Freed From Food Fights

I was the world’s pickiest eater.

For years, all I wanted was cereal, pasta, bread, cake, muffins, croissants… Anything bready, and I wanted it. Even better if it was bready AND sweet.

My mother watched in despair (and amazement) as I somehow managed to grow without seeming to eat a single vegetable. That all changed, however, when I went to boarding school at age 14.

Faced with how gross the food was at school, I suddenly realized how good I had had it at home. I returned after my first semester away and would eat anything. (Or, at least almost anything.)

I am happy to report that I now enjoy a varied and balanced diet (though I still have a weak spot for all things bread…).

What Goes Around…

I can only imagine my mother’s smug reaction to the fact that the Bear (our second son) is just such another picky eater.

He would forgo all vegetables, and even most fruit if he could. Like his mother before him, it seems he would happily live on bread alone.

Following my mother’s approach with me, we instituted a “one bite of everything” rule. That has always worked remarkably well for the Bug, and we figured that way at least the Bear would get the occasional vegetable.

Oh, how wrong we were!

What works for one child, does not always work for another.

Dinnertime became a battle of wills. At first, hearing what was for dinner would make him cry. Eventually, just hearing the call of, “Dinner time!” was enough to set off tears.

It was a battle to get him to the table. It was a battle to get him to eat even one bite of each thing.

Finally, it came down to his choice: calm down and take one bite of everything, or go to bed. He would usually calm down and sniffle through the meal, but it made dinner time (and even lunchtime) stressful and unpleasant.

The Breaking Point

Things finally came to a head one evening. The Bear had been particularly threenager-ish all day, and when I called down to the playroom: “Dinner time!” a howl emerged from the basement.

The wailing mounted the stairs and burst forth through the basement door as his tear-streaked face came into view. We wrestled him to the bathroom to wash his hands, and got him to his chair.

When we were finally gathered at the table, he was given his usual choice: calm down and take one bite of everything, or go to bed.

He threw down his fork and screamed.

I snapped.

I jumped up from my chair, swiftly (but calmly) rounded the table, scooped him up and whisked him upstairs. I bathed him (by which time he had calmed down), got him ready, read him his story and put him to bed.

The following morning, what he hadn’t eaten at dinner was on his breakfast plate.

There were a few quiet tears, but he had understood the point and quickly took one bite of each before having his breakfast.

Then, Relief Came

I was fed up, and in my frustration I vented on a Facebook group. I got lots of sympathy, but then, relief. A friend shared with me the Ellyn Satter Institute Division of Responsibility in Feeding.

This. Was. A. Game. Changer.

The basic premise is this: parents are responsible for what, when and where to eat. Children are responsible for whether and how much to eat.

From the Ellyn Satter Institute website

Important to the process is establishing regular meal and snack times, and not letting children eat between meals.

Luckily, we’ve tended to do this anyway: we sit down together at table to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. Snack times are mid-morning and mid-afternoon. I have a pet peeve about crumbs on furniture, so we’ve never let the kids eat anywhere but sitting at the table. That’s a firm family rule.

With that already established, putting this into practice was relatively easy. Chico and I talked about it, read through the materials on the website, and agreed to give it a try. Anything had to be better than what we were dealing with now.

Freed From Food Fights

What a relief to be freed from the responsibility of making my child eat!

The first time we sat down to dinner after reading about the Division of Responsibility in Feeding, we made a quick announcement:

“Boys, Mamá and Papá will give you food at mealtimes. We’ll decide what to give you and when. But you guys will decide whether you want to eat it, and how much you eat. All we want is for us to sit together and have a nice time as a family.”

There was a little complaining at first, but as soon as they realized they could choose to NOT eat certain things, the fussing stopped. We try to make sure there’s at least something on the table that they’ll like, but we don’t cater exclusively to their tastes, or make a separate meal for them.

Oftentimes, the Bear has nothing more than a glass of milk and a slice of buttered bread for dinner. It’s hard to take. But we’re working on trusting him to eat as much as he needs to, and on the whole mealtimes have been SO MUCH BETTER.

Pleasant Mealtimes

Now, we spend our mealtimes talking and laughing. Instead of nagging and arguing, we’re listening and chatting. We’ll talk about our days, talk about our plans for the days ahead, and just enjoy time together.

It’s just so freeing. Old habits die hard, and I do sometimes slip back into the occasional nag. But Chico and I encourage each other, and it’s so much better than it was.

According to the Ellyn Satter Institute, following this method will teach children by example how to eat a variety of foods. She does say it can take years, and sometimes it feels like it will never happen for our Bear.

But we must have faith and persevere. As long as mealtimes are a joyful time that we spend together, we’ve got to be doing something right.

Right?

Take A Hike!

It must have been obvious that I was not doing well.

So obvious, in fact, that my mother’s dear friend and my stand-in godmother (who also takes on role of great auntie and sometimes even grandmother in her friend’s place) informed me that she was coming to watch the boys on Wednesday afternoon and that I should leave the house.

She didn’t offer to watch the boys. No. She informed me she was going to watch the boys.

Alrighty, then! I’ll leave!

But where to go?

In the Before Times I’d have booked a massage, or perhaps an afternoon sewing lesson at a local fabric store. Maybe a mani-pedi or a visit to the hairdresser.

But in Covid Times (despite being vaccinated), either these activities are unavailable or seem unsafe.

So instead, I checked the weather report and then wrote to a friend.

“I know you’re working and you have responsibilities and everything, but I’m not okay and my godmother is watching the kids tomorrow and do you want to go on a hike with me?”

The response was swift and encouraging: I’ll make it work.

Outdoor Escape

That’s how I found myself in the car headed west on a mid-week afternoon (on St. Patrick’s Day, no less!).

I’d gone on AllTrails and found a lovely-looking hike within reasonable distance of home. I packed my hiking backpack with water, a first-aid kit, my knitting, two hunks of cheese and a Swiss army knife, grabbed my walking sticks and my mother’s old hiking boots and hopped in the car.

We met at Sky Meadows state park, a lovely park with several trail routes. After encountering a brood of chickens zealously guarding the restrooms, we struck north and tackled a 4.4 mile loop with gusto.

The first part of the hike was the hardest, but the view was worth it. As we stood at the top of a very steep hill, winded and sweaty after just 10 minutes of hiking, I thought to myself, “This was a wonderful idea.”

So Grateful

That hike in excellent company (and the delicious meal that followed!) was exactly what the doctor ordered.

So many things can crowd together to fog my mind and put me in a funk. Tedium, boredom, loneliness, feelings of inadequacy… We all have these feelings sometimes.

What we don’t all have, and what I am privileged to enjoy, are resources and opportunities.

Resources like the wonderful people who support me: my husband, my mother’s best friend, my own friends, family. Opportunities like being able to take a hike mid-week.

For these, and for so much more, I am very grateful. I hope to never take the people and the circumstances that surround me for granted.

If You’re Feeling Blue

You’re not alone. Though trust me, I know it feels like it. Depression sinks us further into isolation, which is a scary side-effect of social distancing.

If you or someone you love is suicidal, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (or SAMHSA–I know, catchy, right?) also offers a 24/7 hotline for free treatment referral and information: 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

There are lots of online resources like Better Help and others. I have no personal experience with these and don’t know how they work. Many of them are for-profit companies, so be aware of that.

If you have a family doctor, you can also reach out for tele-health appointments and referrals.

You can also write to a friend, or call. If you’re reading this and you want to talk, just drop me a line or give me a call. My friend rearranged her work day to take a hike with me. That’s what friends do. I’ll do the same for you.

Photo credit: Brittany Baker on AllTrails.com

One Year On

One year, folks. One year since things went nuts.

On March 6th 2020, Chico flew back to the United States from Spain, and on March 14th Trump banned flights from many European countries (including Spain!).

The fact that Chico has been with us through this pandemic has been one of the small miracles I’ve witnessed over the last year.

There have been a few others.

The Power of a Gifted Teacher

We are lucky to live in a privileged school district, where each child was issued a Chromebook. We are also lucky to have reliable internet connection.

And we are extremely lucky that for kindergarten the Bug was assigned to one of the finest teachers I have ever encountered. A woman of great patience, kindness, but firmness, with a sense of humor to boot.

Mrs. B has reached through the computer screen and ignited the Bug’s love of learning. I consider that a miracle. And the miracle of Mrs. B’s gift has had such a big impact on our family.

He’s logged on to school each day with joy and anticipation, and not once has he complained about it. Miracle.

The Dedication of a Team of Strangers

I signed up to volunteer with the local medical reserve corps last spring. I felt powerless in the face of the pandemic and wanted to help.

From the first time I volunteered, I was struck by how well organized, how proactive and how coordinated everything and everyone was. It seemed to me like all the other volunteers were pros who had been doing this forever.

It turns out, a large number of them were first-time volunteers like me. But like me, they were of a mindset that they were there simply to be useful.

It speaks to how well the organizers from the health department do their jobs, because the MRC here runs like a well-oiled machine.

We currently vaccinate between 1,800 and 2,800 people a day at the county vaccination site. That entire operation is staffed solely by volunteers.

That volunteer army is a miracle.

How Children Adapt to the New Normal

The first time I went to the grocery store wearing a face mask, I nearly had a panic attack.

It was so strange, so frightening and so new to me that I didn’t think I’d ever get used to it.

Ha! Shows what I know! Now I feel weird NOT wearing a mask!

When the kids first had to wear masks, it was a struggle. They complained and fussed, and kept pulling them off their faces. By the second time, they were more resigned. By the third time it was as if they’d been wearing them all their lives.

Now, when we leave the house, they put on their masks like champs. It’s the new normal for them, and they shrug and put them on, just like they put on sunglasses on sunny days and hats on cold ones. No biggie.

Not having to argue about mask wearing every time we go out? Definitely a miracle.

A Shoutout to Librarians

The last little miracle I’ve witnessed is the wonderful dedication of people who love their jobs, and do them well.

Specifically, librarians.

They are a rare and wonderful breed, and they enrich our lives in so many small ways. Every Monday, we go to our local library, and there we encounter the ways librarians show the community their love.

They’re small: A carefully chosen display of books and references on this month’s theme (March is national crafting month!). A printed flyer with a list of read-aloud chapter book recommendations for children ages six to nine. The weekly craft, all neatly packed in a brown paper bag, ready for us to take home (this week we’re growing zinnias!).

The joy the boys feel when they pick up their weekly crafts, and then settle in to browse the bookshelves… That joy is a gift from the librarians.

And it is no small miracle.

Thank You, Miracle Workers

Thank you to the teachers, the volunteers and the librarians. Thank you for the miracles you work every day.

Back in Time

The pandemic really has thrown me back in time.

First, it was the bread baking. Remember when we all thought we were going to STARVE and there WOULDN’T BE ANY BREAD?

(I never did get a sourdough starter going, I just stuck to the NYT no-knead bread recipe. I’m lazy.)

Then it was the knitting.

I was already on board with the knitting trend, but it would seem that many others (Michelle Obama, included!) joined me.

Then there were all the things that I started doing again that I hadn’t done in a long time: tennis lessons, playing piano, writing on the blog…

But this latest development has taken me so far back into the past that I could almost feel at home in one of the Barbara Pym novels I wrote about last week.

Sock Darning.

Yup. It’s true.

I have taken to darning socks.

Darn(ed) it!

Not just any old socks, mind you. I’ve darned some fancy Smartwool socks. The kind that you’re not supposed to need to darn. DARN THEM!

Mindful Mending

The act of threading the needle in and out, back and forth, focusing on keeping my shoulders relaxed and my back straight… It’s meditative.

The pandemic has been anxiety-provoking for most everyone. For me, stitching helps to calm my mind and soothe some of that anxiety.

Honestly, it also helps to stave off feelings of boredom, uselessness and inactivity.

Loved Clothes Last: Added Bonus

I haven’t been shopping much during this pandemic. I’ve avoided my bi-annual clothes shopping excursions. I’ve tried ordering some clothes online, but the waste of having to mail so many of them back is frustrating.

I’ve participated peripherally in the slow fashion movement by making myself some sweaters. These I wear all the time.

(I’ve practically lived in my Weekender sweater this winter!)

But with the pandemic, and with being unable (or unwilling) to do much clothes shopping, I’ve found myself slowly embracing the mending movement.

An attempt at mending a cardigan

First it was the socks. Then, this cardigan that was my mother’s. These aren’t fancy clothes, and you could argue that they’re hardly worth mending.

But they’re clothes I like to wear. They’ve been in steady rotation since the colder weather set in, and I’d like to keep them that way.

If You’ve Any Mending…

Don’t throw away something you like to wear just because it’s got a little hole in it.

Pick up your needle and thread and set to it! You could try doing some visible mending to make a fashion statement.

(Or, like me, you could attempt to make your mending invisible and fail entirely.)

After all, there’s a pandemic on. It’s not like we’ve got a whole lot else to do.

Allow Me To Introduce Barbara Pym

In 1977, she was called “the most underrated writer of the 20th century” by an influential English literary critic and one of England’s most famous poets. And they were right!

I love recommending Barbara Pym to people. She’s an absolute treat, and reading her for the first time is almost as enjoyable as discovering Jane Austen.

Barbara Pym was a 20th century English author, who published nine novels during her lifetime. Three further novels were published posthumously, as well as a collection of short stories.

If you enjoy an oh-so-British comedy of manners, you’ll delight in Pym’s novels.

Where to Start with Barbara Pym?

Most people agree that Excellent Women, published in 1952 is her best novel. It’s what Pride and Prejudice is to Jane Austen.

I enjoy it very much, but I am not as much of a fan of the first person narrative. I liked No Fond Return of Love (1961) and Some Tame Gazelle (1950) better.

A Quartet In Autumn was published in 1977 after a 16-year hiatus. It’s a darker book, but it’s still graced with Pym’s particular wit.

I recently finished Crampton Hodnet, which was written between 1939 and 1942, but not published until after her death in 1980. It’s been years since I’ve read any Barbara Pym, and coming back to her with this book was a joy. I found myself giggling aloud at several points.

What Makes Her So Enjoyable?

I’ve seen her books classified as “Romance”. I’ve also seen them referred to as “comedies of manners.” I think the latter is a better description.

In a romance, two people meet, fall in love and have some kind of conflict (or perhaps the other way around) and after hijinks and kerfuffles, end up married and living happily ever after.

Jane Austen’s books are certainly romances in that sense (though I would never classify them as purely “romance novels”!).

Barbara Pym’s novels, however, are more subtle and less obviously “romance” than that. Yes, there is often love–sometimes even romantic love–in her books. But most often her characters are falling in love with the wrong people (An Unsuitable Attachment was one of the novels published after her death), and rarely do her novels end with a marriage.

What makes her books so enjoyable is how bitingly funny they are. She usually has one character who acts as an observer, watching the little dramas unfolding about them with bemusement and humor.

She writes about small, rather circumscribed lives: spinsters active in fading churches, clergymen, awkward university academics, dashing undergraduates, glamorous local widows, and all with a razor sharp wit which delights in pointing out the ridiculous in each and every one of them.

She doesn’t do this unkindly, though. Her novels show she clearly loved observing people and their little foibles, and she writes of them with great affection. Her genius comes from the fact that she clearly doesn’t take herself or her characters too seriously.

You Will Laugh When Reading Barbara Pym

If you enjoy wry observations, awkward situations and somewhat ridiculous characters getting themselves into scrapes, you will enjoy Barbara Pym.

You won’t cringe at her characters, but you’ll sigh and laugh at them. And as our lives have become more insular, our circles smaller because of the pandemic, you’ll find the small, local settings–a university set in North Oxford, a small church community in a London neighborhood–almost familiar.

You won’t have the same powerful characters as in Jane Austen–no brooding Darcy or dashing Willoughby here. Instead, you’ll find much more commonplace and consequently probably more sympathetic characters. You can more easily believe her characters to have been real people.

Not Too Seriously…

The greatest power of Barbara Pym, I think, is how she makes us see ourselves in her characters, and in so doing she makes us laugh at ourselves.

Do yourself a favor and pick up one of her books from your local library. You won’t regret it.

Bright Spots

Today on our local NPR station, we were invited to send in our voice messages about our “bright spots” during this pandemic.

That got me thinking. What are my bright spots?

1. Baking with the Boys

Yeah, I’m trying to lose weight (it’s still going alright, though somewhat stalled).

But baking with the boys is so much fun! We’ve made scones, all kinds of cookies (chocolate chip, sables, New Zealand afghan biscuits, etc.), Irish soda bread, pies, tarts, cranberry upside-down cake, muffins…

Today, we made one of my absolute favorites yet: a blueberry “plain cake” by Dorie Greenspan.

OH. MY. LORD. This cake is SO GOOD.

The secret is beating the egg whites until stiff and gently folding them in. The boys were fascinated with this process.

(Though admittedly they’re usually in it to lick the beaters and bowls.)

The cake is now sitting on our counter, and I can hear its siren call…

2. FaceTime with Family & Friends

Another bright spot has been talking on FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp video, Houseparty, or WHATEVER… with family and friends.

Today, I spoke with my godparents over FaceTime. Seeing their smiling (and HEALTHY!!) faces was a delight (though I was a bit frazzled by the boys–sorry about that!).

I’ve been on Zoom with friends from my master’s program in the UK, girlfriends across the world in NZ and Australia, and family in Europe & the States.

It’s true that as this has stretched on, the novelty has worn off and there have been fewer digital happy hours. But they still happen, and when they do, they’re certainly a bright spot.

3. Reading as a Family

Reading alone and as a family has been one of the biggest bright spots.

We read a lot before the pandemic too, don’t get me wrong. But in the fall of 2019, we started reading chapter books with the Bug.

We got ourselves a copy of The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease, and using that and Goodreads, we’ve built a reading list for the Bug.

Since starting down that path, we have never looked back. The Bug is now an independent reader, and picks his own books at the library each week.

That doesn’t mean he doesn’t like to be read to, though. He loves sharing the joy of reading, and a huge part of our stuck-at-home routine has been reading out loud together.

Not just before bed, but all throughout the day. I’ll read to them while they eat their ridiculously early lunch. I’ll read when they need to wind down. We’ll hunt for all the books we have on a certain theme (“snow,” “pets,” “summer,” etc.).

In fact, both the boys love reading so much that we launched a little YouTube project: Stories with Sammy (the Bear). Mostly I read the stories, but Felix also reads for us. The latest video is actually Sammy reading!

How can this not be a bright spot?!?

What Are Your Bright Spots?

I realize I am so lucky to have these bright spots. So many people have none.

What are your bright spots? What little moments, no matter how tiny, help you get through as this pandemic drags on?

Thinking of them helps. And hopefully looking for them will bring more.

Talking to Kids About Death

We got some sad news before the weekend.

The teacher’s assistant in the Bug’s online kindergarten class died in her sleep early last Thursday morning.

She had been off from school for about a week, the Bug’s teacher having told the class that Mrs. H wasn’t feeling well and was taking some days off.

So we knew she was unwell, but we had no idea how unwell.

Hard News

Chico and I were upset to learn of Mrs. H’s death. Though we didn’t know her well at all, we felt like she was part of the household.

We heard her voice every school day, coming through the speakers on the Bug’s computer. She rounded up the kids and got them ready to focus on the day.

She would chat with each child a bit before lessons began, and often shared little anecdotes of her own in response to the kids’ stories. She was a calm, kind presence in the Bug’s class.

Knowing how much the Bug liked Mrs. H, and worried about how he would take the news, we agreed to wait until the weekend to tell him.

His Reaction

On Saturday, when we were sitting together as a family, we broke him the news.

Without discussing it previously, Chico and I knew to use very clear, unequivocal language. In both Spanish and English, we told him that Mrs. H has died. Her heart has stopped beating, and her body has stopped working. She will not be back in his class.

We told him how sad we felt about her death, and how it made us feel like crying. We told him we would miss hearing her voice through the computer.

We each told a story of something she had said that made us happy to remember. Then we asked him to try and remember something about Mrs. H that made him happy.

He was fiddling with a piece of Lego in his hands, and he seemed distracted. He said, smiling, “If I have to think of something about Mrs. H that makes me happy, I’ll be thinking a long time! She always makes me happy!” Then he didn’t seem interested in engaging any more on the subject.

We told him that if he felt sad about Mrs. H not coming back, he could talk to us or to his teacher. He smiled, nodded, and went back to playing.

I, for one, was a bit surprised at his seeming lack of interest in the subject. But I reminded myself of several important points:

1. Mrs. H was a virtual presence to the Bug.

School for the Bug has been something he participates in through a screen. Mrs. H was only recognizable to him as a face on his computer.

While he enjoys his virtual schooling, I think that puts a bit of distance between him and the teachers and other kids in his class. Almost as if they’re not entirely real.

2. Her death is an abstract idea to him.

The Bug learned about her death on a Saturday, more than a week since the last time he saw her. His life isn’t materially altered by her absence, and he has yet to interact with others who might be sad about her death.

He may feel it more keenly when he “goes” back to school on Monday morning and she isn’t there. I don’t know what his teacher plans to say to the kids, but I wouldn’t be surprised if someone brought it up.

3. Children grieve in fits and starts.

According to an expert interviewed by NPR, kids don’t process grief all at once.

(Neither do adults, as a matter of fact.)

What may barely elicit a shrug one day might be keenly felt the next.

And as a child grows, the grief of losing a relative or someone close to them years before can come back with renewed force as their understanding improves.

There May Be More To Come

While he may have appeared uninterested or unconcerned when he got the news, I would be surprised if the subject didn’t come up again.

The Bug is highly sensitive, and he will surely be influenced by his teacher’s reaction, or the reactions of other children in his class.

I expect we’ll get occasional questions about Mrs. H, and about death in general. He still asks questions about his Nana’s death (though he was only 2.5 when she died, he still remembers some).

The only thing we can do is to respond honestly, clearly (no euphemisms such as “passed away” or–God forbid–“went to sleep”) and kindly.

Where are Nana, Grammy (his great-grandmother) and Mrs. H? Well, we don’t really know for sure, but our Christian faith teaches us to expect Heaven: eternal rest in the company of God.

Kids At Funerals: Yes or No?

We had little choice. We had to take both the Bug and the Bear to their Nana’s funeral. Anyone who could have babysat them was going to be there anyway.

Besides, the Bear was three days old and my milk was about to come in.

For children as young as the Bug and the Bear were, I think it hardly matters to them that they were at the funeral.

I’ve read that experts advise giving older children the choice of whether or not to attend funerals. However, in the case of family members, I would expect our children to be there.

My mother firmly believed that children should participate in big family events, whether weddings, parties, reunions or funerals. I share that belief.

Mourning, especially for a family member, is done as a family. It is a communal activity. I would expect our kids to attend family funerals, but would not require them to go to other funerals.

Others may feel differently, but I have personal experience of missing a family funeral, and I still regret it.

Though I was visiting when he died, I had to go back to boarding school before I could attend my cousin’s funeral 18 years ago. I have always regretted that I wasn’t there to share that part of the grieving process with my extended family.

Not Easy, But Important

It’s never easy to talk about death, especially to kids.

But in the end, it is worth it. Death is a part of life and cannot be ignored.

If we hide that reality from our kids and isolate them from participating in the communal grieving process with the rest of their families (or friends), we deprive them of understanding how life and death are intertwined.

I don’t know how things will be for the Bug. He may not grieve much at all for Mrs. H. Or he may be slowly internalizing what’s happened–processing it in his own time.

And that’s really all we can do. Give it time.

Snowy Day Exercise

Does shovelling the snow count as a workout?

I tried to log it on Strava, but there’s no “shovelling” setting. It’s definitely more than a walk, but probably not quite a run.

And what about sledding?

Sledding is quite the workout, you know! Especially when your kids insist on you joining in. It’s not like I can stand at the top of the hill and just push them down.

I’m heaving myself on and off the sled, hauling myself and the sled up the hill, starting all over again.

I logged sledding as a walk, but I’ll need to strap on my heart rate monitor for Strava to really register how much work I’m actually doing.

If I had to guess, I’d call it an RPE of about 5. Nothing to sneer at, especially when it lasts HOURS AND HOURS.

Snowy Day Fun

The snow started here in northern Virginia on Saturday night, and it’s been snowing on and off since then.

It’s snow days #3 and 4 for the Bug, and he’s over the moon. They’ve already declared the snow day for tomorrow, and the Bug is already anticipating the fun we’re going to have.

Groundhog Day!

Tomorrow is also Groundhog Day! We’ve got a groundhog-related take-home craft to do. We picked ours up at the library this morning.

(We were some of the few people brave enough to venture to the library today.)

Quiet Days

As you can tell, these have been some quiet days. The boys are at home, activities and facilities are closed, and our days vary only in which storybooks we read and what’s for dinner from the Hello Fresh box.

The snow is a welcome change, and makes it that much easier to get outside.

It seems the entire region agrees, judging from this headline in the Washington Post.

While it was strange having to wear a mask while doing all these activities, it was such a relief to the confinement and grayness of winter in a pandemic.

Aching, Tired Bones

Despite having aching, tired bones and muscles, I’m so glad this snow is here.

Anything to break up the tedium, and bring a little joy to our days.


Photo credit: Charlotte Geary Photography.

Anyone For Tennis?

One of my Christmas gifts this year from my beloved Chico was tennis lessons.

That’s right! I haven’t played since senior year in high school, and yet here I am, new tennis racket in hand and hitting the courts…

AT 8 O’CLOCK ON SATURDAY MORNING.

Now I do like a lie-in, and my Chico, being a morning person, very generously lets me laze about on the weekends.

But now I’m having to haul my lazy self out of bed bright and early on these cold winter Saturday mornings to go chase down some tennis balls.

And you know what?

I’m Loving It!

Sure, it’s not easy to get up and out, but once I do, it’s so much fun.

There are three other adults in my class: a young couple and another lady. The other lady has played before and she’s definitely the strongest of the four of us.

It wasn’t long before we all exchanged numbers, realizing (as one does) that playing for one hour a week isn’t enough for us to really improve.

This week we met up for the first time outside of tennis lessons.

Not Feeling It At First…

I was half-tempted to bail. I’d done my workout this morning and wasn’t feeling up to much this evening.

But Chico wasn’t going to let me bail. He was almost more excited than I was about my going to play!

So I kitted up, put on my tennis shoes and headed over to the courts.

Boy I’m Glad I Did

Exercise always makes me feel better! And doing something socially like playing tennis doubles? It’s the best.

Not only did I get my exercise-induced endorphin rush, but I also got my fix of social(ly distanced) interaction!

My doubles partner warned me: “You get addicted to tennis doubles!” and I can really see why that happens.

You have the fun of playing tennis without killing yourself trying to cover the entire court. And you can meet some cool people! Playing at the HOA sports pavilion allows me to meet people who live locally.

Here’s To More Tennis!

My Chico just loves tennis, and our boys are getting into it, too. The Bug takes lessons with the same teacher as me later on Saturday mornings.

I’d love for this to become another activity that we all share, like bike riding. So here’s to more tennis!

Image sourced from the Washington Post

Craftivism & Gentle Protest

I’m currently reading a book by Sarah Corbett of the Craftivist Collective.

The Craftivist Collective, founded by Corbett, is

“an inclusive group of people committed to using thoughtful, beautiful crafted works to help themselves and encourage others be the positive change they wish to see in the world.”

https://craftivist-collective.com/our-story/

In her book How to be a Craftivist: The art of gentle protest, Corbett walks through definitions of craft (noun, verb and metaphor), activism (“the policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change”), and how to marry the two into craftivism.

In 2003, Betsey Greer coined the word craftivism and defined it as

“…a way of looking at life where voicing opinions through creativity makes your voice stronger, your compassion deeper & your quest for justice more infinite.”

https://craftivism.com/definition/

Gentle Protest

What I love about Corbett’s book is her focus on gentle protest.

By her definition, gentle protest is not passive or weak, but instead it is kind, empathetic, supportive, compassionate and thoughtful.

Much of the book emphasizes the importance of doing your research: not just on the issue that you are tackling, but also truly getting to know the people you are trying to reach out to.

Corbett’s method of protesting is revolutionary because it puts the focus not on anger (though a measure of anger is needed to spark action), but on positive relationship-building.

She writes that instead of being enemies to those we disagree with, we should be “critical friends.”

How I Can Use Craftivism

I’m not going to do a full write-up of the book here. It’s easy enough to get a hold of a copy if you’re interested, or poke around more on the Craftivist Collective website.

But reading this book, a couple of ideas have struck me about how I can use craftivism to try and make small positive changes in our neighborhood.

Starting with some new neighbors we have.

We live in a townhouse, tightly sandwiched between our neighbors. The walls are about as thin as cardboard, and we hear a lot of what goes on next door (as do, I imagine, our neighbors!).

The house immediately next to ours on one side is a rental property, and we have already seen three different tenants come and go. The owner does the bare minimum to keep the house up and has proved himself to be a terrible landlord to previous tenants.

The current renters don’t seem to care too much about the state of the house. They’re a group of truck drivers who share the rent (probably against zoning laws…) and use the place as a crash pad. They didn’t even move furniture in for a couple of weeks!

Needless to say, these are not ideal neighbors for a family with small children. The first encounter we had with them was to ask them firmly but politely not to throw their cigarette butts in the shared public spaces. We’ve had to ask them to quiet down numerous times, including last night when they woke us up at 1am because they were out on their back terrace smoking and laughing.

There is definitely tension between us, and it makes for passive-aggressive behavior like loud music late at night and carelessly slamming doors.

Inspired by Craftivism

Corbett writes how the unexpectedly friendly nature of craftivism is part of its efficacy. Its basis in kindness and empathy disarms people and opens up avenues of positive, constructive interaction.

So I figured, why not try a similar approach with these neighbors?

Instead of allowing tension to build, why not adopt Corbett’s approach to try and difuse it?

After all, there is nothing we can do about these neighbors. We can’t get them evicted, and we don’t want to keep treading on each other’s toes.

I may not incorporate cross-stitching or knitting, but my idea was as simple as baking a batch of cookies and putting it in a tin with a nice hand-written note with the following quote:

“No one is rich enough to do without a neighbor.”

Danish Proverb

Starting Small

I may give this a try. I’ll let you know how it goes.

If it goes well, I have a further idea of how to use craftivism to tackle a problem in our neighborhood: littering.

I’ll keep you posted.