A few alternatives

Recently, I reached my third trimester of pregnancy. For those unfamiliar, this is the “hard to put on socks” trimester. When I wear horizontal stripes, my stomach looks like a basketball in sailing attire. As a result, the number of unsolicited remarks about my body has increased ten-fold.

All pregnant women (as unique human beings!) will have their own comfort level re: touch and commentary. Some folks may even enjoy the actions/phrases below. Others, like me, will wish for restraint from strangers, but will give a free pass for close family and friends. When in doubt, ask permission. And take a moment to consider your motivations. Pregnant women are real people. Real, live people with half-baked aliens doing Zumba on their organs. Be kind.

Instead of saying “OH MY GAWD, you’re HUGE!”

Say nothing. Drive straight to the pet store. Look for the most pregnant gerbil you can find. In the absence of a pregnant gerbil, find a nice, healthy chinchilla. Lean close to this animal and tell it everything you think about its body. Describe its belly in poetic detail. Chant “Womb! Womb! Womb!” Wave your hands over the animal, air-tracing its various curves. Stay until security throws you out.

Instead of touching her belly

Touch your belly. You never quite mastered that “rub your belly and pat your head” thing, did you? Now is perfect the time. Practice while walking quietly backwards, away from the pregnant woman.

Instead of telling her how terrible her life will be the second she gives birth, and how birth will annihilate her body, and how she’s made a horrible mistake, and Jesus Christ, you would know, as a mother yourself, but at least her heart will be filled with love, I guess

Do some quiet journaling about the things in your life that have disappointed you.

Instead of staring at her belly for two full minutes, your mouth slightly ajar

Actually, keep doing this. Embrace the peculiar hypnosis that has made your jaw go slack. Focus extra hard on the belly button area; purr the word “outie” like a mantra. Before ascending to the astral plane, accept the pregnant woman’s suggestion that you should reach into your bag and give her all your cash and granola bars. Thanks!

Instead of saying “Someone’s ready to pop!”

“What are your thoughts on Buffy season 5?”

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Thoughts on yogurt

As many of you know, I don’t like yogurt. I don’t hate it, exactly. I’ve eaten it occasionally throughout my adult life, and I remember enjoying drippy peach Yoplaits as a kid. But yogurt is not my top choice. I try not to think about yogurt. The more I think about yogurt, the angrier I get.

Everyone gets so worked up about yogurt. Yogurt people are more vigilant than CrossFit people. Every morning, yogurt people must have their specific and beloved goop. If they don’t eat their yogurt, they get testy and red-eyed. They begin preaching about active cultures as if alerting me to the existence of nebulas.

I understand that yogurt is a widely beloved food. I wish I could be a yogurt person. But every time I try to hop on the probiotic bandwagon, I keep hitting the same stumbling blocks.

1) Yogurt is a breakfast food

I don’t like breakfast. My ideal breakfast is a cup of hot water at 8am and then two dinners later on to make up the caloric deficit. I can’t eat yogurt as one of my double dinners because it’s too flimsy for evening. I hear that they try to market it as dessert (“Cherry Sno Cone” “Boston Creme”), but that is just laughable. Yogurt is ice cream’s understudy. It is a whisper of dessert. But not an erotic whisper made coyly over a candlelit meal. It’s the kind of whisper where you’re like, “I can’t hear you. Speak the fuck up.”

2) I don’t understand how to deal with the lid

Do you fold it? Do you lick it? Do you rinse it off? I resent the amount of yogurt that is transferred and lost to the lid. And why is the yogurt container uniquely formatted to hide its own content in unknowable grooves? You get three trouble-free bites and then it’s time to scrape the crannies. And of course, everyone in your office can hear you digging around for dairy, trying to get your money’s worth from that $1.50 cup of Liberte. I rarely feel so desperate as when I’m trying to finish a yogurt cup.

3) It makes everyone think and talk about poop

Socially speaking, yogurt is tied to digestion. It’s full of bacteria with names like “bowelus poopius.” Every Activia commercial is just a digestive anatomy lesson narrated by Jamie Lee Curtis. Much like prunes or beans, yogurt empowers rude people to make invasive comments about your body (“Someone’s gonna be regular this week!”). I feel like every time someone sees me eating yogurt, they’re given a 10-second glance into my intestines.

4) The texture is weird

What is yogurt, exactly? A solid? A liquid? An emulsion? Much like Jell-O, it puzzles and concerns me. I don’t understand how long I’m supposed to hold each bite in my mouth. Which is weird, because I’m not typically bothered by foods with peculiar textures. I love soup and mashed potatoes. I live for pizza pops, which are basically just an extra-thick paper towel wrapped around some mystery ooze. But yogurt…it’s strange, you guys.

5) Everyone wants me to love yogurt

I can’t tell you how many times yogurt has been sold to me as a miracle salve for all my problems. Sick to your stomach? Slurp down some gut-healing yogurt! Low on protein? Yogurt has 10 grams per serving! Cold all the time? Yogurt will hug your bones! There is something wafty and milk-poor about me, and for my whole adult life, everyone has been handing me yogurt cups like they’re trying to hook me up to an IV.

I’m pretty sure that yogurt, if eaten daily, will change your personality. It will make you rugged and athletic. Every time you eat a Greek yogurt, you get 1% better at soccer. Yogurt improves your balance and prevents you from rubbing up against dirty cars in your new white coat. Lick the lid! Lick the lid!

Yogurt is the lifestyle guru you’ve always been waiting for. It is not dessert and it is not a solid, but it is loved by the masses, and I can not escape it, no matter how hard I try.

So despite all my grievances, I have recently started eating yogurt every day for the following reasons:

  • It is very portable
  • I am pregnant
  • I need more calcium

Food-safe recipes for pregnant women

Congratulations! Now that you’re pregnant, there are many rules and suggestions that friends, strangers, doctors, well-meaning retail cashiers, and the internet will be eager to apply to your life and body. If you are confident and logical, you may ignore some of these rules. If you’re a worrier—a natural-born paranoia machine who thinks you’re developing Guillain-Barré Syndrome every time your foot falls asleep—you will live by these rules as if to defy even one of them will instantly kill both you and your fetus. If that’s the case, this cookbook is for you!

If you do not already know, a pregnant woman is twenty times more likely to develop listeriosis than a non-pregnant person. Pregnancy suppresses the immune system to ensure your fetus isn’t rejected until well after it leaves the womb and starts inviting people to junior high dances. Pregnant women are also extra susceptible to E. coli, salmonella, toxoplasmosis, and This is Us. For all these reasons, caution is paramount.

When you’re pregnant, be sure to avoid soft cheese, undercooked meat and seafood, unwashed vegetables, deli meat, raw sprouts, joie de vivre, and sensory pleasure of any kind. This cookbook focuses on easy-to-find ingredients and stringent preparations that will probably not kill you or your growing child. Our recipes are not a labor of love, but a labor of impending labor. Enjoy!

Oven-roasted chicken breast

Ingredients:

  • 1 package chicken breasts
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 5 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

  • Slice the package open and dump the contents onto a baking sheet, being careful not to touch, smell, or make eye contact with the chicken
  • Deposit the packaging promptly in the garbage
  • Wash your hands, using your elbow to pump the soap
  • Spray the chicken with oil
  • Wonder whether the oil sprayer is now compromised. Put it in the dishwasher
  • Wash your hands
  • Sprinkle the chicken with oregano, salt, and pepper
  • Put the chicken in the oven at 450 degrees
  • Wash your hands
  • Check the chicken after 40 minutes. Slice it open with a knife and fork. Find the meat white, but dangerously moist. Return it to the oven
  • Wash your hands
  • Put the knife and fork in the dishwasher
  • Bleach the dishwasher handle
  • Check the chicken after 60 minutes. Use a new knife and fork to slice it open. Find it firm, but full of criminal steam. Return it to the oven
  • Put the knife and fork in the dishwasher
  • Bleach the dishwasher handle again
  • Wash your hands
  • Check the chicken after 1.5 hours. Find that it is dried into submission and relays no hint of moisture or flavor. Take its temperature with a meat thermometer and discover that the thermometer doesn’t even read that high. The chicken is now done
  • Become convinced that the chicken is a strange color
  • Foist the chicken off on your partner
  • Eat cereal for dinner

Cautionary eggs

Ingredients:

  • Two eggs
  • A free afternoon

Instructions:

  • Put the eggs in a small pot of water and bring to a boil
  • When the eggs have boiled 15 minutes, consider taking them out of the water. Decide against it
  • Boil the eggs for an additional 30 minutes. Your house will now be very humid
  • Peel the eggs and run them under hot water. Slice them open. The yolks should look gray and defeated
  • Sprinkle a few drops of hot water onto each yolk, reinvigorating them
  • Imagine yourself one day reinvigorated like these yolks
  • Eat the eggs, pausing midway through to microwave them after worrying that they’re not quite gray enough
  • Worry that you gave yourself listeriosis

Saltine-stuffed nightstand [best enjoyed within the first trimester]

 Ingredients:

  • 2 sleeves of saltines
  • 1 nightstand

Instructions:

  • Place the saltines in the top drawer of your nightstand
  • Eat at least three saltines every morning before getting out of bed
  • Still end up dry heaving in the shower

Carrot sticks

Ingredients:

  • 5 carrots
  • Running water

Instructions:

  • Wash the carrots under cool running water for 5 minutes per carrot
  • Peel the carrots
  • Wash the carrots for an additional five minutes after peeling
  • Pause to Google “Toxoplasmosis”
  • Assess yourself for symptoms of toxoplasmosis
  • Decide to boil the carrots, just to be safe
  • Boil the carrots for 15 minutes
  • Dress the carrots with soy sauce
  • Wonder whether soy sauce has secret alcohol content. Google “alcohol content of soy sauce.” Google “soy sauce pregnancy.” Phone the Motherisk helpline
  • After Motherisk has assured you it’s okay to eat the carrots, put the carrots in the fridge
  • Two days later, foist the carrots off on your partner

Ham and brie sandwich with alfalfa sprouts

Ingredients:

  • 3 wedges double-cream brie
  • 5 slices deli ham
  • ¼ cup alfalfa sprouts
  • 1 tbsp homemade mayonnaise
  • 2 slices sandwich bread

Instructions:

  • Go to sleep
  • Eat the sandwich in your dreams

Screen time

My cat is obsessed with television. Maybe this sounds funny to you. And it kind of is. Here is a picture of Huey watching Friends:

IMAG5829

And here is a picture of Huey two weeks later, still watching Friends:

IMAG5860

This began as you might expect. My husband and I thought it would be funny to show Huey a bird video, because Huey loves birds. He gets so worked up watching the birdfeeder in our front window, crouched into himself like a squat glob of toothpaste. “Look at me,” he seems to be thinking. “I am dangerously fluffy. If I just sit here, looking like a toad, those birds will fall into my mouth.”

IMAG5341

So one night, feeling bored and indulgent, we pulled up a bird video on YouTube. Huey was instantly hooked. He got super close and started making tiny, excited whines. He attacked the screen. He jumped and cat-shouted and made a general spectacle of himself.

Problem: After we turned off the video, he kept looking for the birds. He began batting at the laptop, darting around the back and attacking the Apple logo. When we took the laptop away, he scratched at the table beneath, still searching for his digital prey.

Problem: He never stopped searching.

Now, whenever we turn on Netflix, Huey runs over. I don’t know if he thinks the actors are birds, or if he thinks he’s hunting tiny humans, or if he just thinks “I am a thoughtless mass of instinct and reflex: stimuli, stimuli.” Whatever his motivation, he’s trying to be as close to the actors as possible, snugging his chest up by the number keys, not realizing that his excited breathing is pressing down the “esc” key over and over.

My husband asked our vet about this.

“Huh,” she said. “I’ve never really heard of that before. Maybe try waggling a toy in front of him while he’s watching?”

As you can expect, this worked about as well as someone chucking a Frisbee at me during a Veronica Mars marathon. Huey released three short meows, something between “You’re bothering me” and “I am actually a garburator.”

So, now we have this cat that’s obsessed with TV. And though it’s sort of sweet in a “So like us!” kind of way, it’s also somewhat unsettling in a “So like us…” kind of way.

Because we are now acutely aware of how much TV we watch. And I’m not talking about “Sunday evening Game of Thrones with popcorn and pals” TV-watching. I’m talking about “Half an episode of Roswell while I’m curling my hair” TV-watching. Huey is an uncanny reflection of our own habits.

You are two hours deep into TNG and you smell like cat food, this living mirror tells us.

We want our pets to be exempt from the banalities of human life. We want to see a dog wearing a bow tie, but not ironing a bow tie. Sometimes I see Huey unwinding in front of the TV after a long day of sleeping and I think  “Jesus Christ, is this what I look like to ghosts?”

Soon, I expect to see Huey paying bills online. Fumbling with the coffee maker. Absently flipping through Cosmo at the grocery store, searching for better ways to gnaw his belly hair.

It would be different, somehow, if he was watching the Criterion Collection. Or HBO. I guess I could start watching The Wire, so that Huey watches The Wire. Be the cat you wish to see in the world. But the very act of training my cat to watch HBO seems impossibly weird, less like an activity and more like an internet t-shirt.

My cat watches shows you’ve never heard of

For now, I’ve switched Huey over to RuPaul’s Drag Race. I think he’s rooting for Kim Chi. No spoilers though please. He’s not caught up.

Greetings from your Fitbit

My Fitbit has been talking to me.

Not aloud, or anything. But daily, in large digital letters. I’ll look down and the Fitbit will flash: HI NICOLE. Or: UCANDOIT. It is a strange, watchful companion. Like a kangaroo peeking from a pouch, it rides in my pants pocket, offering stilted commentary on my life.

I know this is normal. I’m not under the impression that this Fitbit has selected me, special me, to bless with conversation. “I was just counting her steps, you guys, and I could tell by her gait that she wanted to know me.” No. These messages are pre-programmed. Still, I have a hard time not taking them personally. My Fitbit is pushy and demanding. It’s like a tiny personal trainer who knows that I lie.

MOVE IT, NICOLE

PICK IT UP

When I see these messages, I feel grumpy and defensive. Like, screw you, wellness pellet; I just walked four laps around the living room while eating a sesame snap—what more do you want from me?

Then I think of that Roxane Gay tweet where she said: “I always say thank you to Alexa so that when the machines take over they know I’m nice.”

My Fitbit knows I’m not nice.

But it doesn’t seem to care, because a few weeks ago, I was sitting on the couch and the Fitbit made a neon entreaty.

HOLD ME

I stared down. Surely I hadn’t read it correctly. But later it flashed the same words again.

HOLD ME, NICOLE

Had the Fitbit progressed to personal demands? Did it actually want me to cradle it? That this occurred the day before Valentine’s Day only made it extra creepy. The singularity happened, you guys, and all the machines want is a date for Wednesday night.

Later that week, I picked up the Fitbit and it made another plea.

HUG ME

Then this morning, I saw another message.

LOVE YA

I don’t want to sound cocky here, but it really seems like this Fitbit has a crush on me. And now I feel cautious around it, sure that any day now I’ll wake up to a series of flashing messages.

SO, WHAT

ARE WE

DOING HERE

ANYWAYS,

NICOLE?

ARE WE LIKE

A COUPLE…

OR WHAT?

How do you let a Fitbit down easy? I don’t want to avoid my Fitbit–I rely on it to productively shame me. Maybe I’m just reading the situation incorrectly. Maybe the Fitbit is focused on total wellness, and somehow it’s decided that I’m lonely. That might be it. Maybe it has a built-in censor that dings if someone watches 10 Things I Hate About You more than once in a month.

Just in case, I will ask my husband to speak to it. “Hold this worried pellet,” I will say. “Hold it very gently, and tell it that I’m loved.”

Dear YM

Recently, I was thinking about embarrassing stories. You know, like the ones you used to read in Seventeen and YM. “My tampons fell out of my purse and I got pit stains from explaining it to my crush who then told me I’d had spinach in my teeth the whole time.” Those kind of stories.

Little known fact, YM was my first publication. As a young teen, I used to go to Chapters every Friday and read it for free while my mom worked on lesson plans at Starbucks. At thirteen, I cared about three things: bangs, boys, and butterfly clips. YM reported on all of these.

The embarrassing stories were my favourite section. They were a testament to junior high survival. They taught me what it was like to cough into someone’s mouth while kissing. They taught me all the ways snot could show up like a trickster god to ruin your pubescent life. Reading these stories was the most exciting part of my week, which says nothing, because the second most exciting part was playing Microsoft pinball.

I wanted to submit my own embarrassing story. Problem: I had never coughed in someone’s mouth. I avoided public speaking, and I’d been lucky not to soil myself lately. Though my behaviour was rife with built-in embarrassments, I lacked the awareness to see them as such. I did not tell YM that my bangs were styled in such a perfect barrel wave that Point Break could have been filmed in them. I did not submit the list I’d made of things I wanted most in the world, which included “shimmery blue gloves” and “an Oscar.”

Instead, I drew inspiration from a fashion camp I’d attended the previous summer. I owned three happy-face t-shirts from Claire’s, so of course I wanted to be a fashion designer. At this week-long camp, I’d “designed” a 60s-inspired “outfit” that was basically just a puff of yellow fur attached to a pea-coloured sack. Woodstock. At the end of the camp, we all wore our outfits in a mock fashion show. The made-up story I submitted to YM (I had no moral qualms at that time about fabricating it) went something like this:

I went to a summer fashion camp where we designed our own outfits. At the end of camp, we all wore the outfits in a fashion show. All my friends were in the audience. Even my crush was there. My outfit was a halter-top with beaded straps. As I walked down the runway, the straps snapped, and I flashed the whole audience! I tried to run off stage, but I slipped on the beads and sailed into the crowd. I landed on my crush and threw up all over him.

They printed everything but the vomit.

Why don’t I hear stories like this anymore? Do adults lose their capacity for this particular breed of over-the-top embarrassment? Maybe we’re all desensitized by the constant, small-league embarrassments of workplace screw-ups and linty pants. I remember when people used to swap embarrassing stories at parties, feeling secretive and risqué. I went to a party recently and talked about life insurance. Is that the embarrassing story in and of itself? I miss sitting in giggly circles and hearing who farted in front of the hot Blockbuster cashier.

I was thinking about all this a couple weeks ago, and then I went to Winterstart with some friends. Winterstart is a 5-mile night run in Banff. I go every year with my husband and our pals, who are casually athletic in an “of course I own a foam roller“ kind of way. I never participate in the actual run, but I do cheer from the sidelines and leech onto the after-party, which is held in an underground parkade.

The parkade offers free beer for runners, but lately the organizers have been cracking down on free beer for leeches. And it’s not much fun to hang out in a parkade sober, so a couple friends and I decided to sneak beer in.

Walking into the venue, I felt self-conscious. I’d tried to raise my hood as we left the hotel, forgetting there was a can of Molson Canadian inside. My secret had whacked me on the neck. Now, I tried to move naturally, hyperaware of the cans in each pocket. I have an inborn fear of rule-breaking that was condensing in my armpits. I was Homer Simpson, hoarding candy in a custom-made coat. I was Ocean’s Eleven.

I made it across the parkade and slunk into the protection of my friends. The mood was celebratory. They’d all just run a run! There was a security guard sitting about 3 metres away, but I felt at ease among my sweaty comrades. I settled into a folding chair.

That’s when I heard the clunk.

Thinking little of it, I reached toward my pocket to retrieve my contraband beer.

The pocket was empty.

With horror, I turned around. The can was rolling across the parkade floor, as if in slow motion. It made a graceful turn, slowed to a crawl, gave me a can’s version of a saucy wink, and then landed right in front of the security guard.

The guard stood. He walked over to my contraband beer and picked it up. We made charged, knowing eye contact. Then he walked over slowly, very slowly, and handed me back the beer.

And then I vomited.

Just kidding.

But I did blush so hard that my face lit up the night sky, like that scene in Hocus Pocus where they open the devil’s book. I blushed so hard that it generated a whole football team of teenage poltergeists who screamed “Touchdown! Touchdown!”

It was mortifying. It was electric. It was strangely delightful. I was filled with sensory nostalgia and unfiltered shame.

I had seen the proverbial unicorn, and I’d coughed right into its mouth.

How to send a stressful email

Procrastinate. You may think you need to send the email today, but what is today but the beginning of tomorrow? Today is the foreplay for tomorrow—enjoy it. You wouldn’t want to jump the gun. So just sit on that email. Keep sitting on it. You are the hen of that email.

Eat mindlessly. Eat half a chocolate bar. Eat the other half of that chocolate bar. Eat directly from a jar of peanut butter, and then inhale a bag of soy nuts. When you think you’ve eaten all you can, eat some popcorn. Sprain your tongue while extracting a kernel from your molar. The pain you’re now experiencing will make the task ahead seem mild.

Consult people about word choice and tone. Consult not just friends, but people who have always seemed cold towards you, people who don’t hate you quite enough to attempt sabotage, but who never laugh at your jokes. Pay these people $10 for their input. It is a gamble, yes. But you want this message so tight that a Lannister would respond with a smiley face.

Embrace nihilism. This email is just another drop in the big bucket of nothing. Put on some Nine Inch Nails and slip into the existential crisis that will serve as your makeshift confidence.

Divide the actual work of the email into two activities: the writing and the sending. Do the writing part fast. Rip off this email like a band-aid. Then edit it. Edit it for a long time. As you do, take comfort in the fact that the email is not actually happening…yet. This is just you drafting the email. This is just a role-playing exercise. This is just a hilarious dream.

Drink. Get kinda drunk. Come home and hit send on that draft. BAM. You did it. And you don’t even care because you’ve had three beers and now you just want a pizza pop. Do not, under any circumstances, edit the draft before hitting send. If you do, revert to Step 1 and begin writing your apology email.