It’s not quite eleven in the morning and I am already thinking about tonight’s planned cocktail – The Jungle Bird – which I feel will counteract this dismal, pouring rain day just a tiny bit with it’s tropical themes. I’m in the wind-down towards the holidays, and just hosted the workplace holiday party on MS Teams which we spiced up by holding a trivia contest with gift cards as prizes. Sounds silly and small, but any levity seems welcome these days.
I really do feel like I’m sliding into the holidays and this week felt a bit like I was dialing it in a bit. I’m working right until Christmas Eve, but next week is bound to be quiet, and then I have the whole week after that off.
Food: I feel like I have barely anything to say about food this week. We ate well (fish cakes, pho, Indian leftovers, spaghetti) but the thing that really stands out was the soup that Brian made for dinner last night.
Earlier in the summer we won some cookbooks, including Gather by David Robertson. As it originates in Vancouver, the recipes in this collection focus on locally-available ingredients with a multi-ethnic influence – and included a curried soup with Peking duck. Though we can’t exactly get Peking duck on Gabriola, we did have duck stock in our larder, and so with a duck breast and panang curry paste substitute, Brian made a reasonable approximation of Robertson’s Thai Red Curry Coconut Duck soup. I highly recommend! Especially as the weather is so grey and dismal, this red and warming soup hit the spot.
Textiles: I’m still working on the Quadra Jeans, which would be almost finished except that when I got to the point of inserting the fly I discovered that I don’t have the right length zipper. Order has gone in for zippers, and some interfacing while I’m paying shipping anyways. In the meantime I started sewing a sweater out of some rayon/cotton blend in the stash. I am still in need of more wardrobe, and staples like easy pullovers would be nice to have at this time of year.
Did a bit of work on the big loom this week as I’m converting it to a new type of treadle tie-up. It’s a bit tedious so I only do a bit at a time, but I’m hoping to have that job done over the holidays if not before. Also plan to get one of my looms warped before the new year arrives. Weaving requires so much more time than I have in my everyday life, but I’m still trying to keep my skills sharp for a future in which I don’t have to work so much (or at all).
I’m trying to stash-bust some of my knitting yarns this days and so I started knitting this Aran-patterned scarf on the weekend.
Fitness: On Sunday I ran my longest distance ever (8.5 km) and ran continuously up the very steep Barret Hill for the first time (normally I walk about a minute of it). I can’t tell you how blown away I am by both of those things – and I’m thinking of going for 10 km before the end of the month just so I can say I did.
This week I’ve been experimenting with stacking runs and weight training workouts on the same days in order to get more complete “rest” days. Basically that means a short run (4 km) Tuesday and Thursday mornings during a break from work, and then upper body weight workouts in the afternoons of those same days with Monday and Friday reserved for lower body workouts. That gives me Wednesday and Saturday off completely as my longer run is usually scheduled for Sundays (as well as an afternoon walk with a friend). Not only does this give my body a break, but it should free up some time and mental space for other things on the days that I’m “off”. So far, so good. I really appreciated having Wednesday after work free this week, especially since I’m attending the online zendo on Wednesday nights now.
Work: Finished all the interviews and wrapped up the interview board reports this week, made some headway on my big project, started work on a related side project (retention and disposal guidance for web materials), but really lost my work steam by the end of the week. I’ve got a few more days of work before holidays, and they will be quiet so I’m hoping to get some project work done, but I’m also aware that it feels very much like the end of the year and I’m highly distractable right now.
Notable: It’s Mica’s 23rd birthday today! Feels hard to believe because that means we’ve been in each others lives for about thirteen years now – and also, she’s pretty much a grown up!
Other than that, we inch towards a very quiet Christmas at Birdsong. A few decorations and plans for some good feasting next weekend – but it’s going to be very quiet this year. It’s right now that I’m missing the large tables of friends and family we haven’t seen for most of the past year! I’m hopeful though that 2021 will bring gatherings again, drinking wine around the table after the dishes are cleared, sitting up late in the yard around the fire.
I had a small conniption this morning when I came to post and couldn’t find the blog post I put up earlier this week! It was a little reflective piece I’d been working on for awhile, and I *thought* I had published it – but I couldn’t find it in my posts or my drafts. At the same time, I could see that two people had commented on it (thanks Roger and Margy!) but couldn’t find it anywhere on my page. So strange. It existed but didn’t exist!
Turns out that when I posted it, the system backdated to when I started working on it (back in early November) and so it was down the feed a bit. I’ve corrected it now, so if you didn’t see it earlier this week, it’s right below the weekly update.
With that out of the way, I am really enjoying these weekly update posts. It gives me a little bit of time to review what’s happened, go through the photos from the week and think about my highlights. I’ve also become aware that quite a few people in my community read these and feel caught up with me as a result and I like that feeling of somehow being closer even though we are all physically distant right now. I’ve (very) recently started writing for real again and I’m hoping to return to the newsletter in the new year. I see now that the regular blog posts have helped un-stick something that has been gummed shut inside me since even before quarantine.
So… onto the update!
Food: Thanks to my friend Jenn for inspiring me, I’ve been baking with a lot more nut flours and other wheat substitutes lately. This isn’t due to any particular aversion or intolerance (I am rising regular sourdough as we speak), but because I’m trying to get a bit more protein-density into my nutrition profile. Using the vitamix, I make my own nut flour which means it’s a bit coarser than store-bought, but also a lot cheaper. This week I made some excellent granola-bar type things that are all nuts, oats, dates, and homemade raisins. Sometimes when I’m running, I keep myself going with the promise that I get to eat one of these awesome bars when I get back. Whenever I get around to posting the muffin recipe I promised a couple of weeks back, I’ll plug that one in as well.
And in a week of good dinners, the stand-out recipe this week was the Spicy Ginger Pork Noodles with Bok Choy – you probably need an NYT cooking subscription to view it, but I’m happy to share if you want to give it a try.
Textiles: This week saw the completion of my second over-sized shirt – pictured here, out in the wild. This is one size smaller than my last version and made out of a pretty heavy Shetland cotton flannel. With a thermal layer on underneath, it’s pretty much outerwear in our climate. Both the oversized shirts are now in regular closet rotation – making this a winner of a pattern.
In the featured photo above is the other thing I’ve been working on this week – blue jeans for Brian! Though I’ve done similar trousers projects, this is the first time I’ve attempted a classic denim jeans pattern, and the first time I’ve sewn pants for Brian. I chose the Quadra Jeans for this attempt, a pattern by Thread Theory who are based just a skip away on Vancouver Island! So far I’ve got both legs done, pockets, stitching an all. Next step will be the seat seam and fly cover. I’ve been using the Jeans sew-along on the Thread Theory site, and finding it crucial to expanding on the pattern which is in tiny print and sometimes a bit lacking in detail (as patterns so often are). Whenever I am choosing a complicated pattern, I look to see if there is a sew-along as they add so much more information and support to the process.
I’m really enjoying sewing the jeans – Brian tried on a mock-up version (quickly sewed the legs and seam to fit him), and they seem to be heading in the right direction size-wise. Jeans are fussy, but like all projects – taken one step at a time, totally do-able. These days I really like my sewing in one or two hour blocks. Enough time to make headway on a component of something, but not enough that I get achy and frustrated. These jeans are being constructed one hour at a time and are definitely a skill-builder for me.
Fitness: As noted last week, I’ve stopped going to the gym and started working out at home which is fine for now (not my preference but we do have good gear). I decided as part of that process to sign-up for a new training regiment called Stronger By The Day. Each week they send out four workouts (a version for those with access to gym equipment, and a version for those at home focused on bodyweight) which incorporate the power lifts (for those with gym equipment). I’ve done three days of those so far, today will be the fourth (deadlift day) and am really enjoying having someone else program my workouts for me! Cost is $10 cdn per month for the service, and it’s one of the first female-oriented workout spaces I’ve been in where the focus is on heavy lifting (as opposed to appearance focused; so many of the FB groups have as much discussion about cosmetic surgery as lifting which just depresses me). After the first two workouts Mon-Tues and my run on Wednesday I was so stiff! But coming back to lifting yesterday things had settled into place – so I’m hoping this last workout doesn’t wipe me for the weekend.
Work: This week was all interviews/all week. We are well into the interview portion of our job board and I have talked to so many people in the last few days! But we have some good candidates, and I feel that on going through this phase, that I designed the competitive process well. You never know until you start interviewing people if you are really going to get what you need from the questions you ask – but after a week of this, I can see that we’re filtering candidates appropriately and we will have a pool of good people to choose from in the end. In all other aspects of work I am behind so that’s a bit of a drag.
I also entered a competitive process for a higher-level than I’m currently at and will have to spend at least part of the upcoming weekend writing the exam for it. Because I don’t speak French, there is no chance I will be offered a job on my national team, but if I get in the pool at a higher level, it could help me get something that became available in Pacific Region. Having said that, there aren’t many jobs at this higher-level available outside of Ottawa. Such is the federal government.
Notable: This week I went into the community credit union to get a bank account set up for the new organization we’re starting here on Gabriola (the Gabriola Island Land Stewards Society) – and I was reminded of why it’s so great to live in a small community when I was helped by one of my gym-friends (Lynda!) who prepared a ton of the paperwork for us and had everything ready to go. While it’s true that rural living has its downsides (like the grocery store being out of everything all the time), I find all the transactional stuff much, much friendlier and easier to deal with. Given everything that’s going on the world right now, these little interactions are much more of a focus and I can appreciate them that much more.
As I’ve been out for my regular runs in the last couple of weeks, I’ve thought a lot about limiting beliefs. Such as “I hate running.” “Running is something I will never do.” Other limiting beliefs of the last few years have included “I’m not a person who does yoga,” and, “No matter what I do, I will never like this body.”
I’m 47 years old and these thoughts have been with me for most of my life. As a young person I was taught that bodies like mine didn’t do athletic things, that PE was something to be endured (and hell, sports education in school is so poor who could blame me), and that the only real point to fitness was being thin (ie: attractive). But mostly I was taught that my body was uncontrollable by me, and somehow wrong in its shape and operation – a feeling that has persisted through my life despite the fact I have never had a chronic illness, major medical problem, or other condition that bars me from doing whatever I want to do.
For the last three years I have been attending yoga regularly. Since October of last year I have been back at the gym in a serious way (focused on power lifting). And this fall I suddenly found myself running on the treadmill in the gym for longer and longer stretches of time as part of my workout warm-up. Even so, I wasn’t exactly ready to commit to “running”. The treadmill was straightforward, while outside seemed much harder. However, running inside is pretty boring, so I got over that and started experimenting with jogging around the lake while up at the cabin in early October. It’s only been a couple of months, but it’s pretty clear to me that even though running is hard some of the time, I *can* do it.
A few weeks ago, my fitness pal Belinda asked me if I wanted to go for a run instead of our regular Tuesday walk. I said “only if you accept that I am the slowest runner in the universe, and that I don’t know if I can run with someone else.” We met at our usual time and ran 5 km around the neighbourhood, chatting most of the way (except the beginning which was all uphill and had me winded). It went by pretty fast and at the end she was more than a little chuffed because she’s been looking for a running partner for awhile. She said, “You are your own worst enemy. For the last year I’ve heard you say I can’t this and I can’t that (note: we were in a fitness class together last fall) – and every time you end up doing it. You could just do it without saying the I can’t part first.”
Right. In other words, I could just do the thing without saying ”I can’t do the thing” before doing the thing.
Yesterday I started a new strength program – Stronger by the Day – which sends out a new workout weekly, but contains the three main powerlifts. I decided it was time for a change in my workouts because left to my own devices I tend to stay away from stuff I don’t like – and I like the idea of changing it up to some degree every week. One of the main exercises being focused on at the moment though is pull-ups. And honestly (this isn’t negative self-talk), I cannot do a non-assisted pull-up to save my life, nor have I ever been able to. I’m starting out at the very beginning – with dead hangs (hanging off the bar for as long as I can) – before moving to negative pull ups, iso hangs, and so on. But as much as this isn’t an area of strength I currently have, one thing I’ve learned in the last little while is that most things just come down to practice over time. So I’m dead-hanging and not beating myself up about it, not telling myself I’m weak, not feeling internal resistance because “I can never do this”.
As with running, I’m beginning at the beginning – which is humbling, but also freeing because there is nowhere to go but up (literally – and I’ll have to train hard to get there).
In the last year and a bit of power lifting, I’ve learned that the hurdles we face in lifting increasingly heavier weights are rarely physiological, and almost all psychological. It’s true that there are some real physical barriers, but it’s also true that a lot of what blocks progress is a combination of limiting belief and nervous system constraints. An example of this from my own lifting progression this past summer when I put what I thought was a couple extra pounds on the bar for deadlifts. I had intended to put 197 pounds on the bar (2 more than the previous week). It was only after I had lifted two of the heaviest sets of my life (I couldn’t figure out why it was so damned difficult) that Brian walked over and pointed out that I had put 217 pounds on the bar! (No wonder it was so heavy.) Lesson being, I was much stronger than I *thought* I was and able to lift more once my ideas of what I could lift got out of the way.
Fitness isn’t the only realm in which the self-limiting thoughts creep in, of course. Creative life, work, relationships – all these are fodder for negative self-talk and deprecating internal commentary. But fitness is the place where it’s become most obvious to me how much I construct my life through the things I tell myself. And so I’m working on undoing that as my monthly road-running mileage ticks up and I return to progressive overload on the heavy weights after a few months of maintenance. One of the unexpected benefits of working out has been some of this insight, which I plan to take into other areas of my life in 2021.
I am writing this post while on a break in union training, which followed a series a meetings this morning, and while also trying to make some progress on responding to emails for the new community land trust I’m on the interim board of. The whole week has been like this – a pileup of every important thing at once – so I’m just going with it in the knowledge that next week will be a whole lot easier.
Food: This week has been a good one for dinners. We made pizza, smoked sablefish on our stovetop, made chicken pot pies out of canned filling I put up in the spring, and had a mushroom pasta that was pretty tasty. I’ve also managed to cut off the mid-day sugar that was trending last week – so things feel more energetically normal. This is the time of year when having a larder full of preserved foods pleases me so much, and I start to think about pressure canning soups, baked beans, and other warming things.
And although I’m not entertaining at the moment, and already have far too much china as it is, I couldn’t help but procure this lovely Japanese vintage china set (via contactless pick-up) this week. It came with 8 full place settings, the tea service, and four serving pieces (including a covered dish) – all in exceptional condition. Even if it’s just Brian and me for Christmas, I plan to use it for whatever special dinner we do.
Textiles: I’m working on a second oversized shirt and hoped to have it done to show off today, but I am buttonholes away from the finish! Next week. My studio is a mess and I plan to work on that this weekend. Also, I’ve been knitting a toque, but no pictures.
Fitness: After working out four times at my local gym with the new mask rules in effect, I decided that I just can’t do it right now. Strangely, our local gym has gotten more busy, I guess because people feel safer? But I feel much less safe because the virus is really present in BC, and people with masks tend to act like it’s all they need to do to be safe. Also, the mask gets really sweaty and my glasses fog up.
So last weekend, Brian and I bought a second-hand gym set up that was on the local bulletin board. It wasn’t cheap, because it’s one of those really sturdy rack systems – but so much safer than the power rack we built out of lumber in the summer and now we really have as much weight and cage as we need to lift safely. Since this photo was taken we have put more black floor tiles down so we have a really good space for both lifting and floor work. Brian also ordered some sticky “mirror” tiles for the wall – so it will be like the full gym experience once we get those.
Brian was already exclusively working from home due to his schedule, so this is a real power up for the equipment he’s been using.
Work: My staffing interviews start next week, finally! After to much work to prep for them. Fingers crossed they all go well (multiple people are helping with the interviews so there has been a lot of prep in the hopes I can make it easier for them). Also, I am nearing the end of two days of union training which I organized for people who want to become stewards in my local. I’m not giving the training, just participating and getting to know folks, but I feel really good about facilitating people’s participation. I need more shop stewards or I’m going to die from the caseload. The last month of work/union has been really exhausting, and I am looking forward to things letting up prior to the holiday and a bit of downtime directly afterwards (I’m taking the week off in between Christmas and new years). It’s also been a rewarding time as several things I’m working on are moving or completing in the next few weeks.
Notable: I am finding this round of the pandemic really depressing and exhausting. It’s not like anything has changed much, but I’m ready for it to be over, and the numbers going up and up have me worried. Also, it’s looking less likely that we will see Mica or anyone over the holidays, and that’s really dreary. So let’s just say that even though I have been steady in my routines, returned to morning meditation, and introduced singing back into my life, that I’m still struggling to find my purpose right now. I can’t tell if this is different from other early Decembers though, because this is not my favourite time of the year anyway.
This morning I was sitting in the zendo and thinking about something that Jon Kabat Zinn said in some meditation instructional (and he probably isn’t the only one, but he came to mind). It was in answer to a question about losing focus when meditating, and that returning to the breath (and thus the present moment) over and over (no matter how many times you have to) *is* the practice. I’ve been so out of my spiritual practice in the last couple of months, but I realized that like Zinn’s instruction, returning to the cushion and the teachings *is* part of the tradition. No matter how many times we wander away, what matters is that we wander back. So I’m working with that right now, in spiritual practice and in life more generally.
This week was not about getting lost, but about a few days on my own where I had some reflective moments about a few things that have been a bit off the rails for me lately. Nutrition, for one. And the lack of music and writing in my life of the last few months. Brian was in the city for four days, and as much as I miss him when he’s gone, it’s also when I get a bit of being-time to really sit with some feelings that have been arising in the last few weeks. And now that I’ve done that, I’m focusing December on some ways to rebalance my wheel a little.
Food: This week was a crap week for food. I didn’t like anything I cooked, and I ate way too much starchy carb at the wrong times of the day, which is just a big energy suck. On a positive note, that smartened me right up mid-week and I’ve cut way back on the foods that don’t work for me. One thing I have been making for the last few weeks that really does float my boat right now is a recipe my friend Jenn shared in the summer for Paleo Morning Glory muffins. There are many versions of this on the Internet, but not the exact one she shared with me – so I’ll type it up here in the next few days – because as far as I’m concerned it’s the best – all nut protein and veg with just a tiny bit of honey and apple to sweeten.
Textiles: The first of The Assembly Line Oversized Shirts is done and I am in love with it. The Shetland flannel I ordered from Spool of Thread is unbelievably soft and quite warm – making it perfect for winter garments. The pattern itself is easy to follow and construct, does not use the dreaded “burrito” method in its construction (I have screwed up the burrito as many times as I have executed it successfully), and has a collarless option which is my preference in button-up shirts. One thing I will say is that this shirt is *very* oversized, so even though a medium is my correct size, it felt a little too big at first (though styling it is important, with the bodysuit and leggings on underneath it doesn’t feel too big at all – whereas with jeans it felt ridiculous).
I am working on my second version of this, in a slightly heavier flannel, red herringbone – size small. By cutting it down just a bit all over, I think the fit will be a bit more forgiving in terms of pairing with jeans. Should be done by the end of the weekend and then I can start working on a pair of jeans for Brian which is the next project in my queue.
Fitness: Last Sunday I ran nearly 7 kilometres which is the longest I have ever run in my life. The trails were muddy, and I had to do some creek hopping, but it was a satisfying circuit and my overall pace wasn’t bad either. I skipped my run on Tuesday (it was pouring rain), and went for a short run yesterday with a much-improved pace. I guess it’s true that to run faster you have to run longer distances. I also made it into the gym as per my regular (M/W/F) schedule for masked workouts on the heavy weights and some extra core work. I’m back at the point where I need to switch things up a bit and get back to some of the speed drills and core work I was doing in the summer – so I’m doing that.
Work: Work and union work have both been busy lately. I had a grievance hearing last week, and this week have been doing research to support another grievance, plus trying to get a lot completed on my staffing file, plus managing a large project that is still not well-defined and needs to get there (defined, that is) in the next two weeks. On the plus side, I have been making to-do lists, sticking to them, and getting things done – so I can look over the last week of notes and see actual progress. That always feels good.
Notable: During this pandemic lockdown period, single people are allowed to attach themselves to a household – and so we have invited two different single friends to be a part of our household for now – which more than anything else means we can have dinner together. All of us are low-circulation within our small community and we don’t have anyone coming/going from our house at the moment – so it feels like a safe enough approach on our end, but also a little lifeline to some folks we care about living alone out there, and a way to safely have a little company at Birdsong. Tonight we have paella and red wine on the agenda!
Also, I sang some songs this week while I was on my own, and I plan to sing some more over the next little while. My voice is in terrible shape, but like anything, will come back with just a few minutes practice per day and so I’ve set the intention for the coming month to find my way back into myself just a little bit through singing, and playing music, and maybe even writing a bit more. I see how much I’ve externalized during the pandemic, bit by bit moving to the outside of myself (weight lifting, running, etc) and abandoning the inside (music, writing, spiritual) to some degree. As I said up top, I need to rebalance the wheel a little, and it starts by learning a few new songs to sing!