Sunday, December 5, 2021

Exeunt 2021

...pursued by a bear? Actually a straightforward bear might make a welcome change from much of the fun-house tour, conducted at dizzying speed, that has characterized this year. I keep saying to people that it felt as though 2020 went on for about five years, and that 2021 has been more like five weeks. And now here it is December again, and time to crank up the holiday-cookie production line. (I'm still hoping that people will want homemade cookies this year; I scaled back considerably on numbers last year in recognition of the whole socially-distanced holiday vibe, so I guess we'll have to see how things go over the next couple of weeks.)

As I live in hope, I've started browsing my photo archive for the year to jog my memory of highlights, baking and otherwise. These Chocolate Sugar Cookies are easily my favorite recipe from Sarah Kieffer's 100 Cookies, and were well received both at home and in care packages sent across a wide swath of the continental US. Any cookie is a Christmas cookie if you make it at Christmastime, right?  

Sunday, February 28, 2021

50 weeks

This weekend marks 50 weeks of quarantine life - just two weeks shy of a full year since we went into lockdown - and the final weekend of this longest shortest month. I had a look back through my photos to see what this month looks like for the archive:

Snow We had snowfall or wintry mix with accumulation on 11 out of 27 days this month - beautiful to look at, but messy and slippery enough to mess with my regular exercise and grocery routines. We had an abrupt change from snow on Monday to 60-degree weather on Tuesday and, as much as I love my hibernation, I think I’m officially ready for spring.

Handwork More time indoors has meant more time spent on crafty pursuits, and this month I finished another two projects: a crocheted scarf and a zippered pouch. I’m also pursuing my interest in visible mending, and did an intentional repair on a favorite souvenir tea towel. 

Cooking Possibly my proudest cooking moment of the month was creating a complete meal out of what looked like a pretty bare refrigerator. Stumped about what to make for dinner, and not wanting to make an impromptu supermarket run in another wintry mix episode, I stumbled across a recipe for Belgian Endive and Ham Gratin. I didn’t have any Belgian endive, but I did have a heap of leftover braised chard, so I rolled that (along with some leftover rice pilaf) into slices of ham, as proposed by the recipe, and made those the base of the recipe instead. As a bonus, I finally feel like I’ve mastered making a Mornay sauce.

As usual, there was a lot of this - chocolate cupcakes, whoopie pies for Valentine’s Day, Smitten Kitchen’s French Breakfast Puffs for Sunday breakfast - and I also cracked open 100 Cookies and made a big batch of chocolate chip cookies to give away and send in care packages.

Speaking of care packages.... I’ve been participating in the Lasagna Love initiative, a volunteer movement to provide a hot meal to people in our communities who may be in need of a helping hand for one reason or another. Over the holiday weekend, I combined a Lasagna Love delivery with a new-baby meal delivery for one of DP’s students - my favorite kind of community effort!

Other distractions Most of my sisters and I have become obsessed with Spelling Bee, one of the New York Times’ daily puzzles - so much so that we had to set up a separate chat thread to avoid driving the one sister who isn’t playing around the bend. We swap hints, complain about ineligible words (what do you mean “chillin’” doesn’t count?), and cheer each other on to Genius level and sometimes, the coveted Queen Bee.

And last but not least, I can’t overlook the other, happier milestone that we’ve reached this weekend - two years since we brought our furry housemate home from the shelter. Originally dubbed Trinity when she first came home, she has since acquired a variety of nicknames, the most commonly used of which these days is Chubthulu. Here she is in her favorite spot, doing what she does best: improving quality of life for all just by hanging around.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Day 330

Sorry I went quiet there for a bit; most of January felt like walking through a dark tunnel of anxiety. January 6 was a realization of so many things I’d been worrying and catastrophizing about for the past 4+ years. I watched in rage and horror as an insurrectionist mob stormed the US Capitol building. They climbed walls, broke windows, looted offices, defaced public property, and threatened the safety of every single person in the building. They wandered around the building for hours, brandishing Confederate flags, taking selfies, and displaying their total, malicious disrespect for the home of American government and the greatest symbol of our constitutional democracy. 

They did all of this with apparent ease and little visible opposition from the law enforcement and security agencies that are normally on display at any event in Washington, DC. For anyone who witnessed the highly visible law enforcement presence on display and bristling with gear and weaponry in Washington DC and across the US during last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, the security forces in place appeared unprepared and even vulnerable - a stark contrast and one that raises unavoidable questions about the people in each group and how they and the possible threats they pose are viewed by our law enforcement and homeland security agencies. 

So I’ve been feeling anxious - how could this serious threat have been so poorly evaluated and planned for? And angry - how can this toxic white privilege be so visible to some of us, while others claim not to understand what we are talking about? And despair - how can this country move forward in any meaningful way when our society is so divided that we are effectively living in two different realities? And dislocation - how can we even think about moving forward with anything at all until we have addressed what really happened on January 6, and what it means for our country? 

Friday, January 1, 2021

Welcome 2021


Coming to the end of a much-needed holiday break spent in more or less the same routine we've been in since mid-March (today is Day 293, 42 weeks). Normally we would have been in Boston this week for a holiday visit, but having decided that was unsafe and irresponsible, we have remained here in northern Virginia to eat Christmas goodies, admire our neighbors' holiday lights, and indulge in our favorite safe recreational pursuits. Yesterday I repeated the guided reflection I wrote about last year, and also took some time to gather some metrics on my 2020 resolutions in preparation for scoping out a new set for 2021:

1 handmade project/month: I didn't quite hit this milestone, but I did count 10 projects completed, which is unprecedented given my track record as a project (non-)completer before this year. And since one of those projects comprises 50+ homemade masks for family, friends, and donation, I feel pretty good about how this went. I even gave some handmade gifts as Christmas presents - here's one, an embroidered infinity scarf that I made for my sister-in-law:

2 outside events/month: well, this one was an epic fail, unsurprisingly, which is mostly on the pandemic and partly on me. I know there were dozens of virtual options that sprang up for connection, entertainment, education, professional development, and more, but to be perfectly honest, daily life was usually so hectic and draining that the thought of voluntarily spending more time online after work and school hours had ended was completely unappealing.

3 minutes/day of meditation: this was not a great success either, as I got into a bad habit of bedtime doomscrolling that I'm still trying to break. This review exercise was a helpful reminder to restart this one, so it will definitely be on the 2021 list again.

4 books/month: I didn't hit this milestone as planned, but I did manage somewhat respectable totals as follows:

Fiction: 20 (25-30% of these were re-reads)

Non-fiction: 2 (reading was definitely an escape this year)

YA fiction: 10 (60% of these were re-reads of old favorites)

Cookbooks: 5 (this number represents a documented use of a cookbook for a new recipe or technique)

Related to this last category: I did not have a food- or recipe-related resolution for 2020, but having reviewed my notes and photos I did document 21 new recipes or techniques that expanded my repertoire in 2020. (More on that in a subsequent post.)

5 30-minute exercise sessions/week: I actually managed this pretty consistently, especially once quarantine cabin fever got me into the habit of regular walks. Over the last month, I've been challenging myself to increase my step count by at least 100 steps over the previous day's target, working towards a goal of consistently hitting 10,000 steps/day. I started this in late November with a step total of 4,300 for my baseline; yesterday my target (achieved) was 7,000 steps.

6 pages/week of creative writing: here again, I didn't quite hit this total. But I did establish a routine of getting up 30-45 minutes early most weekdays in order to write, and have produced about 80,000 words of writing practice this year, including blog posts, exercises, and story drafts. 

7 hours/month on personal and financial admin: I did manage to integrate this as a regular part of my weekly routine, and feel I have a much better handle on our financial situation and home admin than I did a year ago. We have been extremely fortunate to be able to maintain employment and financial stability in 2020, and thus to have the opportunity to deal with some debt, make some necessary home repairs, and try to pump some money into the local economy.

A note related to this last point: one of my friends suggested online recently that those of us who are US-based, financially stable, and in line to receive a stimulus check consider making a concerted effort to put all of that money back into the local economy by purchasing goods and services from small businesses. I'm completely on board with this idea, adding only that another good option would be to donate a chunk to charities working to mitigate the economic and health hardships that so many people are facing this winter. (If you're looking for ideas, a local food bank is always a good place to start.)

When I re-read this post, I am struck again by how very, very fortunate I am to be healthy, housed, food and income stable, and able to focus on how best to use my time and money. I'm working to keep that in mind in finalizing my resolutions and plans for 2021. 


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