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December 2020

Measuring A Year: The Highlight Reel

Here we are . . . sliding into home base on the very last day of 2020! As we prepare to bid adieu to this total dumpster fire of a year, I'm wrapping up my "annual review" with a look at my highlights of 2020.

Highlights, you say?

Yeah. Highlights.

Because in the midst of this absolutely shitty year, there ARE highlights!

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Before I get started on highlights, I want to offer this . . . I don't know what to call it, exactly . . . disclaimer, maybe? Acknowledgement? Anyway. I am aware - every minute of every day - how fortunate I am; how well-equipped I am to handle "staying home" during a pandemic. I have Tom, who is not only a calming presence but also damn good company. I live in a comfortable house in a safe neighborhood. I am surrounded by Plenty -- food, projects, tech tools, resources. I am healthy. I don't have children at home to worry about. Tom's business is safe from pandemic pressure, and he worked from home already, so we didn't even have that adjustment to make. Truly . . . an embarrassment of riches. I have much to be grateful for. And I know this. 

Still.
Burning-building-in-the-background.
(It's been a hard year for all of us.)

On to those highlights . . . 

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I made some Astonishing Personal Discoveries in 2020!

  • If I wanted to (and I don't), I actually could do that Project 333 thing Courtney Carver is always going on about! (Choosing only 33 items of clothing - including coats, shoes, jewelry, and accessories - to take you through a 3-month time period.) Personally, I still don't get the whole arbitrary-ness of Courtney's number 33 (I am a Questioner, after all), but I've always appreciated the concept. And now - thanks to 2020 - I know I really CAN live in 1 pair of leggings for a week. (Courtney is obviously not a knitter, though.)
  • I also can go out and about my life - even in my (albeit limited) public appearances - wearing no make-up and sporting terrible hair! I don't care. No one else cares. So liberating! (As much so as letting my hair revert to it's natural color, post chemo.) There is no need for vanity during a pandemic.
  • Days can go by without my needing to use or refer to my planner! I used to drag it with me everywhere - because I needed it and used it all the time. But now? I can just schedule (those rare) future "things" without even looking at my calendar . . . because there is so little ON it. So. Weird. (Even still, after all these months.)

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Total Game Changers that got me through 2020: 

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We had a Pandemic Dividend (an unexpected bonus) to celebrate . . . 

  • Late last February, we were convinced Jenny was . . . near the end. At almost 13, she had started having what we thought were seizures or a stroke. A vet visit, though, indicated she was actually experiencing Old Dog Vestibular Syndrome (yeah - it's a real thing and it's really called that). Basically, she had vertigo! It took a while for it to clear up -- but it did. So now, she's a deaf and partially blind almost 14-year-old dog . . . who's survived 2 knee surgeries, anal cancer, and Old Dog Vestibular Syndrome. As part of her vertigo treatment, our vet suggested short walks (she hadn't been able to go on walks for a while), so Tom started by just taking her down the street a little way each day. This was challenging -- because vertigo; she fell down sometimes and it was so sad. Anyway, Tom kept at it, gradually extending the distance. And now - at the end of 2020 - Jenny and Tom join JoJo and I for a one-mile walk around the neighborhood every afternoon! Although Jenny still keeps her head kind of turned to one side, the vertigo has cleared up. Jenny . . . is in better shape than she has been in years, and it's looking like she may make her 14th birthday in April!

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My most proud achievements of 2020:

  • Becoming the official bottle-capper for FNM Brewing (Tom's home brewing operation)
  • Perfecting my technique for risotto
  • Learning to pronounce "epidemiologist" (That word just never rolled off my tongue. . . )
  • Serving as a Michigan election inspector

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Lightning Round:

Best investment of 2020:

  • Peloton
  • home wifi network upgrade

Never thought I'd . . . 

  • wear a face mask in public
  • know so much about the US electoral processes in so many different states

Thought I'd miss more than I do:

  • the gym

Miss more than I would've thought:

  • the casual nature of the Before Times (the ease of making plans, going out for a drinks or meeting for coffee, just stopping to chat with someone you meet out and about)

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Best TV watching:

Best book:

Best things I made:

  • those (damn) bunnies (Did I ever tell you the little girls named them Margaret and Penelope?)
  • all those (damn) face masks

Garden delight:

Favorite Peloton instructor:

Best new podcast:

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Oh, 2020.

What a ride . . . 

You've been a year for the books, for sure. Lots of crap. Lots of sadness. Lots of heartache. 

But, if we're open, lots of lessons, too. Silver linings.

2020 gave me the time and the space to think and learn and reflect. Left to my own devices, I'd never have cut the cord to so many commitments I thought were important. I would never have dared to live without my planner. I wouldn't have considered working out at home. Or learning to make risotto. Shoot . . . I wouldn't have grown out my bangs!

But here I am, hanging in there and doing . . . okay. I'm healthy -- and I'm determined to stay that way. I'm strong and I'm resilient. I'm more than a little bit mad (working on that). I'm ready to move forward.

2021?
Bring it!

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Happy New Year, my friends.

Thanks for being here and hanging out with me this year! 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Measuring A Year: Sticking to the Plan (Kinda)

This week, I'm taking you with me as I "measure my year." I'm also sharing some of the selfies I've taken during the pandemic. I guess it's been a little side project I started without really meaning to . . . kind of to measure my mood. I'm not sure exactly why or when I started taking these pandemic self-portraits (because I'm normally not a selfie-taker at all), but I did. And now there's quite a collection, and they DO tell a story of my pandemic moods.(Also hair growth, as it turns out.)

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As I mentioned yesterday, I always begin my "annual review" by taking a look at the intentions I set for myself at the beginning of the year. I don't set resolutions or specific "goals" for myself. I set . . . intentions. They're very open-ended, generally. And they reflect the direction I want to head off in for the new year; they way I want to live my life.

One year (2018, I think), I tried Gretchen Rubin's "XX for 20XX" concept, and set myself up with 18 (I think) very specific things I wanted to do that year. I hated it. Hated. It. I know a lot of people just love that concept - and look forward to putting their lists together every year. It's not for me, though. I'm much better with annual, wide-open intentions. 

Anyway. Here are the intentions I set for myself back in January 2020:

  • be healthy and get strong
  • practice the things I love
  • pay attention to the moon
  • be kind
  • let love flow
  • focus on flexibility and stretching
  • keep my eyes open
  • be mindful of the world I live in
  • show up
  • make space

Even though they are very . . . non-specific . . . there is always some kind of meaning behind each intention; a reason I made it an intention in the first place! "Be healthy and get strong," for example, was all about my commitment to fitness and continuing my work with Jeremy, my personal trainer. "Be mindful of the world I live in" was related to my wanting to learn more about the environment and how I might change my own "footprint" on the earth. "Focus on flexibility and stretching" was, in part (although not exclusively), a reminder for me to try and find a new yoga studio. "Show up" was all about being more present for the people I love and care about, and to remind myself to speak out when I could about things that matter to me.

So these intentions were designed . . . for 2020 as I assumed it would unfold.

And then, of course . . . it didn't.

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I didn't look at my intentions for several months. I was too busy . . . adjusting to this new reality of pandemic life. But eventually, once I realized and accepted that it was a longer-term situation we had here, I did a quick review. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I didn't really need to make any drastic changes; that most of my intentions were wide-open enough that I could just tweak them here and there, maybe add a few things, and still move forward. So late last summer, I made some revisions to my intentions . . . to reflect my new and unexpected pandemic lifestyle:

  • be healthy and get stay strong ("healthy" took on a whole new meaning for me, and Jeremy is long gone. . . )
  • remove the barriers that keep me from practicing the things I love (mostly . . . put down the phone, step away from news, and Get To It)
  • pay attention to the moon and find new rhythms for living your life
  • be kind from behind a mask
  • let love flow with loving-kindness meditations
  • focus on flexibility and stretching by saying "hello" to your new friend Adriene 
  • keep my eyes open by staying informed by reputable, knowledgeable sources
  • be mindful of the world I live in while still allowing myself time to grieve and heal
  • show up by supporting my family and friends 
  • make shift your space to make room for pandemic life at home (now that "home" is also gym, movie theater, restaurant, brew pub, art class, etc.)

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I also added a few new intentions:

  • be gentle with myself
  • look for the next right thing . . . and do that
  • connect with local friends as if they were far-away friends (because they kinda are far-away friends now)
  • find new ways to celebrate special days and events 
  • get out my pom-poms and be a cheerleader whenever possible

2020 threw me for a loop, that's for sure. 
Things look a lot different than I anticipated they would back in January.
But when it comes to living my life, I've stuck to my intentions.
(kinda)
I call that a Win!


Measuring A Year: Always In the Background

So, yesterday I explained that I've begun my "annual review" process. I do this every year -- looking back before looking ahead. I also explained that - for me - counting things (minutes, pages read, workouts completed, etc.) is not all that useful or relevant. I'm looking for deeper revelations here!  I'm looking to find (in the words of Albert Einstein in the quote I shared yesterday) . . . 

the things that count that can't be counted!

Why do I go through this process at all you may ask? Well. For me, reflecting on the year-just-ending helps me understand myself. It helps me grow and become the person I was meant to be. It let's me know if I'm doing what I set out to do/living how I wanted to be living back at the beginning of the year.

Usually.
USUALLY, this is what my looking-back process looks like, in a nutshell:

  • I review my intentions for the year.
  • I identify what worked (the highlights).
  • I identify what didn't work (the lowlights).
  • Then, I figure out where I want to head next.

I say usually . . . because 2020 has been anything but a "usually" kind of year! So I'm mixing things up a bit this year. I did begin with reviewing my intentions (more about that tomorrow.) But instead of thinking about the highlights next - like usual, I decided to tackle those lowlights right out of the gate. Because . . . those lowlights? They kind of serve as the backdrop for (nearly) the entire year, and I wanted to address the the elephant sitting in the room.

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(Since the pandemic began, I've been taking regular, random selfies. They are very real. I'll share some this week.)

Let me begin with a story . . . 

Way, way back in time when my kids were very young (Erin just 5 and Brian 2, so we must be talking . . . 1994 here), we took a long car trip to visit family back in Wyoming. (My kids' ages are set in time for me, because Brian had a tiny cast on his tiny arm.) (Bed jumping with Daddy.) (I wan't home.) Anyway. While we were visiting, my sister-in-law and I thought it might be nice to have a group photo taken for my in-laws of all the grandchildren together (there were 5 of them at the time -- all under 6). And I had the brilliant idea of inviting my sister to bring her daughter (also 6) to the photo shoot so we could have my kids doing double-duty for ANOTHER photo for my parents of their 3 grandchildren. As you might imagine, 6 excited children under the age of 6 barging into the Sears photo department went . . . about as well as you'd think. We had out-of-control excitement. We had sibling squabbles. We had crying. We had at least one (and I think two) meltdowns. We had poopy pants. We had whining. We had an exasperated photographer. And we had three moms who were trying their best - and failing miserably - all while laughing hysterically. In short, we had very little cooperation anywhere. I remember the conversation going like this . . . 

Photographer: Maybe we should try again another day?
My sister: Like hell.
Me: Just take the flipping photo.
My sister-in-law: Can we have a burning-building background, please???

The photos (which he finally did take) are priceless -- and would only have been enhanced by that burning-building background we asked for! (We had a kid crying, a pouter or two, someone poking someone else, and Brian waving his cast around wildly.)  (In the best shot.) (If I could find it, I'd share it.)

And the point of that???
Well.
Some years just have a burning-building in the background.
And 2020 was one of them!

As I looked back on my 2020, I see a lot of me flailing around . . . in front of a burning-building-background.

Most of the really horrible things that have been happening this year . . . and they are really horrible things . . . have had no direct impact on the life I've been living, day-to-day. I've been safe and healthy and isolated here in my privileged little bubble.

And yet, I felt broken.
All year.
Disappointed.
Disillusioned.

My "lowlights" for 2020 . . . look very different than in "usual" years. This year, it was just a constant, relentless, horrible background noise. All the time. Every day. It impacted everything else that happened this year. Colors were less sharp. The air was thicker. Burdens were heavier. Chores more tedious. I'm pretty sure gravity pulled me down with more force this year.

Burning building background.
Every day.

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Today is the final day for Honoré to host our "one little word" monthly updates for 2020. Be sure to check out what everyone has to say. As for me? I'm not ready with a post yet. But I'll share sometime next month.


How To Measure a Year?

And . . . I'm back! 

I hope you all had a lovely time last week -- however you were celebrating. We had a low-key week here, and even got to spend a bit of time with Brian and Lauren on Christmas Eve - masked, outside, socially distanced and brief, of course, but wonderful all the same. 

No Starting-Your-Engines here this week. Just a lot of reflection and thinking about wrapping up the year . . . and moving forward into 2021. Because here we are . . . deep into the last few days of 2020. This is where - in a usual year - I go through my "looking back" process -- in preparation for the "looking ahead" to a new year.

But, really. Who wants to "look back" at 2020??? Most of us just want to get it over with and move on!

And yet. . . 

And yet. . . . 

I know I need to process this year and how it made me feel. I know it was a dumpster fire. But there are lessons to be gleaned and silver linings to remember and stories to tell. Much as I might like to just close the door on 2020 (locking the door and throwing away the key), I know that's not how I want to move forward.

Last week this song started popping into my head . . . 

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty five thousand moments so dear
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure? Measure a year?
 
In daylights,
In sunsets,
In midnights,
In cups of coffee,
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife.
How do you measure a year in a life?
 
And it got me thinking . . . 
How DO you measure a year?
And especially a year like . . . 2020?
 
I suppose . . . I could start with things I can measure; things I can count.
 
525,600 minutes.
365 366 days. (2020 was a leap year, after all.) (That changes the minutes, too, actually. But 527,040 doesn't quite have the same lyrical quality, so let's just forget about the whole leap year thing.)
12 full moons
2 solstices; 2 equinoxes
1 birthday
 
288 days"safe at home." (Since March 16.) (And counting.)
224 blog posts. (I counted.)
193 Peloton workouts. (Peloton tracks my every workout.)
235 yogas with Adriene. (Every damn day now that I started.)
187 Instagram posts. (I counted.)
27 nights spent up north. (Tom keeps track.) (He spent 46 nights up there.)
520 miles walked with JoJo. (A very close estimate.)
21,582 pages read. (Per Goodreads. But not entirely accurate.*)
16 projects knitted. (Per my Ravelry project page. But, of course, it's not accurate either.**)
 
I could keep counting . . . Trips to the library. Meals cooked. Loads of laundry. Phone calls with my sister. Sleepless nights. Doctors appointments with my dad. Texts sent. Bills paid. Minutes worrying about democracy. 
 
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So. Sure. I CAN measure my year. In a numbers kind of way.
That's kind of easy, actually. 
And a fine place to start. But it's not even close to my whole story.
And I know that's not really what I want here, as I look back over 2020 . . . to look ahead to 2021.
Like one of our great scientists says . . . 
 
"Not eveything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts."
            --- Albert Einstein
 
It's way more complicated than . . . just counting.
 
So.
What DOES count, then?
How do I measure this year?
 
This is going to be my quest for these next few days.
Until 2021 arrives. 
 
==
* RE: Goodreads. I read a lot more than I record on Goodreads. (I don't include cookbooks, for example. Or poetry books. Or books of essays that I read slowly. Or art technique books. Or books I don't finish -- or the ones I'm almost finished reading right now! )
 
** RE: Ravelry. Although I'm pretty good at recording my projects, I'm not caught up at the moment. (So Ravelry doesn't even know yet about the 7 hats I finished in December . . . ) (Yeah. 7. I kinda got on a roll there.)
 

Hang On: Hope As Sacrifice

All week long I look for . . . 

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And then on Fridays, I report back.

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"I'll be home for Christmas
    If only in my dreams"
        --- Johnny Mathis

By now, most of us are just sort of . . . resigned . . . to spending the holidays on our own. It's hard, sure. But I think we'll be able to gather again soon. And that gives me hope.

We just need to hang on a little bit longer!
(About three more months, as it turns out.)

As an Atlantic subscriber, I recieve a daily update in my inbox every evening. Last night's Atlantic update brought me Four December Don'ts - to help get us through the last weeks of this crappy year.

  1. Don't underestimate the current Covid surge. It's a nasty one -- and not going away yet. In fact, we're in record-breaking territory every day now. Deaths are currently 24% higher than they were at the peak of the outbreak last spring - and the numbers are not going down. Stay safe.
  2. Don't gather - wait until March. If we - and our loved ones - can stay healthy until spring, things will look much better. Vaccines will be rolling. Hospitals should be less crowded. Perhaps treatment protocols will have improved even more. The goal here should be to avoid contracting Covid entirely. (It's nasty business. It's a crap shoot. And no one knows yet what happens in the long term to those who DO contract it.)
  3. Don't self-isolate emotionally during end-of-year festivities. There are so many tech-tools we can use now to connect with our families and friends. Leverage their power! Set up or join in on Zoom calls. FaceTime with your friends. Use whatever tools you have available to connect!
  4. Don't skimp on holiday cheer. Get out your decorations. Turn on the twinkle lights. Play holiday music. Send cards. Bake cookies. It helps give us "anchor points" to holidays past -- and it triggers nostalgia and feelings of comfort. And that's what we need right now!

Bottom line?
Sometimes hope . . . looks like sacrifice.
(After all, if we had no hope, we wouldn't sacrifice for a future would we?)

"Hang on!
    Help is on its way."
        --- Little River Band

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Best wishes for a weekend filled with peace and hope.

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I've decided to take next week "off" here on the blog. I may pop in to wish you a Merry Christmas next Friday, but I don't plan to post otherwise. Have a great week -- and I'll see you again (I'm pretty sure) before the New Year.

 

 


Planning Ahead: Goodbye 2020

Two weeks from today . . . is a day we've all been longing for: The Last Day of 2020!

Now, I fully understand that turning the calendar from 2020 to 2021 will NOT make everything better. When we wake up on January 1 . . . the pandemic will still be with us, racism will still be rampant, climate change will still be a threat, the country will still be divided, partisanship will still rule Congress, and (for 19 more days) Trump will still be president.

Even so . . . there will be a huge feel-good factor in turning that calendar over to a new year.
(Because 2020 WAS a really shitty year.)

And even though we really want to celebrate the end of this crap-year, our New Year's Eve celebrations (at least for many of us) will look quite different from "usual," more recent years.

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Tom and I, for example, are sad to be missing the special New Year's Eve dinner we've shared together for many years at one of our favorite local restaurants. (And we're hoping this restaurant survives the pandemic to offer it next New Year's Eve.) We'll welcome the New Year at home this year. And I'll prepare our traditional New Year's Day dinner of black eyed peas and cornbread the next day.

But we're looking for . . . something more! It seems more important than ever to do something special this year. But what??? What can we do . . . to say goodbye to this dumpster-fire-of-a-year and welcome 2021?

I did a bit of digging and found some ideas.
And I thought you might like them, too.

Some are silly. Some are simple. Some require a bit of planning ahead. Some are food-related. Some are clothing-related. But all of them have the same goal: Saying goodbye and good riddance  to 2020 . . . and welcoming 2021 with open arms -- while also inviting good luck and prosperity into our lives.

Here's a list of New Year's traditions from around the world. While I'd LOVE to try swinging balls of fire (this one from Scotland), I'll probably satisfy myself with eating 12 grapes (Spain), smashing pomegranates onto my patio (Greece), and jumping off a chair at midnight (Denmark).

Here's another list of even more New Year's traditions from around the world. While there is some overlap (the grapes, for example, and the chair-jumping), this list also includes other simple try-this-at-home ideas like smashing plates (Denmark again), wearing white (Brazil), running around the block with empty suitcases (Colombia), or throwing water out the window (Puerto Rico). This list also explains that the color of the underwear your wear can make a big difference in terms of what you're wishing for in the new year: yellow for luck, red for love, white for peace (Latin America).

If you're more interested in food/cooking traditions, this list is more food-themed (although . . . again with the grapes!). We've got soba noodles (Japan), foie gras, oysters, lobster, and escargot (France), lentils (Italy), round fruit (the Philippines), and bread (Ireland and Greece) -- just for a start. This list also includes links to recipes if you'd like to incorporate any of these ideas into your own celebration. (I'm particularly interested in the recipe for a Pomegranate Margartita. Y'know . . . for before I get started hurling the pomegranates at the ground.)

If you're interested in creating some type of "ritual" to exorcise (or even embrace) 2020 as you say goodbye, Gretchen Rubin devoted a Happier podcast episode to exactly this -- and she shared many interesting listener-suggested ideas. You can listen to the podcast episode here, or just read a summary of the ideas here.

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So. What do you think? Do you have any special rituals or traditions you're planning to try for your New Year's celebration this year?

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Just a note: The "wish paper" one of the listeners on Gretchen Rubin's podcast talks about? We've used it before for our New Year's celebration -- and it is SO FUN. It really works, and is a great way to send up your wishes for the new year. I checked this morning and there is VERY LIMITED stock on Amazon -- but there was still some available if you're interested. A quick Google search also showed other sources. Sadly, though, there are no Peppermint Pigs to be found anywhere. (I tried. . .

 


Top Five: Best of My Fall Reading 2020

Next Monday is the winter solstice . . . the First Day of Winter, the longest night of the year. As we - officially - make that jump to winter, it's time for me to wrap up my fall reading with a Top Five list. My bookshelf was filled with solid, enjoyable books this fall, along with a few clunkers. I read a couple of mysteries, some fantasy, several books that are appearing on "best of 2020" lists, and more memoirs than usual. Mostly, I read actual book-books (from the library) this fall -- and listened to fewer audiobooks than usual (I've been craving silence). I read a lot of poetry. It's been a season of good reading!

Looking back over the last 3 months of reading, I've put together my Top Five: Best of My Fall Reading 2020 list:

Piranesi

First up is Piranesi by Susanna Clarke -- easily the best book of the season for me. I am very particular about fantasy novels. When they’re good, I really love them. And when they’re not-so-good, I find them incredibly tedious. In fact, I tend to stay away from the genre altogether, I’ve been burned so often. (Looking at you, Starless Sea. ) Anyway. Piranesi is not only good . . . it’s astonishingly good! Susannah Clarke is brilliant. She’s created a mystical world full of statues and hallways and staircases and water . . . and then she dropped in an endearing main character to solve a compelling mystery. The storytelling is excellent in this tightly-paced, perfect fantasy novel. Compelling and oh-so-satisfying.

Pull of the stars

Next . . . The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue. Although I had been really looking foward to this new one by Emma Donoghue, I put it off for a while . . . because reading a book about a pandemic DURING a pandemic? At first, I just couldn't. But then figured . . . Oh, hell. Why not! Emma Donoghue is a master at developing characters and placing them in historically accurate settings (and small rooms). . . so of course this one works just brilliantly. I actually think there was a benefit to reading it in the midst of the current pandemic . . . plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose and all. I was completely captivated by the exquisite detail of this book -- feeling as if I were right there in the room with Julia, Bridie, and Dr. Lynn (who happens to be an historical figure, by the way, making it even more interesting). Fascinating and compelling, I made quick work of this well-researched book.

Monogamy

Then . . . Monogamy by Sue Miller. This one is really right in my "reading sweet spot": I just love slow burn novels where the characters reveal themselves slowly, gradually . . . until suddenly they feel absolutely real. Sue Miller’s Monogamy is about so much more than . . . monogamy (although there is that). It’s about marriage, of course, and family; what it means to be committed to one another. But it’s also about grief and discovery and the general messiness of life. Beautifully written, and entirely satisfying.

The searcher

And . . . The Searcher by Tana French. Again, this one is right in my "reading sweet spot": another slow-burn of a read with a deliberate, unhurried pace. As usual with a Tana French novel, the characters are excellently drawn and fully developed -- but in this one, the setting itself may actually be the most important “character” in the book. Moody and a little bit gritty, French explores the challenges of preserving small, rural Irish towns in our rapidly-changing world. With atmospheric writing, memorable characters, a bit of mystery, and maybe the most delightful pub scene ever written . . . I found The Searcher to be a delight. (I listened to the audio version narrated by Roger Clark. His excellent narration really made the novel come to life.)

Cerulean sea

Last but certainly not least . . . The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune. My daughter recommended this one to me back in September. She told me it would bring me hope -- and she was right! It's charming and delightful, through and through -- and just what I needed to be reading These Days: a happy story filled with hope. Tenderly written, it's got quirky characters, a whimsical setting, and just enough adventure . . . all shot through with gentle life-lessons about friendship, family, empathy, acceptance, and hope. I want to bottle the feelings in the book and carry them with me every day!

==

How about you?
What books made it to your Top Five list of fall reading?

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If you want to see what I'm reading now, or check out my recent reviews on Goodreads, just check out the sidebar here on my blog.  You can find me here on Goodreads.  And you can read my past Top Five lists by clicking the links below:

Top Five: Best of My Summer Reading 2020

Top Five: Best of My Spring Reading 2020

Top Five: Best of My Winter Reading 2020

Top Five: Best of My Fall Reading 2019

Top Five: Best of My Summer Reading 2019

 

 

 

 

 


Dark Mornings

It's so dark when I wake up these days!
Cold, too.
It's hard enough to get out of bed in the morning, but the dark makes it so much harder.

But, y'know. . . twinkle lights help.

As much as I miss the daylight (and I do miss the daylight), sitting in the magical glow of my twinkle lights in the morning, sipping my coffee and beginning the day . . . just isn't all that bad. Mornings just seem more gentle and peace-filled when the twinkle lights are turned on.

It's Monday. Turn on some twinkle lights, and let's . . . 

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On Mondays, I usually share a few tidbits and miscellaneous things I discovered over the weekend. A little of this, some of that. Things to amuse, amaze, entertain, or inform. Maybe even something to rev you up! 

This week, I've got some holiday inspiration for you. So. Let's get to it!

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"Winter is a season of recovery and preparation."
            -- Paul Theroux

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Recovery . . . because it's been such a long and hard year.
Preparation . . . for whatever comes next. 

When I found that quote last week, I thought it was perfect for how I feel about the approaching winter. Rather than dread its arrival, I'm trying to embrace it as an opportunity to reflect and figure out how to move on.

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This week, it's all about inspiration for the holidays. 

I know that for most of us, the Chanukah/Christmas/New Year's holidays look very, very different this year. We're celebrating in isolation. We're not traveling. There are no parties, concerts, parades, or celebrations. Things are quiet. Really, really quiet. 

But that doesn't mean we can't have any fun!

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Eat

Try this charming antipasto wreath for your next Friday Night Snacks or holiday home happy hour. It's festive AND tasty! Practice making it for yourself to enjoy at home this year -- so you'll have perfected it for next year . . . when you can take it to a gathering with your family and friends.

Drink

Have you always been curious about making your own homemade Irish Cream? Maybe this is the year to give it a try (using this quick and easy recipe from Smitten Kitchen). Next year, when it'll be safe to share food with our friends again, you'll be all ready to give the gift of tasty, festive beverages, having tested it out this year.

Be Merry

Just because we're isolating ourselves for the holidays doesn't mean we won't be giving gifts. Are you stymied trying to figure out how to deliver gifts while still practicing appropriate social distancing? Are you looking for some creative ways to bring the gift-giving magic to a pandemic holiday? Well, check out these suggestions for "doing gifts" in 2020.

Deck the Halls

Finally, I'll leave you with . . . Claus Dalby. Claus is the "Danish Martha Stewart" -- only he's a lot more charming AND he does his own stunts. I started following Claus on Instagram over the summer. His garden design work and his photography are simply stunning. Over the last few weeks, he's been posting his holiday creations -- flower arrangements, wreaths, gift-wrapping -- all with Claus' unique flair and Scandinavian style. Just wonderful stuff. Spend some time in Claus' world . . . and be inspired! (Next year I'm definitely going to try making one of his wreaths. They are amazing.)

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And that's it for me on this dark Monday morning!
Here's to a good Monday -- and a great week -- for all of us.


A Scientist in the House

It's generally very nice to have a scientist in the house! They're handy to have around when you need something explained or translated, for example. They tend to keep their heads in pressure situations, being super logical and rational about most things and all. They tend to think and work very methodically and with a more even-keeled, wait-and-see approach, which keeps them from making rash decisions. Mine has the added benefit of being a human calculator, which is also incredibly convenient. (I will say that it's not all rainbows and lollipops, though. Because that wall of logic? Yeah. That can be very frustrating to knock up against. Just sayin.)

Anyway. Having a pharmaceutical scientist in the house during a pandemic has been . . . priceless. 

So I'm going to share mine with you today. 

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(Tom with his "Beerzilla." For science you can drink!)

With all the vaccine development news this year, Tom has been getting a lot of questions from friends and family members . . . about drug development and approval processes, about science, about trusting the vaccine. He's prepared a written response to address those questions, and I thought you might like to read it. Please know: this is an opinion piece. He's not giving medical advice here! (Not that kind of doctor.) I just thought it might be interesting for you to read what a pharmaceutical scientist has to say about the vaccine.

So. Here you go. 
What my scientist has to say!

Take it away, Tom. . .

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Some in my family asked to provide my view of vaccines for COVID 19. Full disclosure: I’ve never worked with “biologics” - monoclonal antibodies, peptides, or vaccines. So, vaccines are not my area of expertise. Nevertheless, I did work 29 years in big pharma in what is known as “small molecules” and that has given me some perspective on the industry as a whole. Some thoughts:

  • I trust science and I recommend that others do too. Science is self-correcting; it proposes ideas, tests them using experiments and measurable data, then challenges these ideas again. Data is key and it largely factors out the influence of individuals and subjectivity. The community of scientists examines data and judges the results based on merit. This challenge and check is repeated and the results are constantly refined. It’s about as trustworthy a system as you can get when people are involved. Trust it.
  • Scientists generally are concerned with finding the elusive truth. For the most part that is viewed as a sacred duty - more important than prestige and money and even recognition. Integrity and reputation are everything. It’s OK to be wrong, but not to cheat. There are good scientists and poor scientists, but not many dishonest scientists. They get outed and ousted. Or move to management.
  • Consequently, science does not readily lend itself to supporting a conspiracy. You may be able to buy off one scientist, but not an entire community. Eventually, the truth comes out. 
  • Science, especially biological science branches, have advanced amazingly in recent years. The fact that multiple COVID 19 vaccines are nearly approved is an amazing feat of science. The virus didn’t even exist until a year ago. The viral genome, the key first step in developing an effective vaccine, was known in January, 2020 – amazingly fast. This technology only became available in the late ‘90s and used to take years to complete. Now it’s done in weeks or days.
  • Developing a vaccine also used to take years, but new technologies have greatly accelerated the process. This technology also allows for a diversity of approaches to a vaccine – different targets and different ways to get it into our systems – more shots (no pun intended) on goal, which improves the chances of getting one or more effective treatments.
  • Clinical studies to demonstrate safety (no really bad effects) and efficacy (that it works) still take a long time and tons of money. Fortunately, the big companies with deep pockets invested heavily from the start as did smaller companies with the help of big federal money. I think Operation Warp Speed was a brilliant and totally appropriate move that is paying off.
  • There have been a lot of politics surrounding the pandemic and the development of treatments including vaccines. Anti-vax sentiment; concerns about corners being cut in development, testing, or review to accelerate availability (companies, the administration, and/or FDA); impact of timing on the election; potential conflicts of interest based on political pressure or funding. Complicated and worrisome. Yet through it all, I have confidence that the vaccines have been developed, tested, and checked appropriately. Why?
    • The companies vowed publicly not to cut corners and let the science guide them - they seem to have acted accordingly. They recognized that anything less would eventually become known and could undermine confidence in the company, the system, and/or the vaccines. In at least one case, Pfizer refused the warp speed funding for development (though they did make a big deal for sales if successful) reportedly to help ensure independent evaluation without undue influence from the administration.
    • Despite political pressure to lower standards or otherwise accelerate the approval process, FDA has held steady on the vaccines e.g. insisting on at least 70% efficacy, independent expert advisory review panels, and following accepted protocols. 
    • The leading companies ran really large clinical studies and seemingly ran them right. The high infection rates actually helped accelerate the studies. Preliminary results are incredibly promising.
    • Overall, everything I’ve seen on the development of COVID vaccines gives me confidence in the science, the industry, and the review system. 
  • If I were high-risk, say a front line medical worker, I would absolutely take the vaccine right away. No question. Sign me up. I am fully pro-vax and am willing to bet on the vaccine helping me avoid being infected. It’s a risk-reward question, and I’m willing to take the extremely low risks of the vaccine over the far greater risk of the virus. 
  • That said, I’m in a lower risk category (under 65, not a healthcare or other “essential” worker, keeping a low exposure profile) and won’t be in the early rounds of vaccine recipients. That’s fine with me because, despite large clinical studies (tens of thousands of people) and appropriate development and review, there is always a small risk that unforeseen problems may emerge when millions receive the treatment. Low incidence side effects, differences between actual and projected efficacy, actual duration of immunity, etc. These are early days and there’s likely more to learn about the virus and the vaccines. By the time I get the vaccine, there will be far more practical knowledge. Again, risk-reward.

So, in a nutshell:

  • Although these vaccines are using relatively new technology, and have been developed extremely quickly, I trust the science and the process.
  • From everything I’ve read, the leading companies and the FDA have done a good job in not bowing to various pressures and are doing things the right way. 
  • My view of the risk-reward equation: the virus is much more dangerous than the vaccine. Not even close. 
  • I will certainly get the vaccine when I can (provided there are no bad surprises once it gets into wide distribution).

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I hope you found Tom's words helpful! It really is nice . . . to have a scientist in the house!

 


True Confessions: A Different Kind of Making

I've been creating some sort of "family calendar" every year since 1992. It started when Erin was in preschool. Her teacher had the kids each make a monthly calendar featuring special kid-art (I remember lots of handprints. . . ). I ended up adding a photo of the kids to each month - and I gave the calendar to my parents for Christmas.

Big hit!

So the next year, I made them another calendar. This was back in the days before digital cameras, so I created monthly scrapbook layouts using printed photos and kid-art and pretty paper. It was pretty quick and easy, and again . . . 

Big hit!

And so it continued. Every year I made a calendar for my parents. "Technology" improved each year. Paper companies started creating pre-made calendars you could purchase, with pop-in spots for you to just add your own photos. (Still nothing digital, of course.) Voilà! Instant and easy gift that my parents loved! I just saved a few photos each year for the calendar and made quick work of the whole thing.

And then . . . came the digital camera.
And Shutterfly.

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Suddenly, there was a big upgrade in the photo calendar department! With a commenserate upgrade in the time it took to put one together each year. Not just "popping in a photo" anymore. Oh, no! All of a sudden it was a multi-step, time intensive project: culling through the 100s (maybe 1000s) of digital photos I so casually snapped all year long, uploading those photos to Shutterfly, making sure each family member was (kinda) represented equally - and that the photos (kinda) fit the month.

But, boy! Did those printed Shutterfly calendars look great! My parents LOVED them. And because it was all digital, you could get price breaks when you ordered more - so I started ordering one for myself, too.

And Shutterfly calendar technology just kept marching on! Soon you could personalize the dang things with birthdays and holidays -- and add MORE pictures to the little date squares. There were themes and formatting upgrades. It just kept getting more and more "professional" looking -- and . . . more and more time-intensive to actually DO.

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But . . . these calendars were my parents' most cherished gift every year. My mom used to say, wistfully, "I wish your sister would make me one, too." Now my sister has many, many talents and gifts. Photography is not her thing, and she's had no desire to create digital calendars. This is not a shortcoming in any way. She just . . . didn't want to go down the create-photo-calendar-for-our-parents path. So I expanded my calendar project to encompass ALL OF US. And our pets, too!

For years, it became my most dreaded holiday task. It became . . .  The Daunting Family Calendar. It took hours and hours every year. (And it made me really grumpy and not much fun to be around while I was doing it.) Gathering photos. Sorting photos. Uploading photos. Creating the calendar pages. So much work! But so worth it every year. My parents loved the calendars, my sister loved the calendar. I loved having it FINISHED. 

Then the kids went to college. They wanted their own copies of the Family Calendar. (Because how else would they know when everybody's birthdays were???) So I was now creating this monster calendar incorporating photos of/from 9 people and a growing number of dogs and cats! 

Big task. Many hours of work. But . . . the calendars turned out beautifully and, really, everybody loved them! So. I continued on. (It was only once a year anyway.)

Then, in 2016, my Mom died. The kids were all grown and scattered to the winds. My dad was downsizing and moving to a small apartment. I was overwhelmed with many things. I decided to . . . let the calendar go. We'd had a great run with it, but I just didn't have the heart for it. (How could I make a Family Calendar without my MOM in it???) Everyone understood. So 2017 became the Year Without a Family Calendar.

And you know what? We all missed it.

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So I started making them again for 2018. But I tried to make it more manageable for myself. Fewer photos. Fewer "special dates" on the calendar pages. I stopped including my sister's family (she was okay with it; she had grown weary of my constant nagging for photos she didn't like taking in the first place anyway). It's still a giant task. But. . . still a favorite gift. 

And a huge silver lining:  I have the most wonderful stack of Family Calendars going back to 2004 now (the first year I created a digital calendar).

I am right now, this week, putting the finishing touches on this year's Family Calendar. (I'm late this year. I lost track of the time.) Like always, I'll be so glad and relieved when it's done! But you know what else? I've enjoyed the process this year! Having less on my calendar and to-do list helps. But it's also been such a treat to scroll through my photos and see that . . . we've really made the best of a really crappy year! All of us. Yeah. The photos are different this year . . . we've got masks in some of them, "pandemic hair" in most of them, we're working from home and not-going-anywhere, and - most notably - we're not together. But we're . . . there. And we're smiling. And we look even . . . happy.

It's good perspective for me right now.
A nice reality check.
I'm really GLAD I'm creating the Family Calendar this year!
(But I'll still be really glad to get it off my list today. . . )

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(The photos in this post are of the 2020 version of the Family Calendar, now hanging in my mudroom.)