Very belated new year greetings, comrades! Here’s the 12th annual instalment of Review Thingo. All previous episodes are here.
The Review Thingo is a set of end-of-year questions that first did the rounds back in the olden days of blogging. I’ve retired some questions and added in new ones over the years!
1. What did you do in 2020 that you’d never done before?
- The pandemic thing… let’s start with the obvious!
- Hung up a picture that had been leaning against a wall, on top of a radiator, for 4.5 years. Win!
- Baked (burned) hot cross buns
- Grew some dahlias
- Attended a Zoom wedding 😍 and many Zoom quizzes.
2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions?
I chose a word: action. I must have been feeling feisty on 31 December, 2019. But I did hang up that picture!
3. What countries did you visit?
Italy. I met up with my dear pal Julia for a work weekend in Milan at the end of January 2020. A month later there were images of a deserted Piazza del Duomo on the news. The whole idea of a work weekend away feels so strange and decadent now!
4. What dates will remain etched upon your memory?
My dips in the sea only add up to handful of 2020’s hours, but they were chilly portals to joy, sprinkled throughout an often shapeless year. Here’s a few faves:
- January 1 – I went along to a local New Years Day dip with fellow newbie Melanie. I hadn’t been in the water since my first cold dip up north, six months earlier. That had been so magical and world-shifting, I worried it couldn’t possibly feel that good again. But it DID! (though I don’t think my arse defrosted until January 2nd.)
- May 30 – the first dip after 11 weeks of lockdown was a ridiculously warm morning, piping hot by Scottish standards. We dried off on the beach! In the sun! No shivering! Outstanding.
- September 6 – An early morning dip with a blazing sunrise. My swim buds Melanie, Debbie and I, plus one friendly stranger had the beach to ourselves. The water was like silk and afterwards we all sat on a log, with appropriate social distance and Melanie’s homemade banana cake, sipping our tea as the sun finished its rise.
Outdoor swimming became a real thing in the UK last year, with Dry Robes selling out and the inevitable Daily Mash article Cold water swimming latest health trend people need to shut up about. But I will not shut up! Because I tried and tried and tried for decades to find something to help calm the relentless brain chatter; to feel like my mind and body weren’t at war with each other. I finally figured out that nothing makes me feel so at home, so at peace, so present and accepting, than a chilly hug from the North Sea.
5. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
a) Learning the Cookie Scoot, a technique devised by Erin of Cloudy Kitchen. When your fresh baked cookies come out of the oven, place a round cookie cutter slightly larger than the cookie, over the cookie, then “scoot them into a perfectly round shape”.
You can see Erin demo it in this Instagram Story highlight. I didn’t have a cookie cutter so had to use a pint glass, which was a tight fit but still made these babies pretty round! So pleasing.
b) Learning the shortcut for bringing up the emoji keyboard on a Mac. Control + Command + Space bar!
c) The Moody Blue Office. After five years of indecision and dodgy paint samples (that baby poo brown colour in the Before pic below was meant to be GOLDEN, dang it), I now have the library-meets-cave atmosphere I always wanted.
d) Daily Duolingo habit. I struggled to be consistent with anything during 2020, so maintaining my Duolingo streak was a low stakes way of staying in touch with the idea of consistency. If that makes any sense at all.
I started out with German in the beforetimes for a planned trip, but when that was cancelled I switched to Finnish as I was currently engrossed in a Finnish crime drama called Bordertown.
I’m now on a 354 day streak. I’m not sure if I will ever get to visit Finland again, but now when I watch my murder shows I can understand thank you, sorry, ice cream and hello… if bugger all else!
6. What was your biggest challenge?
I often hear the phrase same storm, different boats used to describe the collective experience of 2020. My boat was pretty sturdy: I already worked from home, Gareth could safely work at work; I was used to not seeing my family. Meanwhile, I knew folks working on the medical frontlines, or juggling their work with homeschooling, or suffering with Covid, or losing loved ones to it, or dealing with terrible storms that had nothing to do with the pandemic. That puts things in perspective.
At the same time, it was (still is) Unprecedented Times™ and like everyone I talk to, it’s an ever-shifting tour through okayness, frustration, deep gratitude, loneliness, numbness, rage, quiet joys, tedium, gut-churning worry and uncertainty, 3am staring at the ceiling… etc etc etc etc etc.
(This one is bloody impossible to answer, I’ve been trying for six weeks now. I hope you get me!)
7. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Minor clumsy injuries only.
8. What was the best thing you bought?
Neoprene gloves and a fleece-lined beanie for making swims a wee bit toastier!
9. Where did most of your money go?
Repairs for our ageing car.
10. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
- The Mysterious Caramilk – my swim buddy Debbie discovered a large display of Caramilk, my favourite Aussie chocolate, in a bargain shop right here in Dunfermline. How and why this happened, we will never know. Did it fall off the back of a ship somewhere? A true Christmas miracle.
- Neil Finn’s Fangradio broadcasts – for a good six weeks during Lockdown #1, Neil performed live from his LA home every freakin’ day. He was often joined by his equally talented sons, wife, and charming 3 year-old grandson Buddy. His songs have been companions to my ears since early childhood, so it was pure comfort. I loved the nightly routine of heading up to bed with headphones, ready to tune in along with folks around the world. Special shoutout to Dana, lovely longtime blog buddy in Kentucky – we often messaged as we listened and her witty banter added lockdown sparkle! 💗
11. What song will always remind you of this year?
Running With The Devil by Van Halen. When Eddie passed away in October I could not get this out of my head. Also for my fellow nerds out there: Rick Beato did an excellent episode of What Makes This Song Great about it.
12. How did you spend Christmas?
I had a quick morning swim, then we said to hello to Gareth’s folks from their driveway, then came home and faffed around, then finally started cooking Christmas lunch. We ate about 8pm, on the couch, watching Close Encounters of the Third Kind for some reason.
13. Did you fall in love this year?
Yes! With Cats of Brutalism on Instagram. Eternally grateful to my pal Sue for introducing me to this match made in heaven.
14. What was your favourite TV programme?
This year was mostly about comfort telly. 2020 kicked off with a foreign crime drama phase, including Bordertown and Deadwind from Finland, Rebecka Martinsson from Sweden, Ultraviolet from Poland and Cardinal from Canada.
After I saw the brilliant documentary series Lenox Hill on Netflix, I switched to medical dramas. The Resident, New Amsterdam and Chicago Med. The faces vary, the doctors usually have excellent hair, and in most episodes someone will have a miraculous recovery and someone else won’t make it. That predictability was nice when the real world situation was unfathomable.
I also enjoy how these shows seem to nick each other’s plots. I’ve seen multiple patients with cobalt poisoning, multiple patients who they initially dismiss as drunk but turn out to have auto-brewery syndrome, and more than one evil doctor fiddling with a clinical trial.
Also enjoyed: Unorthodox, I May Destroy You, Schitt’s Creek.
15. What was the best book you read?
Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid and Snacking Cakes by Yossy Arefi.
I’ve always liked the term “snacking cake”, which I first heard in an American food magazine. It basically means a single layer, one-bowl, no stand mixer required, relatively casual cake to have with a cuppa, or for breakfast, or for no reason at all. My favourite kind of cake to bake and to eat.
This is one of those rare cookbooks where you want to make pretty much everything. It’s a great blend of classic flavours and plot twists, and there’s not a single recipe where you read it and think, “I cannot be arsed making that”. The exact kind of book we needed in 2020.
16. What was your favourite film?
Older: Hunt for the Wilderpeople
17. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I was 43! I had a Zoom afternoon tea with my local pals Alli and Nicole. We developed a nice 2020 ritual of having arvo tea for each other’s birthdays, since we couldn’t meet up in person. The non-birthday duo would do the baking and doorstep deliver, then all meet with the birthday woman on Zoom for tea and chat. Good times, great cakes!
18. What kept you sane?
- Friend chats!
- Swimming, when permitted
- Pen McKinley-Rodgers’ Qigong course
- Sitting under the silver birch tree in the back yard, listening to the leaves rustle. When we weren’t allowed to swim, it almost sounded like waves.
- Ziggy’s endless array of withering looks…
19. Who did you miss?
All the humans. And the library, if we can personify the library.
20. What were the best things you ate?
- Saag Feta – “The secret to my mom’s saag paneer is… that it contains no actual paneer” says the fabulous Priya Krishna, author of Indianish. I always say feta makes everything betta and this dish is no exception. We cooked this at least once a month.
- A tasty Biscoff variation of that old standard, Midnight brownies.
- Nicole’s outstanding soda bread, and spelt and rye sourdough (pictured below)
- Right before Christmas, Allison dropped round the most amazing hunk of chocolate cake, still warm from the oven. It tasted like the memory of childhood chocolate cake… tender crumb, fudgy icing, no fuss. Still dreaming of it nearly two months later…
I appreciate this Review is 90% cake and swimming. There was lots of other stuff, but this is what was left in the sieve after I shuffled through all the thoughts, feelings and happenings.
If you made it this far, thank you for reading! I so appreciate you being here after all this time 😍