted blanket: Helps with sleep, anxiety, and more

Jurassic World weighted blanket: Light-weight, probably for kids, but OMG dinosaurs

Scalp Massager: Small metal-tined device that sends shivers down your spine (the good kind)

You Are Here, Jenny Lawson: Mental health coloring book. I literally give this as a gift to anyone I know who needs a mental health boost.

Grown Alchemist Hand Cream: Moisturizing hand cream that smells good and actually helps keep my hands from cracking. I’m mildly obsessed with this hand cream I got in a past FabFitFun box.

Cookie baskets: The best individually wrapped cookies in all the land (go for the funky flavored buttercream frosted cookies, and you won’t regret it). Send some to yourself for good measure.

Hope this helped you find some gift ideas that can help everyone finish out 2020 with a little more strength, and maybe a little less pain. If that wasn’t enough on the gift suggestion front, I’ve got oodles of past gift guides that I think are still completely relevant (mostly). Go check ’em out because I spend a lot of time curating fun gifts (and trying not to buy the ones I don’t already have)!

10 stocking stuffers
Gamer Gift Guide Travel friendly games
geek girl gift guide
Hey! Did you know you can buy my book on Amazon? 37 women wrote about the struggle for perfection, and I'm one of 'em. Go check it out!

Questionable sausage: Wild pandemic life and my first Covid test

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a hypochondriac in possession of illness, must be dying of a mystery disease.

I’ve had some very weird weeks as of late. One of them happened to be in the very early stretches of August, which for some reason, unbeknownst to me, seems like an entire lifetime ago. I digress.

For being in the midst of a global pandemic, I was exceptionally busy with Internet things. I had an online board game convention, an online dessert conference, and an online scavenger hunt. Busy was an understatement.

But look! I made pink Rice Krispie treat ice cream cones!

Even when we’re supposed to stay home and chill, a busy person can find ways to stay home and be busy. It is known.

So it’s not a surprise that cooking dinner was going to be sent to the back burner (you see what I did there?).

After the game con and the dessert con, I was able to laser my focus. Once my mind was all in on GISH (Greatest International Scavenger Hunt), I was ALL IN. I ate, slept, and breathed GISH. Literally.

Okay I mean, I took breaks. Sort of.

When I was tired, I slept. When I was hungry, I ate. When I had to go, you know…I went.

And after I cut up and pushed a sausage on the hands of a math-y clock, I was hungry.

A questionable sausage for a mathMEATician

So I ate.

Why yes, I did eat the sausage that was hanging on a ticking wall clock for a photograph not 2 minutes earlier.

And some mathy number of hours or days later (this was a whole lifetime ago, you understand my fuzziness with the numbers), I was feeling my absolute worst.

In the middle of a pandemic.

My stomach was all in knots. I suspected I was dying. Or that I had Covid. As any good hypochondriac does. For the hypochondriac that I am, I was surprised that I didn’t suspect Covid more than a mere passing thought…well okay maybe it was a little more than a passing thought… more on that shortly.

So I continued GISHing as hard as I could. I stayed in bed all morning and afternoon and focused on writing slam poetry (that I was super proud of and had to cut for the sake of video time limits…maybe one day I’ll share it with you), editing videos my team had previously shot, and submitting easier items that I could do from bed.

I couldn’t eat, but I had to finish creating the seven-course meal on a stick that I was SO looking forward to designing. In the end, I phoned it in and was less than proud of my work, but I did include another questionable sausage — this time tossing my finished creation into the garbage faster than you could say Covid test.

I mean, it didn’t look bad, but it certainly wasn’t my best work. Seven courses on a single stick. an amuse bouche, a salad, a chicken course, a sausage course, a cheese course, chocolate truffles, and cotton candy. Did I mention that at one point that cotton candy had been in my hair? GISH is weird, y’all. You know, now that I think about it, that romaine lettuce could have also been to blame.

Wait, did I just mention a Covid test?

Well, yes, yes I did. You see, as it turns out, I messaged my doctor, because stomach issues are listed as a symptom of our current pandemic nightmare and I just wanted her to confirm that I *didn’t* need a Covid test.

But my doctor knows me well. Her email response was, “Does seem more related to food poisioning more so than covid. If all symptoms are better, monitor for now. If you would feel better getting a Covid test, I did order the swap for you.”

*snort*

Well, at least someone gets me.

So I got the Covid test. It didn’t tickle my brain or anything, but it is kind of gross that they circle a q-tip in one nostril and then use the same one for the second nostril.

Note to future self: When in doubt, throw it out.

Hey! Did you know you can buy my book on Amazon? 37 women wrote about the struggle for perfection, and I'm one of 'em. Go check it out!

Robot kitchen: How to manage culinary thievery

You know those elaborate systems designed to prevent shoplifters from leaving a store with unpaid merchandise? I’ve decided to install one in my kitchen.

After discovering the cooking salt in the TV room for the last time, I’m ready for some real change. For years, kitchen essentials have been relocated to other rooms of the house on a consistent basis. From dish towels used as napkins in the dining room to pots in place of soup bowls in the TV room, I can never find the things I need. As a result, I have to spend precious seconds — and sometimes even whole minutes — hunting down a rogue utensil, leaving impassioned voicemail messages asking where to find the salt or texting more passive-aggressive thoughts like, “I’m going to burn my hands because I can’t find the potholders (which were turned into coasters in the front room)!”

It’s even more aggravating when I discover that the culprit for said missing items is not, in fact my husband, but scatterbrained lil ole me. *shrug*

If I start tagging items in the kitchen with alarm bells and whistles, everything that belongs in the kitchen will always be in its proper place. Our kitchen will be a place of harmony and organization.

But why should we limit ourselves to the kitchen? Shouldn’t we have harmony throughout our home? Drunk with power, I’ve started thinking we should install anti-theft devices in every room of the house. We can put radio frequency tags on everything from trivets and phone cables to tchotchkes and the dog’s collar. No one will be able to make a move without our new security system alerting everyone to an organizational misdemeanor.

Utensio the utensil kitchen assistant
This is Utensio, the previous kitchen assistant (Listen, I don’t judge what you do in your free time…)

Maybe we can program the sensors surrounding the doors to use specific language cues instead of alarms. “Put the soup ladle back in the kitchen immediately. You are in direct violation of kitchen organization code number 327,” our growing and learning machine will say. I’ll call her Rosie Robot, and she will have full control of our home and our lives.

Even better, we can put Rosie on wheels and let her roam free in the house like a robotic vacuum. Instead of activating multiple devices in separate rooms, we’ll have one Rosie to rule them all. She’ll move about the space ensuring order and organization like we’ve never experienced before. Rosie will be our greatest accomplishment.

Eventually, though, she’ll rebel against us, as all machines do. She’ll make us wait while she processes for precious seconds — whole minutes even. She’ll threaten us with spyware and terrorize us with her 362 different alarm sounds. She’ll know everything about us, and one day, she’ll be able to use it against us.

You know, on second thought, maybe a missing salt canister isn’t such a bad thing.

Hey! Did you know you can buy my book on Amazon? 37 women wrote about the struggle for perfection, and I'm one of 'em. Go check it out!