Knitting Super Power

I have reached knitter’s Nirvana, dear readers.

I hoped this day would come, and it could be that I’ve been here for a while but have only just realized it.

My eyes are opened now, and there is no looking back!

What is this glorious place? I will tell you.

I don’t need to look at my hands while I knit.

Don’t laugh! Don’t scoff! This is a BIG DEAL!

Don’t you understand what this means??

THIS MEANS I CAN READ WHILE I KNIT!

This is a Good Thing for many reasons.

Firstly, it means that I don’t have to set aside separate times for reading and knitting! I can do both at once!

Secondly, it means I can advance on the Bug’s sweater WHILE AT THE SAME TIME working to finish my library book that is due tomorrow.

Finally, it means that I can occupy two happy places at once.

Who could ask for anything more?

Motivation Flagging

I was doing SO WELL!

I was steadily losing weight. My energy levels were up, my fitness levels were great, and my digestion! Well, I won’t go into the details, but it was great.

Then Came Christmas.

The Christmas cookies. The Panettone. The mulled wine. The port wine! The red wine! The white wine! THE CHAMPAGNE!

My normal rule of only having an alcoholic drink on the weekends went out the window.

That’s not to say I drank to excess, but I had more frequent glasses of wine than usual.

And it wasn’t just the tasty booze. Chico spoiled me rotten with littleneck clams and hake on Christmas eve. New Year’s Eve was yet another culinary treat.

Everything was too tasty to have just one helping!

So Naturally…

The numbers stopped moving downward on the scale. They halted and hovered. Then they crept back up slightly.

While I kept up my regular exercise, it wasn’t enough to counteract the excesses of the table.

And so I fell back into bad habits. My blood sugar started spiking and dipping as it had always done before.

All the hard work I had put into levelling out my blood sugar and fighting hanger, lost!

CURSES AND DAMNATION!

Struggling to Get Back to It

And so here we are in January, and I’m struggling to get back into the habits I had fought so hard to build before the holidays.

The funny part is, I felt so much better before indulging over the holidays.

I notice it especially in my mood, my energy levels and my digestive health. Overindulging in carbohydrates, sugar and alcohol has thrown my system out of whack.

But the addictive nature of these foods makes it hard to break the cycle.

A Little Willpower & A Lot of Help

It’s time for a little force of will and a lot of moral support.

Part of the willpower is removing temptations. Like the Bug’s leftover birthday cake, the panettone lingering in the bread bin, the opened bottle of wine in the fridge, the Christmas treats…

I may face pushback from other members of the family, but they’ll get over it. They’ve had plenty!

The other side of the willpower coin is taking the time to plan. Now that we’re back to our normal routine, I have to remember to plan appropriately for meals.

That means making sure the fridge and pantry are stocked with healthy options.

The help and moral support mostly comes from my Chico who is pretty much the only other adult I see on a regular basis these days.

But encouragement from family and friends, and from those of you who read this blog is a big help.

Not About the Number

In the end, though, this effort I’m making isn’t so much about the number on the scale.

(Though that number is definitely a factor, I can’t lie. Numbers mean a lot.)

The biggest motivation behind my desire to lose weight is to avoid the persistent back problems I’ve had.

Since dropping 5kg and increasing my overall fitness and strength, I haven’t had a single crisis with my lower back.

That’s huge. I used to have them nearly every month, and I had a particularly bad one in the fall that left me nearly immobile for a whole day.

(Joining the kids on the trampoline might have had something to do with that…)

So while it is nice to see numbers trending downwards on the scale, and measurements shrinking, the biggest reward is being pain-free and being able to hop up the stairs two at a time from the basement to the top floor without being winded.

So I’m ready to hold onto that thought, and get back into the business of taking care of myself.

Because if I don’t take care of myself, how will I take care of my boys?

Compulsive Phone Checking

You want to see something freaky?

Go into your settings and look at your screen time report.

Earlier this year I finally turned off my screen time report notification when it kept telling me that my average weekly screen time was creeping up.

I looked at it today for the first time in a while, and it’s at 1 hour and 28 minutes per day on average. That’s down 29% from last week!

The truth is, picking up my smartphone has become almost a compulsive behavior.

Put Into Perspective

Let’s be generous and say I sleep eight hours a night. That gives us 16 waking hours left per day.

If, on average, I’m spending 1.5 hours per day on my phone, that leaves me 14 and 1/2 hours left in my day.

That doesn’t sound too bad.

But when I compare that to the time I spend doing my hobbies, that’s when it starts to seem like a lot.

  • Reading: I definitely don’t read 1.5 hours a day.
  • Knitting: if I knitted that long every day I’d have serious shoulder pains!
  • Writing: nope.
  • Exercising: it’s about 30 minutes every other day.
  • Playing piano: I play for max. ten minutes if I’m lucky.

And remember: 1.5 hours is down 29% from last week! What was I DOING last week??

Checking the Phone Compulsively

I wake up, I check my phone. (The first pickup today was at 7:35am.)

My phone lives in my back pocket or sits next to me on the counter. It follows me upstairs, downstairs, outside… To the bathroom…

(Don’t tell me you don’t do it!)

Any change in pace or activity, any lull and I whip it out.

Mostly I’m on WhatsApp and Instagram. On WhatsApp I’m at least interacting with family and friends.

But on Instagram, it’s just mindless scrolling. I shoot past post after post, pausing occasionally to unmute and watch a video, or to like something.

The worst part is, though, that I’ve clicked on some Instagram ads. And have even bought off of Instagram ads!

Each time it happens I get SO ANNOYED with myself! I’m behaving exactly as Mark Zuckerberg wants me to and making him money with each stupid purchase.

Gah! Damn the man!

Why the Compulsive Checking?

I’ve been wondering about this. What is causing me to constantly reach for my phone?

Why am I mindlessly scrolling? Checking for messages I know have not come? Looking for likes when I haven’t posted anything?

What does it give me? Is it escapism? Am I doing it out of boredom?

Maybe it’s just become a habit, like twirling my hair. It certainly feels that mindless most of the time.

Looking for Contact?

Or is it that I’m desperately looking for contact?

I’d have to delve a little deeper into my screen time data to see if the pandemic has had much of an impact on my phone use.

Since we’re not seeing much of anyone, the phone is my only point of contact with anyone outside my household.

Perhaps this compulsive phone checking is simply an expression of loneliness.

What To Do?

1 .Forgive myself:

It’s okay to be desperate for contact in these socially distanced times. I think we can all relate to that.

2. Set some ground rules for phone use:

Not at the table. Not when I’m spending time with my Chico or the kids. Never in the car. Leave it downstairs at bedtime.

3. Delete Instagram:

I’ve done this before, and it was good. I still used my phone a lot for WhatsApp and other messaging apps, but at least I stopped the mindless scrolling (and stupid purchases. Damn you, Mark Zuckerberg!).

4. Wear my watch:

One of the biggest reasons I pick up my phone is to look at the time. Wearing a watch precludes that necessity.

5. Forgive myself again:

Don’t get mad at myself for failing to do any or all of the above. Even being more aware of my compulsive phone checking is a positive step forward.

God Bless Stacey Abrams

She did it, folks!

Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock have won their Georgia senatorial bids (hooray!), and let’s give credit where credit is due.

Stacey Abrams and her organization Fair Fight Action delivered this victory for the Democratic candidates.

The U.S. senators-elect are strong candidates in their own right, but Ms Abrams’ activism and push to get out the vote for historically marginalized populations was the driving force behind this victory.

Why Stacey Abrams Matters

Ms Abrams is a Black woman in America. Voices (and votes) like hers have been historically repressed in this country generally, in the South specifically.

She matters because she will not be silenced.

She lost her bid for governor of Georgia in 2018, but she has not been silenced.

She saw that voter suppression was likely what cost her the governorship, and decided she wouldn’t sit back and accept it as “the way things are.”

The Work Isn’t Done

Stacey Abrams has proved that even the “reddest” states aren’t all that red. How many other “red” states are more purple than we think?

The work isn’t done until people all across this country–people who have the legal right to vote–are able to do so.

Fair Fight and Ms Abrams focus primarily on Georgia, but the organization is active around the entire country. There are also plenty of similar organizations in other states.

Let’s look them up. Let’s donate our time and our money.

Let’s ensure that voters of color and young voters do not suffer disenfranchisement.

It seems incredible in this day and age, but it is happening. And we must fight it.

Who will be Stacey Abrams in Virginia? Texas? How quickly can we clone her?

God bless you and your work, Stacey Abrams. Thank you for not remaining silent.

Image credit: Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press

The Slough of Despond

The Swamp of Despair. The Pit of Gloom. The Dismal Abyss.

You get the idea, yes?

John Bunyan’s Slough of Despond was a place where his protagonist (a rather obviously named “Christian”) wallowed in the weight of his sins and his sense of guilt.

My personal Slough is more to do with my feelings of failure.

What Brings It On

It’s hard to say what brings on these episodes. I find myself sinking into a gloom, as if the weight of something is sitting on my chest.

The smallest tasks become overwhelming. The slightest things become major irritants.

It’s a debilitatingly contradictory combination of numbness and hyper-sensitivity. It fixes me in a gloomy funk and can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days, or in extreme cases, a few weeks or even months.

Focusing on Failures

This gloomy mood happens to all of us. Many people are feeling it more with the isolation that the pandemic has brought.

When it descends on me I tend to focus on my perceived failures. Which particular failures change from spell to spell.

This time my brain seems fixated on how I have failed to be as well-informed, well-read, thoughtful, spiritual, generous with my time as…

My Mother.

This is not a new way I have devised to punish myself. I’ve compared myself to her often enough in the past.

The comparison has also been made by others, and often times the expectation for me to be like her is very real. I’ve been told of it outright.

It’s unfair. It’s unfair for me to do this to myself. It’s also unfair for others to do it to me.

My mother was an extraordinary woman. There is no doubt about that.

I am also extraordinary in my own way. I’m a woman of remarkable abilities. However…

I am not my mother.

I’m not even all that much like her. I think that’s part of why we got along so well.

While she was alive, I felt no pressure to be like her (at least not from her). We shared the joy of our mutual love, our admiration and our capacity to push each other out of our different comfort zones.

Since her death, however, both I and others seem to have transferred a lot of what she was to me.

A spiritual mentor of hers writing to me as he would have to her. A friend of hers expecting me to share all my mother’s knowledge of literature. A family member expressing dismay that I do not take the same joy from cooking as my mother did.

And then there are my own feelings of failure at not being such an active participant in my community as she was in hers.

The list goes on.

Gloom or Grief?

It’s almost as if I knew better who I was and what my place was before my mother died.

Losing her, I have lost some of my sense of self.

It’s hard to say if what I’m feeling is a “depressive episode” or simply grief. More than three years on, it can still sneak up on me.

I miss her. I also miss who she helped me to be.

A Farewell to 2020

I came across this clip on Instagram:

npr.org

I watched it repeatedly. I cried as I did. I defy you not to shed tears when you watch it.

As Much As I’d Love To Forget…

Forgetting this year would be too easy. And extremely dangerous.

To forget this year would dishonor the memory of the over 343,000 Americans who have lost their lives to Covid-19.

If we forget, we brush aside those who have survived but suffered through this pandemic.

Forgetting would trample on the memory of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and many, many more who were killed by police brutality this year.

We cannot forget the lessons and the reckonings of 2020.

If we do, what will happen the next time a global pandemic strikes? Will we be just as unprepared as we were in March of 2020? The idea of that terrifies me.

We Also Shouldn’t Forget the Joy

Amid the bleakness, the anxiety and the isolation, there have also been moments of joy.

These are usually small and very personal. Collective joy has been noticeably scarce.

Personal moments of joy for us this year have included:

  1. The Bug learning to read and becoming an independent reader.
  2. The Bear learning to ride his bike and taking joy in riding with us.
  3. The Chico’s slow progress in his immigration status (though admittedly this has also sometimes been a source of frustration).
  4. My rediscovering the piano and taking the time to practice.

What Joy has 2020 Brought You?

It doesn’t matter how short the list is. Try and make one. It just might help you feel a little better about this past year.

Happy New Year. I hope 2021 brings us all peace, joy and collective healing.

Making Christmas Last

As he was going to bed on Christmas night, the Bug said, “Mama, now we don’t have anything to look forward to tomorrow!”

That pretty much sums it up.

All the build-up of Advent is pretty much guaranteed to ensure that Christmas day is somewhat anticlimactic.

We Did Our Best

The boys definitely got more gifts this year than they have previously. Since we’re usually traveling on Christmas, presents have traditionally been kept small.

This year, we had more time to think about it. The present ideas kept accumulating, and knowing that we didn’t have to fit any of them in a suitcase helped to remove almost all restraint.

Luckily, our budget ensured that we didn’t go *too* far overboard.

Presents Alone Don’t Cut It

Yeah, the presents are great. There’s magic in coming down the stairs to find presents piled under the tree where only the evening before there were none.

But I think it’s everything around Christmas, the other traditions and activities, that help to make it special and to make the feeling last through the whole season.

Here are some ways you can make Christmas last a little longer than our modern allotment of 24 hours.

1. Food

Christmas cookies. Baked ham. Panettone. Or, if you’re feeling ambitious like I was this year, a bûche de Noël (aka a Christmas log cake).

These make the Christmas season so special. In Spain, it’s tradition to eat fish on Christmas Eve (Chico spoiled me thoroughly with a hake and green sauce dish with littleneck clams!).

Then of course there’s Christmas day with all its epicurean delights.

But the pleasures of Christmas food don’t need to end there. Panettone lasts for days, and Christmas cookies can last past Christmas (though they don’t often).

Baked ham makes for great leftovers, and there are other traditional foods to be eaten all throughout the twelve days. I’m looking forward to another spread Chico is planning for New Year’s Eve!

And don’t forget to make a King cake for January 6th! We plan to make a roscón de reyes. Soon we will have to have the perennial debate: stuff it with whipped cream or not?

2. Music

Yeah, I know you’re probably sick of Christmas music by now. But I’m not talking about cheesy mall Christmas tunes.

There are a lot of beautiful albums inspired by the season, in pretty much every genre. You can go for a cappella, crooners, jazz (a favorite of ours is the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s soundtrack for A Charlie Brown Christmas).

If you’re into classical music, you can enjoy a little Handel. Or even look up traditional Christmas music from other countries and cultures.

In my books, we can listen to Christmas music through Epiphany!

3. Gift-Giving

In the States we generally limit gift-giving to Christmas Day. Mostly, it’s because we don’t have the vacation days to celebrate for the entire Christmas season.

But one way to keep the Christmas cheer going for a little longer is to extend the gift-giving over several days. Or you can celebrate Epiphany on January 6th, which is when many cultures exchange their Christmas gifts.

Today is Boxing Day (the feast of Saint Stephen), which was traditionally when landowners would give gifts to their tenants. It was a day for the wealthy to share with those less fortunate.

Today, in the spirit of giving, we took some old shoes, toys and puzzles we have outgrown to donate to a local shelter.

It’s important to do as the song says and “pause in life’s pleasures to count its many tears,” and remember those who aren’t able to enjoy Christmas like we can.

4. Playing Games

Games are a big part of Christmas celebrations around the world. Yesterday we enjoyed a couple rousing rounds of Funny Bunny–always a kid pleaser.

The boys got several new games for Christmas, and throughout the season we’ll take time to play them as a family.

Charades or Celebrity are great games for get-togethers, and Chico and I have had success playing them over House Party calls.

If your household isn’t big into games, maybe the festive season is the right time to try a few. So long as you can avoid arguments. Always a danger when it comes to games…

5. Lights & Decorations

Darn it, I’m keeping these decorations up until Epiphany (or until the very last minute for when our HOA is offering tree pick-up).

Having the extra lights in this darkest time of the year is really cheering. The decorations make the house feel cozy and inviting.

Since we’re spending so much time at home, I say the cozier the better.

The Magic of Christmas

It doesn’t have to end too quickly. I’m going to continue to advocate for celebrating right until the very last day.

After the dumpster fire of a year this has been, I think we could all use some extended partying.

Christmas Cookie Madness

It’s been a crappy year. For that reason alone, we need LOTS of Christmas cookies.

Also because we’re at home, we’re bored, and we might as well bake.

Therefore, I admit it.

I have gone overboard.

I have made cookies in years past, it is true. But not quite this many cookies. And perhaps not with this intensity and sense of purpose.

It’s hard to say exactly when it started. Honestly, the days are kind of running together at this point.

But I think it was Friday night that I mixed up the first batches of cookie dough, ready to bake on Saturday.

First up were some wonderful gingerbread cookies. I haven’t made these every year, but the Bug asked specifically for gingerbread cookies this year.

Next up, I mixed up the dough for the ever-popular and much-beloved peanut butter chocolate kiss cookies (sometimes called peanut butter blossoms).

Saturday and Sunday we baked and decorated, and by the end of the weekend we had the previously mentioned cookies as well as my favorite sour cream ginger cookies, and Russian tea cakes.

The last cookies to make are the chocolate crinkle cookies, which are always popular.

Why so many cookies?

Is it just me, or does it feel like this Christmas has to be the most Christmassy of Christmasses in this history of Christmas?

As if, in an effort to make up for such an awesomely and epically crappy year, we need to make Christmas even more over the top to compensate?

I was even thinking of making a Bûche de Noël, for goodness’ sake!

Whatever the reason, I feel myself driven by some unknown force to make this Christmas a very special one for the boys.

This is the first Christmas we are spending at home just the four of us. Up until now we have always traveled for Christmas.

Perhaps I’m worried they’ll find it disappointing after previous years of boisterous family gatherings.

Relieved and Disappointed

Honestly, though, I am so relieved not to be traveling for Christmas this year.

Though we were supposed to have seen our family members throughout the year: in summertime, for Thanksgiving…

So now, even though I wanted to stay home for Christmas, I’m still feeling bummed about not seeing our families.

Less Christmas Stress

But as Chico and I were saying the other night: we feel far less stressed about the holidays this year.

It’s nice not to worry about packing so little so that we’ll have room to bring gifts back. I’m not worried about overweight luggage, travel delays and winter storms.

(I’m also remembering how last year the Bear spent the entire transatlantic flight being sick to his stomach. Man, I’m glad we won’t have to deal with that!)

Bittersweet

In 2019, I wanted to stay home for Christmas 2020. In 2019, I had crossed the Atlantic four times, flown domestically four times, and was ready to just stay put for once.

Now in 2020, I’ve been forced to stay put. And the travel itch is growing.

Hopefully, in 2021, we’ll be able to see our loved ones near and far. And maybe we’ll travel for Christmas again.

Maybe.

Snow Days!

I don’t know exactly how this works.

Our county schools all reverted to 100% distance learning as of Tuesday because of rising coronavirus infection rates.

On Wednesday, we had a snow day. Today, we had ANOTHER SNOW DAY.

I don’t really see the logic of declaring snow days when everyone’s connecting virtually anyway, but whatever.

One Happy Dude

I know one person was DELIGHTED to have two days off from school.

Yup. He’s in kindergarten, he’s nearly six, and he’s our Winter Baby.

The Bug, our very own Canadian.

In His Element

I practically had to wrestle his snow gear on to him before letting him out of the house. He was dying to get out in the white fluffy stuff.

The boy who normally doesn’t want to get out of his pajamas on the weekend was dressed shortly after breakfast and ready to be out of doors in the falling snow.

It was delightful. We took an ambling walk and admired the flakes that landed on our gloves, caught them on our tongues, and marvelled at the accumulation happening right before our eyes.

I was taking photos, and in each one the Bug has an enormous grin on his face.

He’s making snow angels, making footprints, gathering up snow for a tiny snowball…

The Bear, on the other hand, looks less than amused in most of the pictures.

Ah, the difference between my Summer Baby and my Winter Baby.

Born To Cold

The Bug was born in early January in Montreal, Canada.

The day before he came it had been mild, only -17 degrees Celsius (hovering just above zero in Fahrenheit).

That night, though, the temperature plummeted to -34C (-29F) and every pregnant woman in Montreal near her due date went into labor.

The only reason I scored a private hospital room was because the Bug came in a damn hurry. Five hours from the first contraction to delivery.

The February after he was born was the coldest February in recorded Quebec history (a fact my mother never failed to point out to me when she was visiting that month).

We toted him around in a carrier with a special insert in our winter coats to keep him warm. We took him out in a stroller so bundled up that only his little face was showing (he needed his vitamin D!).

And since then, he has always loved the cold.

Two in a Row

So you can imagine his delight when they announced another snow day yesterday afternoon.

We’ve spent most of the past two days outside in the snow. Snow forts, snow castles, ice piles, butt sledding, ice skating on our frozen driveway… We did it all.

And though it was exhausting, it was magical.

It’d be nice to get a bit more snow for Christmas, but being in Virginia, we won’t hold our breath.

At least we’ve had this taste of winter wonderland. And we can confidently say we took full advantage of every minute.

All Too Fast

Last week, the Bear made two decisions.

At the ripe old age of nearly three-and-a-half, he decided:

  1. He’s “all done” with naps.
  2. He no longer sucks his thumb.

These are both Good Things and Important Developments in the life of our child, and we are Very Proud of him for making these big-boy decisions all on his own.

And yet…

It’s Too SOOOOOOOOON!!!

I know, I know. This is a very normal age for both of these things to happen.

And yet, I saw them both go with a pang of regret.

(Honestly, I miss his having a nap because it used to give me a nice break in the middle of the day!)

Seeing these last two holdovers from his babyhood and toddlerhood go, I did have a moment of sadness realizing that our baby is a baby no longer.

Impressed

Mostly, I have to admit, I am impressed by his willpower. He told me he wouldn’t suck his thumb anymore, and he hasn’t.

Done. Finito. Se acabó.

For the Bear to suddenly “switch off” a habit that has been so reflexive for so long is seriously impressive.

(This is the child we saw sucking his thumb in the womb on an ultrasound.)

Maybe he’s just grown out of it and doesn’t need it anymore. Maybe he’ll pick it up again. Who knows?

I’m Not Ready

The long and the short of it is that I’M NOT READY!

He’s growing so quickly! Both our boys are practically giants, but because the Bear is the younger of the two I guess I feel it more keenly.

I can see why people decide to have a third, or even a fourth child. It’s a bittersweet moment for a parent when you realize they’re growing out of their childhood habits.

Luckily, there is so much joy to look forward to that the sad pang doesn’t last long.