Baby Steps

“Just take it like a shot, you can do it. One, two, three.”

I still cannot believe that Erik had to coach me through a small dose of NyQuil in a session that took the better part of an hour. At 18 years old I had the same fervent hatred for liquid medicines as I’d had at age 6, and the lurid, anise-scented syrup wasn’t making a strong case for itself.

The standard adult dose of NyQuil is two tablespoons, and it comes in its own plastic cup. In ounces, that corresponds roughly to an average-sized shot glass but I’m skeptical that the manufacturers of our favorite dolphin-emblazoned glasses were particularly committed to precision. Regardless, a two-tablespoon-sized cup of anything looks pretty piddling, but I couldn’t bring this one near my mouth without tears springing to my eyes and my gag reflex threatening mutiny.

I had my first college flu and my (older, wiser) friends had taken it upon themselves to look after me after listening to a few hours of piteous whining. Erik presented me with a bottle of deep green decongestant goo for what I’m sure he thought was going to be a one-gulp fix, and instead I presented him with my usual sickbed hysteria.

“What does it taste like? Will it linger? Does it work right away? Do I have to take it? Can I do it in little sips? Oh please take it away–wait, I need it. Really, just…one swallow? That’s all? Will it really help me sleep? How soon do I have to go to sleep? I won’t like it. I don’t like it. Do I have to?”

I cowered in my roommate’s chair trying to drum up enough courage for a single swallow while Erik and Jordan tried to increase its appeal.

“You know it’s really not that bad. It smells so much worse than it tastes; I actually kind of like it!”

“Yeah, dude, it will help you sleep sooo much better. You’ll get used to it.”

“It’s not going to magically cure you, you know that right? But you’ll sleep and then you’ll feel so much better, and that’s what you want isn’t it? We all want that–please!

I got brave. I took the cup. I studied it, took a few deep breaths–and handed it back.

“I can’t.”

To the boys’ credit, they maintained astonishing calm while we repeated this process. I came close to downing the cup, so very desperate to get it over with and finally sleep, but so repulsed by the smell and viscosity that I pushed it away every time. At last Erik threatened to pinch my nose shut for me while I sipped, which was enough to make me yelp, “That won’t be necessary!” and finish the dose in one go.

As soon as I was through sniffling and wincing, Jordan leaned over with a mischievous grin. “So. I wasn’t going to tell you this before, but I puked everywhere the first time I took NyQuil. See? You did fine!”

With that they sent me to bed and checked in the next morning, when I had to admit that yes, I had slept very well and my headache was gone and I could breathe and probably some of that had to do with the NyQuil, a bit.

I have since discovered that NyQuil comes in simple, odor-free pills, which mercifully takes all the drama out of a head cold. But I think of that incident often since it tends to repeat itself whenever I have a big decision ahead of me. The need to make post-graduate plans has gotten stronger in the few months that I’ve been out of college, yet I wind myself up in a monstrous web of pros and cons and lose my focus. I imagine many possibilities, some excellent and some outrageous, but if I overthink them I am likely to fall into NyQuil Mode and reject something promising and useful. When I feel myself veering too close to the planning anxiety (“I should do this, but I can’t do that, and this is too scary, and that is too far, but oh god, I should DO this!”), I have to remind myself that an independent move should be like medicine. However unpleasant at the time, it ought to be ultimately restorative so that I can continue forging forward. Sometimes I need a little push.

Spiky Supper

Tonight, I wanted a hands-off meal. I wanted dinner to fix itself. I needed to concentrate on packing my bags and composing myself before a very busy weekend at BlogHer Food in Seattle, which, trust me, is more exciting than a free trip to the Academy Awards in my world. Not that I’ve ever been offered such a thing.

But I am going to BlogHer, where I’ll be meeting my boss David Leite (along with many other talented writers and bloggers) in person for the first time, and I am psyched. I have been looking forward to this for months, and I’ve been hitting the blogs hard to see who’ll be in attendance this Friday and Saturday–it seems prudent to brush up on some names and faces before I mingle with a seething mass of food-and-word lovers.

So, I’ve been distracted. This evening I was almost too excited to eat, let alone cook, so when I found a lone artichoke–the most laid-back meal I could imagine, in terms of cooking–in the fridge, I didn’t think twice.

I should have. I’d never cooked an artichoke before. Pssshh, but you just plop it over boiling water and steam it til it’s done! No big deal! A baby could do it! Ha. Ha. Ha.

I nestled the ‘choke in a steamer above a few inches of water, and trotted off to my room, where I intended to watch one episode of something short and frivolous before checking on dinner. I had a vague idea that it would take about 30 minutes to steam an artichoke, but hadn’t even bothered to confirm.

And here is where a good deed that I performed rather grudgingly paid off and saved the day. Earlier this week, I installed a smoke detector in our hallway in order to appease the landlady make our home very safe. We’d had one–well, part of one–stuck on the ceiling for the past eight months, but it lacked batteries and anything resembling a “detector,” and since our house is all of four rooms and a hallway, we were never terribly concerned that we might not notice a fire. I was more intent on avoiding the stink-eye from our landlady when she brought a prospective tenant by, so I went ahead and hooked it UP. The new detector is sleek and subtle, and has a special silencing button that you can hit should your cooking smoke drift a little too far out of the kitchen…

…which is exactly what happened tonight, when a polite but urgent beeping jolted me out of tv-land and back into the world where boiling water will evaporate quickly and old pots will scorch. I wrestled the pot from the clutches of the stove and flipped on the kitchen fan before turning back to that stupid overgrown thistle, which wasn’t even close to tender. After 20 more minutes in a new steam bath and much swearing on my part, the artichoke was good to go–sort of. Perhaps it wasn’t a very good one, or maybe it had just spent a little too long accidentally smoking in its own essence before the heroic rescue, but it made for an extremely underwhelming meal.

I consoled myself with extra garlic butter, and left to meet my friends for a beer.