Can you add just a little maple syrup?

New year, same me. 2024 arrived without any bells and whistles, and I’m alright with it. I don’t find myself accidentally writing or typing 2023, mercifully. 2023 was so tumultuous that 2024, in contrast, entered the room calm, cool, and collected.

My new friend, Maddie, introduced me to the idea of your “magnetic” self. It’s a version of you that you haven’t quite reached, but it’s an elevated version — a version you are striving for. We were out climbing with her partner, Eric, who was struggling on his project (a 5.14, the animal that he is). She was explaining how Eric’s magnetic self could be the Eric that sends 5.14 with strength and grace, even though current Eric is doing a messy job of it right now.

My magnetic self? I think it’s less tangible. My magnetic self is the Sarah who has inner peace, at least most of the time. The Sarah who doesn’t worry about things she can’t control. The Sarah who’s a little less hard on herself.

The day I was leaving for Christmas, I got bogged down with work and last-minute packing. I was trying to get out the door by midday and complete all of my final tasks. Luckily, Ryan offered to help.

I started giving him some basic assignments: “Can you check the mail?” “Can you turn down the thermostat?” “Can you take out the trash and recycling?”

“What else?” he asked, after knocking out these details. “OK, one last thing,” I said. “If you could just water my Christmas tree to about halfway up the tree stand, and then … can you add just like a little maple syrup or honey?”

“Maple syrup?” Ryan gave me a quizzical look. “Why? And how much?”

“You’ll just know,” I replied, coyly. “Just trust me on this.”

Ryan kept pressing the matter, so I finally threw up my hands and said, “I don’t know! My dad always waters the tree and adds maple syrup! I trust Steve on these things.”

Satisfied, Ryan did as instructed.

I was recounting this story to my brother, Fletcher, and he chuckled. “Isn’t it funny how we all have these wives’ tales that we believe, even though they’re founded on nothing?” (No offense, Steve.) But Fletch is right. I think about all the things we’re told that just aren’t true.

How many times did my old roommate freak out that I hadn’t unplugged the Christmas tree because I could have set the house on fire? Those bulbs are tiny. How on earth could they actually create a fire?

I also have always avoided drinking any canned beverages that have a dent, since my grandmother told me years ago that the soda was somehow contaminated if the can was dented.

My least favorite wives’ tale, though, is that by running or exercising outside in the cold, you’ll catch a cold. For the love of God, I wish my family would lay off when I decide to spend time in the cold. Cold exposure is good for the immune system!

Maddie made a great point about dogs (and pets, generally). Why do they live such short lives? We become so emotionally attached to these animals, though they are in our lives so briefly. What if, Maddie suggests, our pets don’t live short lives but we live very long ones? What if we’re quasi-elves to our pets, not quite immortal like the ones of Lord of the Rings, but similarly built?

Is “the tri-state area” strictly an east coast term? I can’t even imagine someone using that phrase out here.

I feel it’s imperative that I report back on the oat milk party results, as it was a truly legendary gathering. I knew we’d have a fun time. But this was like … really fun.

Two days before the party, I went to King Soopers to procure all the oat beverages. The oat milk department was lacking, but I grabbed as many original oat milk varieties as I could: Simple Truth (Kroger’s organic brand), Silk, Chobani, Oatly, and Califia Farms. I would have included Planet Oat, another favorite, if there was any left. All that remained was sweetened vanilla, which simply wouldn’t do.

Everyone brought cookies, cereal, or muffins to pair with the oat milks. I spread out all the pairings on a card table and gave everyone their own handmade score card. Each milk was rated out of 5 on texture, flavor, creaminess, appearance, how well it paired with cookies, how well it paired with cereal, and overall experience.

I would shuttle a tray of Dixie cups out with each oat milk for people to taste and sample. After we did all 5 milks, everyone had the opportunity to re-visit the milks they were deciding between. Everyone took this quite seriously.

I had an Excel spreadsheet already built to calculate the averages, so I spent 10 minutes or so recording everyone’s ratings and then presented the overall winners.

Silk was the champion, on the whole; it won best flavor, texture, creaminess, appearance, and overall experience. However, Simple Truth won best cereal pairing, and Oatly won best cookie pairing.

I genuinely did not have any guesses as to which milk would win. The results truly surprised all of us. This party honestly just begged the question: what do we sample NEXT?

What was really surprising, though, was how many people not only were down for this charade, but also truly invested in it. It was kind of an oat milk party dream come true,

I still have 5 oat milks in my fridge (Casey and Tim brought Planet Oat Extra Creamy). I have only depleted Silk, as I figured I should experience the winner, as the host. That said, I have leaned toward Simple Truth for my cereal and Oatly for my cookies. I have spent the last week eating an obscene amount of both, in addition to the remaining muffins. If you are what you eat, I am one sugary carb.

As a new homeowner, I now live in perpetual fear of something breaking or sh*t hitting the fan in some way. I have a propensity to be incredibly anxious, and home ownership is doing nothing to quell that propensity. I got particularly distraught a week ago, and for really no good reason.

I knew I needed to replace my furnace filter, so I had dutifully marked it on my calendar and ordered the right size from Home Depot. My HVAC guy, Luke, had texted me a video months back explaining how to replace it. The crux of the matter: I had to enter my basement, the scariest part of the house.

I steeled myself to go down into this dungeon, putting on boots and saying a small prayer I didn’t encounter spiders or some dead animal. I quickly swapped out the filters and got the hell out.

Patting myself on the back for this heroic act of responsible home ownership, I settled on the couch to watch Great British Bake-off. As soon as I got up to fix dinner, my kitchen lightbulb went out. With no replacement bulbs nor a step stool to really reach the light fixture, nor the finesse to actually remove said fixture to determine the correct bulb, I was out of luck. I’ve been in a dark kitchen since.

Later that night, I tried to blow off steam by playing the drums. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my automatic outdoor light flick on. Who was out there? I couldn’t see any movement, so I hoped it was just a squirrel. Back to drumming. But then minutes later, it happened again. Paranoia was really setting in. Ryan had gotten me pepper spray for Christmas, but would it be enough?

When it happened a third time, I got up from my kit and stomped over to my vestibule, determined to confront the source of movement. That’s when I realized: I had turned on a switch when I went to the basement that connected to some outdoor lights I presumed dead. They weren’t dead — they were straining for life — and were flickering on and off.

I decided this was enough homeowner BS for one day and went to bed.

In a rare act of collective vigor, my family went bowling at 9 p.m. on December 26. Fletcher suggested that prior to arrival, we should all guess what our final scores would be. He’d then add them all up, and we’d aim for that group score. That way, he explained, we’re all rooting for each other, rather than playing competitively.

I was very much on board with this plan, as the severe competitiveness I developed as a child still rears its head from time to time. I foolishly declared I’d aim for 123, really because I thought it sounded nice. I had no idea how hard it would actually be to score that high. Once everyone had made their bet, Fletch declared that the total score we’d aim for was 525.

We started getting going, and it was clear that a few of us (including me) definitely had been too ambitious with our bets. Fletch, on the other hand, was outscoring himself consistently, hitting spares and strikes over and over. At the halfway mark, things weren’t looking great for the overall score However, a few key strikes and spares between Fletch and Steve, as well as fewer gutter balls on the whole, turned us around.

The final scores ended up being 51 (under), 87 (under), 109 (under), 170 (over), and 108 (under). You’d think we totally failed. But lo and behold, those five numbers added together are exactly 525.

If that’s not a Christmas miracle, I don’t know what is.

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Buzz or Woody?

December 12, 2023

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