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.

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.