I like to lie on a chaise and stroke the moss with the tips of my fingers, like how you’d pet a tiny sleeping kitten.
I like to watch the way the spores spread and bloom and thicken throughout the summer. I like visit places where something – probably a skunk or opossum – has dug up the moss in the night, in search of fat moist invertebrates to eat. During the day, in spring, birds strip off pieces, springy and green, to line their nests and cushion their eggs.
But moss is one of those things that don’t fit in. One of those things we’re supposed to strip away from the bricks, so carefully and expensively laid in the garden. So we have to find ways to argue against the desire to make every bit of nature conform to our expectations.
Why can’t we resist the urge to remove whatever doesn’t fit in? How badly do we want to have things our way?
Things start easily enough. Let’s have a nice garden, we say. Let’s have a lawn, some flower beds, a vegetable plot, a patio. So we hire someone to do the bits we can’t or don’t want to do, and we take on the rest of the work. We plan, shop, dig, plant, water, fertilize – and then we expect to enjoy.
Nature laughs at our plans.
Our property is overrun with the native weed purslane this summer. It’s been very hot and dry hardly any rain all summer – and the purslane took full advantage of its opportunity.
Mile-a-minute weed also spread. And crabgrass. And then we had lots of bare patches of dirt where everything died and nothing replaced it.
So now we have planted grass seeds. Which means we have to water. The lawn is crisscrossed with hoses to golf course sprinklers that need to run daily for an hour. Stop watering, we have wasted time and money. And then will come the pressure – or the expectation – to apply the crabgrass killer, the grub killer, the other chemicals to remove whatever doesn’t fit in with our concept of “lawn.”
I needed to arm myself with a lot of information to fight the urge to slide down this slippery slope. Lawns are a waste of water. In the future there will be water shortages anyway, so the effort will be wasted. We will have to mow all the time. These chemicals are irresponsible to use, bad for the environment. Harmful to birds. The annual maintenance of a perfect lawn will cost thousands of dollars.
Lawns are stupid.
So we agreed to seed and water, and water more next summer, if needed – if the hot dry conditions continue. And why won’t they? The Pacific Northwest, California, the Amazon, Australia – all in flames. Surely we will be next.
Once we accept a less-than-perfect lawn, how freeing! Let the moss stay! Leave the spent perennials as they are – the goldfinches and siskins will pick them clean in no time.
How’s your summer going? Things have been busy here. In no particular order:
Sewed a summer wardrobe.
PatternReview.com had a summer contest to sew so-called “Endless Combinations” where each item has to go with two other items. I sewed eight things in all, built around my need for some professional-looking shirts for work videoconferences and quick comfy shorts and skirts for decent work-at-home looks.
I didn’t win the contest and didn’t try, which is a big step for me. Rather, I competed for fun and really enjoyed it as it fit with my plans and needs. I sewed 100% from stash too in summery hues of aqua and teal, white, black and gray. If you’re interested, the patterns are (left to right):
A: The Creative Cate Top from Style Arc in a poly knit that includes all my wardrobe’s colors, finished on the inside to help the cowl neck keep its shape.
B: Jalie Elonore pull-on shorts in black stretch twill – the slim fit goes with all the untucked tops in this collection and makes a great short for biking on my lunch break or after work.
C: A white poplin cotton top from McCall’s 2094 coordinates with anything! It includes pleated breast pockets from Butterick 5526, so that I can wear it with pocketless RTW skirts not part of this collection.
I had not been to the hairdresser since February. My roots grew out a few inches. My annual straightening could not be done because salons here are only allowed to do basic cuts and colors. I had been slicking my hair back into a ponytail each day ( see pictures above).
Finally I went to the salon and got this:
My husband hates it, but then I explained to him that this haircut literally and figuratively was a weight off my shoulders, and I think he got it. Or at least accepted it. Hey, it’s only hair, it grows, and I can always dye it and grow it out.
So those are the fun things around here.
Some not-fun things have included:
3. Activist activities.
I’ve read and attended lectures about racism. Learning about racism has taught me a few things I’d like to share. One big issue is the way white people tend to regard racism – they tend to think racism is only super obvious hatred for Black people -like Klan-level, cross-burning types of hatred – and ignore subtler racist acts. It’s all racism, people. If you don’t know what microaggressions are, for example, that’s a good place to start to learn, identify bad behavior and change your own.
White people also tend to ignore racism when they see other people or situations perpetuating it. We tend to think it’s not our job to speak up. Of course it is! Say something! A couple of recent examples from my life:
At the grocery store before the 4th of July, I saw a boxed fireworks kit that had obvious racist imagery under the name “Savage Fireworks”. I am not going to post a picture of it here, but trust me, it was disgusting. I called over the (white) store manager to complain. She thought I was complaining about selling fireworks at all, and I had to literally point to the box and say “That is disgustingly racist and you should remove it immediately.” The look on her face when she finally saw it was priceless. She got a shopping cart and starting loading up the boxes. I certainly hope she didn’t put them back on the floor later but I didn’t check to be sure.
At the physical therapy gym, there are a bunch of solar-paneled bobbleheads in a sunny window. There are animal figures, cartoon characters, holiday-themes, and, yes, a “hula girl” complete with grass skirt and coconut-shell bra. I asked the therapist, a young white woman, if she thought it was appropriate. “I think it’s kind of cute,” she said. I asked her if she thinks her Asian or Polynesian patients would find it cute. She just looked at me, uncomprehending. Then I said, “Would you still find it cute if it was a Black woman instead of a Polynesian woman, or would you then see that it’s offensive?” She looked at it again and said “oh, I see what you mean.” She put it in a desk drawer.
These are pretty small examples of the kind of casual racism I am talking about – certainly not on the scale of police murdering Black people in the street, but still harmful and perpetuating stereotypes.
Also, I wrote emails to La Mia Boutique and Burda Style, asking them why they don’t use nonwhite models and telling them I won’t buy any more issues or promote the patterns I have sewn until they do.
I also was going to email StyleArc, which uses illustrations, not models. The illustrations are always of white women. Don’t believe me? Here’s a screenshot of all their patterns. Can you find any nonwhite women in these illustrations?
But lo and behold, how did StyleArc promote its latest dress pattern?
So instead I sent a email commending Style Arc – saying it was “about time” and hoping to see many more Black models.
I have not received a reply from any of these companies, so we’ll see.
A sewing friend from Canada took issue with my emails, saying that it’s unfair that someone from the United States (me) expects sewing pattern companies from other countries (Italy, Germany, Australia) to confirm to what she called “American sensibilities.” Guess what? There’s racism and bigotry in other countries. There are nonwhite people and models in other countries. These companies have nonwhite customers. Nonwhite people are people and must be included, not pandered to with tokenism or dismissed with Continental shrugs. I also expect pattern companies to show models of different ages, body types, abilities and other dimensions of our human race. It’s the right thing to do.
4. Health crap.
My work to fix my shoulder and posture was really paying off earlier this summer. Through daily exercises and stretches, I had leveled off my shoulders quite a bit and was standing taller:
And then I started feeling pain in my right knee. I put off going to the doctor because of Covid-19, but finally I went, had an MRI, and found out that I have some gnarly arthritis in that knee. So then I got the shoe orthotics, the physical therapy and the dietary supplements “for joint health.”
Which brings me to my biggest lifelong challenge: overcoming envy.
I have been watching Patrick Stewart’s “Sonnet a Day” readings on Facebook. And wouldn’t you know it? He read my favorite sonnet on my birthday: Sonnet 29.
Imagine his oaken voice reading it out:
When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
(Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
So what’s more pathetic than Shakespeare, green with envy, feeling sorry for himself?
Envy has stalked me for as long as I can remember. As a child, I envied my brother his friends. I envied the other girls’ for their skinny bodies and pin-straight hair. I envied my infant sister for the attention she got from my mother. As I grew up, and pushed further and further toward outsider status, these feelings strengthened. Envy turned to hate too often, especially of high school classmates with their good haircuts and expensive clothes and circles of friends, and also for anyone who was better than me at anything – sports, academics, arts.
As you can gather, I was lots of fun to be around. So that just made it all worse.
As an adult, these feelings subsided a bit – let’s say I was less consumed by them – but still I’d avoid and scorn people I envied.
Sometime in my early 40s, a change came over me. I lost weight and looked probably the best I had in my life (though I was still not 100% satisfied, of course). I had a great marriage, a great family, a great job, great community connections and great friends.
I became the envied instead of the envier. I didn’t realize this until three old friends basically said to me on separate occasions, “We started out in the same place, but look where we are now.” One friend who’d always been more fit than I suffered debilitating medical problems. Another who once had the same career trajectory as I was laid off and could not find work. The third, who’d once been my superior in business, was coping with misery at her own job and serious problems with a child.
I had no experience with being on top, and I didn’t know what to do. So I ignored it.
Soon enough, of course, my dream job turned into a nightmare. I had my own health problems, as did my husband. Some of the weight came back. We had family problems. Things piled on. And I found myself envying once again.
Perhaps “envy” is my natural resting state?
I’d periodically dig myself out of my envy pit, only to fall back in again. I got a great new job, which I chose in part because I knew it would inspire envy in those left at the old company. I sought to best others at various professional and personal endeavors, but any gloating failed to satisfy me.
Last fall, I hit envy overload. I was enraged about something that happened on social media and tried to stir up some toxic drama over it. I had a meltdown at an event because I was so stressed out and envious of others’ abilities and friendships and achievements. A friend finally scored a great new job, and I was so envious that I could not be a good friend to her. I’d get involved in competitions, only to hate people who’d bested me. I tried to lose the weight I’d gained, not for myself, but because I wanted to inspire envy in others who’d tried and failed to lose weight themselves.
And then it hit me. I was intentionally exposing myself to situations where envy would rise up in me. I wasn’t just feeling the feelings as a natural part of life. I was triggering myself. I was becoming an envy junkie.
So I sought to remove sources of envy from my life. See ya later, Instagram. Unfriending you, Facebook. Unlinking you, LinkedIn. Yeah, social media was the worst for me. But also I stepped back from work things that tended to spark envy, avoided family issues that got me going, dropped out of competitive situations, and just tried to do what I wanted for myself without regard to how others do it, or how it might look to others.
Better yet, I also tried to help others. The best way to humble yourself and feel grateful for your fortune is to give a hand up to someone who’s struggling – not because you want to lord it over them but because you have an obligation to your fellow humans to give back. This change in me has been a bumpy road, but one well worth travelling.
I have not kicked the envy habit completely – I probably never will – but I feel more attuned to those times when, as Shakespeare put it, I’d desire this one’s art or that one’s scope, or even I trouble heaven with my bootless cries. I am working at being more grateful for what I have.
Ten years ago yesterday, I weighed myself and cried. I was 190 pounds. The heaviest I’d been in my life. I resolved that day to lose the weight, and I did. I have kept much of it off. But today, on this anniversary, I realize I need to try anew to get me through the next 10 years and beyond.
I don’t have any pictures of me from that day (like many overweight people, I avoided having my picture taken at all costs), but this picture was taken a few weeks before, because I got a new (not very flattering) haircut.
I have a vivid memory of that red sweater. It was long – past hip length – and I wore it often because I thought it was flattering and because it covered my tummy and butt. I tend to carry most of my weight as a pear-shape below the waist, so this picture doesn’t get the full picture, but it will have to do.
I can’t remember if there was any one thing that got me on to the scale that day. Many people who recover from addictions or turn around unhealthy lifestyles say they had a “rock bottom” moment – that lowest-of-the-low moment when they knew they could not go on as they had been. When they knew they had to change or die. I don’t recall any :rock bottom” it was more like I was walking barefoot along a bed of pebbles – minor hurts instead of a big pain – but hurts nonetheless.
I joined Weight Watchers, started a blog, and wrote this:
I am a lifetime member who is back again after a hiatus as reckless as a two-thumb texter driving 100 miles per hour. I weigh 190 pounds – nearly obese and totally disgusted with myself.
Anger motivates me today, but I hope this blog and my new WW attempt will turn that around into optimism. I have to try – the obese alternative stares at me from the corner, licking its lips.
To put it simply, I hate dieting, but I also hate my destructive habits with food. I simply cannot get control of myself, and I am so **** sick of it. I quit WW in disgust in 2008 after about two years of back and forth – 178 pounds, 177 pounds, 179 pounds, 180 pounds, 178 pounds, 181 pounds… I plateaued at around 180, so I thought if I could just maintain 180, I’d be OK until I was motivated to drop more. After a while, outfitted in 14s from Liz Claiborne and Chico’s, I got comfortable with it.
This winter, I clambered up from that plateau and hit 190. Those 14s pinch at the thighs and fall short of the wrist. Even my winter coat doesn’t fit right anymore. I look in the mirror, and I do not recognize myself. I will be 40 in April. I’m one of those gals about whom people used to say “She’d be so pretty is she only lost some weight.” Those days are long gone. I wasted my beauty on food. Today, I’d settle for healthy.
I am trying yet again. So much about the WW experience rings as pure cornball to me, but I do like the saying “Winners are losers who gave it one more try.” I know I can do it – I was down to 135 on WW in college – I just need the motivation and energy. And I need to be good to myself. I need to give myself permission to misstep – to succeed and to fail – while keeping the goal in mind at all times.
You may think that my negative state of mind will hurt my chances to succeed, and you may be right, but what I really need right now is honesty. I am starting this blog to be honest with myself and to give myself an outlet for all my frustrations and triumphs.
Thanks to WW for setting up this feature, and thanks to you for reading it.
Looking back on it, that’s a pretty florid write-up of my state of mind. I put the “self” in “self-loathing.” But I totally recognize the woman who wrote this, because she’s always been with me and lately has been making her sad “self” ever more present in my day-to-day life.
Today I weighed myself at 163. That’s halfway between what I weighed at my heaviest and at my lightest as an adult. I don’t want to get back to the 135 I weighed in college (I mean, I would take it if I could snap my fingers and make it happen, but I know it’s too much work).
Here’s what I looked like at my goal weight of 145 pounds in July 2013 (in a designer dress from Narcisco Rodriguez):
Yes, it took me more two and a half years to lose 45 pounds. I actually lost the first 40 in about 18 months. The stubborn 5 pounds at the end took forever to disappear, and they reappeared pretty fast. So, 145 is too hard to maintain. I can do 150. So that’s my goal. The plan is to lose about a pound a week:
4 pounds in February
4 pounds in March
4 pounds in April
2 pounds in May (vacation will be tough so cutting myself some slack)
4 pounds in June
It’s important to write down your goals, or it’s easy to just go from one day to the next without really taking the steps you need to get what you want. So now I have written it down. It. Is. Written.
Here’s a pro tip from me to you: Spending more time with your parents will make you feel older, not younger.
My mother is recovering from knee replacement surgery, so I took a few days to help her out – shopping, getting meals, cleaning, keeping her company, that kind of thing.
Definitely a job for the distaff side!
Each day began by observing the neighborhood squirrels at the feeder.
My parents don’t like to keep a lot of food in the house for some reason. They prefer to go to the grocery store every day. Here’s a typical haul – some Boursin-stuffed chicken breasts and other fixings for dinner, blueberries to make muffins for breakfast the next day, and – via last-minute text request – a giant bag of Cheetos.
I found myself eating dinner at 5 p.m. My mother was very taken with my “recipe” for green beans:
Buy a bag of pre-trimmed green beans
Steam in the microwave for 4-5 minutes
Toss with salt, pepper, olive oil and juice from half a lemon
Although she told me that I shouldn’t cook with any salt from then on. There’s absolutely no real health reason for the fatwa on salt – my mother just thinks it’s unhealthy.
After dinner, we had a rousing game of Scrabble while a John Wayne movie played on TV.
I thought I would make use of the time by working on some sewing projects. One day I combined a trip to the fish market with a shopping trip for sewing supplies.
“You were gone a while,” my mother said when I returned.
“Sorry – did you need me?” I said.
“No, I just wondered where you went.”
I was gone maybe 90 minutes. Gee, why don’t I feel like I am 16 again?
It was fun to set up my machine on my grandmother’s old sewing table.
The dining room has plenty of space for this, but it was a disruption in the flow of things. My parents’ cats gave me dirty looks. My dad kept reminding me to unplug the iron. I didn’t get much done and had to drop out of the Refashion Runway competition. I couldn’t find much to refashion anyway – the theme was “fake fur” and people need that stuff at this time of year. Oh well.
My parents live in New Hampshire, so I took off for about an hour one day to hear Bernie Sanders speak:
That same day someone from Sanders’ campaign came to the door and my father had fun telling the guy off: “Everyone who likes your guy is already downtown listening to him speak!”
On Sunday I had a rare treat. My parents still get a newspaper delivered daily. On Sundays, the paper includes full-color comics.
Bonus: a guy I went to high school with has a son who’s old enough to get married. The wedding announcement was in the paper.
After three days of this I started looking forward to my 5 p.m. dinner, some Cheetos in front of the TV, and the squirrel show every morning. One day a scandal erupted when some pigeons ate the squirrels’ corn.
Every day I tackled a cleaning project. “Everything’s gone downhill since your mother’s been laid up,” my dad said after I spent 2 hours on the bathroom.
I told him that he needed to help out more. Distaff side, my ass.
I left them after four days with a freezer full of spaghetti sauce, chicken, soup and muffins. My sister also has also been helping out with meals, cleaning, doctor’s appointments and the rest. We have a good laugh about it all.
I know that taking care of parents is something we all have to do sooner or later. I am grateful that I have the kind of relationship with them that they I can help them – for sure they helped me for many years! This was a relatively minor event – my mother will recover and go on with her life. The day will come when it’s not such an easy job. I am glad I had the chance to prepare for it a bit.
But I left the visit feeling old and feeble. My knee makes a crunching sound when I walk. That can’t be good. I have my mother’s thighs – I guess I have her knees, too.
Sugar has been my lifelong enemy. Ever since I was a child, my sweet tooth would get out of control. Cavities, weight gain, headaches, low energy – all the bad stuff that follows a sugar binge have ridden bitch on my life, all my life.
I have been able to kick sugar for a little while, but it always roars back. I can go for a few weeks without having anything, and then I start up again. I am trying again to find a system that sticks.
No sugar or grains of any kind at breakfast (fruit is OK).
Avoid packaged foods (and reject any that have added sugar of any kind).
Eat fruit (but no bananas or grapes – sugar bombs that they are).
Drink only water, coffee or tea (no added sugar or flavorings).
Eat spicy food to ward of sweet cravings.
Eat roasted vegetables to heighten natural sugars.
Reward yourself with a small piece of dark chocolate (80%-90% cacao, low sugar).
I have never made it to #7, so I can’t attest to how that goes. But here’s how the other six steps have gone for me, from hardest to easiest.
Hardest: #2 – avoid packaged foods, especially those with added sugar.
In the United States, sugar is in everything. I mean, everything. And not just one kind of sugar, either – usually several varieties of sugar lurk in the most unlikely places. Food manufacturers do this to hide the amount of sugar in a food, since ingredients on he label have to be listed by volume.
For example, we had friends for brunch last weekend and served up some bloody Marys. I didn’t have any, but I listed to everyone rhapsodize about how delicious the bloody Mary mix was. Why so tasty, you wonder? It’s basically candy in a bottle:
Sugars of various kinds appear seven times on this label. Yes, fruit concentrates and molasses count! If all those sugars were counted as one “sugar” on this label, it would probably be the third ingredient after water and peppers.
The other problem in the United States food system are foods that have health halos – basically foods that are packaged as organic or otherwise “healthy” but in truth have a lot of shit in them. Cereals are the worst – my husband is constantly buying so-called “healthy” cereals that have as much sugar – gram for gram – as a candy bar.
Breads are tough too. I sometimes bake my own bread, so I know that a bit of sugar helps the yeast get busy faster. But there’s no excuse for something like this:
This organic bread has two kinds of sugar – right after the wheat comes “organic cane sugar” (seriously – it’s the THIRD ingredient if you don’t count water) and further down the list of all these grains and seeds you get some molasses.
I found some French bread that had no sugar in it, but it went stale after two days. Sugar is a preservative too. There are these so-called “sprouted” breads in the freezer section that have no added sugar, but I am sorry to say the texture and taste didn’t thrill me.
Finally, I hit on tortillas – I found some with no added sugar, so I am doing wraps and burritos instead of sandwiches for a while to see how that goes.
Hard: No grains or sugar at breakfast
Most important meal of the day, ’tis said. And hard to avoid grains and sugar.
I often have breakfasts like this with plain Greek yogurt, and don’t ever eat sugar-sweetened yogurt or sweetened fruits. Luckily, I have been a black coffee or tea drinker for a while and never go for sweet coffee drinks. But I always crave carbohydrates in the morning, and I often reach for some toast or other carby thing later in the morning if I have none at breakfast.
It’s really important to make this effort because if you start the day with sugar, the rest of the day tends to go downhill quickly. Think of each day as a blank slate – you don’t want to crap up that slate first thing, do you?
Other breakfasts I have enjoyed include eggs in various forms, apple slices with peanut butter, roasted veggies with olive oil, and ricotta with berries. You have to be careful with breakfast meats such as bacon, ham and smoked salmon, because a lot of it is cured with – you guessed it – sugar!
The Times got pushback for putting the kibosh on oatmeal for breakfast – plain whole oats, no sugar added. People are really devoted to this breakfast, apparently.
This has been HARD for me. Whine whine whine. I soldier on.
Easier: Basically the rest of the list is pretty easy and even enjoyable.
Water – no prob. Once in a while – maybe once a week – I used to drink a Vitamin Water Zero. Now I have zero Vitamin Waters, and it’s all good. If I crave something bubbly, some Pellegrino with a lime or lemon wedge does the trick.
Spicy food – also no prob. I can’t say if this trick has really curbed sugar cravings, but in general, the more flavorful your food is, the more it satisfies you. Of course, it was hard to find spicy condiments without added sugar. Finally I found this salsa:
Ingredients are just tomatoes, hot peppers, onions, vinegar, garlic, spices and herbs. It’s sooo good – I put it on everything!
Roasted veggies – I had been doing this anyway, so it was an easy win.
Roasted root vegetables in olive oil
Roasted grape tomatoes and garlic
I roast up a batch of veggies a couple of times a week. The roasted tomatoes are delicious as a topping on meats or pastas. Roasted larger tomatoes put through the blender make a great alternative spaghetti sauce too – with no added sugar. Jarred sauces are loaded with sugar!
Easiest by far: Eat Fruit!
I love fruit. I eat 2-3 pieces every day and will reach for fruit first if I crave something sweet. Often fruit packs a bigger punch if I pair it with a bit of protein or fat, like whole-milk ricotta, peanut butter, or cheese.
It’s easy to get stuck in a rut with fruit, so I like to buy different things every week. Out of season fruits are sometimes good frozen (just be sure there’s no added sugar). I keep cherries, blueberries and strawberries in the freezer at all times in case the craving strikes.
Next step – No-sugar February
I have been playing with these sugar-busting tactics all month and am ready to go for it 100% in February. If I make it the whole month I will reward myself with #7 – a piece of dark chocolate.
Self-improvement plans – what else would we distaffers do on January 1?
A few quick resolutions then, before we get to work:
Style: I did Me Made May for the whole month last year (even while on vacation) and for most of the year, really. Now that I have a reliable jeans pattern, there’s nothing stopping me from wearing Me Made Everyday. So I am going to go for it!
I got started this morning with a nice long walk in the park with the hubs and the dog in Me Made Jacket (Simplicity 8843), the Jasper Sweater from Paprika Patterns, and hat by Green Pepper Patterns.
I made the sweater last week out of some poly-cotton blend sweatshirt fleece with a muted plaid design.
To add interest, I did the cuffs, side panels and collar on the bias.
2. Gardening: My vegetable garden really put out this year. Amending the soil in my two raised beds helped so much. I found a reliable set of tomato plants and other veggies to grow from now on. I was kicking myself for not doing a better job of tending to the plants and harvesting. So I am planning to do less, but put more effort into what I have and not let anything go to the bugs or go bad on the vine.
3. Fitness: Seek out a real posture plan. I played around with various posture exercises and finally found something that seemed to work. I need to hire the trainer who did this workshop for some private sessions, to make this a regular thing. I am hopeful that I can stop my hunchback development and maybe even undo some of the damage I’ve done.
4. Housework: I have one simple goal. Keep the kitchen floor clean! With a dog around, it’s a chore. I always feel like my home is at its best when the kitchen floor is vacuumed and scrubbed. So that’s the big goal here. Exciting, right?
5. Sewing: For sure, I am going to continue with my “sew edgy” look for the office. I need to find a simple dress that I can make a TNT. I also need a few blouses, and I really need to make a proper suit. For casual wear, I will perfect the jeans. I realize that while I have been playing around with a lot of indie pattern companies, I have been disappointed with some results compared with results from Big 4 (although there are exceptions), so I am going to focus more on Big 4. I have plenty of fabric and patterns at this point – so I am going on a “fast” at least for the first half of the year.
6. Sustainability: A friend who’s a sustainability consultant really made me think about the nature of consumption and waste. I am proud that I don’t do fast fashion and that I will mend and alter clothing. I take public transportation, walk or bike most places. I have a few “upcycle” and “refashion” sewing projects in my head for this year. I feel I could do more, however, when it comes to food. We are doing Meatless Mondays as a family, and on my own I will do more meatless meals (my husband will be challenged to do Mondays as it is). I also am going to buy fewer prepared things in plastic containers – I am talking to you, deli soups and salads! Seriously, it’s not hard to make soup. I’ll probably save $100 a year! I sewed up some simple reusable bags for produce, and I always use tote bags at the store. And I am going to stop buying the occasional to-go coffee unless I can get it in a reusable insulated mug. I already do this with water – why not with coffee?
7. Diet: I just gotta kick sugar. I feel that very badly. I can go for weeks without any, and then I have some, and it’s just a spiral from there. I am not sure how to tackle this one, except to go cold turkey. I need to research more, but it’s happening.
8. Career: I started last year doing a weekly work reflection on Friday mornings. I’d write down a few accomplishments, networking wins, personal achievements and other notable events from the week. This is a great idea because at work, weeks turn into months, turn into years, and then you have to get a new job, and you go to update the resume and you can’t think of what to say! This exercise takes 5 minutes and it really helps. I am getting started by updating my LinkedIn profile and resume with key accomplishments from 2019. Also, I am trying to network more. I need to be “heads down” at work and more collaborative and social.
9. Family: This is a tough one. I feel that I have neglected my husband and family at times, especially my in-laws. There’s no excuse – we live so nearby – but weeks go by without a word to or from anyone. Even with my husband, we have well-established routines that make it tough to break out. So I am going to make more of an effort on all fronts. Sometimes a simple call to say “hi” or an impromptu date night is all we need to get out of the rut. I will take care of my mother when she has knee surgery later this month, so I can use that time to visit a bit with others to get the year started off well.
10. Reading: I have done well with reading more female authors, but I feel I need to do more to read writers from different nationalities and races. I got a Barnes & Noble gift card for Christmas, so I plan to pick up a few things to get started. I general, I am going to try to read more and do less “faffing about on the mobile” while on my train commute. Now that my grad school is done, I will have time to open my mind more in other directions.
11. Giving back: We made an effort in 2019 to give more to charities, and we succeeded in increasing our contributions by a thousand dollars over the course of the year. I also have done a bit more charity work with groups I support by in-kind contributions of time and expertise. In fact, I won an award from one charity I support with weekly editing and coaching of college students. I miss volunteering with local groups, though – I managed one event in 2019 – a bike-a-thon – so I am going to try to do two events in 2020.
12. Activism. I will admit it: I dread 2020. I am terrified that Trump will get re-elected. I have little confidence that the Democrats will get their shit together. I worry that the economy will thank, and while that would hurt Trump, it’s going to hurt a lot of other people too, so I don’t exactly wish it. After he was elected, I made a plan to so something once a week to #resist. I wrote letters to Congress. I attended rallies. I got educated on the issues. I sewed a shitload of pussyhats. I donated money to groups under siege – Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Anti-Defamation League – I could go on. I have kept up some of these activities but have let others slide. This is a do-or-die year. I need to step it up.
Thank you for reading! I wish you all a happy healthy 2020! (Except Trump.)
The left shoulder is quite a bit higher than the left, as you can see. It’s also rotated a bit forward and makes a bit of a hunching lump in the back:
A workshop recently on “somatic movement” offered to help, so I signed up. At the end of a one-hour session, here’s what my shoulders looked like:
Pretty even! Wow!
But I am a skeptical soul, so I figured I’d be back to normal the next day.
Still pretty good, right?
How about the next day?
And four days later, I was back to normal.
Still, that’s pretty good. I am interested enough to try somatics again.
The workshop started with everyone taking inventory of our bodies standing still and lying flat. If you just stand in front of a mirror, barefoot, and pay attention, you notice things. Maybe you’ll notice how your weight tends to sit a little heavier on one foot than the other, or maybe a bit toward the inside or outside of the foot, or back on the heel or forward on the toes. As you stand there, you may notice other things – one knee feels more fatigued than the other, or one hip seems to bear the load more than the other.
As you look in the mirror, you may notice things like my uneven shoulders. Or maybe uneven hips. Maybe one knee bends more, or you feel hunched over.
The same “inventory” works lying flat on the floor – you feel one hipbone more than the other, or your arms may splay differently. For example, because my high shoulder also is rotated a bit, when I lie flat on my back, my arm tends to twist with the back of my hand on the floor, while my other shoulder is better aligned, so my hand rests on the pinky side, more or less in a straight line. I also noticed that I can look further over my right shoulder than over my left.
We did a series of exercises where we stretched and twisted and reached. It was effortful, but not painful (for me anyway – people in the workshop had different abilities and fitness levels). Every so often we’d rest and take stock of how we felt different. If you’ve ever done Pilates or some other exercises where you take turns stretching or lengthening one side of the body, then another, you may have experienced this sensation. Each stretching exercise built on the next, so by the end of the session, we were doing some fairly complex moves.
We ended the workshop by standing in front of the mirror as we had at the beginning to take inventory again. Several people expressed “WOW” moments, including myself.
This is not some chiropractic hokum or new age feely-goody nonsense. It really seemed to work. The effect is temporary, because you’re meant to do these stretches every day and build on them over time, and I just did them once. After I am done with my grad school course (next week – not a moment too soon) I am going to sign up for a private consultation and get started on a regular regimen to see if it helps long-term.
For the past few weeks, I have been doing a series of stretches designed to correct posture problems and limber up the ol’ spine. When I am done, I feel about an inch taller, for a few hours anyway. I also feel less stiff in the morning and after a lot sit on the commuter train.
Here are some tips, broken down by the three major spinal regions – cervical, thoracic, lumbar and sacral. Let’s go to the map!
My favorite moves involve sensations of lengthening the spaces between the vertebrae of your neck. Start by nodding your chin toward your left shoulder as far as you can, comfortably, while keeping your shoulders down. Then raise your chin to the left side, again, as far as you can comfortably. Do this a few times to the rhythm of your breath.
When you’re nodded toward your shoulder again, move your chin in a diagonal through space so that you’re raising your chin as far as you can comfortably to the upper right. Repeat the diagonal move a few times.
Then repeat the whole sequence on the opposite side. Be sure to keep your shoulders down! You may notice that you’re more limber on one side than the other. As you complete a few moves, you may find that your ability to nod or rise increases as you stretch and warm up. Finish with a few movements that go shoulder to shoulder in a wide arc, like a big smile.
Cervical and Thoracic Spine
This move gives the sensation of elongating the neck and upper back. In bare feet, stand straight on a non-slip surface, with a chair or table nearby in case you need help balancing. With feet facing forward and arms at your sides, rise onto your toes and stand, balancing, for 10 seconds. Then lower your heels until you’re standing flat on the ground, while continuing the sensation of lengthening so that you feel as tall as you were when you were on tip-toe.
It helps to imagine that a string emerging from the crown of your head is keeping you up, like a puppet. Repeat this several times with feet facing forward, and several times with feet in a V position. Reach out for support if you think you’re going to fall, but try hard to balance.
Thoracic and Lumbar Spine
I love a classic Pilates roll-up for helping me stretch and strengthen the core spine.
Stand straight with arms at your sides and shoulders down, knees slightly bent (not locked). Nod your chin to your chest, and slowly roll down, vertebra by vertebra, allowing the weight of your head and arms to pull you into a forward folding shape. When you’ve gone down as far as you can, bend your knees a bit and hang like a rag doll for a few seconds.
Then, roll up, articulating and feeling each vertebra as you go, from bottom to top. Your head rises last. Repeat several times. You should be able to hang further at the bottom with each try.
The Whole Spine
Pretty much everyone who’s had back issues ends up doing pelvic tilts as part of a stretch routine for recovery. Stop me if you know this one!
Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat. Take note of where your head, neck, back and butt touch the floor, and where there’s space between your bod and the floor. You will probably feel space around the middle of your back where the natural curve of your spine hovers above the floor.
Gently tilt your pelvis so the space disappears and your spine feels imprinted to the floor. Use your abs to do this move. It helps me to imagine I’m balancing a bowl of soup on my pelvis, so that when I tilt my pelvis, the imaginary soup would spill all over my belly.
Then tilt the other way – exaggerate the space where your spine is off the floor. That imaginary soup would now spill all over your crotch. (Sorry for the dumb imagery, but it helps.)
Repeat a few times – each time try to feel each vertebra articulate up and down. You can also nod your chin towards your chest to elongate your cervical spine.
Try all these and let me know if you feel a little taller when you’re done!
I tried today to stand up straight and sit up tall all day. I made it exactly 10 minutes before I caught myself in the mirror, slouching while I brushed my teeth.
Walking to the train, I tried to imagine I was carrying my breasts on a tray in front of me, like a medieval painting of Saint Agatha.
That works pretty well, oddly enough, except when I forgot, and I forgot every 10 minutes or so.
First thing at work, I had a meeting with about 30 people. We were jammed into a conference room, and I happened to pick the chair next to the speaker. All eyes on me! So I sat up straight. The whole time. I didn’t even let my back touch the back of the chair, I was that straight. My mind wandered to Scarlett O’Hara’s mother in “Gone With the Wind,” a lady so refined that Scarlett “had never seen her mother’s back touch the back of any chair in which she sat.”
After that I felt a little burning sensation between my shoulder blades – maybe from muscles that hadn’t been used in a good long while, muscles that had been complacent and atrophied in their slouch.
For the rest of the day I tried to sit up as straight as possible. I realized my chair and desk were a bit un-ergonomic for this, so I fussed over the chair a while. When I got that straightened out, I realized my monitors were a bit low, so I fussed with them. I finally got to work on the computer and noticed from time to time that my shoulders crept up toward my ears. I pushed them back down. That little burn between my shoulder blades got hotter.
At lunch I stooped over my soup. I mean, I am all for trying this posture jazz, but I am not going to dribble soup all over my clothes to get there.
A few more meetings in the afternoon, and a few more Ellen O’Hara impressions. “Why yes,” I thought, “I am the epitome of femininity and refinement. Look at how my back doesn’t even touch the back of my chair, bitches.”
I walked back to the train, head held high. I stepped in a subway grate and scuffed up the heel of my new boots, tripping and almost falling, but hey, I was walking with my head held high, not down at the ground like some slattern.
Then I got on the train and took a nap, all slouched into the seat. Hey – I needed a break.
I resumed the walking and sitting when I got home for a while, but later, curled up on the couch watching TV, I caved. Enough for today.
Or, as Scarlett would say it, “Tomorrow is another day!”