I’ve just been cutting onions

Here we are, more than half way through November, and this is my first post in close to a year. I realized about November 3rd that I’d missed my annual tradition of at least *trying* to blog every day in the month of November.

Life has been very busy and very full. I have a new job that, even though it’s technically part time, has me constantly rushing to catch up. (I’m teaching a course as an adjunct, and basically building the course as I go along. The opportunity only came up a few weeks before the start of the semester. Plus I’m commuting into Boston 3 days a week. And I still have a bunch of research group and community commitments. It’s been a lot.) So when I remembered that I’d missed my NaBloPoMo tradition, I didn’t spare too many wistful thoughts.

But then today is a special day for this blog: Happy 15th birthday little blog! I’ve missed you, and hope we can catch up soon.

It was just this morning that I recognized the significance of today’s date for my blog. And then a little bit later in the morning remembered the other significance of this date. This was the date I lost a dear friend, 14 years ago today. This blog will always be a little bit tangled up with my memories of her, and the grief that sometimes still catches me unawares.

Just this Friday, I found myself thinking of her, through a funny meandering path of thoughts and memories. We have developed a family tradition of having pizza on Friday nights, and I put together a special one to deal with my difficult dietary constraints, and with a bunch of vegetables. (Because I like vegetables.) Theo was helping me prep for the pizza, and was cutting an onion. And as Theo struggled with the burning and watery eyes of cutting onion, I found myself singing the Flight of the Conchords song, “I’m not crying.” (And then I found myself thinking of Elizabeth, who I believe was the one who introduced me to that band.)

“I’m not crying No, I’m not crying. And if I am crying It’s not because of you It’s because I’m thinking about a friend of mine who you don’t know who is dying. That’s right, dying. These aren’t tears of sadness because you’re leaving me. I’ve just been cutting onions. I’m making a lasagna. For one.

So all of this is why, rather than getting my blog a cake (or reusing a photo of a cake), it felt more fitting to share some sliced onion.

Closing out the year with a sputter

This highly unusual year is finally coming to a close. And though there are parts of it I wish I could do differently, I’m not sorry to see the end of it.

2020: a confusing year.

I didn’t so much manage to keep posting regularly this month. I fell short of that goal, much like a lot of my other goals for the year. So, I suppose it’s a fitting end. I did manage to post every day in November, plus another 15 posts (16 if you count this one), so there’s that.

My 2020 posts were a little sparse.

I fell short on my reading goals. I planned to read at least 52 books. I finished 40. I barely read any physical books at all, and mostly listened to audio books. (I still count those.) The book group I was in sort of sputtered out after a few zoom meetings. I didn’t even try to follow the Read Harder Challenge list from Book Riot, after successfully completing it in 2019. I found I didn’t have the concentration to read books much of the year.

I walked the dog pretty much every day, and kept reasonably active, but I wouldn’t say I especially accomplished any fitness goals.

I accomplished a few professional goals, but fell short on some others.

I did a lot of volunteer work, but dropped the ball more than once.

I did a few creative projects, but never got off the ground on a few others.

I had one trip to California in February to see my mother, for which I am very grateful, but pretty much all subsequent travel plans were cancelled.

My family has stayed largely well, but we have had our grief, too. I have meant to write a post about a significant loss, but haven’t found the time or energy to do my feelings or the person justice.

I put a lot of time and energy into the US elections, and the results were mostly good, but we are still living in this weird reality where a bewilderingly sizable percentage of the population does not believe in the results. I feel like I still need to hold my breath until we are past the inauguration.

With two vaccines already being distributed in the US for the coronavirus, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I know a number of people, who all work in some healthcare profession, who have already gotten their first shots. But with the gross mismanagement at the federal level, only a tiny percentage of the population have started to get vaccinated. At current rates it will be many, many months before it becomes available to me or my family. The tunnel appears to be quite long. And cases are continuing to rise oh-so-alarmingly.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but it appears to be still quite a long, dark tunnel we’re in.

Today, we have broken with our tradition of taking the train into Boston to see the ice sculptures, eat at one of our favorite restaurants, and generally be tourists in the city. Instead, we’ll stay home, and stay warm and safe.

Seeing the ice sculptures in Boston: One of many traditions set aside this year.

In a year of big challenges and big stress, I have come out mostly okay. I feel like I was very busy all year, but didn’t get all that much done. The year took a lot of energy. In some ways, it was a huge accomplishment just to make it through, and have any products at all. My family has been mostly okay. We have jobs and a home. So I have much to be thankful for.

So now, I welcome the new year with some degree of hopefulness, but also with some wariness and weariness that come from the awareness that we are not yet out of the woods.

We did get to go for some walks in the woods this year.
Here is a more cheerful photo of woods, since I don’t like to end on such a melancholy note. I do actually really like the woods.

Wishing us all a safer, healthier, happier new year!

2020: the year of cancelled plans

I’m trying to get caught up with some work projects, but I’m also still committed to some community volunteer projects. For one of them, a program to encourage the adoption of clean energy in local homes and businesses, I’ve gotten involved with doing some of the social media. And in coming up with a post on the theme of home heating/cooling, I went on a bit of a flight of fancy, and I made a thing. It makes me laugh.

Here’s my caption: “Spending a lot of time at home this year? If your summer cooling wasn’t what you hoped, and/or your winter heating could use an upgrade, we can help with clean heating and cooling solutions that will save you money. Learn more at https://www.solarizemendonupton.com

I had a couple of cancelled trips this year. Not quite the beach scene depicted in the image1 above, but trips I was looking forward to nevertheless. Sigh.

On the bright side, I have had a lot of quality time at home, where I can enjoy drinking tea from my new favorite mug. (Featured in the above photo.)

The “Things Could Be Worse” mug from Calamityware. There is no better motif for 2020.

1Beach/drink image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay. Picture of my laptop by me.

Still dealing cards (postcards, that is)

A few voting themed postcards I’ve purchased for sending postcards to voters.

If you live in the US and follow politics at all, you are probably aware that there is an important runoff election in Georgia coming up for 2 senate seats. (I don’t know if it’s just me, but I received over a dozen emails about the Georgia election just today. And I’ve never even been to Georgia!) I know many organizations around the country are eager to help the campaigns of Democrats Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock (yes, I do know their names! Even living in another state), and many have stepped up with various projects.

Since so much attention is focused in this one direction, I wasn’t sure to what extent I’d get involved. However, because of my activities facilitating/organizing others’ participation in mailing projects, several of my friends and acquaintances contacted me in the days following the election to let me know that they would be interested in sending postcards to Georgia.

Be a Georgia Voter postcards that I bought through one particular project. It amused me that the rubber bands I used to bundle these into batches are for organically grown produce. They nicely accentuate the Georgia peach.

Some of the groups I’d worked with in the summer and fall were planning to do mailing projects, but were waiting to get updated voter lists. And then because so many people have been wanting to help, it wasn’t clear I’d get assigned much. I put my name in the virtual hat for a couple of projects, and got passed over for one of them. But I did get assigned some postcards and letters to mail–enough to distribute to friends. Indeed, not just enough, but of quantities such that after having several weeks of not knowing whether I’d have many to share, I now have to scramble a bit. Even though the numbers of cards and letters I’m working with this time is probably about an 8th of what I’d dealt with (and dealt out) before the November election, I’ve spent quite a few hours the last few day contacting and briefing interested participants: sending info, sorting and counting cards, and distributing (and in some cases delivering or mailing) packets of cards. Being a dealer is work.

I’ve also been doing a bit of writing of cards, which I find to be meditative. I haven’t designed/doodled any cards recently, but I have been having fun making the text of the scripts colorful.

My postcards to voters through Postcards to Voters.

It also appears that I am still blogging. I still have the momentum of last month’s daily posting flow. I’m considering trying a new approach to daily blogging. Rather than putting the pressure on myself to post every day, I may try to spend a bit of time each day on my blog projects. Whether it’s writing, organizing ideas, organizing photos, or actually putting up and editing a post. Perhaps if I both commit some time and also constrain the amount of time it takes, I will be able to sustain my efforts.

taking stock

Here we are, 30 days into daily blogging, and I don’t feel that I’ve posted too much of substance. But that’s okay. I’ve reopened the creative outlet, and perhaps the posts can keep flowing. I still have lots of photos and stories I’ve been wanting to post.

I’ve realized1 that one of the things this blog does for me is to give me motivation to take stock of my thoughts and ideas. (And my photos, actually.) I’ve also realized that I do a lot of taking stock, in general, in reminding myself to appreciate all the wonderful people and things in my life. (And by things, I don’t necessarily mean objects, though I suppose I have things that I am fond of. Books and artwork come to mind, as well as other odds and ends I’ve collected.)

A few months ago (or possibly something like a year ago?), I started using a meditation app to deal with my stress. My favorite guided meditation is a nightly gratitude session, which I often do once I’ve gone to bed. It involves thinking back over the day, whether it was a good day or a bad one, and focusing on the good things, big and small. Because it’s just for me, there’s no pressure to come up with anything new or entertaining, so I am often grateful for the same general list. But that’s okay.

I settled on the post title of “taking stock” earlier in the day, without quite having decided exactly what direction I was going with it. There’s been a fair amount of taking stock of actual things in my life lately as well–as in actual inventories of objects. The various political postcard/letter projects have me doing a lot of counting and organizing of cards and stamps and pens. My work has me inventorying examples once more, though these aren’t so much physical. And at home we’ve been trying to stock up on food and home staples in preparation for potential pandemic-related issues again. (The US is definitely seeing alarming trends.)

This year has definitely seen some challenging times–for my family, for this country, and the whole world. There has been a lot of stress as well as sorrow. (I’ve taken stock of quite a few new gray hairs in the last few months.) But all of this taking stock makes me appreciate the bounty of good fortune that I’ve had, in spite of it all.

This photos doesn’t have a lot to do with what I wrote about, but it does have a bounty of stuffed animals. This was from last December.
Here I am in December of 2017, also with a bounty of stuffed animals. And there is Brodie, hoping that he’ll have the opportunity to bite some of those things. I put these photos here because apparently I don’t like to put up posts without photos.

1And by “realized,” I suppose I mean, “realized again.” Because the very tagline of my blog is “collecting my thoughts, and other things.” So I guess that’s what I had in mind when I started this blog 14 years ago.

I’m just going to post about pancakes, and then go to sleep.

Yes, I did actually just say that out loud a minute ago. And then decided that that should be my post title.

Once again, it is late, and the day passed by without me having a grand plan for my daily post. The day was a fairly mellow one. I started the day waking up too early, and considering trying to do some work before the rest of the family got up. But I puttered on my phone, had my tea, and walked the dog and then decided to use a package of gluten-free pumpkin pancakes I’d gotten a few weeks ago. That’s not a very interesting story (flat as a pancake, as far as stories go), but the pancakes were pretty tasty. Also, at least one of them appeared to be happy.

Also, in the last little odd-shaped pancakes I get when scraping the last of the batter out of the bowl, I found this critter.

At first I thought, “hey, those look like rabbit ears.” And then I thought, “or like a duck bill.” And so it was that I stumbled across another naturally occuring instance of the rabbit-duck illusion. It does seem like I’m fairly often entertained by faces and other shapes I find around in unexpected places. (Though if I’m often finding them, are they really so unexpected?) Are you this way as well?

Tomorrow we are all back to the grind after a lovely long holiday weekend. Theo is back to his in-person school (he’s doing hybrid), and Phoebe has to do a sort of extended independent study for her school. John and I both have work. Plus I have to get back to the pile of volunteer/community commitments that I energetically offered to do before getting side-stracked.

Only one more day of my traditional November daily blogging commitment. I keep wishing that I were better about keeping up the blog during the rest of the year.

pines adorned with beads

There were a couple more photos from yesterday’s trip to the Christmas tree farm that didn’t make it into yesterday’s post. There must have been a bit of rain yesterday (though I don’t remember it), as some of the trees were nicely decorated with beads of water. The little tiny pine cones also made for some cute embellishments.

Nicely decorated tree at the Christmas tree farm.
I do love me some water drops.

The kids and I did finish decorating the tree today. While we did find some of the little fuses for the old strands of lights, we ended up adding a long new strand that I’d bought a couple years ago in an after-Christmas sale light-buying spree. Then we added strands of beads, and then the other miscellaneous ornaments.

Strands of beads were never part of the Christmas trees of my childhood, but I have grown to appreciate them. I like the way they add the lines zig-zagging and draping around the tree. Plus I do love their added shininess.

Our (possibly) completed tree.

an appointment with a Christmas tree

I have recurring lab meetings on Fridays, for a couple of my various research/teaching projects. My colleagues suggested that we could still meet as usual, since none of us would be travelling this year. I, on the other hand, suggested that I’d prefer to skip the meetings. Our family had pencilled in a sort of meeting of our own.

What with this year being so challenging, with things like family visits and travel and fun summer activities mostly cancelled, we have really been looking forward to the home-focused activities of our traditional Christmas. Whereas I know quite a lot of people who have been decorating for Christmas early, we decided to wait until after Thanksgiving. But we did want to jump right in today. And that first jump involves getting a tree.

For the last several years, it’s been our tradition to go to a tree farm in our town. We’ve brought the dog with us most years since we’ve had him. John and I were both feeling a bit tired today, and thought that maybe it would be a bit less stressful to leave the dog at home. However, as soon as I started putting on my shoes to go, the dog put together a very compelling argument as to why he should come. I mean, look at that face.

So we bundled him and ourselves into the car and started on our way for the quick drive across town. And then turned around at the end of our street to go back home for another mask. (For John. The dog doesn’t need to wear one.) And then we were off again.

The farm was really busy today, but we went after our spy network let us know that things had calmed down. It took us a while to find a tree that met our specifications, but we persevered.

We didn’t get around to putting up the tree until quite a bit later tonight. And then we brought down some of the bins to start decorating. We started with the topper, and started putting on strands of lights, working our way up from the bottom. Unfortunately, half of our usual strings of lights seem to have given up the ghost since last year. (I spent more time digging through bins trying to find the little fuses, but gave up for tonight.)

So, the tree is only about half lit for now. Tomorrow, we’ll either see about replacing some fuses, or bringing down some different lights. But it does look pretty festive, if rather bottom-heavy.

replete, complete

As I mentioned in passing, my daughter headed to boarding school this fall. (Those of you who have been reading my blog for many years may be shocked to learn that time has passed, and that Phoebe is now high-school aged.) When we first worked out this plan, over a year ago, the world was a completely different place. Since Phoebe was only looking at schools in New England, we expected that we could have some weekend visits. What with COVID restrictions, though, the school wanted to bubble as much as possible. This meant that the plan was for the kids to stay at school (and not have visits from family) between drop-off in September, and collection in November before Thanksgiving break. This was a very long time for us to go without seeing Phoebe. Something like 2 and a half months. To help us to mark this time, Theo and I made a sort of advent calendar to count down the days. We made little fall-themed paper cutouts, one for each day. Mostly simple leaves, but a few acorns and oak leaves (for weekends) and some other shapes for holidays (a pumpkin for Halloween, and a squirrel for John’s birthday.) We put each cut-out up in the windows in the breakfast nook on one side of the room, and moved them over to the windows on the other side of the room for each day that passed.

The first few days of the calendar.
2 days worth of leaves moved over, in September. Note how green the background was.

Since it seemed sort of creepy-talkerish to have it just be a countdown to seeing Phoebe, we made our calendar run up to Thanksgiving. So our final paper cutout was a little turkey. This morning the turkey crossed over to the other side. (In this case to the next window over.) And so the countdown is complete.

Why did the turkey cross the window?
The completed Thanksgiving countdown calendar.

Today I spent most of the day cooking, and we had our small family feast tonight. Well, the family was small. The feast was rather large.

We usually have Thanksgiving dinner in the formal dining room. But this year, with just the four of us humans, we decided to eat in the breakfast nook. For one thing, I’ve been using the dining room as an office and a voter postcard distribution center. So I was fine with not dismantling that set-up. Plus the breakfast nook is looking so festive with all its leaves.

I also decided that we could skip the fancy dishes this year. I love to use the formal china, but it is a lot more work, especially since it’s not dishwasher safe. So, maybe not as fancy as some years, but still festive and bountiful.

As an aside, I’ve realized something rather funny about this blog. Because I have a tradition of blogging daily in November, our Thanksgiving plans have been remarkably well-documented every year. Much more so than other holidays and events. For most of the rest of the year, my blogging about life is rather sporadic.

In any case, much as I say this time every year, I am currently feeling very full, both of food and of gratitude.